You do not steal, you do not You do not steal, you do not lie, you do not cheat. Everybody pulls together. View Product. Ambush in the Ashes Ashes Series In the ashes of the apocalypse, Ben Raines and his Rebels face a new obstacle In the ashes of the apocalypse, Ben Raines and his Rebels face a new obstacle: the anarchists and barbarians who seek to destroy what's left of the Red, White and Blue.
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Torn straight out of today's headlines, national bestselling author William W. Johnstone's groundbreaking and controversial Most Southerners did, Miss Craighugh. Yes, but few had to endure what we were put through. My fathers warehouses were seized by that beastly man. Why, he even had our furniture and valuables confiscated just because Daddy wouldnt sign that miserable ol loyalty oath. They were even going to take away this very house, if you can imagine but Daddy gave injust to keep me and Mama safe. Then, there was that awful affront to all of us when Butler issued orders that the womenfolk of the city should be treated less politely by his men.
I just cant imagine a gentleman like yourself, sir, following such a command. Cole knew General Order Twenty-Eight by heart, for it had caused a great furor among the civilians. Butler had issued it to protect his men from the insults of the women of New Orleans, but his actions had backfired and eventually won more sympathy for the South.
And I, Miss Craighugh, cannot envision you deserving such treatment. I must confess that I was afraid to set foot outside this house for fear of being accosted.
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I was most relieved when the Union Army decided to replace General Butler, and now they have that other nice general in command. Ive heard that Banks gives the most lavish balls and is far more cordial. Have you ever been to any of those affairs, Captain? Im afraid Ive been too busy at the hospital, Miss Craighugh. Its a rare day I have to myself, but Ive been most fortunate today. After the generals inspection of the hospital this morning, I was able to take the afternoon off.
I shall hereafter consider it as my good fortune. Al stood through Robertas chatter and the captains replies, attempting to catch her eye while at the same time trying to stay out of the mans range of vision. But the lad realized his cousin was totally engrossed with entertaining the Union officer and refused to be interrupted.
Forcing the woman to remember her manners, Al dropped the valise on the marble floor with a disrupting clatter. Roberta started. Oh, Al! You must be starving, child, and supper wont be for ages yet. Go tell Dulcie to find you something to tide you over. She smiled brightly at Cole. Gracious, its been so long since weve entertained, Ive nearly forgotten my upbringin. Captain Latimer, wont you stay and join us for dinner? Dulcie is just about the best cook in New Orleans.
Al rolled his eyes in total incredulity. How could Roberta do such a thing? Surprised by the invitation, Cole was slow to reply. Usually it was only the women of the back streets who would lower themselves to consort with the enemy, and even they were not always the most congenial. Though it had meant long months of celibacy, he had not been inclined to indulge himself with some pretty, knife-wielding Confederate sympathizer. Nor, for that matter, had he been tempted to crawl into bed with those proven safe by countless numbers in the Union ranks.
He was not uneager to be in the company of such a beauteous lady, but there were things to be considered. Her father, for instance. He would just as soon refrain from getting himself into a forced marriage. I just wont hear of you rejecting my invitation, Captain, Roberta pouted winsomely, confident that he would accept.
After all, she had never been refused before. I suspect that youve been shown very little hospitality here in New Orleans. One can hardly expect it under the circumstances, Cole smiled. Well, its settled then, Roberta replied happily. You must stay. After all, you did bring Al home, and we are indebted to you.
Unable to regain Robertas attention, Al gave a subdued snort and made his way toward the back of the house. The oversize boots clumped noisily against the floor, marking his passage through the mansion. The sound of his stride was like a death toll echoing through the stripped rooms, and he softened his steps. The house was hardly more than a shadow of its former splendor, and it was painful to look about at the bare walls and empty nooks and crannies where once treasured pieces had been displayed.
Absent, too, was the usual bustle of servants. Al could surmise that except for Dulcies family, all the slaves had gone. He swung open the kitchen door and found the black woman busy preparing a stew for the evening meal. Dulcie was a large-boned woman, broad but not fat, and stood a good head taller than the slight youth.
