Trail of Hope

Will a vow of vengeance harden his heart to love…

Abducted and imprisoned in an army stockade by an obsessed army officer, Sophia Deveraux needs protection if she hopes to make the long, dangerous journey into Indian Territory. When an injured native is captured, her hopes for survival are renewed. With his assistance, she believes she will finally be free of the evil man pursuing her.

Choctaw lighthorseman Clay Jefferson is not innocent to the hard life on the frontier. While gathering information to prevent the Cherokees’ removal, he is badly injured and captured. Sophia nurses him back to health, but he must choose between avenging his family’s death or allowing the innocent beauty to awaken his heart.

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Chapter 1

Savannah, Georgia, September 1838

Sophia Deveraux smiled at the beauty of the countryside as she headed back to her family home. The land lay quiet in the fading light of the day. She’d spent the day wandering around the bustling port town of Savannah as she searched for the perfect birthday present for her father. It had been a wonderful day; the first she’d had since her mother’s accidental death the previous month. Her father had had an extremely difficult time accepting it, which made her present even more important.

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She pulled the exquisite frame from the satchel she’d tucked between the heavy material of her dress and the pommel of the sidesaddle, her thumb tracing the beautiful filigree etching on the black frame. The artisan who’d created the mourning frame of her mother had done a remarkable job. He’d wound her mother’s blonde hair in a filigree design that matched the frame and accentuated the yellowing picture of her mother’s smiling face.

She had been told enough by her mother, as well as her mother’s closest friends, that it was regrettable Sophia didn’t have her mother’s refined features and porcelain complexion. With her sun-kissed skin and chestnut hair, she must have taken after a long lost relative on her father’s side of the family, although from the few portraits hanging in their front hall, most of them had either blond or red hair.

Tucking the frame back into her satchel for protection, she shrugged off the melancholy stirred up by the memories. Living with her mother had not been easy; she hadn’t had a pleasant upbringing. Her mother had always criticized everything she’d done, from education to how she dressed or styled her hair—which was so straight it was always falling out of the coiffure her maid would painstakingly put it in.

Swallowing her sigh, she refused to end such a wonderful day feeling sorry for herself. She was so looking forward to watching her father’s reaction when he saw the frame. She was also looking forward to eating the Black Forest cake she’d instructed the cook to make with her father’s favorite cherry brandy. Her stomach growled just thinking of sinking her teeth into the moist, cherry-topped chocolate cake.

Several shouts captured her attention as her horse plodded along the newly-bricked lane leading to her family’s plantation home. A bright light coming from the front lawn filled the darkening sky, and she could see what looked like a whole regiment of men standing around the large Georgian structure. She pulled the horse to a stop and slowly forced it to back up until they were hidden behind the large live oaks growing over the lane.

From her vantage point, she watched as three of the men marched up the grand marble staircase to the wide front door, which was already standing open. Pale yellow light from the inside lamps poured through the doorway. A tight sensation closed off her throat as fear for her father became a living thing inside of her, trying to claw its way out as she worked to figure out what she should do. She was just one lone female, and there were so many men surrounding her home.

She gripped the reins like a lifeline, desperately trying to make a decision, when it was made for her. Silhouetted in the lamplight stood a familiar figure—the one man she wished she’d never met. Major Adrian Todd presented himself as a gentleman, but after accosting her at a party, she’d learned otherwise and refused the suit her mother had worked tirelessly for.

Her mother all but accused Sophia of purposely turning the major away. That was the final straw in their already rocky relationship. Sophia’s entire life had been spent trying to please her mother. She could still hear her mother’s icy tone telling her she would always be a disappointment and that she would do whatever it took to remove Sophia from her home.

Sophia patted the horse’s neck and wrapped the reins around a thin branch. She crept through the underbrush until she found the well-worn path she’d played along with her old nanny’s children, Sally and Tom. She thought back fondly to the fun they’d had fishing and playing in the nearby creek.

Making her way to the back of the house, she crept inside through the slaves’ entrance and up the wooden stairs to the back hallway near the dining room. Gently twisting the doorknob, she pushed the door open just a crack so she could see if anyone was inside. The room was dark and quiet. She tiptoed through the room, moving around the chairs and large oak table, using the streams of moonlight as her guide.

Poking her head into the main hall to see if anyone was about, a huge shadow loomed above her. Terror exploded inside her chest and, before she could stop herself, she screamed. Another man instantly appeared, his large, beefy hand reaching for her as he pulled her into the main hall.

“Quit your caterwauling, woman,” the man holding her said, each word sharp and pronounced. “Won’t do you no good anyway. No one here can help you.” He proceeded to shake her hard enough that her head slammed against his massive chest, causing her to bite her tongue. The sudden pain effectively stopped the scream. Pressing her lips together, her tongue throbbed as she clenched her jaws so tightly her teeth ached.

From where she stood, the flickering light of the fireplace in the sitting room across the hall had died down, its still-smoldering embers glowing. The full moon’s brightness filtered through the thin curtains that covered the room’s two windows. She glanced up, able to see the men only too well, their menacing expressions sending cold shivers down her back.

Thick shadows hung like a heavy curtain behind the two men. A flicker of movement held her gaze. Squinting, she stared at the wall until she made out the indistinct form of a man hidden in the darkness. A painful gasp scraped down her throat when the moon’s glow momentarily brightened, and the dark shadows recoiled. The sight of the major’s cold, lifeless eyes seared into her mind.

