Strangers in Paradise - Heather Graham
June 2, 1863
Fernandina Beach, Florida
“Miz Eugenia! Miz Eugenia! Look!”
Eugenia straightened, easing the pain in her back, and stared out through the long trail of pines to the distant beach, where Mary’s call directed her. Her sewing fell unheeded to her feet; she rose, her heart pounding, her soul soaring, dizzy with incredulity and relief.
A man was alighting from a small skiff. The waves on the beach pounded against his high black cavalry boots as he splashed through the water. From a distance, he was beautiful and perfect.
“Pierre!” Upon the porch of the old house, Eugenia whispered his name, afraid to voice it too loudly lest he disappear. She wanted so badly for him to be real and not a fantasy created by the summer’s heat, by the shimmering waves of sun pounding against the scrub and sand.
He was real. Tall and regal in his handsome uniform of butternut and gray, with his medals reflecting the sun. He was far away, but Eugenia was certain that he saw her, certain that his blue hawk’s eyes had met her own and that the love they shared sang and soared likewise in his soul.
He started to run down the sand path, which was carpeted in pine needles and shaded by branches. Sun and shadow, shadow and sun—she could no longer see his face clearly, but she gave a glad cry and leaped down the steps, clutching her heavy spill of skirts in her hand so that she could run, too—run to meet her beautiful man in his butternut and gray and hurl herself into his arms.
Sunlight continued to glitter through the trees, golden as it fell upon her love. She felt the carpet of sand and pine under her feet, and the great rush of her breath. She could see the fine planes and lines of his features, the intelligence and tenderness in his eyes. She could see the strain in his face as he, too, ran, and she could see the love he bore for her, the need to touch.
“Eugenia!” He nearly wept her name. She flew the last few steps, those steps that brought her into his arms. He lifted her high and swirled her beneath the sun. He stared into her face, trembling, cherishing the mere fact that he could look upon her, and she was beautiful.
Eugenia saw that in truth he was not perfect. His butternut and gray were tattered and worn, there were slashes in his handsome boots, and his medals were rusted and dark.
“Oh, Pierre!” Eugenia cried, not so much from his uniform as from the strain that lined his handsome face. “Tell me! What has happened? Pierre, why are you here? Is something wrong?”
“Are you not glad to see your husband?” he charged her.
“Ever so glad! But—”
“No, Eugenia! No buts, no words. Just hold me. And I’ll hold you, tenderly, this night. Tenderly, with all my love.”
He carried her back along that path of softest pine and gentle sand. His eyes held hers, drinking in the sight of her so desperately. And she, in turn, could not take her gaze from him, her cavalier. Pierre, handsome, magnificent, tender Pierre, with his fine eyes and clear-cut features and beautiful golden hair. Pierre, scarred and hard and wounded and sometimes bitter, but ever gentle to her, his bride.
They reached the house. Mary mumbled something in welcome, and Pierre gave her a dazzling smile. He paused to give her a hug, to ask after his infant son, who was asleep in Mary’s old, gnarled arms. Tears came to Mary’s eyes, but she winked back as Pierre winked at her and asked if they might have dinner a wee bit late that night.
Eugenia was still in his arms as he kicked open the screen door with his foot. He knew the house by heart, for it was his house; he had built it. He did not need to look for the stairs; he walked to them easily, his eyes, with all their adoration, still boring into those of his wife. He climbed the stairs and took her to their room, and although they were the only ones on the barren peninsula, he locked the door.
And then he made love to her.
Desperately, Eugenia thought. So hungry, so hard, so fevered. She could not hold him tightly enough, she could not give enough, she could not sate him. He was a soldier, she reminded herself. A soldier, long gone from home, barely back from battle. But he touched her again and