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Temperance’s Trial IS FREE in e-book format at the following booksellers:
Olivia Kimbrell Press
EBook ISBN: 9781939603456
Temperance’s Trial is available in paperback as part of the Complete Virtues and Valor Series.
You can purchase an autographed paperback of The Complete Virtues and Valor Series directly from Hallee at this link.
You can also purchase the paperback at the following booksellers:
The Back Cover:
The Third Reich Seeks to Extract the Information She Alone Knows
MARIE GILBERT and her elder brother flee from Vichy France after the Gestapo arrest her father for suspicion of aiding Jewish children to escape the oncoming fascist front. Once in London, Marie is recruited into an experimental all female cohort dubbed the Virtues, a collection of seven extraordinary women with highly specialized skills.
Known only by her code name, TEMPERANCE, she is trained to operate a wireless radio and returns to her beloved France. With a new identity, Marie clandestinely communicates vital intelligence directly back to Headquarters but unwillingly attracts the attention and apparent adoration of a handsome but ruthless Nazi officer, Oberleutnant LEOPOLD SCHÄFER.
As the H-hour to execute their daring mission draws ever closer, Marie plays a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the unrelenting and merciless young Lieutenant Schäfer and the Nazi soldiers under his command.
TEMPERANCE’S TRIAL is part one of eight serialized novellas entitled the Virtues and Valor series.
Seven valorous women — different nationalities, ethnicities, and social backgrounds — come together as a team called the Virtues.
In 1941 Great Britain a special war department assembles an experimental and exclusively female cohort of combat operatives. Four willing spies, a wireless radio operator, an ingenious code breaker, and a fearless pilot are each hand-picked, recruited, and trained to initiate a daring mission in Occupied France. As plans are laid to engineer the largest prison break of Allied POWs in history, the Nazis capture the Virtues’ radio operator. It will take the cohesive teamwork of the rest of the women to save her life before Berlin breaks her and brings the force of the Third Reich to bear.
Some find love, some find vengeance, and some discover the kind of strength that lives in the human heart when all they can do is rely on each other and their shared belief. Courage, faith, and valor intersect but, in the end, one pays the ultimate price.
Introducing the Virtues and Valor series by Hallee Bridgeman. Eight serialized novellas, each inspired by real people and actual events, reveal the incredible story of amazing heroines facing the ultimate test of bravery.
THE pounding on the door startled Marie and she let out a startled cry. The pounding came again, even louder and more insistent, and the scissors she held in her hand clattered to the table as she covered her heart with her hand.
She looked around the little room. The single bed was neatly made. The trifold screen in the corner had no undergarments draped over the top of it. Her sewing machine in the center of the room stood ready. Most importantly, the ceiling beams above the screen were in place and did not look like they had been moved at all.
The visual inspection took place instantly and concluded within seconds. She had to check because in reality she was not a seamstress. The one thing she had learned about sewing over the course of the last few months that overshadowed everything else was that she never wanted to be a seamstress. Additionally, she no longer called herself Marie Gilbert, but rather Marie Perrin. Lastly, she had a code name, now; Temperance. Since accepting that code name and her mission, nothing in her life was exactly as it appeared.
Running suddenly damp palms over her skirt, she went to the door and opened it. The sight of a German officer, a Second Leutenant, made her heart freeze in her chest. Had they finally discovered her?
“You are the seamstress, are you not?” he demanded by way of introduction. He stood tall, a couple inches over six feet, and looked young for an officer. He had hair the color of straw and piercing dark blue eyes — the very caricature of an Arian in Hitler’s army. His French accent sounded different than the accent she had heard from other Germans, though she couldn’t place the discrepancy.
Trying not to sound as nervous as she felt, Marie answered, “Yes, Leutnant. I am a seamstress.” She looked him up and down. “Perhaps you need a dress?”
He opened his mouth, closed it, then barked a laughed. “A dress? I like that, Fräulein. Very amusing.” The smile completely transformed his face and made him look less formidable. Putting a hand over his heart, he gave her a stiff and short bow. “I am Leutnant Leopold Schäfer and I have an emergency.”
“What kind of emergency?”
“An unexpected uniform malfunction. It seems I have lost a button.” As his face flooded with color, he gestured toward the fly of his trousers.
Looking over his shoulder and seeing he was alone, she said, “Well, I can’t sew it on while you’re still wearing your pants. Bring them back anytime today. It won’t take a minute to mend.”
