Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chance to win, and to read the Annual Connealy Christmas Letter!

$25 Amazon Gift Card drawing today on Petticoats and Pistols--click the link below to get in the drawing. Leave a comment about your own holiday plans to get your name in a drawing for a $25 Amazon Gift Card. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, September 04, 2014


Take the quiz at the Bethany House Fiction blog today.
Which Character Are You Most Like?

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Friday, June 27, 2014

Dawn's Dreams: Stuck Together - A Review

Dawn's Dreams: Stuck Together - A Review: Published - June 2014, Bethany House Publishers Series - Trouble in Texas book 3 Author - Mary Connealy Title - Stuck Together Tina...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Chance to win STUCK TOGETHER

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Closer Than Brothers - Chapter Thirteen

It's NOT romantic comedy with cowboys.
It's Closer Than Brothers--Part #12 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 THREE DAYS! June 3.

Closer Than Brothers
Chapter Thirteen
Callie and Seth
Click to Buy
"Miss Stone!"
            Seth's lips left hers and she missed them terribly. Lantern light shone in her eyes. The room had been nearly pitch dark with only moonlight coming through the uncurtained windows in this large upstairs room.
            "Y-yes?" She couldn't see beyond that glaring lantern, but she recognized the voice. Dr. Coolidge. The Fort Worth doctor who was supposed to take her home.
            "Get up immediately."
            That actually took some doing, tucked beneath Seth as she was. Her skirts twisted up with him and his nightshirt and his blanket and his legs and oh, mercy.
            Finally she stood. She had an irrational desire to salute.
            "Wh-what are you doing here, Doctor?" The doctor wasn't alone. He had five men with him. Callie didn't know much about the army honestly, but there were stars on one man's shirt, and other decorations on these men.
            "We have a very important reason to be here that is not your concern. I told your father I would see to your well-being, but I had no idea I was dealing with a young lady who was no better than she ought to be."
            Callie had never even been kissed before.
            Well, before Seth. He'd kissed her any number of times. "I'm sorry. I was just…Seth is…that is…it's not like it seems."
            "Oh, it seems as if you were in bed with a man, not your husband. How am I misunderstanding that?"
            "I w-was…he was having a nightmare. I was waking him up."
            "By kissing him?"
            As a matter of fact yes, but Callie didn't think it was wise to say that.
            Seth, newly relieved of his fever, very, very newly, stood beside Callie. In his nightshirt. Not proper at all. He slid one of his strong hand to the small of Callie's back, supporting her.
            "You will leave this hospital immediately, Miss Stone."
            "B-but I am working here. You said you needed my help."
            "I don't need the kind of work you are doing, I assure you."
            "Doctor,” Seth said, running his hand up and down her back, “Sally has been nothing but…"
            "It's Callie," the doctor snarled.
            "What?" Seth, the dunce, asked.
            "The woman who was sharing that bed with you, her name, is Callie. Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with it."
            Seth looked at Callie with wide, confused eyes. Maybe he wasn't fully awake yet.
            "Callie, I mean. Callie has been nothing but generous and…"
            "We saw ample proof of her generosity, soldier and we don't fault you for accepting her generous offer, but women of the street aren't welcome in here."
            "Women of the street?" Callie's fist clenched.
            "Now there's no call to say such things. Callie taking care of me like she did tonight is the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me."
            "Seth, stop trying to save me. Right now."
            "What kind of women do you employ in this hospital, Coolidge?" The man with the stars on his uniform gave Callie a very sharp-eyed look. "I would think you'd know to keep an eye out for her sort."
