Brave and determined, the American pioneers risked many dangers to settle untamed land. Being on the move as winter approached could find the settlers stranded in unconventional shelters, but still faithful to remember Christ’s birth with grateful hearts. In this delightful collection of nine Christmas romances, pioneers experience hospitality and romance where least expected—including a cave in North Carolina, a tipi in Oklahoma, and a dugout in Arizona. Readers will enjoy diverse settings in history across America as penned by many of Christian fiction’s leading authors, including Lauraine Snelling, Kathleen Fuller, and Vickie McDonough.
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About the Author
Bestselling author Vickie McDonough grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead married a computer geek who is scared of horses. She now lives out her dreams in her fictional stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen, and others living in the Old West. Vickie is the award-winning author of thirty-five published books and novellas. Her novels include the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse Brides series, and Gabriel’s Atonement, Book 1 in her Land Rush Dreams series.
Vickie has been married thirty-nine years to Robert. They have four grown sons, one of whom is married, and a precocious eight-year-old granddaughter. When she’s not writing, Vickie enjoys reading, antiquing, watching movies, and traveling. To learn more about Vickie’s books or to sign up for her newsletter, visit her website: www.vickiemcdonough.com
Lauraine Snelling is an award-winning author with over 75 published titles including two horse series for kids. With more than 3 million books in print, Lauraine still finds time to create great stories as she travels around the country to meet readers with her husband and rescued Basset Sir Winston.
Bestselling author Margaret Brownley has published more than thirty-five books and has written for a daytime TV soap.The third book in her popular Undercover Ladies series, Calico Spy, will be published December 2015. She is currently working on a new series. A past Romance Writers of America RITA finalist she has won many literary awards including Readers Choice. Margaret and her husband have three grown children and live in Southern California. Margaret can be reached through her website; www.margaret-brownley.com
Marcia Gruver’s southern roots lend touches of humor and threads of faith to her writing. Look for both in her Texas Fortunes and Backwoods Brides series. When she’s not perched behind a keyboard, you’ll find her clutching a game system controller or riding shotgun on long drives in the Texas Hill Country. Lifelong Texans, Marcia and her husband Lee have five children. Collectively, this motley crew has graced them with a dozen grandchildren and one great-granddaughter—so far.
Cynthia Hickey grew up in a family of storytellers and moved around the country a lot as an army brat. Her desire is to write about real, but flawed characters in a wholesome way that her seven children and five grandchildren can all be proud of. She and her husband live in Arizona where Cynthia is a full-time writer.
Michelle Ule is a musician, historian and Bible study leader who graduated from UCLA. She’s the author of five historical novellas and a Navy SEAL novel. Married to a now retired submarine officer whom she followed all over the world, she lives with her family in northern California. You can learn more about her at www.michelleule.com
Read an Excerpt
A Pioneer Christmas Collection
9 Stories of Finding Shelter and Love in a Wintry Frontier
By Lauraine Snelling, Margaret Brownley, Kathleen Fuller, Marcia Gruver, Cynthia Hickey, Vickie McDonough, Shannon McNear, Michelle Ule, Anna Urquhart
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Shannon McNear
All rights reserved.
Late October 1780
Papa would tan her hide if he knew she was out here again. Too many Indians to worry about. Not to mention Tories. But Papa was still gone, fighting the British, and the young'uns needed fed.
Truth Bledsoe took a better grip on her grandfather's long rifle and peered through the cold fog of the western North Carolina morning. The narrow path up the mountain lay beneath a carpet of reds and golds, slick with rain. All but a few yards ahead faded into the mist. The forest was still except for the occasional drip of moisture and creak of branch.
With a deep breath, she trudged on, until out of the mist loomed a great boulder tucked into a fold of the mountainside.
Her favorite hunting perch. She slid the rifle up over the edge then, with fingers and toes in various cracks, hoisted herself onto the top. There she settled herself to wait for whatever game might wander past.
She'd taken her share of deer, turkey, and squirrel from this rock. Seen the occasional panther. Even glimpsed a few Indians. Today she was just hoping for something to fill the stew pot.
Her ears strained for shreds of sound. Everything would be muffled in the fog, whether the whoosh of a deer's snort or the rustle of a squirrel in the leaves.
The snap of a twig, when it came, drew her almost straight up, gun to her shoulder.
"Don't shoot!" came a sharp cry.
Sighted there at the end of her rifle was a man — young, unkempt, hollow cheeked. Not one she recognized from the near settlements.