She swallowed her next breath, its sharp trail searing a path down the inside of her chest and constricting it in a tightening vise. The major’s slight frame advanced toward her. Without thinking, she tried to scoot back, but her frantic motions were stopped by the immovable arms holding her

 in place.

Small tingles of dread bit across her chilled skin, quickly turning into larger spikes as waves of malevolence washed over her. Pulling her gaze from his, she struggled. Where was her father? The servants?

“Well, my dear, I warned you. Didn’t I? I told you I always get what I want,” his thin, reedy voice taunted as he stopped in front of her, his face only a few inches from hers.

Sophia gathered what little courage she possessed and spit in his face. The major’s gloved hand whipped upward and struck her. The sharp slap against her cheek echoed through the space. The force of the hit threw her head sideways, and for a few seconds her vision blurred. Pain ripped through her lip, and she tasted the bitter copper flavor of blood. The only sound in the quiet room was her own strangled whimper.

I will not cry. I will not cryWhere is everyone? Someone should have been here by now…

She mentally shook herself, trying to stop the fluttery tremors of terror as its force moved her slight body. She pinched a tiny bit of skin on her thigh, the sharp pain immediately cutting through some of the mind-numbing fear as she tried to figure out a way to escape…but nothing came to mind. She couldn’t leave her father.

Major Todd grabbed her by the arms and jerked her away from her captor, pulling her against him. “You will learn better manners when we are married, my dear Ms. Deveraux,” he hissed in her ear.

A quick shot of anger replaced some of the fear freezing the blood in her veins. “I will never be your wife. I’d rather wallow with pigs!” She pulled as far away from him as his tight grip would allow, which wasn’t very far. The cold, abrasive look in his eyes caused her heart to flutter painfully inside her chest. Instinctively, she knew she was in trouble. “You are a commissioned officer—the Army won’t let you get away with this,” she pleaded. Blinking several times, she forced back the burning tears threatening to spill from her eyes. She refused to let him see just how upset she really was.

“You will pay for your insults, dear Sophia, and you will wish you’d accepted my proposal. You think to call me a filthy animal? You will soon learn the definition of animal where you’re going.” He shoved her back into her captor’s arms and left the room, his boot heels tapping in a clipped rhythm against the polished floorboards. He stopped in the middle of the hallway and turned his head back to her with a sneer. “Oh, and I can and will ‘get away with it,’ as you so succinctly stated. I am an admirable soldier, and have proven my worth time and again. General Scott would never question my honor.”

With a quick flip of one finger, he motioned for the soldier holding her to move her forward, placing her at his side. He pinched her trembling chin between his fingers and tilted her head up. “Love is such an honorable notion...is it not?” His tight-lipped grin turned her stomach upside down. “I have convinced Scott we are in love.” He tilted her head back, her neck cramping painfully, as his eyes moved over her face. “You would do anything for your father?”

Her eyes widened, and she tried to nod, but his grip on her chin was unrelenting. “Then, my dear, I suggest you do as I tell you. You will display the manners your mother so painstakingly tried to teach you, and come with me quietly and without struggle. Otherwise…” His low chuckle sounded sinister, sending a new burst of fear through her that settled in her stomach like a heavy stone.

She’d never seen evil before, but as she stared into the major’s eyes, she knew without a doubt evil stared back at her. She forced her frozen muscles to move, and twisted her body against the tight grip of the soldier who’d taken hold of her again. His fingers dug painfully into her tender skin. As if her efforts were nothing more than the annoying buzz of a fly, the man jerked her into step behind the major. She stumbled along the hall, which led past the grand staircase to the second floor.

Knowing she was running out of time, she planted her feet and pushed her body back into the guard, but still nothing happened. The man was as solid and as immovable as a brick wall. He shoved her forward, and she caught a quick glimpse of the library through the open double-doors. The room was her father’s private domain. He would never leave one door open, much less both. When the soldier pushed her forward, she saw her father. His arms and legs had been tied to a chair placed in the center of the room. His face was bloody and swollen, and one hand dangled at an awkward angle. She stared at the bright red splotches of blood on the front of his torn white shirt. He tried to raise his head, holding it up only long enough for their eyes to meet before it fell forward again to rest against his chest.

A pained cry tore through her pinched lips. “Papa!” She struggled to get away. Get to her father. “Why are you doing this?” She screamed at the major.

He turned his head just enough for her to see his profile in the candlelight flickering from the sconces lining the main hall. “Because I can. Your father will soon learn he can’t keep from me what’s mine. And, my dear, dear Sophia, you are definitely mine.”

Shocked and dazed at what was happening to her and her family, she had no strength left to fight and let her captors easily pull her onto the front portico. The numbness spreading over her was a welcome relief.

A loud commotion pulled her gaze toward the end of the street where a group of soldiers on horseback were shouting and laughing. She saw rather than heard the harsh crack of their whips and the slaves’ answering screams. It was simply too much for her to comprehend, and she welcomed the darkness with open arms.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Kindle Customer, Amazon wrote:

5-Stars

Excellent, so much history and how the Indian Nations were treated. I knew about the "Cherokee Trail of Tears" but not about the other tribes that were affected.

The characters were woven into the story seamlessly and had the reader pulled right in. Can't wait for the next book.

Linda R., Amazon wrote:

5-Stars

Wonderful story and well told

This author has done a wonderful job showing some of the prejudice and treatment of those Indians. She also shows the character of those same Indians on that horrific journey that history has rightfully named "Trail of Tears". These are rich characters and this author weaves a beautiful story out of a heart wrenching event.