            "I'm not letting you talk to Callie that way, General." Seth leaned toward the older man. Callie heard the threatening tone in Seth's voice and looked at him. He had a wild look in his blue eyes. A dangerous look. A mad look.
            She wondered what happened to a man who attacked a general. Surely it went badly for the attacker.
            The general didn't even react to Seth, instead he turned on the doctor. "If you can't manage this hospital, I'll relieve you of the job and give it to someone who can."
            The doctor stiffened and turned furious eyes on Callie. "Get out, Miss Stone. Immediately." Then he glared at Seth. "And if you're well enough to issue threats to one of the Union Army's generals, then you're well enough to leave this hospital, too. Get out."
            Seth's fever had only broken today. Callie wasn't sure how he'd walk out. He didn't have any clothes. Callie wasn't sure how he was managing to stay on his feet.
            Seth even seemed to calm down a bit. He subsided from his threatening stance and said, "I'm sorry to have been so rude. But…but…well, you interrupted us. I'd just persuaded Miss Stone to marry me. That kiss was to celebrate her accepting my proposal."
            Callie gasped and turned to look at Seth. He was staring right at her with eyes so blue they glowed in the lantern light. She knew it was a terrible mistake but she wanted him so badly. Yes, Seth was sick. And all right, yes, he'd just said her name wrong. And yes he wasn't probably even thinking clearly. But the kiss they shared and the way she alone could get him to come out of his nightmares, there was something between them, something real. She knew it was love that would grow into a lifetime of happiness.
            It was meant to be and if they were marrying in haste she would not repent at leisure. She'd enjoy herself thoroughly at leisure.
            One of the men was a chaplain. They were married immediately.
            To Callie's surprise, the doctor wasn't placated. He still kicked them out of the hospital. He did relent enough to let Seth find a pair of pants in a stack near the wall. Callie quickly helped him dress, packed up all the meager possessions Seth had around his hard little cot, and took him to the room she was staying in. She didn't have to wake him from his nightmares because they didn’t sleep all night.
            By morning she was a thoroughly married lady.
            By the end of the week she was so madly in love she was walking on air.
            Seth wasn’t really fit to travel and, unlike Luke, he didn’t seem determined to head out. So they stayed mostly in that tiny room, leaving only to find food. Callie considered this stretch of time their honeymoon.
They spent the first two weeks of their married life mostly in bed. The passion between them
was something Callie could never have imagined. There were no nightmares and very little talking, there just wasn't time to fit much in between lovemaking and working up the energy to make love again.
Callie had cured Seth.
They dozed but rarely did they sleep deeply before waking to make love again.
After two weeks of such pleasure their bliss finally wore them out. Seth slept deeply enough to have his first nightmare, which Callie cured him of in her usual efficient way.
It was glorious and they both agreed marriage was a wonder. She did notice he had a mild fever and worried about it, but he fell back into a peaceful sleep and she hoped it wasn't serious.
            She awoke the next morning alone.
            She searched frantically. She went to every hospital. So many homes were being used as temporary hospitals that it took her weeks to make sure she’d been to every one of them. She remembered how those men had grabbed Dare and Vince, so she badgered every soldier, trying to find someone who remembered dragging Seth onto a train. She tearfully visited morgues and walked through alleys looking for men sleeping on the streets. She searched until all hope was gone.
He had to be dead, he'd have never abandoned her.
No man could make love to a woman like that and then just leave.
Through tears of grief, she remembered Vince’s money. She used it to get herself back to Texas.

