Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Wild Mountain Hearts Series and First Chapter in The Eagle

Two years ago, the idea for a spin-off series to the Teton Romance Series came to me when a reader asked if I could write a short story about Alex Walker's encounter with the grizzly bear when he first came to the wilderness, and how he met Daniel Osborne (from the Yellowstone Romance Series) as a result. I mentioned that encounter very briefly in Teton Sunrise, and readers were curious. 

At first, I was going to simply write that short story, but as I sat and thought about it, an entire new series came to mind, and the Wild Mountain Hearts Series was "born."

When I planned (and loosely plotted the series, which I see as having six books currently, with the chance of a few more if readers enjoy it), I realized that there would be a lot of repetition to the back stories of the characters in each book, and I didn't want to have to rehash those with each story. So, I decided to do something I haven't tried before, and wrote an entire story that serves as a prequel or prologue for the entire series. This prologue is novella length (the rest of the books will be full novels), and introduces the main characters in the series. It leaves out enough mystery to each character's background that I will explore in their own stories. 

Tallan, Theo, Todd, Keaton, and Connor (along with Alex from Teton Sunrise, Harley Buchanan from Wilderness Brides, and a few other familiar names who already have their stories, or will get their stories in different series), are the Pathfinders, and the Wild Mountain Hearts Series tells their stories. 

Because the Wild Mountain Hearts Series had been on the back-burner in my head for a few years, I knew many of the characters already, and I had fun giving a few of them cameos in books I was currently writing. Two characters, Theo Carrington and Todd Baronette, make appearances in Yellowstone Reflections (Yellowstone Romance Series), and Keaton Barlow has a cameo in Josie's Valor (Wilderness Brides Series)

It has been a lot of fun writing interwoven storylines in four different series! Readers won't miss anything if they don't read them all, but once they do, the four series become one huge world of storylines that cross over. 
My readers have been asking for a timeline for all four series, so they can be read as one huge series. I have to update the file each time a new book gets published. The most current timeline can be downloaded HERE

The Pathfinders was published May 1, 2019, and due to life getting in the way, I was slow to work on the next book, The Eagle. This book is now finished, and will release on August 15, 2019. It is on pre-order at Amazon.


Here is the first chapter in the THE EAGLE (Wild Mountain Hearts, Book 2)

Chapter One

Somewhere in the Jackson Valley, Summer 1829

“How much farther is it to get to the rendezvous point, do you suppose?”

Tallan Moran glanced over his shoulder. He was met with a wide grin from his brother, Connor, who rode several horse-lengths behind him.

“Couple more days at most. Are you eager for some company other than mine?”

Tallan scowled. “No, but I’d sure feel a lot safer in a larger brigade. We’re traveling straight through Blackfoot country, and if they get wind that there are only two of us, they’ll come calling thinking it’ll be easy pickin’s.”

Connor shrugged, even though he had to know that Tallan made a good point. Tallan straightened in the saddle. It was already bad enough that they hadn’t met up with Josiah Butler and his men who should be camped somewhere nearby.

He scanned the clearing ahead with narrowed eyes. The danger of an ambush was always real, and this area had plenty of dense willows and other shrubs where someone could lie in wait to surprise a couple of unsuspecting trappers.

His horse splashed through the marshy grass, making enough noise to send a flock of ducks out of their hiding place along the bend in the wide Snake River. Their wings flapped against the water as they took to the air. Tallan’s pack mule shied, jumping sideways into deeper water. The unexpected yank from the lead rope nearly unseated Tallan. He cursed under his breath and tugged on the line to bring the animal under control again.

“Watch it, or a year’s worth of work will get swept downriver,” Connor called from behind. He drove his horse forward to push the pack mule between his horse and Tallan’s while keeping control of his own pack animal.

“Damn mules,” Tallan muttered. “Time to trade them in for some dependable horses.”

Connor laughed. “Horses are even less dependable. Besides, we don’t have to worry about mules getting stolen by Indians all the time.”

His brother was right. For the most part, they got along with the native tribes, trading for goods and even wintering with them. The Crow prided themselves on being master horse thieves, and it was often a game to them. The only tribe the trappers and even other tribes really worried about was the Blackfoot. War was their culture, and no one was safe.

Tallan guided his mount out of the water and onto drier land. They were making too much noise here in the marsh, but riding through the willows wasn’t any safer. He focused his eyes more closely on the dense vegetation. It was easy to let his eyes wander to take in the spectacular scenery that stretched out before them.

The Snake River made a wide bend here, almost in a U-shape, as it meandered through the expansive valley. Off in the distance, the magnificent mountain range of Le Trois Tetons could take a man’s breath away. The snow-capped, jagged peaks rose dramatically from the valley floor as if someone were lifting them up.

No matter how many times Tallan saw this view, it never ceased to amaze him. It was good to finally be back, almost as if he was coming home. He hadn’t been in these parts in several years, yet even as his eyes feasted on the grandeur of this landscape, something didn’t feel right.

