Hugh is intrigued by this courageous spy the natives call "War Woman." She's more daring than most men and is intelligent in defending her convictions. Even more impressive to Hugh is the strength of Tyra's unshakeable faith in God.
When Tyra saves his life during an attack, Hugh vows to return the favor. Before he can intervene, however, she is caught by his superior officer and imprisoned. Soon Hugh's honor, faith, country, and love are all on the line. Can he risk it all to gain everything?
Read the First Chapter!
For Love or Country
Wilmington, NC (1781)
Tyra MacGregor did not want the Christmas feast to end. She leaned back in her wooden chair and peered at her family gathered around the long dining table, laughing and talking in jovial spirits. It had been a miracle her father, Lieutenant Malcolm MacGregor, and her elder brothers, Callum and Scott, were given a few days off from the Continental Army to spend Christmas with them. This time when they left, they would be taking her younger brother, Alec, now that he had turned ten and five. Tyra blinked back sudden tears as a searing ache twisted her insides.
“Lauren, this was a delicious meal.” Da leaned over and gave their mother a kiss on her rosy cheek. They shared an intimate glance of love and devotion. Tears sprang to her mother’s blue eyes. Tyra looked away, unable to witness the emotional exchange as the back of her own throat constricted.
“I did not prepare it alone, Malcolm.” Mama’s voice carried down the long table. “Tyra’s cooking skills have greatly improved since ye’ve been away at war.”
“Indeed?” Her father lifted a russet eyebrow, as the corners of his mouth curled in an approving grin. A full beard and thick mustache layered with gray specks in his reddish-golden whiskers branded its mark into her memory. “Then I daresay, well done, lass.”
“Thank ye, Da.” Tyra forced a tender smile to hide her fearful worry. Thinking of her gift to them, genuine joy crept into the muscles of her tense face. “And now I have a surprise for you all.”
“Dessert?” Kirk’s voice cracked as he shoved his empty plate aside. At ten and three, her youngest brother often suffered the embarrassment of his tones vibrating from his throat. He rubbed his hands. “I thought I smelled a sweet treat earlier.”
Tyra took his empty plate and placed it on top of hers, biting her bottom lip to keep from blurting out the answer. She whirled and stepped toward Alec.
“No, leave mine.” Alec threw a hand out to protect his unfinished plate. “I intend to eat every bite.” He glanced at their father and older brother, Scott. “I do not know when I might have the blessing of another home-cooked meal after this day.”
Tyra paused, her gaze meeting Alec’s brown eyes. Her heart thumped against her ribs in an attempt to stomp down the rising grief welling inside her. Even though she was only ten and seven, she believed Alec was too young for war. She didn’t care if other lads his age had already signed up these past five years. Many of them were gone from this world. The knowledge alone made her want to drop the plates and wrap her arms around him and beg Alec to stay. Others who had enlisted at his age continued to survive like her eldest brother, Scott. They had grown into fine young men, accustomed to the ways of war, always fighting for their freedom.
“I wanna go!” Kirk plopped his elbow on the table and set his chin on his palm. A disgruntled expression marred his forehead. “I am not much younger than Alec.”
“Hold yer tongue.” Mama’s blue eyes were like the crystal frost outside as late evening approached. She toyed with the wrist of her cream-colored blouse, her dark blond hair coiled into a French bun. “’Tis bad enough I must part with three sons and a husband. They can at least leave me one son.”
Tyra gulped, hating the tide of emotion threatening their last moments together. She carried the plates from the dining room to the kitchen where she placed them on the table. As she pulled out the dessert plates, her mother entered. She wiped at her eyes and took a deep breath. At five feet and eleven inches, Tyra towered over her mother by at least five inches, but she didn’t let it stop her as she threw a comforting arm around her mother’s shoulders.
“Mama, do not worry. God will keep them safe.” Tyra hoped her voice sounded more certain than she felt. “Da, Callum, and Scott have been safe these past few years. We must have faith for Alec as well.”
