Authors: Heather Graham
“Hmm …Let’s see, it’s Captain Eric Dabney I need to fear, right?”
“Yes, you should be running just as fast as you can.”
He started to laugh. “Ah. Captain Dabney has been biding his time in a wardrobe all these hours. He doesn’t mind a Rebel dining with you, but now that you feel truly threatened by a member of the Confederacy, he’s going to come jumping out.”
“He just might.”
Cameron ran his knuckles over her cheek, so softly that the touch might have been just the warmth of a nearby whisper. But she felt the warmth come sweeping into her, felt it spiral and curl and flow up and down the length of her spine.
“A damsel in distress,” he murmured.
“Nothing,” he said, then he smiled again, meeting her eyes. “If I’d been in your wardrobe, Mrs. Michael-son, I’d have been out of it long ago. I’d have had a sword to the throat of any man who came within inches of you. I don’t think that Captain Dabney is hereabouts. And I do think that you’re afraid of me.”
“Well, I’m not!” But she was! Not so much of his violence, though there was violence in him. What she feared was the tenderness of his touch.
“Not a bit?” he taunted.
She tried to pull away.
“Not even a little bit?” he repeated. He laughed softly.
Her chin lifted, and her eyes met his. Her body was flush with his so that she could feel the beat of his heart.
And he could feel the frantic pulse of hers.
“Callie Michaelson, there is a pulse fluttering along your throat like wildfire. You’ve had it right from the beginning. Once upon a time I was taught manners. My mother was gracious and sweet, and she taught the three of us all about the feelings of others. And yet that seems so very long ago now. War does strange things to people. Did you know that?”
His hold upon her was tight. She felt panic creeping into her despite her sure conviction that he would never hurt her.
“Afraid yet?” he demanded, his eyes ablaze.
To her amazement, her passion and courage held out. “I’ll never be afraid of the likes of you, you gray-bellied hooligan!” she swore.
His laughter rang out pleasantly. Before she knew it, he had turned her around by the shoulders. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Michaelson. There is no reason for you to be afraid. I have absolutely no evil designs upon you.”
She swung around again to face him. “I didn’t think that you—”
“Oh yes, you did! And now you’re indignant that I don’t.”
“I most certainly am not—”
“Oh yes, you are. Well, calm down. It isn’t that you aren’t beautiful. And I am assuredly entranced, and I imagine, once you set your mind upon it, you could seduce a saint.”
“How dare you—” Callie began furiously. But he
was still laughing, and very quick to interrupt her. “I’m merely trying to set your mind at ease!”
“The hell you are!” She swore, her hands on her hips.
Her language only served to amuse him further. “Mrs. Michaelson, they should have you on the field. You certainly do not retreat!”
“I don’t retreat, and I don’t lose, and I never, never surrender—” she began.
Before she could go further, a soft cry escaped her as his hands fell upon her shoulders again. This time he swung her around in a no-nonsense fashion and gave her a good prod. She went flying back down upon her bed, and quickly rolled to face him, ever wary once again.
“I don’t want to hurt you or frighten you.”
“Really?” Callie retorted sarcastically, her eyes narrowing.
“Really.” He bent low over her, his arms like bars on either side of her as he braced himself over her. “Not that I wouldn’t want you!” he whispered, and the sound was serious and deep and husky, one that seemed to sink into her body and leave her both hot and shivery. He spoke again, and this time he sounded exhausted. “I have to get some sleep. And you are a Yank, and I can’t trust you. You’re going to stay with me.”
He pushed away from her. Her eyes widened with alarm because he had his belt off and was approaching her with it.
She opened her mouth to scream, amazed, thinking that he meant to beat her with it. But before she could even whisper, he was straddled over her, his finger pressed against her lip.
“Mrs. Michaelson, believe it or not, there is some sense of honor nesting in this Rebel bosom, and believe it or not, I’ve no real desire to cause you stress or
pain. But I have to sleep, and I can’t let you go roaming around on your own while I’m at it. Understand?”
