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Pine Valley's Promise

When ownership of the ranch unexpectedly transfers to a rugged cowboy, Clara fights not only to keep her faith but also to resist the unexpected pull of love…

Clara has dedicated her life to tending to her family’s struggling ranch, and her sweet but special sister Mary. When the ranch’s ownership unexpectedly shifts to a distant heir, Clara’s resolve is tested…

David, haunted by loss and running from his past, inherits the ranch, questioning his faith and purpose. Despite his reluctance, he finds himself drawn to the land and its fiery caretaker, Clara…

As they confront danger, a deep connection fueled by faith, resilience, and the healing power of love blooms between them…

 

From humble lands to souls aligned,

Their faith in God, a beacon shined.

Through trials faced and burdens are borne,

Their love, a testament, brightly sworn.

Written by:

Christian Historical Romance Author

4.4/5

4.4/5 (37 ratings)

Prologue

Pine Valley, Colorado

March 1884

 

Clara Bakewell shifted in her chair again. Goodness, but it felt like the hard wooden seat was covered in prickly cactus! She blew an errant strawberry-blonde strand of hair out of her eyes and tucked it behind her ear. Looking up, she glanced at the man beside her. Pastor Emmett Paul’s large frame seemed out of place in the small office. As if he felt her eyes on him, he turned his brown-eyed gaze to her and smiled kindly.

“Not much longer, I’m sure, Clara.” He patted the back of her hand.

She was thankful he had accompanied her to the lawyer’s office. Even though she’d been a woman grown—all of eighteen, for goodness’ sake, since the middle of last month—it still felt good to have a man supporting her right now.

After all, it wasn’t just every day that a girl—a woman—claimed a ranch as her inheritance. Edenbrook. She grinned just thinking about the fanciful name Papa had given his ranch as a young man. Back in the days when he’d had big dreams. Before he had ridden off to fight in the war.

Clara clasped her hands in her lap and tried to sit back in her chair. Mr. Bridges sure was taking a powerful long time to find Papa’s will. She sighed and closed her eyes to pray for patience.

Instead of patience, Clara found her thoughts wandering back to the night of the storm four years before. The night her world had shattered into a million tiny pieces.

***

She and Mary had been hauling the washing in from the line as the rain commenced peppering the dusty yard. She’d paused, skirts whipping around her legs, when she heard Papa’s voice above the wind.

“Clara!” Papa was running toward the barn and waving his hat as he hollered. “You girls git to the storm cellar now!”

Clara gasped.

Behind Papa, the sky swirled in a chaos of dirty gray clouds, spinning like a gyroscope out of control. Dust rose in mighty puffs in its path, and the few trees—including the saplings Papa had transplanted from the high country last month—bent low in the face of the driving storm. The stringent scent of prairie sage surged through the air, borne aloft on the gusts of wind preceding the massive cloudbank.

A twister.

And moving directly toward the ranch.

Clara dropped the wash and grabbed her younger sister’s hand before Mary could panic and run off on her own. Clara urged Mary to run, fighting to untangle her skirts as she put her arm around the frightened girl. Pulling Mary along with her, Clara bolted for safety.

The storm cellar was just a dug-out hole in the ground. Papa had reinforced the inside walls with boards every few feet and built a frame and door at the top, but it was nothing special. Still, it would be safer there than out here in the open.

Clara darted a glance back over her shoulder. Mercy! The storm was bearing down on the ranch like a giant monster aiming to gobble it up whole. She ducked her head against the wind and tugged Mary’s hand harder. She had to get Mary to the storm cellar now!

A few more yards, and they reached the cellar. Clara pulled the door up and held on to it with both hands as Mary lumbered down the ladder. They were safe, thank the Lord!

Clara dared one more look toward the barn and stable. Where were Ma and Papa?

Icy dread clenched Clara’s stomach when she spotted Ma racing toward the stable as Papa flung the doors wide. Papa dove aside just in time to avoid being trampled by the wild-eyed pair of matched bays as they plunged through the opening and careened away from the building.

Ma was not as lucky.

Head down in the slashing frigid rain, she didn’t see or hear the horses as they thundered toward her.

Nor did the horses see her. Maddened with fear and the desperate need to flee the coming storm, Magnus—Papa’s pride and joy—dashed Ma to the ground, and Molly pounded across her prone body as she bolted after her mate.