“No time for that. I have my promotion ceremony to Oberleutnant in twenty minutes. I cannot go to that ceremony with a button missing from my fly.” He put his hands together like a child begging for a cookie. “Please, Fräulein. I am at your mercy. I beg you to help me. I am a desperate man.”
Torn, not wanting to offend a German officer but very much not wanting to help Germany either, she looked around again. “I’m very sorry, Leutnant, but men aren’t allowed into my room.”
“I am aware. I sought and obtained permission from your landlady before knocking on your door.”
Marie raised an eyebrow. “How did you manage that?”
He smirked. “Must you ask?”
Of course. This man was a German officer, a conqueror. He represented the military might of the entire Third Reich, of Adolf Hitler himself. And her landlady was merely a lowly French woman, a commoner. If she didn’t want any trouble, she couldn’t refuse. Likewise, how could Marie refuse to sew on his button right this very instant?
Fresh anger surged through her heart, but she did not let it show on her face. Instead, she stepped back and held the door wider. “Please come in, Leutnant Schäfer. Leave the door open, if you please.”
He raised an eyebrow but pushed the door back fully open instead of shutting it behind him as he had automatically begun to do. Marie continued. “There is a dressing screen just there. Remove your trousers and pass them over to me but do not come out from behind the screen in a state of undress.”
With the door wide open and the privacy screen in place, she could hope for some decency or humility in this situation. Not that any kind of modesty would protect her from a German officer who might have other intentions. Nonetheless, nearly two decades of social etiquette drilled into her by her father could not go ignored, even in a war zone.
While the German went behind the screen and began to disrobe, Marie looked through her jar of buttons and found a few that should work on his uniform. In a matter of seconds, he flipped his pants over the top of the dressing screen. As she reached for them, she couldn’t help but glance up at the ceiling. Above the German’s head, the case containing her wireless lay hidden in the ceiling.
“I am very happy that you were in this afternoon,” he announced from behind the screen.
“I’m sure you would have been resourceful if I hadn’t been,” Marie answered, threading a needle with dark gray thread.
“Are you curious to know how I lost a button on my trousers?”
“Dare I ask?” Uninvited images raced through her imagination.
He laughed. “I wish I knew myself. I left my room this morning in a perfect state of dress. Now, right before this important ceremony, I find myself out of uniform.”
“One hopes this is the only time you lose your fly button before a military ceremony. I’m not going to be around all the time after all,” Marie said, deftly sewing on the button that most closely matched the others on his uniform. He laughed again while she sewed. It took her less than a minute. With small scissors, she snipped the thread and lay the trousers over the screen again. “All done. Here you go, Leutnant.”
“Bitte,” he said enthusiastically.
“Please, don’t mention it.” She crossed her arms over her chest and waited, listening to the rustle of clothing as he put the trousers back on. When he came from around the screen, he carried his boots. She gestured toward the chair facing her sewing machine.
“I will be out of your hair in just a moment,” he said, sitting down. “I can’t be late, after all.”
“After he made the trains run on time, I imagine the Führer looks down on any officers who are less than punctual.” her voice remained very monotone.
He looked up at her sharply, staring at her with very serious eyes for a moment, his jaw set to speak something in anger before he apparently reconsidered and quietly said, “Yes, I imagine he does.” He finished fastening his boot strap and stood. “How much do I owe you, Fräulein?”
Marie waved her hand dismissively. “Nothing. I’m happy to help, Leutnant.”
“I insist on paying you for your work.”
“I’m afraid I must insist on accepting nothing from you, Leutnant.” She walked to the open door and gripped the handle. “Congratulations on your promotion, First Lieutenant. I hope I have not delayed you too long and that you make it to your ceremony on time.”
He stopped at the door and looked down at her. “At least accept my gratitude. Thank you, Fräulein, from the bottom of my heart.”
She felt her cheeks flush with color as he rushed from the room. When she was certain he was gone, she shut the door and locked it, pressing a shaking hand to her suddenly nausiated stomach. She stared at the ceiling, where the wireless machine sat hidden.
“Dear God,” she prayed in a whisper, thankful for whatever protection He’d just granted her. “Thank You, God. Thank You.”
MARIE pushed the headphones tighter against her ears. “Come on,” she whispered urgently.
After several seconds of silence, she retransmitted the message and waited. A bead of perspiration trickled down her forehead and she closed her eyes and prayed. It was taking so long. The longer she transmitted, the more time the Germans had to do the arithmetic. They would intercept her signal, intersect her frequency, triangulate the origin from more than one angle, and resect her exact location. The computations could be made within minutes. Say what you wanted about the German Army but no one could criticize their math skills.