When she got there, she found Pa had fought with Luke, and Luke had run off.
            By October she'd realized she was pregnant. Which was when she produced her marriage license and admitted her folly with Seth. Pa was furious, but then Pa was furious most every day.
            By February she had a son named Connor who was the image of Seth Kincaid right down to his wild blue eyes.
            By summer her pa was dead and she was running for her life from Flint Greer who claimed Pa had sold him the S Bar S.
She considered the promise of help from Luke’s Regulator friends. She knew they would help her, though they didn’t know her at all. She even wondered if she’d find Luke with them.
But she couldn’t remember who they were. Vince Yates. He’d given her the money. Chicago. But such a huge city. She had no idea how to go about finding one man in a town that size.
Dare. She couldn’t even remember his last name, let alone where he’d hailed from.
Jonas Cahill, but he’d been on his way west to work as a missionary on the frontier. He’d ridden with Pa and Luke as far as St. Louis. Callie had no idea where Jonas had gone. And anyway those men, despite their promises, had no responsibility for her.
However her son had uncles.
She remembered, 'Rafe! Ethan! Help! I’m burning!’ 
            Rafe and Ethan Kincaid. Callie and Seth hadn't talked much but he had said his brothers lived in a little mining town called Rawhide, Colorado.
            Callie was a western girl. Unlike Chicago which terrified her, she wasn’t afraid to tackle a small town named Rawhide. It sounded like her kind of place.
Seth had brothers. Uncles bore some responsibilities for their families, and Callie had nowhere else to turn--she couldn't count Chicago. She wrote to those uncles and threw in a letter to her husband, just in case he had the nerve to not be dead. Then set out, still living on what was left of Vince Yate's money.
She wished Vince knew he’d saved her, he deserved that, but she had no idea how to tell him.
Heading west, Connor in one arm, her rifle in the other, Callie thought of the trip ahead of her.
Her brother was gone, her husband and father were dead, and her ranch stolen— she didn’t believe for a second Pa had sold it.
            And if Seth wasn’t dead, that’s where he’d go.

            But of course Seth was dead.
And if he wasn’t, he would be by the time she was through with him.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Closer Than Brothers - Chapter Twelve

It's NOT romantic comedy with cowboys.
It's Closer Than Brothers--Part #12 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.


Closer Than Brothers
Chapter Twelve
Callie and Seth
Seth calls out for Rafe
Out of Control-free on Kindle
“Rafe! Ethan! Help! I’m burning!”
            Callie was right there. Ready from the first cry. Seth's arms swung. He was trying to put the fire out on his back. She'd figured that out at some point. It made her want to cry.
            She waited. He swatted at his shoulders hard. Thrashed, then drew back to take another swipe and she dived under his flailing arms, grabbed his face, held him steady and kissed him.
            He didn't scream a second time.
            He froze. Utter stillness.
            The seconds ticked. Then his arms came around her hard.
            She'd seen the awful scars. She could only imagine what he'd gone through. The pain. Of course he had nightmares. And the doctor said the burns were old. They had happened years ago. They must have happened near the beginning of the war, though the doctor was amazed a soldier could be hurt this badly and not just be sent home.
            And yet here he was.
            Oh, yes, here he was kissing her.
            Seth was still asleep, but there was no more crying out for Rafe and Ethan. She'd asked when
Seth's brother Ethan
Has his own story
he was awake and he'd told her those were his brother's names. Seth was pretty confused most of the time, his fever up and down, though she thought they'd finally seen the last of it today. The bullet wounds in his back had gotten infected and he'd run a fever that had nearly killed him. He'd been operated on when he'd first been brought in from prison and all of that was over before Callie had arrived.
            Luke had been so near death that Callie had been sick with worry. But Seth had been worse. Callie hadn't known Seth at first of course, she'd only known there was one patient with nightmares worse than anyone else.
            And she'd volunteered one long, awful night when everyone was so busy no one could help the poor man, to wake him up.
            And she'd shaken him and coaxed. A nurse who'd rushed by said she'd have to slap him, scream in his face and be careful because he'd punched more than one person.
            Callie couldn't bear it.
            She'd sat beside the tormented man and thought of a fairy tale.
            Waking someone with a kiss.
            Of course there'd been one about turning a frog into a prince with a kiss, too, but that wasn't going to happen.
            She'd ducked under his swinging arms and tried it. The screaming had stopped. The kiss had gone on far too long.
            Seth had been kissing her from the first moment, but he wasn't really awake…and he'd been a while getting there. Callie had been talking with him ever since. He was the sweetest man she'd ever met. Poor sweet, wounded, tormented soldier. Delirious a good part of the time. In pain from his wounds. Feverish. He wasn't skin and bones like Luke. Seth didn't think he'd been in Andersonville long but that story was garbled, too.
            Callie didn't tell anyone how she woke him and no one asked. In fact, no one seemed to notice. Things were mostly quiet at night now that Seth wasn't screaming and more and more patients were heading home. Even before Luke left the hospital, she was spending every night sleeping in a chair at Seth's bedside, ready to kiss him awake.
            Her sleeping prince.
            Pa would kill her if he knew. Or no, he'd kill Seth.
            Seth stopped kissing her in his sleep. The kiss changed. He stopped
It's all leading up to Trouble in Texas
Stuck Together Book #3
Releasing June 3rd
crushing her, but he still held on tight. The kiss wasn't so frantic, but it was more. He turned his lips, slanted them.
            "I'm so glad you're here."
            She was so glad she was here, too. But she couldn't say that because her mouth was extremely busy.
            Every night it was more passionate. Callie couldn't believe how deeply she'd fallen in love with poor, wounded, confused Seth. She was so upset that his family hadn't come for him. She thought of her own family, gone.
            The loneliness made her cling all the more to Seth. They were alone. Two people against the world. When he pulled her out of her chair, she let him.
            He'd done that before, but that was when she'd ended their embrace on other nights. Tonight she couldn’t do it.
            Instead, she sat beside him on the bed. Then he pulled her forward until she lay on top of him. His strength amazed her. His body was strong and muscled, not wasted away like Luke’s, like nearly everyone else's in here.
            He rolled until she was tucked under him and then she really didn't know exactly where she was, she only knew it was someplace wonderful and she wasn't ever leaving.
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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Closer Than Brothers - Chapter Eleven

