Sara Ackerman’s ‘The Lieutenant’s Nurse’ [EXCERPT]

Cadet Nurse

Newly enlisted Army Corps Nurse Eva Cassidy has her reasons for going to Hawaii. (Image courtesy Keijo Knutas/US Cadet Nurse Corps, Flickr)

We love a great wartime story. There always seems to be a fascinating untold chapter that emerges out of the chaos and ignites our imaginations. Perhaps it is the enormity of the situation and all the emotional mountains that arise out of it that keeps us turning pages. Between the constant threat of danger, the impulsive romances, the amazing courage and the debilitating fear that fuels such tales, they are bound to draw us in, right? And Sara Ackerman does just that in her latest novel, The Lieutenant’s Nurse. We hope you enjoy this exclusive excerpt! —J&H

EXCERPT FROM THE LIEUTENANT’S NURSE

ROUGH SEAS

November 28

The sea was dark green and angry, not the lazy blue that her imagination had conjured up. Eva was well versed in lakes, but here in San Francisco, the air was thick with salt and the tang of dead fish. Toward the horizon, storm clouds blacked out the sky. She wrapped her scarf tighter around her neck as wind whipped her hair in every direction. Cold lodged into her bones, as she had little extra padding to keep her warm. Nevertheless, people crammed all along the edges of the ship, throwing serpentine and waving madly at the crowd along the pier.

After the ship had let out two long horn blasts, guests began to file off, stuffed full after the bon voyage festivities. She had meandered around before departure, watching pounds of cheese balls, pigs in a blanket and pâté disappear into people’s mouths, and startling at champagne corks being fired off. As she had stood off to the side gaping at the decadence, one of the stewards proudly told her that it was not unusual to go through five hundred bottles on sailing day.

“Good Lord!” she’d said.

Eva had had champagne all of once in her life—the day she’d graduated from nursing school.

She leaned against the cold steel railing, overcome with the realization that she was leaving the continent for a tiny speck of an island thousands of miles away. She searched the throngs of people for any familiar faces, and was thankful to see none. A tall figure pushing against the debarking guests on the gang­plank caught her eye. Dressed in a blue service uniform, the man stood out not only because of his height, but the look on his face. While everyone else was gay and merry, his jaw was clenched and his expression set in stone. What would he have to worry about? Eva tried to keep abreast of news and knew that tensions were rising around the world, but being stationed on a tiny island in the Pacific would certainly have its perks. Being in a whole separate hemisphere from the Ger­mans and their U-boats, for one. But also isolated by thou­sands of miles of ocean and protected by much of the Pacific Fleet. Eva tried to look away, but her gaze was fixed on the powerful way he moved. Something about being in uniform, too, gave him an air of gravity. There weren’t too many sol­diers in the backwoods of Michigan. The man ducked onto the ship and then he was gone.

Couples and families and an athletic team of boisterous young men grouped around her. Most everybody was attached to someone else, and she wished Ruby could be here with her. This was just the kind of thing her younger sister would have loved, obsessed as she was with fashion and the latest trends. Ruby never met a piece of material she didn’t want to nip and tuck and whip into some unique article of clothing. Her sister was the one meant to be in San Francisco or New York or traveling the globe. You left her, said a gnawing voice inside. But she’d had no choice. As soon as she settled in her room, she would write her a postcard.

In the colorful brochures, Eva had noted how well dressed the passengers were. But nothing could have prepared her for the real thing. These women seemed another breed altogether. Pencil-thin skirts and blazers, with rows of pearls around their necks and corsages made from gardenias and baby’s breath pinned to their lapels. Hair twisted and piled and coiffed into updos. Eva owned exactly two fancy dresses and she was saving those for dinners, and her hair, which she had gone through the effort to pin curl set, was quickly blowing out.

