"They took the boxes?" Claire said, her heart sinking. "Oh, my God. Oh, no."
"What is it? What was in them?" Autumn said.
Claire shook her head. "What about the garage?" All those materials. All those pieces of furniture. Thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies.
"The garage was empty, too. Ms. Ellis said you had things stored in there. Is that true?"
She thought she was going to faint. How much money was tied up in those purchases? She’d meant to send most of them back just as soon as she’d made up her mind which ones not to use. They couldn’t be gone. They just couldn’t be.
"I’ll be there as soon as I can."
"Just hold on a minute, ma’am. I have a few questions."
"They can wait." She clicked the phone off, slammed it down on the counter and headed for the front door.
"Claire," Autumn called after her. "When will you be back?"
"I don’t know."
* * * * *
At nine o’clock Claire still hadn’t come home and she wasn’t answering his phone calls, either. Jamie paced the small living room in his cabin and tried to decide whether or not to go after her. She could very well be on her way back already, so if he drove off to Billings he could start a wild goose chase that would go on for hours.
"She was really upset. Give her time to figure out what to do," Autumn had advised him earlier. The Mathesons were playing cards in the Big House with the female guests and he’d decided he could slip out early to the quiet of his own home. No telling how late that party would last.
Rob promised to stop by his cabin on his way to meet the mystery woman at the stable. While he was curious as to who it would be – his money was on Liz or Maddy – he cared far more for how Claire was getting on in Billings.
No wonder she was upset. Nothing was worse than getting robbed.
Maybe she’ll move back to the ranch for good.
He sure wanted her to, but not under these circumstances. And what was with the boxes? Autumn said she was upset because she’d had things stored in her house and now they were gone. What was she storing?
Something expensive? He hoped she had insurance.
He checked his phone again. Where the hell was she?
Nine oh one.
That was it. He was going after her. He headed for the door, but when he pushed it open, it smacked into someone on the other side.
A definitely feminine someone.
"Christine? Is that you?" He peered through the gloom to make out the small woman who teetered on his front porch in jeans, a strappy t-shirt and high heeled shoes. How the hell had she made it all the way from the Big House in those?
"Jamie. I need you." Unlike Adrienne, she didn’t wait for foreplay. She lunged at him, slid her hand down the waist of his jeans and searched his crotch like she was fishing car keys from the bottom of a purse.
"Whoa! Hold on there." He unceremoniously yanked her hand free and shoved her away. "What the hell do you think you’re doing?"
"No one loves me," Christine wailed. Heck, she was drunker than a cow in a poppy field. "My husband doesn’t love me."
He did not need this right now. Not when he needed to go after Claire. "I’m sure your husband adores you. You should go back to your room and call him."
"He asked me for a divorce," she wailed.
Shit. "Do your friends know?"
"No! Of course not. I can’t tell them my marriage is tanking. How could I face them?"
"They’re your friends." He turned her in a circle and pointed her toward the steps down to the path. "They’re supposed to support you when times are tough."
She snorted. "Not bloody likely. They’ll say all the right things to my face, then talk about me behind my back."
"Then they’re not your friends." He began to frog-march her back toward the Big House. As she wobbled along he considered carrying her. It would sure be faster.
"I don’t have any friends," she wailed.
How he got through the next fifteen minutes he couldn’t say. Thank goodness Claire wasn’t there to see Christine alternately paw him and push him away. He deposited her on the front porch and got Autumn. "She’s a mess. I’m sorry to dump her on you but I’ve got to find out what’s happened to Claire."
"Morgan went after her," Autumn said.
"I’m still going."
"I’m not going to stop you." Autumn patted Christine’s head and smiled. "Somehow I thought running a guest ranch would be more fun."
"Ready to quit?"
"Not quite." He ran a hand over his face. "How about you – you doing okay?"
"Yeah. I’m hanging in there. Go on, find Claire. I hope everything’s all right."
"So do I."
* * * * *
"It’s got to be Daniel," Claire said when the police finally left. She stood with Morgan in the stark square living room of her Billings condo. The police had questioned her for what seemed like hours when all she wanted to do was throw herself on the ground and cry. Carrie had been all tears and apologies. She’d been at her boyfriend’s house when the thieves struck. Claire didn’t blame her. She hadn’t stipulated Carrie needed to remain on site at all times. When she couldn’t take the girl’s tears anymore, she sent her home.
Finally she’d had the place to herself, but moments later another knock sounded on the door. She’d thought it was the police returning to ask even more pointless questions, and she’d been ready to give them a piece of her mind. But when she opened the door, there stood Morgan, and to her surprise she found she was glad for the company. Morgan was practical, and she had a temper to match her own. She wouldn’t stand around asking stupid questions. She’d be ready to act.
"Did the police say they’d talk to him?"
"Yeah, but when I asked if they’d search all his properties they said no. They thought it was just a regular robbery. They kept telling me to watch eBay or Craigslist to see if my stuff turned up there. How the hell would I tell if it was mine? It isn’t antiques that got stolen – it’s building materials, brand new in their boxes."
"How much do you think you lost?"
Claire bit her lip. She didn’t want to tell anyone, let alone Morgan, but all her secrecy had gotten her nowhere so far. A favorite saying of her father’s flashed through her mind: when all else fails, you’ve got your family. Funny, she’d never thought to follow that advice.
"Thirty thousand dollars’ worth. Maybe more. I’m not sure." She hesitated. "Maybe fifty thousand."
Morgan cocked her head. "Are you always this vague about money?"