"You don't know what you're talking about!" Peter Green was frustrated with his younger sister. She was a seventeen year old girl who thought she was worldly and knew everything. But she didn't know anything and he was going to tell her so.
"I do, too, know what I'm talking about," Cora shouted back. She put her hands on her hips. Her eyes flashed, her cheeks turned red and her mouth pinched with anger. "Andrew says we're fighting the war to end slavery." Cora's voice bounced off the back of the barn where they'd gone to have this private—discussion.
"And you believe him?" Pete was incredulous. Andrew was a Yankee and Cora was in love with him, so she believed whatever he said.
"Of course I believe him. Why would he lie to me? He…"
"He what, Cora? He loves you?" Pete ran his fingers through his black hair. He shook his head and pursed his lips.
"Yes, he does love me! You'll see when he asks Pa for my hand."
Pete laughed and she charged him like she used to when they were little. Her fists pummeled his chest and he grabbed at her hands to stop the flurry. "Stop, Cora! Stop!"
She went limp. Her hands dropped to her sides. "He does love me. You'll see."
"Of course he does," Pete said to assuage her hurt pride. "But that doesn't mean everything he says is the truth. He and his family come from New York, which does make him a Yankee.
"But he lives here now. He's not a Yankee."
"Five years in Missouradoesn't make him one of us. We've talked a lot and he thinks a lot differently than we do."
"Well…" She raised her chin. "I know his family doesn't hold with slavery. They work their land just like we do. Lots of folks around here work their own land, us included."
"His father's best friend is Martin Perry."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"What does that have to do with anything?" Pete parroted. "It has everything to do with it. It just shows how caught up you are with Mr. Andrew Hudson and how little you know about the people in this town—or about this war. Mr. Perry is a loyal Unionist, even though he doesn't flaunt it and he pretendsnobody in town knows." He leaned in and whispered, "But we do."
She shook her head in denial. "It doesn't matter. Andrew is not a Yankee."
Pete pursed his lips. "He is, and he's trying to sway you to his cause."
"Because he loves me?"
"Because you love him."
"I do and he knows I do." Her breath caught. "Do you think he's playing with my affections?"
Pete shook his head. "No, I believe he genuinely cares for you, maybe he even loves you. I don't think he's toying with you."
"Well, I did see him eyeing Mary Jo Reynolds last week when he thought I wasn't looking."
"Every boy looks at Mary Jo Reynolds. She's…"
"What?" Cora lifted her left eyebrow and waited for his answer.
Pete shrugged his shoulders. "She's pretty."
"Pretty my foot! She's beautifuland she's free with her kisses. Every girl in town knows that."
"And every boy."
"But Andrew wouldn't—"
"No," Pete interrupted this time. "But if you're a boy, sometimes you just can't help looking at a pretty girl when she goes by, whether you're in love with someone else or not."
"Well, he just better not look too close or too often or he might find himself…well, well…" Cora stammered to a stop. "Well, he just better not, that's all."
Pete smiled at her. She was pretty in her own right, even if she was his sister. Not beautiful, like Mary Jo Reynolds, but pretty. He knew several of his friends secretly liked her dark, black hair that she wore in a tail or braid and ended at the small of her back. More than once they'd commented on her high, full cheeks and eyes so green they were reminded of sprouting spring grass. Friends she wouldn't give the time of day to. Yes, he knew she was pretty. She just wasn't beautiful like Mary Jo.
Cora sucked in a deep breath and rolled her lips, waiting for him to continue.
He frowned. It was time to tell her everything Pa had told him. She had a right to know why he said her beau was a Yankee. And it was her right to choose what she believed, but he was going to give her all the facts to make that decision.
"Listen, this war isn't just about ending slavery. Everyone in our family believes slavery is wrong. We don't hold slaves because Ma and Pa thought that when they first got started, even though it's accepted around these parts. We're fighting over more than that."
"Like what?" Cora sniffed.
"States' rights, politics and how people make a living. How they make money. Things a girl shouldn't fill her head with."
"But what if the girl wants to know?"
"Then I'd tell her."
"Tell me then and I'll decide whether to believe you or Andrew." She tapped her toe and waited.
