It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Whitaker House (June 4, 2009)
Tammy Barley’s roots run deep and wide across the United States. With Cherokee heritage and such ancestors as James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, she inherited her literary vocation and her preferred setting: the Wild West. An avid equestrian, Tammy has ridden horseback over western mountains and rugged trails in Arizona and uses these experiences liberally in her writing. Tammy excelled in her college writing studies, and in 2006 published Beautiful Feet: Meditations for Missionary Women. She won second place in the Golden Rose Contest in the category of inspiration romance, and she serves as a judge for various fiction contests. Tammy is a full time writer and editor who manages to find time to homeschool her there children at her home in northern Illinois.
Visit the author’s website.
List Price: $6.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (June 4, 2009)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Carson City, Nevada Territory
She was going to lose him. With trembling fingers, Jessica Hale pushed back the brown tendrils of hair the wind was whipping into her eyes. Further down the road, her brother handed the last of his cases to the driver on top of the stagecoach, then tossed his hat through the window onto a seat with an air of resolve. He turned and strode toward her.
His wavy, wind-tossed hair gleamed brightly in the morning sun, its sandy hue like gold coins dulled intermittently by shifting dust. His sky-blue eyes—eyes that gleamed with subtle mockery or shone with patient understanding—now attempted to disguise unspoken regret. He smoothed a hand over each of the sorrel coach horses and calmly took in the young town he was leaving behind. Jessica knew better. He was going to miss this—the town, their parents. But his heart called him home. Ambrose was every inch a Kentucky gentleman. He always had been. Her throat tightened.
She couldn’t help but smile. Jessica. Like always, he spoke her name with that deep, flowing timbre that made her think of the brook they had often played in as children.
“Now, what is that smile for?”
“I’ll miss the sound of your voice. It’s so pleasant.”
“It is?” Ambrose’s eyes sparkled at her in amusement. “You never told me that before.”
“Well, now you know.” She loved the Southern lilt of it, the quiet honor he wore just as naturally as his greatcoat. She took a deep breath to steady herself. “Are your bags loaded, then?”
“They are. The driver was kind enough to strap them down. With the rough going, I’ll get bounced out long before they will.”
Her smile faded. “Perhaps you should stay.”
“Jess….” Ambrose patiently drew her hand through the crook of his arm and tipped his head toward the road. “We have a few minutes left before the stage leaves. Let’s walk for a bit.”
Jess sighed in frustration but complied, letting her head fall against his shoulder as they walked. At the edge of town, she looked back at Carson City’s wide streets, lazy with the long, morning shadows of tall buildings and newly built frames that smelled of sawn wood. One by one, other pedestrians appeared, striding briskly; then came rattling wagons, kicking up trails of dust this way and that. The wind whipped at Jess’s skirt and Ambrose’s coat, cavorting among the silvery green desert sage leaves that fluttered around them. The sights and sensations that usually intrigued her had amalgamated into one frolicking, singing fool, playing cruelly to her burdened heart.
Jess’s gaze followed the road out of town, then lifted to rest on the peaks that rose high above. The Mexican people called these mountains the Sierra Nevadas—the snowy mountains. When she had come West with her family a year before, Jess had thought them magnificent. In a wild, untamed way, they reminded her of the Kentucky homeland they had left behind. Instead of the rolling green hills and broadleaf forests she had always known, the Sierras jutted boldly from the desert like a rare stone half buried in sand. Depending on the angle of the sun, their terrain was a glorious red or gold.
For a moment, Jess merely breathed, drawing in the fresh scent of the pinyon pines that dotted the distant slopes and mingled with the earthy aroma of sage. Only a few months ago, winter had prevailed, and so had the glittering snows on the Sierras.
Ambrose, dear Ambrose—had understood her need to be outdoors. He’d convinced their father a time or two to excuse him from work, then would take her riding amid the stark beauty of the mountains.
Jess frowned, pushing back strands of hair that had torn from their heavy twist and were stinging her eyes. A brusque but shrewd businessman and horse breeder from Lexington, their father had brought the family West to escape the growing turbulence in the South, and here, his import business thrived. With the recent discovery of untold millions of dollars in gold and silver buried in the land, the eager-to-be-rich swarmed to the Comstock from every major seaport in the world. Those fortunate enough to strike a vein of the mother lode scrambled to Hale Imports to stake their claims in society by acquiring French wines, Venetian glassware, Turkish carpets, and handcrafted furnishings made of dark German wood.
A golden dream for many, perhaps, but not for Jess. Her family had considerable wealth, but possessions beyond life’s basic comforts didn’t matter to her. What did matter were her father, her mother, and her brother, Ambrose, and the strength they had always given one another in face of the threat of war between North and South.
