Former Confederate soldier Boyd Carter and his brother Malcolm depart Iowa in the summer of 1868, leaving behind longtime friends Sawyer and Lorie Davis with promises to reunite in the North. Also left behind is Rebecca Krage, who harbors a secret love for Boyd. Self-avowed enemy, Thomas Yancy, is missing and despite assurances that he will trouble them no longer, Lorie is not convinced. Her and Sawyer’s joyful discovery is overshadowed by the fact that the two brothers have vanished. The friends' collective strength must again be tested as they face the greatest threat to their lives yet.
About the Author
Abbie Williams is an avid lover of language, history and women’s studies. When she isn’t writing, teaching, or taking care of her busy family, she’s on the dock, listening to bluegrass music.
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I just can't figure," the boy began, and I recognized the calculated innocence in his voice; I'd sounded the same plenty of times in the past, when I wanted more information than I knew I was rightly going to get. He stalled, peering crossways at me.
"Nope," I said, staving off his opinion. The August sun was hot as a devil on my hat, even pulled low as it was, sending slick trails down my face, burning near through my clothes. I shifted, cursing the dull ache across my low back, and reached behind, retrieving my canteen. With care, I allowed a small trickle down the front of my shirt, open two buttons and where a patch of painful red would no doubt mark me by nightfall. But I didn't give a damn. A wet, sweltering heat had settled over the land and I was already hurting far worse than a little sunburn. Never mind the healing pistol shot that had hacked a chunk from my side.
Malcolm leaned from his saddle, tugging at my elbow to force my attention. Warm water slid over my belly and I shuddered as I proceeded to sip; tepid as it was, it still provided relief from the sticky heat. While I was preoccupied downing a second swallow my brother hurried to make his point. "What I meant to say was I just can't figure – "
"I ain't got a word ... on the subject." I interrupted him, coughing on the mouthful of water, and that was that. I borrowed my daddy's tone as best I could, that which preceded a thorough strapping if my brothers and me weren't smart enough to quit pestering, or flat-out disobeying. With a fair amount of desperation, I thought, Please, boy, shut your trap. I can't think about what you intend to say. If I do, I won't be able to keep riding away.
But Malcolm was not so readily put off; I'd never strapped the boy, and likely would never have the heart to do so, and he knew it. He possessed a keen and earnest nature just exactly like our mama's, and pressed on with his usual sincerity. "Boyd, I can't figure why you'd leave her behind when I know it pains you so."
"You ain't old enough to understand," I muttered, which was not a fair statement, nor did I kid myself it was true. My voice grumbled, stiff and hoarse, thanks to a wedge the size of a ripe plum in my gullet, one that would not be swallowed away.
Malcolm bristled, just as I always had when Daddy said the same. His voice cracked with indignation as he sniped, "I'm old enough to see what's before my eyes. I'm old enough to see that she cares for you, even if you can't see it yourself!" And then, figuring he might have pushed too far, the boy fell silent. He eyed me from the corner of his gaze before angling Aces High, his chestnut gelding, away from my surly mood, heeling the animal's sturdy flanks and riding ahead on the dusty trail; the chestnut flowed into a smooth canter, he and the boy graceful as a dancing pair.
I let them go, for now.
Sawyer, I thought, wishing again for the comforting presence of my oldest and dearest friend. Goddammit, you should be here with us. You an' Lorie should both be here. We wished for this together. This ain't how it's supposed to be. We ain't supposed to be riding for Minnesota without you.
I watched Malcolm and Aces grow smaller on the horizon, dust creating a butternut-colored haze behind them. A line of muddy clouds gathered along the western edge of the prairie and I dared to hope for a soaking; though I didn't relish riding wet, rainfall would cool the air and seemed the lesser of two evils, just now. Fortune nickered and tossed her head, as though sharing my sentiments; I patted my mare's familiar neck, stroking with my knuckles.
I murmured, "There's a girl. You's restless, ain't you?" and scanned the horizon, wondering if a critter stalked us in the prairie grasses grown tall and rangy with approaching autumn, and therefore beyond my sight. The horses had been skittish all day, for no reason I could identify. I fingered the stock of my pistol, rubbing a thumb along the familiar wood grain; we hunted with the rifles and there'd been no need to use the smaller firearm as we'd ridden northward, but I was reassured by its presence on my hip, all the same. We'd left Iowa City a good fortnight past, traveling since then beneath mainly warm, dry skies; Iowa City was a town we'd meant to travel through and well beyond much earlier this summer, with no plans to linger within city limits. A string of misfortunes kept us there long past our original intent.
