Title: Trail of Hope
Author: Heidi Vanlandingham
Genre: Historical Western Romance
Sophia Deveraux is a debutante desperate to find someone who can protect her from the evil man pursuing her. When an injured native is captured, her hopes for survival are renewed. She just needs to convince him to help her.
While pursuing the men responsible for killing his family, Choctaw lighthorseman Clay Jefferson is beaten and thrown onto the Trail of Tears. But as an innocent beauty nurses him back to health, he finds himself falling for her. Now, he must choose between giving his heart to Sophia or keeping his vow to avenge his family’s murder.
Sophia gazed at the fort’s inhabitants, clumped together in family groups. Her chest tightened at the pathetic sight. She tamped down an intense, unfamiliar flood of anger. “Surely the government doesn’t want the Cherokee treated like this?” she whispered.
Martin smiled. If the tiny lift of his lips could be called a smile. “No, little one. General Scott is a good man. I was there when he gave the orders for all of us to receive food and blankets. Because so many here have died, he also commanded that the soldiers treat us better…but these orders are not obeyed.”
“And the other? What was the word you used…ani-something.”
His smile widened. “Ani’Yun’wiya. That is who we are.” He raised his free hand with a quick motion toward the people surrounding them. “It is what we call ourselves. The name was given to us by the ancient Cherokee who passed before. Ani’Yun’wiya means the Principal People.”
“Why do you talk differently than the other Cherokee? Did you go to school? And why don’t you go by your Indian name?”
“You have many questions,” he grunted, but Sophia caught the approval glistening in his clear eyes. “Martin is my only name. As more white families settled these lands, my grandfather believed we would need white names, so trading between our people would be easier and we wouldn’t seem too different. My father had two names, Cherokee and white. By the time I was born, he never used his Cherokee name, and I was only Martin.”
Sophia’s admiration for the old Indian grew as she listened. In spite of everything his people had been through, the Cherokee spirit remained strong. Even as death hovered, waiting for its next victim, Sophia observed their loving regard for one another—and not just the individual families. They seemed more like one huge family.
“I attended William and Mary, the white man’s college in Virginia,” Martin said, pushing out his thin chest with pride. “My father insisted. He was a smart man, my father. He watched as the white settlements grew larger. He told me I must become an important person—that the Cherokee would need important people to survive.” Sophia watched his bony shoulders wilt. “I don’t feel so important now.”
“I know it isn’t much, but you are very important to me.” She placed her small hand over Martin’s skeletal arm and squeezed. Her tentative smile disappeared as his bushy gray brows drew together and his gaze hardened.
He gently patted her arm and forced his stiff old body into a stand. “I will return shortly.”
Sophia turned and watched as he made his way toward the front of the fort. He stopped beside one of the fort’s tall log doors and crossed his arms over his thin chest. She leaned to one side to see what Martin was doing and saw him talking to a very handsome man. Her eyebrows rose as she peered closer. The younger man’s face could have been chiseled from stone. He had high cheekbones and a perfect nose, and his skin was dark like the Cherokees. Even though she was too far away to be certain, his eyes looked black.
As if he knew he was being studied, his dark gaze quickly moved around the enclosure, finally landing on her. Even with the distance between them, her stomach knotted, and a small kernel of fear balled in her stomach. His gaze seemed to pierce her soul. The hairs on her arms and neck rose the longer he stared…his piercing gaze made her feel as if she were being stalked by a predator. Forcing herself to look away, she decided she wasn’t that curious about who he was after all. She couldn’t help herself, however—two seconds later, she was studying him again. He wore dark gray wool trousers and a light gray shirt covered by a soft-looking brown leather coat. The clothing almost fooled her, but she knew he was an Indian. If so, how was he able to ride around the countryside without being locked up?
A sharp yell pulled her attention away from his handsome face to a group of boys who were hitting a small rock back and forth between them with a stick. The hair on her arms and back of her neck rose, and she had the eerie sensation of being watched. She slowly scanned the stockade, trying to find whoever was staring at her. She finally noticed a uniformed soldier standing under the shaded overhang of a small shed several feet away, but she couldn’t see his face until he stepped out into the early morning sunshine. She sucked in a breath, holding it until her lungs burned. It was Major Todd. His hooded gaze followed her every move.
Uncomfortable and not wanting to talk to the major or draw any attention to herself, Sophia stood, her palms nervously trying to smooth the tattered material of her skirt. It had been a gift from one of the women who’d taken pity on her the night she’d arrived wearing her dirty nightgown. She despised the ill-fitting and scratchy garment but refused to complain. It was much more proper than the nightgown.
She turned to walk toward Martin and the handsome stranger, but before she could finish the forward motion of her step, a hand wrapped around her upper arm and squeezed. She fell backward and hit something hard enough to knock the air from her lungs.
Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub):
Amazon ebook: http://tiny.cc/wt-p-hope
Amazon print: http://tiny.cc/wt-p-hope
What makes your featured book a must-read?
Trail of Hope is the adventure-filled second historical western romance novel in the Western Trails series. If you like intrigue and secrets, engaging characters, and page-turning adventure, then you’ll love Heidi Vanlandingham’s heartwarming series.
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Heidi Vanlandingham writes sweet, action-packed stories that take place in the Wild West, war-torn Europe, and otherworldly magical realms. Her love of history finds its way into each book, and her characters are lovable, strong, and diverse. Heidi’s stories transport the reader to a different place and time for understanding, compassion, and most of all, love.
Growing up in Oklahoma and living one year in Belgium gave Heidi a unique perspective regarding different cultures. She still lives in Oklahoma with her husband and youngest son. Her oldest son is in the autism spectrum and is working toward his own dreams. Heidi’s favorite things in life are laughter, paranormal romance books, music, and long road trips.
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