Honestly, I had forgotten about this one because I was so focused on finishing up TCC. Since I need the distraction from all the rewrites, we're going to get this sucker done.
If you missed the first part, it is here.
“See, you should have come out with us.”
Kacy sighed and continued stirring her drink with a swizzle stick. Cocktails in the courtyard, a Bloody Mary for Meghan and a Screwdriver for Kacy, after a night of partying was a Saturday morning tradition. After listening to Meghan rave about the club’s DJ and the amazingly hot guy she’d met, Kacy told her about the e-mails and the phone conversation with Juan.
“Come on, Kace, cheer up. Think about it this way: now you’ve got even more pictures of your Captain to ogle,” Meghan teased.
“I do not ogle him!” was the automatic protest. When Meghan rolled her eyes and snorted, Kacy couldn’t help but giggle. Okay, so maybe she indulged in some ogling. She didn’t think anyone would blame her. With dark, shaggy hair that looked perfect for burying fingers in and lips to die for, there wasn’t an actor or model who could compare. It didn’t hurt that she’d always been a sucker for uniforms.
“It’s not even him. Just a guy who looks like him. I’m being stupid.” Kacy groaned and took a long sip from her drink. The cool, tart juice soothed her dry throat while the more-than-generous shot of vodka warmed her insides.
She didn’t think she was imagining things, though. After staring at the pictures for hours, she was still certain that it was the same man in all the photos. Wartime was confusing and chaotic, but she had two letters written to Mrs. Annie Crowder regarding the death of her beloved younger son. Major J.C. Rogers and Brigadier General Jerome B. Roberston had both sent their condolences for the loss of such a “fine, passionate, and loyal brother.”
While Roberston’s letter had had more of a cookie-cutter feel, Rogers’ had been more specific. On September 23rd, 1863, three days after sustaining severe injuries to his lower extremities and abdomen, Captain Samuel Crowder died. Rogers had made a point to try and comfort Mrs. Crowder with the knowledge that her son, drugged to the gills with opium, had “felt little pain at his time of passing.” Kacy wasn’t sure Mrs. Crowder bought the lie any more than she did. Rogers had sent Mrs. Crowder Samuel’s silver-plated flask, a gift from his grandfather, and a pocket watch. The flask had been in the trunk but, though she’d tried her hardest, Kacy couldn’t locate the watch.
“Oh, no, sweetie,” Meghan’s laughing voice brought Kacy out of her thoughts. “You’re the resident expert on Captain Cutie. If you say it’s him, then it has to be him.”
Kacy hung her head, loose hair spilling over her shoulders and shielding her face from Meghan’s observant eyes. “I think I’m losing it. It’s not just the pictures, either. I could have sworn I locked the doors after you left last night, but they rattled when that storm came through and scared the hell out of me. Then, when I was walking back after locking the doors, I heard a growling. Not like a wild animal growl either. It was… weird.”
Meghan patted her friend’s hand gently. “You’re being too hard on yourself. You’ve been killing yourself wrapping up your doctorate and working overtime because Marcy went on maternity leave. That’s not including all the crap from that t.v. show. Cut yourself some slack.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Skepticism dripped from Kacy’s voice. A few years earlier, she’d pushed the limits of sleep deprivation while taking classes for her Master’s and working full-time. Coffee had practically replaced all the blood in her veins and the shadows under her eyes were almost permanent, but she’d never had auditory hallucinations before.
A glance down at her watch had her jumping to her feet, the Pier One patio chair falling to the ground behind her. “I’ve got to get inside. Em’s coming over for lunch!” she exclaimed as she straightened the chair.
“Oh?” Meghan quirked a pencil-thin eyebrow. “I didn’t know tall, dark, and yummy was gracing us with his presence.”
Kacy shot her a glare. Meghan’s complete lack of subtlety when it came to her crush on Kacy’s adopted brother drove her crazy. Emmett, whom Kacy had to admit was heartbreakingly attractive, refused to give Meghan the time of day. He liked girls with a little more class and a little less brass. Meghan, however, refused to take the hint.
“Juan called him last night after I totally flaked out. I don’t know what he told Emmett, but he was in full big-brother mode this morning.”
“That’s so hot,” Meghan sighed.
Kacy’s glare intensified. “No, it’s not. It’s annoying. I don’t care if they do have some weird ex-jock bromance going on, Juan shouldn’t have called Emmett. You know how pissed he was when I told him I wanted to live by myself and not with him.”
“How could I forget the Carter-Adams Smackdown of 2009?” Meghan pushed her sore, hungover body upright. She swayed momentarily before grabbing her glass and shuffling towards her townhouse. “Tell Emmett I said hi.”
Kacy nodded though she had no intention of passing along the message. It would just frustrate Emmett. He was a genuinely nice guy and didn’t like hurting Meghan’s feelings. She stepped back into the cool, dark interior of her townhouse, bolted the door, and then double-checked the lock. She flicked on the kitchen lights and set down her Screwdriver.
Fortunately she’d made a grocery run the previous afternoon. Emmett, a former football player and current football coach for the local high school, was a bottomless pit. Their adoptive mother joked that it was a good thing he’d gotten a football scholarship since most of his college fund had gone to filling his fridge. After sticking a few cans of her brother’s favorite soda in the fridge, she dashed through the townhouse to make sure there wasn’t anything embarrassing or, considering Emmett’s bull-in-a-china-shop behavior, breakable out.
She didn’t bother hiding the Crowder letters or the photos. Since Juan had likely filled him in on the phone call, Emmett would want to see them. He, much like Meghan, often teased her about her “crush” on Samuel Crowder. Of course, since a long-dead boyfriend meant he didn’t have to vet and threaten a real, live boyfriend, he didn’t give her too much grief.
While waiting for Emmett to pull into the driveway, she perched on the window seat near the front door and read her favorite Crowder letter. Samuel had written it to his brother but sent it to his mother in hopes that she would forward it to John Crowder. Like the two other letters to John in the trunk, it touched on the skirmishes Samuel’s regiment had been involved in and the places he’d seen. For the most part, though, he reiterated his love for his brother and his dismay that they hadn’t been able to see eye-to-eye. Samuel longed for the day that he and John could “be reunited one glorious day on Momma’s front porch without blue and gray dividing our hearts.”
“Oh, Samuel, I wish you and John could have had that glorious day,” Kacy murmured as she reverently folded the letter closed. John had been killed in action three days before Samuel had written that particular letter. From the letters he’d written to his mother afterwards, it was difficult to tell if he knew that John was dead or not.
Hearing gravel crunching under tires, she set the letter on the window seat, slipped her feet into a pair of old flip flops, and darted out the front door. As soon as her behemoth of a brother was out of his shiny red SUV, she threw her arms around his neck. “Em!”
“Hey there, baby girl,” Emmett laughed. He wrapped his beefy arms around her thin waist and lifted her off her feet. Only when he felt her ribs creak did he loosen his grip. He pulled back far enough to kiss her cheek.
This time, it wasn’t just Kacy who heard a growl.