Preorder Christmas Wishes and Cowboy Kisses
THE GIFT OF GINGERBREAD will be included in the Christmas Wishes and Cowboy Kisses Boxed Set, coming to all major ebook retailers on October 25!
Not only that, but you can read the first chapter of THE GIFT OF GINGERBREAD below…and maybe more sample chapters, so stay tuned to Liz’s newsletter to know if and when a new chapter has been released!
The Gift of Gingerbread, Chapter One:
Arizona Glover carefully measured the spices for the gingerbread, because while she wasn’t very happy with her brothers—of which she had six, and they all irritated her quite often—didn’t mean she needed to poison her new neighbor.
In truth, she’d likely take any leftover cookies down to the homestead, where her oldest brother lived with her oldest cousin. At least for a little while longer. Both Bear and Ranger had girlfriends now—Bear’s was actually a fiancé. He and Sammy would be married in March, and Zona couldn’t wait to have another sister even if she was an in-law.
Zona had grown up with only brothers, some younger and some older. She only had two female cousins, and they were twins, so she’d spent the last thirty-three years of her life on the fringes of everything. She worked the ranch as hard as any of the men, but she wasn’t a man. She lived with her mother instead of alone or with female roommates. Ida and Etta—the cousins—had been such best friends, Zona always made a third wheel.
It was a good thing she knew who she was, or she could see herself going completely off the rails and leaving everyone she’d ever known behind. Her second-oldest brother, Cactus, had sort of done that, but he’d only retreated to the edge of the ranch.
Still, she barely spoke to him anymore, because he barely talked to her. He loved Mother though—all the boys did—and Zona saw all of her siblings often enough because of that.
Right now, Mother wasn’t home. She’d gone to town to pick up the mail and visit the bank about something. Zona didn’t keep track of her outings and activities, and since it had started to rain this afternoon, she’d come off the family ranch early to make gingerbread.
The holidays were almost upon them. The flocked-white tree stood in the homestead, decorated with all of Grandmother’s ornaments. The family meeting for the year had happened, and Zona felt as included as she could possibly feel.
Mother had mentioned the fact that Kaye’s step-son had returned to Hidden Hill Ranch, which was the property that sat directly south of Shiloh Ridge Ranch. Zona didn’t know Duke Rhinehart, but apparently, he had a tiny little cabin on the fringes of the woods, which also happened to press right up against the border of her family ranch.
After suggesting he might like some cookies and to know who lived just over the crest of the ridge here at Shiloh Ridge, Mother had left out her gingerbread recipe and then made herself scarce.
Zona did love to bake, and in fact, in her world, there was nothing better than the scent of molasses and ginger hanging in the air while the rain beat a steady drip outside. Nothing at all.
Well, besides adding some Christmas music to the mix. As she threw in a second pinch of salt to the dough, she said, “Belle, play Christmas songs.”
Her smart speaker, which was always connected to the Internet, said, “Playing Holiday Favorites,” and It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas piped into the house.
Zona smiled and sang along with it while she worked. The dough came together beautifully, and she loved the deep, rich, brown color of it. She rolled it out, the arm muscles she’d developed from horseback riding, lifting hay bales, wrangling cattle, and moving sprinkler pipes coming in handy.
Bear had invested in the nicer sprinklers now, so they moved on wheels according to a timer. But Zona had manually lifted and moved plenty of heavy pipes in her lifetime. She hadn’t gone to college, but she took any community course or class that interested her. She’d been working the family ranch since she was ten years old and getting paid for it since the age of fifteen.
She lived in a house a mile or so from the epicenter of the ranch, called the Top Cottage, with her mother, and she loved the silence and serenity that being away from everything—and everyone—gave her.
Trees surrounded the cottage, and in the Christmastime, when a couple of her brothers—Judge and Bishop—came to decorate with lights, she felt like she was living in a gingerbread house of her own.
She cut out bells, sleighs, and reindeer and laid the cookies on a greased sheet pan. They went into the oven, and Zona brought the dough back together to re-roll. She did that, and this time, she cut out snowflakes, snowmen, and boots.
She’d collected quite the assortment of cookie cutters over the years, as she was only one of the Glovers who could cook. But she was the one who loved making cookies the most. Bishop excelled at food in general, and he loved to make cakes. Ida and Etta did too. Everyone could feed themselves, but none of the Glovers ever said no to a family meal at the homestead.
Well, maybe Cactus. Sometimes Mister, if he and Judge weren’t getting along. Zona liked to think she got along with everyone, but she definitely had some siblings and cousins she was closer to than others. She and Preacher, for example, had fought like crazy growing up. He currently owned their father’s Corvette—something Zona actually coveted.
