From "Hattie of Crooked Creek"
Crooked Creek, Montana Territory
Hattie stared up at the early morning rays as they glistened through her watery grave. She should have known better than to ride out before the sun rose above the craggy peaks, but she had to prove herself day after day, if to no one else but herself.
Glen Meek, her foreman, scolded her two mornings ago when he learned that she’d been heading out on her own in the mornings before he and young John, his nephew, had even put their heads on the pillow from the night before.
Hattie had waved off Glen’s concern with a distracting grin and a load of grit. The McBride Ranch was Hattie’s responsibility, her late husband’s legacy, and no one would take it away from her.
Lights swam through the sky above her. If she reached out far enough, her fingers might be able to skim the surface of a star before the sun’s light washed them all away. She must have fallen into the river. Her shift clung to her body as though wet, but she knew how to swim. Why, then, did the black waters of unconsciousness seem determined to carry her away?
The raging fire burned within as her lungs expanded. The pounding on her chest surely couldn’t be good for her ribs.
“Don’t do this. Stay with me.”
Her lungs exhaled, but instead of air, water escaped from her mouth in a frenzy of coughs.
“That’s right, let it all out.”
Twigs and small rocks dug into her back, but she lay flat and ignored them. Sunlight threatened her eyes to open.
“You’re going to make it.”
What was he talking about? The words didn’t make it past her thoughts. Her lips still scorched from the heat, of what she didn’t know. Her body no longer lay upon the hard earth, and her mind began to wake to a greater awareness.
“Put me down.”
Of course, the man couldn’t hear her. She barely heard the scratchy whisper.
“I heard you, Mrs. McBride, but I’m not putting you down.”
Hattie’s arm disobeyed her when she tried to reach for the colt strapped to her hip. Her captor, though apparently strong, handled her with great care, but Hattie knew the worst of what could happen to her awaited. “So this must be Hell.”
End of Excerpt
“Hattie of Crooked Creek”
A Crooked Creek Short Story
She proved she was strong enough to survive.
He proved he was strong enough to love her.
Married three months before the war and now a widow, Harriett McBride can either give up and sell her ranch or fight for the life she and her husband came west to build. With the help of a friend and a stranger, she must stop the one who threatens all she holds dear. When Hattie is faced with an unexpected choice, will she bury her heart on the battlefield forever or find a way to love again?
"Hattie of Crooked Creek" is the second short story installment of the Crooked Creek series set in post-Civil War Montana.