After another fifteen minutes, three long blasts of the horn sounded, the massive anchor pulled up and Matson’s grandest luxury liner, the Lurline, backed away. Four o’clock sharp. The amount of black smoke pouring from the two stacks on board was enough to require a gas mask. No one had mentioned that in the brochure. She moved upwind as best she could. People ran alongside the ship as though not quite ready to say good­bye. Even though she didn’t know anyone, Eva waved a dingy white handkerchief to the crowd below.

She had been imagining this moment for so long, and now that it was finally here, she felt a tightening in her chest. Ha­waii was about as far away as you could get from Michigan, which was precisely why she had joined the Army Nurse Corps. But not long after she’d made her decision to go, Ruby had come down with fever, headache, back pain. And then the paralysis. The fear was something she had no defense against. Polio. A word that ruined lives. Ruby had been admitted to the hospital the next day, and Eva departed two weeks later, feeling like she’d been split in two. Ruby had stabilized, but whether she would walk again still remained to be seen.

It was easy to get caught up in the guilt, but Eva ordered herself to enjoy the journey as best she could. Focus on what lay ahead. Warm lagoons and coconut trees. A fresh start, where no one knew who she was. And of course, Billy would meet her at the dock. It had been so long since she’d seen him, half of her felt weak-kneed at the thought, and the other was worried that he wasn’t the same Billy she had fallen for. His last few letters had been brief and businesslike, not his usual pressed flowers and professions of love.

If anyone was concerned at all about the storm they would soon be sailing into, it didn’t show. This was not the California she had been promised—sunny skies and smooth water. In­stead, fog obscured much of the Golden Gate Bridge as they passed underneath. They weren’t even in the open seas yet and the ship swayed from side to side.

Pretty soon, raindrops began to fall and people took cover on the long side deck. Eva found an empty chair and sat back, watching the city grow smaller and smaller and disappear in the clouds. Goodbye, America.

A steward came around offering warm tea, which she gladly accepted.

“Will the weather be worsening?” she asked, thinking about all the ship skeletons at the bottoms of the Great Lakes.

“Hard to tell, but not to worry. This ship could sail right through a hurricane with barely a wobble.”

“So we won’t have to worry about seasickness?” she asked.

He laughed. “I wish I could say that was the case. You never know who will be immune and who won’t. But most people gain their sea legs in a day or two.”

She sipped her tea and watched a toddler in a ruffled dress zigzagging across the deck like a drunk sailor. The mother had a glass of champagne in one hand and a teddy bear in the other. On the chairs next to her, some of the college athletic team were huddled up under blankets. Tall, gangly boys on the cusp of manhood. From their chatter, she found out they were football players from Oregon and California off on a trip to play the University of Hawaii. Eva caught herself staring. She hadn’t been to a football game in ages. Not since summer­time, when life was still moving in a whole different direction.

With no chance for a sunset and night falling early, she made her way back to her stateroom on D deck—“Dog Deck,” as it was called—passing by many folks who looked green in the face. At several points along the way, she commanded her­self to breathe and keep an eye on the horizon. But that be­came difficult once inside the walls and heading downstairs. The stale air didn’t help. When she opened the door to her room, there was a woman curled on the second bed, groaning.

“Heavens, are you all right?” Eva asked, rushing to her side.

“Do you think they could turn around? I need to get off immediately.”

Eva fought back a laugh. “Not likely, but they say by morn­ing, the sickness usually wears off.” The trash can was pulled up next to the bed. She did her best not to look inside, as though seasickness might be contagious. “I’m Eva. What’s your name?”

A long pause. “Jo.” It came out like ruff, almost like a dog’s bark.

Jo was man-size, with wrists the size of tree branches and a dockworker’s shoulders. To lift her would be impossible, and Eva hoped for a fast recovery. Assessing people based on how hard they’d be to move was a built-in habit, formed after years helping her father set a broken leg or turn over an invalid with bedsores. Being small, she’d made up for it with ingenuity and leverage.

Eva set a glass of water on the bedside table. “I’m going to get set up here, but let me know if you need anything. I’m a nurse,” she said, as if that mattered right now.

Jo moaned.

