At the back of the buggy,
dressed in black, Amanda ladled soup and passed out bread. Though many of
the Negroes gathered around sent suspicious stares, women with small
children took advantage of her assistance. Like the time during the war
when she had smuggled blockaded medical supplies for sick and wounded
soldiers, she was helping those in need. Dismounting his horse, Wil
She glanced around. "Wil, what are you doing here?"
"Lily was worried."
"Fiddlesticks." Continuing to scoop out soup, she forced a
smile. "There are hungry people to feed, and I have food to give. I've got
some cloth in the buggy for mending and next time, I'll bring books for
Wary faces pressed closer. Wil grasped her elbow, and she
dropped the ladle to the pot. "Amanda, it'll be dark soon. It's not safe
here for a woman."
"Wil... I need to be useful."
"Then come back during the day. I'll escort you."
This argument seemed to sway her. She nodded. Even Lily
sighed in relief. Wil helped her gather her supplies together and loaded
it in the buggy. After tying his dapple-gray mare to the back, he climbed
in beside her and cued Amanda's red stallion to a trot. Tense men stepped
out of their way, and Amanda sat back in silence.
"Please, no lecture."
"All right, no lecture. You knew exactly what you were
doing just as you did when you smuggled supplies for me during the
"Thank you for understanding." She fell silent again and a
mile passed before she resumed speaking, "Alice says you're having
difficulty with the transition to civilian life."
He slowed the stallion to a walk. "Did she put it that
"No," Amanda admitted. "But I also don't believe that
you've suddenly resorted to gambling as a way of life."
"Then you don't know me as well as you think you do."
"Stop it, Wil! Don't lie to me!"
She knew him better than--anyone--including Alice. But it
wasn't something he could openly admit. "What else is someone with my
military experience and suddenly no career left supposed to
"You were trained as an engineer at West Point," she
"And nearly failed. Why do you think I was assigned to the
"Wil, you were almost dismissed the first year due to
demerits. John took some on your behalf to keep that from happening, but
you did not nearly fail."
He should have known that her first husband had told her
about their experiences at the Point. Over the years, they had come to
know each other too well. By nightfall, they reached
Fredericksburg. Moonlight illuminated dreary chimneys and buildings still
shattered by war. He halted the buggy out front of the brick house that he
shared with Alice. After climbing down, he helped Amanda. For a brief
moment, she was in his arms. She felt good. But he had to keep those
thoughts to himself. So many secrets--he could no longer keep track of
As they went up the walk, Alice stepped onto the
"I was at the shanty village. Wil was kind enough to escort
Alice looked in his direction. "How did you know she was
"Lily told me."
"And Lily found you--let me guess..." Tapping an impatient
foot, Alice crossed her arms. "At the tavern."
"Alice," Amanda interrupted, "some tea would be lovely
"Of course, Amanda."
As Alice turned, Wil sent Amanda a thankful glance for
intervening. And true to her word, Amanda made the trek from her farm to
the shanty town twice a week. The residents grew less suspicious, and her
mood brightened from helping those in need.
On a fine Indian summer day, two weeks later, the shanty
village faded into the background. "Wil, stop the buggy," Amanda said with
Wil hadn't seen her smile since losing her baby. He
clambered from the buggy, then helped her down. As he secured the stallion
to a sycamore tree, she strolled along the edge of the river. Removing his
hat, he joined her on the rocks near the bank.
She lifted her face to the sun, seeming to relish in the
warmth. "I thought all of our problems would be over when the war
"In many ways, it was only the beginning."
Raising her black skirt, Amanda scrambled over the rocks to
a sandy edge by the river. She stumbled and skidded in the dirt, but he
grasped her elbow and kept her from falling. "I was naive."
He glanced out to the river. Unlike the day that he had
nearly drowned, the Rappahannock waters were peaceful. "Naive?"
"You heard me correctly. Not only was I naive, I was a
fool. The war made us delay any thoughts for tomorrow, but if we didn't
resolve issues back then, we're left facing them now."
It was uncharacteristic for her to speak in
riddles. Totally perplexed, he met her gaze and asked, "What issues?"
Suddenly red faced, she shook her head. "Forgive me for
bringing the subject up. It wasn't proper."
"Proper? Amanda, we've been friends for years." But there
was one topic they could never broach. The letter... If only he
had mailed it, she would have never married Sam. So close, yet so far
away. He nodded in understanding.
"Wil, I think it's best if you don't accompany me anymore,
unless Alice is along." Her skirts rustled, and tears streaked her cheeks
as she dashed past him to the buggy.
So he wasn't the only one who felt the
tension. The Rappahannock waters churned, carrying him
under. Sputtering and gasping for breath, he managed to put his head above
water. At the end of the murky tunnel, Wil saw Amanda. It had always been
Amanda, and no one else.
The full version of this romantic historical novel is now
available from Coachlight Press in