Free Fiction Friday: Southern Siren
“Southern Siren” by Kathryn Kelly is free on this website for one week only. The story is also available in ebook.
The Southern landscape bruised. Civilians and soldiers alike struggling to ride out the war. A war going on three years too long.
Union soldier Christopher Mitchell sympathizes with the South despite his own commitments to the North.
In the war-ravaged land, Emily struggles to find enough food to stay alive.
Deep in the land of Dixie, Christopher faces choices of his own.
A standalone story that introduces new characters into the Civil War Southern Belle historical romance series.
Emily Robicheaux knelt on the damp earth behind her cottage and jammed a spade into rich dark dirt. The yellowed vines had a tangy aroma that mingled with the fresh earthy scent of the ground. With the dirt loosened, she used her hands to dig deeper. Carefully.
There was a cool breeze this morning, but once the early morning mist cleared, the weather would warm. It was a typical central Louisiana autumn.
Birds sang in the nearby trees, welcoming the day. Otherwise, it was quiet. She sat back, glanced around. It was almost too quiet.
She’d cooked the last chicken last week and Old Blue had wandered off to find his own breakfast. Their dog ate better than they did. If only she could train him to bring back a squirrel or a rabbit or a bird. Anything.
Anything to quiet the rumbling in her stomach. The most she’d had to eat in two days was a bite of hardtack biscuit she’d found in the cupboard. When it came right down to it, she’d rather starve than break a tooth.
She concentrated her focus back on using her fingers to dig into the dirt.
Her efforts were rewarded with the firmness of a sweet potato. Careful not to bruise it, she dug deeper until she could pull it out of the ground. Using a small knife, she cut the vine and stacked the potato behind her on the little stack of sweet potatoes she’d collected.
She had six potatoes now, so she would stop and save the rest for another day. The longer she could keep them in the ground, the longer they would last.
She was fortunate that hers was the only mouth to feed at the moment. Her brother, Edward, had left last week to look for work. He was good with his hands, especially with wood, so if a neighbor needed a fence repaired or a roof or anything, he could do it. Even if they only paid in food, he would save as much as he could and return to her as soon as he could.
In the meantime, it was up to Emily to feed herself.
They hadn’t had regular meals since March. Edward had been on his death bed then, having returned from the Siege of Vicksburg a broken man. At least that’s what the doctor had said about him. Broken.
Emily still shuddered at the memory. She’d vowed that she would do whatever was humanly possible to fix him. Whatever it took.
She’d gone so far as to put on her brother’s clothes and, impersonating a boy, to stop a Yankee in the middle of the road and demand that he give up his saddlebags bulging with food.
The soldier had taken pity on her and had given her half his food.
A guardian angel. That’s what she’d called him.
It had fed her and her brother for about two weeks. But it had been enough to start Edward on the road to recovery.
She thought about the kind Yankee a lot. There had been fighting all around them in the weeks that followed his act of kindness.
She wondered if he lived or died.
Sometimes, she found herself watching the road for his return.
Then she would berate herself. Even if he lived, he had long forgotten her.
Christopher Mitchell would never understand Louisiana weather. It had been hot all summer.
Now as he retraced his steps, just like six months ago, it rained. Not that he minded. The rain was cool and left the earth smelling fresh and clean.
As he neared the little farmhouse where he’d encountered the spirited boy who had held him up at gunpoint, he smiled to himself.
The boy had turned out to be a lovely young lady with long dark brunette hair that fell in soft waves around her shoulders.
With her disguise blown, she’d accepted the food that he offered her.
He had no food now. He’d been held captive with four other Federal soldiers. Without any explanation, they’d been released last week.
None of the captives had questioned their unexpected freedom, but instead had scattered, each going his own way.
Christopher had no weapon, so he’d lived off of nuts he’d collected in his hat.
Still, Christopher’s biggest regret was the loss of his horse, Buttercup, named by his now ten-year-old sister back in Boston.