The windowless room was small but not cramped, with enough room for two twin beds and two small bureaus. An ornate gold mirror with lamps, and a blue patterned rug made for lovely accents. She peeked into the bathroom, which was shared with another cabin, and admired the black-and-white tile floor and porcelain tub. Even cabin class on the Lurline was fancier than what she was accustomed to.

While she unpacked, the ship’s swaying seemed to grow even more pronounced. On the bureau, she noticed her dining assignment card: Eva Cassidy, Second Seating in the Waikiki Dining Room. It was going to take a while to adjust to a new last name. Jo Holstad was meant to be seated next to her. That would not likely happen.

All of Eva’s clothes fit nicely in the drawers, and she hung her two dresses. She also set a small framed photograph of Ruby—holding an armful of ducklings and smiling as though she had just won the lottery—on a built-in shelf next to her bed. She hurried to freshen up and get topside into the open air, regardless of her seating time. She would sit on the deck and wait if she had to, this time armed with a warm sweater and a blanket.

“Do you want to come up for dinner? Fresh air would do wonders for you,” Eva said, already knowing the answer.

“I’m going to die on this ship, one way or another,” Jo said.

“Oh, nonsense, you just feel that way now.”

The poor woman did look about as miserable as one could be. Perspiration matted her hair to her forehead and her mouth hung slack with a stripe of dried spit off to the side. Suddenly, the ship listed sharply and Ruby’s picture, a comb and a per­fume bottle flew onto the floor. Eva steadied herself against the wall.

“See? We should have never set sail,” Jo said.

Eva had to admit that all this rocking was unnerving. “I trust they know what they’re doing. If it were dangerous, we would have waited a few days.”

Jo looked up at her with big brown eyes. “I sure as hell hope so.”

***

Up top, Eva was almost thankful for the darkness. Probably better not to see the fury of the seas. The whole upper sec­tion of the ship had turned into a ghost town, and she strolled around to stretch out her legs. Surely she was not the only person immune to seasickness. At the edge of the main deck, frigid rain blasted in, so she turned around and explored the areas that she had missed earlier due to her late arrival.

She found several men playing cards in the smoking room. She poked her head in, but wasn’t fond of smoke and moved on. Down the hall, she came across an empty ballroom with polished wooden floors and a gilded ceiling. There was also a main lounge decorated with palm-print fabric, a library with wall-to-wall books, an elegant bar room, and a writing room complete with dainty tables and big leather chairs. The Lurline was a floating palace, but it felt eerie without many people to fill the space.

Every so often the ship would list or plunge and Eva had to reach out to steady herself. Perhaps she should have worn sandals instead of heels, but she had wanted to make a good first impression. In the dining room, there were only two tables with people—out of seven-hundred-odd passengers. One was full, seated with a mixture of men and women; the other was half-full of men only. All eyes were on her when she entered the room. Should she wave? Say something? Her cheeks burned. She would have turned around and left, but felt silly, so she kept on going, reading the table numbers along the way. She found hers halfway across the room. It would be an awkward dinner at best, dining alone.

“Miss,” one of the men called. “Why don’t you join us? We have plenty of seats.”

When she neared the table, she realized it was the captain himself who had invited her over. “It would be a lovely honor to sit with you, sir,” she said.

An older man stood and pulled out a chair. “Please,” he said.

“Thank you, this may not be my seating time, but since everyone else is under, I thought I would check.”

“This may be it for the night—count yourself among the fortunate few,” the man said.

Captain Brinck, two seats away, leaned over and winked. “Charles Darwin once said, if it weren’t for seasickness, the whole world would be sailors.”

She laughed. “This is my first time on the ocean, so I’m not sure why I’m spared.”

“Heredity—or luck,” said the man next to her. “I’m Dr. John Wallace, by the way.”

She tensed. Just her luck to have a doctor at the table, but his name was unfamiliar to her and she was certain she had never seen his face before.

“Eva…Cassidy. Pleased to meet you.” She caught herself just in time.

