Remember waiting for Christmas? The time moved so slowly but when it came, you were happy? If you’re a parent, especially a mom, do you recall the endless waiting for the baby to come? A new release for an author has a similar feeling – you begin to think it’s never going to happen and then it does.
Hear The Wind Blow, Love, my latest historical romance from Rebel Ink Press is now out and available! To celebrate (and maybe tempt your reading tastes a little) here’s the first chapter followed by the current buy links. Barnes and Noble and Kobo are also coming soon but I’ve put up Amazon, All Romance Ebooks, and Bookstrand!
When the Armistice ends the Great War in November 1918, the end comes too late to save Maude Whitney’s husband, Jamie. But Maude realizes her heart still belongs to Harry, her brother-in-law who courted her first. He’s been her rock in Jamie’s absence while they shared quarters with the grandparents who raised the brothers. But Granpa died and Granny moved to town so when Maude invites him to move back under the same roof, it’s sure to be a scandal in the rural Ozarks.
Before gossiping tongues can spread the news, the Spanish influenza wreaks havoc in the area. It brings death close to home for Maude and Harry. As they fall deeper in love and plan to wed, their troubles are just beginning. Old feuds erupt and the day after Christmas, Harry’s hauled into custody and accused of a murder he didn’t commit. Harry must prove his innocence and survive a serious bout of flu or there’s no happy ending for the star-crossed couple.
November 16, 1918
Shadows slanted through the tree branches as leaves dropped in lazy circles to the ground. Maude Whitney paused on the top porch step and gazed upward into a sky as rich and vivid blue as a robin’s egg. She cocked her head to listen as the sound of geese reached her and watched the V-shaped columns as they winged south. Although the brief spell of Indian summer brought warmer temperatures, cold weather must be on the way. The high, thin whistle of the passing trains across the creek sounded louder and last night Maude noted a ring around the moon. Earlier she saw several woodpeckers at the foot of a tree and the kindling snapped and popped to a fare-thee-well in the stove. Cold’s coming, she thought, and shivered despite the afternoon sun.
Weather wasn’t the only thing preying on her mind. A month ago, the letter she’d never forget came. Maude kept it tucked away into the pages of her childhood Bible but she wouldn’t read it again. She didn’t want to see the precise black handwriting or read the words that told how her husband, Jamie, died with so many others in the Argonne Wood over in France.
Until six weeks or so ago, the old two-story farmhouse tucked into a small valley brimmed full of life and laughter. Rugged hills cradled the old home in an embrace and it’d been a cozy place to live. A tall, weathered barn loomed behind it adjacent to the smokehouse and outhouse but the front yard sloped downward to a grassy field on this side of the creek. Until not long ago, Maude shared the rambling rooms with Granpa and Granny, Jamie’s grandparents who raised both Jamie and his brother Harry after their parents died from typhoid fever. Harry’d lived there too, since Jamie went off to war, and she didn’t mind at all. His removal to the old cabin up the hill beyond the burying ground bothered her, though.
Harry courted her first and if he hadn’t gone to the city to try his hand at a trade, she probably would’ve married him. But he left and Jamie stayed. Jamie squired her to a few dances, came to call, and when he asked if she’d become his wife, Maude agreed. If she couldn’t have Harry, she’d thought, his brother should suit her instead but too late, after the wedding, she realized the brothers were very different.
Jamie Whitney and his brother Harry looked something alike, she mused, but the similarity ended there. Harry loved to tease and laugh, always impetuous and sometimes a little crazy. Jamie faced life with the same precise focus he used when he’d squinted through his rifle sights at game for the table. He tended to be far more sober and serious-minded than his brother, qualities Maude thought would serve her well in a husband but she’d miscalculated. He changed once they’d said their vows and the laughter dwindled.
“Don’t sing those old songs,” Jamie told her soon after they wed. “You’d be better off praising the Lord with church music than singing about dead lords and ladies up to no good.”
