J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “historical romance”

Awesome Review for A Rebel Among Us

I received the March/April 2021 edition of the Confederate Veteran. Inside was a review for my novel, A Rebel Among Us. What an exciting surprise! I sent the book to the magazine about two years ago for a review, and I finally received one. However, since the time I sent a copy of the novel for review, I acquired a new publisher for the book, Westwood Books Publishing. The novel also has a new cover. Here it is:

Because the magazine is mailed out to Sons of Confederate Veterans members, it isn’t published on a website. So I copied the review and am posting it here. Thank you, Cathy Hanford West, for your nice review! (Spoiler alert: much of the plot is revealed in this review.)

Excerpt From A Rebel Among Us

In the spirit of Christmas, I would like to share with you an excerpt from my novel, A Rebel Among Us. In this scene, the protagonist, David Summers, finds himself in an awkward predicament, and does his best to fake his way through it. This book is the recipient of the prestigious John Esten Cooke Fiction Award. I hope you enjoy this sample of A Rebel Among Us.

The dogs barked outside. 

“Oh, they’re here!” Anna hurried out of the kitchen. 

The young men followed. 

David heard people being greeted at the front door. He stood back from the rest behind Patrick, mentally preparing himself for his performance. Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery exchanged compliments with Grace, Claudia, Sarah, and her nieces. A blonde girl with ringlets entered, followed by a Union soldier in uniform. David glared at him, repulsed by his appearance, but concealed his disgust. Anna hugged the soldier. 

“It’s been so long, Stephen,” she said. “How I’ve missed you.” 

David’s heart lurched. 

“And you, my dear.” Stephen stepped back, removing his kepi to expose a full head of thick blonde hair. “So much has happened since I last saw you. How have you been? How is your health?” 

“Fine. Everything’s fine.” 

“Since your father passed, my thoughts have been with you constantly,” he said. Surprisingly, he laughed. “I remember him telling me, when you and I were both in our youth, how I should be the one to marry you once we were grown.” 

“I know, Stephen. He told me many a-time as well. But now we know better. Things have changed significantly since Father passed.” She requested their coats. Turning her back to him, she threw a glare at David, who read the sarcasm in her countenance. 

The soldier approached Patrick and shook his hand. Approaching David, he asked, “Anna, who do we have here?” 

The girl with the pipe curls who had entered with Stephen drew closer to David, making him somewhat uncomfortable. 

“This is my second cousin, David Summers, from New York,” Anna responded cheerfully. 

“From New York,” the soldier repeated. Smiling, he extended his hand. 

David hesitated but forced himself to take it. 

“Splendid to meet you, sir. I’m Stephen Montgomery.” 

“And I’m his younger sister, Mary,” said the girl with the ringlets. Pushing past her brother, she drew so close to David that he felt compelled to step back. “Hello, Mr. Summers,” she said, extending her hand. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.” Batting her lashes, her blue eyes sparkled. 

“Miss.” He cordially took her hand and kissed the back of it. 

She giggled. “Why, Anna, you never told us you had a cousin in New York.” 

Her demeanor reminded David of Callie. 

“Yes, well, we haven’t seen each other since we were very young,” Anna replied. She flashed a questioning look at David. 

Patrick saw and snickered. 

“And these are our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery,” Anna introduced. 

“David Summers,” Mr. Montgomery said as they shook. “Are you related to the Summers of Lancaster?” 

“No, Father,” said Mrs. Montgomery, allowing David to kiss the back of her hand. “He’s from New York.” 

“Oh.” Mr. Montgomery scratched his gray-streaked beard. “What do you do for a living, young man?” 

David glanced at Sarah, who smiled reassuringly at him. “I’m—a farmer,” he said, remembering to accentuate his R’s. 

“And what do you farm, sir?” asked Stephen. 

“Crops, mostly,” he stated. 

The gathering chuckled. Stephen frowned. 

“David, may I see you for a moment?” Anna requested. 

He excused himself and heard Sarah suggest they all take a seat while he followed Anna into the kitchen. Once he had entered, he breathed a sigh of relief. 

“Try not to act so nervous,” she instructed in a hushed tone and handed him a plate of hors d’oeuvres. 

He sighed again to summon his courage before following her back into the parlor. 

Claudia and Abigail began their performance. They started by playing “There’s a Song in the Air.” 

David set the plate on the marble-topped parlor table and looked up to see Patrick grinning at him. 

Stephen stood and strode over to him. “So, Mr. Summers, are you here for the holiday?” he pried, smiling. He had a warm, friendly way about him. David wondered if Anna had misread his intentions. 

“For the duration,” he responded. 

Stephen’s brown eyes grew concerned. “The duration of what?” 

“The war,” Anna told him. “He’s here to oversee the farm for Uncle Bill until he returns home.” 

Stephen’s expression darkened. David realized Anna hadn’t misread him after all. “Oversee? What does that mean?” 

Patrick moved closer to the little gathering. 

“It means he’s in charge of operations, and he will probably inherit the farm,” Anna said with conviction. 

Stephen glared at David. “Oh,” he said cheerfully, his demeanor transparent. “Why haven’t you enlisted, Mr. Summers?” 

David glanced at Patrick. “I paid my three-hundred-dollar computation fee,” he lied. 

“You’re not one of those bounty jumpers, are you?” Stephen leered. 

David scoffed at the notion. He remembered being told about bounty jumpers by his messmates. Some men in the North joined up to receive a cash bounty, promptly deserted, and joined up again in order to obtain another bounty. 

Mary, who had been standing close by, asked, “Where on earth did you get three hundred dollars?” 

“It’s an inheritance,” said Anna. “Let’s sing carols.” She took Mary by the arm and directed her toward the box piano. 

“Who died?” Stephen inquired. His eyes narrowed as he stared at David. 

“His father,” Patrick interjected. 

“Oh.” Stephen frowned. “Would that be the cousin of Anna’s father or mother?” 

David couldn’t remember the drill. He looked at Patrick for support, but the Irishman only shrugged. 

