Love’s Hidden Gem (Preview)


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Chapter One


Connie Anderson raised the ax over her head and brought it down with as much force as she could muster. The log split in half and the pieces went flying. She picked up the nearest half, set it down, and lifted the ax again. Her muscles burned, but she relished the pain. It sharpened her mind and distracted her from the cold that was seeping into her skin—an unwelcome reminder of the approaching winter.

Her fingers were numb, and the landscape was filled with brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows. The seasons were changing; there was no doubt about it.

“Connie!” Her mother’s voice reached her ears, but Connie pretended not to hear it. “It’s time to come inside!”

Connie brought the ax down in one more savage motion before turning to her mother. “Will do, Mama.”

She packed the chopped wood into the wheelbarrow and took it over to the house. Her mother stood in the doorway, clutching her shawl to her body. She looked out over the plains with a frown.

A cough ripped its way through her body, and Connie winced. They had to get her to a doctor, but there was barely enough money for food.

“How are you feeling today?” Connie asked, stacking the wood next to the house. It would be easy to grab a few pieces whenever they needed to start a fire.

They were in for another lean winter, but at least they would have enough wood. Their stone house was nestled at the edge of a forest, providing them with ample hunting grounds and more trees than they knew what to do with. Thank heavens for small mercies.

“I’m doing fine.” Martha waved Connie’s words away dismissively, but her voice was hoarse. “Don’t you worry about me. I hate to ask, but do you think you could help me with dinner? I want the food to be hot for Ben when he gets back from herding the cattle.”

“Of course.” Connie turned away from the wheelbarrow and stretched her arms over her head. Her muscles cried out for rest. “I don’t mind. The wood’s done; I’ll stack it tomorrow. What were you thinking of making?”

“I slaughtered a chicken earlier, so I was thinking of making a chicken stew. If we use enough beans and potatoes, we can make it stretch for three days. This cold weather’s good for keeping food for longer, if nothing else.”

Connie made her way inside and washed the dirt off her hand. Ben had installed a hand pump in the kitchen when he was bored the previous week. He was a genius when it came to such things, but sadly, his talents were focused on trying to keep their farm afloat. The poor man rarely got a chance to do the things that pleased him.

“Oh, Connie… you ripped your skirt.”

Connie frowned as she looked down. It was a faded cotton dress with a green gingham pattern that she had inherited from her mother. Several patches covered the original fabric. It had been repaired more times than she could count. “I didn’t notice. It must have happened when I was chopping wood.”

Martha sighed and walked over to Connie. “It’s right between these two patches. I’ll have to be particularly careful when I mend it.” Her eyes became moist as she patted the material. “I still remember the day your father bought this dress for me. We were so hopeful…”

She trailed off and covered her face with her hands. Connie swallowed hard.

“Come now, Mama. Let’s focus on something else. We’ve got better days ahead.” She rubbed her mother’s back comfortingly.

“You’re right.” Martha straightened and squared her shoulders. “There’s no use in speaking of your father. It’s been twelve years since he abandoned us. Even so, I miss him still.”

Connie grimaced. It was true that he had abandoned the family, but he was still her father. She loved him, for better or worse.

Martha turned away from Connie and began chopping an onion. The knife hit the chopping board with terrible force. “I’ll never know what he was thinking. Who leaves their entire family behind to find gold? His children needed him! I needed him. He was just looking for a way to get out of working. Thank the stars your brother didn’t take after him.”

Connie sighed as she listened without interrupting. Her heart hurt and she would rather have spoken about anything else. Martha was repeating a familiar diatribe listing all her father’s faults. He was untrustworthy, thoughtless, and had a weak chin. Whenever Martha was anxious, she allowed her disappointments about her husband to rule her thoughts.

They finished cooking and Connie immediately began on the laundry. Work never stopped on the farm. The only rest she got was when her head hit the pillow at night.

“My father tried in vain to keep me from marrying your father,” Martha continued as they folded their clean clothes. “Let this be a lesson to you. One day, you’ll choose a man for yourself—and that one choice can set the tone for your entire life. I hope you choose better than I did. I should have married that nice vicar’s boy when I had the chance.”

