The Cowboy Wins a Bride (Page 29)

The Cowboy Wins a Bride (The Cowboys of Chance Creek #2)(29)
Author: Cora Seton

Maybe her mother’s affair with that daughter’s father was short-lived.

Maybe it wasn’t.

She couldn’t be sure of anything at this point.

As she pulled into the small parking lot at the Big Sky Motel, on Fourth Avenue, she ran her gaze over the nondescript two story building. It was clean, but that was about all you could say about it. A family run operation, like so many businesses in town, it had no pretensions to rating five stars.

She bypassed the front office and took a set of concrete stairs up to the second level, walking down a long exterior hallway to room number 29. She took a deep breath and knocked.

A second later the door flung open. "Mom!" A woman with blue eyes and hair the same shade as Claire’s but long and wavy, looked out, and her excited smile turned to a puzzled frown. "Oh, I’m sorry. I was expecting someone else.

"I know," Claire said. "You were expecting my mother."

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Jamie sat on the wooden railings of a corral with their five female guests watching Rob demonstrate barrel riding. Rob should’ve been one of the foremost contenders on the circuit, but he lacked the drive to really go for it. Or maybe the confidence. As the youngest of four boys in a very wealthy family, Jamie thought Rob was never pushed hard enough in anything. Holt Matheson, Rob’s father, still kept his finger in every pie on that ranch, and Jake, Ned and Luke were all capable men in their own right. There wasn’t much left over for Rob to take charge of.

Like his brothers, Rob had his own cabin on the property, but in Jamie’s opinion that wasn’t separation enough from his parents to truly allow him to grow up. Rob wasn’t completely spoiled, but he wasn’t on track to make anything of himself, either. He was bored. Anyone could see that. And bored men made trouble wherever they went. Rob sure did.

Maybe he should talk to Ethan about hiring Rob on if Claire didn’t stick to the job. He was a natural entertainer. He loved to talk and show off and be the center of attention. They weren’t making enough money to pay for his services, but in the future…

Or he could take the son-of-a-bitch out behind the barn and give him a whupping for screwing up his chances with Claire.

Angel leaned in from his left. "I could watch this all day. You should have a rodeo school – teach people how to do all of this." She waved a hand vaguely at the corral and Rob on his horse.

"You want to learn to barrel ride?" Maddy asked, bending forward to look down the row at Angel.

"No – I’d just watch."

The others exchanged a glance over Angel’s head, something Jamie had seen them do several times so far on the trip. He understood why, too. Angel was the kind of woman who wafted through life with no idea how much work everyone else did to make things easy for her. Pretty, in a soft and floaty way, she seemed perfectly content to let her friends make all the decisions and plans.

"You’re watching right now," Liz pointed out.

Angel shrugged. "Yep."

Liz sighed. "She’s actually right, you know. You should open a riding school here. It would complement your guest ranch business."

"We’ve talked about it," Jamie said. They’d talked about a lot of things, but agreed they needed to take everything one step at a time. He’d enjoy giving riding lessons, but aside from keeping the guests busy, he still had a lot of work to do on the ranch, plus he was building a house and wanted to start breeding horses.

His mind wandered to Claire. How was she getting on? He hadn’t liked letting her drive into town alone – how the hell did you break it to your long-lost sister that your mother was dead? – but they couldn’t both abandon Ethan and Autumn, not with guests present.

"Can we go to that swimming hole again?" Adrienne asked in a lazy drawl. "I’m all sweaty from being in the sun for so long."

The other women chimed in and Jamie found himself agreeing although he didn’t think it was a good idea. Without Claire to shield him from their attention, he might get into trouble.

Well, if he did, at least Claire wouldn’t be there to see.

Rob rode up and the ladies applauded and cheered. "Are you coming with us to the creek for a swim?" Adrienne called to him.

"Hell, yeah – sounds like a great idea!"

In the general confusion of climbing down from the corral fence and heading back to the Big House to change, Jamie found himself surrounded by the women. As they surged past, all talking and laughing excitedly, someone grabbed his ass and squeezed, hard.

Jamie jumped and looked around.

But the women surged on, not a one of them giving him a second glance. He turned around. Rob was at the far side of the corral, leading his horse through the gate. Who the heck had pinched him? He didn’t have a clue.

What if whoever it was did it again when Claire was watching?

He could lose her for good.

* * * * *

Claire sat at the small, square table in the corner of Morgan’s motel room, gazing out the window at the cars and trucks in the parking lot below.

Morgan finally sat down across from her. Her face was red and mottled, her hair damp around the edges from the water she’d splashed on it to wash away her tears. "I knew something was wrong. Really wrong. But my dad said to leave her be. He said she’d come back around when she was ready. I can’t believe she’s gone." Her voice was ragged and strained.

Telling Morgan about their mother’s death was one of the hardest, ugliest things Claire had ever had to do. The other woman’s obvious heartbreak made it impossible to hold onto her own rage and now all she felt was tired and empty.

"She never told you anything about me, did she?" Morgan went on.

"Nope. Nothing." But if she’d had any reservations about whether Morgan was really Aria’s daughter, they went out the window the moment she saw her. Morgan looked like Aria. They both did. No one would be surprised to find out they were sisters.

"I knew all about you."

Claire looked up in surprise.

Morgan went on. "They had to tell me – the situation was too complicated."

"In what way?"

"My father has a wife, Amy. They were already married when he had the affair with Mom and he didn’t want to leave her when Aria got pregnant with me. He has other children, you know – two of them. They’re both in Vancouver now. Mom decided she still loved your dad and wanted to go back to him – back to Montana – but she was afraid he would ditch her if she came home with a child. So my dad’s parents raised me. He saw me on weekends once or twice a month and Mom would come for several months at a time when she could. Gramma and Gramps were my mainstays."