The Cowboy Wins a Bride (Page 30)

The Cowboy Wins a Bride (The Cowboys of Chance Creek #2)(30)
Author: Cora Seton

"I can’t believe she lied to us all those years." Claire couldn’t believe any of this. She wanted to stare at Morgan – to force herself to see that she was real – that this was the daughter her Mom really wanted to be with, the one she left her for so many times.

"She made a mistake, and then she did the best she could, I guess." Morgan swiped at another tear that leaked from her eye.

"This is the best she could? Sneaking around, lying, cheating on my Dad?"

"She was young, Claire. Haven’t you ever made a mistake? I know I have."

Sure, she’d made plenty of mistakes. Trusting Daniel. Sleeping with Jamie. But nothing compared to the colossal mess her mother had made of all their lives.

"She let you grow up alone and she nearly bankrupted my family."

Morgan looked up. "Bankrupted you? How?"

"The trips. All that money she spent on you!"

Morgan shook her head. "I’m sure the plane tickets cost a bit and she bought me things now and then, but her visits shouldn’t have been that expensive. She lived with my grandparents and me when she came. Once I was grown up and on my own, she stayed at my apartment."

"I’ll bet she paid for that apartment."

"No, she didn’t," Morgan said firmly. "And she didn’t pay for my grandparents’ expenses either. I talked about it all with them. They disapproved of Mom and wouldn’t take her money. They did their duty as they saw it – allowed her to visit and gave her a room when she was there – but they weren’t chummy with her. I think they felt that if she paid for everything she could take me away whenever she wanted to." She sighed. "They meant well. They just thought she wasn’t a very good mother."

"She must have bought you things, though – meals, clothes, bicycles, cars?" Claire challenged.

"Meals and clothes, sure, sometimes. She never bought me a car. Maybe if you guys didn’t have much money to begin with I could see it putting a strain on your budget, but she always talked about the ranch like it was doing quite well."

"However she spent it, she spent it," Claire said. "Believe me, we’re still recovering from it." Or, at least, Ethan and Autumn were. She was just fine, although her recent expenditures had nibbled away at her six hundred thousand dollars.

"Mom was pretty frugal," Morgan persisted. "I mean, she worked when she was in Victoria."

"What?" It was Claire’s turn to look up in shock. Aria Cruz hadn’t worked a day in her life, if you didn’t count weeding the kitchen garden.

"At the University. She was a research assistant in the Anthropology Department. Dad was such a big shot, he made it happen for her. Otherwise there’s no way they’d put up with her erratic comings and goings."

Claire folded her hands in her lap and stared out the window again.

She didn’t know her mother at all.

* * * * *

By the time Jamie and the women arrived at the watering hole, Rob was there and he’d brought his brothers along. Jamie breathed a sigh of relief. Four extra cowboys ought to dilute the attention from him a bit. He’d been on edge since the butt pinch, constantly looking over his shoulder to catch one of the ladies sneaking up on him again.

It wasn’t right, women coming on to men so boldly. He was as big a flirt as they came, ordinarily, but he liked to get the ball rolling, not be bulldozed by a woman’s advances. He still didn’t know who the culprit was, either. Liz, most likely. Maybe Adrienne, although she seemed to be making a play for Rob. Plucky Maddy was a possibility, but not Christine – she was married. And certainly not Angel who even now was floating lazily in the water like some kind of nymph.

Rob and his oldest brother, Jake, stood waist deep in the water tossing a foam football around with Maddy and Liz. Adrienne sat on the bank of the creek with her legs in the current, deep in discussion with Ned – Rob’s second oldest brother. Christine, still on dry ground, was slathering sunscreen on every inch of exposed skin. Luke, the last of the Mathesons, had a bucket full of water and was creeping up behind Rob. Jamie waited for the inevitable result and wasn’t disappointed. As soon as the cold water splashed down over Rob’s head, he spun around and tackled Luke. Both went underwater and came back up shouting and sputtering.

Happy that the women’s attention was directed away from him, Jamie took his time stripping down to his swim trunks and moved a few yards away before slipping into the cool water. He forgot to worry about who had pinched his butt earlier and instead focused on Claire. How was her interview with Morgan going? How had the woman reacted? What did this long-lost daughter of Aria Cruz look like?

Claire and Ethan had a sister. How weird was that?

"Jamie! Jamie, come on!"

He opened his eyes to find that all-out war had broken out in Chance Creek. The three older Mathesons had ganged up on Rob. The ladies were rallying around him, splashing his brothers with everything they had. The whole creek roiled with their thrashing arms and kicking feet.

Which side should he join? A grin split his face.

A few quick strokes brought him in line with Jake, Ned and Luke.

"Traitor!" Rob gasped as a well-time splash from Ned filled his mouth with water. The women squealed and shrieked and for just a minute he forgot all of his troubles as he sent wave after wave cascading toward them.

"Take that!" Maddy called, slapping her hands on the surface of the creek. He retaliated with a wall of water that broke over the crown of her head. Laughing, she surged forward, drumming her arms into the water and slamming into him. He caught her around the waist, but lost his footing and they both submerged. Underwater, bubbles streamed from her mouth as she continued to laugh. When they managed to stand up, she leaned against his chest, breathing hard. "I guess you win," she said, her sunny smile undeterred.

"Now you have to join our side," he said, all too aware of Maddy’s shapely, bikini-clad breasts pressed against his skin. Shit, he was touching her. Good thing Claire wasn’t here to see. He carefully detached himself and sighed in relief when she didn’t cling to him. Instead, she pushed off and went after Christine.

Jake stumbled over to him, under assault by Adrienne. "This is what you do for a living, Jamie? Hell, I wouldn’t mind your job."

"You couldn’t handle my job," Jamie said.

Adrienne sent a sheet of water his way. "Get back on our side where you belong. You’re supposed to be taking care of us."

He shouldered Jake aside and went after Adrienne himself. For a skinny woman she sure kicked up a heck of a lot of water. When another of her assaults caught him square in the face, he dove forward and dunked her, hard.