Widower Colonel Pierce Duval only wants return to his Union command in Tennessee. A chance and harrowing encounter with a true-blue Southern belle stirs emotions he thought long buried. When her safety is at stake, how can he not help her?
Cerisa Fontaine ran for a new life but her controversial marriage and southern drawl make her a pariah in the North. Widowed, Cerisa is forced to seek employment at the only establishment that will accept her: a brothel.
Pierce and Cerisa embark on a journey to Tennessee posing as a married couple. But secrets and passion wages its war within them - remain loyal to their cause, or give in to their heart’s desire?
New York, July 1863
Pierce turned at the screamed demand. A crowd was starting at the end of the next street, close to a tenement building. He couldn’t see who was in distress but the voice was female and her fear made the hair on his neck bristle. Slowly he started toward her, his mind gauging the massing people. He counted about fifteen, mostly men.
“No, I know you’re the one, livin’ with that supposed ‘freedman’!” The man spat.
“How dare you insult me!” the woman threw back. Pierce couldn’t see her but the Southern drawl curled the end of her offense. His heart skipped a beat. He wondered if it was that woman from mass…
As he stepped closer, he saw her. The comb that held her hair up was askew, her chestnut curls coming free of its combs, partially falling strands and her eyes intense, a glare of defiance and fear wrapped in one. She faced a group of ten from what he could count with another man joining them. Pierce glanced around. If she attracted more…he pulled the pistol, pushing the chamber out and counting what he feared was the case. He only had one round left. Hell and damnation!
“You ain’t nothin’ more than Southern piece of trash,” an elderly woman snarled. “The type lookin’ for trouble.”
Another man laughed. “Honey, I ain’t fightin’ for you to lay wit some darky but if it’d make you feel better, I’d do you just as hard.”
She stiffened. “Abraham is out there, fightin’, as you should, you low-lying swine. You who think you are above him and his kind know nothing about what is right or wrong.”
Her attack on them raised Pierce’s brows. She had fighting spirit, the type he’d never seen in a woman. Truly surprised, he stood still—and realized so did the mob. They hadn’t expected her to fight back.
It was then she shifted weight and he glimpsed the flash of pain in her face along with the unsteady balance that she quickly remedied by leaning to the other side again. She’s injured. Nothing like a wounded animal, cornered, he thought. On that idea, he sprung forward.
“Darling,” he stated as casually as he could, slowing his gait to a walk. At the edge of the crowd, he heard a gasp from the majority and knew that won him the element of surprise. She glanced at him, a glint of confusion in her eyes. “I got here as soon as I could.” He butted his way through to her and took her hand in his. The fact that her bare skin was exposed, her palm and fingertips torn, was noted in his mind.
“Who the hell are you?” A voice from the group demanded.
Pierce held her gaze, offering her his safety right as he snorted in a snobbish way. “I’m her husband.” At least she held herself steady at that announcement. He winked at her before turning his head toward the crowd. “Don’t you think you’ve done more than enough damage than to attack a lady on the streets?”
“Lady?” the older woman, middle of the front row, the one with the large freckle on her cheek, sneered. “One of ill-repute, I’d reckon.”
Half the group nodded in agreement within the half second it took him to turn and place himself between her and the crowd. “Unless you speak of yourself,” his gaze raked the accuser with a disgusted grunt. “I suggest you withdraw that statement or find yourself answering to me.”
Everyone grumbled, the back few flittering away.
“Why I never…” the elder one began when he interrupted her.
“No, that is highly conceivable.” He let that statement stand, accusing her of jealousy of the lady’s good looks and how she was probably untried in bed.
Half the remainder of the group snorted, chuckled or tried to cover their laugh, the other half split between disbelief and hatred but when Pierce leaned to the side, knowing full well the pistol’s grip was in view, they left.
“Thank you, I suppose is in order.”
He snapped his head back around to her, astounded she’d bite back at him for rescuing her. She was straightening her skirt, leaning slightly, her loose strands blowing with the wind. Her bonnet. With a scan to his left, he caught the piece, stayed from the winds by a barrel on the corner. He reached for it and handed to her.
“Thank you—again.” She took the hat and jammed it on her head. With one hand, she grabbed her skirts as if to leave. He stood astounded. She’d just been attacked, publically ridiculed and now, in the mist of all this chaos, with smoke from the fires burning through this section of the city, she’d walk herself home?
It suddenly hit him he didn’t even know her name. “My lady,” he started. “Let me escort you home.”
She laughed. It was a brittle tone. “You don’t take gratitude well, now, do you?” Her eyes scanned his dress. “You no doubt will be needed to subdue this mess. Not worrying about me.”
As she took a step to get out of his reach, she placed the foot she’d been favoring out first, and almost fell with a shriek escaping her lips. Thank the heavens he’d remained, he thought, as he caught her around the waist, one hand supporting the arm nearest him.
“You are injured.”
“No, it’s nothing,” she stated, wiggling her stiff corseted body away from him. But as she tried to stand, she faltered again.
Thankfully she was still next to him and this time, he simply scooped her up into his arms. Despite the stays, one of which jabbed his arm, she was very light. Without the crinoline, she wore a roped petticoat to make her skirts wider—it was the poorer girl’s answer to the wired hoop petticoat, it these were probably easier in a factory, he reckoned for a second, but Pierce was thankful she wore it because it made it easier for him. She gasped as he settled her into his arms.
“Put me down!”
“Tell me where you live.” He smiled.
With a groan of protest, she directed him down the block to her building. He snuck her in without the mob that ran past them, carrying torches and chains, even looking in their direction. He shuddered at what might have happened because the madness was growing. There was no way he was leaving her here.
Quickly, he pushed opened the door to her rooms and half expected to see that black man waiting but he recalled she said he was off to the fight. That’s where he should be too…
He set her on a chair and knelt before her, pulling the injured foot forward. She hissed when he touched her foot, gripping the sides of the chair seat.
“Just leave it. I’ll be fine.”
“Right,” he muttered, loosening the lacing and pulling the boot off. The leather looked well worn, the lacing worn to just threads. Cared for at one point but now, she must have not polished it to fit in. He wanted to yell, particularly when he saw the tear in the stocking gouged into her sole. “What the hell did you step on?”
“I don’t believe vulgar words are needed,” she countered.
“I apologize.” His hands reached under her skirts to her garter and nimbly untied it to inch the rough cotton stocking down, yanking it off her. He looked at the wound. The ball of her foot was red, chaffed and the cut small but right on the muscle. But before he could say a word or do anything, she slipped her foot free, hiding it beneath her skirts.
“That was unnecessary.” Her voice trembled.
A USA Today Bestselling author, Gina Danna was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and has spent the better part of her life reading. History has always been her love and she spent numerous hours devouring historical romance stories, always dreaming of writing one of her own. After years of writing historical academic papers to achieve her undergraduate and graduate degrees in History, and then for museum programs and exhibits, she found the time to write her own historical romantic fiction novels. Now, under the supervision of her dogs, she writes amid a library of research books, with her only true break away is to spend time with her other life long dream - her Arabian horse - with him, her muse can play.