She’d repented a few times for her mean thoughts about her brother, but he wasn’t even driving the Corvette. It didn’t even run. He didn’t even try to make it run.
She sighed and shook the gathering frustration from her mind. It wouldn’t do any good, and she’d just have to repent for having bad thoughts about him—again.
She worked rolling, cutting, baking, and rotating cookies in and out of the oven for the next hour or two. Once all the cookies and scraps had been baked, she cleaned up while the cookies cooled.
Next, she made a beautiful royal-like icing, but one that wouldn’t dry as hard. It was edible and delicious, but still bright, bright white. She loved the contrast of it against the darker gingerbread cookies, and she began to pipe the frosting around the edges of the reindeer. She added eyes and little hoof lines, then one dot on the neck.
She picked up a toothpick and dabbed it in a tiny bowl of water. Then she went for one of the red candy balls in another shallow dish. The water made it stick enough for Zona to transfer it to the waiting dot of icing, and then the reindeer looked like he was wearing a bow or a bell around his neck.
She smiled at the cookie, thinking it too beautiful to eat. All of her cookies came out that way, as she turned a boring brown boot into a work of art, with white laces and checkerboard tread.
Every cookie was done in only white icing, and about half of them got a red accent in some way. She’d made several Rudolph reindeer, but as she loaded up a plate with cookies to take to her new neighbor, she only gave him one. After all, there was only one Rudolph for Santa, and the other cookies would get consumed by the Glovers at some point.
Probably tomorrow when she took them to the homestead and then the barn, so the cowboys and cowgirls who lived and worked at Shiloh Ridge could have a festive holiday treat too.
Finally done, cookies covered the entire kitchen counter, island, and dining room table. “Maybe you made too many,” she said, something she told herself every year. And every year, the cookies managed to disappear in less than three days.
She looked out the front windows, but they only showed darkness. That wasn’t terribly unusual during a rainstorm, as the Top Cottage had a front porch that spanned the width of the house, with a heavy, overhanging roof above it. Even in broad daylight, with the trees which surrounded the house, the front porch was always a bit dark and shady.
Zona picked up the paper plate of goodies and went toward the front door. Upon opening it, she discovered that it was indeed well into dusk, with nightfall only moments away. And chilly. At least the rain had paused for a few minutes, and there were some patches of sidewalk leading to her truck that had dried already.
She turned back and set the cookies on the piano, then shrugged into her jacket before picking them up again. She left the house and got behind the wheel of her truck. The thing wasn’t new by any means, but she loved Old Goldie, who’d served her well over the years here at Shiloh Ridge.
She went south instead of north, and she reached the gate separating Hidden Hills from Shiloh Ridge only a few minutes later. The road here was made of dirt and gravel and not much else. No one used it all that much, because the Rhineharts didn’t need to come to Shiloh Ridge, and the Glovers didn’t need to go to Hidden Hills. At least not this way.
She got out and opened the gate, barely making it back to the truck before another round of raindrops splashed the windshield. “Great,” she muttered. Perhaps this cabin where her new neighbor lived would have a porch roof like hers.
She doubted it, and she gripped the wheel as the truck slid in the mud beyond the gate. She gunned the engine by jamming her foot on the gas pedal, and she made it up the hill and over the ridge in a shot-like motion.
The truck banged and bumped over the road, and Zona applied the brakes lest her teeth slam together one more time. She’d bitten her tongue on a bumpy dirt road like this once, and she didn’t want to repeat that.
Mother had said the house was down the road off the first right, and Zona’s headlights barely illuminated the path. It almost didn’t even look like a road, but a footpath. The truck fit, though, and thankfully, she only had to go down a slight decline.
“Getting back up should be interesting,” she said as the truck slipped again. Maybe she needed new tires. Or maybe she shouldn’t be out driving in the mud after a heavy, Texas Panhandle rainstorm.
Committed now, she continued on, finally catching sight of a simple cabin that looked like the ones she’d drawn as a child. Front door smack dab in the middle. Two windows on either side of that, both of them lit up. Chimney on the top, with a wisp of smoke coming out of it.
She parked next to an old gray truck that looked worse than anything she’d seen in a while—and Shiloh Ridge had a motto of “use it up, fix it, and use it some more.” Or something like that.
