Jamie considered this. "Claire took it harder than you – all your Mom’s comings and goings."
Ethan frowned. "She never said anything."
"She didn’t have to – what she did said everything she needed to say."
Pausing with one hand on Storm’s withers, Ethan nodded slowly. "All those fights? The running wild? Yeah. I guess so. But that’s water under the bridge now."
"I don’t think it is for Claire. Morgan being here is like salt in her wounds. Think about it this way – when your Mom went away it was to be with Morgan. Every time she left, it was Morgan’s fault."
"Like she was cheating on Claire with another daughter," Ethan said and laughed shortly. "Okay, I see it now. Claire’s really mad at Mom, but Mom’s gone, so…"
"So she’s taking it out on the only other target left."
"So we kick Morgan to the curb?"
Jamie patted the gentle mare that Adrienne was riding today. "That’s the easy solution, but I don’t think it’s the best one. We’ve got to throw those two together, let them go at it and hope they fight their way through the problem to the other side."
Ethan looked skeptical. "That sounds messy."
"Life is messy."
When Ethan took a long moment to answer, Jamie figured he was thinking of his own recent history. "Yeah. You got that right."
Jamie’s thoughts returned to the spark of jealousy Claire’d shown when he spent too much time around Morgan on the ride. So far he’d done a crap job of seducing her. He’d hoped that by interesting her in the projects that interested him – his house and the guest ranch business – he’d convince her she wanted to spend more time with him. Since that hadn’t worked, it was time to step things up a notch. Claire avoided him as much as she could. He’d always taken that for disinterest. What if he was wrong? What if that signaled an abundance of interest?
Time to test that theory out.
* * * * *
Claire watched in dismay as Jamie stuck to Morgan like burrs on a mule for the remainder of their lunch break. He sat next to her at lunch, his leg almost pressed against hers as they shared a log for a seat. From across the way, she heard them discuss the food, the ride, the guests, and the prospects for buying breeding stock this year, in a general, disinterested way. She couldn’t accuse him of flirting, but damn it, that was exactly what he was doing.
Morgan was eating up his attention and why shouldn’t she? A good looking, capable man like Jamie was hard to find, especially one with a head for business and a desire to settle down and raise a family.
With a lurch of her heart, Claire realized she was jealous of Morgan. Jealous because she wanted a good looking, capable man. A man with a head for business she could settle down and raise a family with. She was sick of holding back, sick of being alone, sick to death of focusing on revenge instead of on her future. Now that she knew what kind of man Daniel really was, getting back at him seemed less important. Let Edie have him and good riddance.
As long as Jamie was available she’d felt like she’d had all the time in the world to get around to him, and little inclination to do so. Seeing Morgan cozy up to him brought that illusion crashing down. If she kept guarding her heart so carefully, she would never find out what Jamie’s intentions really were, and she risked someone else – someone like Morgan – coming along and snatching him away from her.
She couldn’t be sure if Jamie really cared for her, or if he was just playing an increasingly elaborate practical joke, but the thing she was coming to realize was that she had to find out – whether or not that meant getting hurt.
She wanted Jamie. She wanted to stop playing games and say yes to his proposal. She wanted to look him in the eye and learn the truth.
Should she admit that to him?
No. In spite of her realizations, she wasn’t ready to lose their bet. In fact – she straightened as a new idea hit her – tempting him to lose it sounded like so much more fun.
When they saddled up for the return ride, she let Ethan lead the pack and fell back to ride alongside of Jamie.
And she stuck by him for the rest of the day.
Jamie didn’t acknowledge this new arrangement, but he didn’t fight it either. She figured he was waiting to see what she did next. Fine. She’d keep him guessing.
She saw Adrienne and Liz exchange a glance at one point, but with Ethan and Rob along, none of the ladies seemed too put out by Jamie’s abandonment of them.
Claire kept alert for any overt sign he was flirting with her, but although Jamie was warm and interested in everything she had to say, he didn’t touch her once – even though they were certainly close enough on this narrow track.
She should know – she made a point to touch him often. Each time she did, her ring sparkled in the sunshine.
Her engagement ring.
Could she tantalize him so much he’d ask her to marry him and really mean it?
As the afternoon stretched on, she made a game of it. Never allowing her fingertips to land on the same square of his skin twice. His arm. His thigh. His shoulder. Each time they connected, his warmth left her tingling. She could almost imagine him touching her back. Placing a hand on her knee, stroking her, moving upwards until…
Suddenly hot, she turned her face aside, hoping he didn’t notice the blush she was sure was creeping up her cheeks.
Still, she couldn’t stop her thoughts from leaping to a much more sensual scenario – Jamie poised above her, like he’d been that night a month ago, out on the range. Ready to plunge into her. Ready to make love to her until she cried aloud.
She darted a glance his way, then ducked her head again, willing her thoughts to safer ground. "What?"
"I asked what Autumn was making for dinner."
"I…I don’t know." Dinner? Who could think about dinner? All she could think about was Jamie – naked. Hard. Ready for her. Hell, she was ready for him – right now.
"Something on your mind?"
She stifled an urge to hit him. Yes, something was on her mind. Him. Sex. "Yeah."
"What?" It wasn’t flirtation, exactly. But his voice was inviting. Husky.
"Nothing." But another glance told her she’d given herself away. She didn’t know how he knew what had been on her mind, but he knew all right. She wanted to rub that self-satisfied look right off his face. Damn men. How did they do that? Sit so easy in their bodies? Let a tilt of their jaw or the way they sat in the saddle let you know that they felt supremely confident they could have you crying out in passion when the time was right. Jamie was just as insufferable as the rest of them.