Wash angled his burden inside, feet first, then sent Jeanne a questioning look. She murmured something in French and pointed to the top bunk. He heaved the sleeping child up onto the waiting sheets and tucked the quilt around her.
Jeanne dipped water from a bucket into her speckled blue coffeepot, then turned toward Wash. In the flickering light his face looked set and stubborn. And his eyes, which were usually gray with flecks of dusty blue, were now almost black.
“Café?” she asked quietly.
His mouth tightened. “No.”
“I make it anyway, for myself, so is no trouble.”
“No.” He turned away from her. “Thanks anyway,” he added, and moved toward the door.
Such a man. So strong and yet so gentle with Manette. Why was he not that way with her? He had kissed her, she reflected. Twice, in fact. But both times he had been angry. She could not remember the circumstances, only the taste of his firm mouth on hers, the scent of his skin, smoky and sweet at the same time. She also remembered the look in his gaze when the kiss had ended—as if he’d been shot between the eyes.
Mon Dieu, he was looking at her now in that same way. Alors, do you not want him to look at you? See all of her, see past the fear that she would not be able to feed her daughter, the pain of being uprooted from her home. And the determination that she knew thinned her lips into an unsmiling line.
They had danced close to each other tonight, so close that she could not read his expression without tipping her head back and breaking the spell. What was he thinking? What did he want?
She swallowed. What did she want?
He had reached the door now. What did she want? She wanted to matter to someone. To him.
She stepped toward him and laid her hand on his arm. When he turned to face her, she uttered a single word. “Stay.”
Wash groaned softly. “You’re sure you want me to?”
“Oui, I am sure.”
“Jeanne…Jeanne, you know I want you. Don’t ask me to stay unless—”
“I am sure,” she repeated. “I have been sure for three days.”
He unfolded his fists and closed his fingers about her shoulders, pulled her close and kissed her. He took his time, let his lips do all the talking that was needed—or maybe not needed. When he broke the kiss she felt a quiver of disappointment. More. She wanted more.
She raised her face to his. He bent to blow out the lantern, then gathered her tight in his arms. “Where do you sleep?” he whispered.
“Below Manette. There.” She tipped her head toward the bottom of the bunk.
“We’ll wake her.”
Jeanne shook her head. “We will not wake her.”
He lifted her into his arms, took a single step toward the bunk and then set her on her feet again. The next thing she knew he was cupping her breasts, then pressing her hips into his groin.
“Buttons?” he murmured.
She could not stop smiling into the dark. “Oui.”
He gave a half groan, half chuckle. “Not if, Jeanne. I mean where?”
Without speaking she guided his hand to her throat, where the top button was hidden beneath a ruffle.
Wash let his fingers trail down the front of her dress. Twenty buttons. Twenty damned buttons. How many buttons did a woman need to close up a dress? And these were little tiny ones.
His fingers shook, but he began to slip the buttons free. When he was halfway to her waist, she lifted her hands to start on his muslin shirt. Under his knuckles he could feel her body’s heat, feel her heart beating steadily as he worked his way down. His thumbs brushed across her breasts, and she moaned softly.
Her nipples hardened, and the instant he could open the bodice of her dress he slid his hands inside to touch her. She wore only a camisole underneath, tied with a ribbon bow. He jerked it free and smoothed his hands over her breasts, then moved around to her back to feel the small, lumpy bones of her spine, then back to cup the firm globes against his palms.
He bent to take one nipple in his mouth. She tasted sweet, like ripe cherries, like a ripe pomegranate he’d tasted once in Mexico. He closed his lips over the erect bud and heard her breath hiss inward.
Good. Maybe she was as starved for this as he was.
“Take my shirt off,” he whispered.
She undid the rest of the buttons quickly, pushed the fabric off his shoulders, and then her hands dropped to fumble with his belt buckle.
He gritted his teeth. He’d never last until he got her undressed; the drive to take her, to be inside her, was too hot and insistent. He lifted his head and forced his hands back to the little pearl disks that held her dress together all the way to her belly. When he had freed them all, her dress dropped to her feet. The loosened camisole followed.