“Uh, her mother,” David replied. 

Trying to mask his uneasiness, he walked across the room, nervously sat down, and wondered if he would be discovered after all. He stared at the floor, listening to Abigail play “We Three Kings from Orient Are.” Struggling to regain his composure, he thought another swig of whiskey might do him good. He glanced around, noticing how the ornaments on the tree sparkled. The firelight and candles resplendently flickered and reflected off them. Everyone was dressed in beautiful clothing, except for him. Instead, he wore Anna’s deceased father’s suit, which was barely long enough. Realizing his inadequacy, he grew even more self-conscious, so he crossed his arms and legs. 

The little girls took turns playing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel,” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” Deciding to take a break, they headed straight for the plates of gingerbread and sugar cookies, meringues, rock candy, and chocolate creams. Patrick motioned to him, so David quickly followed him into the kitchen. To his relief, Patrick uncorked the whiskey bottle. 

“How am I doin’ so far?” he asked. 

Patrick handed him the bottle. “Here, take another nip.” He chuckled at his friend’s worried expression. 

David took a long pull from the bottle and handed it back. 

“Here’s to your nerves,” Patrick said with a laugh and swigged from the bottle. 

Stephen soon appeared in the kitchen and took the opportunity to interrogate further, making David feel like a mouse being stalked by a cat. 

“Where did you say you’re from, Mr. Summers?” he inquired with a smirk. 

“Ala—er, Albany,” he replied, nearly choking on his mistake. 

“What county is that?” Stephen asked. 

Mary and Anna entered the room. 

“Um, it’s in New York,” he responded, glaring at Anna in panic. 

“Have you seen the armory?” asked Stephen. 

David shook his head. 

“The Quakenbush House? How about the Hudson River itself?” 

David shook his head again. “I don’t get off the farm much.” He shrugged. 

Patrick cleared his throat. “Tell us, dear Stephen, how ye managed to evade the fightin’ yourself.” 

He smiled at Stephen, but David could sense deep-seated resentment between the two of them. 

“I was injured at First Bull Run,” Stephen said. He ran his hand through his thick blonde hair. 

“Injured, ye say?” Patrick pressed. “And where might that be?” 

“Right here.” Stephen extended his left hand to show a mangled little finger. 

David stifled a laugh. “Pshaw,” he said. “Is that it?” 

Mary drew closer to her brother. “Stephen has friends in Washington who decided he was eligible for a promotion. He is now a sergeant-major.” 

She smiled proudly at her brother, who flashed a grin at her before he turned his gaze to Anna. 

David noticed the three chevrons with three rockers on his sleeve, the insignia of a sergeant-major. They were blue, which told him Stephen had served in the infantry. “You got promoted all the way up to sergeant-major for a crushed finger?” he asked in awe. 

“Yes, that’s right,” Stephen fired back. 

David snorted. “A promotion for an injured finger from First Mannass—uh, the Great Skedaddle,” he corrected himself and remarked, “If that don’t beat all.” 

“At least I’ve seen the fighting. Unlike you.” Stephen glared at him with indignation. 

David felt his anger rising. Clenching his teeth, he glowered back scornfully. 

Sarah came into the kitchen. Immediately noticing the two young soldiers glaring at each other, she gasped and glanced at Anna, who appeared stunned. 

“Please come into the parlor for singing and lively interview,” Sarah said, attempting to diffuse the situation. Stepping toward David, she quickly took his arm. 

“Bully for Grant,” Mr. Montgomery bellowed from the parlor. “Bully for Sherman too!” 

“Don’t lose your temper, dear,” Sarah whispered and escorted him into the parlor. 

They entered the candlelit room. Expelling a sigh, he sat down on a green velvet chair beside Stephen’s father, who vigorously puffed on a fat cigar. 

“He’s a humbug, I say,” Mr. Montgomery exclaimed, speaking to his wife and Grace. 

“Who’s a humbug, Papa?” Mary inquired, sitting in a chair on the other side of her father. 

“Jefferson Davis, that’s who!” 

David scowled, his ire rising. Biting his lower lip to contain it, he glanced over the gathering. He felt so out of place he thought he might burst. This was becoming far more than he could bear. 

“That man is a tyrant,” Mr. Montgomery continued. “When this war is over, I’ll be the first in line to see him hang.” 

David stared at the Oriental rug on the floor. Unable to sit there any longer and listen to Mr. Montgomery’s rhetoric dishonoring the South’s beloved president, he abruptly stood, walked out of the parlor, and went outside onto the front porch. 

Patrick followed. “Now, David, don’t be gettin’ your Irish up.” He grinned, handing him the bottle. 

He took a few swigs. 

Patrick jokingly remarked, “Best be slowin’ down a bit, lad.” 

“Do you think they’d notice if we left?” David’s head started to spin. 

Patrick snickered. “Aye. Sure’n you know our Anna needs us here. The party will be over soon enough.” He pulled out his pipe, so David obligingly handed him the pouch of tobacco he’d shoved into his pocket in preparation for his friend’s arrival. Patrick took a deep puff and said, “‘Tis nearly a full moon.” 

Stephen emerged from the house. “Chilly evening, isn’t it?” His charming smile had returned. David felt like he was in the company of an alligator, calm and docile on the outside, but ready to strike and devour at a moment’s notice. 

“Indeed,” Patrick replied. 

“Mind if I have some of that?” Stephen pulled a pipe from his coat pocket. 

David glanced over at him. He noticed the buttons, the piping, the blue fabric, and the embroidery on his sleeves that reminded him of all the Yankees he’d seen on the battlefields. He looked away. Patrick handed the pouch to Stephen, who filled the bowl of his pipe. He lit it and puffed. 

“This is very good,” he stated, inhaling again. 

“‘Tis David’s,” Patrick blurted. 

Stephen smiled. “Hmm. Where did you get this? It tastes like Southern tobacco.” 

David shuddered. He was glad the darkness concealed his reaction. “A friend of mine,” he responded, unable to say any more. 

