Authors: An Unexpected Wife
Her Deepest Secret
Giving up her out-of-wedlock son was the only right choice.
Still, Kate Woodward aches that she isn’t part of his life. She can’t heal
herself, but she can help former Confederate soldier Robert Markham rebuild his
war-shattered life. But helping Robert is drawing them irresistibly close—even
as Kate fears she can never be the one he deserves….
Battlefield loss and guilt rekindled Robert’s faith and
brought him home to Atlanta. And Kate’s past only makes him more determined to
show this steadfast, caring woman that she deserves happiness. Now, with her
secrets revealed and her child in danger, Robert has only one chance to win her
trust—and embark on the sweetest of new beginnings….
“Where is Kate?” Robert asked.
“She is giving away most of the contents of our food basket to a woman with three hungry children,” Mrs. Kinnard said. “As she should. Now, about—”
“Excuse me,” he said, pushing his way through the crowd again to get closer to the train.
He stood waiting on the platform, watching Kate progress all the way until she finally appeared. She was so…beautiful to him and had been since the first time he saw her in the downstairs hallway of his father’s house.
Maria was right. He did want Kate to be a preacher’s wife—
wife—and he didn’t see how their situation could be any more impossible.
I love her, Lord.
He didn’t know when it had happened, or how. All he knew was that it was so, that she was in his mind night and day—and now he was only moments away from breaking her heart….
Books by Cheryl Reavis
Love Inspired Historical
The Soldier’s Wife
An Unexpected Wife
The RITA® Award-winning author and romance novelist describes herself as a “late bloomer” who played in her first piano recital at the tender age of thirty. “We had to line up by height—I was the third smallest kid,” she says. “After that, there was no stopping me. I immediately gave myself permission to attempt my
heart’s desire—to write.” Her books
A Crime of the Heart
Patrick Gallagher’s Widow
won a Romance Writers of America coveted RITA® Award for Best Contemporary Series Romance the year each was published.
One of Our Own
received a Career Achievement Award for Best Innovative Series Romance from
RT Book Reviews.
A former public health nurse, Cheryl makes her home in North Carolina with her husband.
An Unexpected Wife
Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen
your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.
For my mother, in honor of her birthday—
92 years and counting. Thank you, Mommy,
for always being my biggest fan.
ate Woodard stood looking out the parlor window, more than content to be in her brother’s finally empty house and do nothing but watch the falling snow. It was deep enough to drift across the veranda now, a barricade—she hoped—from any outside intrusion.
The house was cold; a strong draft at the window made the lace curtains billow out from time to time. She could light a fire in the fireplace—if only one had been laid on the hearth and she knew how. When she made her impulsive decision to deliberately miss her train, she hadn’t for one moment taken into consideration that it was the dead of winter and she knew next to nothing about managing parlor fires, much less the one in the kitchen. Tomorrow she would do something about all that—hire someone or...something. Now she would savor the peace and silence of the house, and it would be enough.
She had come to Salisbury, North Carolina, to visit her brother and his family in the hope that a change of scenery and the rowdy company of his adorable young sons—two adopted, one his by blood—would redirect her mind. She was so weary of living the false life that had been foisted upon her when she was hardly more than a child herself. She needed...respite. She needed the privacy to
all the emotions she had to keep bottled up for the sake of propriety. She wanted to weep—or not to weep. She wanted to pace and fret, if that seemed more applicable to her state of mind. She wanted the freedom to think about her own son. Her lost son. He was thirteen now, and the web of lies surrounding his birth had held fast. No outsiders knew young Harrison Howe was
child and not the child of her parents’ closest friends, nor did they know his brother was not his brother at all.
He had made a much better brother than father—at least before the war had changed him so.
All these years Kate had lived on the fringes of Harrison’s life, watching him grow, being his friend but always carefully exercising the restraint it took not to make Mr. and Mrs. Howe or her own family think that she might be trying to get close to him. She was so good at it that she sometimes thought the people who knew the truth forgot that she was Harrison’s real mother.
Her latest news of him was that he had been sent to a prestigious boarding school deep in the Pennsylvania countryside, the alma mater of many—if not all—the males in the Howe family and the one place Kate believed he would not thrive. He wasn’t like the Howe men—John—or the senior Mr. Howe. He was more like
father—and her—thoughtful and observant and studious, and the fact that he required spectacles would make him even more of a target for boarding school jibes and pranks.
But there was nothing she could do beyond sending him small gifts of books and candy. He had sent her a
carte de visite
in return. She cherished it, but seeing his wistful young face staring back at her from the photograph only underlined her growing fear that he was miserable.
