Authors: Cara Covington
Kate was pulled back to the moment when a pickup truck pulled to the curb. She recognized the driver, of course. LuAnn Parker was one of the ladies who came by on a fairly regular basis to lend Kate a hand. She and her sister, Violet Stevens, who’d been widowed some years before, loved to cook, and it was mostly thanks to those two ladies that everyone at the Convalescent Home ate so well.
Sometimes they cooked right there in the kitchen, and sometimes, like tonight, they prepared the food at home, and then LuAnn brought it over.
Two enormous pots of Texas chili, with fresh-baked bread, and vanilla custard for dessert would be the evening’s fare. Kate helped LuAnn bring everything into the kitchen from her truck.
“Now you best be on your way,” LuAnn said.
It had taken Kate a long time to get over feeling as if she was imposing on the good people of Lusty when someone would show up to spell her. Now, she mostly felt grateful. But she never wanted to take people’s generosity for granted. “I won’t be late,” Kate said.
“Now don’t you give it a thought. Doesn’t matter if you are late. You go and have yourself a good time. I can just make myself comfortable when the men settle down for the night. I was a teacher for forty years, and these boys here are nothing to manage compared to some of my students.”
Kate laughed, because LuAnn did have a knack with most of the residents. Even Captain Somerville was nearly pleasant in her presence.
She didn’t waste any more time. It wasn’t far to the Big House, and while most days she walked, at the moment it was dusk, and she was in a hurry. She didn’t often drive the car Sarah Benedict had provided for her use, but she drove it tonight.
Once she arrived at her destination, she made quick work of being useful. She helped Mattie finish setting the table, and then lent a hand with the dinner. Gerald and Patrick hadn’t arrived yet, and Kate wanted to keep busy so the time would fly until they did.
Other wealthy families had servants, and Kate knew from the stories she’d heard, and the people she’d met, that Sarah and Amanda had both used hired help in years past.
Most usually, though, and in these modern times, the women just worked together to get things done. Those that didn’t help prepare and serve the dinner usually worked on cleanup afterward.
Kate had to confess she loved that about these women. No one stood on ceremony, everyone pitched in, and everyone had fun.
It’s more than that, though. It’s like we’re sisters, together.
Having been an only child, Kate liked that feeling most of all.
She set the tray of pickles down on the table, and noted, for the first time, that there seemed to be more places set than usual. She recalled the first Friday dinner here when she saw Gerald and Patrick for the first time since that USO dance. There were three more places set, one for each of her men, and one for Miranda. Her friend had arrived moments before and then been called upstairs by Amanda.
The aroma of baked ham permeated the air, and Kate closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Baked ham had been her mother’s celebratory meal of choice, and the aroma reminded her of her childhood.
She hadn’t heard them come in, but the sound of Patrick’s voice made her spin on her heel. There they stood, just inside the door between the dining room and the entrance hall. Their gazes riveted on her, and their smiles told her they were as delighted to see her as she was to see them.
Oh, to hell with propriety.
She didn’t care if the whole damn family was watching. She ran, and leapt, confident that one of them would catch her.
Patrick stepped forward and snagged her from midair and wrapped her tight in his arms. Kate clamped onto him and couldn’t hold back the sob that emerged from deep inside her.
“Hey! It’s all right, angel. Hush, now. We’re here. We’re here.”
She felt Gerald step close, felt his body press against her back, and for the first time in weeks, Kate relaxed.
She didn’t say anything, terrified that if she tried to speak she would break down and bawl like a baby. So she just held on, only releasing Patrick when Gerald said, “Come here, sweetheart.”
Her grip of him was no less fierce than her hold of his brother had been. She heard movement and knew they were no longer alone in the room. But since Gerald didn’t seem to want to let her go, she kept holding him tight.
“We were sorry to hear of the loss of Captain Barnesdale.” Sarah’s voice spoke quietly, and Kate felt Gerald tense beneath her.
“Of course,” Sarah went on, “it was hours between when we got word there’d been a crash and that moment when Jeremy was finally able to ascertain it
been either of you who had been killed.”
Kate nearly laughed. She’d heard that Sarah had a way of imparting extreme displeasure with the subtlety of a master. Now here was the proof of it.
“Son of a…” Gerald’s instinctive response tapered off. “We’re sorry, Grandmother.” He didn’t even try to set her down. Neither did Patrick stop caressing her back. “That was thoughtless of us. Of course, we should have realized you’d hear, and would worry.”
Kate lifted her head off his shoulder and looked at him. “If it happens again, there’ll be hell to pay.”
“Well said, Kate,” Sarah said.
“Yes, ma’am.” Gerald gave her that smile she so loved, and then he kissed her.
Far from the polite peck she should have expected in front of his grandmother, his kiss was delicious, arousing, and far too short.
He eased her down until she stood on her own feet. Patrick turned her back into his arms and kissed her, too.
“I do believe that Kate is more than capable of handling the both of you.” Sarah smiled.
“So it would seem,” Amanda said as she came into the dining room. “I don’t believe we could have picked a better wife for them ourselves. Though I was beginning to think we would have to do just that.”
Patrick grinned. “That’s high praise indeed,” he said.
“I think so, too.” Kate didn’t have many memories of her own grandmothers. She already considered both Sarah and Amanda as her own.
Amanda winked at her, and Sarah’s eyes sparkled. She nodded her head in a single, decisive nod. “Now that we have
out of the way, let’s call everyone in to dinner. I trust you have an update to give us about the shenanigans at the airfield?”
“We do, indeed,” Gerald said. “In fact, we come bearing all sorts of news.”
Kate felt her cheeks heat when she realized the entire family must have been hanging back, allowing her a few moments of relative privacy with her men.
