Love and Glory: The Coltrane Saga, Book 3

BOOK: Love and Glory: The Coltrane Saga, Book 3
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Dedication

Dedicated to the
real
Travis Coltrane, whoever he may be…

“Of all affections which attend human life, the love of glory is the most ardent.”

Sir Richard Steele

(1672—1729)

Chapter One

He was tall and built well, firm, corded muscles glistening as the merciless sun beat against his bare back. Hard, lean thighs strained against tight denim pants as he doggedly followed the plow. The plodding mule struggled, pulling the plow through the dry, parched earth. Insects flitted annoyingly around man and beast. No breeze stirred, and the oppressive heat hung like a shroud.

Damn, it was hot. Travis Coltrane could feel his bare skin tingling, knew that already the sun was searing his flesh. But he would not burn. Before long, his skin would be the color of leather. Travis was a French creole, and naturally dark-skinned. He would only become darker. Sweat trailed down his forehead and into his gray eyes, stinging. He wiped the salty moisture away with one hand, ignoring the burning in the open blisters of his fingers and palms. Some were already bleeding from the rough, splintered wooden plow handles. It was this way every spring when he first began the plowing, but soon the blisters would close and become hard.

Suddenly the plow lurched sharply, hitting a mound of earth, and even as Travis saw the swarming wasps and realized he had hit an underground nest, the angry horde was upon him. He quickly dropped the worn reins, letting the mule trot away and escape. Travis stumbled backward, swinging his arms at the attacking wasps. Just as he felt a sharp sting on his shoulder, he ran across the field toward the bordering woods.

Reaching safety beneath the gnarled limbs of a great oak, he stared at the quickly rising welt, grateful to have been stung only once.

He leaned back against the rough bark of the trunk and breathed deeply, closing his eyes. Lord, how he hated this. He hated what he had been doing for the past two years and he dreaded what lay before him.

Two years.
He shook his head, wiping at the sweat on his face. Had it really been only two years? Jesus, it seemed more like twenty. It was becoming harder and harder for Travis to remember any life other than the drudgery of the farm.

If this is all there is, he asked himself miserably, if this is what my life is all about, then why didn’t I just die in the damned war?

Gettysburg. Antietam. Bull Run. He had been in all of them, by damn. One of the best officers and riders in the whole goddamn Union cavalry. That’s what others had said about Captain Travis Coltrane, leader of the infamous Coltrane’s Raiders, feared by the Rebels and respected and admired by the Union Army.

Sitting there, in the still, hot spring day, Travis could almost smell the sulfur and smoke once more, hear the shouts and cries of his men as they charged into battle, the clanging and clashing of sabers. And he had
led
those men, by God. They had looked up to him and—

Bullshit.

The steely gray eyes darkened as bitterness and self-loathing washed through him. Was he on his way to becoming just like the old men who spent their days sitting in front of the courthouse in Goldsboro, telling and retelling their battle stories, each tale becoming more glorified as it was repeated? Some still wore their tattered Confederate uniforms, even four years after the war had ended.

People, he told himself, particularly old soldiers, chose to forget what was painful. And Lord, there had been so much pain in that infernal war. Now that it was safely in the past, it was all glory.

Was he becoming just like them, sitting here beneath a tree and staring at the empty fields and hating his life so much? Would he waste the rest of his life longing for remembered glories?

He lifted his gaze to the heavens as though there might be an answer somewhere up there. Why did it have to be this way? Year after year of coddling that goddamn ground, planting tobacco and corn and praying for rain, praying the insects would not come, praying for a good harvest in the fall so there would be money to get through the long winter and feed for the livestock he had managed to acquire. Was this all there was? Travis asked the sky.

He snorted with contempt. Pray! Hell, he never prayed. He just cursed life when things didn’t go the way he wanted them to. Farmers prayed over their crops. Travis did not consider himself a farmer and he never would.

He looked across the field at the little cabin he had built with his bare hands from the smoldering ruin it had been. The neighbors had burned down the original house, for the good Southern patriots of Wayne County had not taken kindly to old John Wright marching off to fight for the North.

Now there were two rooms. It wasn’t much, but Travis still felt pride over what he’d managed to do with the ruins. He had done it all alone, with sweat and grit. He had cut the oak trees, sawed them into planks, then smoothed the surfaces that would be on the inside. The results had been worth his hard work, for the interior walls shone brilliantly with the natural beauty of the blond oak wood.

He had done the same with the floors, not wanting Kitty or John to risk stepping on a rough, splintery surface.

A room for sleeping and loving. A room for cooking and living. And a little porch off the back, covered in twisting morning-glory vines, where they could sit and watch the sun go down…while holding hands and dreaming of what they hoped the future would hold for them.

For now, that’s all there was, but by God, when there was enough money, he was going to make it bigger and better, because John and Kitty deserved so much more than a two-room cabin.

John.

He grinned, thinking of the little boy who looked so much like him that Travis sometimes thought he was looking at himself age three. But, he thought, John wasn’t himself. He had Kitty’s spirit, but seemed not to have inherited either of his parents’ horrible temper. He was a serene child, a little too adult, perhaps, for his age. But he was accustomed to amusing himself, playing games in the corner of the kitchen. There were few children John’s age in Goldsboro, and since the neighbors had never forgiven John Wright, for whom the boy was named, it was just as well that the child had been kept apart from those neighbors and their hatred.

