Marriage Is Not Her Mission
Escaping a society wedding, Annabelle Baldwin followed her heart to Liberia to pursue her calling as a missionary. But when an attempted kidnapping lands her under the protection of Stewart Hastings, Anna's journey takes a new turn. The wounded war veteran needs a guide through the jungle. It's a job the underfunded missionary can't refuse, despite the feelings Stewart stirs in her guarded heart.
Stewart knows he won't succeed without Anna's expertise. And when danger puts her life at risk, he realizes he cannot live without Anna by his side. But what will it take for a man who has lost his faith to capture the heart of a woman who lives for hers?
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Wh en the annals of desperation were written, Stewart Hastings figured his name would have its own chapter. What was it going to take to acquire a competent guide into the Liberian jungle? Clearly his visit to this harbor-side tavern was another complete waste of time.
Six days to interview a promising list of a dozen names, and yet not a willing guide among them. The wages Stewart had offered the previous candidates should have been enough, but the joke was on him. Apparently he was the only man foolish enough to take big money for an expedition into cannibal territory.
He put his sterling on the wooden bar for the meal he'd just eaten, stepped outside and headed off to meet the final name on his list of potential guides. From his understanding of the street layout, his destination wasn't far from the boardinghouse where he had rented a room.
The cool ocean breeze off the promontory invigorated him, providing momentary relief from the overheated barroom, whose smells of whiskey, palm oil and humanity had left him with a throb behind his right temple. The relief quickly faded as he walked the moonlit turf-covered streets. Whoever said tropical countries didn't get cold had never been to Monrovia on a September night. After the daily rains let up, the temperature drop had him jamming his hands into his pockets and hunching his shoulders against the chill.
He couldn't have come all the way to Africa only to lose his best hope of securing his and his ailing mother's future. With little more than a day before his ship departed, the outlook was bleak. Exploring for minable geological deposits in a little-mapped jungle area was difficult enough, but add in cannibals and subtract a guide and the task became downright impossible.
His dead father's drunken rants echoed in his memory. Maybe the son of a dockworker would never be more than a scholarship boy trying to shake off the stench of the slums. With no family name to propel him to success, failure was always a strong possibility. This time it wasn't an option he could allow.
He had to persist. His mother's heart doctor was right. Even without the results from that newfangled electrocardiograph machine, the signs were all there, no matter how she tried to hide them. She reached for her digitalis more frequently, became short of breath working in her garden. Spending her days scrubbing the floors of the rich was a ticket to an early grave. She needed the rest and diet the doctor prescribed. Stewart had promised her a better life the day they buried his father. Now that she was ill, he couldn't fail in that promise.
He had to find a guide and meet his deadline. His hard-won degree from Harvard would mean nothing to his financial future if chaperoned by a reputation for failure.
He crossed Broad Street. Moonlight mocked the darkened light poles lining the avenue. Another confirmation of the government's financial crisis, one his employer hoped would drive down prices for the Putu Mountains area mining concession they planned to make an offer on.
Clouds rolled across the moon, forcing him to temper his stride or risk a misstep. A figure came toward him in the dark. His hand reflexively moved to the knife at his side and then relaxed as the figure grew closer. A lone Liberian woman with a sleeping baby strapped to her back, hurrying along the otherwise deserted streets. A tiny prick hit his heart as he watched the child's head gently bobbing with the mother's swaying pace until the pair was out of sight. He'd always wanted a large family, but without a wife, that would never happen. Even if he was ever deluded enough to believe in love again, what woman would have him once she'd seen the scars the Great War had left?
A piercing high-pitched scream rent the night and then abruptly cut off.
The woman with the baby? Wrong direction. Every instinct the military had honed in him rushed to the forefront.
There. The sound came from the cross street just ahead. Near his boardinghouse. He moved quickly, keeping to the deepest shadows as he assessed the situation.
Two native men with a woman struggling between them. She held a thick book, clutching the volume as if it was written in gold.
Robbery? Why won't the woman give it up? It's only a book. Hardly worth her life.
These two miscreants left him no choice but to intervene. Attacking a woman, no less. His frustration boiled to the top. The man he was to interview might not wait, but Stewart couldn't walk away.
He looked for any others hiding in the wings as he pulled the blade from its leather scabbard. Only the two. He banished fleeting thoughts of the consequences for pulling a knife on Liberian citizens. No one attacked a helpless woman in front of him without repercussion, not since the first time he was big enough to stand up to his father.
