When Confederate soldier, Lt. Daniel McCoy makes his escape from a Union prison toward the end of the Civil War, his only thought is to get as far away from enemy territory as possible. But he doesn’t count on saving young widow Rosemarie Wilson’s life from an infected leg wound.
Rosemarie has no use for Rebels soldiers, having lost everything, including her husband, the last time they came to her home. However, Daniel has not only saved her life, but is sticking around to help with the farm and her three children until she recovers.
With Union soldiers searching for him, every day Daniel remains puts him in danger. Or is the beautiful widow who has captured his heart the greater risk?
Camp Morton, Indianapolis
Not a sliver of moonlight, no campfires burning. Darkness covered Confederate soldier, Lieutenant Daniel McCoy, like a shroud. His heart pounded, blocking any sound to warn him of danger, of rapid footsteps in pursuit, or the click of metal before a bullet entered his body. A befitting end for a prison escapee.
He stood like a statue to calm his racing heart and allow his eyes time to adjust. Not that it had been bright in the dingy hellhole he’d just left. The one where he’d spent the last month digging his way to freedom. A place where smallpox, cholera, and dysentery ran rampant, and men died screaming, or crying the name of a wife or sweetheart.READ MORE
Deep voices carried over the night air from where two guards met. One sentry struck a flint to light his cigar, revealing their dirty war-battled faces, as they spoke in low tones. As always, the twang of their accent grated on his nerves. He moved deeper into the shadows until the soldiers separated, each going a different direction.
He took a deep breath and eyed the stables.
Too risky to steal a horse.
After the enemies’ footsteps died away, Daniel’s long strides covered the open area to the safety of the trees. Lack of exercise over the past months had taken a toll on his body, and his lungs burned from the short sprint. He eased behind a large oak, watching, waiting for an alarm to sound.
His index finger and thumb rubbed the cool metal of the heavy ring tucked in his pocket. He’d stolen it back from the drunken Union soldier while he’d slept. Once again, the heirloom rested where it belonged. With him—a McCoy.
Sweat beaded his forehead, and he took gulps of the damp night air before bending to empty his stomach of the last putrid meal they’d fed him. Truth be told, if it hadn’t been for the local citizens of Indianapolis, the Confederates would probably all be dead. The residents showed immense compassion toward the prisoners, providing the necessary food, clothing, and nursing to keep most of the inmates alive.
The guards made another pass, and still no shouts came from within the prison walls. Despite the cold, Lieutenant McCoy wiped sweat from his forehead, then picked his way through the forest surrounding the Union camp. The sound of his panting echoed off the trees as he picked up the pace and stumbled over small roots and animal holes in the dark. He raced to the bank of the White River, waded into the mud and silt, and dove into the icy water. The shock of the cold took his breath away, but with strong strokes, he swam from the cursed prison.
After nine long months in hell, he breathed free air.
Johnson County, Indiana
“Mama, can I get you some tea?”
Rosemarie Wilson eased heavy eyelids open and attempted to smile with dry, cracked lips at her eight-year-old son, Chandler. The frown on his pale face tore at her heart.
“No thank you. Just look after your sister and brother.” She shifted on the bed, struggling to relieve the throbbing pain in her leg. Black dots danced before her eyes at the movement, and her stiff fingers grabbed the worn patchwork quilt to control the dizziness and nausea. She raised her head from the pillow and moved the blanket from her leg. The smell from the festering cut on her right calf, where the axe had sliced almost to the bone, scared her. She’d cleaned it after the accident as best she could. However, the awkward position of the wound made the stitches she put in jerky and uneven.
Tears slid down her cheeks as life ebbed from her weary body. She’d used so much of her strength trying to keep the farm going after a band of Confederate soldiers had swooped in a few months ago and taken just about everything they’d owned. Shortly after, she’d laid her husband of nine years to rest in the little plot under the elm tree behind the house. Dead from a bullet wound after one of the soldiers had shot him.
Damn this war, and everything it’s taken from my family!