Connie tried to keep her frustration at bay, but the complaints were becoming too much to bear. “He found gold, Mama.”

The words came out before she could stop them. Martha paused and narrowed her eyes at Connie.

Years of bitterness had eaten away at her mother’s looks, but there were still clues of the beautiful woman she had once been. Her once-lustrous black locks had gone limp, and there were deep lines around the eyes that used to shine like sapphires. Connie’s father had always said that he may not have had much money, but his wife made him the richest man on earth.

If only that kind of wealth had been enough for him.

People said Connie resembled her mother, but Connie doubted it. Martha had been striking, with the kind of face that stopped men in their tracks. Connie’s face hadn’t caused anyone to look twice, let alone make them forget where they were going.

“He sent one letter.” Martha held up a finger. “It was vague and nonsensical. The man was a liar through and through. If he had gold, why did the marshals find him dead in a ditch?”

“Someone probably killed him for his money,” Connie pointed out. “I know he would never have left us without a good reason.”

Martha pursed her mouth and shook her head as if she was dealing with a toddler. “I would have thought that these hard years would have caused you to grow up.”

With that, she dropped the clothing in her hands and left the room. Connie watched her walk away with a heavy heart. She sank onto the couch, grabbed a pillow, and screamed into it. Why did she always get drawn into her mother’s frustrations? It would have been better if she had just kept quiet.

When Ben returned for dinner a little later, Connie and Martha still weren’t speaking. Connie kept looking over at her mother, but Martha avoided her gaze. She hated that Ben had to come home to an awkward atmosphere, but he didn’t seem to notice.

Ben had inherited his looks from their father. He had black hair and soft brown eyes. Unlike their father, he had broad shoulders and strong arms from working the land every day. His mind seemed to be elsewhere as he pushed his food around his bowl.

“How is the food?” Martha looked over at Ben. “Chicken stew is usually your favorite.”

“Oh?” Ben sat up straighter. “Yes, that’s right. Thank you, Mama.”

Martha didn’t remark on his reticence and returned to her own food.

“Are you all right, brother?” Connie asked in concern.

Ben put down his fork and leaned against the table. “I’m sorry to say it, but I had some bad news today. Mr. Rowlings came by earlier.”

Connie winced. A visit from the banker could hardly bode well. Every farm in the area relied on loans to get them through difficult times. However, most farms managed to get their debts paid off within a few years. No matter how hard the Andersons worked, they couldn’t seem to squash their debt.

About a week ago, Ben had visited the bank with a proposal to restructure their loan. The interest on the money they borrowed kept growing, and it was impossible to keep up. Their father had left them in dire straits, and Ben had only been fifteen when he took the reins. It had been a steep and expensive learning curve, as it had taken him a few years to figure out how to make the farm profitable. Now, the farm was earning well, but their colossal debt loomed over them, casting a shadow over any of their accomplishments.

“What did he say?” Martha leaned forward.

“He won’t restructure our loan.” Ben swallowed hard. “We need to pay a lump sum by the end of the month, or the bank will repossess the farm.”

Martha gasped and buried her face in her hands.

“Can we pay the money?” Connie forced her panic out of her mind. They needed to think clearly.

Ben sighed and ran his hand through his hair. It was usually cropped close to his head but had gotten long in recent weeks. He didn’t seem to notice the length. “Yes. But only if we sell our entire herd. We won’t have enough money to get us through winter or buy new animals in the spring.”

The weight of their situation hit Connie square in the face. She blinked as she tried to find the right words. There were none. They needed a miracle.

Martha wailed. Her chair scraped against the floor as she ran out of the room.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do, Connie.” Ben’s expression was pained. “We’ve worked so hard for so long, and now there’s no way out.”

Connie went to him and wrapped her arms around him. “You did the best you could. Will we have any money left over from the sale of the cattle?”

“Yes, but only a few hundred dollars. If we lived simply, the three of us could survive the winter, but we’d have to tighten our belts. When spring comes, we’d be able to buy a handful of calves, maybe four or five. But the next balloon payment would be due in less than two months. There’s no way I could pay that, and the farm would go to the bank. We’re only delaying the inevitable.”

