by Mary Winter
erotic historical lesbian (f/f) romance
Cover Art By Pink Petal Books and Winterheart Designs
When Agnes' husband is killed in action during the Civil War, she's forced to reveal not only her sham marriage, but also her past and her feelings for her housemate Rose.
Rose is not the shy Southern flower Agnes believes her to be. She has to show Agnes how to act like a "proper" window, and the true extent of her feelings.
Southwestern Missouri, Late Spring, 1863
The rhythmic sound of Agnes’ knife against the chopping board filled the kitchen. Rose watched the other woman slice root vegetables for the stew. The chilly, early spring air made the heat from the woodstove welcome, and her brown skirt brushed against the floor as she stepped closer. She marveled at seeing herself in a color other than mourning black. The need to go on with her life hammered at her as she watched Agnes’ nimble seamstress fingers efficiently reduce the parsnips and carrots to manageable chunks. The aroma of simmering herbs and chunks of salted pork made her mouth water.
She breathed again, thinking how strong Agnes had to be. With each bit of news from the battlefields, Agnes waited for word of her husband. Rose knew at night the woman read one of the many books that she owned, finding solace in the words of fictional battles. She penned long missives to her husband, and Rose’s throat constricted. She longed, just once, to be able to do the same.
“I’m ready for the potatoes,” Agnes said, in her husky-throated voice.
The words pulled Rose from her reverie. She carried the flat board to the large pan and tossed in the potatoes. “This is too much for the two of us,” Rose said.
“I wanted to share with Widow Cutler and her children. Things have been tough for them since Charles passed.” Agnes sprinkled in several pinches of pepper.
“I know. And with the war, she has little opportunity to find another husband,” Rose said, trying to keep the loss out of her voice. Her own Johnny died not in the war like a brave soldier, but of the whooping cough. She squeezed her eyes closed feeling foolish for thinking about marrying during these troubled times. Union soldiers fought to save the country, surely that came before any second chance she might deserve. She swallowed hard.
“The widow takes care of her family. Right now any man who returned from the front lines would be wounded and what good would they be to keeping a family fed and warm?” Agnes plunged a thick wooden spoon into the pot and stirred vigorously. “We need able bodies around here, not more mouths to feed.”
Rose flinched at the other woman’s harsh words. Their vehemence held a stark truth. Even now, the children she taught looked leaner and gaunter. The past fall and winter had been harder than the last and the longer fathers and husbands stayed away, the more women and children would starve.
Rose opened her mouth, wanting to ask Agnes if she thought the men would return to their small Missouri town. Instead, she pressed her lips closed. They’d come back if the war didn’t kill them and they had something to come back to. Drawing a deep breath, she grabbed a bunch of parsley and rinsed it in the wash basin. She chopped it into fine dices and tried not to think of meals made back in Alabama, her husband always told stories while she worked in the kitchen.
“I know things aren’t easy for you,” Agnes said. Sometime during Rose’s reverie she’d come over and placed her hand on Rose’s shoulder.
Rose resisted the urge to lean into Agnes’s strength. The older woman seemed far wiser than her nearly thirty years, and her youthful looking face only made her wisdom all the more prominent. At not even twenty-five, Rose often thought she was too young to have endured so much, and had relied on Agnes, especially these last few months.
“The war will be over soon. They can’t fight forever. Sooner or later, they’ll run out of bullets and bodies.”
Rose flinched at Agnes’s matter-of-fact words. “It’s the latter that I’m worried about. What if all our good men go to God? What will we do then?” Rose struggled to keep her rising fear out of her voice. She drew a deep breath. “I shouldn’t say those things. God is with our side. Surely he won’t leave us to suffer.”
She pressed her fist to her chest. A well of grief opened inside her, as fresh and new as it had been the day she’d laid her husband to rest. “I don’t understand why He had to take both Johnny and little James. Why couldn’t He have left me one of them?” She pressed her hand to her mouth and stifled a hiccupping sob. Rose turned to Agnes, watching as an unidentifiable emotion fluttered across the other woman’s features.
Agnes held open her arms and Rose went willingly into them. She hugged the woman, feeling the steel stays of her corset and the layers of petticoat and skirts beneath her apron. Neither one wore hoops, and a flash of awareness, quickly ignored, made Rose aware of the way her breasts crushed against Agnes and how their hips were exactly the same height. Though not as tall as her husband had been, Agnes had the same kind of sturdy build that made Rose have the sudden urge to lose herself in the other woman’s arms. Quickly, she pulled away as if burned.
“Thank you. We should finish the stew before it burns.” Rose turned, hoping the tell-tale burn of heat didn’t flame across her cheeks.
Agnes smiled, maybe even chuckled under her breath, and went back to the stove. “We all need comfort now and then,” Agnes said. “Nothing shameful in that.”
Rose tamped down a moan rising in her throat. Oh, but if Agnes had seen the thoughts flashing through her mind these last few weeks, she would know that Rose wanted something far more than comfort from the other woman. She wanted something that she’d only ever received from her husband, and surely that wasn’t right. The war had been hard on all of them. Maybe, just maybe, she could wait for the soldiers to come home and find a new husband. Except waiting didn’t fill the time or the lonely ache between her thighs at night, and she suspected, deep in her heart, that Agnes probably could.