Maggie came to the front door and called them back in. They followed her into the parlor, where the discussion was still taking place. Mr. Montgomery immediately drew Patrick and Stephen into the conversation. He expressed his feelings on how he disagreed with the Copperheads, who were willing to accept the South back into the Union under a negotiation with concession, and how he agreed more with the Radical Republicans, who were in favor of total surrender and victory followed by severe punishment. He then proceeded to complain about how the confounded War Department had been purchasing shoddy uniforms for the grand army of the United States. 

“They ought to be ashamed,” he said, finishing his rant. 

According to Sarah, The Sanitary Commission was doing an excellent job improving conditions for the soldiers in battle. Mrs. Montgomery agreed, noting the book she’d recently read, titled Hospital Sketches. It was written by a nurse named Louisa May Alcott, who was assisting the Union army. 

The topic drifted to paintings of Whistler and Monet, how men were now able to measure the speed of light, and the oil wells in Titusville and Oil Creek. Mr. Montgomery brought up Darwin’s theory of evolution, which David had discussed numerous times around the campsite with his fellow cavaliers. He sat back and listened silently while the others exchanged conjectures. Most of the discussion concerned things he knew very little about. Mr. Montgomery invited his opinion, but he declined, afraid of revealing himself. 

The little girls resumed their repertoire of carols during all of this, entertaining their audience with “Joy to the World,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.” 

Anna turned to David. “My cousin here has a very lovely singing voice,” she said. “David, why don’t you sing something for us?” 

Mortified, David gawked at her in disbelief. “Uh, what would you have me sing, cousin?” he asked, embarrassed he was now being put on display after all. 

She smiled. 

He rebounded by suggesting, “How about ‘Silent Night’? Do you girls know how to play that song?” 

Claudia nodded, turned toward the piano, and played an introduction. 

Drawing a deep sigh, David began singing. He barely glanced at his audience. As he sang, his baritone voice grew stronger and more confident, and soared to a high note before he finished the first verse. Deciding that was more than enough, he stopped. Everyone applauded. 

“Bravo,” Mr. Montgomery bellowed. 

David grinned, feeling his face flush as he sat back down. He glanced at Anna, who beamed at him. 

Not to be outdone, Stephen announced, “I brought each of you girls a gift.” 

Abigail clapped her hands with delight. He withdrew several packages from under the tree. 

“Abigail, this is for you. Claudia.” He handed them each a package. “Maggie, here you are,” he said. 

Maggie smiled and took the present he handed to her. 

“And this, darling Anna, is for you.” He gave her a small box wrapped with a bright red bow. 

She smiled at him. “Why, thank you, Stephen,” she replied. 

David glowered. Stephen’s display of affection repulsed him. 

Tearing into her package, Abigail exclaimed, “It’s a stereograph!” She positioned one of the thick cardboard photographs in front of the lens and held it to her face. 

“I have one too,” squealed Claudia.  

They exchanged pictures. 

David glanced at Patrick, who rolled his eyes. “‘Tis all for show,” he whispered loudly.  

Mrs. Montgomery glared at him. 

Maggie opened her gift. “Oh, it’s a journal. I’ll so enjoy writing in this.” She glanced at David, who raised an eyebrow at her. He wondered if he would be her topic. 

Anna opened her gift. She stared into the little box cupped in her hand. “Stephen, I don’t know what to say,” she said quietly. 

“It was my grandmother’s,” he explained. Walking over to her, he pulled a dainty gold necklace from the box and placed it around her neck. 

David watched silently, his blood reaching its boiling point. He forced himself to remain silent and tightly clutched onto the arms of the chair to help him contain his anger. Anna’s actions confused him. After describing Stephen’s story, why was she being so receptive to him? David hoped she was putting on a performance for the Montgomery’s, but he wished she would turn her attention to him, instead, and repel Stephen’s revolting advances. 

“I have something for you as well,” Anna told Stephen. She knelt beneath the tree, pulled a package out from under it, stood, and handed it to him. 

He grinned and glanced around at the spectators before opening it. Staring at the contents, he hesitated for a moment before bursting into laughter. “Oh, darling, how did you know?” He pulled the contents from the box, revealing a pair of trousers. Holding them up, everyone took notice of how large they were. “I must admit,” he said, “I have put on some weight.” 

David and Patrick looked at each other and grinned, recalling how Anna had told them Stephen had gotten too big for his britches. She had obviously taken it upon herself to make him a bigger pair. 

“By the way, Mrs. Andrews,” Stephen said as he placed his gift on the sofa cushion, “my condolences on the loss of your cousin.” 

Sarah glanced at Grace before looking back at Stephen. “Why, whatever are you talking about? I didn’t lose a cousin,” she replied. 

David’s eyes grew wide. 

Stephen turned to glare at him. “I thought you said it was Anna’s mother who you were related to.” He reached down toward his sidearm, the formidable revelation impending. 

Anna hurried over to stand in front of David. “Is that what he told you?” She forced a laugh. “Well, it’s as I explained, Stephen. We haven’t seen each other since we were children, and I’m sure he’s forgotten, that’s all.” 

“Why, yes,” Sarah said, coming to the aid of her niece. “He’s just confused. After all, he’s been through so much lately, what with the loss of his father, the journey here, and all the responsibility that has been placed upon him.” 

David glanced at Patrick, who wore an amused grin on his face. 

“The poor thing,” said Mrs. Montgomery. “How terrible it must be for you.” 

“Yes, um, ma’am,” David responded.  

Stephen was still staring at him. To his relief, he had moved his hand away from his holster. 

Anna glanced down at David. She noticed his stark white face. “My dear cousin is still reeling from grief.” 

“Well, we should be leaving, my dears,” Mr. Montgomery said as he gazed up at the mantle clock. “It is nearly eleven, and we must all be tucked in before midnight!” 

He pulled himself up. The Montgomery’s followed his lead and made their way toward the front door. Stephen glared at David. He turned toward Anna and took her hands in his. 

“Thank you, my love, for the gift, and for this enchanting evening.” 

