Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Closer Than Brothers - Chapter Eight

It's NOT a romance. It's not very funny.
No ropin' and ridin' anywhere

Part #8 of 13 episodes of how my heroes from Trouble in Texas met
and how they became so loyal to each other.

Book #3 Stuck Together --Vince's story--releases in June 3.

Callie met Seth (the hero and heroine from Over the Edge) when Callie went to Andersonville Prison to fetch Luke home. You all know that, right?

 Closer Than Brothers
Chapter Eight

Enter Seth Kincaid to our Story!
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Luke—The Kid
“Rafe! Ethan! Help! I’m burning!”
            Luke tore out of sleep. The screaming. Every night since they’d brought this new soldier in. All of them had nightmares but there wasn’t a one tormented like this man. The Colorado soldier made it almost impossible for the rest of them to sleep.
Luke had heard Dare call him Seth, but Luke thought of him as The Burning Man—when he thought of him at all. Seth was sicker than Luke. That was saying something because Luke expected every day to be his last.
He was so sick all he could do was lie there, useless, and listen to the screaming, and burn with his own fever.
He didn’t have the strength to crawl over and shake the guy awake. If he did work up the gumption he’d have to crawl over twenty soldiers to get there and it wasn’t easy pulling The Burning Man out of the dreams, plenty had tried.
“Help me, Rafe. Help! Ethan!” The screaming went on. Seth thrashed and beat at himself. Luke knew because for the first few nights, Luke had lay near him. Vince had been quietly responsible for getting Luke moved. Vince was fighting for Luke's life every way he could. Getting away from Seth might give him a chance to rest.
But there was no where far enough.
Seth had been brought in here not that long ago and he’d been in the infirmary from his first day in Andersonville.
Luke had learned Seth’s thrashing was beating out flames on his own body. Luke had only seen the man once without a shirt but his back was a mass of ugly scars. Made worse by taking a shotgun blast in the back.
Dare had no tools to cut out the pellets so they stayed in and got infected while Seth was tortured by his dreams, always on fire. Always calling for help from his brothers, Rafe and Ethan.  Nightmares while he slept, delirium while he was awake.
Luke pitied Seth at the same time he wanted to beat him into a sound sleep.
The others in the room breathed unevenly. All awake. All listening. All sick as a pack of mangy dogs. Someone shoved at the poor bedeviled soldier and shouted at him to wake up and shut up. It took a long time but finally the screaming ended.
By then, Luke’s eyes had adjusted enough that he could see the black square of the small window, wide open. It let in mosquitoes and the heavy, humid night air. It was only May, and already the heat was stifling. He’d talked tough to Dare, but Luke knew he’d never live through another hot, choking summer. How long did he have to suffer before he died?
He was skin and bones. He had no strength left. Dare was scared to death. Vince was at his
Vince fights for Luke's life
side constantly with scraps of food and swallows of water.
Jonas prayed over him every chance he got.
Luke had shaken off a fever several times, he sure hoped he’d do it again, just like Dare had gotten over the third knife attack. But this fever was Luke’s worst one yet.
            His only hope of survival was if this war ended and soon, and Luke had given up on that. The war was eternal. In fact it might not really be war. When his fever came up high and he thrashed and had nightmares of his own, he often imagined himself in purgatory. Then he’d wake up and not be sure of what was real and what was a dream.
            He wondered if this might be the day he died or if he had died and this was hell. He’d pray and try to make sure his soul was right with God, but if he was dead and this was hell, then he must have done something wrong.
            God, had he done it wrong?
As he lay, next thing to starved to death, in the foul infirmary with Dare doing everything he
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could to keep Luke from being added to the death toll, Luke thought of his little sister. He wished he’d had a chance to tell Callie he was sorry. He’d harangued her most every day of his life. She was a tomboy and Luke had insulted her for it and bickered with her and fought with Pa over her unladylike ways.
            He was just heartsick with loneliness for Ma, and he missed how she’d made a comfortable home for all of them and been the one gentle, soft, pretty thing in a hard life.
Luke had wanted Callie, only ten years old when Ma died, to take over making the gracious home that Luke hadn’t known he’d loved until Ma was gone.
            Callie was nigh onto too young to even be left home alone, let alone expecting her to do the cooking and cleaning and mending. Luke knew now that, in his grief over losing Ma he’d turned tears into anger and lashed out at Callie and Pa and anyone else who came near. If he died here in prison would his family even care? Had he been such an ugly presence in their lives that they’d never miss him?
            What a legacy for a man to leave.
            He was so miserable that his regrets over his family were the only thing that made him mind dying. When he was rational, he knew he’d made his peace with God. Why not embrace the next life in heaven?
            Dare wouldn’t let up. Vince came. Jonas prayed.
            They wouldn’t let him die…so he lived in misery.
            Dare was walking death he was so thin. Vince’s cheeks had gone so hollow his face looked
