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Heart's Safe Passage: The Midwives, Book 2

Williamsburg, Virginia

October 4, 1813

“You want me to go to sea with you?” Phoebe Lee stared at her sister-in-law as though she’d sprouted whiskers and pointed ears between supper and this midnight invasion of Phoebe’s bedchamber. “In the event you’ve forgotten, we’re at war.”

“Of course I haven’t forgotten.” Pain distorted Belinda Chapman’s features, and she twisted her fingers through the fringe of her silk shawl. “If we weren’t at war, my husband wouldn’t be a prisoner in a barbaric English hulk. And I can’t free him if I can’t get to England.”

“Go to England? Free him?” Phoebe stared at her deceased husband’s sister with eyes wide and jaw sagging. “You must be---” She stopped speaking and made a circuit of the pinkflowered carpet of Belinda’s guest bedchamber, her slippers

silent in the lush pile, her blood roaring. She must not tell Belinda that she had certainly become a raving mooncalf to consider traveling on water as far as Norfolk, let alone across the Atlantic.

Silence filled the bedchamber. Belinda watched Phoebe, saying nothing. Outside, a carriage rumbled up the roughly paved street, and laughter soared into a crescendo.

Inside, Phoebe inhaled the too-sweet air of Belinda’s town-house and tried to remember what her teacher, Tabitha Eckles Cherrett, would do under similar circumstances---remain even-tempered. Speak in a slow, calm voice.

“Bel, my dear, you can’t simply step onto a packet and sail across the ocean, land in an enemy country, and demand they free your husband. That is---” She dropped to her knees before Belinda’s chair and drew the younger woman’s hands away from the tangled knots they’d made of her shawl fringe, sending more reek of lavender oil into the air. “I’m devastated with the news of George’s capture.” The news had sent Phoebe racing from Leesburg to Williamsburg in a heartbeat. “And I can’t imagine how awful it must be for you. But this is outright war, and we’re losing on land.”

“But not at sea.” Belinda’s round chin jutted out at a pugnacious angle. “In the last year, George has taken six prizes just with his little sloop. His investors were ecstatic.”

And now he was the prize. Something too obvious for Phoebe to point out.

“We’re all very proud of him.” The twisting of the truth tasted a little sour on Phoebe’s tongue. “And you for bearing up so bravely while he’s gone. But, my dear girl, we can only pray and trust God to take care of George. We can’t take matters into our own hands.”

“Of course we can.” Belinda’s lips curved. She suddenly resembled Phoebe’s cat after a nice bowl of cream. “I’ve already made the arrangements. That’s why I asked you to come here.”

Phoebe’s stomach knotted like Belinda’s fringe. “What . . .sort of arrangements could you have possibly made to get to England in the middle of the war?”

“Privateers are crossing the Atlantic all the time,” Belinda said. “I’ve simply taken berths for us on one of them.”

Phoebe shook her head. “You are not thinking clearly, Bel.

No American privateer captain would allow two women aboard for that kind of journey. No scrupulous captain,that is.”

“Who said anything about an American?” Belinda tossed her head of ebony curls. “An American ship couldn’t get close enough to land us in England.”

“Then how---?” Phoebe couldn’t finish the question. She feared the answer.

Belinda inclined her head as though Phoebe had spoken the right conclusion aloud. “We’re sailing on an English privateer.”

“Impossible.” Phoebe rose and stalked to the window, beyond which the night glittered with lights from plantations and boats on the James River, flickering sparks like fallen stars, like earthbound dreams. “It’s too dangerous. I

won’t go with you. It’s—well, it’s treachery to consort with the enemy.”

Belinda’s flawless white forehead puckered. “Not if we’re freeing an American, surely.”

“Yes, surely. And I won’t let you commit treason.”

“You can’t stop me.”

Belinda spoke the raw truth. Short of reporting her to the authorities and having her arrested, Phoebe couldn’t stop Belinda. She was three and twenty, three years younger than Phoebe, and her husband had left her in charge of their considerable

fortune in his absence.

“I’ll take the risk of being considered a traitor whether you accompany me or not. But---but---” Belinda faltered for the first time since making her announcement. “Phoebe, I need you to come with me.”

“You need someone to go with you, yes, but not me.” Phoebe turned back to face her sister-in-law. “You need a guard, a protector, half a dozen strong, well-armed men. I can write to Tabitha and Dominick. Dominick has powerful connections with the British still.”

“That will take too much time, and I don’t need his help.”

“You don’t need the help of someone my size either.”

“You’re a midwife,” Belinda broke in. “That’s why I need you.”

“Belinda, you’re not---”

But she was. Even as Phoebe protested, Belinda shoved her shawl off her shoulders. What the silk wrap and flickering candlelight had concealed since Phoebe’s arrival just before supper, the fine muslin of her nightgown revealed.

Belinda Lee Chapman was expecting a baby.

“When?” As her heart joined her stomach somewhere around her knees, Phoebe’s mind raced to the date of George’s last visit home. She didn’t know for certain. He slipped in and out of the Chapmans’ home in Williamsburg, and months had passed since Phoebe had seen Belinda, let alone her privateer husband.

