The Devil Take Tomorrow
By Gretchen Jeannette
George Washington has been marked for death. British agents embedded in the Continental Army wait only for the order to strike. Racing against time, rebel spy Ethan Matlock sets out to protect the one man who can save the Revolution. Without General Washington, the whole American enterprise might easily collapse, for no one else has demonstrated the ability to keep together an army that constantly threatens to fall apart.
Boldly Ethan infiltrates the heart of the British military, occupiers of grand old Philadelphia, where elegant officers posture in drawing rooms and frolic in the bedrooms of the rich. Surrounded by twenty thousand redcoats, aware that the slightest misstep could lead to the gallows, Ethan resorts to vicious measures to unravel a conspiracy of power-hungry men. Against his better judgment, he becomes entangled with the provocative Miss Maddie Graves, whose fierce devotion to the American cause ironically threatens his mission.
Gripping Maddie’s arm, Ethan escorted her along the meandering path, past the darkened stable to his cottage, alert all the while for prying eyes. Once inside, he locked the door, lit a candle in a wall sconce, and closed the window shutters.
“Sit down,” he said in a soft but commanding voice.
She sat on the sofa, her hands folded in her lap.
“What did you hear?”
“Nothing. I was merely getting some air.”
“Don’t play games with me, Miss Graves.”
She cast her gaze downward. “Robert is up to something, and I want to know what it is. What’s wrong with that?”
“That depends on who you tell.”
“First I would need to hear something worth telling, but you certainly took care of that.”
Bending his head, he rubbed the back of his neck. “Jesus Christ,” he swore softly. “In case you’ve forgotten, spying is a hanging offense. Oh, and by the way, the British hang women too. It’s a hard death and rarely quick. Is that how you want to end up, with your pretty neck stretched?”
She looked up with supplication in her eyes. “I’ve heard that the British commit all manner of vile acts against women. I can’t imagine a chivalrous man like you would deliver me into their hands. Believe me; I meant no harm. Surely you can find it in your heart to overlook my indiscretion, and then we can forget this ever happened.”
“Nice try,” he said. Pulling over a side chair, he sat facing her. He leaned forward until they were eye to eye. “I’ll ask you once more. What did you hear?”
She hugged her arms and watched the floor, refusing to look at him. After a moment she divulged, “They were arguing. Robert called General Howe a procrastinator, which he is. And the general called Robert a power-hungry egotist with a talent for needless cruelty, which he most certainly is. Then General Mitchell accused them both of behaving like schoolboys.”
Ethan’s hopes plummeted. “Nothing more?”
“No. Thanks to you.”
Did he dare believe her? That winsome face could be hiding anything. He watched the rise and fall of the soft swells of flesh above her bodice, the spellbinding view inciting remembrance. The sweet taste of her mouth had not entirely faded, nor the imprint of her contours on his senses. She was young, certainly, but the fresh-faced radiance that made her so pretty had begun to sharpen into womanly beauty. “How old are you?”
She swept a stray curl away from her eyes. “A man should never ask a woman her age.”
“Well, I just did.”
“And you pass yourself off as a gentleman. If you must know, I’m eighteen.”
“Old enough to have some common sense.”
“And how old are you?”
“Too old to acquire manners, I suppose.”
He checked a retort, not about to be diverted. “This isn’t about me, Miss Graves. It’s about you spying on the commander in chief of His Majesty’s armies in America.”
“I told you, I’m only curious to know what Robert is doing.”
“I find it hard to believe that mere curiosity compelled you to scale a trellis in that gown. To whom were you to report your findings?”
“No one. I acted on my own.”
“For what purpose?”
She sighed. “To learn things about Robert,” she said slowly and succinctly. “Are you deaf or just slow-witted?”
Now he wanted to strangle her, for her insolence, her reckless bravery; above all, for her power to arouse his emotions. “Why do you dislike him?”
She had seemed beyond fazing, yet this stopped her cold. She swallowed hard, the color rising in her cheeks. “Your assessment of my feeling for him falls short.”