Things happen for a reason, son, I heard my dear mama say. Trouble is we don't always understand until we look back.
Aw, Mama, I thought, and a familiar lash of pain struck me at the memory of her voice. It seemed every bit of love I'd ever dared to feel was tangled up with hurt, and I did not know how, or if it was even possible, to go about untangling it.
My folks loved each other, this was a certainty I'd never questioned. Growing up in the holler in the wilds of eastern Tennessee, my kin had not been blessed with fortune – at least, not the sort you could stick in a bank. Ours was fortune of another kind, the blessing of a contented life. Daddy farmed, grew corn and flax on the ridge; many a night I lay on the feather tick alongside Beaumont, my elder brother, who always fell asleep before me, our hands callused and our napes burnt red, staring into the darkness and seeing nothing but the neat, straight rows of black earth which we'd worked all the livelong day. Even when sleep did come, at last, I dreamed of the orderly dropping of seeds into the ground.
And yet, I had not been unhappy or restless as a boy; I sure as hell never figured I'd settle farther from my family's land than I could chuck a sizeable stone. I lived for the evening hours, when Mama would ring the dinner bell and we'd gather to eat in the purple gloom of twilight. Candlelight would shimmer over Mama's hair and reflect in her bright eyes. Daddy would put his hands around the delicate notches of her waist and nuzzle her neck with his beard until she shooed him aside. There would be a spat or two between Beau and me – mild-mannered as Grafton was he could seldom be roused to fighting, and was Mama's baby long before Malcolm came along – which Daddy would settle with a cuff to the back of the worse offender's head. Mama would scold and squawk even as she clapped food upon our plates, using the serving spoon that came all the way from England with Daddy's family generations ago, and finally everyone would settle at the table for grace. After dinner, Daddy played the fiddle.
Daddy's elder brother, Malcolm, lived near in those days, and our Carter cousins were present for about every other dinner hour, along with the Davises, whose homestead ran the length of the holler on the opposite side of the ridge. Uncle Malcolm had proudly constructed the family fiddles, a trade which he inherited from his own daddy, Brandon Bartholomew Carter, who was a carpenter's apprentice in the land of his birth before he ventured across an ocean to America. Those golden evenings on the porch blend one into the other in my memory; Daddy would uncork a jug of apple pie, or buckeye bush, and he and Uncle Malcolm wielded their bows between sips, each pull longer than the next, until the stars shifted halfway over the holler. We kids stole nips when we thought they wasn't looking. Far removed from those days and that familiar place, I could still taste the whiskey on the back of my tongue, the sharp sting that prickled a boy's nose hairs, followed by the heady warmth of the booze.
I longed for a jug of my daddy's whiskey just now; I would slip free the cork with a flick of my thumb and down the top half in one good swallow. And still it would not banish the picture of Rebecca Krage's eyes from my mind, this I knew. Not all the 'shine in Tennessee could do that. I had not intended to look back as we rode away from the dooryard of her homestead, there on the outskirts of Iowa City. I meant to keep my gaze on the horizon where my future lay in wait, in the North, but in the end I disobeyed my own order.
"Please take care of yourself," she'd whispered the grim, overcast morning we rode out.
A wad of cotton batting had seemed lodged in my throat as I stood near Fortune with one hand resting atop my sorrel's hide, the other hanging uselessly. I wanted to gather Rebecca to my heart and hold her close, as I had dared to do only once before. I'd studied her face in the early-morning light, greedy for a last sight of its sweet beauty, for a final glimpse of the expression in her eyes; no one had ever looked at me exactly the way Rebecca Krage did. She held my gaze and did not cry, but her lips trembled before she bit savagely upon the lower. My eyes followed the motion and I felt kicked in the ribs at the sight of her soft, curving mouth; even in the brief time our paths had crossed, I'd imagined claiming it probably hundreds of times ... imagined what I would feel to taste her kiss, to sink my hands into the thick waterfall of her dark hair ...
