"Come out with us," Meghan Wheeler cajoled, tugging on her best friend's hand. "Lisa and I will buy all your drinks tonight, and we won't even make you dance unless you want to. It'll be a quiet night."
Kacy Adams shook her head and slipped her hand free. She loved Meghan like a sister, but they had different opinions on what constituted a 'quiet night.' In college, where they'd met as roommates, Meghan had always been the more out-going, party girl while Kacy spent most of her time in the library or computer lab. After eight years of friendship, Meghan still didn't understand that Kacy preferred historical texts to modern conversation.
"I think I'm going to order a pizza and veg out on the couch. My DVR's almost full so I need to watch and erase what I've got recorded."
Meghan rolled her eyes. "Yeah right. You're going to read those letters again."
Kacy shrugged a shoulder but didn't deny the accusation. Seven months earlier, she'd purchased an old trunk at an estate sale. To her surprise, and pleasure, the compartment below the trunk's false bottom contained letters written by Confederate Captain Samuel Crowder to his mother Annie and his brother John, a First Lieutenant in the Union Army. As she'd concentrated on the Civil War for her Master's, she'd eagerly devoured all forty letters.
Crazy as it sounded, she'd also fallen in love with Captain Crowder. He'd agonized over the split between him and his brother. He'd written to John and Annie about how he still loved his "Yankee" brother, and looked forward to the day they could all be together again. He'd tried to shield his mother from the true horrors of the war and constantly reassured her that he was fine. Kacy admired his spirit and his selflessness. It was a shame he'd been killed during the Battle of Chickamauga.
"You need a real boyfriend, Kace," Meghan remarked. It was an observation she made at least once a week. "I know it hurt when Paul the Prince of Pricks screwed you over, but that was two years ago. Stop licking your wounds and hop back in the saddle, kiddo."
"Oh please." Kacy waved her hand dismissively. "I am so over Paul."
Meghan playfully tugged on the end of Kacy's chestnut braid. She'd been there when Kacy had stumbled in on her fiancé Paul doing the horizontal mambo on the kitchen table with his "lab partner." Rather than falling apart or getting angry, Kacy had erected a wall around herself so thick that only her closest friends and family members could get through. And, of course, the Captain.
"Face it, kiddo, no one will ever measure up to the Captain," she teased. "Are you sure you don't want to come? Lisa and I have a bet going. She swears that if we hit the bar near the university, we can cash in on your fame and not pay for a single drink."
Kacy groaned. Shortly after reading the letters, she'd written an article on the Crowder brothers for one of the leading Civil War publications. The article had gotten quite a bit of attention and led to a short segment on several news programs as well as stint as an "expert" for the History Channel's most recent Civil War mini-series. Though the series had only aired a week earlier, she was already tired of the spotlight. Lisa, an AV whiz, had strung all Kacy's "bits" together and sent the e-mail to all their college friends. More than one had commented on her "crush" on Captain Crowder.
"I'm going to take that as a no." Meghan puffed out her lower lip in an exaggerated pout, but knew it wouldn't sway her friend. Once Kacy made her mind up, there was little that could change it. It was one of the things she both loved and hated about the other woman.
"Get out of here," Kacy laughed, shoving her friend towards the French doors that opened out onto the courtyard separating their townhomes. Meghan waved cheekily through the tinted glass as Kacy locked the deadbolt.
To prove to herself and Meghan that she didn't need to spend every night with the Crowder letters, she ordered a Hawaiian pizza from her favorite pizza delivery and settled on the couch with the remote and a glass of Hill Country Merlot. Halfway through her third slice of pizza and two hours into her mini Spirit Sleuths marathon, her eyes slid to the packet of letters on her desk.
"Stop it, Kace! They're just letters," she muttered under her breath and turned the volume up. When she got up to pour herself a second glass of wine, she took a long, winding path around the desk. By the time she got to the kitchen, her fingers were shaking and her heart was pounding. "This just proves you need time away from Samuel Crowder, moron."
She tried to sit still on the couch and pay attention to her favorite show, but her attention kept wandering. She'd catch her eyes drifting to the desk and her feet swinging to the floor and pinched herself as punishment. When the ending credits rolled across the screen, she realized that she didn't remember a single detail from the episode's plot. Disgusted with herself, she clicked the television off and picked her laptop off the coffee table. T.V. wasn't a good distraction, but work always kept her mind busy.
As a researcher and assistant-curator for the Texas Heritage Museum in Hillsboro, there were always things that needed to be verified and cataloged. She loved the museum and her job, but was looking forward to the following fall when she was slated to start her Assistant Professorship at her alma-mater in Huntsville. The only downside was that it meant leaving Meghan, an instructor for Hill College's Fashion and Design program, behind.