She paused in scraping a carrot and wiped her brow with the back of her hand. From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of the unkempt lad and frowned heavily in displeasure as she looked him over. Whad yo doing here, boy? She threw down the carrot and rose to her feet, wiping her hands angrily on the large white apron. Ifn yo wants some vittles, yo comes to de back do. Doan come traipsin through Mastah Anguss house like some lord almighty Yankee. Fearful that her voice might carry to the parlor, Al tried to shush the Negress and gestured toward the front of the house.
But seeing the open bemusement on the servants face, he stepped closer and laid a hand on the womans arm. Dulcie, its meAl Law-w-w-sy! The screech of recognition seemed to ring through the whole manse before it ended abruptly as the wide-eyed youth clapped an anxious hand over the old womans mouth. In the parlor Roberta glanced worriedly toward the direction of the kitchen before meeting Coles wondering gaze.
Coyly she murmured behind her fan, Al always did have a way with Dulcie. Avoiding any further inquiries, she engaged him in bubbling conversation. The color of his uniform she had already discarded as irrelevant. He was a man, completely and totally. It showed in his walk, his speech, his gestures. The easy rich timbre of his voice sent delightful shivers down her spine. His manners were smooth and polished, yet she sensed in him that which brooked no impertinence. He was at ease with her. Still, she surmised that he would be equally relaxed in a group of men.
She had barely met him, yet her blood was warmed by his presence, and she thrilled with the idea of being actively courted again. Cole had resigned himself to a wasted day when the misplaced waif became his responsibility. It was rare enough that his duties at the hospital permitted his absence for even an afternoon.
And he found it difficult to resolve this splendid turn of events. To be here in a cool parlor enjoying a pleasant repartee with a desirable woman was a greater reward than he might have expected from giving aid to an orphan whelp. He relaxed as he listened to Robertas light and animated chatter until a few moments later a carriage rattled to a halt before the house, immediately silencing the effervescent woman.
Concern creased her brow, and she came to her feet, at once nervous and more than a trifle distraught. Excuse me, Captain. I do believe my parents have arrived home. She was about to hurry into the hall when the front door burst open and Angus Craighugh came charging through the portal, followed closely by his wife. Angus was a short, stocky man of Scottish descent, with whitening tawny hair and a broad, ruddy face. Leala Craighugh was a distraught woman whose small stature had grown plump with the passing years.
Her dark hair was lightly streaked with gray, and her sudden distress clearly showed in her large, dark eyes.
Indeed, the anxious expressions the elders wore gave mute evidence that both had seen the roan with its Federal trappings. They could only think the worst. Roberta had no chance to halt her parents out of earshot of the captain and explain his presence. He had decorously risen with her and now faced the two who could hardly do more than gape at him.
Is there trouble? Angus Craighugh demanded. He shot a quick glance toward his daughter but gave her no pause to answer before his anger was again turned on the Union officer. Craighughs stubborn, square jaw tightened as he hotly declared, Sir, my daughter is not in the habit of entertaining your men in the absence of a proper chaperon, and most especially, Yankees.
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If you have business with me, well go into my study, where we wont disturb the ladies. Cole was about to allay the mans fears when Roberta interceded. Daddy, dearthis is Captain Latimer. He metAl at the dock and was kind enough to escorthim here. Rumbling in confusion, Angus scowled darkly at his only child. Some of the indignation apparent in his ruddy face yielded to obvious bewilderment. What is this, Roberta? Some tomfoolery of yours? Please, Daddy. She took his hand and her black, shining eyes stared intensely into his.
Hesin the kitchen getting a bite to eat. Why dont you and Mama go and greet him. In some consternation the elder Craighughs acceded to their daughters urgings. Roberta relaxed a bit as. She graced him with a fetching smile and was about to comment on the heat of the day when, from the rear of the house, there came a shrill scream followed, after a breaths pause, by a rush of confused French. Roberta jumped as if stung, but recovered herself quickly as she realized the captain was already moving past her.
