Emma Wellington has found herself transported back to the Civil War. She has been reunited with her sister, Sophie, and they are getting ready for dinner. She has no idea that Clayton Madden, the man who rescued her, is searching for her.
“Ow!” Emma grabbed her head. “Ease up there, Attila.”
“Sorry,” Sophie mumbled with hairpins between her lips. “Your hair is just too soft to do anything with. I get it pinned and it slides out.”
Emma waved her hand toward the bed. “I have a couple of hair bands in my bag. Use one of them…and then spray the heck out of it.”
Sophie spit out the pins. “Good idea.”
“I shouldn’t have cut it.”
“Why? In case this might happen?”
“Well, you never know.”
Sophie chuckled. “Yes, we should warn women in the future about cutting their locks off, just in case they get sent back in time and have to fake an old-fashioned hairstyle.”
“Why does it matter anyway? Isn’t it just the family?”
“Ha! It’s never just the family. I heard from Mary—”
“—which one’s Mary again?” Emma interrupted.
“The cook.” Sophie found the hair bands and made her way back to Emma. “Anyway, Nona told Mary to add three for dinner, so I’m assuming she’s invited a couple of Jamie’s men to join us.”
Emma grinned. “I like Nona. She’s good peeps.”
Sophie glanced off into space for a second. “Although, no one told Jamie about the dinner invite, which is weird.” She shook her head. “Oh well. He’s been working so hard lately, it’s possible he forgot.”
Emma rubbed her hands together. “Who cares? Men in uniform at the dinner table. Works for me.”
Sophie gave her hair a gentle tug. “You will act like a modest little mouse tonight. No flirting.”
“I don’t flirt.”
Sophie snorted. “What do you call it, sissy? The giggling, the witty banter…all for their benefit…and the little head tilts.”
“That’s just conversation.”
Sophie sighed. “Well, I’d love to see you find a man who can bring you to your knees and rend you speechless. You have yet to find one who doesn’t bore you…and you play with them mercilessly.”
She stood and let Sophie tighten her corset. “I just like to have a little fun. What’s the harm in that?”
“Well, please try not to have fun tonight.” Sophie yanked on the laces. “One flirt and you might find yourself married.”
Emma giggled. “I’ll do my best.”
Once Sophie was satisfied with Emma’s coif, they finished dressing and Sophie led her to the mirror. Emma gasped. “Sophie, I don’t look real.”
She chuckled. “I know what you mean. It feels like a costume party that goes on forever.”
Emma wore one of Sophie’s gowns and it fit her perfectly, other than the length. Sophie had Betty take down the hem, and in the end the very proper housekeeper was satisfied that it covered enough. The v-neck top revealed more than Emma expected and she tried to adjust it for modesty.
Sophie laughed. “Em, I promise, you won’t fall out. You’ll get used to it.”
“But my boobs look huge!” Emma exclaimed.
“Newsflash! Your boobs are huge, Em.”
Emma grimaced. “I never thought they’d ever look this big.”
“It’s the corset.”
Emma glanced down and then at Sophie. “Are you sure this is kosher?”
“Em, you’re showing less than me. You look great.” Sophie pulled her into the hallway and closed the door behind them.
Jamie pushed away from the wall and gave them a formal bow. “Ladies. You both look beautiful.” He pulled Sophie close and kissed her. “Especially you.”
Sophie ran her hands up his chest. “As do you, baby.”
He pulled away from Sophie and leaned over to kiss Emma’s cheek. “How’s your ankle?”
She adjusted her glasses. “Better…I think.”
“We’ll plop you in a chair and you’ll do fine.”
Emma wrinkled her nose. “That sounds fun.”
“Apparently Nona has invited a few extra guests.” Jamie got an evil glint in his eye as he grinned. “So, I plan to keep you away from any eligible soldiers.”
Emma groaned. “Sophie already gave me the lecture.”
“Let’s go.” Jamie led them to the landing. “Topper’s waiting in the parlor and excited to see you.”
“Me, why?” Emma asked.
“I think he fancies himself in love with you.”
Emma laughed. “Oh, please. He’s talked to me all of twice.”
“Yes, but you talk to him. Most people don’t know what to say and usually end up staring at his injury instead.” Jamie looped an arm around her shoulders and steadied her so she could walk down the stairs. “Don’t feel too special. He’s in love with Sophie, too.”
He ushered them downstairs and to the parlor, where Topper waited with several of the other guests.
* * *
Clayton clenched and unclenched his hand before lifting it to knock on the door. He could barely contain his anticipation and had to stop himself from barreling past Daniel when he opened the door. “Good evening, Mr. Madden.”
“Good evening, Daniel.” Clayton handed the butler his hat and outerwear.
“Everyone is in the parlor. I’ll announce you.”
Clayton shook his head. “No need, Daniel. I’ll announce myself.”
“As you wish.”
Clayton took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. He strode to the parlor door, paused briefly, and then stepped inside. The breath left his body.
Conversation continued around him. No one had noticed his entrance, and then she looked up and her eyes widened in surprise. Her tongue darted out to lick her lower lip, the action causing Clayton’s stomach to clench with desire, and he gave her a slow smile. He was rewarded with the blush of her cheeks and the quick rise of her chest.
