Wash glanced sideways at Rooney when he entered the dining room, gestured at the coffeepot on the cherrywood sideboard, and then sat in the empty seat beside his friend. Rooney filled a coffee cup for him, then refilled his own. Wash inhaled the fragrant steam. Hot and black, just the way he liked it.
He sniffed the air appreciatively. Bacon…and scrambled eggs! He felt like he hadn’t eaten in a week. He spooned a double helping of eggs from the china platter onto his plate and lifted his fork.
Rooney eyed the mound of food on his plate. “Get a good night’s sleep, didja?”
Wash chuckled. “You sly old fox, you want me to lie to you?”
“Okay by me, as long as it’s imaginative.”
Wash chuckled. “Shut up and let me eat my breakfast.”
“Sure thing, Wash.” Rooney ducked his head over his coffee cup. “Musta’ been some night,” he muttered.
Wash munched up a crisp slice of bacon and swallowed it. “Why do you say that?” he asked as blandly as he could manage.
“Cuz you just poured maple syrup all over yer eggs.”
Wash stared at the gooey mess he’d made. “Tastes great, Rooney. Ought to try it sometime.”
Rooney choked on a mouthful of coffee and spent the next ten minutes in silence, watching Wash eat. “Sure are hungry,” he said when his partner loaded up his plate again. He waited expectantly for a reply.
“Thought you’d never notice,” Wash quipped. He liked sparring with Rooney; it kept him on his toes.
“Huh! Thought you’d never get yer appetite back. Jeanne told me about yer picnic yesterday. Said you ate two itty-bitty cheese pancakes and went right back to work.”
Wash downed the last forkful of scrambled eggs. “Rooney?”
“Mind your own business.” He tossed his napkin onto the table and strode out onto the front porch.
“Well, hell,” Rooney said under his breath. “You are my business. You and Jeanne. And Manette.” He heard the screen door slam and knew Wash was off to the stable.
“I’ll be out at the site all day,” Wash called over his shoulder. “Take care of Jeanne.”
On the ride out to Green Valley Wash let his gaze roam. The cloudless, robin’s-egg-blue sky overhead hinted at another scorching day. Finches twittered among the maple trees, which were just beginning to turn gold. Lord, he loved this country!
He’d left Jeanne at the first flush of peach light through the bedroom window, but he was still going to be late. By the time he got to the site, Sam would have most of the valley covered in railroad ties. He half wished the quick, industrious little men would slow down a little; the minute they got the track up the incline at the far end of the valley…
He couldn’t finish the thought. He couldn’t let himself think about that now; there was too much to be accomplished, and then…
Then it would be time to move on.
Couldn’t think about that, either. He dismounted, turned General over to the eager Chinese boy who scampered out of the bunkhouse and clenched his jaw. Rooney said he was burying himself in his work for the Oregon Central, and might be that was true. Sometimes he wondered if he was letting this railroad job eat up his life.
What life? He had no life outside of the railroad; he’d wanted it that way for years.
Jeanne woke to sunshine streaming in the window. Wash was gone—the side of the bed where he had lain was cold. He must have left her hours ago.
Tentatively she stretched her legs, then raised her knees and winced at the tenderness between her thighs. Did men get sore from…? Probably not. Most men had more of such athletic practice than women.
On the other hand, Wash was not like “most men.” Wash was Wash. He had loved her thoroughly last night and then absented himself before she woke. She would not complain about it. She would not even question him about their on-again, off-again relationship.
Except for the occasional delicious night of sensuous indulgence, chances were she would never know how things really stood between them. Wash was afraid of commitment.
Would you want him to change? She thought that over while she dragged her body off the bed and drew on her clothes. No, she did not want him to change. She wanted him as he was. He was like a wounded animal who needed to run free until he realized he didn’t need to run any longer.
Jeanne bent over Manette, still asleep on the other bed, and noticed the blue shirt she wore as a nightgown was soaking wet. Her fever had broken during the night! She laid her palm on her daughter’s forehead. Cool, but a bit sticky. She would sponge her off with fresh water when she woke up.