He swallowed hard. “What did Montez want?”
One hand flew to her throat. “He…he wanted to kiss me.”
Wash could sure understand that. Kissing her was something he himself had been thinking a lot about for the past two days. And nights.
A stifled groan floated up from the ground. Wash stepped off the porch and straddled the Spaniard. Dragging him upright by the back of his shirt, he planted a boot in his backside.
Damned randy snake.
“Get out of here, Montez. And don’t come back. Pick up your pay from Rooney at the saloon.”
Without looking at him, the Spaniard slouched unsteadily down the path and through the gate.
Wash couldn’t look at Jeanne; he felt responsible. But she pinned him with an unflinching eye. “I do not like that those men come here.”
Wash blew out a long breath. “Those men are my work crew for the railroad that’s coming. A different crew will be here in a day or two to start clearing brush.
“Brush? What brush?”
Wash hesitated, gazing out into the darkness, envisioning Jeanne’s lush fields of lavender glowing in the sun. God help him, he couldn’t say it. Couldn’t tell her the clearing crew was getting paid to chop down her precious crop.
“Brush,” he echoed. “You know, tickle grass and small trees.” He shot a look at her face. “Anything that’s uh, in the way of laying track.”
She turned to him, eyes narrowing. “I will not have such men at my farm.”
“Jeanne, don’t you understand?” Anger hardened his voice. “It isn’t your farm. This land belongs to the railroad.”
He kept a tight rein on his nerves and watched her mouth turn down, the light in her eyes dim. Maybe she’d cry or something. Her farm had to go. He expected her to crumple in the face of her impending loss. Instead she straightened her shoulders and bit her lower lip.
“Jeanne, don’t you see? Many people will benefit from the railroad.”
She began to crease tiny folds in her muslin apron. “No, I do not see,” she blazed. “I and my Manette, we will not benefit! Do we not matter here in America?”
“Sure, you matter,” Wash growled. “Every citizen matters. That’s what this country is built on.”
“But that is not true! If many people want one thing and two people do not want it, the many will win. Is that not so?”
Wash cleared his throat. “Well, uh, yeah. That’s democracy. The majority rules.”
Her chin came up. “But is that not unfair to the not majority people? To the two that wanted something else?”
He swallowed. Now that he thought about it, yeah, it did seem unfair.
Jeanne propped her hands at her waist. “So, I and my daughter should be pushed out of our home because the people in town want a railroad, yes?”
She had a point, all right. What happened to the rights of a single individual under majority rule? Hell, he was a lawyer; he should have an answer. A war had just been fought between the North and the South over the right of a single state to secede from the union against the will of the government. So what gave Grant Sykes the right to decide that Jeanne Nicolet was not important and his Oregon Central line was?
Money, that’s what. Ownership of the land. Sykes and the Oregon Central owned this land. The whole mess made his head ache.
“Well?” she demanded. Her eyes took on the most intriguing color he’d ever seen, kind of like green tree moss after a punishing rain. But they weren’t soft like moss; they were hard as agate.
“All I know is that the railroad is coming through here. You have to get out of the way.”
She gave him a long, steely look. “I will not move,” she announced through tight lips. “Not until I harvest my lavender.”
Good Lord, her precious lavender. This woman was the most single-minded female he’d ever encountered. His mother had been stubborn, but Jeanne…Jeanne was unmovable as a brick wall.
He reached out to touch her arm. “Jeanne, listen.” Under his fingers the smooth gingham warmed with her body heat. A jolt of yearning skip-hopped into his vitals.
She was a singular woman, all right. She was the starchiest female he’d ever encountered, all prickles and “but this’s” and “but that’s.” Trying to reason with her reminded him of negotiating with an implacable Sioux chief. The Indians hadn’t wanted to move, either, and the news that most of them had died of starvation on the winter trail to the reservation made him sick to his stomach. He couldn’t stand to watch anything like that happen to Jeanne and her daughter.
But how was he going to convince her? What if he just hauled her into his arms and let her cry it out?