“Clayton Madden!” Jamie stepped in front of him. “What are you doing back so soon?”
Clayton glanced at him and attempted to look again at Emma, but Jamie blocked his view. Clayton gave him an irritated glare.
Jamie chuckled and held his hand out. “It’s really great to see you. I’ll bet your brother’s happy to have you back. How long are you staying?”
Clayton focused on Jamie, took his hand, and squeezed—hard. “Good evening, Jamie.” He grinned at Jamie’s discomfort. “I’m back for a little while, and I believe you and I may have a few things to discuss.”
Jamie pulled his hand out of Clayton’s grip and fisted it in his pocket. “Quite a grip you got there.”
“Fencing,” Clayton said without looking at him.
Emma stood and limped to her sister, who stood with Christine by the French doors. Jamie asked him something, but Clayton was far more interested in the effect he obviously had on Emma Wellington.
“Excuse me, Jamie.” Clayton walked away in the middle of Jamie’s sentence and strode toward Emma. “Ladies.”
Emma stepped forward and frowned. “What happened to your eye?”
He’d forgotten about his eye.
“It’s nothing to concern yourself with.” He took her hand and set a gentle kiss on the top. Emma pulled it away and stepped behind her sister. Clayton took Sophie’s hand and kissed her knuckles. “Mrs. Ford.”
Sophie raised an eyebrow. “Mr. Madden. What a lovely surprise.”
Christine closed the gap so that Emma was hidden, and Clayton raised an eyebrow as he lifted her hand to his lips. “Christine.”
“I had no idea you were coming back.” She grinned and lowered her hand. “How long are you staying?”
“That all depends.” He caught Emma’s eye between the ladies, and she quickly lowered her head with a blush. Christine let out a quiet snort and Clayton narrowed his eyes. “Were you saying something, Christine?”
Christine covered her lips with her fingers, her eyes dancing with mischief, and shook her head. “No, nothing at all, Clayton. Would you mind retrieving me a glass of sherry?”
Clayton tried to hide his irritation, but he knew she saw it. He also knew she’d made the request knowing full well he wouldn’t refuse. “Of course. Would either of you other ladies like something?”
“No, thank you,” Sophie said, while Emma simply shook her head.
Clayton gave a slight bow and went off to do Christine’s bidding.
* * *
Emma’s heart raced as she watched him walk away. She grabbed her sister’s hand and forced herself to take deep breaths. “What is he doing here?”
“Nona’s a little sneak,” Sophie murmured.
Christine giggled. “I think you have an admirer.”
Sophie squeezed her hand. “Emma, are you blushing?”
Emma swallowed and felt the heat climbing up her neck. “I need to get out of here. Can we please get out of here?”
Sophie shook her head and chuckled. “Not on your life, Squirt. Look at you! You’re all flabbergasted.”
Emma glared at her. “I’m so glad you’re enjoying this. What am I supposed to say to him?”
Christine drew her eyebrows together. “What’s amiss?”
“What’s wrong is that my little sister is speechless.” Sophie wrapped an arm around Emma’s waist. “Have we really just seen the one man—across space and time, mind you—that has brought you to your knees?” Sophie tapped her cheek in thought. “Apparently, when I say something out loud, it really does happen, huh? Wow!”
“Sophie,” Emma hissed. “Shush.”
“Let me see…” Sophie grinned slowly. “I think this might be the man who will make you fall madly in love with him.”
“Oh, and maybe you two will get married and have lots of babies.”
Emma pushed away from Sophie. “You are the most evil creature on earth.”
“She is, Emma. I agree.” Christine laughed. “Would you like to take a little walk outside before dinner?”
Emma let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Christine. I would love to.”
Sophie reached out and squeezed her arm. “Your ankle, Em.”
“I’ll hop if I have to, mistress of destruction. I need out of this room.”
Christine pushed open one of the French doors. “Why don’t we sit on the veranda?”
Christine and Sophie steadied Emma on either side and led her out to one of the chairs, settling her foot on another. Christine squeezed her shoulder. “How’s that?”
Emma sighed. “Much better. Thank you, Christine.”
“I thought I saw you three escape.” Emma jumped and looked up at Clayton as he stepped outside. He handed Christine her glass of sherry and then faced Emma. “Miss Wellington, I took the liberty of procuring you a glass of red wine. I hope that is acceptable.”
A quiet squeak escaped as Emma nodded her head and took the glass from him.
Clayton turned to Sophie. “Mrs. Ford, your husband is looking for you.”
Sophie stood. “Is he, now?”
Clayton gave her a challenging grin. “Yes. He’s waiting by the refreshment table.”
“Thank you.” Emma grabbed her sister’s skirt, but Sophie pulled out of her grip. “I trust no one is looking for Christine, correct?”
Clayton shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of.”
Sophie gave a half-smile. “Good answer.”
Emma’s stomach battled with the sandwich she’d eaten an hour ago and her lungs fought for air. He was better looking than she’d remembered, and way sexier than any fantasy she could have dreamed up.
“May I join you?” Clayton indicated the chair Sophie had just vacated.
“What made you come back so soon, Clayton?” Christine laid her hand on his arm to get his attention. “Is Richard all right?”
He faced Emma. “Richard is not the reason I returned.”
Path to Publication: Tamar Sloan
5 days ago