Ned sneered. "Rob’s not really getting hitched. He and Morgan have some kind of a deal."
"That right?" Jake straightened and looked Rob in the eye.
"No. That ain’t right. We’re getting married and staying married. There’s just one thing."
"What’s that?" Jake asked.
"I promised Morgan I’d help her start her business, so I need more cash. I gotta find a job, quick. Dad says I need to keep working the ranch, though – even after I’m married. How am I supposed to work full time for him and get another job, too? And what’s the point of getting that land if I’m never there to work it?"
"See, he’s slacking off again," Ned said to Jake, scowling. "He was going to go off and get some job and leave us in the lurch."
"Stow it," Jake told him. He turned back to Rob. "How much you need?"
"In one month?" Jake’s eyebrows rose.
Rob tried to shove his hands in his pockets and remembered he was wearing a suit. "Yeah. I know. It’s hard enough without Dad acting like a slave driver."
"What kind of business does Morgan want to start?"
Looking from one brother to the other, Rob realized he was about to have a whole new problem on his hands. When his father had said he wouldn’t meddle once he’d turned over the 200 acres, Rob had taken him at his word. Now he saw what a fool he’d been.
"A winery," he mumbled.
"A winery?" Ned repeated, loudly. "What the hell does that mean?"
Jake stared him, comprehension dawning. "You’re going to turn that pasture-land into a vineyard? Are you crazy?"
"Not all of it. Just Morgan’s half."
"You’re going to grow grapes?" Ned said. More guests were turning their way.
"Shut up. We’ll talk about it later. I’m going to open up a rodeo training school, too. Maybe I’ll partner up with Jamie, raising horses. It’s no big deal."
"That Matheson land has been used for raising cattle for over 100 years," Jake said, leaning forward to emphasize his point. "It’s not meant for cultivation. You better change your mind about that winery right now."
"Dad’s going to blow his stack," Ned said. He seemed pretty happy about the idea.
"You keep your mouths shut," Rob said. "This is Claire and Jamie’s wedding. Don’t you turn it into a family feud."
Jake pressed his lips together. "Fine. We’ll keep it under wraps. For today. But tomorrow I’m letting Dad know your plans for that land. We’ll see what he has to say about it."
"And he’ll have plenty to say," Ned said.
* * * * *
"I haven’t forgotten, you know," Claire said several hours later, when darkness had fallen and couples swayed to the music on the lawn lit by fairy lights and candles on the tables. The effect was beautiful, and Morgan was bursting with happiness that she wouldn’t have to fly back to Canada when the weekend was over. This was her home now; right here in Chance Creek, the most beautiful place in the world.
"What do you mean?"
"About the dates my mother was with you in Canada. You promised you’d write them down."
Morgan had, reluctantly. She had a typed up list in her luggage at the Matheson ranch, the dates as close as she’d been able to reconstruct from memory.
"Do we really need to do this?" she asked, trying to keep the pain from her voice. Couldn’t Claire accept her existence and work with her to build the friendship that was growing between them? Why did she have to pursue a line of questioning that may well bring them both more heartache?
"Yes. I’m sorry," Claire looked frustrated, "I know you don’t agree with me, but I have to know what Aria was doing. I can’t…rest until I know all her secrets."
"Do you really think we’ll ever know them all?" Morgan asked. They were sitting in two of the folding chairs dropped off by the rental company this morning. Jamie had excused himself for a moment. Apparently Claire had been waiting for the opportunity to confront her.
"Maybe not, but I have to try. There are dates she was missing and money that’s still gone. I need to know where it went." She glanced sideways at Morgan. "And if you know anything you’re not telling me – even if it’s something you think I won’t want to hear – please tell me now. I’m going to keep digging until I find out, anyway."
Morgan frowned. "You think I’m holding something back?" Well, she was, wasn’t she? She could have written down those dates weeks ago and sent them to her sister.
Claire looked at the hands clasped in her lap. "I don’t want to think that, but I’ve barely known you a month. You came out of nowhere and you’re one of the secrets my mother kept." Her voice wobbled a little, but then she steadied it again. "My mother is on my mind all the time these days. She should be here, you know? But since she isn’t, I want to know everything I can about her – about what she was up to before she died."
She lifted a pleading gaze to Morgan, and Morgan had to relent. "Okay, I’ll do whatever I can to help. I’ll drop the list by your house tomorrow, and when you come back from your honeymoon, we can work on the mystery together, okay?"
"Thanks." Claire reached out and hugged her. "I’m glad you’re here."
Morgan hugged her back, but she couldn’t help feeling a flicker of dread.
* * * * *
As the night’s shadows deepened and the stars winked overhead, Rob decided he’d had enough socializing. All around him, couples swayed together on the lawn, or stole kisses from each other, and the whole atmosphere seemed charged with lust and possibilities.
He found Morgan chatting with Autumn, and made an excuse to separate her from her friend. Then he took her hand and led her toward the lane where his truck was parked.
"What are we doing? I don’t want to miss it when Claire and Jamie leave," Morgan said, but she clung to his hand, a little unsteady from all the champagne he’d plied her with over the course of the evening.
"I want to show you something," he said.
"Now? In your truck?"
"We could walk, but driving is faster. And you said you wanted to be back in time to see the happy couple off." He nuzzled her neck and slipped a kiss behind her ear, then helped her into the passenger seat. Her long dress made her clumsy, and Rob took every opportunity to slide his hands over her body as he settled her in his seat. By the time he fastened her seatbelt and closed the door on her, his own body was thrumming with desire.
The ride out past Jamie and Claire’s house only took a few minutes. Where the dirt track petered out, he parked the truck and went to help Morgan out again. She slid off the seat into his arms, and it was all he could do not to lean her against the truck and take her right then and there, but first he wanted to show her their land.