Hannah Dawson never expected to be attacked by Yankee deserter’s where she lives in the Tennessee Smokey Mountains…but she never imagined she’d be forced to marry the Yankee officer that saves her either.
When Lieutenant Lane Peterson, of the Union Army rescues a Tennessee belle and is injured in the process he is surprised when Hannah takes him in and nurses him back to health. Unable to keep his hands from exploring her tempting body, Lane finds himself in a compromising position and before he knows it he is standing as a reluctant groom for a shot-gun wedding. As soon as his wounds heal, Lane plans to head north, find the first Union Army camp he comes to and get his marriage to the Southerner annulled. But mother-nature and fate have plans of their own. Snowed in for the winter, Lane and Hannah find a passion that will not be denied North and South of the Mason Dixon Line.
But when the weather clears Lane must return to the war. After several months of fighting, Lane keeps his promise and comes back for his Southern wife, but soon they find it isn’t the struggles on the battlefield that will test their love, but the acceptance of family and a nation’s wounded spirit and scorn. Will Lane and Hannah find the strength to fight for each other? Or will they be lost to the differences that lie between them and lose the battle they’ve fought so hard to win….
Chapter One from
A Yankee's Embrace
Her fingers curled around the rifle, holding the weapon tight against her chest as she pressed herself against the wall and listened. It was dark in the house, but the full moon shone bright outside. Just moments ago, she’d prepared for bed, extinguished all the lanterns in the house, but when the night creatures had gone silent for no reason…something was terribly wrong. Her pa had taught her that.
She didn’t know how long she stood there against the wall, but the crickets had long since returned to their serenading, frogs in the pond croaked loudly. The real threat remained, even though she couldn’t hear or see them. One part of her mind kept screaming at her to throw the door open and run like mad for Frank and Alice’s place a few miles up the road, but the logical side of her knew she wouldn’t make it. No, she’d have to stand her ground in the small farmhouse that was her family home.
Trying to bring her breathing under control so she could listen for any telltale sign of an intruder, Hannah forced her senses to expand past the normal noises of the night. A creak sounded to her left, and her heart stuttered, then tripped into a wild tempo as someone crept onto the porch. The door she kept locked at all times now rattled slightly.
Bringing the rifle to her shoulder, she licked her suddenly dry lips, though she was sweating. She tried to steady her trembling hands, wondering if she should yell and give herself away as a woman living alone during a war, or keep silent and kill whoever entered. Heck, she didn’t even know how many there were. Dear Lord, let it only be this one. She couldn’t fight a band of soldiers. She shuddered in trepidation of what several of them could do to her.
She forced those unwanted thoughts aside and steeled herself. There was no noise coming from the back of the house, perhaps it was just one person. Maybe she could take her chances and sneak out the back. Just let whoever was on the porch come in, and she could make her escape to Frank and Alice’s, after all. Frank could come back with her and run off whoever was there.
It was probably a soldier, though she didn’t know for which side, and at this point in the war, it looked bleak either way. No one could be trusted.
Stepping cautiously back, Hannah kept her gaze on the front door as it rattled harder this time, making her jump. There was no hope for it now. She would have to run. Hurrying across the kitchen, she slowly unlatched the back door and looked quickly left then right before running out of the house.
She screamed when a pair of arms closed around her waist. “Gottcha,” he said against her ear. The man laughed and hauled her against his chest, his foul breath making her gag as he knocked the rifle from her hands. He squeezed her tight, dragging her back toward the house.
She couldn’t hear past the roaring of the blood through her veins, her heart hammered like pounding horses’ hooves. Fear coated her throat. The bitter taste filled her mouth as if she had just sucked on copper coins. Her mind reeled as a shadow came rushing around the house toward them. He was a big man and dressed from head to toe in blue.
Oh God, it’s Yankee deserters. Tears burned her eyes, but she fought against them and forced the mind-numbing fear aside for a final burst of self-preservation. She turned on the one holding her, jerked from his grasp and struck him hard across the face. He yelped in surprise. She wasted no time in her attempt to escape, but the hulky man who must have been the one on the porch was quick. He grabbed her arm and jerked her back, twisting the limb behind her back. She cried out as pain shot up into her shoulder.
