The Cowboy Wins a Bride (Page 26)

The Cowboy Wins a Bride (The Cowboys of Chance Creek #2)(26)
Author: Cora Seton

She played with the envelope, turning it over and over in her hands. “None of us really knows anyone else."

He frowned at her bitter tone. “I wish I knew you better. You’re the one who stayed away so long.”

“I can’t stand the ghosts here.”


“Yeah – ghosts,” she said. She flicked the envelope across the table so it slid to a stop in front of his place setting. "Mom wasn’t who you thought she was. Hell, she wasn’t who I thought she was and I knew far more about her than you did."

"What are you talking about?"

"Mom. Her trips. Spending all that money? You know she had affairs, don’t you?"

"What?" Ethan set down his spatula with a clatter on the counter and turned from the sizzling bacon and eggs. "What the hell do you mean?"

"She slept around, Ethan. She slept with Mack and who knows who else. But that’s not all she did. All those trips to Europe? They were fake. Turns out she never even went there. All those months she spent away from home every year? She wasn’t traveling at all. She was spending time with her other family. Her real family."

She’d never seen her younger brother at such a loss for words. No surprise there. The news was enough to flatten anyone.

"Her real family?" he finally choked out.

"Read the letter. It’s from her daughter, Morgan. Her Canadian daughter. Wondering when the hell she’s coming home." Claire’s voice cracked and tears filled her eyes as the enormity of the letter’s message finally sank in. She scraped her chair back, got to her feet and ran blindly from the room.

* * * * *

When the barn door opened, Jamie expected Claire to saunter in. Instead, it was Ethan, hatless, as pale as a ghost, clutching an envelope in his hands.

"What happened?" It had to be something awful, judging by the look on his friend’s face.

Ethan leaned against the wall by the door and shook his head. Jamie didn’t think he’d ever seen his friend outside without a hat on. It was like seeing him naked.

"My mother," Ethan said. He shook the letter in his hand. "Ah, Jesus, Jamie. She…"

Jamie’s heart sank. Aria Cruz had already broken Ethan’s heart more than once. By dying, and by drowning the family business in debt. How could she hurt Ethan more from beyond the grave?

"She had another family," Ethan said, looking bewildered. "A daughter. A man, I guess."

"Wait…hold up…another family?" That was the last thing Jamie expected.

"I have an older sister. Another older sister. Half sister. Her name’s Morgan."

"How could your mother have another family?"

"Autumn just helped me look Morgan up on the internet. We found her address and her birthdate. We figured out the timing of it all. I checked my dad’s notebooks, too. As much as I can piece together, Mom spent a year at the University of Victoria when she was 21. She studied anthropology, if you can believe that. I think she always wanted more excitement than Montana was going to give her. She spent that year at UVic because they have a real top-notch anthropology program – but she was already engaged to my dad at the time. They’d been dating for years. He gave her a ring when they graduated high school."

Jamie grunted. Pretty typical for these parts.

"I think she had a fling with a professor, because a guy with the same last name as Morgan still works there in the Anthropology Department. She must have gotten pregnant right away and had the baby at the end of the school year. She didn’t return to Montana until fall. Dad wrote that she was doing field work over the summer. That must have been the story she fed him."

"She came home and left her kid behind?"

"That’s the part I can’t figure out. Why would she do that? Autumn thinks it’s because she loved Dad. She still wanted to marry him."

Jamie thought this over. "This other guy – did he take the kid?"

"Must have."


"All those trips. She wasn’t going to Europe, Jamie." Ethan met his gaze. "She was with them."

Jamie whistled silently. What a thing to find out about your mother.

"That’s not the worst of it, either."

It got worse?

"Her daughter – this Morgan person. She’s here in town. And she doesn’t know Mom’s dead."


Claire only managed to snatch an hour of sleep after breaking the news of her mother’s duplicity to Ethan. Now, ready or not, she had to face another day of wrangling clients with Jamie, while trying to figure out the best way to handle the latest trouble her mother had brought to the family. She decided to check in at the Big House and find out from Autumn when the guests would be ready to ride, before heading over to the stables to help Jamie prepare. When she entered the Big House’s kitchen, Autumn was hard at work. She looked just as tired as Claire felt. Autumn already had way too much on her plate, being pregnant and starting a business all at the same time.

“Can I help you?” Claire said. "You should be resting more." She crossed the room and pulled out plates from a cabinet. At the very least she could set the table.

“Just keep those women entertained and out of the house long enough for me to make up all the beds this morning,” Autumn said. “I couldn’t sleep last night. Then Ethan got me up early. You know why.”

Claire didn’t feel like talking about that. “Did your guests offer to pay you to line up some dates for them with the hot local cowboys?”

“Just about,” Autumn said. She sighed. “I can’t blame them, though. I can’t resist the local cowboys, either.”

“You better be resisting all the local cowboys except my brother,” Claire said lightly.

“You know it.”

“You two are sickening, you know,” Claire said, putting out cups and glasses. She hoped her voice sounded normal, because she sure as hell didn’t feel like herself. She felt like she was walking a tightrope over a chasm so deep she couldn’t see the bottom. How could she have a sister she’d never met?

“Just wait until you’re married – you and Jamie’ll be just like us. Now, come on, we can’t ignore the elephant in the room any longer. Someone’s got to go see Morgan and tell her the truth.”

"She can go right back where she came from, for all I care." Claire yanked open the silverware drawer and grabbed a handful of knives and forks.

"I’m sure she will go back where she came from, once she knows," Autumn said quietly. She was slicing potatoes methodically for home fries.