In 1862 America, the Civil War has raged for twelve months. Pepper Fitzpatrick Brown’s heart was broken when her husband died with the first volley at Manassas. Now she’s a widow raising three young boys and plans to honor his sacrifice by volunteering at the army hospital.
When Colonel Elijah Williams can grab a few minutes to nap between his duties as head surgeon at MacDougall Army Hospital in the Bronx, his sleep is invaded with nightmares of the atrocities he’s seen. His life has narrowed to nothing but the bloody war … until he meets Pepper Brown. But her father is concerned Elijah doesn’t have the best intentions, and Pepper is fearful of loving and losing again.
It’s hard to find happiness in a war-torn United States, but these two stand a fighting chance—if they can save what’s left of their hearts.
New York City, July 1862
Pepper Brown yanked open her bedroom armoire and stared at the sea of black. Her widow’s weeds, as people called them. They were showing up in increasing numbers on the streets of New York, on women of all ages. The Civil War, which both sides had thought would be over in a matter of weeks, marked its one-year anniversary today.
Which meant today was also Pepper’s one-year anniversary as a widow. She drummed her foot on the floor while she perused the black dresses. Was she ready to move on?
Michael had thought she would be. In fact, he extracted a promise from her before he left for the war. One year and not one day more, he had said. Her mother thought so, too, or she wouldn’t have planned their outing for today. All Pepper now needed was the courage to convince herself they were right. The churning in her stomach told her she had a ways to go yet.
She straightened and turned her back on the black.
“Molly, please come help me dress,” Pepper called down the hall to her lady’s maid.
“I’m going out today.”
“Aye, ma’am.” Molly, a young Irish girl with light brown hair and matching freckles across her pert nose, came quickly into the room. “Which gown would you be liking?”
She began fondling the various dresses in the armoire.
“None of these. I’m done with these dresses. Besides, most of them are maternity gowns. I want to wear something fresh, something different.”
Molly nodded vigorously, and the little white cap on her head bounced askew. She righted it before she spoke. “Perfectly understood, ma’am, and you should be stepping down to half mourning. Perhaps I can find a nice gray or deep purple gown among your other things.”
Pepper shook her head. “No, no half mourning for me. What kind of silly term is that, anyway? I’m going out with Mother, and I want our day to be special. I want to wear something bright. I think the periwinkle dress Jasmine created for me right before Michael’s death will do. Yes, the periwinkle.”
Pepper smiled at Molly’s horrified intake of breath. She obviously disapproved, which meant it was the right decision.
“Periwinkle? Forgive me saying so, ma’am, but isn’t it a wee bit too much of a difference?”
“Why yes, it is, Molly.” Pepper’s smile grew. “It’s time to be different, don’t you think? Michael would have approved. Go on, now, and find me the dress. It may need a bit of altering, since I’ve still to lose some of the baby weight I’ve put on. It’ll need to be fixed before Mother gets here.”
“Aye, ma’am, right away.”
Molly took off at a trot down the hall to the large storage room for clothing, and Pepper closed the doors on the widow’s weeds. She had never expected to be a widow at only thirty-one years of age. She had never expected to have three boys under the age of eight to raise by herself. She had never expected Michael’s last gift to her would be another son, one who was his exact image. The babe had been born hale and healthy, even though she had thought the child would suffer because of her melancholy.
And, even though she had never expected the life now facing her, she would throw off her widow’s weeds and pick up the rest of her journey on this earth, despite her fears that she’d never be able to pull it off. Today she would dress up in gay-colored clothing, maybe even splash on some toilet water, go to the Army hospital in the Bronx with her mother, and provide a bit of comfort to the many who were wounded. She had no medical experience to draw from, but she could hold a hand, fetch a glass of water, write a letter home. Little things, she reasoned. But a lot of little things could make a difference. She hoped someone had been there on the battlefield to hold Michael’s hand as he took his last breath.
She brought a fist to her mouth as the tightness in her chest threatened to reduce her again to the sniveling mess she’d been in those first days. Days when she’d gathered information from the papers on how her beloved died alone on some field in Virginia in front of the shameful folks who had driven out from Washington, D.C., with their picnic baskets to witness the battle, only to turn and run when the battle dragged on and became so bloody. They had expected a fun-filled afternoon as the men strutted about in their fancy uniforms but instead were witness to the first carnage of the ghastly war.