Claire opened her mouth, glanced at Ethan and seemed to change her mind about what she was going to say. "Fine, I’m out of here. But I notice you still haven’t dropped off the list of dates Mom spent with you, like you said you would. I’d like that by the end of today, and I’m going to keep searching for that missing money."
"Whatever," Morgan said and joined Autumn behind the counter. Ethan stood up and handed Claire her kitten.
"Don’t forget this."
Claire frowned at the animal, then snuggled it close to her chin as she walked out.
"Sorry about that," Ethan said to Morgan. "I don’t know what’s gotten into her. You think something happened between her and Jamie?"
Autumn shrugged and Morgan shook her head. "Whatever it is, I hope they work it out quick."
* * * * *
When Rob got in at two in the morning again, Morgan was waiting for him in the living room of the bunkhouse.
"What’s wrong?" he asked.
"Everything." She got up and crossed the room to hug him, leaning against him when he wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. "We can’t plant our vineyard here."
He pulled back. "Why the hell not?"
"Shhh – Ethan and Autumn are asleep. Because Claire’s pissed that Ethan offered the land to you without asking her or Jamie. And she thinks I know what happened to all the money my mom blew and that I’m lying to cover it up. Which doesn’t even make sense. If I had all that cash squirreled away somewhere I’d buy my own vineyard."
"Huh." Rob moved to sit on the couch. He looked much too tired, his jeans and shirt covered with dust, stubble darkening his face, and hollow circles under his eyes. "Jamie wasn’t too happy when I mentioned it yesterday, either. I assumed if Ethan said it was all right that it would be. I didn’t think about needing to give Jamie a say first." He ran a hand through his blond hair, mussing it up. "Well, I’m sure it’ll all sort out. Claire’s mad they weren’t asked, that’s all. That doesn’t mean she’ll refuse to sell to me if we ask nicely." He grinned a lopsided grin, and it was all Morgan could do not to join him on the couch and snuggle up on his lap for a kiss.
"Maybe, but what if she doesn’t?"
"I’m pretty sure Ethan ultimately gets to call the shots."
"Yeah, but if Claire and Jamie don’t want us here, we can’t stay," Morgan said. "I couldn’t stand that."
"I’m not letting Claire keep me from building a life with you," Rob said, leaning his elbows on his knees. "She better not try to stop us."
"It’s not just Claire," Morgan said, sitting down next to him. "It’s your father and brothers, too. Ned said that I was breaking up your family by forcing you to build me a winery."
"To hell with Ned," Rob said. "He likes to hear the sound of his own voice."
"Your father hates my guts. And they’re right – you aren’t speaking with any of them," she protested. "And it’s all because of me."
"It’s because they’re pig-headed and they can’t admit they’re wrong. Now come to bed. Everything will look better in the morning." He stood up and tugged her across the room. "What did you say last night about missing me?"
She allowed Rob to lead her to the bedroom, and for a little while forgot their cares in his touch, but when they’d fooled around and he’d fallen asleep, she faced the fact that her presence in Chance Creek was tearing apart two families.
Maybe she’d been wrong to agree to marry Rob. Maybe this was what happened when you put the cart before the horse and agreed to marriage before you had a relationship. Had they been too thoughtless about the consequences of their actions when they’d pledged to spend their lives together? She had hoped that marrying Rob would bring her all the community she’d always craved. Instead, it was ripping both their families apart.
And what about what Rob had wanted? He was looking for a chance to be independent. She knew he’d thought their marriage would allow him to make something of his life – to become a success. Now he was slaving away for Ethan and Carl, little better than a hired hand. Maybe it was a step up from being his father’s lackey, but he was working so hard to give her what she wanted that he wasn’t making any progress toward his own goals.
Should she break off the engagement, return to Victoria and resume her old life, leaving Rob to patch things up with family and friends and weave his own way back into his community?
The thought made her throat ache with unshed tears.
She couldn’t believe that Claire and Jamie had a problem with them moving onto the ranch. After all, Jamie and Rob were as much friends as Rob and Ethan were. From what she knew of Jamie, he was always one to offer help. And Claire’s obsession was with Aria, not her. They’d had their differences in the beginning, but they’d also had some good times together. Did Claire really resent her coming to live here, or was it unfinished business with their mother she still needed to work out?
Morgan lay in bed, listening to Rob’s quiet breathing beside her. One thing she was sure of; she didn’t want to break off her engagement to this man. She had come to depend on his presence in her life and she loved their time together; especially when they were alone. She’d never met a man so interested in what interested her, and the way he was working to make her dreams come true left her speechless with gratitude.
No, she wouldn’t let the Mathesons or the Cruzes break her and Rob apart.
Just when she’d decided to give up on sleep all together that night, an idea occurred to her. She wasn’t prepared to let her marriage to Rob or the development of her winery destroy families and friendships that had held together over years. And she wasn’t making any headway by trying to reason with everyone. She couldn’t force them to like her, or want her vineyard on their properties.
But maybe she could show them exactly what they would be missing if she were gone.
Rob didn’t think he’d ever had such a long day in his life. He hadn’t had more than four hours of sleep for the past few nights, and Jamie blindsided him in the barn first thing this morning to tell him again how little he appreciated him going behind his back to make deals with Ethan. When he tried to explain the circumstances, Jamie accused Morgan of being hateful to Claire. He hadn’t taken kindly to Rob’s suggestion that his bride was to blame for all the drama around the Cruz spread these days.
Ethan had intervened then, ordering Rob to spend the morning mending tack and straightening the barn while he had a head-to-head with Jamie. As the hours crept by, the strongest feeling of deja-vu swept over him: wasn’t this exactly the type of work he’d been trying to escape when he left home?