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Authors: Cara Covington

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BOOK: A Very Lusty Christmas
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With the increased flow of oil from small companies like Benedict Oil and Minerals, and with his added workforce, Brown meant to see to it that he feathered his own nest but good while he could.

He returned to his desk and resumed his work. For the time being, he would simply move the money out of the bank under the guise of paying a few more crew members than he actually had on staff.

He’d find a safe, fireproof place to stash his cash until he could figure out the best way to put his money to work for him. And when the war was over, he’d sell this piece of crap company and get himself a nice big
mansion
right over there on Easy Street.

Chapter 3

 

For one heart-stopping moment, Kate thought someone had seen her smooching those two aviators Saturday night. Seen her, and reported her.

When she arrived at the hospital for her sift at 0615 hours Monday morning, she’d been ordered to General Erickson’s office. She’d
never
been ordered to report to the chief of the hospital before, and she couldn’t think for one moment that this summons boded well.

“At ease, Lieutenant. Have a seat, please.”

Since the general didn’t seem to be scowling—he was, in fact, smiling—Kate allowed herself to relax, but only a little. “Thank you, sir.” She eased herself down into the chair he’d indicated, and waited.

“I’ve read your file, Lieutenant, and I’m impressed. You’re quite accomplished for one so young.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Some of the notations by your supervisors indicate that you would not be afraid of the responsibility of command. Is that the truth of it?”

All right, I’m not in trouble
. However, Kate didn’t like not knowing what was going on. She hated feeling confused.
The general asked you a question!

Kate told her inner worrier to shut up and answered him. “I’m not sure I know what you mean, sir. I chose to be a nurse before the war. After Pearl Harbor, it made sense to nurse where I could be the most use, which was why I enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps. It’s my duty to serve in whatever capacity I’m asked to serve, of course.”

“I appreciate that you’re a nurse first and a soldier second, Lieutenant. I’m just a country doctor at heart, myself. In fact, it’s your attitude that’s key to the reason I’ve asked you in here today. In this instance, your being a nurse first is a good thing.” General Erickson sat back and folded his hands. “You know that resources are stretched thin—not uncommon in times of war, but a nuisance, nonetheless.”

“Yes, sir, I do know that.” There simply wasn’t the money or the facilities to care for patients the way they should be cared for. If this war dragged on as some said it could—for
years
—the situation could only get worse.

“Far too often, we rely on the generosity of individuals for supplies and services. It’s a blessing that ours is such a patriotic and idealistic nation,” the general said.

“Yes, sir, it is.” Kate had no idea where General Erickson was leading with this conversation, but she had no problem agreeing that the generosity of the citizenry was crucial to the success of their forces. Millions of dollars for the war effort were being raised by war bonds. Ordinary folk bought what they could, and the famous donated their time to promote them.

Wars cost money, and the more money a nation had to invest in the effort, the better it was for everyone.

Kate felt herself relax even more. While she didn’t yet understand the purpose for this meeting, she thought she should offer more than just “yes, sir” or “no, sir” for her answers. “It’s one of the things I love most about my country.”

The general nodded as if satisfied with her response. “Lieutenant, you have indicated in the past, and here today, that it is your desire to serve where your service would do the most good. Is that a fair assessment?”

Kate’s heart fell. She was going to be transferred, away from home and her family, away from her friends and all that was familiar to her.
That
was what this meeting was about! Of course, she knew that as an officer in the Army Nurse Corps she could receive orders at any time, and she had no choice but to go wherever she was sent.

The general appeared to be waiting for a response. “Yes, sir, that is a fair assessment.”

“Good. Now, let me tell you about the rather unique situation we find ourselves in, and what I have in mind for you.”

An hour later Kate entered the small apartment she shared with her friend, Eloise. Her roommate was in the tiny kitchen and came out, a questioning look on her face.

“I’ve been given orders.” Well, that wasn’t true, not entirely, but she had been given a choice to stay or go.

She’d chosen to go, though for the life of her she couldn’t understand why she had.

“Orders? Oh, God, Kate, you’re not being sent overseas, are you?”

Kate shook her head. She needed to get all the facts in order and figure out how to present them in a persuasive way, because after she spoke to Eloise, she would have to drive over to visit her parents.

Her mother was
not
going to be happy.

“No, not overseas. But away. To Texas, in fact.”

“There are a number of bases in Texas. Which one are you headed to?”

Kate sighed and shook her head. “That’s the really strange part. I’m not going to be assigned to a
base
at all—well, not to work at, not really. I’m going to be in charge of a convalescent home.”

“I’ve just made a fresh pot of coffee. Let’s have some and you can tell me all about it.”

Kate followed Eloise into the kitchen and sat at the table. Eloise was a bit of a mother hen, and loved to fuss. Normally Kate insisted on not being fussed over, but this time, she made an exception to that rule.

When they both had steaming cups of coffee before them, Eloise said, “All right, my friend, spill it.”

Kate grinned. She was going to miss this friend she’d made here in Arlington. She vowed to herself then and there, no matter what, that she would never lose touch with her.

“I was called into General Erickson’s office this morning. I’ve been relieved of my duties at the hospital, effective immediately. There’s a small town in Texas that has offered a convalescent home to the army, to house servicemen in need of longer-term care. This town is donating
all
of the expenses of the home, even paying for the town’s doctor to be the doctor of record and on call. All that is required of the army is to have an administrator there, to see to the running of it and to offer nursing care, of course. The home will handle up to twenty-four men, so it’s really quite a generous offer.”

