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The Civil War has turned neighbor against neighbor—but for one scientist spy and her philosopher soldier, war could bind them together . . .
For all of the War Between the States, Marlie Lynch has helped the cause in peace: with coded letters about anti-Rebel uprisings in her Carolina woods, tisanes and poultices for Union prisoners, and silent aid to fleeing slave and Freeman alike. Her formerly enslaved mother’s traditions and the name of a white father she never knew have protected her—until the vicious Confederate Home Guard claims Marlie’s home for their new base of operations in the guerilla war against Southern resistors of the Rebel cause.
Unbeknowst to those under her roof, escaped prisoner Ewan McCall is sheltering in her laboratory. Seemingly a quiet philosopher, Ewan has his own history with the cruel captain of the Home Guard, and a thoughtful but unbending strength Marlie finds irresistible.
When the revelation of a stunning family secret places Marlie’s freedom on the line, she and Ewan have to run for their lives into the hostile Carolina night. Following the path of the Underground Railroad, they find themselves caught up in a vicious battle that could dash their hopes of love—and freedom—before they ever cross state lines.
Praise for An Extraordinary Union
“Brimming with vivid characterization, heartfelt dialogue, and sensual sweetness.”
—Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW
“An exceptional story that both educates and entertains and beautifully launches a unique series.”
Library Journal STARRED REVIEW
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Randolph County, North Carolina, April 1863
Somewhere outside of the prison walls, a Kentucky Warbler chirruped, reminding Ewan McCall of days spent searching for flashes of brilliant yellow plumage in the underbrush near his family's home. He wasn't a man prone to nostalgia, but the sound stirred something in him before it was lost amidst the racket of hammer meeting metal and men shouting as they worked.
Ewan pulled his thin jacket, a poor barter for a pair of shoes he'd purchased from a guard, closer around him in the chill afternoon air. Some of the prisoners longed for the warmth of late spring to arrive, but after his bids at Libby, Castle Thunder, and Florence during the warmer months, Ewan didn't count himself among them. Fleas and other vermin reveled in the sun's warmth like contented picnic goers; he didn't relish the thought of what the prison would be like when the first heat wave hit.
He didn't intend to be around to find out.
He rubbed his hands together and watched as prisoners laid pieces of curved metal over the creek that traversed the prison grounds; officers and infantrymen were lined up along the creek, some referring to the plans Ewan had sketched, others running back and forth carrying supplies. The project had given the men something to keep themselves occupied and, more importantly, it would benefit the prison population. The water source had served a number of uses for the thousand or so men in the camp, Union soldier and Rebel deserter alike, turning it into a source of disease. That would change now.
"Make sure the pieces are aligned correctly here," Ewan said, kneeling beside a sallow-skinned man who struggled with a wrench. "There should be an opening to allow for outflow when there's heavy rain."
The man nodded, clearly not as invested in the outcome as Ewan but, like most soldiers, willing to follow orders.
Warden Dilford walked up and stood beside them, gaze jumping anxiously between Ewan and the work being done. The man had come to Randolph around the same time as Ewan, and after four months of command still hadn't acclimated to his position of power. Given what most men did with power when they hadn't worked overmuch for it, Ewan was glad of that.
"So, because the prisoners will no longer be able to pollute the stream with their various, er, bodily functions, there will be fewer outbreaks of sickness and fewer deaths."
Dilford spoke slowly, making sure he understood Ewan's earlier explanation thoroughly, likely because he would soon be passing it off as his own idea. That was fine by Ewan. If Dilford claiming the idea meant it would be utilized at other prisons, all the better. Ewan had no need of glory; he was quite comfortable on the margins of life, observing. He also had other, more pressing reasons for avoiding attention.
"Yes, that's exactly it, Warden." Ewan stood, his gaze still fixed on the work, tracking the placement of rivets and nails. The small details were the only things one really had control over, though most men overlooked them in search of some grand purpose. Fools. Ewan knew that true power resided in life's minutiae, like exactly how far back a finger could bend before breaking or how much pain a man could take before he forgot about loving Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy, and even his own mother. But Ewan was in prison now, free from the kind of details that had become his field of study since the War Between the States had commenced.
A burst of noise erupted from a group of officers as they haggled over a small shovel with a soldier clad in a threadbare shirt. Ewan was surprised to see them clamoring for such base work. They lived in the nicer — relatively — clapboard accommodations instead of a patched-together tent like Ewan's, and generally avoided the lower ranking men. Ewan wasn't a lower ranking man, of course, but they wouldn't have known that. Ewan had gone to some pains to ensure that no one would.
Ewan noticed a fellow Union man from Ohio holding his hammer incorrectly as he battered at a nail, but ignored the itch to correct him. One need only worry about one's own faults, and Ewan had plenty to think on. The men at Randolph felt they didn't belong there, and with good reason, as they were generally imprisoned for the crime of fighting for the Union. That was one of the many differences between Ewan and his fellow inmates. He did belong there, and for the same reason.
