The Cowboy Imports a Bride (Page 35)

The Cowboy Imports a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #3)(35)
Author: Cora Seton

"Ethan agreed to all that without even asking me?" Jamie said slowly.

Rob stilled. "You got a problem with it?"

"I don’t know. I…thought he and I were partners. That’s a pretty big change of plans."

"Heck, I thought I’d get a better reception than this." Disappointment made his tone sharp.

"It’s nothing personal. Shit, I just went on my honeymoon." Jamie ran a hand through hair that was already standing on end. "I go away for a week and Ethan decides all of this? I…I better talk to him tomorrow."

"You do that." Rob started the truck. "See you around."

Jamie stepped back from the vehicle and watched him drive away.

* * * * *

Morgan was beginning to doubt she really had a fiancé. If she woke up in the middle of the night, Rob was by her side, fast asleep, but she hardly saw him during the day. He was gone by the time she got up in the morning and didn’t come home until after she’d gone to bed. She knew he’d taken on this garden project for Carl in order to raise the money he’d promised her to start her winery. She’d begun to regret ever asking for it, but without his contribution, she’d have to put that dream on hold for another year. Given the amount of time it took to get a vineyard up and running, she didn’t feel like she had another year. They needed to get the land prepped this fall so they could plant the rootstock first thing next spring.

Rob had been distant last night when he popped in for a quick dinner before heading out to Carl’s. He’d driven Jamie and Claire to their house and said they looked tired but good. She was looking forward to hearing all about their trip to Hawaii. She’d never been there, herself.

When she let herself into the Big House, she found Claire sipping a mug of tea in the kitchen, keeping Autumn company while she prepped breakfast. There was an uncomfortable silence when Morgan entered, as if the two of them had been discussing something they didn’t want her to hear.

Morgan handed Claire a kitten. "Rob and I got this for you if you want it."

"Thanks," Claire said, but didn’t meet Morgan’s gaze. She took the kitten and held it carefully on her lap.

"I was telling Claire about how Ethan had to save Ned from you the other day," Autumn said.

Morgan looked from one to the other. Maybe they’d discussed that earlier, but judging by the tension in the room, something else had been the topic of conversation before she walked in.

"He was angry that Rob wouldn’t go back to working on the Double-Bar-K. When he called Mom a whore, I decided to teach him a lesson."

"He called Mom a whore?" Claire set down her teacup, but Morgan didn’t get the feeling she was mad at Ned. Instead, she had the distinct impression Claire was somehow blaming her.

"Like I said, he was angry."

"Well, I can understand that. People like to be consulted when plans change." She bent down and put the kitten on the floor where it began a tentative exploration of the large room.

Morgan narrowed her eyes. There it was again – that trace of hostility in Claire’s voice. "Holt told Rob he couldn’t use the land he was giving us for the vineyard. What did he expect Rob to do?"

"He probably didn’t expect Rob to go run off and purchase 150 acres of our land behind our backs," Claire said.

Ah, there it was.

"That’s what you think? That Rob was trying to do something sneaky?" She moved all the way into the kitchen and put her purse on the counter. "The way I heard it, Ethan offered the land to Rob. It doubt it even occurred to Rob to ask if Ethan had checked with Jamie first. After all, this is Ethan’s ranch."

"Like Ethan had any choice but to offer it to him once Rob started bitching and moaning about how his father had done him wrong," Claire said. "Anyway, Jamie’s supposed to be Ethan’s partner. Ethan can’t go around selling bits of the ranch to people on a whim."

"I don’t think it was on a whim," Autumn put in, crossing her arms on the other side of the counter. "Ethan loves the idea of the three of them working together on this ranch, and he thought the three of us could have a good time supporting each other, too. I agreed with him."

From her tone, it was clear she didn’t anymore.

Claire frowned. "Did Ethan consult you before offering the land to Rob?"

"No. He didn’t have to; he knew I’d be all for Rob and Morgan sharing the ranch with us. And for the record, Jamie didn’t run it by Ethan or me before he decided to marry you and make you part owner again."

"That’s different." Claire’s voice was rising. "Marrying into ownership and buying into it are two totally separate things."

Morgan struggled not to turn on her heel and walk right back out the door. This was too important to walk out on, though. Why was Claire so dead set on not sharing the ranch when six months ago all she wanted to do was leave it behind, herself?

"Ethan still has the majority share in the ranch," Autumn began cautiously.

"And he thinks he can use that to lord it over everyone and call all the shots?"

"Who am I lording what over?" Ethan walked into the kitchen. Claire snapped her mouth shut, color flooding her face.

"Claire feels you should have discussed things with Jamie before offering to sell Rob part of the ranch," Morgan said quietly.

"I’m not the only one who feels that way. So does Jamie – he’s pissed, and I am, too," Claire said. "You need to consult us before you do things like that!"

"Whoa, hold on, Claire. A month or two ago, Jamie and I paid you $600,000 for your share of the ranch. Seems to me if you’re going to start bossing me around, you can pay me back," Ethan said. He bent down and scooped up the kitten, who was now sniffing around one of the easy chairs.

Claire’s face flushed even more. "That’s not how it works," she said. "If you’re so tight for money, ask her where all the cash Mom stole went!" She pointed at Morgan.

"Mom didn’t steal…" Ethan said.

"Bullshit! We all keep pussy-footing around it, but she did, and that’s why the ranch is in debt, which is why you have to keep selling pieces of it!"

"Morgan’s already said she doesn’t know where the money is!" He sat down heavily on the easy chair and put the kitten in his lap where it crouched, quivering.

"Then who does? Where the hell did it go?"

Morgan couldn’t stand it anymore. "Stop it! Stop yelling! If Rob buying the acreage is going to cause this much trouble, then forget it – we’ll go somewhere else! But since I work for Autumn, right now I’m going to stay here and help her with breakfast. Aren’t you supposed to be fixing up Carl’s mansion, Claire? Seems to me it’s time for you to get to work, too. We certainly shouldn’t be fighting while there are guests upstairs trying to sleep."