Book Cover: Heart of the Soldier

He battles the German war machine. Her magic helps the French Underground. Will love push them together or will the war pull them apart?

Called to defend his country, Stuart Williams finds himself on the front line against the Nazi War Machine. But when he meets a beautiful American Resistance fighter, his focus becomes divided between defeating Hitler and protecting her from the enemy.

Trapped by the Germans in France, American college student, Caroline Grayson, uses her magical ability to read maps, helping the Resistance track the enemy’s movements and help their cause against Hitler. When she finds an American soldier lost behind enemy lines, she's not only fighting Nazis but also her traitorous heart.

Helping the Resistance, Caroline puts her life in danger, but Stuart’s first allegiance is to the army, and he’s forced to leave Caroline behind. When enemy tanks attack his regiment, he’s captured and thrown into a prisoner of war camp. At the war’s end, will Caroline use her magic to find and rescue him or will he succumb to the Nazis’ brutality?

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Prologue

Camp Adair, Oregon, Fall 1944

Corporal Stuart Williams was on a mission to Hell, and Uncle Sam was going to deliver him.

He met his cousin’s hard stare from across the room. What were they getting into? Best friends since childhood, he hadn’t seen Charles in years—yet somehow, they’d both been transferred to the US Army’s flight division. But as of two minutes ago, everything had changed and their luck had run out.

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The large group of men stood at attention inside the mess hall, all eyes focused on their commanding officer. The silence surrounding them was oppressive; shock simmered through the room, all-consuming. As the commanding officer’s announcement slowly sank in, the newer recruits’ mouths dropped open, and several of the older soldiers’ faces twisted into unbelieving frowns.

The CO’s words changed everything. For him. For every soldier here. According to the missive Colonel Pettee had received from Washington a few hours earlier, the war in the Belgian Ardennes wasn’t going as planned. With a shortage of infantry, the Army now had to pull in every spare man to create a new division. They would be called the Trailblazers.

He’d become the one thing he’d never wanted to be. A foot soldier. His dreams of flying and fighting from the sky were gone like a puff of smoke. Or more aptly, a bomb.

The first question came from one of the new draftees. The other soldiers followed, bombarding the sergeant, who tried to answer as best as he could. They would leave Camp Adair in the morning, heading for Fort Leonard Wood, then Europe. Stuart sucked in the cool, dry air, letting the calming breath sift through his teeth.

The kid across from him looked fourteen—with his newly shaved blond hair and heavy dusting of freckles across his nose. His brows pinched together as his gaze moved from the CO to Stuart. “But, sir?”

Stuart gave the kid a sharp look and shook his head. “Don’t. We will discuss everything after the colonel leaves. Not before.

“But, sir,” the kid’s voice squeaked in a high whisper. “We’re pilots, sir.”

“Unfortunately, Private, we are first and foremost foot soldiers and will do what we’re told, whether we like it or not. Suck it up, Soldier, because we’re off to the war.”

Chapter 1

Philippsbourg, France, December 1944

“The world is evil,” Maria Brussard said as she stuffed a pair of her son’s tattered pants in the laundry basket she’d placed on the table after their dinner.

“The world isn’t evil, Maria. People are evil.” Caroline Grayson pinched her lips closed, swallowing her ire at Maria’s persistent and tiresome views. She’d heard the argument so many times. Yes, Maria’s home, the quaint mountain village of Philippsbourg, France, was war-torn, its people haggard and barely hanging on. But at least they were home.

Caroline watched the wavering yellow lights from the German guards’ box lamps as they walked along the small town’s one main road. Home seemed so very far away. She’d give just about anything to be back on the farm near Alva, Oklahoma, with her family. It was Christmas; her favorite time of year. Her parents didn’t spend a lot of money for presents, but their farm allowed them to live comfortably. Her father always said they were rich when it came to love and family.

Her finger hovered over the map of Oklahoma, the small dot indicating Alva a hair’s breadth beneath it as she hesitated. The urge to use her talent a war inside her. No one but a few select people knew about her special ability, and she wanted to keep it that way. But the need to see her family pushed her finger to the paper.

Staring at the small black dot, the farm appeared in her mind as if she were standing in the dirt road in front of the two-story white clapboard house. A row of trees ran between the road and yard, growing thicker between the house and barn.

Dawn painted rich shades of peach and pink across the pale blue sky, and a rooster crowed, followed by the soft clucking of the hens. Drawn toward the chicken coop, she heard her mother’s voice as she talked to the chickens, thanking them for such a bounty of eggs.

