We are so excited to bring you our newest release, Cold Creek Mountain by Jamie Adams!
Cold Creek Mountain https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085WLL1HB/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_moqCEbT9VBE31
Lilly Fletcher’s last duty to her recently deceased employer is to deliver his orphaned grandchildren from Omaha, Nebraska to their uncle on Cold Creek Mountain. The final step of the journey requires securing a guide, which is not an easy task for a governess who prides herself on being independent.
Ex-scout Hayden Dawson has been grieving the tragic loss of his family for several years. When he’s asked to take a fancy governess from the city along with her wards up the mountain, he refuses at first since he has a ranch to run. However, outnumbered, by his foreman and his meddling childhood teacher, he’s coerced out of retirement for one last trip.
When the ride up Cold Creek Mountain doesn’t go as planned, can these two wounded hearts work together to protect the children? Can Lilly find the strength to leave her wards behind or does God have a better path for her future?
Timberline, Colorado – September 1898
The early morning sun pierced the darkness and a rosy glow spread across the eastern sky as Hayden Dawson tethered his mount. Timberline was a sleepy little town nestled at the base of Cold Creek Mountain. He took a moment to soak in the familiar view before stepping onto the boardwalk. The only sign of life on Main Street this hour was the light coming from Doug’s Diner. He’d broken camp before dawn, anxious to return home. After six days on the trail, all he could think about was a having a hot cup of coffee.
“Welcome back, stranger!” Mrs. May greeted him with a smile as he entered the diner. “It’s good to be home.” He hung his hat and coat on a hook.
Mrs. May waited until he’d taken a seat at the counter. “What’ll you have?” “I just need a cup of coffee.” It was too early for a full meal. He planned to get a bite to eat later, after taking care of business in town.
“You’ll do no such thing,” Mrs. May insisted. “Anyone that works as hard as you needs to eat a good hearty breakfast. I’ll fix you right up.”
Mrs. May placed an empty mug in front of him and turned back to the stove. Doug’s Diner was a popular place to eat. Doug’s sister ran the restaurant while he prospected for gold on Cold Creek Mountain. The woman could carry on a conversation with a house full of customers while cooking and serving food at the same time. At the moment Hayden had the place to himself.
Not much bigger than the sod houses he’d seen out on the prairie, the restaurant housed several tables, chairs, and a long lunch counter. Tall windows along the front faced the east. Morning sunlight lit the room and reflected off the shiny new stove. Doug claimed having the range across from the counter-top allowed customers to chat with his sister while they waited for their food. Truth be told, the fancy contraption didn’t fit anywhere else.
Mrs. May carried a coffeepot to the counter and poured steaming hot liquid to the brim of his cup. Hayden eyed the suspicious specks floating in the dark black coffee. Doug’s Diner was the only place open this early. Otherwise, he’d be down the street at Smithies’ Café. The food here was fine, but the strength of their coffee varied from pot to pot. Stationed at the stove, Mrs. May had her back to him. While she concentrated on preparing food, he dipped a spoon into his cup. So far so good, nothing fought back when he swirled the hot liquid.
“There’re some new folks in town looking for a guide.” Mrs. May’s cheerful voice pulled him from inspecting the fluid just as he was about to scoop out one of the larger flakes.
“Whatever it is you have in mind, count me out. I just got back in town.” Hayden rubbed a calloused hand along his stubbled jaw. “I have the stock to check on, and a cattle drive coming up in a few weeks.”
“Nonsense.” Mrs. May huffed the way she often did when her plans were threatened. “Another week away from that ranch of yours will do you good.”
She tossed a dish cloth over her right shoulder and poured blueberry pancake- mixture onto a hot griddle. Batter spattered and oil hissed as the two met. Long strips of bacon sizzled in the skillet, and the smell of melted butter on hot biscuits teased his stomach.
“Besides,” Mrs. May spoke with her back to him. “It’s not going to hurt you to do this one favor for me.”
She flipped a hotcake while he debated whether to chance taking a sip from the cup. Without warning, she swiveled and planted a fisted hand on her hip.
Taken aback, Hayden managed to remain seated. A more-timid man would have jumped from the stool.