“It seems odd that a lieutenant would be put in charge of such a venture—and I mean no insult in that observation, my friend.”

“Oh, no insult is taken. That was my first reaction, as well.” This was the part she was having the most trouble with. She looked at her friend. “Apparently, I’ve been given a wartime promotion so that my rank will be commensurate with my new level of responsibility.”

“So you’re now Captain Wesley? Should I salute you?” Eloise’s eyes twinkled with merriment.

“Oh, it’s worse than that. I’m now
Majo
r Wesley.” Kate looked down at her cup. “My mother is going to be upset.” Then she laughed, the humor of the situation cutting through everything else. “There’s no way around it. I’m going to have to shade the truth a little, I’m afraid.”

“Because of all her worries that joining the Army Nurse Corps would turn you into a ‘loose Lucy’?”

Kate had shared her mother’s fears with Eloise so that when her friend met her parents, she wouldn’t be shocked by the things her mother might say.

According to Mildred Wesley, no
decent
woman served in the army. Her mother wanted Kate to come home, get married, and raise children.

Kate had no intention of doing any such thing, at least not for a long, long time. She had a duty to fulfill, a duty to her country, and that had to come first.

Besides, I’m far too young to turn into my mother.
Kate pushed that thought back down into the basement where it belonged. She looked at Eloise and laughed. “I’m going to hope that I can have my mail directed to the nearest army base—which, I’ve been told, is the newly named Goodfellow Field, which is a training base for the Army Air Corps—because there is
no
way I can tell Mother the name of the town I’ll be living in for the foreseeable future.”

“Why not?”

“Because, apparently, I’m headed to a place called
Lusty
, Texas.”

 

* * * *

 

Gerald Benedict might very well hold the rank of major, and had indeed battled some fiercely determined enemy pilots in a series of air raids conducted by the Nazi forces in the skies over England. But those encounters were
nothing
compared to the one he now faced.

Across the dining room table from him and Patrick, three very formidable women sat, contemplating their tea and their biscuits and
them
.

“General Erickson informs me that Major Wesley will be arriving at the train station in Waco tomorrow morning.” Sarah Carmichael Benedict stared at Gerald. “I have assured the general, of course, that the major will be under the protection of this family while she is here in our town.”

“Major? Kate’s a lieutenant, Grandmother Sarah.” Patrick’s ability to behave in a relaxed fashion under extreme duress always astounded Gerald.

“You didn’t think for one moment that we would undertake this project without seeing to it the young lady had
every
possible advantage?” Amanda Jessop-Kendall raised one eyebrow, skewering his brother with her sharp green-eyed gaze. “If you did, my dear young men, then I can only say you’re not as clever as you’ve led us to believe, all these years.”

“Grandmother Amanda.” Gerald kept his tone gentle, even as he sought to convey just the right amount of outrage. He wasn’t as good at this sort of thing as Patrick was, but he believed he could do a credible job. “We petitioned you—all of you—to help us win the hand and heart of the woman who we are both convinced was meant to be ours. However, I can assure you, with absolute sincerity, we would
never
take advantage of a lady—of
any
lady. We are Texan gentlemen.” Of course, he heard the echo of Kate’s accusation in his memory, and the flavor of her hot mouth still tingled on his tongue, but he could see no reason to share either of those particular reminiscences with anyone but his brother.

Gerald’s heartfelt declaration was met with silence that to him seemed to yawn and gape over a very steep and dangerous crevasse.

“I can’t decide who he more closely resembles.” Sarah broke the silence, her tone considering.

“He’s as serious in nature as your Caleb ever was.” Amanda’s tone sounded conversational as if only she and Sarah were in the room. “But I do believe he may have a bit of Joshua’s glibness in him, as well—hidden though it may be.”

“Yes, I believe you’re right. You’ve been awfully quiet, Mattie.” Sarah turned to the third woman sitting on that side of the table. “Please, don’t hold back. These two may be our grandsons, but they’re your sons and you do know them best.”

Gerald had always thought his mother looked a little like a fairy princess. With hair that glistened like spun gold, and eyes so blue and clear they appeared fathomless, when he’d been little he’d imagined she had mystical powers. He could remember times when she’d tucked him into bed after reading to him, and times when she’d tended his scraped knees. Her touch and voice had soothed his every childhood upset.

Of course he could also remember getting his backside blistered by her when he’d committed one sin or another, too.

Delicate Madeline Kennedy Benedict may have appeared to be, but mighty she certainly was and every one of her sons loved, respected, and—to a certain degree—feared her.

Now he turned all his attention on his mother and waited for what she had to say.

“I think my sons are under the impression that, since we’re
ladies
, we don’t understand the way of the world, or more specifically, the way of Benedict men. As if this town wasn’t aptly named by Amanda, and given proof of that name by every one of us women ever since.”

Sarah smiled. “I believe you’re right. That whole ‘we are Texan gentlemen’ spiel was quite well delivered, though. You must admit our Gerald gave the words just the right touch of effrontery.”

“Oh, he’s a smooth one, Gerald is, just like his father, Samuel.” Then his mother turned her gaze on him.

It was all he could do not to cringe under the power of her stare.

“I want your sworn and solemn promise, Gerald—and yours, too, Patrick—right here and now that you both intend to marry that woman.”

“We love her,” Patrick said.

“As you damn well should, since you’ve gone to such extremes to bring her here,” his mother countered. “Your loving her isn’t my primary concern at the moment, however. Her virtue, and thereby her reputation, is. Well, boys?”

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