Stewart closed in without signaling his presence. She dropped her book and Oh, that had to hurt. Bet they hadn't expected her to fight back. He stifled a laugh when one assailant grabbed his foot, hopping and howling. An umbrella tip made an effective weapon. Silently he applauded her while continuing to move forward. The little lady was a feisty one, he'd give her that.
The other native pressed something white up to her face. Moonlight blazed out as the clouds retreated. A handkerchief fluttered to the ground when the attacker loosed his grip on her face and each man grabbed an arm. The woman sagged and Stewart's anger rose. What had they done to her?
One of her attackers looked up before Stewart got close enough to disable him. The man froze, his eyes glued to the cold steel in Stewart's hand.
Stewart dropped his voice to a chilling softness. "Let the woman go, and I'll allow you to live." Whether they spoke Liberian English or a local dialect, his tone said the same thing in any language.
The two men exchanged a quick glance, not loosening their hold on the woman. Not smart. At six foot three, Stewart had them each by a good nine inches of height. More when you added in the six inches of steel in his hand.
The one on his right tensed. Always a mistake to telegraph your intentions. Stewart stepped in and punched him with his free hand. The man flew backward, releasing the woman's arm as he fell. The other attacker grabbed her closer and pulled his own knife. His cohort picked himself up off the ground.
These two weren't giving up. He'd hoped the sight of an armed man would have put them to flight. His options dwindled. He couldn't risk the woman's safety in a knife fight.
He watched for any signal of their next move. Both assailants stood wide-eyed, uncertainty growing in their eyes. Ha! Probably hadn't expected any interference.
A door squeaked to his left. The attacking duo glanced toward the sound and froze. Stewart risked a quick look. A tiny female figure walked out the front door of the boardinghouse where he'd rented a room. Momma Elliott shook her finger at the two, loudly threatening them in another language.
Stewart braced himself. How to protect two women?
But no attack came. Both men took one look at the wizened little black woman with her head wrapped in blue country cloth and a righteous fervor of scolding on her tongue and they promptly dropped their victim and ran.
Stewart lunged for the falling woman, grabbing an arm and hoisting her up. He barely managed to keep her head from hitting the ground where her book had fallen. Momma Elliott marched out after the fleeing men with a warrior's air about her. If he'd had a platoon of women that brave at the front, they'd have routed the Germans much sooner.
Once the miscreants were out of sight, she turned her attention to Stewart, schooling him with her impatient tone. "Well, what are you standing there for, Mr. Hastings? Are you going to bring her inside or not?" She picked up the book and umbrella, turned and walked back through the doorway.
With the unconscious woman in his arms, he followed the warrior grandma. The young woman he carried was a feather's worth of weight. Her hat bobbed precariously, a casualty of the confrontation. Her hair had escaped its confines. Silken strands brushed his left hand.
She smelled like cinnamon, but with every gentle exhale came a sickly sweet odor.
His stomach roiled at the buried memory. The last time he'd inhaled that odor, his own life hung in the balance. Chloroform explained everything he'd seen: the white cloth and her loss of consciousness when clearly she was more a fighter than a fainter. Where would two natives in a primitive country get such a dangerous chemical? Chloroform was too elaborate for a simple robbery. Something else, then. Kidnapping?
He stepped into the entryway. His boots sounded thunderous on the polished floors. No Momma Elliott. From deep in the house he heard her sharp, urgent tones. A young native boy dressed as if he'd come from a Sunday meeting blurred right past him and out the door before Stewart could speak.
The parlor to his left appeared unoccupied, and it came equipped with the answer to the problem in his armsa davenport.
He gently placed his slight burden on the rosy velvet-covered couch. He felt for the hat pin where he'd seen his mother reach a thousand times and removed the young woman's dangling straw creation. He found a small pillow for her comfort and then turned up the oil lamp on the table beside her. The light revealed the mahogany color of her errant hair and its cascading waves. Her pale skin seemed almost translucent, her dark lashes a smudge on the porcelain complexion. When he considered her small-boned frame, his anger at the men who'd attacked her stirred anew.
What if she became sick from the medicine? Chloroform had a deadly reputation even in trained hands. He'd relax once she woke up. Maybe Momma Elliott had gone to get smelling salts. That was what the hospital nurse had used when his former fiancée had fainted at the sight of his mustard-gas burns. Worked like a charm. Maybe too well. Julianne had sputtered, averted her eyes and left as soon as she'd recovered.
