Monday, May 29, 2017

Welcome To The Sizzling Summer Reads Party!


Summer is time to travel and to wander – and to read! So, join me during the The Romance Reviews Summer Sizzling Reads Party! I’m giving away a copy of one of my historical romances so read onward!
 
 

              I’ve traveled to many places, from New York to Los Angeles and places in between.  But, with a heritage that includes some Southern ancestors, I like to head South and one of the spots that inspired me is a city along the banks of the Mississippi River.

            In Vicksburg, Mississippi, visitors find old fashioned charm and grace. Antebellum homes still stand along quiet tree lined streets on the bluffs high above the Mississippi River.  On the edge of town, hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and casinos represent the contemporary South but downtown and in the older areas, it’s easy to envision Vicksburg during the Civil War.  The battlefield still exists and can be toured.

            I’ve visited Vicksburg several times and I have some personal connections to the place.  My husband’s family hails from across the river, in Louisiana, but Vicksburg is still familiar country.  My great-great grandfather fought at Vicksburg during the Civil War and like many of my other ancestors, he wore Confederate gray.  The famous siege led to the Union victory which secured the Mississippi river for the United States and won the war on the western front.  So one of my historical romances is set in Vicksburg during the siege, in 1863 and today we’re going to visit with my heroine, Susanna Lambert.  The book is Dearest Love (Do You Remember) published by Evernight Publishing.  And, it’s written under my pen name I use for my historical romances – Patrice Wayne.

 


Vicksburg, Mississippi, he meets a beautiful widow who is as attracted to him as he is to her.  As the Yankees lay siege to the troops and the city, Isaac and Susanna Lambert fall in love.  When he suffers from swamp fever, it’s her tender care that keeps him alive but as he weakens, everyone including Susanna, his brother Zach, and Susanna’s maid Venus knows he’ll die without quinine.  Victory seems unlikely for the Rebel soldiers but Isaac would settle for a happy ending with Susanna back home in Texas – but he has to live before it can be possible.

 

Chapter One

He missed Matilda, and each night, unless it proved impossible due to weather or battle conditions, Isaac read her two letters although he knew them by heart.  The paper had worn thin and grown ragged. Her precise handwriting had faded, too.  He could scarcely make out the pencil marks anymore, but he squinted at them in the flickering firelight as if he could somehow touch her spirit.  After so long, Isaac had trouble remembering how she had looked.  He recalled the blonde hair she’d worn braided and pinned like a crown around her head and her eyes, blue as bluebonnets in bloom.  He thought she had often smiled but he struggled to remember if her lips were thin or her mouth was wide.  He wished she’d had a daguerreotype portrait made but it didn’t matter anyway, not when she lay dead and buried back home.  There was another letter, the one her mother had written to inform him of Matilda’s passing. Although he’d read it just once, the sad words penned in black ink were carved into his heart.  He folded the letters and pressed his lips against the paper, an old habit he couldn’t seem to shake, then thrust them into his inner jacket pocket.  He’d meant to go home and marry Matilda after the war but with her gone, Isaac didn’t know what he’d do if he lived, which he doubted more every day.

            He’d joined Waul’s Texas Legion in the fall of 1861 and figured the war wouldn’t last very long. Isaac had figured he’d be home by spring. They trained some here and there in Texas, then went east, but they hadn’t gotten uniforms until November at Jackson, Mississippi.  They’d been fighting Billy Yank from Tennessee and Kentucky down into Georgia but now they’d headed back west.  Although he’d been born in Tennessee, nothing had seemed familiar to Isaac and no wonder because his family headed for Texas when he was about a year old.  He never expected to see the place his ma talked about again but he did and wasn’t impressed.  Maybe under different circumstances, he mused, he might’ve liked it more.  But the war took the starch plumb out of him and left him empty.

Isaac had once cared about the glorious cause and the South but he didn’t much now.  His folks back home seemed more like ghosts or half-forgotten memories.  With Matilda dead and his family far away, he had no one except his brother Zachariah, barely seventeen.  He’d joined up with the Texas Legion, too, but Ike hadn’t seen him in a couple of days.  Fear that his kid brother might be one of the many dead gnawed at his guts but he didn’t speak about it.  He figured if he did, the worst notions he worried about might come true.  Besides, he had little time to think about Zach or anything else as he drifted through his meager existence. As long as he had a little food, some clean water, and a chance to lay down his head once in a while, he’d consider it as good as it might get.  He reckoned he’d die soon and that might be for the best.  He wasn’t old, just twenty-three, but his bones ached as if he’d turned ninety last month.  If he wasn’t shot, he’d fall sick.  Death stalked their ranks like a hunter after prey and claimed as many as it wanted, he thought.  He’d seen enough men die, and it didn’t bother him the way it ought.  His indifference worried him, though.  He’d been raised to be a better man.

            “Hey, Ike,” said Tommy, the drummer boy, an infant of about thirteen, as he settled down beside him. “Where’re we headed now? I didn’t make out what the colonel said.”

            Their commanding officer hadn’t said much after Grant’s Yankees ran them out of Jackson but everyone pretty well knew where they were headed. “I reckon we’re off to Vicksburg,” Isaac said. “It’s supposed to be a pretty tight town, hard to take, and we’re going to help General Pemberton hold it if we can.  If it falls, the Yanks will control the river and probably win the war.”

            “How far is it over there?”

Ike didn’t know but he did hazard a guess. “Fifty miles, maybe a little more,” he told the kid. “Two days hard march if we don’t run afoul of the enemy.”      

            Tommy frowned. “Wish we could just stop and rest a spell.  I’m tired.”

            Tired didn’t begin to describe Isaac’s bone-deep weariness.  He’d like a break as much as the kid.  Maybe he’d feel almost human again if they stopped, but he shook his head. “I know, boy, but Grant’s probably on our tail so we can’t.  No rest for the wicked in this life, Tommy.”

