If you like an edge of thriller in your historical fiction, we’ve got some good news for you. Devil Darling Spy is hitting shelves January 21! This fast-paced follow-up to Orphan Monster Spy follows Sarah’s perilous journey as she hunts a rogue German doctor in Central Africa who might be a serial murderer. This unbearably high-stakes thriller pushes Sarah to face the worst that humanity is capable of–and challenges her to find reasons to keep fighting. Scroll down to read an excerpt!
August 23, 1940
THE SIREN SEEMED muffled. It was absorbed by the seemingly endless hills of mud, or it fled into the big gray sky and was gone. Either way, it didn’t seem particularly auspicious. It couldn’t even startle the few disinterested seagulls that continued to squat on the gray metal tube, as if it really was just a drainpipe left lying on the side of a hill. They failed to notice the cables and wires that straggled into the mire along its length, or the branches and offshoots of pipework welded into the main cylinder at regular intervals.
However, the gray tube and muddy slope did have a more interested audience elsewhere. The cables trailed away to form an intricate path of black rubber lines, down into the valley and back up the facing slope. At their end, five hundred meters away, was a concrete blockhouse sunk into the hilltop. Through a small slit running horizontally across its length, a dozen eyes watched and waited.
The darkness inside managed to be both stuffy and damp. The boards covering the floor were ill fitting and filthy, with muddy footprints, the walls bare and unadorned. A rusty radio hid in a corner, emitting a quiet metallic hiss.
“Zehn,” a voice crackled through the speaker.
The men straightened up and crowded toward the light. Their uniforms varied in color and design but shared a predominance of gold and silver braid, medals and epaulettes, and a thick sense of entitlement.
“Neun . . . Acht . . . Sieben . . .”
Even the least theatrical jackets had a great number of hoops, lines, and decorations. One man stood apart, in a dark suit, expensive coat, and hat.
“Sechs . . . Fünf . . .”
The man stared over someone’s garishly braided shoulder-board at the opposite hill, his bright blue eyes piercing and unreadable.
“. . . Vier . . . Drei . . . Zwei . . .”
There was a shuffle of anticipation.
“. . . Eins . . . Null!”
A swiftly rising whine built into separate hissing screams. Then sparks escaped from each of the pipe’s tributaries in an almost simultaneous cascade, creating one roaring sound from a chorus of individual howls. Fire exploded from the pipe’s summit with an unmistakable thunk, moments before the opening belched a cloud of thick black smoke.
The squawking of the scattering seagulls filled the sudden silence. There were a few tuts and disappointed noises from the assembled officers. Certainly the event seemed deeply anticlimactic.
“Did it work?” complained a portly Luftwaffe officer.
“Of course it worked, Oberst,” snapped a Heer Generalmajor. He looked to one side. “How far?” he barked.
A nervous soldier sitting next to the radio coughed.
“One moment.” There was some excited chatter through the speaker. He adjusted his headphones. “Approximately seventy, seven-oh, kilometers, General.”
The general swung around and, with a triumphant smile, opened his arms to the waiting officers.
“Seventy kilometers, gentlemen. Seventy . . . and this is just a quarter-sized scale model. As you can now appreciate, a full-sized example would have a range of some two hundred forty kilometers, deliver a shell weighing some half a ton . . . and fire every twenty seconds . . .”
“. . . if it’s reliable enough,” whined the Luftwaffe officer.
“The finished cannon will fire every twenty seconds, and unlike the Paris Gun, the K-Five, or any other traditional artillery piece, this gun barrel will not degrade and will not be damaged by repeated fire . . .”
“If it can be fired repeatedly . . .”
The distant scream tore through the room and stopped the argument dead.
A Schutzstaffel officer leaned toward the viewing window and started. “What on earth?”
Across the muddy valley a small figure in a red coat could be seen running from the cannon toward the blockhouse. She skidded and slid, almost toppling over in the deep sludge, but she remained upright and began to climb the hill.
She was pursued by two soldiers, themselves incapable of staying on their feet, twice falling into the sludge in their haste. The child’s beret fell off as she clambered up the slope, long braids of golden hair swinging as she moved.
“Gottverdammte . . .” swore the man in the dark suit loudly. “Herr Generalmajor, that is . . . She . . . Take me out there immediately.”
He turned for the door and began shooing the officers out of the way. They tried to move, but the room was crowded, so they bumped into one another in the gloom. Those farthest away were confused, and everyone began asking questions. By the time the door was opened and the man reached the top of the steps to the open air, trailing the Generalmajor, the girl had summited the brow of the hill.
She was maybe twelve years old, small and slight. Mud was plastered up her legs, and the hem of her coat was thick with sludge. Her eyes were red with tears, and her face was contorted in hysterical panic. Glistening snot ran from her nose.
“Onkel . . .” she howled, spotting the man and charging the final few meters toward him. She leapt onto him, forcing him to stagger back a few steps, almost crashing into the collection of officers who had gathered behind him. He managed to catch her weight in his arms and hugged her close.
“Ursula! I told you to wait in the car.”
“You were gone so long I didn’t think you were coming back,” she wailed, hyperventilating and hiccupping in her rush to spill the words out. “So I went looking for you and there was a big bang and then these soldiers started yelling at me and—”
“Apologize to the general at once!” he growled.
“Herr Haller . . .” The general coughed.
“Now, Ursula . . .”
“What was your daughter—” the general tried again.
“My niece, Herr Generalmajor . . .” Then he snapped at the girl: “Ursula!”
“Sorry, Herr Generalmajor,” the girl wailed and, with a shriek, began to sob again.
“We must leave . . . Gentlemen.” The man nodded to the crowd of uniforms behind the general and began to stride away over the hilltop.
“Herr Haller . . .”
“A most exciting test, Herr Generalmajor. I look forward to the contract,” the man called over his shoulder and the crying of the little girl.
The general found himself staring at the retreating figure, as did the guards and officers. After a moment the spell broke, and everyone shambled back to the bunker, murmuring as if nothing had happened at all.
The man closed the car door and started the engine. The Mercedes grunted in the cold air and came to life. The little girl in the passenger seat stopped crying and tossed stray hairs away from her face. After a long, wet snort, she snapped her fingers at the man. He handed her a folded handkerchief that she shook loose before blowing her nose noisily.
“I’m getting too old for this Quatsch,” she spat.
The man smiled. “Did you get it?”
“Of course,” she murmured, pulling what looked like a large gray firework from her coat.
“Then you aren’t too old.”
She made a face and then held the device up to the daylight that limped through the windshield. “I don’t understand the fuss. This is just an oversized firecracker.”
“Rocket-propelled shells. Bad news for London,” he said, and then glanced down at something else that Sarah was holding. “What’s that?”
It was a piece of porcelain, like part of a large cereal bowl.
“They were everywhere,” Sarah said, holding it up to the light. “Hundreds of pieces. Is it important?”
“Maybe . . . You measured the barrel?”
“Hm-hm.” She teased phlegm from her hair. “And I’d have rewired it, too, if that Schwachkopf hadn’t stumbled into me.”
“Yes, right.” She laughed.
“Seriously. You better not talk like that at the next party, Sarah Goldstein of Elsengrund. What will the cream of Berlin high society think?”
“Don’t worry, I won’t be there. I’ll be bringing Ursula Haller, the sweet little National Socialist darling, instead.”