“I’ll break your damn arm if you don’t settle the hell down.”
She drug her feet, trying to prolong the inevitable. Her mind screamed in denial of what they would do to her as the big man and the other capturer pushed her back into the house. God, please save me, she prayed as the door shut swiftly behind them.
~ * ~
He looked over his shoulder for what seemed the hundredth time since his escape. There was no one there. Hadn't been for the last five days, but still he remained cautious. He would not go back to his prison. Lane was determined. If he were going to die it would be out here in the open country, free and fighting. Not in some dirty, lice infested Southern prison camp.
Ducking under a low hanging branch, Lane looked ahead and gathered he was near the Tennessee--Kentucky border. The sky darkened gradually, and he would stop for a few hours to rest, then keep trudging north.
He closed his eyes, wishing for his home state of Ohio, hating the war that kept him from home and all the Southerners a part of it. They’d been fighting for almost four years, and he was tired of it. He felt so much older than twenty-nine. He’d seen so much...done so much.
When the government had called for men to sign up and serve their country, to fight for the glorious cause, he’d been one of the first in line. He clenched the reins in his fists, hate boiling up inside him. It should have ended with the first battle, but it hadn’t. It seemed the war would never end, and his friends would keep dying. The rebels would never stop until they were all dead.
He closed his eyes again and let his mind drift toward home and the warmth that lay inside that lavish brick house. His sister, Constance, he was sure, had matured into a beautiful, refined young woman. His mother would be sitting in the parlor right now along with his father. He imagined her sewing a new blanket for a baby being born by one of the members of their church, or maybe she worked on her latest needlepoint? His father was either reading the paper, or going over the books from the bank.
His heart hung heavy as he imagined his parents suffering when they received the news that their youngest son, Thomas, had fallen in battle. Hearts broken, tears and inconsolable pain, and he hadn’t been there…couldn’t be there.
Lane looked up at the moonlit sky, his heart wrenching. Thomas had died in Lane’s arms, and still after a year, the pain was there. He’d been unable to help his brother. The wound had been fatal and he could only give the young man empty promises until the final breath had left his body. Anger and rage filled him now and his only desire was to start his life anew.
He would do that right away. When he returned home he’d marry his betrothed, Rose Sanderson. It’d been so long since he’d seen her, but he remembered bright, blue eyes and blonde ringlets, a pretty pink mouth and voluptuous curves.
He’d done the right thing proposing the night before he’d left. It had made his parents happy. Being from a wealthy family, Rose was everything a refined young woman should be. Granted his parents had hoped he’d have married her prior to leaving for the war, but it hadn’t been in him. For some reason he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
The wedding would take place the instant he returned. It mattered little that he wasn’t in love with Rose, but maybe that emotion would come in time.
Night finally fell across the land when Lane reached the edge of the forest. He peered down a hill at a small house that sat on the opposite side of a pond. The water glittered under the moonlight. The moon’s rays illuminated the entire area for him to see. A barn that appeared to be in disrepair sat at the back of the house at the end of a dirt drive. The house itself looked run-down as well, though most houses in the south were looking that way. By the looks of it, only a poor farmer lived here, not a rich plantation owner.
He clucked at his horse and went to move on, but a scream from within the house caught his attention and he pulled up on the reins. Suddenly, the door flew open and a woman ran outside. She didn't make it far before a burly man wearing Union blue caught her around the waist. From his vantage point and the light of the moon there was no denying that dark navy color. The woman screamed again and struggled against her captor, but she was no match for his strength or his skill as a soldier. Another man, smaller than his partner, sauntered out of the house, laughing.
“Bring her back in here,” he called to the man holding the wildly raving woman. “I told you to tie her tight. She’s feisty,” he chuckled. “We might have to teach her some manners on her so-called, Southern hospitality.”
Cruelty dripped from those words, and Lane’s gut clenched. The man sounded like the Southern prison guards, and he could only imagine what terrible things they had in-store for the poor woman. He shook his head and hardened his heart. This wasn't his fight. A hard life was tragedies of war, and the woman would have to deal with what her men had dealt her.