Suddenly, a reply sounded in her ear. “That a girl,” she uttered, guessing the identity of the operator on the other end.
Marie wrote as fast as she could then quickly dashed off a confirmation. With nimble fingers, she packed everything up into the bag, hid the equipment in the false bottom, then stacked seamstress supplies on top of everything.
When she stood, her stomach rumbled and she looked at the barn next to her, wondering if Marcel, the owner of the farm, would mind much if she just took an egg or two. Before she could even devise a way to ask him, his wife, Armelle, came around the corner.
“I don’t want you here,” she said without preamble. “You are placing my husband and I in danger.”
“Marcel said –”
With the wave of her hand, the older, stockier woman cut her off. “I do not care what that man said, Mademoiselle. It was fine when it was another man. We could easily pass him off as a farm hand or a neighbor come by to help. But you have no business here. Do I look like someone wanting a new dress?”
Marie pressed her lips together, and kept from replying that a new dress might make her feel better. She understood the woman’s point. “Very well, Madam. After today, I won’t be back.”
“See that you don’t.”
Armelle glared at her while she strapped her bag to her bike and got on it. She could feel the stare right in the middle of her shoulder blades as she pedaled down the lane.
Nerves danced in her stomach. She hated confrontation. She hated anger. Suppose the farmer’s wife decided to turn her in to the Gestapo. How had it all come to this?
She pedaled along the country road and scooted closer to the road’s edge when she heard the sound of a motor behind her. Instead of passing her, though, it pulled up along side her.
“Excuse me, Fräulein!”
Startled, she looked over and saw an armored Kübelwagen driven by First Lieutenant Schäfer. Her heart started pounding frantically in her chest and the front tire of her bike wobbled. She hit the brakes and put both feet on the ground, unconsciously laying a hand over her heart. She darted a glance all around, fearfully searching every dark corner and copse for German soldiers or Gestapo laying in wait, but it appeared they were alone on the road. “You startled me, Oberleutnant.”
He stopped the Kübelwagen, killing the engine and setting the parking brakes in the same motion. He hopped out and jogged around the front of it to where she stood straddling the bike. He moved in a very precise manner, efficiently and with a total economy of motion. It was as if all of his movements were staged and well scripted in advance or he had rehearsed them for hours before executing.
“I am so sorry to startle you, Fräulein Perrin.” His voice rang out in the cool air, confident and baritone, and a little bit self-satisfied.
A man so precise was bound to notice any mistake. All she could think of was the wireless in the bag strapped to the back of the bike. Her hands went cold and she felt perspiration bead on her upper lip. “How do you know my name, Oberleutnant?”
His smile was handsome, despite his German Army uniform. Marie couldn’t believe she even entertained the thought. “I made an inquiry of your landlady. She was generous to give me your name.”
What was she supposed to do? Shake his hand? How did she handle this? “It’s nice to see you again, Oberleutnant,” she said, trying to appear calm. Had they triangulated the position of her last broadcast? Was he just a decoy until a larger arrest unit arrived? “Did you make it to your ceremony on time last week?”
He held his hand out, and she felt inclined to take it. His palm felt warm, his fingers strong. “Yes, thanks to you.” He smiled with even white teeth, his eyes crinkling up with laugh lines. “You are very beautiful, Fräulein Perrin.”
Despite her circumstance, she felt her cheeks fuse with color. She felt her fingers tighten against his grip. “Oberleutnant Schäfer, I hardly think that is appropriate.”
He finally released her hand and bowed stiffly. “You are correct, Fräulein. I apologize.”
She gave him a slight nod but suddenly felt afraid that she’d offended him. Him, a German officer. “Thank you. I hope you don’t —”
He cut off her panicked apology. “Of course not. I should have kept that thought to myself even though it is a fact.”
He stood close enough that she could smell the earthy wool smell of his uniform. Marie felt her eyes lower as her cheeks grew hot. She noticed the mirror-bright shine on his boots before she heard her heartbeat thundering in her ears. Was this fear or something else?
He cleared his throat. “I have been searching for you, Fräulein.”
Marie tasted bitter bile in the back of her throat and kept her gaze downcast. Had she gone too far taunting him about Hitler in their first meeting? Had a careless glance revealed the hiding place of her wireless? Had he sent a team of Gestapo to search her quarters while she had been away? Had she transmitted too long and been discovered? She relied upon her training and forced her voice to remain even as she prompted, “You’ve been searching for me?”