"Please. For the love of God, don't shoot."
She did not move or lower the rifle. She'd take no chances. "Who are you?"
"I —" He swallowed, dark gaze flicking over her.
No hat, no rifle, no gear to speak of, not even a haversack. Filthy from head to toe. Hunting frock and breeches tattered, and were those — bloodstains?
"Answer," she said. "Now."
His already pale face went a shade lighter. His mouth flattened, and his brows came down. "No one of consequence."
"So, there's no one to miss you if I shoot."
"I didn't say that!"
A wry smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. "Tell me, then, why I should not shoot you. Besides the love of God, of course." Not a small reason, that.
He swayed a little on his feet. "Because ..." His voice dropped. "Because the battle is over."
Her heart hitched. The love of God, indeed.
She kept the rifle aimed — a girl must be prudent, after all — but lifted her head. Those were most certainly bloodstains then. "Are you wounded?"
He shook his head.
"How long since you last ate?"
Behind the curtain of stringy brown hair, his dark eyes remained wary. One shoulder lifted and fell.
Nothing for it then. Venting a sigh, she propped the rifle against her hip, keeping it leveled toward him, and reached her other hand into her haversack. The man's gaze shifted, curious, hungry.
When she found the double-fist-sized chunk of johnnycake wrapped in a napkin, she pulled it out and tossed it to him. He caught it midair with only the slightest fumble.
"There," she said. "Eat up."
He didn't need to be told twice.
"Slowly. You'll choke otherwise." She reached this time for her canteen and swung it toward him. He easily snagged the strap as it sailed through the air.
Still eyeing her with caution and expectation, he unstopped the wooden vessel and took a drink before making short work of the last handful of her flat corn bread.
"Nearly out of sugar, so 'tain't as sweet as I'd like," she said.
He wiped one sleeve across his mouth. "Tastes mighty fine. My thanks to you."
The rifle was getting heavy, but she ignored the burn in her arms and shoulders. "What battle, now?"
He stilled. His gaze darted to hers and away. "King's Mountain."
The chill those words gave her went all the way from toes to scalp. Lord, have mercy! He must be a Tory.
* * *
He'd thought nothing could ever unsettle him again, not after the battle and the horrors he'd witnessed in the days following. Not even being held at gunpoint by a fierce over-the-mountain girl.
He'd thought wrong.
After the initial scare they'd given each other, Micah Elliot tried to keep his movements slow and steady. No telling how twitchy she might get with that rifle — and a fine one it was, too, a Pennsylvania model, as long as she was tall. The girl, now, he couldn't tell, wrapped as she was in a man's hunting frock, her head covered in a felt hat, one edge cocked and decorated with a turkey feather. Eyes as pale as the mist and almost as cold peered at him from beneath the brim, and her mouth was a thin line above a pointed chin.
He hadn't reckoned on her taking pity on him and giving him food, either, but he was right grateful for that. And he wasn't lying about the corn cake being tasty.
"Now." Her eyes narrowed. "I know you're not from around here. Who are you, and why are you here?"
How much could he trust her? Colonels Shelby and Sevier had at least tried to be fair after the battle, but he'd had a taste of the legendary savagery of the over-the-mountain men. Worse than Indians, it was said. Whether that was so, he could not say, but his body still carried the aches and bruises of their smoldering fury.
And his head was still a little swimmy, making it hard to pull his tattered thoughts together and come up with a defense. "Who are you, and why are you here?"
She hefted the rifle, and her faded blue skirt swayed a little beneath the coat. "I asked first."
He fished and came up with a short form of his middle name. "Will." That was common enough.
Did he imagine it, or did the corner of her mouth lift? Her gaze lost none of its fire. "Well then, Will Williams, and from where do you hail?"
"East." The word was out before he could stop it.
"Oh, so amusing, you are." She tilted her head, and the misty light outlined a strong cheekbone and jaw. "Get a little johnnycake down your gullet, and you have all kinds of sass."
He wasn't going to tell her that the bread barely eased the ache in his gut. "Well, you did feed me. You're less likely to spend a rifle ball on someone you've just given your own provisions to."
But he stepped back a couple of paces, just to show his goodwill. No sense in tempting the pretty hand of Fortune.
"King's Mountain, you say." Her face resumed its grimness. "We heard tell of Ferguson's men meeting a bloody end there. You were on the Tory side, then?"
Right smart she was. He held his tongue. Nothing to say there.
"Well," she muttered. "At least you didn't lie about that."