Someone, a southerner had taken Buttercup from him and he hadn’t seen her since. Christopher’s only comforting thought was that southerners were known for taking care of their horses.
He liked to think that Buttercup was in good hands.
So he walked.
It would have made more sense for him to walk Northeast. To at least point himself in the direction of Boston.
If he wasn’t able to fight or scout, as the need may be, he may as well go home. He didn’t even know where to find his army now.
Besides, Annabelle waited for him. They weren’t betrothed exactly. He’d asked her to wait for him.
But that had been almost four long years ago.
And the truth was, he didn’t even remember what Annabelle looked like. He couldn’t remember the color of her hair or the sound of her voice.
But instead of heading in the direction of home, he found himself retracing his steps for no logical reason.
No logical reason except that he thought about the girl who’d stood in front of him demanding – nicely, albeit at gunpoint – that he share his food with her.
Oddly enough, he had a very vivid memory of her soft features framed by her lovely dark hair.
A day hadn’t passed that he hadn’t thought about her. He couldn’t explain it. But he couldn’t stop it, either.
And he’d tried.
So he retraced his steps, telling himself all the while that he felt indebted to make sure she was well.
He knew the indebtedness was contrived. He knew that he really just wanted to see her again.
It made no logical sense, of course. He didn’t even know her name or where to find her. He knew that she must live somewhere near the little farm he’d ridden past just before she’d stopped him.
Even so, he had to look for her.
He needed to see her again so that he could get her image out of his head and perhaps put Annabelle back.
Then, unless he just happened to locate his army, he would cash in and go home. He’d done his time.
And he was tired of fighting the ragged south.
The south was so beaten, he felt more sorry for them than anything else. He didn’t like feeling like a bully. Picking on a people who, though they tried valiantly, had lost their fight.
And maybe he was just tired, but as the war continued, he couldn’t shake the idea that the whole war was ludicrous.
It didn’t matter that they had seceded. They were still Americans. And the people he’d encountered while traveling in the south were good people. They weren’t politicians. They were just living their lives. Half of them didn’t even know or even care what the war was about.
Not that they didn’t have loyalty. They were loyal to a fault.
He rounded a curve in the road and his heart rate kicked up. This was the spot. This was where the girl had held him at gunpoint.
But now the road was empty. Little tendrils of mist drifted up from the sides of the road. He walked around a mud hole, but still the mud sucked at his boots. Boots that had seen better days for sure.
He saw the rooftop of the little house up ahead. He’d thought of a hundred ways to look for the girl, but still hadn’t settled on any way in particular. He would do whatever it took.
However, knocking on the doors of strangers probably wasn’t the best idea.
Especially since he wore the uniform of their enemy.
Emily wrapped her six sweet potatoes in the outer skirt of her dress and stood up. Her blue calico dress was worn in places and a little loose around the waist, but it served her well. Her petticoat hadn’t faired any better. The dark blue material had faded to a light blue.
Despite being worn, the dress still smelled fresh from hanging outside in the sunshine yesterday. Hauling water from the creek was an ordeal, not to mention heating the water for a bath and washing clothes.
She could have a raw potato now and bake one for later. If her peeling knife hadn’t been inside, she would have peeled and eaten it right now.
Old Blue howled in the distance. He must have found a rabbit. She preferred that he stay close by, but short of tying him up, she couldn’t tame his wandering spirit.
He almost always stayed inside the house with her at night, often sleeping at the foot of her bed. Those were the nights she got the most rest.
She froze at the snap of a twig.
Twigs fell from trees onto the ground all the time.
Twigs did not snap on their own.
Goosebumps formed on the back of her neck.
Turning slowly, she scanned the edge of the woods. Oddly enough, she often thought of the trees and underbrush as a sort of curtain between the open space of the field and the woods.
But not at times like this.
Watching for any movement, she walked backwards towards the house. She clutched the potatoes against her waist like a shield.