“Of course, yer quite right.” Mama grabbed the extra plates and gave her a grateful smile as she reached up and cupped Tyra’s cheek. Thin lines framed the corner of her mother’s eyes, but she still looked young at two scores and one. “I am thankful I have ye here to remind me, lass.” She motioned to the dessert tray and waved Tyra forward. “Now on with ye, they are waiting.”
Tyra hurried to the dining room and set the tray before her father. “I hope you all saved room for my cinnamon gingerbread cake. ’Tis a small Christmas gift I want to give each of you.”
“Then we shall cherish it.” Her father rewarded her with a wide grin, reaching for the small plate with eager anticipation. He grabbed a fork and carved out a bite. With slow precision, he slid it into his mouth as he watched Tyra and chewed. He nodded in appreciation. “Mmm, quite good.”
“Thank you, Da.” Tyra said, pleased her father liked it. “Now, the rest of you must try it.”
“I am ready.” Kirk leaned up on his elbows against the dining table and drummed his hands on the surface. He beat out a ditty of “Free America.” “See? I could be a drummer. Plenty of boys my age have enlisted.”
“Well, ye shall not be one of them,” Mama said, as she set a plate by Alec and Scott. “Mind yer manners, lad.”
Tyra cut slices for each of them before carving a slice for herself. She enjoyed the sweet taste of the moist cake on her tongue. With the British blockade along the coast, they had learned to do without certain supplies and cooking ingredients. Sugar was rare, but the Tuscarora Indians who lived in the nearby swamp provided them with honey. She had been able to barter for it over the past couple of months to save what little sugar they had left in anticipation of their upcoming Christmas feast.
“Someone has been making you into a fine cook while we have been gone.” Callum sat back with a satisfied grin and pushed his empty plate aside. “’Tis good to be home again, all of us together one more time. I will cherish this fond memory in the months to come.” His brown eyes glistened in the candlelight as he blinked back moisture and looked away. When he had first arrived yesterday, she had hardly recognized him with a full beard and mustache. She was glad he had shaved it off. He now looked more like the brother she remembered with the exception of his somber mood. Tyra could only imagine what horrible images lurked in his mind from the war. He no longer acted like a young vibrant man of only a score of years to his credit, but a seasoned man who had seen too much of life.
Tyra glanced at Scott to see if he shared the same sentiment as Callum. Scott cleared his throat and looked down, hiding his blueeyed gaze. His blond hair looked darker than she remembered, most definitely longer, tied back in a ribbon at his neck like her father.
Always the charmer in their family, Scott had changed as well. He was more pensive and quiet than she had ever known him to be. At ten and eight, he had only been serving for three years, unlike her father and Callum.
“Mama is a patient teacher,” Tyra said, breaking the silence. She glanced at her mother, knowing herself to be a difficult pupil with her unladylike qualities and lack of interest in domestic skills. She and her mother had set aside their differences and worked together, while the men were away from their rice plantation at The MacGregor Quest. Tyra taught her mother to shoot a rifle and a pistol, while she made more of an effort to wear constricting gowns and assisted with more household chores—like cooking.
“Tyra has turned out to be quite a teacher herself.” Mama winked at her as she took a bite of her cake. “There has been too much strife in Wilmington of late between the Whigs and the Tories, so I decided the boys should receive their education here under Tyra’s guidance.”
“Aye, she is more like a growling bear,” Kirk grumbled, reaching for another slice of cake.
“No!” Tyra snatched the plate from his grasp, covering its contents with a protective hand. “The rest is for Da and our brothers. I wanted them to have at least one more slice to remind them of home whence they leave on the morrow.”
Kirk gave her a scowl, but sat back without another protest. He glanced at his father and brothers, his green eyes wide with concern. Tyra knew he felt the same fear as she—that it might be the last time they were all together. Most of his childhood had been stolen by the War of Independence. Soon they would welcome the year of seventeen eighty-one.