Jesus Christ, I thought, torturing myself anew. I refused to let the vision follow through to its end. Rebecca was a lady, born and bred, and a Yankee widow, to boot. I was no gentleman, and bore little hope of ever attaining the title. I had not been the one to kill her husband, Elijah Krage, but I may as well have – a Reb bullet sent him to whatever lay beyond death back in the wretched summer of 'sixty-three. And I'd been a Reb soldier to the bitter end. Elijah Krage had left his beloved wife and home to march to War in 1862, same as me, likely for reasons just as good as I'd once believed my own, and later died on a battlefield distant from Iowa. He would never look upon his youngest son's face; neither would his elder son remember him, as Cort had been very young at the time of his daddy's death. Rebecca was the one left behind, plagued by her memories.
Before Malcolm and I left, Lorie had clutched my elbows and fixed me with her sternest brow. When she spoke, her voice held notes of both determination and desperation; she knew I was set on my course, but it didn't stop her from saying, Becky loves you, Boyd. Do not claim you are unaware of this.
I scrubbed a hand over my face as I rode beneath the blistering sun, swiping at sweat and painful regret, with little hope of easing either. My jaw clenched and I tasted blood from the small cut inside my cheek, which I'd bit only this morning. A teetering pile of heavy stones, blunt and cold, seemed stacked atop my heart; I could not deny the truth in Lorie's words any more than I could deny that I saw in my best friend's remaining eye that he believed I should not leave Rebecca behind.
It's what's best, I'd argued. Sawyer, Lorie, and I had been gathered in the small bedroom within Rebecca's home, debating in hushed voices that night. She's a Yankee. Besides, she's promised to Quade.
Growing ever frustrated with me, Lorie had contradicted, She would refuse Quade in a heartbeat if you stayed here, you know this.
My hands fisted around Fortune's reins at the thought of Marshal Leverett Quade, even as I continued arguing with my pitiful self.
I thought, Rebecca wanted you to stay in Iowa, don't pretend otherwise. But ... would she have chosen you over Quade, in the end? You'd be the fool if you stayed behind and she had not.
Furthermore, I was determined to reach the place I had set out to reach upon leaving Tennessee last spring, come hell or high water as Daddy always used to say, and Minnesota was this place. The very last of my blood kin, other than Malcolm, there lived, my mama's youngest brother, Jacob Miller, who had left Cumberland County and roamed northward long before War ripped apart the country. Having forged a life in the North, Jacob now homesteaded near a lake called Flickertail, was wed to a Winnebago woman named Hannah, with four children of their own. Malcolm could not remember Jacob but I'd been near to thirteen years old before he left the holler with little more than his horse and hunting rifle, and Jacob's face and voice were both present and accounted for in my memory.
Come to us in Minnesota, boy, Jacob wrote last winter, and the draw of family was more than I could resist. I recalled sitting near the hearth in the home of my youth and reading aloud this request to my brother, and later, to Sawyer and another longtime friend, Gus Warfield. Jacob's words insisted, Come to Hannah and me, and bring with you young Malcolm. We will welcome you. You boys can make a new start here. There is nothing left in Tennessee for you now.
I'd written Jacob in return, painstakingly, as I was a poor student at best. I explained that I would be joined on this journey by Gus Warfield and Sawyer Davis, two men Jacob had known in the years of our old lives, those of quietude that existed before the War. I assured my uncle I would work hard, that I would earn my keep and my land, and would not be a burden to him; I'd sold that which we did not require for the journey, scraping together enough for the fee to file for a homestead in Minnesota, an amount of ten dollars. The only assumption Uncle Jacob made wrongly was the one concerning Tennessee – but what was left in my beloved home state was a deep hole of memories, raw and sore as unhealed wounds. All the Carters that had once populated the ridge were gone, dead and buried, almost as though they'd never existed. Tennessee was a place best left behind, we all four understood well and good; Gus, Sawyer, the boy, and me.
Rebecca darlin', and I dared to call her such in my mind, if not actual life. You are better off without me. You'll see this in time, now that I ain't there. But it hurt to leave you. It hurt so goddamn much. If things was different ... if I had a hope of being the man you deserve ...
You are too harsh on yourself, by far, Sawyer had said the night before Malcolm and I planned our leave-taking.
