Lady Lavender - Page 61

First, he needed to learn that he was not alone in having suffered wounds of the heart.

He needed to learn that life would always have risks; that is what life was. Some risks turned out to be devastating; some were pain-filled; and some were glorious while they lasted. She had known all three: her marriage to Henri had been bitter. Birthing Manette had been so agonizing she had wished to die. But her few nights with Wash had been filled with wonder and joy and…

She jerked her mind back to the list.

He needed to learn that it took strength to be happy. He did not lack strength; the man was simply reluctant to reach out his paw—ah, no, his hand—again.

What should I do?

She bent her head over a spray of lavender as the truth dawned.

Nothing. She would do nothing. A man captured against his will was not what she wanted. She wished for a man who wanted to join his life with hers; a man who was willing to fight for that.

Voila! Another wreath completed! At this rate she should start looking for a suitable farmstead to purchase.

“Manette?” Jeanne jumped to her feet, scattering bits of stems onto the ground. “Come out, chou-chou. My frown is gone! I have decided something.”

“You say you want to buy a farm, Miz Nicolet?” The banker, Will Rasmussen, looked at Jeanne doubtfully. “Well, yes, there’s a couple of places up for sale, but…” He coughed and cleared his throat. “How do you plan to pay for it?”

Jeanne jolted upright. “With money, of course. I have now money of my own.”

Rasmussen scratched his chin. “How much money?”

“How much is the farm?” she snapped.

The banker raised both hands and took a step backward. “You want to ride out and see the place?”

“But of course,” she said stiffly. “I do not intend to purchase a pig in a pot.”

“Poke,” he muttered under his breath, trying to squash a smile. “Pig in a poke.”

He cast a wary look out of the bank window where dark clouds roiled overhead. “Better hurry, then. Looks like there’s a storm on the way.”

It was a quick trip. Jeanne saw all she needed to see in an hour and she and Manette and Mr. Rasmussen headed back to town in the banker’s horse-drawn buggy. Before they reached Smoke River, it began to rain. Not just rain, Jeanne noticed. Fat drops as big as rosebuds pelted down. Water sluiced out of the purple-black sky as if dumped from a washtub, drenching both her and Manette before Mr. Rasmussen could reach the stable.

When she climbed down from the buggy, she had to wring out the hem of her bombazine skirt. The knitted wool shawl she wore over her head and shoulders dripped water down the back of her neck and smelled like a wet sheep. And Manette’s poor bonnet and the new red coat Verena Forester had sewed for her last week were sopping wet.

“It will dry out,” Jeanne assured her daughter. “We will hang it near the stove in the bunkhouse.”

“Why don’t we go see Uncle Rooney at Mrs. Rose’s house?”

“Because Rooney is not there, chou-chou. He is helping Wash build his railroad. Besides, I left my wreaths and my lavender and my ribbons and thread at the bunkhouse. We will be quite warm and dry, you will see.”

The bunkhouse was dry. The roof did not leak, but the place was not warm. She stirred the fire and added more wood, but the small pine logs were damp and the flames sputtered and died.

For hours the rain slashed down onto the roof without letup and a rising wind drove it sideways against the walls. It sounded like the rat-tat-tatting of a Gatling gun. The memory of a battle near New Orleans sent a shiver up her spine.

How would the storm affect Wash’s blasted-out railroad bed through Green Valley? Rooney had explained what he was trying to do at the site; Jeanne found it unbelievable. Just imagine, cutting through solid rock at the end of the valley! She could not bear to envision what her little farm must look like now with a huge black steam engine puffing its way through her ravaged lavender field.

Oh, everything was all wrong now! When Wash had tramped into her life, her world had turned upside down.

Jeanne bit the inside of her cheek and raised her head. Everything was not all wrong. She must put all her efforts now toward the new farm she had bought just three hours ago. Life must go forward.

With or without Wash Halliday.

Wash studied the horizon, then lifted his gaze to the sky, which was growing blacker by the minute. The wind picked up, lifting the edge of his saddle blanket and beginning to moan through the tall pines. Sam, standing a few feet away, threw his arms over his head at the noise. “Demons come,” he quavered. Still, he refused to leave with the others when Wash sent the crew back to their rolling bunkhouse.