He whispered a soft command to his horse, but pulled up on the reins once again, cursing himself under his breath when the woman let out another scream.
Dammit! He needed to get moving, but as his gaze returned to the desperate scene, he knew it didn’t matter that she was a Southerner. He couldn't leave her to be raped, or worse. Climbing from his horse, he pulled the gun from his holster.
A cold smile flashed across his face as he gripped the gun in the palm of his hand, and the memory of the Confederate guard he had killed to get it. Creeping silently toward the house, Lane watched in amazement as the woman held tight to the railing on the porch to keep from being dragged back into the house, delivering several swift kicks to the big man’s shins as she did so. He cocked his gun slowly so as not to make a sound.
“Come on in, miss. It won't hurt much so long as you cooperate.”
“Never, you bastards,” she cried, and Lane grudgingly admired her spirit. There was no way she could win yet she still fought.
Lane stepped forward, but remained hidden in the shadows. He leveled his gun at the man holding the woman. The moon’s beams gleamed off the metal, exposing his hiding spot. “I don't believe this belle wants your company, gentlemen. I suggest you move on.”
Both men whipped around, drawing their guns.
“Who's there,” the smaller one demanded. He seemed to be the one in charge.
“Lieutenant Lane Peterson, your commanding officer,” he said in short, clipped words.
The men grinned at one another before the one in charge stepped forward. “Why, Lieutenant Peterson, welcome. It’s always nice to meet a fellow Northerner.” The big, burly man drew the woman away from the rail and hauled her up against him. “We were about to taste the delights of this beautiful Southern belle. I’m sure we can work out an agreement for you to share. I’ll bet she’d be more than willing to see to us men after our long trials on the field of battle.” The small man’s hand reached out and ran down the woman’s neck, trailing pudgy fingers across a breast.
She cringed against her big capturer. A shudder shook her small body. Fierce protectiveness charged in Lane’s veins, igniting a spark of fury. “I'll ask you to let her go and leave this property immediately. We’ll then proceed to the nearest camp where I’ll have you both on report for your behavior here this evening.”
The little man shook his head and laughed low. “I don't think so, lieutenant. We're not going back. We're done.”
Lane’s gun never wavered. “Then you’re deserters in the United States Army and will be judged as such.”
No one moved for a matter of seconds, then suddenly the smaller man fired. Lane pulled the trigger, striking him square in the chest, and the soldier dropped dead on the porch. The burly man fired his weapon, hitting his target. Pain exploded up Lane’s left side. He fought to keep his stance, to hold his weapon up and take careful aim. He fired and the bullet found its mark in the man’s neck.
The woman screamed, jerking from the man’s grasp. Her captor fell forward dead as she ran off the porch, her sobs loud in the suddenly silent night. Lane dropped the gun and clutched his side. Stupid! It’d been so stupid to stop. He groaned as hot blood seeped through his fingers, the pain throbbed dully.
His groaned again, bringing the woman’s attention to him. She rushed to his side. “Sir? Sir, are you hurt?” Her slow Southern accent melted over him like sweet honey and at the same time left a bitter taste of resentment and loathing in his mouth. When she stood in front of him the moon illuminate her face. Her eyes widened with sudden concern. Quickly, her arm slipped around his waist. “Let me help you inside.”
He leaned into her, mindful of his weight, and let her guide him into the house. Once inside she rushed him into a room to his left. It was a bedroom and the bed looked so inviting. He was unable to remember the last time he’d actually slept in one.
She helped him lie down. Pain seethed through his middle as he laid back. The woman lit an oil lamp on the small table beside him, gasping suddenly when she looked at his blue uniform. “My God, you really are a Yankee.”
Lane frowned up at her. “I said so outside, a lieutenant with the United States Army.”
“Oh, I-I thought maybe you had said those things to try to sway those men. I couldn’t see you in the shadows.” She shuddered when she talked about the soldiers, obviously replaying the close call in her mind.
