today’s book: The Accidental Guardian by Mary Connealy
We are moving right along on our summer-long Road Trip Reads Giveaway where we will be visiting all 50 states on the pages of recently released books. Because road trips are always better with friends – and books – right? So grab your fave snacks, a cold soda or bottled water, an upbeat playlist and let’s head out west again!
today’s stop: Nevada
THE ACCIDENTAL GUARDIAN by Mary Connealy
SERIES: High Sierra Sweethearts #1
GENRE: Historical/Western Romance (Christian)
PUBLISHER: Bethany House
RELEASE DATE: April 3, 2018
She’s the Only Witness to a Wagon Train Attack. Keeping Her Safe, Though, Means His World Is about to be Turned Upside Down.
When Trace Riley finds the smoldering ruins of a small wagon train, he recognizes an attack by the same group who left him as sole survivor years ago. Living off the wilderness since then, he’s finally carved out a home and started a herd–while serving as a self-appointed guardian of the trail. He’d hoped the days of driving off dangerous men were over, but the latest attack shows otherwise.
Deborah Harkness saved her younger sister and two toddlers during the attack, and now finds herself at the mercy of her rescuer. Trace becomes an accidental guardian when he offers the only shelter for miles around and agrees to take them in until they can safely continue their journey. His simple bachelor existence never anticipated kids and women in the picture and their arrival is unsettling–yet enticing.
Trace and Deborah find themselves drawing ever closer as they work together to bring justice to the trail and help the group survive the winter–but every day closer to spring means a day closer to leaving the mountains forever.
Kicking the mustang into a gallop, Wolf loping along at his side, Trace reached the top of the trail, looked down into a hollow that opened to a wide grassy clearing in the forested land, and saw the smoke—a low smudge along the ground. When the smoke rose, the brisk cold wind instantly dispersed it, which was why he hadn’t seen it before he could smell it. And then he recognized what was burning. A wagon train,
or what was left of one, in a circle. Except for the flames, the scene was as silent and still as death itself. He wanted to turn away, run. But he could no more run from this massacre than he could run from his own past.
Trace reined in his stallion and waited in a silence broken only by the buffeting wind and Wolf’s threatening rumble. Whoever had done this was long gone. The fire was nearly burned down to nothing. But Trace had lived a long time in a hard land and survived against odds so long he’d be the envy of every riverboat gambler in the world.
He studied the trail. He’d been on it awhile now and there’d been no tracks, nor had he met anyone. No sign of anyone traveling his way, not even hours ago. But there were recent tracks headed east; he could see that even from here.
Reluctantly, he kicked his horse down the trail into the hollow. He had to know what happened and see if there was anyone left alive and, failing that, find out who these folks were and then let their families know what had happened.
A chill colder than Lake Tahoe took root in his backbone. Men lay dead, and the fire in his belly for vengeance roared to life. He’d get justice for these poor folks.
He’d done it before.
Breathing hard, fury and grief tearing through his gut, Trace realized his grip on the reins had tightened, causing Black to dance. He forced himself to relax his hands and re- membered a time when he’d spent many of his days watching this same trail from a distance, posting himself as a guardian to those hardy few who broke off from the main wagon train and took the little-used trail south.
Back then he’d put a stop to the raiders who preyed on honest folks. Back then he’d known no one, spoken to no one. He’d done his work and slipped away. He’d even chosen not to follow the trail out, find civilization, because the rag- ing need for vengeance kept him here, kept him on guard.
Finally, the trouble had stopped. And he’d stopped stand- ing sentry to those passing by. He’d settled in to a lonely life in the wilderness.
Then Adam had turned up at Trace’s property hunting work. His loneliness struck him. He hadn’t realized how ter- rible the isolation had been, with only his anger as a friend. Trace learned a lot about the outside world from his new friend. He explored more widely and found a few folks lived around him. From them he learned about the ghost who
haunted this trail. “The Guardian,” they called him.
To his grim amusement, Trace found he’d become a legend. The identity of this ghostly guardian was never known, and Trace sure as certain never told anyone. He’d killed men. Oh, they’d needed killin’ real bad, but it was a weight on his soul that he never could shed.
He’d nearly reached the fire circle when a rustling to the north, in the tall grass, jerked him around, his rifle aimed. Wolf whirled to face the noise.
He heard a strange cry that he couldn’t identify. It put him in mind of childhood stories among superstitious folks in the mountains of Tennessee, of witches and goblins and banshees. The cry sent a chill up his spine and made the hair on the back of his neck stand up straight.
Trace didn’t believe in such things as ghosts, but if ever a place might be haunted, the site of all these murdered souls might be it.
He suppressed the eerie notion. Someone or something was coming and, considering the carnage of the wagon train and the pure fact that someone mighty evil was close by, it looked like, for all his thinking that he was a tough man who survived in the West, he’d walked right into a trap.
He leveled his rifle, ready to fight to the end. Wolf’s ears came forward, and his growl changed to a bark. A mighty friendly bark. It wasn’t a sound Wolf used much. In fact, about never. Trace couldn’t remember ever hearing it before.
And then he saw . . . something impossible.
With a quick jerk, he pulled his finger away before a twitch could trigger his gun. And how could a man not twitch when he was staring at an absolutely shocking sight?
Wolf took off running. He was just as obedient as he wanted to be and not a speck more.
His pa used to say, “Believe your own eyes, son. Most of the time.” This might be one of those times Pa was thinking of as an exception.
A woman. He was watching a woman running right toward him.
“Help, don’t leave us!” The woman waved her arms, shouted, and generally acted like he was the finest sight short of the Lord returning in triumph.
Which meant she didn’t have a lick of sense.
She had no idea who he was, but he had a good notion about her. She was from this wagon train and had somehow survived. And she needed help. In fact, she should’ve been sorely afraid that he was one of those who’d attacked and killed her fellow travelers. Instead, she showed herself bold as could be.
“You have to help us, please!”
“Us?” Trace said to Black. And now she was asking a strange rider for help shortly after she’d witnessed a massacre.
On the other hand, she did need his help. He shoved the rifle into the leather scabbard on his saddle and was about to call out . . . something. What?
Relax, I’m not going anywhere.
I’m not a murdering outlaw, and you’re shot full of luck.
Please quit screaming—you’re scaring my horse.
And then a strange high-pitched squall drew his attention as a second woman emerged from the grass. He noticed the bundle she carried in her arms. It was . . . Trace shook his head with some violence. It was . . . no, it wasn’t. Yep, it sure enough was . . . a baby.
Now that he was getting a few more details into his addled brain—and he’d been so proud of what an alert and noticing kind of man he was just a few minutes ago—he noticed the second woman had an older child in her arms, too.
The littler kid just plain howled, which set off the older one—a girl and still mighty young herself—into a fit of wail- ing tears. The first woman turned away from him and raced toward the second, took the crying older child, then they came at him running, screaming, waving. His mustang just got plain jittery, and maybe Trace was a bit jittery himself.
Banshees were looking mighty good right now.
Mary Connealy, The Accidental Guardian
Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group © 2023. Used by permission.
Mary Connealy is offering a print copy of The Accidental Guardian to one of my readers! (US only. Void where prohibited by law or logistics.) This giveaway is subject to Reading Is My SuperPower’s giveaway policies which can be found here. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below.
What about you? What makes you want to read The Accidental Guardian by Mary Connealy? Have you ever visited Nevada?