Julia Chandler, daughter of Southern sympathizers living in a Union-held city, decides to attend a New Year's masked ball meant only for Union sympathizerswith her sister. She plans to use the ball to ruin herself and thus escape a dreaded marriage to her distant cousin.
Major Robert Montgomery, a loner since his injury at Gettysburg, attends the ball on orders from his commander. He enjoys Julia's Shakespearean banter, but neither that nor his strong attraction to her can prepare him for her request that he kindly have his way with her. Though tempted, Rob protects Julia's virtue until her identity is exposed and she's forced to leave.
These star-crossed lovers are destined to become more deeply involved when Rob is ordered to use his acquaintance with Julia to get arrested and sent to spy farther south.
With echoes of Romeo and Juliet and Little Women, Schaller romanticizes Civil War history in this touching novel. It boasts the intensity of the film Cold Mountain but without its heaviness and darker themes. SWEET (Apr., 322 pp., $5.25)