Connie stood back and rubbed her arm. “What if… We’ve always spoken about searching for the gold—”

“Connie!” Ben’s face contorted in disgust and fury. “We were children the last time we spoke about that. I won’t bet our lives on another one of father’s lies. It’s time to be realistic. I’m going to sell the cattle and start looking for accommodation in town. I can find work as a cowboy. You and mother will have to find work, too. It won’t be much, but we’ll survive. The writing is on the wall. It’s over.”

He pushed his chair out and stormed out of the room. Connie made her way to her bedroom in a daze. Her mother’s sobbing could be heard from behind her door. Silence emanated from Ben’s room. His pain was palpable.

Connie couldn’t find it in herself to comfort either of them. She picked up the Bible next to her bedside table.  A slip of paper stuck out from between the pages. The words were etched into her mind, but she opened it anyway to see her father’s familiar scrawl.

My loves, 

I’ve struck gold. We’re rich! I know you must hate me for leaving like that, but fortune favors the bold. I’m surrounded by vultures and have hidden the gold at the Whispering Fountain. Come to Silver Creek at once. Our new life awaits us. 



She pressed the letter to her heart and closed her eyes. Oh, Father. As she looked around her childhood home, a steely determination settled over her. She wasn’t going to give up. They had worked too hard for them to lose their ancestral home. Generations of Andersons had worked this land. It was the only home she had ever known.

Connie went to her desk. A few weeks ago, she had acquired an up-to-date map of Idaho. When she and her brother were younger, they had planned the route to Silver Creek. Ben had given up on that, but she still dreamed of going in search of the gold.

The closest train station was only two hours away. From there, she would take the train to Ironwood Junction, which would take three days. No train went from Ironwood to Silver Creek, so she’d have to hire a horse or make the journey on foot. She shuddered at the thought. It would be unwise to go on foot.

Connie ran her hand through her hair as she contemplated the journey. Martha’s cries could still be heard from her bedroom, and Connie’s heart clenched. They needed a miracle.

She snuck out of her room and went to the money box in the living room. It contained their savings, which came to about a hundred dollars. Connie tried to push away the thought that her father had done the same thing twelve years prior.

Hands trembling, she shoved the money into her pocket. Ben would sell the cattle and they’d have enough to get through the winter. She would be back long before then, hopefully with the means to save their farm.

It only took a few minutes to stuff a few essentials into her bag. She took a deep breath to steady herself as she wrote a note.

Dear Ben and Mama, 

Please don’t hate me. I’m trying to save us. I’ll be back before winter ends. I have to believe that Father told the truth about the gold. 

I love you more than I can say. 


The air was bracing as she stepped out into the cold. Her hand lingered on the doorknob. It wasn’t too late to go back. Their home was like an island in stormy waters. Silver moonlight painted the landscape in various hues of black, gray, and dark blue.

“I’ll come back,” Connie promised. “I won’t disappear like him.”

She kissed her hand and pressed it against the door before plunging into the darkness. Connie was done waiting for a miracle. She was going to make it happen.

Chapter Two

A train whistle split the air as Dr. Charles Keller raced down the train platform.


He waved his arms over his head, but the train lurched forward. A porter stood in the doorway a few feet away, closing the gate as the train moved.

“I need to get on this train!” Charlie waved his hands frantically.

His body ached. It had been a few days since he had last had a decent night’s sleep. The past week had been filled with traveling, work, and more traveling. If he missed his train to Ironwood, he’d have to wait half a day to catch the next one. Nothing seemed more awful than spending another few hours at the station.

The porter looked up and spotted Charlie. He called to someone out of view and opened the gate. Charlie nearly wept with relief. Things were finally looking up for him. The distance between him and the door closed. As the train began picking up speed, Charlie launched himself from the platform into the train.

He stumbled slightly when landing, grabbing the side of the train to steady himself.