It's NOT a romance. It's not very funny.
No ropin' and ridin' anywhere
Part #11 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.

Closer Than Brothers
Click to See how Callie handles
Seth Kincaid when she's mad
Chapter Eleven
Callie and Seth
"They're letting you go, Luke."
            Callie wasn't going to tell him her big news until she absolutely had to. She'd told Pa and it'd taken some fast talking, but she'd gotten her way.
            She didn't think Luke would like this, but Luke didn't get to decide what Callie did or did not do.
            She handed him a shirt and a pair of pants. They'd brought Luke a couple of changes of clothes from home. She'd spent every spare minute, and they had been very few, working with her needle to make them fit. Callie could never have imagined how much weight he'd lost.
            Luke took them and gave them a wry look. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He was in some kind of nightshirt. He couldn't possibly ride home to Texas wearing that and it appeared to be all he owned.
            They'd had him out of bed a few times so he was steady, mostly. But Callie stayed nearby.
            Luke stood and pulled the britches up under his nightshirt and buttoned them.
            Callie pulled a rope out of her apron pocket. "Use this to belt your pants or they'll fall right off."
            Then she eased his nightshirt off and had to fight back tears as she looked at his rib bones. His brutally skinny body made her want to pick up a gun and start shooting any Reb she saw. How could one human being do this to another?
            She dressed him like a helpless child. Only the sickest were left and there were still plenty. A month after Andersonville had been opened by the Union Army, the ailing were still too many to count.
            Like Seth.
            Keeping her eyes focused firmly downward, because she was afraid she might be blushing, she helped Luke get his foot firmly seated in his boots, then, when she had her unruly thoughts under control, she stood just as a bald man came over, walking straight for her and Luke.
            Luke smiled. "Did you get them in?"
            "Nope. But they're waiting outside. We found your pa. He looks just like you and we figured it had to be him. He's out there with a wagon and he said you were coming out, so they're going to see you're alive and well, and say good-bye all at once." The man shifted his eyes to Callie."
            Luke said, "Callie, this is Jonas. He's a preacher and one of my best friends. We all helped each other get through Andersonville. Jonas Cahill, Callie Stone, my baby sister."
            Jonas smiled and gave her a nod.
            Callie couldn't believe Jonas was up and acting so steady. He was as skinny as Luke. "You survived that place, too?"
            "Yep, and I handled it a sight better than this weakling kid, did."
            Callie gasped. She remembered well that her brother didn't like being goaded.
            Luke rolled his eyes. "Don't call me kid."
            Jonas slid his arm around Luke's waist.
            "I can walk." Luke tried to step away.
            "If I don't look like I'm helping, the guard at the front door is going to catch me and throw me on a train going who knows where. Your pa said I can ride in the wagon with you a long way toward Missouri. So let me act like I'm helping."
            "You're going along?" Luke smiled and let Jonas help. Whether he admitted it or not, Luke could use someone to lean on.
            Callie still hadn't told Luke her news. She hoped having Jonas along, with his serene smile and steady way of handling Luke, made Callie abandoning him better. She felt like she barely knew her brother anymore, maybe he wouldn't even mind that she wasn't heading back to Texas.
            The three of them left the hospital. Pa arranging that wagon was the only way they'd have been able to leave and, as it was, they shouldn't travel yet. But Pa was wild to get Luke out of here. Luke was wild to go.
            Callie thought they were both headlong fools.
            It was too soon and she'd told them both that a dozen time. Of course she didn't want to go at all for reasons she wasn't about to admit to either of them.
            Two strangers rushed up to Luke and looked him over, smiling with such pure pleasure it made her throat ache. Callie wasn't much of a crier but Luke, to see what had been done to him, and to see these friends so happy that he'd survived.
            Well, it about did her in.
            She was introduced.
            Vince Yates. He looked and his eyes fastened on hers, she knew they were brimming with
Vince--who can handle anything
can't handle crying women
Click to Buy
tears. Vince gave her a look of pure horror. She had no idea what that was about.
            Dare Riker. He seemed nervous about something. He never quit twitching.
