1869 – Matthew Gentry joined the Confederate Army at eighteen years of age after an argument with his father, leaving Paradise, his Virginia home and famed horse breeding stables, for the fields of Gettysburg. Having survived the War Between the States, Gentry is haunted by the violence and inhumanity of the war. He continues to roam the country long after the conflict is over, finding solace in the arms of soiled doves and at the bottom of whiskey bottles. Finally traveling home after learning of a family tragedy, he nearly loses his life in a spring-flooded riverbed.
Annie Campbell, lone survivor of her family, lives at a remote farm near the North River, raising pigs and trying to grow enough to feed herself, and to stay out of the crosshairs of the Thurmans, violent men who run the town of Bridgewater. Annie’s secrets threaten her safety, even as she rescues and nurses Matthew Gentry.
Matthew knows he must return to Paradise, to grieve with his family. Will his heart lead him back to Bridgewater and Annie Campbell?
The train slowed down to a crawl as it approached the Winchester station. Matt looked out the window as town came into view and found it looked achingly familiar, as if there was a painted sign hanging from the sky saying “this is your home.” But as they got closer, he could see that details had changed. His great-aunt Brigid’s seamstress shop was now called Bessie’s Sewing, but hadn’t she been talking about selling even before he’d left home? He knew she was old then, probably seventy years old by now, and he wondered if she’d died while he was gone. He could have asked Ben. He hadn’t asked him much of anything about home, just the barest bit of information. Oh, he was a coward.
Ben had woken and was pointing out the window with a shaking finger at every landmark and store they passed before the train finally stopped with a steamed belch. They waited until all the other passengers departed, letting Ben take his time walking down the narrow aisle to where a porter stood to help him down the steps. Matt followed close behind carrying his saddlebags and the oilcloth sack. He handed the porter a coin and held on to Ben’s arm. The old man was exhausted even though he protested and said he’d be fine. Matt looked up when he heard his name.
It was Adam, his elder brother, calling to him. Matt wasn’t sure until that moment how it would feel to see them, his family that was, and whether youthful bonds would trump adult errors. But Adam was walking to him now with the familiar loose gait of a tall, active man, smiling, a rare thing to be seen, and Matt was certain that wherever his travels had taken him, and whatever sights he’d seen, nothing could compare with the gladness he felt right at that moment.
His brother grabbed him around the shoulders, slapping his back and laughing. He hugged him back hard, smelling the scent of horses and home that his brother carried. Adam stepped away and looked at him.
“My God, Matt. I’ve missed you. I am so glad you’re here.”
Matt turned when he heard Ben sniffling beside him.
Adam turned his head. “Ben? Is that you?”
“It’s me, Adam,” he said, crying and shaking and leaning on Matt. “I thought I’d never see you again, boy.”
Adam put his arm around the old man and looked over his head at Matt, questions in his eyes.
“We’re going to need a wagon, Adam, and my horse Chester is being unloaded right now, I can see. Will Wilkins’s have something we can use?”
“Sure, sure, Matt. Let me get over there and get something from Jasper. My horse can pull it and we’ll tie Chester to the rear.”
“Chester will be very glad to be on the tail end of a wagon, wouldn’t you say, Ben?” Matt asked.
Ben wiped his nose on his sleeve. “He sure will, son, he sure will,” he replied in a shaking voice.
“Let’s get you over to the stable while they’re unloading Chester,” Matt said and bent down to lift him.
“I don’t need carried,” Ben said but didn’t move to get out of his arms.
“Shut up, old man, or I’ll dunk you in another river,” he said.
Ben chuckled, and he went down the steps, his brother’s eyes on the pair of them the whole time. They got Ben settled in the back of a low wagon where Matt stowed his saddlebags and sack. He brought Chester down the steep incline near the steps, leading him by the bridle, and talking soft and low. He tied Chester to the back, promised a double ration of whatever the Morgans were getting and a clean stall that he could rest in for as long as he wanted.
He climbed up onto the seat beside his brother. “Did you just happen to be in town?”
Adam shook his head. “Mother’s been sending me every time the train is due to arrive from the south. I stand on the platform and wait until the last passenger is off. I didn’t one time and made the mistake of telling her so, and she nearly sent me back to town,” he said and looked at him. “She was worried I’d left you at the station. I almost left today, thinking everyone was off the train, and then I thought I recognized Ben and you behind him. Mother would’ve had my hide if I’d left early today.”
“I’ve worried her,” Matt said, eyes on the trail before him.
“You have. You’ve worried us all. But you’re here now, and I get the feeling that there’s some stories to tell.”
The wagon passed the outcrop of rocks marking the Paradise property line, revealing a valley below with a plateau of flat land above it. The valley was fenced, with horses grazing and trotting about, and he could see a few foals probably born this past spring trailing their mothers. He looked at the house above and felt a tight constriction in his chest. Flat whitewashed fences surrounded its rambling two stories that had been one room when his parents moved there shortly after their marriage. It was now a sprawling twenty-room house of stone with large windows and wood shutters and a gabled roof. Flowers were still blooming, and trees overhung the house in the back. A large barn sat near it with several other neat outbuildings beyond. It was Paradise. It was his home.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Holly Bush’s books are set during the turbulent and transformative years of the late 1800s. The first two books in her newest series, The Gentrys of Paradise, will release in the spring of 2017, beginning with Into the Evermore, where readers will meet Virginia horse breeders, Eleanor and Beauregard Gentry. The following books will feature their children, Adam, Matthew, and Olivia. For the Brave is Matthew’s story and is the first full length book of the series.
The Crawford Family Series following the fortunes of the three Boston born Crawford sisters and includes Train Station Bride, Contract to Wed, Her Safe Harbor, and companion novella, The Maid’s Quarters. Cross the Ocean and Charming the Duke are both British set Victorian romances. Fan favorites stand-alone historical romance novels include Romancing Olive and Reconstructing Jackson. Her books are described as “emotional, with heartfelt, sexy romance.”
Holly makes her home with her husband, one happy Labrador Retriever, and two difficult cats in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Connect with Holly at www.hollybushbooks.com, on Twitter, and on Facebook.