Loved Honor More

If the first casualty of war is truth, the last is hope. Soldiers die even on the last day of a war. For Elizabeth Pepperhawk, one of those casualties was a dear friend. Reeling from emotional fallout created by the disastrous American withdrawal from Saigon, Pepper, Avivah, and Benny are certain of one thing: Pepper's friend lied about the Vietnamese infant he sent to them and about the person who brought them the child. Whose baby is it? Whose honor is at stake? Has Viet Nam finally invaded Pepper's homestead?

*****

"Ninety-eight percent of casualties who reached an evacuation hospital alive in Viet Nam survived."

Pepper didn't have to ask Benny where he got that figure. She'd told it to him. Army medicine hadn't done some casualties a favor by keeping them alive. The drill had been to do her job and shove survivors down the medical evacuation pipeline. Next stop, Japan. Next stop, an Army hospital somewhere in the States. Next stop? Who the hell knew? By the time the casualty reached the end of the line, she'd have forgotten his name. Sometimes, she remembered his face. Sometimes she still did.

What happened down the line was SEP—Somebody Else's Problem. Now that the buck had stopped at her front door, she had no idea what came next. "I agree that he's not running on all cylinders. I vote we hog tie him to the top of my car like a Christmas tree, take him to the VA hospital, and convince a psychiatrist that his cornbread is no longer baked."

Benny stood, shoved his hands in his pockets, and began pacing in the small clearing. "Damn it, Pepper, for once be serious! No one else stands a chance of convincing him to get help."

The previous winter, late on a very cold night, a passing pickup truck had thrown a tiny rock at Pepper's windshield. Just as she finished cursing the driver, her windshield had cracked. There had been one tiny crack at first, then it had branched and branched into a feathery pattern, as if Jack Frost were running amok with a glass cutter. She'd been so busy appreciating how beautiful it looked that she'd come within a hair's breadth of plowing into a rock face. This time the tiny crack began in her heart.

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