She stared at him, still wary, uncertain whether to move or not. “Do you understand?” He asked the question in a softer tone.
She nodded, certain that if she didn’t do so, he’d find a way of pressing his point.
“Good,” he said softly. To her dismay, he looped the belt over her arm and then around his own. He looked down at her for a long, stern moment of warning.
Then he pitched forward, falling over her and coming to rest at her side.
For several moments, Callie lay perfectly still, feeling the beating of his heart and the frantic clamor of her own. Seconds passed, minutes. He didn’t move, and neither did she.
He had passed out cold.
What tremendous strength of will he must have to taunt her so coolly, when he was so very close to total collapse!
For one frantic moment Callie was afraid that he had died. That she was tied in bed to a dead man. But then she felt his heartbeat again, felt the rise and fall of his chest where he lay beside her.
She closed her eyes, inhaling and exhaling slowly. She should have prayed for his death, for it seemed to be the only way that she would find her own escape. He was the enemy. Perhaps he had never been in Tennessee, perhaps he hadn’t fought at Shiloh. He should have remained one of the nameless, faceless soldiers in gray who was her enemy.
She didn’t want him to die in her house, she told herself. But if he had passed out again she needed to be quick and free herself from him. There still had to be Union soldiers in the near vicinity. This battlefield that had encompassed her home had been so littered
with the dead and dying that it would surely take days to clear the bodies.
The thought made her ill, and she closed her eyes tightly. But even with her eyes closed, she kept reliving the horror of all that she had seen in her yard. She opened her eyes again, and turned carefully to view the Rebel face she was coming to know so well.
He was very pale, and his face was damp. He was probably far more seriously injured than he cared to admit and she could judge. If he was sent on to a prison camp, he most assuredly would die.
She couldn’t allow that to be her problem, she told herself sternly. She had given her loyalty to the Union, and before God she knew herself right to have done so. She had not been influenced by her father, or her brothers, or even her own husband. All around her, in the state of Maryland, men had split on all the questions about the war. In the beginning it had been a question of states’ rights—but that question had been there mainly because of slavery. Maryland was filled with slave owners.
Maryland had troops fighting with the South, and troops fighting with the North. The state had not seceded from the Union, but there was probably no other place where it was more likely for a father to face a son down the length of his rifle, or for a brother to come front to front with a brother.
She had weighed and judged all that she heard, listening to her father, her brothers, and her husband. In the end, she had concluded that they were one nation, and that the Union must be preserved. Though many of her neighbors owned slaves, she had asked Gregory to free the five hands that he had owned, and Gregory had obliged her. It was simply wrong to own a man, to keep him in bondage, to whip him, to abuse him, to strip him of his dignity. Though many slaves were well cared for—just as their master’s pet hounds and finest
horses were well cared for—Callie knew of few slaves who had been left with their pride and dignity intact.
She had made up her own mind about the war. Luckily, she had been in agreement with those closest to her. That meant that the Rebel lying beside her was indeed the enemy. And the war was far from over. The Rebels had battered the Union forces time and time again.
Rebel soldiers had brought about destruction. Just as they had destroyed her father and Gregory.
She twisted with discomfort and with a raw edge of anguish, thinking of her husband. Even now, she dared not dwell upon his death too long.
Colonel Daniel Cameron. She bit her lip, and she tried to pull her arm closer to herself. She needed to slip her arm free of the loop he had fashioned from his belt. She grit her teeth. She gently pulled at the loop he had made, and then more aggressively. She couldn’t budge the knot.
She swore out loud. It didn’t matter. Colonel Cameron wasn’t moving.
Near tears, she continued to tug at the leather. The more she worked at it, the tighter it became.
She tried to slide the loop down her arm. Again, her efforts only served to bind her more tightly.
“You son of a bitch!” she swore out loud to him.
She could have sworn that even in his unconscious state he smiled at her distress.
But his eyes remained closed, and his breathing became more ragged.