“Easy there, fellow,” the porter chuckled, “we’re only headed to Ironwood Junction. There’s nothing special about that place.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Charlie wagged his finger at the man. “It’s home.”

The porter shrugged and checked Charlie’s ticket before pointing him to the passenger cabins. It was relatively full, and it took him some time to find an empty booth. Unfortunately, it was right across from a giggling couple. The woman laid her head on the man’s shoulder and whispered into his ear, causing him to laugh.

Charlie’s heart clenched at the sight. They looked cozy. He placed his bag under the seat and pulled out a book. It was a good time to brush up on his studies. One of his professors had said that the day a doctor stopped studying was the day he stopped being useful. Charlie took those words seriously.

Besides, what else was he going to do with his time? It wasn’t as if anyone was waiting for him in Ironwood. Charlie tried to ignore the couple’s whispers as he brought his book to his face.

However, his mind wandered as he sank into the soft leather seat. The scenery raced past him. Rolling green hills were dotted with occasional deciduous trees that were dressed in red, orange, or yellow leaves. A snow-capped mountain range glittered in the distance. Somewhere in all that color was his hometown.

His comfortable home beckoned to him, and he imagined climbing into his own bed. The image thrilled him. Was it sad that such little things brought him immense joy? If his brother were around, he’d say that Charlie was a bore. Charlie snorted. It was better than being a criminal.

“Excuse me, are you a doctor?” a woman asked.

Charlie lowered his book to find the young couple staring at him. They looked to be in their early twenties and were quite attractive. The man had tanned skin and sandy brown hair. He was probably a cowboy or a logger. The woman was pretty with porcelain skin and blonde ringlets that hung around her face. She blinked expectantly as she waited for his answer.

Charlie lowered his book, A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Medicine. “Yes, I am.”

“How delightful,” she said with a glowing smile. “Where are you heading, if you don’t mind me asking?”

It seemed his book hadn’t done enough to dissuade conversation. In fact, it was the very means by which this conversation had started. The irony wasn’t lost on him.

“Ironwood Junction.”

“That’s where we’re going!” The woman’s tone was enthusiastic. “Tom here got a job there. We got married just a week ago.”


Tom grinned. “I work for Thornton Timber. Have you heard about the company? I’m supposed to start work on Monday. We’re renting the sweetest cabin just opposite the lake. I’ve been telling Mary all about it.”

Wonderful. They were both the chatty type.

“Yes. Bill Thornton is a patient of mine. And his men often come into my practice with all sorts of injuries.” Charlie winced. Was that the best thing to tell someone who was about to start working there? “The injuries aren’t usually serious. Sometimes people forget to pay attention and accidents happen.”

Mary tilted her head at him as if considering his words.

“Uh… all right.” Tom shrugged. “I’ll have to pay attention. Say, how long have you lived in Ironwood? We don’t know many people there so it will be nice to say that we know the local doctor!”

Charlie mustered a smile. “I’ve lived there my whole life.”

“That’s lovely,” Mary said, looping her arm through Tom’s. “How long have you been away?”

“Only a week. My favorite professor from medical school passed away and I went to attend his funeral in Denver.”

“He must have been some professor for you to travel all that way.” Tom raised his eyebrows. “I never liked any of my schoolteachers enough to do that!”

“He was like a father to me, so I was happy to make the trip.” Charlie smiled thinly.

His first few months at medical school had been a nightmare. He was a small-town boy who had been thrown headlong into a big city. The pace of city living scared him, and he was constantly homesick. It didn’t help matters that his father and brother had disowned him. Besides that, the workload at medical school was staggering.

While Charlie had been the smartest person in his class in Ironwood, he had found himself woefully behind his peers who’d been instructed at superior schools. It had been a humbling and mortifying experience.

He was lost and adrift when Professor Masterson took an interest in him. The professor had invited him to meals and tutored him so that he could catch up to his classmates. Their friendship had deepened over the years, and Professor Masterson had found Charlie an internship at a local hospital. Charlie owed the professor a lot. The professor’s passing had left a gaping hole in Charlie’s heart that reminded him of how alone he truly was.

