RIDE THE FIRE – Pamela Clare
Fort Detroit, Northwestern Wilderness – 1763
Six years ago, Nicholas Kenleigh was a soldier under George Washington in the Ohio Wilderness when several younger soldiers got tricked by some Wyandot warriors. He chased after Eben and Josiah as they followed some warriors into the woods, knowing it was a trap, but before he could stop them they were all captured. They were tied to wooden stakes and then the women were cutting slits on their bodies and putting live coals in the flesh pockets. The other two men were tortured to death, but Lyda, a Wyandot daughter of the war chief of the tribe, saved Nicholas's life. She felt lust for the good looking man, and thought perhaps he would give her the boy child she desired, so she saved his life, but forced him to live the rest of his life with the knowledge of his fellow soldiers' deaths on his conscience. He tried to go home to Boston after Lyda and his child both died, but still felt guilty after almost choking his sixteen-year-old sister during a flashback. He left his family, asking that they consider him dead, and he has spent the past six years trapping and roaming the wilderness by himself.
Elspeth (Bethie) Stewart is living her life on the edge of disaster. She is alone and pregnant in the wilderness, her husband Andrew having died of a fever several months ago. But still, she feels as though it's better than living with her mother and stepfather and stepbrother. After what her stepbrother did to her they called her a harlot, and married her off to a man her stepfather's age who wanted to go out west. Now she's trying to live by herself and worrying how she's going to deliver her first child alone, having never witnessed a birth or what is involved. But when a man with a knife wound makes her take him in and minister to his injury, she is even more scared to death. With some pain killer putting him to sleep, she ties his wrists and feet to her bed and takes his weapons. With all the blood he lost and having to cauterize his thigh, it should be many weeks before he's strong enough to attack her.
Bethie and Nicholas spend a lot of time together before she gives birth, and it is only his assistance and care of her that help her have a successful delivery. Despite being aware of him every minute and on guard, Bethie still is vigilant over every touch and action Nicholas makes. After Indians set fire to Bethie's house, they escape with only the clothes on their backs, and Nicholas is determined that they head for Fort Pitt and protection until he can get Bethie back to her family and safety. Little does Nicholas know that home and family is the last place she and her baby want to be, but where else can they go, and how can they deal with their growing attraction for each other?
Pamela Clare has taken great care to bring to life the wilderness and the harshness encountered by everyone early in America's history. Told from Nicholas's and Bethie's points of view, their life experiences may be different, and yet they meet at a turning point in their lives. Bethie is a woman alone in the middle of nowhere with a child on the way and wild Indians all around. Nicholas is a man alone, wandering in the wilderness and just existing. Each of them is sure they do not deserve love in their life and fight with all they have not to become attached to each other. We can almost feel ourselves living with them, and believe me, that is not a life I could have easily endured.
There are secondary characters from each of their prior and current lives, from Bethie's parents and stepbrother, and then her daughter who becomes her world. Nicholas has many Indian friends that they meet as he tries to save their lives from the war they seem determined to start in hopes that they can chase the white settlers out. Soldiers and everyone living at Fort Pitt are surrounded by Indians who mean to attack them every day and wait for them to starve. Each step along the way solidifies their bond with each other and how each helps the other with their memories of tragedy and grief.
RIDE THE FIRE is especially interesting for those who want to learn something about life in the early days of our nation just before it became the United States. The hardships men and women went through in ordinary life are hard to comprehend and help remind us of our beginnings. Fighting and disasters are common everyday occurrences, as is the early story of how we treated the Indian tribes. Lose yourself in our early history and enjoy RIDE THE FIRE this month.