A Musket In My Hands (Civil War Romance #3)(9)

By: Sandra Merville Hart

Nate brushed down his gray coat, raising a dust cloud. “Can I help it if loyal Southern ladies want to express their appreciation to us lonely soldiers with bounty from their table and a kiss or two?”

“Yes, you can.” His cousin had been complimented on his good looks just often enough that he believed it. Nate usually managed to keep his beard cropped close to his chin. Ladies responded to his flirtatious smile as much as the combination of blue eyes and brown hair. “Your betrothed trusts in your fidelity. Stop acting the fool with local women you’ll never see again.”

Nate laughed. “What Louisa don’t know won’t hurt her. She won’t mind. And there’s plenty of years ahead for us to get leg-shackled and respectable. These battles are brutal. I intend to have all the fun I can along the way.”

“You had no call to propose with that attitude.” Zach clenched his jaw. Louisa loved his ne’er-do-well cousin and, unless he missed his guess, possessed a jealous streak. “And you’ve certainly no right to lead these maidens on with kisses. You ought to be ashamed.”

Nate’s smile slipped. “You worry too much. And you’re not even leg-shackled to anyone. Can’t figure what’s eating on you.” He scratched his head and looked around. “I’m on forage detail later. Some of the fellas plan on trying to find a family who will offer us a meal tonight. Want to come?”

“I haven’t been ordered on foraging detail.” The offer tempted him. A home-cooked meal was secondary to being welcomed around a family’s table. But if Nate flirted with young women in the house, Zach would feel like he betrayed both Louisa and Callie just to be in the same room. “No, I’ll stick around here unless ordered to help. How do you get all the best jobs?”

“You know why.” Nate flashed a grin. “I’m buddies with some bachelor officers. They invite me along because I’m not bashful about talking to women.”

Nothing Zach said got through to his cousin. Why did he try?

“Yanks are gone.” Rob Tyler, a comrade from the First Tennessee, strode up to them carrying a shovel. “Time to bury our dead.”

Zach tugged his hat lower over his eyes and stood, hating the stench that rose from the field. Burying their dead … the worst part of any battle.

“Pa’s been gone two weeks, Callie. It’s already September. We have to make plans to sew us some soldier’s clothing and join up with our army.” Louisa extracted two plates from the cupboard. “Pa may be back in a week.”

“Don’t start on that again.” Her sister had talked of little else since Pa left. Callie brushed back wisps of hair with the back of her hand before flipping a sweet-smelling slice of tomato breaded in cornmeal. It sizzled in the hot skillet. Louisa had come home yesterday from work—without pay—with instructions to stay home for a week or so. “This is your craziest idea yet. We can’t pretend to be men and muster into the army.”

“Other women have. The newspapers reported that women in uniform have been arrested. We won’t get caught.” Her smile widened. “I figure we’ll just find the army and join up there. I’m thinking there won’t be as many questions that way.”

Callie rubbed her throbbing temples. This argument was getting old. “I don’t want to be arrested. Or sent home in disgrace. Or worse yet, discovered by our soldiers and thought to be women of loose morals.”

“We’ll join up with our fellows in the First Tennessee. If anyone discovers us, our friends will help us.” Louisa’s eyes had a faraway look. “You know they need every man they can get since Atlanta fell.”

“We’re not men, Louisa.”

“We can dress like them. We’ll cut each other’s hair.” Her finger brushed the thick bun at her nape. Her eyes dimmed. “You can sew us men’s clothing.”

“With what? I don’t have any fabric.”

“I do. Mrs. Booth gave me fabric for my pay the past two weeks. Cotton for blouses and wool for coats and trousers. I hid them under the hay in the barn until you were ready to listen to me. You know it’s a great idea.”