            Tommy disagreed. “We ain’t wicked.”

 Isaac sighed.  He doubted they were, although the ongoing fights and the carnage he’d seen were more than enough to make a man wonder. “No,” he said. “I’m hungry, though, what about you?”

            “I’m near-starved.”

 Isaac used to say the same after a hard day’s labor on the farm back home, but it seemed too close to the truth these days to say it in jest. “Gimme your rations and I’ll make us some johnnycake,” Ike said. “If there’s bacon left and it ain’t too moldy, I’ll brown it and crumble it into the batter.”

            All around them soldiers were cobbling together makeshift meals from the scanty rations they received.  At first, they’d been given a pound of cornmeal each day plus salt pork, bacon, or some fresh meat along with salt, coffee, and sugar.  Isaac hadn’t tasted real coffee in so long he doubted he’d recognize the taste, and the sugar would be given out before the coffee.  He had a bit of salt tucked back in his bag but unless they got meat, he didn’t plan to use it for a while.  These days, if they got meal and cured meat, they were fortunate.  Sometimes he would wander off into the woods to snare a squirrel or rabbit but with so many armies on the move, game was scarce.  He dug out the bacon, sniffed, and decided although a bit rancid it’d do, so he fried it quick in the iron skillet.  Then he mixed the meal with water and poured the thin batter into the same pan.  Isaac crumbled the bacon over it and tucked it into the coals to bake.  It’d be better if he had an egg or two and milk instead of water but it’d be edible, if barely.  A glance around the nearby campsites revealed some soldiers making ramrod rolls with their cornmeal and a few making do with the old bacon. 

            The cornpone baked to grayish-brown and as Isaac pulled it from the fire, then brushed a few ashes away from the top, his brother stumbled up.  Lean and sun-browned, Zach resembled a scarecrow but he walked in on his own power, a good indication despite the bloodstained rag tied around his head.  “Is that supper?” Zach asked without any greeting.

            “Yep, such as it is,” Isaac said.  Some of his worry eased with his brother’s appearance, but not all. “You hurt?”

            Zach wrinkled his nose. “Naw. I got hit with some flying shrapnel, that’s all, not shot. It tore me up and it’s no more than a scratch but it hurts like the devil.”

            “Did you wash it?” Damn, he probably sounded like their mother, always fussing, but he couldn’t help it.  Isaac had seen too many minor wounds fester and not heal.  Infection and gangrene spread fast and killed.

 His brother snorted. “I splashed a little creek water on it a ways back.”

            Thinking back to what a woman pressed into volunteer nursing had done when he’d suffered a minor wound up in Tennessee, Isaac decided to act. “I’ll put some water on to boil and when it cools down I’ll help you clean your wound.”

            His brother shrugged. “If you want to play nursemaid, I’ll let you. Gimme some johnnycake, would you?”

            Isaac broke it into three pieces, as even as he could get.  He gave his brother one and Tommy the other.  As he nibbled his, eating slow so it would last as long as possible, he wished he had some of the herbs Ma used on their scrapes. Comfrey was one he recalled and coneflower another but he had no idea where he’d find either around here.  Hell, I probably wouldn’t even recognize one if I tripped over it.  He finished his coarse, dry cornpone and washed it down with water.  The water bubbled in the pot so he pulled it from the fire and searched for a clean scrap of cloth to use. He found none so Ike stripped off the bandana he wore around his neck to sop up sweat and when the water tested warm, he dipped it into the liquid. 

            “C’mere and hold still,” he told Zach.  To his surprise, his brother obeyed and tilted his head up.  Isaac removed the filthy bandage with effort.  Dried blood crusted the cloth in place and he winced as he jerked it free.  His stomach turned over as he studied what Zach called ‘just a scratch’.  The gash stretched out two inches or more across the kid’s left temple, and it had bled a lot judging by the brown remnants staining Zach’s dirty neck and shirt.  Red ringed the slight wound and when Isaac touched it, yellow pus oozed out.  “How long ago did it happen?” he asked, trying not to sound alarmed.

“Day ‘fore yesterday, I think,” Zach said. “Why? Is it gone bad?”

“It ain’t good,” he replied. “But it’s not turned awful bad, not yet.  There’s a bit of pus, that’s all, but you’re gonna hafta watch it.”

            Zach grunted.  Isaac scrubbed until the skin around it gleamed pale and pushed on the edges until no more pus remained.  He flushed it out with water squeezed from his bandana and then reached up to tear a section from his undershirt.  Isaac bound it around Zach’s head and decided there wasn’t any fever, a good sign. “There, it’s all I can do for now.  Stick around and I’ll look at it again tomorrow. Still hurt?”

“Yeah, like a son of a bitch.”

His brother touched the sore spot with a tentative finger. Isaac sighed. “I should’ve left you home with the young ‘uns,” he said but without heat. “I spied a patch of willows down by the creek earlier.  If you’ll go bring up some bark, I’ll brew you some willow-bark tea and maybe you’ll get some sleep.”

            The sun dropped lower on the western horizon and most of the camp settled down for the night.  Isaac, who slept little enough anyway, waited until Zach brought the willow bark.  He steeped it in more hot water and after it cooled, he poured a cup of the bitter brew.  “Drink it all,” he said when Zach made a face. “It’ll help.” 

“I will if you’ll take some of it.  You could use some sleep yourself,” Zach said.

 Isaac scrubbed one hand over his face.  I must look like holy hell if he’s nagging me.  Touched by the rare show of concern, he nodded. “I will, then.”  They shared the pungent tea, and afterward Isaac sprawled out onto his worn blankets with a measure more of peace than he’d known in some time.  As drowsiness clogged his brain and the simple analgesic eased a few of his bodily hurts, Ike thought tomorrow might be better.  A timid hope stirred within and for the first time in many months, his last conscious thought wasn’t of his lost Matilda.  Instead, Isaac Barclay wondered if one day he might find another woman he could love, if he survived the war. 

