Lady Lavender - Page 50

A tap on the door and then Dr. Graham’s voice announced, “Let me examine your daughter, Mrs. Nicolet. You go on down to breakfast.”

“But I—”

“Mrs. Nicolet, you need to eat.” Gently but firmly the tall, silver-haired physician ushered her out into the hallway.

The dining table was empty except for Rooney, who sat hunched over a cup of coffee.

“May I join you?”

“Oh, sure, Jeanne. Sure. Not much left after Wash finished, though.”

“Bon. I have not much appetite.”

Rooney sent her a quick, sly look. “Any partic’lar reason?”


His grin faded. “Oh.”

Jeanne concentrated on the coffee Rooney poured into her china cup. “Yes,” she amended. “There is a reason.”

“Are you all right, Jeanne? You don’t seem too sure this mornin’.”

She bent her head. “Oh, Rooney, I don’t know.” She drew in a slow, shaky breath. “I don’t know if I am happy or sad.”

Rooney nodded. “How’s Little Miss?”

“Better, I think. Her fever broke last night. Dr. Graham is with her now.”

“She wake up yet?”

Jeanne shook her head. “Not yet. And her arm—”

“Bruised black ’n blue, I’d guess.”

“And yellow and purple! It looks terrible.”

“That’ll pass. Point this mornin’ is to keep Big Miss goin’. So eat up, now.”

Sarah bustled in from the kitchen with a plate piled high with toast. “Shall I scramble a couple of eggs for you, dearie?”

Jeanne looked up at the older woman and tried to smile. Tears stung into her eyes. “You are very kind, but—”

Sarah shot a look at Rooney, who was just reaching for a slice of toast. “Maybe that’s because a certain older gentleman is mighty fond of your daughter.”

Rooney paused with his hand over the jam jar. “Now, Sarah…”

“Might also be a younger gentleman who’s fond of—”

“Sarah!” Rooney interrupted. “Could you bring us some more, um, toast?”

The landlady looked pointedly at the existing stack of toast and pursed her lips. Rooney met her gaze. “Please?” he added. Mrs. Rose retreated to her kitchen and Rooney cocked his head at Jeanne.

“Wanna talk some?”

Jeanne sighed. “About Wash?” She felt her cheeks grow warm. “I do not know what to think, or do, about that man.”

“Well, cheer up, Jeanne, honey. Wash don’t know what to do about you, either.”

She couldn’t help laughing. She slathered strawberry jam on a thick slice of buttered toast and bit an almost perfect circle off one corner.

Rooney’s black eyes twinkled. “It’s good to hear you laugh. Been pretty grim around here since that rattler lunched on Little Miss’s arm. You think I could visit her for a bit this mornin’?”

“Most certainly,” a deep male voice answered. Dr. Graham stepped through the double glass doors, plopped his black leather bag on an empty chair and touched Jeanne’s shoulder. “Your daughter is going to be good as new in a few days, Mrs. Nicolet.”

Jeanne clasped the older man’s hand in both of hers but she could not speak.

He patted her arm. “I’ll check on your daughter again this evening.”

“Oh, thank you! Thank you so much.”

She felt so relieved she devoured the entire stack of toast, then absentmindedly gobbled down the scrambled eggs Mrs. Rose set in front of her. The landlady exchanged a secret smile with Rooney and again disappeared into the kitchen.

The minute Jeanne and Rooney entered the upstairs bedroom, Manette’s eyes popped open. “Maman? I’m hungry!”

“Are you, chou-chou?” She worked to keep her voice from cracking. “Bon! I will bring some breakfast for you, and after you have eaten, we will have a bath.”

Manette grimaced. “Do I have to?”

“Yes, you do.”

“But I don’t want a bath.”

“Well,” Rooney interjected, “you know what? You hafta hurry up and get well so I can show you some secrets about rattlesnakes.” Jeanne flinched.

“What kind of secrets?” Manette queried.

Rooney caught Jeanne’s eye and winked. “Oh, things like how to see ’em before they see you. How to listen for their rattles.” He sent another wink to Jeanne. “And how they taste when you fry ’em up in bacon grease.”

“Ewwww,” Jeanne and Manette said in unison. Rooney just chuckled.

“I’ll make you a bet, Little Miss. I’ll bet that you can’t tell the difference between a bite of chicken and a bite of rattlesnake.”