Twin sisters separated by war, bound by love…
After the death of their father, twin sisters Maggie and Matty Becker are forced to take positions with officers’ families at a nearby fort. When the southern states secede, the twins are separated, and they find themselves on opposite sides of America’s bloodiest war.
In the south, Maggie travels with the Hamiltons to Bellevue, a plantation in west Tennessee. When Major Hamilton is captured, it is up to Maggie to hold things together and deal with the Union cavalry troop that winters at Bellevue. Racism, politics and a matchmaking stepmother test Maggie’s resourcefulness as she fights for Bellevue, a wounded Confederate officer and the affections of the Union commander.
In the north, Matty discovers an incriminating letter in General Worthington’s office, and soon she is on the run. With no one to turn to for help, she drugs the wealthy Colonel Cole Black and marries him, in hopes of getting the letter to his father, the governor of Michigan. But Cole is not happy about being married, and Matty’s life becomes all about survival.
Two unforgettable stories of courage, strength and honor.
Title: HAZARDOUS UNIONS
Genre: Historical Romance
Authors: Alison Bruce & Kat Flannery
Publisher: Imajin Books
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The Yankees were coming.
We’d seen the signs days ago. News was, most of west Tennessee had fallen under Union control. Thaddeus scouted them out while hunting rabbits in the brush that bordered the plantation’s cotton fields. We’d prepared as best we could as fast as we could, and now I was waiting for them on the front veranda of Bellevue.
“Someone has to meet them, Miss Maggie,” Mammy said, setting out tea things as if the neighbors were coming to call. “Mrs. Hamilton hasn’t got your nerve and Miss Patience wouldn’t be a lick of good even if she would come downstairs.”
“I’m just a servant,” I objected half-heartedly.
“Yeah, like Tad here is just a dumb nigger.” Mammy cocked her head to one side and a moment later I heard the faint but shrill whistle of the kettle. She smoothed the skirt of her greying white pinny over her faded grey dress. Eventually, the two garments were going to match. “Watch out for her, boy,” she said, before heading around the corner of the wraparound porch toward the kitchen door.
Only Mammy could get away with calling Thaddeus “boy” or “nigger” without coming under the resolute stare of a man who looked like he could have been carved out of a huge block of obsidian. Mammy was his aunt and had raised him, along with Major Hamilton, from nursery age. The boys had been more like brothers than master and slave, Mammy said, until Master Ned was sent off to West Point to be made an officer and a gentleman. It was hard for me to reconcile her picture of Master Ned with the aloof man who had employed me to take care of his wife.
I was barely sixteen when I was hired by the Captain, now Major Hamilton. Some days I felt that I was twice that age now, instead of just a couple of years older. Today, watching the Union contingent approach, I felt like that frightened girl again. I took small comfort in the pair of pistols hidden in the pockets of my crinoline. Knowing that Thaddeus was watching over me from the shadows, armed to the teeth, was more reassuring.
Half a dozen hard looking men approached the house. Four of them spread out, some facing us, some partly turned to keep an eye on the out buildings. Two of them rode up the path towards the porch. I felt like I was being ringed in by a pack of hungry wolves. The leader of the pack rode up to the bottom of the front steps.
Wolfish was a description that fit him. Hard muscled, wary eyes, shaggy dark hair spiking out from his cap, he looked old with experience and young in years. His uniform had seen better days and his beard was untrimmed, but it appeared that he had made some effort to clean up before approaching the house. That was a good sign.
I had also made an effort for appearances sake. Instead of my usual long braid, I had twisted my blonde hair into knot and allowed tendrils to fall free on either side of my face. I was wearing one of the calico dresses Mrs. Hamilton bought me in St. Louis. She wanted to make it clear that I was no mere servant any more. I was using it today for similar reasons.
“Afternoon, ma’am. I’m Captain Seth Stone. I have a cavalry troop under my command that needs to set up quarters for the winter.”
“I see.” My voice was steady, but I could feel my knees wobble beneath my skirts. “And?”
“And this looks like a good place to stay.”
“How many are you expecting us to accommodate?”
I heard a chuckle from one of his men. It was stifled with a sharp look from the grim-faced sergeant behind the captain.
“Not so many as there should be,” the Captain said, ignoring the interruption. “If you’d oblige me by asking your man to lay down his arms, maybe we can discuss terms.”
“Gott hilf mir,” I prayed, but held my ground. “You have your protectors, Captain. I have mine.”
With a hand gesture, he signaled his men and they all dismounted as neatly as if they were on parade. Then he dismounted and held out his reins to the sergeant.
“Thaddeus, would you lead these troopers and their horses to water?”
Thaddeus stepped out of the shadows, empty handed. “Yes, miss.”
The two men passed on the stairs. Thaddeus was significantly taller and broader than the Union officer and was doing his best guard dog imitation, but the Captain didn’t flinch when they passed. He did keep his eye on Thaddeus until he was in the range of his own men. Then he turned his attention back to me and I lifted my head up to make eye-contact. He may not have been as tall as Thaddeus, but he was not a small man and I am on the short side for a woman.
Having asserted his dominance, he backed up a step.
“I understand this is the Hamilton home. Are you Mrs. Hamilton?”
“No, sir. I am Magrethe Becker, Mrs. Hamilton’s companion.”