My oldest friend, who had survived the War with only minor physical damage, studied me with his remaining eye; the other had been lost to the bullet of a Federal soldier no more than a month past, and well over three years after the Surrender. The man who had done this to him, Zeb Crawford, would have liked to see us all dead. Crawford's hatred I could understand, hatred being something I grappled with myself. Dozens of times I'd fought Federal soldiers for my very life, in battles made all the more miserable for the sultry summer heat, or during winter campaigns, when the snow grew red with fallen blood far faster than the fallow brown fields of autumn. Enemy soldiers clad in the faded blue I had come to loathe, bearded and grizzled and ever thinner as the War dragged on, and on, long past all reason. Hatred I understood. It did not mean, however, that I would allow someone who hated me and mine with such ferocity to live to see the dawn. Hell, no. I felt no guilt, or shame, and would not, over firing my pistol into Crawford that terrible night. I only wished I had fired with truer aim, so the bastard had been dead all the quicker.
I'd said to Sawyer that evening, I ain't harsh on myself. I'm simply speaking the truth. But Sawyer knew me as well as any brother; he saw my faults and my weaknesses, and I knew he was right, even if I wouldn't admit it.
Lorie had stood at Sawyer's side, as befitting the two of them, and she'd sighed, leveling me with her eyes and the somber set of her chin. In a last effort to convince me, she'd whispered, Boyd, please ...
Please what? I'd responded, too sharply, as Sawyer sent me a look of warning. Even with only one eye, he made sure I understood his look. I heaved a sigh; I loved Lorie like a sister; I'd said, I'm sorry, Lorie-girl. But I mean what I say. There ain't no good can come of it.
And I could reach no other conclusion, even now as I rode my sorrel through the blazing August heat. Rebecca would not leave, and I could not stay. She was a Yankee, a widow, and a truer lady I had never known, other than my own mama. Rebecca was educated, well-spoken, and unafraid to speak her mind, which I admired above all else. And I admired her nearly every moment, whether she was in my line of sight, or not. Her skin was the tint of cream skimmed from the top of the milk pail, the kind I'd licked from the spoon many a time. I dreamed by day and again by night of kissing that fine skin, of unbuttoning her dress and tasting her mouth, her breasts, her belly and thighs and what was surely the damp sweetness between her legs ...
Stop, I ordered, sweat beading along the full length of my spine. I was short of breath, lightheaded at the very thought of putting my mouth and hands upon Rebecca that way; it only proved to me that I did not deserve her, entertaining such lustful thoughts about a proper lady. I was no virgin, and had not been since the age of nineteen. The first instance I'd been allowed the gift of a woman's body was with a girl who was part of a troupe the Second Corps recruits, tenderfoots and has-beens alike, referred to as camp followers.
Excerpted from "Grace of a Hawk"
Copyright © 2018 Abbie Williams.
Excerpted by permission of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The story continues from where the last book ended, with Boyd Carter and his 13-year old brother Malcolm leaving Iowa City and their friends to continue on to their family homestead in Minnesota. Boyd has made the difficult decision to not pursue his relationship with Rebecca Krage, the widow who opened her homestead to the him, Sawyer and Lorie Davis. Overshadowing his journey is the disappearance of former U. S. Marshall Thomas Yancy and his son, Fallon, who tried to kill Sawyer and Lorie but was thwarted and shot by Malcolm. They still remain a threat even though Boyd isn’t even certain if Yancy is still alive. To say Boyd and Malcolm’s journey to Minnesota was harrowing was a serious understatement. I’ve come to expect the author to be authentic in her storytelling so I was prepared for it to not be warm and fuzzy. Pioneer travel in this era was fraught with danger and Boyd and Malcolm were not immune. Some of the situations were just heartbreaking and I seriously wondered at times if one of these characters was going to be sacrificed. It was often gut wrenching and always emotional. A new character was introduced, Cora Lawson, and if you’re reading the connected series, Shore Leave Cafe, you’ll have better insight into her importance. I’ve loved this amazing series, which impresses me for its unique insight into an historical era that was difficult and inspiring. These are characters who became embedded into my soul and the author does an outstanding job of creating vivid images of time and place. The western frontier was primitive at that time and I got to experience the realities of what that meant. It’s been a tough but wonderful journey in following these characters that I’ll continue with in the connected series. I highly recommend this one as it’s extraordinary. (I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review)