A Forever Christmas - By Marie Ferrarella Page 0,1

Something else?

There was no time to identify it. The impact had her head hitting the steering wheel. Trying to raise her head, she blinked several times before she saw the edge of the ravine yawning before her.

And then the darkness mercifully swallowed her up even as another scream tore from her throat.

Chapter One

The rain was finally subsiding after coming down in buckets all night.

For a while there, it had been a toss-up between using his 4x4 or debating using a canoe to get back to town this morning. Gabriel Rodriguez shook his head as he laughed shortly to himself. It figured that he’d wind up facing this deluge just when he finally decided to drop by to visit his father on the family ranch. What with everything going on in his life lately—or not going on, he thought ruefully—he’d come up with one excuse after another for not taking his father up on the invitation.

His father, Miguel Rodriguez, wasn’t the type to shout or make demands. Rather, the father of six merely nodded his head and accepted whatever excuse he’d given him. That was the way the man had always been. And his soft-spoken approach had always been far more effective than shouting or giving angry ultimatums. Everyone always came around sooner than later. Though he was quick to deny it, Miguel Rodriguez knew just how to wield guilt as if it were a finely honed rapier in his hand.

The old man always got the results he was after, too, Gabe thought. They all complied, he and his five siblings. Some a little faster than others—Alma could really dig in when she wanted to—but no one was ever immune to their father’s sad brown eyes or quiet demeanor for long. The man had a very easygoing personality, unlike Miguel Jr.—Mike to his friends—who had a highly volatile one.

Mike liked to call it being passionate, but whatever term was given to it, Miguel Jr. was definitely explosive whereas Miguel Sr. was not.

“Senior” also got what he wanted far more often than “Junior” ever did.

Given the monotony of the scenery around him, Gabe’s mind drifted as he drove to town and his relatively new job as deputy to Rick Santiago’s sheriff.

He hadn’t meant to stay as long as he had last night. Initially, he’d planned on leaving by nine, but things hadn’t quite worked out that way.

Dinner had been good, the conversation even better, and somehow the time had just managed to slip away. Suddenly it was way past nine and his father was telling him that his old bedroom was still right where he’d left it—upstairs, down the hall—if he wanted to stay the night rather than taking on the elements.

By then it was raining so hard, it was as if someone had ripped open the sky.

So he’d stayed.

Besides, there was really nothing pressing in town that required him being there by dawn’s early light. Forever, Texas, was one of those sparsely populated towns that really needed law enforcement officers only to settle verbal disputes that sometimes got too heated and testy. On occasion, the sheriff or any of his three deputies might be called upon to rescue the town drunk from himself—or from his less-than-contented wife who, all things considered, was the dangerous one of the two.

He’d lost track of time because he actually enjoyed his father’s company, and he also knew the real reason behind the recurring frequent invitations to come for dinner. His father—like his sister, Alma—was very worried about him.

Worried because, for once in his life, he’d taken a breakup really hard. Usually he was the one doing the breaking up, or orchestrating things so that the woman he was involved with was pushed to break up with him. He did the latter to spare the woman’s pride.

But this, this breakup—or, more accurately, this dumping—had hit him like the proverbial ton of bricks. Erica, the woman he’d come to believe that he was going to marry, had abruptly declared she’d found someone else “better suited” for her via a popular dating site—as if finding a husband-to-be was the same as shopping for a dress.

That was when he’d discovered that Erica had actually drawn up a “checklist” of traits—and possessions—that her future husband had to have.

As it turned out, the woman of his dreams turned out to be money hungry.

Looking back, he had to admit, if only to himself, that there’d been signs that Erica was more of a gold digger than the sweet, loving partner he thought

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