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Chapter One
Grayson Grove, Michigan
August 1865

Nate Grayson stood before the big bay window in his large, book-lined study watching the rain. By all rights, he should have been more concerned with the business being conducted across the room by his barrister and his wife, Cecile, but Nate preferred the rain. As he stood there, his thoughts drifted to last evening when he'd stood in much this same way. . .

He'd been in the doorway of the upstairs bedroom, indifferently watching Cecile pack. He'd not been allowed to share the room or her bed since his return from the war in June, and he'd not much cared.

When she had spotted him, she'd tossed a rose silk gown atop the bed and haughtily said, "At least try not to hate me, Nathaniel."

He responded with a bitter chuckle. "It's a bit late for that"

She strode over to the polished cherrywood wardrobe that once be-longed to his grandmother Dorcas and took down another armload of gowns, which she tossed alongside the others. As she held each gown up for critical inspection, she glanced back at him and said, "Were you more worldly, you'd not hate me. Marriages end everyday. At least we're not being hypocrites by pretending otherwise."

More worldly. He'd heard her throw out that phrase so many times to describe his shortcomings, he swore the words echoed in his head while he slept More worldly. Had he been more worldly maybe he wouldn't have cared that she came to their marriage secretly carrying another man's child. Had he been more worldly maybe he wouldn't have been bothered by the gossips whispering that she preferred other men to her husband in bed. He admittedly knew nothing about living I in this more worldly world she described.

As she continued her packing, he realized he had never loved her, not really. And he never should have married her. He'd been an eight-teen- year-old Michigan farmboy, and she the pampered only daughter of one of Philadelphia's best known abolitionist ministers. They'd grown up in entirely different worlds; worlds that would ultimately pit his beliefs and values against hers. Unfortunately, at the time he hadn't known that. When he first met Cecile Gould on a visit to Philadelphia in the spring of 1862, he thought a more beautiful and accomplished woman had never been born. He fell in love with the way she moved, the way she laughed, the way she smelled. She was a brightly gowned butterfly compared to the practical, everyday women he'd grown up around, and he'd been blinded. Despite having known Cecile only seven days, he'd proposed marriage rather than return to Michigan without her, and she'd accepted with tears in her beautiful brown eyes. Only later did he learn that her tears sprang from relief, not joy. She'd married him to give a name to her lover's child, and when she lost that child a few months after their marriage, she began taking new lovers.

She paused packing to ask, "Is there a reason you're here? I'd prefer to do this without you hovering over my shoulder."

"A simple question, Cecile. Did you ever love me?"

She had the decency to avoid his eyes as she answered, "Truthfully, Nathaniel? No. I never did."

The answer did not surprise him, nor did it cause new pain. Any feelings he'd ever had for her had turned to ash long ago.

Then she raised her beautiful eyes to his and said, "Nathaniel, you're a decent, handsome man, but you need a woman more like yourself. I detest this place. I detest the mosquitoes. I detest the mud. I detest living in the middle of nowhere without anything to do or anyplace to go. I need the theater, and dinner parties, and gaiety. Not chickens and trees."

He didn't bother to reply. She'd never understood how much this land meant to the people here. To her way of thinking, land had no value if it didn't sit beneath a fancy house. During the first months of their marriage, he'd hoped she would one day come to appreciate the raw vitality and potential of Michigan, but that was not to be.

"So you only married me for what, my name?"

"Frankly? Yes. I was desperate, and at the time you were my salvation, but I don't need saving anymore."

What will you tell your father?" he asked her then. The Reverend Gould would demand an explanation when he saw the decree dissolving the marriage.

"That you changed after the war and we no longer suited." Nate supposed the lie was close enough to the truth-the war had changed him. The haunting sounds 'of men screaming as they died still echoed inside him, especially at night. If he closed his eyes, he could see the dark clouds of cannon fire, smell the gagging stench of burned flesh and powder in the air. The horrifying memories of Fort Pillow had come home with him, and he could not shake them.

"And your lovers, what will you tell your father about them?"

She stopped packing, . . .

 

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