Eternity Between Us
About the Book
Eternity Between Us
Excerpt: Chapter One
July 4, 1861
They were here.
Evelyn Mapleton gathered her courage and stood at the parlor window to listen. The sound came first as a steady growl accompanied by the rat-a-tat of drums and squealing trumpets, upending the precarious calm of a town poised on the knife’s edge of war. An unnatural thunder rumbled through the air, carrying with it not thoughts of rain but of smoke and trepidation.
With each pound of the nearing forces, Evelyn’s heart quivered. One single thought kept cadence in her mind, bring-ing with it a chilling fear that turned her stomach to lead.
They were here.
The vibrations trembled through the house, rattling Aunt Mary’s porcelains and coaxing the other members of the family to gather in the parlor alongside Evelyn in the scant hope there might be a measure of peace found in company. The oppressive heat thickened in the house, Aunt Mary having been too nervous to let in even a timid breeze.
For the two days since the Yanks defeated Jackson at Falling Waters, Evelyn had stayed sequestered in her aunt’s town-home on South Queen Street, waiting for the inevitable. Now it came, with raucous laughter and barking voices to accompany the rumble of drums, a most quarrelsome and discordant attempt at victory’s song. Half of Martinsburg would surely join them, while the rest of the divided citizenship had likely either abandoned their homes or was now hiding within them until the trouble passed.
Evelyn peeled back the curtain and stared outside. Would Daddy’s warnings about the invaders come to pass? She tightened her hands into fists. She must be brave and fulfill the promise he’d coaxed from her before he’d left her again. Pulse fluttering, she gazed down the town’s empty street for as far as she could see. How long would it be until the sound gave way to the sight of those who caused it? How many would descend upon them like locusts, destroying all they touched without conscience?
“Evelyn! Come away from that window at once!”
Evelyn let the lace curtain fall and looked over her shoulder at her aunt’s pale features. At thirty-eight, Aunt Mary was the same age Evelyn’s mother would have been. Daddy had promised his sister was a fine lady of pristine character, and she would provide for Evelyn what a lone man never could.
Unfortunately, his news reports stated the Yanks gave no heed to such things, and no deference would be given to the genteel. Brutes, the lot of them, Daddy had said.
The terrible fears Daddy had printed in his newspaper articles reflected in Aunt Mary’s eyes, so Evelyn pried herself away from the window and withdrew into the shadows of the parlor.
Little Lara clutched her mother’s skirts, her sweet face buried deep into Aunt Mary’s sage gown. For her sake, Evelyn pasted on a smile. “Not to worry, Lara. They will soon enough pass. We’re safe in here.”
Lara lifted her eyes to Evelyn for a few seconds, then managed a small nod before seeking out her older sister’s gaze as well. Isabella remained too engrossed in plucking at her immaculate gown to notice. Evelyn inwardly sighed. Did her cousin ever truly notice the child?
Lara’s grip loosened on Aunt Mary’s skirt but did not release entirely. Aunt Mary gave a small dip of her chin in appreciation for Evelyn’s necessary deception and pulled the girl closer. “How many of them do you think there are?”
She’d heard their neighbor, Mrs. Grady, boast that nearly fifteen thousand Yanks had swarmed through the valley, and at least three thousand had crossed the Potomac to trample into Falling Waters. Evelyn wouldn’t be surprised if every one of those, if not more, had come to seek their revelry in Martinsburg. But she wouldn’t further distress her aunt by saying so.
“No more than a few hundred, I should hope. Let us pray they will be on their way quickly.”
Aunt Mary seemed relieved, and Evelyn told herself the lie was as much of a benefit to her aunt as her previous one had been for little Lara.
Isabella lurched to her feet and paced around the parlor, her hands flying nervously about her throat. Golden curls hung limp at her temples and sweat glistened on her forehead. Her bright blue eyes landed on Evelyn, and her rosy lips pulled back from her teeth. “They have come to murder us all!”
“Isabella!” Evelyn grabbed her cousin’s elbow and pulled her close, her voice lowering. “Do not frighten your sister.”
Isabella’s eyes widened in shock and she glared at Evelyn, then sank onto the settee, her breath coming in rapid flutters. Evelyn sat next to her and stroked the back of her hand. Though close in age, the cousins were opposites in most everything. Where Isabella had sunshine hair and ocean eyes, Evelyn’s thick locks fell in cascades of raven black, and she studied the world through eyes the same deep brown as her mother’s. Isabella thrived on the attention her beauty drew, while Evelyn ever found herself blending into the walls and remaining unseen. Today, however, none of their clashing personality problems mattered.
