Death of An Angel [The Hastings Saga Book 2]
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by Christy Poff
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Andrew Hastings thought the Civil War had finally left him alone until it came screaming back into his life at full throttle. A vicious gang is robbing Union gold and munitions shipments and the President sends him to track them down. Jessie loves him more than life and hates that he's been called to serve once again. Thanks to high-ranking friends, they'd been living in peace. Will their past return to haunt them, leading to the death of an angel--Jessie?
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: August 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [601 KB]
Reading time: 399-558 min.
"Christy Poff truly brings out all the reader's emotions with her latest novel DEATH OF AN ANGEL. The relationship between Andrew and Jessie is very sweet and the sort of love everyone aspires to achieve--and few are lucky enough to experience. Adam and Jack's devotion to Andrew and Jessie is inspiring. DEATH OF AN ANGEL is a beautiful follow-up to the first HASTINGS SAGA story CHASE FOR AN ANGEL. While I'd recommend reading these titles in order, Christy Poff does provide enough detail about the first book in the storyline that it's not necessary. The third book in this saga, WINDS OF LIFE, ALEXA, is due to be released in September . We do meet Alexa in DEATH OF AN ANGEL and I have to confess that I was torn about how I felt about her so I'm anxious to see how her story plays out."_ From Chrissy at Romance Junkies--a 5 Ribbon Review!
On an early morning in mid-January 1865, sunrise--around six--broke into a beautiful, bright, sunny day. The air crisp on a chilly morning, a man on horseback rode up the road to the driveway of his farm. His horse, a magnificent black stallion named Satan loved these early morning rides--the air clean and fresh.
Coming up the tree-lined driveway, a dog ran up to them, happy at their return. He'd been found on one of their early morning runs a few months back and the man brought the puppy home, much to the dismay of his wife but to the joy of his children. His daughter named it Rocky.
The man guided his horse into the barn and dismounted, then quickly pet the dog before removing the stallion's saddle and leading him out to the pasture to let him graze. Rocky jumped up, wanting more attention. The man played with him a little before heading up to the house.
Climbing the steps to the front porch, the man took a deep breath of the morning's fresh air. He turned and, as always, put his foot on the railing and leaned against the post. He watched the morning grow older while little pieces of life came alive with the new day. He'd never been this much at peace with life as he'd been since the mid-August birth of his son.
James Andrew Hastings, Brigadier General in the United States Army under the command of General Ulysses Simpson Grant, looked out over his land, his earlier dreams of family and farm having almost come true. He had his beautiful wife Jessie, along with Sarah and John, their children. They owned the farm, an eleven-hundred acre spread he'd recently added more acreage to.
The only part of his dream not planned on had been the location. Andrew's original plans involved either upstate New York or the Carolinas. Instead, they lived outside of Winston, Texas but it didn't bother him because he had everything he'd ever wanted plus two extremely close friends--Major Jack McCord, his exec and Adam Cole, the family physician.
Together, they made quite a group after coming together over an extremely sensitive and almost devastating situation, now closer to each other than with their own families. Andrew had something about him that brought out the best in those coming in contact with him, inspiring an intense loyalty. One-of-a-kind, his wife and friends knew no matter what, they'd be there for him.
As he often did, Andrew thought back to the events leading up to their present, refusing to let himself forget how extremely fragile life could be--perfect one moment, destroyed the next. He remembered his first day in New Orleans when he fell head over heels in love with his Angel. They met in the morning and became engaged by sundown that evening then married soon after and became inseparable. That lasted six months until he received orders to report on regimental statuses for President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton. This happened after South Carolina seceded from the United States due to Lincoln's election but just before the Union took control of the city. He hated leaving her but he had no choice.
Hell began for Jessie months later when three renegade Union deserters broke into their home, raped and kidnapped her. They held her for the better part of three months, Jessie tortured emotionally and physically and damned near murdered on several occasions. She'd been able to get away from them and found her way to this farm and the protection of an extremely brave couple.