Brows creased, Mrs. May gave him a long searching look before she spoke. “It’s a known fact you were one of the best scouts on the Santa Fe Trail. Consider this a good deed, your final trip as a guide before God blesses you with a family of your own.”
“My scouting days are behind me.” He didn’t bother to acknowledge her other suggestion. Lots of men never married. Some by choice and others, like him, were destined to be alone. There was no use dwelling on it, just accept it and move on. He had other responsibilities. “I’m through with scouting. I have a ranch to run.”
Hayden wrapped the fingers of his good hand around the mug. The floating specks seemed to have settled to the bottom, but he couldn’t be sure. He let go of the cup and pushed it aside. He’d make himself a decent pot of coffee when he got home.
It’d taken him five years to save the money to buy back his folks’ old homestead outside of town. For the past two years, he’d ran a fine head of cattle, and when the opportunity arose, he and his men broke wild horses.
“You’ve got Roy and the rest of your men out there to handle things.” Mrs. May expounded much as she had back when she’d been the county schoolmarm.
She made a valid point. His latest trip wasn’t the first time he’d left the ranch in the capable hands of his men. The place ran fine without him. His foreman and three cowhands worked for room and board and took a share of the profit when they drove the cattle to market twice a year. The meager income kept the place running and earned him a respectable living. He didn’t own much but preferred ranching to living on the back of a horse. Night after night of camping out under the stars got tiresome, and on the
trail, no one had his back. Here in Timberline, he had friends he could count on and a warm bed to fall into after a long hard day’s work.
“You have more experience than most so-called experts. It’s not as if I’m asking you to do anything that goes against the law.” She snorted as she placed a platter of hotcakes, eggs, and bacon in front of him. Using her apron to wipe her hands, her voice softened. “I wouldn’t even bother asking if it weren’t for those poor, orphaned children searching for their uncle.”
Steam wafted from his plate mixing the sweet smell of maple syrup with the tantalizing aroma of eggs cooked in butter. His stomach clinched tight with eagerness. Hungrier than he realized, he forked a mouth size bite of hotcakes.
The bell above the door chimed. “There she is now,” Mrs. May announced with more than an ample amount of enthusiasm as Hayden watched her round the counter to greet someone.
Hayden glanced toward the front of the diner to see the slip of a gal who’d just entered the room. Mrs. May took her arm and led her to the counter. The woman’s well- made coat came inches from dragging the floor. She pushed the hood from her head, revealing copper curls tied back with a ribbon the same color brown as her fleece.
“Lilly, this is Hayden Dawson. He’s an experienced guide and one of the best trackers in the west. Hayden, this is Miss Lilly Fletcher.”
No matter how hard he tried to swallow, sugary sweet syrup and fried dough stuck in his gullet. He grabbed his coffee and took a quick gulp from the mug. An odd tickling sensation irritated the back of his throat.
“Good morning, Mr. Dawson.” The young woman ignored his obvious discomfort and took a step back when Mrs. May handed him a napkin. “I’m happy to meet you. As you may already know, my young wards and I need a guide to help us find their uncle on Cold Creek Mountain. Mrs. May and others in town have recommended you.”
Hayden held the napkin to his mouth and coughed to clear his throat. He nodded his thanks when Mrs. May handed him a glass of water. If he’d paid more attention to the cook’s prattle earlier, he might have a clue as to what this stranger was going on about. “You and your—what’s?”
“I’m the governess for three children who until last month were in the care of their grandfather.” The woman continued to explain her situation as if she believed they’d already made a deal. “Mr. Mason passed away after a bout with pneumonia. The children and I have traveled all this way so I can deliver them to their uncle.”
Hayden took another gulp of cold water. “Why doesn’t their uncle come after them himself?” What sort of man would leave it to a defenseless woman to take children into the rugged mountains?
“Mr. Rucker doesn’t know the children’s grandfather passed away, and we have no way to contact him.”
“And yet you believe he’s somewhere on the mountain?”
“I know for a fact he is.” There was more than a bit of starch in her speech. “He’s been there for the past three years.”
Hayden stared at her in disbelief. Normal folks didn’t make the mountain their home. Hunters went there for elk and deer. The more adventurous might dare to take a chance at prospecting, but those who lived on Cold Creek Mountain year-round were fur trappers and hermits. They weren’t the type to raise a family.