She was saved from the need of further physical effort by the reappearance of her father supporting his distraught wife against him and patting her cheek while she continued to babble a stream of incoherent words. Angus hastened to lower his burden to the settee and managed to calm her flood of garbled verbiage. Perhaps I could be of assistance, sir, Cole offered, stepping near. I am a doctor. The answer was sharp and sudden. Angus waved away the others help and, struggling to control himself, continued more calmly. No, please. Forgive her. It was just the surprisethere was a mouse.
He shrugged lamely. Cole appeared to accept the excuse until he looked pointedly toward the door where Al had come to lean against the molding, then he nodded. I think I understand. Roberta twisted her hands anxiously, nervously eyeing the youth. Al has changed so much, it would give anybody a shock Leala had regained a small bit of composure and struggled to sit upright. Carefully keeping her gaze away from the lad, she tried to maintain some semblance of poise. You must forgive us all, Captain, Angus said rather tersely. The older man appeared rather strained as he faced the doctor.
We dont often have Union officers visiting here. We were sure there was some difficulty, then to see theahboy, Al The youth sauntered casually into the room, his large boots dragging on the threadbare rug, and gave them his own dirty-faced grin, showing small, sparkling white teeth for a moment. He shrugged and gave the excuse, Sorry, Uncle Angus. I aint never been too good at writin, and sides, I couldnve sent a letter nohow.
Angus flinched slightly as the lad spoke, while Lealas bewildered gaze fastened on the boy and followed his every movement. Its all right, Al, Angus managed to reply. These are hard times. Roberta smiled somewhat tremulously at Cole. I do hope you dont think were a bunch of ninnies with this display, Captain.
Of course not, Cole assured her politely, though his eyes, raising to the slim lad, gleamed with amusement. Angus moved between and stood where the Yankee could no longer survey the youth. I hope you will accept our gratitude for bringing Al to us. No telling where the boy would have ended up had it not been for you. Al strolled jauntily across the room, seeming to challenge some comment from the Yankee. Cole responded by giving the youth a twisted grin. In truth, sir, he was having himself quite a tussle with some. Leala gasped and, seizing her fan, plied it with great verve.
Angus momentarily directed his attention to his wife. Are you all right, Mama? Oui, she choked and nodded stoutly. I am fine. Angus turned his concern to the boy. Was there some difficulty? Are youall right? Al swaggered and showed a small doubled fist. Given a chance, Ida whupped them bluebellies.
His uncle gave him a strange look. Well, he sighed, Im glad youre here safely and its all over. Al smiled slyly. Taint over. All eyes swung round to him and, except for the captain, no one breathed. The gamin grinned broadly. Roberta asked the doc to stay fer supper. Lealas fan rattled to the floor, and she slumped back in her chair with a forlorn groan. She could only stare in numb disbelief at her offspring. Anguss face darkened ominously as he, too, looked at his daughter.
It was a long moment of awkward silence. Cole thought it best to relieve their distress. I am on duty later tonight at the hospital, sir. Im afraid I cannot accept the invitation. Oh, Captain, Roberta mewled, ignoring her parents displeasure. Surely you will let us show our appreciation for you bringing Al to us. When will you be free again? Cole was amused at her persistence and determination. If no difficulty occurs, I will have an evening liberty Friday of next week. Then you must come and share a meal with us Friday evening, Roberta urged sweetly despite her fathers warning scowl.
Cole could hardly mistake the reluctance of her parents and turned his consideration to the other man. Only with your permission, sir. The elder silently conveyed his disapproval to the daughter but could only resign himself. Short of blunt discourtesy, he could find no way out. Of course, Captain. We do appreciate your service to the boy. The least I could do, sir, Cole replied politely.