            His fledgling hopes died when they were awakened before dawn with orders to take position against the Federal troops near a hill on the Champion Farm.  By seven, birds trilled their spring songs and the sweet scents of blooming flowers wafted on the morning breeze.  Magnolia trees were in full bloom, the white blossoms the largest Isaac had ever seen.  He kept his brother near as the troops scattered along a three-mile long defense line and they waited.  Few of the soldiers spoke as the hours passed, sweat trickling down the weary faces as the day heated.  Isaac’s muscles tensed tight as any relaxation the rare night’s sleep brought was gone now.  Two columns of Yankees, they’d said, approached, but near mid-morning a courier brought news—a third brought up the rear.  As word spread up and down the previously silent lines, Isaac realized they were caught.  A battle loomed imminent and within the hour shots rang out and the sound of thousands of voices locked in combat roared through the spring woods and over the just-planted fields.

            “Goddamn,” his brother said, as Tommy the young drummer boy advanced, his hands active as he beat an attack tattoo[LiN1] .  “We’re in it now.”

 Isaac almost hugged him but they seldom exchanged such shows of affection since they’d grown up. “Stay safe,” he said. “I’ll see you after the battle.” Zach nodded and grinned as he cut loose a rebel yell, loud enough to echo over the guns and drums.  He cocked his rifle and plunged into the thick of things, vanishing into the smoke already hanging over the battleground.  After a moment, Isaac did the same.

            Time shifted and held fast.  Were it not for the sun overhead, he’d never have known when noon came.  He fired and used his bayonet to advance.  The now-familiar stench of spilled blood, loose bowels, and gunpowder roared into his nose powerful enough to choke him.  Isaac shifted into warrior mode and became a killing machine, bent on survival and willing to destroy any opposition to it.  The crushing noise of the battle overwhelmed him at first and then seemed to flow underwater into his ears, muted.  He remained aware of it but it no longer caught his full attention.  Ike moved forward.  Sometimes he shouted and sometimes he said nothing.  Men fell to the ground, bloodied, guts spilling out like straw, and their mortal cries added to the cacophony of sound.  Sometime in early afternoon, he guessed by the sun’s position, the Yankees overwhelmed them and took Champion Hill in a tide of blue puddled with crimson red.   As they pulled back, he caught sight of Zach, and for the first time in hours Isaac let personal thoughts back into his head.  Relief caught him hard but he couldn’t push through to his brother. He just rolled with the flow of troops in retreat.

            The battle wasn’t over yet.  They skirmished along the Jackson-Vicksburg Road for hours, and each time Isaac thought they might be done, another attack hit.  Someone said Bowne’s troops had come up from somewhere south and tried to retake Champion Hill.  Isaac heard their shouts and cries, the clash of swords, the gunfire, but it wasn’t long until whispers came through the men like a rushing wind.  Grant’s troops, greater in number, beat the boys in gray back before they gained either hill or the pretty white house stuck in the middle of the battlefield.  Bowen’s troops trailed behind General Pemberton’s Army in defeat and retreat, moving toward Vicksburg. It didn’t matter to the men who wearily trudged westward, bodies aching, minds reeling, and hearts numb.  All they could do was pick up one foot, then the other, and lay them down again. The hope he’d claimed the previous night left nothing but a bitter aftertaste as Isaac stumbled onward, his brief dream of a woman in his life forgotten. Living, not loving, became the priority.  It would be too much to ask for both.

Purchase Links:

 




 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Spend Your Memorial Day Weekend with a hero


  Spend your Memorial Day weekend reading time with a hero....

“I don’t want your pity,” he said, a snarl transforming his face into something wolfish, alien.  “Don’t feel sorry for me, babe.  I don’t need charity and I sure as hell don’t need you to tell me some dumb ass feel good bunch of shit.  So quit crying over me.  Maybe it makes you feel better, but it makes me mad.”

            “It isn’t pity,” Gracie told him. “I admire you.  It takes a lot of courage to overcome hurts like this.  I hurt for you, but I don’t feel sorry for you.  I hate you had to go through such pain, but I’m crying because I care.”

             His hard face softened a little. “Why?”

            In this raw moment, she could give him nothing but honesty. “I don’t know, but I do.”

            Then Gracie leaned forward and bent just enough to touch her lips to one of the ugliest lesions, the worst of the scars.  He shuddered as she kissed his chest and when she lifted her tear streaked face, Devlin grasped her arms.  He held her in place and kissed her back, full on the mouth, without remorse or mercy.   Gracie gasped with surprise.  His lips burned hers as if she kissed a devil fresh from the pit, but she liked it.  Her body answered his call and her arms moved to circle his neck as she gave him back the kiss. -- from Devlin's Grace.

 

 

Meet Devlin, an Iraq war veteran who lives a lonely troubled life until he meets Gracie.  Readers who enjoyed Slattery’s Sin, Will’s Way, or any of my other novels dealing with military veterans will want to read Devlin’s Grace, a full-length work dealing with the demons of PTSD with a poignant love story.  It’s been a website bestseller in the new military category at Evernight Publishing and a long time reader favorite.  Here’s the blurb, the first chapter and buy links.  Happy reading!

 

 

When Iraq war veteran Devlin rides his motorcycle into Gracie’s life, he’s everything she’s not, wild, wicked, and more than a little crazy.  Opposites attract because good girl, college student Gracie wants more of this bad boy.  She invades his personal space, takes liberties no other woman has dared, and although he struggles with PTSD, she sticks by her man.  He teaches her to live a little more and she helps him battle his demons.  If there’s any chance the shattered combat veteran can find his way back, Devlin’s Grace can help him find it.

