Lee Nelson didn't realize until much later that when he stopped to help two suddenly orphaned children that it would change his life. Hattie Tanner challenged him in every way, and when she dared him to kiss her, he didn't refuse.
After the war was over, Lee Nelson went home. Little did he know that he was supposed to be dead, that little Hattie Tanner had taken over his farm and that the land war was still on going.
However, little Hattie Tanner had grown up, and into a beautiful young woman. A woman he wanted to claim as his. Only problem was, the civil war was just over and marrying a black woman was unheard of in Alabama.
Fighting over mineral rights with old enemies, was still a big problem, but the biggest was finding a place where he and Hattie could live as man and wife, but he was determined to find a home for them.
The bushes made a swishing sound and out came a Negro girl. She couldn't have been over fourteen or fifteen. She was barefoot, and her dress looked a size or two too big for her as it drooped in places where the rain had plastered it against her bronze skin. In fact, her whole body was silhouetted in the rain. His practiced male glance did a long slow slide up and down her, assessing.
The fragile pain mirrored in her gaze as their eyes met for the first time, sent a spear straight for Lee's heart. Lee stared so long she blushed and moved out of the brush.
Lee couldn't believe what he was seeing. "Who are you?"
He didn't mean to snap at her nor stare so long, but the shocking awareness awkwardly passing between them had him off guard.
It was that excuse for a dress she was wearing for one thing. Her dress plastered against her in the rain, making Lee gasp as he quickly noticed how she was just bursting into womanhood, her body mirrored a silent perfection. Her hips rounded just a tad, her young breast peeked hard against the dress, but her expression held him spellbound for a moment, provocative, the toss of her head, the turn of her nose, and the peak of a smile on her beautiful full lips tempted Lee to react like a man.
Never had anyone so young turned his head.
"I'm Sam's sister." She explained hotly, hostility rising in her answer.
Lee grumbled under his breath. Just what he needed. Not only a little snot nosed kid, but a girl…now what was he supposed to do?
"Hattie," Sam cried seeing her clearly now as he peaked around Lee. Without thought he jumped down and rushed to her side, hugging her.the girl curled her arms around Sam tightly.
"I thought you was dead." He hugged her closely.
"I almost was…but I escaped them on the trail. They got Mama." She whispered as she put her arm protectively around her brother and studied Lee.
"How about Doris and Mabelle?" Sam cried looking into her face.
"They are…they're dead.” She glanced down at her brother, a hint of sadness crossing her young features. “After what them men did to them, I knew I had to get out of there, so while they were payin' me no mind, I run off."
Sam hung his head and squeezed her hand. "Is Mama…still alive?"
"So far." She stood lifeless staring at the man as Lee continued to watch her every move. "I think they are takin' her with them. I think they want her to cook for them."
"Then maybe they won't kill her," Sam smiled. "Ma's a good cook."
"That's a big maybe, Sam…" Hattie whispered.
“You think we could find her?” Sam asked squeezing her hand.
“I doubt it, they are long gone now, left a trail of death and destruction. Headed for the north country.”
Lee stared at the girl. She was probably right, but it didn’t help her brother none to tell him so.
Lee firmed his lips and tried to ignore her. But there was something about her that made him keep looking. The arrogant way she tossed her head, the untrusting glances she sent his way.
Problem was, she was to the point of beautiful, he noted then scolded himself silently for thinking it. She had a round, sweet looking face. Her lips were full, her nose flaring, but it was obvious that she was just as aware of him as he was of her. She didn’t hide the fact that she looked him up and down.
She was older than Sam and close to leaving childhood behind her, but as far as he was concerned, she was a kid and a Negro and he had no right going there. It wasn't that he didn't like Negroes. The truth be known he did, but it wasn't healthy to let others know that, not where he came from at least. Still these two were just kids and he needed to find someone to care for them.
"Hattie, is that your name?" he asked gruffly.
"Yes sir." She answered after giving Sam a hug and smile. The smile transformed her death like features into radiance and again Lee had to caution himself from responding. Made him realize her youth. What was it about her that had him thinking of her as a woman? She was a kid, that's all. Still the gentle sway of her hips as she moved about told him she was also aware of her age. No little girl walked with that kind of sway.
"Is there any more of you?" Lee asked in a low whisper.
"No sir, I reckon me and Sam is all." She stood majectically proud and erect, unaware that her breast puckered against her dress.
"I see, well then you get behind Sam and hang on. I'll take you into town tomorrow." Lee ordered trying to pry his glance from hers.
"What for?" She asked suspiciously her voice full of mistrust as she frowned up into his face, coming closer.
"Well, see'n as how you have no folks, to find someone to take care of you." Lee heard the exasperation in his own voice.
"We cain't stay here, they burned the house down." Sam looked at her.
"How do we know we can trust this man? He's white too." She shot Lee a quick glance.
Lee saw the girl eye him and thought it good that she was skeptical. However, there was something more in her eyes than mistrust. She challenged him with every glance.
"He buried Pa!" Sam pointed to the grave. "And said some words over him, and he's God fearin'."
"I seen that, anybody could do that." She protested, as though she had some choice in the matter.
"Either get up or stay here, it's your choice." Lee admonished her. He had no time to play games. He told himself he didn't care whether she came or not, but secretly he hoped she would if no other reason than her brother.