Lane clutched his side as another pain knifed through him. His actions brought the woman out of her thoughts and she hurried from the room. He propped himself against the headboard, teeth clenched against the stabbing sensation. He closed his eyes and cursed himself again for getting into this mess. He should have kept riding.
The woman entered the room carrying a large bowl filled with hot water and fresh linen. She sat on the bed beside him, and while she laid everything out before her, Lane studied her beneath lowered lashes.
He had to admit she was pretty--even with the splatter of blood on the side of her face from the soldier he’d killed. Her chestnut brown hair fell mostly from the bun at the nape of her neck. Tendrils framed her heart-shaped face. He had the urge to reach up and brush his fingers through those loose strands, to push them behind her ear.
She tore strips of cloth as he continued to stare. Her nose was small and pert, her mouth wide and lush. Her earlier exertions had tinged her cheeks bright pink, then her gaze met his. Deep green eyes stared back at him and her movements stopped.
His breath left his lungs in a loud whoosh as he stared into those mossy depths. She was breathtaking, her features classic and smooth. It took him a moment to recover. She placed a gentle hand on his arm. “Are you all right, lieutenant?”
Could words sound sweeter in that slow, Southern accent? He shook his head slightly in an effort to clear his mind of the petite woman beside him with high, firm breasts that pushed against the bodice of a dress that had seen better days.
His skin burned where her hand lay on his arm. He jerked away from her touch. She frowned, misjudging his reaction, but it was better that way. “I’m fine, Mrs.…”
She lowered her gaze, her mouth set in firm line of determination as she went back to her task. “Miss Dawson. Hannah Dawson.”
~ * ~
Hannah lowered her head and tore another strip of cloth, trying to take her mind off the man lying in her father's bed. She should hate him for who he was--and she did--but Hannah was also grateful that he’d saved her life. She’d prayed to God to save her and He had, but her rescuer should have been wearing gray. Where did that leave her now? She couldn't turn him out until he was better. She did owe the man that much, didn’t she?
Sighing, Hannah set the strips of cloth aside. “We’re going to have to remove your jacket.”
At his nod of consent, she stood and helped him unbutton the unbecoming dark blue coat. It was filthy, covered in dirt and grime. Carefully, she slipped it from his shoulders, down his arms and tossed the offensive color to the floor.
Ignoring the way muscle corded his chest and arms, she picked up a cloth and dipped it in the hot water. She went about cleaning his perfectly tanned flesh, feeling her cheeks stain a brilliant pink. He was on the skinny side, though. Too skinny for a man of his height and build. She wondered how many meals he’d gone without.
“I need to get this wound cleaned up and see if the bullet is still in there.”
He didn’t say anything, only placed his arm over his eyes as she worked. The hole was nice and clean. She touched his shoulders. “I need you to roll up a bit so I can see if there’s an exit wound on your back.” From the lack of blood on the bedding, she feared the worst.
He grunted under his breath as she helped him, sweat breaking out on his forehead from the exertion. Hannah bit back a moan of disappointment as her hands roamed over smooth flesh at his lower back. The bullet had not passed through and she would have to get it.
Helping him lie back, she wiped the excess blood away, then pulled back to look him in the face. Though a thick, dark beard covered his jaw, she saw his lips were set in a firm line of determination. His nose was straight and rounded at the tip with slightly flared nostrils from deep breathing. His dark brown eyes remained focused on the knob on the post of the bed.
“I have to douse that wound with some whiskey to prevent infection, and the bullet is still in your side. I’m going to have to get it out, lieutenant.”
His gaze met hers, but he didn’t say anything, only nodded his consent.
Hannah left the room and went into the kitchen. She grabbed one of her sharpest knives and placed it directly in the fire. She put another pot of water over the flames, then returned to the kitchen to find the bottle of whiskey hidden in the pantry. She rummaged through her sewing kit, pulling forth needle and sturdy thread.
Hannah grabbed the bottle, and when the knife was cherry red, removed it from the flames and walked with it and a fresh bowl of steaming water to the bedroom. She wanted to take no chances on infection.