He'd received her engagement regrets by messenger later the same day. Somehow he'd failed her by returning less than the whole man she'd watched ship off to war. His shirts would hide the damage, but she couldn't face seeing those scars for the rest of her life.
He told himself he was well rid of her if that was the measure of her character. He'd let a pretty face and protestations that love could overcome their class differences override his better judgment. He'd let his guard down.
He wouldn't make that mistake again.
Stewart shrugged off the memory and moved closer to check the woman on the davenport. No evident sign of distress from the drug. A familiarity nagged at him.
Julianne. This woman with her stunning beauty reminded him of Julianne. Both women were small-boned and had a similar hair color. This one had higher cheekbones, a daintier nose, generous lips and, on closer observation, a small faded scar on her left cheek. Unlike his mustard burns, her little imperfection added appeal, keeping her from being too perfect. Still, if she and Julianne had ever met, Julianne would have taken to her bed, mirror in hand, and fretted for a week at being eclipsed.
"Come on," he said softly. "Wake up. Fret, complain, anythingjust wake up." What color would those eyes be? If only she would open them.
Spry steps in the hall broke his study.
Momma Elliott entered the room with a basin of water and a rag in her hand. She eyed the unconscious woman and looked around as if expecting to see someone else in the room. She must have heard him talking. She knelt beside the sofa, dampened her cloth and folded it into a compress. "You did well, Mr. Hastings, to grab her up from those scoundrels. Gradoo has always been a disappointment to his mother. But to hurt a woman a foreign woman He'll be lucky to avoid a hanging if the magistrate's in the wrong mood."
"You recognized those ruffians?"
"One of them. Taught him in Sunday school as a young lad. Obviously didn't take his Bible to heart. Didn't recognize the other Kru man with him. But birds of a feather."
"No wonder they ran, seeing as you're able to identify them. Is she going to be all right? I think they gave her chloroform."
Momma Elliott seemed to weigh his words. "Now, that is surely a strange thing. Where would those two get something like chloroform? Good thing this one is tougher than she appears. I nursed her through the malaria when she first arrived from Connecticut. Still, for caution's sake, I've asked for the doctor to come around."
He nodded toward the unconscious woman. "Does she live nearby?"
"No, Miss Baldwin is rooming with me for a few days.
She's attending a mission conference. They're installing the new bishop from the States. Only something big like that would bring her out of the jungle."
"She lives in the jungle?"
"Of course. Miss Baldwin is a missionary spreading the Gospel to one of the interior tribes."
Stewart couldn't hold back the proverbial jaw drop. He'd saved a missionary who lived in the jungle. His mother's voice and all her notions of God's plans flooded his mind. Easy to see why she believed such things. He could almost believe it now. Almost. But rational thought reasserted itself. Missionary or not, no one would send a single woman anywhere near where he needed to go. Every time he'd been specific about his destination, grown men paled and refused. Or they laughed outright.
"Something wrong, young man?"
"Sorry, ma'am. Just thinking." Might as well ask. "You don't happen to know what tribal area she, uh, missions in, do you?"
Her head cocked at the sound of footsteps on the porch. "You can ask her all about it once she wakes. Wait here. Keep an eye on her while I greet the doctor." She headed for the front door.
Now he was grasping desperation by the throat. Asking Miss Baldwin would be a waste of time. To a lone woman, working in the interior probably meant a little ways outside the city.
Oh, no. A waste of time Time. He groaned and checked his watch. As soon as Momma Elliott came back with the doctor, he'd have to leave. He hoped the man he was to interview had waited.
A soft rustle caught his attention. He looked and got his answer. Brown. Lovely deep brown eyes opened and blinked. She blinked again and the unfocused look began to fade from her eyes. When she tried to sit up, his reverie broke. "Miss, uh, Baldwin. Please don't move. Just lay still. Momma Elliott will be right back."
Her focus flitted around, taking in her surroundings before stopping to look at his face. For one short moment the room lost all its air as he fell into the depths of her serene gaze. How could she wake so calm after what she'd just been through?
He tilted his head downward. "I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you."
She whispered again.
He shook his head and apologized, bending to catch her words. "Do you need something?"
Her soft voice quavered. "Nothing. You you asked..
