purchases via affiliate links offset the cost of this website. thank you!
about the book
Title: The Accidental Guardian
Series: High Sierra Sweethearts, Book 1
Author: Mary Connealy
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Genre: Historical Romance / Western
She’s the Only Witness to a Wagon Train Attack. Keeping Her Safe, Though, Means His World Is about to be Turned Upside Down.
When Trace Riley finds the smoldering ruins of a small wagon train, he recognizes the hand behind the attack as the same group who left him as sole survivor years ago. Living off the wilderness since then, he’d finally carved out a home and started a herd–while serving as a self-appointed guardian of the trail, driving off dangerous men. He’d
hoped those days were over, but the latest attack shows he was wrong.
Deborah Harkness saved her younger sister and two toddlers during the attack and now finds herself at the mercy of her rescuer. Trace offers the only shelter for miles around and agrees to take them in until she can safely continue. His simple bachelor existence never anticipated kids and women in the picture and their arrival is unsettling–yet enticing.
Working to survive the winter and finally bring justice to the trail, Trace and Deborah find themselves drawn together–yet every day approaches the moment she’ll leave forever.
goodreads | amazon | bookdepository | christianbook | itunes
about the author
Mary Connealy writes romantic comedy with cowboys always with a strong suspense thread. She is a two-time Carol Award winner, and a Rita, Christy and Inspirational Reader’s Choice finalist.
Her most recent three-book series are Cimarron Legacy, Wild at Heart, Trouble in Texas, Kincaid Bride for Bethany House Publishing. She’s also written four other series for Barbour Publishing and many novellas and several stand-alone books for multiple publishers.
Mary will be a published author for ten years in 2017 with nearly a million books in print. She has a degree in broadcast communications with an emphasis in journalism and has worked at her local newspaper.
five favorites of The Accidental Guardian
Mary: I’ve gotta go with the hero on this one, and keep in mind I love the heroine, so it’s a tough choice. Trace Riley ends up being so brave, so skilled and so vulnerable. I just loved his lonely heart and how sweet he was with the children and especially with Deb.
Beth: ???? Trace!!! ???? Yes, I have to agree!
favorite setting aspect
Mary: I loved that the background to this is The Comstock Lode. Virginia City is far off and they never go there, but the wealth and power and crime and excitement of that boomtown affect all three stories.
Beth: Can’t beat that!
favorite cover?! (tell us why you love it!)
Mary: I have never loved a cover MORE of all my books, than this one for The Accidental Guardian. It really tells the story.
Beth: I’m a big fan of all your book covers but WOW! I love this new style your publisher went with!
favorite Sierra Mountains fact
Mary: They are right near where the Donner Party was stranded, which helps you realize how dangerous it is. And Lake Tahoe in the background that’s what drew me to set the book there.
Beth: Oh, just the mention of the Donner Party gives me chills! The suffering! Boy, I really do want to visit Lake Tahoe now that the journey is SO much safer!
favorite quote or short excerpt
Mary: My favorite quote from The Accidental Guardian is:
“Trace didn’t know much about women. Practically nothing as a matter of fact. He’d seen a couple just these last few weeks when he’d been near Sacramento on his first cattle drive, but they bothered and confused him to the point they seemed kinda dangerous, so he’d stayed well back.”
Beth: Trace is just great! Thank you for sending a longer bit of story for readers to enjoy as well!!!
…a gunshot cut through the night. Deb grabbed Maddie Sue’s arm and dove for the ground. Gwen landed right beside her, then stuck the bottle in Ronnie’s mouth before he could start crying.
A scream ripped through the air.
The gunfire came again and again. More guns, many guns. The shouts, the cries of fear and pain and to her horror, cries she recognized as people dying.
“Take the children and run.” Deb, her heart pounding, her stomach twisting until she feared she’d be sick, drew her gun from the pack and took one step toward the wagon train.
A hard hand slapped her wrist and hung on like a vise. “You’re not going back there.”
“I have to.”
“No, Deb, wait. Listen… it’s already over.” Sure enough, the hail of bullets tapered off, followed by a few single but deliberate shots. Another cry of agony. Then the shooting ended as suddenly as it had begun. No more cries of any kind, only harsh laughter and a few last gunshots aimed into the air maybe, joined by whoops of celebration.
“Let’s strip these wagons!” The shout was a high-pitched man’s voice. It stopped Deb from pulled free of Gwen. Her sister was right. It was too late. There was no one left to save.
The horror shocked her to the marrow.
