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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A young woman is caught up in a dangerous double life on behalf of her country during World War II in Danielle Steel’s thrilling new novel.
At eighteen, Alexandra Wickham is presented to King George V and Queen Mary in an exquisite white lace and satin dress her mother has ordered from Paris. With her delicate blond looks, she is a stunning beauty who seems destined for a privileged life. But fate, a world war, and her own quietly rebellious personality lead her down a different path.
By 1939, Europe is on fire and England is at war. From her home in idyllic Hampshire, Alex makes her way to London as a volunteer in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. But she has skills that draw the attention of another branch of the service. Fluent in French and German, she would make the perfect secret agent.
Within a year, Alex is shocking her family in trousers and bright red lipstick. They must never know about the work she does—no one can know, not even the pilot she falls in love with. While her country and those dearest to her pay the terrible price of war, Alex learns the art of espionage, leading to life-and-death missions behind enemy lines and a long career as a spy in exotic places and historic times.
Spy follows Alex’s extraordinary adventures in World War II and afterward in India, Pakistan, Morocco, Hong Kong, Moscow, and Washington, D.C., when her husband, Richard, enters the foreign service and both become witnesses to a rapidly changing world from post-war to Cold War. She lives life on the edge, with a secret she must always keep hidden.
Under the Cover
An excerpt from Spy
Thinking back on it later, the summer of 1939 was the last “normal” summer Alexandra Wickham remembered. It had been five years since her celebrated first London “Season” at eighteen, an event her parents had anticipated with excitement and expectation since she was a little girl. She had looked forward to it as the experience of a lifetime, a defining moment when she would be presented at court with all the other daughters of aristocratic families. It was her official entry into society, and since 1780 when the first Queen Charlotte’s Ball was held by King George III to honor his wife, the purpose of “coming out” and being presented had been to allow aristocratic young ladies to catch the eye of future husbands. Marriage was supposed to be the result in a relatively short time. Although modern parents in the 1930s were less earnest about it, the hoped-for outcome hadn’t changed.
Alex had been presented at court to King George V and Queen Mary, and had come out at Queen Charlotte’s Ball, in an exquisite white lace and satin dress her mother had had made for her by Jean Patou in Paris. With her height and delicate blond looks, Alex had been a stunning beauty, and she didn’t lack for suitors. Her older brothers, William and Geoffrey, had teased her mercilessly about being a debutante, and her subsequent failure to land a husband within the early months of the Season in London. Being at parties, balls, and social events was a major change for Alex, who had been horse-mad, like the rest of her family, since her earliest childhood. She’d been taunted into being a tomboy by her brothers, as a matter of survival. Wearing elegant gowns every night, and proper dresses at every luncheon in London, had been tiresome and sometimes even hard work for her.
She’d made many friends among the other debutantes, and most of them had been engaged by the end of the Season, and married shortly after. Alex couldn’t imagine herself married to anyone at eighteen. She wanted to go to university, which her father thought unnecessary, and her mother inappropriate. Alex was an avid reader and student of history. A flock of diligent governesses had given her a thirst for knowledge and a love of literature, and honed her skills with watercolors and intricate embroidery and tapestry. Her own gift for languages had helped her learn French, German, and Italian almost flawlessly. She spoke French and German as well as she did English, which no one considered remarkable, and her Italian was almost as good. She enjoyed reading in French and German. She was also a graceful dancer, which made her a highly desirable partner at the balls she attended with her family.
But there was more to Alex than the quadrilles she danced effortlessly, her love of literature, and her gift for languages. She was what the men she met called “spirited.” She wasn’t afraid to voice her opinions, and had a wicked sense of humor. It made her a wonderful friend to her brothers’ male companions, but few of them could imagine marrying her, despite her beauty. Those who wanted to accept the challenge, Alex found fatally boring. She had no desire to be locked away in Hampshire where her parents’ manor house was located, doing needlepoint by the fire at night, like her mother, or raising a flock of unruly children, like her brothers had been. Maybe later, but surely not at eighteen.
The five years since her London Season in 1934 had flown by quickly, with Alex traveling abroad with her parents, riding in the local hunt or others she was invited to, visiting her friends who had married and even had several children by then, going to house parties, and helping her father on their estate. She had more interest in the land than her brothers, both of whom had fled to London. William, the oldest, led a gentleman’s life and had a passion for flying machines. Geoffrey worked at a bank, went to parties every night, and was known as a heartbreaker. Her brothers were in no hurry to marry either.
