|Whenever I see a cover like the one Leisure slapped on Lyon’s second novel I have the profound urge to call the author on the telephone and apologize profusely. Even though I had nothing to do with what is probably the worst clinch cover I’ve seen in recent memory. Adding insult to injury, it doesn’t fit the story at all. What readers will find inside is a tender love story about two damaged people caught in between two worlds, and one of the best historical romances this reviewer has read in a long time.
Caroline Whitley became a Kiowa captive after warriors from that tribe murdered her family. Having barely survived torture, rape and unimaginable beatings, she is rescued by the great Cheyenne Chief, Little Wolf. The Cheyenne are kind to Caroline, nurse her back to health, and she comes to live in peace with Little Wolf and his two wives. However, when the Cheyenne are forced onto a reservation in Oklahoma, Little Wolf sends Caroline back to her own people in Dodge City, Kansas.
Life is even harder for Caroline in Dodge City. It is rumored that she is Little Wolf’s wife, and the good townspeople treat her worse than one of the local prostitutes. Then word comes that Cheyenne are dying by the hundreds on the squalid Oklahoma reservation and that Little Wolf is going to make a run for it. He takes several hundred of his people hoping to make it to their hunting grounds in Montana. Of course the U.S. Army has a little something to say about that, and Caroline is desperate to catch up with her friends with food, supplies and medicine.
Zach McCallister served in the Civil War and since then has been doing top-secret work for the government. Meanwhile his selfish wife has run off with a drifter and taken their son, Luke, with her. Then word comes that Patricia and her lover were murdered by Indians and Luke taken captive. Clues suggest that the Cheyenne were behind his abduction, and Zach needs a way into their world to talk to Little Wolf. Then Caroline conveniently shows up looking for a man to guide her out of Dodge City, right towards the fleeing Cheyenne.
Tension immediately runs high between Caroline and Zach, but they both have secrets that they’re determined to hide. Caroline is merely the rumored wife of Little Wolf, not the real thing. Nevertheless, that falsehood does provide her a modicum of protection, and given her abusive past she’s more than a bit gun shy around men. She’s strong, determined, and is the ultimate survivor. It’s easy to see why Zach is so taken with her.
Zach is a soldier, and has orders he is trying to follow while recovering his son. He can’t very well go spouting off about his employment in the US Army, as tensions are escalating between the Cheyenne and the soldiers. Caroline already doesn’t trust him as far as she can throw him, and is already curious as to why he’s willing to help her find the Cheyenne. If she learns he’s a soldier, the tenuous bond they share will immediately snap and the chances of Zach finding Luke will hopelessly dwindle.
Lyon has a way with history, and it shows in Hope’s Captive, which is steeped in real life events. The flight of the Cheyenne was very real, as was Little Wolf and other secondary characters. Even George Custer’s illegitimate Cheyenne son plays a prominent role. However, what is most notable is how Lyon handles the conflict. This is no simple Indians good, white man bad conflict. No, the author shows everything through actions and consequences. The reader begins to understand how both sides think, why they do what they do, and what forces their hand. No side is the clear-cut villain. Just as in real life, everyone has their shades of gray.
The romance here is very tender, but nevertheless has an explosive sexual tension running through it. Caroline is the victim of brutality, and while Zach’s blood is running hot for her, he understands he must proceed with caution. Can she set her horrifying memories aside and be brave enough to experience the pleasure that can exist between a man and a woman? This is not an easy question for Caroline to answer. Having known nothing but violence in sexual relations, it takes some time for her to come around.
That isn’t to say that Caroline is some skittish miss. This is one tough woman, who finds herself having to stand on her on. She is white, yet shunned in white society. The Cheyenne love her, but they have bigger concerns on their plate than one wounded white girl. Zach is the perfect foil for her – strong, independent, and nursing his own guilt. There was no loved lost between he and his dead wife, but that doesn’t make him feel any less guilty for her demise. He blames himself for her death and the neglect he heaped upon his missing son and marriage.
With a market place seemingly overrun with wallpaper, Hope’s Captive provides rich historical detail and a pleasing romance. While the experiences of the characters, particularly Caroline, are not always easy to read it makes the romance all the more poignant. Caroline and Zach deserve what happiness they find, and as they straddle two conflicting worlds, they make the best of their burgeoning feelings. This reader was cheering them on by the end of it all – hoping for their true love, their family, and a solution to their conflicting worlds. The author delivers all that in spades. Hide the clinch cover behind a book cover if you must, but don’t miss out on this story. It’s already my early contender for the best romance of 2006.