An e-mail from Juan Hernandez, one of her old study partners and a staffer at the Texas Civil War Museum in Fort Worth, caught her attention. As she was downloading the attached files, she noticed an e-mail from Nancy Jacobs from The Pearce Museum with a similar subject and attachment size. Was there a reunion or seminar she'd missed that they were filling her in on?
Scanned photographs from the Civil War covered her screen. They were from the Battle of Cold Harbor according to what Juan had written. While it wasn't one of her "favorite" battles, she appreciated the images. In two of the photos, a tall, lean man dressed in a shabby uniform standing so that only his profile was visible caught her attention. She zoomed in as closely as the program would allow. She knew the curve of that twice-broken nose and the line of that strong, square jaw!
While her top-of-the-line photo printer, one of the few things she'd splurged on, printed the photos, Kacy set her laptop on the coffee table and launched herself off the couch. Shortly after acquiring the trunk of letters, she'd exploited all of her contacts and managed to purchase a Crowder family photograph taken shortly before John and Samuel went to war as well as a photograph of Samuel in his uniform. She grabbed the framed photo of Samuel off her bookcase and dashed to her printer. She bounced anxiously on her toes as she waited for the picture to print.
As soon as the last photo slid onto the tray, she held it up to the light and peered at it through her magnifying glass. She held the Cold Harbor picture and the pre-war photo side-by-side to compare images. Though she'd have to use a facial recognition program to be absolutely certain, she was sure she was looking at a picture of Captain Samuel Crowder burying bodies at the site of a battle that took place nine months after he was killed in action.
Her hands trembled as she scrolled through the contact list on her cell phone. She drummed her fingers on the desk while she waited for Juan to answer. "Do you know what this is!" she exclaimed as soon as she heard him grunt a terse greeting.
"Of course, moron. Who else would it be? I just got your e-mail. Do you have any idea what those pictures mean?" She collected her photographs and collapsed on the couch. With the tip of her index finger, she traced the outline of Samuel's face through the glass.
Juan's voice dropped off. Static buzzed in Kacy's ears. Before she could hang up and redial, the static cleared. "Kace, I didn't send you an e-mail."
"Of course you did. Five Cold Harbor photos were attached."
More static. "I'm not working on any Cold Harbor projects. I've been working day and night on our Battlefield Medicine exhibit."
Kacy's smile faltered. She leaned forward to double check the contents of her inbox. The e-mail from Juan was still there and it had come from his museum e-mail address. She opened the e-mail from Nancy and found the same photos. "You sent it to me. Nancy sent me the exact same pictures an hour before you did. I've got to tell you, I'm not sure I like knowing you both have better contact than I do."
"Kacy," Juan drawled, his West Texas accent more prevalent than ever. He said her name the same way he had when she'd gone nearly catatonic over Paul and when he'd accidentally deleted all their notes for their big Western Expansion project.
"What?" she whispered, heart thudding painfully. Juan wasn't the type to play practical jokes. He was one of the most serious, straight-forward people she'd ever met. If he said he hadn't set the e-mail, she believed him.
"Nancy's in Belize. She's been there for a week, remember? Big destination wedding for her sister?"
"Oh." Kacy slowly closed the top her laptop with her e-mail still open. She drew her knees to her chest and cradled the phone between her ear and shoulder. Though it was October and relatively warm, she shivered and goosebumps dotted her arms. "T-thank you, Juan."
"Is everything okay, honey? You sound far away."
"I-I t-think I n-need to go now." With her thumb, she pressed the button to disconnect the call. Her teeth were chattering and tears stung her eyes. She licked dry lips and glanced down at the photos beside her. Captain Samuel Crowder, eyes dark and face grim, stared back at her. If Nancy was in Belize and Juan swore he didn't do it, who had sent the photos?
She let out a low screech when the wind picked up and rattled the French doors. Blowing out a shaky breath, she laughed at herself and stood on wobbly knees. They were finally getting the thunderstorm the weatherman had been promising all week. "Calm down, scaredy-cat. You know that always happens when you don't bolt the doors."
Kacy froze, hand extended towards the deadbolt. It wasn't locked. She'd done it after Meghan had left. She knew she had. She always locked the bolt when she was by herself. Was the wine messing with her mind? A lump in her throat, she flipped the bolt for the second time that evening and shoved her hands in her pockets.
As she shuffled back into living room, the sound of a low growl sent shivers down her spine.
So? Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Come on...