Lieutenant Peterson stared at her when she returned, his gaze moving over the blade in her hand. Kneeling beside him, she placed the bottle to his lips. “Here, have a drink.”
He did, taking big gulps. When he finished, she knelt over him and took a deep breath along with him as he braced himself, then poured the brown liquid over the wound. He stiffened, clutching the sheets. A seething hiss escaped through clenched teeth, his eyes wide and filled with terrible pain. He breathed heavily, his whole body trembling.
“I’m sorry, lieutenant.” His hands curled into tight fists, his dark stare boring into hers. Sympathy filled her at the torment she caused this man, and she stifled a cry as she poured the liquid over the wound a second time.
Lt. Peterson let out a guttural cry, then passed out. Hannah breathed a sigh of relief that he wouldn’t suffer anymore, or for at least that moment. Tucking her loose hair behind her ear, she grabbed the knife, and with shaking hands, cut into the wound.
Tears filled her eyes and she sniffed loudly. Now that she didn’t have his cold, dark eyes on her, she could think without just going through the motions. She didn’t know what she was doing. It couldn’t be real, none of this, the war, the soldiers who attacked her, this man lying on her father’s bed.
He was pale as a ghost now, blood spilling down his side as she probed for the bullet. She wiped at the perspiration on her forehead and forced herself to be strong. Catching the bullet, she dropped the piece of metal in the waiting bowl before she re-cleaned the wound with whiskey.
Next, she doused the needle and thread in the amber liquid, then with unsteady hands, sewed his flesh together. Her stomach rolled and she covered a hand over her mouth. She dropped the needle, her fingers tingling from the sensation of pushing metal through flesh. She closed her eyes, forcing the bile back down her throat. She could do this. She had to do this. She looked back at the unconscious man, then at the needle hanging from the thread stitched in his body and finished the job. Once the final stitch was in place, she patched the wound with a clean cloth and struggled with his limp body until finally succeeding in wrapping his middle.
Taking a deep breath, Hannah studied her work, surmising she’d done the best she could for the lieutenant. She glanced up when he moaned softly in his unconscious state and tried to ignore the curling locks of his rich brown hair. The dark waves were longer than most men kept it, coming to brush the tops of his broad shoulders. She studied his bearded jaw. There was a devilishly handsome young man hidden behind those whiskers. Her gaze moved lower. Every muscle on his flat stomach rippled, narrowing to a lean waist.
She blushed deeply and hurried to the end of the bed to remove his boots and socks, or at least what passed for boots and socks. The boots were falling apart at the soles and the socks were beyond redemption. She scrunched her nose and quickly left the room.
Moments later, she returned with fresh water, a bar of soap and a cloth. Hannah worried her lower lip, looking at his pants. Heat suffused her cheeks, but they had to go. Fighting against her own modesty, Hannah pushed up the sleeves of her dress and fumbled with his belt and buttons. She kept her gaze averted through the tedious task, and successfully removed his pants. Tossing them on the floor, she then went about washing his arms, chest, legs and feet. Her mind reeled, her face hot and flushed as her fingertips continually came in contact with his flesh, sending fissions of heat spiraling up her arm.
His chest was smooth under her palm, the hairs on his legs coarse and dark. She glanced away, searching for anything to focus on other than him and how he made her feel.
With pounding heart and face burning, Hannah covered Lieutenant Peterson with a blanket, picked up his filthy uniform, the bowl of dirty water and left the room, shutting the door.
Leaning against the hard wood, her hand gripped the knob tightly. She forced herself to take deep, calming breaths. What was wrong with her? She couldn’t feel such things for a Yankee. What was she doing housing the enemy like this? She squeezed her eyes shut and took steady breaths. It was insane, but again she argued with herself. He’d saved her life, and she couldn’t turn him out after that. She was just nervous, and in time, this would all pass and she could go back to her life as normal.
Mind made up, she pushed away from the door. She ran shaking hands over her unkempt hair, felt the dried blood as her fingers brushed her cheek. Her stomach churned, and she looked toward the door where two bodies of Union soldiers lay on her porch. She should bury them, but she couldn’t bring herself to go back out there at night and do the task.