"How old are you?" she asked as she followed Sam and jumped up behind him on the horse.
"Twenty, how old are you?"
"Sixteen." She mumbled.
"You look like fourteen…" he mumbled to himself.
"I'm sixteen I jest hadn't come of age yet, Mama said I’d get breast soon." she put her hands on her hips and stared mutinously around Sam at him.
Lee stopped the horse, and turned sideways to look at her, a frown linng his face. “Look here, don’t talk like that.”
“Why not, it’s the truth,” she fussed.
“He’s tryin’ to tell ya it ain’t lady like,” Sam snickered.
Her eyes rounded on them both now, “The men…they took my sisters.”
Lee’s expression changed to one of sorrow, wishing he could block it all out for her.
"That's why I was determined to run off from them, I didn't want them doing the same to me as they did my sisters."
Lee’s eyes met hers in the darkness, another stab of awareness shot through him. "You were wise to run."
"I know…" she whispered.
"We'll make camp when we find some shelter for the night, then head for a town in the morning." Lee said as though he needed them to understand his intentions.
They rode slowly for another five miles till they come to a hull of a shed. There was no homestead left, but the shed would shelter them for the night. Lee pointed for them to go inside while he bedded his horse and looked about.
Satisfied they could at least last out the night here, he went inside. Sam lay close to Hattie asleep, huddled in a corner. Hattie was shivering but not asleep.
Lee took his blanket and wrapped it around her. As she looked at it, her mouth hung open.
"How come you bein' so nice to us?" she asked her face full of questions.
Lee dropped down beside her and pulled her gently against him, she was stiff and he knew she was scared, he hadn't meant to frighten her, but suddenly realized. "I'm not gonna hurt you Hattie. I think you seen enough hurt for one day. There ain't nothin' to be scared of. I'll take care of you as long as I can."
"Why?" she turned her sad cow eyes up at him. “Why would you do that? You’re a white man.”
"'Cause you need takin' care of, that's why." He let go of her and almost turned away.
"But we're black, you're white, that don't make no sense. You don't care about us." She huffed and blew a tendril of hair from her face.
"Who says?" Lee asked with a smile.
"My pa, that's who. Don't go pretended you do neither. Why if a white woman walked in here you'd be runnin' away instead cuddlin' us. You'd be ashamed for lookin' at me like you just did."
"And how did I look at you?" he almost laughed.
"Like a man looks at a woman, that's how."
Lee frowned now. Putting to words what he was feelin’ sure didn’t help matters. "I'm not cuddlin' you. And I wasn't lookin' at ya. Just didn't expect anyone else to come out of those bushes, that's all. I wouldn't run away from you. You're no different than a white woman, 'cept you aren't a woman fully growed yet."
"Don't you lie," she shook the blanket from her shoulders and turned, so she was very close to him. "If I was a white woman you would kiss me…or somethin'."
"So…maybe I would and maybe I wouldn't." Lee felt himself heat up and didn't quite understand why.
He’d never met such a provocative kid in his life and he wasn’t at all sure how he should handle it. On one hand, he wanted to turn her over his knee and spank her, and on the other…he was intrigued.
"You wouldn't kiss a Negro girl…." She challenged, leaning closer.
"Is that a challenge?" he frowned and came very close to her pretty face.
"No," she turned away, "It's the truth…."
He reached and pulled her chin around, studying her face. Damn she was pretty and feisty as all get out. But he tempered himself and smiled into her face.
"You ever been kissed before?" he asked stirred by the implication.
"Once…by a cousin."
"Ever been kissed by a white boy before?" he asked, his voice growing husky.
"'Course not…" she swallowed.
"Then close your eyes, 'cause I'm gonna kiss you." Lee pulled her closer, wanting and needing to put his lips to hers.
Her eyes widened. ‘Is that all your gonna do?”
He frowned, “That’s all I’m gonna do.”
Her glance fell to his lips and instead of running away like he thought she might, she waited, staring at him so.
"Don't be scared…" he smiled as his voice softened. “I won’t hurt you. But you been askin’ for this…”
His finger gently reached to close her eyes. "Don't look, it's easier that way."
She gulped, “What do you want me to do?” she asked innocently.
“Open your mouth, a little.” He answered as he came closer.
He leaned closer, "You may not be a woman yet, but you are as pretty a girl as I've ever seen."
Her eyes came open again, and her mouth whispered a gasp as her gaze followed his lips.
"Maybe I'll scream…"
He smiled, "No you won't. You're just as curious as I am."
Just then he bent his head and touched his lips to hers. He hadn't expected the warmth and softness of her young but eager lips. He hadn't expected her lips to move against his either, but they did. This girl could kiss, he mentally noted as his arms went around her.
Her lips were soft and sweet and he brought her closer so he could hold her against him. She moved to her knees and let her body rest against his, naturally. Then his lips began to move over hers tenderly. He felt her chest moving more rapidly, her arms clinging, and he heard a low moan, but he wasn't sure who it was from. Her arms flew suddenly around his neck and her lips began to follow his motions. He hadn't expected it and pulled her closer. It was just supposed to be a quick little kiss, but he felt her melting into him and he wanted to kiss her forever.
But good sense did prevail, after he enjoyed it thoroughly.
Slowly he unwrapped her arms, stood and moved away, staring into her surprised face.
"Now you've been kissed," he uttered lowly, his eyes never leaving her.