Caroline smiled. Turning her head, she walked toward the barn and stood in the doorway. Sitting on a small stool beside a cow, her father squeezed each teat in a steady rhythm and quickly filled a metal pail with milk. She moved closer, standing beside him, and laid her hand on his shoulder. His movements slowed then stopped as his head rose. Cautiously, he glanced around the dim interior of the barn, the ghost of a smile on his lips.

“I feel your touch…thank you, Caroline. I’ve been worried about you, you know. The radio reports have had us worried, your mama and me. Keep safe and come home soon, daughter.”

“I love you, Papa,” she whispered in his ear. His smile widened. Slowly, she raised her finger off the map, and the vision disappeared.

“You are no longer listening to me, Caroline,” Maria whined.

Caroline bit back her smile, not wanting to encourage her friend, but feeling better than she had been in a while. Her nostalgia surprised her. When her parents had offered her the chance to study abroad—schooling paramount in her parents’ minds—she’d jumped at it. So excited, she couldn’t wait to leave the farm and Oklahoma. Now, she couldn’t wait to get back and leave the war behind as a bad memory. “I don’t have to because your complaints haven’t changed since I got here four and a half years ago. I have them memorized. Besides, it’s Christmas, and you should be happy.”

Maria spun around, facing her with her hands planted on her ample hips. “Happy about what, mon amie? We are trapped here with these German pigs for the second time! We cannot leave, we cannot work our farms, and what little food we have has to be turned over to the troops.” She held out her hands, calloused and red from working their small garden behind the family’s house. “These hands worked the soil, planted the seeds, and pulled out the weeds threatening to choke the plants—not the Germans! It is we who labor, yet the Nazis take everything we have and leave us with leftover scraps!” She sat on the sturdy handmade chair with a thud and dropped her head onto her crossed arms.

Caroline let out a tired sigh and placed her hand on Maria’s arm, giving the cool flesh a quick squeeze. “I know, Maria. I am sorry for what your family has experienced and continues to experience, but you have to believe we will defeat Hitler. It will be our strength—our collective strength—that will get us safely through this war.”

Maria sniffed but kept her face buried in her arms. “How can you stay so positive? You are not French, yet you are here enduring these terrible times alongside us.” She raised her head, her tear-stained cheeks red and blotchy. “How do you do it, Caroline? How do you stay so optimistic in this hell?”

Caroline smiled. “My mother. I have more in common with my father; the same goes for my brother and mother. But strength is one thing she gave me in spades. I’m just trying to follow her example. She would never give the Germans the satisfaction. She would simply ignore them and, with her head held high and back as straight as a metal rod, continue fighting any way she could. I aim to do the same thing. I think this is one way I can put my stubbornness to good use, don’t you?”

Maria wiped her tears and sat back with a nod. “You are good for me, mon amie, and I am thankful you are here.”

Caroline chuckled. “Well, I can honestly say I wish I weren’t, but thank you.” She scooted her chair back and grabbed two chipped porcelain coffee cups from the towel lying by the sink where their supper dishes were still drying and poured two cups of steaming coffee, the rich aroma calming.

After placing one of the cups in front of her friend, she sat in her chair and cradled the hot cup between her palms, gently blowing away the spirals of steam. Taking a small sip, the hot liquid warming her chilled insides, she let out a contented sigh. “I love French coffee. The flavor is so much richer than what we have in America.”

“But of course! The French have the best everything.”

The lack of modesty when talking to a French person was one of the first lessons Caroline had learned after arriving in Paris. Instead of defending her own country, she just let them go on about how perfect their own way of life was. She had to admit, though, some things were definitely better here. Chocolate, for instance. Much better. And wine. The three or four sips she’d been allowed at a family celebration had tasted like vinegar compared to the vintages she’d sampled in Paris.

Two more tears trickled down her friends’ cheek as she sipped her coffee, blankly staring across the room. Caroline decided a change of topic was in order and asked the first thing that popped into her mind. “Maria, tell me again what Christmas was like in France—you know, before the war?”

For the first time since she’d arrived for dinner that evening. Maria smiled, erasing some of the lines of worry and sorrow from her once-pretty face. “I know what you are trying to do, Caroline, and I love you all the more for caring. My mother always said that to get through the bad times, I must keep happy thoughts in my mind. Now, let me see…” She tapped her finger against her chin, her eyes narrowed in thought. “What to say that I haven’t said before? Ahh, well, I have probably said everything already. Noël is a time of great happiness in France. We have lots of delicious food and spend much time with family. To welcome in Christmas Day, my father would sprinkle the Yule log with his best wine and light it, and then the entire family would gather for Le Réveillon de Noël, which is the special midnight meal. The piéce de resistance was when my mother would serve her delicious bûche de Noël. I have never learned how to make this cake like my mother’s.