“Let us retire to the parlor.” Mama stood with a smile. It brighten the dark room lit only by a few candles which made shadows dance upon the paneled walls. Even the fruit painting by a local artist hung on the wall in darkness. A slight chill hovered at the glass windows of the dining room with no fire to warm them. “Kirk, go build us a warm fire in the parlor.” Her brother hurried to carry out their father’s bidding.
Frantic beating on the front door sent alarm through Tyra as she exchanged worried glances with the rest of the family. Who would dare interrupt their Christmas? Most of their neighbors would be at home celebrating with their own families. “Lieutenant MacGregor! I have new orders for you.” A man’s voice called through the door. More knocking followed.
“Wait here. I shall only be a moment.” Da’s boots clicked across the wooden floor as he left the dining room and entered the foyer. The sound of him unlocking the latch and sliding it back grated on Tyra’s nerves. The hinges creaked and low voices conversed. A few moments later, he closed the door and walked back into the dining room. Tyra held her breath.
“I am sorry,” Da said, standing at the threshold. “General Greene has gained new information and is calling all the troops back to service. We must leave now.”
“Can it not wait till the morn when ye had already planned to leave?” Disappointment carried in Mama’s tone. Her chin trembled as she lifted fingers to her lips as if to still the motion. Her gaze slid to each son and lingered on the three eldest. “I had hoped to have a wee bit more time.”
“Me too, my love, but ’tis not to be.” Da took a deep breath of regret. “Leaving now will make the difference of eight hours of travel.”
“When will ye sleep?” Mama asked. “War does not always give us time to sleep.” Callum stood to his feet. Scott and Alec followed his example. “Da, I shall prepare the horses.”
“Excellent.” He motioned to Scott. “Pack us some food.” “I shall help.”
Tyra launched into action, standing to her feet. Her head swirled in denial as her legs moved of their own accord. The back of her throat went dry, while it seemed as if stones churned in her stomach. The moment she had dreaded was now upon them.
Captain Donahue Morgan bristled as the hairs upon his neck and arms rose, crawling over his flesh. They were being watched and their red uniforms were like a bull’s target. He held up his hand to signal the four soldiers following his lead. Their mounts slowed to a stop. Hugh listened as he gazed into the layered forest of green pine needles and bare branches of oak and poplar trees. The earthy scent of fresh pine and melted snow drifted through the air. No sound of human life caught his notice, but winter birds sang and flew above them. Wiry bushes dotted the thick woods full of dark shadows where anyone could be crouched in hiding, waiting to ambush them.
The only map in his possession wasn’t drawn to scale, so he feared they might have wandered off the path to Wilmington. The drawing lacked significant landmarks and could have been more insightful. His superior officer had given it to him when he commissioned Hugh to find two of their ranking officers and negotiate their freedom from the rebel Continentals. Hugh could not fail. One of them was Colonel Neil Morgan, his elder brother.
A shiver of foreboding slithered up his spine and branched over his neck and shoulders. If Hugh had learned anything during his time in the colonies, it was the fact these blasted rebels did not fight fair like an upstanding British soldier, full of honor and courage. Instead, they would take cover behind rocks and trees, picking off His Majesty’s Royal Army one by one like the red-skinned savages he had heard about.
“Get ready,” Hugh unsheathed his sword from his side. “We are not alone.” He kept his voice low as he continued to watch the woods around them. Hugh saw and heard nothing that would alert him to danger, but surviving the last three ambushes in South Carolina with his full regiment had given him enough experience to trust his instincts.
The birds above flew away. Eerie silence followed. Hugh tensed. The sound of a rushing wind sailed by him. A low thud hit the man behind him and a gut-wrenching moan wrestled from him. Hugh twisted to see his comrade clutch the arrow in his chest, a look of shock and then pain carved his expression into a memory of guilt and it would not soon leave Hugh. His friend paled and fell from his horse.