She walked over to the front door and bolted it, sloshing water onto the floor. Not tonight, she told herself. She would take care of that in the morning, but she couldn’t control the shudder that raced up her spine at knowing they were there. But one thing was for certain, she wouldn’t be burying them on her father’s property.
She was a Dawson, her father and mother--God bless her mama’s soul--had worked hard to make a life of their own on this land, and no Union soldier would be buried in their good soil. Shoulders straight with pride, Hannah walked into the kitchen, setting the bowl aside to be washed and laid the terribly tattered blue uniform over the back of a chair. What was she to do with this?
Picking the uniform back up, she bundled it and tucked it into the far corner of the laundry. She would have to wash it first, then she would put it in the corner of her closet. As she hid the uniform away for the night, she sighed. She was harboring the enemy.
It’d been one of her greatest fears through the entire war that something as terrible as tonight would happen. Being alone and men of the war coming and doing something atrocious to her, but she never would have believed a Yankee would be her rescuer in the end.
She shuddered again, and ran trembling hands up and down her arms to rub away the cold that crept over her skin. Her father had hated to leave her, but the south needed men, and he had left to join them. She hadn’t seen him in two years, but he had his fellow soldiers write letters for him, since he was unable to. It was something that had been important to him, that she learned to read and write, and she was so grateful. She read and re-read every letter he sent to her.
She ladled water into a kettle and put it over the fire to heat. Once done, Hannah walked through the house, pulling the handmade curtains closed over all the windows until the sizzle of the water drew her attention. She removed the pot from the fire and poured the steaming water into a large bowl. After grabbing a cloth Hannah undressed there in the kitchen, washing away the dried blood against the side of her neck and face. She let her hair down and washed it thoroughly, dried it with a cloth, then went to her own bedroom, sat on her bed and brushed her long, chestnut strands.
Once the hair glistened, she grabbed her nightdress lying across the end of the bed and slipped it over her head before tying the ties at the bodice and climbed under the covers.
Sleep was a long time coming as her mind kept drifting to the Yankee soldier in her father’s room. Could she trust him? What if he really was like the others and had only wanted a woman for himself and wound up getting hurt in the process? She sighed. He wasn’t going to be harming anybody tonight. One punch to his side and he’d hit the ground like a sack of flour. Comforted by that, she placed her hand under her cheek and drifted asleep.
~ * ~
Hannah woke suddenly, hearing her patient’s voice and his jerking movements in the other room. She rubbed her eyes and got out of bed to check on him, stopping to take a cup of water with her.
“Lieutenant,” she said softly, coming to stand beside him. He shivered and clutched at the covers in his hands.
“Cold,” he whispered in a hoarse voice. “So cold.”
Hannah set the water down and touched his forehead. His skin felt hot under her palm. She grabbed the extra blanket at the foot of the bed and threw it over him. Settling beside him on the mattress, she held his head and forced him to drink, spilling most of the contents in the process.
“Lieutenant, you have to drink. Here now, let me help you,” she said, holding the glass to his lips once more as he gulped down the remaining contents. She rested her hand over his brow, her own furrowing.
“You’re on fire.” After leaving the room, she retrieved another bowl of cool water and a cloth. It was going to be a long night, she thought. She brought in the old rocking chair her grandfather had made before she was born and the quilt from her bed. She’d have to stay by his side for the rest of the night.
Pulling the rocking chair beside the bed, she sat and drenched the cloth in the water, wrung it, then pressed the folds against the lieutenant’s brow and neck.
He tossed and turned, kicked the covers off and shook uncontrollably. She put the covers back over him once again, climbing on the bed beside him in her efforts to keep him covered.
She dabbed his brow, spoke in low, soothing tones. He mumbled in his sleep, his voice rising, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides, body rigid. His eyes snapped open suddenly. They were dark and intense. Fear and anger radiated from him and he yelled in ragged torment, delirious. Anguish clung to his words, rending her heart in two. “You rebel bastards! You killed him!” Hannah pushed against his shoulders in an effort to keep him in bed. His fists clenched tight as he glared at her, and she was very afraid he would indeed strike her in his state.