Clara’s throat burned, and she realized she was screaming, although she couldn’t even hear herself in the racket the wind was making. Her gaze riveted to the still form of Ma. A flash of color brought her attention to Papa running across the barnyard toward Ma.

As if in a dream, Clara saw a piece of wood fly from the roof of the barn. Whirling and spinning, it cartwheeled once before striking Papa. The force of the blow flung him clean across the barnyard until he fell near where Ma lay in the swirling dirt.

A panicked tugging at her skirt pulled Clara’s horrified thoughts from what she had just witnessed.

“Sissy!” Mary’s terrified voice rose above the howl of the wind. “Sissy! It’s too dark! I’m scared!”

With a final glance toward the barnyard, Clara fought against the wind to pull the cellar door down and closed behind her. Fumbling in the pitch dark of the earthen room, her fingers finally located the kerosene lantern Papa kept there, and soon she had it lit.

Her knees gave way beneath her, and she slumped against the wall, setting the lamp carefully to the side as she gathered a sobbing Mary onto her lap.

She shook her head, trying to rid herself of the images burned into her mind.

***

“I do apologize, Clara–er–Miss Bakewell, that is.” Mr. Bridges’ gruff voice interrupted Clara’s unbidden memories.

She smiled at his slightly nasal twang.

“My filing system, ahem!” The lawyer cleared his throat in the manner she had learned was his custom. “My filing system, I’m afraid, leaves much to be desired.” He raised a sheaf of papers as he lowered himself into a chair behind the small table serving as his desk.

Clara squirmed in her chair. She forced a smile on her lips. All she wanted now was for the man to tell her the ranch was hers so she could get out of here and hightail it back to Edenbrook—back home to her ranch.

Pastor Paul patted the back of her hand.

She looked up at him and nodded. She felt pretty sure he knew what she was thinking. Goodness knew she had said it out loud to him often enough these past six months. I just want to go home, Lord. Is that too much to ask?

“Ahem.” Mr. Bridges cleared his throat.

Clara turned her eyes to his face, which wore a somewhat diffident expression. She tilted her head.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Bridges. I was just thinkin’ about what happens next.”

A brief smile flitted across his face, and Clara wondered if a smile ever got to linger on his stern countenance.

“Let’s get to it, then, shall we?”

“Yes, please.” Clara edged forward on her chair, fingers tightly intertwined in her lap. She felt Pastor Paul adjust his position beside her.

Mr. Bridges scanned over the pages in front of him. A frown crossed his brow, and he raised a paper closer to his face and adjusted his spectacles. He set the paper on the table and ran his forefinger across the lines written there.

Pastor Paul leaned forward. “What is it, Rudy?”

Mr. Bridges picked up the papers again. “Well, now. Just a bit of a surprise. Nothing that can’t be worked out, I’m sure.” He looked up at Clara over his spectacles and smiled. “Let me read this to you verbatim, as is required of me by the courts.”

Clara swallowed. Whatever could need to be worked out? Papa and Ma were both gone, and she was the only possible heir.

“Y-yes, please, Mr. Bridges.” Heightened senses brought her a whiff of tobacco smoke as it floated in through the open window.

“Very well.” He looked down at the paper again and began to read aloud. He cleared his throat and began to read. “Last Will Testament of Thaddeus Jeremiah Bakewell of Pine Ridge, Colorado, dated March 24, 1865. I, Thaddeus Jeremiah Bakewell, being of sound mind, do hereby attest and affirm the following division of my worldly goods.” Mr. Bridges paused and glanced up, his eyes locking with Clara’s briefly before he continued.

“Upon my death, I leave the entirety of my property and personal belongings to David James Hawkings, son of Lieutenant Michael Abraham Hawkings of The Flat near Ft. Griffin, Texas, in gratitude for the service the lieutenant rendered in saving my life on 15 October 1864 in the town of Glasgow, Missouri, under the command of Colonel Chester Harding when the rebels attacked the town in search of weapons. Hereunto, I set my seal and pledge.” Mr. Bridges cleared his throat again.

“The document is duly signed and witnessed, Miss Bakewell. It is unquestionably legitimate.”

Mr. Bridges tapped the papers on his desk again. “I’m afraid that is all there is, Miss Bakewell. I am sorry. I had no idea of the purport of your father’s will until I opened it here, in your presence.”

