David Wainwright is not one to shirk his duty, and helping his late brother's grieving betrothed is no exception. He'll offer Elizabeth Martin comfort and supporthe'll even help her find a job. But most important, he'll continue to hide his true feelings that he's always cherished his brother's almost-bride.
Elizabeth needs to be strong for the sake of her family. So she accepts David's friendship and assistance. But she hadn't realized how much she'd enjoy and value her work at David's side. Or how much he'd come to mean to her. He's more than a would-be brother to herand much more than a friend. Could she be ready to open herself to the risks of love for a second time around?
About the Author
When she isn't researching or writing, you can find Shannon visiting national parks and historical sites or at home herding her small flock of chickens through the backyard. She and her family live in Maryland. You can follow her on twittter @_SFarrington
Read an Excerpt
Baltimore, Maryland 1864
David Wainwright stared past his brother's casket to the place where Elizabeth Martin sat. Her beautiful red curls were pulled back tightly in a bun at the base of her neck. Head to toe, she was covered in black. In just a few short weeks the woman would have become part of his family, but not in the way David had hoped.
"I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live "
The reverend presiding over the service recited the words of Jesus, but by the look on Elizabeth's face, it appeared she found no comfort in the promise of eternal life. Pale and stunned, she stared at Jeremiah's coffin. By all outward appearances she was the epitome of proper decorum, but the moment David caught her eye he sensed a storm below the surface.
If only you had left well enough alone, she seemed to say. I'd have given anything for just a few days with him as his wife.
Grief rolled through him in more ways than one. The loss of his brother was like a knife to his soul, and the sight of Elizabeth's pain cut him just as deeply.
I'm sorry, he wanted to say. So sorry for everything.
She returned her focus to the minister, but David's thoughts remained in the past.
Little had he realized when he first met her that his life, and that of his brother's, would be changed forever. Elizabeth was a Baltimore belle, born and bred. Like many other women from her city, she had volunteered to serve as a nurse following the battle of Antietam. Scores of wounded soldiers, Union and rebel alike, had come to Baltimore's US Army General Hospital for care and processing. David and Jeremiah were a pair of soldiers from Boston who had been assigned as stewards in the place. Elizabeth had worked in the ward alongside David. Jeremiah served next door.
Her Southern sympathy revealed itself from time to time, mostly in expressions of relief whenever she learned of rebel victories on the battlefield. As a Union soldier and the son of an abolition-preaching minister, David found that troubling. Then he learned Elizabeth's loyalty was more to an older brother named George, who had enlisted in the rebel forces, than to the actual Confederacy.
Her devotion to her secession-supporting family member, however, had cost her the position at the hospital. For, when a rebel prisoner escaped, Elizabeth and several other Baltimore volunteer nurses were accused of assisting him. She was found innocent of the charges but was forced to leave the hospital for refusing to sign an oath of loyalty that would have demanded that she cut off all contact with her brother.
It had been a dark day when she left David's ward, but worse ones were to follow. Shortly after her dismissal, Jeremiah had announced he was courting her.
Why didn't I speak up then? David couldn't help but think. Why didn't I do something? Surely my brother would have respected my wishes if I'd told him that I'd fallen in love with her.
Three weeks later Jeremiah had proposed. He and Elizabeth had planned to marry immediately. David had done his best to speak then. He remembered every detail of that conversation.
"You can't marry her," he'd insisted.
"Well this war."
"I will not reenlist," Jeremiah had announced. "I've done my duty. I'm going to marry Elizabeth."
"But you would marry her before your service is through? Why, you barely know each other."
"We will have a lifetime to get to know each other. I love her. She loves me."
The pain that statement had inflicted was more than David could stand, but he did not let his brother know that. "But surely you want what is best for her," he'd said.
"Of course I do."
"Then consider what could happen. If you married her before your service in the army is finished."
Jeremiah had quickly dismissed his misgivings. "They have kept us in the same hospital for the past two years. There is no reason to think they would change our posting now. It's already November! We'll be out the first of January."
"But you can't be certain of that. You have no guarantee the army will keep you here in Baltimore until your enlistment ends. They could extend our service. What if we are sent to the battlefield?"
"Then I will do my duty."
David didn't doubt his brother's courage, and that was exactly what had frightened him.
"For her sake, don't be selfish, man! Think of her! Will you run the risk of making your new bride a widow? And if there is a child, would you leave him fatherless? Where will that leave her? I'll tell youwith the memory of a short-lived love and the lifelong responsibility of rearing the consequences!"
