Thomas Bledsoe and Kate Gruener are traveling the Wilderness Road when conflicts between natives and settlers reach a peak that will require each of them to tap into a well of courage.A brand new series for fans of all things related to history, romance, adventure, faith, and family trees.Love and Adventure Are Discovered on the Wilderness Road In 1794, when Kate Gruener’s father is ready to move the family farther west into the wilderness to farm untouched land, Kate is eager to live out her own story of adventure like he did during the War for Independence and to see untamed lands. And she sets her sights on learning more about their scout, Thomas Bledsoe. Thomas’s job is to get settlers safely across the Kentucky Wilderness Road to their destination while keeping an ear open for news of Shawnee unrest. But naïve Kate’s inquisitive nature could put them both in the middle of a rising tide of conflict. Is there more to Thomas’s story than he is willing to tell? Is there an untapped courage in Kate that can thwart a coming disaster? Join the adventure as the Daughters of the Mayflower series continues with The Cumberland Bride by Shannon McNear. More in the Daughters of the Mayflower series:The Mayflower Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse – set 1620 Atlantic Ocean (February 2018)The Pirate Bride by Kathleen Y’Barbo – set 1725 New Orleans (April 2018)The Captured Bride by Michelle Griep – set 1760 during the French and Indian War (June 2018)The Patriot Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse – set 1774 Philadelphia (August 2018)The Cumberland Bride by Shannon McNear – set 1794 on the Wilderness Road (October 2018)The Liberty Bride by MaryLu Tyndall – set 1814 Baltimore (December 2018)
About the Author
Transplanted to North Dakota after more than two decades in Charleston, South Carolina, Shannon McNear loves losing herself in local history. She’s a military wife, mom of eight, mother-in-law of three, grammie of two, and a member of ACFW and RWA. Her first novella, Defending Truth in A Pioneer Christmas Collection, was a 2014 RITA® finalist. When she’s not sewing, researching, or leaking story from her fingertips, she enjoys being outdoors, basking in the beauty of the northern prairies. Connect with her at www.shannonmcnear.com, or on Facebook and Goodreads.
Read an Excerpt
Tennessee, Spring 1794 Bean's Station
My father used to tell the story, ... Kate murmured as she wrote, quill scratching against the page, "of how he and his fellow Hessians sailed down the Hudson with the British, preparing to attack Washington and his forces. When they came under fire, he and the other men of good, devout German stock, broke out singing hymns, believing God would preserve them. Colonel Rawdon commenced to mocking them for such simple faith. And that was the beginning of the end of my father's faith in the British."
Kate sat back from the page with its drying ink and gazed out the open window of her narrow attic room. Noonday sun spilled across the busy settlement and rolling forest beyond, still waiting for the green of spring. A tendril of breeze touched her cheek, and she reached to catch the sheet of paper just before it lifted from the bedside table.
She loved this story. It deserved to be told, how the wicked Colonel Rawdon cut his own hamstrings, so to speak, with his disdain of the Hessians' faith in such a time. But her father had forbidden sharing it outside the immediate family, even with those considered dear friends. Things were difficult enough in this new country, he insisted, without folk knowing he'd once fought on behalf of the enemy. And so, out of love for her dear papa, she'd held her silence.
She probably ought not commit such words even to paper. But the story burned within her, begged to be told.
And 'twas but one of many.
Ink and paper ought to be reserved for practical things, Papa maintained — keeping records, writing letters. Nothing as frivolous as storytelling, and personal journals were up for debate — but this, she told herself, was a form of record keeping. If a people lost their history, what was left them? Even the holy scripture devoted as much of its pages to histories as to psalmody and exhortation.
"Katarina Grace Gruener! Where are you?"
Oh bother! She thought she'd done enough of the morning's chores to allow for stealing a half hour to write, but apparently not. "Coming, Mama!"
Kate hastily recapped the ink and wiped her quill, then slid the written sheet carefully beneath the blotter, pressed the top layer down, and tucked both in the side of her clothes chest. It should be safe there from discovery, at least for the present.
