“Not much. They’re good men. Why?”
Wash closed his lips over a bite of steak. No way did his partner “just wonder” about something. He surveyed his friend’s craggy face while he chewed.
“What do you want to know, Rooney?”
“I wanna know who’s gonna keep watch over Jeanne and Little Miss at night?”
Wash stopped eating. “You are. Go on out to MacAllister’s after supper, when it gets dark.”
“You know Montez is still in jail, don’tcha?”
“Yeah, I know. I checked with the sheriff.”
Rooney frowned. “You don’t want to watch over her yourself, huh? Kinda strange for a man who’s got his britches in—”
“I’ve got some paperwork to do. Canyon’s pretty steep at the far end, and I’ve got to figure—”
Rooney snorted. “Don’t bother lyin’ to me, son. She scared ya last night, right?”
Wash clanked his fork onto the china plate and sat without moving for a full minute. Then he sent a long, hard look straight into the older man’s twinkling onyx eyes.
“Yeah, you’re right, Rooney. Worse than any Sioux ambush we ever lived through.” In some ways Rooney was still scouting for him, even though the older man was now his paymaster and second-in-command of his crews.
Jeanne dangled her work boots over the sparse grass and weeds beyond the single wooden step she perched on, meticulously weaving the dried strands of lavender into generous wreaths that she tied at the top with a wide purple ribbon.
She paused to rub the muscles of her shoulders. Four completed wreaths hung from nails she had driven into the bunkhouse wall; she knew she would need at least twice that many, but her neck was growing stiff from looking down at the fronds of lavender in her lap.
Idly she watched Manette gather a fistful of the yellow dandelions dotting the stubbly hay field. Her daughter was fascinated by the sizes and shapes of growing things—even weeds. How she wished the girl would collect flower blossoms or pretty leaves in her secret box instead of spiders!
But she had to laugh. When she herself was a girl, growing up in France, she had collected cocoons—hundreds of them. Maman must have worried over her the same way Jeanne fretted over Manette.
Manette could now attend the Smoke River school instead of doing her lessons at home. The school had been too far away for someone who lived miles out of town, in Green Valley. But, besides her warm winter coat she would need shoes. And, Jeanne thought with a stab of anxiety, a proper home and nourishing food.
She puffed her breath upward to chase a loose tendril of hair off her forehead and flexed her shoulders, resuming her work on the wreaths. It took money to buy food and warm clothing; her only source of income was the lavender sachets and wreaths she made and sold at the mercantile. She bit her lip. Would they earn enough?
“Look, Maman, I am making a daisy chain!”
“Those are dandelions, chou-chou, not daisies. But they will be very pretty.” And thank You, God, for a respite from the crawly insects Manette gathered wherever she went.
She bent over the wreath once again and seamlessly wove in the last strands, all the while thinking about Wash Halliday. When she was with him, she felt valued. And…beautiful.
A shard of doubt poked into her thoughts and she gazed toward the distant hills. They had exchanged no words since last night; how would it be between them when they met again?
It would be dark soon; she must think about supper, not the man who smelled of leather and smoke and had spent all night with his arms wrapped around her. The setting sun bathed the bunkhouse and the wagon parked beside it in gold light, and a blush of crimson washed over the mountains to the east. Would he come tonight?
The low thud of horse’s hooves brought her head up. Yes! He was here! Her heart skittered under her apron top. Heavens, what should she say to him?
Manette’s squeal of joy cut through her uncertainty. “Look, Maman, it is Monsieur Rooney!”
Jeanne clenched her teeth. It was Rooney and not Wash who rode up in a froth of dust. She swallowed back a surprisingly sharp prick of disappointment.
Manette dashed toward the gray-haired man. “Look what I made!” She held up the chain of yellow dandelions. Rooney dismounted and squatted on his haunches at her level, and the girl draped the necklace about his throat.
“It’s for you,” she said with a happy laugh.
Rooney said nothing for a moment, and then Jeanne saw that his eyes were shiny.
“Well, thank you, Little Miss. Nicest necklace I’ve ever had.” The older man rose and tramped toward Jeanne.