When he'd enlisted, everyone had thought his reserved, peculiar nature meant he'd make a terrible soldier. They'd been correct. However, he'd quickly been given an assignment that made use of his attention to detail and his unbending sense of logic. Logic could be applied to all kinds of situations, and not all of them pleasant.
"You're a middling soldier, McCall, but it appears you can be of assistance to the Union in another way. ..."
He scrubbed his fingers through the itchy auburn scruff that he still hadn't acclimated to. A daily shave had been sacrosanct before his capture, but the beard kept him warm in the Carolina winter — and unrecognizable to any Rebs he might have interrogated before his capture.
"The spigots along the sides will allow prisoners access to the water for drinking, washing, and cooking, but the metal laid over the creek will cut down on the detritus," Ewan explained to Dilford again, "as will the mesh over the opening of the pipe's entrance through the stockade. That will have to be cleaned, daily if possible."
"Detritus. Right. We can get the Negro workers to do that when they come clean the officers' quarters and the latrines," Dilford said.
"The slaves," Ewan corrected. "The term 'worker' implies that payment is provided to them for their services. It is not."
Ewan had learned to rein in the impulse for correction when in general company — his brother, Malcolm, and sister, Donella, had grown so tired of his pedantry over the years that they'd taken to throwing things whenever he went on a tear — but some things he didn't allow to pass without comment. If Ewan wanted to be more precise, he might call them illegally detained emancipated slaves, given Lincoln's recent proclamation, but 'slave' sufficed. If the Southerners couldn't bear to call their human chattel by the proper name for them, then why had they started this ungodly war?
"Warden, got some fresh meat coming!" a guard called out.
"The, um. They can ensure that's done," Dilford said, looking back over his shoulder to nod at the guard. "Thank you for your assistance."
He turned and walked off toward the watch house. Guards in gray uniforms strolled along the ramparts, their eyes trained on the dead line that surrounded the perimeter of the prison — so named because anyone who crossed it was a dead man. Ewan saw the next shift of guards approaching and noted, again, how the on-duty guards looked away from their posts for a minute or so as they chatted and traded friendly jibes with their replacements. Such details always had some kind of value, and Ewan was excellent at exploiting the finer points in life.
"We've been going back and forth about the location of this stolen artillery for an hour now. I see you're determined to be obstinate," Ewan said. "In that case, maybe we should begin discussing anatomy."
"Anatomy?" the Rebel soldier asked. "Sure, we can talk 'bout that, since I ain't got nothin' else to say to a yellow-bellied Yank."
"Very well." Ewan pulled out the long, thin strip of metal his commanding officer had provided him. "Let's start with the joints."
"Hey, Red, the library is here," his business associate Keeley said, sidling up with a grin and drawing Ewan's attention back to the present. The dark- haired Irishman knew that Ewan spent as much time as he could with his face between the pages of a book. He also knew that when the book cart came, so did more supplies for the little prison business that kept them both afloat in an environment that led men to desperation and despair if they weren't resourceful. Did Keeley suspect anything else?
Ewan fought the growing sense of urgency that pushed him to turn and search through the camp until he found the wagon of books — and the woman who pulled it. He spotted familiar faces among the Negroes who came every two weeks with an offer of succor for the prisoners from their employer — he didn't call them slaves because they were actually paid, or so he'd heard. The woman who dispatched her staff every other week, Sarah Lynch, pushed every boundary a person could in the Confederate South without waving the Stars and Stripes, but always stayed just shy of anything that could get her charged with treason. He'd seen her once, soon after his first arrival: small, straight-backed, and lying through her teeth as she convinced the warden that it was simple Christian charity that drove her actions.
Ewan valued honesty, but he wouldn't fault her for lies made in the service of the greater good. His brother, Malcolm, lied to preserve the Union, and Ewan had done much worse in the same service. Sarah Lynch's lies meant that the inmates at Randolph were able to live slightly better than most prisoners of war — and that information flowed in and out that otherwise wouldn't. It helped her cause that if the prisoners shared in the bounty of her farm's harvest, so did the soldiers guarding them. The Rebel guards borrowed books from the same book cart, and the sick men of both sides asked for assistance from the woman he was currently seeking — not Sarah, but the woman whose gentle smile made Ewan question his principles each time she appeared within the confines of the stockade.
Something drew his gaze to the left, and there she was, kneeling next to a man laid out on the ground — one of the draft dodgers who had been hauled in by the Home Guard. The hunt for deserters had been in full swing since the winter, and their number at the prison camp grew every day. It was starting to seem to Ewan that the men in Randolph County who were against the Confederacy just might outnumber those who were for the blasted Rebels.
"This will get your fever down, John," she said, handing him a small bottle full of amber liquid, then digging into her apron pocket. "Take a sip when you wake up, at midday, and at night before you sleep. And chew one of these after you eat — do not swallow, you hear? That will help you keep your food down."
The sick prisoner took the handful of dark green leaves she pressed into his hand and nodded weakly.
Ewan's feet started to move toward her, acting seemingly of their own accord.
