She wanted him, but she would spook at his slightest move in her direction. Because of her mother and Mack? Maybe. But there was something else, he’d swear to it. Something about this Daniel business that didn’t add up.
Why was she so intent on revenge against the man?
Sure, it was annoying – well, more than annoying – that he would come home after running off with his secretary and expect her to hand the company back over to him. But like she said, it was his company. Should he have compensated her for her work? Yes. Should he have offered her a prime place in the business? Of course. And instead he’d kicked her to the curb, so he could see why she’d be mad. Even furious.
But it wasn’t like she didn’t have enough money to start another company. And it wasn’t like she even cared all that much about interior design.
As much as he hated to admit it, he got the feeling she did care about it, and he’d seen she was good at it. But how could she choose interior design over horses? Was she going to lose more years of her life trying to prove Daniel was wrong when she’d already lost so much trying to prove the same thing to her mother and Mack?
Couldn’t she see that in the end she was the only one that got hurt?
He wanted to shake some sense into her. It was time to move on – start enjoying her life. That’s what he’d do. Forget all this interior design stuff, she should get back on horseback – maybe even get back into the rodeo. She’d say she was too old, but plenty of women competed into their thirties, forties and beyond.
He just had to keep her too busy to think until the first guests came to stay at the ranch. Autumn had said something about having a lead. He hoped it panned out and quick. The sooner he could show Claire how rewarding working on the ranch could be, the better.
When he arrived at the Big House, Claire’s Civic was already in the driveway. He prepared his congratulations, but when he walked inside, he was greeted by a disaster area. The blueprints, plans and pages of notes that used to be spread all over the large dining room table now lay every which way across the floor. Claire sat at her laptop, a sketchpad beside her, alternately typing and sketching with frenetic motions.
“Hey – what’s going on?”
She looked up only for a second, dashing her bangs out of her eyes. “He hated it. He said everything I’d done was boring and predictable.”
“That’s bullshit. It was a fantastic design. Carl Whitfield’s an ass.”
“Carl Whitfield’s a millionaire with a mansion that’s sure to end up in the pages of more than one home design magazine. I needed that contract.”
“There’ll be other jobs.”
“Not like this one!” She reared up and pushed the laptop away. “I blew it, Jamie. I blew my one chance.”
“No, just shut up. You don’t know anything about interior design or what it takes to be the best. I should be the one to get this contract, but Carl wants to hire Daniel.”
Shit. No wonder she was in such a state. “Look, I know you’re disappointed, but you still have my contract. That’s something, right?”
She turned a look on him that made his skin crawl. “It’s something.” Her face was pinched with anger and worry. “Small and predictable, but something. I have to start over from scratch – make a whole new plan that transforms its predictability into something breathtaking.”
Jamie stiffened. “He called my place small and predictable? Hell, it’s a beautiful house – you said so yourself. And I don’t want you to change anything. I like what you already designed.”
“It’s beautiful for a little shack." She got back to work, missing his reaction to those stinging words. "Unfortunately, little shacks don’t get you into Western Homes and Gardens, do they? Forget it, I can’t make my name with boring interiors. I’m re-doing the whole plan. Carl’s giving me a second chance. I have two months to show him that I can design something spectacular. I might be taking on the impossible trying to transform your place into something awe-inspiring, but I’m going to do my best."
A muscle jumped in his jaw. “I came here to ask you to take a ride with me, but I see you’ve got your work cut out for you, trying to salvage my ugly little shack. I guess I’ll leave you to it.”
He walked out and slammed the door.
* * * * *
Claire knew she should go after him and apologize, but she didn’t have time. Besides, he was still keeping up this proposal farce, so didn’t have much sympathy for him.
Not that she was getting anywhere with her revenge. Instead of finding ways to torture Jamie, she’d spent every waking moment getting back at Daniel, instead. Jamie would get over her slight against his house. She’d come up with a new plan that would knock his socks off. Then when Carl came home she’d walk him through Jamie’s house and wow him with what she’d done.
Her mistake had been relying too much on tradition when she chose materials and furnishings for Jamie’s interior. Sure, wood and slate or river rock were the most common materials used in log homes, and furnishings tended to be solid and rustic. That didn’t mean she needed to be bound by the conventional. In fact, just the opposite. She needed to start by making a list of materials and colors you wouldn’t expect to find in a log home and go from there.
And forget Jamie’s pitiful budget, too – she’d never impress Carl by economizing. If Jamie couldn’t afford to spend more, she could. It would be investing in her own future if she spent some of her six hundred thousand dollars on the interior.
What had Carl mentioned? Imported marble flooring from Bologna? She’d go him one better…just as soon as she figured out what that was.
A week and a half later, Jamie checked once more down the line of stalls to make sure each horse he’d hand-picked for the Cruz ranch’s first crop of guests was present and accounted for – as if they’d somehow slip past him out of the barn. He was more nervous than he’d have believed, but then he’d been working harder than he dreamed possible to get ready for this day, along with everyone else on the ranch.
Autumn turned out to be a whirlwind when it came to preparing the spread for its new status as guest ranch, and she also turned out to be a whiz at marketing. He’d bought into the business in early June and now here it was late July and their first guests were arriving. They’d booked their vacation at a deep discount, of course – one of Autumn’s many schemes for getting customers to the table, as she put it, so they could dazzle them with the scenery, the accommodations, the quality of the horses and trail rides, and her home cooking. She would press these guests to post recommendations on all the travel sites at the end of their stay, and hope they’d tell their friends, too.