And the threat had become considerable.
Jess tightened her grip on Ambrose’s arm. He patted her hand reassuringly.
Worse, her family hadn’t left war fever behind as her father had hoped they would. Its effects were sweeping across the
country like the unstoppable waves of the sea. Miners and other men in town chose sides as the conflict loomed nearer. Heated political discussions often erupted into fistfights in the streets. In the same way, tension had escalated within the Hale family as their loyalties divided. And now, Ambrose was about to return to Lexington—against his father’s will—to rejoin his militia unit. It was predicted that war would break out within a year. Two days earlier, when Ambrose had announced to Jess and their parents his intent to fight for the South, Jess had stood strong—stunned but unflinching. The announcement was followed by two days of her father and brother yelling and her mother pleading. A lifetime of paternal love was burning to cinders.
Their father was still so angry about his son’s decision that he had refused to see him to the stage stop, coldly disallowing all but the briefest of good-byes between mother and son.
Jess finally broke the silence. “I thought this place would be the answer, Ambrose. I thought here we would be safe from the war.” She stopped walking and tossed him a valiant smile. “What will I do without you?”
Ambrose considered her soberly. She’d hoped he would tease her gently. Not this time. “You’re seventeen now, Jess. At seventeen, most ladies stop concerning themselves with their families and set their eyes on marriage.”
“Marriage? Marriage! How could you suggest that?” She flung aside her earlier self-promise to remain calm. “This particular subject has never come up before, but since it has, let me tell you, Ambrose, I don’t need a husband to manage my life and order me about.”
“I know you want to protect me, and I love you for it. But the South and its marrying traditions are a great distance away. Here, women are strong and independent”—she fought
to control the anger in her voice— “and so am I. I’ve seen too many wives’ hopes destroyed by their husbands’ selfish wants and ambitions. I could never live my life under some man’s boot heel. I’ll make my way on my own.”
Ambrose gave her a reluctant smile. “All right. There’s no talking you into an idea your mind is set against. Keep yourself busy, then. Tell Father you want to keep books at Hale Imports. You’ve been schooled the same as I have. You’ll do well.”
Jess’s legs nearly gave out. “Keeping his accounts is your job!” Ambrose wasn’t coming back at all—not even after the war. She really was going to lose him.
“No, Jess. Not anymore.” He shifted his gaze to the territory around them. “This place has never fit me the way it has you. That house in Kentucky is our house. Its lands are Hale lands. I was born and raised at Greenbriar, and so were you. That’s my home, Jess.” He faced her squarely. “When the war comes, I’ll defend it, whether the invading army is from the North or the South.”
Jess’s throat ached to beg him to stay. Their friendship was special, rare, in spite of growing up together amid talk of secession and war. Or perhaps because of it. She wanted to keep her brother close—and safe. Yet she forced down the urge to give words to her feelings. Ambrose’s blood flowed for Greenbriar, for Lexington. A year away hadn’t changed that. Yes, she loved him. Enough to understand that. Enough to let him go.
“I guess I always knew you’d go back,” she admitted, “and I understand, I really do. I just hate knowing that you’ll be right in the middle of the fighting.” She raised a hand. “And I hate that Father’s turned his back on you when you need him most! How could he do that to you? How could he do that to Mother?”
All at once, she knew. “He’s doing this because of Broderick, isn’t he?”
Broderick had died as a baby, when Jess was only five. Even now, she could clearly remember holding her little brother as his fever raged, could remember how helpless she had felt when she’d lain awake at night listening to his pathetic coughs in the nursery down the hall. Jess had been devastated when he died, but their mother…their mother had never been the same. Her joy and laughter Jess knew about only because Ambrose had told her of the way she had once been.
Ambrose acknowledged the fact. “Father doesn’t think Mother could bear to lose another son.”
Jess nodded slowly. “Then you’d best stay alive.”
The corner of his sandy mustache lifted. “You’re a Hale, that’s for certain. Idealistic and stubborn, through and through.”
“Hopefully stubborn enough to get through to Father. You know I can’t let things remain the way they are between the two of you.”
“Jess, I’d like to warn you against—”
“That would be pointless.” At his gentle frown of censure, she ordered her thoughts and explained. “For as long as I can remember, you were the one who held our family together. Not Father. Even when he was home, it was not Mother or anyone else, but you. You reasoned with Father when business made him unreasonable, you were a constant comfort to Mother, and you sat by my bed at night when storms and thunder threatened to shake the house apart.”