It seemed the lad needed someone to take him firmly in hand. I am much relieved to see him with his kin. Al scoffed. One less brat on your mind. You bluebellies make enough orphans and then have the gall to prance yer rears into parlors laid bare by your thieving men Lealas wavering voice whined fearfully, and she wrung her hands disconcertedly, looking plaintively toward her husband.
Angus hastened to pour a strong sherry for his wife in hopes of offsetting her shock. He pressed the goblet into her trembling hand and waited until she took a deep drink, then looked at Al reprovingly. Im sure that Captain Latimer had nothing to do with that, Al. Of course not, Roberta agreed, surreptitiously glaring at Al. The captain was the most exciting person she had met since the occupation of New Orleans, and she was not about to let her cousin make a mess of her best chance since this boring war had forced her into a spinsterish existence.
Indeed, she intended to use all her wiles to bring about a relationship that would be completely advantageous to herself. Dipping her dark lashes coquettishly, she turned a smile upon Cole and warmed with pleasure as he perused her in that ageless way in which a man looks at a handsome woman. He was ripe for the plucking. A witness to this exchange, Angus stiffened and could not disguise his angry flush of color when the other man looked at him squarely.
Cole smiled pleasantly. Your daughter is very beautiful, sir. Its been a long time since Ive enjoyed such gracious and fair company. Through Anguss blustering discomfiture, Al snorted like an angry calf, drawing the captains quizzical attention. Cole could well understand the fathers displeasure, but the boys manner puzzled him. Their eyes held for a long moment, the gray ones cool and derisive beneath the probing orbs of blue. Almost arrogantly the slim lad turned and strode to the settee where Leala sat.
The glass of sherry stood on the table beside her, and in a contemptuous salute to the captain Al raised it and, still glaring his hatred, deliberately drained the contents. Al Coles voice was subdued, and only the lad realized the threat in it. You are distressing your aunt. And Im sure it would be nice if you remembered your manners. In the presence of ladies, a gentleman should remove his hat. Leala wrung her hands in renewed anxiety and glanced fearfully at her husband.
She appeared on the verge of hysterical tears. Captain, its quite all right, Angus was quick to insist, but Als hand was already reaching toward the battered hat. Visual gray daggers pierced the Yankee before the thing was snatched off and sailed furiously across the room. Roberta gasped. Angus froze in horror before he found his voice. His bellow shook the rafters. What in the hell have you done? A low moan started from his wife, rising in pitch and volume.
She threw wide her hands and then clasped them tightly together as if seeking divine help. Oh, Angus, Angus, Angus, what has she done? Angus quickly poured another glass of sherry and thrust it at his wife.
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Here, Leala, drink, he bade and, with rare presence of mind, added, Roberta hasnt done anything. Its that fool boy chopping away at his hair again. His frown was fierce and deep as he directed it toward the youth, but he spoke aside to the captain. Al has always been afraid someone might mistake him for a girl. His nephew choked and turned away, but Angus addressed him curtly, Al, I think its time you had a bath.
You can have your usual room. Andhe pointed to the wicker casetake that baggage with you. When the boy was gone, Angus shook his head in bruised wonder. The youth these days! I just dont know what its all coming to. They have no discipline. He raised his arms and seemed eager to vent his tirade.
They do just as they please! Cole meant to allay the mans fears. He appears to be a good lad, sir. Hardheaded, perhaps. All true. Yet he should grow up to be quite a man. Several months would pass before Cole would come to understand the pained frown that Angus Craighugh bent on him that moment. Chapter 3 ALplaced the large wicker case on the bed and slumped wearily beside it.
On the riverboat a cotton bale had doubled for a bed, and it was an everlasting mystery how a thing that began so soft could be made so hard and uncomfortable. What little sleep had come had been brief and fitful. The coolness of early morning had been the only respite, and as the day grew hotter and more sultry, it was necessary to remain alert lest an uncautious moment destroy the best of plans. The game had been well played, and even the test of Roberta was past. Al rose and moved to gaze out the window as the door opened and Dulcies two daughters struggled to haul a small brass tub into the room.
