The Cowboy Wins a Bride (Page 17)

The Cowboy Wins a Bride (The Cowboys of Chance Creek #2)(17)
Author: Cora Seton

“What else you got?” Carl scanned the diner as if he was losing interest already. Claire hurried to show him the next image she’d mocked up.

“Well, here’s the great room…”

“Great room? That looks like a closet to me. My great room’s going to be bigger than Jamie’s whole house. Of course he’s just a hired hand.”

“He’s not just a hired hand,” Claire blazed. “He’s part-owner of the Cruz ranch now.”

“Ah, yes. I heard something about that.”

She bet he did. Carl had tried to buy the ranch out from under them before Jamie saved the day. She had the sudden, uncomfortable feeling that he might be here with her now as an act of revenge, rather than because he really meant to hire her.

“Anyhow, if you’ll look at the furnishings.” She gave herself a mental shake. So what if he didn’t come expecting to become her client? Her presentation ought to speak for itself. Winning him over would be an even bigger victory than the one she’d planned.

“Yes, yes, very nice for Jamie, but you have to understand, Claire, that if you want to work for someone like me you’ll need to play on an entirely different level." Carl pushed the laptop away as Tracey appeared with their lunches. She set down their plates. “This looks terrific, honey. Thank you.” He took a large bite of his sandwich.

“Thanks, Tracey.” Claire waited until the waitress left. “Look, Carl, I know what you’re saying. I don’t mean that I’d use any of the ideas I’ve used for Jamie on your place – I just wanted you to see that I have an eye for style and design. Of course your furnishings and materials will be on a much grander scale, but…”

“What I see is that you have an eye for the safe and pedestrian. Nothing you’ve shown me raises my eyebrows and makes me wonder about the man who owns that house. Nothing impresses me. You’ve designed an average house for an average man, and that’s fine for Jamie Lassiter. But it ain’t fine for me. Carl Whitfield needs a designer with vision. I agreed to this meeting out of courtesy and because I thought I might be able to throw a tip or two your way, but I’ve already decided who I’ll be working with. Daniel Ledstrom of Ledstrom Designs. Now there’s a company with a reputation for fine work.”

“Daniel?” The word came out a squeak. Claire thought fast. “Look, Carl. You’re right – I wasn’t thinking big enough. I knew you were building a large log home, but I had no idea just how large. If you want a spectacular design, I can give you one. I’ll treat you much better than Daniel Ledstrom will.”

Carl sat back. “That’s all well and good, but you’re the sister of my fiancee’s ex-fiance. Do you get my drift? It’s good policy for me to steer clear of you.”

Damn it, this job was slipping away fast. “I know Lacey – I know how she thinks. Daniel Ledstrom doesn’t know you two from Adam. You honestly think he can come up with a plan that will please Lacey as well as I can?” She held her breath – that was a long shot. She and Lacey had never been friends, even when the girl was dating Ethan.

Carl tapped his thick, blunt fingers on the table. “I’m heading to Dallas for the next two months,” he said finally. “The foundation is due to be poured by the time I get back. Let’s say you show me what you’ve got then. I’ll send you over a set of blueprints to work from. You wow me with a plan, and maybe I’ll change my mind.”

It wasn’t much to go on, but it was something. As they shook hands, she vowed right then and there to go him one further. Forget about mockups. Sure, she’d concoct a plan tailored to the Whitfield mansion, but first she’d transform Jamie’s home into a three-dimensional showcase of her talent Carl Whitfield couldn’t ignore.

"Say, you getting married?" Carl asked, lifting her hand so her ring sparkled.

"No," Claire said, yanking her hand back.

"That looked a lot like an engagement ring," he said.

"I mean…yes – yes, I’m engaged. Sorry, I’m just so taken by your plans for your house. Tell me more about this imported marble flooring. I really like the sound of it."

She sighed with relief when Carl launched into the virtues of marble, and seemed to forget all about the ring on her finger. One person in Chance Creek didn’t know about her engagement to Jamie.

She wanted to keep it that way.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Jamie watched the construction crew swarm over the half-finished roof of his new log home. Perched on a rise of ground overlooking the river, it stood about a mile or so northeast of the Big House, and had a view to kill for. Four bedrooms, three baths, an open plan main floor with the kitchen and dining area only separated from the living room by a flagstone hearth open to either side. South facing windows reaching all the way up to the vaulted ceiling. A home he’d be proud to share with his bride-to-be. If he could get her attention.

And convince her to marry him. A week into July, he didn’t seem any closer to winning her heart.

It was time to move things forward in his plan. While Claire had pored over his blueprints with him and seemed impressed with the design he’d chosen, she’d been all business so far, and no play. They hadn’t even talked about the other half of the job she was supposed to be taking on – helping him plan activities for the guests.

Today that would change. Claire was off courting her first new client – Carl Whitfield. When she returned she was bound to be full of good spirits. Carl must be planning on spending a bundle on that mansion he was building up the road, and who better than Claire to help him decorate it? He’d tell her they should kill two birds with one stone – she could talk all about her plans for Carl’s house, as long as she did so on horseback, while they inspected one of the riding trails.

He wanted to cross Chance Creek Road and venture out into the rangeland northwest of the Big House, where a trail ran past the pastures to rougher territory. He glanced at his watch. She ought to be getting home soon, and everything looked fine here.

“Keep up the good work,” he hollered to Tom Bends, the construction crew’s foreman.

“We’ll have the walls done by the end of the day. The roof should be on later this week.”

It couldn’t happen too soon for him, especially with Claire raring to go on the interior. He was half afraid Carl would beat him to the punch and Claire would end up spending all her time with him, rather than here where she belonged. He knew she wanted the Whitfield contract – bad – but he needed her to focus on the Cruz spread. He had to get her involved in the guest ranch business. Had to make sure she spent enough time near him for his charm to work its magic on her. He knew she wanted him. Heck, she’d jumped him the other night, hadn’t she? And while she’d consumed some champagne, she wasn’t drunk enough to claim it was the alcohol leading her astray.