His eyes widened. “Maybe I should be speaking to the lady of the house.”
“Mrs. Hamilton is indisposed and asked me to…” I stopped, looking for the right word. Meet with him? That sounded too friendly. Deal with him? Almost rude. “Negotiate terms with you.”
He let out a short bark of laughter.
“My terms are simple, Miss Becker. I need to winter seventy men and three officers, plus myself. It’ll be tight, but this place looks like it has enough room with the house and out buildings. We’ll need food and fodder of course. You can either offer, or I will take.”
I shook my head. “No.”
He barked out a longer laugh. “What makes you think you’re in the position to say no?”
“Twelve wounded union soldiers in our care, Captain Stone.”
Fort Wayne, Michigan
What had she done? Matty Becker was going to hell, and there’d be no one to save her. A loud snore echoed from the other room. She peeked around the corner and caught a glimpse of Colonel Black’s stocking feet. She’d burn for sure. She glanced at the paper she held and groaned. She was a horrible, devious, scheming letch. Maggie wouldn’t be pleased. Maggie wasn’t here. Another snore blew into the kitchen and she placed her head onto the table banging her forehead twice. There was no turning back now.
Last night she’d pushed aside her conscience and let fear guide her. For her plan to work, she’d have to throw all sense to the dogs, not that she hadn’t done so already by following through with the blasted thing. She couldn’t fail now. If her family found out what she’d done they’d never forgive her. Worse yet, if Colonel Black found out she’d be locked behind bars, a fate far better than the one that got her in this mess to begin with.
She placed the paper on the table and went into the bedroom. Colonel Black lay on the bed with his clothes stripped off and tossed about the floor. He’d been out for nine hours and would wake any minute. Matty stood, pushed all thoughts of reason from her mind and removed her dress, corset and pantaloons. Her face heated and the room spun. He rolled over and she jumped into the bed next to him, pretending to sleep. She knew the moment he’d woken. The bed stilled and she couldn’t breathe the air was so stiff.
“What the hell?” He sat up and she knew the instant he saw her. “Son of a bitch.”
She felt his nudge once, twice and now a shove almost knocking her from the bed.
“Wake the hell up,” he growled.
She squeezed her eyes closed and willed strength into her soul so she could face the dark Colonel. She rolled over pretending to wipe the sleep from her eyes.
“Who are you?” He placed his head in his hands. She’d bet he had one heck of a headache.
“Your wife,” she said.
“The hell you are.” He shot out of bed without grabbing the sheet, and she averted her eyes.
“Please cover yourself.” She held up the sheet and he ripped it from her hand. “The marriage license is in the kitchen on the table if you do not believe me.”
She watched as he grabbed his head and closed his eyes. The heavy dose of laudanum she’d placed in his drink the night before had done the trick and it wasn’t but a mere suggestion they marry that the Colonel jumped to the challenge. Soon they were standing in the dining room in front of a preacher. Words were spoken—words she thought to say with someone she loved, someone who’d wanted her. Her stomach lurched and her mouth watered with the urge to vomit.
“How did this happen?” he asked sitting on the end of the bed.
“Mrs. Worthington sent me to see if you needed anything.”
“I was drinking.” He looked at her. “I was drunk.”
He stood holding the sheet tight to his midsection.
She couldn’t help but notice the rippled stomach and defined muscles on his chest.
“We can annul. I had too much to drink. My head wasn’t clear.”
She shook her head.
“We have consummated.” A lie of course but she was desperate.
His mouth fell open. A moment she knew he’d not remember. After the preacher left, she’d taken him to the bedroom where he passed out before hitting the bed.
“Impossible. I’d remember that.”
She shook her head again praying he’d buy the fib.
He pulled on his pants and dress shirt. “I don’t even know you. Why in hell would I marry you?”
“My name is Matty Beck—Black. I was employed with the Worthington’s. You’ve come to dinner several times.”
His brown eyes lit with recognition. “You’re the house maid.”
“I married a maid?”
The words stung and she turned from him so he wouldn’t see the disappointment upon her face.
“Why would you marry me if I was into the spirits?”
“You seemed fine to me.”
He took a step toward her. “Why would you marry me at all when you don’t even know me?”
She gripped the blanket on the bed. “You…you said kind words, and I…I believed them.
“How desperate are you to marry a stranger?” he yelled. “You found out who my father is. You want money. You tricked me.”
Well, he got the last one right, but the first two irritated her. She was not the kind of person to marry for money. Really, who did he think she was?
“Sorry to disappoint you but I refused my inheritance years ago.”
“If you mean to say that I could not find myself a suitable husband because I am a maid, then you’re wrong.”
“That is exactly what I am saying Miss—”
“The hell it is.”
He went into the kitchen picked up the marriage license and stared at it.
Matty dressed quickly and inched into the room. Confusion pulled at his features and she began to feel sorry for him. This was her fault. She’d planned this. Now she had to continue telling the lie she’d told. She glanced outside and shivered. Boldness, be my tongue. Shakespeare’s words echoed in her mind. It was worth it. She’d been living in fear for a week. Colonel Black had been her saviour, and she risked a life full of love and happiness for this—a lie in which she’d speak for the rest of her life. She swallowed back the lump in her throat and willed the tears not to fall.
“Why can’t I remember?” He glanced at her. “And why in hell would I marry you?”