Her gun was inside. But in order to use it, she had to get to it.
Her brother, Edward, had warned her to never leave the house without the gun. In fact, he’d made her promise.
But she was just going to dig potatoes. And it had seemed so peaceful outside after the rain.
Besides, it would have been hard to carry everything.
Then she saw movement next to a sweet gum tree straight ahead. Every muscle froze as she was locked in a fight or flee stance.
Her eyes watered from straining to see so far away. Being nearsighted put her at an advantage reading books, but it didn’t serve her well outside.
The movement morphed into the shape of a man as he stepped forward.
She took another step backwards and struggled to identify the man.
It wasn’t her brother. He wouldn’t stand there like that. It could be a neighbor, but again, a neighbor would have identified himself.
She stepped into a mud puddle and winced as the boot of her right foot sank into the mud.
She tried to step out, but her boot was stuck.
She stood tall and straight, not wanting the man to see that she couldn’t move.
He took another two steps forward and she could see that he was a soldier.
His uniform, though, was faded and she couldn’t make out whether he was Union or Southern. And truth be told, it didn’t matter.
There were dishonorable men on either side of the war.
She tried to calculate if she had time to unlace her boot and make it to the back door before he did.
She decided her chances were slim.
And that would show fear.
No, she decided, her best option was to stand tall and courageous.
The soldier removed his hat. And he’d surreptitiously moved close enough that she could see as his puzzled look turned to a slow smile.
And recalculated the whole slipping off her boot thing. Unfortunately, she kept her laces too tight to just slip her boots off.
Up until now, that had served her well.
She tugged again, but her boot only sank a little deeper into the mud.
Her sweet potatoes shifted and she realized that she had the small knife she’d used to cut the potato vines tucked in her skirt beneath the potatoes.
Unfortunately, sweet potatoes were rather heavy and it was going to be challenging to retrieve the knife while holding onto the potatoes.
Christopher was an optimist by nature, but the war had taken away much of his faith in good fortune.
At the moment, though, he was having more good fortune than he had anticipated.
When he saw the girl, he’d made a careless step and his boot had landed dead center on a twig, snapping it cleanly in two.
It was uncommonly loud for a broken twig. She’d heard it too and though it had taken her a minute, she’d spotted him.
She squinted, though, and he was fairly certain he was too far away for her to see him clearly.
The last thing he wanted to do was to frighten her, so he’d moved slowly.
As he’d stepped out into the little garden area behind the farmhouse, he knew it was her.
Her long dark hair framed her face in the soft waves he remembered so well.
It was then that he realized that she wasn’t moving. She’d taken a back step into a mud hole and her boot was lodged in the mud.
He stopped moving forward. He didn’t want to send her into a panic.
Though he recognized her, he was certain she didn’t recognize him. Even if she did, she could easily fear that he was here to take revenge upon her for holding him at gunpoint.
Something that had never entered his mind.
“You seem to have a foot lodged in the mud,” he said, loud enough for her to hear.
She shook her head quickly. “No.”
“Perhaps I can be of assistance.”
He saw the moment recognition crossed her features. He also saw that she doubted that recognition.
He didn’t blame her. It had been six months and their encounter had lasted merely minutes.
While he waited for her to catch up, his eyes feasted on her face.
She was even more beautiful than she’d been in his memory.
And that was saying quite a bit.
While he’d been in captivity, he’d thought about her while he fell asleep. Even dreamed about her. He’d wondered who she was and why she was so desperate for food.
He’d marveled at her bravery.
He’d wondered what she was doing.
And not once had he forgotten what she looked like.
In a sudden movement, she dropped the potatoes she’d been holding and held out a knife aimed at him.
Emily winced as the potatoes fell to the ground. Now they would be bruised and wouldn’t last as long.
It didn’t matter, she assured herself, she would eat them anyway. It was eat them or starve.
The important thing was that she had a knife now. And if the man attacked her, she would not go down without a fight.