So she had come to her brother’s lively household in the hope of forgetting at least for a time the helplessness she was feeling—only now she had put herself squarely into a different kind of helplessness. If she’d taken the time to think about it, she might have been discouraged by her lack of housekeeping skills. The original plan—her brother Maxwell’s plan—had been that she would return to her parents’ home in Philadelphia while Max and Maria and the boys and their nanny were away. There were no other servants in the house; Max relied on his soldiers to accomplish what few of the heavy chores Maria would allow them to do. He had even assigned one of his nervous young officers and his wife, who were traveling to New York City, to see her safely to her destination. But she had forgotten the basket of food Maria had packed especially for her to take on her long train journey. When she hurried back inside to get it, she realized suddenly that she didn’t have to go. She was the last person to leave. She could stay behind; no one would be the wiser. Without a second thought, she had feigned a sudden “sick headache,” dismissing the fainthearted lieutenant despite his legitimate fear of what her brother might do to him for not carrying out his orders. She had felt sorry for him and for his young wife, but she had still embraced the opportunity to have the solitude she had craved for so long.
She gave a quiet sigh and pulled her cashmere shawl more closely around her, caressing the softness of the wool as she did so. The shawl was not quite rose and not quite lavender, and it suited her coloring perfectly. It had been a birthday gift from her father, and as such, it was very much a symbol of her social status, especially here. Ordinarily she was mindful of the fact that she was Kate Woodard, of the Philadelphia and Germantown Woodards, the seemingly respectable sister of Colonel Maxwell Woodard, commander of the occupation army garrisoned in this small Southern town—and she behaved accordingly.
She was also the Woodard family’s twenty-nine-year-old bona fide spinster, and at this late date, there was little incentive for her to learn anything domestic. There had been a time when she had thought she could—would—marry. During the early months of the war she had become engaged to Lieutenant Grey Jamison, an amiable young cavalryman who, unlike so many of his peers, was more interested in doing his duty to save the Union than in becoming a great military legend. She’d found him brave and honorable and optimistic—so much so that he had made her brave, too. For the first time in her life she’d actually believed she could dare to be happy.
But Grey had been killed in the battle of Bentonville in what would turn out to be one of the last throes of the Confederacy. She had been devastated when the news of his death had come, and then all over again when his last letter had arrived. In it he had seemed so...troubled. He’d asked her to promise that if he came home changed, she wouldn’t coddle him. She would treat him as she always had, and if she should feel sorry for him, she would never let him see it.
But he hadn’t come home, and when she had lost him, she had lost all hope that she could be someone’s wife. There were too many secrets, too many lies, and she hadn’t known then how hard it would become to maintain them, even the one that defined her very existence. Had she married Grey, at some point, she would have had to tell him about her son—because she loved them both.
“At least I was brave once,” she whispered, and perhaps she was being brave now. She suddenly smiled. Wandering around in a cold empty house wasn’t brave; it was foolish. Even she could see that.
But she made a determined effort not to second-guess her decision to stay behind. There was no point in dwelling on it—or perhaps she
dwell on it—later—because she was free to do just that, if she wanted.
She had a meager basket of food and a cold hearth in the middle of a snowstorm—and she was happier than she’d been in a long while.
She began closing the heavy drapes in the parlor. She had no real plans beyond bundling up and going to bed. It occurred to her that it had been a long time since she’d eaten. She never ate much before a train trip. As a child she had learned the hard way that she was a far better traveler if she embarked with an empty stomach. But she was hungry now, and she picked up the oil lamp and stepped into the wide hallway that led to one of the two kitchens necessary for the running of her brother’s household. The other one was outside, a summer kitchen with thick brick walls and a stone floor, and she hadn’t the slightest idea how to manage either one of them.
It was so drafty in the hallway. And empty. Despite it being over five years since the war ended and the fact that Max could well afford whatever furniture Maria might want, the hallway was in serious need of some tables, a chair or two and perhaps a hall tree, the kind with marble shelves and a beveled mirror. According to her brother, many of those things had once been here—until General Stoneman and his men had raided the town. If Kate understood the situation correctly, the dearth of furniture and the mismatched sets of china, crystal and silverware still in use were somehow a badge of honor. Kate almost envied Maria the sense of pride she and the rest of the women here seemed to take in their years of deprivation.