“All his correspondences have a Birdseye postmark on them,” she added. If nothing else, Miss Fletcher had her information correct. Folks who earned their living off Cold Creek Mountain collected their mail at the mountain village known as Birdseye. It took two full days to get there on horseback and even longer if one pulled a wagon. The rough road and treacherous terrain made the trip a challenge, especially to those with no experience surviving in the wild.
“Now, Hayden.” Mrs. May wheezed with a hint of irritation in her voice as she returned to preparing food behind the counter. “You know if they were to send a letter to Birdseye it might be another six months before Mr. Rucker comes in to collect his mail. Those louts who run the store there sure won’t go out of their way to see he gets it.”
True, Birdseye wasn’t a town. The little hamlet was no more than a wide spot in the road with a trading post. The proprietors carried supplies, served food, and traded furs. Not a place for gentle folks.
“I can’t.” The notion of taking a pack of defenseless tenderfoots up the mountain soured his stomach. This time of year, a storm could kick up and cut a person off from civilization for days. Winter came early on the mountain. Stranded alone he’d be fine, but with greenhorns? No thanks. “The sensible thing to do is have someone take word to this Mr. Rucker and let him come get the children himself.”
“I promised Mr. Mason I would deliver the children myself. It was his dying wish I make sure they were in good hands and had suitable living quarters.”
All he could manage was to shake his head. His shoulders slumped with weariness. Mrs. May huffed again and thinned her lips. No one else in Timberline had his experience, and most of the other able-bodied men were on the mountain hunting elk or searching for gold.
Miss Fletcher’s mouth fell open as if he’d called her an unkind name. Hayden shot the flabbergasted woman a sideways glance. What was it about city folks that made them think they could demand whatever they wanted, and have it handed to them? He reached for his coffee, but at the memory of his last drink, he drew his hand back. A flood of resentment rose in him. If he’d ridden straight to the ranch instead of stopping for a cup of coffee, he’d be taking care of his own business right now instead of getting guilted into a foolhardy venture by his former teacher.
“Then I guess we have no choice but to go on our own.” Miss Fletcher squared her shoulders. The scowl on her face reminded him of a mama goose ready to protect her goslings against the world. She didn’t stand a chance.
“Lilly, going up the mountain alone would be a foolish thing to do.” Mrs. May lowered her spatula onto the counter and reached for the woman’s hand giving it a gentle squeeze. “It’s too dangerous and I don’t believe Charles Orbison would allow such a thing.”
“I thought Mr. Orbison was the mayor?” Miss Fletcher’s face scrunched in confusion. “He’s also the sheriff.” Mrs. May informed her with admiration in her voice. For a small town, the citizens of Timberline took pride in their elected officials. They didn’t have much need for a lawman in their quiet community, so the mayor filled in when needed. Hayden returned to eating his meal, determined to ignore the women talking beside him.
“I don’t see how he can stop me.” Miss Fletcher crossed her arms in front of her. She sounded like she just might be stubborn enough to give it a try. “I’m sure it can’t be too hard to rent a wagon from the livery stable.” She continued to present her case to Mrs. May. “We’ll leave early tomorrow morning.”
She was not going to listen to reason. Hayden let his gaze wander past the headstrong woman and to the view out the window. Hopefully the weather would hold. The sky remained clear as it had for days with warm temperatures. She might make it up there and back. Of course, that was assuming she didn’t get lost along the way or run into wild animals. Hayden sighed. He’d never be able to live with himself if something happened to her or one of the children out there. It wouldn’t hurt for him to be away from the ranch a few days longer.
It was against his better judgment, but he couldn’t let them go alone. “All right, I’ll take you up there. But you better be ready and waiting in front of the hotel at dawn.”
“We’ll be ready.” She opened her purse and drew out money. “I’m not sure if you need a retainer fee.”
“We can settle that when the job is done.” He waved the money away. He was still getting used to the idea of making this ridiculous trip. She returned the cash to her satchel and held out her hand to seal the deal. “There are four of us, the three children and me.” He was already making a mental note of the supplies they’d need. The ranch was well stocked for the upcoming cattle drive. Roy was sure to grumble about depleting the chuck wagon, but there would be plenty of time for him to restock before Hayden returned. He gave her a short nod, and then returned his attention to the stack of now- cold-hotcakes on his plate. How did he get roped into these things? The last thing he wanted was to have anyone to look after.