“You’re welcome, Stephen,” she replied, gently withdrawing her hands from his. 

“Gentlemen,” Stephen said to Patrick and David, donning his kepi. “I hope to see you again in the next few days before I return to Washington.” 

“Stephen,” Patrick acknowledged, puffing merrily on his pipe. 

The ladies escorted their guests outside. 

“It has been so wonderful to see you again, my dear,” Stephen said to Anna. “This reminds me of when we were children, and our families spent the holidays together. I know I’ve been away recently, but I hope we can resume our close relationship once again.” 

“Yes, Stephen,” she said. “We’ll reunite soon.” 

David glanced outside to see Stephen climb aboard the Montgomery’s sleigh. Finally, the sound of chinking bells drifted off into the distance. He breathed a deep sigh of relief. 

Patrick chuckled. “Well, ye did fine under the circumstances, lad.” He patted David on the back. 

“I reckon I’ll retire,” David weakly stated. Two traumatic Christmas Eves in a row had left him exhausted. He bid everyone goodnight and started toward the stairs. 

“You two had better get to bed as well,” Grace told Claudia and Abigail, “or you won’t be asleep by the time Santa arrives.” 

The girls smiled widely at each other. They rushed past David and bounded up the stairs as fast as their little legs could carry them. Once upstairs, he heard them scurry around inside their room. Soon, they appeared at his door with a book. 

“Will you read to us?” Abigail asked. 

“Of course, I will,” he replied with a smile. 

He finished lighting his fireplace, led them back to their room, and tucked them in. Sitting on the edge of Abigail’s bed, he read the cover. 

A Visit from Santa Claus.” He opened the book and read, “‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirrin’, not even a mouse.” Glancing at the girls, their eyes large and full of wonder, he continued reading until he reached the end of the poem. “…But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight. The end.” Closing the book, he stood and set it on the dresser. “Goodnight, girls.” He turned down the lamp. 

“Goodnight, David,” Claudia responded. 

“Goodnight, cousin.” Abigail giggled. 

He closed the door and turned. Startled to see Anna standing in the hallway, he nearly jumped. 

“That was lovely,” she said, smiling. 

He grinned. 

“You’d better go to bed now too, if you want a visit from Santa Claus.” 

David chuckled. They stood there, smiling at each other, neither one knowing what to say next. 

“Well, goodnight.” She started toward the staircase, but turned back to face him. “By the way, you were wonderful tonight. Stephen doesn’t suspect a thing.” She softly snickered and descended the steps. 

His head began to spin from the whiskey taking hold. He went into his bedroom and closed the door. Dropping down onto the bed without bothering to remove his boots, he fell asleep within seconds. 

New Cover Reveal for A Rebel Among Us!

I am so excited to reveal the new cover for my novel, A Rebel Among Us! The new cover comes with a new publisher as well, Westwood Books Publishing, LLC. The book is the recipient of the 2017 John Esten Cooke Fiction Award, which is given by the Military Order of the Stars and Bars. This is a very prestigious honor, since the MOSB does not give the award every year, but only to books they deem as worthy of representing the Confederacy.

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A Rebel Among Us is the third book in the Renegade Series. Two other books, A Beautiful Glittering Lie and A Beckoning Hellfire, are also in the series and have been re-published with Westwood Books Publishing as well.

I’m always fishing for reviews, so if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll send you a PDF copy for review!

A Rebel Among Us is Featured on Blog

 

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My novel, A Rebel Among Us, the third book in the Renegade Series, has been featured on Karen’s Killer Book Bench blog. Here is the link, so please check it out!

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We are running a contest for the next week, so if you go to Karen’s website/blog, you can find out more  information about this award-winning book and win a signed paperback copy. Thanks so much for your support!

New Interview With The Authors Show

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Nearly two weeks ago, I was interviewed by Linda Thompson of the Authors Show. Linda lives in Phoenix, and told me about how she had just survived a dust storm. I lived in Phoenix when I was little and vaguely remember those storms. I wouldn’t wish them on anybody.

My interview airs today! Please click on this link: https://wnbnetworkwest.com/. You will see my name listed on Channel 3. My interview mostly centered around my novel, A Rebel Among Us, so click on that book title to hear the podcast.

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I also talk about the first two books in the Renegade Series, as well as my nonfiction book, Horses in Gray. And I also mention some future publications. Please have a listen and let me know what you think. Thanks so much for listening!

A Not So Happy 4th

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This year marks the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. After three days of bloody conflict, Lee’s army retreated back to Virginia. It must have been a very sad 4th of July for the Confederacy indeed, as the South not only lost the battle in Gettysburg, but Vicksburg also fell.

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Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Rebel Among Us, and how three sisters react to their unexpected “guest” on the 4th of July.

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She slept for a few hours until distant voices awoke her. Sliding into her pale blue summer dress, she combed through her long blonde hair, parted it down the middle, contained it in a beige snood, and went to check on the soldier. He had bled through his bandages, so she gently replaced them, trying not to stir him.

Once she had finished, she quietly opened the door to leave, but heard footsteps coming up the stairs. Her heart leaped. Should her guests find the intruder there, Anna and her sisters would undoubtedly be in dire circumstances. She knew her neighbors were avid Unionists. If they discovered a Confederate in her father’s room, it would mean certain death for him and, most likely, a jail sentence for her. Being the oldest, she would surely be held responsible. Quickly, she scurried down the hallway to intercept the unwanted guest.

“Hello, my dear,” Mrs. Montgomery greeted her. “I was just coming up to give you this.” She smiled and handed Anna a small basket of handmade soap. “I fragranced them with roses. Your favorite.”

Anna returned the smile. “Why, thank you very much, Mrs. Montgomery,” she replied. “I’ll set these in my room and be right down. Go on ahead and help yourselves to some lemonade.”

Mrs. Montgomery turned and went downstairs. Waiting until she was gone from sight, Anna tossed the basket into her room, closed the door, and came downstairs to find her neighbors in the parlor. All were dressed in their Sunday finery, even though it was Saturday.