            And Parson Jonas. They said hello and were ready to help lift Luke into the well padded back of the wagon.
            Callie was out of time. She had to finally speak. "Luke, I'm saying good-bye, too."
            Luke whipped his head around so fast he staggered. Vince caught him or he might have fallen. "What does that mean?"
            "I told you there's a doctor here from Fort Worth. He needs help. Pa knows his family and trusts him. I'll be safe with him. I'm going to stay and work until he heads for home, then he'll bring me. There are some women traveling in his party so it'll be proper. Pa and I've talked it over. I think I'll be another couple of months, then I'll follow you to Texas."
            Luke's black eyes flashed with worry and regret and some anger. Luke was always quick to substitute anger for anything else he was feeling.
            Jonas lay a hand on Luke's shoulder. "I'll stay here with her, see to her…if you want, Luke."
            "I will, too," Vince said. A cool character. Callie thought he might be a handsome man but he was gaunt—awful to look at. They all were. Vince watched her with cool blue eyes. Dare moved, nervous. Both were thin as cadavers.
            Dare said, "I can try again to help in the hospital. Maybe now that so many have left, and I've
Dare's doctoring has just begun
regained some strength, they'll let me in. We won't let her take any risks."
            Luke looked at Callie a long time, as if this was his decision. It wasn't, but she'd only tell him that if he made the wrong one.
            Finally, Luke looked at Jonas. "I'd like it if you rode along with Pa and me. I'm not ready to say good-bye to all of you."
            Jonas nodded.
            Luke pulled Callie into his arms. "It's kind of you to want to help, little sister. There's such terrible need. I wanted you to come home with me, but you won't be far behind."
            They held each other for a long, quiet moment. Callie's eyes filled with tears. She didn't let them fall. She pulled away and ran a hand over Luke's fuzzy head and smiled at him.
            "I hope you're good and fat by the time I get to Texas."
            "I'll do my best." He gave her a kiss on the cheek.
            "I love you, big brother."
            Luke didn't say it back, but he nodded.
            Pa said good-bye, his usual gruff self, but she saw the affection beneath it.
            Luke's friends loaded him up, careful to see his bony body was well padded in the wagon bed. Jonas climbed up on the high seat and started talking with Pa as the wagon rolled away.
            Callie watched them until they rolled out of sight. A tear streaked down her face as she turned to speak to Luke's friends.
            Vince, for all his cool, let his eyes lock on that single tear and he stepped back as if recoiling from the sight.
            Before he could recover, four military men rushed up behind Dare and Vince and grabbed them.
            "All able-bodied soldiers were supposed to leave the area long ago." A man on each side held Dare and Vince's arms locked.
            "No, wait." Dare gave Callie a frantic look.
            "We can't leave her," Vince struggled against the grip of two men to one.
            "I'll be fine." Callie really didn't want them to be watching over her. She could take care of herself.
            "A train north leaves in ten minutes."
            Vince broke the hold they had on him and surged toward her, grabbed her hands. She felt him press something into her fingers and his eyes burned into hers. He whispered, “Hang onto this. Don’t let anyone see it.”
He was grabbed and they hauled both of Luke's friends away. Callie clutched whatever Vince had given her tight, but she didn't intervene in their departure. In fact, she waved good-bye and smiled. It was kind of them to want to stay, but they needn't worry.
When they were out of sight, she looked at what she held and saw money. Blinking, in case it vanished, she saw a large roll of bills wrapped around something hard. Holding it sideways she was quite sure the center was made of a stack of gold coins.
She tucked it all deep in her pocket to count later as she walked back into the hospital and got to work. She remembered that vow, they’d be there for each other. They’d come if there was a need. A bond that was closer than a brother. Vince had just given her a great deal of money in a very bold demonstration of how seriously he took that vow.
Pa had left her with money for food. The room she was renting was paid in full for two months, but she felt safer knowing she had some money in case of trouble.
            She'd be working all day.
            All night she'd sit at Seth Kincaid's bedside and be ready when his nightmares came. She'd found a talent for waking him that no one else possessed.
            A talent that made her heart race.