Andrew had been in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania during the first two days of the battle, the turning point in the Civil War. General John Buford helped to get the newly promoted colonel mustered out so he could search for his wife. Within forty-eight hours, Andrew mustered back into military service, this time with the government's resources and orders for the use of extreme prejudice. Lincoln and Stanton both knew he'd be the best man for the job.
After he'd spent the night in the family home in New Orleans and saw evidence of what Jeff Baker, Stanley Gordon, and Ron Samuels had done there, plus the painful remains of her ordeal, he became a driven man. Once he left the city, he met Lieutenant Jack McCord, assigned to him by General Grant.
They'd gotten off to a tenuous start when they went to a farm on the Gulf Coast. Andrew learned the bastards had tortured her by trying to drown her. He'd broken down emotionally, Jack leaving Andrew alone with his pain. After that, they agreed on certain aspects like Andrew's irrationality concerning the case and how he'd conduct the search. On the lighter side, Andrew had never been one for the formalities of rank, which made their working relationship very easy, plus he demonstrated a very wicked sense of humor.
They met Doctor Adam Cole at the next town after the deserters' reign of terror became more sadistic and maniacal. Adam met them to explain what had happened at his home to his sister while he'd been away visiting patients. After their discussion, he noticed the colonel showed distinct symptoms of eyestrain. He left and returned with a pair of eyeglasses. Their friendship began then grew stronger after Adam left everything behind and joined them.
They'd lost friends over this situation including Scott Morgan, another doctor, and the Burton family--all dead because three uncaring, selfish assholes decided to desert in order to do their own thing while getting rich on the pain and suffering of others. Andrew had trouble dealing with this. Three good people had died as a result of his problems entering into their lives. No one knew about his feelings, not even Jessie--Andrew feeling no one would understand.
Looking over the land, he thought about the Burtons, who'd cared for and protected his wife. When the final showdown between Hastings, his men and the three outlaws came, George Burton became the first casualty. His wife committed suicide later that evening, leaving the farm and a house in Baltimore, Maryland to Andrew and Jessie.
They moved everything to this place and left New Orleans, never looking back. They agreed to never go back to the city, especially after what had happened at their estate. Jessie asked her sister Caitlyn and her brother-in-law Jason Davis, a lawyer, to sell the estate for her.
Andrew's thoughts turned to his family. His daughter born after he had been ordered to leave New Orleans by Washington, he didn't see her for the first two years of her life. She'd grown into a little person before he saw her for the first time and they'd taken to each other immediately, which amazed Andrew, considering his apprehension over meeting her.
His son had been born a few months earlier in mid-August. Jessie had told him about expecting his birth when they went to West Point, New York to attend the funeral of Major General John Buford, a very close friend who died in December 1863. He remembered how happy he'd been to hear the good news though, in the back part of his mind, he feared for Jessie's health. One of the first things Adam and Scott Morgan had said--Jessie may not be able to have any children due to the damage suffered from the bastards' attacks.
His son, John Andrew Lawrence Jack Adam Hastings, had been born healthy after an uneventful pregnancy. They named him after Andrew and four dear friends--John Buford, Lawrence Chamberlain, Jack McCord and Adam Cole--people who meant too much to them both.
At last, he thought of Jessie--his Angel and the one he loved more than life itself. They met, fell in love, and married only to be separated by two very different events linked to each other in no uncertain terms. First, his assignment to report on regimental statuses up and down Union-held territory then Jessie's abduction. She seemed to have gotten past those horrible events but every once in a while, something would trigger locked away memories and she would either withdraw into a world he couldn't get through to or she would start crying uncontrollably. Either way, he would hold her and try to comfort her.
Then came times when she would mount Duchess, her Appaloosa mare, and ride off. Andrew worried, concerned something could happen to her but he understood fully because he did the same thing himself quite often.
After all, he'd done it twice in one day. The first time after he'd found the mate to an earring--half of a pair he'd given her on their wedding night--in the kitchen of the last house the outlaws invaded when they went after their latest victims. Andrew rode to a nearby creek then fell from Satan into the water which pushed Jack to come looking for him.
