“That wasn’t the same one!” Kacy slipped out of Emmett’s arms and spun around searching for the source of the growl. While the one she’d heard the previous night had been full of malice, the most recent growl was more like a warning or… jealousy?
“The same what, kiddo?”
“Growl. Last night’s growl was different.”
“And I’m just hearing about this mysterious growl now because…”
Kacy groaned and ran a hand through her dark brown hair. “I knew you’d overreact.” She narrowed her eyes as he wound a massive arm around her waist and pulled her behind him. “Kind of like you are now.”
“No such thing as overreacting when it comes to my baby sis.” Emmett scanned the street, the driveway, and the tiny front lawn but couldn’t see anything out of place. At the sound of second growl, this one deeper and more menacing from the first, he pulled Kacy tight against him until the cold tip of her nose was buried in his back. He still didn’t see anyone and the house was too close to town for it to have been a wandering wild animal.
A third growl, the same as the first one that morning, had Kacy crawling up Emmett’s back. She looped her arms around his neck and locked her ankles around his waist. “In the house, please.”
He was certain his football equipment had weighed more than she did. Emmett rushed towards the front door. A manila envelope tucked in the white mailbox by the front door caught Kacy’s attention. She dug her heel into his abdomen to get him to pause long enough for her to grab it.
The envelope was heavy and rigid. Before she opened it, she knew there would be pictures inside. Inside her townhouse, she slipped off Emmett’s back and kicked off her flip-flops. She slid a trembling finger under the flap, sucked in a calming breath, and opened the envelope.
The pictures fell out of her lax grasp and spilled across the floor. She staggered toward the couch. Her knees gave out before she reached the cushions. Hot tears spilled down waxy, pale cheeks. She drew her knees up to her chin and pressed her face into the word denim. Her heart thundered, her head spun and tried to make sense of what she’d seen.
Emmett scooped up the photographs and quickly flipped through them. Judging by the way the people were dressed, they were old photographs. He studied the signs and banners in the backgrounds, shrugged, and kept the pictures in his hand as he settled onto the floor beside his sister. “They’re just reunion pictures, Kace. You and Juan saw hundreds of them when you two did that project on the difference between the GAR and the UCV.”
Under different, less maddening, circumstances, she would have been proud of him for remembering the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans. Most of her history lectures had gone in one ear and out the other. Tucked against his side, she reached for the photos.
“This is the May 1911 UCV reunion in Little Rock.” She held up a black-and-white reproduction of the original photo. “There were speeches, receptions, hot air balloon rides, a parade, and a Veterans’ Ball.”
“This is the May 1951 UCV reunion in Norfolk Virginia. It was the 61st and final reunion.” She switched the 1911 photo for one that looked more recent. Three very old men stood front and center of a crowd of smiling people.
“What does any of that have to do with your freak out? Like I said, you’ve seen these pictures before.” Emmett eyed her carefully. He knew she was under more stress than usual. If he had to, he’d kidnap her and take her away from everything until she relaxed. Their adoptive parents wouldn’t hesitate to be his accomplices.
She tapped the space beside a dark-haired man standing near the back of the group in the 1951 photo. “This is Samuel Crowder.”
Emmett squinted at the image. He’d seen Kacy’s pictures of Captain Crowder. It could have been him in the photo or it could have been one of a thousand dark-haired men. “Kacy, Crowder died in 1863.”
“I know that,” she snapped. She flipped back to the 1911 photo and tapped the face of the same dark-haired man. “He was at the 1911 reunion, too.”
“Maybe it’s his son or a nephew. Family members went to those reunions, didn’t they?”
“Sam didn’t have any children. Neither did John. They didn’t have any other siblings. Their father died in 1857 and their mother never remarried.” She studied the photos for a moment and before holding up a black-and-white one. Her lower lip trembled and her bloodshot eyes glistened with fresh tears. “In 1913 the UCV and the GAR held a joint reunion to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.”
“Okay.” Emmett kissed her forehead. She didn’t feel feverish. As soon as she put the photos down, he was going to bundle her up and carry her to their mother Mary. A day of coddling and Mom’s hearty vegetable soup was what Kacy needed.
“This is Sam Crowder.” She pointed to a dark-haired man then slid her finger to the man standing beside him. “This is his brother John.”
“Didn’t John die before Sam?”
“Exactly!” Kacy scrambled to her feet. She clutched the photos against her chest. “I’m going to scan these and send them to Lisa. She can tell me if they’ve been doctored or not. Then, I’m going to put up a request on a couple of message boards. I want to see if anyone else has seen pictures of Sam.”
