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“It's 1757 in the Ohio Wilderness and Nicholas Kenleigh is about to be tortured and killed by his captors, the Wyandot Indians. He was taken prisoner while trying to save two young soldiers he had taken under his wing. Now all three face a horrendous death. They are to be tortured and killed by fire at the stake. At the last moment Nicholas is spared only to be forced into an existence that becomes hell on earth. After enduring months of humiliation and becoming someone he doesn't even know, he escapes the Wyandot and travels home to his family in Virginia.
I have seen a number of readers post to say that Ride The Fire is one of their favorites. After reading it I can certainly see why. Previously, I had only read Pamela Clare's romantic suspense and enjoyed them immensely. So when I was lucky enough to win a book from Ms. Clare's blog contest I was intrigued as to what her historicals would be like. Ride the Fire takes place during The French and Indian War and Clare doesn't hold back when describing the brutality of war. Nor the fact that neither side is innocent in committing that brutality.
Once at home in Virginia, the fact that war and being held prisoner have changed him becomes very real for Nicholas. He begins to have nightmares and when he acts out during one of these nightmares, he unknowingly tries to hurt someone he loves. He packs up and leaves his parents and siblings, traveling west and keeping to himself. He is searching, not for peace but for death. After six years of living the life of a trapper and a loner he ends up near Ft. Detroit in what is considered the Northwest Wilderness. It is here that he is injured and has no choice but to seek the help of a woman at a secluded cabin. In the end what he finds is not death but hope in the form of Elsbeth Stewart.
Elsbeth, or Bethie as she is called, is a very pregnant young widow. She has lived alone in the secluded cabin since her husband died two month past. While she doesn't like living alone and is very afraid of what will happen when time for her baby to be born, she has no where else to go. So she tries her best to take care of the animals and the small farm. Young and alone, Bethie is a woman with so much courage, even she doesn't realize how brave she is. She is determined to take care of her baby and herself no matter what.
When Nicholas shows up Bethie is terrified to find a man on horseback in front of her cabin. When she realizes that he is injured she reluctantly takes him in and helps him to heal. This is after he holds a gun to her head. That's how desperate he is.
But Nicholas isn't the only one who is desperate. Bethie drugs him and ties him to the bed. She also takes his weapons from him and refuses to give them back even after he is well enough to help with the chores. Then Bethie's time comes and she has no choice but to turn to Nicholas for help. He uses his knowledge of raising horses and helps bring little Isabelle into the world. After Bethie's daughter is born she and Nicholas both continue to heal and form a tentative friendship.
In the coming weeks Nicholas and Bethie slowly realize they are attracted to each other. The realization comes much slower for Bethie because she was abused and has a huge distrust of men. She has a hard time understanding how she can admire Nicholas' looks given her history of abuse. She wants nothing to do with men or their lust. Nicholas tries to fight his attraction to Bethie since he has no plans to stick around long and he feels he is unworthy of her. He doesn't think it's safe for her to stay alone in the wilderness and plans to help her get back to her family in Paxton which is the last place she wants to go.
Bethie is a contradiction with her innocence and her abilities to live alone in the wilderness. She has no difficulty nursing her baby in front of Nicholas. But on a hot summer night, thinking he is asleep on the cabin floor, she decides to sleep in her shift. When she realizes he is awake and looking at her she becomes upset. I think this contradiction comes from Bethie's upbringing and her view of herself. She views nursing her child as a normal occurrence and doesn't see anything sexual about it. But Nicholas seeing her in her shift she construes as being forward and wanton. These views were literally beat into her by her step-father, Malcolm Sorley.
When Bethie learns that Nicholas can read she is overcome with awe. Having never learned to read because her step-father deemed it "a skill wasted on women", Bethie is thrilled when Nicholas offers to teach her. While teaching her to read, Nicholas is also teaching her to trust again. He realized that she had been hurt by a man and in order to get her to trust him he would have to go slowly with her and let her set the pace.
Eventually Nicholas and Bethie are forced to leave the cabin and make their way to Fort Pitt. On the way they encounter burned out cabins and Delaware war parties. It seems like everyone is heading to Fort Pitt. When they arrive at the fort Nicholas tells everyone that Bethie is wife and Belle is his child. Even at the fort Nicholas continues to protect Bethie and Belle. He still says he is taking her back to her family in Paxton but in his heart he knows he can't let her go. Terrible things happen at the fort and Bethie's past comes back to haunt her.
Nicholas is also learning to trust again. He bears terrible scars on his body from the torture that was inflicted on him at the Wyandot camp. His soul is also scarred and he feels like he will never be whole again, as if he lost his soul in the camp. When he left his family in Virginia he also left any kind of hope of being healed. While living in the wilderness he was simply existing. But Bethie brought that hope back into his life. She is the one that helps him to heal and to trust himself again.
At one point when they are in the middle of making love Bethie panics and tell Nicholas to stop. He can tell that her body is ready for him...
But her mind was not. Her eyes were squeezed shut, her face turned away from him.
"It's all right, Bethie." He fought the raging of his blood, ignored the animal drive inside him that urged him to take her despite his promise. He withdrew his hand. Then he pulled her into his arms, stroked her hair. "Tell me what you fear, love. Tell me who hurt you." So I can kill the bastard~if he's not already dead.
For a moment she said nothing, but trembled in his arms. "Th-there is nothing to tell."
Because she seemed so fragile, because he did not want to upset her further, he let the lie pass. He pressed his lips to her hair. "Sleep. We've a long journey ahead of us." page 158
Nicholas may think he's not fit to be around other people but the way he treats Bethie, and Belle too, tells another story. He doesn't push Bethie into doing anything she doesn't want to no matter how much he want it. I think it shows that there is more humanity left in him than he thought.
I loved these two characters and watching them interact. At times it seems like they would take two steps forward and one step back but they were still making progress in their healing. While there were other secondary characters the story was truly Bethie and Nicholas'. Clare does a good job in giving the setting a historical feel and also describing the landscape of the period. When describing the lushness of the land even in the most dire circumstances you feel as if you are right there with the character. When Bethie is fleeing from the forest fire Clare does a wonderful job in detailing what is happening around her. This part especially stood out for me.
Then above the roar and crash of the fire she heard screams~the high-pitched screams of women, of children. They came from all around her~piteous, keening cries.
She lifted her head, looked to her left, to her right, saw only flames.
A shiver ran down her spine.
The screams were not coming from women and children, but from the trees. page 138-139
As you can tell I absolutely loved this book.
Leslie G wrote this review Saturday, November 15, 2008.