Authors: Rosalyn West
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical
Take this ring and be
my wife. Make me the
happiest man on earth.
Patrice had accepted Jonah’s proposal grudgingly, because she couldn’t have Reeve. How ashamed she was of her shallow motives for promising herself to such a fine man. But just as she had failed him when he was alive, she vowed to honor him in his death.
Jonah had died a hero. She would act as his widow as surely as if they’d been wed. And so, Reeve Garrett could be nothing more than the object of her scorn and hatred. There would be no weakness where he was concerned. She owed her determined stand to the memory of all those who’d died defending their homeland.
Reeve Garrett had had his chance to hold her heart.
Now, he would know only her contempt.
THE MEN OF PRIDE COUNTY
For Diane and Tom Potwin,
and my friends at the
Thanks for pushing me out onto the
Table of Contents
To men at war, the approach of dawn was a time filled with apprehension and anticipation. When heavy mists thinned over the country’s middle states, one could be faced with breathtaking landscapes untouched by strife. Or one could discover an opposing army with bayonets affixed and cannons ready. Much needed rest, a long hard march or a bloody confrontation, there were no guarantees.
But for Reeve Garrett, the new day brought one certainty, death sure and swift, unless he could do something about it.
“Sergeant Garrett, I understand your position, but you must understand mine, as well. The man admitted to treasonous activity and was duly charged for his crime. The time for leniency is long past. If we don’t make strong examples, we invite
this sort of thing over and over again, and I, for one, don’t want this war to go on forever.”
“I do understand, Cap’n, but putting that man before a firing squad will not serve justice. He’s no traitor. He doesn’t even believe in this war. If he confessed, it was to protect someone else. Hasn’t enough innocent blood been shed by both sides, sir?” Reeve paused, drawing a slow measured breath before stating his final argument. “Cap’n, the man is my brother.”
For an instant, sympathy softened his superior’s gaze, but only for an instant. Then, once again, he became a soldier and not a family man who understood the pain of losing a loved one to the insanity surrounding them.
“I’m sorry, Sergeant, but I can’t let that influence my decision. If I made an exception in your case—”
Reeve swallowed hard and squared up his rigid military stance. His voice was taut and emotionless. “I wouldn’t expect you to, sir.”
The war-weary officer leaned back against the center pole of his temporary command post. “You’ve about a half hour, Sergeant, before the order is carried out. If you can get him to name names, I’ll reconsider. I’m not interested in having another Southern martyr on my hands.”
Reeve didn’t react outwardly, but relief weakened his reply. “Thank you, sir. I won’t be forgetting this.”
“You’re a good soldier, Garrett. I need good men who aren’t pulled in two directions, if such a thing is possible when we’re called upon to take arms against our friends and families.” He sighed. “See what you can do, Reeve.”
When the tent flap lifted, the prisoner inside turned with a look of contented resignation. That expression altered in surprise.
“Reeve, I didn’t expect to see you.” Then a more somber, “Have you come to get me.”
For a long moment, Reeve couldn’t force sound through the constriction in his throat. Finally, he managed a hoarse, “No.”
Jonah Glendower nodded, neither relieved nor curious about his fate. “I’m glad for the company. I was hoping you’d come to say good-bye.”
A sudden, swift anger cut through Reeve’s thickening remorse. Anger at the situation, at the thought of losing his brother, at the other’s willingness to meet his end. He let the flap drop behind him, shutting out the sight of the pair of guards just outside, and casting Jonah into shadow.
“I’ve come to shake some sense into that fool head of yours. There’s no way I’m gonna let you go out to face those guns.”
Jonah blinked. “You’ve come to help me escape?” His incredulous question shocked the both of them.
Reeve cast a quick glance back at the tent flap, gauging if the words might have been heard. “No.”
Jonah smiled slightly and nodded as if he approved. That stoked the flames of Reeve’s rarely vented temper.
“Not that I haven’t thought about it,” he growled in his own defense. “We wouldn’t get more than ten feet, is all.”
Again that accepting nod. “And someone has to go back home to help Daddy. You’re better suited to it, Reeve. Always have been.”
A strangled sound of exasperation wrenched
from the brother in Federal blue. “I don’t want to take your place at the Glade. I never wanted that.”
“I know.” But somehow, that kindly absolution just made things worse.
“Dammit, Jonah, I’m not going to let you do this!”
“Yes, you are.”
Reeve stared at him. What did that mean? That Jonah didn’t think Reeve valued his life over the call of duty? He began to pace, emotions boiling deep down in his belly, tightening with every tick of his timepiece hurrying them toward dawn. “You’re gonna talk to me, Jonah, and you’re gonna tell me why you confessed to doing something I know you’d never do.”
“How can you be so sure,” came the cool challenge, so unlike his practical brother, it scared Reeve down to his boot soles.