The moment Sarah announced dinner, people filed into the dining room en masse. Kate started to head toward the kitchen, to help bring the food out.
“You come and sit with your men, sweetheart,” Amanda said. “You’ve helped already and there are plenty of hands to truck the food in.”
Sarah directed the seating this night, and Kate found herself right between Gerald and Patrick, who was sitting on Sarah’s left. Sarah and Amanda were the only two who seemed to have set spots at the large dining table—for every meal they sat one at each end.
That’s fitting as they’re the matriarchs of the founding families.
The first several minutes were spent heaping food onto plates, with plenty of compliments for the chefs.
“Mother’s beans.” Patrick sighed. He heaped a fair helping onto his plate from the serving bowl. Then, to Kate, he said, “Mother always cans the vegetables from her garden, but it’s her beans I craved the most when I was in London.”
Kate looked over at Mattie. “I would love to help you do that.”
“And I’d be pleased to have your help. Husbands, though well-meaning, often don’t quite pass muster in the kitchen.”
“Now, sweetheart, I’ll remind you that Daddy Josh used to make a mean chili.” Charles Benedict grinned. Then he looked at Amanda. “And Warren used to enjoy fixing pancakes for breakfast, and no offense to the ladies among us, but they were the best damn pancakes I ever ate.”
“He did, and they were.” Amanda nodded. “And I don’t think anyone here is offended.”
This, Kate thought, was the rhythm of family that was so different than what she’d grown up with. Meals with her parents had always been more reserved—stilted, even.
She preferred the noise, and the laughter, and the teasing.
“What can you tell us about the troubles out at the airfield?” Jeremy Jessop-Kendall leaned forward. “Colonel Hamilton was a little closemouthed, but he did call me today to tell me the problems y’all had been having had been resolved.”
“The problem was tampering, done in the name of a few extra dollars,” Gerald said. “The culprit was the owner of one of the smaller refineries contracted to supply the base with avgas.”
“He tampered with the fuel?” Kate didn’t understand.
“The aircraft takes a high-octane gas that is comparatively expensive to make. Mr. Brown decided he could make a much larger profit if he mixed kerosene—a substance less refined and therefore cheaper to make—in with the avgas. Now, you can add a bit of kerosene, and you won’t have too much of a problem. But the man was greedy. When he realized there’d been no reports of problems after his initial change to the mixture, he upped the percentage of kerosene.”
James Benedict sat forward. “Kerosene would burn hotter,” he said.
“Exactly,” Patrick said. “It did burn hotter, which caused the problem Gerald had, and ultimately, the explosion of Captain Barnesdale’s plane.”
Gerald looked at his uncle James. “I have it on good authority that there may be a small refinery outside of San Angelo that will be going up for sale soon very.”
James nodded. “I’ll mention it to Thomas and Andrew. It might bear looking into. We have the wells, and the mines. We’ve considered expanding for some time.”
Kate had only met Thomas Kendall and Andrew Jessop once. Sons to Amanda, they spent most of their time in Houston, and ran the oil and minerals end of the family business.
“I’m pretty certain the man is going to be charged with treason.” Gerald shook his head. “He kept trying to convince everyone that he wasn’t trying to sabotage the war effort…”
“But that is, in fact, what he did,” Kate said. “Intended or not. Added to the fact that a man died because of his greed.”
“It always shocks me when I hear what people will do in pursuit of money,” Sarah said, “even though I, of all people, should know better than to be shocked.”
“I think we have to keep hoping for the best in people,” Kate said, “while at the same time being aware that some people can make bad choices.”
“You’re right, of course.” Sarah gave her a big smile, and then she seemed to focus on first Gerald, and then Patrick. “Is that
the news you brought with you from Goodfellow?”
Kate looked from the older woman to her lovers. Clearly something was up, because Gerald looked as if he was working very hard at keeping a straight face.
“No, ma’am. We did bring other news. It’s in the form of a letter, and it’s addressed to Major Wesley.”
?” Kate had no idea what was going on. Judging by the number of people who seemed to be fighting their smiles, she suspected she was the only one at the table who didn’t.
Before she could ask, Gerald handed her an envelope. By the inscription on it in the upper left corner she could see that it was from the War Department—and it did, indeed, have her name on it.
It was hard not to be nervous. She had no idea what the letter could possibly contain.
And I won’t either, until I open it.
She offered what felt to her like a very weak smile to the table at large, and took the envelope from Gerald. At the moment she was the center of attention, and that was a little unnerving, too.
Kate had never been one to appreciate suspense. So she took a deep breath and opened the damn thing. Her eyes scanned quickly, but since all eyes remained on her, she read it aloud.
Dear Major Wesley,
As of October 1, 1942, the Surgeon General of the United States has been authorized by Congress to retain, in the service of the Army Nurse Corps, and for the duration of the current state of emergency and for six months thereafter, any army nurse who marries.
It has come to the attention of this command that you have indeed received a proposal of marriage, and that you have expressed an unwillingness to resign from your current position as the administrator of the Army Medical Convalescent Home in Lusty, Texas.
Your dedication to duty is admirable, and your willingness to sacrifice personal happiness in order to continue to serve your country is commendable. And now, by an act of Congress, that sacrifice is no longer necessary.
Therefore, I am authorized to confirm your continued qualification to serve in your current post, should you choose to so change your marital status.
Kate looked up. “The letter is signed by General Erickson.” She looked from her men, to Sarah. “I don’t understand. How did you arrange…?”
Sarah smiled. “I cannot take credit for the fact that Congress
decided to join the twentieth century and allow women in military service to be married the same as men have always been allowed to be.” She shook her head. “In truth, that august body acted only because there’s been a shortage of nurses, and the Army Nurse Corps has been losing too many thanks to that archaic dictum.”