Skirts fisted in one hand, she ran down the narrow stairs of the cabin they rented while Papa surveyed for the Wilderness Road to the north. Mama stayed busy taking in washing and sewing — as if three of Kate's younger siblings were not occupation enough. But Papa and Mama had agreed that Papa would save all of his wages that he could, and Mama would endeavor to keep the rest of them fed and clothed by her industry in this little town where the Wilderness Road dipped south from the Holston and Watauga Valleys before angling back north toward Cumberland Gap.
Kate burst into the morning room on the heels of her mother's call. Jemima Lytton Gruener was a formidable woman, briskly efficient even when loving, and Kate dreaded her ire. "I'm here, Mama."
Her mother's features flattened into disapproval, her lips thinning. "How many times have I told you we haven't the luxury of you sneaking away to read in the middle of the day?"
"I wasn't — I'm sorry, Mama." Kate held herself still and tried not to feel like a chastened infant still in leading strings — as Stefan currently was, playing with a pair of wooden spoons while tied securely to a table leg. He looked up with an adorably toothy grin and waved a spoon at her.
Mama nodded once and, reaching into the side of her skirts, pulled out a folded and sealed paper. "Very well then. I need you to carry this message to the tavern to be sent out with the next post rider, and see if anything has come from your papa. Wait if you must," she added, pressing the packet and needed coins into her hand. Kate swallowed her glee as she accepted the missive, but Mama's brown eyes were sharp. "Do not think this is reward for being slothful this past hour. Stay no longer than necessary."
She stepped outside to the blindingly bright day. The smell of lye stung her nostrils — Dulsey, their Negro freedwoman, and Betsy, Kate's younger sister, were hard at work washing linens in the small yard behind the cabin. Waving to them, and returning the smile she got from both, she hurried on, into the muddy path running behind their cabin and half a dozen others like it, down the hill to the tavern that served as the social center of Bean's Station.
Away from the house, she slowed her steps. The spring day was too beautiful not to savor. Clear blue skies, balmy breeze smelling of the land awakening from its long winter slumber. The hilltops beckoning, and the not-too-distant mountain — except that everyone was warned not to stray from the station itself. Not without an escort. A well-armed one.
Even so, a thread of longing whispered through her. Fear followed hard on its footsteps. What was she thinking? She'd likely not last an hour out there in the wild, forested hills.
The tavern loomed just ahead, a two-story structure of hewn timber that, like their cabin, hadn't had time yet to weather. Did any of the horses tied out front belong to the post rider?
She stepped lightly onto the porch and inside. Barely a hesitation in the rumble of conversation registered her presence as she paused, letting her eyes adjust to the dimness. The aromas of baking bread and tobacco smoke permeated the air.
Seeing no one she recognized besides the settlement folk, she made her way past the tables to the woman behind the counter. "Good day, Mistress Johnson. Has the post rider come yet? I've a packet for him."
A twinkle and a dimpled smile answered her, with the tilt of a head. "Just in and over there, speaking with Nat Carrington."
Kate swiveled to stare before she could stop herself.The Indian Affairs agent, here? Both men at the table looked rangy and trail worn — nothing terribly remarkable there, but appearances could be deceiving. She turned back to Mistress Johnson. "Is there trouble expected?"
The older woman's dimples flashed again. "Always, sweetheart. But nothing more than usual." She slid Kate a dripping mug. "Here, have some cider while you wait for them to finish talking."
* * *
Thomas Bledsoe took a better grip on his ale and leaned an elbow on the table. "Sounds easy enough."
Carrington's eyes measured him for a long moment before he gave an approving nod. "Heard a lot of good things about you, Bledsoe. And your family's a solid one. I've no doubt you'll be an asset to our government's efforts to make the frontier safe for our settlers."
Feigning a long swallow, Thomas rolled the words around in his head. "You'll pardon me, sir, but I hope I'm an asset to both the settlers and the Indians."
The other man's gaze flickered. "Of course."
"If you don't mind me asking," Thomas went on, "just whose side are you on?"
Carrington lifted his mug, but not before Thomas saw the slight hardening of his face. "The right one."
Carrington didn't answer. His gaze strayed past Thomas and he nodded again, slightly. "There's a comely miss waiting to speak with you, looks like."
