When Linden Birchfield arrives in the Snowbird Cherokee community to organize the 180th commemoration of the Trail of Tears, she runs head on—literally—into arrogant former army sniper Walker Crowe. A descendant of the Cherokee who evaded deportation by hiding in the rugged Snowbird Mountains, Walker believes no good can result from stirring up the animosity with the white Appalachian residents whose ancestors looted the tribal lands so long ago.
Though at odds over the commemoration, Linden and Walker must unite against an unseen threat to derail the festival. Together they face an enemy whose implacable hatred can be traced to the events of the Trail, a dark chapter in America’s westward expansion. When called to resurrect his sniper abilities, Walker must thwart the enemy who threatens the modern-day inhabitants of tiny Cartridge Cove—and targets the woman who has captured his heart.
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Beyond the Cherokee Trail
By Lisa Carter
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2015 Lisa Carter
All rights reserved.
Glass crunched underneath her feet. Linden froze, catching sight of the jagged glass shards protruding from the French doors.
"Quincy?" Her voice echoed across the deserted parking lot of the Trail of Trails Interpretative Center.
She swallowed, glancing over her shoulder at the trees shrouded in darkness. An owl hooted. She shivered.
Maybe she'd come back tomorrow. In daylight. Raised in the flatlands, she wasn't used to how night in the looming mountains engulfed the valleys in one fell swoop.
Rhododendrons rustled behind her. She tensed, but someone within the darkened interior moaned.
"Quince?" she whispered.
Stepping around the broken glass, she crossed into the Center and fumbled for the light switch. Something drifted in the air past her nose. She swatted it away.
The overhead light flickered to life. She gasped at the chicken feathers plastered against the smashed display cases, as if tarred and feathered. And then she spotted the words spray-painted on the far wall. The dribbling red lines gave the message the appearance of oozing blood.
Don't Come Back Prairie N — —
Her breath hitched at the racial slur. Something bumped behind her. She wheeled as a bloody hand appeared, rising, grasping the top of the case. Linden screamed.
Quincy, his glasses askew on his face, hoisted himself upright. "Linden?" Blinking, his eyes dilated in the artificial light. He wobbled.
"What happened?" She rushed forward, grabbing his arm. "Who did this?"
He shook his head and would have fallen except for her support. "They jumped me." Touching a patch of blood at the back of his head, he winced. "Never saw their faces. But they were skinheads."
Linden's eyes widened. "In Cartridge Cove?"
His eyes darted, accessing the damage, and flitted to the encroaching darkness. "Said they'd be back if we didn't stop this nonsense."
He nodded. "Bringing the divided tribes together for the commemoration."
She frowned. "The Oklahoma band? The ones they called the prairie ..." Her lips tightened. She wouldn't use that word.
"We need to get out of here, Linden. It's not safe."
She draped his arm across her shoulder. "My car's outside." She lugged him toward the shattered door. "Then we'll call the police."
Linden felt the weight of eyes boring into her from the edge of the forest. A frisson of fear prickled against her skin. Her heart pounded. She dragged Quincy through the twilight around the corner of the building.
She pointed to the hood of her car. "They left something." She stared at the paper trapped against the windshield. "It wasn't there when I parked a few minutes ago."
"That means they're still here." He shuddered. "Watching."
Linden reached for the message.
He hunched his shoulders. "What does it say?"
"It says, 'Shut down the festival or next time you'll burn.'"
She frowned. "What does that mean?"
"Welcome to Cartridge Cove, North Carolina." Quincy cleared his throat. "Sure you don't want to go home to Raleigh?"
She crumpled the note in her hand. "Their kind drove out the Cherokee a hundred plus years ago."
Narrowing her eyes, she jutted her chin at the deepening darkness. "Nobody's driving me out."
* * *
"Would you look at what I've found?"
Her elbows resting on the sill of the attic window, Linden dragged her gaze from her contemplation of the majestic Snowbird Mountains. "What now, Gram?"
A Beach Boys tune from the Oldies But Goodies channel blared from the portable radio. Linden wended her way through the stacked piles of heirlooms. The junk her ancestors had accumulated — ahem, hoarded — like a bunch of pack rats.