"Fine. The war is being fought because the people in the south are tired of the jacklegs in Washington City telling them what to do and how to do it. I don't understand the politics Pa talks about, but I know things are done to keep the politicians happy. In the south the cotton is so heavily taxed there's little profit for the growers." He paused and ran his fingers through his hair again. "They're fighting to keep this country from splitting in two, which is the one thing I agree with the Yankees about. But until things are resolved—we could become two countries."
"Would that be so bad?" Cora asked.
He pursed his lips. "I think so. We were settled as one country and it should stay that way. One country is a lot stronger than two halves."
Pete was happy his sister was interested in what was really happening in the country. "It's because the government has decided to end slavery. Not next year or in a few years, right now, this minute. The south can't get out of it that quick. From what Pa says, it'll take a lot of money to stop using slaves and start paying men and women to do their work, or to purchase equipment that can do it for them. But all that costs money. A lot of it. Pa also told me most slave owners agree it needs to be changed, but they have to figure out how without losing everything. So, yes, slavery is one of the reasons the war is being fought, but it's not the only one like Andrew is trying to convince you it is. But…" He paused until she nudged him to continue. "Ending slavery has become the rallying cry for the north so the men fighting for their cause don't realize it's notjust about that." He took a deep breath then added, "If you ask me it's about money and power."
"That's not what Andrew says."
"What does Andrew say?"
"He says slavery is an abomination and that this war is being fought by the south to keep their slaves and their way of life. He told me…things that go on in those big plantations."
"Like what?" Pete was curious now.
"Like how slavers bed their slave women to breed babies who'll grow up to work in the fields. How they beat and starve them. If they run away, are found and brought back, they're hung to keep other slaves from running, too."
Sure that kind of thing went on, but not atallplantations. "And where did he get his information?"
"Uncle Tom's Cabin, where else?"
Pete sucked in a deep breath and groaned. "Of course, where else?"
"Is it true?"
Pete wouldn't deny it was true in some cases, but not all slave owners were cruel. Some had generations of slaves on their properties that were well taken care of, some even considered family.
He frowned. "Yes, some is true, but not all of it."
"Well, even knowing some of it is true turns my stomach."
"As it should. Ma and Pa don't hold slaves. Never have and never will, but the people around here aren't fighting tokeep slavery. Hell," he cursed. Cora raised her eyebrow at his language, but he ignored her. "Most of the people in these parts don't even own slaves, but they're fighting anyway."
"So why are they fighting?"
"For our land, for our rights and for the freedom to choose. We're not fighting to preserve slavery I can tell you that."
Cora's chin snapped up. "You said we're not fighting. What do you mean?"
Pete was caught and he knew it. He hadn't told anyone he was thinking of enlisting. Now he'd have to tell Cora or she'd blab before he got a chance to make up his mind.
Pete took a deep breath. "I'm thinking of joining up."
"But you can't!" She threw herself onto his chest and wrapped her arms around him. "I won't let you."
Pete put his arms around her shaking shoulders. "I haven't enlisted yet. I'm just thinking about it."
"It's my duty."
"Damn your duty!"
"Don't you Cora me! You don't have to enlist. Please, don't do it!" She clutched him tight around the waist.
Pete held Cora as she cried in his arms. "One reason I want to go is because a couple days ago some Union general—I think Pa said his name was Schofield or something like that—declared General Order Number 19 in this area."
"And what does this Order say?"
"It forces our men to enroll in a local militia. A Union militia." He waited for her to absorb what he'd just said then added, "And that's on top of martial law being in effect for the past year. Pa's told me more than once how careful he has to be about what he says and does so he doesn't bring the provost marshal down on us. Some folks have been hit with as much as a two hundred dollar 'assessment.' Others have had to take a loyalty oath to prove they weren't colluding with the Confederacy."
"So tell me more about this new order."
"It says men who aren't serving with any troops have to enlist in this newly formed Missouri Militia. A Union militia," he said again to make sure she understood.
"And if they don't?"
"If they've already fought against the Union, or if they haven't fought but have southern leanings, they're to surrender their guns."
Cora blinked and stared. "That would be Pa. How would he hunt without guns?"
"That's what they're going to ask at the town meeting tonight. Everyone's coming from what Pa told me this morning."
"Why didn't he tell me?"
"'Cause you're a girl."
Her back went up and her eyes grew hard. "That excludes me from the right to know what's going on?"
"You have Mr. Andrew Hudson to tell you."