“Go!” Hugh urged his mount forward. Arrows whistled past them from every direction. They were surrounded and outnumbered. Strangely dressed men left the cover of the trees with loud shrilling sounds which vibrated through Hugh’s head. He maneuvered his horse around one dark-skinned man who met his gaze, lifted his bow and arrow, and took aim. On instinct, Hugh dropped his head and tried to crouch his large frame behind his horse’s mighty neck. As Hugh raced by the Indian, pain sliced into his left side. It felt like someone had branded him with the end of a red-hot iron poker, fresh from a burning fire.
Air gushed from Hugh’s lungs, as another fallen comrade landed in the dirt behind him. The man’s horse neighed and reared up on its hind legs, his hooves pounding thin air. Hugh raced on, eager to escape the same fate. He could not fail in this mission. Who else would rescue his brother? Clenching his teeth against the increasing pain in his side, Hugh blinked to clear his vision and leaned forward with determination.
More shrieks and warrior cries bounced through the forest, and they followed him. As near as he could tell, most of the Indians were on foot. Two of them climbed upon the horses of his two fallen comrades and chased after Hugh and his last remaining friend. They knew the layout of the land better than Hugh, and it showed as they caught up with them. Hugh ducked and leaned to the left and right to avoid the large tree branches, but he couldn’t miss the sting of some of the smaller ones as they slashed across his face and neck. A cut above his eyes poured blood into his blurry vision. With each breath, his heart continued striking against the inside of his chest like a fist that wouldn’t stop.
“Argh! They got me, Hugh!” Miles called to him.
“Just hang on and keep going.” Hugh glanced over his shoulder. The movement twisted the arrow still lanced into his side and caused a wave of dizziness to wash over him.
Something pierced his left thigh, stinging his flesh. Shock reverberated through his system as he glanced down to see another arrow had hit his leg. Warm blood oozed over his breeches, soaking and discoloring the white material. Hugh struggled to stay seated as his energy evaporated, and his remaining strength drained with his life’s blood. The jarring of his winded horse pushed both arrows deeper. Hugh groaned from the pain and almost lost consciousness.
The two Indians closed in on him from the front, and Hugh couldn’t find the strength to guide his horse in another direction. Instead, the animal slowed to a trot, then walked, until he stopped altogether. The Indians grabbed the reins and pulled Hugh down. Hugh grabbed his side as he landed on his right hip and gritted his teeth in agony.
A moment later, Miles landed beside him. Blood now soaked his shirt beneath the opening of his red coat. His pale face was testament to how much blood he had already lost. Hugh hoped their end would be swift and merciful. The thought of more torture was enough to make him pray for death. Instead, he sat still and held his head up when he could find the strength. He would not be a coward. If he had to die, he wanted it to be with honor.
“I am Red Fox,” said the man who had stared at Hugh and shot him in the side. “You on MacGregor land. They fight redcoats.” He pointed at them. “You enemy. We take you to War Woman.” He bent and broke the long stem of the arrow sticking out of Hugh’s thigh and side. Red Fox moved over and did the same for Miles.
“A woman?” Hugh blinked with a weary sigh. His body swayed one way and then the other, his head numb from a loss of blood. “Dying . . . by the hand . . . of a woman . . .” Hugh took a deep breath to gather what little strength he had left. “Has no honor.” His head rolled back on his shoulders and his blurry vision saw a mixture of colors and light. “Kill us now.”
The next morning Tyra slid the latch back and swung open the side kitchen door. The rising sun cast an orange-pink glow across the slanted gray clouds. The frigid air promised another cold day, but it didn’t look like more snow would fall. As much as she enjoyed the rare snow, she rubbed her hands in a silent thank-you to the Almighty. Harsh weather would make things harder on her father and brothers.
With The MacGregor Quest plantation located southeast of Wilmington, their homestead overlooked the road and a semi-circle dirt drive. On the other side, lay the Cape Fear River, shimmering like diamonds when the sun’s rays angled upon the surface of the water. The swampy woods served as their only neighbors on the right and on the left their rice fields extended for several acres beyond the stables. Tyra followed the familiar path to the well on the swampy side. Patches of snow still lingered where their house shaded the ground. A thick white frost covered the rest.
