I wait for Jack to make an appearance after his phone call ends, but he doesn’t. That burr must be wedged deep.
In the early evening, I brew a pot of decaf coffee and Edith joins me at the table with some shortbread cookies. We’re ruining our appetites for dinner, but neither one of us mothers the other. We talk about how excited we are for the wedding on Saturday and what sort of snacks we should make for yoga on Sunday afternoon. After I’ve got her really talking, I work up the courage to ask her if she’s noticed anything weird with Jack.
“Oh, and no big deal at all…just while I have you here…I was wondering if maybe, by chance…never mind—oh, do you want more coffee? Here, let me get it for you.”
She swats my hand away when I try to take her mug.
“Spit it out, woman!”
“Have you noticed anything weird about Jack lately?”
“I get less information out of him than a month-old lemon. All I know is he ate dinner out last night and he’s been gone all day.” She shifts her gaze up to me. “Is he giving you trouble again? I can knock some more sense into him—”
“No! No, it’s fine.” I smile covertly down at my coffee. “We’ve sort of come to an understanding, an equilibrium.”
“Equi-what? Y’all are getting along now?”
His tone from earlier leaps to mind. “I don’t think you’d say that exactly. It’s like when a baby tiger and a baby pig grow up together to be buddies in adulthood, but you just know deep down that it might all blow up the next time the tiger skips a meal.”
“Huh…okay. But he’s not upsetting you anymore?”
“No.” A flush warms my body. “He’s not upsetting me.”
After we finish, I clear the table and start prepping lunch for tomorrow. I’m technically off the clock, but I don’t want to go back to the shack just yet. A part of me is still hoping Jack will come down, act like his usual arrogant self, and put me out of my misery. Just one little teasing comment from him and I can go on home and keep myself occupied for the rest of the evening.
The sound of a truck pulling up out on the gravel drive takes my attention from the cutting board. That’s another thing different about the country—gravel is the universal doorbell. Alfred barks like crazy at the sound. It could be one of the ranch hands, but they all left an hour or two ago so I doubt that’s who it is. I wipe my hands with a kitchen towel and go investigate. There’s an ominous feeling in my gut, like something bad is about to happen, but when I step out onto the porch, I’m surprised and relieved to find Tucker hopping out of his truck.
It’s weird, but a part of me was worried it’d be Andrew.
I shake away the fear and trot down the steps to greet him. He’s in full lawyer mode, wearing slacks and a white dress shirt. His tie is a little loose, as if he tugged on it the moment he left the courthouse. His blond hair is short and neatly styled.
“Tucker, the knight in shining armor himself! Here to see Jack?”
He furrows his brow. “Of course not. I came to see you.”
Me? I’m not sure why I’m surprised he’s here for me, but I am. I know we’re supposed to go to the wedding together, but a part of me half expected him to forget the invitation. It’s not like we’ve talked since he first mentioned it. That’s my fault; I didn’t give him my cell phone number, but it was a strategic move on my part. I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea. I’m not currently dating. Hell, I’m not even divorced. I have a whack job ex sending me flowers, and I’m currently loopy over a dark-haired devil who seems to be avoiding me.
Before I get splattered, I quickly step off the tracks of that train of thought and accept a quick hug from Tucker.
“Oh? Well it’s good to see you,” I tell him, motioning back to the house. “I just brewed a pot of decaf, there’s a little left if you want some?”
The screen door creaks open behind me. Speak of the devil. Jack steps out onto the porch, and I swallow down my nerves. He’s the complete antithesis of Tucker: dark and foreboding, a menace to society. His short dark hair is slightly mussed, and he’s wearing a black t-shirt and jeans. His expression is so steely and aggressive against Tucker’s honey-sweet smile, and it’s like an old western standoff—the desperado in black against the righteous lawman.
“Tucker. Good to see you.” His tone says the exact opposite.
“Such enthusiasm! You do know it’s my job to tell when people are lying, right?”
He ignores Tucker’s jab. “What can I do for you?”
“Nothing. There seemed to be something wrong with your phone system, so I thought I’d come out here myself to have a conversation with Meredith, if that’s all right with you.”
“Of course,” he answers, but he doesn’t leave, and he doesn’t take his eyes off Tucker. He shoves his hands into his jean pockets and leans against the porch beam at the top of the stairs.
When I turn back, I can tell Tucker’s trying hard to keep his temper from flaring.
“Tucker?” I ask, trying to regain his attention and diffuse the situation. I’m seconds away from snapping my fingers or flailing my arms.
Hey, remember me? The girl you’re apparently here for?!
He finally turns to me and his expression softens. “I tried to call you this week, but Jack didn’t seem to want to pass along the message.”
“My secretary is in Europe,” Jack calls from the porch, his tone a touch defensive.
“And I guess you didn’t have a pen and paper handy?” Tucker shoots back quickly.
“I don’t have time to pass notes.”
Oh, come on. This is ridiculous.
I step toward Tucker, trying to block his view of Jack. “It’s fine. I’m here now. What were you going to tell me?”
“I just wanted to confirm that you still want to go to Dan and Leanna’s wedding with me.”
He must sense my hesitation because he continues. “I know we don’t know each other well, but I think it could be fun.”
Jack is standing behind us, listening to this exchange. I nibble on my bottom lip. Yeesh. This is awkward. I’m sure Edith is upstairs peeping through the blinds. Alfred is smart enough to keep his distance, and most of the farm animals have probably run to the barn to bury themselves in hay.
“Unless you agreed to go with someone else instead?” he asks, gaze shifting pointedly to Jack.
His meaning is obvious. I don’t need eyes on the back of my head to know Jack is currently scowling at the idea of accompanying me to an event. Just the mental image is preposterous. Me in a fancy dress, him in a suit…our hands linked…his warm breath on my neck as he leans in close to pay me a compliment instead of an insult.
“No!” I’m quick to reply, pricking the fantasy with a pin. “I don’t have another date, but…”
A part of me wants to turn Tucker down and be done with all this, but the fact is, I was actually really looking forward to attending the wedding. It’s been a while since I’ve gone to an event like that and not been terrified of upsetting Andrew, and I was going to get dolled up and wear the fancier of my two thrift store dresses. Everyone I’ve met so far in Cedar Creek is going to be in attendance, and then there’s obviously the most important part: wedding cake. Maybe I’ll volunteer to help dole it out and they’ll let me go home with some leftovers. Oh no, I couldn’t possibly…But we insist!…No, I actually can’t—my purse is already completely full of cake.
“Good.” He grins, relieved that I’ve agreed to go with him. He really is cute, like a little blond cherub all grown up.
“I can meet you there. Edith and Jack are both going so I can catch a ride with them.” I’m trying to wrap things up because I’m aware of dark eyes beaming lasers into the back of my head. Sniff sniff—is that the smell of burning hair?
Tucker doesn’t like that idea; I can see it in the way his jaw shifts and his eyes narrow just for a split second as he decides to force the issue. “I’d prefer to pick you up. I’ll swing by here at 5:00.”