"Were all those boxes things for my house?" Jamie asked softly.
Pain flooded through her as she forced herself to nod.
"Seems like a lot."
He was being as gentle as possible, she knew. Time to fess up. All she could do was hope he wouldn’t hate her guts. "I kept changing my mind. I kept buying more. I just couldn’t get the design right."
"I liked your first design, you know." He stroked her hair.
"I know. I kind of went crazy. I wanted the Whitfield contract so bad." She took a shuddering breath, trying with all her might to stop her hands from shaking.
His arm tightened around her. "I wish you cared as much about my home as you do about his."
"Jamie." Tears stung her lids again as she put a hand on his thigh and turned to face him. "I do care about your home. I care about it a lot." I care about you a lot, she wanted to add, but she couldn’t – not when she’d messed up so badly. He had to hate her for what she’d done – trying to make his perfect log home into a stupid showplace just to impress Carl. And for what? To get back at Daniel, a man she should have left behind months ago?
Jamie was right. All this time she’d kept her focus on Daniel instead of paying attention to him. Worse – she’d judged him and found him wanting based on nothing except for her own jealousy. She didn’t deserve his compassion now. She deserved his disgust.
"It’s no mansion."
"I don’t care about mansions," she said, wishing she’d never heard of Carl Whitfield or his stupid contract.
He kissed her on the cheek and Claire blinked back tears. Why was he being so nice to her?
"It’s predictable." His kiss trailed down her throat to the base of her neck.
She drew in a quick breath, hardly daring to move. "I love predictable," she whispered.
He titled her chin up until their gaze met. "I hope you love unpredictable, too."
Her lips trembled and she knew she was one breath away from breaking down. But Jamie didn’t look angry, or disgusted, or even put out.
"I’m so sorry," she said, and the tears did fall, sliding down her face as fast as she could wipe them away. "I…"
"Shh." Jamie pulled her close. "I don’t care about the house, or how much money you spent or anything but the fact that you’re safe and here with me. I love you. You know that, right? Tell me you know that, Claire."
She sobbed and buried her face in his chest.
"Claire." He bent over her, stroking her back.
"That’s the first time you said it." Her voice was high and thin.
"Said what, honey?"
"That you love me."
He stilled and she could tell he was thinking. "I guess I thought you always knew. I’ve loved you about as long as I’ve known you. I’ve wanted to marry you practically all my life."
She pushed away from him, straightening up until they were eye to eye. "Your proposal was real?"
"Of course it was real. I’ve been telling you that for weeks."
All the fight went out of her at once. Jamie loved her. He really loved her. "You win," she said shakily. "I don’t want to travel around the world. I just want to come home."
"Claire, I don’t want to keep you from having adventures, or doing the work you love or any of it – understand? If you’ll be my wife I’ll help make all of your dreams come true. Just let me be by your side."
"Okay." Her voice was barely a whisper.
Jamie searched her face, as if looking for the truth. "You mean that? You’ll stay with me? You’ll marry me?"
She nodded and hid her face in his neck as he pulled her close again.
"Claire Cruz, you’ve just made me the happiest man alive."
Several hours later, after Claire had cried her heart out in his arms, and he’d nearly shed a tear or two himself, they’d come to a more peaceful place where they could talk about life together; their hopes and dreams. They even managed to talk about the house, about returning to Claire’s initial design. They daydreamed about living in it together, and working together, traveling someday, and as they designed a life together, Claire’s fear passed away and a smile returned to her face.
The rest of the party turned in for the night, including Morgan, who would stay in one of the empty rooms in the Big House, and Rob who insisted on camping out on one of the living room sofas, just in case she needed him. Jamie offered to escort Claire back to the bunkhouse.
"I want to stay with you," she said and his heart expanded until he didn’t know how it could still fit in his chest. Walking with her up the trail to his cabin, he only meant to hold her hand, but they hadn’t got a third of the way there before she was in his arms. They kissed long and hard, swaying against each other, before he tore himself away and hurried her along the path. Another few hundred yards and they stopped again, kisses leading to heavy petting. Jamie unbuttoned Claire’s shirt as she devoured his mouth. She helped him unhook her bra and then her breasts were free, warm and full under his hands.
When she went to work on his shirt, he tore it off himself, relishing the feel of skin on skin as he drew her back into his embrace. He couldn’t kiss enough of her, couldn’t touch enough of her, and he was beginning to think if they didn’t reach the cabin soon, he’d have to make love to her right here on the path.
He lifted her up and carried her the rest of the way, nearly tripping once or twice in the dark, but managing to keep his feet. Up to the front porch, fumbling with the door, and then inside. When he deposited her on the bed, he collapsed beside her.
"Am I that heavy?" she asked, laughing.
"You’re perfect," he growled, and pounced on her.
He soon peeled off every stitch of clothing she wore and flung it to the floor. He wanted her naked. He wanted to touch every inch of her, kiss every inch of her, and then do it all over again. As far as he was concerned the rest of the world could go to hell. He had everything he wanted here in his arms.
She lay back and held still, even when he kissed her. Jamie slowed down, afraid he’d scared her off – afraid she wasn’t actually ready for this, especially after the night’s events. "You okay?" he whispered.
"Yes." But she ducked her head and wouldn’t meet his eye.
"What is it?"
Her voice was muffled. "Remember on the trail? What I did?"
Hell, he’d never forget that as long as he lived. "Yeah. You want to do it again?"
"Kind of. I want…you to be the one who…."
An electric jolt coursed through his body. Oh yeah. He was up for that. "You got it," he said, and tilted her chin up to kiss her. "You just lie back and let me work my magic."