“We have to go, Deb.” Gwen spoke in a soft whisper. “In case the children cry out. We have to get out of ear shot.”
Maddie Sue whimpered.
Though Gwen was right, they didn’t both have to go. Deb knew full well one adult woman could carry both children.
“You go. I have to at least get a look at them.” She turned.
“Deb, stop!” Gwen hissed. “It’s too dangerous.”
“I know it’s too late to save anyone, and I promise you I won’t let them see me. But maybe I can see them. I can be a witness to this crime and help hunt down a pack of killers.”
A crackle sounded and Deb wondered what it was. Then the smell of smoke. The outlaws were burning the evidence of their crime.
Gwen was barely visible as a dark shape in the heavy shadows of the tall grass. But Deb sensed her tension. Gwen wanted to tackle her and drag her to safety. Deb’s blood almost hummed with energy fueled by fear and anger. If Gwen felt the same, maybe Gwen could carry both children and hail Deb along.
Maddie Sue whimpered again, louder this time. Gwen made a low sound of distress, then caught Maddie Sue’s hand. “Let’s go, honey. And Deb, I need you.”
That was the plain, bald truth, and it affected Deb more than concern for her own safety.
“Be careful. We all need you. I’ll be praying every second you’re gone.”
“Thank you. I’ll be praying for all of us.” Deb moved away from her sister, feeling as if she were ripping the very fabric of her skin. She glanced back to see Gwen heading deeper into the grass.
Could they get separated in here forever? Might she be seeing her sister and those two sweet children for the last time? Even though Deb was heading for a group of vicious murderers, she found herself worrying about Gwen as her little sister vanished deep into a land she knew nothing about. A land where it took strength to survive and so far in her life, Deb had never known a man stronger than Abe Scott, so sometimes even strength wouldn’t save you.
Maddie Sue whimpered again, and then there was only silence.
She crept toward the wagon train, the noise of the men were a perfect guide. The talking and raucous laughter from the camp grew louder. She saw the flicker of flames and knew the swath of tall grass was thinning.
She breathed as silently as she could, knowing that if she could hear the men, they could likely hear her.
That’s when she realized she saw more than the fire. The eastern sky was lightening. In the first blush of dawn, men looted the wagons. She counted three who appeared against the backdrop of flames and tried to judge their height and build.
She edged closer to the trail, praying she wasn’t visible.
As she stood straighter, looking for details so she could describe the men’s appearance for others, a face appeared in flickering firelight. The face of a killer. She craned her neck for a better look at all three of them. She smelled smoke again…and something else. Something she’d never smelled before.
Something Trace Riley had smelled before and had hoped and prayed to never smell again.
Wolf snarled and crouched low to the ground, his ears laid back, his teeth bared. Black, Trace’s mustang stallion, tossed his head until the bit jingled.
He was worried about Wolf. “Stay with me.” He didn’t put it past the dog—who looked more wolf than dog, and probably was—to go charging up the trail on the attack. He liked to rip throats out first and think later.
But as was his way, Wolf minded and stayed at his master’s side, inching along with Trace, his low growl mingling with the gusting wind and swaying trees, which nearly provided a roof for this high-country trail. Black’s muscles bunched and his ears went back to match Wolf’s. Trace wasn’t sure if the two critters knew what they were smelling or did they just sense Trace’s tension.
Wolf and Black weren’t alone in readying themselves for trouble.
Trace’s hands got rock steady, and his eyes sharpened until every blade of grass, waving in the breeze, became clear. Every puff of wind, and each scent born on it, tested and considered. His rifle filled his hand without a conscious decision to reach for it.
Every one of his senses came alive. He was wide awake to an unseen horror.
He judged every tree and rock along the heavily wooded trail that straddled the spine of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where California met Nevada right down the middle of Lake Tahoe. Every one of those rocks and trees made a fine hiding place.
Kicking the mustang into a gallop, Wolf loping along at his side, Trace reached the top of the trail, looked down into a hollow that had opened to a wide grassy clearing in this rocky, heavily forested land, and saw the smoke—a low smudge along the ground. When the smoke rose, the brisk, cold wind instantly dispersed it, which is why he hadn’t seen it before he could smell it.
And then he recognized what was burning. A wagon train, or what was left of it, in a circle. It was silent and still as death—except for the flames. He wanted to turn away, run. But he could no more run from this massacre than he could run from his own past.