“Why, Jamie,” Granny’d said with a click of her tongue. “You sound as bad as Gertie after she got religion. Ain’t nothing wrong with the ballads. I sing ‘em myself.”
He didn’t budge, though, and turned against dancing too. Jamie worked hard and expected everyone else to do the same. Although Maude remembered how close the brothers were once he seldom mentioned Harry and when Harry’s infrequent letters came, he paid little mind to his brother’s tales of Kansas City. Back when the Jones brothers beat the living hell out of Harry, for reasons Harry refused to share, Jamie worried with the rest of them but not long after, he acted like his younger brother was a rascal and an embarrassment. Maude, who’d been Harry’s girl when he got hurt, never understood Jamie’s change in attitude.
Her recollections brought tears to her eyes but Maude brushed them away. Some slight sound, a footfall maybe or a high whistle caught her attention and she glanced up to see Harry coming down the hill. He came twice a day, early morning and evening to do chores so something must’ve happened. Maude stood, hands twisting in her apron, and waited. She hoped Granny hadn’t taken ill or passed. Maybe he brought a letter from her family, her mother in far off Texas or her brother in France.
“What is it?” she called when he came into shouting distance. He wore an odd expression.
“War’s over,” Harry said as he halted at the bottom of the porch steps. “They signed an Armistace on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour. It’s been over for a couple of days. Seems they had a big ol’ parade in town, fired canons, shot guns and a lot more. It happened Monday. I wouldn’t know now if I hadn’t gone to town to see if ‘twas any mail.”
“Over,” she repeated. Maude found it difficult to imagine. So many men lost, lives changed, and now it had ended. Too late for those who died, she thought, and although she should rejoice, she didn’t. The war might be over but it wouldn’t change anything for her. Her lonely existence would stretch out over the years just as empty. If she owned a grain of sense, she’d pack up and go to Texas to her mamma. “Just like that, it’s over.”
“Yeah,” Harry said. “I thought you’d want to know so I came to tell you.”
“I’m glad you did,” Maude said. She should say something happy but no words came.
“You look tired,” Harry told her. She pushed back a stray strand of hair and smiled. Up since before dawn, she’d washed diapers and hung them out on the clothesline to dry, milked the stubborn old Jersey, baked biscuits after her bread refused to rise, and tended baby George. “I’m worn out,” she admitted. “George was up awhile in the night. He’s down for a nap now. I’m glad to hear the war’s over and I thank you for bringing the news.”
He kicked at the dirt, ill at ease. “Might be if it ended sooner, Jamie wouldn’t have got himself killed.”
Things would be different if he hadn’t gone to war or if he lived. If Jamie hadn’t joined the Army he’d be here on the farm. He would’ve had the chance to see his son and raise the boy. Maybe if Jamie kept home where he belonged, Granpa wouldn’t have died. Then Granny would be here, ready to offer her homespun wisdom about raising children, with an ear to listen instead of in town, living with her oldest daughter, Gert, and her husband, Fred. If Granpa and Granny remained, Harry would still sleep upstairs in his old bedroom and park his shoes under Maude’s table at mealtime. He would’ve never moved out and kept his distance. And Jamie might not have got himself tangled in barbed wire and shot down by the Huns or buried in France, someplace she’d never see or visit.
Maude sighed. She couldn’t change fate or what happened but she didn’t have to like the way things were. But she couldn’t dwell on it either, so she stayed busy and tried not to think. She missed old Granpa with his jokes and good-natured ways, longed for Granny to soothe her worries or rub George’s belly, and she wished Jamie hadn’t got killed. Most of all, Maude wished Harry hadn’t thought he had to move to the old pioneer cabin after Granpa died and Granny moved.
“Well he did so there’s no speculating how it might’ve been,” she said after her pause. “What’s done is done.”
Harry nodded and swallowed hard. He hunkered down on his haunches. “I shoulda been there, in the war. I don’t feel right I didn’t go.”
