My new novel, A Rebel Among Us, will soon be released. It is the third book in the “Renegade Series” (the first two books are A Beautiful Glittering Lie and A Beckoning Hellfire). Here are the opening pages to my new book. I’ll let you know when it is officially released!
“Soldiers you know are born to suffer and they cannot escape it.”
- Robert E. Lee, letter to his wife, April 5, 1863
“That isn’t right, Abigail. Try it again.”
The young girl looked up at her big sister and let out a sigh. “I can’t figure this out, Maggie,” she whined in frustration, flinging her long, blonde hair away from her face.
“I already showed you.” Maggie bent down over the two girls seated at the bench. She held out an index finger and struck it on a piano key. “It’s this one,” she instructed. She straightened, pulling her dark blonde hair back behind her shoulders. “You need to keep practicing until you learn it. You’re supposed to play this piece for our guests tomorrow, remember?”
The little girl next to Abigail laughed and swung her legs back and forth on the piano bench. She constantly played with her dark brown hair, which was tied up in a ponytail. “Start over, Abigail!” she insisted. “Maggie won’t leave you be until you learn it right!”
Abigail rolled her eyes and sighed again. “Why can’t it be something easier than ‘The Star Spangled Banner’?” she growled.
She turned to face the box piano, and spread her small fingers across the keys. Slowly, deliberately, she began to play. Reaching the troublesome note again, she struck the wrong key.
Maggie shook her head. She turned and walked out of the parlor. The two little girls heard her shoes clunk as she went up the stairs. They looked at each other and giggled.
“Let’s get our toys!” the brown-haired girl whispered, her amber eyes shining.
“We can’t, Claudia. She’ll hear that I’m not practicing.”
“Oh, all right. But do try to hurry.”
Suddenly, the family’s two dogs started barking outside.
“Hmm,” Abigail said, “I wonder what Colby and Floyd are so excited about.”
“Maybe it’s a rabbit,” Claudia replied, “or a skunk!”
The girls giggled again.
Abigail proceeded to play, making the same mistake over and over. Finally, she got past the problematic note. Staring intensely at the sheet music, she flawlessly played the rest of the piece. Upon producing the final chord, she threw her arms up in the air. Claudia applauded. The two little girls hugged.
A strange, grunting noise came from outside the front door. They whirled around to stare at it. Whatever it was on the other side started screaming and pounding against it. Claudia and Abigail looked at each other in horror.
“What do you think it is?” Claudia whispered.
“I don’t know,” said Abigail. “Let’s go see.”
They slowly crept over to the window, cautiously drew back the lace curtain, and peered out into the darkness, but they didn’t see anything unusual. Unexpectedly, a saddled horse galloped around from the side of the house, stepped up onto the porch, and pawed at the front door. The girls jumped back in surprise.
“It’s a horse!” exclaimed Claudia.
“What does he want?” Abigail asked.
Holding hands, they approached the front door, and stood staring at it. The crazed animal on the other side snorted, nickered, and thumped.
“Should we open it?” Abigail asked.
Claudia nodded, wide-eyed, in response.
Slowly, Abigail unlatched the lock, turned the knob, and pulled the door open. The horse stared back at them with strange, glowing, greenish-brown eyes. Both girls gasped in unison. He nodded his head up and down, and trotted toward the side of the house. The girls stood frozen in the doorway, watching as he came back to repeat his movements.
“I think he wants us to follow him,” said Claudia.
They slowly walked out of the two-story house and down the porch steps, still holding hands. With their eyes glued on the horse, they watched him continue to trot in circles, and followed the spotted equine around to the back of the house.
“Maybe he’s hungry,” Abigail said.
They followed the animal into the barn. The horse walked over to something heaped in the corner. They drew closer, holding their breath. Shaking his head, the horse whinnied. At once, the girls realized that the heap was a person. Claudia gasped.
“Go fetch my sisters!” Abigail exclaimed.
Claudia pulled her hand away from Abigail’s grasp and ran off.
“It’s all right, horsey,” Abigail cooed, trying to calm the animal. Warily drawing closer, she strained her eyes to see what was in the dark. The figure on the floor moaned. Stifling a scream, she clamped her hand over her mouth to suffocate the sound. She heard Claudia yell for her sisters, and stood frozen, watching the horse prance and frantically whinny. Colby, their black and white sheep dog, and Floyd, their sable collie, ran into the barn, but the horse charged at them, and sent them yelping back outside.
Abigail’s sisters arrived with Claudia.
“What is it?” asked Maggie.
Abigail pointed at the dark mound in the corner. Their older sister cautiously approached. The three other girls followed so closely behind that they all seemed to be attached.
“Who is it, Anna?” Abigail asked.
Maggie gasped. “It’s a Rebel!” she exclaimed.
“And he’s bleeding,” said Anna.
She drew closer. The horse allowed her advance.
The soldier moaned. He opened his eyes and gazed around at them, obviously confused, or delirious, or both. “Please …” he moaned, almost in a whisper. “Please, help me.”
“Come on, Maggie,” Anna commanded, kneeling down beside the soldier. “We’ve got to get him inside.”
Maggie resisted. “I don’t think we should touch him,” she said.
Anna glared at her, forcing her to give in under her stare, so Maggie pulled him up. Anna reached around his other side. The two girls hoisted him, causing the soldier to cry out in pain. Balancing the young man between them, they assisted him to the house, nearly dragging him across the barnyard, since he was so weak.
Abigail watched her sisters make their way across the yard, struggling with their load. She looked down and noticed a blood-soaked, yellowish-brown garment on the floor of the barn. Wrinkling her nose, she picked it up and shoved it between the wall slats, thinking that she’d managed to clean up quickly that way.
“Let’s feed the horsey,” she happily said to Claudia.
The two girls climbed into the loft, threw down a bale of hay, and clambered back down. Abigail poured a bucket of water into a trough.
“This will keep you busy for a while,” she said to the horse.
He nickered in response, and nosed his way over to the hay.
“Come on!” Claudia exclaimed.
The two friends ran across the barnyard and into the house.
“Where are we going with him?” Maggie asked as they carried the soldier through the kitchen.
“Upstairs to Father’s bedchamber,” replied Anna.
Maggie glared at her, but complied.
The older sisters carried him up the long wooden flight of stairs, and the two little girls followed. Reaching the top, Anna opened a bedroom door. Its hinges squeaked loudly. They led the wounded soldier over to the four-poster bed. Carefully, they eased him down, lifted his legs, and gently swung him up onto it. The young man moaned in agony. The girls noticed that he was too long for the mattress, as his feet hung over the end. While Anna lit a kerosene lamp on the bedside table, Maggie pulled the windows open to let out the warm, stale air. The flickering lamplight illuminated the soldier’s condition. The front of his shirt was covered with blood, and his right trouser leg was blood-soaked as well.
“Oh!” Claudia exclaimed at the sight. “He’s all leaky!”
Abigail drew closer to him. “Eew!” she reacted, pinching her nose shut with her thumb and forefinger. “He smells like a horse!”
Claudia giggled at the sound that her friend’s voice made.