Hours later, he deliberately tried to drown himself in the river bordering their property. Her vision came to him pleading with him not to kill himself. He pulled himself out of the water, got his senses together and successfully set the plans to rescue his wife.
Another time, he took off after hearing of Buford's death, needing to be alone with his thoughts. Somehow, the three of them didn't worry about him this time though Jessie accused Jack of pacing a hole into the floorboards of the porch.
Adam warned Andrew about what might happen with Jessie but he could never fully prepare to handle her changing moods. The thought had been, and would always remain in the back of his mind, that he had failed her in some way. These thoughts kept coming back to him even though their lives, at least in his mind, had been the best they could ever be.
* * * *
Andrew didn't know it but Jessie stood in the doorway watching him on the porch, leaning against the post with his foot on the railing in thought--his custom. Her life--falling in love with him the instant she had walked into him that day in New Orleans--had become heaven.
Then came the day in April 1863 when she returned home from visiting her daughter Sarah who, for her safety, had been sent to live with her sister Caitlyn and her family. She walked into her home--their home--and into the middle of an invasion by three renegade Army soldiers. By the break of dawn, she had been violently raped repeatedly with the leader of the gang deciding to take her along with them for added pleasure and insurance.
They held her for the better part of three months before, and with the help of one of them, she escaped. Once she did, she made her way to this farm where George and Helen Burton cared for and protected her until the day Andrew came for her and killed the remaining two monsters. He put his life on the line again for her when Donald Baker, brother of Jeffrey Baker, came to kill the man who murdered his brother. Andrew took three bullets that afternoon, just days after he had taken his first shot ever. Once he regained consciousness and came out of coma, they became inseparable again. How long will this last?
It'd been almost a year and a half but Andrew and Jack had not been called back to active service. There had been an occasional request here or there which would take Andrew away for, at most, a day. Then he would messenger everything back to Grant, thereby keeping himself on active duty while local and near home. Her husband unsure what the general had up his sleeve, he refused to ask--Grant would let Andrew know when the time came.
"I see you've been out already. How did you sleep?"
"Good morning, Angel," he said as he turned to face his wife. "I slept well."
"No aches?" Jessie knew about the pains he'd had in his side where Adam had removed a bullet from below Andrew's ribs. It came from the second Baker's secreted pistol.
He shook his head, pulled her close and kissed her.
"You feel so good to me." He smiled, unable to remember his life without her.
They stood together looking over the land, watching Satan enjoy the morning grass with Jessie's mare, already in the pasture since Andrew had turned her out before he went for his morning ride. They enjoyed this knowing Sarah and John would be up anytime and their day would begin with its normal routine.
A rider approached from the road. They could see Jack McCord who came out every morning to help with the horses and the stock. Andrew and Jessie had gone into ranching and had several horses and some head of cattle--the operation small but it didn't matter. They'd decided to build on what the Burtons had left them, make it successful and have something to fall back on when Andrew finally mustered out of or retired from the Army.
Jack went straight to the barn, took the saddle off Callie and let her run in the pasture with Satan and Duchess. After putting his saddle inside, McCord walked up to the house.
"Morning, Andrew, Jessie."
He shook Andrew's hand and gave Jessie a quick kiss. He adored her and hadn't found anyone in his life to hold a candle to Jessica Hastings even though he'd been seeing someone in town. Jessie impressed Jack when they first met. No wonder Andrew went nuts over her. His feelings kept to himself, Jack didn't tell anyone he loved her from afar and knew he never would stand a chance with her because she only had room in her heart for one. Yet, even though she held him, Adam and their two children close to her, without her husband, nothing else mattered. He resigned himself to being Uncle Jack and that remained fine for him.
"What's the plan for today?"
"I thought about looking at some stock at a ranch down the road. He's got several head for sale," Jack answered.
They discussed this a bit more.
"Fine, we'll go after breakfast."