Trace reined in his young stallion and waited in a silence broken only by the buffeting wind and Wolf’s low, threatening rumble. Whoever had done this was long gone. The fire was nearly burned down to nothing. But Trace had lived a long time in a hard land and survived against odds so long he’d be the envy of every riverboat gambler in the world.
He studied the trail. He’d been on it a long time and there’d been no tracks nor had he met anyone. No sign of anyone traveling his way, not even hours ago. But there were recent tracks headed east, he could see that even from here.
Reluctantly, he kicked his horse down the trail into the hollow. He had to know what happened and see if there was anyone left alive and failing that, find who these folks were and let their families know what had happened.
A chill colder than Lake Tahoe took root in his backbone. Men lay dead, and the fire in his belly for vengeance roared to life. He’d get justice for these poor folks.
He’d done it before.
Breathing hard, fury and grief tearing through his gut, Black danced and Trace realized his grip on the reins had tightened. He forced himself to relax his hands and remembered a time when he’d spent many of his days watching this trail from a distance, posting himself as a guardian to those hardy few who broke off from the main wagon train and took this little used trail south.
Back then he’d put a stop to the raiders who preyed on honest folks. Back then he’d known no one, spoken to no one. He’d done his work and slipped away. He’d even chosen not to follow the trail out, find civilization, because the raging need for vengeance kept him here, kept him on guard.
Finally, the trouble had stopped. And he’d stopped standing sentry to those passing by. He’d settled into a lonely life in the wilderness.
Then Adam had turned up at Trace’s property hunting work. His loneliness struck him. He hadn’t realized how terrible the isolation had been, with only his anger as a friend.
Trace learned a lot about the outside world from his new friend. He explored more widely and found a few folks lived around him. From them he learned about the ghost who haunted this trail. The Guardian, they called him.
To his grim amusement, Trace found he’d become a legend. The identity of this ghostly guardian was never known, and Trace sure as certain never told anyone. He’d killed men. Oh, they’d needed killin’ real bad, but it was a weight on his soul that he never could shed.
He’d nearly reached the fire circle when a rustling to the north, in the tall grass, jerked him around, his rifle aimed. Wolf whirled to face the noise.
He heard a strange cry that he couldn’t identify. It put him in mind of childhood stories among superstitious folks in the mountains of Tennessee, of witches and goblins and banshees. The cry sent a chill up his spine and made the hair on the back of his neck stand up straight.
Trace didn’t believe in such things as ghosts, but if ever a place might be haunted, the site of all these murdered souls might be it.
He suppressed the eerie notion. Someone or something was coming and, considering the carnage of the wagon train and the pure fact that someone mighty evil was close-by, it looked like, for all his thinking that he was a tough man who survived in the west, he’d walked right into a trap.
Leveling his rifle, ready to fight to the end. Wolf’s ears came forward and his growl changed to a bark. A mighty friendly bark. It wasn’t a sound Wolf used much. In fact, about never. Trace couldn’t remember ever hearing it before.
And then he saw… something impossible.
With a quick jerk, he pulled his finger away before a twitch triggered his gun. And how could a man not twitch when he was staring at an absolutely shocking sight?
Wolf took off running. He was just as obedient as he wanted to be and not a speck more.
His pa used to say, “Believe your own eyes, son. Most of the time.” This might be one of those times Pa was thinking of as an exception.
A woman. He was watching a woman running right toward him.
“Help, don’t leave us!” The woman waved her arms, shouted and generally acted like he was the finest sight short of the Lord returning in triumph.
Which meant she didn’t have a lick of sense.
She had no idea who he was, but he had a good notion about her. She was from this train and had somehow survived. And she needed help. Except she didn’t know who he was, in fact she should’ve been sore afraid he was one of those that had attacked and killed her fellow travelers. Instead, she showed herself, bold as could be.
“You have to help us, please!”
“Us?” Trace said to Black. And now she asked a strange rider for help shortly after she’d witnessed a massacre.
On the other hand, she needed help. He shoved his rifle into the saddle boot and was about to call out…something. What?
Relax I’m not going anywhere.
I’m not a murdering outlaw and you’re shot full of luck.
Please quit screaming—you’re scaring my horse.
And then a strange, high-pitched squall drew his attention as a second woman emerged from the grass. He noticed the bundle she carried in her arms. It was…Trace shook his head with some violence. It was…no it wasn’t. Yep, it sure enough was…a baby.
Now that he was getting a few more details into his addled brain—and he’d been so proud of what an alert and noticing kind of man he was just a few minutes ago—he noticed the second woman had an older child in her arms, too.