 

 

In The Beginning…

 

 

Devlin conjured her out of nothing but imagination.  Creating his dream woman consumed his rare moments of free time and when he’d finished, she possessed every quality he ever wanted.  He didn’t name her.  He couldn’t, because it’d make her seem too real.  But her long, dark hair with natural highlights cascaded down her slender back in curls.  He dreamed of her wise, blue eyes and her fair skin with a few freckles.  Her generous lips were rich pink, and her small hands fit into his big paws with simple ease.

Devlin’s woman offered him the fantasy that someone cared.  He dreamed about her and imagined the things she’d say to encourage him.  He decided her voice would be soft, a little husky and deep, the kind of voice a man could let pour over him like a gentle rain.  When he got tired, he imagined she’d urge him onward.

And when he got wounded, hurt almost to death, her face kept him going. He counted on her, even though she wasn’t real.

He never thought he’d meet her.

And by the time he did, it was almost too late. Life didn’t mean much, and he’d decided it probably never would.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

Fog curled upward from steaming pavement.  The late shower lasted just long enough to soak everything before evaporating into the humid August heat.   Rain failed to cool anything down, but the contrast in temperatures created a haze. 

Gracie slowed her hectic gait to admire the way the mist blurred everything with an almost mystical aura.  She heard the motorcycle’s whine two blocks away and cocked her head to listen as it approached.  Although she’d never ridden one, probably never would, bikes fascinated her and caught her attention.  After chastising herself for such curiosity, Gracie sighed and tried to focus on her new art course.  Just as she began walking again, afraid she might be last to her first watercolor class, the rider emerged from the vapor.

His older Honda roared out of the cloud like a demon rising from the pits of hell.  Whoever he might be, he handled the bike with finesse.  His denim jacket fit with snug certainty, as if made for him and no other.   Gracie gaped at twin devil horns sprouting from his helmet, both bright red and curved to points.  She blinked and saw the biker also featured the same evil horns on the edges of his rear view mirror.  His face remained all but invisible behind a pair of mirrored sunglasses, but the taut set of his mouth seemed intense.  He slowed and rolled the bike into a parking space, balanced it, and hopped off.  As he shed the helmet, Gracie watched from beneath a huge old tree, oblivious to the water dripping down the back of her cotton blouse.  Something about the rider intrigued her, but scared her, too.

He rooted through his saddle bag and pulled out a battered sketch pad, then jammed his keys into a front pocket.  Gracie’s eyes followed him as he headed down the sidewalk toward the art building and then, after a quick glance at her watch, she hurried in the same direction.  She rushed into Ellis Hall and hunted down the right classroom, entering just as the class came to order.  Gracie fumbled her way into a chair and sat down, catching her breath and struggling to seem unruffled.  As her rapid breathing slowed to a normal pace, she ventured a glance around the table.  One blue-haired elderly matron, one lanky teen age boy, so far, so good, then she caught sight of the biker.  Unlike the other students, He sat utility pole tall and straight across from her.  His gaze met hers, and she realized he watched her the way a predator eyed a potential meal.

His intensity sent shivers through her body, but curiosity trumped her fear.  Gracie peeked at the biker, noticing his close-cropped dark hair, deep brown eyes the color of buckeyes, and his regal nose.   He wasn’t smiling and, although she found him attractive, he exuded sadness along with something more.  His eyes were veiled with wariness and despite the lines carved into his weathered, tan skin, Gracie guessed he probably wasn’t much more than ten years older than she.  Some ferocity beneath the surface frightened her, but deeper, she sensed something troubled this man, and she ached to help.

He’s not a kitten you can take home and cuddle.  Gracie had a bad habit of taking in strays, something which landed trouble in her lap more than once.  Remember some dogs bite.  She shifted her attention back to the instructor.

“Now I need you to each select a partner, an art partner.  You’ll share storage space and you can critique each other’s rough work.”

Gracie glanced around the room.  Somewhere among the faces must be someone she knew, but no one appeared familiar.  She turned to her right just as the senior citizen accepted the teenager’s offer to unite.  Flustered, she tried to banish a sense of panic, the same crazy way she’d felt as a child when everyone in gym gained a buddy or each student but her found a locker partner on the first day of school.  If she ended up being the teacher’s little helper, she’d drop the class.

“Hey,” the biker said.  His voice carried some depth and a little gravel. “I’m short a partner over here and I wondered if you might be mine.”

   “Sure,” Gracie said.  He extended his large hand toward her, and she took it. She held it before realizing he’d meant only to shake.   To cover the faux paus, she said, “I’m Grace, Gracie Alloway.”

“I’m Devlin.  Are you a student here?”

She nodded. “I’m a senior and hope to graduate in December.  I work, too.”

“On campus?” Most women would think he came across as nosy, but Gracie sensed he just wanted to keep the conversation going.

“No, I work part-time at the big Barnes and Noble on south Glenstone,” she told him.  “Are you a student, too?”

For the first time, Devlin smiled, faint but she caught it. “No, I’m not.  I never got a chance to do the whole college thing, but I like to draw and thought maybe this class would help me learn to paint.”

The same notion had inspired her to sign up for the course.  Maybe they had more common ground than she’d thought.  The instructor shushed the class to offer more details, then passed out the syllabus and a list of needed supplies.  She wondered if the first class might end early, but it didn’t. 

Mr. Zeller, the teacher, talked about watercolors and paints for the remainder of the class.  By the time they filed out, most of the students chattering to one another, night covered the campus like a blanket.

Somewhere in the press of bodies spilling out over the sidewalk in a way reminding Gracie of scattered leaves, she and Devlin separated.  She saw him head for his motorcycle as she tucked her head against a rising wind and used the crosswalk to get to the opposite side of National.  Her feet followed the familiar walkways, wide for a few blocks until the campus petered out and city sidewalks resumed.  Off in the distance thunder rumbled, and Gracie picked up her pace.  If she didn’t hurry, the storm might hit before she made it back to her apartment.