Clara’s mind went into a spin. What could this possibly mean?

“Do you have any questions, Miss Bakewell?”

“Y-yes. Yes, I do, Mr. Bridges. For one thing, who in the world is David Hawkings?”

Pastor Paul put his hand on Clara’s shoulder.

Mr. Bridges cleared his throat. “From what I can gather, Miss Bakewell, your father made out his final will and testament before you were born. Right after he returned from the war, I gather. As the will states, the father of this David Hawkings saved your pa’s life. Since your pa was unmarried at the time, he must have decided to make this young man his heir. Probably planned to change the will later and just plumb forgot about it. It happens.”

“Yes, but, well, what about me? What about Mary, for goodness’ sake!” Clara rose to her feet, and both men rose as well. “She thinks we’re going to move back home.”

“Well, now, Miss Bakewell, as your father’s attorney and now yours, it’s my job to find this fella. Once I locate him, we’ll work out something that will see you and your sister taken proper care of. I promise you that. Can’t imagine that a man who has no family here, nor any reason to move out here, would have any interest in a broken-down, worthless—excuse me, Miss Bakewell, but you know that’s how a fellow will see it—piece of property. I’ll take care of it for you, Miss Bakewell, on my honor as a gentleman, I will.”

“But… but we were planning to move back home this week!”

Pastor Paul patted her back.

“Come now, Clara. You know that has not yet been firmly decided. We have discussed it, yes, but surely you and Mary are in no hurry to leave our home? You know we love having you with us.”

Tears filled Clara’s green eyes as she turned to the pastor. “I know you do, Pastor. And we are grateful for all you’ve done for us. It’s just that… that I thought we would be going home and now…” She spread her hands wide. Things were worse than where they had started. What would she do now?

“I understand, Clara. You know I do. Let’s just make this a matter of prayer, hmm? Remember, ‘all things work together for good.’ We just may not be able to see how that will be yet, but I do believe it. Don’t you?”

Clara hung her head. “Not right now, I don’t. But I will try.”

Edenbrook, the property of a man nobody knew. Dear Lord, what was she going to do now?

Chapter One

 

Pine Valley, Colorado

End of April, 1884

 

Clara closed her Bible and pushed it across the table. That story she had just read… the one about the woman whose husband and sons had all died… Naomi! That was her name. Seemed like all she wanted to do was get back to her home.

Clara knew exactly how she felt.

An ache had been growing inside her since the day she’d turned eighteen.

It’d been nearly two months since Mr. Bridges had read Papa’s will. Clara squeezed her eyes shut, remembering. How could God have let such a thing happen? It was hard enough losing Ma and Papa, but this? Now we can’t even go home—don’t even know if Edenbrook is our home anymore. Why, Lord? I don’t understand!

The mumble of voices outside the window pulled her from her thoughts. Then she smelled it. Something just starting to burn. Lord, have mercy! The pies!

Exploding out of her chair, Clara raced to the kitchen, where smoke was beginning to seep through the closed door of the oven. Grabbing the cloth she’d used earlier to dry the dishes, Clara wrapped it around the handle of the oven door. A cloud of apple-scented steam hit her full in the face as she lowered the heavy door.

“Land sakes, child!” A plump, blue-clad figure burst in from the garden door, wrapped a strong arm around Clara’s waist, and hauled her back from the smoking oven.

“Whatever are ya thinkin’? You coulda burned your face clean off!”

Clara blinked, her eyes streaming tears and her face feeling like a million blazing suns had smashed right into it.

“I’m sor-sorry, Miss Clemmie. But the… the pies… I was just…” Goodness, her face must be on fire! And she couldn’t seem to even finish a sentence.

Mrs. Clementine Paul, wife of Pastor Paul and surrogate mother to Clara and Mary for the past four years, clucked her tongue.

“There, there, now, Clara Fay. I know what you were just tryin’ to do. But ya went about it in a way most likely to scorch the skin right off your face, my pet.” Mrs. Paul had found a chopping board and was waving it in front of the oven as the smoke continued to pool out of the open oven door.

“Sit down, honey, and let me get these pies out of the fire, and we can take a look at your poor little face.”