Her sixtyish grandmother sat cross-legged and limber as a teenager beside the enormous, brass-studded trunk they'd unearthed under the eaves. Her Italian loafers keeping time to the beat, Marvela belted out her own gutsy, contralto rendition at "the Southern girls" part.
A smile flitted across Linden's face. Nobody did youthful like the baby boomers.
"Did your people never throw anything away, Gram? There's counseling for that now. Intervention strategies. TV shows."
Marvela raised one sculptured eyebrow. "What? And deny us the pleasure of a treasure hunt?" She shrugged her shoulders. "Besides, this isn't just Campbell heirlooms. When Fraser's parents died, he was busy commuting between D.C. and Raleigh. I was busy having your father. We hired a company to box up the Birchfield place and stored everything in the attic like my grandmother always did."
Gram gave her a pointed look, a by-product of graduating from Miss Ophelia's School for Young Ladies. "Really, Linden. Snorting is so unladylike. And at your age ..."
Only Gram cleaned out the detritus of decades — make that centuries — in Calvin Klein designer jeans and a Ralph Lauren sweater knotted gracefully over her blue Talbot blouse. And, still managed to look ready for a ladies' tea or political fundraiser.
Linden sighed, wishing — not for the first time — she'd inherited Gram's thin elegant form and classic, model-like features.
Gram could make a trip to the bathroom resemble a glorious adventure. And now, she'd gotten sucked into this latest scheme of Gram's, to convert the old family home into a bed and breakfast in the far western corner of North Carolina.
Not that Linden had anything better to do when Gram announced her "retirement" plans to return to her childhood home in tiny Cartridge Cove, population five hundred. Nothing better to do in this economy after she'd lost her job during that PR fiasco.
And with her fledgling public relations company on the verge of going under, Linden had been sent by the family to act as a cushion — foil or field hand, take your pick — to balance her grandmother's "youthful" exuberance. But at least, thanks to Gram's influence, she'd managed to snag the Cartridge Cove commemoration as a client.
"Look, Linden, darlin'." Marvela thrust two bundles of fabric, one in each hand, at Linden.
"A Union flag?"
Marvela's eyes danced. "And a Confederate one, too."
"You don't mean ...?"
"One son fought for the Union. The other for the Confederacy." Marvela fluttered a hand in the direction of the window. "A lot of families in the mountains split according to conscience."
Linden fingered the dry, brittle fabric. She hoped her own mother would never receive a flag on behalf of Royce, Linden's younger brother, currently stationed in troubled Central Africa.
Marvela brushed a strand of her silvered hair from her face and reached once more into the trunk. "Maybe this book I found underneath the flags will tell us more."
Linden grabbed for the book. They swapped items. Marvela placed the flags alongside the other treasures she'd unearthed — a silver pocket watch, a doughboy-style helmet, and an Art Deco brooch.
She plopped down beside her grandmother and brushed her fingertips over the dark, leather cover, the edges and binding frayed and crumbling with age.
"It's a journal. Somebody named Sarah Jane Hopkins."
"Is there a date?"
Linden lifted the book toward the dim light of the lone light bulb dangling from the ceiling. She squinted, trying to decipher the spidery, old-fashioned handwriting with its flourishes and curlicues in faded blue ink. "First entry, 1837. December."
She grinned at her grandmother.
Marvela reached into the cavernous depths of the green leather trunk. "Cool."
Cool? She threw her grandmother a fond look before turning her attention once more to the book.
"Time period's right for Quincy's museum and the commemoration. But too early to explain the flags." Linden thumbed to the last page. "Last entry is dated — huh?"
Linden let out a gust of air. "1900. Perhaps a diary where she recorded only the milestones of her life. Maybe she'll explain the flags, after all."
Marvela popped her head out from the trunk. "Did I tell you how much I like that young man of yours, Dr. Quincy Sawyer? I'm glad he's going to be okay."
Linden cut her eyes at her grandmother. "He's not my young man, Gram. Stop playing matchmaker. Been there, done that." She tossed her head, sending a wave of tendrils tumbling out of her chignon. "Never again. And at my age ..."
