A Ruby Glows (Cutter's Creek Book 15)

By: Kari Trumbo


1




Wedding of Josiah and Penny Hanover

Cutter’s Creek, Montana, 1892



Pretty people gathered all around her, talking to her, including her in their merriment. That had never happened before.

Ruby’s glance flitted all over the room as she pressed her ill-fitting skirts against her legs. Josiah had found her just a few weeks ago, saving her from the wilderness. But parties, especially weddings, were a much scarier wilderness to her. She took a deep breath and gripped her knees. Just sit. Don’t run.

The lovely Lily Donaldson sat to her right, and the bride-to-be, Penny Hanover, reclined on a chaise opposite Ruby in the front solar of the Hanover home. Penny’s mother, Sara, had decorated the area in bunting and pine boughs with candles, and now they were waiting for the groom and his family to arrive, along with Reverend Bligh. Everything about Penny seemed to sparkle as she talked and laughed with all the guests. Penny certainly deserved it after all the confusion and pain of getting shot and losing her memory. But now she was marrying Josiah. As soon as he arrived. Penny glanced over Ruby’s shoulder toward the door.

Ruby touched her stomach to relieve the roiling beneath her hand. The more Penny laughed and joked about becoming a wife, the sicker Ruby felt. Weddings didn’t bring out the best memories, but she pushed those down. It was Penny’s wedding day.

Ruby’s own wedding, just a little over a year before, had been terrifying.

Again, the memories of that day rose to bang against her heart.

One morning, fourteen months ago, her father dragged her from the room she shared with her seven sisters. She’d been seventeen then, but her naiveté didn’t last long. An old man with a gap-toothed smile and his hat in his hand waited outside. He’d licked his lips and tossed his hat back on his head, reaching for her. Her father shoved her into the old man’s arms and she screamed. The old man reeked of moonshine, the same stuff her father brewed.

Her father stood tall, shoved her closer to the man, even as she’d tried to run. He smiled at each of them.

“Father. Why? Why are you doing this to me?” Ruby cried.

He flinched then held out his arms. “Arnold Gresham, do you take Ruby Grace Arnsby to be your wedded wife? To have and hold, and all that,” his voice boomed through the clearing around their small shack.

Arnold scratched his chin and held her at arm’s length. She cringed and hunched her shoulders to cover herself as his leering eyes roamed slowly up and down her body, peeling back layers of clothing. He grinned wide, and she shrank back. “Yep, I think I do,” he answered.

Her father held up his arms in celebration. “Good enough for me.”

“Wait,” Ruby screamed, fighting to get free of Arnold’s fierce grip. “Don’t I get a say in this?”

“Nope.” Her father turned and disappeared back into the house, slamming the door behind him. Ruby glimpsed her sisters peeking through the pink netting on their window, but then Arnold spun her roughly back to him, kissing her square on the lips, his sloppy wet mouth soaking her face.

That was the last time she let her guard down around him.

He’d never touched her again.

Ruby heard the room quiet around her, pulling her from her own troubling thoughts as Penny’s gaze snagged on something behind Ruby. She turned to see who’d joined them and her glance caught on a man she’d seen talking to Josiah, Penny’s intended, once before.

Her heart sputtered in her chest. It wasn’t that he was incredibly handsome, nor incredibly plain. What made her stop in her tracks was that when their gazes met, his went from smirking and aloof to alluring and playful, and no one had looked at her like that before. His long dark hair brushed past his shoulders, but for the occasion he’d tied it back. A broad chest was swathed in a crisp white preacher-collared shirt under a black vest, narrowing to a lean waist. She couldn’t stop staring at him.

Penny laughed and touched her arm, breaking his hold over her. “Ruby Gresham, this is the ever too-quiet Beau Rockford,” Penny said cheerfully.

Standing on wobbly legs, Ruby held out her hand to him, hoping he didn’t notice her nervousness. His gaze never leaving hers, he captured her hand and kissed her knuckles. Excitement and fear collided within her. She wanted to yank her hand away and drag him closer, the two disparate desires making her head ache.