“I didn’t know there was a medical school in Denver,” Mary said, leaning back in her seat.

“No, there isn’t. Professor Masterson set up a foundation that helps underprivileged boys get the education they need to become doctors. The foundation provides them with resources and direction.” Charlie was quickly becoming tired. The conversation required a lot of emotional energy.

“How interesting,” Tom said, nodding slowly. “That’s beyond us, I’m afraid. I never finished school. There was no use since nothing they taught me ever stuck. I’m a logger, and that’s good enough for me.”

“It’s good enough for me too.” Mary rested her head on Tom’s shoulder again. “He’s plenty learned in my eyes. Do you have anyone waiting on you back in Ironwood, Doc?”

Charlie shook his head. “No, it’s just me.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Tom said with a shrug.

“Is there anyone on the horizon?” Mary leaned forward.

Charlie’s cheeks burned as he shook his head.

“Well now, I think we can change that.” Tom clapped. “I have a sister back home. She’s real pretty, too. All the local fellows are dying for her hand. Why don’t I introduce you two? She wouldn’t mind receiving a letter from the likes of you.”

Charlie wished the earth would swallow him up. He looked around to see if there were any other vacant seats, but most of them were taken. Besides, how would he excuse himself? His brain worked to find an excuse to leave.

“No, no, Clara is smitten with that butcher boy.” Mary shook her head. “I know you don’t like him, but you must respect her decisions. Besides, my cousin Jessie would be a much better fit. She’s the bookish type, just like you. I’ll send word that she must expect your letter.”

“There’s no need to do that.” Charlie slumped lower in his seat.

The train chugged as it began climbing a mountain. It lurched underfoot, trees flying past.

“Don’t worry about it, Doc.” Mary waved dismissively. “She’s as pretty as a picture. You’ll like her.”

“I still think Clara should try her hand at a doctor instead of a butcher,” Tom muttered, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Now, now, don’t be a grouch,” Mary said lightly. “It’s the good doctor’s choice, and he should know that Clara’s heart is taken. She’s going to marry the butcher. Why don’t you do yourself a favor and support her decision? She’ll be ever so grateful to you.”

“Did Clara ask you to speak to me?”

“Excuse me, I need to stretch my legs.” Charlie got to his feet and hurried away before they could stop him.

He made his way to the front of the cabin and leaned against the side of the train. His head was spinning, and he took a deep breath.

A woman was sitting in the booth across from him. She was curled into a ball around her pack, sleeping soundly.

He wasn’t sure what it was about her that caught his attention. Perhaps it was the peaceful expression on her face. Her long lashes brushed her cheeks, and her lips were parted slightly.

Or it could have the way her thick black hair was spread over her shoulders. It gave her a youthful, carefree appearance that tugged at his heartstrings. She was beautiful, even fast asleep. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from her.

Although, in all honesty, he was probably drawn to the fact that there was an empty seat across from her. He wouldn’t be sucked into inane conversation since she was sleeping. It was tempting, but Charlie thought better of it.

He probably wouldn’t be able to stop staring at her. What if she woke up and found him watching her? The poor woman would be unnerved. She deserved to travel in peace. Charlie gave her one last look before walking away.

Although she was out of sight, she certainly wasn’t out of mind. When Charlie sat down in his seat again, he stared out the window and imagined what she must be like. Was she friendly or reserved? Her hands were covered in calluses. She was no stranger to hard work. Had her life been easy or difficult?

Mary and Tom were still arguing about who should get a chance to court him. It was rather concerning, but he tried not to pay them too much mind. People were confusing creatures.

Charlie shook his head. He wasn’t usually prone to daydreaming about strangers, but there was something about the woman that made him curious. She was clearly on her own. Few women would venture so far out West on their own. Was she meeting someone?

That was it.

A loud scrape distracted him from his thoughts. Mary gasped as a massive tree branch scratched the side of the train. One of the trees had fallen and was being propped up by another, but its branches were in the train’s way. It must have happened during the night, otherwise someone would have removed it already.

“It’s all right,” Charlie said soothingly. “These things happen.”