In Philadelphia Kate had helped with the war effort, but she’d only done what was deemed proper for a young woman of Philadelphia’s highest society. The truth of the matter was that the balls held to raise money for the Sanitary Commission and the gatherings where young ladies packed tins of cookies for homesick soldiers, or rolled bandages for the hospitals—none of which they actually believed would be needed—were as much an excuse for lively and supposedly patriotic socializing as anything. She hadn’t gone into the hospitals to help with the wounded the way Maria and her friends here had. She certainly hadn’t gone hungry or been deprived of new dresses or undergarments or anything else she might have wanted.
not needed. She sometimes wondered if she would have done anything at all if her brother and her fiancé hadn’t been Union cavalrymen. And there was John, of course. He was the father of her child, and as such, he was on her very short list of males other than her son she cared enough to worry about. The war, the unbridled patriotism had been exciting—until Max and John had become prisoners of war and Grey had been killed.
She held the lamp higher as she made her way to the rear of the house, trying not to be disconcerted by the wavering shadows she cast as she moved along. This particular hallway always made her think of Max and John and their daredevil cavalryman tales of riding their mounts directly through the front doors of rebel houses like this one, just for a lark and with no thought that they could easily have been killed doing it. Back then, aside from the war, Max and John had been more than a little exasperating for the people who loved them. And who would have ever thought they would both end up completely domesticated, much less married to Southern women?
The door leading to the dining room was standing ajar and she moved to close it, hoping to interrupt the strong draft rushing through the house tonight. But then she stepped inside because she caught a glimpse of a toy lying on the floor—a small carved earless horse that belonged to Robbie, the youngest. The nanny, Mrs. Hansen, must have missed it when she packed up the boys’ belongings for their trip.
Mrs. Hansen was yet another example of Kate’s difficulty in understanding how the Southern mind worked. At first the woman’s added presence in the household had led Kate to think that Maria was becoming more lax in her determination not to take advantage of Max’s money. But then Kate realized that her wanting or needing help with the boys had very little to do with it. It was Mrs. Hansen who needed the help. She had been taking care of Suzanne Canfield, the adopted boys’ sick mother, when Suzanne had been killed in a fire that also burned their house to the ground. The boys had barely escaped with their lives and then only because Max had braved the flames to go in and get them. Mrs. Hansen’s grief and guilt at not having been there when the fire broke out had apparently been overwhelming, and Maria had deliberately given her perhaps the only thing that would ease her mind a little—the task of helping to take care of the little boys whom the fire had orphaned.
Kate picked up the wooden horse and put it into her pocket, smiling as she did so because Robbie’s teething marks were all over it. He was such a dear little boy—indeed, they all were. Joe. Jake. Robbie.
“No,” she said quietly. She wasn’t ready to think about him just yet, not in the deep and intense way she wanted to.
She pulled the door firmly closed, and she saw the man immediately when she turned around. He wasn’t wearing a hat, and his coat was still snowcovered, likely because it wasn’t warm enough inside for it to have melted. Incredibly, he had taken the liberty of lighting not one but two of the kitchen lamps.
“Who are you?” he asked bluntly and with all the authority of someone whose business it was to know.
If her presence in the house had been authorized, she wouldn’t have been so taken aback by the question, but as it was, she didn’t reply. They stared at each other, Kate trying all the while to decide whether or not she was afraid.
“Why is the house so cold?” he asked next. He reached out as if to steady himself, but there was nothing in the hallway for him to grab onto. “There’s plenty of wood...in the...box.”
Kate eased backward, intending to make a run for the front door, snowstorm or no snowstorm. But she had the lamp. She couldn’t run with it and she couldn’t set it down without the man realizing her intent. The last thing she wanted was to light her unsuspecting brother’s house ablaze.
“My apologies, miss,” he said with some effort but in a slightly more genial tone. She tried to identify his accent. It was Southern, and yet it wasn’t.
He took a few steps in her direction. “I didn’t think...the questions were...that difficult.”
” she asked finally, recovering at least a modicum of the snobbishness that was hers by birthright if not personality.
He took a few more steps, and she realized suddenly that something was indeed wrong. He was clearly unsteady on his feet now, and he seemed to want to say something but couldn’t.
Drunk? Ill? She couldn’t tell.
He suddenly pitched forward. She gave a small cry and jumped back in an effort to keep him from colliding with her and the lit oil lamp. He went sprawling face first on the parquet floor, his head hitting the bare wood hard.
“Sir,” she said, keeping her distance. “Sir!”
He didn’t move. She set the oil lamp on the floor and came as close to him as she dared. He was so still.
Someone rapped sharply on the front door, making her jump, and whoever it was didn’t wait to be admitted. Sergeant Major Perkins, her brother’s extremely competent orderly, came striding into the foyer and down the hallway, bringing much of the winter storm in with him.
“Miss Kate! I wondered why there were lamps burning— Who’s that?”