"Fine, I'll ask him myself. He'll tell me—"
"His truth," Pete interrupted. "The Yankee truth."
"The truth is the truth, no matter who tells it."
Pete snorted. "There's a big difference in the Yankee truth, Sis. You've heard our side. Now go ask him. You make up your own mind. I can't do it for you."
"Calm down, Cora, and let me finish."
It was a woman's place to listen and be quiet and not share her own thoughts, she knew that well enough, yet Cora was questioning Andrew about his family's politics. She shouldn't even have her own thoughts on the subject. Hadn't her own brother told her that only hours ago?
"Then tell me the truth, Andrew. The truth!" They were standing face to face on the well-worn path between their homes—a path they'd both traveled four of the five years Andrew and his family had lived here—surrounded by brush and trees and silence.
"General Schofield did issue General Order Number 19 two days ago."
"It says that all those loyal to the Union who have not previously taken up arms, are required to enlist with the newly formed Missouri Militia."
"And if they refuse to take up arms with the Union, then, well, they have to surrender their weapons. That's the simple truth of it."
"And you weren't going to tell me about it because, in my woman's brain, I can't understand how this might affect us?"
"Well," he said. "It does affect us."
Cora poked him when he didn't continue. "Go on."
He straightened his back. "I'm enlisting as ordered."
"What! You're only seventeen!"
"Eighteen in a month and more than old enough to fight," he countered. "Lots of boys—men—my age will fight."
"And when were you going to tell me your plans to enlist?"
He raised his hands against her outburst. "I was going to tell you tonight. Who told you about the order?"
"My brother." Her chest rose and fell in anger—or fear—she wasn't sure. "What does that mean for us, Andrew?"
He pushed a lock of his sandy colored hair off his forehead before he grabbed for her right hand and held it. "I don't know. Nobody knows what will happen, Cora. I have to do what I've been ordered to do."
"You don't. You're not old enough." Tears filled her eyes. "You don't have to go—unless you want to." She blinked. "You want to, don't you?"
"Yes, but I have to go whether I want to or not. It's been ordered by General Schofield. I believe in the Union. I do not believe in slavery and I will fight to stop it."
"And this war is just about slavery, right?" She remembered what her brother had told her.
"Of course it is."
"It has nothing to do with economics or politics or statesrights?" She echoed Pete's words. "It has nothing to do with money or power?"
He sighed. "No, it doesn't. It has everything to do with freeing the slaves."
She lifted her left eyebrow. "And you think those who fight for the Confederacy are fighting only to preserve slavery, even though many of them don't even own slaves? You think they're fighting to preserve slavery for someone else?" she asked, incredulous.
"Well, nothing. The answer is no, they're not. The people of Missouri and Lone Jack, who have fought or will fight, are fighting for their state and their rights as a state, to make their own decisions without the government telling them what to do." She repeated everything her brother had told her.
She waved him to silence when he tried to interrupt. "Of course slavery is outdated. Most of the people in the slave-holding states know that, but there's no way to get out of it without a lot of money and time to change what's been in existence for a hundred years. Do you think my Pa wants to leave us to fight to keep other men's slaves from being freed? We don't even own slaves. Not one! You know that. We do all our planting with our own hands, same as you. We break our backs the same as you and your family. Does it make those who fight for the Confederacy bad because they fight for their land and their homes?"
"Yes, because they're fighting against the Union—the United States of America—one country. There are now two countries and I don't believe that's right. I will fight to preserve the Union. And I will enlist as I've been ordered. I'm sorry, that's just how it is."
She stared at him in disbelief. He wasa Yankee! Just like Pete said he was. And she had to accept it. But what did that mean? Whether he was a Yankee or not she loved him. Would he still love her, after he enlisted and went to fight with other Yankees who turned his mind from her and her family because they had southern leanings?
"Cora…" He squeezed her hand. "I don't want to hurt you, but I'm a man, full grown, just like you're a woman, full grown, and we each have our own ideas and beliefs about what's going on in this country and what to do about it."
She put aside everything he'd just said and leaned into him. All she could think about was that he was enlisting. It didn't even matter what side, he would fight and he could die. "I don't want you to go. I'm afraid…"
His finger across her lips stopped the rest of her words.
"I know and I…I…."
"Yes?" Cora hoped and prayed for the words she wanted to hear. Tell me, she whispered in her mind. Tell me you love me.
