This story was inspired by a trip to Savannah. I visited one of the area’s Civil War forts and became fascinated by the discovery that General Sherman and his men had arrived in a conquered Savannah on Christmas Eve. What sort of Christmas could they have had? From there, my imagination
took over . . .
Despite having been on opposite sides of the war, Yankee doctor Josh Coltrane is unprepared for the continued bitterness of his long-lost love, Angel Summers. Can these two former sweethearts learn to forgive and forget the past?
I hope you enjoy reading Josh and Angel’s story as much I enjoyed writing it.
PRAISE FOR KAT MARTIN AND HER NOVELS
“Martin’s fans and newcomers alike will enjoy every moment of this thrill ride.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review on Beyond Reason
“A high-octane mix of high stakes and high passion.”
—Bookpage on Into the Whirlwind
“A robust tale of suspense that’s full of romance and intrigue.”
—Heroes&Heartbreakers on Into the Fury
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Yankees. More damn blue-belly Yanks. Angel Summers's lips went thin just to look at them. She swept back her skirts to let one of them pass, then glared at his blue-coated back with all the venom that had built inside her these four long years.
Just thinking of the Federal troops who had occupied Savannah for almost twelve months made a bad taste surface in her mouth. She swallowed to chase it away, but the bitter taste of defeat remained. She wondered if it would ever completely fade.
Lifting her chin, determined to ignore the soldiers making their way along the boardwalk, a new batch that had arrived three days ago on the military train from Atlanta, Angel stepped into the open door of Whistler's Dry Goods store.
"Mornin', Miz Summers." The balding merchant stood behind the counter, a green leather apron tied around his ample girth.
"Good mornin', Mr. Whistler." She asked about his wife and daughter's health, and he asked about her little brother, the only member of her family left since the war. "Willie's just fine. Growin' like a weed. He's gonna be even taller than our daddy."
She didn't like to think of their father, killed in the fighting at Shiloh, or her mother, who had taken to her bed not long after and died of a broken heart. Instead she thanked God for sparing little Willie. William Summers, Jr., blond and blue-eyed, just as she was. Seven-year-old Willie, who was now her whole world.
"The boy is surely full of mischief," she said with a smile, "but he's smart as a whip. He loves to read, and already he can cipher faster than I can." She didn't say he was also desperately lonely, that he ached for his parents, for the loving home they'd all shared before the war.
She didn't say that she ached for them, too. That she missed the days of grandeur when she was the belle of Summers End, her family's cotton plantation, and every young man in Savannah was out to capture her hand.
She tried not to think of those days anymore. It hurt too much when she looked down at her threadbare clothes, at the white pique cuffs on her blue wool dress that were frayed but finely mended, at the worn, pill-sized balls in the palms of her white cotton gloves, the mended holes in her stockings.
Four years ago, wearing such clothing would have been unheard of. She had dressed in silks and satins then, worn hoops so large they barely fit through the huge, carved front door. Now her hoops were discarded for more practical clothes, like the ones she had on.
And she was lucky to have those.
"What can I get you, Miz Summers?" The merchant scratched his balding head. "Whatever it is, it's likely we'll be out of it." The shelves of the store were nearly stripped bare. Only remnants remained, mostly bags of dried fruit, a few kegs of salt pork, some salted cod, a crate of sugar cones, and a few meager sacks of flour. A half-empty barrel of pickles sat in the corner. The cracker barrel was empty and covered with dust.
Supplies were a luxury, the shortages even worse since the Yankees had occupied the city.
"I just need a can of baking powder, Mr. Whistler. Christmas is coming. I was hoping to do some special cooking for the holidays, but it looks like it won't be much. I'm afraid the cow's gone dry."
The merchant simply nodded. Nothing was easy these days.
She paid for the baking powder and Mr. Whistler put it into her basket.
"There was one new shipment that come in," he said. "Yard goods from down to the mill near Charleston. Some of it's real purty." His glance ran over her mended dress. "You might want to have a look."
Ignoring the wash of color that rose into her cheeks, Angel headed toward the wall where he pointed, then stood staring at the beautiful lengths of cloth. A green plaid tartan wool, a calico cotton, some plain black bombazine for mourning. She hadn't dressed in mourning for over a year. She vowed that in the streets of Savannah, she had seen so much black she would never wear the hideous color again.
She ran a finger lovingly over a length of rich plum velvet. The cloth was so fine it made her ache inside just to touch it. It had been years since she'd worn anything so lovely — not since her girlhood, not since the days before the war when the future had stretched so shiny bright in front of her. When her life had been filled with joy and she had been so very much in love.
She eyed the fabrics a little while longer, enjoying the starchy smells and luxurious feel, escaping from thoughts that only brought pain. Then heavy footfalls caught her attention, swinging her mind in a different direction. She felt his presence even before he spoke and for an instant she wondered if her thoughts had somehow conjured him.
"Good morning ... Angel. ..."
The words whispered past her ear and her breath caught inside her. She didn't need to turn to recognize the man who stood so near. The man she hadn't seen in over four years.
