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an excerpt from

The Trail to Crooked Creek

Set in Post-Civil War Montana

Crooked Creek Series

The Trail to Crooked Creek

Spring 1868

Twenty-five miles southwest of

Crooked Creek, Montana Territory

“If you are going to kill us, I ask only that you do so swiftly, for the child’s sake.”

“What makes you think I have any intention of killing you?”

Leah Tennyson held her young charge close to her body beneath the security of her arms. Though strong, she did not harbor confidence in her ability to prevent the man from doing whatever he wished. If it took her last breath and her own life to secure Nelle’s freedom, so be it.

He appeared from the shadows, his gait strong and gradual. She estimated his height at half a foot or taller than her five feet, five inches. Sitting on the ground as Leah and Nelle were and huddled against the narrow, white tree trunk, the man appeared more of a giant. A broadbrimmed felt hat shadowed his face, and in the fading light, Leah glimpsed only flashes of white teeth when he spoke.

“I don’t intend to harm either of you.” He held his hands high and to his sides to show the truth of his words. “I saw your fire but no horses.”

Nelle kept her face tucked into Leah’s shoulder. Leah whispered to the girl before rising slowly to her feet, using the tree for support. One step forward put her between the man and Nelle. “I am not a fool, sir, and do not mistake for me one.”

“Duly noted, ma’am.” He raised one hand to his head, and keeping the other arm out wide, removed the hat. Unruly hair, in a shade darker than Nelle’s, though not quite brown, fell over his forehead before he brushed it back with a rough swipe of his hand. “The name’s Wesley Davenport, ma’am.”

She caught a hint of the South in his voice, though not as distinctly southern as the couple who brought a train car of orphans—and Leah—as far as Missouri. “Should your name mean anything to me, Mr. Davenport?”

“Not unless you’re from Washington, Virginia, or thereabouts.”

“You mean the capital of Washington?”

He smiled, and it came easily. “It’s a common misunderstanding, ma’am, but no, Washington, Virginia. And I detect hints of Boston and maybe even a little British in your voice.”

Nelle had stopped her fractured breathing from behind Leah’s legs. She dared not glance down at the girl. Wesley did.

“You should be on your way, Mr. Davenport.”

“Pardon my presumption, ma’am, but the pair of you don’t look fit enough to make it to the next town.”

“We’ve survived this long.”

“May I?” Wesley pointed to the fire.

Leah gave him a quick nod. With early evening now upon them, she wanted to see more of his face. The light broke up the shadows when he crouched next to the meager fire and fed the flames with two more nearby sticks. She steeled her voice. “Where is the next town?”

“Crooked Creek. That’s where I’m heading.”

The stranger was not mistaken that they were unlikely to make it to the next town, not without help. Earlier in the day, Nelle had consumed the last of the insufficient provisions Leah had sneaked from the wagon before they escaped in the early hours five days ago.

“If you permit me, ma’am, I have jerky and a few biscuits left from this morning in my saddlebags. They’re yours, if you’ll accept them.”

On cue, Nelle’s stomach rumbled. Leah willed hers to silence. “Leah Tennyson. As opposed to ma’am.”

“As in the poet?”

“Regrettably, no relation to Lord Tennyson, but yes. Were I capable of provoking such emotion with mere words, I would not be here.”

He gave her a half salute. “Miss Tennyson.” Without waiting for an answer to his earlier question about the food, Wesley whistled, the treble bringing forth a beautiful gray horse with a long, sleek neck and a mane and tail that shimmered in the firelight. Wesley rose from his crouched position, whispered to the animal, and lifted the flap of a saddlebag. Careful of his movements, he returned to the fire and tossed two cloth-wrapped bundles to the other side. They made a gentle landing near Leah’s feet.

“What about you?”

“I’ve had my fill today. You go on ahead.”

Leah gave up her wariness of Wesley Davenport long enough to pick up the bundles and kneel next to Nelle. She passed the young girl a biscuit first, admonishing her to take small bites. Enough water remained in the canteen to satisfy the girl’s thirst every few seconds. 

“Thank you, Mr. Davenport. We ran out of supplies last evening, and I haven’t the skill to hunt or forage. I did not realize the nearest town would be so far away.”

Wesley set his hat on the saddle, crouched again, and added more sticks to the fire. “That tends to happen, Miss Tennyson, when one is running away or hiding.”


Excerpted from The Trail to Crooked Creek by MK McClintock. Copyright © 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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