Because she wouldn’t cry, that’s what. Women with prickles didn’t weep. Women with prickles poked back.
“Could we sit down and talk for a minute?”
She nodded, but he noticed her chin stayed tucked close to her chest. “Oui. I will make coffee.” She called Manette in from the chicken house and opened the cabin door.
Grabbing off his hat, Wash crossed the entrance and followed her into the tiny kitchen. It smelled good, like fresh-baked bread. Four round loaves sat cooling on the wooden table.
It was quiet except for the whisper of trees in the soft wind. Good. Peace and quiet. Now he could make her see some sense.
She kept her hands busy grinding the coffee mill and did not look up. “You like your coffee black, do you not?”
“I— Sure.” Wash turned his hat around and around in his fingers until the brim was sweat-damp. “Black is fine.”
“Bon. I, too, like it black. And strong.” She tipped the ground coffee into a waiting pot of cold water. Her hands shook so violently some of the coffee missed the pot and sifted over the counter.
Wash wiped one hand over the smooth wood, swept the spilled grounds into his hand, then looked around the tidy kitchen for some place to dump them. Finally, in desperation, he dropped them into the crown of his hat.
He stepped toward her. “Jeanne, we have to talk about—”
She moved to one side and with jerky motions began cracking eggs into an iron skillet. “In France I took my morning café with milk. Maman brought it to me in bed, and we would talk.”
The thought of her in bed made his mouth go dry. “We’re not in France,” he growled. “We’re here, in your kitchen.”
“I was only twelve,” she said quickly, running a fork through the eggs. “Maman, she was good to me. We had long talks about Papa and my little brother.”
He moved toward her. “Jeanne, you’re not twelve now.”
She turned her back to him.
Dammit. He tramped out of the front door onto the porch, paced to the steps and back three times, then wheeled and strode back into the warm kitchen. He still cradled his Stetson with the coffee grains in the crown.
Jeanne was wrapping her apron around the handle of an iron skillet of scrambled eggs, which she then yanked off the stovetop. She headed straight for him. “Très chaud. Very hot.”
“I like things hot.” He spoke without thinking, then swallowed hard. He knew she’d heard him, because she clanked the skillet down hard onto the kitchen table.
“I learn from Maman how to cook. Our hens laid many—”
That was all he could take. “Would you just stand still for one damn minute and listen?” he shot. “One thing your mama didn’t teach you was how to have a conversation!”
Jeanne sent him a look that would broil steak, and for a moment he thought he’d gotten past her defenses. But in the next second he saw he was mistaken.
“Maman,” she said in a determined tone, “had a special way with une omelette. She tip the pan just so…” Jeanne demonstrated, then pivoted away from the table and bent over the wooden sink, her back to him.
Dammit, he was trying to tell her something and she just plain wasn’t going to listen. He stepped up behind her, close enough to smell her hair. “Stop talking about your maman.”
Her head came up but her hands in the wooden sink fell idle. She’d heard him, all right. She just didn’t want to admit it.
She began to scrub hard at a china plate, then another, and another. Then a cup…
To hell with it. Wash groaned, spun on his heel and stomped out the cabin door. Halfway across the porch he jammed his hat down on his head. It felt funny, kind of crumbly…
Hell, he’d forgotten about the coffee grounds in his hat.
Behind him he heard a ripple of her laughter. She stood in the doorway, one hand clapped over her mouth, her eyes shining with amusement.
With a curse he wheeled toward her. She backed up until she couldn’t go any farther without scorching her skirt on the stove. He snatched off his Stetson, sailed it off into the dark and reached for her. He knew his actions were rough, but he’d had all he could take.
She shot him a look of surprise, her lips opening to protest, and without thinking he bent to find her mouth.
At the first touch of her lips, he knew he’d made a big, big mistake. Oh, God, she was sweet, and so soft. The pleasure of kissing her sent a skin-shriveling shudder up his backbone. Her lips were like 180-proof double-distilled brandy, and he drank until he was aching with want.
He kept kissing her until a strangled sound came out of his throat. He shouldn’t be doing this, but he couldn’t stop. She was the bone stuck in his craw, all right. The thing he couldn’t swallow or cough up.