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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Closer Than Brothers - Chapter Ten

It's NOT a romance. It's not a comedy.
It's not a western. No ropin' and ridin' anywhere.
Part #10 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.

Closer Than Brothers

Chapter Ten
Luke—The Kid

Click to Buy
Callie kept feeding him and Luke was gaining strength and staying awake longer each day. He still hadn't seen Pa, but Callie said he came in everyday and Luke was just sleeping through the visits. They'd manage to see each other real soon.

            Then he woke up to his shoulder being gently shaken and saw a skin-draped skeleton. Ghastly. He yelped.

The skeleton smiled. “You’re alive, Kid.”


“Why are you bald?” Luke couldn’t believe that was the first thing that came out of his mouth. Probably better than asking why Jonas was a skeleton. He’d thought he’d never see any of his Regulator friends again.

“You’re next thing to bald. Haven’t you noticed?”

Luke raised a hand, saw how it trembled and dropped it to the blanket shocked and embarrassed to show such weakness.

He looked up to see if Jonas had noticed. Jonas was busy getting Luke a glass of water.

His friend showed no concern for Luke’s tender belly like Callie had, he let Luke drink deep. The water went down and seemed to soak into a desert. His mouth and throat almost absorbed it before it got to his belly.


Jonas was up and gone and back with more water before Luke could tell him not to leave.

It was probably good that Luke had been given a few moments break because his stomach heaved a bit from the big gulp of water, even though it didn’t seem to hardly get there. This time Luke was less desperate and he drank more slowly, the way Callie always made him. He finished the whole glass a sip at a time. When it was empty, Luke’s gut felt stretched full.

Then Luke noticed Jonas’s baldness again and reached for his own face and head. “I've got bristles on my head. Who cut it? Who shaved me?”

“All of us in the hospital got sheered like sheep. We were crawling with lice and fleas. Part of bringing us into this hospital was throwing all our clothes away and shaving us and bathing us in harsh soap. They did it so we wouldn’t start re-infecting each other with whatever vermin we were carrying.”

