The Man She Fears Is Her Only Chance For Survival . . .
All Christina Astle wants is to reach Oregon before her baby is born, but the wagon train is attacked, and her husband killed, stranding her in a mountain labyrinth. Raised in the East, within civilization’s embrace, survival is not a skill she’s learned. Neither is evading the lone warrior dogging her trail.
Disgusted by the greed and cruelty of men like his white father, Towan has turned to the simpler existence of his mother’s tribal people. He is not prepared for the fiery woman who threatens to upturn his entire life … and his heart.
Eyes clamped shut against the subsiding ache in her abdomen, Christina Astle sucked in cool mountain air. Pine saturated the breath and constricted her lungs like the corsets she’d happily given up only months earlier. Her hand stole across her extended stomach. What had she been thinking, agreeing to follow Anthony away from society, safety, and a house with four walls? What if they didn’t make it to Oregon in time? She refused to give birth with nothing but canvas overhead.
The wagon wheel dropped into another rut, and a gasp escaped her, drawing her husband’s gaze. “I’m sorry. I wish I could go slower, but we’re at least a mile behind them.” He glanced at the sun hovering above, then slipped the gold watch from his breast pocket and flipped it open. “It’s after three already.”
“I know…and I am fine.” Christina raised her chin a degree but refused to look at him and his perpetually concern-laden eyes. Anthony did everything within his power to keep her comfortable, stopping often, even when it meant trailing behind the rest of the wagon train. As long as they caught up by nightfall. Still, heat rose in her chest. They should have waited another year, or—better yet—never left Cincinnati in the first place.
The crack of a discharging rifle pierced the valley and deepened into echo. Then a scream, soft and haunting. More gun fire followed, ricocheting off the high mountain ridges.
The wagon lurched to a halt, and Christina grabbed for the seat. She stared ahead at the empty trail scarred with evidence of those who led the way. Horses. Cattle. Families with children. God, no!
The wagon jerked and rocked off the trail, reins slapping the backs of the mules.
Christina dug her fingertips into the raw wood. “What are you doing?”
“I’m taking it away from the trail. I’m not leaving you sitting in plain sight.”
“Leaving me? You can’t. We don’t know what’s going on.” Her head spun. “No, Anthony. Not with these mountains full of savages. Don’t you dare leave me here.”
The wagon tipped slightly then righted, dropped over the slope, and rolled into an aspen grove. White bark glimmered in the bright sun, and young saplings sprang back into place as the wheels passed over.
“There’s only one way to find out what’s happening. If they’re being attacked, they’ll need help.” Anthony lunged to the ground and unharnessed the mules, fastening them farther out of the way. All except the one trained to ride. Anthony left him near the wagon, heaving a saddle over his withers and forcing a heavy bit into his mouth.
Christina remained paralyzed on the seat. “Anthony…no. Don’t go.”
He said nothing as he loaded his revolver and strapped it to his thigh. With the Winchester tucked under his arm, he swung onto the back of the animal and twisted the reins through his fingers. “You’ll be safe here. Most likely it’s nothing.” He looked away, giving the mule an angry kick. The animal balked but lurched to a trot toward the trail.
He rotated in the saddle enough to meet her gaze and yanked back on the bit. His brown eyes studied her face, and his chest released a sigh. “Chris, I have to go. You know where the other rifle is, and the shells are under the seat if you have any need of them. I’ll be back soon.”
Christina sagged against the back of the wagon seat. The edge bit her spine. Hooves scraped the loose rock of mountain trail and faded with the distant gun fire.
Question 1: Christina is very frightened by Towan when they first meet. How are our perceptions of people influenced by what others have told us about them?
Question 2: What were some of the reason’s Christina left her home in Ohio? What are her reasons for going back?
Question 3: Christina’s faith in God was not very strong when her husband died. What strengthened it?
Question 4: Towan starts out at a “grave” for his former self. Have you ever tried to “bury” a part of you? How successful were you?
Question 5: Why is Towan so fond of reading? Why do you enjoy books?
Question 6: How did Towan’s father influence his life? For bad? For good?
Question 7: William O’Connell left his family to protect them from himself. Was this the right thing to do?
Question 8: How did learning his father’s motivations, change Towan’s perceptions of both his father and himself?
Question 9: By the time Christina returns home, how has she changed? What made those changes possible? What things have changed you?