Mrs. Montgomery embraced her this time. Her daughter, Mary, mimicked the gesture. Stepping back, she looked Anna over. “Why aren’t you in mourning?”

“Father specifically requested that we not wear black or cover the windows, so we’re honoring his wishes,” Anna explained.

She remembered her father’s words while he lay dying only a few months ago: I don’t want darkness to befall my sunny girls. This explanation seemed sufficient for Mary, who smiled at her and walked over to talk with Maggie. Anna hoped the soldier wouldn’t awaken or start making a lot of noise…or even worse, come downstairs himself.

Inviting everyone to the dining room for dinner, she graciously went around the table, serving her guests. She couldn’t help but glance several times into the hallway, waiting for the soldier to clomp down the wooden steps in his worn out boots.

“Anna, are you all right?”

She froze like a deer in the rifle sights. “Yes, of course, Mary,” she replied. Taking a seat, she spread her napkin across her lap. “Why do you ask?”

“It’s just that you seem a bit distracted,” said Mary. “As though you are nervous about something.”

Anna and Maggie exchanged glances.

With a forced smile, Anna said, “It’s the heat. I’m fine, really.”

It was a lie. Truth be told, she wasn’t fine. Not at all. She wished they had never invited their neighbors over for an Independence Day celebration, and she also wished her guests would leave before something happened. Unable to eat, she dabbed at the perspiration on her forehead with her napkin. She listened for the slightest sound from upstairs and resisted the temptation to look out into the hallway or dash upstairs.

Once dinner was finished, everyone returned to the parlor. Abigail and Claudia played their piano piece flawlessly, encouraging everyone to sing along to “The Star Spangled Banner.” Their patriotic spirit soared.

Mr. Montgomery raised a toast for the preservation of the United States. “Here’s to our country’s victory,” he said. “To the Union!”

“To the Union!” everyone chanted together and raised their glasses. They sipped their lemonade like it was champagne.

“I’ve been informed this morning we have won the fight at Gettysburg,” Mr. Montgomery added. He lit a cigar and puffed on it while happily smiling.

Anna scowled. It’s as I thought. That Rebel did come from Gettysburg. She looked at Maggie, who raised her eyebrows, apparently thinking the same thing.

“What’s wrong, Anna?” asked Mary. “You appear to be unhappy about the news.”

Anna flashed a smile at her. “On the contrary. I’m elated.” She glanced around the room. “Why don’t we go out onto the porch,” she suggested. The room had become stiflingly hot.

They accepted her invitation and proceeded outside. As soon as they congregated with drinks in hand, it began to sprinkle.

“Oh, dear,” said Mrs. Montgomery. “I’m afraid we’ll have to leave now, girls. I left the sheets out to dry, and the chickens are out in the yard.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Mrs. Montgomery. But thank you for coming,” Anna said, trying not to appear too eager to be rid of them, even though she couldn’t wait for them to go.

Mr. Montgomery assisted his wife and daughter into the buggy before climbing in.

“Anna, we had a lovely time,” Mary said, her blonde pipe curls bouncing as she exaggerated her compliment.

Anna didn’t know if she was sincere or not.

“I’m only sorry my brother couldn’t be here today,” Mary added.

“Have you heard from Stephen?” asked Maggie.

“Yes,” Mary replied, tying on her pale yellow bonnet. “He said he would be home on furlough in a few months. Anna, he wanted me to tell you that he misses you.”

She smiled cordially, but secretly, she wanted to scream. She knew she wasn’t what Stephen missed. His attitude had changed, and it alarmed her. What he really missed was her farm. The thought of his counterfeit attraction enraged her, and knowing that he would be back in a few months to woo her repulsed her even more.

“By the way,” Abigail said, “how’s your dog, Corky? The one Anna mended?”

Anna’s eyes grew large. She stared at Abigail and hoped she wouldn’t say anything about a Confederate being in their midst.

“Why, he’s doing just fine, sweetheart,” Mrs. Montgomery responded. “Spry and lively as ever.”

“Well, goodbye all,” said Mr. Montgomery. He smiled through his neatly-trimmed beard and slapped the reins.

Their tall, dark chestnut horse pranced down the lane, pulling the buggy behind it. Watching their neighbors drive away, all four girls let out a sigh of relief.

“Let’s go check on the Rebel,” Claudia suggested.

She and Abigail ran into the house. Maggie and Anna followed. The girls gathered around the big bed, gazing down at the unconscious soldier.

“Is he still breathing?” asked Abigail.

“Yes, unfortunately,” replied Maggie. She looked at Anna. “I’ll go clean up the dishes,” she said.

As she went downstairs, Anna called out to her. “Maggie, could you please bring a spoonful of tallow when you come back up?”

“What do you need tallow for?” asked Abigail.

“Never mind,” said Anna. “Why don’t you and Claudia assist Maggie?”

“Okay.”

Claudia followed Abigail out. Anna heard them descend the stairs. She listened to the three girls engage in lively colloquy, their conversation accented by clanking dishes. A strong breeze blew in through the open windows. She realized it was getting much cooler, so she partially closed them. Noticing the Rebel’s forgotten pile of clothing that had yet to be disposed of, she started a fire in the fireplace. It had been several months since a flame had been lit there, not because of warmer weather, but because of her father’s passing. While she waited for the fire to blaze, she heard a church bell chime repeatedly in the distance. She stood gazing out the window in the direction of the Lutheran church she knew was positioned just beyond the hill.

Maggie entered, carrying a tray which held a teapot, cup, and a spoonful of lard. She set it on the dresser next to the porcelain pitcher and bowl.

“What do you imagine the bells are for?” Anna asked. “The holiday?”

“No, I think it’s in celebration. Because we won the battle,” Maggie replied.

They both looked at the Confederate soldier, who was sleeping peacefully.

Maggie shook her head and sighed. “We’re going to round up the livestock,” she said. “There’s a storm headed our way.”