“You just wanted company while you were awake.” He lightly tugged a lock of her hair in a teasing way. “You never feared storms or anything else.”
“For the past few years, I’ve feared the coming war.” She lifted her chin and, with a mental step forward that she would never retrace, left the remnants of her childhood behind. “You won’t be here to keep us together. Now I’ll take your place and do what you’ve always done, and rely on solid Hale
determination to see me through. Ambrose, don’t worry about Mother, or about Father’s anger at your decision to go. I’ll hold our family together, and I’ll do all I can to change his heart.”
Gratitude battled concern in his face as he studied his sister, but Jess knew that he also understood firsthand the inborn loyalty that drove her. “Just be careful you don’t jeopardize your relationship with him on my account,” he said.
“I will be careful.”
There was a movement near the stagecoach. A mailbag was slung aboard.
Jess’s heart lurched. It was almost time for him to go.
Ambrose patted her hand and looked intently into her eyes. “I don’t know when I’ll see you again. We’d better say goodbye.”
“No!” She shook her head, fighting sudden tears. “I won’t say good-bye.”
“Jess, I don’t want to frighten you, but if the war comes—”
“Then the war will end! Ambrose, if we say good-bye, it’s as if we won’t see each other again. I can’t do that. I have to believe—I have to know—that one day you’ll come back.”
“Believe it,” he said, his gaze firm beneath his brows, “because I intend to.”
She tightened her grip until it pained her. “Then we don’t say good-bye?”
He hesitated, then shook his head to assure her. “We don’t say good-bye.”
Suddenly, Jess recalled what she had wanted to do. With a quick tug, she untied the green satin ribbon of the pendant necklace she wore, slipped the ribbon free, and pressed it into his hand. “I’ll want that back one day,” she said. “Until then, keep the best memories of us all close to your heart.”
Ambrose smiled and tucked the ribbon into his shirt pocket with a little pat. “I can’t think of a better place to put them.”
Another movement drew her gaze. The coach driver climbed into his seat.
“Pray for me, Jess. I’ll write to you as often as I can, I promise.”
Ambrose hurried toward the stage, Jess’s hand tucked in his. At the door, he pulled her into his arms and hugged her warmly.
“Will you write to me?”
Jess buried her face into the gray cloth of his coat. “Just try to stop me.”
He kissed the top of her head, briefly hugged her tighter, and then stepped away.
After Ambrose had swung aboard the coach, he turned and leaned out the window. His blue eyes shone. “The Lord has a plan, Jess!” he called. “Remember that!”
The driver cracked the reins and the six-in-hand pulled the stage away from Carson City, away from her. Jess watched until the coach disappeared through a pass in the mountains.
Keep him safe, Lord, she prayed. Whatever lies ahead, please keep him safe.
It was all she could do not to run for her horse and go after him.
Near Perryville, Kentucky
His boots firm in the stirrups, Ambrose leaned over the heaving neck of the mare as he charged into the sunlit field. Well-muscled and dappled gray, the mare tore up stones with her thrashing hooves while Ambrose’s cotton shirt ballooned
behind him and snapped in the blowing heat. His fear for General Bragg’s paltry command of sixteen thousand burned like liquid fire in his belly, and with heartrending despair, he recalled Mr. Lincoln’s reputed strong conviction that “to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game.”
His colonel’s rapidly scrawled reconnaissance report was secured in a leather pouch tucked into his waistband. It was the only warning Bragg would have that the Yankee advance at Frankfort was merely a diversion, and that the whole of General Buell’s Union army was, in fact, moving toward Bragg’s position. Buell meant to take Kentucky.
The enemy was fifty-five thousand strong.
Sixteen thousand up against fifty-five. Ambrose whipped a sleeve across his forehead to blot the sweat seeping from underneath his hat. If he didn’t reach Bragg in time for the general to pull back and regroup, Kentucky would fall to the Federals—and to their torches. Ambrose tilted his head to hear the distant pum, pum of cannon fire.
Fields dotted with white and blue wildflowers blurred by. This was his home, his land, and now, Greenbriar was his, too. Ambrose frowned as he recalled the letter written by his stiff-necked, outraged father—the sole one he’d sent—in which he had given him Greenbriar. His father intended the house as an accusatory monument to the heritage he believed his son had betrayed by ultimately fighting for the South. But to Ambrose, if Greenbriar survived the war, it would again become his home, his livelihood, and the place his old bones would be laid. He yearned to fall in love there, to marry there, to raise children amid all its gurgling streams and grassy paddocks. Children who would love it as he always had, and as Jess had.
