Please welcome with me our Guest Author — Nicole McCaffrey
For as long as I can remember, my heroes have always been bad boys. Every single one. In The Model Man, my first full length release from TWRP, cover model Derek Calavicci is the quintessential modern bad boy complete with paparazzi recording his every move. Ditto my first historical western; bounty hunter Raz Colt would just as soon shoot someone as explain himself, and never utters a word that isn’t sarcastic. (He’s still the hero that generates the most fan mail). Even the heroes in my two short stories, boy next door Tucker Callahan from Small Town Christmas, and real estate billionaire Jamie D’Alessandro from This Moment in Time, were bad boys before the story takes place, but life has managed to tone them down a bit.
These bad boys heroes were eventually reformed by the love of a good woman. So I was a little uncertain when the next dashing hero to pull up a chair in my mind and start telling me his story was…a good guy. Major Caleb McKenna of the Confederate army is a true Southern gentleman—he’s noble, honorable, charming, and utterly devoted to the cause he’s fighting for even if two years in, he’s grown weary of war.
So…how do you redeem a guy who doesn’t need redeeming?
Enter a heroine who does.
Alexandra Winters is nothing like the gentle belle back in Georgia awaiting Caleb’s return. In fact, she’s nothing like any woman he’s ever met. This female physician is fiercely independent, stubborn to a fault, and, most scandalous of all, a divorcee. She doesn’t need help, doesn’t need to be rescued and sure as hell doesn’t need the major’s help when a hungry foot soldier tries to force his way into her home. But she’ll work herself nearly to death to save the young men and boys who have fallen in battle in her hometown of Gettysburg.
When the Civil War arrives on her door step, Gettysburg doctor Alexandra Winters uses her knowledge of medicine to help the wounded. When an uncommonly handsome rebel officer finds her tending the wounded in his battlefield, he takes her for a spy until she confesses her darkest secret; her brother fights for the south. He vows to find her brother and insists on escorting her home. But Alexa already has enough gossip attached to her name thanks to a scandalous divorce; she doesn’t need to be seen keeping company with the enemy at a late hour.
Major Caleb McKenna, CSA, has grown weary of war and bloodshed. Dreams of glory and valor are long gone, as is the memory of his beloved fiancée back home in Georgia. Try as he might, he can’t recall her face. Instead, it’s the bewitching image of Alexa Winters that haunts his every thought. Her stubborn refusal to show weakness is put to the test when he brings news of her missing brother. His attempt to comfort the stoic beauty quickly engulfs them in a firestorm of passion, leaving Caleb torn between a promise made to the gentle belle awaiting his return – and an emerald-eyed, jet-haired Northern temptress.
When the major is gravely wounded, Alexa comes to his aide. Hiding a Confederate officer in a house filled with recuperating Union soldiers is risky… and fighting their growing desire is a battle they can’t afford to lose.
She was only a few feet away, but the urge to touch her was overwhelming. What was it about her that drew him so?
Reminding himself she hadn’t come out onto the porch to be accosted, Caleb stepped into the faint moonlight. “Good evening, Doctor Winters.”
“Major.” Her shoulders visibly relaxed at the sight of him. “I’m glad to see you’re all right.”
“Is that so.” He purposely didn’t phrase it as a question.
“When Corporal Edwards…I didn’t know if you’d been…” She lowered her gaze.
“I was nearby when it happened.” He cleared his throat to rid the emotion from his voice. “But no, I wasn’t hurt.”
She stepped to the porch railing, and he could see dark splotches of blood staining her shirt and trousers. This day had surely been as long for her as it had him.
“You know then, that he…”
“Yes.” A pang of grief stabbed him. “But I didn’t come to talk about Simon. Not yet anyway. I have the personal effects from the soldier we found this morning. And I have word of your brother.”
She hesitantly accepted the bundle he handed her, then squared her shoulders and met his gaze. “Nate is dead, isn’t he?”
“Missing. Since July of last year.”
“I would have heard from him by now if he’s still alive.”
“Thank you, Major.” She smoothed a hand over the bundle of personal effects. “I appreciate you taking the time to ask after my brother with all you had to deal with today.”
Caleb stepped closer to the porch. He should leave now, return to his men. He’d given her what little information he had. But the time spent with her wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy his yearning for her company. “Do you have a few moments to visit with me?”
She glanced briefly toward the house. “I have patients waiting. But yes, I’d like that.”
He met her at the steps, reaching out in an automatic gesture to assist her, tucking her hand in the crook of his arm. “How are you this evening?”
“Me?” Her voice rose an octave, as if he’d taken her by surprise. “I’m fit as a fiddle.”
His gaze traveled once more over her blood-stained clothing. “I doubt that very much. I wanted to apologize for sending Corporal Edwards your way this afternoon. Had I known the gravity of his wound, I would have never put you through that.”
She remained silent for several moments. “I appreciate your faith in me as a doctor, just the same.”
“I know it must be difficult, but try to remember that Corporal Edwards, and all the men lost here today gave their lives for a cause they believed in.” It was a phrase he’d uttered too often since the war had begun.
She stopped abruptly and removed her hand from his arm. “Do you truly believe that?”
Not anymore, but it was the only comfort he had to offer. “Alexa—”
“Did you come here to placate me with stories of honor and valor? I’ve seen nothing today but blood and death and young men ripped to pieces. Tell me, Major, where is the honor in that?” Her voice broke. “Secede if you want, but dammit, stop killing each other.”