She mistook the sound for more thunder until she felt the vibration.  Devlin was riding his Honda Magna in the street, keeping pace with her.  As Gracie turned her head, he called out.

“Want a ride?”

She did, but the idea of climbing astride behind Devlin and taking off on a motorcycle ignited an inner terror.  As a kid, Gracie couldn’t even always manage to balance her bicycle.  If she said yes, she might do something awkward, and they’d both take a spill.  As she hesitated, Devlin cut the engine and stared at her, eyes intent.  “You’re scared, aren’t you?” he asked after a long few moments.  His perception surprised her.

Gracie nodded. “I am, a little.”

“You’ve never ridden a motorcycle.” It wasn’t a question, but she responded.

“No.”

“What about a bike? Surely to Christ you had a bike.”

Her shy tongue responded, almost against her will and with more candor than she offered anyone else. “I did and I skinned my knees every time I tried to ride it.”

Devlin didn’t laugh. “It’s going to rain.  If you want a ride, all you’ve got to do is hang on.  I won’t dump you out on the street, I promise.  How far away do you live?”

“It’s not far, on East McDaniel off National,” Gracie told him and gave him the full address.

“Hop on and I’ll get you there before you get soaked.”

She parted her lips to tell him thanks but no thanks, but instead her feet took control.  Gracie walked over to the bike and climbed onto the seat behind him.  Her purse ended up between his back and her chest.  Always safety conscious, she asked, “Shouldn’t I wear a helmet?”

“Yeah, you’re supposed to, but I don’t have a spare with me.” Devlin turned his head around so she could hear his reply. “Hold on.”

Gracie put her hands on his sides, barely touching, and he reached back.  His large hands grasped hers and placed them snug around his waist. “When I say hang on tight, I mean it.”

Before she could protest or make a sound, Devlin took off, the bike gliding over the pavement with increasing speed.  The same wild, irrational fear she experienced on every carnival ride she’d attempted took wing and panic threatened to erupt.  Gracie yelped, but she didn’t think Devlin heard her.  As he rolled the bike faster, she clung to him, eyes closed.  At the first traffic light, he paused and shouted in her direction. “Okay so far?”

Unwilling to admit she’d been frantic, she yelled, “Yeah.”

“Good.”

This time he launched with more speed and she grasped him tight.  As they sped over the streets, light rain began falling on them, little more than mist.  For a stray second or two, her angst yielded to exhilaration, intoxicating and sweet.  Gracie resisted an urge to raise both hands in the air and yell whee.  The brief moment faded as Devlin slowed and eased over to the curb.  “Is this it?”

“Yes,” Gracie said.  She swung her leg over the seat and dismounted, managing to bump him with her leg.  Her klutziness embarrassed her. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t sweat it.”

By then she stood on the sidewalk, the old frame house looming behind her.  “Well, thanks for the ride.  I appreciate it.”

His deep brown eyes fixed on her face, and his lips curved upward into a smile, larger than the previous one. “No problem, Gracie.  I’ll see you next week for class?”

“Sure,” she said.  “Thanks again, Mr. Devlin.”

The smile vanished and he frowned, transforming his face into a foreboding mask.  “Don’t call me that,” he said, and she realized he wasn’t joking. “It’s just Devlin.”

Her mother taught her proper manners, old-fashioned ones long out of style.  Calling someone she just met by his last name only didn’t seem correct.  Gracie would rather use his first name, but he hadn’t shared it.  “Okay,” she said, chastised. “I’m sorry.  It’s just I don’t know your first name and…”

Devlin reached out from his perch on the Honda and touched a finger to her lips, silencing her immediately. “You don’t need to apologize for everything.  It’s cool.  If you want, call me Dev.  It’s that or Devlin or Devil.  I don’t use my first name.”

In three sentences, he created a dozen questions, but Gracie wasn’t sure what to ask first.  Devil must be a nickname and if so, it explained his horned helmet and mirror, but she wondered why.  The question popped out before she considered he might not want to share the reason. “Why do they call you Devil?”

He never blinked, not once. “I did a lot of evil things once, in Iraq.”

“Oh.” Gracie couldn’t find anything else to say and stood, silent and self-conscious.  The light rain intensified, but she failed to notice until the dampness of her thin blouse filtered into her consciousness.  This man intrigued her in a way no one else had.  She wanted to ask him up for coffee, talk to him for hours long into the night, and at the same time she longed to run away.  She sorted through the options for something to call him and chose the simplest.  “Dev?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s raining harder.  Do you want to come up to my apartment to dry off?”

Dev shrugged as if he didn’t care either way. “I don’t live very far.”

His nonchalance increased her desire to have him come out of the rain. “I can make coffee,” she offered. “You’re getting soaked.”

Five seconds, then ten passed before Devlin nodded.  Although she didn’t hear any more thunder, the rain increased with speed.  “All right, you talked me into a cup of coffee.”

“Come on,” she said and hurried through the downpour up to the porch. 

She used her first key to open the middle door of three then led Devlin up the narrow stairs.  At the top, she turned to the left and unlocked another door.  Gracie walked into the front room of the three room apartment and turned on a lamp.  The soft electric light illuminated the space.

 Although she rented it furnished, she liked to think her efforts at decoration enhanced it and made it cozy.  The red couch with big yellow sun designs seemed more hideous than usual.  It claimed almost a third of the small room, flanked by the maple rocker she brought from home and a wire plant stand holding three pots.  Her battered television, an analog model hooked to a converter box, rested on a 1960’s vintage coffee table shoved against the wall space between the doorway to the miniature kitchen and the tiny bedroom.   A few cheap rag rugs, the kind favored by kindergarten teachers for nap time, covered the hard wood floors in select spots.