Instead he kissed her. Gently at first then with a fierceness that frightened her. In the time they'd courted they'd kissed, but not with the ferocity she felt tonight. She pushed at his chest. "Stop, Andrew. Stop!"
He stepped back, his eyes pinched with anger. "After tomorrow or the next day, I'll be gone. I may never come back. Are you going to deny me a few kisses?"
He hadn't even said the words. Hadn't told her he loved her, yet she was supposed to allow his fervent kisses without question?Anger started in her belly and she shoved him away.
"Yes, I am going to deny you, Andrew Hudson. I don't know what your intentions are toward me. You haven't given me any reason to believe you intend anything more than a few stolen kisses." She paused, her lips throbbing from his kiss. She knew her cheeks flamed red. "If you want stolen kisses so badly, go see Mary Jo Reynolds!"
She ran away, stumbling over branches and rocks as she hurried down the path. Out of breath, she stopped, put her face in her hands, and sobbed.
He was suddenly behind her. He took her by the shoulders and turned her to face him.
"I'm sorry, Cora. I have trouble saying the words, but I do. I do love you. And I don't want us to fight before I go."
She fell into his arms, crying and holding him like a lifeline. He wrapped his arms around her and held her, allowing her the time to cry before he lifted her face to his with a gentle touch of his fingers. Their lips met. "I love you, Cora Green," Andrew whispered against her cheek.
"Oh, Andrew, I love you, too! You know I do." She melted into him and he kissed her again, but his kiss held little of his previous fervor.
Artie Green scanned the church sanctuary. It appeared most of the people of Lone Jack were here to discuss General Schofield's Order Number 19, issued two days ago. All the pews were full and more townsfolk lined the walls, anxious to hear about the order.
Anne, two years his junior and wife of nineteen years, sat to his left, fidgety and anxious about the night's proceedings. In his peripheral vision he saw her push her wheat-colored hair from her round face and flick her fan to cool her skin in the stiflingly hot church.
Artie studied his family. Pete sat to his right rolling his fists in and out, as anxious to know what was going to happen as his father. His oldest son, whose shoulders were already broad, was a man full grown. Artie inhaled sharply. Pete's manhood frightened him mightily with the imminent arrival of the war. Beside Pete sat Cora, a woman, despite his fervent denials. A woman who wasn't empty-headed like most others her age—and she made her thoughts known. Hank, the next oldest son at sixteen, fidgeted beside Cora. He was the spitting image of his father with a head full of coal black hair in a sun-darkened face. He had a sharp nose and cheeks and deep-set, equally dark eyes. Although Artie's arms and chest were well-muscled from working their eighty acre farm, Hank had yet to grow into himself. He was still gangly and awkward—but it would come, Artie was certain. The boy would fill out with hard work just like he had—if he lived long enough. A chill ran up Artie's spine when he thought about what was coming. The war, on their doorsteps, and it frightened him more than anything had in his life. Jesse sat next to Hank. At fifteen he was the trouble maker of the family. There had to be one in every family and Jesse was it. He had a mind of his own, was stubborn and didn't take direction from anyone, leastwise him, without a fight. Almost the same size as Hank now, he idolized Pete and was growing into his manhood faster than Pete or Hank had. Margie wanted nothing more than to be full-grown. At fourteen she followed behind Cora like a shadow only to be shooed away whenever she was caught. Eddie, big for his age and mistaken for a boy much older than his twelve years, wanted to be grown up, too. He wanted to do everything his older brothers did, but Eddie had a soft side, too. When he thought no one was looking, he would nurse a wounded bird or injured cat or dog until it was better. Mabel, at eight, was the baby. He marveled how only Mabel, the youngest daughter of their seven children, had the same light coloring as her mother, the others all dark like him. They called her Mabee Baby and she hated it. She stomped her feet and cried when the older children teased her. No matter how much he and Anne tried to make them quit she was, and would be, MabeeBaby.
Artie sighed and prayed to God they all had a future. That the insanity gripping the country didn't destroy all he'd worked for and his family along with it. Everyone had believed the war would be so short-lived that it wouldn't last long enough to entangle his boys in it. But it had already dragged on for over a year. Pete was already old enough. Even Hank and Jesse had shown an eagerness to know what was going on. And Heaven knew it sounded like it could even drag him into it, despite his protestations—and his age.