Jessie had already started breakfast and gotten Sarah and John up, dressed and fed. They ate a huge meal of baked apples, eggs, bacon, and hot bread. Since making their home here, she'd become an exceptional cook.
When they finished, Jack went to saddle their horses and left Andrew with Jessie. Andrew helped her clear the dishes from the table then went to spend a few minutes with their children. When he came down, Jessie had just finished the dishes. He stood by the stairs watching her as he did every chance he could. He'd been apart from her for over two years and, from the day they reunited, he never missed a thing--life too damned short.
She turned and smiled. After she put the dishtowel on the rack, she went to him and they held each other before kissing.
"I'm not sure when we'll be back. I want to stop in Winston and see what's new."
"Okay, but be careful."
"You know I love you, too."
She walked with him onto the porch to find Jack waiting with both horses, ready to leave. Andrew petted Satan's muzzle, checked the cinch and mounted up. They rode out of the driveway then headed toward town. Jessie watched until they disappeared from sight, then went upstairs to check on the children before she straightened their bedroom.
* * * *
Jack rode beside Andrew while they headed toward Winston, located on the Texas-Louisiana state line. A small town growing at a fair rate, it had the rare distinction of being neutral in the conflict hitting the nation. It seemed, due to the actions of Hastings and McCord, both Presidents agreed the town and the area surrounding it wouldn't be a part of any conflict and hostilities would never touch it or the residents. The town had become very protective of the general, his family and friends--their way of returning the favor, so to speak.
They went to Berringer's Hotel so Andrew could check for any correspondence. Jack wanted to see Heather Berringer, the daughter of the hotel's owner, Randolph, who had taken care of this small group since their arrival in Winston. They used his hotel as their base for operations while they took care of the Union Army's deserters. The entire town felt the same way and embraced the Hastings family and their friends.
Heather had caught the eye of the major. Remembering the day they met, she'd been working for her father one afternoon after they'd watched Colonel Hastings leave the hotel slightly agitated. He and Adam ate a late lunch when Heather asked after their friend. She watched them from the lobby then a little while later Jack came over to the front desk. They chatted for a bit and Jack asked if she'd like to take a walk. They did and talked for hours.
They spent the time getting to know each other. Jack asked her if they could do it again sometime, to which she replied yes--Jack elated. From then on, they spent as much time as they could together, much to the delight of Andrew's wife.
"It's about time, Jack." She beamed always thinking Jack deserved happiness of his own.
He smiled--Jessie approved of Heather, which made him feel good. It'd become important to him that Jessie and Andrew approve of the one he spent time with. After all, if they married, this woman would have to accept his closeness to the Hastings or else he'd break it off. Jessie even helped him pick out their engagement ring.
Jack went to the desk with Andrew and asked to see Heather, who'd gone upstairs for a few minutes. When she came downstairs, they walked outside.
Andrew smiled when he saw them embrace and kiss.
A beautiful girl with fair skin, Heather had brown eyes and long, blonde hair usually put up due to her work at the hotel. In her early twenties, Randolph had raised her after her mother had taken ill and passed away suddenly. She had fallen for Jack after he and then Colonel Hastings had shown up at the hotel in August 1863.
It took a while for the handsome cavalry officer to ask her out, but once he did, she knew it would only be a matter of time until he asked her the question and she already knew her answer.
No messages but one letter waited for him, a relief--the fewer he received, the better he felt. He dreaded the day orders would come for him and Jack sending them away from Winston. Terrified, he knew it loomed.
Once before, orders had been cut commanding him to leave New Orleans, Louisiana and his wife of only a few months. The next two years hell, the separation unbearable, and with no leave time available to him, he kept his mind on other things. Because of that, they had vowed to never be parted again.
Grant understood this and set things so he and Jack became relatively lost within the general's command unless needed. Andrew had wanted to be near Jessie while she recovered from the ordeal. Every once in awhile, his side hurt where he had taken one of four bullets over a three-day period of time, Andrew even more appreciative of his commanding general's compassion.
