Major Joel Bradshaw is the Chief Medical Officer in charge of setting up a new front line hospital for the Union Army. Unfortunately, his first task is to evict the women who live in the big plantation house he must commandeer.
Strong-willed Cassandra Beaumont is determined not to allow the Yankees take her home. But when her sister-in-law develops complications during labor, Cassie is forced to swallow her pride and ask the Yankee doctor she just threatened for his help. All she has to barter with are her nursing skills and so she proposes a trade that will bring her loyalties into question.
Joel, however, soon finds himself wanting much more than a business arrangement. Torn between his orders as an officer and his desire to protect Cassie, Joel finds a way to ensure the safety of all the Beaumont women - if only Cassie will say yes!
Tagline for the Finding Home series: Sometimes home is where you least expect it.
|Publisher:||Whiskey Creek Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.57(d)|
|Age Range:||3 Months|
About the Author
Her website is www.catherinestang.com
Read an Excerpt
Her worst nightmare had come true. Cassandra Beaumont paced around the porch, squeezing the polished gun butt tight as she watched a group of Union soldiers ride brazenly through her yard. The roar of distant cannon fire set her already raw nerves on edge.
Please let me remember Tyler's lessons on using the gun.
She jumped, almost shooting herself in the foot when the door creaked open behind her and her younger sister Rachel poked her head out. "Are you sure you don't need my help?"
"Positive. Your job is to take care of the others."
"But..." she protested.
"I'm finished arguing." Cassandra grabbed the doorknob, pulling it shut to emphasize her point.
Unable to resist getting in the last word, Rachel cracked the door open again. "Just remember it was my idea to get Father's revolver, and I'm a better shot than you."
Cassie didn't have to be reminded Rachel was a hoyden who loved to ride and shoot with their older brothers. But that was all the more reason for Rachel to stay inside, away from the temptation to do something impulsive. Besides, Cassie was the oldest of the ones left at home. It was her responsibility to protect them.
"I mean it," she snapped, hoping this time Rachel would listen to her.
There was long, dramatic sigh. "I'm going." She jerked the door shut, making Cassandra jump in spite of herself.
She held her breath, listening for the sounds of Rachel's retreating footsteps. Good. Her sister was gone. Cassie exhaled slowly, steeling her rattled nerves as the soldiers brought their horses to a stop in front of the porch.
She regretted now she hadn't practicedshooting a gun when she'd had the chance, instead of making excuses not to try. She'd always hated shooting. Just the thought of doing so made her quiver. The smell of gunpowder would burn her nose and the kickback would leave her wrist numb and shoulder aching for days. Being courageous alone in her father's office was easy, but facing down Union soldiers was another story. Yet what else could she do? Somehow she had to protect her younger sister, her little niece and her very pregnant sister-in-law.
With her head held high, Cassandra willed herself not to let her fear show. If she got lucky, maybe they'd believe she was a crack shot. When pigs fly. She fumbled with the revolver. Was one bullet going to be enough? That was all she could find. Dear heavens, how had she ever convinced herself this was a good plan?
A tall man in an officer's uniform started toward the porch. He had a powerful build, with a ruggedly handsome face. Thick, tawny-gold hair curled slightly around the collar of his blue coat. Sweet mercy, did he have to be so handsome? What the devil was wrong with her that she could even think about that?
Her mouth dried as he strode purposefully up the four brick steps to the top of the porch. With shaky hands, she raised the revolver, aiming it at his heart. Yet he didn't seem worried as he slowly lifted his arms in the air, moving toward her with his unreadable amber eyes locked with hers. Their calmness terrified her. Why wasn't he threatened by the gun in her hand? The pulse pounded in her ears as each step brought their inevitable confrontation closer.
When he stood just a few steps away, his stony expression gradually changed. His amber eyes lowered, perusing the weapon she held in her trembling hands. She had to act nonchalant. Heaven help her.
"You get back or I'll blow you off this porch." She waved the gun at him in a "move away" gesture.