Another tear slipped from her eye and landed on the thin nightgown covering her shoulder. Chandler’s voice drifted in through the bedroom door, as he spoke to his younger brother and sister in the kitchen. Five-year-old Amelia balked at having leftover oatmeal for lunch. Several more tears joined the first one, and Rosemarie’s heart throbbed so hard it hurt. She closed her eyes against the pain and drifted into the welcoming oblivion of sleep.
Rays from bright sunshine seeped beneath the wooden shutters on the bedroom window, bathing her face in light, forcing her to turn aside. Her body burned with heat.
If I could just have a drink of water.
She listened for a minute, terrified at the silence that greeted her. Where were her children? “Chandler?” Her voice rasped.
No answer. She raised herself up on one elbow and called louder. Still no answer. Tears of pain and frustration gathered in her eyes.
Dear God, please help me.
Did God even listen to her anymore? She’d prayed all her life, always had faith. Even when her father had sold her into marriage not much older than a child, she knelt and prayed for Hans to be a good man. Cold and stern, and not the man she would have chosen for herself, her husband had nevertheless provided well for her and their children. The three beautiful children the good Lord had blessed her with.
Now the only parent they had left lay dying.
Daniel spied the small farmhouse from half a mile away. The sun setting behind the clapboard structure bathed it in an ethereal glow. Three children sat on the front porch, huddled together in the cold. The biggest one rose and stared in his direction. Then the child hurried into the house, leaving the two smaller ones outside.
As Daniel moved closer, he expected an adult to appear at the front door, and braced himself to run. All he wanted from the farmer was a drink from his well, and he’d be on his way. After walking the entire day, he hadn’t passed even one creek to ease his thirst.
The two smaller children turned toward the door as if someone spoke to them. They immediately got up, and holding hands, entered the house. Still no adult ventured out. Did someone stand at the window, ready to shoot? Indeed, in this part of the country he was the enemy, but his dirty and worn Confederate uniform wouldn’t be recognized from a distance, so he pressed on.
Unconsciously, his hand drifted to his pocket to rub the ring. He needed to move further south before the Union soldiers found him. One escaped Rebel would be inconsequential, but since he’d been designated one of the camp medics after a Union doctor had been sent to the fields, they would come after him. He’d hated abandoning his fellow Confederates, but very few would survive, and there wasn’t much he could have done for them.
Except pray for their souls as they died.
Fatigue washed over him as he approached the porch. If the owner approved, Daniel would quench his thirst, then crawl into the farmer’s barn and sleep for the night. Maybe even get a bucket of water to wash his body. His clothes were still stiff from the mud in the river.
A window over the front porch was open, a white lace curtain blowing in the breeze. The moment he set his foot on the bottom step, the distinct sound of a gun being readied caught his attention. Within seconds, a young boy stepped out the door, the business end of the shotgun pointed straight at Daniel’s chest.
“Git off my property.” The child’s pale face resembled new snow. His ragged pants had been patched, but not washed in a while. Lines normally found on an adult’s face bracketed either side of his young mouth.
Daniel raised both hands, palms facing the boy. “Son, I only want to get a drink of water from your well. Can you ask your pa to step out?”
“Git off, I said.” The shotgun wavered, and the boy’s eyes narrowed.
Daniel backed away, keeping his hands in the air. He didn’t want the kid to accidently shoot him out of fear. “Can you tell me how far to the next town, then?”
“You a Reb?” The boy’s voice trembled.
“Yes, but I’m not here to hurt you or your family. I just want some water, and I’ll be on my way.” He slowly lowered his hands, but kept them in front of him, palms out. “Is your pa home?”
Tears sprung to the child’s eyes as he shook his head.
“Why do you wanna know?”
Daniel sighed. “I would like permission for a drink of water from your well, and maybe to sleep in your barn for the night.”
The two smaller children he’d spotted earlier came out the door, and stood behind the older boy. The little girl, with long brown curls cascading down her back, took her fingers out of her tiny rosebud mouth and spoke. “Our ma is bad sick. Chan thinks she’s gonna die.”
“Quiet down, Amelia, and go back into the house. And take Jace with you.” The boy who Daniel assumed was Chan jerked his head in the direction of the door, his face flushed.