She wanted to go down the steps and hold him tight to salve his inner hurts. “It wasn’t your fault, Harry, and I’m glad you didn’t. You might’ve gotten hurt or killed too. You cain’t help you got your leg busted three years back or limp from it or got knocked unconscious for a couple of days. Army decided you couldn’t go to war, not you.”
Although he stared at the ground Maude heard him snort. “Don’t make it any easy to stomach just ‘cause the Army said it. I shouldn’t been fighting anyway,” he told her. “I reckon I’d best head home unless you need me to do anything. I’ll come by later to do the chores.”
“You’re welcome to stay if you want,” she said and hoped he would. “Why don’t you take supper with us?”
He hesitated and her scarred heart ached. Although kept busy with the work of her hands, the tasks of both farm and house were too much for one woman. Harry helped with the outside chores. He tended the livestock, had cut the hay, and did all he could to help. Although not his intention, Harry made her feel beholden. If he’d eat meals with them or let her do small things, Maude wouldn’t feel so bad but he hadn’t since he hightailed it to the cabin.
Before he could answer, a horrible wail erupted from inside the house. Maude turned and dashed inside to check on George. Awake, he screamed worse than a wildcat. He drew his knees up toward his chest as he screamed with such force his face reddened. She didn’t realize Harry followed her inside until he said, “What’s wrong with the little feller?”
“Looks like his belly’s hurting him again,” she said. “You don’t think it could be the influenza, do you?”
“No, I’m sure it ain’t,” Harry said. “I’d say he’s got wind, that’s all. What’d you feed him?”
“I cooked some apples to go with the biscuits at noon,” Maude said. “You really think it’s just wind on his belly?”
Harry nodded. “I’d say it’s likely. Let me take him a minute and quit fretting. He’ll be okay.”
She handed George to him. Harry cradled the boy in his arms and sat down with him across his knees. He lifted George’s clothing and began rubbing his abdomen with one hand. Harry used a circular motion and talked in a low, easy voice.
“There you go now, kiddo,” Harry said. “Quit your crying. You just got a little bellyache, that’s all. Everybody gets them including me. You’re scaring your poor mama, little man.”
Maude sat down in the other chair and watched as her son slowed his tears, then stopped bawling. As Harry massaged his stomach, George stared up at his uncle with wide eyes. Within minutes he lowered his knees and relaxed. “Pop,” the little boy said.
“Hey yourself, boy,” Harry replied. “Looks like you’ll live.”
George nodded but he remained in his uncle’s lap. Harry glanced up at her. “He get sick like that very often?”
“Since it’s been just the two of us, he does,” Maude said. “He wakes up with nightmares or gets a bellyache or says his ear hurts. I think he misses having a family, maybe.”
Sadness shadowed Harry’s eyes. “Things changed fast for all of us. He must miss Granny and Granpa.”
“Gan-nee!” George said. “Want Pop!”
No matter how hard Maude tried to get him to call Harry ‘uncle’, he called both men Pop.
Harry swallowed hard. “Granny’s in town with Auntie Gert,” he told the little boy. “Granpa, he’s gone.”
The sadness in his voice echoed hers. Granpa’s unexpected death hit the family hard. Three days after the letter came about Jamie’s death he went to bed and never woke up. Granny swore the bad news broke his heart and robbed him of the will to live. Maude couldn’t disagree. George shifted position and curled up against Harry’s chest. “Song,” he demanded. Harry sang an old song she remembered well, the poignant, Down In The Valley. Her own nerves eased.
“He’s fine now,” Harry said when he finished the ditty. “I’ll stay for supper if you want, Maudie.”
His use of the old nickname touched and pleased her. “It’ll be something simple,” she said. “I didn’t think anyone would be coming.”
“I’m not picky,” he said. Their eyes met and she shivered as if he’d touched her. “Anything’s fine with me.”
If she’d known he’d join them, she would’ve killed a hen this morning but Maude could make do. She made pancakes and fried eggs. If Harry thought she set a poor table, he didn’t mention it and from the way he tucked into the food, she thought he liked it fine.
