She had made a solemn promise to see her younger sister to safety in California. But the endless journey across the frontier was proving a heartbreaking test of courage and endurance for Faith Beal. All she had to sustain her was her steadfast belief in a loving God--and the guiding hand of a stranger who truly seemed heaven-sent.
Connell McClain was her selfless guardian as their wagon train slowly made its way west. And as they shared the dangers of the trail--and the closeness of a covered wagon--Faith felt the first tender stirrings of love for this roughhewn yet caring man. But would the secrets that seemed to haunt him threaten their growing feelings for one another?
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
March 10, 2008
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Frontier Courtship by Valerie Hansen
Fort Laramie, early summer, 1850
"Look out!" Faith yanked her sixteen-year-old sister to safety, barely in time. Massive wheels of an empty freight wagon ground across the footprints they'd just left in the powdery dust.
True to her nature, Charity gave a shriek. She cowered against the blunt end of a water trough while she worried the strings of her bonnet with fluttering fingers.
Faith caught her breath and waited for her heart to stop galloping. Fort Laramie was not at all what she'd expected. It was more a primitive frontier trading post than a real army garrison. No one seemed to care a fig about proper deportment, either. The rapidly rolling freight wagon that had just cut them off would most likely have run them down without a thought if they hadn't dodged in time!
As it was, she and Charity were both engulfed in a gritty brown cloud of powdered earth, undefined filth and bothersome, ever-present buffalo gnats. The tiny insects had been driving their mules crazy since before they'd reached the lower Platte. Not to mention getting into everything. Even her biscuit dough. She grimaced at the thought.
Waiting for the worst of the blowing dust to clear, Faith spied an opportunity, took hold of her sister's hand and dragged her back out into the fray. "Come on. We can't stand here all day."
"Ouch! You're hurting me." Charity's voice was a childish whine, far less womanly than her budding body suggested it should be.
At that moment, Faith's singular intent was surviving long enough to reach the opposite side of the roadway, whether Charity liked the idea or not. She refused to slow her pace. "Oh, hush. Stop complaining. You'd think I was killing you the way you carry on."
Charity's blue eyes widened. "You might be!" Planting her heels, she brought them to a staggering halt in front of the log-and-adobe-walled trading post. "I don't like it here. It's so...so barbaric. And it stinks."
Faith couldn't argue with that. Between the passage of hundreds of draft animals, plus careless, slovenly local inhabitants and travelers, the place smelled wretched. Though the high adobe walls surrounding the fort were obviously necessary for protection, she couldn't help thinking they'd all be better off if the tightly packed settlement was more open to the cleansing wind and rain of the plains.
Intent on finding the best in their situation, she nodded toward a group of blanketed Indians sitting silently against the front of the trading post. "Look, dear. Isn't all this interesting?"
Charity pressed a lace-edged handkerchief over her mouth and nose. "Not to me, Faith Ann. I think it's awful." She lowered her shrill voice to a whisper, her sidelong gaze darting to the stony-faced Indians. "Do you suppose they understand what we're saying?"
Faith boldly assessed the native women. They were short, like herself, but twice as wide and far more rounded, and seemed to be cautiously avoiding meeting her eyes. Even the smallest children were careful not to look up at the sisters.
"I suspect they may," Faith said, a bit ashamed. "Else why would they act so shy?" Lifting her skirts, she urged Charity up the high step onto the boarded walkway. "We probably hurt their feelings."
The blue eyes grew even wider. "Do you think so? Oh, dear." The fair-haired girl blushed as a tall, manly, cavalry officer in a uniform of blue and gold doffed his hat, bowing graciously as he passed.
Faith's quick mind pounced on the occasion to raise her sister's spirits. "There," she said quietly. "See? Aren't you glad you washed up and put on your best bonnet?"
"Captain Tucker already said I looked lovely, today," Charity countered, blushing demurely and twirling the tails of the bow tied beneath her chin. "I think he's wonderful."
Her sister was appalled. "Handsome is as handsome does, as Grandma Reeder used to say." Faith likened the horrid wagon boss to an unruly billy goat, bad to the bone and just as dangerous a creature to turn your back on. She knew better than to criticize him openly, of course, because he literally held their future in his hands. But that didn't mean she had to pretend to admire him. He was a necessity. Nothing more.
Leading the way into the trading post, Faith took one whiff of hot, stale air and wished she could hold her breath indefinitely. The cloying smells were no improvement over the pungent aromas of the street, they were simply more varied. Spices, coffee beans, vinegar, molasses and salted fish added their own tang to the almost palpable atmosphere.
Judging by the overwhelming odor of sweat and smoke liberally laced with dried buffalo dung, most of the custom-that Faith blamed them. Now that she and Charity had spent two long months traveling from Independence, Missouri to Fort Laramie in the Territories, they, too, realized how few of their old customs and manners fit the wearying trek.
Glancing around the crowded room for the proprietor, she spied an older woman with a topknot of gray hair. Faith watched her deftly wrap and tie a package, hand it to a matron in a dark wool dress, accept payment, then turn to help the next of the noisy, milling customers.
"Come on." Taking her sister's hand, Faith began to lead her between the piles of flour sacks, kegs of tar and barrels of pickles to wait their turn to order supplies.
They were quite near their goal by the time Faith paid full attention to the tall, broad-shouldered man at the counter ahead of them. He was as rustic as anyone present, yet different. Intriguing. For one thing, he didn't smell as if he never bathed! While his back was turned, she took the opportunity Sighing, the man turned to go. With the Beal sisters directly in his path there was little room for polite maneuvering.