Sixteen year old Emma Cartwright runs away from her family’s South Carolina rice plantation after a slave is beaten to death. Determined to join the fight against slavery, Emma enlists in the Union Army disguised as a young man. Nothing could prepare her for the sacrifices needed—and for falling in love for the first time.
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Overdressed in Quinn’s old, ill-fitting clothes ¾and with linen strips squeezed around her breasts ¾Emma stepped off a train that arrived in the capital city on a sunny afternoon and never felt more awkward. Every time someone’s gaze rested on her, she feared her disguise was a failure. Eye contact made her queasy, so she did her best to keep her head down as she headed into the city’s busy streets. But the horde of people bustling around Emma increased her nervousness and made her question her hasty decision.
Before Emma had left the plantation, she had taken a handsome amount of money from the family money chest. Knox would be furious, she knew, but Emma viewed the sum as a partial inheritance rather than a stolen booty. She had also agreed with Stuart that she should be the one to inform her mother and grandfather about what she had done. She did, in a letter she mailed from a train depot in South Carolina. However, she decided to leave out key points, including her intention to assume a new identity and join the Yankees. She kept it simple and said she had to run away since Sylvia was gone and Vaughn did not suit her.
Now, armed with a satchel full of items from home, she weaved through the streets of Washington searching for the recruiting office. Fellow passers-by had misdirected her, so she gave up on civilians and found a gentleman dressed in a navy-blue coat with brass buttons and a hat that appeared to sag above the forehead. A Union soldier.
“Pardon me, sir,” Emma said with her new voice. “Could you please direct me to the recruiting headquarters?”
The man looked her over. “Little on the spry side, ain’t ’cha, son?”
“No, sir.” Emma straightened herself, though she felt terribly self-conscious in Quinn’s trousers. “I’m old enough to contribute to the cause.”
“Meybe, but if I’s you, son, I’d stick to helpin’ out your ma at home.”
“Ain’t got no home.” The realization of the truth in her words made her eyes watery. She quickly rubbed away the evidence of her emotions and wanted to curse herself for seeming weak and vulnerable in front of the first person she had spoken to. How would she convince a camp full of soldiers that she was a man if simple facts from her life brought tears?
But the man flashed a half-grin. “Head north about a quarter of a mile. You’ll see a sign pointin’ you to the office.”
Emma thanked him and went on her way with the man’s well wishes.
Before entering the recruiting office, Emma girded herself for a lot of lying. Several men passed in and out of the building before Emma made up her mind to go in. Could she sign away her life to the volunteer army? Could she live among Yankees? What would be the cost if she were found out?
Emma shook her head and chided her thoughts. She refused to listen to cowardly notions. Instead, she thought of Stuart, who didn’t have the option of being there. With a deep breath, she righted herself and took her place inside at the end of the line. A stench of body odor greeted her and did nothing to settle her quivering stomach and trembling legs.
About the Author
Mercedes King is an Ohio native and founding member of Sisters in Crime Columbus, Ohio (affectionately dubbed SiCCO). With a degree in Criminology from Capital University and a passion for writing, she crafted O! Jackie, a novel focusing on the private life of Jackie Kennedy. She has also written The Kennedy Chronicles, a series of short stories featuring JFK and Jackie before they were married and before ‘Camelot’. Mercedes writes in a variety of genres, including historical and mystery / suspense. In fact, she’s working on creating a new genre, ‘modern historical’.
Visit her sites, OJackiebook.com or Mercedesking.com . Contact her at Mercedes ‘at’ ojackiebook ‘dot’ com. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.