Marvela snorted. "Twenty-nine. And just because of one jerk, you're hardly too old to lock your hope chest away for good."
Graduates of Miss Ophelia's, like Marvela, refused to understand in the twenty-first century, girls didn't have hope chests. Or dream of love and take-your-breath romance in the crazy world of modern life.
Especially not after an experience with someone like The Jerk.
Marvela patted the side of the trunk. "Why, I bet this might've been Sarah Jane Hopkins's own hope chest." She gave Linden a sly, sidelong look. "And none of us are too old for romance."
She made a show of smoothing the non-existent wrinkles from her perfectly creased jeans. "Not even me. Why, at my advanced age," Marvela drawled in that cultured Southern belle tone she learned at Miss Ophelia's, "you never know what I'm liable to do."
Truer words had never been spoken. Linden fought the urge to smile.
"'Cause," her grandmother laid her French-manicured hand on Linden's knee, "you never can tell what adventure might be just around the corner. When you least expect it —"
"Like a tornado or E. coli?"
Marvela rolled her eyes toward the rafters.
Smothering her laughter, Linden stuck her nose into the pages of Sarah Jane Hopkins's diary.
* * *
"Like this, Eli." Walker tossed the small, deer hide-covered ball into the air and lobbed his netted hickory stick, propelling the ball in the direction of Eli's outstretched stick.
"I'm open," yelled Matt, another one of Walker's stickball recruits. He sprinted forward, and then side-to-side dodging his opponents in the scrimmage match.
Eli spun and leaped, stick stretched high, into the air. With a whoosh, he sent the ball careening through space, over the head of a charging player straining for the interception. Matt, fending off another player in this down-and dirty Cherokee version of lacrosse, made a leap worthy of the great Michael Jordan. Catching the ball in his net, he shook off his impending foe like a coon dog shook off bath water.
Walker, Eli, and their team cheered, hickory sticks stabbing the air, as Matt blasted the ball between their opponent's goal posts to score. Amidst much jubilation, Eli and company performed a small victory dance with Matt perched atop their collective shoulders.
The rest of Walker's Boys Club crew leaned over, hands on their knees, drawing in great gulps of air as sweat dribbled down their bare backs. Walker ambled over and clapped a hand on the nearest teen's shoulder. "Better luck next time, Owle."
Jake Owle straightened, mischief in his brown eyes. "Better luck if next time Matt Cornsilk's on our side of the scrimmage."
Walker laughed. It was true. Matt Cornsilk possessed an incredible agility coupled with explosive bursts of speed.
"I promise we'll mix it up next time." Walker caught sight of his mother, Irene Crowe, leaning against the chain-link fence that surrounded the high school baseball field they used to practice for the stickball tournament.
Walker's smile faded.
He understood why she'd come. And it wasn't to watch him coach Cherokee stickball.
Walker angled as the guys gathered around for further instructions. "Great practice. Don't forget we play Wolftown next Saturday."
Several of the guys groaned. "They're big."
"And fast," added Eli.
Jake smirked. "Not as fast as Matt."
Matt ducked his head, but grinned and scuffed his big toe in the grass.
Eli expanded his skinny chest and pounded his fist against it. "We're big, too. Real Snowbird Cherokee mountain men, not like those city boys."
Walker's lips twitched. "I hardly think Wolftown qualifies as a city, and those boys are as Cherokee as you or I. Anyway," he pinpointed one or two of the boys with a look, "don't forget to practice your drills this week."
The boys groaned again. He held up his hand. "They build stamina and increase cardiovascular performance." More groaning, like he'd assigned algebra or something.
"No pain, no gain, no trophy at the festival. See ya next weekend. Ten a.m. sharp. And ..."
The boys had already started to shake their heads. They knew what was coming.
Because he said it every week.
He planted his hands on his hips. "If any of you, lazy bums, ever have a hope of getting a girlfriend, I'm begging you, please ... hit the showers."
The guys rolled their eyes.