Clara sank into the chair at the table that had become hers four years earlier. How her face burned! What had she been thinking? She was eighteen years old, for goodness’ sake! And she’d likely baked—or helped bake—more than a hundred pies over the past four years.

Pulling open an oven door when she stood right in front of it… Clara shook her head. She deserved a scalded face.

“Now, Clara. Hold this cloth on your face for a bit.”

Clara took the cool, damp cloth Miss Clemmie pressed into her hands and held it gently against her flaming skin. Mercy, it felt good!

A wave of longing for home swept over Clara, the force of it nearly snatching her breath away.

“Miss Clemmie…” She took a breath but continued to hold the cloth over her eyes and cheeks. “Do you… What do you think about Mary and me moving back to the ranch?”

Clementine drew a breath, began to hum a hymn, and settled into the chair beside Clara. A motherly hand patted her leg.

“Tell me what you’re thinking, honey.” Miss Clemmie’s voice soothed the anxiety rising in Clara’s chest.

Dropping the cloth below her eyes but keeping it pressed lightly against her face, Clara looked at Miss Clemmie.

“I just… I just want to go home. So very much.” She glanced out the window, and her gaze fixed on a bird, reeling and cartwheeling in the clear blue of the sky beyond. The hawk fascinated her. Dipping and soaring, reveling in her flight. Carefree. Where she was meant to be—doing what she was meant to be doing.

“I’ve been praying about it since back before my birthday, and I asked the Lord for wisdom, like Pastor taught me to.” Clara looked at her shoes and took a deep breath. She lowered the cloth from her face, set it on the table, and raised her eyes to Miss Clemmie’s.

“I feel like Edenbrook is where I’m supposed to be.” She clasped her hands in her lap. “Like my life won’t go anywhere or mean anything or even get started until I can get back there. Back home. Where I’m meant to be.” Clara shook her head again. “Sounds kinda silly when I say it out loud, doesn’t it?”

Miss Clemmie smiled and took Clara’s hands in hers. “No, honey. It doesn’t sound silly. It sounds like the Lord speaking.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Pastor and I have been praying on it, too, Clara.” Miss Clemmie patted Clara’s hands. “About this very thing. We have loved having you in our home the past four years, but…” Clementine looked out the window briefly, then returned her focus to Clara. “Let’s just say that Pastor and I both believe this is the Lord’s time—that it’s time for us to help you girls get back to your home. And we’re going to do just that, my Clara. I promise.”

***

Three days later, Clara and Mary sat on either side of Clementine on the Pauls’ buckboard, tooling across the dusty prairie toward Edenbrook. Ahead of them, Pastor Paul drove the farm wagon borrowed from a parishioner. It was loaded down with tools they might need for cleaning and repairing whatever they found at the ranch.

“Sissy, look!” Mary bounced up and down on the buckboard seat as dust from its wheels swirled in the air.

Clara smiled at Mary and tried to see what had caught her attention. She shaded her eyes with her hand and squinted. Nothing there but clumps of dead grass and dirt and rocks.

“I don’t see anything, Mary. Tell me what you see.”

Mary flung her arm forward and pointed again. “There!” she said. “There it is. A bunny! A bunny rabbit, Sissy!”

Clara leaned forward and scrunched up her eyes. A slight movement brought her attention a little left of where she had been looking. There it was! A small brown rabbit, nicely hidden against the early spring landscape.

“I see it, Mary! I see it, too. Oh, isn’t it adorable!”

“Careful, girls!” Miss Clemmie’s voice surprised Clara, and she grabbed the edge of the seat as the buckboard wheels bounced through a small ditch.

Mary squealed and caught hold of Clementine as she slid across the seat.

“Oh, Miss Clemmie! That was fun!” Mary released her hold on Clementine and clapped her hands together.

“Do it again, please!”

Clementine laughed and put her arm around Mary’s shoulder.

“Oh, Mary! I do love your laugh!”

Clara righted herself and brushed a strand of hair away from her face as the buckboard crested the small rise Pastor Paul had crossed over ahead of them. She turned her gaze from her sister to the direction in which they were moving and caught her breath.

There it was.

Edenbrook.

Home.

Unexpected tears burned the corners of her eyes and streamed down her cheeks, leaving streaks in their wake before tracing a salty trail across her lips. She rubbed the back of her hand across her eyes. What a baby she was!

