Story art by Roslyn McFarland.
From the author: An outtake from INHERITANCE--Book One of THE MARTINIERE LEGACY. Ruby realizes where she's seen a certain expression on Gabe's face before.
INHERITANCE Outtake—from just before Ruby and Gabe’s trip to the last AgInnovator taping
Ruby leaned against the doorframe of Gabe’s office as he talked on the comm, his back to her, jabbing at sections of a holograph projection with his index finger. She couldn’t see who Gabe was talking to as she waited for an opening to tell him her news. While she and Martin were brainstorming about dealing with that problematic Homestead wheat field and the second failure of the RubyBots, he’d come up with the possibility of using Gabe’s microbials in combination with the RubyBot to maybe, just maybe, get the damn bots to work right before the wheat started sprouting. The idea made sense to her. It might even revive Gabe’s chances in the Ag Superhero.
Gabe spun his chair so that his profile was to her, not yet spotting Ruby.
“Damn it, Serg, that’s not acceptable,” he growled, and she realized he wasn’t pointing at anything in particular, just gesturing while talking to this mysterious Serg. “I do not want the rest of the Martiniere family to know a damn thing about what I’m doing, at least not until I figure out what happens after the Superhero! I just told Ruby who I really am. Brandon doesn’t know he’s a Martiniere yet. Hell, I don’t know if I’m even going public with my connections to the family unless I’m forced to. I want some peace in my life. Not lead a charge to reform the Martinieres.”
Ruby frowned at his expression. That was a new one to her—the sharp, piercing, eagle-like glint in his eye, the tightness in his face, the way he rolled his lips together into the thinnest of lines. Not that she hadn’t seen Gabe angry or frustrated in the past, especially during their divorce—but there was a hardness to this look she had not seen on Gabe until now.
And then she remembered. No. She’d seen that expression once before. A few months before Gramps’s death and Brandon’s birth.
Ruby shivered a little as she remembered that event.
“Gabe’s running late,” Gramps muttered as he looked out the kitchen window to the Double R barnyard truck charging station, then glanced over at the old digital alarm clock sitting on the 50s-era green Formica table. “What the heck is keeping him?”
“I can go ahead and dish your dinner up,” Ruby said. She leaned against the kitchen counter, rubbing her belly. Third trimester and she was feeling huge. The baby—a son, already named Brandon, kicked against her hand.
Gramps fixed her with a stern glare. “And are you going to be eating or waiting for him?”
“I’d not be much of a wife if I didn’t wait, would I?” she countered.
“Hrruph,” he snorted.
“Gramps,” she sighed. “It’s not like this is a usual thing for Gabe. Something must have come up. Look. Why don’t you go ahead and eat? That way you don’t have to delay taking your meds. I’m not super hungry right now.” She knew that was the main issue—at this point Gramps needed to take the painkillers regularly and they worked best with food. And today was one of his grumpy days—dark clouds blowing down from the Thunder Mountains to the south spoke of a weather system coming in and that always made him hurt more. Which meant he was going to be grumpy for the next few days, even if things ran perfectly.
“Should have been back by now,” Gramps grumbled. “What would be keeping him at the co-op? All right, girl.”
Ruby grabbed a bowl and started dishing up the barley stew flavored with the tiniest bit of beef, and set it in front of Gramps. Gabe had said he was going to try and track down Montgomery to buy a beef quarter under the table, because he felt Ruby needed some real protein during her pregnancy, not the fake stuff at the grocery. Sometimes finding Montgomery would take a while.
But Gabe was two hours overdue. He’d left after lunch to go to the co-op plus talk to Montgomery. It really shouldn’t be taking him this long. If it wasn’t for Gramps, she’d have gone ahead and fed the horses and the contraband pigs. As it were, though, she didn’t dare leave Gramps alone, and it would be too difficult to take him along to the barn to do the night feeding. Ruby pushed a strand of dark red hair out of her face, staring out the window toward the driveway entrance a quarter mile from the ranch buildings.
Gabe, where the fuck are you? And why didn’t you call if you were delayed?
Just as the dark blue clouds blotted out the sun, the oncoming rain forming a gray sheet as it marched down the slopes toward the Double R, she spotted headlights as the ranch truck pulled into the driveway. Gabe drove around to the barn and Ruby heaved a relieved sigh.
“There’s Gabe now,” she said. She stirred the stew—more like a gruel at this point—and added some more water, hoping to thin it a little bit. With any luck it would be thinned and rewarmed by the time Gabe got to the house. Neither of them cared for the thicker barley gruels, even if Gramps did.
“About time,” Gramps muttered, reaching across the table for his pill box.
Ruby kept glancing out the window until she finally saw that Gabe was unloading feed. It seemed like he was moving slower than usual. That’s odd, she thought. And then a second thought occurred to Ruby and she bit her lip. Had he needed to cruise the bars to find Montgomery and had a few drinks in the process? She hoped not. She didn’t want to hear Gramps’s complaints if Gabe had been drinking. It wasn’t a big deal to her, so why should it be for Gramps? Gabe tended to be a friendly drunk, anyway. Not mean and abusive like her parents had been. But it could set Gramps off on a grumpy day like this, and she really didn’t feel like dealing with his complaints.
At last Gabe crawled back into the truck and drove it to the charging station, just as the driving rain hit. She watched as he plugged it in—no, he was moving slowly and carefully, but not like he’d been drinking. More like he’d been fighting.