Occasionally he'd find orders to do some local reporting. The work kept him and Jack in active service but solely under Grant's command. One thing Andrew had learned--don't ask Grant any questions. If the general wanted him to know, his commanding officer would tell him when he had a reason to.
He looked at the envelope and noticed it came from Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in Virginia, the 20th Maine fighting in the third campaign at Petersburg at a little place known as Hatcher's Run.
2 December 1864
My dear friend,
We are here trying to push the Confederates back. The weather, in some respects, is to our advantage while many of the Southern soldiers are trying to surrender to us and other regiments.
How are you, Jessie and the children? We still have to meet. I want to get to know the woman who changed you--for the better I might add. Your daughter must be a beauty, as well. How is my namesake?
Before I end this, and to let you know, rumors of a group of soldiers--unsure which side of the fence they are on--stealing Federal payrolls, arms and munitions have been very strong. Word has it they are headed toward your area. Try to find out what you can, in case something might happen. It may be just rumors and hearsay but I'd rather have you alerted than surprised by coming events.
My sincere best regards and best holiday wishes,
Andrew reread the last part of the letter. Lawrence had never been one to get upset while usually dead on with his feelings and he appreciated his friend's warning. Andrew didn't like unknowns and at least, if something did come of it, he wouldn't be caught by surprise.
He took note of the date, almost a month before. Damn it! He sent a message to General Ulysses Simpson Grant requesting information on what might be going on. When Jack and Heather came back inside, he asked Jack to get the newspapers and look for any mention of the robberies.
Jack looked at him, puzzled.
"What's going on?"
"I'll be damned if I know, but I'm sure as hell going to find out."
"Does this mean..."
"I don't know yet."
Jack saw a look on Andrew's face he hadn't seen since they went on the hunt for the deserters in '63. It'd been over a year ago in this hotel and Jack hadn't forgotten it.
Something loomed in the future and they would be right in the middle of it.
* * * *
Colonel Jonathan Pryce hand-picked his group with military precision, looking for men who held both sides of the country with disdain or hatred and wanting revenge. In Sean Mitchell, he found the perfect second-in-command.
Pryce knew Mitchell had several favorable attributes--out-and-out hatred of the Confederacy and all it stood for while having the same feelings for the Union, intense dislike for any authority unless it could work for him and the drive to get what he wanted.
Pryce learned Mitchell had set out to get one particular Federal officer--one who'd married a Southern woman from one of the richest families in New Orleans the year prior to the War Between the States breaking out. Pryce couldn't hold it against the man but Mitchell considered it a treasonable offense.
Mitchell seemed to have angered this officer by his mistreatment of the man's in-laws and his disregard for the direct disciplinary action from General Grant himself. Pryce had heard from another member of General Benjamin Butler's staff that Mitchell had stated no matter what it took, he would somehow get even.
Reading further into Mitchell's file, he found the officer in question to be Brigadier General James Andrew Hastings. Out of curiosity, Pryce got hold of information regarding Hastings.
He read about the general's reputation for fairness and being very thorough in every assignment he'd been given. He'd impressed many of his superior officers, including General John Buford, General John Reynolds and others but most interesting had been the names of U. S. Grant, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and President Abraham Lincoln--Pryce impressed.
Pryce heard from officers and soldiers who had contact with him, Hastings a fair man unless crossed. The names of Jeff Baker, Gordon, Samuels, and Donald Baker appeared here. He read they'd kidnapped and violated his wife over a period of three months. Except for Samuels, who committed suicide, Hastings had killed them in a showdown at the farm he presently lived on. He protected his wife--in itself, understandable. His resolve and patience kept him from doing anything rash. They leveled the first shots and Hastings finished them.
The more Pryce read about Andrew, the more he admired the man. But, on the other hand, he wanted Mitchell's special talents. If Mitchell got his revenge along the way and it didn't interfere with Pryce's plans, so be it. Besides, if they did meet, it would be great fun to beat an officer with Hastings' reputation.
The other ones could be pulled in, used and sacrificed for the cause. A good example, Joe Walters had been a runaway who severed family ties when he left home and never turned back. No one would miss him if he died.