She pivoted slowly to face him, her heart thumping a maddening tattoo. He was taller than she remembered, his skin a burnished, suntanned hue nearly as dark as his thick chestnut hair. His shoulders were wider, layered with muscle, his eyes a darker brown than she recalled.
"Joshua ..." With his winsome smile, dark eyes, and finely arched brows, he'd been the handsomest boy in Chatham County. Now Josh Coltrane was a man, and the creases beside his eyes and the hard line of his jaw only made him more attractive.
"I saw you walk in," he said. "It's good to see you, Angel."
Dear God, Josh was here. A flesh-and-blood man standing right in front of her. Memories rushed in. The first time they had danced, the first time he had kissed her beneath the mistletoe at Christmas just this time of year. The ache returned, stronger than before, a pain she had dealt with, she thought. Josh was alive. She hadn't known for sure, hadn't allowed herself to care one way or the other. She took a deep breath, forcing a stiffness into her spine and courage into her suddenly weakened limbs.
"My name is Angela. I wish I could say it was good to see you, Josh, but it isn't. I can't believe you would have the nerve to come back here."
The smile on his beautiful mouth slid away. "The war's over — in case you haven't noticed. I'm still in the army, which means I go wherever they send me. I'm assigned to the hospital at Fort James Jackson."
His dark blue uniform fit him perfectly, stretching across his broad shoulders, tapering to a narrow waist, the color a glaring reminder of why they had parted. A stripe ran the length of his long, lean legs, and high black boots rose to his knees. She pulled her gaze back to his face, tried to ignore the shivery feeling inside her.
"That's right," she said. "How could I have forgotten? It's Dr. Coltrane now." She studied the gold bars on his shoulders — he was a captain, but also a Union doctor.
"Funny ..." His eyes ran over her from head to foot, unreadable as they assessed her. "I haven't forgotten a single thing about you, Angel."
Her pulse went faster. She forced her chin up a notch. "I told you my name is — "
"Sorry, sweeting, I don't take orders from you. I never did, if you recall." A corner of his mouth curved faintly. "There was a time that was something you liked about me."
"There was a time you weren't a traitor — a dirty, blue-belly Yank."
His jaw went tight. "My mother was born in Pennsylvania. I went to medical school there. I was as much a Northerner as I was from the South. I had to follow my conscience. I told you that the day I left."
"Yes, you did. And I told you that if you joined the Union, as far as I was concerned you were dead. I meant what I said. Now if you'll excuse me, Captain Coltrane, I have better things to do than waste my time talking to a good for nothin' Yank."
She started toward the door, her heart still thudding in a way she wished it wouldn't, when the bell above the church at the end of the street began to clang. This time of day, the frantic ringing of iron could only mean trouble, and an unwelcome shiver ran down her spine.
"What's going on?" Josh asked, coming up beside her just as she opened the door.
"I — I don't know. Everybody's running toward the train station."
He glanced off toward the tracks that had been repaired and put back into service since the end of the war. They disappeared into the forest — and so did a goodly portion of Savannah's townspeople.
Angel stopped Eliza Barkley, her closest neighbor, as the heavyset woman ran out the door of the feed store next to the mercantile. "Mrs. Barkley — what in the name of heaven is going on?"
"Yankee supply train comin' in from Atlanta's been derailed. Union goods is strewn all over the forest." The laugh she loosed was so shrill it sounded more like a cackle. "You best get a move on. Stuff 's just lyin' there — free for the pickin's." Lifting her skirt up out of the way, she waddled off toward the disappearing tracks.
"Sonofabitch," Josh said, "that train was carrying medical supplies for the hospital out at Fort Jackson. We've run out of nearly everything." He started walking with the rest of the people, his long-legged strides eating up the distance. Although she wasn't short, Angel had to hurry to keep up.
After all these years, it felt odd to be walking at Josh Coltrane's side, though once she thought she'd be facing life beside him every day. Just as they neared the forest, she stumbled. Josh caught her arm, and a strong hand wrapped around her waist to steady her.
"All right?" he asked.
Her cheeks flamed and her mouth went dry. She'd forgotten what it had felt like when he touched her, the way her stomach went all buttery and soft. "I'm fine," she snapped, jerking away, undone and embarrassed by her reaction. "I don't need any help from you."
He looked at her hard. "Sorry. Yankee or not, I guess I'm still too much of a gentleman to stand by and let a lady take a fall." He stepped away from her then, touched the brim of his cockaded hat in farewell. "Have a good day, Miss Summers." He didn't look back as he headed toward a group of approaching soldiers.
He hadn't seemed surprised to see her. She wondered if he knew that her parents were dead and that she and Willie were barely subsisting at Summers End, once one of Savannah's most successful plantations. She glanced down at her threadbare clothes and it galled her that he should see her brought so low.
A group of giggling matrons walked past, but Angel's eyes remained locked on Josh Coltrane's tall, broad-shouldered form as he walked away. Warm, sweet memories of the happy times they'd shared mixed with the anger she felt at his betrayal, the hatred of the Yankees who'd destroyed her world, and the ache she felt at seeing him again.
How long would he stay? she wondered. How many times would she run into him? How would she be able to avoid him?
