Shannon here: Delores Topliff shares her inspiration for her latest Historical Romance, Wilderness Wife, plus an excerpt. Comment or answer the question in this post to enter the drawing for an e-book copy. Deadline: March 5th, 11:59 pm central time. Here’s Delores:
Where we are born shapes us. I grew up in the shadow of Fort Vancouver, the end of the Oregon Trail. I spent much happy time thinking about Dr. John and Marguerite McLoughlin who established it in 1825. John is well-known; Marguerite is less so.
I’ve been researching Marguerite and writing bits of Wilderness Wife for years. She would be amazed to have her story told but her courageous life choices inspire us.
Excerpt from Wilderness Wife by Delores Topliff:
Indian Country, Central Canada, 1810
I kneel at the river cleaning the fish our Tom catches for our winter supply. For weeks the children and I have listened for the musket shots my husband will fire from the river bend to signal his return. Icy weather will come soon.
Each day our children ask, “Is Father all right, Mama?”
“Of course,” I say, trying to sound confident. “Few men have his skills.”
But then, although I hear no sound except the river’s music and see no shadow on my path, I sense human eyes. My hand flies to my throat as Alex MacKay stands before me, his arms crossed, his bearded face intense under his shaggy blond hair.
After ten months of being away, my explorer husband is back.
“Alex! You’re home.” I plunge my tanned hands into the river’s icy current to rinse them, then rub them dry on my rough skirt as I scramble to my feet. He stands unsmiling and unmoving as I rush forward and fling my arms around him in case he’s an apparition that may vanish if I don’t take hold.
I reach up and smother him with kisses. “Why didn’t you send word? Or fire your musket from the river bend for your hero’s welcome?”
“I wanted to surprise you.”
“Tom ran to the river bend twice this morning and offered to go farther. I’ll call the children.” As I lift a hand to my mouth, Alex grips my wrist.
“Not yet. We must talk. You are beautiful. I wish to remember you as you are.”
“Remember me? Must you leave again? Does Mackenzie require another journey?”
“Not Mackenzie.” He stomps one boot against a stone, freeing a dirt clod from his heel. “Helping him makes me famous, too. He brags that no one possesses my wilderness skills. We’ve done what no other man achieved and proved it by carving our names and date on a boulder by the Pacific.” His eyes gleam. “It doesn’t hurt that he’s my cousin either.”
“We’re so proud.” I hug him again, but seeing his expressionless face, I release him. Success with Mackenzie has changed him. I easily read the woodland around me—today’s frost-touched crimson foliage announces winter soon—but can’t read my husband’s face. “Alex, what’s wrong?”
“With Mackenzie knighted, I’m also sought after. I must go to Montréal.”
“So far?” I glance toward our cabin. “Then we must prepare.”
“No. I can’t take you or the girls—only Thomas.”
“For how long?”
“As long as it takes. This is my chance for fame.”
“Tom’s only eleven. Do your parents need support? Is that it? We’ll all go. I’ll care for them.” I have heard of my husband’s parents but am not sure they know of me.
Alex bristles, pushing a hand through the shaggy hair I love to caress. “Marguerite, you don’t understand.”
My clenched hands fall to my side. “Then help me.”
“I must secure my fortune. And his.”
I tremble, like I am seven again seeing Father shot to death by a trading partner as Mother and I stand helpless. Except this death is happening now.
“What of our daughters? And me?”
He shrugs, his face impatient.
“You and they belong here in Indian Country. When they are older, I’ll try to arrange good marriages for all three.”
My lips form words, but my heart is stone. “Alex, what are you saying?”
The light in his blue eyes dims, as if he sinks beneath ocean waves. The right half of his mouth lifts in the crooked smile he uses when he knows his words will hurt. “It’s plain enough. You’re lovely but of mixed race. Tom has your father’s and my lighter coloring and European features. He will be accepted.”
“By people who are not family?” I tug his unyielding arm.
“Each man gets one chance in life to be something. I won’t waste mine.”
I release him to barricade my arms across my chest. “They are your daughters, and I—I am your wife.”
He barks a hollow laugh. “My wilderness wife—a façon du nord frontier marriage recognized in this wilderness, but not legal in Montréal. Most North West Company men, including your father, left families behind to come west. I was young and unmarried when I came. I love you, Marguerite, but it’s time to choose my society wife.”
“Do I not matter to you?” His words attack like diving ravens. I tug my hair as my head pounds with confusion.
“Ours was a trading post contract, not the binding vows of a clergyman or priest.”
About Delores: From Washington State but also spending years in Canada and now dividing her time between Minnesota and Mississippi, Delores writes in several genres. In 2021, two of her historical novels were published by Scrivenings Press.
Many of her true life experience stories appear in Guidepost, Revell, Bethany House, and James Stuart Bell Anthologies.
Follow her blogs and view more titles under the Books tab on her website. For more information and to arrange signed books and/or author signings, contact Delores at delorestopliff.com. Learn more and connect:
About the book – Wilderness Wife: Marguerite Wadin MacKay believed her seventeen-year frontier contract marriage to explorer, Alex MacKay was strong—until sudden fame destroyed it. He returned from accompanying Alexander Mackenzie across Canada to the Pacific telling Marguerite their frontier marriage is void in Montréal where he will now go to choose a society wife. An excellent markswoman, she did well not to shoot him.
Wilderness Wife follows history but fictionalizes some events. Half-native Marguerite saw her Swiss fur-trader father murdered before her eyes when she was seven, She grew up skilled in outdoor survival and natural remedies. In Wilderness Wife, she and John meet when he’s treating a woodsman who badly slashed his leg with an axe. He needs stitching but the fort manager where Marguerite and children have just arrived is old and unsteady. Marguerite steps in. When John runs out of catgut for stitches, she provides the moose sinew she carries in an emergency kit.
Amazed at her manner and skill, John asks, “Who is that woman?” He’s told, “Alex MacKay’s cast off.” He replies, “What a fool.” Marguerite is unaware that John is so impressed by her beauty and strength, their romance has just begun. She is nine years older and believes happiness is over for her. She lives now only for her children, but John will marry no one else. He is the love of her life. They survive fierce challenges but change North American History. They’re known today as the Father and Mother of the Pacific Northwest and she as the kindest woman in Oregon.
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Question for Readers: Is there a woman in history who fascinates you? Who and why?
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