“Yes. I want to ask you. Would you like to go see a show with me?”
Was this some new euphemism for imprisonment and torture? Confused, she raised an eyebrow. “A show?”
“Yes. Next week, Virginia Benoit will be here to perform for our Oberst, our Colonel. Herr Obsert is her biggest fan and we are all invited to see the show … to lift the morale of the troops, you see. Tell me, Fräulein, do you know Virginia Benoit?”
Marie swallowed. Hard. How was she supposed to handle this situation? Never, in all of her training, was this brought up. “Of course I have heard of her,” and laughed with her and prayed with her, though she kept that part to herself.
“She is from America, like me,” he proclaimed, almost proudly.
She knew his accent had sounded wrong somehow. “American? Why are you here in France, then?”
He gestured in the air. “The call of the Fatherland I’m afraid. My father insisted I return a few years ago.”
With wide eyes, she let that digest. “Do you know Virginia Benoit?”
“No.” He chuckled, perhaps at her naïveté. “America is enormous. She’s from a state called Louisiana in the deep south near the Gulf coast. I’m from Oregon a few thousand kilometers away on the north of the Pacific coast. Also, I understand the lady is a Negro. Perhaps you’ve heard that Negros and Arians hardly ever socialize in America. Still, it will be nice to hear an American accent again, I think.”
His casual remark establishing his racial beliefs disgusted Marie and she tried very hard to conceal her loathing. She knew with an unshakable faith that God made all men and all nations of just one blood. Everyone on earth was a son or daughter of Adam and Eve. The bloody Nazi campaign of terror relied on faith in a lie — a form of Darwinian evolution establishing separate races coupled with the notion Friedrich Nietzsche proposed, that some races were inferior while other races were superior. Hitler aimed to create a “master race,” a race of supermen, by practicing enforced eugenics that either sterlized or eliminated the races Hitler deemed inferior.
In practically the same breath, Schäfer had mentioned his father. Thoughts of her own father rushed through her mind, and she once more remembered that First Lieutenant Schäfer was her sworn enemy. How had she forgotten that for even half a second? She could not let her thoughts travel too far down that road or else her expression would betray her. She had to lighten the conversation somehow.”I imagine you must feel very homesick at times, Oberleutnant.”
“I am homesick.” He put a hand to his heart. “It would do me a great deal of good to attend the performance with the most beautiful woman in the village on my arm.”
“Oberleutnant Schäfer, I don’t think —”
He held up a hand to halt her speech. “Please, don’t say no, Fräulein. At least let me have a little hope by telling me you’ll consider the offer. Besides, I still owe you for sewing on my button.”
She would have to clear any action with headquarters. It was possible that she could collect valuable intelligence by accompanying the junior German officer. It was even possible that Marie, code named Temperance, could pass intelligence to Virginia Benoit, code named Hope, in person. Pressing her lips together, desperate to find a way to end this conversation, she nodded. “Very well, Oberleutnant. As you say, I will think about it.”
His eyebrow cocked, “You give me your word?”
After perhaps a half second of hesitation, she nodded. “You have my word.”
He clicked his heels again. “Wunderbar! I will seek you out in two days time to learn your final decision.” He leaned closer and whispered as if conspiring with her. She could smell his musky aftershave. “I hope you say yes.”
Then he took her hand again and kissed the backs of her fingers. She struggled not to snatch her hand back from his grasp before his lips touched her skin. He smiled and said, “I look forward to speaking with you again, Fräulein Perrin.”
“Good day, Oberleutnant Schäfer.” She stayed put while he got back into his Kübelwagen and drove away. As soon as he was out of sight, Marie let the shaking overwhelm her. Carefully lying her bike on its side, she sat down on the side of the road and wrapped her arms around her knees while tremors shook her entire body. Out of nowhere, she felt very sick and crawled into the grass.
While heaves clutched her body, tears raced down her face. Spent and terrified, she lay back and covered her eyes with her hands. She felt so afraid all the time. What did she think she was doing here?
She silently prayed, desperate for God to reach out to her and physically reassure her that He hadn’t abandoned her. But, of course, He did not and she eventually remembered not to test her Creator.
Rolling to her feet, she stumbled to her bike and climbed back on. Her legs felt so weak that she wobbled a bit while she pedaled back to town, but eventually her strength returned.