Rubicon Ranch: A Collaborative Novel


I am involved in a wonderful project with eight other Second Wind authors. Rubicon Ranch is an ongoing collaborative novel that we are writing online. It is the story of people whose lives have been changed when a little girl’s body was found in the wilderness near the desert community of Rubicon Ranch.

Was her death an accident? Or . . . murder! But who would want to kill a child? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

Each of us writers is responsible for the development of our own characters. My character is Melanie Gray. She has traveled the world with her husband, a world-renowned photographer. Together they authored many coffee-table books (she did the writing, he the photographs). One of the books told about mountains of the world, one about rivers, one about oceans, one about forests, and now they have a contract to do deserts. After they rented a house in Rubicon Ranch to begin their in-depth study of the southwestern deserts, he died in a car accident.

Now, not only does Melanie have to deal with the pain of losing her husband and figuring out what she’s going to do for the rest of her life, she needs to fulfill the publishing contract or she’ll have to reimburse the publishers, which she cannot do because the advance is all but spent. Since she is not a photographer, she roams the desert bordering on Rubicon Ranch, taking hundreds of photos, hoping that a few of them will accidentally end up being as brilliant as her husband’s photos always were. She finds the child’s body and takes photos of the scene after calling 911. At first she is a suspect but once the Sheriff has ruled her out, he requests her help in reading the desert and desert-related clues. Still, the sheriff does not trust her completely, thinking she is hiding something.

Chapter 26: Melanie Gray — by Pat Bertram

Fury, like wildfire flashed through Melanie. Fury at the sheriff for paying his silly games when people were dead, fury at herself for playing his fool.

She’d been flattered that he thought she could help with his investigation, but apparently the only thing he’d been investigating was her and how to get in her panties. And she’d fallen for it. Cripes, what an idiot! All her resolve not to let him get to her had been for nothing.

And that whole seduction scene—”So maybe, when I need you to help me, I won’t have to bully you. You’ll cooperate with me because you understand that getting my job done honestly is the most important thing to me.” Did he believe his own drivel? And anyway, how could she help when he wasn’t doing anything? It had been two days since Riley died. Didn’t they say that if they didn’t catch a killer within the first forty-eight hours that chances are he or she would never be caught? And the sheriff had wasted those precious hours trying to seduce her.

She’d fallen for Alexander’s crap and apparently she hadn’t learned anything, because here she was again, playing straight-woman for another unprincipled clown. Alexander, at least, had offered her adventure and marriage, and for a while he had even been faithful. But Seth? What did he have to offer? Nothing. He was married, and he was a taker. He’d take everything she had, which wasn’t much, just her integrity, and she’d be damned before she let him tarnish that with a tawdry affair. She’d seen the look in his eyes when he’d said “And I know you’d rather claw out my eyes and slash my throat than let me touch you.” And that look had belied his words. He seemed to think all he had to do was pretend to know her and she’d fall into his oh, so understanding arms.

“What?” he said, sounding as if he didn’t know exactly what was going through her mind. How could he not? He, Sheriff Seth Bryan, the great detective.

“As if you don’t know.” Melanie spit the words from between clenched teeth.

Seth’s brows drew together in an almost believable though comic look of confusion. “That’s such a typical womanish remark. I thought you were different.”

“You thought I was gullible and naïve. You thought since I put up with Alexander’s philandering, I’d put up with yours, too, but that is not going to happen. Only a fool gets involved with a married man, and whatever you think, I am no fool.”

Seth held up his hands, palms toward her. “Whoa.”

“Being a widow does not make me ripe for the plucking. I don’t need to be serviced like a bitch in heat. Believe me, the last thing I need in my life is a man, especially a married man. Calling it separate maintenance does not make you any less married.”

He flashed his teeth. “So you do like me. You’re protesting too much.”

“Not protesting enough, apparently, or else you wouldn’t have that silly grin on your face.”

He lost the grin. “What’s going on here? I thought we were having a nice meal while we went over the case.”

“You should be going over the case with your deputies. They, at least, seem to understand how inappropriate it is for you to include me in your investigation. Unless I’m still a suspect and you’re trying to get me to let down my guard and confess?”

“I told you, you were never a suspect.”

“As if playing with me, gigging me as you called it, is any better. So let’s discuss the case. What were the results of the autopsy? Was Riley murdered or was it an accident? If she was murdered, how was it done and who did it? Were there drugs in her system? Have you interrogated her parents yet to find out what they’re hiding? Have you found out who the dead man is and what, if anything, he has to do with Riley’s murder? You pretty much ignored me when I said he looked liked Riley, but then, that’s understandable. I never got a good look at the girl. All I saw was her jaw line, her nose, and her eyebrows, so whatever I blurted out after seeing the man’s corpse has to be discounted. Did the same person kill both of them? Or were there two different killers? Or . . .” Melanie paused to grab the thought that flitted through her mind. “Did he kill Riley and someone else kill him?”

Seth picked up his sandwich, dipped an end in the au jus, bit off a piece, and chewed slowly.

Melanie nodded. “That’s what I thought. You’re all talk.” She deepened her voice and mimicked him. “‘We have to solve these murders.’ Yeah, like there really is a we. Well, there was a we, but that was Alexander and me. You and I will never be a we.” A cough shuddered through her torso. She took a long drink of water, hoping she wasn’t coming down with a cold but was merely dehydrated from the strong air-conditioning and her rare monologue.

Seth gave her a searching look, opened his mouth and then closed it again with what sounded like a resigned sigh. She wondered what he’d been going to say and why he thought better of it, then she let out a sigh of her own. It didn’t matter. She had enough to do with grieving and fulfilling her book contract. She had nothing left for the sheriff and his investigation. Whatever he might think, she really didn’t know anything. Well, that wasn’t strictly true. She did know one thing.

She threw her napkin on the table and stood, ready to flee.

Seth gaped at her. “What’s going on?”

“I’m going home, Sheriff Seth Bryan. I’m through with your games. You lied about investigating Alexander’s accident. I saw the photos in the newspaper and I visited the scene of the accident. There was nothing there to indicate that the crash had been anything other than an accident. Perhaps someone had tampered with the car, but the only way to find that out was to investigate the vehicle itself. And you didn’t care enough to check it out.”


An additional chapter of the book will be posted every Monday. Please join in the adventure — it should be fun! We don’t even know whodunit and won’t know until the end. You can find the earlier chapters here: Rubicon Ranch

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