She tried again. "You asked where."
"Where? Oh. You heard me talking to Momma Elliott."
She nodded and whispered again. "Putu. Near the Putu Mountains. I work with the Pahn."
His limbs turned to marble. The answer to his dilemma had been dumped literally into his arms. Or had it? Unease snaked its way into his thoughts just as Momma Elliott and a redheaded woman with a medical bag, waddling with the weight of the child she carried in her rounded belly, bustled into the room. A woman doctor? And her patient another woman who couldn't protect herself in the relative safety of the city, yet lived among cannibals? What kind of country was this?
He gave a nod to Momma Elliott and headed for the front door. Even if he missed his meeting, he didn't regret his actions. Not when a woman had been in danger. But he sincerely hoped the guide wasn't too impatient and he would agree to the job. Otherwise Stewart would be trying to talk the woman he'd saved into saving him. Not good since the last time he'd placed his future in the hands of a beautiful woman, it disappeared in a cloud of mustard gas.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
My Review: This book is breathtakingly written in the rarest form of elegance and skill! It's a refreshing journey into the Christian aspect of romance ~ pure and fresh and all things wonderful. This is my first novel by author Debbie Kaufman and her poignant writing style keeps the reader at the comfortable pace. It's full of charismatic, cheerful and uplifting words, written to sooth the reader of God's divine goodness in all ways of our world, good or bad. The book starts out with a page turning near abduction of Anna - the book's heroine and crusader of the jungles with her missionary work to bring hope and faith to those in need. Her near abduction from two chloroform yielding thugs puts Stewart right into her path at the right time ~ he can not only not forget her plite, but he's drawn to her in ways even he can't explain at first. He is twice wounded - once at war and once by his fiancé who couldn't deal with his horrific war wounds and called off their engagement. However, he needs to Anna's help and as she returns to the jungles, he becomes her guide and the pair intend to 'help each other.' They battle the dangers of the Leopard men tribes, small factions of people that do not like outsiders and send strong warnings to those who dare to enter their territories and most importantly, the dangers of daring to love again. Journey of Hope fulfills it's expectations of a phenomenal Christian view of romance in it's purity of prose, standards of loving God first and foremost and having a vision of your purpose in life. Falling in love along the way is definitely the added bonus! Into this tale the author weaves in messages of hope and faith sustained, even in the toughest of times. God our Savior remains with us during our hardest battles and times of trials, even when we might believe He has forsaken us. The author brings home the beauty and strength for Christian romance! I was given a copy of this book to review. I was not paid to provide a positive review and the review is an honest reflection of my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations. I am part of The CWA Review Crew.
"Journey of Hope" by Debbie Kaufman, is a book that is aptly described for it is indeed a journey of hope for more than just our hero, Stewart, and heroine, Anna. This journey takes Stewart and Anna from the coast to the interior of Liberia, with all the ups and downs that comes from this journey that one didn't plan on taking so long, and the other who didn't want to rush. There are so many hurdles that are jumped over, while there is one road block that was always there. More than just lessons about surviving in the jungle is learned, for both Stewart and Anna. Trust, and forgiveness is something that is shown and talked about through out the book, but in very subtle ways which made them more important, at least to me anyway. To say that the planting and harvesting of the story was important would be an understatement for it was some of the most beautiful scenes in the book. Honestly this book glorifies God in all His wonders (so if anyone is upset by that then maybe this isn't the book for them) but does it without sounding like a "bible thumper", trying to change anyone's thoughts, but instead it is with the actions, and words of the character that just merely plant seeds. Both Stewart and Anna have things that neither wish to share with the other, along with plenty of preconceptions towards the other. Of course, things come out, and the way that they do is interesting and in ways that normally in books it wouldn't happen at that moment. Then again nothing about this book is predictable in any way, shape or form, including the romance (other than yes our hero and heroine get together at the end). At times I was biting my nails as to what was going to happen, and at times was really surprised how something ended, while other times it didn't surprise me for it sounded reasonable because of the character involved. About the only disappointment I had in the whole book was with the epilogue, and this is because some of my own personal questions were not answered. This is not the fault of the author, but should be considered a high compliment for I was so entranced by all the characters that I wanted to know more. Also I wonder if the readers were not introduced to a new character that might be featured in Ms. Kaufman's next book?? To all who read this book, I hope they find it as enchanting as I did.