The other men introduced themselves. Two were army, Mr. Balder ran a sugarcane plantation, Tommy Woods worked in hotels, and the last, a man called Ogden, told her he was headed to Australia to find a wife as his eyes dropped down to her chest. She made a mental note to stay away from that one.

Eva was impressed at how well the dishes stayed in place despite the motion. “Isn’t it risky to have the glassware out?”

“It’s heavier than the usual stuff, but there is always the chance in seas like these,” Captain Brinck said.

“When will it calm?” she asked.

“In another day or two, it should improve. November tends to be this way. When we near Hawaii, it’ll be much warmer, but the seas can still be huge.”

“Well, my poor roommate looks half-dead. I worry about her,” she said.

He shrugged. “I sure wish I had a say in the weather.”

In the center of the table, plates were heaped with lobster tails, steak, French-fried potatoes, glazed carrots and peas. There were also various food items she couldn’t identify. Back at home, they stuck to simple. It was all they could afford.

The men continued their conversations about the war in Eu­rope and the recent sinking of a British battleship by a U-boat. One of her nurse friends had recently left for England and had been terrified to bits of crossing the Atlantic.

A deep voice behind her said, “My table is empty over there. Mind if I join you?”

She spun to see the navy man she’d seen on the gangplank. Up close, and from this vantage point, he looked seven feet tall.

“Please,” everyone said.

The man seemed to be deciding between the two empty seats at the table. Eva was sure he was going to choose the one away from her, which was fine, because she wanted to learn more about Dr. Wallace, but he sat next to her. He was still in uniform and smelled faintly of Old Spice.

“Lieutenant Clark Spencer,” he said to the group, and then to her, “Impressive to see a lady out and about in these seas.”

“Dr. Wallace here blames it on luck,” she said.

His stony face softened. “If that’s the case, I hope some of it rubs off on me, on all of us, Miss…”

“Cassidy. Eva.” She was getting better at the name thing.

He looked vaguely familiar, and for a moment she wondered if they had met before. But there was nothing vague about him. Intensity lifted off him in waves. With wavy brown hair and a dark five o’clock shadow, the lieutenant had the build of a football player with a baritone voice. She suddenly felt self-conscious, which was ridiculous because she had a man waiting in Honolulu.

The plantation manager spoke up. “You stationed at Pearl?”

“More or less,” the lieutenant said.

“What’s the latest with the Japs?”

Eva had never seen an actual Japanese person, but she’d heard that Hawaii was full of them. She also knew that Jap was not a friendly term, especially now with tense relations and whispers of war. In fact, her state representative back home had gone as far as suggesting that ten thousand Japanese in Hawaii be held hostage to make sure Japan didn’t do any­thing rash. It seemed extreme and rather un-American, but what did she know?

“I’m not at liberty to say much, other than what you hear in the press. And if you’ve been keeping track of that, you know negotiations are questionable with Tokyo.”

The captain lowered his voice. “Just between us, those submarines of theirs make me nervous. I heard they got a bunch from the Germans.”

Eva sat up. “Submarines where?”

“In the ocean,” Ogden said with a smug look on his face.

She shot him a glance. “No doubt, but where in the ocean?”

One of the army men said, “Rest assured the Japanese would never bother with Hawaii or the US mainland. They know they’d be crushed.”

Being tucked away in Michigan, all war talk had seemed so remote. About distant lands and faraway oceans, involving nameless people who had no bearing on her own life. Here, she felt like she was in the front row, listening to people who knew what was happening from experience. It both fright­ened and exhilarated her.

Eva looked to Lieutenant Spencer for reassurance. “Is that true?”

He stiffened. “The Japanese are proud and complicated people,” was all he said.

“And?”

“And no comment.”

She felt shortchanged. But he seemed like the kind of man who couldn’t be budged once he’d made up his mind. Like her father’s mule, who had an uncanny ability to turn into a statue when he wasn’t in the mood to work. But the result was that Eva wanted to know even more.

