Ethan headed off to his tent. Christine went to hers. Several of the other couples slipped off into the night and Jamie grimaced as he thought the Cruz Guest Ranch might get a reputation it wasn’t entirely after. Still, he couldn’t blame anyone. He sure planned to make the most of his time with Claire.
She was busy helping Rose pack things away for the night. Rob was looking after the horses, checking them one last time before turning in. Jamie wanted to clean up a bit before his night with Claire. He joined her where she was packing the food into a bag near a rope dangling over an overhead tree branch. Once she was done, she’d haul it up high away from marauding animals.
"Want help with that?"
"I’ve got it."
"Meet you back at the tent?"
"You in a rush?" She smiled.
"I’ve got a thing or two to do before you get there. See you soon."
He’d set up their tent a little ways apart from the others in a stand of pine trees. Claire was a ranch girl and she wasn’t squeamish, but a day on the trail had him as stinky as a skunk in heat. There wasn’t a lot he could do to fix that, but he’d at least give it a try.
He hadn’t been in the tent for two minutes, however, when footsteps approached and someone cleared her throat outside. "Jamie?"
It wasn’t Claire. He swore softly. He’d been rummaging in a bag by flashlight, trying to find some soap and a wash rag. The tent was hard to move around in, with bedding and bags piled up to one side.
"It’s Morgan. Can I come in?"
He relaxed. Not one of his oversexed guests, then. "Sure thing." He unzipped the door and she stepped in, the flashlight sending odd shadows to her face. She moved stiffly and he wondered if the ride had been more than she was used to.
"I didn’t want to tell Claire, because she’s already so freaked out about putting me in danger," she began.
"She should be," Jamie interrupted. "That was a damn fool trick."
"I went along with it," she said shortly. "Anyway, I’m really sore."
"From the ride?"
"No. Those guys…they were pretty rough the other night. They knocked me around a bit. Something really hurts between my shoulder blades."
Jamie sucked in a breath, a haze of anger surging upwards in him again. He didn’t know how much time would have to pass before he could think of the previous night’s events without being overcome by the desire to pound Ledstrom to a bloody pulp.
"I can’t see it," Morgan went on. "Like I said, I didn’t want to ask Claire to look. She feels so bad already. I can’t ask Rob, either. I’m having a hard enough time fending him off. If I start undoing my shirt he’ll be all over me."
Jamie suppressed a smile. "I thought you liked him."
"I do. Sort of. But my life isn’t here – it’s back in Canada. Why start something I can’t finish? Anyway," she sighed. "I know this is weird but would you just look at my back. I swear I won’t jump you."
"Sure. Better do it quick, though, if you don’t want Claire to see, too. She’ll be here in a minute."
Morgan turned her back to him, undid a few buttons of her shirt and dropped it down over her shoulders so it hung near her waist. "See anything?"
Jamie held up the flashlight. "Shit." A dark blue-black bruise spread over most of her back. "Morgan, I’ve never seen anything like that."
* * * * *
Claire froze as she approached the tent where it lay secluded in a stand of wiry pine trees. A flashlight inside lit the canvas structure and highlighted two silhouettes against a backdrop of white.
A man and a woman.
Jamie and Morgan.
Their shadows juddered and dodged, but they stood close together, Morgan’s head turned to Jamie, his hands stretched out to touch her.
"Morgan," Jamie said, his voice low and husky. "I’ve never seen anything like that."
Like what? What was she showing him?
Morgan moved and her shadow clarified. Something bunched around her waist – her shirt? – her breasts sharply delineated against the nylon. Half undressed, she moved closer to Jamie.
"Hold still," he said. "I want a closer look."
Rage surged inside her. This could not be happening again – not again. First her mother and Mack, then Daniel and Edie. Now Jamie? Her fiancé?
He couldn’t even wait until after the wedding to cheat on her?
She couldn’t stand it.
With a cry of pain, she darted forward, unzipped the tent and pushed inside. "You bitch!" She leaped forward to shove her half-sister to the ground. "I knew it! I knew you weren’t what you were pretending to be!"
"Claire!" Jamie caught Morgan before she hit the floor. Claire fell on top of her and all three of them crashed to the ground.
"Ouch!" The pile of bedding beside them moved, jerked, and a blonde head popped out, followed by a naked set of shoulders.
"Angel? What the hell are you doing here?" Claire said. Morgan tried to scramble to her knees, but Claire shoved her down again.
"I was waiting for Jamie," Angel said in her dreamy voice. "I must have fallen asleep. You took so long," she whined at him.
Claire’s rage turned to outright fury. "Two women? Two of them? What were you planning, an orgy?"
"Jesus, Claire, calm down." Jamie lifted Morgan off his lap and slid out from under her. "I was just…"
"I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to have anything to do with you. Screw your house and screw you, Jamie Lassiter!" She tugged the engagement ring she’d worn for over a month off and threw it in his face. Fumbling her way out of the tent, the pain of understanding that it was over – absolutely over between them – took her breath away.
"Claire, stop! Where are you going?"
"Back to Billings. I’m done with all of you."
* * * * *
It took forever to restore a sobbing Morgan back to Rob and escort Angel to her tent with firm instructions not to leave it again for the duration of the night. By that time, Claire and Storm were gone.
It was madness for her to set off in the dark over open rangeland. There was no path to follow – no way for her to get home without careful attention to landmarks and directions. How the hell she planned to do that in the dark, he didn’t know.
"What’s going on?" Ethan asked, materializing by his side as he saddled his horse.
"Claire caught me with Morgan and Angel. I wasn’t doing anything," he snapped as Ethan’s eyebrow’s rose. "I want your sister, not your…half-sister, for god’s sake."