What the hell?
Still, it was a relief to see him pull out a big sack. Gabe must have found Montgomery. But he was limping a little and was that the shadow from his hat or bruising on his face?
Gabe stomped his boots off on the back porch and entered the kitchen, having hung his wet coat and hat on the porch as well. The big sack clattered as he dropped it on the counter next to the refrigerator—a welcome sound that meant it was full of frozen meat.
“It’s not the best meat in the world, Ruby,” Gabe said tiredly. “But at least it’s something real and better than that artificial crap. Should hold us until we can butcher the pigs. If only I could get my hands on a few laying hens. Would be easier to get you real protein.” He opened the freezer compartment and began putting the frozen packages away. “Hamburger. Monty warned me it’s gristle-y, but at least it tested safe and I can trust his tests.” He shook his head slowly. “He’s taking to butchering his old stock. Too many miscarriages after that last sickness and some of those older cows just aren’t holding a pregnancy. He’s got better hopes for his first-calf heifers due this spring.”
“It’s something, like you said.” She pulled down two more bowls and began filling them. “But at least we’ve got it.” Ruby carried the bowls over to the table. “Here’s dinner.” She went back to get silverware, worrying a little bit. The doctors had said Brandon was healthy—so far. But whatever was causing cattle and hogs to abort was hit and miss amongst humans. And Montgomery had managed to avoid the worst of it amongst his stock—until now. Ruby bit her lip. Would they be able to avoid eating the seed? On Gramps’s advice, she and Gabe had held out some of the wheat and barley from this fall’s harvest, to hedge against problems getting seed in a timely manner next spring, like had happened this year.
What none of them mentioned was the likelihood that they might end up eating the seed instead.
“Yeah,” Gabe sighed. “Not going to be able to eat much, Rubes.” He turned around and she dropped the spoons on the table in shock as she saw his face clearly. A line of stitches ran across his cheekbone, intersecting with the long scar already there. One eye was blackened against brown skin and his nose sat at an unfamiliar angle.
All the same, he still had a fire in his eye that reminded her of an eagle, alert and predatory—not something she’d seen in Gabe before, at least not with this intensity. Even during the rough times when they’d been rodeoing.
“Gabe! What the hell happened?”
Gramps looked up. “Appears you’ve been in one hell of a fight, boy. You win?”
“Of course,” Gabe said, hobbling over to the table. He winced away as Ruby fussed over his face. “It’s all right, Ruby.” An unfamiliar sharpness edged his voice. “Doc’s already checked me out.”
He sat down. “Damn Troy Ridley and his buds jumped me outside of the Thunder Rider. Didn’t realize he’d gotten out on parole.” A bitter, predatory grin tightened his lips. “That didn’t last.” Gabe blew hard, resting both arms on the table. “I was supposed to be told when Ridley was released since I testified against him.” The grin twisted into a scowl. “Guess somebody didn’t think it was important for me to know. I hope to hell that poor girl he damned near killed got told.”
“Oh shit,” Ruby whispered. “I thought he was supposed to go into indenture after he got released.”
Gabe shook his head and winced. “I don’t know what the hell happened. But I had four of them plus Ridley on me.” The predatory eagle glare flared again. “Monty jumped in partway through.”
“You report Ridley?” Gramps snapped.
Gabe rubbed his face, flinching as his fingers touched sore places. “Oh hell yes. He’s back in jail and the sheriff promised me that he’d make sure that Ridley went straight from prison to indenture this time.”
“Pressing charges?” Gramps scowled.
“Sheriff recommended against it. Ridley’s got too much pull here in the County. Besides. Monty and I won the fight. We had him down and I was kicking him when the sheriff got there. Makes it problematic. Fortunately, Monty was there.” Gabe sighed again and his expression softened into one that was more familiar to Ruby. “Sheriff’s not gonna monkey with Monty where he might have if I had been alone. And Monty spoke for me. Good thing.” Another sigh. “And that’s all I’m gonna say about it. You two been doing okay? Sorry it took me so long to deal with this situation.” He rested his hand on Ruby’s. “I’ll do house duty tomorrow. Why don’t you get out for a little bit?”
I’m looking at Gabriel Martiniere, not Gabe Ramirez, Ruby realized. When Gabe had been in hiding from his family he’d gone through coaching to carry himself differently as well as cosmetic surgery. That piercing, predatory look was part of who he really was. Not the façade he’d worn for something like thirty years. Ruby was surprised that it seemed to have come back so quickly.
Gabe glanced sideways and spotted her. “Look, just get us a safe place with catering for a private meeting before the AgInnovator, Serg. Doesn’t have to be tied to the family. Okay? Gotta go.” He snapped off his comm and turned to face her, expression softening into something more familiar.
She wondered how long it would be before Gabe Ramirez faded into Gabriel Martiniere.
Ruby wasn’t sure yet which one she preferred to see.
Rancher Ruby Barkley and her ex-husband Gabe Ramirez are competing head-to-head for the AgInnovator game show’s new one-shot award, the Ag Superhero. The winner walks away with $3.75 million per year for five years. But issues face Ruby and Gabe. Fence cutting. Rogue biobots. Physical attacks. And the need to save their son Brandon from indentured servitude. Then the secret shadow of Gabe’s hidden inheritance reveals itself.
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