Tallan’s gut had rarely steered him wrong in the last six, nearly seven years, since he and his brother had left civilization behind to carve out their lives in the wild mountains west of the Missouri. His fingers itched to reach for his pistol in his belt, but he had his hands full at the moment leading the cantankerous mule and holding on to the reins of his mount.

An eagle screeched as it soared high above the river, circling in search of fish or some other unsuspecting critter. A large flock of pelicans bobbed on the water further upstream, their white-feathered bodies standing out in sharp contrast to the deep blue of the river.

“We should meet up with Butler and his men before nightfall, Tallan, then you can rest easy.”

Tallan acknowledged his brother’s words with a curt nod of his head, not taking the bait of the light taunt, while still keeping his eyes and ears focused on anything that might be lurking in the bushes. The willows were dense and nearly impenetrable along this stretch of the river, but they had to navigate their way through to get to the clearing ahead.

He allowed his horse to pick its way through the brush, tugging the mule along behind him. Connor brought up the rear and was, no doubt, alert to any noise behind them while Tallan listened for anything out of the ordinary up ahead.

They’d gone no more than half a mile when he abruptly brought his horse to a halt. Connor knew better than to ask what had alerted his brother. Tallan cocked his head to the side to listen. All was quiet except for the eagle’s screech echoing overhead. His hand holding the reins inched slowly toward his rifle hanging from his saddle. Perhaps it would be better to unsheathe his knife. If he needed a weapon, the knife would be quiet.

Had he heard a noise, or was it simply his imagination from having tightly strung nerves and muscles? Tallan held his breath. He couldn’t have been mistaken.

There! The sound he’d heard came again. Cougar? Or was it the warning call of a Blackfoot warrior lying in wait? For all he knew, he and Connor could be sitting ducks in all this vegetation.

Behind him, Connor’s saddle creaked. His brother had clearly heard the noise, too and was dismounting his horse. Tallan wound his mule’s lead rope around his saddle horn, then did the same. He reached for his knife and crouched behind his horse. A quick glance at Connor revealed that his brother had drawn his tomahawk and was tense and ready to fight.

Tallan motioned with his chin that he planned to move ahead to see where the noise was coming from. Connor nodded in understanding, scanning the brush in the opposite direction.

Tallan moved forward, crouching low and taking each step carefully to avoid stepping on any noise-making twigs. His knife was in one hand, while his other was poised and ready to pull his pistol from his belt. He froze when the strange noise came again, this time from just a short distance to his right.

He narrowed his eyes, focusing on anything that might be concealed between the dense willows. Nothing. No Indian could conceal himself that well. A cougar would have attacked already. What was making that noise that sounded like soft cries?

Tallan took another step forward. He moved aside some willow branches and ducked closer to the ground. For the second time in less than a minute, he froze. This time, his eyes widened. A foot. A small, bare foot stuck out from under a wall of branches and foliage.

“Hell,” he mumbled then moved forward and knelt on the ground.

He pushed aside the branches, revealing what he’d already suspected, but his mind had rejected as impossible. A child. A small child curled up on the damp ground, shivering and sobbing quietly. Tallan sheathed his knife and pushed the vegetation further out of the way.

The light-haired boy raised his head then flinched and cowered by curling up into a tight ball.

“I ain’t gonna hurt you.”

Tallan squeezed through the foliage of the willow bush. He’d chosen to speak English rather than Crow or Blackfoot, but had the boy understood? He had light hair and skin. He wasn’t an Indian, but what was a fair-skinned child doing here, clearly lost, in the middle of the wilderness? He had to have white parents.

“Are you hurt, boy?”

He couldn’t be more than four or five years old, certainly old enough to understand and give an answer. The boy continued to cower and didn’t look up again. He stiffened and grabbed hold of a branch when Tallan put his hand on the child’s arm to coax him to come out from under the foliage. He whimpered as if he were in mortal danger.

Tallan hesitated. Two things were clear as rain. He couldn’t stay here much longer. He and Connor had someplace to be before dark. Second, he wasn’t going to leave this child behind, no matter how much the boy protested. Something clearly had him scared for his life. By the looks of his tattered clothes and bare feet, he’d been on his own for some time. Someone must be looking for him.

Tallan cursed again. What if this boy’s folks had been killed, and that’s why he was so scared?

“You’ve got nothing to be afraid of. I’m here to help you.”

Tallan reached for the boy. He extracted his fingers from their grip on the branch, then brought his arm around the slight waist to pull him out from under the shrubbery. The little thing struggled, and his whimpering increased, but in the end, he didn’t put up much of a fight. Tallan held the frail body close to his chest as he freed himself from the branches and foliage, and then straightened.

“It’s gonna be all right. No one’s gonna hurt you,” he murmured.

The boy trembled in his arms. Tallan stared down at him. What was he going to do with a little child in tow? The sensible thing, of course, was to take him along, and get some answers out of him.

Maybe he and Connor could locate the boy’s parents, or at least find out what had happened to them. The thought gave him pause, and he frowned. How likely was it that a white man and woman were nearby? Plenty of trappers took Indian wives, but there was only one man that came to mind who had a white wife and lived in these mountains. Their cabin was a week’s ride away to the north. Much too far for the likelihood that this boy belonged to them.


