The Cowboy's E-Mail Order Bride (Page 31)

The Cowboy’s E-Mail Order Bride(31)
Author: Cora Seton

“Some of it took,” Matt said. “You’ve done a terrific job with your investments.”

Jamie shrugged. “Don’t have much call to spend my money.”

Ethan laughed out loud. “That’s for sure. You ever been with Jamie at the bar?” he asked Matt. “Ever seen him buy a round? Jamie puts the cheap in cheapskate. Everybody knows that!”

“It worked, didn’t it?” Jamie said, some of the smugness gone from his face. “I’ve got enough cash to secure a loan to buy 100 acres of your land.”

“What’re you going to do with it?” Ethan asked.

“Breed horses.”

“You won’t work for me no more?”

Jamie studied the painting behind Matt’s desk. “I’d like to work with you. I’d like to buy in to a share of the ranch and keep the property as a single parcel. Matt told me about Autumn’s idea and I think it’s a terrific one. I wouldn’t mind working with the guests – teaching them to ride, taking them out on day trips. Maybe taking groups out for week-long camping trips out on the range. I like that kind of thing.”

“You wouldn’t mind dealing with all those people?”

A smile curved Jamie’s lips. “I like people.”

“You like women. What about their husbands and children?”

“I reckon I can tolerate a few of them, too. I like teaching people stuff. I like the idea of getting kids away from their computers and out into the real world. Can you imagine what it’d be like to put a kid on a horse for the first time and lead them out into the country? I think that’s gotta be better than us losing the ranch and having to work for Carl.”

Ethan’s knuckles tightened reflexively on the armrests of his chair. “You got that right.” He studied Jamie. “I didn’t realize you loved the ranch that much.”

Jamie bristled. “I helped build those fences alongside you and your Daddy. I was out there every second I could – helping birth the foals, training all those horses. I may not be blood, but you can’t deny my sweat’s been poured over every inch of that land!”

“Whoa! I wasn’t attacking you.” Ethan stood up and held out his hand to Jamie. “I was welcoming you.” The outer door to the office opened and someone came in, but Jamie stood up, too, and blocked his view.

He hesitated. “You saying you’ll sell to me?”

“I’m saying I can’t think of anyone else I’d want as a business partner. I’d be proud to co-own the ranch with you.”

He was about to shake Jamie’s hand when Claire stormed into the office. “What the hell is going on here? You can’t sell a partnership to the ranch! I’m half owner, and I’m selling the whole thing to Lacey and Carl!”

“Claire,” Matt got between them and held out a hand. “Thanks for coming. Sit down.” He cleared his throat and Jamie quickly moved away from his chair to make it available to her.

“I’m not going to sit down until I know what the hell’s going on here.” She crossed her arms over her chest, her sleek bob swinging.

“Calm down, Claire – it’s good news. I’m buying you out. You’ll have enough money to open up a whole chain of interior design businesses,” Ethan said.

Her gaze swept from Ethan to Matt to Jamie. “Really? I’ll get half the price of the ranch?” She sat down and faced Matt. “Tell me.”

“Six hundred-thousand dollars,” Matt said, drawing a sheaf of papers out of a file folder. “Jamie’s buying a quarter share in the ranch, and together they’ll qualify for a second mortgage that will buy you out. When everything’s settled and signed, you’ll have your money and Ethan and Jamie will own the ranch.”

“And Autumn,” Ethan said.

“And Autumn, just as soon as the two of you are married,” Matt agreed.

“Oh, my God,” Claire said. “I didn’t think…I had no idea…” She turned to Ethan. “But you’ll be up to your eyeballs in debt!”

“I’m already up to my eyeballs in debt,” Ethan said. “But Autumn came up with a great idea. We’re going to open the Big House as a guest ranch. She loves to cook and she’s amazing at it. She wants to feed the guests, and Jamie here wants to handle the outside chores – teaching guests to ride, and all that. I’ll keep running the ranch like I’ve always done and we’ll hire some kids from town to do the rest.”

Claire blinked. “That’s…a really good idea.”

“Don’t sound so surprised,” Ethan said, sitting back in his chair. “My bride’s pretty smart.”

Claire looked skeptical. “If she’s so smart why would she pick you for a husband?”

“Ouch!” Ethan scowled and Claire grinned. For a second his sister looked like her old self, before she’d grown up and gone boy crazy, before all the fights with their mother. God, he missed those days.

“You sure you don’t want to go in on the business with us?” Jamie asked Claire. “You could help out with the horses, too. Teach kids to ride?”

Now it was Ethan’s turn to blink. It was like Jamie had read his mind and also remembered Claire as she used to be – crazy for riding and one of the best in the entire county at it. But as far as he knew Claire hadn’t been on a horse since she hightailed it to Billings years ago. She hated the ranch and everything about it; he just wished he knew why. Sure, she’d fought like cats and dogs with their mother during her teenage years, but that was water way under the bridge. Maybe it wasn’t for Claire, though. She hadn’t made up with her mother before their parents’ deaths.

“No thanks. I’m going to take the money and run,” Claire said. “If I were you, Ethan, I’d steer clear of Lacey for a long, long time. She’s going to be furious. She was really looking forward to rubbing your nose into the fact that she owned our ranch.”

“I can’t believe you would have sold it to her,” Ethan said.

“I can’t believe you don’t know how much I hate that place,” Claire said. “But then you never noticed much except for that land and those cattle, did you?”

Ethan frowned as she bent over the paperwork, and exchanged a confused glance behind her back with Jamie. Jamie seemed just as much in the dark as he was. Something had happened to Claire in those turbulent teenage years to turn her into a different person. Seeing his own troubled feelings echoed in Jamie’s worried look he felt a pang. This wasn’t the first time he’d wondered if his friend harbored feelings for his sister, and if Claire hadn’t turned into such a stick-in-the-mud city girl – 29 going on 45 – he’d welcome the match.