Where was Old Blue when she needed him? She didn’t hear him anymore. He was probably tearing apart a rabbit, enjoying himself.
A horsefly buzzed her ears and she swatted it away with her free hand.
For a moment, she’d imagined that this man standing in front of her was her guardian angel. The man who had shared his food with her.
Then she’d quickly come to her senses.
There was no reason for him to be back here.
Whoever he was, he knew that her boot was lodged in the mud.
“Stay back.” She held the knife out, as she bent to untie the laces on her boot. Loosening the laces on a boot with one hand was not easy.
The man made no further moves toward her. And he didn’t offer to help again.
Finally, she was successful in tugging her foot from her boot and immediately regretted it.
Her bare foot dropped into the mud.
And the mud oozed between her toes.
“I don’t mean to frighten you.” The man looked sincere.
She considered that if he’d wanted to harm her, it would have made more sense to do it while her boot was lodged in the mud.
Before she’d pulled out her knife.
Still. She needed to be cautious.
She went to take another step back, but realized too late that her other boot was also now stuck in the mud.
With another good tug, she lost her balance and landed squarely on her backside.
In the mud.
The knife slipped from her hand. And somehow when she landed, her hand slid across the sharp side of the knife.
She just sat there, stunned.
Then the soldier was there bending next to her. “Are you hurt?” His voice was kind.
“I don’t know.” Emily saw the blood then. It dripped down her arm onto her dress. “Yes.”
He took a handkerchief from his pocket and after examining her hand, held it against the cut. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
Her face flushed, whether from falling or being so close to this soldier, she didn’t know. Blinking, she looked into his eyes.
It was him.
It was her guardian angel.
The man she credited with saving her brother’s life.
“It’s you,” she breathed, unable to fathom why he would be here. After all the time she’d spent wishing to see him again.
His lips curved at the corners. “Yes.” He proceeded to wrap her hand with the handkerchief.
His hands on her skin were strong, but gentle.
She pressed her other hand against her forehead. She struggled to think coherently.
He then tied the ends of the handkerchief into a little knot, but he didn’t release her hand.
He held her hand firmly between both of his. “I apologize,” he said.
“For what?” His eyes were bluer than she remembered. And he seemed younger somehow. He’d cut his hair.
“For frightening you.”
“I wasn’t frightened.” But she knew she had been. Although… she wouldn’t have been frightened if she’d known it was him.
“I don’t know your name.”
“Christopher Mitchell,” she repeated. So much better than the Yankee soldier which he had been for six months. “Thank you for sharing your provisions with me.”
“It was my pleasure. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything to share at the moment.”
She glanced at the sweet potatoes lying scattered on the ground. “I don’t have much to repay you with.”
“Can I help you stand?”
“Of course.” She’d completely forgotten that she was sitting on the ground.
He took both of her hands and easily pulled her to her feet. Then he picked up the potatoes and the knife and laid them back in the little pouch she’d created in her skirt.
She stood there, mud oozing between her toes, her hand stinging from the cut, and her backside throbbing from the fall. On top of that, she was covered in mud.
This was not the way she had imagined meeting her Yankee soldier – Christopher Mitchell – again.
Christopher was enchanted.
He stood here in a fallowed field – that perhaps grew a few sweet potatoes, the girl who’d haunted his thoughts night and day standing in front of him.
She was covered in mud from head to toe. He dislodged her boot from the mud and held it by the threadbare laces.
He heard a dog barking in the distance and a blackbird swooped past, its wings flapping noisily, to boldly peck at the ground not even half a dozen yards away.
He couldn’t help grinning.
She swiped a strand of hair out of her eyes, managing only to smear mud across her cheek. “I must look a sight,” she said.
He shook his head. “Yes.”
She chuckled and lowered her gaze. “You seem to always catch me at my worst.”
He remembered how she’d stood in front of him, bravely aiming a rifle at him. He’d had to swoop her up and whisk her off the road to save them both from being overrun by a passing wagon.