She reeled away, hurrying down a slight incline in the yard toward the back of the house, and disappeared beneath the low-hanging canopy of an enormous weeping willow.
Caleb followed, stooping beneath the dangling leaves, but there was no sign of her. A few stray leaves and a rustling sound came from over head. A glance upward revealed her sitting on a sturdy branch a few feet off the ground. So that was where she’d gone.
“Would it help to know I share your feelings?” After two and a half years of war and the loss of countless friends and relatives, he was ready for it to end, too.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lost my temper. It’s not your fault. But for every wounded soldier I’ve seen today, I’ve thought, ‘did Nate do this to you,’ and I felt almost guilty. And then I thought of you and wondered…”
“If I did it,” he finished for her.
“Caleb, how can you shoot those poor boys?”
His youngest sister had once asked him much the same thing. He still lacked an easy answer to the question. “I’m a soldier, Alexa. It’s my duty.”
“To kill innocent men?”
“Before they kill me or invade my country. Yes.”
“It sounds so heartless.”
He leaned a shoulder against the branch, looking up at her in the shadowy light. “It’s no different than you not fainting or feeling ill at the sight of blood. Your training has prepared you for what to expect, and experience has made you less sensitive to it.”
“But I’m trying to save lives and you’re…”
“You’re seeing a side of war that few civilians ever will. But you have to trust that we know what we’re doing.”
She turned toward him. “You really believe all those men knew what they were getting into? What of all that ‘the war will be over by Christmas’ talk?”
True, when the war had begun, the south had thought it would whip the north in a short time. Their earliest battles only reinforced that belief, with the Southern army winning easy victories. He sighed. But now, more than two years in, it seemed the war would never end.
“No, they didn’t. But even so, I assure you there isn’t a man going into battle who wants to die—but we’re prepared to do so if that’s what’s required.”
She didn’t speak, and he strained to see her in the dark, wondered what was going through her mind. By what little moonlight filtered through the branches, he saw her swipe at her cheeks and heard a small sniffle. She probably wouldn’t like to be caught crying. He averted his gaze, instead studying the bark of the branch she sat upon, scarred in places from years of climbing feet, and worn smooth in others from hours of someone seated there.
He patted the sturdy wood. “I take it this was a special spot when you were a girl.”
“I don’t know what possessed me to climb up here.” Another sniffle. “I’m surprised I still can.”
Her legs swung to one side, and without thought for propriety, Caleb put his hands to her waist to lift her down. Through the thin fabric of her blouse, the warmth of her flesh met his palms. He set her before him, leaf-speckled moonlight casting a glow on her tear-streaked face.
He stroked a thumb over the moisture on her cheeks. “Alexa,” he sighed. “Don’t cry.”
Her hot tears spilled over his thumb.
“He was so calm, so much braver than I’d have been.”
Edwards had been like a brother to him, he’d felt every damn bit as helpless when his friend had been hit. “I shouldn’t have put you through it.”
“There was nothing I could do for him.” Her voice was raw with pain and exhaustion.
He pulled her into his arms, needing to comfort her and needing comfort himself.
She held herself rigid for several moments before settling her head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry. I don’t usually give in to such feminine displays.”
“I won’t tell a soul.”
He gently stroked her back, keenly aware that only a thin cotton barrier stood between her flesh and his palms. A tangle of emotion tore through him, and like her, he fought against the need to give in to the grief gnawing at him.
“It was my fault. I ordered the men forward.”
“You were following orders.” She relaxed against him a bit more. “It’s no one’s fault.”
He nuzzled her hair, breathed in the lingering aroma of lilacs. For the rest of his days, he’d associate that heavenly smell with Alexa Winters. “I hate this damn war.”
She raised her head from his shoulder, and though shadowy leaves dappled her face, making it impossible to clearly see her, he could feel her gaze on him.
Without a thought, he brushed his lips against her forehead, intending only to comfort her as he would his sisters. The teasing smell of those damn lilacs and a scent that was uniquely Alexa filled his nostrils. Tormented by the soft curves pressed against him, his manhood roared to fully erect. A dizzying sensation enveloped him, urging him to move closer, hold her tighter. He forced aside the thoughts even as he struggled against the demands of his body.
“Alexa,” he whispered against her ear. “I came here tonight with honorable intentions.”
She turned toward him, the movement bringing her face into close contact with his lips. “A-and now?”
He stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. “God help me, right now all I can think about is kissing you.”
The strangled whisper tore his resolve to shreds. Trembling with the need to touch her, he lowered his head, closing the distance between them until their lips were only a breath apart. He gave her time to retreat, to pull away or slap him.
With a moan, she slid her hands behind his neck, and he pulled her closer, groaning when her lips parted beneath his.
One taste…he’d only allow himself one taste…
If it’s possible to be born a writer, then I most likely was. I’d probably have started sooner if there had been pen and paper available in the womb. But for as long as I can remember, I have heard voices in my head. Fortunately for me, they’re all characters—begging me to tell their stories.
I’ve been married to Peter, my best friend, for sixteen years, and am a work-at-home mom with two busy boys, a teen and a tween. When I’m not working, writing, or buried nose-deep in a research book, chances are I’m baking, gardening, taking my dog for long walks along the beautiful shores of Lake Ontario, or just spending time with my favorite guys.
Please visit my website www.nicolemccaffrey.com for news on my latest releases, reviews, excerpts of my published work and sneak peeks at upcoming releases.
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