Thomas's shoulders were already prickling from having to sit with his back to most of the room. He twitched a glance behind him. The young woman who he'd seen come in a few minutes ago still stood by the counter, trying to look casual, but the frequent glance toward him and Carrington betrayed her unease.
"Dan'l Boone says the three things a man needs to make it on the frontier are a good horse, a good gun, and a good wife."
Thomas cupped both hands around his tankard, ignoring the sly smile that curved Carrington's mouth. "Doing well enough with the first two, thank you."
Carrington laughed softly. "Of course, no wife at all is better than a bad one. But 'tis something to think upon, for sure." His eyes slid past Thomas and took on a gleam again.
To forestall further comment from Carrington, if nothing else — surely not out of his own interest — Thomas shoved back his chair and stood, then deliberately turned and walked toward the girl.
At his approach, the girl's eyes widened and her face went a shade paler than she already was, but she drew herself up and clasped her hands primly before her. Thomas didn't fail to notice the whitened knuckles. "Did you need aught, miss?"
She threw a panicked glance behind the counter, but Mistress Johnson had disappeared into the rear of the tavern. "I — I'm waiting for the post rider, sir. I'm told you are he?"
He gave a slight bow. "I am."
One hand groped toward her pocket slit. "I have a message. May I give it to you now, or ...?"
"I reckon now is fine, miss."
A blush stained her cheeks as she fumbled for the packet, and between the familiar annoyance at the girl's nervousness and his habit of noting detail in every situation, Thomas found himself absently assessing her. Blue flowered gown over a red-striped petticoat, some signs of wear but not yet threadbare. Average height, perhaps a little more slender than some wished — but he was used to that, with his own sisters — rosy cheeks and fair hair peeking from her very proper cap. A cleft in her pert chin that someone would doubtlessly find charming.
But not him. And certainly not today.
Sandy lashes lifted to reveal coffee-brown eyes. Now there was a combination he'd not often seen.
She held out her hand, and after the sliver of a breath, he remembered to accept the packet and accompanying coins. He peered at the addressee, then up at her again. "You're relation to Karl Gruener?"
Startled from her missishness, she snapped to attention, instantly wary. "Yes. He's my father."
"I have something from him then. Just came from the survey camp." He dug in the satchel still slung across his shoulders.
Blast her fluttering, anyway. This girl's family was the one he'd just agreed to guide northward on the Wilderness Road.CHAPTER 2
The wilderness was where Thomas felt most alive. He liked it best when alone, taking the road as fast as the terrain — and his mount — would allow, ears open to birdsong and the riffle of wind through the trees, head bare to the sun and sky when the day allowed. And thanks to the post-rider position, he knew well the road into Kentucky where he'd be guiding that party of settlers in a couple of weeks.
Besides the impending suspension of the post, he still wasn't sure what compelled him to offer when asked whether he knew of anyone able or willing to do so, but something about the man's earnest manner and his slightly lisping, accented speech tugged at him. Now all he could think of was how he'd miss the freedom of solitude.
After handing off the latest post delivery though, he was away south to the Watauga Valley to see family. It had been too long already, and who knew how long it might be before he returned.
The path from Bean's Station across the Holston was well worn enough, but winding due east toward the Watauga, it grew narrow and steep in spots. Thomas didn't care. Ladyslipper was as surefooted as she was fleet, and made light work of whatever trail he put her to.
Come to think, he wasn't sure just how long it had been since he'd seen his sisters. All at once? It had been years. And nothing against the others, but the eldest, Truth, remained his favorite.
Likely 'twas because she'd served as mother to them all since Thomas was nine or so. His other sisters were fine enough in their own way — he had to give them that, now that they were all grown — but none had the knack of ordering the household, of holding them together the long autumn their father had been killed after that terrible battle with Tories over in South Carolina. And then she'd had the audacity to go and marry one of those same Tories. Thomas smiled. His brother-in-law Micah Elliot had proved his worth as an over-the-mountain man many times over, after running to warn the settlement of impending attack by the Cherokee just a few days before Christmas.
And it was still their favorite story to tell, how Truth had fed Micah at gunpoint the first time she'd met him, on foot and starving from days of wandering the mountains.
