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Chapter Fourteen

Arm-in-arm Phoebe and Sarah trekked nervously down the dusty road leading to the old stone church. This was one of few outings she’d managed away from the manor and she wished it was for a happier purpose. She was scheduled to leave for the country in two days’ time. Several others meandered in from the village as well. Word of the devastating battle which had resulted in Napoleon’s surrender and ended the war had traveled quickly to Corsair, and now everyone wanted a glimpse of the casualty rosters.

A heavy pit sat in Phoebe’s stomach as she and Sarah approached the board with the casualty rosters nailed to it. A quick glance at Sarah told her the other woman had the same apprehensions. Phoebe squeezed her hand, trying to be supportive, but not wanting to offer any false hope. Sarah hadn’t received word from Nicholas in weeks. Together they approached the board. Several people milled about, some discussing the war or their own experiences from wars past, others murmured quietly amongst themselves, and a few openly wept.

Phoebe’s gaze instantly searched out the W names. Walters… Weathers… Winter… Witherspoon…

Her heart stopped cold.

Witherspoon, J. Col.—Killed in action.

Numbness overtook her as she stared unmoving, unblinking at the words. Killed in action. James was really and truly gone from this world. Strange, but no new despair accompanied the numbness, only emptiness, as though the last of her emotions had sucked into a fathomless void. She’d been consumed with despair since he’d left her in the first place. In truth he’d been gone from her life for months now. She’d received no response from the letter she’d sent to him. Whether he’d ignored it… never received it… or had simply died without having time to respond she’d never know. At this point she felt well and truly hollow inside. Would she ever feel again? She’d lost everything. The one man she’d ever loved… the respect of her brother… and her child would be stripped from her arms the moment it came into the world. Perhaps it was better not to feel. To close her emotions off and simply go through life’s motions.

Beside her Sarah screamed. “No! Oh, no, please!” Hysterical sobs wracked her slender frame and she clamped her arms around her middle, doubling over. “This can’t be real.”

Sparked from her depressing stupor, Phoebe realized instantly what was wrong. Nicholas. A rush of true sadness washed through her. Forgetting herself, she went instantly to her friend, wrapping both arms around her, holding her up. “Come, Sarah, let’s get you home.”

Several sympathetic gazes turned their way. One woman of perhaps fifty approached. She wore mourning attire and another woman and a little boy followed. Tears trickled down the child’s face. Phoebe quickly recognized Toby and a moment later James’s sister-in-law. Her heart went out to the young boy and she wanted nothing more than to go to him. But… she must keep up appearances. No one knew that she’d carried on a friendship with James, much less that she carried his child. She chanced a small wave at Toby before shifting her attention back to the older woman. Was this James’s mother?

“I am so sorry, Mrs. Collins,” the older lady said. “I have lost two husbands and two sons to this cruel world. It is never easy, but life does march on.” She reached for Sarah’s hand and clasped it warmly. “If you ever need a shoulder to cry on, you come to see me.”

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