“When I was a young girl, my parents took me to the Christkindelsmärik in Strasbourg. It is the Christmas market and was magical in my young eyes. We would go each year, sampling the wonderful desserts and picking up small gifts for family here. It was a time of much love in our home.”

“Do you take your children?”

Maria slowly shook her head. “After my father died, my mother couldn’t afford the trip, and I haven’t been back since. My husband and I scrimped and saved every franc we could to give our young ones beautiful Christmas memories. With the threat of war, my husband joined the army. Then Hitler invaded France.”

“You never talk about your husband. What is he like?”

“Jean Luc is tall with thick black hair and wears a trimmed mustache. He has pale green eyes and an easy smile.” Her lips quivered. “That’s what attracted me to him, you know. His beautiful smile. His laugh is infectious, and he loves a good joke.”

“Have you heard from him since he joined the army?”

Maria nodded. “Once. Almost two years ago now. He was chosen as a member of the guard to Charles de Gaulle. It is a prestigious position, and I am so proud of him.” She made another pot of coffee and refilled their cups, placing the dented coffeepot on a silver trivet in the middle of the table. “Now tell me about your Oklahoma Christmas, and leave out nothing. Thinking of happier times is helping.”

Caroline shrugged and tried to ignore the bitter taste of nostalgia as she thought about her home. “It’s not that different from here. Not really. Christmas Day, my aunts and uncles arrive for a delicious meal, and to enjoy the day together. We serve roasted turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, and green beans—so much food. My mother’s cobblers are delicious. I tried making them a few times in Paris. I followed everything she did, but it just didn’t taste the same. I’ve come to the conclusion the missing ingredient is love. She puts love into everything she bakes because she’s doing it for her family.”

Maria nodded. “Quite true. I hadn’t thought about it like that. My mother did the same.”

“If the weather isn’t too bad, we go to church for the Christmas service. You wouldn’t recognize the church I attended as such, compared to your beautiful cathedrals here. The Methodist church was very small, and we have to drive several miles along rough country roads to get there. Later that night, we all gather in the living room and open presents. My brother and I usually get a few articles of new clothing from our parents and a few more from grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

“I remember one year when the house was filled to bursting with family. Mama always made sure I got the next books in my favorite series: The Little Colonel and Anne of Green Gables. I’ve read them so many times, the pages are beginning to fall out.”

Caroline set her empty cup on the table. Narrowing her gaze, she glanced at Maria. “I have an idea—how to raise the moral around here a little bit, but I’m going to need your help.”

“I don’t like it when you have ideas. I’m always the one who gets into trouble and has to ask Father Michel for forgiveness.”

Caroline chuckled. “Leave the good Father to me. We’re going to celebrate Christmas—Noël—by throwing a town party.”

Maria’s eyes widened. “T’es fou—you are crazy, no? You will get us all into trouble! The Germans will never let us do this. Besides, there are so few townspeople left…and what would we do about food?”

She patted Maria’s arm, her smile widening. “Leave the particulars to me, but I’m going to depend on you to help spread the word.” Excitement tingled through her, bubbling in her stomach as her heart raced. “This is exactly what Philippsbourg needs. We need to show the Germans that no matter how hard they try, they will never destroy our hope!”

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Amazon Customer wrote:

5-Stars

Gripping Historical Book

This was an amazing book. The plot was of American GI's fighting the Germans. It was full of love, loss, fear, and hope. A gripping historical book...well researched. Showing genuine turmoil of war. Be warned it will be hard to put down once started.

P. James wrote:

5-Stars

Blends history, romance, and magic

This story is interesting and compelling with a terrific blend of history, magic, and romance. The characters--both the heroine and hero as well as all the secondary characters--are three dimensional, the action is exciting, and the romance is sweet. The touch of magic is intriguing and I hope the author will continue to explore this world. A keeper!

M. McCloy wrote:

4-STARS

Learn WWII history while enjoying a moving love story

Ms. Vanlandingham seamlessly blends history, romance, and magic in this gripping tale of a WWII soldier and an American Resistance worker based in France. The magical realism feels so natural that I found myself trying to discover my own secret powers.