"The truth means much to you?"
She gave him what approached a real smile. "My name is Truth. Truth Bledsoe. My uncle is captain of the home guard for our settlements."
Would it help his case or hurt it to tell her he was a coward? An escaped loyalist prisoner who could no longer face how neighbor fought neighbor and brother fought brother back home?
"Then I expect you're mighty handy with that rifle."
Her chin came up. "I'm near to fair."
Likely a crack shot, the way she handled it. He didn't want to test that.
"You going to tell me why you're here?" she asked, her voice low.
She stood, balanced in a small hollow in the side of the boulder, skirts swaying just a little, but she held that long rifle as steady as could be.
She had to be as scared of him as he was of her, maybe more.
"How long's it been since you ate?" she pressed.
"A week, maybe longer." And not much, even then. They weren't exactly generous with rations for prisoners.
Her mouth thinned a little more.
His gut growled, the hunger sharper than ever. It was becoming more difficult to keep the tremors out of his limbs, standing here under her eye. Better to take the chance of trusting her and die here quickly than dissemble and die of slow starvation. "I was part of the North Carolina militia from above Charlotte Town. Those of us what didn't die at King's Mountain were taken by the rebels — I ... I mean —"
She nodded slowly. "See? I knew you were Tory."
Her fingers lifted on the gun barrel. "Makes no never mind. Go ahead."
His heart pounded inside his chest so hard he was sure she heard it. "They carried us to Gilbert Town. Nine of us were hanged. And the rest —"
He couldn't say the words. Couldn't inflict the horror of it on her, a mere girl —
But she'd fed him. She deserved an explanation.
"There was unspeakable abuse," he said. "You don't know." He shook his head again.
"Ferguson threatened our settlements with unspeakable things," she said.
He swallowed. "I know what you must think of me, but I promise I mean you no harm. You or the settlements. Regardless of what Ferguson said."
And how could he? He didn't even know where his loyalties lay anymore.CHAPTER 2
What was I thinking?
Truth huffed. She'd stomp back down the trail if she weren't so particular about stepping downhill on wet leaves. She'd not just spared a Tory — one who'd doubtless faced her father across a battlefield — but fed him. And then bid him go back into hiding.
And she still didn't have anything to fill the pot at home.
Telling him, "Shoo, go away, I need to finish hunting," didn't sit well with her, but what could she do? He was noisy enough to scare away game for a mile in any direction. And he should know better.
She thought of the way he'd swayed, stumbled a little, and caught himself. Bone weary, he'd looked ... maybe soul weary as well. That was the reason she'd had pity on him and not only warned him back into hiding but promised to bring him more food.
What was she thinking?
His plea still wrung at her. For the love of God. Likely he'd meant it as a common oath. Maybe. But maybe not.
Now, after wasting so much time, she had to see to her sisters and younger brother. Get off the mountain, back to the cabin, and while she was at it, see if Uncle Anthony had any word on Papa. It had been a good two weeks. If he was helping guard prisoners from the battle, then it could be a bit longer, and she'd learned not to fret overmuch when he was out riding with Colonel Sevier and the others.
There was unspeakable abuse. You don't know.
A chill swept her as the young man's words came back to mind. From Papa? Never. Oh, he could be stern. 'Specially after losing Mama three years back, there were times Truth wasn't sure he was still the papa she'd always known. But maybe that was just on account of growing older herself and seeing life a bit more clearly.
But abuse? No. Maybe he'd lost his temper a time or two, but he was more likely to leave the cabin than take it out on her or the young'uns.
So if Papa was there, that meant he either couldn't stop it, or —
She rounded a bend of the trail and skidded to a halt. Outlined in the thinning mist stood a perfect six-point buck.
Ah Lord! Could it be? And in the unlikeliest of places as well.
Without another thought, she swung the rifle to her shoulder, took aim, and squeezed the trigger. There was no turning down provision when it appeared for the taking.
The familiar recoil of the weapon slammed into her shoulder. Smoke puffed into the air and was lost in the fog. She peered again into the gloom — and there lay the buck, dropped with the single shot.
That surely was a miracle.
By long habit, she first reloaded the rifle. Afterward she made quick work of field dressing the animal, saving the organ meats, and tying the cord she always kept in her haversack to the buck's hind legs for dragging the carcass home. Now her main concern was leaving before a hungry bear caught wind of her kill.