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like a skull. Jonas had spent the better part of a week in here, in the blankets next to Luke, so weak he’d left off all his minister work save prayer. And that he did without ceasing. Jonas had healed enough he’d dragged himself out to make room for other ailing prisoners.
            Luke stared into the gray light of dawn, felt his fever rise and wondered if this would be his last day on earth. He hoped so.
“It’s over!” Dare came shoving into the infirmary. “It’s over! The guards are gone. They’ve abandoned their post and made a run for it. The Union Army is at the gates.”
Dare dropped to his knees beside Luke, who was stretched out on the floor, nothing so fine as a cot to sleep on. The impossible words made Luke’s head spin and his vision turned into a long tunnel.
“We’ll get you out of here.” Dare’s voice faded as Luke tried to imagine the end to purgatory. “Hang on, Luke. Hang on. You’re going to be okay.”
Luke wasn’t sure he had the strength. 
Cool water washed across his brow. Cool. When had he felt anything cool?
“Wake up, Luciano.”
            And a woman? That could not be a woman’s voice.
            His ears buzzed as if they weren’t working just right and he couldn’t force his eyes open. The fever that was part of him all the time burned through the cool.
            His ma called him that. She’d been dead for years. Did that mean he was dead?
The noise faded and he slept.
Arms, strong female arms wrapped around him and he thought of his ma again.
He was in heaven being held by his ma. Except he felt terrible, hot and aching. That didn’t fit with what he thought he knew of heaven. He was still burning. Hot.
No, that fit with hell and his sweet, Godly Ma wouldn’t be there.
Cool water was forced past his lips and he swallowed just to get the tormentor to stop making him drink.
“Luke.” That familiar female voice.
Then arms again. “Luke, please wake up. What have they done to you? How could they let you starve like this?” The arms were strong and so gentle. And he felt a kiss on his cheek and broken sobs shook whoever held him.
Hot tears slid down his neck and those strong, gentle arms felt better than the finest dreams he’d ever had of heaven.
Through the fever and hunger and months of filth and pain and want, the arms seemed to reach in and pull him back to life.
He tried to thank her for that, surface from the darkness that held him, but it was too hard to speak, he just didn't have the strength. Instead he let her hold him while he floated, aware but unable to respond.
He did have the strength to thank God she was here and beg that she stay and wonder who she was.
“Luciano, I love you.”
            The cloth was cool again. Always washing him, soothing him. Another drink. Coaxing.
            "Luke, son.  Take a bite of soup. You have to eat." A deeper voice. Luke knew this one was Pa. But Pa like he'd never heard him. Almost begging. Pa brought low, sad, scared and Pa wasn't afraid of nuthin'. But Pa was afraid for Luke and Luke felt terrible about that. For being such a burden.
            He fought like mad to get his eyes open to relieve the fear. Pa’s strong arm slid behind Luke's shoulders and lifted.
            It was almost an embrace and Luke couldn't remember the last time Pa had come close to giving him a touch in kindness, or in unkindness come to that. Pa just plain never touched him, and why would he? But this touch was strengthening, as nourishing as food when a man was starving. It put heart into Luke and made him fight to wake up.
            “Son, you need to drink and eat." The raw quality to Pa’s voice made it seem as if Pa had been talking for a long time. "You need strength to fight this fever. Once we beat that, we'll get you built up, then get you back to Texas.”
            Luke felt like he'd been swimming in black water forever.
            He remembered a woman. Ma maybe. But Ma was dead.
            Suddenly it struck him that it could only be his little sister. But the voice was no kid who’d been calling him by his Italian name. Luciano. It was a woman. Callie? But Callie was a little girl. And she knew he liked the American version of his name.
            It would be like her to taunt him into responding.
            He tried to respond. He really did, but it was just too hard.

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Abbi Hart said...

Ok, now I really want Part 9! This part was amazing!

Dee LeRoye said...

Like, wow, Mary. I'll be watching for the next edition.

mary ellen goodwin said...

Can't wait until the next chapter comes out. This one was too short. I wanted the story to keep going.

Lis K said...

I love how you are connecting this series with the Kincaid Brides series. Callie was quite the ornery girl as I remember :) On a side note, Vince is just awesome, always helping his friends.

Mary Connealy said...

Lis K he's not nicknamed Invincible Vince for nuthin'.
Except in Stuck Together Vince has more than he can handle.

DebH said...

LOVE the mention of Seth (he's my favorite Kincaid brother). So cool how the two series get intertwined here. Yay!

loving the whole story reveal a bit at a time (although i must admit i want the whole thing at once)

DebH said...

p.s. I see you added text to the cover. Is that another Vince suggestion? Cool.

Mary Connealy said...

DebH, what do you think? Yes, Vince thought a subtitle was in order. I couldn't stand to make you do more!!!! :) I'm sure that's temporary.

I'm pretty proud of myself. A TEXT BOX!!!

DebH said...

i love the font choice. one of my favorites. it's just a shade off center (probably only a graphics person like me notices), but i'm impressed you did that for yourself. nice job.