The Cowboy Wins a Bride (Page 20)

The Cowboy Wins a Bride (The Cowboys of Chance Creek #2)(20)
Author: Cora Seton

When she’d learned the makeup of the group from Autumn a week ago, and found out Jamie didn’t know it yet, she persuaded Autumn not to tell him, if at all possible. Time to get a little bit of that revenge. At first, Autumn demurred, pointing out that Jamie needed to tailor his plans to the group, but when Claire promised she’d make up her own set of plans, just in case, Autumn reluctantly agreed. Last night she laughed and said it turned out to be easy. She told Jamie a group of friends was coming for the week and he just assumed they were men.

“I have to tell you, though,” she said, "I don’t like practical jokes.”

"Even though you got married because of one of them?"

"Nope."

"Neither do I. I’m just getting back at Jamie."

"What did he do?"

"Played a joke on me, what do you think?"

Autumn rolled her eyes. "Typical. Tell me about it."

Claire found she still couldn’t tell her that her engagement was fake, and was relieved when Ethan strode in, wanting his dinner. Soon enough this would all be over and she wouldn’t have to lie to her friends and family anymore. She just wished thinking about her future travels gave her the kind of pleasure Autumn seemed to get from transforming the Cruz spread into a guest ranch. She looked energized by all her work – and she was pregnant and dealing with morning sickness at the same time. All Claire felt when she bent to the task of winning the Whitfield contract was cold, hard dread.

Jamie had begun to balk at the changes she was making to her design – and at the costs she was incurring when she bought the materials, so she’d stopped consulting him all together.

She knew it was wrong – knew this went against everything interior design was supposed to be. Sure, some designers dictated to their clients instead of listening to them, but that had never been her way.

Until now.

She couldn’t take any chances, though. Jamie’s tastes were simple – too simple. And he counted costs down to every penny for every little thing. She couldn’t involve him in this. When the time came, he’d be bowled over by her improvements to her design. He’d have the most spectacular small log home in all of Montana. And if she covered all the cost overruns herself, what did it matter?

Still, she had the sneaking suspicion it would matter to Jamie. He was so careful with money and so adamant that everyone live within their means and invest wisely. Not a bad way to run a life when all was said and done. It was too bad she couldn’t seem to stop spending.

How could she? She had to get back at Daniel somehow, and that meant proving she was better than him. She’d show him he’d screwed up royally when he’d abandoned her and even more royally when he stole her money, and then her business. She had to prove she was the kind of woman worth sticking around for – worth looking up to, admiring…loving.

She twisted the engagement ring around her finger.

If only Jamie’s proposal was for real. If only she could stop thinking about revenge and start thinking about….love.

Love.

That was the sticking point, wasn’t it? That’s how she knew Jamie’s proposal was fake in spite of all his elaborate pretenses to the contrary. Not once in all this time had Jamie mentioned love. If he truly wanted her to be his wife, he’d have said it dozens of times by now, right?

Jamie started walking again and she followed him slowly, envying the female guests their obvious excitement about the vacation ahead of them. She wanted to feel that excited about her future, and maybe when this was all over – when she’d designed the interior of a mansion, reveled in the publicity, and proved to the world she had what it took to succeed – she’d take some time to figure out what it was she really wanted in life.

Her gaze drifted back to Jamie and she gave herself a little shake. Besides Jamie.

Time to pull it together and do her job.

CHAPTER NINE

Women. He was surrounded by women. Autumn greeted the guests one by one as if she’d known them for a lifetime and welcomed them to the Cruz ranch. Claire helped pull luggage out of the van and lug it up to the porch. Jamie joined her, glad for the momentary break now that he’d shaken hands all around.

Women. Five young, trim, shapely, beautiful women. And he wasn’t allowed to flirt with any of them. Not even with Claire.

He caught her eye on his second trip from van to porch and shook his head at her. “I’ll still win,” he said under his breath as he passed.

“No, you won’t,” she returned cheerfully, but he narrowed his eyes. Underneath that false cheer was real strain. Why couldn’t she let this Daniel stuff go? Why was it so important to design the Whitfield interior? So she might get written about in some fancy magazine. Who cared? It didn’t look like she was having much fun.

Claire seemed lost. Even more adrift than she’d been for the last thirteen years since she’d left home. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe she didn’t need the connection to the land and horses that he always had, but he didn’t think so. He thought she’d cut herself loose from her moorings when she’d left home as a teenager, and never really found her footing again. This week outdoors would be good for her.

He hoped.

Autumn turned to them. “Thanks, I’ve got it from here. We’ll get our guests settled and feed them. I’ll have them ready to ride at 12:30, just like we planned.”

“Okay,” Jamie said. He turned to Claire. “Well, back to the drawing board.”

“What’s wrong?” she asked as they retreated to the stable.

“I was expecting five young bucks ready to throw their backs into some real work, not a gaggle of girls looking for a tea party on hooves.”

“Wow. Misogynistic much?” She stepped in front of him and blocked his entry to the stable. “Show me your itinerary.”

He shoved her aside with his hip. “I’ve got it inside.” He led the way into the building, his nostrils filling once more with the comforting smell of horses. At least some things were predictable. “Here.” He pointed to a lined piece of paper he’d tacked to the wall.

“Test ride,” she read and nodded. “Well, that makes sense. We want to know what these women can do.” Her eyes traced down his hand-written notes. After an hour long ride on trails close to the Big House to test out the guests’ coordination and make sure their temperaments matched those of their mounts, he’d planned to use them to help move the main herd of Cruz cattle to fresh pasture. Ethan would join them, as well as the rest of the hands, but the guests would get to feel useful and get some practice around the herd. He planned to end the afternoon with a trip to a bend in Chance Creek where it was safe to bathe.