In 1863, America is war-weary. Fifteen-year-old Saffron Fitzpatrick, whose teenage years have been spent mourning the dead rather than dancing at her debutante ball, just wants to visit her beloved horse after being housebound due to the draft riots. A chance meeting with soldier Ezekiel Boone changes everything.
Three years ago, Ezekiel ran away with his older brothers to join the war effort, welcoming the chance for adventure. But when all four of his brothers die at Chancellorsville, he retreats home, despondent and depending on the kindness of strangers, like Saffron, who helps him on the journey. They share a wild ride and a breathless kiss, parting with fond memories.
Fate reunites the couple three years later, and their former attraction rekindles as they discover unexpected common ground and begin to build a relationship. But though the war is over, a future together may still elude them … especially if Saffron’s older, protective brother and the U.S. Army have anything to say about it.
New York City
Saffron helped herself to the breakfast food choices laid out on the sideboard before she took her seat at the family table, where her mother and father were already enjoying their morning’s repast. She popped a slice of salty bacon into her mouth before she picked up her fork to dig into the eggs, reveling in the taste of the good food. She closed her eyes in order to savor the moment. Good food, good fortune, and good times ahead, now that the war was finally winding down. Her father snapped his newspaper shut with a practiced flick of his wrist, and Saffron’s eyes flew open. When her father closed his paper, he had something to say. Something that usually involved the war, which had been a topic of conversation for years. She hoped for no more of war. It was past time to play.
“The declaration President Johnson signed last month ending the war seems to be holding. Finally, this God-awful war is finished. I had almost given up hope.”
“Me, too,” Saffron agreed. “I hesitate to get too excited just yet, until I can be sure the truce will hold. But now, maybe life can get back to normal. I long to wear a pretty dress dripping in lace and frills and dance at an ornate ball. I’m dying to have some fun.”
Her mother, Charlotte, patted Saffron’s hand. “Yes, of all of ours, except for Pepper’s, your life has been the most disrupted by the war. All the experiences you should have been having during the past few years have gone by the wayside. We’ll have to do something to make up for it now. You’re eighteen, past time we find you a husband. And now that the boys are all returning home, the number of available men should be picking up.”
Saffron mused. “But even in war, Pepper managed to find a new love, and her life now is as rosy as it was before the war. I won’t be so lucky. The men who are fortunate enough to be returning home are either crippled or so emotionally scarred the last thing they’re hoping for is to marry and have another obligation.”
Her father rose from the table. “There’s a big write-up in the paper about how best to bring our fallen soldiers home from the battlefields and establish national cemeteries where people can assemble to honor the sacrifice of those good men. There’s a sense of urgency to retrieve the bodies from southern land.”
Charlotte nodded. “Well, of course we need to bring our boys home and see them properly buried.”
George donned his suit jacket and took his hat from the waiting servant before he addressed his wife. “This Reburial Progam would be a good effort to get behind. Maybe you and Saffron can expand on your Sanitary Commission volunteer efforts.”
Saffron’s interest in the conversation picked up. “I have become quite the expert in the battle at Chancellorsville. Will they go field by field? Battle by battle? Because I can definitely contribute to at least one.”
Her father nodded. “I suppose so. Clara Barton has been gathering information for over a year now with her Missing Soldiers’ Office in Washington, DC. Her wealth of information is where the government will begin its efforts, according to the newspaper.”
Saffron ran her finger over her upper lip. She’d volunteered her services to the Sanitary Commission for the past three years and worked closely with Pepper and her husband, Elijah, to set up a hospital directory to catalog the wounded and dead for the benefit of the affected families. After the hospital directory was established, she’d begun to gather letters and scraps of paper from soldiers and loved ones about the burial locations of the fallen at Chancellorsville. There were other battles, bigger battles, that had happened, but Chancellorsville was the one she had been most intrigued by.
Her interest had been sparked by her chance meeting with a young man called Ezekiel Boone, when he shared how he was responsible for burying his four brothers. The image of Zeke popped into her head for the first time in quite a while. But he had filled her head for months following their impromptu meeting when she was fifteen and helped him escape. One never forgot one’s first kiss. And only kiss, to date. It was past time to put away for good her memory of him. It was past time to add to her life experiences. Perhaps have some more kisses with different men. Then, she’d stop reliving Zeke’s kiss and their stolen moment in time. Maybe the Reburial Program could provide the way.
Her father continued. “Andersonville was the first place to have a cemetery, with the help of Clara Barton. Seems only fitting, since so many of our men died in prison there. The papers say more men died from disease and illness than died on the battlefield. But there’s so much more to do.”
Saffron listened to her father with half an ear, but her mind was far away. She was reliving a wild wagon ride three years earlier, with a wild boy who never should have been in any battles and seen what he’d had to witness, done what he’d had to do. She wondered where he was now and if he would still be able to make her stomach churn in delight. She ran her finger over her upper lip again and sighed. They were two ships that had passed each other during the stormy seas of war. She’d best set her sights on a new beginning, now that the war was over, rather than be pondering over what could have been with a boy she never should have met.
Her mother was correct. It was past time for her to find a husband. She recalled the men who she’d seen on the streets coming home from the war, some of them still wearing their filthy, ragged uniforms. Haunted eyes stared at her when they chanced to notice her. Either that, or they were missing an arm or leg. How could a man wrap his arms around her when he had none? She sighed, heavily. She took pity on these men, admired their bravery, but wouldn’t choose to spend her life with them. At least not until she had an adventure or two to make up for lost time.
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