Rooney was already there, his sleeves rolled up, stacking wood for the Chinese cook. “Sky looks bad,” he said. “Storm comin’.”
Wash studied the lowering black clouds overhead. Tinged with a dark purple-gray, they pressed down on the land like the miasma of heavy smoke he’d seen on battlefields.
“Think the Cut you’re blastin’ will wash out?” Rooney queried.
“Not if the rain holds off awhile and we can get it shored up.” He glanced again at the sky with a sinking feeling.
The first splatter of rain came just before noon.
“Maman, why are you frowning?” Manette patted Jeanne’s forearm with her small, sticky hand. “It makes your face look all wrinkled up, like Rooney’s.”
Jeanne stabbed another lavender stem into the wreath growing under her unsteady hands. It was good to be home, even if it was just a bunkhouse.
Why was she frowning? Because of that maddening man, Wash Halliday. She knew he cared about her; a man like Wash did not seduce women just for diversion.
She knew other things about him, as well. He was stubborn. He was wary of involvement. And stubborn. Wash was a wounded bear who had unexpectedly stumbled into her life. He was the most stubborn man she had ever encountered.
What was she to do about him?
“Oh! I am sorry, chou-chou. My thoughts were wandering.”
Jeanne started an imaginary list. What to do about Wash.
First, she could forget about him. That would be like ripping her heart out, but she could try.
Second, she could pursue him. Jamais! A well-brought-up woman never pursued a man. Yes, she wanted Wash. But not if he was hesitant or unsure about what he wanted.
“Maman! You are wandering again.” She pointed at the wreath.
“Ah, you are right. What was it you asked me?”
But Manette had been patient long enough. She dropped the fronds of lavender she had been weaving, stomped up the step into the bunkhouse and slammed the flimsy door behind her.
Jeanne sighed and snatched up her half-woven wreath. She wished Rooney had not ridden out to Green Valley this morning. He’d mumbled something about saving Wash from himself and then sauntered off to the livery for his horse.
What did that mean, “saving Wash from himself”? Her heart skipped. Mon Dieu, was he doing something dangerous? Bon. Another reason to forget about him—he could get himself killed.
“Third,” she said aloud, adding to her list. “Third, I could…” Ah, no. She could not do that, even if she wanted to. Move back to New Orleans and forget she’d ever met Wash Halliday? Never. It had cost her too much to come out here to Oregon in the first place.
Besides, she did not want to go back to New Orleans. She found she liked Oregon. The townspeople had been slow to warm up, but that had been mostly her own fault. She had preferred to keep to herself. Ah, back to her list!
Fourth, she could marry someone else. Manette needed a father, it was true; but this was not about Manette, was it?
This was about the longing Jeanne felt whenever she thought about life with that unreachable man. Her very bones ached for him, but she could not wait for him to declare himself. Her life must move on.
Fifth, what if she decided never to marry anyone? She, too, had struggled to survive a crippling relationship before she had come to Smoke River. But I will pine for this man, Wash Halliday, for the rest of my life. Never once have I pined for Henri. Still, it was not enough to want a man, to hunger to be part of his life. Either she was part of it, or she was not.
And with Wash, she was not.
She must move on, in spite of him.
Automatically she wound the lavender fronds in and out, tighter and tighter; when she glanced down at her apron-covered lap, she was surprised to find the wreath was completely finished. More than finished, it was overstuffed!
She grabbed a handful of lavender stalks and started on another wreath because she needed to keep her hands busy. Wash Halliday, you are responsible for my frown and for my flittering thoughts and for the ache in my heart.
She was trying hard to understand, and perhaps she did, at least a little. A hurt bear looked first to his wounds; he did not join with others until he started to heal.
Did bears stay with each other after they mated? The thought made her laugh aloud. Of course they did not. Bears were animals; it was human beings who made commitments.
But not a man like Wash Halliday. She bit her lip. Wash was using his job as a shield.
Sixth, she could wait. She could wait until this man, whom she had accepted into her body, had healed his wounds and rejoined life.
Non, she could not just wait. She must move on, for herself and for Manette.
Ah, another list: Things Wash needed to learn.