Amelia focused her huge blue eyes on Daniel. “Can you help our ma, mister?”
“Amelia!” Chan lowered the gun, and faced his sister. “I said git back into the house.”
“Son, look at me.” Daniel spoke in a low voice, and didn’t move from his spot. The boy continued to grip the gun, but no longer pointed the thing at him.
“What?” He wiped tears on his sleeve, then raised the gun back up.
“Where’s your pa?”
Amelia spoke up again, moving to the edge of the porch. “Our pa is behind the house.”
He blew out a sigh of relief. “Can you fetch him for me?”
“Can’t.” She shook her head and stuck her fingers back into her mouth. The younger boy, not much more than a baby, came to the edge of the porch and started down the steps.
“Jace, git back here!” Chan lowered the gun again and grabbed for his brother.
Daniel directed his comments to Amelia. “Can I go around to the back of the house and speak with your pa?”
She shook her curly head again.
“Pa died,” Jace lisped in a baby voice, big blue eyes riveted on him.
Daniel’s shoulders slumped, and he looked at Chan. “Is your pa dead?”
The boy gave a quick nod, and raised the gun again. “Now git off my property. We don’t want no Rebs around here. You already done took everything we had.”
The young piercing eyes reminded him he stood in enemy territory. With the pa dead, and the ma so sick she didn’t come out to investigate, these children were in a lot of trouble. The oldest boy still regarded him with narrowed eyes, even though the younger boy and little girl had advanced down the steps and now stood right in front of him, watching him with huge eyes.
“Can you fix my ma, mister?” Amelia asked as she reached for her little brother’s hand.
Daniel’s heart seized at the serious situation. He needed to look at their mother, but it didn’t appear Chan would let him. No doubt he had reason to mistrust Confederates.
“Chan. Is that your name?” He spoke softly to the boy who continued to swipe at his eyes. The kid seemed about to fall apart, but with a shaky arm still managed to point the gun in his direction.
The boy ignored the question, however Daniel continued. “My name is Daniel McCoy, and I know a little bit about healing. Can I at least look at your ma?”
“No Reb is gonna touch my ma.”
“Chandler, I want Mama to get better.” Amelia burst into tears and wrapped her tiny arms around Daniel’s leg, leaning against him as if he were a pillar of strength. Something these children sorely needed.
What a dilemma. One look at his sister, and the little boy also began to wail, and grabbed his other leg.
“Chandler, please.” Daniel patted the two children on their heads, as he appealed to the boy. “Let me say hello to your ma. I won’t touch her, or do anything to upset her.” The boy hesitated, so he added, “You can keep your gun pointed at me the whole time.”
Apparently those were the magic words because the boy lowered the gun and wiped his eyes once more. “All right. But I’ll be watchin’ you.”
The minute Daniel stepped into the small living room, his nostrils twitched with the smell of disease.
Dear God, what’s wrong with the woman?
“Where’s your ma?”
Daniel followed Chandler down a short dark hallway. The boy gestured to the open door with his head. Daniel stepped in and his breathing hitched.
A woman lay on a large bed, dark circles under her closed eyes. He would have pronounced her already dead if not for the very slight movement of her chest and the deep flush of fever on her skin. He moved to the bed, and grasped her wrist. Her eyes remained closed, her pulse weak, but steady.
He turned toward Chandler, who now held the gun at his side, his sister and brother huddled against him. “Can I remove the sheet to look at where she’s hurt?”
His eyes never leaving his mother, the boy gave one curt nod.
Daniel lifted the sheet and almost lost the little bit of the meal he’d had a few hours ago. The woman had an infected gash on her leg. The wound had been partially stitched and bloody pus oozed from it, dripping onto the stained sheet below. He laid the back of his hand against her forehead. She burned with fever.
Maybe he wouldn’t be able to save her leg, but he had to try. He could cauterize it, but since the injury showed no sign of gangrene, it would be best if he cleaned the wound and re-stitched it. Suturing would be easier on the woman than searing her skin.
“Can you fix her?” Amelia’s small voice ripped into his gut.
Truth, or false assurances? God, they were all so young.
