Authors: Shelley Thrasher
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical, #Lesbian
Jacqueline “Jaq” BergeronâNew Orleanian, suffragist, freethinkerâdrove an ambulance on the battlefields of Europe during the Great War. She returns home and finds herself isolated in rural East Texas, keeping house for her war-hero husband as she awaits his promised divorce and plans her escape. But then she meets Molly.
Molly Russell lives for her music, which sustains her as she cares for her son and husband, and suffers her mother-in-law. When she meets Jaq, a world she never imagined opens to herâa world entirely out of reach.
With the storm of war still raging in Europe and other battles to be fought at home, can two women bound by the land and family ties find the freedom to love and build a life together?
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Â© 2012 By Shelley Thrasher. All Rights Reserved.
ISBN 13: 978-1-60282-822-3
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First Edition: December 2012
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Editor: Ruth Sternglantz
Production Design: Susan Ramundo
Cover Design By Sheri ([email protected])
Lee, Jean, and Carolyn helped me get started.
Jennifer, Cheryl, and Cliffi encouraged me to keep going.
Connie and Justine read numerous drafts and helped me focus.
Mama always answered my questions.
Rad provided writing tips, insights, and a chance to share my work.
Sheri designed my beautiful cover.
Ruth edited my book as if it were her own.
Thank you. I couldn't have done it without all you special women.
To my grandmother and great-grandmotherâoil and water.
To my mother, for sharing her stories of life on the farm.
Early morning, late September 1917
Near the front lines of the Allies in France
“Are you here, Helen?”
“Come on in, kid. I'm due in the surgery unit in fifteen minutes.”
Jacqueline Bergeron slipped into Helen Fairchild's tent, relieved to escape the blowing rain. Helen sat on her cot near a tiny fire, with one hot-water bottle on her feet and another on her hands. Though she wore two pairs of stockings and all her wool clothes, she still shivered in the unseasonably cold weather. She'd even wrapped a blue wool scarf over her head and around her neck, so Jaq could see only her kissable lips, small nose, and eyes like slate.
Jaq trembled with more than the cold as she stood on the reinforced door covering one of the two trenches under her feet. During her ride here to unload the wounded men she'd picked up earlier, she'd tried to dredge up enough nerve to confess her feelings to Helen. Otherwise, she'd explode.
She hugged herself and shifted from one foot to the other, wanting to run back to her bloody ambulance. But she held her ground.
“Helen. We need to talk.”
Helen looked at her as cheerfully as if she thought Jaq might invite her out for morning tea. Did Helen have any idea what she meant to say? Every man and woman on the base could probably read her intentions.
“What's up, kid?” If Helen knew what she had in mind, her acting skills surpassed Mary Pickford's.
“I've been wanting to ask you something personal, but I don't know how.”
“Just spit it out, kid. We don't have any time to waste. You know that better than anyone, don't you?” She laughed, and Jaq almost lost her nerve.
“Are you interested in women? You know, in a personal way?”
“Why, sure, kid. I like women a lot.” She still looked like she didn't have any idea where Jaq was headed.
“I mean, do you really like them? More than you like men?”
Helen looked a little startled now but kept smiling. “I'm not sure what you're getting at. I like just about everybody.”
Jaq took a deep breath and jumped in. “Have you ever had romantic feelings about a woman?” Suddenly, she felt like she was in over her head and had forgotten how to swim.
Helen went rigid. “No. I can't say I have. Why do you ask?” She was almost frowning now, though she didn't seem angry.
“Sometimes I think about you the way men think about women.”
“Oh, you just have a crush, kid.” Helen looked directly at her and smiled indulgently. “That happens a lot when you're in a strange situation with none of your pals nearby. You'll get over it.”
“So you're sure you don't feel that way about me?”
“Of course I'm sure. I like you a lot, but just as a friend. A close friend, mind you.”
She took another deep breath. “Helen, I don't just like you as a friend. And I don't have a crush. I know the difference. I love you. Do you love me?”
Helen froze. Her lips tight, she whispered, “No.”
She was so gentle, almost apologetic, the single word shouldn't have hurt so much. But it did.
Helen quickly began to thaw.
“Oh, Jaq, I'm flattered. You're just tired and homesick. Rest a little and those strange feelings you call love will disappear. If they don't, try to forget 'em. You're imagining things.”
She stood there mute and shook her head, wanting to crawl into one of the trenches under her feet and never come out. She'd be safe there. No one could hurt her again like Helen just had. The ground was calling her into its warmth and safety when Helen took her hand and pulled her down onto the cot beside her.
