He felt like he’d died and gone to hell.
Mon Dieu! What does this man think he is doing?
Alors, he was kissing her, that’s what he was doing!
She lifted her hand to swat him across his tanned face, but as her arm rose, his lips moved suddenly deeper, more intensely on hers, and her resolve poofed away like so much dust. No man’s kiss had ever been like this, not even Henri’s on the night Manette was conceived.
She tipped her face to one side and still he did not stop moving his lips over hers. Surely God meant for a man and a woman to enjoy each other, but like this? With such abandon, such dark joy bubbling up inside her? About that, she did not know.
Her breasts were crushed against his chest and all at once she wanted to slip outside her skin and melt into his hot, hard body. Never in all her life had she had such a thought.
His demanding mouth asked and answered, and asked again, while her most private parts swelled and ached. She should push him away, should… Ah, what she should do was of no importance.
He lifted his head and held her close, his chin resting against her temple. She closed her eyes, then snapped her lids open. “Would you perhaps want…?”
“Hell, yes,” he said, his voice hoarse. His ragged breath ruffled the hair close to her ear.
“…une omelette?” she breathed.
Wash had no memory of his ride back to town. Rooney was at the saloon, as usual; he glanced up from the bar with a questioning look. “Hell, Wash, you look like you’ve been poleaxed.”
Yeah. Something had smacked him over the head, all right. He felt happy like he’d never felt before. He sent Rooney what he knew was a sloppy smile but it was the best he could do with his brain still reeling from that kiss. He hunched his shoulders over the bar and tried to keep her name from hammering through his brain. Jeanne. Jeanne.
Rooney peered at him. “Got somethin’ stuck in your throat?”
“Nah,” he managed to croak. How was it Rooney always seemed to know what he was thinking?
“Mebbe heard some o’ the talk around town about that French lady?”
Wash’s head jerked up. “What talk?”
“Just…talk. You know, some of the townfolk are in a hurry to get the railroad through. Got money riding on it, you might say. Farmers want to ship their apples to the city. Ranchers are lookin’ for markets they don’t have to trail-up for. Even Miz Forester, the dressmaker, wants to bring customers from Gillette Springs. It’s a two-day ride from Gillette Springs to Smoke River, but when the railroad—”
“What’re you trying to tell me, Rooney?”
The older man gulped a swallow of the whiskey at his elbow. “Just that folks are in a sweat. Some of them are gettin’ pretty het up.”
Rooney’s black eyes slid away from his gaze. “There’s some kinda meetin’ at Whitey’s barbershop. Mostly men—cowpokes and ranchers. Some shopkeepers. And that Spanish guy on your survey crew showed up.”
“That’s the one. Mean-lookin’ son of a gun.”
“I told Montez to pick up his pay and get out of town.”
Rooney nodded. “He did pick up his pay.”
Wash let out a breath of relief.
“But he didn’t leave town.”
His spine went rigid. “Where is he now?”
Rooney shrugged. “Dunno.”
“The man’s up to no good, I can smell it.”
Rooney’s salt-and-pepper eyebrows rose, but he said nothing.
The bartender slid a shot glass of whiskey in front of Wash and he downed it in one swallow. “That damned snake laid his hands on Miz Nicolet.”
Rooney smoothed his beard with his little finger. “Did he, now? What’s that to you?”
Wash dropped his head onto his clenched fists. He didn’t know the answer to that one. He only knew that when he’d seen Montez manhandling Jeanne on her front porch something had come over him. Something hot and possessive.
Something he didn’t want to think about.
“I’m going over to the boardinghouse,” he muttered. “Change my shirt before supper. You coming?”
Rooney cast an appraising glance over the two empty poker tables in the center of the barroom. “Wouldn’t wanna play a hand of five-card stud, wouldja?”
“Nope. Rather eat Mrs. Rose’s fried chicken and gravy.”
His stomach clenched at the memory of Jeanne offering him an omelet. He’d wanted to stay. Forget the omelet—you wanted to kiss her again.
Rooney was staying at the same boardinghouse, in the room just across the hall from Wash. Mrs. Rose had taken quite a shine to his half-Comanche friend. She always saved the biggest drumstick or the juiciest pork chop or the last dish of peach ice cream for Rooney, who accepted the gestures as if he’d spent his whole life being waited on. Wash knew different. His companion had lived a hardscrabble life. It surprised him how quickly his rough-and-ready friend had adjusted to being fawned over by pretty widows who ran boardinghouses.