The Cowboy Imports a Bride (Page 46)

The Cowboy Imports a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #3)(46)
Author: Cora Seton

"That…makes no sense at all," Morgan said helplessly. She glanced at Rob, who was puzzling over the list of names again.

"I’m beginning to really wish I knew your mother," Autumn said, heading back toward the kitchen. "She must have been a hell of a woman. She raised two amazing daughters, too."

"I wish I knew my mother," Morgan said softly to Rob. "The more I learn about her, the more I realize I hardly knew her at all." She wondered what she’d find when she compared the dates of her mother’s visits to her with the dates of her trips to Afghanistan. Was she just the first stop on her mother’s annual trips from Montana to Kabul? How had she gotten fake papers, and how on earth did she maneuver in such a dangerous country? And to think a simple car accident in Montana ended her life.

Rob put the papers down and wrapped an arm around her, pulling her tight against his side. "I think in your heart you know her pretty well," he said. "And I think your mom would be proud of you right now."

She smiled lopsidedly. "For playing an elaborate practical joke on my entire extended family?"

Rob pulled Aria’s fake passport out of the pile and waved it at her. "Especially for that."

* * * * *

Rob watched Claire rein in and drop back along the line of riders until she was next to him. He’d wondered if she’d finally deign to speak to him on this three hour ride. Jamie led the way far in front of them, and a string of guests followed him with varying degrees of proficiency on their mounts. It was the first time he’d worked with both of them since Morgan had come back from her trip.

"I’m sorry," Claire said gruffly, and he had to hide a smile. Apologies came as rough to Claire as they did to his father. He was sure this one was costing her.

"That’s all right."

"No, it isn’t," she said. "I took my own problems out on you and Morgan and that wasn’t fair. Are you really going to take that land of your father’s? You two belong here with us. You, Ethan and Jamie have been friends forever, you know?"

He realized that was probably all the apology he was going to get, but he was okay with that. He knew how your history could drive you a little crazy. Claire had spent a lifetime trying to figure her mother out. Now that Autumn and Morgan had shown her the paperwork and passports, she had her answer to where the missing money went. Aria must have funded those trips to Afghanistan herself, and paid who knew how much cash as bribes and expenses to move those women. Claire had told Morgan she planned to do some research and try to discover if her mother was working on her own or with an organization. If there was a group in Kabul dedicated to helping young women caught in arranged marriages, she wanted to send a donation in her mother’s honor.

"Ethan still has my down payment for those 150 acres."

"Don’t you want that back? I thought you and Morgan were short on cash."

"So you don’t want us around that badly, huh?" Rob laughed at her expression. "I haven’t had a chance to talk to Ethan about it."

Claire reached out like she would touch his arm, but her horse sidestepped and she had to bring it back under control. "I do want you around that badly. Morgan’s my sister. I meant what I said – you belong on the Cruz ranch with us."

"I need that money, though," Rob said. "With the time I lost over my Dad’s panic attack, and his preparation for his surgery, I’m way behind on Carl’s garden. I won’t finish it by his deadline, and I’ll have to offer him some kind of discount for blowing it."

"She doesn’t care about the money; she loves you," Claire said.

"I made her a promise," Rob repeated. "I know all of you expect me to break my promises, but she doesn’t. That’s important to me." An edge had crept into his voice. The only way he would have nearly enough money was if he got his deposit back from Ethan and borrowed the rest. The very idea of that made him want to spur his horse and ride away.

Claire nodded. "If you put your mind to it, you’ll figure it out."

He looked at her askance. "You just saying that?"

"No." She met his gaze. "I believe it. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, Rob. I’m impressed with what you’ve been doing here and at Carl’s. Yesterday I was working on his place and I checked out the garden. It’s beautiful. Totally wasted on Lacey, but spectacular just the same. You know," she looked thoughtful for a moment. "Maybe you and I should think about teaming up. At the very least I could pass your card around to some of my clients who might want your services."

"What services?" he asked, confused.

"Landscaping, silly."

* * * * *

Later that evening it was Claire who called a meeting in the Big House great room. She’d summoned Ethan, Autumn, Jamie, Morgan, Rob – even Cab Johnson. Tracey Richards and Rose Bellingham were escorting their guests to a street fair in town featuring local artists and musicians, so for an hour or two they were free to talk.

"I’ve been thinking over what you said the other day, Ethan," she began when they had all found seats on the easy chairs and couches. Morgan sat next to Rob, enjoying this moment of closeness with him. Between working for Ethan and his nights at Carl’s, she still barely saw him. "And you’re right; you and Jamie bought out my share of the ranch, but now I’m married to Jamie, which means I can claim part of it again. That’s not really fair. I’ve decided I want to be a real partner in the ranch again. I’m making plenty of money with my interior design work, and I’m drawing a partial salary for helping with guests, as pitiful as that is," everyone chuckled, "so I’d like to buy back into the ranch, if you guys will let me."

Morgan noticed that Ethan was surveying his sister thoughtfully. "You’ve talked this over with Jamie, I assume?"

"Of course," Claire said, "and he’s fine with it." Jamie nodded. "I thought that some of the money I invest could be used to pay down the mortgage to make everyone’s life a little easier, and the rest could be put toward buying breeding stock." She waved a hand at Morgan and Rob. "I also want to say that I hope you two will become part of this ranch, as well. Rob already put a down payment on some of the land, and while I know Holt has given you 300 acres outright, I’d like you to consider moving forward with the purchase. Maybe the Tate Matheson Winery can be the first joint effort between the Matheson and Cruz ranches. I have a feeling it will benefit us all, and…well, I want us all to be a part of something together."

"Here, here," Jamie said.