Anna nodded in response. Her little sister left the room. She poured herself a cup of tea, carried the cup and spoon over to the bedside, and sat next to the Rebel. Gently, she rubbed the tallow over his dry, cracked lips with her fingertips in hopes it would soothe them. A chill wind blew in through the partially opened windows. Glad she’d lit the fire, she watched the flames grow higher before tossing in the Confederate’s clothing. She gazed into the fire as it consumed the worn-out garments. Once they were destroyed, she seated herself beside him, lit the kerosene lamp on the table next to her, picked up her needles, and commenced knitting. Rain began pelting against the glass. She stood, walked to the window, and looked out into the yard to see her sisters and Claudia scurrying about to gather the last of the chickens. They contained them in the coop and ran toward the house. She heard them enter downstairs.

Gazing back at the wounded soldier, she wondered how his horse was doing. Abigail and Claudia had secretly informed her during the party that they had gone out earlier to observe the spotted horse when they noticed his injured hoof. Finally relieving him of his saddle and bridle, they rummaged through the Rebel’s saddlebags and discovered a container of ointment, which they assumed was to be used on the horse. They also found a small Bible, along with some personal effects, a few items of clothing, and his slouch hat. Abigail had proudly informed her older sister she had brushed the horse down with his curry comb and applied the liniment to his hoof. She and Claudia had cleverly snuck the soldier’s belongings upstairs and hidden them in a dresser drawer while everyone else was enjoying dinner.

Upon this recollection, Anna walked over to the dresser. The Rebel’s hat, coiled belt, and buckle sat on top. She pulled the top drawer open. Beside her father’s forgotten socks, she found some of the soldier’s personal effects, including a tiny sewing kit, a pocket knife, a pouch of tobacco, and a Testament. She picked up the little Bible. Pulling the flap open, she discovered a tiny, hand sewn Confederate flag inside. It was saving a page of Scripture, Psalms 23. She glanced over the words.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Curious why his Bible was covered with dirt, Anna looked over at the young man. She noticed that, even though all of his items were from the South, they looked the same as any she’d ever seen. She placed the Testament back in the dresser drawer, set the Rebel’s hat in her father’s armoire, and returned to the rocking chair.

 

Happy New Year!

I would like to wish you a very happy New Year. May all your hopes and dreams come true in 2018.

Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Rebel Among Us. It is New Year’s Eve, 1863, and the antagonist, David, finds himself in a predicament he never could have imagined. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the past.

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That evening, the family and their friends gathered in the parlor for a New Year’s Eve celebration, but David kept to a corner, avoiding the others. Anna had given him some wine, so he sat alone, contentedly sipping, and gazed at the two Currier and Ives paintings. Claudia and Abigail amused themselves with their stereographs and the carousels he had made for them. Anna and Maggie talked happily while Sarah and Grace conversed in the opposite corner. At midnight, they all gathered in the center of the room. Anna stood close to him as the mantle clock chimed twelve times.

“Happy New Year!” the ladies exclaimed, raising their glasses.

They clanked their crystals together, and everyone took a sip of wine. David glanced over at the doorway where a strand of mistletoe had been hung. He wished he was standing beneath it with Anna, so he would have an excuse to kiss her. Claudia and Abigail went around the room hugging everyone before they went up to bed. Once David had finished his glass, he excused himself and retired to his room.

He lit the fire, undressed, heated a bed warmer in the embers of the fireplace, and set it on the bed. While he waited for it to warm the flannel sheets, he checked on his Colt .44 and saw that it was just as he’d left it. Returning the warmer to its place near the hearth, he climbed into bed and shivered slightly, his breath barely visible in the firelight.

Closing his eyes, he thought of everything that had taken place the previous year: how he had traveled to Virginia and fought with so many fearless commanders and comrades, and how he had lost Jake and had ended up at the Brady farm. His mind wandered to home. He wondered how his mother and sisters were getting along and whether the Yankees had taken over their land. He hoped 1864 would see an end to the terrible war, but he also wished the South would be triumphant somehow. He thought of his hospitable hostesses and how they had saved him: Miss Maggie, who obviously loathed him; Miss Sarah, who tolerated him; and Anna, lovely Anna. If the war ended, she might be interested in him for some other reason than to provide her with an alibi. It seemed the only people who really liked him for who he was were the two little girls.

Thank God for their innocence, he thought.

His mind drifted back to Anna and her amazing smile. What this year held in store for them, he hadn’t a clue. Perhaps he would be able to return to Alabama soon, after all. It would be a welcome escape from the predicament he now found himself in. Anna was too close, too personal. He knew he was falling further with each passing day. His portentous, precarious situation reminded him of soldiers he’d seen walking enemy lines. He knew sparks could never fly between the two of them. It was the worst forbidden, foreboding situation he could have ever imagined. His affections toward her might potentially place Anna in horrific danger. The Yankees could blame her for treason. She would stand to lose her farm, or even worse, her life. Where would that leave her younger sisters? Guilt washed over him. He couldn’t restrain his feelings, yet he knew he had to. His only choice was to submit to his present condition: the most challenging, heart-wrenching situation he had yet to endure. He knew his family missed him and Callie needed him, but in his heart he wasn’t ready to go home.

A Christmas Disaster

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Some people just don’t know how to be gracious, and Maggie is one of them. Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Rebel Among Us. Enjoy!

The little girls were up before dawn, pounding on doors, rousing everyone awake, and gleefully yelling “Merry Christmas!”

David groggily sat up. He heard Maggie’s voice on the other side of the door.

“Where’s the fire?” she asked.

“There’s no fire. Santa’s been here,” squeaked Claudia.

He heard Anna say something and pulled himself out of bed. The group had already gone downstairs, so he followed after them and entered the parlor. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he saw Sarah lighting a fire.

“What time is it?” he yawned.

“Fifteen minutes past five,” said Grace. She tightened her robe around herself. “Oh! It looks as though Santa has been here, all right.”

The girls ran to the fireplace, yanked down their stockings, and dumped the contents out onto the rug, gasping at the sight of their bounty. Each one had received two peppermints, a gold coin, and a licorice.