He considered Fred Hughes, who grew up orphaned in Albany, New York with no family ties either. Exactly what he wanted, there would be no one nosing about if these men turned up missing. This type of person had the guts to do the job, no matter what it took.
The last member of this group and the icing on the cake had been Katherine Maguire. Tall and beautiful, loving and using deceit had been an art form to her. She had been the perfect foil in their operations, loving to play with everyone's emotions. With Katherine came their love affair. They meshed in every way--work, love, and everything else. A remarkable woman, she anticipated his every thought and desire.
He assembled the perfect group and would pick up others here and there as needed. The next problem would be transporting the gold to a secure but neutral spot. The gold dust could be taken and easily moved then hidden in several locations to safeguard losing it in the event of their discovery. He had a bank in southwestern Texas lined up to change it to legal tender and put it in an account under an assumed name.
Pryce needed a quiet and unassuming way to quickly move it west, deciding it could be put into wagons hidden among other shipped goods. The touchy thing about doing this came with hiring trustworthy drivers to haul the loads. He planned to have the wagons loaded before the drivers showed up for the job then have everything delivered to the banker with the story of another store opening. The gold would be put into an account and could be withdrawn at any time, getting Pryce and his lady closer to Mexico and the good life. With those problems solved, they set out to get the gold and the arms using a timetable of one gold shipment per month and between them they'd schedule the arms shipments. This would give him time to let their trails go cold.
Pryce knew the government would send someone or a detachment after them to get their property back so he'd take care in what he did. After reading the files, he now had a very good idea of who they would send. Thinking, he sat with a cup of coffee--the more he thought about what he had read, the more he knew the one would be their best. Their best, from what he read--Hastings.
This would prove very interesting.
* * * *
Sean Mitchell reported to his new commanding officer, Colonel Jonathan Pryce, not knowing what to make of the man. Pryce sat in his tent at a small desk reading something then removed his glasses when the major made his presence known.
"Major Sean Mitchell, reporting as ordered, sir." He stood at attention and saluted.
While Pryce sized him up, he knew Mitchell wondered how he could get by this man and sit easy.
"At ease, Major," the colonel said as he motioned to Sean to sit down. He continued to carefully watch the major, able to judge people well and he took this one as a user, to say the least. He would keep an eye on Mitchell. Pryce went back to reading the major's file, smiling and frowning, making the major fidget. He will be of use.
"I see here General Butler caught you going through his personal files."
"Don't play dumb with me, Major. I'll ask this once. What had you been looking for?" Watching the man, he wanted to know what made Mitchell tick, knowing the answer already while waiting to see whether or not the major would own up to it.
"I'd been checking out an officer of the United States Army, sir."
"Who and why?"
"Brigadier General Hastings, sir. I have a personal problem with the general so I wanted to find out all I could about him."
"I got caught."
"Is this man important enough for you to lose your cushy desk job in New Orleans?" Pryce asked, interested in the answer he might receive.
"Good. I'm putting together a small elite group to do some raiding. The governments on both sides will be pissed off." He kept watching Mitchell's face. "In order to stop us, they will send their best. That would probably be General Hastings."
"Yes, sir!" This obviously pleased Mitchell.
"Are you going to commit to my project or leave me to go after your revenge?"
"I don't know, sir. It depends on the situation."
"If you decide to leave me, do not ... I repeat, do not tell me what you're up to. Do not jeopardize my plans or revenge won't be worth a damn to you. Am I making myself clear?"
"Very clear, sir!"
They knew they would get along just fine.
* * * *
Andrew got up early for some reason, looking outside seeing darkness. He tried looking at his pocket watch but couldn't find any light and didn't want to wake his wife by lighting a lamp. The grandfather clock downstairs in the living room chimed four times. He turned toward the bed and watched his wife sleep from the chair by the window.
He'd been exhausted when he turned in after a long day of running stock. After dinner, Jessie found him asleep in the rocker on the porch, feet up on the railing as always. She persuaded him to go to bed early and he did.
