“Coffee?” he said hopefully.
“Tea,” she insisted. “Made from willow bark. Best remedy for a headache.”
He watched her young grandson lead General off down the street, then dragged himself up the stairs, shucked his boots and his hat, and stretched out on his bed. The quilt underneath him smelled of soap and sunshine.
His eyelids drifted shut. He lay without moving until he heard the thump of footsteps on the stairs and the swish of his door opening. Someone—Mrs. Rose—laid a cool washcloth across his face and settled a mug of odd-smelling liquid onto his chest. She lifted one of his hands and positioned it around the mug to hold it in place.
“Sip it,” the woman ordered. She wiped the grit off his face with the cloth, wrung it out in a basin of water and laid it over his closed eyes. “Doc Graham said something about a ‘vascular spasm.’”
“Never heard of it,” Wash muttered. “Don’t tell Jeanne.”
“Don’t need to. But it appears you’ve got one, and I aim to fix it.”
Mrs. Rose, he thought hazily, was a singular woman.
“Thanks,” he murmured. The last thing he remembered was gulping down the bitter tea.
Hours later he woke up when a gentle hand drew the cloth from his eyes, freshened it in cool water and replaced it.
“Your grandson see to my horse?”
Wash drew in a long breath of dust-free air and realized his head no longer ached. His mind felt fuzzy and slow, as if he’d downed too many shots of whiskey in too short a time. But what the hell? He’d felt unfocused like this before, like that night with Jeanne after the Jensens’ dance.
Thinking about that made him feel good inside and then sent a needle of agony through his eyeballs.
Thinking about leaving town in a few days made his gut hurt.
A hand again set a mug on his chest and steadied it against his curved palm. He breathed in the smell of coffee and couldn’t help smiling.
“Thanks, Mrs. Rose. You sure know what a man needs when he’s down.” It was Mrs. Rose, wasn’t it?
He heard a sniff and then the click of the door as it closed.
Didn’t matter what she thought; he’d been ambushed by a temporary weakness and he was grateful for her attention. A cup of coffee was a small thing, maybe, but at the right time it sure meant a lot. By Jupiter, he sure admired a woman’s intuition.
Wash woke with a start when Rooney tramped into his room.
“Heard you was feelin’ kinda puny.”
Wash didn’t bother to open his eyes. “Better now. Mrs. Rose made me some tea.”
“That’s some woman,” Rooney said softly. “One in a million.”
“Make that two in a million. Jeanne’s mighty unusual, too.”
Rooney was quiet for a long minute. “Wash, when you figure on movin’ on to Gillette Springs?”
“Two or three days. I want to get the rails laid all the way through the Cut we’re blasting.”
“You mind if I lay out my pallet in here tonight? Jeanne and Little Miss are—”
“Sure.” His chest felt warm all at once, as if filled with light knowing she was just across the hall and not out at the bunkhouse tonight. Maybe he’d see her at breakfast.
Rooney lit the kerosene lamp and Wash rolled over, away from the light. He heard the older man flap open his rolled-up pallet and mutter to himself as he straightened the blanket edges. Wash drifted toward sleep thinking about Rooney, how much he owed the older man, how much he valued his friendship. He wondered if he’d ever told him that.
His last thoughts before sleep were about Jeanne, how beautiful her voice was when she read to her daughter in French. And what a maddeningly independent, stubborn woman she was.
He woke the next morning still thinking about her. Rooney had already rolled up his bedroll and leaned it in the corner. Wash guessed he’d already be at breakfast in the dining room downstairs.
And so would Jeanne.
He bounded off the bed, grabbed a clean shirt out of the bureau drawer, splashed water on his face and combed his tumbled hair off his face with his fingers. The mirror over the chest reminded him he hadn’t shaved in two days; today would make it three. Couldn’t be helped; he was in a hurry. He wanted to see Jeanne more than he wanted to spend time scraping off his whiskers.
He reached the staircase before he finished tucking in his shirt, clattered down the steps and strode into the dining room.
No Jeanne. Not at the breakfast table. Not out on the front porch. He gobbled down his eggs and toast and marched down to the livery stable. Her gray horse was gone. He’d missed her. Disappointment eroded a twisting path through his belly, but he had a job to do out at Green Valley. He saddled up his horse and headed out to the site.