“Because I know you,” he argued, mainly to push back his own fear, his fear that Jonah had indeed done something to deserve his fate. “This isn’t your war. You’re not a part of that secession madness. Hell, you were the one who convinced me that keeping to the Union was the only way we could survive. It was your conviction that called me to put on this uniform when everyone else was reaching for Confederate gray. You were the only one thinking clear. I don’t believe you’d go against those beliefs any more than I could.”
Jonah simply stared up at him with a trace of a smile, goading Reeve to the point of violence.
“Don’t just sit there smirking. You are gonna tell me who in Pride County has been spying for the Rebel cause.”
“Why? So you can put them in here? Who’d you
rather have here waitin’ on that firing squad, Reeve?”
“Damn near anyone but you,” he blurted out harshly, voicing sentiments he’d always kept concealed.
“You don’t mean that.”
“Yes, I do.”
But then something in Jonah’s intense demeanor reached through the anger, through the despair to give him pause. Who could be behind the treachery? Who would matter so greatly that Jonah would face his death without blinking, sure of him condoning his reasoning?
Reeve sucked an abrupt breath. It hissed noisily between clenched teeth.
He knew. Without asking. Without hearing. And Jonah smiled, seeing his dawning awareness of the problem.
“It’s better this way, don’t you see?” Jonah continued calmly.
“No.” Reeve shook his head, his vision skewed by the sudden welling in his eyes. A pull of loyalties that had nothing to do with the uniform he wore, rent his heart He started to turn away when Jonah rose up to catch on to his shoulders, holding him still despite his struggle for release. “No,” he repeated with a wrenching sorrow. Jonah embraced him easily, as if he’d always been the strong one instead of just the opposite.
“You know I’m right.” Jonah’s arms tightened to contain his brother’s negating moves. “You do, Reeve. That’s why you’re not going to stop me. Because we both know it’s better if I take the truth to the grave with me. That way it ends here, and no one else need suffer for it. No one we care about.”
Reeve’s hands fisted in the back of Jonah’s shirt. “Damn Deacon—”
“Shhhh. Hush now. No good will come of it.” He pushed Reeve away, but the other refused to look up at him. Reeve’s shoulders slumped. His breath came in raw hitches, conveying the tortured state of his soul.
“Don’t do this, Jonah. What’ll I tell Daddy?” In his despair, Reeve forgot formality and spoke familiarly of their father for the first time.
Jonah’s hand cupped the side of his head. “You tell him I’ve been trying all my life to be the kind of man he wanted me to be—the kind you are.”
“You don’t have to die to prove it!”
“You say that because you’ve never felt the need to prove anything to anyone.”
Reeve’s jaw worked fiercely, denial knotting up around truths he’d never shared. Until now. “You’re the best man I know, the best friend I’ve ever had.” Still, he wouldn’t meet Jonah’s eyes.
“Then walk out there with me, Reeve. My leg’s stiffened up some, and I don’t want them to think I’m lagging behind ‘cause I’m scared.”
The sheen of anguish turned Reeve’s gaze to liquid gold. It spoke eloquently, passionately of things he couldn’t voice as remorse twisted about his vocal cords.
“You know I’m right. You’d do the same.”
The slightest of nods was Jonah’s answer. It was enough to vindicate him.
“Tell Patrice I’d have been so proud to take her as my wife.”
“I will.” The faintest of whispers.
“And you tell her not to mourn me. Tell her it was my choice.”
Reeve nodded, nearly suffocating on the wad of grief he couldn’t swallow down. He was remembering a summer’s day, the three of them lying back in a sweet-smelling meadow, chewing clover while Jonah and Patrice spoke of secrets and dreams, and then the two of them provoking, pleading, and finally tickling him into almost embarrassing himself when he wouldn’t share any of his own. How he’d loved them both that day.
How he loved them still.
“Sergeant,” came a respectful call from the other side of the flap. “It’s time, sir.”
No more late-night philosophizing. No more struggling through pages of the classics, faltering over words Jonah would patiently sound out for him. No more bond of camaraderie that was never so strong as in this final moment leading up to no more Jonah. Ever.
It was a finality Reeve couldn’t face.
Crazy ideas reeled through his mind, panicked, desperate thoughts that were as far-fetched as they were suicidal. Overpowering the guards, risking the guns, stealing a horse, abandoning his duty …
The quiet way Jonah said his name anchored him back to reality.
“Don’t let me down. I plan on showing those Yanks the stuff we boys from Pride County are made of.”
And emotions wailed mightily beneath Union blue cloth, never to be expressed aloud.
They stepped out into the dew-drenched morning. Daylight dazzled in prismed flashes, promising a glorious sunrise. The last one Jonah Glendower would ever see. As if oblivious to that fact, he strode
across the wet ground to where his executioners already formed a rigid line. He held to Reeve’s shoulder to offset his terrible limp. Despite his bold words, his hand shook when he lifted it away.
Reeve stood beside him for a long moment, his features immobile, cut from granite.