Dev dripped just inside the doorway, staring around as if he’d entered an oasis or magical palace.  “Go ahead and sit down,” Gracie said. “A little rain won’t hurt the couch and I’ll grab you a towel.”

She ducked through the bedroom into the single bathroom dominated by a big clawfoot tub and returned with two fresh towels.   Devlin reached for them and began toweling off his hair with the smallest.  Gracie sat in the rocking chair and wiped away the rain from her own hair then her arms.   When she glanced up, she saw he’d removed his denim jacket and she reached for it.  He frowned, as if he thought she might steal the thing.

“I’m going to hang it up on the back of a kitchen chair to dry,” she explained.

He relaxed. “Oh, okay, sure.  Nice place you’ve got.”

Gracie thought he must be making fun of it until she caught sight of his expression.  Something poignant crept into his eyes along with a little awe.  “Thanks,” she said, humbled. “I’ll go make the coffee.”

She draped his jacket over one of the Arrow back chairs.   In the light, she noticed the patch across the back of the denim and traced it with her fingers.  An eagle perched atop a globe.  An anchor ran through the globe and rope twined around the world. ‘Semper fi read the words coming from the eagle’s beak in a banner.  Around the edges of the patch, Gracie read Department of the Navy – United States Marine Corps.  Beneath it, another sewn-on addition, this one handmade, proclaimed, Marine Expeditionary Forces – Operation Iraqi Freedom.  A few pieces of the Devlin puzzle connected.  So he’s a Marine, Gracie mused, or was. 

It explained a lot and she pondered it all as she made coffee in her percolator by rote, the familiar motions done without thought.  When the coffee was ready, she poured two cups and carried both back into the living room, to Devlin.

 

Buy links:

 


 


 


 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Read for a little moonlight and magnolias? Read Dearest Love (Do You Remember?"

   Sometimes I write under my own name and sometimes I don’t.  Although my contemporary romance is written as Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy, some of my news stories for the Neosho Daily News are under Lee Ann Murphy (editorial suggestion), and my historical romance is written under the pen name Patrice Wayne.

            Now that May has arrived, let’s go south.

            In Vicksburg, Mississippi, visitors find old fashioned charm and grace. Antebellum homes still stand along quiet tree lined streets on the bluffs high above the Mississippi River.  On the edge of town, hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and casinos represent the contemporary South but downtown and in the older areas, it’s easy to envision Vicksburg during the Civil War.  The battlefield still exists and can be toured.

            I’ve visited Vicksburg several times and I have some personal connections to the place.  My husband’s family hails from across the river, in Louisiana, but Vicksburg is still familiar country.  My great-great grandfather fought at Vicksburg during the Civil War and like many of my other ancestors, he wore Confederate gray.  The famous siege led to the Union victory which secured the Mississippi river for the United States and won the war on the western front.  So one of my historical romances is set in Vicksburg during the siege, in 1863 and today we’re going to visit with my heroine, Susanna Lambert.  The book is Dearest Love (Do You Remember) published by Evernight Publishing. 

 
Here's the cover blurb, the first chapter and buy links!



Texan Isaac Barclay thinks the South isn’t all it’s been rumored to be.  There’s a definite shortage of moonlight and magnolias. He’s yet to meet any Southern Belles and he’s not sure he’ll survive the Civil War.  But, when the Confederate troops fall back into the sleepy town of Vicksburg, Mississippi, he meets a beautiful widow who is as attracted to him as he is to her.  As the Yankees lay siege to the troops and the city, Isaac and Susanna Lambert fall in love.  When he suffers from swamp fever, it’s her tender care that keeps him alive but as he weakens, everyone including Susanna, his brother Zach, and Susanna’s maid Venus knows he’ll die without quinine.  Victory seems unlikely for the Rebel soldiers but Isaac would settle for a happy ending with Susanna back home in Texas – but he has to live before it can be possible.



Image result for fall of vicksburg
Chapter One

           

 

 

He missed Matilda, and each night, unless it proved impossible due to weather or battle conditions, Isaac read her two letters although he knew them by heart.  The paper had worn thin and grown ragged. Her precise handwriting had faded, too.  He could scarcely make out the pencil marks anymore, but he squinted at them in the flickering firelight as if he could somehow touch her spirit.  After so long, Isaac had trouble remembering how she had looked.  He recalled the blonde hair she’d worn braided and pinned like a crown around her head and her eyes, blue as bluebonnets in bloom.  He thought she had often smiled but he struggled to remember if her lips were thin or her mouth was wide.  He wished she’d had a daguerreotype portrait made but it didn’t matter anyway, not when she lay dead and buried back home.  There was another letter, the one her mother had written to inform him of Matilda’s passing. Although he’d read it just once, the sad words penned in black ink were carved into his heart.  He folded the letters and pressed his lips against the paper, an old habit he couldn’t seem to shake, then thrust them into his inner jacket pocket.  He’d meant to go home and marry Matilda after the war but with her gone, Isaac didn’t know what he’d do if he lived, which he doubted more every day.

            He’d joined Waul’s Texas Legion in the fall of 1861 and figured the war wouldn’t last very long. Isaac had figured he’d be home by spring. They trained some here and there in Texas, then went east, but they hadn’t gotten uniforms until November at Jackson, Mississippi.  They’d been fighting Billy Yank from Tennessee and Kentucky down into Georgia but now they’d headed back west.  Although he’d been born in Tennessee, nothing had seemed familiar to Isaac and no wonder because his family headed for Texas when he was about a year old.  He never expected to see the place his ma talked about again but he did and wasn’t impressed.  Maybe under different circumstances, he mused, he might’ve liked it more.  But the war took the starch plumb out of him and left him empty.