She took care of Sarah and John then turned in. When she crept into bed, he reached out and pulled her close. They made love, soared in passion and fell asleep in each other's arms.
Sitting by the window, he turned when she moved. After going over to the bed, he bent down and gently kissed her then dressed and went downstairs to put on his boots. Gently opening the front door and stepping outside, he then walked over to the barn, Satan and Duchess glad to see him.
Duchess, Jessie's Appaloosa had been a filly when he gave her to Jessie right after John's birth. She loved riding, especially when they rode together. Satan, his magnificent black stallion, had been with him since the day he enlisted in the military.
He led Satan out of his stall, stroked his neck and talked to him. He put the blanket over Satan's back, then the saddle and cinched it securely. Satan took the bridle and reins last. Once he'd led the stallion out of the barn, Andrew mounted up then rode down the driveway to the road.
They headed toward town at an easy gait, this hour of the morning one of his favorites, besides sunset and the time he spent with Jessie. He loved being with his kids but times came when he needed her more than anything, their bond unexplainable. He could feel her presence, her feelings for him. Sometimes, he felt other feelings he didn't quite understand, his instincts stronger all the way around, thanks to her. But she, on the other hand, could feel his physical and emotional pain.
He remembered their connection. When he had tried to drown himself in the river, she called him back and saved his life. Then came the time after they found out she carried John, which scared all of them.
Happening late one afternoon, Jack and Adam had stayed back at the house while Andrew went to check on some horses they'd just bought. He slid down from the saddle after hearing a mare's cry and found her in the middle of foaling, the foal stuck and causing distress to the mare. He helped deliver the foal but, when the mare went to get up she kicked Andrew and created a hole in his side with her hoof. He lay on the ground holding the wound and trying to stop the bleeding.
Andrew hadn't told them where exactly he intended to go. He'd relaxed on this since they hadn't been in active service. Now, he lay in pain and reminded himself to go back to the old ways--from here on out, someone would be told where he went.
Slowly he made his way to Satan and pulled himself into the saddle. The horse, sensing a difference, carried him back at a slow, easy gait. Andrew passed out a little while later and slumped over Satan's neck--too much time had passed and he hadn't stopped the bleeding.
Jack went to call Callie and, as he crossed the lawn, Adam called to him.
"Andrew's coming up the driveway."
Adam got to Satan first as Andrew slid from the saddle. Andrew woke to everyone hovering over him while Rocky licked his face.
"Not lawnside surgery again?"
Adam cleaned and bandaged the injury and told Andrew he needed to get some rest but waited until later to tell Andrew that, about the time the mare kicked him, Jessie had let out a scream. They found her, doubled over in pain on the kitchen floor and holding onto the counter, short of breath. Adam ran to her, looking for blood or something telltale, praying she hadn't miscarried. When he asked her what happened, all she could say--Andrew's hurt! He's down! Adam asked her what she meant and she looked at him.
"I don't know. I just know he's out there and hurt."
Jack looked at Adam, their connection eerie. Adam tried to explain it to him. Simply, their love so deep, their commitment to each other so total that simply--the day they fell in love, two became one. Andrew did feel her pain but not as extremely as Jessie felt his.
Now he rode alone again, without telling anyone what he intended to do--four in the morning not the time.
* * * *
He rode down the main street of Winston, Texas. Located on the state line between Texas and Louisiana, it became known as the only town to remain neutral instead of siding with the rest of the state or going to the Union's side. An odd situation, Winston wanted it while both sides respected and accepted this without question.
Riding by Adam's house, he saw the lights off and no movement. Adam could be a night owl at times, but not today. He knew Jack probably slept as well. He rode to the hotel, hitched Satan to the railing and went inside. Seeing no one in the lobby, he went to the bar to get something to drink and settled on a tall glass of water.
Randolph Berringer, the owner of the hotel, had told Andrew to feel free to check the message board if he could see no one around. He slid behind the desk and found a couple of messages waiting for him along with an official-looking envelope.