“A bath.” Luke sighed. “I’d have liked to have been awake for that.”

“You’ll be awake for your next one.” Jonas ran his hand over his freckled face and his bald head.

“How long was I unconscious?”

“I asked around and they told me you’ve been more asleep than awake for nearly a month,
Click to Buy
Luke. So you've had a month to grow some hair back. They shaved me just last night."

“The war ended a month ago?”

“Yep. We were liberated from the camp in May and it’s June now. Your fever broke about four days ago. I’ve been talking with a chaplain in here who brings me word and he said you’d woken up. It took me until now to sneak in and see you. Dare tried to get in here as a medic right when we were liberated but they told him he wasn’t a real doctor and he was too weak to be of much help and they tried to drag him on a train. He barely got away. He and Vince and I have been hiding out ever since trying to figure out how to see you.”

“You’re all still here?” Luke felt a shocking, almost uncontrollable urge to cry. He knew just how sick he was because tears were unthinkable.

“They caught Big John and shipped him off to Texas. He's just no good at hiding." Jonas smiled. "But the rest of us are still here. We couldn’t just go. Not with you at death’s door. They're trying to get rid of everyone they can, though. They don’t have food nor shelter to spare.”

“You’re not still going hungry are you?” Horror crept up Luke’s spine to think of how long they’d all been hungry and now, when his friends could finally eat, to think they’d go without in order to see him.

“No, we’re doing all right. Vince figured out a way to get money. Not easy in the chaos around here. But he’s a wily one. He got us set up with a decent place to live and we're well fed."

"Invincible Vince. It figures he could find money and food and clothes in a place with none of those things."

"He didn't even work too hard at it," Jonas said with a fond smile. "But we have to stay clear of the Army. They want everyone to go home. Even the soldiers in the hospital are starting to be released now, so things have started to ease up. We had to cook up a plan to get one of us admitted to this hospital.”

Luke looked at Jonas. “You’re so skinny you look like a corpse that’s been dead and buried for six months. How hard could it be to get yourself thrown in a hospital?”

Jonas shrugged. “I’m good compared to you and a lot of others. Vince came up with the way to get in. Dare and Vince cut their hair and shaved but I didn’t.  There are ways to get the vermin out without having to sheer yourself, but the army isn't exactly interested in making you pretty. So we were doing fine. Anyway, you know I've had fever and ague and it's come and gone a few times, but never been serious. So we saved my old clothes and waited. Last night here comes my fever. I put my old clothes back on, and with my wild hair and ragged clothes, I staggered in here and was sick enough and looked bad enough to satisfy them. They shaved me, burned the clothes and slapped me in bed. The fever didn’t last, but no one’s noticed yet. I waited until everyone left and snuck over to see you.

“I’m sorry to wake you up. I reckon that’s the wrong thing to do to a man as sick as you, but I had to talk to you, see with my own eyes that you’re mending. How anyone as thin as you can be called better.” Jonas shook his head. “Only men who’ve spent time in Andersonville would believe how much the human body can endure.”

“I look as bad as you do, then, huh?” Luke asked.

Jonas nodded. "Worse."

Luke flinched. “I’d like to see Vince and Dare.”

“I’ll see if maybe I can slip them in." Jonas clapped Luke on the shoulder, but gently. "They’ll get caught and swept away, sent home, but maybe they can say goodbye before they get dragged off. We decided if at least one of us could see you, and report back, we’d be satisfied with it. But they want to come and look at you with their own eyes. You had us real scared, Kid.”

Luke was almost used to the ridiculous nickname, but out of habit he said, “Stop calling me Kid.”

Jonas smiled. “I’ll get Dare and Vince in if I can. If not, you can write to them at home.  I stuck a piece of paper with their addresses in your stack of clothes on your bedside. That’s where they’re both heading.”

