About The Land Beneath Us:
In 1943, Private Clay Paxton trains hard with the US Army Rangers at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, determined to do his best in the upcoming Allied invasion of France. With his future stolen by his brothers’ betrayal, Clay has only one thing to live for–fulfilling the recurring dream of his death.
Leah Jones works as a librarian at Camp Forrest, longing to rise above her orphanage upbringing and belong to the community, even as she uses her spare time to search for her real family–the baby sisters she was separated from so long ago.
After Clay saves Leah’s life from a brutal attack, he saves her virtue with a marriage of convenience. When he ships out to train in England for D-day, their letters bind them together over the distance. But can a love strong enough to overcome death grow between them before Clay’s recurring dream comes true?
Sunday, June 13, 1943
Leah Jones studied the poem in her composition book as the bus jostled down the road.
Between these lines
Begins a tale
Of hope, of chivalry beheld.
Beguiles my soul,
Becalms my heart,
And here I find where I belong.
“Is begins too mundane?” she asked her new roommate, Darlene Bishop. “Beget perhaps? Bespoke? No, neither is right.”
“Sugar, you need to get your head out of the clouds.” Darlene’s Southern accent rocked in unison with the bus.
Leah listed more “be” words in the margin. “Librarians are supposed to have their heads in the clouds.”
Darlene’s bright red lips twisted. “You’re working at an Army camp, sugar. These soldiers are wolves, every one of them. If you don’t keep your eyes open, they’ll eat you alive.”
Leah laughed and smoothed the threadbare gray charity-barrel dress that hung on her like a gunnysack. “They won’t give me a second glance.”
“Nonsense.” Darlene’s blue eyes narrowed in scrutiny. “When you get your first paycheck, I’ll take you to the beauty shop and the dress shop. You won’t need much makeup with your dark coloring. Why, we’ll smarten you right up.”
Leah fingered the curl at the end of her waist-length braid, and a thrill ran through her. Oh, to have things of her own. She couldn’t believe the boardinghouse placed only two girls in a room, and she had a bed all to herself.
“That’s Gate 1.” Darlene pointed out the window.
Cars and trucks and buses lined up at a booth with a sign that read “Camp Forrest.” Although the camp had been named for Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, the pine trees framing the entrance still seemed appropriate.
Darlene fluffed her blonde curls. “Remember to stay away from the POW camp. I can’t believe they brought over a thousand Germans here last week. Gives me the willies.”
Leah shrugged. Since the Allies had captured hundreds of thousands of Germans and Italians after the victory in North Africa, the prisoners had to go somewhere. “I’m sure the enclosure is secure.”
Darlene wrinkled her pretty nose. “Oh, fiddle! I forgot to ask for you. I was meaning to find out where the library is.”
Leah blinked at her roommate. Darlene had worked at Camp Forrest for a year. How could she not know where the library was? “Miss Mayhew’s letter said it was between the service club and the sports arena.”
“This is your stop then. That’s the service club.” She tapped Leah’s arm. “If you need me, I’m at the PX at Avenue G and 26th.”
“Thank you.” Leah slid her book into her canvas schoolbag and squeezed past Darlene.
“Lamb to the wolves,” Darlene muttered.
Leah smiled. A lamb could never have survived the orphanage.
She stepped off the bus, and pine-scented heat settled on her. A long two-story white frame building marked “Club 1” rose before her.
Leah passed groups of khaki-clad soldiers who cast sidelong glances that declared she didn’t belong.
Oh, there it was. A smaller white frame building, too plain for the splendors it housed. All library buildings deserved to be as glorious as the one in her earliest memory.
A soldier stepped out of the library, as grand as an Indian chief with his strong features and high cheekbones and a complexion even darker than her own. He slipped on a cap over shiny black hair, and his gaze landed on her.
Leah held her breath. She’d been caught staring.
He gave her the same bewildered look the other soldiers had, but then he tipped his head in a thoughtful way and descended the steps. “Pardon me, miss. Are you lost?”
Men never talked to her, and her gaze swung to the library. “Oh no. I’m found.”
“I reckon you like libraries.” His accent sounded more cowboy than Indian, and he had a nice deep chuckle.
“They’re my greatest joy. After the Lord, of course.” She didn’t think she’d ever seen such dark eyes, yet they shone with warm amusement.
“Glad your priorities are straight, young lady.”
He obviously shared them, except . . . “You don’t have a book.”
He flashed a grin. “A muddy tent is no place for books. I do my reading here.”
Leah wrapped her fingers around the fraying strap of her schoolbag. “Maybe I’ll see you again. I work here. Today’s my first day.”
“Oh.” With rounded eyes, his gaze swept her up and down, but in a swift way as if he thought it rude. “Then I won’t keep you, Miss . . .”
Something about him made her want to tell the whole story of her name and why it wasn’t hers at all, but she merely extended her hand. “Leah Jones.”
“Private Clay Paxton.” He shook her hand with a grip both strong and gentle.
She said good-bye and climbed the steps. Darlene was mistaken about the men being wolves. She obviously hadn’t met Clay Paxton.
About the Author:
Sarah Sundin is the author of The Sea Before Us and The Sky Above Us, as well as the Waves of Freedom, Wings of the Nightingale, and Wings of Glory series. Her novels have received starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.