Eli, his smart-mouth second cousin, jabbed him in the ribs with his elbow. "Like why don't you follow your own advice, Coach?" He held his nose. "How about you set a good example and show us how to catch one of them sweet thangs?"
"Not going to happen, dude." He nudged Eli with his shoulder. "Too busy babysitting you sissies." The guys laughed and fanned out to collect their equipment.
Matt, team captain, initiated the rousing war chant the boys composed when Walker formed the group three years ago. They believed it made them sound more Cherokee, fiercer, warriorlike and that the chant struck terror in the hearts of intertribal teams like the Choctaw group from Georgia.
Fighting a smile — because the only thing their proud war cry accomplished was to disgust the fairer sex of all races — Walker strolled over to where his mother waited.
Shaking her head, she handed him the Cartridge Cove Volunteer Fire Department t-shirt he'd left draped over the fence. "Yeah, son, why don't you follow your own advice and provide your old mother some more grandbabies before I expire from this earth?"
He hunched his shoulders as he slipped the shirt over his head. As if his indomitable mother would ever be old. Like many of their Cherokee forebears, she'd probably still be kicking up her heels at the ripe old age of a hundred.
Not to mention, nagging him to his early death about this police thing.
"You didn't file an application with the Sheriff like you said — "
"Like you said." He poked his head through the neck hole and shrugged his arms into the sleeves. "I never said. You know how I feel about that subject, Ma."
Irene placed her hands on her hips in a familiar, if unconscious, imitation of her son. "You're more than qualified, John Walker Crowe. And, viewed as an up-and-coming leader among The People."
He untied the leather thong holding his shoulder-length hair out of his face. "Not by choice, I assure you."
Irene's eyes narrowed. He'd seen that look before. Like when he'd tried her patience and she sent him out to cut his own hickory switch. "The elders have done their part for the tribe. It's time for younger blood. Time to let the Old Ones retire to their farms and — "
"And to checkerboard games at the Mercantile."
Her lips pursed.
Walker possessed the good sense to take a step back at the expression on her face. At thirty-two, he'd been too old for hickory switches for years. But on second thought, did one ever get too old for a mother to snatch a knot in her child?
"To whom much is given, much is required, John Walker. And after what happened this week at the Center ..."
He shook his head. "After what happened to me in Afghanistan, I swore I'd never pick up a gun again. And for the record, the abilities I've been given, I don't want."
Some of the fight went out of her eyes. "Here," she made a circling motion with her finger. "Turn around and let me scrape that hair out of your face. You're making a right mess of it."
He handed her the leather band and pivoted. He bent his knees to accommodate her lesser height.
"It wasn't your fault, son."
He grimaced. She wasn't going to let this go. Her hands finger-combed the strands of his hair.
"Maybe like the elders, I've done my part, too, Ma. You ever think of that? For my country. Above and beyond. Time for me to retire to my farm."
She grunted. "You and those trees."
His knees were beginning to ache. Proof he wasn't getting any younger, either. Probably a result of the uncomfortable, crouched position he'd often assumed in carrying out his specialty within the unit. Time for a new tactic. He'd learned a little something about strategy during his two tours.
"I'm not warrior material like Uncle Ross," he continued. "I've wished my reflexes had been a second slower, my aim a trifle higher ... Hey — ow! Stop Mom. You're hurting me." He squirmed, trying to loosen her stranglehold on his hair — and his scalp.
Excerpted from Beyond the Cherokee Trail by Lisa Carter. Copyright © 2015 Lisa Carter. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Linden Birchfield finds a diary in an old trunk in her grandmother’s attic which leads her to learn more about her ancestor Sarah Jane Hopkins, the writer, and the people she mentions 180 years ago. Sarah Jane helped her physician father, who ministered to the Cherokee when they were evicted from their homes and forced to Oklahoma. The Hopkins journeyed with the Cherokee along the tragic Trail of Tears. Linden has her own troubles that inhibit her from pursuing a tantalizing relationship with Walker Crowe. I enjoy the two story threads that Lisa Carter skillfully weaves together. The lives of those who’ve gone before us can help us learn how to live our lives to the fullest by following their lead or avoiding their mistakes. Another winner from Lisa Carter.