Christmas at Crazy Woman Creek

by Ryan Jo Summers

Christmas at Crazy Woman Creek

Colby Lonigan was out rounding up stray cattle in dismal Crazy Woman Creek when he found her. She looked like she’d stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine, except she was dirty, disheveled, injured, missing a shoe, and her memories. Not knowing what else to do, he takes her back to his ranch. It must be the Christmas spirit to make him offer for her to stay indefinitely.

Faith adopted the name Colby gave her because she didn’t know her own. Or anything else about herself. As she stayed on at the ranch, she fell under the spell of Colby’s sweet little daughter and learned the ranching life. And the romance between her and Colby grew. But first she needed to find out who she was and why she had a pale white circle around her left ring finger.

When Colby’s ex-in-laws sue for custody of his precious daughter, at Christmastime, Faith agrees to stay and fight with him, hoping she hasn’t left a child of her own somewhere out in Crazy Woman Creek.

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Release Date: October 24, 2023
Genre: Contemporary Holiday Romance


The Legend of Crazy Woman Creek

Back in days when horses ran wild and Native Americans shared the land, a great river stretched between two tribes: the Comanche and the Kiowa.

On one side lived Bear Paw, a promising young warrior. He stood tall and straight among his people. On the other side was Red Feathers, the prettiest maiden in all the land. Each brave wanted Red Feathers, but Bear Paw loved her the most. He brought ponies and furs to her father and the two young lovers planned to marry.

Then a great war broke out among many different tribes. Bear Paw kissed Red Feathers and promised to return soon. Then they would marry and have a big celebration. But an arrow pierced his heart, and he died in battle. Word came back to Red Feathers.

She rode her pony into the great river, wailing her song of mourning. She lifted her arms high to the skies, her screams of grief echoing off the rock walls and towering trees. Her true love was gone, and her heart bled long and deep.

Both tribes could hear her screams and cries all that day, and all that night, and through the following day. She was senseless in her grief. Crazy, as some called her. Then, in the darkness of the second day, her mourning silenced. Her pony returned alone. They went to search for Red Feathers, but she was never seen again. The river turned blood red in color.

To this very day, on still nights and foggy mornings, when you go near the water, you can hear the anguished cries of a woman—crazy with grief. Sometimes folks will see her moccasin footprints along the shore, leading into the water. And sometimes, depending on the moon and time of year, the water runs blood red.

Chapter One

The place would give a strong man the chills, even on the brightest day. Stretching out from the dark foothills above and winding along the valley thick with pines and scrub trees, the towering rock and rushing waters had a way of mocking a person. Of making them feel insignificant. Brave travelers swore they heard the scream of a woman, especially on full moon winter nights. Maybe there was something to the old legend: a grief-stricken woman and her endless cries of crazy, sad pain. Though he’d never seen the river run red, this sure felt like the place that could happen. It wouldn’t have surprised him.

Colby Lonigan shivered and yanked his denim jacket tighter, drawing the collar up. Trust these stupid cows to wander into this god-forsaken place. The wind picked up, howling with a dreadful wail, setting Colby’s teeth on edge. Sensing his unease, his buckskin gelding beneath him flattened his ears, snorted, and shied.

“Easy, boy.” He tightened the reins. “Just the wind.” He patted Ben’s neck reassuringly. How had such a nice day turned into a dark, cool, windy hour simply by riding into the dismal Crazy Woman creek area? Life’s mysteries, he supposed. Or the legend.

He didn’t necessarily believe the old legend, not like some folks did. But he’d never come to the Crazy Woman creek area that it wasn’t cold, dark, and plain eerie. Even now, the rest of his ranch was blanketed in mid-December snow, glistening with pre-Christmas light. Life held a festive air. Once he topped the ridge and started down into the Crazy Woman range, the air was noticeably colder. Here, it was hard to imagine Christmas was just around the corner. Colby snickered. Here, he’d believe Armageddon was a lot closer than Christmas.

Ben’s hooves clattered along the loose gravel, and he skirted scrubby trees and brush. Bawling reached his ears and he almost whooped for joy. Gratefully, he reined Ben toward the scrub trees the sound came from. “C’mon, Ben, let’s go round up those fool critters.” Personally, he couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

He could just make out the white, black, brown, and brindle patterns of the cows hidden among the branches when Ben snorted and shied again. Nearly unseated, Colby tapped his heels against the horse’s flanks.

“Ben! What the hell?”

A new sound, a low moan surfaced, distinguishing itself from the bawling of the cows. He followed Ben’s nervous eye rolls to a low bush, full of thick evergreen boughs.

He squinted and made out...cloth, not cowhide. Cold shivers raced over him at the sight of a shoeless, slender foot.

“It’s a human!” Jumping from the saddle, Colby removed his .45 Colt handgun from the holster at his belt—just in case—and cautiously approached the prone figure on the ground.