Emmett hovered behind Kacy as she scanned the images, e-mailed them to her friend, and then posted messages on several Civil War-related boards. His thick fingers worked the tense muscles in her shoulders. She was wound tighter than she’d been during week before her thesis had been due.
“There. Now I just need to sit and wait.” Kacy clicked the ‘refresh’ button. There were no responses. She clicked the button again.
“Why don’t you come have lunch with me at Mom’s? You know she’s dying to see you.”
“I saw her two weeks ago. We argued because she wanted to set me up with the preacher’s son.” Kacy wrinkled her nose, shuddered. “I’ll join a convent before I let Mom set me up on any more blind dates.”
“Just for a couple of hours, Kace,” Emmett wheedled. He flashed a bright smile complete with dimples. It was a smile few women could resist. If Meghan had been over, she would have dissolved into a puddle of goo at his feet. “We’ll play cards and talk Mom into making banana pudding.”
“Why are you so determined to get me out of…” she broke off and glared at him angrily. “You think I’m losing my mind, don’t you?”
“No.” Emmett covered her hand before she could refresh the page again. He lifted her off the chair and folded her into his arms. “I think you’re tired, stressed, and maybe a little obsessed.”
“I mean, I’ve been crazy before,” she continued, voice muffled by her brother’s shirt. “It’s not like I’m a stranger to the mental ward. You and Mom have probably been sitting around waiting for this day to come.”
Emmett winced. He still remembered the skinny, big-eyed little girl his parents had brought home. Found covered in blood, wandering, and rambling about black-eyed women wearing old-fashioned clothes, the authorities had institutionalized the five-year-old with the letters K and C tattooed on the inside of her left wrist. His mother had been a nurse at the hospital and had fallen instantly in love with the quiet girl. By the time she was seven, Kacy Adams was Emmett’s new sister.
“That’s not fair, Kace. We’ve never done anything like that.” He didn’t bother to point out that there had been times he’d worried about her mental state. She tended to get lost in her studies and block out the rest of the world.
Kacy deflated. Her indignation dissipated. She hated hurting Emmett’s feelings. He’d always been her rock and her biggest supporter. He’d even helped smooth the way with their mother when she’d cut all her hair off and dyed the blonde curls a rich brown her senior year of high school.
“I’m sorry, Em. I didn’t mean it. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I do need a break.”
He grinned and ruffled her hair. “It’ll be fun, baby girl. I’ll even let you when a round of Phase 10 or two.”
“Shut up.” She ducked to avoid the hand descending towards her head a second time. “You know I always kick your ass at that game.”
“Mom and I have been practicing. You’re going down this time, you little cheater.”
Kacy laughingly rolled her eyes. They always accused her of cheating. It wasn’t her fault she was better at finding patterns and had better luck. Emmett had been right. They weren’t even at their mother’s yet and she already felt a thousand times better.
The scathing retort she had planned withered on her tongue. Her e-mail program dinged, letting her know she had a new message. Emmett once again hovered over her shoulder while she opened the e-mail. It was a response from messages she’d posted. A high school history teacher in the area had not only seen her on television but had some information on the Crowder family.
“I don’t like this.”
“You’re so suspicious,” she teased Emmett. “You should have been a cop.”
“He’s a history teacher, for crying out loud. How dangerous could he be? He’s just a fan.”
“Or a murderer.” Emmett rocked back on his heels and crossed his arms over his chest. His expression was grim. “I want to be here when you meet him.”
“Okay. I’ll tell him to be here this afternoon. No, don’t give me that look. My address is in the phone book and anyone with half a brain could get it.” She quickly typed out a response to the e-mail. Once it was sent, she pushed her chair away from the desk. “Can you entertain yourself while I change clothes?”
“He’s not coming for tea, Kace. He’s coming so you two can get your geek on.”
“Thanks.” She popped up on her toes to kiss his cheek. “There’s soda in the fridge and Oreos in the cookie jar. Try not to make a mess, ‘kay?”
She was tying the laces of her tennis shoes when she heard the doorbell ring. She glanced down at her silver watch and frowned. It had only been five minutes. Surely Mr. Thorne J. Dow wasn’t that close. She smoothed down her blue sweater and met Emmett in the living room.
He stayed at her back like a menacing bodyguard while she peered through the peephole. The man had his face turned away so she couldn’t see him. After wiping damp palms on her jeans, she steadied her racing heart and pulled open the door.
“Ms. Adams? I’m Thorne Dow,” a masculine voice greeted, the barest hint of a Southern accent evident.
The breath left her lungs in a whoosh. Her vision swam. Her knees wobbled. If it hadn’t been for Emmett’s arm around her waist, she would have fallen to the ground. Tears stung her eyes and bile rose in her throat. She had lost her mind.
Thorne J. Dow was Union Lt. John T. Crowder.