Maggie had already started distributing gifts from under the tree. She called out the name on each package while Claudia and Abigail took turns delivering them to their recipients. Handing her aunt the last remaining present, she seated herself beside the fireplace. Everyone began opening gifts.

With a smile on his face, David watched the sisters, Grace, and Claudia exchange gifts with each other.

“Go on, David. Open yours,” Sarah coaxed him.

He drew the boxes toward him and eagerly tore into them. A package from Maggie and Abigail contained new boots. Amazed, he humbly thanked them. Another gift contained everyday clothes Sarah had sewn for him, and still another held a new pair of calf-skin gloves from Claudia and her mother. Anna gave him a book and several pair of socks.

She opened his gift. David held his breath, hoping she would be impressed by his handiwork. He had specially crafted for her a comb and hand-held looking glass made of Cherrywood with intricately carved angels on them.

“Oh, David,” she gasped. “I don’t know what to say.”

He didn’t either, so he nervously waited for her to continue.

“They’re absolutely breathtaking!” She dragged the comb through her long blonde hair, gazing at her likeness in the mirror.

David thought he could watch her do that for hours on end and smiled at his accomplishment. He had managed to impress her. His heart soared.

“Oh, it’s lovely.” Sarah smiled. She held up the broach he’d carved for her. Tiny birds adorned the front of it.

“Glad you like it, Miss Sarah,” he replied with a shy grin.

He gave a similar one to Grace. Abigail and Claudia opened their gifts from him: miniature carousels with interchangeable animals. They happily thanked him and traded animals, seeing if one would fit into the other’s carousel.

Maggie opened the gift he had created for her to reveal a three-dimensional wooden carving of a girl sitting in a chair with a cat curled around her feet. “It’s a girl with a cat,” she flatly remarked.

“It’s beautiful,” Anna breathed, smiling at him.

He grinned back at her.

Maggie turned the wooden carving in her hands for a moment. Glaring at David, she threw it into the fire.

Sarah gasped.

David watched in shock. His jaw dropped in disbelief, and his eyes grew wide. The carving he had spent hours on, created especially for her, was quickly consumed by flames.

“Maggie, how could you?” Anna scolded.

He gaped at her, stunned. Maggie glared back at him. Coming to his senses, he scowled and jumped to his feet. Hurt and anger flared up inside him.

“Pardon me, ladies,” he said, quickly walking toward the kitchen.

He heard Anna holler at her sister. The screen door slammed behind him. Dawn was just beginning to illuminate the yard. Anxious to distance himself, he sprinted toward the barn.

“David,” Anna yelled as she ran after him. “David, wait!”

She screamed. He turned to see she had fallen onto the cold, snow-covered ground. His heart lurched.

“Anna!”

My Author Interview Featured on Renee’s Author Spotlight

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Today I am the featured author on Renee’s Author Spotlight. Renee asked me some interesting questions, and highlighted my new three-book email package, the Renegade Series.

My interview with Renee is as follows.

Why did you decide to be a writer?

I’ve been a writer ever since I can remember, and have written everything from songs to poetry to short stories and novels.

What genres do you write?

Primarily historical fiction, but I have also written children’s books and a nonfiction book.

Do you have a daily word or page count goal?

Five hundred words is a basic goal. When I’m writing a book, though, I shoot for a page a day.

If you could be one of your characters for a day, who would it be and why?

I would be Anna. She is strong and strong-willed, and although she has experienced personal loss, she has big goals and dreams.

What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever researched?

Battle scenes were the toughest. It gave me nightmares! I startled awake one time after I dreamt a bullet whizzed by my head. I drew a lot of description from actual journals and diaries, so the descriptions are real.

What are your goals as an author?

I would like to be an international best seller. I would also like to write three or four more books.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Show don’t tell. I fall into this trap frequently, which is easy to do when writing historical fiction. It helps to have a great editor to point these issues out.

How many books do you have on your “to read” list?

I’m really behind on reading some of the best sellers. I’d like to read The Girl on the Train and A Broken Kind of Beautiful.

Do you write in first or third person, past or present tense, and why?

Mostly I write in third person, but one of my books is in first person. They are all in past tense. I thought that would be the most effective way to tell the story.

How do you come up with the titles for your books?

I don’t have a problem with coming up with titles. The first book in the Renegade Series, A Beautiful Glittering Lie, was taken from a quote a Confederate soldier wrote in regard to the Civil War, stating that it was “all a glittering lie.”

Have you ever gotten an idea for a story from something really bizarre?

I wrote a book about my great aunt and uncle, who ran a hotel in my hometown, Sioux City, during the Depression. Supposedly, there was gangster activity going on there, and money was hidden behind the wallpaper!

What inspired your current work?

Seeing the Gettysburg battlefield was awe inspiring, because I had never seen a Civil War battlefield before. It inspired me to write the first book, which turned into a series.

What was the hardest part about writing your latest book?

It was nonfiction, which I hadn’t done before on that large of a scale. There was so much research involved. It was exhausting!

Do you have any advice for other authors?

Write what you love and feel passionate about, and never give up!

Do you have anything specific you’d like to say to your readers?

I decided to write from the Southern perspective because it has nearly become lost to history. Slavery was an issue but it wasn’t the cause of the Civil War. I didn’t understand that because I grew up in Iowa and wasn’t told about the Southern side. So I researched it myself and discovered the truth.

Check out my entire interview here:

https://reneesauthorspotlight.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-renegade-series-beautiful.html

Happy Thanksgiving!

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I hope everyone has a very safe, happy Thanksgiving. In honor of the holiday, here is an excerpt from my novel, A Rebel Among Us. Endulge and enjoy!