She took the hint and covered those bright locks of hers with the hood of her wrap. “I need to check on the children. They were dressing when I left the hotel room. I didn’t want to chance missing you. Thank you, Mrs. May,” she added before pivoting toward the door.
The ding of the bell announced her exit. Like a cool breeze in the heat of summer, she vanished before he knew what hit him.
“Do you mind telling me how she knew I’d be here this morning?” His appetite gone, Hayden pushed back his half-empty plate. He pulled two quarters from his pocket and flipped them onto the counter.
“Roy came by yesterday. He said you’d be coming back from Pineville today.” Mrs. May removed his plate and slapped a damp rag on the countertop, wiping in wide circles as she spoke. “I figured you’d be hungry after six days on the road.”
Hayden stepped out of her way with a sigh. He collected his hat and coat from the hook on the wall. He’d lost count of the times he’d asked his foreman not to share his business with everyone in town. With one arm in its sleeve, he paused before following through with the other. “What if I’d gotten to town a little later and stopped to eat at Smithies instead?”
“They’re only open for supper this week.” There was a twinkle in Mrs. May’s eyes. “There’s no end to your meddling, is there?” He grabbed his hat and headed for the door eager to escape before she thought of any more favors to ask of him.
* * * *
Welcomed relief swept through Lilly Fletcher like the warmth from a hot bath in wintertime. For the first time in days, she could breathe without fretting over what would become of the children. She paused on the edge of the boardwalk and waited for a wagon load of lumber to pass. A bleak little place, Timberline sat in the shadow of the mountain. She’d anticipated a larger town when they’d purchased their train tickets last week. While she hadn’t expected a bustling city like Omaha, this whistle-stop town wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the railroad passing through.
Thanks to Mrs. May and the grumpy guide, she and Mr. Mason’s grandchildren could continue their quest to locate their uncle. There was something exciting about the adventure which lay ahead. She loved her job but never dreamed her duties would include traveling across the country to the wilds. However, as soon as she delivered the children to Peter Rucker, she’d be free to return to civilization and seek a new position. If only her future path were marked out for her.
Once the way cleared, she darted across toward the Timberline Hotel, one of the few two-story buildings on the main street of town. She’d left her wards waiting in the hotel room with the oldest in charge. Ten-years-old and mature for her age, Prudence sometimes minded the younger two for brief periods of time. Compared to most children their age, all three were well-behaved. As anxious as she was to return to Nebraska, she’d miss the Mason children something terrible.
Lilly straightened the collar of her coat before she stepped into the lobby. The hotel clerk who’d promised to keep an eye out in case the children needed something was nowhere to be seen. Thankfully, she’d only been away for about fifteen minutes.
“Miss Lilly?” A small voice filled with concern drew her attention toward the staircase. Prudence stood wide-eyed on the top landing. “Come quick, Timmy’s stuck.”
What now? Lilly didn’t bother asking the question aloud. She hiked her floor-length coat and raced up the flight of steps. Timmy managed to get into more scrapes than nine children his age. She brushed past Prudence, giving her a quick pat on the shoulder.
At the top of the stairs, the hallway split in two directions. The room they’d rented was to the right. Lilly groaned at the sight of the door standing wide open. She should never have left the children by themselves in a strange town. Until she handed them over to Peter Rucker, they were her responsibility.
“Timmy?” The rambunctious six-year-old didn’t answer when she called his name. There was a chill in the room that hadn’t been there when she left for the diner.
Prudence closed the door behind them. Violet, the quiet, obedient, middle child, sat on the chair in the corner. Eyes wide and face pale, she pointed toward the open window. The pane had been closed when Lilly left them less than twenty minutes ago.
Her heart raced as she rushed to the second-floor window. Timmy loved to climb. He’d gotten stuck in a tree one time back at his grandfather’s house. Their neighbor, the fire chief, had been called on to get him down. Surely, he wouldn’t climb out the window. What purpose would that serve? It didn’t make any sense.
