The Gem

July 24, 2017

Read an Excerpt

Book 12

Charlie Chastain lives in Ft. Laramie, in the Wyoming territory. Her days are spent hunting for game, dressing the carcasses or stitching clothing from the hides. It’s not the life she thought she’d live when he left New York ten years earlier but she is content.

At the age of twenty-five, she doesn’t expect to marry but that’s all right with her. She doesn't want to depend on anyone for anything.

Elijah Sylvester is her best friend, her confidante, the handyman at the fort who fixes things as well as she hunts. He's spent his life fighting against those who considered him stupid or throwaway. He loves Charlie with every bit of his heart. If only she saw him as something more than a friend.

When Charlie embarks on a dangerous new adventure, Elijah rides along, determined to protect her. There are those who don't approve of a woman doing the job of a man. Soon Charlie and Elijah become the hunted, fleeing for their lives. She doesn't recognize how much Elijah means to her until it's almost too late.

Love can save them, if she let's herself believe.

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Williamson has captivated fans of historical romance since the very first book of the Malloy Family series and continues to do so. ~ 4 Stars, RT Book Reviews


Charlie was annoyed. At everyone. At everything. After Iz tried to force her to wear a dress and make nice with some ladies, nothing had gone right. Her day had been ruined.

She stomped all the way back to her cabin, then slammed the door for good measure, which Isabelle no doubt heard. It didn’t help her mood at all. Charlie had acted stupid and childish, and now she was mad. It was foolish but sometimes she couldn’t help herself. She sat down hard in the chair Eli had made and crossed her arms.

Life used to be simple. She was not the same person she was when she lived in New York. That girl had died somewhere on a snowy landscape in the Wyoming territory. Dark memories bubbled up into her throat and she swallowed them back before they were allowed to escape.

In her mind she knew Isabelle was only trying to help her, but her temper seemed to have control over her. Charlie had taken pains to hide the worst of her anger. Occasionally it took hold of her like a fist, clenching so hard she struck out at the nearest target. Today, it was Iz, Eli and anyone else who’d crossed her path.

She blew out a breath and just like that, her fury was gone. Charlie ran her hands down her face. She would have to behave herself and stop being rude to others. Her cussing had been bad for years, and she had stopped it most of the time. Her temper and her cursing were tied together like evil twins.

One of her secrets, something she didn’t share with most people, was that she loved to bake. She didn’t always have what she needed, but when she did, the act of making something delicious like bread or biscuits or the most heavenly treat, a cake. She had sneaked a few cups of flour from Iz and she could make something. Perhaps it would help make her peace with things.

Charlie needed get back to the work she had to do, but she could finish it later. Cleaning a weapon could always wait a few hours. Decided, she stoked the fire in the stove in the corner and got to work baking. The feel of the dough between her fingers soothed her. The act of making something from a bunch of other ingredients fascinated her. She wasn’t a good cook, but she didn’t starve. Baking, however, she had a natural affinity for.

Over the last ten years, Charlie took great pains to keep her distance from most people. It wasn’t that she didn’t like them. She didn’t trust them. Very few folks were in her life and she liked it that way. Her sisters, their husbands and children, and Eli. No one else.

The thought of spending time with a man, a complete stranger, made her physically uncomfortable. She had no desire to get married to have children. She left that particular task to her three sisters. Francesca already had five sons, Josephine had two sons and Isabelle had somehow birthed three sons. So many boys! Strange for a family of four females.

If Charlie had a need to cuddle a child, she had ten nephews to choose from. No, she did not want to be a mother and spent all her time terrified something would happen to her child. The world was a dark place and danger lurked in all corners. Charlie was an expert at every weapon she picked up–no one could or would hurt her if she could stop them.

She liked her solitude and her independence. Her cabin, and her skills as a hunter, tanning hides and creating tools from bone, along with her loud mouth, generally kept people away. Perhaps she’d built a wall but it was hers to build and live behind.

While the biscuits baked, she worked on sharpening some bone into utensils. The soldiers in the fort didn’t much care of them, but the women who worked in the mess hall, the soldier’s wives and the locals did. She made a good living selling her wares, most times by request, but using the bones from the animals gave her extra income. Charlie didn’t need a man.

She pulled a pan of fluffy biscuits from the stove, their scrumptious aroma decorating the air. She sucked in the buttery scent and smiled. Who would have thought she would enjoy such a female activity? If she had her way, no one would ever know. Except Iz. And Eli. He wouldn’t tell. Or she’d punch him senseless. Such was her relationship with Eli. She would bring half the biscuits to him. It was a thing friends did for each other.

She looked around the house but she didn’t have a basket to put the biscuits in. She had a few racks of antlers, a pile of skins, a barrel of jerky and not much else besides her few clothes and weapons. Normally she would eat what she baked, but she needed to bring these to Eli. She wouldn’t ask Isabelle because then Charlie would have to apologize and she wasn’t ready for that yet.

She puzzled over what to do since she also didn’t want people to see her with fresh baked biscuits. They might start believing she was a regular female and she couldn’t let that happen. Her leaving the fort depended on people accepting she was as capable as a man. Female skills weren’t important to “the plan”.

She took two small antlers and wove them together into a bowl-like shape, then put a clean rag around them, securing the cloth in a knot. It wasn’t perfect but it would work. She placed half a dozen piping hot biscuits in the makeshift bowl, then looped the rag around the top to secure it closed.

Eli didn’t expect a treat and it was her way of apologizing for all the times she’d snapped at him. She took advantage of his friendship so often, she was surprised he remained her friend. Elijah Sylvester was a unique man. He didn’t fit in with what people expected and that made him different. Charlie had known him from the day she’d arrived at the fort. They’d grown up side by side like a brother and sister. Two odd individuals amongst the rest of the population. It was no wonder they were drawn to each other. Eli was the one and only friend she had.

That thought stopped her as she stepped out of her little cabin. She had separated herself from everyone and everything purposefully. Charlie didn’t like to be around people and she took great pains to avoid them. No one understood that better than Eli. He wasn’t much for talking but he was damn good at just being there, no matter what.

So what if she had only one friend? She didn’t want a dozen friends if they weren’t worth more than a spit in the wind. Most people only did for themselves and not for others. Some had good hearts and did good deeds, but they were the exception. Charlie didn’t put herself into a position to find out if people were the good kind or the bad kind.

After putting her pistol on her hip, one knife in her boot and the other in the sheath on her back, she picked up the makeshift bowl and left. Charlie was never unarmed. Ever. The fort was bustling with activity in the late afternoon. The air rang with the sound of a blacksmith’s hammer, horses whinnying, shouting and grunting from soldiers digging a hole, clucks of chickens in the coop and a few dogs barking.

Normal life in the fort, but for Charlie, she watched it all. She didn’t participate in any of the activities around the fort. Some people nodded at her as she passed. Others flat out ignored her. She didn’t take offense. When they needed her services, they would come see her.

With summer coming on, game would be plentiful and she would be busy for months. Today she would take some time to be with Eli and get out some frustration by hunting. He might need to do that as well. Given how hard he worked every day at keeping the fort in shape while the soldiers rode him harder than the horses.

She walked around the side of the mercantile to the shed behind the building where Eli lived. The door was closed but she knocked and walked in, her biscuits in hand, which fell to the floor when she was rendered speechless.

Eli was naked.