Excerpt from Valentime by Belle Scarlett

Copyright © Belle Scarlett, 2015

Chapter One

The ink was barely dry on the mortgage papers to the sprawling, old plantation house when Valerie Heart put a sledgehammer through her living room wall and discovered the Valentine addressed to her from the past. One hundred and fifty years in the past, to be precise.

She peered into the hole behind the plaster and plucked out the yellowed piece of folded paper. It rested on top of a hinged leather case about the size of a deck of cards. The brittle stuff ripped a little in her hand. Worried that the document might turn into powder between her fingers before she could see what it contained, she unfolded the creased parchment slowly. She removed her safety goggles for an unobstructed view of the sweeping, cursive lettering penned in faded ink.

I cannot sleep. I have no stomach for victuals or drink. I cannot think upon anything save having you in my bed again. Underneath me where you belong. Warm and wet as a soft spring night, with your legs wrapped around my waist as though to pull me all the way lost inside of you. Were you merely a ghost, after all? A wanton phantom come to delight my nights with your sweet body, only to vanish cruelly when the cock crows the dawn’s arrival? You torment my empty days with your absence.

To add to my misery of finding you lost to me comes the intelligence that Sherman has cut off Augusta from Charleston and the railway between. One of the last remaining Reb armies now in Charleston is in danger of being surrounded. The end of the war cannot be far off, but my land is in the direct path of the ensuing disaster with Union shells advancing every day to kiss my property line. I am long past my original plan of doing my bit to help end this bloody conflict and then quitting the area timely before I am happened upon by either side; the result of which in either case would surely mean my court martial in one instance or my immediate hanging in the other. Yet I linger on here and find I cannot make myself leave this place without you. My gut twists at the thought of never seeing you again.

I will delay my departure in the hope that Providence may help my letter to find you in the manner you told me it shall. I pray you will re-appear as mysteriously as you left. Come back to me, Valerie Amy Heart. Find a way back to me. – Grayson Hunter

Valerie Amy Heart? Valerie stared at the paper in her hand, uncertain whether to be more incredulous at the crumbling missive that implored her by name or at the impossible date on it. February 14, 1865.

“Is this a joke?” She heard her own words echo softly in the empty room but felt instantly that this was no prank. This would be a pretty big gag for anyone she knew to pull off, and she knew no one in the immediate area. For another thing, she could feel the truth and passion in the letter as though it were a tangible thing, reaching out from the page to curl around her like heat from a bonfire. Impossible as it was, her gut tingled with certainty that the paper in her hand was meant for her find and… do what?

The historical detail in the letter was correct, as every school child in South Carolina knew. Three days after the date on this letter, General William Tecumseh Sherman and his Union Army swept through this area and burned Columbia just a few miles away. Nothing in the Union army’s path, including this plantation, had remained unscathed. The local population even put on Civil War reenactments in the countryside every year to commemorate the siege.

Valerie’s eyes scanned the document again, more slowly this time. She couldn’t decide which burning question frustrated her more.

Who was Grayson Hunter? How, or when, had she told him to send this letter? How could he have known her in 1865, much less so… intimately? What had his fate been?

Then she shivered, recalling the small cemetery belonging to the former, longtime occupants that the realtor had told her was on the property somewhere down by the woods. A morbid thought snaked through her mind before she could stop it.

Would she find Grayson Hunter’s name carved on one of the crumbling tombstones in the Hunter family plot when she explored the woods tomorrow morning?