Why would they when all she’d done all week was mope? As she rode along, the distance from her troubles was giving her clarity. She had a condo filled with tiles, floor coverings, cabinets and more – far more than she could use for ten log houses. She needed to make some decisions and send the rest back. She needed to get her finances in order.
She needed to figure out what she wanted to do with her life.
Her gaze strayed ahead of her to Jamie where he rode easily, chatting and laughing with Morgan, Ethan and Christine, who’d come up behind them. His laughter and good spirits had been a part of her life as she’d grown up on the ranch. His constant presence and his unerring desire to get her attention – and keep it – made it all too easy to discount him as anything special.
But he was special, much as she hated to admit it. Who else could pick out the perfect horse for her when she hadn’t ridden in over a decade? Who else worked beside her so easily – never trying to boss her around or second-guess her decisions? Who else put up with her temper and moods?
Jamie had seen the worst of her. She closed her eyes as her cheeks heated. The best of her, too. He knew her in a way no other man did. Should she give him a chance?
No – she’d been ready to give him a chance the night she came to tell him she’d been a fool for years. She’d been on fire that night to get everything out in the open, to tell Jamie she’d finally seen him for the man he was. And he’d been getting it on with Hannah O’Dell.
He was a flirt and cheat. Always would be.
Rose’s words crossed Claire’s mind, and this time she considered them more seriously. How had Rose put it? Being a flirt was different than being a cheat.
Was Jamie a cheat?
He hadn’t cheated on her when he was with Hannah. She’d given him the cold shoulder for years at that point. Did she really think he’d stay celibate all that time when she certainly hadn’t? She’d never given him the barest encouragement – not the slightest hint that she was interested. What right did she have to be angry when he wasn’t sitting home alone, waiting for her?
That night, staring in his window while he undressed Hannah, she’d felt just as hurt as when she’d caught her mother and Mack together. But Jamie wasn’t married. He was a single man who’d found someone else to be with when she refused him over and over again.
Had Jamie ever cheated? She thought back to the various women he’d dated over the years. All strong, independent types who were just as capable of playing Jamie as of being played by him. Women who wanted a boyfriend to squire them around, but weren’t interested in settling down. She couldn’t remember anyone shedding any tears over him.
Jamie liked women, no doubt about that. Was he a flirt?
Was he a two-timer?
Did Jamie truly want to be with her? Was he husband material?
She narrowed her eyes as Morgan reached over and put her hand on Jamie’s arm. Talking as if no one else was around. What the hell did those two find to connect over? Why couldn’t he take his gaze off of her?
She decided she needed to find out.
* * * * *
As the trail narrowed, Jamie let Ethan move ahead of him.
"Claire’s coming," Ethan said in a low voice as he passed.
Jamie turned to look over his shoulder. Yep, here she came. Probably ready to blast him for fraternizing with the enemy.
"Hi, Claire," Morgan called out.
He hoped Claire would at least nod at her half-sister, but she didn’t. She didn’t say a word.
"What’s up?" Jamie asked her as Morgan fell behind them.
"Just decided to check in. Getting a little sick of eating dust."
"Want me to take the rear for a while?"
"You in a big hurry to get away from me?"
He looked up at her sharp tone. Heck, was Claire a little jealous of the attention he’d been giving to her sister? Morgan was nice, and pretty, but she wasn’t Claire – not by a long shot. "Nah, I can stand you for a little while."
He just caught her distress as she turned away. Shit. Usually she could take anything he had to dish out and give it back twice as bad. "Hey, I’m joking. You know I’d spend every minute with you if I could. You’re the one keeping us apart, honey."
"I just got dirt in my eye." She straightened her shoulders as if bracing herself to perform an unpleasant duty. "Sorry for yelling last night. I was upset."
"I can see why."
"You don’t seem to have any problem talking to her."
He glanced over his shoulder to make sure Morgan couldn’t hear them. "Why should I? She’s not my kin."
"What did she have to say?"
"That she took a week off of her job to come see what happened to her mother. That she still can’t believe she’s gone, but she’d known something awful must have happened since she never came back. That really she’s been mourning her for months."
"She seems pretty cheerful for someone who’s in mourning."
He stifled the urge to call Claire on the cattiness of that remark. "I’d say seems about covers it. I think she’s pretty shaken up. She’s trying not to spoil everyone else’s day."
Like you are, he left unspoken.
Claire pressed her lips together in a thin line. "I don’t want to hear how broken up she is."
"Then we’ll talk about something else," Jamie said easily. "Did you know that she works at a winery in Victoria? She helps manage it – oversees the grapes growing and the distillery. She wants a vineyard of her own someday."
"If you weren’t so busy trying to hate her, I think you’d like her," he said. "Maybe you should ask her to stay at the ranch for another week. Get to know her better. Didn’t you ever wish for a sister?" A glance forward told him Rob was flirting with Morgan now. Claire probably wouldn’t like that.
"As far as I’m concerned, the sooner she leaves, the better."
Jamie cocked his head. "You want to tell me what happened with Daniel yesterday?"
"Nope." She clicked her tongue at Storm and left him behind.
* * * * *
"We should have left Claire back at the ranch. She’s being damn rude," Ethan said thirty minutes later as they hobbled the horses and checked them over. Jamie looked up and scanned the hillside where they’d stopped to eat lunch. Morgan sat in the midst of the female guests chattering away. Claire was busy taking the food out of the saddle bags, slamming the containers and plastic silverware around, making it all too clear she was unhappy with the situation.
"She’s upset that Morgan came along for the ride."
"I guess I can understand that. I thought I’d be angry, when I heard that Mom…well, you know," Ethan said. "I was for a little while, but not anymore. Now I’m curious. Morgan’s grandparents and Mom and Dad are all gone." He shrugged. "Seems like those of us that are left should be able to work things out."