Thomas wasn't sure who'd gotten the better end of that deal.
Micah had made a very decent older brother too, all things considered. Thomas could not deny his affection for Truth, and hers for him.
Crossing the southern spur of Holston Mountain, he slowed, breathing deeply of the laurel barely beginning to bloom. The sunlight fell in patches through the new leaves, oak and walnut and elm arching overhead. He hadn't thought he'd missed this bit of country — but he realized now he had.
Down into the valley and up over the next ridge he went, Ladyslipper scrambling over the rocks and finding her way as she always did. Once he descended the ridge, it was just another couple of miles over a road that once had been but a footpath — and then there, with the slope of a mountainside rising beyond, lay nestled the cabin and barn his papa had raised when they'd first come in '73. The sunlight pooled, jewellike, in the greening of the trees and the new fields spreading to either side of the cabin.
An unaccustomed tightness seized his throat. For a moment, he could not speak, then he swallowed and called out, "Halloo the house!" A knot of children — two in skirts and two in britches — emerged from the edge of the woods, watching. So much taller than when he'd seen them last — for that matter, the youngest of those was still in leading strings then. No one on the porch though, until he was well within sight as well. Truth herself stepped out, shading her eyes, then gave a whoop and ran to meet him.
He dismounted, laughing, and caught her in a hug that lifted her off her feet. "Hie, big sister."
"Oh you!" She squeezed him so hard, it nearly hurt, laughing as well. When he set her down, mist-grey eyes met his own and crinkled. Both hands came up to frame his face. "Look at you! It's been an age. Are you well? What brings you back?"
And then the children were upon them. "Uncle Thomas! Uncle Thomas!"
He embraced them all, overcome by the laughter and their welcome. "Here, stand back and let me have a look!"
At last they disentangled themselves, still bouncing and fidgeting. Thomas, the oldest at twelve, named after him as he was named after a grandfather. Magdalene, not quite ten, and then Abraham and Rebecca, five and eight respectively.
"Jacob and the baby are in the house, napping," Truth said when the older ones were finished filling him in on their ages and latest adventures. "And Micah should be home —"
"Long about now," came a male voice, calling across the field.
Beneath the brim of his plain felt hat, Micah's teeth gleamed white against his dark beard, and though Thomas topped him by half a head, his embrace was every bit as hearty as Truth's.
"Can you stay long?" he added to the questions already asked.
"A few days," Thomas said. "Been carrying the post from Bean's Station up the Wilderness Road, through Cumberland Gap and sometimes as far as Danville and Harrodsburg, but I've agreed to guide a party of settlers up that way. Will be meeting up with them in a week at Bean's."
"Well, come on to the cabin," Truth said. "We'll be having supper before long."
The inside of the cabin looked so nearly the same, he wondered whether he'd stepped back to his own childhood. Finger to her lips, Truth beckoned him to the lean-to bedroom, and he peered in at the small boy, still in skirts, asleep on the bed. A bundle in a nearby cradle squeaked and waved a wee fist. "Ah, now," Truth murmured, and scooped the baby into her arms. "It isn't time for you to wake, but perhaps your uncle wouldn't mind toting you a bit while I finish supper. Once I change your swaddling," she added, slanting Thomas a smile.
She accomplished that swiftly enough, both of them staying silent so as not to wake Jacob, and then tucked the tiny bundle into the crook of Thomas's arm. "Here," she murmured. "She'll need to nurse before long, but meet your youngest niece, Constant."
Such a little thing. A smile pulled at Thomas's mouth. "After Mama."
Truth nodded soberly. "It took me this long to work up the nerve for it."
Thomas shifted her more closely to his chest. "She's a sweet bit."
"That she is." Truth smiled again, brushing the baby's brow with her fingertips, then turned away. "Now. Supper."
A half-made mound of biscuit dough lay on the table. As she sank her hands into the mess, gathering in the flour, Thomas was struck by the strands of silver amongst the dark peeking from her cap, the fine lines at the corners of her eyes.
When had she begun looking like such a mama herself?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Cumberland Bride"
Copyright © 2018 Shannon McNear.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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