Title: Crazy Creek Christmas
Author: Lisa J Lickel
Genre: Western novella
Crazy Creek, Wyoming saves Leah Hanes's life. Running on fumes and bald tires, she thanks heaven for the Wimmers who recommend her to the Rocking J Ranch as a winter cook. Leah arrives to discover the ranch and the people need more than a cook.
Noel Johansen, heir of the Rocking J, happily left for the big city years ago. When he loses his family in a terrible accident, the best thing for everyone is to sell the place, ditch the memories, and move on. But his brother-in-law has other plans, and the beautiful new cook they've hired for the season threatens Noel's desire to remain detached.
The ranch represents Noel's future and selling it becomes more important than ever when one more tragedy leaves him with nothing. But memories can't be bought and sold, nor can a broken conscience heal itself. Home, heart, and future are irrevocably tied in Crazy Creek.
“My foster parents were kind, but busy. We all helped.” What else could Leah say without making it sound too great or too terrible? She’d been one of the older ones, not physically or emotionally splintered, like the last half-dozen kids who’d come and gone at the Fullars’ home. Gil’s condition didn’t faze her.
“You did the cookin’, hah, didja?” Marty raised his head. His pale eyes were red-rimmed and watery, like his nose. “Don’t mean you can cook for men.”
“No one’s trying to get rid of you, Marty!” Gil’s voice showed his exasperation. “We barely got along while you were in the hospital. If it weren’t for Jeanette catering our meals, things would have been bad.”
“Don’t matter much anyway.” Marty returned his face to his splayed, pink and white plaid flannel-covered forearms. “When the place gets chopped up and sold.”
Leah stared at the table surface and rubbed her palms against her thighs. Cupcake mentioned that the ranch owners had died, Gil’s parents, she thought she remembered. An accident, which also stole his legs. Cupcake and Jeanette warned her not to get attached. She wouldn’t. She’d learned the hard way not to get attached to anything.
“Nothing’s been decided for sure,” Gil said. “Except we’d like to have you work for us this winter, if you think you can handle it. Not many people could, being away from the social life and all. It will be lonely out here, far enough from Gillette to make it a day trip.”
“Besides gettin’ stuck weeks on end by blizzards,” Marty grumped.
“I’m not into the social life much,” Leah said. “And I don’t mind hanging around.”
“Jeanette brought out some of your food. A couple of pies, too, last summer,” Gil said.
“Said they were hers,” Marty huffed.
“So I know you’re good.” Gil pulled a manila folder from the side pocket of his chair and opened it. “Here’s the contact. If you haven’t changed your mind yet, look it over.” He pursed his lips and stared into the big room, haunted by something Leah couldn’t name. Under all that gruff, he wasn’t so bad. He might even clean up nice if he bothered. She bent her head to study the typed page—just one—for her temporary stopover in life.
Gil kept droning. “Mary had a housekeeper part time cook years ago. Before Bertie grew up and we got married. Then B-bertie…” He swallowed and swiped at his eyes.
“Sweet Roberta. Dear Mary and Robert.” Marty moaned.
What had Leah fallen into? These people were still in mourning, nowhere near ready to resume a hardy western cowboy’s life.
“I taught Miss Roberta to ride,” Marty said. “She was the dearest, sweetest little girl.”
“Not always.” Gil sniffed. “Anyway, like the contract says, we only expect you help out food-wise. You should clean your own room and do your own laundry. I’ll show you around more, later on.”
Leah closed her mouth and went back to reading. It wasn’t up to her to decide whether Gil and Marty were ready or able to run the ranch. If they thought they could, she’d do what she could to help. One day off a week…well, that was nice. She could always store up meals for the men to reheat. There wasn’t much required of her, no housekeeping, but she’d go nuts if she didn’t have something else to do. There were bound to be a few nice days left of the fall to get out in the yard. And this house needed a good polish. Surely Gil wouldn’t object if she…
She slid a sideways glance at Marty, who had taken to staring at her. She quickly returned to the page. The rest was like Gil had told her. She picked up the pen Gil set on the table, and scratched her signature and dated it.
“That’s that,” Marty said.
“Wait a minute.” Leah was through listening to a grown man whine—even one who’d recently been sick. Marty’s imagined problems cowered in the gargantuan shadow of what Gil had lost. What would Gil do now, anyway, if she let off some steam? Fire her? “I can cook and clean up after a crowd. I can slap a grown man who thinks he can take liberties. I can mop up after sick kids and know how to deal with all sorts of injuries and…and…differently-abled people. I can manage a winter without much dancing and barbecues, but I’ll let you know right now that I’m not much of a sunshine committee. I just signed on as temporary help, Mr. Marty. You can think of me like one of the harvesting crew, or whatever, and let me help you, or you can hide out and complain. I won’t cook better than you, and I won’t do everything right all the time, but unless Jeanette Wimmer steered me wrong by telling me the Rocking J outfit was full of the nicest, hardest-working bunch around…kindest…” Leah ran out of words.
Gil laughed quietly and Marty narrowed his eyes. “Jeanette is a good woman.”
“Will you teach me about what needs to be done?” she asked.
A clicking sound came from the kitchen. Keys rattled. Leah drew her brows. One of the other men? She checked Gil’s reaction. He’d clammed up. Marty cinched his mouth tight under the mustache and lowered his face again.
A bellow echoed from the kitchen. “It’s supposed to start snowing tonight! Nothing’s ready!”
Leah twitched at the ominous male tones thundering from the kitchen.
“Did that woman get here yet? I don’t want to have to haul someone’s…”
A black, knee-length coated figure appeared, framed in the space of the passage between dining room and kitchen. The dark-haired man raised his arms to brace himself. “Ah…vehicle …out of the ditch.”
For the first and hopefully only time in her life, Leah understood her foster mother’s expression of someone walking over her grave.
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According to one reviewer, this story is “A feel-good, action-packed romance set in horse country…that captivates readers.” And another, “This gentle, but complex romance was a wonderful read and highly recommended.” Finding joy in the muck of life happens any time of the year, and Crazy Creek Christmas is your quick and fun read during busy summer months, motivational and inspirational, meant to find the best in us, encouraging and redemptive packed in a little book.
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Lisa Lickel is an author, editor, and mentor who lives with her husband in the rolling hills of western Wisconsin. Surrounded by books and dragons, she writes inspiring fiction both short and full-length, including mysteries, romance and family drama, feature articles, and radio theater. She belongs to the Wisconsin Writers Association, the Chicago Writers Association and is a writing coach at Novel-in-Progress Bookcamp & Retreat. Lisa loves to encourage new authors through mentoring, speaking, and leading workshops. Lisa also is an avid book reviewer and blogger, and a freelance editor. Find more at www.LisaLickel.com. Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp & Writing Retreat, Inc: http://www.novelbookcamp.org
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Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Lisa-J-Lickel