The Cowboy Wins a Bride (Page 47)

The Cowboy Wins a Bride (The Cowboys of Chance Creek #2)(47)
Author: Cora Seton

"Yeah, I know. Where is Claire?"


Ethan sighed. "Not again."

"I can handle this one alone."

After a moment’s hesitation Ethan nodded. "Go get her."

"That’s exactly what I plan to do."

* * * * *

Claire wanted to urge Storm on to a canter, or even a full out gallop, but while she might risk it on known territory, she wouldn’t do that to a horse here. She couldn’t believe she’d been tricked again. Couldn’t believe she’d fallen for the one man she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt was incapable of fidelity. So much for the difference between flirting and cheating. If one led to the other, who cared about definitions?

Face it, she wasn’t special enough to keep a man’s attention. She wasn’t even good enough to keep her own mother’s attention.

She swiped a tear with the back of her hand and scanned the ground in front of her as best she could. Was she even heading in the right direction? One part of her didn’t care – wanted to get lost in these rolling hills. The other part, the rational part who’d grown up here in the wide-open spaces of Montana, knew that she had little water and no food and wouldn’t last long if she got lost. She’d better slow down and get her bearings.

As she reined Storm in to a halt, however, she heard hoofbeats behind her and Jamie rode up before she could urge her horse forward again.

"For God’s sake, Claire, would you listen to me for once? Really listen?" he said without preamble.

"There’s nothing more for you to say."

"Yes, there is. There’s plenty. You walked in on me back there in a situation that looked like something it wasn’t. You need to let me explain."

"I don’t need to let you do anything. There’s one thing I’m perfectly clear about – I’m not going to be the little woman who sits at home while you flirt and sleep with everything in a skirt. I’m not going to do it. I’m worth more than that!"

Her voice hitched and more tears slipped from her eyes. Damn it, she wasn’t going to cry – she was angry, not sad.

"Claire." Jamie came up beside her and reached out. She slapped his hand away.

"Don’t." Storm sidestepped beneath her and she patted her flank to try to calm the mare. "I can’t do this. I can’t be afraid every minute about how you’ll betray me next."

"I’ve never betrayed you," Jamie said angrily. "I’ve never betrayed anyone. Morgan was hurt and she didn’t want you to know. She said you blamed yourself enough already and she didn’t want to add to your worry. She’s got an awful bruise on her back – she shouldn’t even be on this ride – and she asked me to check it out so that neither you nor Rob would flip your lids."

"What about Angel?"

"What about her? She’s a lunatic. I didn’t even know she was there."

"What about the others – I’ve seen the way they look at you."

"Have you seen me return any of their attention? At all? I’ve kept up my side of the bargain. I haven’t flirted with anyone. I haven’t given them the time of day."

"You sure gave the time of day to Hannah O’Dell. You couldn’t keep your hands off of her!"

Jamie stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. "Hannah O’Dell? What the heck are you talking about?"

"I saw you with her – two years ago in your cabin. All over her."

For a minute Jamie couldn’t seem to catch up. Finally, he said, "Let me get this straight – you spied on me and Hannah O’Dell? Why the hell would you do that?"

She swung Storm away from him, clicking her teeth, but Jamie headed her off. "Tell me – why would you be at my cabin in the middle of the night?"

"I came…I wanted…" Damn it, she could barely talk for the ache in her throat.

"Jesus, Claire did you come to see me? Two years ago?" Jamie swung down off his horse, ducked around it and reached up for her. Before she could pull away, he’d tugged her down off of Storm. "I was breaking up with her, did you realize that? I was breaking up with her because I hoped you finally wanted to be with me. Then…you never came back. You fell for Ledstrom instead."

The anguish was all too clear in his voice.

"Funny way to break up with her," she finally made herself say, weighed down with the knowledge that she’d been guilty of break-up sex once or twice herself. "It doesn’t matter. None of this matters. We can’t get married because if we do you’ll be sick of me in a matter of days."

"How can you say that?" Jamie gripped her tighter. "I could look at you all day long, every day, and not get tired of you. I have looked at you, listened to you, worked with you all day long and all it’s ever done is leave me hungry for more. Nothing matters to me except being with you."

"You say that now, but everyone leaves me – my mother, Daniel…"

She tried to pull back but he wrapped his arms around her and bent closer.

"I will never leave you. Everything I’ve done in my life, I’ve done for you. Every damn last thing. Working like a dog, saving my money, buying into the ranch…all of it."

This time, the sob that welled up in her throat wouldn’t be pushed down. Tears spilled over her cheeks and she couldn’t stop them. She shook her head.

"How can you not know that I love you?" he growled. "All I do is try to show you."

"I know you love me. Now. But it won’t last, it never does, and I can’t bear the thought of you leaving me," she said through her tears. "I can’t bear it, Jamie."

"It won’t happen. I promise." He held her even tighter.

Her chest hurt so bad she could barely breathe. "You can’t promise that." She thought of the day her parents died. Ethan’s phone call. The knowledge sinking into her heart that she’d never see them again.

Somehow Jamie knew where her thoughts had gone. "Your mother didn’t want to leave you. Neither did your father," he said softly.

His quiet words burst the dam that held all the pain she’d been holding back. "I miss her, I miss both of them," she cried. "Oh, God, Jamie, I didn’t get to say good-bye!"

"I know, honey." He brushed his lips over the top of her head.

"She thought I hated her. I was so angry…"

"She knew you loved her. She knows it now."

"Why didn’t she just tell us what had happened? So we knew why she had to leave all the time? Why didn’t she tell us the truth?" Her words came out in broken phrases.

"She was afraid," Jamie said softly. "Fear makes us do strange things."