The Cowboy Wins a Bride (Page 2)

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

Unfortunately she didn’t come to town on Valentine’s Day, and soon after that Ethan let him know – as tactfully as he could – that she had a new boyfriend in Billings. Her boss. Daniel Ledstrom of Ledstrom Designs, the interior decorating business where she worked.

The English language didn’t contain words to describe what Jamie felt then. To have been so close – to let himself picture what it would be like to finally hold her in his arms, to finally make love to her – and then to have that dream yanked away from him again…he’d almost despaired of ever carrying the day.

But when Daniel Ledstrom ran off with his secretary, Edie, last May, clearing out the business’s accounts and making headlines in the Billings papers, Claire hardly seemed to care.

She may have dated the guy for a couple of years, but apparently she wasn’t in love with Daniel, after all.

Once again he prepared to ask her out, but fate intervened against him a third time. When Claire came home to the ranch next it was for her parents’ funeral. And his plans went on hold again.

He was beginning to think they’d never work out.

"Bet she shoots you down when you do ask her," Rob said, catching up to him.

"Bet you she doesn’t," Jamie said, even though secretly he thought Rob might be right.

"How much? Hundred bucks?"

"You got it."

"Good luck winning that bet," Cab said, overtaking them. "Seeing as how Jamie isn’t asking her anytime soon."

Jamie frowned. "I’ll ask her soon."

"Bet you can’t marry her by Labor Day," Rob said.

"If you’re getting married in ten weeks, you better hurry up and pop the question," Ethan said from behind them.

"I’m not marrying Claire on Labor Day," Jamie said. His plan called for using the summer to build her interest in the ranch. At some point, he’d ask her out, and in the fall he’d suggest they move in together. Maybe he’d propose at Thanksgiving. Sure, he’d bought the ring early, but experience had taught him to be prepared. Like Ethan said, some occasions were more romantic than others. If things should move faster than he expected, he didn’t want to be caught short.

And…well, he was looking forward to being engaged to Claire.

"You admitting she’ll turn you down?" Rob said. They reached the stack of chairs again, and added the new ones to the pile.

"No. I’d just like to go on a few dates before I ask her." Jamie straightened up.


"I ain’t…"

"If you haven’t asked her out in the past decade, you aren’t going to ask her now. You’re blowing smoke up your own ass if you think you’re ever going to marry her."

Jamie shoved his hands in his pockets to keep from balling them into fists and punching Rob. "I ain’t chicken and I am going to ask her."

"Hundred bucks says that come Labor Day, you’re still single," Rob said. "Safest bet I ever made."

Cab, joining them, laughed out loud. "Got that right."

"He’s got to think it over for another twelve years," Ethan chimed in. "Doesn’t do to rush these things."

Jamie bristled at this group attack on his cautious personality. "Hundred bucks says I’m married to Claire by the end of the summer."

"Deal." Rob grabbed his hand and shook it before Jamie had a chance to reconsider. He pointed across the lawn. "There she is, tiger. Go on and ask her. Just keep your distance from her right hook. You know how cranky she gets."

Already regretting the bet, Jamie turned and spotted Claire. In shorts and a t-shirt, her dark, glossy hair reflecting the morning sun, she made quite a picture as she stood counting tables on the far side of the yard. He wouldn’t propose to her, as much as the ring was burning a hole in his pocket.

But he figured he might as well start planting those seeds.

* * * * *

Claire Cruz was counting the circular tables set up on the lawn of the Cruz ranch Big House, but there was only one number that stuck in her mind. Six hundred thousand dollars. She could finally start fresh and no one – no one – had to know she’d let a bastard like Daniel Ledstrom take her to the cleaners. Her relief made her weak in the knees, and just about made up for the stupid practical joke Rob had played on her this morning.

She refused to be angry at anybody today – her brother Ethan’s wedding day – now that her bank account was out of danger. To have the whole weekend stretching in front of her here at the ranch was a gift she planned to thoroughly enjoy. It had been too long since she’d spent any real time here – too many years since it had been her home – and she was ready to let its beauty heal her soul. Soon she’d leave it behind again – if not for good, at least for a good long while – so she needed to make the most of this opportunity.

As Ethan’s only living relative, it was up to her to take charge of the festivities – with help from Autumn’s mother and sister and a few other family friends, of course. Later in the morning she’d cover the tables with the freshly pressed white tablecloths the event rental outfit had dropped off, and decorate each one with an arrangement of candles and flowers. For now, she intended to savor this moment of peace before the chaos of the wedding celebration set in.

She raised a hand and touched her face, which still felt warm from the scrubbing she’d had to give it. Rob had replaced her moisturizer with some sort of goop that stained her skin a violent orange. It’d taken her half an hour to get it all off and now her skin stung under the heavy layer of foundation she’d applied. Pressing her lips together she remembered the note he’d left pinned to her wash cloth. Once she’d seen the horror of her orange face in the mirror, shrieked and reached for the cloth to clean it off, she’d felt the paper, unpinned it and read his message.

Claire – you are the beautifullest girl ever. Marry me? Your secret crush – Jamie

Idiot. She’d recognize Rob’s handwriting anywhere. And Jamie wasn’t going to propose to her, as much as she’d once hoped he would, because he was too busy sleeping with everything in a skirt.

No. She wasn’t going to let Rob’s jokes ruin her morning, and she wasn’t going to waste any time thinking about what might have been with Jamie. She’d been hurt too many times to be interested in marriage to any man – at least not one from Montana. When she took off on her round-the-world cruise, however…well, some handsome European might just be the ticket.

Better get these tables counted.

One, two, three…

"Forty-five, eight, one hundred and nine," Jamie Lassiter said, coming across the lawn toward her.