Christmas in Crooked Creek
Historical Western Romance/Western
Will two hearts find a way to leave the sorrows of war behind and embrace a future in Crooked Creek? Join the women of Crooked Creek in a heartwarming tale of survival, hope, love, and maybe even a Christmas miracle.
The war is over, though for some like Michael Donoghue, the four years of battles brought only death and misery. After returning home, he discovers his mother has passed and his sister is gone. With a bit of money and the help of a friend, Michael heads west in search of the only family he has left.
Clara Stowe and her daughter left behind painful memories and a life of comfort to make a beginning out west. When existence on the frontier proves to be more challenging than she imagined, Clara seeks the help of people she’s come to love and a man who stirs within her an undeniable longing for a second chance.
As the holiday season approaches, Michael and Clara must find the courage to let go of the past, survive the present, and embrace a future neither envisioned.
Don’t miss this stand-alone western, romantic adventure novel in MK McClintock’s Crooked Creek series set in post-Civil War Montana Territory.
Enjoy an Excerpt
“Tragedy and heartache have touched us all, and we’ll carry those memories for the rest of our lives, but our adversities have brought us all here and strengthened us.”
— Emma Latimer in “Clara of Crooked Creek”
Appomattox Station, Virginia
April 8, 1865
DEATH WOULD NOT take him. With his breathing labored, the lieutenant removed his glove and reached for his side. When he held his hand inches from his face, he didn’t need to see the red, sticky blood to know he had little time. Michael smelled death everywhere, and it would seem heaven intended for him to meet the grave before this godforsaken war ended.
Gun powder filled his nostrils and his eyes watered, caused by smoke lingering in the air from cannons and gunfire. He should be used to it after four harrowing years, yet he breathed in the acrid air as though smelling the horrors for the first time.
He saw Lieutenant Colonel Augustus Root falter and lost sight of the commander in the chaos. The 15th New York Cavalry was weary, yet they still secured the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road and charged into Appomattox Court House. Michael righted himself atop his horse, as exhausted and battle worn as he was, and followed the others.
He didn’t know why one shot out of so many drew his attention.
A bullet struck their colonel’s neck and pandemonium ensued.
“Retreat!” His shouts pierced through the din of shots and screams. “Retreat!” The calvary pulled back, taking as many prisoners as they could. He never had the stomach for it. His commanding officer often told him he felt too much sympathy for the enemy. Yet, Michael knew a man who fought on the other side of a battle was not automatically an enemy.
A single cry from the cacophony of discord reached his ears. One of the Union men—a boy of nineteen who dreamt of soldiering and the excitement of action—wanted desperately to fight before the war ended. John was his name. The week before, he’d regaled Michael with tales of the adventures he planned to take when he finished his enlistment. The boy tumbled forward across the body of a fallen Confederate soldier, his face now planted in the blood-soaked earth.
Those few seconds of distraction became Michael’s undoing. He lurched, and his strong steed reared back. A bullet to his back joined the one already in his side, and he toppled from his mount. How many men took shots they never saw coming during the war? he wondered as he hovered on the brink of unconsciousness. Michael grieved for those whose job called upon them to keep count of every fallen soldier, adding them to list after list, until the names blurred together and hearts became numb.
Michael never once fired his gun unless he could see the iris of the other man’s eyes. The brief moment between recognizing death and extinguishing life was his penance for taking so many. Even if it had been in the name of freedom under the cloak of war, he could not reconcile the needless loss of life.
He knew the taste and longing for freedom well. His family had come to America from Ireland in search of freedom and hope, and he was raised to believe no man should enslave another and no state or industry belonged to only one people. He believed in a united country, though the reality soon overpowered the ideals. Hope for a better future, for their country and families, kept the exhausted and disillusioned soldiers pushing forward in search of the light beyond war’s darkness . . . hope that the lost lives had been sacrificed for a purpose greater than one person.
He wanted to believe, but as his body pressed into the ground, beneath the weight of boots running to their salvations, he whispered, “Please, Death, do not take me. Not yet. Not now.”
Chapter One (portion)
“It is difficult to describe the air here. I suppose the closest I can come to it is the year we summered in Maine and the cool breeze carried the sweet scent of fresh pine everywhere we went.”
— Clara Stowe to her parents soon after her arrival in Crooked Creek, May 1866
Crooked Creek, Montana Territory
December 4, 1866
CRYSTALS FROSTED THE windowpanes and snowflakes melted from pine branches beneath a bright afternoon sun. The Stowe Family Inn bustled with life during the long summer days, well into the crisp autumn nights of September.
With winter underway, only the bravest of travelers, seasoned mountain folk, and miners or timber workers from nearby settlements made their way to Crooked Creek, Montana, the quaint mountain town Clara Stowe now called home. Crooked Creek boasted two hundred and twenty-seven souls, tucked away in a valley of meadows and thick woods brimming with fresh-scented pine trees. Many of them she was proud to call friends.
A few reclusive townsfolk kept to themselves, while others relished in the meager social events during the rare times when they stopped working long enough to appreciate their land, freedom, and livelihoods. More than eight months since the war’s end, men still trickled through in search of lost families and second chances, or to simply forget.
Clara’s extreme excursion west began as a grand adventure and an attempt to escape the painful memories of loss from the war.
“Heroism arises from the unexpected,” Gideon once said, “because only out of the unexpected does one discover the true depth of one’s courage.”
Clara Stowe had recited Gideon’s words every day since she left her comfortable, New England life for an adventure she had promised to fulfill in his memory. What an adventure it had thus far been. The slightest tilt of her lips formed a smile, the same as every time she thought of Alice’s father. He’d given her more than one precious gift before succumbing to duty’s call.
She’d been told the vast, western territories held hope, promise, and opportunity. Clara had found all three, though none came without struggle. She ran her hand over the polished banister of the wide staircase and enjoyed the snowy landscape through one of the sparkling glass windows by the front door. The grand home, originally built, she was told, by an extravagant Connecticut man who thought to turn Crooked Creek into a great mining boomtown, had become a solace for Clara since her arrival in Montana. Luckily for Clara and the townsfolk, Mr. Cromwell’s mining scheme did not go as planned. Now the home belonged to her and her daughter.
She walked through the cozy dining room to ensure her guests did not want more beverages or another helping of Susan’s delicious food. Clara greeted them with smiles and the charm learned from childhood. Her mother had groomed her for a life of entertaining—a life Clara once thought she desired with its endless comforts—until Gideon.
Excerpt from Christmas in Crooked Creek © MK McClintock.
Excerpted from Christmas in Crooked Creek by MK McClintock. Copyright 2022 © MK McClintock. Published by Trappers Peak Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author or publisher.
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