Even though she’d been the one trying to take his food at gunpoint, he’d given her pointers on how to rob someone.
“Did you keep your promise?” He asked, reminded of their conversation six months ago. He’d asked her to repay him for the food by not attempting to rob anyone else.
She smiled into his eyes. “Your food was enough to help my brother regain his strength. I had no need to… request food from anyone else.”
He laughed. “Good.”
He nodded toward the back porch of the little cottage. “Would you like to sit?”
They walked in silence to the porch. He held out an arm to help her balance her as they went up the stairs, since she was wearing only one boot, and they sat on the swing. He set her boot down and took the potatoes from her, setting them next to her boot.
“Why are you here?” she asked. “Have you come to request that I pay you back for the food?”
He ran a hand through his hair and realized too late that he now had mud smeared in his own hair. “It was Union army issued food. They never missed it.”
“That’s a relief. The best I can offer you is a sweet potato.”
“Or maybe a rabbit.”
He nodded toward the big hound dog that trotted up to the bottom of the steps and dropped a dead rabbit on the ground. “Assuming that’s your dog.”
“Old Blue, what have you done?”
Old Blue barked once. Then wagged his tail and sat.
“I take it he’s not much of a guard dog,” Christopher said.
“Well… I thought he was. But apparently I was mistaken.”
“Unfortunately, we can’t eat that.”
She made a face. “I think he brought us left-overs.”
“At least he’s thoughtful.”
“I could probably find us something to go with those potatoes.” He tapped his waist where his gun should be. “But I don’t have a weapon. And I don’t want to intrude.”
“You aren’t intruding.”
He looked at her face, mud smeared across her cheek and even in her hair. Going hunting would give her time to clean up. “I’m afraid you have the advantage. I don’t know your name.”
“Emily,” she said.
“Emily. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
She lowered her gaze.
“Is your family inside?” Christopher asked, remembering that he was wearing his blue uniform. The last thing he needed was to be shot by an over-zealous father or brother who thought they were protecting Emily from the enemy.
She shook her head. “There’s only my brother and he’s off looking for work.”
“You’re alone then?” Christopher asked and she nodded. He understood a little better now why she had been so frightened when she’d first seen him.
He wondered if she’d encountered other soldiers. Soldiers who may not have been so honorable. But he wouldn’t ask. Instead, he would do what he could to make her day better. “Can I haul some water for you? To heat for a bath?”
Her eyes widened.
“I just thought,” Christopher said. “since you’re covered in mud, you might, you know, want to get cleaned up.”
“There’s a well on the other side of the house.” She nodded to her left. “And I have a pistol if you can hunt with it.”
Christopher stood up. “After I bring water, I’ll go in search of breakfast.”
After all that his kind had done to ravage the southern land and ultimately its people, the least he could do was to make Emily’s day better.
He had no plan after that.
But some of the best days were days without plans.
Her mother had stored the claw foot bathtub in her bedroom behind a three-paneled screen laced with basket-woven strips of wood. And that’s where Emily had kept it.
Her parents had been killed in a buggy accident when she was fourteen years old. Edward had been seventeen. The two of them had grown up fast with no one to take them in. Two years later they had packed their parents’ belongings into a box and Emily had moved into her parents’ bedroom when she was sixteen.
Then the war had started.
The large four-poster bed had mosquito netting around it since the windows had no screens. Emily’s mother had made the patchwork quilt, neatly folded at the foot of the bed, that kept her warm on cool nights.
Other than the bed, and the bathtub of course, the only other furniture was a tall armoire for her dresses, underskirts, two nightgowns, and a cloak along with a few personal items. A blanket was neatly folded on the bottom shelf. There was a lot of empty space inside.
Emily stepped into the tub and sank into the warm water she’d heated on the wood stove. She made suds from some of a lavender scented bar of soap that she guarded closely.