“Lieutenant, you’re going to hurt yourself worse if you don’t calm down. Please, you have to stop!” She pleaded with him, but he was past hearing.
His dark eyes blazed with fury and tears. “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you all,” he yelled, trying to push himself up.
He raised his fist, and Hannah sucked in a breath of fear. Desperate, she clutched hands on either side of his head, bringing her face into his line of vision. “Lieutenant, stop it please.” Her voice broke and she waited for the fist to strike, but he stopped and blinked fever bright eyes.
Fresh blood stained his bandages. He appeared confused as he studied her. His fingertips came up and brushed the hair from around her shoulders, his fingers lingering around her exposed collarbone. She swallowed hard at the heat blooming in the wake of his light caresses. Her breath caught in her throat and her stomach fluttered.
"You,” he said softly, his fingers moving to brush her lips. “Who are you?”
“It’s me. Hannah,” she breathed.
“Hannah,” he whispered. His eyes rolled back in his head and he passed out. Stunned, Hannah didn't move for a long moment. Her hands still pressed him to the mattress, her hair falling back over her shoulders as she gazed down at him. He slept now, but his breathing was uneven and he shivered from cold.
Hands shaking, she lifted them off the lieutenant’s shoulders and wiped her own brow, almost crumbling back into her grandfather’s rocking chair. He’d come so close to hitting her. What would have happened if he had? Would he have run around like a raving lunatic while she lay knocked out on the floor?
Hannah pressed a hand to her forehead. She was fine and needed to let it go. It was the fever and nothing more. He had no idea what he was doing. It didn’t make sense that he’d save her just to harm her.
Picking up the cloth again, she drenched it in the cool water and noted he was bleeding again. She sighed and went about changing his bandages, trying to be as careful as possible, not to disturb him again. With that task done she returned to running the cloth over his forehead, noticing his perfectly straight dark brows, the line of his bearded jaw, his neck. She blushed furiously as she brought the cloth over the smooth expanse of his chest.
She couldn’t help but notice once more how thin he was for a man of his height and size, his ribs noticeable under his skin, but he was still hard and lean under her fingers. Unanswered questions plagued her. Where had he come from? What state did he call home? How had he come to be out here alone? She grazed the cloth over his stomach. He was all masculine beneath her hands, and she took this moment to let her fingers run over his flesh, never having touched a man like this before.
The feelings he stirred in her were disturbing, forbidden since he was the enemy, but she couldn’t help it as she let her bare hand rest over the beat of his heart. Her palm burned where it touched his skin.
She almost yelped when he turned slightly in his sleep, startling her so she jerked her hand from his chest, rubbing her tingling palm.
Hannah felt a blush staining her cheeks. Surely she was the color of a ripe cherry. Blowing out a shaky sigh to let the air out of her lungs, she laid the cloth back in the bowl and touched his brow once more.
He was still hot, but not as before. His shaking wasn’t any better as he clutched himself under the covers every now and then in an attempt to get warm. Sighing, Hannah looked toward the curtain drawn window, seeing color beginning to lighten the material, announcing that a new day was arriving. She stood and stared down at the man. He trembled from a terrible chill. Resigned, Hannah pulled the covers back and climbed into bed with Lieutenant Peterson. She closed her eyes and sucked in a deep breath as she pressed her body close to his, trying to give him some of her body heat.
He turned into her, his arms wrapping around her waist and pulled her flush against his quaking body. Hannah went rigid in his embrace, stifling a gasp of embarrassment. She took another deep breath, then wrapped her arms around him and waited. Waited for the feel of his body to quit shaking to let her know his fever would be broken. He would stay warm, and she could return to her own bed before--to her mortification--he found her in his arms.She studied him beneath lowered lashes. He was a handsome man, even with the beard, but she couldn't help wondering what lay under those dark whiskers. There was a strong jaw there, stubborn. She sighed and drifted to sleep, forgetting that he had indeed quit quivering. And found the contented slumber she hadn’t known since her father had left for war.