Isaac had once cared about the glorious cause and the South but he didn’t much now.  His folks back home seemed more like ghosts or half-forgotten memories.  With Matilda dead and his family far away, he had no one except his brother Zachariah, barely seventeen.  He’d joined up with the Texas Legion, too, but Ike hadn’t seen him in a couple of days.  Fear that his kid brother might be one of the many dead gnawed at his guts but he didn’t speak about it.  He figured if he did, the worst notions he worried about might come true.  Besides, he had little time to think about Zach or anything else as he drifted through his meager existence. As long as he had a little food, some clean water, and a chance to lay down his head once in a while, he’d consider it as good as it might get.  He reckoned he’d die soon and that might be for the best.  He wasn’t old, just twenty-three, but his bones ached as if he’d turned ninety last month.  If he wasn’t shot, he’d fall sick.  Death stalked their ranks like a hunter after prey and claimed as many as it wanted, he thought.  He’d seen enough men die, and it didn’t bother him the way it ought.  His indifference worried him, though.  He’d been raised to be a better man.

            “Hey, Ike,” said Tommy, the drummer boy, an infant of about thirteen, as he settled down beside him. “Where’re we headed now? I didn’t make out what the colonel said.”

            Their commanding officer hadn’t said much after Grant’s Yankees ran them out of Jackson but everyone pretty well knew where they were headed. “I reckon we’re off to Vicksburg,” Isaac said. “It’s supposed to be a pretty tight town, hard to take, and we’re going to help General Pemberton hold it if we can.  If it falls, the Yanks will control the river and probably win the war.”

            “How far is it over there?”

Ike didn’t know but he did hazard a guess. “Fifty miles, maybe a little more,” he told the kid. “Two days hard march if we don’t run afoul of the enemy.”      

            Tommy frowned. “Wish we could just stop and rest a spell.  I’m tired.”

            Tired didn’t begin to describe Isaac’s bone-deep weariness.  He’d like a break as much as the kid.  Maybe he’d feel almost human again if they stopped, but he shook his head. “I know, boy, but Grant’s probably on our tail so we can’t.  No rest for the wicked in this life, Tommy.”

            Tommy disagreed. “We ain’t wicked.”

 Isaac sighed.  He doubted they were, although the ongoing fights and the carnage he’d seen were more than enough to make a man wonder. “No,” he said. “I’m hungry, though, what about you?”

            “I’m near-starved.”

 Isaac used to say the same after a hard day’s labor on the farm back home, but it seemed too close to the truth these days to say it in jest. “Gimme your rations and I’ll make us some johnnycake,” Ike said. “If there’s bacon left and it ain’t too moldy, I’ll brown it and crumble it into the batter.”

            All around them soldiers were cobbling together makeshift meals from the scanty rations they received.  At first, they’d been given a pound of cornmeal each day plus salt pork, bacon, or some fresh meat along with salt, coffee, and sugar.  Isaac hadn’t tasted real coffee in so long he doubted he’d recognize the taste, and the sugar would be given out before the coffee.  He had a bit of salt tucked back in his bag but unless they got meat, he didn’t plan to use it for a while.  These days, if they got meal and cured meat, they were fortunate.  Sometimes he would wander off into the woods to snare a squirrel or rabbit but with so many armies on the move, game was scarce.  He dug out the bacon, sniffed, and decided although a bit rancid it’d do, so he fried it quick in the iron skillet.  Then he mixed the meal with water and poured the thin batter into the same pan.  Isaac crumbled the bacon over it and tucked it into the coals to bake.  It’d be better if he had an egg or two and milk instead of water but it’d be edible, if barely.  A glance around the nearby campsites revealed some soldiers making ramrod rolls with their cornmeal and a few making do with the old bacon. 

            The cornpone baked to grayish-brown and as Isaac pulled it from the fire, then brushed a few ashes away from the top, his brother stumbled up.  Lean and sun-browned, Zach resembled a scarecrow but he walked in on his own power, a good indication despite the bloodstained rag tied around his head.  “Is that supper?” Zach asked without any greeting.

            “Yep, such as it is,” Isaac said.  Some of his worry eased with his brother’s appearance, but not all. “You hurt?”

            Zach wrinkled his nose. “Naw. I got hit with some flying shrapnel, that’s all, not shot. It tore me up and it’s no more than a scratch but it hurts like the devil.”

            “Did you wash it?” Damn, he probably sounded like their mother, always fussing, but he couldn’t help it.  Isaac had seen too many minor wounds fester and not heal.  Infection and gangrene spread fast and killed.

 His brother snorted. “I splashed a little creek water on it a ways back.”

            Thinking back to what a woman pressed into volunteer nursing had done when he’d suffered a minor wound up in Tennessee, Isaac decided to act. “I’ll put some water on to boil and when it cools down I’ll help you clean your wound.”

            His brother shrugged. “If you want to play nursemaid, I’ll let you. Gimme some johnnycake, would you?”

            Isaac broke it into three pieces, as even as he could get.  He gave his brother one and Tommy the other.  As he nibbled his, eating slow so it would last as long as possible, he wished he had some of the herbs Ma used on their scrapes. Comfrey was one he recalled and coneflower another but he had no idea where he’d find either around here.  Hell, I probably wouldn’t even recognize one if I tripped over it.  He finished his coarse, dry cornpone and washed it down with water.  The water bubbled in the pot so he pulled it from the fire and searched for a clean scrap of cloth to use. He found none so Ike stripped off the bandana he wore around his neck to sop up sweat and when the water tested warm, he dipped it into the liquid. 

            “C’mere and hold still,” he told Zach.  To his surprise, his brother obeyed and tilted his head up.  Isaac removed the filthy bandage with effort.  Dried blood crusted the cloth in place and he winced as he jerked it free.  His stomach turned over as he studied what Zach called ‘just a scratch’.  The gash stretched out two inches or more across the kid’s left temple, and it had bled a lot judging by the brown remnants staining Zach’s dirty neck and shirt.  Red ringed the slight wound and when Isaac touched it, yellow pus oozed out.  “How long ago did it happen?” he asked, trying not to sound alarmed.

