Lady Lavender - Page 22

Sunlight flashed off something metallic on the hill side and she caught her breath. At the head of the valley, five horsemen studied her lavender field. Dumbfounded, she stared at them.

One man gestured toward the ripening bushes and then pointed to her cabin.

Her neck hair began to itch. What did they want? One of the men untied a canvas-wrapped bundle from behind his saddle and dropped it onto the ground. The clank of metal brought her wide-awake. Tools. It was the railroad clearing crew Wash had mentioned.

They had come to clear her field!

Her home!

She whirled toward the cabin, raced up the porch steps making no effort to be quiet. Wash’s inert body, still extended across her doorway, did not even twitch. Jeanne drew back her foot and buried the toe of her boot where she judged his midsection would be.

“You lied to me!” she screamed. “You promised I would have time to harvest—” She broke off to aim another blow.

A hand snaked out and caught her boot. “Good morning,” a calm, sleep-fuzzy voice said. “Was there something you wanted?”

“Oui,” she shouted. “Cochon! I want you to suffer for what you did. I want—”

Wash sat up, still holding her foot. “Believe me, Jeanne, I am suffering.”

“You mock me. I am so angry I could…” He released her foot and she drew it back to kick him again. Oh, she could not hurt him enough!

He raised both arms to protect his face. “For heaven’s sake, what did I do?”

She faced him, planting her hands on her hips. “You know what you did. You lied to me. All men lie, but you—you are the worst! You promised!”

He struggled to his feet and they faced off. “What? What did I promise?”

“You promised I would have time to cut my lavender before…before…” She could not bring herself to say it. “And now, this morning, they are here.”

She pressed her lips together to keep them from trembling. She would not let him see her cry.

He took a step toward her. “Who is here?” He spoke with his jaw clenched, and she realized he was very, very angry. Even in his bare feet he towered over her. She straightened to her full height and lifted her chin.

“Five men from your railroad,” she snapped. “They are here. Your clearing crew. And they have with them shovels and things to destroy my lavender. Mon Dieu, how could you lie to me about this?”

“Hell, I didn’t lie to you.”

“What do you call it, then? Those men are ready to cut—”

“They’re here early, but I’ll talk to them,” he said, stuffing his feet into his boots. “Where are they now?”

Jeanne pointed beyond the chicken coop. “Up there, on the side of the hill.”

Wash stalked off. He tried to reason with them, but the men said they were on Sykes’s schedule, not his, and there was nothing he could do about it. When he returned she was still shaking with fury. “Et alors? Have those men not come to destroy my crop?”

He stepped up onto the porch and confronted her. “They won’t cut your lavender today. They came to…uh…clear the buildings first.”

“You mean my chicken house?” Her throat was so tight her voice cracked. “My cabin?”

“Yes.”

“Today? You mean now?”

“Yes, today. Look, Jeanne, I’m as surprised as you are.”

She bit her tongue to keep from screaming. “You are not surprised,” she accused. “You knew this. You did not tell me the truth, you said I would have time—” She stopped to suck in an unsteady breath.

He stepped in closer to her, so close she could see the dark shadow of a beard on his chin, see his gray eyes burning with anger. And something else. Without thinking, she raised both arms and pounded her fists against his chest.

“I do not ever again trust you! I hate you!”

He wrapped his arms around her so tight she didn’t have room between their bodies to keep pummeling him. Trapped, she dropped her head until her forehead rested on his shirtfront, blinking back the tears that stung into her eyes.

“Got it all out of your system?” he asked quietly.

“I will never get it ‘out of my system,’ as you say. Never.”

“No doubt you’re a woman of your word.” He let out a breath that gusted warm against the crown of her head. She jerked, but did not look up.

“Of course,” she muttered into his chest. “I do not ever lie!”

“Jeanne, believe me, I’m sorry about this.”

“Non, you are not sorry. You want your railroad.”

“Jeanne, just lis—”

“And I want my house. My lavender.”

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