Sunday, October 27, 2019

Excerpt Sunday for Christmas at Ruby's Ranch by Rhonda Frankhouser

Come along for the ride as the four stubborn, passionate matriarchs of Ruby's Ranch discover the truth of their family legacy

HERE’S A SNEAK PEEK Christmas at Ruby’s Ranch – Book 4 of the award-winning Ruby’s Ranch Series! Due to release November 1, 2019

Will Ruby’s holiday wishes come true, or will family secrets devastate their happy reunion?

This year the Ruby’s Ranch family will celebrate Christmas together for the first time in two decades. It’s the miracle Ruby MacCallister prayed for since the day her mother inexplicably disappeared, splitting the family apart.

When an anonymous gift arrives on the doorstep a few weeks before the big holiday, a very pregnant Ruby, finds herself enmeshed in the intrigue surrounding Granny Rube’s death again.


Chapter One
Knock, knock, knock, echoed through the quiet house. Ruby jerked awake, wondering if she’d dreamt the sound. 
When the knock came again on the front door, her protective chocolate Labradors, Heidi and Ho, rushed to her bedside. Low menacing growls rumbled from their chests. She cradled her pregnant belly and peered at the clock.
Three a.m.
What the hell?
She pulled back the heavy comforter and shivered when the cold in the room touched her bare legs. Covering her body with one of Billy’s flannel shirts, she waddled up the hall, one faithful dog at each side, to see who dared bang on the door at such a late hour. Out the kitchen window, the fog was so thick, she could barely make out the greenhouse across the yard.
Knock, knock, knock. The rapping sounded again, more insistent this time.
Chills crawled up Ruby’s spine as the dogs rushed toward the door barking, hair high on their necks. She was alone in the house. Momma and Daddy were in their bungalow at the far end of the corrals. Billy and Stan, the ranch foreman, would be away at least another day. The wranglers who’d stayed for Christmas, would all be sound asleep in the bunkhouse. 
Ruby nudged the fireplace room drape aside and peered into the darkness. No strange vehicle or horse was in the drive. The view to the door was obscured by Granny Rube’s rose bushes clinging to the trellis.
Knock, knock, knock, came again, loud and staccato. Ruby gasped and stepped away from the window, her nerves shaken, the dogs steady by her side. Come on, quit being such a girl.
She straightened her shoulders and snugged the flannel tighter against her growing belly. To be safe, she grabbed the trusty squirrel shooter from behind the door. Holding it in her arms, she flipped open the lock.
The glass knob felt cold as it turned in her hand. Slowly, she pulled open the door, met only by a wall of mist. The dogs rushed out to investigate but the porch was empty, and the night was still.
Ruby scanned the yard and up the drive for retreating lights but saw nothing. No one. When she stepped out to look around, her foot thudded against something hard. A square, lightweight, wooden box skidded a few inches, coming to rest against the rusty pot that hid the spare key.
“What on earth?” She squatted and picked up the box, peering cautiously into the darkness. The dogs had disappeared up the path toward the barn. She still didn’t see anyone. Who had delivered this carton?
Ruby backed through the threshold, with the box in hand. She shut the door with her bare foot and locked herself inside. With the 22-rifle stowed back in its hiding place, she walked to the kitchen and set the package down on the table.
She glanced one last time out the window, then blew out a frustrated breath. “Looks like the ghosts of Ruby’s Ranch have come a-callin once again.”

Chapter Two

Ruby drew the kitchen curtains and flipped on the light. She nudged her long, strawberry-blonde hair behind her shoulders and leaned closer to the gift to get a better look. “What could this be?”
Wrapped in expensive foil paper, a red velvet ribbon secured the lid in place. There was no card attached.
“Don’t be an idiot, Ruby. Wait for the boys to get home.”  
She contemplated the gift as she brewed an extra strong cup of decaf and added far too much cream and sugar.
When she sat down and took a hearty sip, she spit the coffee back into the cup and wiped her hand across her mouth. “Oh, that’s disgusting!” The coffee too rich for her hormone ravaged taste buds, she set the cup on the table and pushed it away.
Augie, the house’s protective spirit, surrounded Ruby with his calming presence, which gave her the courage to pull the box in close. Her fingertips glided across the glittery red paper. “Seems too fine a wrapping job to hold anything dangerous, but still, I should wait. That would be the smart thing to do.”
But she couldn’t help herself. The ribbon unfurled with a simple tug and the paper fell open at the seams. The wooden box was fashioned from pieces of pine board, artistically tongue and grooved at the edges, the RR brand burned into the lid.
“Ruby’s Ranch? What the hell?” She whispered, her mind running a hundred miles an hour.
She jumped to her feet and hurried through the front door. “Come back and talk to me! You can’t do this to me now. I’m about to have a baby!” She called out into the foggy darkness for her mystery delivery person to return, but no one answered.
Heidi and Ho barked and returned quickly to her side, panting hard from a long run. The horses whinnied in the barn and cattle mooed in protest of being disturbed in the middle of the night.
Finally, Stan’s grandson Matthew hustled up the path from the bunkhouse, feet halfway into his boots, buttoning his pants. His cheeks flushed bright red, calling attention to the sparse stubble blossoming on his chin.
“Miss Ruby, are you okay? Is it time?” He asked breathlessly, eyeing her bare feet.
He stepped closer and laid a supportive hand on Ruby’s shoulder. She saw concern in the innocent blue eyes. A mess of dark curls framed the handsome face, and a slept in T-shirt twisted around his narrow waist.
Ruby couldn’t help but smile. He was as adorable as his grandfather. Sweet and naïve, with a dash of spit and vinegar, especially when he held Ruby’s younger sister, Emma, in his adoring gaze. “I’m sorry, Matthew. I’m fine. Go back to bed.”
When she turned toward the house, he touched her elbow. “Were you looking for someone?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.”
“Cause I thought I heard footsteps heading up the path, and the dogs chasing after, but . . . ”
Before he could finish his sentence, Ruby stopped him, “Please saddle my horse. I’ll be right out.”