His face softened as his thoughts turned to Kitty. She was still the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. Just thinking about her, he felt the familiar stirring in his loins. How good it was to hold her, be inside that tender, always eager, woman-flesh.

Kitty. His woman. His wife. The mother of his son.

They had been through hell, separately and together, but they shied away from discussing the past.

Neither liked to talk of the sadness and awful pain, but now the memories were washing over Travis.

Nathan Wright. He had been Kitty’s first beau but turned out to be a cowardly bastard who wound up shooting Kitty’s father in the back. Travis had killed Nathan by stomping the life from his wretched body. The citizens of Wayne County would never forget that Travis Coltrane, Union officer, had killed their hero.

Kitty, stubborn and high-spirited, would not be driven from the land her father had loved. She held her head high, determined that they would live here and raise their son on his grandfather’s land.

Corey McRae. Another memory stung Travis.

When he rode away with General Sherman, Travis had not known that he was leaving Kitty carrying his child. And he had not known that McRae’s hellish scheme to make Kitty his wife had included intercepting Travis’ letters to Kitty. Travis had been filled with bitterness because, after pledging her undying love, there had been no word from Kitty.

When he returned to Goldsboro, Travis believed the gossip that Kitty had married Corey, a rich, powerful carpetbagger, to keep from losing her precious land. He also believed that she had presented her husband with a son. He’d had no idea that the baby was
his.

Travis had returned to Goldsboro as a federal marshal with his lifelong friend, Sam Bucher. Having been through the war together, they were assigned to seek peace between people like McRae and Jerome Danton, who were embroiled in a land war. Danton was another bastard, who, Travis discovered, was also the leader of the local Ku Klux Klan.

Danton and McRae’s feud had finally erupted, Danton killing McRae on the same night Travis learned that he was the father of Kitty’s son. He had taken the boy and fled to the peace of his beloved home in the Louisiana bayou, but Kitty had come after their son, taken him, and run through the swamps. Travis had followed but fell into deadly quicksand. Kitty saved his life, even knowing that he might once again take their son from her. Her saving him had shown Travis at long last that Kitty truly loved him.

They had returned to North Carolina to make a new life.

Damn! It had all seemed so simple at the time. They had their son and they had their love.

Now he was living this life for Kitty. This was what she wanted, to farm her father’s land,
her
land, to live here despite the hatred of their neighbors.

But God damn it to hell, he swore to himself, grimacing, this wasn’t what
he
wanted. Lord knew he had tried. No one could say he had not tried his damnedest. But he wasn’t a farmer and never would be, and no matter how much he loved Kitty and little John and wanted them to be happy, he knew there was nothing before him in their life but misery. He had tried farming for two years, and blast hell and Satan, he didn’t think he could stand one more day of it.

With a long weary sigh, he got to his feet and dusted the seat of his pants. He might not be able to stand one more day of it, but he had to. He must never let Kitty and John know how he felt. How would Kitty react if she knew of his misery? Would she be willing to give up all this, or would she tell him to go his own way without her, without their son?

He squinted in the bright sun as he stepped out from the shade and gazed up to the hilltop. She was there, beneath the pecan and peach trees on the west side of the field. He could see her clearly, bent over, plucking the weeds from around her father’s grave, just as she did every day. He watched as she laid a tiny white bouquet beside the wooden cross. He could not see the flowers but surmised they were dogwood, for the trees within the forest were dotted with the gentle white blossoms, as though bits of clouds had floated down from the heavens.

She straightened and smoothed her worn yellow muslin dress. Her hair, the color of ripe strawberries, sparkled with threads of gold in the sunlight. Picking up a woven straw basket beside her feet, she turned, waving as she caught sight of him standing there watching her. The bodice of her dress stretched tightly across her bosom as she waved, and his heart quickened. Lord, he thought dizzily, did You ever create a more glorious creature?

She picked her way carefully across the rutted brown field. Spotting the mule standing idle at the farthest end of the field, she called out worriedly, “Travis, what’s wrong? Why did you turn him loose like that?” She quickened her step until she was almost running, stumbling through the deep ruts.

“Travis, why won’t you answer me? What’s wrong?” Her eyes widened as she saw the angry red welt on his shoulder. She ran the short distance to him, tripping in her haste. His quickly moving arms reached out to stop her fall. “Something bit you.”

“Plow turned over a wasp nest,” he said absently, taking the basket from her and setting it down. Then all of a sudden he was holding her tightly, crushing her against him. Their lips held for long moments.

It was she who finally struggled to pull away, laughing. “Of all times…” Her voice trailed away and her face flushed. The kiss had aroused her.

Picking up the basket, she moved toward the shade he had just left. “I brought your lunch. John is asleep. He’s been a real little devil this morning, and I thought I’d never get him quiet. I brought fried chicken, and there are sweet-potato cakes, and I made some lemonade.”

“It’s not food I’m hungry for Kitty.”

She tilted her head to one side, lavender eyes sparkling as she smiled. “Travis Coltrane! Are you telling me that you want to make love right here?”

“Can’t think of a better place,” he murmured huskily.

Taking her hand, he led her deeper into the woods until he found what he was looking for, a soft bed of pine needles. He unbuttoned her dress, fondling her breasts possessively as they spilled forth. He paused to kiss each nipple to tautness before kneeling on the ground and pulling her down to lie beside him.

BOOK: Love and Glory: The Coltrane Saga, Book 3
10.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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