As the days are getting closer, I thought it only prudent, to post an exclusive excerpt of The Officer and the Southerner!
Jack tossed down his hat and shrugged out of his coatee. He slipped the button at the top of his shirt free and proceeded to unbutton each of his cuffs. It was too hot in here as it was, and he could hardly sit still long enough to finish his report about what he and his men had found when they’d ridden out to the Creek land last week. He scribbled down a few more words so the report looked lengthier and Colonel Lewis didn’t ask for more details Jack couldn’t remember. The men and women he’d visited seemed just fine. They had enough food and water and didn’t seem to give any indication that they had thoughts of attacking the fort and lynching those who lived here.
To his mind, all was fine.
At least where the Creeks lived. For him, personally, all was the furthest thing from fine. Not that it was bad, however. He was just…er…nervous.
Not necessarily a good nervous, but not a bad nervous, either. It was more like a mix of the two, but mainly good.
“Are you feeling well, Jack?”
Jack started. “Yes. Why?”
His friend Wes shrugged and idly scratched the brown hair just above his temple. “You just seem anxious.”
Of course he was anxious. After the better part of a year and a plethora of letters passing between them, Jack had finally convinced one Miss Elinor “Ella” Davis to come here as his mail order bride, and if he’d done his calculations correctly, today was the day she was set to arrive. Of course, nobody else knew of this yet, lest she reach Fort Smith, change her mind and not come. His gut tightened at the thought. “Everything’s fine,” he said as smoothly as he could.
“Hmmm,” Wes said before turning his attention back to the paper in front of him.
“Hmmm, what?” Jack asked, scowling.
“Nothing. I just find it odd that you keep glancing out the window every thirty seconds.”
Jack swallowed. He hadn’t meant to be so obvious. “I asked McCorkle to march my men this afternoon so I could finish this report. I want to make sure, by the time they come back, they still know how to march properly.”
Wes chuckled and Jack relaxed. All of the other officers here knew McCorkle couldn’t think more than half a step ahead of himself. To be quite honest and incredibly blunt, it was a miracle the man was able to dress himself in the morning. It seemed he needed direct orders to do just about anything, and heaven only knew what his men often talked him into letting them do because he was so easy to persuade. “If you wanted to ensure they stayed on task and actually learned something, you should have sent them with Gray, then.”
“I would have, but Gray said no.”
“Do you blame him?”
“If he wanted to eat that pastry, then he shouldn’t have left it unattended,” Jack said in his own defense.
Wes shook his head. “And that is why I am so glad I have a wife who can bake me pies and pastries whenever I ask, and not once every six months.”
A hint of a smile touched Jack’s lips. Ella could cook, too. “Allison wasn’t always so eager if I remember right.”
“No, she wasn’t,” Wes agreed. “She just had to learn. And thank heaven she did or else she’d surely have perished within a month if Mrs. Ridgely hadn’t helped her.”
Jack signed his name to his report and walked it over to Colonel Lewis’ desk so the man could find it easy enough and not come pestering Jack for it later. Because frankly, later, he’d be busy. Tonight would be his wedding night, after all… He cleared his throat and his thoughts simultaneously before he found himself in an awkward situation that he’d have to think of some way to explain his way out of.
“Surely, it wasn’t so bad for Allison when she first came. I seem to remember her being very cheerful.”
Wes snorted. “That’s because you only saw her in brief snatches when she first arrived. Fort Gibson is nothing like where she came from in Boston. She struggled at first.”
“But she did learn,” Jack hedged.
A wide grin split Wes’ face. “Of course she did. It just took some time.”
Jack expected the same from Ella. Although to tell the truth, from Ella’s letters, she seemed to have a better understanding of what was expected of her as a wife. If Jack remembered correctly, not only could Allison not cook, but she couldn’t even sew either, and Wes had to use his clothing allowance to buy her a shirt to wear with the unusual skirt she’d sewn.
Jack started again. “Yes?”
“You’re not thinking to do something foolish, are you?”
“Yes.” Wes’ blue eyes searched Jack’s heated face. “You haven’t taken it into your mind to send off for a mail order bride again, have you?”
“No.” That wasn’t a lie. He’d already sent off for one; he had no need to send off for another. “Why do you ask?”
Wes’ eyes narrowed. “Because every time you start talking about Allison, you get this distant look in your eyes—the very one you had last year right after Allison came and you suggested you could use a wife and were thinking about sending off for a mail order bride.”
“I still don’t see what’s wrong with my logic. A wife out here could make a man’s life far easier.”
“And hers miserable,” Wes countered. He raked a hand through his brown hair. “Jack, please don’t do anything foolish. Besides the fact that she’d be utterly miserable married to you in the first place, the journey here might kill her.”
Silence filled the air. Last year, days after Allison had arrived, Jack, Wes and Gray had found a ransacked carriage and the bodies of Allison’s traveling companions. “Not to worry about that. If I were to seek a wife and have her travel here to meet me, I’d have her come across from Fort Smith. It’s far safer that way than down the Texas Trail.”
“You speak as if you’ve already made plans to do this,” Wes said, steepling his hands in front of his face.
Jack shrugged. “After what happened last year, a man couldn’t be too careful making travel plans for his future wife.”
“You do know that Allison’s arrival here wasn’t planned.”
“I know,” he said thickly. This was a fact he was unaware of when he’d originally placed his ad. When Allison had arrived, Wes had led them all to believe she was a mail order bride. It wasn’t until a man who claimed to be her intended appeared that the truth was exposed. “Because it was just a random occurrence and not your own arrangements for her to be on the Texas Trail, I don’t place any blame on you.”
“Thank you,” Wes said dryly.
Jack frowned at his friend’s sarcasm. “I’m sure that had you actually sent off for a mail order bride, you’d have done whatever necessary to keep her safe.”
“Including arranging an Army escort,” Captain Grayson “Gray” Montgomery said, poking his head in the door of the large room all the officers shared to do their work.
Jack’s heart thudded in his chest. Did that mean… “I should think that would be prudent,” Jack said slowly.
Gray scoffed. “You know darn well that’s exactly what you’d do because that’s what you did do.” He stepped inside the office and closed the door. “I didn’t think you’d truly have the nerve or the stupidity to actually send off for a wife. Nor did I think one would be desperate enough to respond, but I suppose that makes me the biggest fool of all because there’s a beautiful woman who just arrived and is claiming she’s looking for a man named Jack Walker—her intended.”