Lady Lavender - Page 42

“On my lavender, of course. Surely you do not think my work ends with cutting a wagonload of lavender? My work is just beginning.”

Wash unfolded the napkin and bit into a still-warm pancake of some sort, rolled-up and filled with something. Melted cheese. His belly was going to heaven.

“This morning,” she went on, “I sold ten wreaths to Monsieur Ness at the mercantile for ten cents each, and seventeen small sachets for five cents apiece.” She flashed him a proud smile.

“I have now almost two whole dollars!”

Wash couldn’t help grinning at the note of triumph in her voice. He took another, larger bite of the pancake. “What will you do with your earnings?”

Her eyes—those green-blue eyes that had pulled at him the first time he’d met her—blinked and widened until they looked like two lumps of turquoise. “Why, I will rent a house, of course. For Manette and me!”

“With two dollars? Jeanne, that’s not enough to—”

“But it will be. I am making more wreaths and…” Her voice trailed off. “You do not think I can rent a house?”

Wash reached for another napkin-wrapped pancake. “I started to say no, but I’ve watched you for the last seven days and I’d guess you can do pretty much anything you set your mind to.”

The oddest look came over her face, half questioning, half challenging. Instantly her expression altered. He’d give two dollars just to know what she was thinking.

“Alors,” she said thoughtfully. “I am glad you think so.”

“What do you call these pancake-things?” he asked quickly. “Sure taste good.”

“They are called fromagettes. Little cheeses. You make a thin pancake and roll—” She bit off the words. He was staring at her mouth with a strange expression, as if he wanted to—

Jeanne’s throat closed. He wanted to kiss her! Oh, yes, please yes. She wanted him to. She rested her eating hand in her lap and leaned toward him.

“Jeanne,” he said, his voice low.

“Oui?” She held her breath, waiting.

“All I’ve thought about the past two days is you. Making love to you. And I don’t think—”

She released a sigh. “Rooney said something very wise last night. He said, ‘Don’t think.’”

Wash stood up suddenly and turned his back. “Tell Rooney to mind his own business.”

She thought for a long minute. In the quiet she could hear the cry of a hawk soaring overhead, mingled with the murmur of wind in the treetops. Finally she rose and moved toward him, so close his ragged breathing was audible.

She raised her hand, rested her palm against his back. “Perhaps we should not talk. Perhaps between us silence is enough.”

He turned and she stepped into his arms. He kissed her until she grew dizzy, until the rasp of his breath against her temple made her weak with wanting. And then he set her away from him.

“I have to get back to work,” he said, his voice rough. He began to gather up the picnic remains and the tablecloth and stuff them into the hamper.

“Mon Dieu,” she said to fill the awkward silence. “For a large man you have a very small appetite.”

For the rest of the day Wash drove himself and his Chinese crew, without mercy. The tough, wiry Celestials easily weathered the grinding hours spent hacking the brush and trees away from the planned rail bed. They smoothed it level, or as level as it could get considering the required angle of descent into the valley.

Wash himself took down the three remaining fir trees on the sloping hillside. He didn’t have to help out, he just needed to work off the steam he’d built up trying to keep his hands off Jeanne.

He leaned on his ax handle and watched the last evergreen tilt, then crack and smash onto the ground with a whump that made the earth tremble. Before he could shoulder his ax, the little figures in floppy blue pajamas were crawling over the felled tree, limbing it up like energetic ants. They cut it into six-foot lengths, split them and laid them crosswise on the cleared roadbed, flat side up. Wash counted the number of ties as he worked his way down the incline, figuring out how many iron rails would be needed to lay track the next day.

The Chinese worked without stopping. Amazing men. He understood now why Sykes had hired them; when this line was completed, Sam and his boys would be sent to the Sierras as graders and powder-monkeys to blast tunnels into the rock.

Late in the day he watched the crew lay track right up to the valley rim, and it was a sight to see. A flat car behind the rolling bunkhouse carried rails to within a hundred yards of the site, then the rails were loaded onto an iron-wheeled cart which was pushed to the end of the tracks. It took eight of the wiry men to hoist one length of iron clear of the cart and drop it in place, right side up. A second team swarmed over it, pounding spikes which fastened the rail to the split-wood tie underneath.

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