He didn't retreat as she'd hoped. Instead, he kept inching toward her, watching her with cool, assessing eyes. "I mean you no harm." His voice had a deep, resonate, velvet quality that sent a shiver through her. "I just want to talk, angel. That's all."
That wasn't all, and she damn well knew it. Cassandra's hands shook more from fear than the cold. Chin up. Remember others are counting on you.
"I'm not fooling. If you come any closer, your men will be burying you this afternoon." Her voice began quivering, despite her attempts to sound threatening. Legs braced apart, she lifted her chin, proudly staring the stranger down.
She almost lost her breakfast when he moved right up in front of her, so close the cold steel barrel pressed against his massive chest.
She squeezed the trigger, and to her horror, nothing happened. What the blazes ... She flinched when he leaned over closer, whispering, "I'll keep your secret this time, angel, but next time you aim a gun at someone's heart, I recommend you cock it first. It won't fire unless you do."
Her face flushed with mortification. Drat, she knew there was something she had forgotten to do. She wanted to kick herself. How could she have been so stupid? She was better at planning than this.
It took only a matter of seconds for him to disarm her. He then held her wrists in a firm, but gentle grip. His thumbs brushed over them, sending tingles rippling down her arms.
"There now," he drawled as he released her and she took a quick step back. "I'd say that's more conducive to talking. I'm Major Joel Bradshaw, Chief Medical Officer. I assume you're Cassandra Beaumont."
She nodded, her throat too dry to speak.
He watched her for a long moment, hesitating before reaching into his coat, and pulling out a piece of paper. Handing it to her, he said, "I have an order here for you to clear out. Your house is now under the authority of the federal government. Gather your things, and we'll escort you out of here."
She reluctantly accepted it. Her eyes blurred with tears as she read the official eviction notice. Swallowing hard, she lifted her gaze to meet his. Which was a mistake because the concern she saw there was almost her undoing. "W-what do you need my house for?"
"It will be the site of a much-needed hospital."
A hospital ... Holy ... Did that mean ... "Then you're a doctor?"
"That's right, ma'am."
Her mind raced with the implications of what he was saying. Her own brother, Jamie, was a doctor, so he had established a surgery in their house. How would he feel about Yankees using it? Surely he wouldn't stand for it any more than her other brother Tyler would. Should she?
Her chin jutted up defiantly. "What if I refuse to leave?"
"You don't have a choice. My men will be here soon to start setting up."
That didn't give them much time. "Then you'll have to take us kicking and screaming."
"Us?" He lifted a tawny brow.
"That's right, my sister in-law, niece and younger sister are here. Is that what you've sunk to, kicking out women and children?"
He looked more flustered now than when she was waving the gun at him.
"You'll what? Find someone to take us in? Because we aren't budging until you do. Good day, Major." A noise in the house made her wonder how long it would take for Rachel to come flying out. Knowing she couldn't fight both of them, she spun on her heels, slamming the door in his face, hoping he'd leave, but knowing she wouldn't be that lucky.
As she stormed into the house, Cassandra collided with seventeen-year-old Rachel, who appeared from her hiding place behind the faded, green velvet curtains. The guilty expression on Rachel's face made it clear she hadn't been upstairs at all.
With both hands on her hips, Cassie glared at her younger sister.
Tilting her chin defiantly, Rachel glared right back. "You should've let me go out there with you. I'd have--"
"Shot him? Don't think I didn't try."
"Did you lose your nerve at the last minute? Tyler always said to pull the trigger before you do or else there's no sense in taking the gun with you. You'll just get it taken away and maybe even turned on yourself."
"I did pull the trigger, but nothing happened." Cassandra winced at her own words.
Rachel's mouth dropped open as realization of what had happened dawned on her. "You didn't cock it, did you? See, you should've let me handle it. At least I wouldn't have gotten it taken away from me."
No, you probably just would have gotten yourself killed. That thought sent a shiver up Cassandra's spine. It was her job now to keep Rachel from doing anything rash. She said in an even tone, "Well, it's done and over and there's no going back."