Chapter Three
She hurried into the house and changed into the only riding clothes that still fit. Her well-worn Ariats, thankfully, slipped on her feet without her having to bend. After catching her breath from the exertion of dressing, she tugged on her warmest coat, tied a scarf around her neck, then slipped her hands into deerskin gloves and pushed her cowboy hat down tight.
Matthew watched her nervously when she approached.
“Ready?” Ruby took Sadie’s reins from his shaking hand.
“Can I help you up, Miss Ruby?”
 “I think I can handle it.” She winked, then prayed to herself that she was right.
Ruby awkwardly crawled on to Sadie’s back and headed up the path, her keen eyes focused on the ground. Smallish boot prints turned to hoof prints when the person rode a horse toward Haley’s Peak. Dawn had broken, but the sun was yet below the mountain. The subtle breeze felt like ice sliding against her bare face.
Beside her on his sturdy palomino stud, Matthew said, “I mean no disrespect, but should you be riding in your condition, Miss Ruby? ‘Specially out in this cold.”
Ruby glanced over her shoulder and smiled at the flustered young man mumbling to himself, obviously wondering how he’d become an unwitting accomplice. She patted the gentle Appaloosa mare on her white spotted rump. “Don’t fret. Sadie rides as smooth as a rocking chair. She’ll take good care of me. Won’t you, girl?”
Even Sadie seemed extra watchful and cautious, as they traveled higher into the mountains at the break of winter’s dawn. The dirt trail was swallowed by frosty, wet grass. When Ruby dismounted to investigate, a sharp pain shot through her groin causing her back to spasm. 
“Ouch! Calm down, little missy. We’re almost done. Don’t be so impatient.” She cradled her heavy belly.
“Ma’am?” Matthew asked, thinking she’d spoken to him.
“I’ve lost the trail. The hoof prints disappeared. So much for our mystery rider.” Sadie’s head popped up at the sound of a coyote call in the distance and the screech of a hoot owl over the open field.
Matthew hopped down next to her and peered around. “Whoever it was must-a sprouted wings and flown off from here.”
Ruby massaged the cramp from her low back, glancing around one last time before gingerly mounting on Sadie again. “Let’s get to the house. I need to lie down. And I don’t want anyone missing us. It’s not worth their worry.”
“Yes ma’am,” Matthew’s voice hitched with relief.
During the long ride home, the baby kicked and fussed for space, making Ruby realize the foolishness of riding two weeks before her due date. Matthew stayed by her side, ever watchful for unwanted predators who might leap out from the thick fog.
“Ah, damn it.” Ruby slumped in the saddle, spotting Billy’s truck in the drive. She’d have some explaining to do.
She slid down off the horse, careful not to jostle the baby too much, and handed Matthew the reins. “Our little secret, right?”
He tipped his hat. “Yes ma’am, my lips are sealed.”
Billy was halfway up the path before she took another step. His concerned, green eyes assessed her. He pulled Ruby into his arms and trailed his hands down her back. “Ruby Marie, what the hell are you doing riding this close to givin’ birth?”
She nuzzled into the warmth of his unshaven neck. His familiar musky scent filtered through her. “You mind us going inside? I’m freezing.” She slid her arm beneath his wool-lined denim jacket and matched his slow steps back to the house.
Stan stood on the porch, shoulders hunched, hat in hands. His expressive eyes creased from years of riding in the sun. What hair he had left was pressed tight against his head where his old Stetson rode. “Young lady, what were you thinkin’?”
“Oh relax, I’m fine. Why are y’all back from the auction already, anyhow?”
The old man’s funny scowl made her laugh. It was still hard for Ruby to believe this loyal friend, who stayed by Granny Rube’s side even after Grandpa Mac was killed, once had a wife and two little girls of his own. If not for Matthew, she’d probably never have known about them at all.
Stan tugged off his dirty boots, then pushed open the door for them to pass. “Billy popped up outta bed and said we needed ta get home. Damned if he wasn’t right. Look at you, riding in the ice cold like a fool.”
Appreciating the fatherly advice, Ruby kissed Stan’s weathered cheek as she passed him in the doorway. “I said, I’m fine. Now, stop fussing at me and let’s have some coffee.”
Billy helped Ruby off with her coat and removed his boots before entering the kitchen. He was gorgeous, even exhausted and irritated. Snug jeans couldn’t hide his strong legs, and a wrinkled riding shirt showed a tuft of sexy hair over the top button. He tossed his hat on the counter and ran his hand through his chestnut waves.
Ruby let out a long, thankful breath, admiring him. “I’m really glad you’re home.”
“You wanna tell me what’s going on?” Billy looked at her, his unrelenting gaze demanded answers.
Stan stood dead still, focusing on the mysterious pine box sitting on Granny Rube’s fine oak table. “You mind tellin’ me what the hell that thing is doing here?”
Releasing November 1st....Pre-order BUYLINK

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About the Author
After fourteen years in hospice care management in central California, Rhonda Frankhouser now writes full time from her lovely Atlanta, Georgia home. Rhonda's award-winning Ruby's Ranch Series, earned a finalist honor in the Uncaged Review Raven Awards; a second runner up in the prestigious InD'Tale Magazine RONE awards and a Book and Benches, Reviewers Top Pic ~ Books of Distinction award. Her follow up Shadowing Souls Series and Let Yourself Believe Series, have captured the attention of both romance and mainstream readers alike. Rhonda is a happily married stepmom to three beautiful daughters; two adorable pugs and a lazy Labrador named Dutch.

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