An historical novel by Stevie Woods
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Two men, one war. Can love survive when each takes a different side?
Leaving his lover behind to support the abolitionist cause, Piet Van Leyden finds himself leading one of the first all-black Union troops into the heart of battle. Reuniting with free slave and former love Joss brings some comfort, but will his presence tempt Piet into forgetting the love waiting for him at home?
Sebastian Cane wonders how he's able to go on without Piet by his side. When a series of unfortunate events lands him a prisoner of the Union, Seb knows he must rely on his wits and his love for Piet to survive...and get home to him.
It was difficult for Pieter to concentrate on Grainger's words. Of course he had thought on the possibility of running into Joss once it was permitted for blacks to join the army, but he had never really believed it would happen. There were literally thousands of men in theUnion army, the numbers rising all the time and the odds must be enormous.
His thoughts faltered again as he heard the lieutenant state the private's name. Peters? Joss had taken… Pieter didn't know what he felt about it, that Joss had taken that as his name. Flattered? Appalled? Touched? Oh, Joss!
"Peters?" Pieter queried haltingly, his voice sounding odd even to his own ears.
"Yes, sir," Joss replied, keeping his voice formal, staring over his commander's shoulder. Then abruptly he shifted his eyes and looked directly at Pieter. "Named for the only man who ever showed me a kindness, sir."
Pieter stared at his old friend and ex-lover, emotion running through him to find him looking so well. "I see," he replied softly. "Thank you, private."
"Sir!" Joss said smartly, stepping back into line.
Pieter knew he gave orders and passed out praise and criticism in equal measure, but when the day ended the only thing he could clearly remember was the look in Joss' eyes as they had stared at each other. Pieter just had to talk with him but he couldn't simply single him out to speak to privately without reason. A company commander would have no cause to communicate with a private soldier without going through junior officers, unless for censure or commendation.
He paced his tent for thirty minutes until he recognized there was away. Grainger had inadvertently given it to him.
"Grainger!" he called, sticking his head out of his tent, looking round for the lieutenant.
"Here, sir," a voice floated from nearby in the dark and then the pale face of the lieutenant came into view.
"That private, the one who you introduced?"
"Yes, that one. Send for him. I want to have a few words and he should be ideal for providing me with background."
"Yes, sir, immediately."
Pieter sat in the rickety chair behind the small folding table in his small tent. He was nervous at the prospect of seeing Joss again, and being able to talk to him. Pieter smiled at his own reaction, he knew it wasn't at all logical.
Presently, the lieutenant brought Private Peters inside the tent and the black man saluted his officer smartly, eyes staring straight ahead, back ramrod straight as he stood to attention.
"At ease, Peters," Pieter said, a surreptitiously shared look between them at Joss' choice of surname, and then with a glance at Grainger he added, "Thank you, Lieutenant. I will take it from here."
Grainger glanced from his captain to the private as if silently asking if he were sure, but he merely nodded, saluted and left.
Pieter just stared at Joss for a long moment and his old friend stared back and slowly smiled. He was suddenly assaulted with images of the two of them together, long years ago when all that mattered were those snatched moments together. Memories of his hands moving slowly as they skimmed over Joss' ebony skin; Joss kissing him with abandon and each murmuring promises of forever. Those had been naïve times he realized now but they had been good times.
Things were very different now, the love he'd felt for Joss then had been real but he knew it paled into comparison with what he'd learned he was capable of, but he would never regret his feelings for Joss. Suddenly Pieter's face was split by a grin and he rose and strode around the table, and the two men embraced. They didn't hold the hug for long, both being aware of the difficult situation.
"God, it's good to see you looking so well," Pieter commented as here took his seat. "Grab a stool," he said as an after thought.
Joss did as he was asked and sat opposite his captain. "Oh yeah, I never expected to see you here." He hesitated a moment, giving Pieter a long look.
"I didn't know if you were still in Louisiana," Joss explained, his voice low.
Pieter nodded, dropping his eyes as he said, "I didn't want to leave Sebastian. I remained as long as I could, but I just wasn't able to stay among those people down there. I was… I couldn't keep bottling up my real feelings and it was starting to…to. I didn't want to damage what we had by staying," his voice barely above a whisper as he spoke. He looked up at Joss then, attempting to smile at his friend, but it might just as well have been a grimace.
Joss recognized the sorrow in Pieter's eyes that his friend was trying to hide, the ex-slave knew him too well.
After a moment, Pieter continued, "I tried to persuade Seb to come up north with me, not that I really expected he would. He has too much of a commitment in Louisiana."
Reaching across the small table, Joss laid his hand over Pieter's and gave it a small squeeze, attempting to comfort him. "I'm sorry, Piet, but I can't say I'm surprised. His family have lived there for generations, don't suppose he feels he can simply walk away from that." He didn't add that he also felt that if Cane had loved Pieter as much as he claimed he ought to have had different priorities. It would be no kindness to Pieter to voice that thought.
"I know and also in the few letters I did manage to receive from him before the mail stopped getting through, he admitted to feeling a greater responsibility to his slaves now and that..." Pieter stopped,as if remembering just who he was speaking to. He shrugged an apology.
Joss looked Pieter square in the eyes and commented, "Well, we know who to thank for that change in outlook, don't we?"
"Enough about me," Pieter said decidedly. "How about you?"
Joss gave Pieter a quick rundown of his life since they had parted in New Orleans, admitting that after a slow, difficult start the life he now had was good. He explained a little about Nathaniel and how the old Negro had helped shape his new outlook. Joss told him that Nathaniel had even taught him to read, and he reminded himself that he should show Pieter the letter he'd written when he got the opportunity.
He admitted he was glad to be able to accept responsibility for his own life, though it had been hard at first to get work and he had felt so lost and unsure most of the time until Nathaniel had taken him under his wing.
He gave a deprecating laugh. "Strange as it sounds," Joss confessed,"I have felt happier since I joined up. Even after a year or so off reedom I was used to the," he sought for the word he wanted and smiled wryly when he remembered it, "constraint of slavery and oddly I missed the…structure it gave my life." He shook his head at his own confused thinking and Pieter smiled sadly at what had been done to people like Joss.
Joss regarded Pieter, giving his old friend a long assessing look. A little unnerved by the stare, Pieter asked, "What?"
"You've changed," Joss said quietly and as Pieter frowned, he explained. "You're more…comfortable, more sure of yourself." Eyes lighting up as if Joss suddenly understood, he smiled broadly and added, "You know who you are."