A gavel pounded several times on the podium and brought him from his pondering.
"Everyone! Everyone please quiet down! We have much to discuss tonight." John Harfield, the oldest and longest resident of Lone Jack and self-proclaimed spokesman for the town, was sweating in his suit and cravat in the humid, July heat. Why in the world, Artie wondered, did the man always have to be the epitome of decorum? It's hot for goodness sakes. Loosen your shirt and roll up your sleeves man! he wanted to shout.
"Quiet! Quiet please! I call this meeting to order. Everyone, please be quiet!" John pounded the gavel again and the room fell silent. Anne took Artie's hand and he felt the dampness of her palm. Was she merely sweating from the oppressive heat—or scared of what Mr. Harfield was about to impart?
Harfieldraised his hands. "I want you all to understand I'm just the messenger. Do not hold against me what I tell you. When I learned about this Order Number 19 I found out as much as I could to inform you, the residents of Lone Jack. I am here as a courtesy, not as the enemy or in an official capacity. Since we have no mayor, I felt it my duty to inform you all about what I've learned. Therefore, please treat me accordingly."
A quiet grumble spread through the crowd. Everyone remained respectful, despite their apparent uncertainty at what he was about to say.
Artie squeezed Anne's hand and the two sat in silence as Harfieldscanned the gathered crowd. He took a deep breath, looked down at the podium and began to read.
"Two days ago, July 22ndof eighteen hundred and sixty-two, H.R. Gamble, the newly appointed governor of Missouri, authorized Brigadier General John M. Schofield, the commander of the District of Missouri, to issue General Order Number 19. Effective that day all able-bodied men are required to join the Union Enrolled Missouri Militia, or EMM. Those who enlist are to bring with them their own horses and weapons for service."
Another rumble ran through the crowd, but the people of Lone Jack were already aware of the order and quieted quickly.
"In addition, all weapons and ammunition left in civilian hands…" He paused as though unable to say the words.
"Finish it, John!" someone shouted.
Harfieldmopped his thin face with a handkerchief. "Those weapons in civilian hands are to be confiscated and used for public defense."
The room erupted. People shouted and shook their fists.
"Confiscated? How will we feed our families?" someone shouted. Everyone in the room shouted agreement.
"Have they gone insane? We need our weapons. We must have them!" another man yelled.
"My God," Anne whispered. "It's bad enough they want to force our men into the Union army, but now they'll take our weapons if you don't enlist willingly?" She leaned into her husband's side. His arms circled her thin frame.
Artie tried to keep his anger in check, but everyone was right. How could he provide for his family without weapons? Even if he did, somehow, escape being recruited into this Missouri Militia and forced to fight for the Union, could he escape being recruited into the Confederate army, as well? The Confederate conscription law passed in April required recruitment of those men thirty-five and under. He was thirty- eight right now, but how long before they raised the age limit to include him?
Anne sniffled in his shirt. "I can't believe what's happening. How will we survive this? What if you get taken for service in either army? How will we live without you here?" Her muffled voice was full of pain.
He didn't have the words to answer. Instead he said, "Let's hear the rest of what John has to say."
"People! People, please!" Harfieldshouted above the din. "Unfortunately, there's more, much more. I've told you I am just the messenger. The order comes directly from the governor through General Schofield. Please, allow me to finish."
The grumbling subsided after a few more moments. He took a deep breath. "To clarify further," he read from the paper, "this order is being issued to put down robbery, plunder, and guerilla warfare, which is plainly the duty and interest of every citizen to aid in doing."
"Guerilla warfare started because of martial law," Artie said under his breath.
A neighbor shouted, "That don't mean we should give up our weapons! We need them weapons for protection and to hunt!"
There was agreement among the crowd again before Harfieldshouted them to silence.
"I understand your frustration. I feel that same frustration, but again, please don't blame me and allow me to finish. There is more to be told."
The air in the room crackled with tension. "Those men of fighting age who do not enroll in the EMM will face heavy fines or even incarceration."
Everyone in the room jumped to their feet, waving fists, shouting insults, asking questions.
"Oh, Artie, what are we to do?"