They talked over supper. George banged his spoon against the table and begged for more milk. Maude poured him a small cup and smiled when he said, “Mama.”
“He’s talking more,” Harry observed. “Boy’s growing up on you. He’ll turn two next month, won’t he?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Jamie would’ve been proud.”
“He barely even knew I was with child when he got killed,” Maude said and sighed. “But I suppose he would’ve. You’re good with George.”
Something lit his eyes and lightened the serious expression he wore most of the time these days. “Thanks,” Harry said. “I try. I used to think it’s too bad you didn’t move to Aunt Gertie’s with Granny but right now, it’s better the two of you stay out here.”
Maude didn’t like Gertie, a sour woman with her lips pursed in permanent bitterness and she didn’t care for her husband, Fred, much more. Living under their roof and thumb would be torture. She’d rather live in the woods like a gypsy. “Why’d you change your mind?”
“The Spanish influenza changed it for me,” he told her. “Lots of people sick and many of them don’t make it. It seems like more and more are coming down with it. Until it’s over, you and the little man are better out here. I wouldn’t want either one of you to catch it.”
He still cares. For the first time since they heard about Jamie’s death, Maude realized the truth – Harry cared about her, maybe still loved her. Something she’d thought broken inside stirred at the notion. Although she’d known he moved to the cabin for proprieties sake, she’d figured he’d gone off her as well. Maude had feared his feelings changed from a beau to a brother but now she didn’t think so.
“What about you?” she asked. “You go to town. You were there today. I’d hate to think about you coming down with the flu or anything else.”
A smile played across his lips like fleeting music. “I never get sick,” he replied. “You know that, nothing much ‘cept the headaches and this limp, both from getting the shit kicked out of me.”
The headaches had plagued him ever since he’d been beaten almost to death by the Jones brothers but his leg bothered him too. The break didn’t heal the way it ought and he’d ended up with a slight limp, more noticeable when he got tired. “I still worry,” she told him. “I thought the flu had about gone.”
“Folks said its back again, makes the third time,” Harry said. “It’s been a bad deal all around. I best get the chores done but thank you for supper.”
She didn’t want to see him go this soon. “You’re welcome for the meal but stop back in before you leave. I know George’ll want to see you before he goes to bed. He thinks a lot of you.”
His smile returned, wider and brighter. “Aw, I know he does,” Harry said. “He’s tops to me, too. I’ll look in on him, then.”
With Granpa gone, Harry’s the closest thing George will ever have to a father. As she cleared the table and heated water to wash the dishes, Maude’s thoughts drifted back to her pregnancy. Jamie’d been gone two months or so when she realized why she’d missed her monthlies and it’d been Harry who treated Maude as if she’d become fragile. He did all her outside chores and brought little favors from town - a stick of candy, a package of hair pins, or a posy. Harry sat beside her on the cold late December night when George was born and she clung to his hand when the pains got bad. He held the baby before Maude did and nights when the newborn howled with colic, Harry often walked the floor with the baby so she could sleep. I’ve spent more time with him than Jamie since I married.
She and Jamie celebrated their first anniversary the day after President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany, April 3, 1917. Jamie courted her for almost a year before they got married, but Harry’d been her sweetheart forever until he left to learn a machinist’s trade in Kansas City. It’d been after he took the beating and for the first time Maude wondered if the incident might have something to do with his leaving. She’d think on it later as she reflected on the way Jamie vanished out of her life. Less than two months after they marked one year of marriage, Jamie enlisted. First he ended up at Camp Hood in Texas, then shipped out for France. He wrote but the letters took a long time to cross the water and reach her.
When Harry heard his brother’d gone to war, he came home to the farm. Granpa’s age kept him from being able to do all the chores and farm work, but Granpa insisted the farm would be Jamie’s. In the few days between the letter from Jamie’s commanding officer and Granpa’s death Harry said he’d be happy to have the farm but Granpa shook his head. “There’s no need, son,” he’d told Harry. “The farm was to go to Jamie but since he’s gone, it’ll be this little tyke’s one day. The home place needs to stay in the family. Maude can live on it and her son’ll always make a home for her here.”