“At least five months, as best I can estimate.”

“Are you certain?” Phoebe reached out her hands. “Let me examine you. You look further along than that.”

“I know when my husband was home.” Belinda’s voice held an edge.

Phoebe scrutinized Belinda’s middle with narrowed eyes. “Do you?”

“Of course.” Belinda wrapped her shawl around herself again. “I had a midwife confirm my condition when I began to suspect.”

Phoebe ground her teeth together and counted to ten to stop herself from shouting that she was a midwife, a well-trained one, who wanted nothing more than to practice, if only the ladies of Loudoun County would see her as more than a wealthy marriage prospect for their brothers, sons, nephews . . .

 “If you don’t want me as a midwife,” Phoebe managed with remarkable calm considering how her insides boiled, “then why do you want me to accompany you on your madcap journey?”

“Well, I want you for my midwife once we’re at sea, but not here. It’s just too embarrassing to have my sister-in-law examine me. I mean, I don’t eat at the same table with my midwife.”

“Then maybe you should take a different midwife with you.”

“I can’t.” Belinda sighed. “She has a family she doesn’t want to leave. And I didn’t think you’d mind leaving Leesburg.” Phoebe couldn’t disagree with that part. After all, she’d packed up and departed for Williamsburg the day she’d received

Belinda’s request.

“But I don’t want to leave on the ship of some enemy and possibly be tainted in this country.”

“He can’t be a real enemy if he wants to help free American prisoners.” Belinda smiled serenely. “We could be there and have George free before my confinement.”

“Or end up in an English or even an American prison ourselves,” Phoebe muttered. Rubbing her suddenly aching temples, she tried another tack. “Bel, this is the worst time for you to travel. All the jostling, the bad food, not to mention the danger

of attacks from the French or our own ships . . .” She gave her head an emphatic shake. “You could miscarry or even die.”

“What I can’t do,” Belinda said, “is leave my husband to rot in the hulk and condemn my unborn baby to never knowing his father.”

“Of course you can’t.” Phoebe resumed pacing, concentrating on treading only on the pink flowers in the carpet and avoiding the violet blossoms or green leaves. “I’ve prayed every morning and night for George to be safe and freed, and I know it will happen.”

 “Of course he will, because this opportunity presented itself.”

“Presented itself?” Phoebe spun toward Belinda, her right foot squarely in the middle of a violet. “How?”

“I don’t really know.” Belinda closed her eyes. “A man came to see me one night. He said his name is Rafael Docherty---Captain Docherty---and he told me of George’s capture, then he said he could help me get George free if I’d sail to

England with him. It was like an answer to prayer. I’d been feeling quite desperate about my dear George being a prisoner of war and how awful things are. His investors . . . well, they may want their money back, especially Mr. Brock. Then this man appeared like a message directly from the Lord.”

Phoebe sighed. “I don’t think the Lord meant childlike faith to be childish faith, Bel. But that’s what you’re demonstrating--- downright irresponsible---no, don’t cry. I know you must be upset by George’s imprisonment. It can’t be easy. But no

Englishman who would take a female across the Atlantic in the middle of a war is up to any good.”

“I don’t care what his reasons are.” Belinda drew a handkerchief out of her reticule and dabbed at her eyes. “If he helps me get George free, it’s worth every bit of risk.”

“Is it a risk George would want you to take?” Phoebe asked.

“Yes. Well . . .” Belinda dropped her gaze. “Maybe not, but it doesn’t matter now. It’s too late.”

“For what? Bel, before you do anything rash, we should tell your father---” Phoebe stared at her sister-in-law as she rose and trotted to the door of the dressing room.

A heartbeat before Belinda turned the handle, a floorboard creaked in the adjoining chamber. Phoebe caught the sound, then a scent, a tang of damp wool, salt air, tar. She bolted for the hallway door and the sensible servants beyond. Her hand closed over the latch, lifted. The door clicked.

Behind her, the dressing room door clicked. Footfalls trod on the carpet, silent but heavy enough to feel. Phoebe yanked open her portal. Arms closed around her from behind, pinning her arms to her side. She parted her lips to scream. A hand as hard as boot leather clamped over her mouth, stifling her scream but freeing one arm.

Kicking out with one foot, she swung her freed arm up and back. Her fist connected with flesh. A man grunted, grabbed her wrist, growled an oath.

Phoebe had never deliberately harmed anyone in her life. Now she twisted, turned, lashed out with her feet. And only managed to bruise her slippered heels. Prayers for deliverance and vows of revenge raced through her mind. She opened her mouth and bit hard into the calloused palm over her mouth.

Her captor gasped. “Can ye lads no’ help me? She’s a wild woman.”

Belinda let out a whimper. “Don’t hurt her.”

Too late for the minx to think of that.

Phoebe gritted her teeth and tasted blood. The stranger’s blood. Gagging, she spit. His hand jerked away. Before she could scream, another hand closed over her mouth and nose, cutting off her air.

“I need her well.” Belinda’s protest was the last thing Phoebe heard before the world turned black.

Heart's Safe Passage: The Midwives, Book 2
by by Laurie Alice Eakes