The smell of mold and dirt accented their drab view of the back alley. The faint sound of horses pulling wagons down Main Street drifted into the room. She stuck her head out and found the young boy with his back pressed against the side of the building. He stood on the narrow ledge which ran along the outer wall of the hotel. One little hand gripped the windowsill, and he used the other to cover his face.
Wait until she got her hands on him. She had enough to contend with without worrying about foolhardy boys risking their lives for no apparent reason. Time enough for that later. First, she needed to get the little scamp back inside.
“Timmy.” Lilly spoke with a calmness which belied the fear squeezing the air from her lungs. “Slide your right foot closer to me.”
“I can’t move,” His voice shook as he whispered only loud enough for her to hear. Was she going to have to go out there to get him? She glanced down to the ground below them. The flat terrain behind the hotel was a stark contrast to the steady incline at the edge of town that led to the mountain. She looked to the left. The rooms down the hall and around the corner of the building must allow a clear view of Cold Creek Mountain.
“Yes, you can.” She spoke with a sternness saved for the classroom. She braced her thighs against the sill of the window and reached out to take hold of his right leg. “I can almost reach you.”
Lilly held her breath as Timmy slid his boot along the ledge inch by inch. His movements were slow and precise.
“You have only a little farther to go,” she encouraged. “And then you’ll be where I can pull you back into the room.”
Her heart raced as she reminded herself to breathe. With her hands poised, she was ready to grab him. Dear God, please spare his life. As he drew closer, she could see his chin quivering. Her heart sank. If he were to fall, he might break a leg or worse. He was a worrisome child, but dear to her heart. He’d celebrated his third birthday when she’d been hired by his grandfather nearly three years ago. It wasn’t wise to get too attached to the children in her care, but some things were easier said than done.
The moment he was close enough for her to reach, she wrapped her arm around his waist and pulled the child inside the room. Relief weakened her knees, but irritation gave strength to her fears. Timmy clung to her as she carried him to the bed where they both dropped onto the corner of the mattress. Prudence slammed the window shut, blocking out the cold air and sounds from outside.
“That was a foolish thing to do.” She scolded the boy. “What did you hope to accomplish out there?”
Her heart softened at the sight of his teary-eyed sisters. “I wanted to see the mountain.” He spoke just above a whisper. “I wanted to see if I could find Uncle Peter for you.”
She stifled a gasp. He would have had to inch past two more rooms to the end of the building before he’d been able to see the mountain. Thank goodness he’d become too scared to continue. She’d never have been able to rescue him if he’d ventured much farther than he had.
The poor little lamb, he and his sisters experienced so much loss in their young lives. It didn’t help when she allowed them to see her fret. Finding a way to get them to their uncle hadn’t been easy, but after three days of asking around town, that task was behind them now. “We’re leaving in the morning.”
“We are?” Prudence joined them on the edge of the bed. There was so much hope in the child’s eyes. “You found someone?”
“Yes, and we’ll have to get up early.” Still holding Timmy on her lap, Lilly motioned for Violet to join them. “We’ll pack all our things and go to bed right after dinner. There’s plenty to do, so I need all three of you to be on your best behavior as well.”
Unable to keep them safe inside four walls of a hotel room, what chance did she have out in the rugged countryside? At least they’d have Mr. Dawson’s help, except his reluctance to take them weighed heavy on her mind. The weary look in his dark brown eyes made her wonder if he really would keep his word. Mrs. May claimed he was an honest, respectable man. Muscular with dark shaggy hair and broad shoulders, he appeared to be a man capable of surviving in the wilderness. Still, she wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t show in the morning. If that were the case, she would take the children on her own. Her savings were low, and the money Mr. Mason left them not near enough to live on until the spring. How hard could it be to take a team of horses up the
mountain? They’d camp out in the back of the wagon. If they kept to the road, they wouldn’t get lost, and she wasn’t afraid to shoot a gun.
She prayed they found Mr. Rucker quickly and without encountering any more near catastrophes.
About the Author:
Jamie Adams enjoys living deep in the woods of the Ozark Mountains with her husband and children. A Christian, wife, mother, author and an ESL, she spends most of her time writing, reading or learning more about the crafts dear to her heart.
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