She’d waited until she’d watched Christopher disappear into the woods, her pistol tucked in the back of his pants, in search of an animal for them to eat.
Emily hadn’t been hunting in the week since Edward had left. He’d taken the rifle and left the pistol here for her. Even if she could use it for hunting, it only had one bullet in it anyway.
She hadn’t bothered to tell Christopher that it only had one bullet when he’d picked it up off the counter and headed out hunting.
She splashed water over her face before leaning back to soak her hair. She’d dusted off as much mud as possible before getting into the clean water, but already, the water was murky.
Christopher had been right. She needed a bath.
She had a light green dress lying across the foot of her bed ready. The green dress was the second best of her four dresses – the one she used to wear to church when it was safe to go – before the war had come to Louisiana.
She had the blue dress that she wore every day for chores around the house. A cream-colored dress that she’d only worn once - it was too delicate to wear very often. And a second blue dress that she also wore for chores.
She’d chosen the green dress on impulse. Edward said it was the color of her eyes.
And since she had a guest, it seemed like the time to wear it.
She scrubbed between her toes, trying to convince herself that it was merely having a guest that had her bringing out one of her best dresses.
But admittedly, Christopher was an unusual guest.
He was the man who’d saved her and Edward from starvation.
He was the man she’d thought about every day for six months since the day she’d tried to take food from him at gunpoint.
He was the enemy.
She finished her bath and dried off. She slipped her green dress over her head and ran her fingers through her hair.
She put on her other pair of boots – the dry ones - and went into the kitchen. Her stomach grumbled as though on cue.
She took a green-tinted glass bowl, chipped on the edge, and a knife and began peeling and chopping potatoes, eating several of them as she went. It seemed to curb her hunger to a manageable point.
The thing with Christopher was troubling. She had invited a strange man into the house – without Edward here. Without a chaperone at all.
Her life had been unconventional to say the least. First of all, she and her brother had lost their parents suddenly. As a result, Emily had never had a beau or even been courted. There had been too, too much to do on the farm for either of them to even think about it.
Then her brother had left to fight for the south. And Emily had been left alone to maintain the farm.
Nonetheless, Emily knew the rules. Her mother had schooled her well.
Never be in the company of a man without a chaperone nearby.
But her mother hadn’t prepared her for life during a war, much less courtship during a war.
But Christopher wasn’t courting her.
He was just here…
She laid the knife on the counter and laced her hands in her lap. And looked outside through the window. The wind was picking up, scattering red and gold leaves through the air.
There was a storm brewing.
She hoped Christopher made it back.
The thought gave her pause.
And she realized just how lonely she’d been for companionship. Even when Edward was there, it wasn’t the same. They’d had some interesting conversations, but their thoughts aligned on well… just about everything. Except of course the war.
She shook her head and picked up the knife.
Christopher was no doubt just passing through. The fighting in this area had stopped, so it was surprising he hadn’t already joined his army, but any number of things could have kept him behind.
The truth was, she knew absolutely nothing about Christopher Mitchell.
Except that he wore blue.
Christopher aimed the pistol at the deer standing mere feet from him. He was downwind behind some brush. The innocent doe lifted her head, her little ears twitching. He was close enough to see her soft eyes.
If he didn’t take the shot in the next couple of seconds, he would lose his chance.
He was surprised she hadn’t already caught a whiff of the tobacco in his pocket.
He heard the fawn scamper through the fallen leaves before he saw it. The fawn ran toward its mother and nuzzled her.
Christopher lowered the pistol.
He’d never been hungry enough to shoot a doe with a fawn and he wasn’t going to start now.
It would have been nice to leave Emily with venison to last for months, but something about the war had left him more tenderhearted than he’d ever been. He’d seen enough death and destruction. He never wanted to cause any more.
He remembered passing another farmhouse about a mile down the road. The family had been kind and offered him water.
They’d had chickens.
And Christopher had some coins in his pocket.
Perhaps he wouldn’t have to use that bullet after all.