Mary nodded and returned to her discussion. Charlie’s thoughts immediately drifted back to the sleeping stranger. In his mind, she was reading a book in the corner of his living room. She looked up as he walked in and gave him a warm smile. His heart raced at the thought.

He shook his head firmly. No. He didn’t know anything about her. For all he knew, she was a terrible person. Charlie tried to picture her kicking a puppy or stealing a child’s toy. He forced himself to look out of the window.

The train lurched and groaned beneath them. It veered suddenly, causing several people to scream as the train sped up then came to an abrupt stop. Glass broke somewhere behind them.

Charlie grabbed his seat and clenched his eyes shut. He took several calming breaths before looking around. Mary was clutching Tom’s arm. Her eyes were wide and frightened.

“Sorry, folks, the train derailed!” One of the porters ran into the cabin. “We’ll get everything sorted soon. Someone will ride ahead and get help. It’ll take a little while, but it should be fine!”

Charlie let out an irritated huff. Of course, this had to happen! They were supposed to be in Ironwood in a few hours. He was so close to home and yet so far.

“Is everyone all right?” the porter continued.

Charlie looked around and didn’t notice any injuries. People were shaken, but it seemed they were unharmed. Derailments were fairly common. It wasn’t the first time it had happened to him.

“Help!” a woman cried. “Please, we need help over here.”

Charlie jumped to his feet and made his way over to the source of the distress. His heart rate sped up when he noticed a broken window near the back of the train.

“The branch broke through the window when we derailed.” The woman who raised the alarm was standing at the back of the train. Her face was tight with worry. “I think it hit her.”

Charlie ran the rest of the way and stopped short when he spotted the pretty stranger from earlier. Her neck was tilted to one side and blood dripped from her temple.

He went over and brushed her hair away from her face. A bruise was forming on her forehead, but she was still breathing and her pulse was steady. The fact that she was unconscious was concerning. Head wounds were serious, and it was anyone’s guess if she would wake from her coma.

His breath caught in his throat. The poor woman.

“Who is she?” he asked.

“Her name is Connie,” the woman explained. “I met her when we first embarked in Crystal Hollow. We’ve been on the train for the past two days. She said something about heading to Ironwood.”

“I see.” Charlie chewed the inside of his cheek as he raised one of Connie’s eyelids.

Connie. It was a pretty name. He wouldn’t have expected anything less.

“What are we going to do?” The woman wrung her hands.

“We’re going to lay her flat on this seat,” Charlie said. “And once we’re in Ironwood, I’ll find her a bed at my practice and nurse her back to health.”

The decision came naturally. It was his duty as a doctor to help people get better. He couldn’t leave her and hope for the best. Charlie’s heart clenched as he lay Connie down on the seat. Her head turned and she muttered something under her breath.

He waited to see if she would stir. She remained still, and he sat next to her, holding her hand as he gazed at her. Her condition was still uncertain, but he would do his utmost to make sure she woke up again.

Charlie couldn’t wait to meet her.

My new novel “Love’s Hidden Gem” is coming soon! Stay tuned for the announcement!

Do you want more Western Romance? Check out my latest Amazon Best-Selling novel, “Reborn from Love’s Ashes”!

Nora Turner has lost everything. Struggling to survive, she never expected to see the man who abandoned her at the altar again. His return brings back all the pain of his betrayal… Yet, with her father gone and her life in shambles, Nora reluctantly accepts his help.

Will she risk her heart once more, or is the wound too deep to heal?

Oliver Clarke never wanted to leave Nora behind. Forced to protect her from a deadly criminal, he disappeared on their wedding day. Now, years later, his hunt for a notorious fugitive leads him back to his hometown and to the woman he’s never stopped loving…

Will the dangers of his past destroy any chance of a new beginning?

Battling against a notorious criminal and facing the treacherous schemes of those who wish to take everything from them, Oliver, and Nora confront their shared past and the sparks that still burn between them. Will they overcome the trials that threaten to tear them apart, or are they destined to remain brokenhearted and alone?

“Reborn from Love’s Ashes” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!


Grab my new series, "Brides of the Untamed Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

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