Colby dropped to one knee and parted the branches. His eyes widened and his breath hitched at the sight of the unresponsive woman dressed in ivory slacks and a peach ruffled blouse. Bruises and red scratches marred her face and arms. Twigs and leaves tangled in her long, dark hair. His pulse raced and he scrubbed his jaw, thinking fast. Then he swallowed hard and tapped her shoulder.

“Ma’am? Can you hear me? Are you alright?” He never understood why one was supposed to ask that last question when the answer seemed obvious. Hell no, she wasn’t all right, you dummy. “Ma’am?” He gave her another—less gentle—shake.

Moaning softly, her eyelids fluttered open. She blinked rapidly and finally settled on him. He smiled at her confused, coffee-brown eyes.

“Howdy.” He tipped his hat. “My name’s Colby Lonigan.” When she failed to respond, he jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “That’s Ben, my horse.” She gave a nod, stopping as if it hurt. Fresh spikes of fear raced over Colby. “Ma’am, is anything broken? Can you get up?” He looked around. “And where is your horse?” Poorly trained critter to take off after losing its rider. Ben would stay with him until he was ordered to return home.

He holstered his .45 handgun and searched around for her missing shoe. This was going to be tricky. He rocked back on his heels and pushed his hat back. “Can you tell me how you ended up way out here alone?”

She slowly scooted to a sitting position, and he could tell it hurt. She grit her teeth and the spark in her eye told him she had a fire in her soul. Instantly, he found himself drawn to her spirit, her sand, and her grit. All great qualities he admired. Then he noticed the dried trail of blood behind her right ear.

“Where is this?” she asked, her voice just above a faint whisper.

Startled, Colby stared for a moment. “Are you saying you’re lost? This is Crazy Woman Creek.” He gestured toward the sound of the river flowing nearby. “I’m hunting my cattle over yonder. Hear ‘em bawling? My ranch, The Tica, is just over that ridge there. It butts up to the Crazy Woman Creek. I raise Herefords and Longhorns.”

She followed his hands blankly as he directed and pointed. Finally she drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around her knees as if she was cold. Immediately, he shrugged off his lined denim jacket and draped it around her slender shoulders, not helping but to inhale her perfume. Flowers and fruit. He liked it.

“That better, Ma’am?” At her stiff nod, he settled back on his heels again, studying her. What a predicament. “So what can you tell me about how you came to be out here?”

She looked out across the landscape, drew her lower lip in, and gave him a sad shake of her head. “I don’t know.”

What did she mean? Thunderbolts of worry shot through him in cold slices. “Was anyone else with you?”

This time tears formed in her eyes, and she blinked them away. “I don’t know.”

Colby’s heart thumped fast, like when Sierra told him she had something to tell him, and she knew he wasn’t going to like it. That same dark feeling of foreboding. Dread. Oh shit. He wet his lips. The cattle bawled. A coyote howled. “Ma’am. Will you please tell me your name?”

She huddled closer into his jacket, shivering a little, and cast an anxious look around. Fresh tears misted on her dark eyelashes. “I would if I knew it myself.”

Her words softened as a whisper in the wind, punched Colby in the gut, leaving him weak. Damnation! Amnesia! That sure explained a lot. But how the devil did a lone woman get way out here, afoot, missing her shoe, and injured? It was probable her mount spooked at something, threw her, and took off. Except, where did she come from? She wasn’t a local and she sure wasn’t dressed for a ride in the mountains.

Better yet, now that he’d found her, what was he going to do about her? As Sierra was fond of saying, Finders Keepers. That hardly applied in this case, but it was a starting point. Swallowing his many misgivings, he pasted on a smile that he hoped looked friendly and reassuring, because he reckoned she sure needed friendly and reassuring about now. His rogue cattle would just have to wait. He pulled in an unsteady breath.

“There’s dirt and blood under your fingernails, ma’am. Do you know how that came to be?”

He watched her gaze down at her extended hands, then back at him with unspoken questions in her eyes. The sad shake of her head made his stomach roll. Well, he couldn’t just leave her out here by herself. There seemed only one solution for the moment.

“Ma’am, like I said, my name’s Colby. Do you reckon you can sit up there on top of Ben with me?”

Her bewildered gaze traveled to the grazing horse before returning to him. Long enough for him to think of a plan.

“To where?”

“My ranch, The Tica.” He nodded northeasterly. “You can clean up, rest, and get a bit of grub.” He shrugged. And hopefully, remember who you are. “Decide if there is anyone we can call to come and get you.”

She seemed to consider his offer, as if she had others to compare it against. He smiled, amused at her fortitude even now. Most folks would have jumped at the offer of a rescue with both hands waving. Little Miss Tough-As-Nails would take his rescue—probably—but she’d also make sure he knew she would not be beholding to him. Oh yeah, he liked her a lot.

“All right. Fine.”

Yep, he sure liked her plenty. Likely too much. Especially for a lady who didn’t even know who she was.




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