The littler kid just plain howled and that set off the older one, still a mighty young tyke, a little girl, into a fit of wailing tears. The first women turned away from him and raced toward the second, took the crying older child, then they came at him running, screaming, waving. His mustang just got plain jittery, and maybe Trace was a little jittery himself.
Banshees were looking mighty good right now.
Tell us about The Accidental Guardian.
Mary: The nugget of the story is Trace Riley being stranded by a wagon train massacre in the deep wilderness and sort of being stuck there. He had to learn how to survive and he’s been there around ten years when Deb’s wagon train is massacred. He feels such empathy for her and such anger at what happened. And he’s become so attuned to life in the wilderness that he’s just a great character.
The real challenge was, I started out looking for a vast wilderness and came up with the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I needed to get him lost, so I had to get him off the trail. Then I wanted to include Lake Tahoe.
I did all of this before I realized I was setting my book right on top of the Comstock Lode. Okay so there’s a town of 25,000 people really close, how does Trace get lost, any idiot would see that kind of activity coming and going. So now I needed to move him back in time before the Comstock Lode
It just took a lot of juggling and in the end the Comstock Lode was a cool element to add to the book!
Beth: That sounds like some serious story shuffling!
What are you working on now?
Mary: I just turned in the galleys, that means the last time I’ll see the finished book, for The Reluctant Warrior, book #2 in the High Sierra Sweethearts Series, and I’ve gotten revision notes for book #3, The Unexpected Champion. It’s fun to have all three books at the same time so I can read through them all and ferret out inconsistencies.
Beth: Yay! You get to binge read, too!
Describe yourself in five words.
Mary: Romantic comedy with Cowboys (that’s four words, I’ll try again for five.) Hmmmm…. Slow and steady romance novelist.
Five words: I prefer fiction to real life. ????
Beth: Seems to me you’re cranking these stories out pretty quick like!
What do you want readers to gain from The Accidental Guardian?
Mary: My goal when I write a book is to make them as fun and entertaining as I can. If anyone gets a deeper meaning out of them, well, that’s probably a lucky accident.
Beth: Ah, you are modest! That deep stuff is in there, I experienced it!
How is High Sierra Sweethearts similar to or different from your previous series?
Mary: They are all romantic comedy with cowboys. Differences? Deb is tough but not western tough. So that’s different because I tend to write feisty lady ranchers. Trace is young and lonely, a vulnerable, sweet, tough guy. That’s not really my usual hero either.
I always wish I could make the characters three dimensional, and real. So that means making them all cookie cutter characters is wrong. I hope I made Deb and Trace come alive.
Beth: Romantic comedy with cowboys… what more could we possibly ask for?!
What is your comfort food?
Mary: Well, first of all, I didn’t get in this shape by being picky. Comfort food, hmmm… we eat a LOT of soup through the winter and My Cowboy (which is what I call my husband on Facebook, my very own romantic cowboy hero…we just had our 42nd anniversary, and yes, we married as infants).
Anyway, My Cowboy is a good cook and makes about five really good soups and we eat that a LOT through the winter. There is nothing so relaxing and comforting as a good soup! We both sit there and eat soup and feel ourselves relaxing
Beth: Mmmmmm, if it wasn’t so hot outside, I’d go make some soup right now!
What is your go-to beverage?
Mary: Diet Coke and Oolong Tea. I’m a recent convert to Oolong Tea and I love it!
Beth: I’ll have to ask the Google about Oolong Tea… I’m intrigued!
How many new calves have been born on your ranch this year?
Mary: We have 120 mama cows with a goal of 110 babies. When we get to 110, the rest of the cows get sold to other people who want baby calves. We are coming up on 100 cows right now. And we have half around our place and My Cowboy’s partner/brother lives about 3 miles from us and has the other half. So we’ve got about 47 babies across the road from our house and they are all just beautiful little critters.
Beth: I always look forward to seeing all your new babies on Facebook in the spring! Thank you so much for hanging out with us, Mary!
Mary Connealy is giving away a print copy of the Cimmaron Legacy series and The Accidental Guardian to one winner!
Winner will receive:
The Cimarron Legacy by Mary Connealy (all 3 print books)
The Accidental Guardian by Mary Connealy (print)
(US/Canada Mailing Addresses Only) Full terms & conditions noted on Rafflecopter form.
To enter, use the Rafflecopter form! Be sure to stop at every post on the tour for additional entries!
I adore this story!
What did y’all think of the excerpt, reader friends?