There was no way to determine if they had been warned, but it was best to avoid further commotion while the Yankee was still in the house. The girls could not suppress curious glances at the slim, forbidding back of the guest as they carried in water and prepared a tepid bath. But nothing was said, and after laying out towels and soap they left the room, closing the door gently behind them. Grimy hands scooped into the bath and cupped the water, bringing it to the smudged face. A long sigh of pleasure escaped the weary lips as a flagging spirit was refreshed.
With renewed attention, the gray eyes surveyed the room. A few pieces of furniture were gone, but what was left was familiar. The room seemed to welcome the wanderer like an old friend, evoking fond memories of old. They were needed to dull the stark ones of more recent origin.
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It was not home, but it was the best this one had sampled in a fortnight. The slim figure slowly turned to confront the cracked mirror that stood beside the tub. A rueful smile spread over the pensive face. As if with a will of their own, hands raised and thin fingers ran through the shaggy mop of deep russet hair. The boots were kicked off with vigor, the loose trousers quickly followed, and the jacket was tossed on top of them. The shirt reached almost to the knees, and nimble fingers feverishly loosened the buttons until that, too, was discarded with the rest. Alaina MacGaren stood before the mirror in plain, straight pantaloons and a childs chemise, her youthful breasts bound almost flat by the snug fit of the latter.
Sweat-stained and dirty, the undergarments joined the growing heap and finally, free of restraint, she enjoyed a long, deep breath. Her reflection reaffirmed the fact that the past year and its toils had made her thin to a fault. She didnt care to be reminded how starved she looked, but she could hardly bemoan the fact. It had lent well to her disguise.
Though seventeen, she had masqueraded as a stripling lad beneath the very noses of the Yankees. Captain Latimer had not even been suspicious. Alaina, with some irritation, remembered Robertas warm and congenial acceptance of the captain. Her cousins flirtation would almost guarantee his return to the Craighugh home. Yet for Alaina, his visitations would pose definite problems. Without warning she might be called on to resume her charade. Then, too, the subject of work had to be considered. After seeing the near poverty of the Craighughs, she could not freely accept their charity.
She was determined to provide for herself, but what the captain said was true. There were few civilians who could afford to pay her a wage.
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Besides, what better place. The idea stayed with her and began to tickle her imagination. Under closer inspection, Alaina studied her image. How long could she pose as a boy at the Yankee hospital? Was there something in her face that would betray her? The thin, pert nose that seemed almost an adjunct to her face with its sunburned brightness, and the lean, slightly squarish face with its high cheekbones could possibly pass for a boys features, dainty though they were.
Perhaps the large and sparkling gray eyes that slanted upward beneath long, silky black lashes were not even a liability. But the mouth! It was too soft! Far too pink and delicate! Certainly not boyish! Musingly Alaina puckered, grimaced, and tightly smiled at her reflection. If I just hold my lips firmit just might work. Alaina considered her features only for what hazard they might pose.
In spite of her mothers best efforts, she had been much of a tomboy most of her young life. Then, these last years of overwhelming responsibility, a meager diet, and hard work had all but smothered the customary changes to womanhood. In the face of this hindrance, nature, with infinite patience, bided its day. This was a time for survival, not girlish longings. With a hardness of mind born of necessity, Alaina gave her thoughts over to how best she might carry out her mummery.
She entertained no concept of a day when these selfsame, though now inconvenient, features might cause a man to forget what other goals he had in mind. The sound of the front door opening and closing caught Alainas attention, and she went to peek through the louvered slats of the French doors that led onto the balcony overlooking the front lawn. Captain Latimer came into view and strode toward his horse, settling his hat on his head. Reluctantly Alaina admitted to herself that he was a splendid and somewhat exceptional figure of a man. Tall, ramrod straight, lean and muscular, he lent to the uniform a dignity and bearing that few men could.