They didn’t buy new things just to have new things, Zona knew that. Bear had met his fiancé because Sammy was a mechanic and forever coming up to the ranch to fix their machinery. Ranger had met his girlfriend when he’d finally gone to buy new ranch trucks—and that had been a fight all its own. With big purchases, Bear and Ranger, who really ran the ranch together, kept the whole family informed.
Zona didn’t care what they did with ranch money. She just needed her salary. She already had her inheritance, and it was no small sum of money. She had no idea what to do with it, and every time she asked Mother, she never got an answer. Mother would claim she didn’t want to influence Zona, but she didn’t seem to get that Zona wanted the influence.
Thunder crashed and rolled, and Zona made a grab for the cookies. She hurled herself out of the truck and toward the house, because the sky was about to open, and she just needed to get this task done.
There was no roof over the porch at all, and in fact, Zona herself barely fit on it though she wasn’t a big woman. Tall for a female, sure, but not too terribly wide. Clutching the plate of cookies in one hand, she banged on the door with the other.
The sky seemed to respond in kind, banging more thunder down on her. The lights were on inside, but no one came to the door.
“I’m going to get soaked,” she complained, lifting her fist this time. She positively pounded on the door and even called, “Hello? It’s Arizona Glover from next door. Is anyone here?”
No one came, but the rain did. Zona couldn’t leave her delectable treats out in the elements to get ruined. She’d put the paper plate in a large zipper bag, and she clutched it to her chest, likely smashing her amazing icing job.
She reached for the doorknob, not sure she could make it back to her truck. She had to take shelter. Now.
Thankfully, the knob twisted easily and a rush of warm air hit her face. “I’m coming in,” she called. “It’s pouring out here, and I can’t get back to my truck.” She entered the house, swept her gaze from side to side, and saw no one.
Someone lived here for sure. Someone neat and who smelled like firewood and pine trees and minty toothpaste. The scent of coffee sat underneath all of that, and Zona found the cabin small, but cozy. Quaint. She smiled at the calendar tacked on the wall, and how the kitchen table only had one chair and that it was tucked neatly away.
“Who are you?” a man asked, and Zona’s eyes flew to the source of the sound.
A man stood there, shirtless, because a shirt could not possibly contain that broad chest and those impressive shoulders. He wore jeans without a belt, and he likewise had kicked off his boots somewhere.
Zona found she couldn’t move. She couldn’t look away from this man’s dark hair and beard, the strength in his jaw, and the way his slate-gray eyes fired at her. He held a shirt in his hands, and he said, “You can’t just walk into people’s houses,” as he pulled it over his head.
Such a shame, Zona thought, because this man clearly worked out. A lot. Day and night by the size of those muscles now concealed beneath cotton. The very edge of the tattoo she’d seen on his upper right arm barely peeked out from beneath the cuff on his shirt, and she whipped her eyes from it to his face as he took a step toward her.
“I guess around here you can,” he said with a sigh. “I forget I’m back in Three Rivers.” He nodded to the plate still clutched to her chest. “I suppose you brought me some cookies?”
That thawed Zona’s icy stupor, and she lowered the plate so it sat level. “Yes,” she said, the word catching in her throat. Did he know how handsome he was? How he commanded the room and had sucked all of the oxygen out of it? “My mother said we had a new neighbor, and since there’s hardly anyone out here, I figured you wouldn’t get much—”
She cut off as the man lifted another paper plate from the tiny bit of counter beside the sink. It too held cookies. “The Bellamores brought these,” he said. He dropped the plate, and it made a sharp bang! against the counter. “And the Walkers brought these.” He lifted no less than three plates of cookies and then cocked only his right eyebrow at Zona. “None of them just walked into my house, though. So…who are you and what kind of cookies did you bring?”
Read more from Shiloh Ridge Ranch
Book 1: He can be a teddy or a grizzly. She's a genius with a wrench. Can the pretty mechanic tame this cowboy's wild side, or will they both be left broken-hearted this Christmas?
Book 2: He told her once he wasn't interested in dating her if they weren't exclusive. She's a former racecar driver just trying to find the right man for her at 200 miles per hour. Can Oakley slow down enough to have a relationship with Ranger, or will they both be left lonely this Christmas?
Book 3: She's been going ranch-to-ranch looking for work. He's just finished most of the construction at Shiloh Ridge. Bishop hires Montana anyway, because she's the beautiful blonde he's attracted to, and she's worked with the best woodworker in the state for years. Can they navigate the construction around the ranch and inside their own lives to find their happily-ever-after for the holidays?
Book 4: He's a fun-loving cowboy with a heart of gold. She's the woman who keeps putting him on hold. Can Ace and Holly Ann make a relationship work this Christmas?