Lieutenant Spencer turned his attention to his plate. So much food she had never seen in her life, and after a week on the train with little physical activity, her body felt slug­gish. Not only that, but the past two months of nerves and worry had whittled her away to half her normal size, so much so that Mr. Lingle at the drugstore hadn’t even recognized her the last time she’d gone in. Her appetite hadn’t returned, but she piled her plate with carrots and peas and rice anyway. Might as well taste what was supposedly a diet staple in Ha­waii. The men continued debating what the Japanese had up their sleeves, which was strange because all along, she’d been far more concerned about the Germans. You could tell just by looking at pictures of Adolph Hitler that the man was evil.

“So, Dr. Wallace, what takes you to Hawaii?” she asked.

“I’ll be giving a course on traumatic surgery at Queen’s Hospital.”

“Sounds fascinating.”

He chuckled. “Not the reaction I get from most women. A brutal but necessary field.”

Eva hesitated opening herself up for questioning, but fig­ured she might as well practice. “I’m a nurse, and my father was a doctor, so I have reason to be interested.”

Wallace cocked his head to the side and looked down his beak-like nose at her very seriously. She braced herself, and was surprised when he said, “My best anesthetist in France was a woman. Agnes Brodie. God knows we need more women in the field.”

“Why, thank you, sir. I wish everyone felt that way.”

He swirled the ice in his glass. “Sharp as my best scalpel, she was. And able to keep her wits with bombs whistling and exploding around us. I just pray your skills won’t be needed for anything other than peacetime affairs.”

“I’ve committed to a year at Tripler, so we’ll see what hap­pens after that.”

Ogden cleared his throat and piped up. “I’d still take a man over a woman doc any day. Women are meant to wear dresses, not pants.”

Eva was well versed in doctors with this same sentiment, and it still drove her crazy. She had the molten urge to stick her finger in his chest and tell him to kindly find the gang­plank, but she knew better than to engage. Instead, she asked, “And what is your profession, Mr. Ogden?”

“Businessman, ma’am.”

“What sort of business?”

The table had grown quiet around them.

“A little of this and a little of that. And, anyway, what I do is not relevant to this conversation. We were talking about medicine.”

Lieutenant Spencer was suddenly paying attention. “Is this a big convention of docs in Hawaii?” he asked Wallace.

Eva was relieved for the distraction and turned her atten­tion to the doctor.

“From all over. Civilian and military. The US is gearing up for something big out there in the Pacific, you can be sure of that, but where and when, who knows,” Wallace said.

She was going to have to get herself invited to the lecture, though with hundreds of doctors, there was a chance she would run into someone who recognized her.

Lieutenant Spencer lowered his voice. “It may happen sooner than later, keep that in mind.”

“Say, what exactly is your role in the navy, Lieutenant?” she asked, unsettled by his words.

“Communications,” he said curtly.

Wallace raised an eyebrow.

“What sort of communications?” Eva said.

Lieutenant Spencer paused a beat too long and Wallace an­swered for him. “The kind we don’t talk about, I’m guessing.”

The man seemed more reserved than the other servicemen at the table, as though cut from a different cloth. The way his hair was slightly longer, his suit less stiff. Eva was new to the army, having signed on less than a month ago. For someone not accustomed to the military, all the ranks and unique lingo baffled her. She was still trying to figure out the difference between a lieutenant and a sergeant and a captain. As a nurse, she was considered a second lieutenant. Lieutenant Cassidy. That would take some getting used to.

“I’m a linguist. We’ll leave it at that,” Lieutenant Spencer said.

“You speak German?” she asked.

“Japanese.”

“How does a fella like you end up speaking Japanese?” she wanted to know.

Suddenly, the bow of the ship climbed, and Eva’s chair felt like it might tilt over backward. Lieutenant Spencer’s arm shot out behind her, his hand twice the size of her scapula. A small surge of nausea threatened but she willed her stomach to be­have. Unattended glasses rolled around and several crashed to the ground. A moment later, it felt like the bottom of the ocean had pulled away from under them and the enormous ship plunged. She checked Captain Brinck’s face for signs of concern; it was pinched into a grimace, but she couldn’t be sure if it was for the plate of lobster in danger of sliding off the table, or for the Lurline herself.