He drew his wife in close, closed his eyes and shook his head. "I don't know, I just don't know. But until we hear all of it, we can't make any decisions about anything." He looked down the pew at his three sons, their eyes wide, and wondered what was going on in their minds right now. He set his wife back, jumped up on the bench and waved his hands in the air. "Neighbors and friends of Lone Jack, we're all extremely upset about this order, but we'll never find out the whole of it if we don't let Mr. Harfield finish. He's not an elected official and is acting on our behalf. He is being kind enough to fill us in on what he has learned. Let him finish."
"Thank you, Mr. Green." Harfield'sface was as red as a ripe tomato from the heat and exertion. "May I continue?"
Everyone quieted again.
"Exemptions may be granted to those willing to contribute money rather than personal service."
"So if we have a lot of money, we can buy our way out of Union service?" Hart Washington, a long-time resident of Lone Jack yelled from the pew in front of Artie.
Harfieldlowered his head in agreement. "That is correct."
"And what about us who don't have two extra pennies to rub together? What happens to us?" shouted another neighbor.
"I cannot help with that." Harfieldscanned the room. "May I continue?" He asked.
The room stilled. "Those men who refuse to join the ranks of the EMM will be considered disloyal according to the order…"
The room exploded again with shouting and fist waving.
"And what of those that are considered disloyal?" Artie asked over the din. He was in that group. The room came back to order quickly, everyone anxious to hear the answer.
Harfieldcleared his throat and tugged at the cravat around his skinny neck. "According to the Order, those men, while not required to serve in the Union militia, will have to register—give their names and place of residence and surrender their weapons."
"And if we don't?" Mr. Harrison asked.
"You must. If you register as a southern sympathizer you will be closely watched and held, basically, under house arrest."
Pandemonium erupted. The meeting was over, and so was Artie's hope for a quiet conclusion.
"Tomorrow I'm joining up with the Militia with Tommy Burke and Charlie Adams."
Tears streamed down Cora's cheek. She wrapped her arms around Andrew's waist. "I don't want you to go." Her voice echoed through the same barn she and Pete had recently spoken.
"I have to, Cora."
"You don't!" She stiffened her back and stared up at him. "You don't have to go, you're not old enough."
"I am old enough and so are Tommy and Charlie."
She sniffed. "You want to go. You told me so yesterday. Do you want to get killed? I thought you were smart Andrew Hudson, but you're just a dumb boy! You're not a man like you think you are. You're going to run off to play war and get yourself killed like a dumb boy!"
"That's not fair, Cora. I have to join up because of Order Number 19. And no matter what you think, I am not running off to play war and get killed. I have every intention of coming back."
She laughed in his face. "I'll put that on your tombstone. 'Here lies Andrew Hudson who went to war with every intention of coming back.'"
Andrew glared at her but didn't respond. She'd landed a verbal blow and she knew it. She remembered why they were arguing in the first place and she sobered.
"I don't want to fight, Andrew, especially if your mind is made up to enlist tomorrow."
Andrew lifted his chin.
Fear swept through Cora. Nothing she said was going to change his mind and she knew it. "Have you told your parents?"
He blinked, but still didn't say anything.
"I'm sorry, Andrew, I'm just so afraid for you," she finally said.
He frowned. "I told them."
"They don't think I'm old enough, but are proud that I'm joining the right side."
Cora stifled the words she wanted to say, words that put her family on the wrong side. She didn't want to fight. She wanted to spend what little time she had left with Andrew enjoying his company.
"What time will you leave?" There was a lump in her throat.
"We're to meet at your uncle's store at seven tomorrow morning."
"Oh." It was already three in the afternoon. She had little time left to spend with him.
"What unit will you join?"
"I don't know. Whatever unit I'm assigned, but it'll be a cavalry unit, I can tell you that." Pride fairly oozed from him.
"So Diablo will go with you?" He prized his solid black gelding more than anything he owned.
"Yes, Diablo is going with me."
The Green's barn grew quiet except for the munching of hay by the horses in their stalls. Cora couldn't think of another thing to say.
He touched her cheek with his fingertips. "I know you're afraid for me, Cora. But don't be. I can ride as well as any of those southern boys. And I'll be careful. The militia will be comprised of local boys who know the area. We'll be able to flush out the rebels…"
Cora stiffened. "One of those rebels could be Pete if he joins up," she reminded him.
He frowned. "I'm sorry, Cora. Let's don't talk about it anymore."