Daniel walked to where the children stood in the doorway and got down on one knee. “I can try, Amelia, and I will work very hard. But you must do something for me.” He looked at Chandler and Jace. “All of you. You must pray. The best prayers you ever said.”
Three small heads bobbed. Apparently, the children were no strangers to prayer.
He rose. “Chandler, where does your ma keep her medical things?”
The child laid the gun on a table, led him to the mudroom, and pointed to a shelf. “She keeps everything up there.”
“Thanks. I want you to heat some water on the stove for me. Do you have a fire going?”
The boy squared his shoulders. “I can start one.”
“Good. Next I want you to find me a pair of scissors and an old sheet, or some kind of clean rags I can rip up for a bandage.”
“What can I do?” Amelia leaned her head back, almost falling over backward to meet his eyes.
“You can help us get things ready. Then, I’ll need you to be very, very brave and take your little brother to the parlor and wait there with him while I see to your mama’s leg. Can you do that?”
“Will Chandler be with you?”
“Yes. I need his help, but it’s important for you and your little brother to stay in the parlor.”
Her tiny chin quivered, and he knelt in front of her again. “I know you want to stay with your mama, but you need to be a brave, big girl and take care of Jace.”
She wiped tears from her eyes, but whispered, “Okay.”
Even having Chandler in the room would be difficult with the work Daniel had to do, but he needed a second pair of hands, no matter how young.
“Chandler, what happened to your mama’s leg?” Daniel entered the kitchen, his hands filled with herbs, medicines and salves from the woman’s medical supplies.
“She was chopping wood and the axe slipped and cut her leg.”
Daniel winced at the pain the poor woman must have endured. “How long ago?”
“Day before yesterday.”
A mild sense of relief swept through him. At least she wasn’t so far gone there wouldn’t be any chance of saving her, and the leg.
“I’ll have to use a needle and some thread to sew up your mama’s cut. Where are her sewing things?”
“I know.” Amelia had followed him into the kitchen, and with a big smile at being able to help, she pointed to a shelf in the kitchen to the left of the stove. “Mama keeps her needles and stuff up there.”
“Thank you, little lady.”
She blushed and ducked her head. Her fingers slid into her mouth.
“What’s your mama’s name?” Although the woman would be far better off if she didn’t awaken, he’d like to use her name if she did. Cutting away the ineffective stitches and dead skin, cleaning a festering wound, and then sewing it up was enough to fell a large man. What would the procedure do to the delicate woman in the next room? He stiffened his spine. If he didn’t do it she would lose her leg, and most likely her life.
Amelia removed her fingers from her mouth and furrowed her brows in such a way Daniel almost chuckled. “Mama’s name is Mama.”
Chandler entered the room. “Her real name is Rosemarie. Rosemarie Wilson.” He held up a worn petticoat. “Mama’s skirt is all I could find to make bandages.”
“That’s fine, son. See if you can tear it into strips for me.”
Daniel poured a portion of the heated water into a large bowl next to the sink. He scooped out soft soap from the container next to the water pump, and using the bowl of hot water and soap, scrubbed his hands, then rinsed them with cool water from the pump.
He turned, shaking his wet hands. Three young faces all stared at him, wide-eyed and terrified.
Dear God. She’s their only parent.
Taking a deep breath, he smiled at Amelia. “Go with your little brother into the parlor. You can start saying your prayers now.”
She ran to Daniel, wrapping her thin arms around his thigh. “I’m scared. I don’t want Mama to die.” Then she burst into tears.
He reached down and lifted her in his arms. “Remember when we talked about you being really brave for your brother?”
She nodded, and wiped the tears from her cheeks with the heels of her hands.
“Now is when you have to do that. All right?”
Amelia bit her lower lip and ducked her head. He set her back on her feet and nudged her toward the parlor. “Take Jace in there. We’ll call you when we’re done, and you can come see your mama.”
The little girl wrapped her arm around her baby brother and moved him forward. “Come on, Jace. We’ll say prayers like Mama taught us.”
Daniel returned to the sink and again washed his hands. Then picking up the supplies, he handed a few to a very pale Chandler. “Let’s go.”COLLAPSE