PETTICOAT SPIES: CORSETS, THE CIVIL WAR, AND PAULINE CUSHMAN]
By Victoria Gray
Born Harriet Wood on June 10, 1833, the New Orleans native moved to Michigan as a girl. Leaving home at age eighteen, she took off for New York, where her beauty and vibrant personality fostered a career as an actress. After changing her name to Pauline Cushman, she traveled the country in road shows. When the war broke out in the spring of 1861, she was performing in Kentucky, which was at that time under Union control. Confederate officers who viewed her performance offered her a substantial sum to toast Jefferson Davis during her show. Seizing her opportunity, Pauline parlayed the on-stage toast into espionage. Held by Union officers in a pre-planned “arrest”, she became an instant heroine to the Confederates. The Federal officials then threw her out of Union territory, providing her a reason to follow the Confederate Army. Claiming to look for a long-lost brother fighting in the Rebel army, she spent time with Confederate soldiers who shared information on their defenses and operations, gathered lists of Confederate spies and used her riding skills to serve as a Union messenger.
Here’s an excerpt:
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Amanda steadied her voice. If she didn’t keep her fear tightly leashed, she would fall apart. She had no time for that.
“I think you do. Why else would you break a man out of jail who smells and looks like the town drunk and ride off with him? Did you plan to charm me into revealing the details of my mission?”
“Betsy thought we could count on you. She’s been told—”
“I’m not the guard in that country jail.” His hand moved from her hair to the small of her back, pressing her to him. “Do you realize how easy it would be for me to hike up your skirts and savor some of the charms you flaunted?”
Amanda tasted bile as his words stabbed with the viciousness of a stiletto.
To hell with this man.
Her palm struck his bearded cheek with all the force Amanda could muster. His eyes widened as one broad hand rose to rub his face. She wrenched away and bolted to the horse as fast as her cumbersome skirts would allow.
She couldn’t escape him if he chose to pursue her. Amanda knew that. But she had to try.
Captain Dunham captured her in his arms before she could lift herself into the saddle. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Despite Amanda’s best efforts to deprive him of the satisfaction of seeing her weep, moisture brimmed in her eyes. “You were right. My source was entirely wrong about you.”
She shoved against his chest, but she might as well have been a mouse trying to open a barn door. He didn’t budge. His arms coiled around her and dragged her against his body.
He peered down to study her for several breaths. Then his hands moved higher, stroking Amanda’s back and shoulders with soothing pressure.
“What the hell are you doing out here?” His gruff drawl had lost its angry edge. “Don’t you know how dangerous men can be?”
She swallowed hard. “We were desperate. Betsy thought you would help us.” Amanda wriggled away from his touch. “She was wrong.”
“Why did you come for me?”
“I’ve tried to tell you. But you won’t listen.”
He caught her in his arms again. “Tell me now.”
She twisted to free herself. “Take your hands off me. I’m going home. You can…you can find your way to your contact. You’re clever enough.”
He smiled but made no move to release her. “You’re not going anywhere without me. That would be like throwing you to the wolves.”
“This is coming from the man who spoke of hiking my skirts?” Amanda squirmed against him, brushing against undeniable proof he was not immune to her charms, as he’d described them. “I think I’ll take my chances with the wolves.”
“I thought you were working for…hell, it doesn’t matter what I thought.” He cast his gaze to the ground. “I would never hurt you. I don’t…I’ve never hurt a woman in my life. I was trying to make a point.”
She was tired. She was cold. And she needed to get away from him. It was bad enough when he frightened her. But now, the husky rasp in his voice stirred a warmth she couldn’t afford to feel.
“You’ve made your point very clear.” She veiled her eyes with her lashes. “You’ve also convinced me that seeking your assistance was a fool’s errand.”
“You sure are stubborn when you get riled.” He tipped her chin with one finger, keeping one hand planted firmly at her waist. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pretty girl get so angry with me.”
“I doubt there are many girls, pretty or otherwise, who’ve had as much justification.”
“In my defense, I thought you were leading me into a trap.”
“You don’t think that’s the case now?”
He shook his head. “If it was, I’d be dead by now. DuBois isn’t a patient man.”
Amanda trembled when he drew his fingertips very lightly along the curve of her face. Her top teeth grazed her bottom lip. His touch should repel her. But it didn’t. The sensations rippling through her body were not shudders of revulsion. To her horror, the sweep of his skin against her flesh was pleasant. Too pleasant.
Her teeth sank into her lip as she twisted against his restraint. “You shouldn’t touch me like this. Your behavior is most improper.”
“I suppose it is,” he agreed, his husky voice deepening.
“You need to let me go.” She held herself rigid and prayed he couldn’t feel the tiny quivers coursing through her body.
“I will.” The pad of his thumb swept over her bottom lip. “But you’re too damned pretty to resist.”
And then he kissed her.
Amanda’s knees went from weak to jelly. To her horror, she made no attempt to fight him. She stood transfixed, savoring the taste of his lips, the gentleness of his possession. This brute of a man claimed her with a tenderness she’d never felt in her twenty-four years. She could only remain a captive in his embrace, savoring his heat and his caress.
He released her slowly. Reluctantly. His hard body pressed to hers, stirring needs she’d buried on the brutal day she became a widow.
If his breath and the tension in his body were any indication, he’d been as affected by the kiss as she had. His fingertips traced over her cheeks. He watched her in the moonlight as though he’d discovered something rare and precious.
“Christ, tell me you weren’t acting,” he murmured against her lips.
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