Captain Butler was ill-at-ease. The blockades were getting harder to hold together, and he’d tired of turning back grieving young Yankee widows at the Mississippi when they didn’t have enough for the crossing. For all the hardening of his heart, Rhett couldn’t bear the sight of genuine female tears – which was why he lately had turned to escorting contraband shipments, not young women.
The girl standing on his deck had no tears to waste on him.
“By jove,” she snapped, standing up straight and tall with her hands resting on her hips, “my money’s as good as your money, even if they’re Union dollars!”
He smirked. “That’s true, little missy,” he replied, “but I’m afraid I can’t spend them north of the river. A man has to keep soul and body together, and in Atlanta your money’s no good to me.”
She stood up straighter. “Then spend it on one of your trips north. This will buy someone a fine meal or a night of rest.” She glanced at the fine embroidery of his waistcoat. “Or new piping on your jacket.”
He laughed. She had fire to her, this young thing. “Why do you so desperately want to go behind enemy lines?”
Her shoulders squared, showing even more determination – though he noticed a softening in her gaze. “My father’s in an army hospital,” she explained. “He was wounded in battle and I’ve come to help nurse him.”
“A young stripling like you playing nursemaid?” he puffed out a breath of icy air. “The profession seems too saintly for someone with your spirit.
Her gaze was so even that he had to blink in response. “My mother wanted to come, but my sister’s ill with scarlet fever. My father’s been ill as well, and granted an honorable discharge for bravery, and I’m going to bring him home before…” she trailed off. “Marmee wants him home,” she said.
That was enough to silence Rhett for a moment. When he finally spoke again, his tone was softer. “I suppose I could spend your money above the Mason-Dixon, since you seem such an honest woman, Miss…”
“Miss March,” she said formally. “I don’t suppose there’s a place I could sit down? My feet are sore.”
“Don’t tell me you walked all the way from…” He scanned the note she’d passed him and stuffed it into the pocket of his pants. “Massachusetts.”
“Only from the train station to the wharf,” she said proudly. “I need to save every penny for father’s trip home.” And then she flashed him a grin that nearly turned her plain face becoming.
“Your family seems to thrive upon great sacrifice,” he said dryly.
Miss March brushed a bare hand over the wooden railing of his ship. “My mother would tell you that it builds strong character.”
“I don’t believe you’re your mother.”
Another grin, as she leaned back against the banister with roguish grin. “Not at all.”
That finally earned her a laugh. “If you do take up the profession of nursing,” he said, tipping his hat. “Take care to look me up.”
“Christopher Columbus,” she laughed at the idea. “I don’t have the patience!”
“What do you have the patience for?”
“Writing? I thought I could smell a vivid imagination from several feet away.”
She gave him a roll of the eyes. “I’m going to write a great cracking novel,” the younger woman insisted, crossing her feet primly. “I’ll show the whole world that I can.”
“In that short hair, I suppose.”
She self-consciously touched her bare neck. “It will grow back. In the meantime, father and Beth will both be well again.”
The fire in her eyes reminded him far too much of another dark-haired woman back in Atlanta, the one who had rather firmly rejected him. He turned back. “With you driving away at their backs I imagine they must. We’re shoving off at four – you should be in Atlanta just before sunset. Do you have anyone meeting you at the dock?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Would you be afraid of being escorted to your father’s encampment by a man of il repute?”
Once again, that direct gaze of hers locked onto his face. “Not at all. Thank you, Captain Butler.”
“Thank you, young lady.”
He ducked into steerage and pulled the ship around.