“Pardon me. Why do you hate him?”
“He conspired to deliver my father to hell on earth.”
Ethan blinked. “How do you know that?”
“I just know,” she said bitterly, “and if I can prove it, I will kill him.”
He felt the force of her distress like a physical blow. In the pale wash of candlelight, he delved into glittering green eyes with the sensation of looking into a mirror. He wished to tell her that she wasn’t alone in her pursuit of justice or, indeed, in her pain. He had not been chasing his own demons for so long without being able to empathize with a kindred soul.
She wiped at her eyes, and the power of her spell snapped like a fragile glass stem.
“That may be the first honest thing you’ve told me,” he said. “By any chance, did you send him a hangman’s noose in New York?”
She regarded him warily. “Who told you about that?”
“Just answer me.”
“Yes, I sent it. And I made certain I was there to see his face when he opened it.”
Ethan drummed his fingertips on the chair arms. He had confronted many women in his life but only one so boldly obstinate. He felt as frustrated now as he had then.
So,” she ventured, “when do you plan to betray me to General Howe?”
Her mutinous expression made him smile. “If that was my intention, I wouldn’t have kissed you. Thanks for the bruised foot, by the way.”
She blushed quite pink but did not look away. “You shouldn’t have taken advantage like that.”
Again, he felt her allure pulling at him, undermining his position as the one in control. “Perhaps it was my imagination, but you seemed to enjoy yourself rather profoundly, and that ballet you performed with your tongue was nothing short of sublime. All that aside, I had to do something to cover your carelessness. Frankly, I’ve seen children play hide-and-seek with more stealth.”
She drew a deep breath, the muscles of her jaw tensing, but no barb passed her lips.
He couldn’t help but admire her composure. Before him sat an extraordinary young woman, possibly the most beautiful he had ever seen. Granted, she could be pert with her words, but she possessed a certain bearing and poise that he found delightful to behold, the ideal of feminine charm. That she was deeply devoted to her father was moving. That she would risk her neck to avenge him was downright alarming. “This is what I propose,” he said. “On my honor, I won’t say a word about tonight to anyone, provided you swear an oath to stop spying.”
She shifted a little, her mouth forming a delicate frown as she glanced about the cottage, everywhere but at him.
“Look at me and swear it,” he demanded.
She took her time, clearly unhappy at having to comply with his ultimatum. When she finally met his gaze, the melancholy he saw on her face pierced him to the quick. “I swear,” she said, her voice pitched low and resigned. With a small sigh, she began to re-pin her tousled hair. “What were you doing out there anyway?”
“I came after my pistols for the shooting contest, but the sight of you stopped me in my tracks. You shouldn’t wear that color to sneak around in the dark.”
“I’ll try to remember that.”
“Just remember you gave me your word.”
He retrieved his pistols, hanging in leather saddle holsters from a peg, and his cartridge box. Edged weapons in scabbards hung beside the guns—an ivory-hilted dagger, a curved officer’s saber, the brass guard wearing an eagle’s head pommel, the fluted hilt carved from bone. Other than tools of war, he displayed no personal items in the room, nothing to offer insight into his privacy.
When he held out his hand, she hesitated but then clasped it and rose to her feet. She stood very still, near enough for him to detect a faint heat from her body. He breathed in the heady aura of lilac perfume. “I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“How noble of you.”
His mouth twitched in the barest hint of amusement. “You inspire such virtues, Miss Graves.” At last he saw what he desired, a soft smile that reached her lovely eyes. He touched her again, briefly and gently laying the back of his hand against her cheek. “Come back to the party. You owe me a dance.”
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Gretchen lives and works in Chester County, Pennsylvania, an area rich in Revolutionary War and Colonial American history. Her enduring interest in 18th Century America began at a young age, inspired by tales of adventure, romance, and early American lore. After working as an editor for a small publishing company, she decided to write a story of her own. So began a journey fueled by her passion for breathing life into history through believable characters, authentic historical details, and stories woven with romance, action, and adventure.
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx