JUST KIN a historical romance novel, Book Six of the Texas Romance family saga series.
Main Characters: Charley Nightingale, Lacey Rose Langley, all the men who go off to war: Henry Buckmeyer, Levi Baylor, Wallace Rusk, Houston, and Bart; and the women they leave behind: May Meriwether, Rebecca Rusk, Rose, Laura, and Lacey Rose.
Settings: The Buckmeyer Farm and Ranch, South Texas Battle fields, Saint Louis, New York, and Connecticut
Premise: Love covers a multitude of sin.
Synopsis: A stolen kiss ignites a fire that burns all the way from Texas to New York City. Torn apart by war, rejection, and a letter with news she never wanted, Lacey Rose takes her shredded heart and runs. Charley figures something isn’t right, but is duty-bound to the Confederacy until a deathbed order sets in motion a series of events that test his love, honor, and commitment to the breaking point.
Can the two lifelong friends see past the pain to finally realize God’s plan for them to be more than just kin?
Cover Art by Kirk DouPonce, a blessing to this author!
Read Chapter One
May 18, 1861
“Just one more.”
A chorus of disappointed ‘AWWs’ followed. The deeper throated ones outnumbered the rest, but did nothing to deter her. “Oh, it doesn’t hurt! Now come on. Please. This time with the whole family.”
Lacey Rose slipped away to the porch and sat on a step. Aunt May hurried about putting everyone exactly where she wanted them. The photographer hovered, offering his advice, but no one else paid much attention.
“Lacey, come stand here by your mama.”
Nothing in her wanted to. She really wasn’t a part of the family, but it wouldn’t do to argue, not with the mistress of the house. The only one who could persuade that woman on anything was Uncle Henry.
But still, she didn’t look like the rest and had no blood relation. Her mother could pass for a family member, but Lacey favored her father, Bear Fang.
The few minutes seemed more like an hour. Then finally, it was over.
Except really, just beginning.
How could some tall buffoon from Illinois get himself elected president of the United States and start such a terrible war? She didn’t want them to leave. Things would never be the same once they did.
Tears flowed aplenty. Kisses and hugs, too, but she couldn’t do a thing about it. Only watch. She choked back a sob. How could he leave?
Yet, there he stood. His fancy uniform sure looked dashing on her love. Every last one of them hated slavery, so why were they going off to defend Texas as Confederate soldiers?
She didn’t understand.
Kissing the last cheek, practically ignoring her, he strode toward the wagon assigned to him. She couldn’t stand it. He was leaving, and she might never…ever….
The last porch step offered something to kick against, and in doing so, she propelled herself off and raced to him. He turned, and she threw herself into his arms. Blatant as the afternoon sun, she pressed her lips against his. At first, he only stood stone still, then kissed her back.
Her heart stopped. She’d passed on to Heaven.
But then it boomed again, pulsing blood through her veins.
Never had she been so alive.
Firm hands grasped her shoulders, and he pushed her back, peered into her eyes.
“I love you, Charley Nightingale. I’ve loved you forever, and I always will.” She hugged him tight, and he let her. She spoke softly into his ear. “I do, I love you. Promise you’ll come back to me. Please! Do not get yourself killed. I don’t want to live my life without you. Promise you’ll come home.” She leaned back a bit.
Nodding, he searched her eyes then put his lips on hers.
Charley leaned out and smiled. “You best go on. We’ve got to leave, but I do promise you. I won’t get killed.”
As much as she hated to, she retreated.
Standing in the yard in front of the big house, her insides as thrilled as they were devastated, she watched the wagons roll along until the last glimpse.
Her tears exceeded their boundaries. She fell to her knees then to the ground and sobbed, sitting there in the dirt. She loved him with a love deeper and truer than any that had ever been.
And he was gone.
Why hadn’t she told him before?
A hand gripped her arm. “Get yourself inside.” She looked up and sniffled. Her mother glared, her eyes spit fire.
Instead of screaming no, Lacey nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Dust yourself off. Let me see if you’ve ruined that dress.”
“Oh, Ma, please. A little dirt isn’t going to hurt nothing.”
Her mother dragged her to the modest saw-board house Jean Paul had built for the two of them, even though all Lacey Rose wanted to do was run into the big house and upstairs to her room where she could cry until Charley came home.
The door closed, and her mother turned on her.
“What in the world did you think you were doing, young lady? Except I can’t imagine that definition befits you right now! Have you and Charley Nightingale been slipping around behind our backs?”
“Then why were you two carrying on so?” Her eyes hadn’t cooled one bit. “If your grandpa were alive, he’d of skinned your hide, and mine, too, for allowing my daughter to act like a sporting lady! And right in front of God and everybody! Haven’t I told you? I never taught you to act like that! You have embarrassed me to the quick. I am so ashamed!”
“Mother! All I did was kiss him goodbye. I’ve loved that man since I can remember and he’s going off to war! He might die, for Heaven’s sake!”
“Don’t you swear, Lacey Rose! And Charley Nightingale is no man, he’s only a boy.”
“Ma…my heart…it’s broken. Do you have to….” She sniffed then wiped her cheeks. Her mother was wrong! Charley was a man, a good one, the best. Lacey had done nothing to warrant the way her mother acted. She swallowed and looked her in the eye, returning her hateful stare.
She would not look away or repent!
She hadn’t done anything wrong.
“You can bet your drawers I have to! Why, I have never seen the likes! You threw yourself at him! For land’s sake, girl, everyone saw it. They were all gawking at you two! How can I ever face Henry Buckmeyer and May again? Or Wallace and Rebecca? Levi and Rose, too, for that matter.”
“Oh, Mother, please.”
“What? I’ll never hear the end of it! They’ll probably fire me. Who’d want to pay good money for a teacher whose own daughter acts like a trollop? No telling what they’re all going to think.”
Balling her fist, Lacey quickly contemplated the repercussions. She hadn’t thought past her love for the man who may die in war. But what did anything matter above that?
Her mother stood there as though waiting for a response. “I swear on a stack of Bibles, Lacey Rose Langley, if we have to move over this, I’ll –”
“Oh, Ma. Papa is running things now that Uncle Henry is gone. No one is going to throw us out just because I love Charley.”
“Except Jean Paul is not. May and Chester are in charge, and if she says we’re out, then what? We don’t have nothing. Nowhere to go.” Tears rolled down her cheeks. “And all because you can’t control yourself enough to act like the lady I taught you to be.”
Lacey Rose knew better than to argue with her mother, especially when she acted like an idiot. She worried all the time over what the Buckmeyers thought. So idiotic. They were all nice folks, kind to the bone.
No one would be throwing them out or doing anything over one little kiss. Well, actually two, but.…
Then her mother sat on the edge of the bed and covered her face with her hands. “It’s the Comanche in you, isn’t it? That’s what it is! I hate those no good, dirty….”
Her cheeks flushed. “What are you talking about?”
“Oh, I’ve known for years. Bart told me about you trying to get him to run off with you back when you were only nine years old.”
How could he? Her breath came hard. “What of it?”
“You are so ungrateful! The most ungrateful child ever walked on this earth, you…you little….”
“What? What am I, Ma?”
The hate in her eyes pushed Lacey back. She’d never seen her mother in such a state. “A half-breed! That’s what! And you’re acting just like one of those ungrateful savages.”
What? Well, there it was.
In all her sixteen years, her mother had never called her that. Fresh tears welled again, but that time she blinked them away.
Though she wanted to scream, she nodded instead, turned, and walked out. Once the door closed, she ran to the stairs then took them two at a time, like she had as a child, all the way to her room.
She’d show her! She’d show all of them.
Though much like herding cats, May finally got the children’s feet under the kitchen table, sugar cookies passed out, and left them under Jewel’s watchful eye. May smiled at Rose and nodded toward the library, then offered the same wordless invitation to Rebecca.
While the younger ladies sat comfortably in the two wingbacks, she pressed into her husband’s chair.
Oh, it fit her so well.
“Well, I’m sure you know why we’re here. Has Charley said anything to you, Rose?”
“No, ma’am. Not a word, but then he’s always been tight-lipped, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. I didn’t even know he’d been courting that Lattimore girl until her mama said something at church about him not coming around anymore.”
Rebecca leaned out and faced Rose. “When was this? Why didn’t anyone tell me? You’re talking about Olive Lattimore, aren’t you? She’s a very nice young lady. Charley could do way worse.”
“That’s what I told him, but by the time I found out, for all practical purposes, the deal was done—over. He said she wasn’t the girl for him in that I’m-a-grown-man-and-don’t-need-you-in-my-business tone I just hate.”
“He’s grown up so fast.”
“I know. I think Levi may have had something to do with his decision. At least I’m pretty sure he agreed with it.”
If May let them go on, who knew how long they’d talk about Charley and Olive? She had serious, more pressing matters to take into hand.
“Excuse me, ladies. I’d like to get back to Lacey.” She faced the redhead she loved like a little sister. “So, has Charley said anything at all about her?”
“Not a word to me.”
“I wouldn’t want either of you to break any confidences, but have your husbands…?”