Connor’s quiet voice drifted through the shrubbery. Tallan retraced his steps, ducking under low branches and pushing his way back to where he’d left his horse and his brother.

“Did you find out what was making that noise?” Connor had barely finished the question when his stunned look landed on the boy in Tallan’s arms.

“Yeah, I did.” Tallan glanced at the child, whose eyes were squeezed shut as if he was expecting the worst at any moment.

Connor cursed. He raked his fingers through his hair. “Where did he come from?”

“Good question. He hasn’t said a word, but hopefully he’ll start talking soon.”

Tallan turned to his horse. He lifted the boy into the saddle, then swung up behind him.

“What are you going to do with him?”

Connor’s dumbfounded question brought a smile to Tallan’s face. He shrugged while looking down at his brother.

“Mount up. I still haven’t figured that out, yet. Look for his folks, I suppose.”

Tallan nudged his gelding in the side. No sense wasting any more time. Once they were out of the willows, he could figure out what to do next. He’d be on the lookout for any sign of this boy’s people while heading in the direction where he and Connor were supposed to meet up with Josiah and his men.

In two days, they wanted to be at the summer rendezvous, where they needed to sell a year’s cache of beaver plews and trade for much-needed supplies. Tallan glanced down at the little body nestled in front of him in the saddle. The boy didn’t make a sound and leaned back against Tallan’s chest for support. How was he going to make the kid talk? Maybe he hadn’t understood when he’d spoken English. He’d have to test out some of the Indian languages he knew.

Ten minutes later, Tallan’s horse crashed through the last of the thick willows. He’d barely moved onto the open sage and grassland, followed closely by his pack mule and Connor, when the hair at the back of his neck stood erect, and a sinking feeling moved into his gut.

With instinct born of a half-dozen years spent relying on it to keep him alive, Tallan ripped his rifle from his saddle scabbard at the same moment a shrill war whoop pierced the air. He spun his horse around, stuffed the reins between his teeth to free his other hand, raised his rifle, aimed, and fired.

The Indian charging him with a war club fell from his horse. He scrambled to his feet, clutching at his injured arm. Another warrior followed, but Connor met the charge with his own ax raised. With a swift blow to the side of the neck, he unseated the rider. Several more Indians whooped and hollered, but at the sight of their defeated comrades, ended their charge and came to an abrupt halt.

Tallan ripped his loaded pistol from his belt and aimed in case the warriors charged. He hesitated. Neither he nor Connor had aimed to kill. The six remaining braves hadn’t come any closer. They were clearly unsure what to do after seeing two of their number defeated so easily.

“Next time, we’ll shoot to kill,” Connor yelled in the language of the Blackfoot. One of the warriors raised his war club in the air, let out a shrill yell, then yanked his horse around to gallop in the opposite direction. The rest of the braves followed.

Tallan expelled a relieved breath. He lowered his pistol but didn’t stuff it back into his belt. Not yet. Connor came up beside him, his weapon drawn and ready to fire. The two braves scrambled to their horses and took off after their tribe mates.

Tallan sucked in a quick breath. “Young braves, out for glory and counting coup.”

Connor laughed. “They didn’t count on having the tables turned on them.”

Despite his racing heart, Tallan grinned, which turned into a frown. He glanced at the boy sitting in front of him. His little body shivered so hard, he would probably fall from the horse if Tallan didn’t keep his arm wrapped around him.

Connor scoffed, staring after the retreating war party. “They only attack when they know they’ve got the upper hand and the element of surprise.”

A Blackfoot’s desire to count coup had saved their hides more than once over the years. The practice by the Indians of touching an enemy rather than killing him, and then getting away without being killed themselves, was highly revered as a great act of bravery.

The Blackfoot didn’t like to engage in skirmishes unless they were convinced of a victory without casualties on their side, so when they did lose one of their own, they were usually quick to retreat.

“You don’t suppose they were after the boy?” Connor glanced from the child to meet Tallan’s gaze.

Tallan shook his head. “They wouldn’t have retreated, at least not that quickly.”

By the boy’s fearful reaction, it was obvious he didn’t belong to those Blackfoot.

Connor glanced at the jagged mountains looming in the distance. “Let’s find Josiah and the others before we run completely out of daylight.”

He nudged his horse forward. Tallan’s eyes lingered on the sight before them. The sun was beginning to dip behind the mountains, creating a golden glow on the tips of the Tetons. The sunset created colors that were magnificent in their array of reds and yellows, shimmering like spun gold.

What was he going to do about this child? There was a good chance that the boy’s folks were dead, possibly from an Indian attack, and he had somehow survived. Maybe Josiah and the others would have some answers, or perhaps he’d find out more when they arrived at the rendezvous.

It was getting too dark to look for sign, and the possibility that the Blackfoot might return presented a danger that he’d rather avoid. At least for now, he was stuck with the boy, but what was he going to do with him tomorrow?

© Peggy L Henderson 2019


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