Back at the cabin, her next youngest sister Patience had milked the cow and set the cream to rise, and Thomas had brought in wood. A bright, cheery fire warmed the inside of the cabin, and her two youngest sisters, Thankful and Mercy, were at their morning chore of brushing and braiding each other's hair.
Thomas's head came up at her entrance. "Fresh meat?"
Setting her rifle in the corner, she flashed him a grin. "A deer. Six-point buck."
His blue eyes rounded. With a whoop, he went to gather the knives and bowls they used for cutting up the meat.
She tugged off her hat and hung it on its peg. And how would she get food to — what was his name, Will? — without a dozen questions from the young'uns?
Will ... Williams. With a snort, she slid out of the worn, fringed hunting frock and hung it up as well.
Together, she knew they'd make short work of it — skinning, cutting the meat into strips for smoking, and saving aside a haunch for roasting. And she set little Mercy to the side on a chair, with the Bible open before her.
"Behold," Mercy read, her clear, high voice steady, "the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord thy God's, the earth also, with all that therein is."
Truth thought of the wildness of the mountains. How great God must be for shaping them.
"For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."
Her hands slowed at her task. Giving him food and raiment. Well, that settled it. She had to do something about that half-starved, soon-to-be-naked man up the mountain whether or not she liked it. She'd just have to figure out a way to do so without the others finding out.
Or Papa, once he returned.
* * *
There was only the pop and thunder of rifle and musket fire, the tang of smoke, the screams of the wounded, and the chilling war whoops from the rebel forces surrounding the mountain. Micah crouched, gripping the musket, his bayonet at the ready. Why was the colonel taking so long on the order to charge?
And over everything, Ferguson's whistle, with which he signaled above the din of battle. Would Micah even be able to hear the under-officer's order? He strained for the shout, but only the rebel screams and shriek of the whistle ripped at his eardrums. Still, none of his company moved, even when the fire pouring from below tore bloody holes in their hunting coats.
Inexplicably, Ferguson's whistle now sounded like a whip-poor-will, each beat of the three-beat call punctuated by a rifle wound hitting the breast of the man on Micah's right....
He wrested himself awake with a gasp. Oh Lord, would he never stop dreaming about it?
As his eyes adjusted to the faint daylight outside the cave where he'd sheltered the last few nights, he heard again the call: Whip-poor-will! Whip-poor-will!
But it was deep autumn, long past the season the woodland bird would customarily take up the mournful, rhythmic melody that gave it its name. And the time of day was all wrong.
He sat up, crept to the mouth of the cave, and listened. Silence, then more slowly, Whip-poor-will?
Heart pounding, he put two fingers to his lips then hesitated. Indians sometimes used such calls, but something told him it wasn't an Indian. That over-the-mountain girl Truth — aye, a severe name for an equally severe female — had promised to bring him more food.
Not for the first time, he cursed his own need. How he'd managed to leave behind even his knife —
He answered with a two-note whistle. Bobwhite!
Would she recognize it?
He spotted her then, a skirted form with a hunting frock over, as before, pressed against a massive, gnarled oak. Stiffly, he crawled from the cave and stood.
Rifle in one hand, she reached for something behind the tree and stepped out as well. For a long moment, they merely stared at each other.
He hadn't told her where he was hiding.
"You said to meet at the rock," he ventured at last.
"I couldn't wait," she said, her voice soft in the predawn gloom. "And I know most of the caves hereabouts. Didn't figure it could be so hard to narrow it down." Was it his imagination, or did her lips curve a little? "I hoped the whip-poor-will call would help."
He tried a smile in return. "Was that a play on my name?"
She snorted, but the curl of amusement held. "If it is your true name."
Better not to answer that yet.
He looked at the bundle she held. Despite her suspicions, she had come. His eyes burned, and he hoped he didn't appear too desperate. Those few bites yesterday had reawakened not just his hunger but all his hope of life, it seemed.
She stepped forward and gave the bundle a gentle toss toward his feet then backed away. Still not trusting him either. "I found a few things that might be helpful."
Micah knelt and tugged at the knot of what he could see now was a wool blanket, worn and much mended. Inside lay a knife, also much used if the nicks of grip and blade were anything to judge by, but the relief of having steel to hand again after losing his own was almost as great as that of the prospect of another meal.
Excerpted from A Pioneer Christmas Collection by Lauraine Snelling, Margaret Brownley, Kathleen Fuller, Marcia Gruver, Cynthia Hickey, Vickie McDonough, Shannon McNear, Michelle Ule, Anna Urquhart. Copyright © 2013 Shannon McNear. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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