May nodded then looped her head into a no, but only got shrugs for a response. “I know I’m grasping at straws, but this is important, and it’s left to me. Only the Lord knows when we’ll see our menfolk again.”
“I was almost as shocked that Charley kissed her back. I mean, at first, he just stood there ram rod straight, then…oh…” Rose fanned herself. “Levi used to kiss me that way.”
Glancing from her to her friend, Rebecca smiled. “Wallace still does. Well, when he’s of a mind, but that’s….”
Both blushed, but kept up their comparisons. May closed her eyes and leaned back, remembering a special time of her own. Henry’s first kiss….
Oh, she would love to have stayed longer with her beloved, but opened her eyes. “Yes! I apologize. I’d like a word with Lacey and Laura now. Either of you care to volunteer to fetch them?”
Rose jumped to her feet. “I’ll get them.”
“No, wait.” Rebecca rose. “You should probably stay…if it’s okay.”
They both looked to May, and she gave them a nod. “Certainly.”
“Let me go then, and I’ll take the children out from under Jewel’s feet. Read them a story or two. Here, you sit in my chair. That’ll leave the extra straight-back for Lacey. Anything else I should tend to, Mama?”
“No, nothing just now, darling.”
“Thank you, my friend. I owe you.” Rose sat down again.
Not soon enough, the door swung open.
Poor Lacey looked like a trapped, wide-eyed kitten, albeit beat down. Laura walked past her daughter and sat in the wingback opposite from Rose. She didn’t appear in such good shape herself.
“Sweetheart, would you pull that chair over and sit it there next to your mother?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The girl’s red face and swollen eyes clearly bore witness of her broken heart. She complied getting it, sat it next to Laura, but remained standing, gripping the back’s top slat until her knuckles turned white. “Miss May, I love him. I’ve always loved him for as long as I can remember.”
The girl faced the lady she apparently wanted to be her mother-in-law. “He was leaving, and I had to let him know.”
Laura jumped to her feet and turned on the girl. “Now hush your mouth, Lacey Rose. Sit yourself down, and allow Miss May to tell us what for.”
Never had May heard Laura talk so rough to any child. She’d always been so patient.
“Yes, please, dear. Do sit. I…uh…we, that’s Rose and I, we’re wondering…” She smiled at the girl who barely squatted on the chair’s edge, looking like she might bolt any second.
“Well, you and Charley. I’d like to find out more about this…this… Is there anything we need to know, dear?”
“Like what? I just said that we love each other. What else are you talking about?”
Clearing her throat, Rose nodded and scooted to the edge of her chair, too. But instead of bolting, the redhead appeared as if she wanted to shake the girl.
“In fact, that isn’t what you said, sweetheart. Earlier you said you loved him. Now you’re saying we love each other. Have the two of you spoken before? Has Charley told you that he loves you?”
* * * * *
Lacey’s heart boomed. She wanted to fly out the door, but instead, smiled at Charley’s mother. “Wasn’t it evident?”
“I would appreciate straight answers, Lacey, please.” Miss May’s tone remained calm and as sweet as could be. “We need to know exactly what has transpired. Miss Rose asked if the two of you have ever spoken of a relationship. If so, then how long has this been going on? And has he done anything inappropriate?”
Were they all blind? “Yes, of course. Didn’t you see? He kissed me back. He does love me. I know he does now, and I love him. And he promised –”
“Promised what, young lady?” If her mother’s eyes spit the fire in them, Lacey would be covered in burns. She must hate her. How could a mother hate a daughter?
Oh yes, she remembered. Because she was a half-breed, and her mother hated all Indians.
Without a glance in her direction, she spoke in a stilted manner. “He’s. Coming. Back. For me. That’s what.”
Miss May put her hands on the desk and leaned forward. The woman’s face remained pleasant enough, but she glared almost as much as Ma.
“We all saw the kiss, Lacey. Now I’m going to ask you one more time, and I expect a specific answer. Before today, has anything happened between the two of you?”
Her cheeks burned. Wait, wait. What were they all thinking? Her mouth went dry and she wanted to die. If only the floor would open and swallow her up.
Finally, she worked up a single swallow.
They all thought… That’s what this was all about. Any second, one of them would call her a half-breed, too. That’s the real truth of this inquisition. She wasn’t good enough for Levi and Wallace’s littlest partner.
Jumping to her feet, she placed her fists on her hips and spit some fire of her own. “I hate you all.”
Slowly, she turned, glaring, daring each of them in succession, but to the woman, they just sat there silent as a board and stared back at her.
They thought she was a whore, that she’d done something horrible. It shone right in their eyes, all of them.
Of their own accord, her feet propelled her to the door and out.
Where could she run?