13 September 2015

Trail of Hope (Hot on the Trail, Book 2)

Synopsis from Goodreads: Callie Lewis is alone on the Oregon Trail. After her brother’s death, she has been left to fend for herself on a journey she never wanted to take. Her only hope for safety and a life at the end of the road is to become a trail bride and wed grieving widower John Rye. But John is harboring secrets that could end their hasty marriage before it has a chance to begin.

When a vicious tornado wakes John from the stupor the death of his wife left him in, he is ready to embrace Callie and the new life they could have together. But John is not the only one with designs on his new wife. Miles away from civilization, in a wagon train bristling with secrets and suspicion, John must catch a thief, fend off his rival, and reclaim his life to build the future Callie deserves.

In their darkest moments will they bring each other hope?

Stats for my copy: Kindle edition, Smashwords, 2014.

How acquired: Received from Badass Marketing for review.

My thoughts: Towards the end of TRAIL OF KISSES, the heroine, Lynne, saw her friend Callie and her husband John jump on a horse and go chasing after three other members of the wagon train. Lynne and Cade continued on their journey, wondering where the others were going, but leaving it to the trail master and his search party to find them.

TRAIL OF HOPE rewinds time and puts us back on the trail with the wagon train, when Callie was driving her brother's wagon while he and his wife and son were ill. We already know about the major events that will happen to the wagon train along the way, but now we're seeing the action through Callie's and John's eyes. This overlapping plot device is not something I can remember coming across before, but I liked it. Knowing some of the plot twists ahead of time only fueled my anticipation of going through it with Callie and John instead of Lynne and Cade. And story lines that were only hinted at in the first book were now revealed and played out.

Like Lynne, Callie is on this wagon train only because she was given no other choice. Her brother wanted to make the trip, and as a young unmarried woman with no other family, where he goes she must go. John is still grieving for his wife, who died in childbirth, and he has a definite plan to execute upon their arrival in Denver City. When Callie's brother, sister-in-law and nephew, an older woman who took the young girls under her wing convinces her that she needs to marry one of the eligible men so she'll have protection on the journey.

I loved Callie. She starts out scared, alone, and unsure of herself. But over the course of the story she matures and finds her inner strength. Of course, falling for her new husband helps. But John is the one who really grows and evolves during the journey. He's courteous, quiet, and keeps to himself. When Callie approaches him about marriage, he agrees because, after all, he's a gentleman. He can't refuse a damsel in distress. And with his final goal in mind, he doesn't really care what happens to him along the way.

The sex is ratcheted down considerably compared to the first book, which was in keeping with the characters. There's a bit of sexual tension between Callie and John, but Callie doesn't know what to do with it, and John is still too immersed in his grief. At first.

I enjoyed this second entry in the Hot on the Trail series. It was warm and sweet, with a mystery involving a teapot that I didn't figure out until just before Callie and John did. Some of the banter between them made me not only smile, but laugh out loud. The characters are distinctive and well drawn. Callie may find her inner strength, but John finds himself, and I'm glad I was along for the journey.

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