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When Macie Welles follows her aunt’s wishes in intercepting a letter to General Howe, in January of 1778, she barely makes it back alive. And she has no idea she will be captured by one of General Washington’s most fierce and trusted men, Captain and soon-to-be Major Jake Wilde. When she is caught a few days later, rummaging through the captain’s saddlebags, she has no idea her whole life is about to change.
Captain Wilde, forced to take her into his tent to strip her and search her, has no idea that, as he looks down into the pleading face of this dark-eyed, golden-haired, beautiful girl, she is about to steal his heart. Is she truly a spy? Could he possibly save her from the fate that awaits her now? Or is it too late?
Publisher's Note: A sweet love story, with elements of stern, colonial discipline. If such material offends you, please do not purchase.
January 9, 1778
Several miles west of Northampton, PA
"Macie? Come with me, child." Wilhelmina Welles frowned down at her niece, who sat at the piano, playing.
Macie halted abruptly at the urgency in her aunt's voice. "Coming, Aunt Mina."
She rose from the instrument and followed. At school, they had called her by her true given name, 'Micah.' Now, she was back to being herself again.
She had only been here a week, this time. Aunt Wilhelmina was her favorite relative in the world, and the old farmhouse several miles west of Northampton, complete with all its underground tunnels, was her favorite place to be.
She followed quietly behind her aunt as she was led into the kitchen. Lottie, one of the servants, handed her a shawl and a lantern. Macie's heart quickened. This meant they were going toward the tunnels. She had often thought it was fun to explore them during the daytime but, at night, they seemed frightening. Her aunt nodded toward Lottie, who slid the hidden door in the pantry open and then closed behind them. They took the already lit lanterns from the kitchen and started down the old, curved, stone staircase.
"I had forgotten," Macie said, her dark brown eyes widening. "How dark and cold it gets down here at night."
"Yes." It was her aunt's only answer.
A wine cellar, filled with casks in three long rows, met them as they descended the last step. They had always struck Macie as creepy, when she was smaller. They looked neat and orderly, but still, after all these years, she wondered if someone could be hiding behind them, ready to jump out.
They turned a corner toward the right at the base of the steps, where Wilhelmina turned a button just beneath the sconce on the wall. A pocket door slid neatly into the wall. It was so perfectly built in; it was difficult to know it was even there unless it was open. She led Macie into a small room. The door slid from its recess behind them, back into place.
The tiny room contained only a small table and two chairs. Macie did not speak again until her aunt sat down in one of the chairs and set the lantern down.
"What is it, Aunt Mina?"
Wilhelmina's face was grim. She stared down at her niece before speaking, deep in thought. Macie sat quietly. Finally, the older woman spoke.
"You know, of course, that the Redcoats have captured Philadelphia. And that General Washington has taken the troops to Valley Forge," she said at last.
Macie nodded. "Yes, Papa said that conditions for the men are horrible there."
"Yes." It was followed by silence.
Macie was folding the pleats in her long skirt nervously, now. Her voice, when she spoke, trembled, "When Papa joined the militia, Aunt Mina, Mother was determined to go with him. I hope I am not intruding on you. They did not seem to know what else to do with me. They thought perhaps I might be safe here with you."
But her aunt was frowning. "Frederick would not have let you come, if he had known what I am about to ask you to do."
Macie's fingers stilled, staring at her aunt.
"The Liberty Bell has been taken from Philadelphia, to keep the Redcoats from melting it down for ammunition. It is stored in Northampton. But that is not why I wanted you here." Another long pause. Finally, she took a deep breath.
Macie waited, patiently, her dark brown eyes wide with trepidation.
Finally, Wilhelmina spoke, "Macie, do you know who I am?"
Macie was unsure how to answer. She frowned, troubling her lower full lip with her teeth. Should she tell Aunt Mina what she had overheard just a week previously? But it took only a moment, before she decided to be candid.
She licked her lips nervously. "Papa fears you are a spy, Aunt Mina, for the Redcoats. He did not tell me that. I overheard a conversation between him and Mother. They did not know I heard."
A small smile crept across her aunt's face. "No, Macie, not for the Redcoats. Never for the Redcoats. But I am, for our Continentals."
