American historical romances hold special interest for me, particularly when the story accurately portrays a specific time and series of events. Having lived in Oklahoma most of my life, I am more aware than most of the atrocities suffered by the many Native American tribes forced to relocate to reservations in Oklahoma territory during the late 1800s. Hope’s Captive is a gripping tale of the Northern Cheyenne’s flight from the squalid conditions and pestilence on their reservation back to their original home in Montana.
Caroline Whitley is determined to deliver a wagon load of desperately needed blankets, food, and medical supplies to her beloved adopted family, the Cheyenne. Merely existing in Dodge City since her return from living with the Cheyenne, she is scorned, shunned, and considered no better than a whore – especially since it is rumored that she is the wife of their chief, Little Wolf. Captured and tortured by the Kiowa, Caroline was saved from a violent death at their hands by the Cheyenne chief. Returning to civilization has been nothing short of misery for Caroline and she yearns to return to the Cheyenne. Learning of the their suffering, she can think of little other than providing assistance and bravely enters a saloon one night, holds a bag of gold in the air, and announces to the stunned group that she needs a guide.
Major Zach McCallister’s mission is to infiltrate the Cheyenne and convince them to peacefully return to their reservation. But there is a much larger purpose to his pursuit of the tribe and that is to find his son. Taken captive in a raid that left his mother dead, Zach believes the golden haired boy rumored to be living among the Cheyenne just may be his son. He has come to Dodge City in search of Little Wolf’s wife, hoping to convince her to assist him in locating the tribe and can hardly believe his luck when the woman walks into the saloon looking for a guide.
Caroline is a tough yet lovable woman despite the hard shell she wears so easily. Zach is something Caroline rarely sees – a gentleman of sorts with too many proper manners and far too much consideration for a lady. During a battle of the wills with Zach about just who will be in charge on the trail she quickly takes the offense (from the ARC).
“We haven’t even hit the trail yet, and already I’m sick of listening to you talk, talk, talk. Didn’t you hear the men in the saloon earlier? I am not a lady,” she said, emphasizing each word. “You do not have to ‘ma’am’ me. Don’t sashay around me like you’re escorting me to afternoon tea. Don’t assist me, unless it’s to provide cover if we come upon trouble or maybe share your ammunition. Do I make myself clear?”
As you can see, Caroline is not a woman who gives into demands but she can drive a team of six mules, cook skillfully on the trail, and fire a gun with precision. Yet she is a reasonable woman as well and knows she must have a strong, honorable man such as Zach to fulfill her mission. Her rough demeanor is half act and half self-preservation.
Zach is a man to respect as well as a man who respects Caroline. He doesn’t take well to her claim that she is “running this outfit” and figures it best to let her think so rather than prove otherwise, but Zach is a man’s man and doesn’t fall in line as Caroline demands. Instead of forcing her to rely on his expertise, he steps back, takes care not to invade her personal space, and proceeds with caution. Ruefully he reflects that he might as well try to saddle a twister as earn her trust.
Caroline and Zach are evenly matched characters who are both dynamic and easy to care about. Their love story is almost secondary to the plight of the Cheyenne but no less strong for it. Caroline bears many scars, both physically and mentally, and the constant rejection she has experienced since returning to Dodge City has left her with the belief that no one, other than the Cheyenne, can ever truly care for her. Zach is one of those strong yet silent heroes with a solid sense of both fairness and duty even when those traits seem to thwart his search for his son repeatedly. The development of their love is slow moving as it should be since theirs is a complex relationship full of the ghosts that trigger distrust and fear.
If ever there was a book that qualified for the old adage “The book doesn’t fit the cover”, this is it. The cover screams torrid romance and is an injustice to the moving historical writing within. Kate Lyon knows her history and writes not only about a woman shaped by two cultures and torn apart by conditions beyond her control, but she also gives the reader a realistic, but not too graphic, account of the harsh treatment of the Cheyenne people. The story’s originality does falter however, for the last thirty pages or so when the author begins telling events rather than letting the reader experience them. Although this development as well as the sudden appearance of several overused romance scenarios in these final pages kept the book from reaching DIK level, I still highly recommend Hope’s Captive. Just remember, don’t be fooled by the cover.