“So Vince is really going to Chicago? He swore he’d never do that.”

Jonas frowned. “He doesn’t want to. Bad blood between him and his father. But he has to go somewhere he can rest and fatten up for a while. He may not be well enough to get a bed in this hospital, but he’d a mighty weak man. He needs good care for a while. He has to regain his strength and put on about a hundred pounds.”

Luke wanted to go home so badly. How could Vince dread it so much? “My pa is here to get me. I’ve seen Callie, and she said Pa had been in, too. I must’ve slept through his visits so far. But he came all this way. I fought with him all the time before the war, but I’m so lonely for him and for the ranch. I’m a changed man. I’m going to be the best, happiest son you’ve ever seen.”

“Glad to hear it, Luke. If I don’t see you again and if Dare and Vince can’t get past the door, you’ll hear from us somehow. We know you’ll be in Broken Wheel, Texas. We’ll be writing to you. Right now, before another minute passes, in case I get thrown out of here or we get separated somehow, I'm making you a promise Kid. If you ever need help, you only need to let me know. The way we stuck together in prison has created a bond between us that is closer than brothers. I said this to Vince and Dare and they feel the same." Jonas closed his hand on Luke's arm.

Luke felt that connection. He could never love a brother more. "I would be honored to help any of you, if you had need. I owe you my life and it's a debt I will gladly repay. You tell Dare and Vince that goes for them, too."

Jonas nodded. "I will. If you don't hear from me right away, don't give up. I'll be a while finding a place to settle. Unlike all of you, I don’t have a home.”

“Come to Texas with me,” Luke offered.

Jonas’s brow furrowed. “I’m feeling lead to the west as my mission field.”

“Texas is west.”

“It is that, Kid. But I’ve got an offer with a Missionary Society out of St. Louis. It’s the door that’s been opened for me. I’m heading to Missouri and letting God lead me onward from there. If I get close to Broken Wheel, Texas, I’ll stop in and see this ranch you’re so fired up about.”

"Aren't you going home first, to see your little sister? After all those letter she wrote."

"I don't dare. I'm a wanted man back in Ohio. I might be arrested."

"After all these years? And after serving in the Army so honorably?"

Jonas shrugged, I just don't know and I don't know how to find out without going there and the first hint I might get is having shackles clapped on. I'd love to see Tina but she'll understand. I'm heading west." 

"I hope you end up in Texas." Luke smiled.

Jonas said, “And now, I know where they keep a pot of soup simmering. How about I get you something to eat?”

Luke’s stomach growled and he nodded and wished it was beefsteak instead of the watery soup Callie kept giving him.

“Have you seen my sister?”

Jonas looked around. “Nope. But I don’t even know what she looks like.”

“I think she’s helping, doing some nursing. The things they say Dare’s too sick to do.”

“I’ll keep my eyes open for her. That’s mighty fine of your family to come all this way to care for you, Luke. You’ve got good folks.” Jonas went to find the soup.

Luke nodded, his heart warm at the thought. As he lay there waiting for the food he dreamed of how it’d be when he went back to the S Bar S Ranch. Things would be better now. He was grown up. No more of the struggles between him and Pa. Pa was a stubborn one but now he’d know Luke was a grown man. They’d be partners not father and son. It’d be a new beginning.

He could hardly wait.

What had become of Callie? She’d been here at his side faithfully every time he’d awakened. But he didn’t see her today.

Of course Jonas had probably deliberately picked a moment when Luke had been alone.

It flickered through his mind that he hadn’t been awakened by Seth the Burning Man for a while. Of course Luke wasn’t real sure about time passing so maybe it hadn’t been long since he’d last gone to sleep.

But Callie had thought she could make the man be quiet and maybe she did have a knack.
Luke forgot all about it when Jonas came back with a steaming bowl of soup. It was hardier than what he'd eaten before. With more beef and vegetables in it. Luke ate it, determined to start gaining weight and get out of here.
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