A moment later, he wiped his chin with a napkin and ex­cused himself. “No cause for concern. I’ve seen worse, but I should probably get going back to the bridge.”

Wallace turned to her. “At least we don’t have icebergs to worry about out here.”

“You can steer around an iceberg. I’m not sure about a hur­ricane,” she said, feeling slightly panicky.

On the train ride to San Francisco, as they traversed the country, the Pacific Ocean had been big on her mind, and put­ting as much distance between her and Michigan as possible. She had pictured herself lounging on a deck chair, soaking in the warmth and admiring the blue waters and sunshine. Bell­boys would be delivering pineapple juice when the sun grew too hot. Whales would be spouting. All of it would help erase the nightmare of the past months. And maybe along the way, her appetite would return.

Another rise and fall, and the plates all slid a few inches one way and then another. This had not been in her plans.

Her stomach swirled and she decided to call it a night. “I think I’ll head to my room now. Good night, gentlemen.” She nodded to Wallace and smiled at Lieutenant Spencer, who saluted her.

“Ma’am,” he said.

She moved away unsteadily, hoping to God she could sleep in these conditions. But what did it matter if the ship ended up going down.

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Sara Ackerman's THE LIEUTENANT'S NURSE

Mira

ABOUT THE LIEUTENANT’S NURSE

November, 1941. She’s never even seen the ocean before, but Eva Cassidy has her reasons for making the crossing to Hawaii, and they run a lot deeper than escaping a harsh Michigan winter. Newly enlisted as an Army Corps nurse, Eva is stunned by the splendor she experiences aboard the steamship SS Lurline; even more so by Lt. Clark Spencer, a man she is drawn to but who clearly has secrets of his own. But Eva’s past—and the future she’s trying to create—means that she’s not free to follow her heart. Clark is a navy intelligence officer, and he warns her that the United States won’t be able to hold off joining the war for long, but nothing can prepare them for the surprise attack that will change the world they know.

In the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Eva and her fellow nurses band together for the immense duty of keeping the American wounded alive. And the danger that finds Eva threatens everything she holds dear. Amid the chaos and heartbreak, Eva will have to decide whom to trust and how far she will go to protect those she loves.

Set in the vibrant tropical surroundings of the Pacific, The Lieutenant’s Nurse is an evocative, emotional WWII story of love, friendship and the resilient spirit of the heroic nurses of Pearl Harbor.

Sara Ackerman

Sara Ackerman

ABOUT SARA ACKERMAN

Sara Ackerman is the bestselling author of Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine.

She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories. When she’s not writing or teaching, you’ll find her in the mountains or in the ocean. She currently lives on the Big Island with her boyfriend and a houseful of bossy animals.

Find out more about Sara and her books at www.AckermanBooks.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

THE LIEUTENANT’S NURSE
By Sara Ackerman
352 pp. Mira. $16.99

TLC Book Tours Tour HostPurchase The Lieutenant’s Nurse at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Harlequin, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

The Lieutenant’s Nurse is brought to you in association with TLC Book Tours.

Giveaway: Want to read more? Enter to win a copy of Sara Ackerman’s The Lieutenant’s Nurse below. Simply complete the form and click submit. Please note: giveaway is open to US residents only. Contest ends at midnight, March 31, 2019. Winner will be notified by email. If winner does not respond within 48 hours, winner forfeits prize and a new winner will be selected.

 

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

2 Responses to Sara Ackerman’s ‘The Lieutenant’s Nurse’ [EXCERPT]

  1. Pingback: Sara Ackerman, author of THE LIEUTENANT'S NURSE, on tour March/April 2019 | TLC Book Tours

  2. Sara Strand says:

    Thanks for being on this tour!

    Sara @ TLC Book Tours

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