A Musket In My Hands (Civil War Romance #3)(3)

By: Sandra Merville Hart

He was right. Since they weren’t actively fighting today, other comrades around them wrote letters home and cleaned their muskets, only glancing up to make certain of the projectile’s path before continuing on with their tasks.

Zach leaned his back against a concrete building and slid down the hot wall to the ground. “We must hold Atlanta.”

“Yep. We will.”

“What if we don’t?” Zach squinted up at him and pulled his kepi lower over his eyes against the scorching August sun. “You ever think about that?”

“Nope.” Nate squatted on his haunches. “What’s eatin’ you?”

Zach lowered his voice. “Think we can win this thing if this city falls into enemy hands?”

“Better believe it. Remember when we signed up? We thought this thing would be over before we ever saw a Yankee.”

“We’ve been wrong a time or two.” He grinned.

Nate chuckled.

“We mustered into the army to protect our property—”

“Our families.” Nate’s blue gaze set on the horizon to the north.

“The rights granted by the Constitution making each state a sovereign government.” Zach shielded his eyes against the bright sun as another shell swooshed toward them.

“Just asking the Northerners to honor our rights.” The ground shook under another impact. “But we’ve talked about this a hundred times. Why bring it up now?”

Zach shrugged. What good would it do to talk about it now? Everything went back to Pa, in his grave these past eight years, and yet Zach still heard that disapproval in his head. Pa had considered Zach a failure, a quitter, an embarrassment to the family.

A career in the army had seemed the best way to prove himself, but even that wasn’t turning out right. He excelled at being a soldier, that was true, but he was fighting for a losing cause. He couldn’t ignore the truth of that much longer.

He hoped he didn’t have to die to prove Pa wrong … but he would if that’s what it took.

“I’m fit to be tied.”

Callie looked over her shoulder as her sister slammed the front door. Louisa, with her blue eyes and blonde hair coiled and pinned at her nape, might look like their mother but she hadn’t inherited her calm temperament. “What happened?” She concentrated on slicing corn from the cob into their largest wooden bowl.

“If you had a betrothed like Nate McClary, you’d be riled, too.” The hem of her blue dress flounced as she turned to lean against the long table where Callie worked.

“What’s he done now?” At least Louisa was betrothed. With all the men lost to the Northern Aggression, it was a wonder any of the town’s single women were promised to someone. Not that Callie wanted Nate—she had her doubts about the depth of his feelings for her sister. It was his cousin, Zachariah Pearson, whom she longed to see.

“Martha Rose got a letter from her beau, Johnny.” She fidgeted with her sleeve. “He says that Nate has a wandering eye for the ladies. Too much for a man who is soon to marry.”

“Martha Rose is mad because Johnny hasn’t proposed.”

Louisa raised her eyebrows.

“Nate proposed. Maybe she’s jealous of your good fortune.” Callie wiped corn kernels from the knife before picking up the next ear.

“I never thought of that. I am a lucky woman.” She glanced over Callie’s shoulder. “Aren’t you about done drying the corn yet? You’ve been at it all week.”

“I wish I weren’t. This is the last of it—all we can spare toward winter’s needs. We have to save some food for the next few weeks.” Callie peered out the window where Pa bent over a row of beans. “I’ll string the beans. Pa wants to bury everything that’s dried. Feels good to see him working, even if it’s just in my little garden. He’s been happier this past week.”

“Probably has more to do with him being at home for a whole week.” Louisa followed her gaze. “Can’t expect that to continue.”

“At least he hasn’t been drinking too much.” She tossed an empty cob into a basket on the floor. She’d boil the cobs later for a flavorful broth. The corn’s sweet smell made her stomach rumble. She’d save a few cups of kernels for supper. “Build up a moderate fire in the oven, will you? These kernels will be ready to go in soon.”