Unlike Maddy, Adrienne didn’t find this funny. She surged to her feet before he could even get his bearings and jumped on top of him, forcing him back under the water just as he came up for air. She caught at his hair, wrapped her fingers around it and pushed him down again.
Flailing around, Jamie managed to get an arm behind him and take hold of her waist. Using his superior weight as a lever, he pulled her down and pushed himself up at the same time, exchanging their positions. She let go of his hair and scrabbled at his chest. When he finally let her go and they both surfaced, she hit him. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Making sure you don’t drown me. What the hell are you doing?"
"Playing." She was breathing hard, her chest rising and falling – her breasts rising and falling. Heck, why couldn’t these women be ugly?
"If you’re going to play you better be sure you can take as well as you give," he said. He had no patience with crybabies. Claire had always kept up with the boys. Heck, she’d often led them.
"Oh, I can take as well as I can give, cowboy. You can be sure of that," she said, and brushed past him, her fingertips skimming down his arm. She squeezed his hand meaningfully, then let go, splashing her way back to the others.
Lord have mercy. Claire had better stay in town for the rest of the week or he was going to lose this bet before sundown.
He shouldn’t have participated in the waterfight at all, now that he thought about it. Claire was right – he was nothing but a flirt.
Time to mend his ways.
* * * * *
"So you’ll be going back to Victoria, now, right?" Claire asked. She stood by the door, itching to be on the other side of it, back in her car and on her way home. This visit had upset her even more than she’d imagined. All those years she’d longed to have her mother’s undivided attention, and now she knew what had kept her on her months’ long trips abroad. Somehow knowing she’d been spending time with another daughter was worse than thinking she was shacking up with another man. If she strayed from her marriage it was her husband’s fault. If she felt the need to spend time with another daughter, had it been from some failing of Claire’s?
No. Of course not. What a childish thought.
She felt like a child right now. She longed to see her mother again – to confront her. To have Aria tell her that she was the only daughter she really loved. To have her say that she loved her at all. Her mother had loved her, hadn’t she? A familiar ache filled her chest at the knowledge she’d never see her again to ask.
Morgan was blinking back tears, too. "I can’t believe she’s gone," she said. "I can’t believe she’s been dead for months and I didn’t even know. I always came second with her. She always put you and Ethan first. She loved you two so much."
Claire stiffened, anger quickly replacing her sorrow. "Are you kidding? She took off to see you all the time. She was never here when I needed her! Don’t pretend you’re the injured party in this."
Morgan’s eyes went wide. "You think you have it worse than me? You have your brother still. You have the ranch. You belong somewhere. I have nothing!"
"You have your father and your grandparents."
Morgan shook her head. "My grandparents are dead and I share my dad with two other half-siblings who hate my guts. Do you know how hard that’s been?"
"Do you know how hard it’s been to have your mother leave for months at a time and not even know where she is?" Claire stood her ground. Morgan wasn’t going to steal her right to mourn all that she’d lost.
Morgan pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. "This is insane. We’ve both lost our mother. We’re both heartbroken. We don’t have to be enemies, you know. We could help each other."
"How?" Claire took a step closer to the door. She didn’t want to have this conversation. She just wanted to go home and forget all about her brand new half-sister.
"We could start by piecing the whole story together – filling each other in on the details. There are a lot of things I’d like to know – about Mom, and about you and Ethan."
Claire stared at her. "You think we’re going to be one big happy family now, don’t you – now that my father’s dead? You think we’re going to hold our arms open and welcome you to the fold?"
Morgan looked stricken. "I just thought we could talk."
"No." Claire grabbed the door handle. "You thought a lot more than that. You thought you’d weasel your way in and become part of the family. One of us. A Cruz. Well, forget it. You might be Aria’s daughter, but you’ll never be my sister. Leave us alone."
She whipped through the door and slammed it behind her, running down the exterior hallway and concrete stairs to the parking lot. Propelled by the fear that Morgan would come after her, she picked up speed as she hit the pavement. She had almost made it to her car when a man intercepted her, stepping out from behind a pickup truck.
"Claire. I thought that was you."
She wanted to groan. Daniel. What was he doing here?
"Get out of my way," she said and tried to push past him. He caught hold of her elbow.
"Not so fast. I heard you’re sniffing around my contract with Carl Whitfield. Do I really have to remind you what will happen if you poach any more of my clients?"
Had he followed her? "He isn’t your client yet. He has the right to choose anyone he pleases. I was already on my own when I approached him." She tried to pull away from his grip, but he tightened it.
"Keep away from him."
"Keep away from me!" She shoved him with both palms. He overbalanced and fell back against a Chevy Malibu, but was on his feet and in her face before she could move. He clutched the fabric of her shirt at her throat and pushed her backward until she was pressed against a panel van.
"You don’t scare me, Claire Cruz. You’re a bitch and a know-it-all and the biggest shrew in Billings, but you’re weak and pathetic and a washup as an interior designer. You have no style. How could you? You’ve never been anywhere except Montana. Your mother should have taken you with her on a few of those trips of hers. Oh, I forgot. She didn’t want your sorry ass along for the ride. Too busy screwing other guys, right? Wasn’t that your sob story? So freaking pathetic." He loomed over her, forcing Claire to crane her neck just to look him in the eye. She wanted to say something back – something just as biting and cruel, but words failed her. She’d never seen Daniel like this. Sure, he could be mean; he yelled like a sonofabitch when he didn’t get his way. One time he’d even punched a hole in her kitchen wall. But he’d never pushed her around.