Feeling the hard knot of misery unraveling in her stomach, she only knew that somehow she would have to make certain she did.
"We've formed a perimeter around the wrecked train, just like you said, but, sir, by the time we got there, most of the goods were already gone."
"That's right, sir," a gangly corporal named Baker put in. "This wasn't no accident. They were waiting when the train ran off the tracks. They must've done something to cause it."
"Just because the war is over, Corporal Baker, doesn't mean people forget. Unfortunately, that takes time." Josh knew that firsthand — after the way Angel had greeted him today. Then again, he wasn't surprised by her reaction. He had known, the day he headed north, that it was over between them. He had sacrificed his love for Angela Summers for the cause that he believed in.
Seeing her today he wondered, as he had a thousand times these past four years, if the sacrifice had been worth it.
"Damn — we really need those supplies," the bearded lieutenant was saying.
Josh's face went hard. "I know." God, did they. The men at Fort Jackson were some of the last casualties of the war — men injured in one of the final battles, too sick to make the long journey home, or never would.
They needed morphine to ease their pain and quinine to fight the malaria. Gauze and bandages were aboard that train, along with laudanum, chloroform, blue pill, Spirit of Nitre, calomel, and a dozen other medicines — and he needed all of them badly. "I'll speak to Colonel Wilson. He's probably already got men out there searching. Maybe he'll be able to find the people who took it and bring the stuff back."
"Odds aren't good, sir. Half the folks in Savannah went away with an armload of goods. They'll be eatin' and drinkin' high off the hog tonight."
"If they do, it'll be the first time in a very long time. At any rate, most of the foodstuffs were headed for the officers' tables. The men can get along without them. It's the medical supplies we need, and the townfolks don't need them the way we do. If we're lucky, they'll give them back."
The bearded man snorted. "Not likely, sir. Damned Johnny Rebs got the notion they're entitled."
Josh said nothing. Lieutenant Ainsley was right. Hatred against the Union forces ran high in Savannah, especially with Christmas approaching. It had been almost a year — December 20, 1864 — since Sherman had stormed into Savannah on his march to the sea. Fort Jackson had fallen, along with the city, leaving a devastated populace in its wake.
They wouldn't give up the supplies unless they were forced to, and no one even knew who had them.
"It's gonna be a helluva rotten Christmas for those men," the lieutenant said.
Josh simply nodded. And an equally bad one for him, he added silently as he walked back toward town, his thoughts returning to Angel, remembering how he'd felt the moment he'd seen her.
He had told himself it was over between them, that he could come to Savannah as he had been ordered, that he could see her and not feel a thing. He was in love with Sarah Wingate, a woman he had met in Pennsylvania. Well, maybe not in love, but they had a lot in common and they were good together. There were no scars between them, no past to haunt them. He cared about Sarah and though he hadn't asked her to marry him, he planned to as soon as he returned.
Now all he could think of was Angel. How much she had changed in the last four years, that she had grown from a girl into a woman. A beautiful, sensuous woman. She was just seventeen when he had left. Now she would be twenty-one.
Though she was older, her face looked much the same, the smooth, wide forehead with its widow's peak in front, the high cheekbones, the small cleft in her chin. He knew she hadn't married. He'd checked on her when he'd first arrived in Savannah — just as a friend, of course. She had never had a husband or children, yet her figure was riper, her breasts fuller, even more seductive than he remembered. Four years ago, every time they'd been together, he had ached to touch them, counted the days till they'd be married and she would be his.
He had told himself he was over her, but the moment he had seen her, he'd been nearly overcome with the same hot lust he had felt so long ago. It was followed by a powerful urge to pull her into his arms.
Damnation! Angel Summers was a ghost from his past, nothing more. He wanted her, yes. Now he knew he probably always would. But any chance for happiness they'd ever had had been lost with the war.
Angel would never forgive him for fighting for the Union, and with her parents both dead, her hatred was even greater.
It was hopeless even to think of her.
Yet Josh Coltrane discovered in the days to come that as hard as he tried, he could not stop.
A great big, juicy Virginia ham. Angel hadn't seen the likes of it in years. At least not on the Summerses' usually very sparse table.
"Boy, that ham sure looks good." Slender seven-year-old Willie knelt on the seat of a high-backed chair in the dining room, staring at the bounty in front of him.
"Yes, suh, Master William," said Serge, once the Summerses' Negro butler, "it shorely do. We gots ham an' corn cakes an' yo' Aunt Ida done made some o' dat redeye gravy."
Angel smiled at the gray-haired black man who was now a member of the odd little foursome that had made up her family since the war. "I guess we can finally thank the Yankees for somethin'," she said with a glance at the ham.
"Oughts to be thankin' 'ol Pete Thompson an' his boys," Serge countered. "Way I hear it, him an' Harley Lewis is the ones what took out dat train."
Angel frowned at the stoop-shouldered old man. "Well, for heaven's sake, if they are, they had better keep quiet about it. Those Yanks have been runnin' all over the countryside tryin' to catch whoever did it and looking for the stolen supplies."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Christmas Angel"
Copyright © 1997 Kat Martin.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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