“Somethin’ like that, yeah. If you choose to.”
She closed her eyes. “Oh, Rooney, I am not skilled at this kind of game. I do not think—”
“That’s exactly right,” he interrupted. “You just hold that there, and don’t think.”
Rooney unrolled his pallet in the niche between the wooden wagon and the bunkhouse, stretched out and ran his hand over his eyes. By jingo, he hadn’t done this much talking since his years scaring around the plains with Wash, and then he’d mostly listened. Something about Jeanne just made a man open up.
He rolled over, pulling the wool army blanket up around his chin. That woman made a man feel…bigger than his usual self. And that’s exactly what Wash Halliday needed, something—someone—to grow toward.
He lay perfectly still and gazed up at the bright stars dotting the night sky. “Life gives life,” he murmured, remembering an old Indian chant. God keep you both, and may your days together be good and long upon the earth.
The next thing he knew a shaft of hot sunlight was blinding him. He shrugged out of his bedroll just in time to see Jeanne set off for the stream lugging a bucket. He hoped that meant coffee sometime in the next half hour. Thinking about Wash and the widow Nicolet last night sure hadn’t left time for much shut-eye.
He stayed for coffee with Jeanne, then, because she was short of food, he rode into town for bacon and scrambled eggs at the boardinghouse. After he’d teased Mrs. Rose about her undercooked bacon, he rode out to the rail spur at the Green Valley site.
Wash and his team of Celestials had carved out and graded a gentle slope down the hillside to the valley floor. Amazing what these small, tough men could accomplish working together as a team.
He wished things between a man and a woman could be resolved as efficiently. Maybe Wash should ask his Chinese crew for advice in the courtship department!
Or maybe not, noting how haggard his partner looked this morning. Jaw tight. Eyes like gray thunderheads.
“Mornin’,” Rooney called to him as he emerged from the canyon.
Wash just grunted.
Rooney dismounted and peered over the edge toward the east end. “You figure out your gradients for the steep end of the valley yonder?”
Rooney smothered a grin. “Distracted, were ya?”
Wash’s stony gaze met his. “Mind your own business.”
“Aw, come on, son. What’s got a burr up your britches on a morning this beautiful?”
“Didn’t sleep much,” Wash snapped. Inside, Rooney exulted. Outside he tried to look sympathetic.
“Had me a fine time with Jeanne and Little Miss last night,” he offered. He lifted the wilted remains of the dandelion chain which still hung around his neck. “Little Miss made me a necklace.”
Wash took a step toward him. “How is Jeanne? Any trouble?”
“Not trouble, exactly. Just a bit of unrest. Jeanne’s anxious to sell her lavender things to the mercantile. She needs the money.”
Wash gave a curt nod of acknowledgment. Rooney waited as long as he could stand it, then said, “Jeanne’s comin’ out to Green Valley around noon today. Bringin’ you…um—” he scrambled to come up with a believable lie “—uh…bringin’ you some lunch.”
“Jes’ bein’ friendly like, you know—”
“I plan to eat in town,” Wash said with a scowl.
“Well, ya damn fool, un-plan it! Won’t hurt you none to be nice to the lady whose valley you’re tearing up for your railroad.”
Wash’s face changed. He stared at Rooney and finally gave a low grunt and another short nod.
Rooney blew out his breath. Well, by damn! He’d better hustle on back to town and catch Jeanne at the mercantile, let her know about the picnic lunch she’d “promised” to bring.
He signed to Wash, mounted and turned the roan toward town. Funny, he didn’t feel a bit of guilt for the falsehood he’d fabricated.
Wash saw his partner touch spurs to his mount and disappear in a cloud of dust. So, Jeanne was coming out and bringing his lunch. Nice gesture, he guessed. At the thought of seeing her again his stomach floated up just under his rib cage and flipped over.
Part of him didn’t want to lay eyes on her. Another larger part wanted to smell her hair and put his hands on her skin. But what the hell would he say to her after their night together?
Judas and Joseph! Sooner or later he’d have to own up to being damn scared.
He snorted and began to tramp back down the valley slope. Scared? That was like describing a thunderstorm as a spring shower. The worst part…