As she walked toward the well, her black boots crunched against the stiff white frost layering the grass like thick pie crust. She breathed in the crisp air, allowing it to cleanse her lungs. Winter was here, so they kept the doors and windows closed and the hearths burning, but at times it almost stifled them.
The sound of men’s voices carried in the breeze. Tyra paused and tilted her head to hear better. A horse snorted. It sounded like they were on the other side of the house by the swamp. She rushed back to the house and entered through the front door to keep from alarming her mother who was no doubt still in the kitchen.
Hurrying down the hall, Tyra tried to keep her footsteps light. She opened her father’s study and reached above the hearth to lift the rifle from where it hung on the wall. A quick search in the desk drawer revealed a pouch containing round bullets and gunpowder. Tyra loaded the rifle as her father had shown her and slipped out of the study. She rushed down the hall and out the front door, determined to meet the men before they reached the house. Lifting the hem of her brown skirt, Tyra ran down the porch steps, hoping she wouldn’t trip. She rounded the corner and lifted the rifle, taking aim.
“War Woman, we bring you redcoats!” Red Fox called out. He led two horses carrying wounded British soldiers. Both men looked unconscious as they lay over the back of each horse with broken arrows sticking out of them. Tyra’s gaze scanned the somber expression of the other ten Tuscarora Indians surrounding them. She lowered her rifle in stark confusion. “They on MacGregor Land. Redcoats enemy to MacGregor.”
“What happened?” The words slipped from Tyra’s mouth before she could halt them. She hoped her tone did not sound like an accusation. Would this deed now bring British wrath down upon their heads? They had heard rumors the British were heading toward Wilmington. She had to find a way to protect her mother and Kirk. How could she make this right?
“We bring them for justice.” Red Fox continued walking toward her. Tyra knew him to be a fair man, but he did not always understand the white man’s ways. She wished her father was here to speak for her.
“You found them on MacGregor land?” Fear iced up Tyra’s spine, but she stiffened to keep from shivering. Fear would not aid her now. Instead, she hoped to draw strength from the Lord and the wits He gave her just as her mother had always done. She lifted her chin and met his gaze. “Were there more of them?”
“We killed two others.” Red Fox turned to glance back at the wounded men and nodded his dark head toward them. “These two live. We bring them to War Woman. You decide fate.”
“What were they doing?” she asked.
“Riding to your house. Your father and brothers gone. We stop them.” He pointed to one of the men with an arrow in his side and thigh. “This one must be leader.”
“What did you do with the others?” Tyra accepted the reins of the two horses he handed over to her. “I have heard more redcoats are coming. I do not want your tribe to be in danger.” Tyra thought of his wife and daughter, a close friend from childhood. “Their army has too many soldiers, many more than the small tribe you have left in the swamps.”
“We will bury them as your people do.” He nodded his head to the two wounded men. “How will you judge them?”
“I shall try and get them to talk. I cannot fight hundreds of soldiers when they come, but if I save their lives, the new soldiers may give my family mercy.”
Red Fox laughed and exchanged doubtful glances with his friends. “Few white men understand mercy. Your father and brothers rare.”
Tyra swallowed at the memory of their smiling faces at the Christmas feast. A hollow spot formed in her throat. She gripped the reins tight in her hand. “You speak the truth, but I must try. I am only one woman. I cannot fight hundreds of soldiers.”
“War Woman fight with wisdom.” Red Fox pointed to his own head. “If you need us, you find us in swamp.”
“Indeed, I will.” Tyra nodded.
Red Fox motioned to his men and they followed him back to the woods.
A groan caught Tyra’s attention. She looked over to see the one with two arrows grimacing in his semi-conscious state. If she didn’t hurry, he would soon awaken and the pain would be unbearable.
Tyra led the horses to the front of the house where it would be easier to carry them inside. Indecision wrestled in her heart. How would she get them down and drag them inside without causing them further damage and pain? She couldn’t leave them like this to die.