“Don't be too hard on yourself, kid. It's not you. It's me. I'm not made like other people. I don't have the type of urge you describe for anyone, either male or female. Never have, never will. I'm married to my vocation. Saving lives makes my life worthwhile. You're a great person, and you have a natural, wonderful feeling. You just need to find somebody like you. Keep looking. You'll bump into that special person, and when you do, you'll know. Forget me. I'm a lost cause.”
Jaq felt a little better but didn't believe her. Helen was just being nice so she wouldn't go hang herself or sniff mustard gas. She jumped up.
“Got to go. Thanks, Helen. See you around.”
She stumbled through the rows of muddy tents to her ambulance, and as she drove away, the rain still hadn't let up.
Jaq sped back to her base and ran straight to the mess tent. Henry sat there, holding out a precious bottle of whiskey. They always shared their hard-found liquor and discussed what a farce the War was. He treated her like a pal. After she slid onto a rough bench, she emptied the cup he'd shoved toward her. Then another. Nasty stuff. It burned but numbed.
“You ever feel like saying to hell with everything and everybody?” she asked him.
He appraised her with gun-barrel eyes. “All the time.”
“Just do what feels good. The rules be damned.” She was rambling and didn't want to confide in him, but she was bursting. Her words slid out on her whiskey breath. “It hurts to want someone you can't have.”
He nodded, his eyes explosive. “Sure does.”
She'd said too much. “I better get some sleep. Got to clean my filthy ambulance later. Thanks for the booze.”
He poured another one. “See you. Take care.”
She stumbled to her tent and dove onto her cot, still dressed. Thank God her tent mate had left on a few days' leave. She didn't feel like making small talk.
Her heart felt as bloody as the arms and legs of the soldiers she'd delivered earlier. Welcome silence soothed her to sleep.
She woke to ragged breathing, an intruder's eyes on her, the faint stench none of them could wash away. Footsteps. The breath smelled of metal.
Someone large and heavy dropped on her. A man. Plunged his tongue into her mouth, writhed against her, frenzied. She clawed him. His hand caught her forehead. Her flesh ripped, blood flooded her right eye. She struggled, he panted. His cock swelled against her legâa short, fat bayonet. She couldn't let him stab her, had to outwit him. She lay still.
“You know you want it,” he murmured as he raised himself up, cloth scraping along his legs and hers. His pants were down, her skirt up. It was Henry. He pressed back onto her. She jerked her knee into his crotch, reached just under her cot for the wrench she kept there.
He fell to the ground, moaning, yet scrambled toward her again. She swung, lashed the darkness until the wrench struck flesh. He thudded to the floor and she dashed around him, across the camp to the forewoman's tent, pressing a handkerchief to her bleeding forehead.
“Miss Truman, come quickly. I need help,” she whispered as loud as she dared, standing just outside her quarters. Then she rushed inside, shook Miss Truman's shoulder.
Looking dazed, Miss Truman threw on a wrap, lit a kerosene lamp, and hurried beside her back to her tent.
Henry sprawled unmoving. Miss Truman felt his pulse, dropped his arm to the floor. “He's dead. You caught him on the temple.” She eased Jaq's bloody handkerchief from her forehead and studied it, then looked at his fallen hand. “And he got you with his signet ring. An eye for an eye, I'd say. I'd better stitch up that gash.”
It was wartime. No one would miss him.
Storyville, New Orleans
“Well, blow me. I didn't even know you were married, Jaq.” Willie Piazza fingered the diamond nesting in the hollow of her throat.
“Yep. Last spring in London. My sister introduced us. Lasted one night. Long enough to realize marriage wasn't for me.”
She glanced around the nearly deserted saloon in Storyville. The mayor had outlawed prostitution last year and closed New Orleans's most notorious sporting establishments, including Willie's. Too bad. It was a colorful part of the city.
She tossed back her shot of whisky and lit a cigarette. “Can you believe Eric just showed up out of the blue? I'd almost forgotten about him.” She jabbed long fingers through her coarse, cropped hair.
Willie languidly stripped off one red kid glove and fondled her hand. “You certainly haven't been acting like you were married since you got home.”
A familiar bolt of electricity shot up her arm as she squeezed Willie's bare palm. “No. I haven't. And I've enjoyed every minute with you. But I've got to be out of town awhile.”
“What for?” Willie brushed her fingers against Jaq's cheek.