"You know how my Hattie's doing? And the chil'ren?" John asked. "I don't think David can handle the sowing alone, and Penny kills every crop she touches. Nicknamed her Pestilence." He chuckled, then shifted uncomfortably. "Hattie was sick, last I saw her. I told her to stop bringing me food into the woods, that she'd catch her death or get caught by the militia, but she was too good to me."
"They're faring well," Marlie said. There was the slightest hitch in her voice before the word "well," as if she'd considered another less optimistic one. "The crops didn't take, but we've been making sure they've got food. Don't you worry about that."
John nodded and she gave him a pat on the shoulder, then stood and brushed the dust from her skirts. Her gray gown was well made but simple; it lacked the hoops and other gaudy accoutrements that would have distracted from her figure beneath it.
My kingdom for a crinoline, Ewan thought as he turned his eyes away from the clearly outlined curves that strained against the material as she bent to adjust her hem. He couldn't look away from her for long though; he'd counted to five once, and that was the longest he'd lasted.
Her skin was a smooth light brown, throwing up undertones of yellow where the sun hit it. Her dark, curly hair was pulled back into a chignon, leaving her face, with its full mouth and pert nose, open for perusal. He'd noticed every detail of her face the first time he saw her, but it still took him aback with its loveliness every time. He'd once visited an exhibition of Greek art and seen a beautifully restored amphora. He'd been overwhelmed with the desire to hold it in his hands, an all-consuming urge that had nearly driven him to climb over the ropes separating the art from the public and seize it. The feeling that built in him when he saw Marlie was frighteningly similar.
She grabbed the handle of her cart and pulled, starting off in the opposite direction.
"Miss Marlie?" He felt a tickle of anxiety that she might leave before they had a chance to speak.
She looked over her shoulder at him and Ewan's heart leapt up into his throat. He knew it was anatomically impossible, but the strange shift in his chest and tightness in his trachea only happened when she appeared. He couldn't pretend it was simply the fact that she was a woman — other women had come and paraded along the ramparts, watching the imprisoned Union men like they were animals in a zoological exhibition, with little effect on him. Mastering his emotions had been the work of a lifetime, for both personal and practical reasons, and yet ... there he stood, staring at Marlie like a raccoon caught in the grain silo.
Her mismatched eyes were still as shocking as the first time he'd seen her. It should have been an imperfection, one brown eye and one green, but instead it gave her an ethereal air.
Was that pleasure in her expression? It wasn't something he was used to seeing directed toward him, and his heart thudded a bit harder. If she knew him for what he truly was, those indentations around her mouth wouldn't have deepened as she smiled.
"Oh. Good morning, Socrates. I've been looking for you."
Ewan felt his cheeks flame at the nickname she'd given him after their first encounter: He'd requested Greek philosophy from her book cart, and when she handed him a book of mythology, he'd responded with a lengthy correction on the difference between the two. He hadn't meant to; something about her had jangled his nerves. The more attentively she'd listened as he droned on about the difference between Homer and Hermagoras, the more donnish he'd become. He'd finally cut himself off and proffered an apology, as he'd been instructed by his mother and brother, but she'd simply smiled indulgently and said, "Never apologize for sharing your knowledge," before moving on to the next man.
Ewan had wanted to kick himself. His older brother, Malcolm, had been gifted with the talent of making women swoon from a hundred paces, while Ewan could bore them to sleep within a hundred words. He thought flirting and seduction to be petty wastes of a man's wit, but for the first time he'd wished he knew what to say to make a woman — Marlie specifically — think him dashing instead of dreary. He chalked up the strange impulse to prison-induced boredom.
The next time she'd come, she'd handed him a book entitled The Stoics of Ancient Greece. There'd been comments penciled into the margins of the book, agreeing with or challenging certain points. It was in a copy of Plato's Republic that the first note directed to him had appeared on the flyleaf page. "Dear Socrates, No one else in my acquaintance cares for my thoughts on a long dead Greek, so I shall share them with you. ..."
She'd gone on to impugn everything he believed in, but that hadn't stopped him from carefully ripping the page out and rereading each looping word by the light of the fires that dotted the prison yard every night. He had several such pages, stuffed into his pocket. They passed a few moments discussing her thoughts each time she came, cordially, as if he didn't know the loop and slope of her words intimately.
"Hello," he said when he finally reached her. His voice sounded overly forceful even to his own ears, and he tried to inject a bit of diffidence into his tone. "I have another letter to send to my family, if that's all right. And I was wondering if you'd perhaps been able to procure the supplies I requested." He wondered more than that as he watched the corners of her lips turn up. The shape of her mouth, wide and lush, was perfection. Literally. He'd spent enough time reflecting on it to know it was symmetrical, harmonious, and well-proportioned: the Golden Mean in the flesh, and inspiration for thoughts that no man who was truly master of himself should be having.
She looked around, making sure no guards were watching, and then handed him a small pouch, grabbing the letter at the same time and tucking it into her bag in a smooth, practiced motion. The bag landed in his palm with a metallic clink. "I have no idea what you need these for, but here they are. I have something else for you as well. I saw it and thought of you."
Excerpted from "A Hope Divided"
Copyright © 2017 Alyssa Cole.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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