Crooked Creek, Montana Territory
Peyton Sawyer considered himself a patient and understanding man most of the time. This was not one of those times. “You’ll stay in there until I see fit, and if you ask again, I’ll guarantee you don’t get out of there until spring.” Peyton swung the door closed and stepped into his office. The door to the office opened from the outside and in swept Clete Foster and a gust of frigid air.
Clete brushed the snow off his coat. “Beggin’ pardon, Sheriff.”
“Don’t beg for anything, Clete.” Peyton rubbed a hand over his dark beard. “Coffee?”
Clete nodded. “Don’t mind if I do, thank you.”
Peyton poured a stream of steaming dark liquid into a clean mug and handed it to his visitor. He forced himself not to return to the back cell when the yelling began. Instead, he ignored the shouts and focused on Clete. “Weren’t you just in town yesterday?”
“I was at that. You see, Sheriff, I came to tell you—”
The racket became a chorus of screams and rattling of the bars. “Ignore it,” Peyton said.
“What did you want to tell me?”
Clete grinned. “You got them Teeter brothers in there again?”
“The bane of my existence.” Peyton excused himself for a minute and when he returned, silence followed with him. “They care more about their supper than their indignation.”
“I reckon they would, seeing as how ain’t no two bigger men in these parts. Exceptin’ you, of course, and I reckon Mr. Latimer.”
Peyton raised a brow and settled himself in the chair behind his desk, his long legs crossed beneath the desk. “Now, what’s on your mind, Clete?”
“You see, a lady hired me at the stage stop yesterday to drive her home.”
Peyton waited for whatever Clete had felt necessary to rush over in a storm and tell him. “You hire out all of the time.”
“I do, Sheriff, that I do, but you see this lady was alone. We got to the cabin, and I reckon she was expectin’ someone to be there.”
Peyton rose, catching on to Clete’s concern. “No one was there.”
“Not a soul. She had it all written out on a paper where she was supposed to go. I didn’t feel right leaving her there, but she said she was staying. She has a nice way about speaking like old Mr. Sweeney did, but she’s real music-like. I done what I could, but it ain’t proper or right for a nice lady like her to be alone. I promised I’d check up on her again, but I figure you ought to know. And, she needs a horse, Sheriff. If I was a speculating man, I’d say she didn’t—”
Peyton’s hand rose, effectively cutting off Clete’s rambling. “Where did you drive her?”
“That old cabin west of town before you get to the big meadow. It’s right there on Crooked Creek. Her name is Miss Donaghue . . . how about that, I didn’t get her Christian name.”
Peyton glanced at the clock. It was late enough in the morning to make an unexpected visit. “I appreciate you bringing me this information. You did right by Miss Donaghue. Would you do something else for me?”
“I sure will.”
“Find Casey Latimer—you might look first at Doc Hawkins’s clinic—and ask him to check in on the brothers while I ride out.”
“Right away, Sheriff.” Clete smashed his hat back on his head of thin brown hair, pulled the collar up on his thick coat, and stepped back into the cold.
End of Excerpt
“Briley of Crooked Creek”
A Crooked Creek Short Story
Far from home and with no family left, Briley Donaghue answers an advertisement from a rancher seeking a wife in Montana Territory. She arrives in Crooked Creek to find an empty cabin, a letter from her fiancé, and too many unanswered questions. Alone and uncertain, Briley forges a new life in an unfamiliar land.
BRILEY OF CROOKED CREEK is the third short story installment of the Crooked Creek series set in post-Civil War Montana.