Regardless of the many things separating them, for the moment the only thing of consequence was the fearful song that grew louder, slipping through every crack in the house and snaking its way across the frayed nerves of the family huddling in the parlor.
The sound of scurrying feet sent Evelyn’s senses into a dither until she caught sight of Lizzy bounding into the parlor, her arms filled with a mound of red cloth. Sweat dripped down her ebony face and darkened the stiff collar of her brown dress. Her dark eyes darted over each lady of the household, landing on Aunt Mary who sat with Lara clutched against her.
Lizzy waved a piece of the red fabric at them. “I done got the flag, mistress. What you wants I should do with it?”
Aunt Mary stared at her and offered up not a word. Evelyn looked to her cousin, who should have been next to speak, but Isabella had taken to wrapping her arms around her mid-dle and rocking herself, her lips moving silently.
She swallowed. Daddy’s flag. A symbol, he’d said, of the pride of their cause. When she’d dared to ask what pride that meant for those who had no stakes in the argument of
slavery, he’d lectured her about tariffs, taxes, and Lincoln’s agenda.
Gunfire cracked outside, and Lara whimpered. Evelyn’s pulse raced, her heart hammering in her chest. She’d promised she’d be brave. She’d promised to help in any way she could. But despite reminding herself to make it so, her quivering hands indicated she’d likely fail Daddy again.
Would the invaders breach the house or merely continue their contemptuous parade through the streets? Word had spread like wildfire that the Federals had defeated Southern forces at Falling Waters two days ago and had planned their march into Martinsburg for today, the fourth, where they could celebrate the eighty-fifth birthday of a fractured nation with drunken gasconade.
The sounds of their impending arrival cast all thoughts of propriety away. Evelyn rose. “Lizzy, take that secessionist flag and hide it somewhere. Then, gather the other servants and find a place to stay out of sight.”
The older woman hesitated a moment and then bobbed her head and slipped away on silent feet. The rumble now turned to a steady pounding, and Evelyn pushed aside the urge to cover her ears against the thousands of Patterson’s Yanks who would soon swarm around the house.
Overcoming a fraction of her fear, she dared to move the curtain a smidgen, needing to glimpse these scallywags that reports throughout the South had warned were capable of eve-ry manner of outrage. Daddy reported the soldiers had been raiding homes, stealing and destroying property, and committing unspeakable acts against defenseless women.
A blur of blue cut through the yard and stilled her hammering heart. Breath left her body, and for a moment, Evelyn stood frozen. Then she blinked, and in so doing, forced her mind to process once more. The Yanks had arrived, and her Uncle Phillip and cousin, Paul, were away with Jackson’s Second Virginia Infantry. If she did not take action, her relatives may soon be another unsavory line in one of Daddy’s news reports.
She whirled around and hurried to her aunt’s side. “Where is the pistol?”
Aunt Mary regarded her with glazed eyes.
Evelyn shook her shoulder. “The pistol, Aunt! I must have it!”
Aunt Mary shuddered as though coming free of a trance. “It’s in Phillip’s study. He left it in the desk drawer.”
Evelyn hiked up her skirts and ran through the house, nearly tripping on the corner of a rug. Her shoes clomped across the wood floors, sounding too much like the incessant drumbeat outside. She threw the door to her uncle’s study wide and snatched the drawer in his carved desk open, pulling it clean out of the furniture.
The drawer hit the rug below, its contents shifting around in her haste. She pushed aside a stack of envelopes and found the metal of a Colt pocket pistol gleaming in the late afternoon sunlight. Fingers shaking, she plucked it from its place. Glad of her father’s insistence she learn to handle a weapon, Evelyn flipped open the revolving chamber and counted three bullets inside. She sucked in a quick breath and slipped their only means of protection into the pocket of her yellow gingham skirt and hurried back to the parlor.
The sound that had laid siege to the town had now grown to a cacophony of bugle blasts, disjointed song, and shouts of victory. The wood frame of the house trembled like the women inside it, trinkets on the shelves in the parlor quivering. Sweat gathered at the nape of Evelyn’s neck and slid between her shoulder blades as she rejoined her family.
She took up her place by the parlor window once again and tried to remain still, lest any movement draw the attention of an unscrupulous soldier. Gun carriages clattered across the pavers, mechanical reapers that tainted the once quiet streets of Martinsburg.
Evelyn feared her father had made a grave mistake. He’d told her to continue staying with Isabella after they’d concluded their studies at Mount Washington Female College and to do her debut with Aunt Mary’s society friends in Washington. But by the time her season came to an end, the threats of war blanketed the country. Then after what happened at Fort Sumner, Daddy refused to let her stay with him, even though it was what he’d always promised. Travel, he’d said, would be dangerous with the stirs of combat causing young men to grow hot with battle fever and sully themselves with foolish desires for war.
