Rubicon Ranch: Secrets — The Story Begins!

RRBookThreemidsizeRubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing. The very first chapter of the very first book (Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story) was posted on October 24, 2010, and we are still going strong! In fact, we are getting better and better. Seven authors, including me, are involved in the current story — Rubicon Ranch: Secrets, which is shaping up to be a psychological thriller.

The body of a local realtor is found beneath the wheels of an inflatable figure of a Santa on a motorcycle. The realtor took great delight in ferreting out secrets, and everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Could she have discovered a secret someone would kill to protect? There will be suspects galore, including a psychic, a con man, a woman trying to set up an online call-girl service, and the philandering sheriff himself. Not only is the victim someone he had an affair with, but he will also have to contend with an ex-wife who has moved back in with him and a jilted lover, both with their own reasons for wanting the realtor dead.

Although some of the characters were introduced in Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, the first collaboration in the series, and further developed in Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces, Rubicon Ranch: Secrets is a stand-alone novel, so don’t worry if you are new to Rubicon Ranch. A new chapter will be posted every Monday on the Rubicon Ranch blog. I’m posting the first chapter here, but if you don’t want to miss further chapters, please go to the blog and click on “sign me up” on the right sidebar to get notifications of new chapters.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Let the mystery begin! Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end!

(If the Christmas theme seems unseasonal, well . . . considering how long it takes to write a book at the rate of a chapter a week, in a few months, the season will catch up to us!)

Excerpt from Chapter 1: Melanie Gray
by Pat Bertram

Sunday, December 22; 7:05pm

Melanie Gray typed THE END, then sat back and studied the words on the computer screen. She’d found no satisfaction in telling the story of famed horror writer Morris Sinclair’s macabre life and death, and she felt no elation now that she’d finished the task. The evil man should have been buried in unhallowed ground and left to rot rather than be immortalized in a book, but she’d needed the money her publisher had offered. With the generous advance, she would be able to devote herself to finding out who killed her husband five months previously and, more importantly, why the murderer wanted Alexander dead. Morris had wooed death his whole life, so it was no surprise that death had come for him, but Alexander’s murder could not be so easily dismissed.

Tears stung Melanie’s eyes. She scrubbed the tears away, furious at herself for still grieving. She’d always considered herself a strong woman, up to any task, and yet she couldn’t write “the end” to her grief.

Damn you, Alexander! How could you do this to me?

She rose stiffly, stretched to get the worst of the kinks from her body, and tottered to the front closet for her coat. Except for a few hours of fitful sleep each night during the past nine weeks, she’d spent all her time at the computer, and she was sick of it. Sick of Morris Sinclair. Sick of death. Sick of Rubicon Ranch.

She opened the front door and blinked at the shadowy figures gliding through the darkness. Morris’s fans had descended on the neighborhood when news of his demise had hit the airwaves, and they had stayed when they learned that not all of Morris’s body pieces had been recovered. Dressed as vampires and zombies and ghouls of every imaginable—and unimaginable—ilk, they roamed the neighborhood and the nearby desert looking for necropieces in some sort of grisly treasure hunt.

Melanie hesitated, wondering at the wisdom of going out so late in the evening, but the twinkle of Christmas lights adorning a nearby desert willow made her set aside her caution.

Alexander had always loved Christmas, and no matter where in the world they happened to be living, he managed to find a tree and decorate it. If Alexander still lived in her memory, he’d want her to wander through the neighborhood so he could see the lights.

Smiling at the whimsical thought, she locked the door behind her and strolled down the driveway to Delano Road. Even with half the houses lit up with holiday decorations, the neighborhood seemed dark. Too many people had left the area, temporarily abandoning their homes, though the flickering of candlelight through closed curtains hinted that squatters had taken up residence in some of the empty houses.

Melanie stood at the curb, trying to decide whether to go right or left. “It’s your fault, Alexander,” she murmured. “Until you died, I never had a problem making decisions.” But now, it didn’t make any difference whether she went north or south, whether she left Rubicon Ranch or stayed. Without Alexander, everything seemed uniformly bleak.

A house across the street all at once came ablaze with thousands of small white lights. Melanie cut across the road and headed for the brightness, wishing Alexander could see the decorations for real. Lights outlined the driveway, every bush, every rock, and dripped from the eaves like dazzling falls of lace.

She walked leisurely, savoring the radiant display on Alexander’s behalf, then hurried past the next dwelling, which was dark, and slowed again at the following house to look at the whimsical blow-up figure of Santa on a motorcycle.

After the brilliance of the lights at the first domicile, she had to wait a moment to let her eyes adjust to the relative dimness of this scene. And then she wished she hadn’t hung around to get a better look. Santa, with a wide grin and an upraised hand, seemed to be gleefully running over the prone body of a woman. A mannequin, it looked like.

Melanie drew in a sharp breath. Who would create such a morbid tableau for Christmas? But then, seeing a vampire with glowing teeth run past her, she sighed. Anyone in this insane neighborhood could have done it. After Morris Sinclair’s demise, Rubicon Ranch had become a bacchanalia of death, a celebration of the worst in humanity.

A car moved along the street behind her. The headlights illuminated the scene as clearly as if it were day, and suddenly something seemed wrong. So very wrong.

The woman being run over by the cheery Santa looked stiff in the way of death, not stiff like a mannequin.

Melanie told herself to continue on, to forget the gruesome sight and enjoy the rest of the decorations, but her leaden feet refused to do her bidding. Finally, wishing she were anywhere but here, she crept closer to the scene.

She caught a faint whiff of death—like meat just beginning to go bad—and her heart beat faster.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+