“Day ‘fore yesterday, I think,” Zach said. “Why? Is it gone bad?”

“It ain’t good,” he replied. “But it’s not turned awful bad, not yet.  There’s a bit of pus, that’s all, but you’re gonna hafta watch it.”

            Zach grunted.  Isaac scrubbed until the skin around it gleamed pale and pushed on the edges until no more pus remained.  He flushed it out with water squeezed from his bandana and then reached up to tear a section from his undershirt.  Isaac bound it around Zach’s head and decided there wasn’t any fever, a good sign. “There, it’s all I can do for now.  Stick around and I’ll look at it again tomorrow. Still hurt?”

“Yeah, like a son of a bitch.”

His brother touched the sore spot with a tentative finger. Isaac sighed. “I should’ve left you home with the young ‘uns,” he said but without heat. “I spied a patch of willows down by the creek earlier.  If you’ll go bring up some bark, I’ll brew you some willow-bark tea and maybe you’ll get some sleep.”

            The sun dropped lower on the western horizon and most of the camp settled down for the night.  Isaac, who slept little enough anyway, waited until Zach brought the willow bark.  He steeped it in more hot water and after it cooled, he poured a cup of the bitter brew.  “Drink it all,” he said when Zach made a face. “It’ll help.” 

“I will if you’ll take some of it.  You could use some sleep yourself,” Zach said.

 Isaac scrubbed one hand over his face.  I must look like holy hell if he’s nagging me.  Touched by the rare show of concern, he nodded. “I will, then.”  They shared the pungent tea, and afterward Isaac sprawled out onto his worn blankets with a measure more of peace than he’d known in some time.  As drowsiness clogged his brain and the simple analgesic eased a few of his bodily hurts, Ike thought tomorrow might be better.  A timid hope stirred within and for the first time in many months, his last conscious thought wasn’t of his lost Matilda.  Instead, Isaac Barclay wondered if one day he might find another woman he could love, if he survived the war. 

            His fledgling hopes died when they were awakened before dawn with orders to take position against the Federal troops near a hill on the Champion Farm.  By seven, birds trilled their spring songs and the sweet scents of blooming flowers wafted on the morning breeze.  Magnolia trees were in full bloom, the white blossoms the largest Isaac had ever seen.  He kept his brother near as the troops scattered along a three-mile long defense line and they waited.  Few of the soldiers spoke as the hours passed, sweat trickling down the weary faces as the day heated.  Isaac’s muscles tensed tight as any relaxation the rare night’s sleep brought was gone now.  Two columns of Yankees, they’d said, approached, but near mid-morning a courier brought news—a third brought up the rear.  As word spread up and down the previously silent lines, Isaac realized they were caught.  A battle loomed imminent and within the hour shots rang out and the sound of thousands of voices locked in combat roared through the spring woods and over the just-planted fields.

            “Goddamn,” his brother said, as Tommy the young drummer boy advanced, his hands active as he beat an attack tattoo[LiN1] .  “We’re in it now.”

 Isaac almost hugged him but they seldom exchanged such shows of affection since they’d grown up. “Stay safe,” he said. “I’ll see you after the battle.” Zach nodded and grinned as he cut loose a rebel yell, loud enough to echo over the guns and drums.  He cocked his rifle and plunged into the thick of things, vanishing into the smoke already hanging over the battleground.  After a moment, Isaac did the same.

            Time shifted and held fast.  Were it not for the sun overhead, he’d never have known when noon came.  He fired and used his bayonet to advance.  The now-familiar stench of spilled blood, loose bowels, and gunpowder roared into his nose powerful enough to choke him.  Isaac shifted into warrior mode and became a killing machine, bent on survival and willing to destroy any opposition to it.  The crushing noise of the battle overwhelmed him at first and then seemed to flow underwater into his ears, muted.  He remained aware of it but it no longer caught his full attention.  Ike moved forward.  Sometimes he shouted and sometimes he said nothing.  Men fell to the ground, bloodied, guts spilling out like straw, and their mortal cries added to the cacophony of sound.  Sometime in early afternoon, he guessed by the sun’s position, the Yankees overwhelmed them and took Champion Hill in a tide of blue puddled with crimson red.   As they pulled back, he caught sight of Zach, and for the first time in hours Isaac let personal thoughts back into his head.  Relief caught him hard but he couldn’t push through to his brother. He just rolled with the flow of troops in retreat.

            The battle wasn’t over yet.  They skirmished along the Jackson-Vicksburg Road for hours, and each time Isaac thought they might be done, another attack hit.  Someone said Bowne’s troops had come up from somewhere south and tried to retake Champion Hill.  Isaac heard their shouts and cries, the clash of swords, the gunfire, but it wasn’t long until whispers came through the men like a rushing wind.  Grant’s troops, greater in number, beat the boys in gray back before they gained either hill or the pretty white house stuck in the middle of the battlefield.  Bowen’s troops trailed behind General Pemberton’s Army in defeat and retreat, moving toward Vicksburg. It didn’t matter to the men who wearily trudged westward, bodies aching, minds reeling, and hearts numb.  All they could do was pick up one foot, then the other, and lay them down again. The hope he’d claimed the previous night left nothing but a bitter aftertaste as Isaac stumbled onward, his brief dream of a woman in his life forgotten. Living, not loving, became the priority.  It would be too much to ask for both.

Tweet it!

The Romance Studios

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-6jNp4LDFrXI/TdOM6L9092I/AAAAAAAAAG0/SQaj2BgT66U/s1600/Kinfolk-EBOOK.jpg