She pried back a piece of the curtain, and this time her aunt did not reprimand her. She could see them now. Loose lines that didn’t hold to any respectable formation barely contained the men waving bayonets and hollering about Yankee Doodle on his pony. They came in droves, singing, swaying, and having the audacity to hoist a flag that boasted the stars of thirty-four states even though eleven of them had chosen to leave.
Sovereign states had the right to dissociate with the union they’d freely joined, didn’t they? How had they reached a time when fellow Americans celebrated the invasion of their neighbors? Evelyn shivered, the sight of so many untamed men causing her stomach to sour.
Aunt Mary’s blue china vibrated behind the doors of the rococo hutch, their tinkling the only sound that came from within the house. All the doors had been locked and the
windows secured. Now all she could do was pray the men would pass them by. Wave after wave came, their steel flashing in the sunlight that dipped farther toward the dust stirred by the passing of boots.
Evelyn pulled heavy air into her lungs and held it as the crash of shattering glass mingled with the sound of children’s screams. Such noises were now too close to allow them to keep up the pretense of safety for Lara’s sake.
Evelyn dropped the curtain. “Aunt! We must hide. They will soon—”
The front door erupted with a thundering of pounding fists. Evelyn thrust her hand into the pocket of her dress and retreated farther into the parlor.
“Come, Lara. We must hide,” Aunt Mary whispered, her voice wavering.
Isabella lurched to her feet, her eyes wild as she flung her hands into the air. “I cannot abide this!”
Evelyn grasped her cousin’s arm. “Abide it or not, it is coming. Best you keep your wits about you.”
Her cousin stared at her in disbelief. Never once had Evelyn spoken to Isabella in such a manner, but now was not the time to maintain a lady’s demure deference to her betters. Her aunt and uncle had been kind in their treatment of their niece, feeling for her after the loss of her mother and Daddy’s frequent absences. Because of this, Evelyn had allowed her cousin her whims and air of superiority and had never once bucked against her. But now she held the only means of protection they had and was the sole one who could use it. She could not allow Isabella’s histrionics to endanger them further.
“Let’s find somewhere before—”
The front door gave way with a splintered crash.
Men spilled into the house. Tracks of sweat cut paths through their filthy faces, and their wild eyes bounced around the entry before landing on the huddled forms of the women.
A great big man stepped in front of his counterparts and flashed a grin through his yellow beard. His eyes glazed like that of a man who had found too much brandy. He loomed closer, his heavy boots thudding across the floor as he stepped into the parlor.
Evelyn took a step back and put her fingers under her nose to ward off the smell of sweat, dirt, and drink that wafted off the scoundrels.
The big soldier’s eyes focused on her, and he laughed, a course sound that made her fingers tremble over the secret concealed in her pocket. “You’re one of the rebels, aren’t you?”
Evelyn let out a long breath. She would not let this devilish brute see her fear. Better she stand her ground and hope to not make herself an easy target. “We are not.”
The big man scratched at his greasy hair that fell in heavy locks over his ears. Evelyn took a small step forward, broadening her shoulders as she prayed for courage she did not truly feel. “We have not rebelled,” she said, using Daddy’s words. “We are merely defending our homes against invasion.”
The humor left his flat face. He sneered, and no fewer than six others pushed in closer behind him. Evelyn’s pulse raced as her cousin groaned. Then suddenly, Isabella was pressed up behind her.
“She speaks only for herself!” Isabella whined. “My mother and sister and I want nothing to do with the rebellion.”
The soldier crossed his arms over his broad chest. “Are there any rebel flags in this house that would prove you a liar?”
Isabella trembled and Evelyn felt her sway. She tried to catch her, but Isabella’s knees crumpled, and she dropped to the floor.
Aunt Mary wailed and darted to her daughter’s side, fanning her face in desperation.
Evelyn stepped in front of them, hoping their vulnerability would be shielded behind the volumes of her skirts and, thus, would persuade the ingrates to forget about them.
Another of the men stepped forward, a reedy fellow with brown hair and probing eyes. “We’ll get to hoisting the stars and stripes over the house, then.”
“You will do nothing of the sort.” Evelyn pointed a haughty finger at them, hoping they would be reminded of any lessons in gentlemanly manners they may have been taught as youths. “You will remove yourselves from the premises and, as gentlemen, will leave us be. What consequence are a couple of hapless women in a town you have already conquered?”
The broad one roared with laughter, and before Evelyn could react, he shoved her aside. Evelyn caught herself on Aunt Mary’s bookshelf and sent framed portraits and crystal figurines crashing to the floor. Thankfully, she kept her footing.