But, oh!

How much everything had changed!

All the buildings were still standing, although she could see even from this distance that significant repairs needed to be made, and soon.

But the trees.

The sapling trees Papa had planted shortly before the storm were upright, but obviously dead.

Clementine pulled the horse up to stop the buckboard and gathered Clara into her arms just as a sob erupted from Clara’s aching chest. Clara clutched Clementine’s waist.

“Oh, Miss Clemmie!”

Clara pressed her head into Clementine’s shoulder and felt Clementine’s hand stroke her hair.

“I know, child. I know.” Clementine pressed a kiss to Clara’s forehead and rubbed her hand over Clara’s back. “Let it out, sweetheart. Let all that pain out.”

“Sissy sad?” Mary’s plaintive voice broke through Clara’s grief.

Clara drew a deep breath and swiped the back of her hand across her eyes and nose.

“I am sad, Mary, dear.” She pulled in another breath and held it for a second before releasing it. She forced a smile to her lips. It would not do to frighten or disturb Mary’s placid nature. Mary didn’t have the capacity to understand why her sister was sad. “But I am more happy than sad. Do you know why?”

Mary narrowed her eyes and chewed her bottom lip. After a moment, she shook her head. “I don’t know, Sissy. Why more happy than sad?”

Clara exchanged a meaningful look with Clementine before taking Mary’s hands in hers. “I’m more happy because we are finally coming back to our home.”

Clementine patted Clara’s leg. “That’s right, honey. You are.” She picked up the reins she had laid across her lap and smiled. “Now, let’s get down there and see what all needs to be done. We’ve got some plans to make.”

Clara pulled her handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped her nose. She laughed, nearly giddy at the thought that she would soon set foot inside her home once again.

***

The next two weeks were filled with the hustle and bustle of clearing debris out of the house and scrubbing walls, ceilings, and floors. Clementine was determined that the girls would not move back to the ranch before the house was livable and comfortable. They left the parsonage just before dawn each morning and returned just before dusk each evening. Pastor Paul worked during the days shoveling debris from the outbuildings and making what repairs he could by himself. Three of those days, men from town came out to help, and soon, the house repairs were completed, and the yard areas around the building were cleared and tidied up. The barn and stable still required considerable repairs, but at least the house itself was ready. Clementine worked alongside the girls, clearing and marking off a garden patch, and they soon had the ground ready for planting.

In addition to preparing the house and ground, Pastor Paul ensured that Clara could protect herself and her sister if needed. Every evening before dark, he spent an hour with Clara teaching her how to load, shoot, and clean the rifle he had purchased for her. He also had another gift.

Pastor Paul whistled as he and Clara returned to the house after a shooting lesson. A few moments later, Barnabas, the Pauls’ energetic mongrel dog, bounded up to his side.

“Good boy, Barney!” Pastor Paul squatted down to vigorously rub the dog’s head and pat his back. Then he stood.

“Barney is going with you, Clara.”

Clara stopped walking and looked up at him. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, Mrs. Paul and I are giving Barnabas to you and Mary.”

“But, Pastor! You can’t do that! Why, you and Miss Clemmie love Barney!”

Pastor Paul smiled and nodded. “We do love him, Clara. But we love you girls more, and we both believe you’ll be safer on the ranch if Barney is there to watch out for you.”

Clara’s throat was too full of tears to respond verbally, so she just smiled at the man who had been so very kind to them and ducked her head.

And so, on the day they had chosen to return to the ranch and spend the night, Barnabas accompanied them.

Pastor Paul and Miss Clemmie had stayed with them that first night. Clara was thankful they had, but she was also glad for the second night at Edenbrook when it was just her and Mary and Barney.

As she read her Bible that night after putting Mary to bed, Clara felt a deep sense of peace wash over her. She sighed. What bliss to finally be back home! Perhaps—if the Lord willed it—it would be forever. After all, Mr. Bridges had already made three unsuccessful trips searching for the elusive Mr. Hawkings. Who knew? Maybe he was someplace he couldn’t be found. He might even be dead. No! Clara didn’t wish that.

But is it wrong, Lord? Is it wrong to ask that he just not ever be found? That Edenbrook can still become mine as it should be? I know You brought us home. I’m just asking that You let us stay. And that Mr. David Hawkings will never, ever be found.

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