Page 37 of Arrogant Devil

I can even tell she’s smiling because of the way she asked the question. I think she knows I’m in here for no good reason.

I close the fridge door at the same time she moves to take the trash out.


It’s filled to the brim, and she has a hard time lifting it out.

“Here, let me get that.”

I try to nudge her out of the way and take the bag from her.

“No, no, I can do it. It’s my job—I’m a professional.”

She groans as she lifts with all her might, but the bag only makes it halfway out of the bin before she’s forced to drop it again.

“Meredith.”

“You pay me to do this. You do realize that, right?”

I level her with a stubborn gaze, and she aims one right back at me.

“It’s my own fault for letting it get too full,” she points out.

I take her shoulders in my hands and gently shift her a foot to the right so I can empty the trash.

“Fine,” she hollers after me as I head out back. “I guess this counts as my first break.”

I pull the lid open on the outdoor trashcan, and just as I’m about to toss the bag on top of the pile, something catches my attention: a bouquet of expensive-looking flowers scattered as if they were dumped straight out of the vase and an envelope ripped down the middle sitting on top. I drop the trash bag on the ground and grab the two halves of the note.

It’s a private message, one definitely not meant for my eyes, but I read it anyway.

Meredith, my love, please come home. I can’t think of any way to convince you of how sorry I am. I’ve racked my brain for ways to convince you you’re making a mistake, and I know these flowers and this note won’t be enough. You’re the love of my life, my wife, my everything. Please don’t walk away now and throw away the vows we made to each other five years ago. I knew the moment I saw you that you were mine.

Come home. Please.

I love you,

Andrew

They’re the words of a heartbroken man, words that cut through my chest as painfully as if I was the one who wrote them. I knew Meredith left her husband when she came to Texas. I knew she had a whole life back in California, but reading this puts it all in perspective. She’s still married to a man who loves her and expects her back. She didn’t leave a loveless marriage; she left a heartbroken husband who’s still foolishly pining for her. I bet he went half insane when he woke up and found her gone that day three weeks ago. No warning, no discussion—she just vanished and left him to pick up the pieces. I wonder how many times a day he calls her. I wonder what her reasons were for leaving him. I wonder if what Helen said was true, that her husband doted on her and gave her the world, that she is spoiled and bored and left to teach him a lesson.

Honestly, though, I’m not sure her reasons matter. Regardless of why she left, I’m still a fool. I’ve been letting my guard down around her, allowing her into my life inch by inch. I’m acutely aware of her when she walks into a room, and I try to catch every one of her smiles as if they’re meant just for me. I’m smitten, and I have been for longer than I care to admit.

Worse, I’m not the only person under her spell. I’m standing in line clutching a number. The ranch hands, Tucker, her husband—everyone wants Meredith, and I’d bet Meredith wants no one. She’s a heartbreaker, a self-centered woman who wants nothing more than to be wanted.

I think of how she cried when she broke that glass at dinner the other night, how she looked so delicate and fragile in that moment that my heart softened for her.

Was it all a crock of shit? All for show?

I pick the trash bag up off the ground and toss it inside.

If so, it’s about time Meredith took her act back to where it belongs.

20

Meredith

I can’t believe how quickly I’ve settled in here. It’s been nearly three weeks since I first arrived, and I’m already building a life for myself. I commute places in a pickup truck. I use the word y’all un-ironically. Just yesterday, I accidentally drank water with my lunch instead of sweet tea and I gagged.

I like it in Cedar Creek way more than I thought I would. The work is hard, and I don’t exactly love what I’m doing, but it does come with perks: I love cooking lunch for Edith and Jack, and they actually seem to be enjoying my healthier dishes. Jack even requested my salmon this week. I really enjoy doing yoga with Edith, and yesterday, she told me she was pretty close to touching her foot to her face.

“I haven’t been able to do that in years!”

However, my absolute favorite perk is Jack. Talking to him, annoying him, staring at him when he’s not paying attention—there’s really no end to my obsession at this point. He and I aren’t friends exactly, but I still enjoy our exchanges. I’m aware of where he is in the house at all times, as if he’s wearing a tracking device. Still, I try not to disturb him too much. I mean, bringing him lemonade or a snack isn’t necessarily disturbing him, and it affords me a quick glimpse of him working, a little snapshot to hold me over while I’m in laundry hell.

Yesterday morning, he was out helping the guys clear a section of the garden. I have no clue what they were doing—tilling? Harvesting? I really don’t care, and it doesn’t matter because whatever it was, it meant Jack was out there in plain view wearing jeans, a dark blue work shirt, and his baseball hat. I stood at the kitchen window, repeatedly drying a single plate as I watched him get his hands dirty.

I was biting my bottom lip.

Clutching the towel.

And then he lifted the bottom of his work shirt to wipe at some sweat on his face and Edith walked in on me, bent over the sink, eyes pinched closed as I recited what I knew of the Lord’s Prayer, which was pretty much just the first few lines. I lose track after the part about bread.

“Are you having a heart attack or something?”

“Menstrual cramps,” I lied.

“Go lie down and rest. I’ll finish drying those.”

Here’s a little secret: I let her dry the last of those dishes so I could go take a break in the shack, and I did lie down, but I didn’t rest.

I didn’t rest THREE TIMES.

I know. It’s probably a sin to not rest so soon after saying the Lord’s Prayer, but sometimes you just have to not rest right when the mood takes you.

I should feel guilty about fantasizing about my boss, but a part of me is so relieved that I’m even interested in fantasizing about anyone at this point. Andrew and I hadn’t slept together for months near the end, and before that, sex wasn’t something I took pleasure in. He was like a soul-sucking, libido-killing leech.

Now…nowwww that’s all I’m interested in.

It’s like I have an unquenchable thirst and no matter how many times I don’t rest, it never seems to sate me. I think I’ve got it under control and then Jack will say something in his gruff tone that’s meant to get under my skin, but really it just feels like a whole lot of foreplay at this point. Getting under his skin has somehow gotten tied up in my horniness neurons, so now, it’s not just fun working him up…it’s fun. I know—bad, bad Meredith. Whatever. I have problems, and I have every intention of sorting them out, just as soon as I see where this obsession with Jack could lead.

It’s Thursday, and I haven’t seen him all day. He left the ranch earlier and didn’t return until after lunch. I was down in the living room, straightening up when he walked in the front door and breezed right past me. No smile, no wave, not even a grumpy comment.

Huh.

Later, I knock on his door and ask him if I can get him anything, perhaps a snack or something to drink. He shouts back that he’s on the phone, and he sounds pissed that I’m interrupting him. I feel bad, not to mention slightly embarrassed that he sounded so put-off. Like I said, we aren’t friends, but it feels like we’ve been heading in that direction. Okay, maybe not friends in the traditional sense, but we’ve at least been dialing down the hatred to a sustainable level.

Him dismissing me is a tiny step in the wrong direction, but I shrug it off. Maybe he’s had a hard day. Maybe he’s got a burr in his saddle. (See? I really do belong in the country.)

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