He looked at the messages first. The first one from Grant must have been sent before the envelope had been.
TO: J A Hastings
FROM: U S Grant
Information requested will be forwarded shortly to you. At this point, have heard nothing from Washington about what to do. If I hear of anything, I'll let you know. If you would, furnish me with anything you find for the record.
My regards to your family, McCord and Cole,
U S Grant
The second one for Jessie from her sister--since their reunion when the Davis' brought their daughter to them, the two had kept in constant contact. He folded that one and put it into his pocket. It would be a nice surprise for his wife.
He looked at the envelope with Grant's writing on it. Unsure of its contents, he wrote notes to Adam and Jack. On his way home, he dropped them off at their homes but when he arrived at Adam's, his friend stood on the porch.
"We're up early this morning, aren't we?"
"Couldn't sleep so I thought I'd ride in, and take care of some things."
"I don't know. I got a thick envelope this morning from Grant. I want you and Jack with me when I open it."
"Oh? What's wrong?"
"I have a bad feeling and I think I'm going to need some support."
"You're afraid you and Jack have received orders?"
"I dread finding out. Can you come out?"
"Sure, and I'll make sure Jack gets there as well."
Riding back to the farm, Andrew thanked God for his friends, close yet more like brothers. Every day he said quiet thanks for his family and everything in his life he had, plus even more for Jessie, his soulmate and the one who changed his life for the better.
Without her, life had been worthless.
Without her, he felt useless but no one knew it--not even Jack and Adam.
Before they'd met, Andrew had basically been a gypsy. The man had no roots, lived out of camp tents, out in the open or, if lucky as he had been back in the spring of 1860, hotels. He'd enjoyed the nomadic life until assigned to New Orleans before the War Between the States began. He decided to bunk at a hotel that time since the previous several weeks he spent sleeping under the stars or in tents.
His back let him know it wanted some pampering. He'd hurt it during one of the minor battles of the Mexican War with a cavalry division assigned to find an enemy unit of snipers. He and Satan traveled at an easy gait until a snake spooked him and he threw Andrew off. Andrew hit the ground, flat on his back and several good-sized rocks.
Since then, he felt changing weather conditions and, as in this case, too long in the saddle. Not too many people knew about this because he never made the military medical staff aware of the fall. At the time, it didn't matter.
It started to matter later when the pains became harsher but he became very good at masking the situation. In fact, it'd never come up in any conversations with Jessie, Jack, or Adam though he knew he should let Adam know about it for future reference.
On the trip to New Orleans, his back had been in the first stages of giving him trouble. It would turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Had he not decided to stay at the hotel, he would never have met the love of his life. My Angel, a classic case of falling in love the second I saw her walking down the sidewalk across the street from where I'd stabled Satan. He grinned.
He remembered thinking he would never get anywhere with this beauty. Then, after she walked into him, they became inseparable and engaged to be married within hours of their meeting. It occurred to him that come August they would be married four years, of which they had been apart for over two of them thanks to the war and other circumstances.
While Satan meandered down the road, in absolutely no hurry, Andrew enjoyed the sounds of the early morning. They liked the area and had no plans to leave though he'd had thoughts of trying to get Jessie to sell the house in Baltimore once he either mustered out or retired. As things stood now, he didn't see her objecting but then again ... Jessie's Jessie.
Checking his pocket watch, he saw he still had some time before everyone else got up and decided to go over to the river for a bit. The waters peaceful, he watched birds catch early morning meals. Andrew, still astride Satan, sat and enjoyed the moment, peaceful and beautiful. While there, Satan took some water and grazed.
He took Grant's envelope from his pocket and looked at it, knowing without a doubt, he held the orders to move on the assholes ripping off payroll and arms shipments. Jack had gotten whatever news accounts he could of the raids and Andrew hadn't liked one thing he'd read.
The more he learned, the more he knew they would be in over their heads on this. He looked out over the peaceful scene and asked himself if this might be the last time he saw it.
* * * *