Memories intruded—memories of the day Jess was born and the moment he first held her. He had been seven, and the tiny, warm bundle that stared up at him with curious green eyes had
captivated his heart. As she grew, it was to him that she would come for comfort and advice; with him, she shared her inmost thoughts. He had taught her more about the person she could become than their parents ever had, and she had matched his strength and dedication toward those whom she loved.
Now, Jess was his proponent and confidante. She wrote to him as often as he wrote to her, discreetly hiding his letters from their father. He knew many of their letters never made it through enemy lines since, in letters he did receive, Jess frequently referred to events he was unaware of, as well as to war news he had previously penned. Even so, they both persisted in sending them. As promised, she patiently worked to sway their father’s heart toward his son.
And she remained firm in her belief that her brother would survive the war.
His mind turned to the letter he had written to her only a few hours ago. He imagined her reading it at night by candlelight, the flame’s glow illuminating her casually knotted hair, highlighting the loose strands she rarely bothered with. He could almost hear the smooth flow of her Southern voice as if she were reading it aloud.
My dearest Jessica,
Like others here, I often look ahead to the end of the
war and dream of what I will do after.
For me, it has never been a question. The day I muster
out, I will come without hesitation to all of you there, to
make up lost years of brothering for you and baby Emma,
and to find a way to repair the damage between Father
and me. I will remain until Mother’s worries for me have
gone, and she sees her family healed. Until then, Jessica,
you must continue to convey to her news of my well-being,
and tell her of my unflagging determination to return to you all.
Then, as Grandfather would have wished for me to do, I will come back home to Greenbriar and rebuild what the war has ruined. I’ll fill its paddocks again with the prized horseflesh that has always graced its lands.
I yearn to walk again the brick path leading to the porch, to step into the downstairs hall and feel it welcome me home,…
Startled, Ambrose entered a town huddled beneath a haze of smoke. Perryville! The mare was slick with sweat and foam, but she had a bold heart, the likes of which he’d rarely seen in an animal. Spying a cluster of saddled mounts, Ambrose halted before a red brick house. The gray tugged at the reins while he listened to a soldier’s instructions on how to find General Bragg.
Ambrose immediately headed northwest on the river road. The roar of battle grew deafening. Yankee wounded and dead lay scattered over the hills.
He topped a rise. Below, gray-clad soldiers swarmed through thick smoke into the enemy, several falling beside their comrades. All around, cannon shells burst in sprays of jagged metal and earth.
“Lord in heaven,” Ambrose murmured, “help us all.”
Urging the mare along a path behind the lines, Ambrose ducked the whizzing cannon fire. He pulled out his leather pouch and withdrew the message.
…to throw open the nursery doors where we played, and step into the sunshine flowing through the window glass. Do you remember how we watched from that high
window the newborn foals bounding about? And the way you were ever leaning over the sill for a better look, knowing that I would hold you safe? After the war I must find myself a young lady, and convince her that we should fill the room anew with children’s laughter.…
A cannon shell exploded, and a terrible pressure struck his chest. The mare screamed. Groaning through his teeth, Ambrose clung to her neck. To the west, rifles barked flashes of orange as men in blue and gray surged into their enemies.
Ambrose pressed forward, searching the high ridges for the familiar starred collar and white-streaked beard of General Bragg.
…Lastly, I admit to looking ahead to sharing my life with someone who, like you, will write to me when I must be away, who will hold warm thoughts of me in my absence. I pray she may ever keep hope alive for our children that I will return to them, just as you, my sister, have done for our family. You have kept me alive through this war, Jess, for I know one by whom I will always be loved, always be remembered fondly, and always be welcomed home.…
Ambrose kicked the gray forward with all the strength he had. Fortunately, she lunged in response, not wavering at the unsteady weight on her back. Ambrose fought through the thickening fog in his mind and gripped the dispatch tighter.
A sudden burning burst along his thigh, and the smoky daylight and soldiers’ movements began to dim. Beneath him, the mare pulled ahead, pitching like a rocking chair. He imagined the stern face of General Bragg turning in surprise as he approached.
…I keep your ribbon in my pocket and frequently feel it
there. When I think of you, as I often do, the single thought
that comes is this: I cannot wait to see you again.…
He felt himself reaching out to her, to Jess. Wanting to see her one more time, to tell her how dear she was to him, had always been. He was fading. The message. He couldn’t feel it. Did the general receive the message?
Ambrose no longer knew what direction the mare took but threaded his fingers through her mane, imagining he was weaving hands with Jess.
…Your ever loving brother,…
No sky fell under his eyes; he saw only a lone field of dappled gray, oddly crossed with streams of red.
“Jess…,” he rasped.