The Cowboy Wins a Bride (Page 14)

The Cowboy Wins a Bride (The Cowboys of Chance Creek #2)(14)
Author: Cora Seton

"Men and women don’t even ride in the same events," he said, unperturbed, and she’d felt a flash of something – impatience, interest, and a tug of feeling below the belt she didn’t know fully how to interpret in those days. She’d pushed away the sensation, like she always did, telling herself Jamie had nothing on Mack.

Now she realized in a burst of insight she’d picked the man who was out of reach because she wasn’t ready for the man within reach. At seventeen she wanted a boyfriend the same way she wanted a fancy dress or pair of earrings – to show off to her friends and decorate herself with. Mack wouldn’t touch her, but Jamie sure would have. As much as the idea of that had fascinated her, she simply wasn’t ready to see it through.

She was now.

Stifling a groan, she picked up her pace. No – she wouldn’t ever sleep with Jamie again, no matter how earth-shattering the experience had been. No matter how he’d made her blood sing and her nerves tingle.

No matter what he said, he didn’t feel the same way. He wasn’t capable of it. So now she needed to plan a strategy to get through the next six weeks and then go back to living life without Jamie or the ranch.

She wished the prospect didn’t make her feel so flat.

Focus. It would be a month at least before Autumn and Ethan were ready for paying guests and she needed to fulfill her promise to spend a week helping with trail rides. Meanwhile she’d work on the interior design for Jamie’s house while she took steps to shut down Ledstrom Designs. Whenever she had the opportunity she’d take revenge on Jamie.

She had just reached the glass double door entrance to Ledstrom Designs when it opened and a man walked out.

A familiar man.

“Daniel?” A wash of dizziness overtook her, leaving her grasping for something to steady herself. Her fingers raked the faux-stone exterior of the building, scrambling for a handhold. No. It couldn’t be.

“Claire.” He tipped his sunglasses up to the top of his head and stared frankly down at her. “Look at you.” He glanced at his watch. “Late. That’s not the Claire I know.”

She gaped at him. How the hell could Daniel be here? Wasn’t he off on some foreign island sipping Margaritas with that idiot, Edie?

“What are you doing here?”

He grinned, and she fought the urge to slug him. “I’m the owner. Where else would I be?”

“No, you’re not. You left. You…you stole my money!”

“I enjoyed the money you gave me,” he corrected her. “I don’t remember you asking me to pay you back.”

“Of course I did!” She couldn’t believe he had the gall to stand here – right here on the streets of Billings – and pretend he didn’t rob her blind.

“Where’s the proof? Show me the loan agreement.” He shrugged. “As much as I’d like to stay and catch up on old times, I have to go – I’ve got a client meeting in 10 minutes. Since the police never contacted me I’m assuming you never pressed charges. You can try to now, but I wouldn’t if I were you. Waiting a year to file a complaint against me makes you look like the liar, don’t you think?”

He pushed past her, then turned back. “Oh, and I expect your things gone by the time I return. While the cat’s away, the mice will play, I suppose, but now the cat’s back. Your services are no longer necessary.”

“This isn’t your company anymore!”

“Really? My name’s still on it.”

Words failed her as she watched him walk away. Numbly, she pushed through the doors into the office and found everyone gathered around Edie, who sat at her old desk. Celia, the receptionist she’d hired soon after Daniel and Edie absconded, stood at the back of the crowd, her expression bewildered.

“I know it wasn’t the best way to break things off with Ted,” Edie was saying. “But Daniel’s so impetuous. He couldn’t wait any longer. We got married and we traveled around the world for an entire year. You wouldn’t believe all the things we did.”

“So why are you back here?” Claire said and cringed as everyone turned to stare at her. Was that strident sound really her voice?

Edie sat up straight and pursed her lips. The other employees eased away to their own cubicles. “Life can’t all be fun and games. It’s time for us to get back to work.”

This couldn’t be happening. Daniel couldn’t just march in here and take things over. These were her clients now – it was her business.

But was it? The building’s owner had been all too happy to transfer Daniel’s lease to her when Daniel left, and most of the clients were thrilled to learn their projects wouldn’t be disrupted. As lead designer, she’d been their contact at the company, anyway. But did that make the business – the clients – hers? She had no idea what a court would say.

Just turn around and walk out the door. You don’t need the money. You were about to shut it down anyway, she told herself, but her fingers curled into fists as she scanned the office. She’d taken over Daniel’s desk while he was gone, but now it was bare, her personal things piled into a box. Shit – her computer was gone. “Edie?”

“No need to shout, I’m right here.”

“Where the hell is my computer?”

“You mean Daniel’s computer? He took it with him. He needed it for his meeting.”

His meeting. Claire realized Edie meant her meeting – with the Wilcoxes. "He’s taking my meeting?"

“You’re not employed here anymore." Edie lifted an eyebrow in obvious distaste. "We went on vacation, Claire – we didn’t hand you our company lock, stock and barrel. Now we’re back and you’re not needed. Thank you for stopping by and picking up your things.” She focused on a pile of paperwork on her desk, but Claire knew every other eye in the office was turned toward her. Watching her reaction. Waiting to see what she would do.

Claire’s stomach gave an uneasy lurch. What the hell should she do? Daniel had stolen her money, but she couldn’t prove it. Once he was gone, the office by all rights should have closed. She kept it open. Did it cross the line for her to take his clients and profit from them? She wasn’t sure. All she knew was if she stayed and made a scene she might lose whatever credibility she had in this town now that she’d been fired from Ledstrom Designs. Finally, she found her voice. “Fine, I’m out of here. You can have your stupid client list and your stupid building. Wherever I set up my office, the clients will find me.”

Clients? What clients? Wasn’t she planning to walk away from interior design?