Excitement made its way into Macie's brown eyes. "Truly? A woman spy?"
"Yes. Macie, take the excitement from your eyes, child. It is dangerous. Every morning, when I awaken, safe in my bed, I thank God I am not swinging at the end of a rope. My last mission was so dangerous, I expect someone to come for me any day. I am staying very quiet right now. Just you being here makes me concerned for your safety. But—" She stared down at her niece. "I do need you here."
Macie's eyes widened, and her aunt nodded.
"It is truly dangerous work. But, Macie, it is necessary. It began quite by accident. I was at the inn, in Concord, with a man—no, I shall not tell you his name—and the British soldiers were in the booth behind me. I was alone, for the moment, and I heard them talking, planning." She leaned back in her chair. "Redcoats—and sometimes Continentals—do not consider that we females have brains in our heads. It is amazing what they will say when we are present."
She had Macie's full attention now. "How long have you been doing this, Aunt Mina?"
"Since April of '75. I happened to be visiting your uncle in Concord and had been hearing of 'taxation without representation' by the British. The tea party was what brought it to my attention. But, Macie, I must now discuss with you what must be done tonight. I have met General Howe, in the past—he would know me, if I were to see him again—and several of his men know me, too. I have been keeping low, here in the house. They have only seen me with a disguise of a darker wig and a beauty mark—they should not know me. But I cannot take the chance." She rose, pacing, in the small space. "Do you remember the layout of the tunnels?"
Macie pushed her long thick golden hair back over her shoulder. "No, ma'am, but I think I might remember if I went down them again."
"Then, let us go."
Macie rose, following. But her aunt turned to her, stopping in front of her.
"Before we go." She turned and faced her niece. "If you are captured or introduce yourself to anyone, you must use your second name, Elizabeth."
Captured? Macie swallowed, hard. "Yes, ma'am."
Wilhelmina nodded and turned.
Macie watched her, as a moment later, the turning of a sconce caused another pocket door to open and they moved from the small room into another, larger space beyond.
Aunt Mina nodded, whispering, "This way."
Three hours later…
The tunnel was pitch black now. The light from the lantern Macie carried in front of her seemed to be swallowed up in it.
She now wore the outfit Aunt Mina had shoved into her hands, a boy's outfit. Loose breeches covered the delicate curves of her hips and boots came halfway up her calves, with woolen socks and a woolen shirt with suspenders. A binder had been wrapped around her chest to decrease the size of her breasts, an attempt to hide her girlish curves. Aunt Mina had given her a hat that would come down low, over her eyes, and her long thick blonde hair was braided and pinned around her head to keep it hidden. The wool jacket, she pulled tighter and drew the collar up over her neck.
"Make certain the hat stays low. Your dark eyes are striking. If anyone catches sight of them, they would remember you. Remember the old oak across from the inn just outside town, the one that looks like an umbrella. Keep a vigilant eye. You cannot afford to let anyone see you—or follow you back here."
Macie nodded, not trusting her voice to speak. Her heart was pounding now. She stood there as Aunt Mina placed strong hands on her shoulders and leaned down to kiss her forehead.
"Go, child. I will follow you halfway. And I shall wait here, until you return, Macie. We have no time now to waste."
* * *
Macie slowly advanced. Trying to convince her feet to go faster made no difference; they would not listen to her silent commands. Finally, she came upon the ladder that would ascend to the outside and set the lantern down inside the cubby hole dug deep into the side so no one outside would be able to see its light. Taking a deep breath, she climbed the rungs six feet upward and pushed back the small wooden door that led outside into the snow. A layer of leaves and fresh snow covered the outside. Silently, she prayed that she would be able to find the right tree when she came back. Mike, one of the trusted staff, was to have a horse waiting for her by the edge of the woods.
Shivering with cold, even through the heavy woolen jacket, she lowered the small door and studied the landscape around her. She had been here many times as a child, but the tree had grown much higher since then; the ground now was bleak and everything was white. The tree, however, had been named the praying tree because two of the branches looked like arms raised in prayer. It should be easy to spot, coming back.
Macie took a deep breath. It looked as if it would begin snowing again at any moment. She hoped it would not white things out before she returned.
If she returned.
And if she did, would she be able to find the entrance to the tunnel and her way back inside?