She sat up, tugging upon his arm and the loop of the belt that tied him to her. The leather was tied from his wrist to hers, with perhaps fifteen inches between them. He had tied the knots so tightly she could not budge them. She fought urgently with the leather, breaking her nails. Tears of frustration stung her eyes.
He had known what he was doing. He was the most adept man with a knot she had ever met.
Worn, desolate, she flung herself back against the bed. The lamp was burning low. The night had become cool, and there was no fire burning in the hearth. She lay still, her teeth grating, her mind working furiously.
She remembered his sword.
She sat up. It lay against one of the rockers by the hearth. If she could just reach it, she could sever the leather that bound them together.
She lay flat and reached for the chair, her arm outstretched. She could just touch the chair with the tip of her fingers. She bit into her lip, and tugged upon her captor. Nothing. She paused, breathing hard. She tugged again. It seemed that he moved, just a hair. But she came closer to the sword hilt too.
Silently, she began to pray, and in seconds, she was victorious. Her fingers curled around the hilt of his blade. She was startled by the weight of it, bearing down on her free arm, but she grit her teeth, determined. Suddenly, the blade came free from his scabbard, with such a force that she could not control it. It seemed to fly through the air, and then it struck down upon the braid rug beneath her bed with an incredible force and a snap that sounded like a sure hit by cannon fire.
She tried to lift it, and twist it again, and even as she did so, a startled cry escaped her.
The sound had awakened her weary Reb. Pale, drawn, tense—and seeming to breathe smoke rings of fury—he stared at her. With amazing speed and agility he reached over her, and snatched the sword from her grasp with an ease born of familiarity and skill. He was so angry that she cried out again, certain that he meant to let the blade fall upon her, slicing her in two.
He tossed the sword aside, and his staring eyes were
as hard and cold and striking as the blade. “You meant to kill me!” he whispered.
“Ah, you did not mean to kick me, but your foot connected fiercely with my head! And you did not mean to slay me—rather, my sword jumped into your hand!”
“I meant to free myself from you!” she cried.
“One way or the other,” he suggested harshly.
“I want to be free!”
“Well, you can’t! Not tonight!” With a jerk, he brought her hurtling back against him. She lay dead still and furious, dismayed that he believed with no uncertainty that she had meant to kill him if she could.
“Please, Mrs. Michaelson!” The whisper touched her ear. “Please, just go to sleep. Things will look better for both of us in the morning.”
A startled gasp escaped her as she was pulled more closely against him. She was turned, and his arm came around her, a gray band against the very thought of movement.
A gray-clad leg fell over her own. She caught her breath. She could feel his hand, just below her breast. She could feel the length of him pressed against the length of her back and limbs.
She did not move again. She barely dared to breathe.
In time, she did as he had commanded. She slept.
Heat encompassed him.
It was summer, and they were lying on the slope above the river once again, Jesse, Christa, and him. He could feel the sun, and he should have felt the ever soft breeze that came in off the river, no matter how hot and humid the day came to be. But the breeze wouldn’t come.
He knew why. The cannons were exploding. They were exploding all around him.
Suddenly, he and Jesse were alone, riding away from Harpers Ferry, They were both in blue, and coming away from the assault on the fire-engine house where old John Brown had holed up with his few surviving raiders. He could hear John Brown, shouting around them, again and again.
“… blood, this land shall be purged by blood …”
He looked from his brother’s wary face down to his hands, where they lay idly upon the pommel of his saddle.
His hands were covered in blood.
It seemed that more bombs exploded. He was back at Cameron Hall, and he was standing by the cemetery. Clasping Jesse. There were no words that passed between them. The rift that had driven apart the country had also driven them apart.
His brother was riding north.
Skyrockets seemed to burst and soar.
He heard crying. Christa crying, Kiernan crying. Jesse was going away.
The skyrockets were soaring over Fort Sumter. It was April 1861. The war had begun.
He tossed and turned.
He was riding hard. He always rode hard, for he was part of General James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart’s fantastic cavalry. They could ride circles around almost any army. They could move endless miles in unbelievable time. They saw action again and again and again, scouting, circling, carrying information vital to Jackson and Lee.