He may have been crass, indelicate for certain, but Jeremiah saw his point and he'd postponed the wedding. For David, however, it was hardly a victory.
Sitting here now before his brother's casket, his own words pounded repeatedly in his mind. Don't be selfish, man! Think of her
He had told himself he had acted for Elizabeth's protection, but he realized now he had spoken for his own well-being. Deep down David knew he could not bear the thought of her belonging to another man, even one as good and as God-fearing as Jeremiah.
But a man without the courage to proclaim his own intentions has no business disrupting another's.
The minister continued on, talking of Jeremiah's unselfish nature, how he'd ministered to sick soldiers, many of whom considered him the enemy. David's guilt grew.
I am the older brother. I was supposed to be looking out for him. That's why I enlisted in the first place. I should have encouraged him to marry Elizabeth when he wished. I had no idea he would succumb to pneumonia just days before our service in the army ended.
He chanced a glance in her direction. She was staring straight at the coffin. Her chin was quivering, but she was trying desperately to maintain control.
The last thing on earth he'd wanted to do was hurt her, and yet that was exactly what he had done. He had stolen what precious little happiness Elizabeth could have had. He'd stolen it from Jeremiah, as well.
The casket was closed. A bone-rattling chill, one even colder than the dreadful January weather, shivered through him. The minister offered a final prayer, and when it was over, David and his fellow mourners stood.
Across the way, Elizabeth did the same. She wiped her eyes, tucked her black-trimmed handkerchief in the cuff of her sleeve and prepared to greet each of their guests. David was confident she would do so with respect and grace, no matter what she may be feeling inside. She would execute the duties of this day. He would do the same.
In a few hours he would place his brother's casket on the northbound train. When he reached Boston, his family would then conduct a second service at their home, followed by internment in the Wainwright plot. All honors would be paid to Jeremiah for his service to the Union.
In the weeks to come David would help settle his brother's affairs, then do his best to reenter civilian life. In all likelihood he would never see Elizabeth Martin again, but he knew what he had done to her and his brother would haunt him for the rest of his days.
Elizabeth mustered her strength and stood. She'd told herself she could get through this. She would get through this. Her determination, however, was immediately tested as Jeremiah's older brother approached.
Elizabeth had managed to avoid him all morning, but now there was no escaping his presence.
The sight of David made her heart squeeze. He wore the same blue uniform, had the same dark, wavy hair and lean yet muscular build. Were it not for the neatly trimmed mustache and chin whiskers, he could have easily been Jeremiah's twin.
What can I say to him? What can he possibly say to me? Even if he were to apologize, he could never undo what has been done.
She would never forget the day her fiancé came to tell her the wedding would be postponed.
"You want to wait until you finish with the army?" Elizabeth had asked.
"I spoke with David and he had a good point. One never knows what the army may do. I shouldn't want you to be carrying our child if I am sent to battle "
Elizabeth had blushed ten shades of crimson. How dare David discuss such intimate details of her and Jeremiah's life! Her embarrassment had only been surpassed by the fear invoked by the validity of the statement. The thought of Jeremiah leaving the safety of the hospital, of him lying wounded in some blood-crusted field, had made her tremble. Her beloved had immediately realized her distress and taken her in his arms.
"Come now, don't think of such things Besides, you know that hospital can't get along without me. Why, I heard a rumor that next week they are planning on making me chief of surgery!"
The words had been so ridiculous that she'd laughed.
But the merriment could not last for long.
A cold, wet November had brought sickness to the hospital. The army had suspended all liberty passes as pneumonia and other ailments ravaged the wards. Jeremiah had soon fallen ill himself. Elizabeth, frantic with worry, had begged to tend to him. She knew the hospital was short on nurses and her help was surely needed, but because of her brother's involvement in the Confederate army, and her refusal to disavow him, she wasn't permitted to step foot on hospital grounds.
It hadn't been until dear old Dr. Turner, the physician she had once served, pleaded her case to hospital command that she'd been allowed to see her fiancé. David had come to fetch her the night Jeremiah lay dying. By then he'd been too ill to recognize her, let alone speak.
Elizabeth had held his hand those final hours and watched helplessly as he'd slipped into eternity. Her faith had slipped away that night, as well. She felt cheated, in every sense of the word. Cheated by God.