A shadow of annoyance crossed Rachel's face. Her blue eyes darkened. "How can you be so calm when that ... that..." She waved her hands aimlessly in the air before blurting out, "That damn Yankee is going to kick us from our home. Why, the nerve of him, thinking we'll leave on his say-so just like that." She snapped her fingers. "Who does he think he is?"
"He's the Chief Medical Officer, and it isn't just his say-so alone." She pulled out the order and handed it to her sister. "He gave me this."
Balling it up without even bothering to look at it, Rachel tossed the paper at her. "You should have told him to go to--"
"That's quite enough. You wouldn't know what I did or didn't say to Major Bradshaw if you hadn't been listening, instead of being upstairs like I told you to."
"I felt it was my duty to check on you, in case you needed help."
Cassandra was relieved that, for once, her sister hadn't jumped headlong into trouble. "At least you stayed in the house."
"If I'd thought Major Rudeshaw was going to hurt you, I'd have done more than listen. But you gave up too fast for me to act."
"Well now, there's a blessing." She let out a frustrated breath. "I had no choice. I couldn't fight them." Cassandra snorted. "Hell's bells, I didn't even remember how to fire the blasted gun."
"So that's it? Are we going to give up the land our grandfather settled, without a fight?"
She dropped her head back against the door. Sweet mercy, she was tired. Her parents would be disgraced if they saw what had become of their beloved plantation. She could remember when the floors used to be polished until they shone, but now they were dirty and scuffed. Everything in the house was coated with a layer of dust. With chores to do and a garden that needed tending, she and Rachel never had enough time for everything. Her sister-in-law Eleanor had helped some, until her legs began swelling. As she grew bigger with child, Ellie had a harder time getting around.
Cassie felt a wave of sadness as her gaze scanned the sparsely furnished room which had once overflowed with knick-knacks. Most of their belongings had either been sold or traded for food. A couple of chairs and her mother's piano were all that remained. Now that the Yankees were moving in, no doubt these, too, would be lost.
Rachel was right. How could they just leave? This house had been built by their grandparents, who were buried in the family plot nestled under its trees.
Where could they go? The whole town was under siege. The places that weren't burned out were overrun with Yankees. Besides, who would want four extra women right now? She and Rachel could work for their keep, but Lucy was only seven years old, and poor Ellie could have her baby at any time now.
Tense silence enveloped the room. Outside, sounds of distant fighting mingled with the pounding of her heart.
When their brother Jamie signed up as an army doctor, Cassandra promised him that she'd care for his wife Eleanor and daughter Lucy. At that time it seemed like a simple promise. Back then, during the early days of Petersburg's siege, the South had appeared victorious. Jamie's unit had been stationed nearby and he checked on them frequently.
A cold finger of dread crept up her spine as she thought about how fast things had changed. When the Yankees began winning more battles last year, Ellie's father and brothers had been killed and their plantation burned, along with many others. Ellie's mother died shortly after that from burns she'd received while trying to rescue her valuables.
With the passing months, the pain of loss was overshadowed by the daily grind of surviving. Excitement over Ellie's pregnancy was short-lived as her sister-in-law struggled each month to keep from losing her baby.
Her eyes flickered over her younger sister's drawn face. Somehow she had to find them a place to go. But where? How could she protect them from the Yankees when she couldn't even remember how to fire a gun? A gun she no longer had. What was she going to do? Ice ran through her veins at the thought of those soldiers getting their grubby hands on Rachel or Ellie or, heaven forbid, hurting Lucy. Tyler had warned her it would be better to take their own lives than to fall into Yankee hands. Could she really do that? Now she didn't even have a gun...
The pounding of little feet running down the stairs brought her out of her dark thoughts.
"Aunt Cassie, Aunt Rachel," a small voice rang out, as her niece Lucy appeared, charging around the corner with her black hair bobbing in a loose braid. She almost tripped over the hem of her torn dress as she skidded to a stop. "Mama needs you!"
Rachel and Cassandra exchanged looks as they bolted up the steps.