By Karen Wills
Here’s an excerpt from my historical novel, All Too Human: A Saga of Deadly Deceptions and Dark Desires. Lucinda Cale is writing a post-Civil War diary of her journey from St. Louis to the wilds of Northwest Montana as a newlywed married to wealthy and difficult Garrett Cale. Her life will take unexpected turns as will that of Rebecca Bryan, the novice attorney who, in 1905, finds Lucinda’s diaries. Enjoy.
Garrett hired five men at Fort Benton to ride alongside us as armed protectors all the way to Eagle Mountain, along with Louis the cook and our young driver and packer. The protectors are hard men. I’ve never seen even one of them smile. None have spoken to me or Peggy. I’m accustomed to men flitting like moths to my flame so this indifferent behavior unsettles me.
I admit it. Male lack of interest is new, and it stings my vanity. Did the war burn away any ability they once had to appreciate womanly charms? Did it leave their emotions hard as metal? Cold as ashes? Peggy declares herself insulted by their unconcern for her flirtatious approaches. She protested today, “How can they protect me if they can’t see me?”
Garrett made sure when he hired them that all five fought for the Union. I’m wary of them even as they fascinate me. In the circles I frequented back home I seldom conversed with or met any lower-ranking enlisted men. Plain to see, these hard souls who ride with us withstood merciless use in horror-filled battles.
I study them when I suppose they aren’t looking, but suspect they note my artless spying. They’re ever alert. Their eyes must miss nothing.
When one of them does flick a rare glance at me, sadness rests in his blear eyes. Each carries a brace of revolvers and long knives in their boots as well as his own rifle. Although their clothes are shabby and often carry several days’ worth of dust, they keep their weapons spotless and shining from well-oiled care.
Thoughts of my brother’s death in the horrors of battle haunt me like Mr. Poe’s raven haunted him. I think my grief will never leave me. Nevermore. Was it possible that cheerful Peter would have returned volatile as Garrett, or dour as these bitter men, their faces lined before their time? Would my own brother have been a stranger to me after being seared in the heat of bloody conflicts? I pray not. I hope Peter is with God and at peace.