Cheated by him
David stood before her quietly. His eyes were as blue and clear as Jeremiah's had once been. Elizabeth didn't want him anywhere near her, but she forced herself to display customary courtesy. She had to focus on his chin whiskers in order to keep her voice steady. "David, I must thank you for your assistance. I appreciate your willingness to allow a funeral here in Baltimore."
"It was the least I could do," he said. "Considering "
Her heart squeezed again, and she was grateful he didn't finish the sentence. Instead of claiming the place beside her, he moved to the far end of the receiving line, putting Elizabeth's mother, Jane, and her sister, Trudy, between them. Her mother tugged on her hand. Elizabeth knew it was both a gesture of comfort and direction.
"It is time, Beth," she whispered.
Turning to the left, Elizabeth began the difficult task of greeting her guests. All of her closest friends had gatheredJulia and her husband, Samuel Ward, Sally Hastings and Rebekah Van der Geld. Even Emily and her new husband, Dr. Evan Mackay, had come. They had arrived by way of the Washington train early that morning.
Dr. Mackay was first in line. "Your fiancé was a good soldier," he insisted, "and a fine Christian man."
Both the compliment and the man's presence brought a quiver to her chin. Elizabeth fought hard to keep control. Jeremiah had once served in his ward. Dr. Mackay was skilled in treating lung ailments, and Elizabeth had no doubt her fiancé would have survived his illness had this particular physician not been transferred just weeks before to the hospital in Washington.
"May God comfort you in your loss," Dr. Mackay added.
She had been told by others previously that He would, but so far she was still waiting.
Emily then moved to embrace her. "Don't concern yourself with anything in the kitchen," she whispered. "The girls and I will see to everything."
"Thank you," Elizabeth managed. She was grateful for her friends' assistance, as well as for the food they had supplied. A proper funeral demands a proper meal. Today should be a day of dignity and respect.
As Emily and her husband moved to her mother, Elizabeth glanced to her left. The queue of mourners stretched throughout the darkened parlor. She willed them to disappear. She did not want their condolences. She did not even want their prayers. What she wanted drove an ache so deep through her body that she feared for a moment her knees were going to buckle. She wanted Jeremiah back.
Get a hold of yourself, she commanded. You must not cry.
She tried to steel her resolve by reminding herself she had but only a few more hours to endure, then she could retreat to the solitude of her room. There she would not be forced to make polite conversation. She could be alone.
"This world will not be the same without him," she heard Dr. Mackay say to David.
The finality of her fiance's death seemed to wrap her in a tight-fitting shroud. It is not just these few hours I must endure, she realized. It is a lifetime. I will never again hear the sound of his laughter, feel his kiss upon my lips. I will never claim his name as my own or hold his child in my arms. My dreams have died with him. I will mourn his loss the rest of my days.
When the last person had paid their respects, Elizabeth very quickly left the parlor. David wanted to follow after her, but he didn't dare. He knew she'd prefer to be alone.
As her mother gently laid a hand upon his arm, David turned. The lines around her eyes were far too many for her years. Worry and sorrow had deeply etched their mark.
"Why don't you go to the kitchen?" she suggested. "Get something to eat."
"Oh, thank you, ma'am, but I'm not that hungry."
"You must keep up your strength."
She was concerned for his health, as were many of the ladies here today. Several had been volunteer nurses and apparently thought his welfare was in jeopardy. One had asked if he had enough warm clothing for the journey north. Another if he'd been showing any signs of chills or respiratory illness himself.
David assured them all that physically, he was fine.
To please Mrs. Martin, he went to the kitchen and accepted the piece of fried chicken that Miss Sally Hastings laid upon his plate.
"How about a slice of raisin pie?" she asked.
David doubted he could even handle the chicken. "I'm certain it is delicious but I don't think so "
Miss Hastings must have understood, for she smiled sympathetically. David knew she had recently lost a brother herself. "I'll set aside some food for you to take on the train," she promised.
He thanked her politely and then moved to the dining area. As he stepped into the once elegant room, he couldn't help but notice some of the flocked wallpaper was peeling. In another corner, a piece of crown molding was loose. With Elizabeth's father having passed four years ago and her brother somewhere south of the Potomac, the absence of any male presence to maintain the house was beginning to show.
David wondered why Jeremiah had not seen to such things before falling ill. I suppose he and Elizabeth had far more on their minds than household repairs. Shoving the thought aside, he scanned the faces in the room. His fellow mourners were gathered in tight groups of conversation. Hushed whispers drifted about. Most of the words centered on his brother and Elizabeth.