The beast knelt and wrapped a beefy arm around a still woozy Isabella, who pressed a hand to her head but remained conscious. She cried out as he hauled her against him, pulling them both to standing though Isabella’s toes barely skimmed the floor. Then his slackened lips aimed at hers.
Horror lit Evelyn’s veins on fire. She could not stand by and see her cousin ruined! In one thud of her heart, Evelyn planted her feet, whipped the weapon from her skirt, cocked back the hammer, and trained it upon the man’s hulking figure.“Release my cousin!”
The man turned one eye upon her, and, catching sight of the pistol, stilled in his advance.
Then he grinned.
In that moment, life seemed to slow. Evelyn could feel each beat of her pulse. The trembling in her fingers stilled as her blood boiled. Men scrambled, a tangle of torsos and limbs shifting in front of her and obscuring her target.
Her finger curled around the trigger, the cool metal smooth against the heat of her hand. She drew a breath and held it, settling the end of the barrel in line with the wolf who once again descended upon her cousin.
The recoil came first, a great snap of power that transferred up her arm and jolted through her shoulder. Then came the scent of smoke and the acrid burn of gunpowder. The crack of the weapon echoed in her ears as it erupted against the horrors unfolding around her.
The man’s grip loosened, and Isabella pulled from his grasp. He swayed, crimson slowly seeping from the tear in his blue uniform jacket. He stared at Evelyn with his mouth agape. She watched him as he crumpled, vaguely aware of the men who’d shifted to attack her. Her eyes remained focused on the barbarian as the stain on his jacket widened. She watched him clutch at it, his fingers staining red. Then his body fell to the floor with a sickening thud.
Evelyn trembled and dropped the gun from horrified fingers, shocked as it smacked against the boning in her skirt and slid across the floor. Through the buzzing in her head, she heard screams that surely came from her family, but they seemed miles away, lost in the thrum of blood in her ears.
"In Eternity Between Us, Stephenia H. McGee displays not just her passion for history, but her respect for it. Thoroughly researched and convincingly told with the detail readers are sure to appreciate, this tale brings a turbulent time to life with nuance and sensitivity." JOCELYN GREEN, award-winning author of the Heroines Behind the Lines Civil War series
"McGee once again brings her authentic Southern historical style reminiscent of Gone with the Wind, weaving a tale filled with action, intrigue, and characters who warm your heart." MISTY M. BELLER, bestselling author of the Heart of the Mountains series
"Stephenia H. McGee has a thrilling way with words. Her novels both inspire and enthrall, and I for one am hooked after chapter one. This newest novel, Eternity Between Us, is no exception. As soon as I met Evelyn and Samuel, I couldn't read fast enough. I had a strong feeling these characters were going to find an everlasting love despite their slow start! McGee is an expert in all things Civil War, so you will learn some fascinating historical facts as you follow the intriguing plot. Five stars from me!" SHARLENE MACLAREN, Author of the Forever Freedom, Tennessee Dreams, and Hearts of Honor Series
"Stephenia McGee has written another page-turner! I thoroughly enjoyed reading Eternity Between Us. The character development is fantastic and Ms. McGee's research for this book was extensive--and it's quite evident as the story unfolds. The plot keeps readers sitting at the end of their seats, wondering what's going to happen next to Evelyn, Samuel, and other characters. If you love Civil War romance, this book is a must-read!" ANDREA BOESHAAR, Author of Shenandoah Valley Saga
"Eternity Between Us grabbed my attention from the first paragraph. This is a story that will sweep the reader up in the turmoil of the Civil War with a romance between a Yankee physician and a Southern belle. It was a story I hated to see end." PATRICIA BRADLEY, Inspirational Readers' Choice Award-winning Author of the Memphis Cold Case Novels
"Reminiscent of Gone with the Wind, The Whistle Walk paints a vivid picture of America at the start of the War Between the States. The treatment of slaves, the economic conditions of the South, the concerns of the soldiers on both sides were brought to life in this breathtaking novel.”— Christine Sharbrough, The Christian Manifesto
"It is obvious that McGee knows the time period, etiquette standards, building structures, food offerings, and much more. The Civil War atmosphere is very much present and I was reminded of the novel, Gone with the Wind, in quality of the writing and content."— Susan Faloon, The Christian Manifesto
"It is beautifully told, exquisitely crafted, examining the harsh realities of slavery while allowing one to see the fire of hope and courage. It also shows the kindness and compassion of a young white lady expected to act as others yet yearning to change those expectations. It is realistic and sometimes heartbreaking yet it delivers a message of hope, love and faith against all odds and in all circumstance and it does this to absolute perfection! Bravo Ms. McGee!"— In'Dtale Magazine