You see, we lived in what I called the "Civil War" house. It was a big ole home out in the boonies with a barn and plenty of Kentucky bluegrass. According to the locals, the antebellum house was built before the Civil War.
Over the years, the house had different owners, but it never lost its splendor in my eyes. Sure, it was run-down and the plumbing more often than not didn't work. God knows, it was cold in the winter, but my dad--a historical buff--rented it for as long as my poor mom could take it. It wasn't easy for her with no dishwasher or washer and an old, wood burning stove with a husband and two kids to take care of. No neighbors for what seemed like miles.
I loved it.
I'd race around the house with fireplaces taller than I was for hours, pretending I was hosting tea with fancy ladies or meeting that special gentleman in what I called my "secret" room. Wearing my mother's long dresses, I dreamed of being a true Southern belle (years later I got my own authentic hoop skirt from the costume department when I was doing theater).
So it's no wonder I followed my heart and wrote my own Civil War novel -- "The Bride Wore Gray."
Here's Part 1 of the Prologue. I hope you enjoy it!
On a lonely road in the
Even before she saw the swath of blue moving through the trees, Pauletta Sue could smell them.
The raw male odor of Federal soldiers made her nauseous, but she pushed her horse harder.
They won't catch me.
“Faster, Savannah Lady, faster!”
Crack! came the sound of her whip hitting the mare's flanks. Her scarlet-gloved hand trembled as she repeated her command, louder now. The animal sensed her urgency, snorted, then raced ahead down the dark, country road, its hooves making dull, thudding sounds on the hard dirt as horse and rider went deeper into the woods.
The young woman riding sidesaddle winced. What had come over her? She had never struck the beautiful bay mare before, preferring to ride her with only the tight bit and an easy hand, but she had to get through the Yankee pickets. Nothing must stop her from carrying out her mission.
Her gray silk skirts, frayed at the hem, whipped at her ankles. Her long, hooded cloak made of fine black wool, threadbare in places, billowed behind her like heavy smoke, shielding her face from the demons in blue hidden all around her. Ready to strike her down if she dared to stop.
She couldn't. Wouldn't.
The danger of her mission chilled her. She dared not think about what lay ahead of her. She feared dying before she found the revenge she sought, for only then could she release the madness and torment of her broken heart.
The man she loved was dead.
Shot as a Confederate spy.
All around her, the sounds of the forest—the squeal of a trapped pig, the hard rumble of wagon wheels somewhere in the distance, a faraway cannon firing, the loud orders of Federal officers up ahead of her—were muffled by the loud beating of her heart in her ears.
I will not allow you to die in vain, my love. I promise.
A lone bird creased the early morning sky with its silent wings, soaring upward and out of sight. She watched it disappear into the heavens. Like a soul in flight.
A humid breeze kissed the back of her neck as she breathed in the dawn so deeply her lungs hurt. Tears welled in her eyes. Was it only a fortnight ago she had trembled at his touch?
Holding her so close to him, the heat of their bodies stripped away the heavy cottons, whalebone and silk ribbons of her garments separating them, the hardness of his chest crushing her soft breasts.
Two weeks? Or a lifetime?
“I cannot send you on your mission without telling you how much I love you, my darling,” she’d whispered in his ear, leading his hand to her breast. Daring, unladylike, but Pauletta Sue was beyond acting like a lady.
Brazen as a cheeky farmer’s daughter, she’d slipped past the sentries down to the river, where the Confederate troops were camped, defying all authority to meet him.
They’d planned to be married next spring when the roses bloomed again and the fields were thick with plump cotton. The war would be over by then, everyone said, but Pauletta Sue couldn’t wait. They were married in a secret ceremony by the magistrate, the paper not yet filed. They’d had no time for a wedding night.
Then she started thinking. What if something happened to her beloved? No, Pauletta Sue swore. She couldn’t bear to live. Something told her to come to him now.
Her hair blowing free as a restless wind, she didn’t care what anyone thought.
“You crazy female,” he‘d said. “You’re as soft as a magnolia petal, Pauletta Sue, but as strong as an oak tree planted in Southern soil. Let me see your beautiful face.”
She lifted her wide‑brimmed straw bonnet with a big, black sash tied under her chin and smiled. She was proud of her small waist set off by a black cummerbund, her full skirts floating up around her in a sheer, filmy flower‑dotted pattern, her breasts outlined by her tight bodice. She winced as he squeezed her soft, womanly flesh, then swallowed hard when she heard him moan.
I had to see you…touch you…love you.”
She bit down on her lower lip, trying to make him understand what she wanted
from him, needed, if she was going to
get through this war.
“You must go, my love,” he said, the blazing look in his eyes telling her that he understood. “Before I do something to harm your reputation.”
“You do me more harm, sir, by leaving me unfulfilled,” she whispered, this time with an urgency he couldn't deny. “We are married, in case it slipped your mind.”
He grinned. “I must have been a fool not to take you to my bed that night.”
“How could you when you were ordered back to your regiment before you even kissed your bride?”
“My bride…I want to love you as you should be loved, but not here in a dirt field with the smell of death still settling upon the ground.”
“It’s hallowed ground, my love,” she whispered. “We have but a few hours to live a lifetime.”
“Even a lifetime wouldn't be long enough to love you, my darling.” He pulled up her skirt. The rounded hoops underneath bounced up around her, the fine French lace of her underskirts flitting through his eager fingers like frightened butterflies.
She felt no embarrassment. No silly school girl blush tinted her cheeks as she watched him pull his dirty muslin shirt up over his head, the broadness of his shoulders ripping apart the hastily-sewn seams.
She had given herself to no other.
Why must she wait for the war to be over to be with the man she loved?
“I love you,
she’d whispered, taking off her bonnet. She didn't take off her netted
gloves—her fingertips were already exposed. That was all she needed to feel the
hardness of his body as he pressed his chest against her and she ran her
fingers up and down his back.
He said, “Are you certain...this is no place to make love to my bride—“
“It is heaven if I am with you.” She smiled, gazing at his concerned face, the angular planes sharply shadowed against his golden blond hair. His blue eyes searched her face for understanding, puzzled he was, but also aroused. She felt the hardness of him pressing against her flat belly.
“This war has taken so much from us, Pauletta Sue. What if something happened to you?” His breath was hot in her ear. “I couldn't bear to lose you.”
“You will never lose me. Quickly! We don't have much time. Kiss me, my darling,” Pauletta Sue whispered, her breath heated and warm as she pressed her lips against his unshaven cheek. She couldn't move, didn't want to.
“I can't do this to you,” he said, breaking away. “The sentry will see us.”
“Don’t worry, my beloved. I have solicited the word of the sergeant-in-charge that no one will come upon us.”
“How can you be sure?”
asked, squeezing her waist and moaning as he fumbled with the ribbon fasteners
on her pantalettes.
“Gold and silver buy time, my darling,” she whispered, pressing a coin into his palm. “For the Confederacy. And for us.”
He looked at the coin and grinned. “This old silver piece has your initials on the back.”
She smiled. “When your mission is done, send me the coin. Then I will know you are safe.”
“I will deliver it to you in person,” he said. “But first I will show you how much I love you.”
END of Part One...
Check back in two weeks for Part Two of the Prologue for "The Bride Wore Gray."
Check back in two weeks for Part Two of the Prologue for "The Bride Wore Gray."