“What about me?” Harry asked. “I love this land, too. I’ve been working to keep it going.”
“You’re my grandson, too, there’s always a place for you here, but the land goes to George.”
After Granpa died, Harry became silent and moved up to the cabin. Granny went to Gert’s and loneliness set in like winter. Until death swooped into their lives and changed everything, Harry’d been Maude’s rock. They talked and sometimes in the evenings he played the beat up old piano or played his guitar while she sang. He listened when she needed to gripe and offered comfort when she needed some strength to keep going. But when first Jamie, then Granpa died, grief mixed with guilt created a volatile atmosphere.
With the Whitneys, Maude savored the sense of family. Her papa died when she was too tiny to remember him. Her mama raised her in town alone but when Maude turned fourteen, Mama remarried a drummer from Texas. Willie Main wanted to take Maude into his home as a daughter but she didn’t want to leave, so she stayed with her aunt and uncle. Aunt Mary and Uncle Tommy lived out in the county and she finished up her education at the Silver Moon School, where she first met Harry Whitney. One of the reasons she let Jamie court her had been her desire to still see the folks and feel like part of the family.
As she washed the dishes by kerosene lamplight, Maude sang one of the old ballads Jamie didn’t like. George played under the table with a set of wooden blocks. By the time everything sparkled and the kitchen was neat Harry strolled through the back door. George scrambled to meet him and Maude grinned when he scooped the boy up into his arms.
Darning socks didn’t seem so tedious with company. The large rooms of the old farmhouse weren’t as empty either. After tumbling around on the floor together, Harry rocked the little boy to sleep. He sang as he rocked the armless chair back and forth, his low voice matching the rhythm. Maude finished darning and patched her other apron pocket. When she put away her sewing basket Harry stood up, George in his arms.
She rose. “I can take him upstairs.”
“Naw, I will,” Harry said. “I suppose he’s in the same place, the little room at the top of the stairs?”
Maude listened to the familiar creak as he carried the boy up the staircase with slow tread. Harry returned with a lighter, quick step and crossed to stand near the front door. Aware he’d leave now, she tried to think of something to say to keep him a few more minutes. “Thanks,” she said. “Are you going to church tomorrow?”
He curled his lip and shook his head. “No, I’m not much for church these days. You going?”
“No, I haven’t lately.” Since living alone on the farm, Maude hadn’t made the effort. She’d have to walk carrying George, who became heavy after a short distance, or hitch up the team to the old buggy. Both seemed too much trouble so she stayed home. Besides, she hadn’t wanted to hear the well-meant condolences and words of sympathy.
“If you want to go, I’d take you,” Harry said. “It might not be the best time, though, not with the flu. Some of the churches in town cancelled services for tomorrow.”
Warmth kindled behind her breasts, deep in her chest. He acts like he might want to be around me again. “Maybe later on, after the sickness is gone,” Maude told him. “If you’d like to come to Sunday dinner, though, I’ll catch up a chicken and make dumplings.”
His small smile rewarded her. “Sounds mighty fine,” he said. “I’ll come, then, Maudie, for chores early, then back for dinner. I’ve been livin’ on mostly squirrels and beans.”
She wanted to tell him how much she’d missed him, ached to share how she felt about him and always had, but Maude held back. Instead she walked over within touching distance and put her hand on his shoulder. “I’ll look for you around noon, then. Take care walking back to the cabin, Harry.”
“I will. Good night, Maude.”
For a moment he leaned so close she thought he’d kiss her but he didn’t. Instead Harry lifted a stray strand of hair and tucked it behind her ear. Then he smiled, sweet and brief, before he walked through the door. Maude watched him cut across the front yard then veer up to where the family burying ground lay not far uphill. Clouds scudded across the face of the moon and a chill wind rose, bringing the smell of rain. She shut the door when Harry passed out of sight behind the cedars and for the first time in a month, she shed no tears when she laid down her head for the night.