Geoffrey was twenty-five, and William was twenty-seven and went to air races in England and France at every opportunity. He was a proficient pilot. Alex thought her brothers had a lot more fun than she did. She was something of a prisoner of the rules of society, and what was considered appropriate for a woman. She was the fastest rider in the county, which irritated her brothers and their friends, and her gift for languages came in handy on their family travels. By twenty-three, she had been to New York several times with her parents, and considered American men more liberal in their thinking and more fun than the Englishmen she’d met. She liked talking politics with her brothers and father, although they urged her not to do so at dinner parties, so she wouldn’t frighten the men who might want to court her. Her response to her brothers’ comments on the subject was sharp.
“I wouldn’t want a man who didn’t respect my opinions, or to whom I couldn’t speak my mind.”
“You’ll wind up a spinster if you don’t curb your tongue and your passion for horses,” Geoffrey warned her, but both of her brothers were proud of how brave she was, how intelligent, and how bold and clear in her thinking. Their parents pretended not to notice, but they were secretly concerned that she hadn’t found a husband yet, and didn’t seem to want one.
She listened to all of Hitler’s speeches in German on the radio, and had read several books about him. Long before the events of the summer of 1939, she had predicted that war would be inevitable. By that summer, her brothers and father agreed with her. It seemed unavoidable, and they were dismayed but not surprised when war was declared on September 3. They gathered to listen to King George’s speech on the radio, urging Britons everywhere to be strong and courageous and defend their country. Like most of the population, the Wickhams’ response was immediate. Both of Alex’s brothers enlisted in the RAF, William in the Fighter Command, which suited him as an ace pilot, and Geoffrey in the Bomber Command. There was no hesitation. They reported for duty and training shortly after, as did most of their friends. It was what was expected of them, and they went willingly.
Alex remained quiet about it for several weeks, and then startled her parents when she announced that she had joined the voluntary First Aid Nursing Yeomanry shortly after Willie and Geoff had left for training. Her parents had made their own decision about how to contribute to the war effort. Her father was past the age of enlisting, but they had volunteered to accept twenty children from London into their home. The evacuation of children from the cities was being encouraged, and many parents were eager to find safe homes for their children in the country. Alex’s mother, Victoria, was already busy preparing the building where they housed the household staff and stable hands. Their male staff would be greatly diminished by conscription anyway, and they had other quarters in the house for the women. They were setting up bunk rooms for the children. Three of the housemaids were going to help care for them, and two girls from the village, and two teachers from the local school were going to give them lessons. Victoria was going to teach them as well. She had been hoping that Alex would help her, but then Alex announced that she was going to London to drive lorries and ambulances, work as an aide in the local hospitals, and do whatever other assignments they gave her. Her parents were proud of her, but concerned about her being in London. Bombing raids were expected, and she would have been safer in the country, helping to take care of the children. The children the Wickhams would be housing were from poor and middle class backgrounds, and families all over the country were taking them in.
Alex had studied her options carefully before volunteering for the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. She could have joined the Women’s Voluntary Services to do clerical work, which didn’t interest her, or the Air Raid Precautions, or worked on a female pump crew for the fire service. The Women’s Voluntary Services was also organizing shelters, clothing exchanges, and mobile canteens. She could have joined the Women’s Land Army to be trained in agricultural work, about which she already knew a great deal from their estate, but Alex didn’t want to stay in Hampshire, and preferred to go to the city.
The Auxiliary Territorial Service offered more of what she hoped to do, with driving and general duties, but when she contacted them, they suggested clerical work, which would keep her cooped up in an office. She wanted more physical work. She had also spoken to the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, about deploying barrage balloons. But in the end the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry sounded as if it was the best suited to her skills, and they said there would be other opportunities for her once she joined.
Her brothers teased her about it when she wrote to them, and said they would keep an eye on her when they went to London. Her mother cried when she left Hampshire and made her promise to be careful, but she was already busy and had her hands full with the children billeted with them. The youngest was five, and the oldest was eleven, which Alex thought would be much harder work than whatever she would be assigned to do in London.
Danielle Steel has been hailed as one of the world’s most popular authors, with over 650 million copies of her novels sold. Her many international bestsellers include The Good Fight, The Cast, Accidental Heroes, Fall from Grace, Past Perfect, Fairytale, and other highly acclaimed novels. She is also the author of His Bright Light, the story of her son Nick Traina’s life and death; A Gift of Hope, a memoir of her work with the homeless; Pure Joy, about the dogs she and her family have loved; and the children’s books Pretty Minnie in Paris and Pretty Minnie in Hollywood.