As he picked his way back to the road, he thought about Annabelle for the first time that day. Really thought about her.
He was surprised that he had a clear image of her sitting on a park bench. The way she’d looked away when he’d asked her to wait for him.
She hadn’t answered right away, not verbally anyway. She’d nodded. Then finally had said “of course.” She’d looked back at him, a small smile on her lips. “Find me when you get back.”
He’d taken her words as encouragement. He’d thought perhaps she’d been too overcome to say much. In fact, she’d barely spoken as they’d walked back to her father’s house.
Before she went through the white picket fence gate, she turned, waved at him, and walked away.
No hug. No kiss. Not even a kiss on the cheek.
It wasn’t exactly the kind of sendoff a girl gave a man – a soldier – she was in love with.
He’d written her a couple of times, but she hadn’t written back. So he’d stopped writing.
He blamed it on being busy. On lack of paper. On the weather.
Damn. He did not want to be beholden to Annabelle.
Not once had she stirred the deep protective feelings Emily stirred in him.
And the oddest thing was he’d known Annabelle since childhood. He knew her family.
He knew so very little about Emily.
He didn’t know her likes and dislikes. He didn’t even know if she had family other than a brother.
All he knew was that he couldn’t get her out of his head.
Emily sat on the porch swing with her feet tucked up, her arms wrapped around her knees. The sun had started dropping behind the tree tops and taking its warmth with it.
Old Blue sat at her feet, snoring, his belly full of rabbit.
She’d curbed her own hunger with potatoes and some more of the hardtack biscuit she’d left soaking earlier in the day.
She’d given up sneaking peeks out the window. Now she was truly concerned on a number of different levels.
First of all, she was worried that something had happened to Christopher. He was wandering around southern territory wearing a Yankee uniform. There were those who would kill him just for the color of his jacket.
Second, she was worried that he’d just taken her little pistol and left.
The thought was like a stab in her heart. It wasn’t so much the gun, though she truly needed it and had planned on going into town to buy more bullets any day. She was just waiting for Edward earn some money and come home.
But it was more that Christopher seemed to truly care for her. She couldn’t bear to think that he’d merely pretended to care for her when all he really wanted was her gun.
There were so many things that could have happened.
But whatever it was, she’d waited all day for him to come back.
She closed her eyes and let the wind gently rock the swing. Forced her mind to quiet. Even if she never saw Christopher again, she would survive. She would go on.
She convinced herself that it was for the best. He was a Yankee.
Maybe he was exacting revenge for the day she held him at gunpoint six months ago after all.
Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard voices. Male voices.
She thought she was imagining it at first.
Then she recognized her own brother’s laughter.
She sat up, dropped her feet to the floor.
Old Blue stirred and after a moment, he stood up, his ears forward. He gave out a little bark and took off toward the road.
Moments later she saw Edward and Christopher walking down the road, quite companionably.
This had not been one of the hundred things she’d thought could have happened to Christopher.
Somehow her brother and the man who had made a place in her heart had found each other.
As they neared, she saw that they each held a chicken in their hands.
At least they would eat tonight.
She put a hand on her hip as they neared.
“Hello Em,” her brother said, “You know this fellow, right?”
Emily shrugged with a little smile.
Her brother nodded, then took both chickens to the cleaning table out back.
Christopher grinned at her.
And she couldn’t help but smile back.
He went up the steps and stood in front of her. He picked up a strand of her hair.
She flushed. “At least I’m not dressed as a boy and I’m not covered in mud.”
“You’re beautiful,” he said.
She swallowed, not knowing how to respond.
“Do you think I could stay here for a while?” he asked.
Her heart swelled. Only moments ago, she’d thought she’d never see him again. And she’d been heartbroken.
“Yes,” she said, her eyes smiling into his. “You can stay.”
Her guardian angel had returned. And with him came so very many wonderful possibilities.
Copyright @ 2019 by Kathryn Kelly