Propriety forgotten, Cora fell into his chest and wrapped her arms around him. "I'm so scared, Andrew. I had dreams…" She broke off, afraid he'd only said he loved her yesterday to make her feel better and to get her to kiss him.
He took her by the shoulders and gazed into her tear-streaked face. "I had dreams about us, too, Cora, about a place of our own and children."
"You never said anything. I didn't know," she whispered.
"I wanted to speak with your father first and, well, the right time just hadn't presented itself."
"Are you asking me to marry you, Andrew?"
"I am. Cora Green will you be my wife?"
She threw herself into his arms and hugged him with everything she had. "I will, I will!"
He held her for several moments. "Will you speak with my father before you go?" she asked, hopeful. She would rather he leave as her betrothed than just a beau.
"Would you like that?"
"Of course I would."
"Then I'll ask him before I go home tonight."
"Oh, Andrew." She leaned into his chest again and sobbed with happiness and fear.
"Shhhh." He ran one hand over her hair.
She looked up and was lost in his blue eyes. His lips met hers in a gentle kiss that didn't frighten her as it had yesterday. Everything she felt for Andrew Hudson blossomed inside her and she kissed him with as much ardor as he kissed her.
The kiss deepened and she could barely breathe. She pulled away, took a deep breath then kissed him again. His hand slid to the small of her back and he brought her even closer. Andrew cupped her breast with his palm. Fear and uncertainty raced through her. She didn't know what to do. She wanted him to touch her, but was afraid.
He kissed her more deeply and she forgot everything except him as her body throbbed in a way she'd never experienced. In a way that frightened her—until Andrew stroked her breast again and she melted into him.
His lips left hers as he worked at the buttons of her blouse and she regained her senses. She pushed him away. "No, Andrew. You can't. We can't. I've already let you take more liberties than I should have."
"But why shouldn't I? We're betrothed."
"No, we're not. Not yet. Not until you speak to my father. Even when we are betrothed, it doesn't mean I'll let you, well, you know. Not until we're married."
Andrew's eyes were hard and she was afraid he was going to leave her standing where she was. Afraid she might never see him again. Did he mean anything he'd said about being in love with her or was he using his departure to get her to give him what he wanted?
"Why are you being such a prude? We're almost married. You wouldn't want me to leave without showing you how much I love you, would you?"
Cora wavered, she did want him, but she also wanted to know his love was real. Not made up because he was going off to fight and he wanted something from her she wasn't yet ready to give. "I…"
"Shhhh." His lips came down on hers again and she lost herself in them. He fondled her breasts and she sighed into his mouth as the new and frightening desires pulsed through her body.
His hand moved lower. She came to her senses and pushed away. "No! I don't want this."
"You want it as much as I do, Cora, I can tell." He drew her toward him again, but she pushed him away.
"No, I don't. I don't understand what I'm feeling other than being scared about everything that's happening right now. About how I feel and about your leaving."
Andrew smiled brightly. "Cora, I love you, how many times do I have to say it?"
"But that doesn't make what you want to do right."
"But you want to do it, too, don't you?" He stroked her chin with his forefinger and ran it down her neck. Every nerve in her body tingled with what she realized was passion.
"I do. Someday. But not here and certainly not like this. I want us to be married, in our marriage bed, willing and ready." She took a deep breath. "We're not married and I'm certainly not ready."
Andrew moaned and plopped down in a pile of hay and leaned against the wall. "You sure know how to ruin things."
Cora's fear turned to anger and she sat down beside him. "What if I let you do what you want to do?" she asked. "And what if I got with child—and you got killed? I would be humiliated and the child would be, would be a…" She couldn't even say the word.
He sat forward. He'd apparently not thought beyond the intimacy he'd hoped for. "I am coming back," he finally said.
"Maybe. Maybe not, but I won't base the rest of my life on a maybe."
Cora worried Andrew was going to get angry again, but he remained quiet. She relaxed. She had to find out exactly what he intended where she was concerned. "Should we go inside now so you can talk to my father about our betrothal?"
Andrew's head popped up like a Jack-in-the-box coming out of the box. "I don't think I can. I just remembered I have to get home right away. I promised my father I'd...I'd, well—I just have to git home." He jumped to his feet. Without another word, he ran down the aisle between the stalls and out of the barn.
Cora stared after him, heartbroken, confused—and angrier than she'd ever been in her life.