She would even concede that he was rather handsome with his crisp, clean features and vivid blue eyes. But he was a Yankee and that, in Alainas opinion, was an unpardonable sin. She dismissed him easily as she returned to her bath. If Roberta was infatuated with him,this cousin was most certainly not.
She could accept him no better than she could that arrogant lieutenant who months ago at Brian Hill, had threatened to see her hanged for a spy. In fact, were the truth made known, Captain Latimer would probably seek the same end for her. Lowering herself into the bath, Alaina scrubbed hard and worked the homemade soap into the snarled thatch that covered her head. Cutting her hair had been the hardest part, but the long, softly curling tresses had become a liability she could ill afford.
Hiding in an old barn by the edge of the river, she had lopped it short lest a stray breeze or a brush in a crowd sweep the hat away and betray her. How innocently it had all started. In the beginning the Confederate soldiers had only asked for food and shelter, sometimes a night or two of rest before they moved on. Her mother had dutifully taken them in, and Alaina had continued on after Glynis MacGarens death, hoping somewhere some woman might be as kind to her brother, Jason, now the only other survivor of the Louisiana MacGarens.
Banks and his scavengers had left precious little after their occupation of Alexandria, but Alaina had persisted, sharing what she could after the Yankees ravaged Briar Hill. But then, more than a fortnight ago, a young soldier had died in her barn, leaving in her care a message for General Richard Taylor. It had seemed simple enough for her to deliver it to the Confederate camp.
That deed, however, proved pure misfortune. The eldest son of her white-trash neighbors, repeatedly rebuffed by her somewhat caustic tongue, discreetly followed her to the camp and home again. Once more he had proposed that he move into the MacGaren house and set himself up as lord and master of it, offering to wed her now that she had no kin left to care for her.
He had retreated quickly enough when Alaina took up her fathers pistol and drove him out of the house at gunpoint. The rejected swain had wasted no time in carrying the tale of her deed to the. Yankees, receiving no doubt a goodly sum for his. Hate beat a more bitter note in Alainas heart as she remembered the Yankee lieutenant who had ridden up the lane to Briar Hill with his handful of black soldiers. He had sat back in his saddle to watch in glee as his men circled close about her on their mounts, frightening off the milk cow she had been leading. But when he had grown bored with her defiant stare, the lieutenant had brusquely commanded his men to search the out buildings for Confederate soldiers, then loosening the flap of his holster as a warning, he had directed her ahead of him into the house and there, after barring the door behind him, had made a proposition in such crude terms as to be grossly insulting.
Alaina had replied in curt, cool disdain that her agreement would be conditional upon it being so cold a day that a certain unlikely locale would freeze over. The gallant lieutenant had cast aside his innate gentility and tried to force himself upon her in the parlor. Her screams had brought Saul crashing through the back door, and in the face of the huge black servants rage, the chickenhearted coward had fled like a cur with its tail tucked between its legs, calling his men after him and vowing to see her hanged and that damned black right along with her.
They would be back, the lieutenant had promised quite vocally, and with reinforcements. Then, just before he departed down the lane, he drew his pistol and shot the cow between the eyes. If his threat had not stirred enough fear, that unwarranted cruelty had brought cold terror to Alainas insides.
Ruthlessly he had taken pettish revenge, not caring who might suffer. The pain of leaving her home still haunted Alaina. It seemed like ages since she had thrown what she could into the aged valise, assumed her boyish identity, and scrambled up behind Saul on Briar Hills only remaining horse. For more than a week they had roamed the countryside, going to ground whenever Union troops were in the vicinity, only daring to return home once for food in the wee hours of morning. They were in Baton Rouge when Saul, about to cross the street to join her with their precious knapsack of food, was stopped by a shout.
Glancing about, Alaina had spied the lieutenant rushing toward him and gesturing wildly for other soldiers to halt the blacks escape. Previous Figure Next Figure. Email or Customer ID. Forgot password? Old Password. New Password. Password Changed Successfully Your password has been changed. Returning user. Request Username Can't sign in? Forgot your username? Enter your email address below and we will send you your username.
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