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A week later, on the following Thursday, the Montgomery’s invited the Brady household to celebrate the nation’s first Thanksgiving Day. Since David had no desire to partake in a Northern holiday with strangers and was still unable to come to terms with the deception he was embarking on, he gladly agreed to remain behind. After hitching Alphie, he watched the girls and their aunt ride toward the Montgomery farmstead, visible at the top of a hill about a mile away. He knew he had the opportunity to leave, but his conscience gnawed at him and compelled him to stay. It wasn’t because of Renegade. It was the look in Anna’s eyes, those magnificent blue-green eyes, and the expression on her face when he told her he’d stay. He couldn’t bring himself to disappoint her. She was relying on him.

Entering the kitchen, he sat down at the table and looked over the newspaper while he ate the meal Sarah had prepared for him. He read about another battle that had taken place a few days prior near Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. The reporter referred to it as “the battle above the clouds.” This time, the Confederates didn’t fare so well, and he was glad the family wasn’t there to witness his disappointment. He walked out to the barn and tended to the animals. After checking on Renegade, he led him out to the yard, walked a short distance from him, and whistled. Pricking his ears, Renegade gingerly trotted over to him. David looked at his hoof. The crack was nearly sealed shut, but David was still apprehensive about putting extra weight on it. Perhaps in another month he would start riding him again.

He spent most of the afternoon with his colt, treating him to carrots, handfuls of oats, and an apple before leading him to his stall. On his way back to the house, it dawned on him. This was his chance. He looked upstairs and explored every room in search of his elusive pistol. Coming up empty-handed, he went downstairs and ransacked through the kitchen cupboards. He discovered items he’d never seen before: a bottle of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, a few cans of Van de Camp’s Pork and Beans, Borden’s Condensed Milk, and Underwood Deviled Ham. He checked the dining room, scoured the parlor, looked under the piano lid, and came upon a loaded shotgun stashed under the upholstered sofa. His search led him out to the front porch, as well as to the spare bedroom across from the parlor now occupied by the girls’ aunt. Still, no pistol appeared. At a loss, he went back upstairs to start again. He found no sign of it in Abigail’s room, but this time he noticed her toys. Along with the patriotic ones she had previously shown him, she owned several dolls, a doll house, and a wooden horse on wheels. All were neatly placed against the walls. The bedroom Anna and Maggie shared held virtually no hiding spaces, except for one loose floorboard where they had hidden twelve silver dollars. He searched the storage closet across from his room but still couldn’t locate his pistol. The quest led him back to his bedroom.

He plopped down on the bed and sat there thinking. An idea came to mind, so he pulled out each dresser drawer and felt around inside but found nothing unusual. He walked across to the armoire, opened the doors, and peered inside. Mr. Brady’s old clothes still hung there. He pushed them aside but failed to see anything out of the ordinary. Reaching inside, he rapped his knuckles against the back while turning his right ear toward the sound to hear. A hollow echo reverberated. He felt inside the back of the dark, wooden wardrobe. Finding a hollowed out groove, he pulled on it. The door slid open. David discovered his missing handgun ensconced in its holster. He withdrew it and smiled at it like it was a long lost friend. Tempted to let out a whoop, he restrained himself and checked inside the chamber instead. Five balls still remained. He put it back in its hiding place, amused he had outsmarted the womenfolk without their knowing it.

Later that evening, when the girls and Sarah returned, he walked out to greet them. “Ladies, did y’all have a nice time?” he asked, smiling like the cat that had eaten the canary. He helped Sarah out of the carriage.

Anna failed to return his smile. “Fine, thank you,” she said, allowing him to assist her. “Would you please unharness Alphie and come inside? We have something to tell you.”

He helped Maggie down. “Had that good of a time, huh?” he sarcastically remarked.

“It isn’t that,” Anna said, quickly turning away.

Abigail smiled sadly at him and tagged behind the others.

Wondering what could be so dire, he led Alphie to the barn, unhitched him, lightly brushed him down, and put him in his stall. After rubbing Renegade gently on the nose, he walked back to the house; but as he entered the kitchen, only grim expressions greeted him.

“David,” Sarah began. “I’m afraid we have unpleasant news to tell you.”

He apprehensively stared at her.

“Today, we learned our beloved Union has gained control of Chattanooga.”

His mouth dropped open. Consumed with remorse, he sank onto a kitchen chair and recalled the train ride he and Jake had taken. Their first night away from home had been spent in Chattanooga. He thought of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Confederate infantrymen he and Jake had met on the train, and wondered if they were still alive. Then he remembered Miss Mattie and Miss Martha, the two elderly sisters who had taken him and Jake into their elaborate home and provided them with accommodation before the boys had ventured on to Richmond to join up with General Stuart’s cavalry. His heart ached as he thought of those two rebellious, precious old women. The Yankees were undoubtedly demolishing all that was in their wake, pilfering, ravaging, and defiling everything they could get their hands on. He knew Miss Mattie and Miss Martha’s spectacular townhouse was no exception. In a way, he felt a twinge of sympathy for the loathsome Yankees who were confronted with the scorn of Miss Martha. He wished he could be there to hear her cuss them out. But more than that, he hoped, with all his heart, the dear soul survived the Union Army’s terrible assault.

“I’m so sorry, David,” Anna said softly.

“It’s a sad victory,” Sarah reiterated.

He sat there for a few moments, unable to look at them. Finally, he drew a deep breath.

“Ladies, I’ll see y’all in the mornin’.”

Avoiding eye contact, he walked upstairs to his room, closed the door behind him, and locked it. He sat down on the bed and remembered the two elderly sisters and the loss of his best friend, Jake. His thoughts turned to his father.

If only I could have defended them all somehow, he thought.

His father’s best friend, Bud Samuels, had given David the pistol he now owned. The handgun gave him solace. He walked across the room and pulled his Colt .45 army pistol out from the back of the armoire. Hot tears burned their way out, searing their way down his cheeks. This was yet another defeat for the Confederate cause, and he felt defeated along with it. Once again, his heart burned with all the hatred and contempt he had previously held for his aggressors. He decided he was prepared for any Yankee tyrant who dared try to take him against his will because he was more than eager for the chance to blow a hole through the vermin. On this first Thanksgiving holiday, he had no reason to give thanks. This was war, and he was still willing to fight.

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