Sneak peek, first chapter of Merry Manager, River’s End Ranch

Happy Friday! I was late getting this to Kirsten to add to the back of Baker’s Bob, so am sharing the first chapter of Wade’s story, Merry Manager, here if you’d like to check it out. This will release on Monday, April 24. Hope you enjoy!  

Chapter 1

“You’re more tense than usual. Rough day?” Maddie Johnson asked as she worked to loosen up one of the many knots in Wade Weston’s neck, back, and shoulders.

Wade sighed. “No worse than usual. It has been crazy lately. Lots going on with all the Christmas events and holiday parties.”

“It’s so special here at Christmas, though. Seems like it gets bigger every year,” Maddie said.

“It does. We’re fully booked through New Year’s Day but the phones are still ringing off the hook with people wanting to make a reservation. And just before I came here, I got a call from our Old West town Santa that he’s not sure if he’ll make it in tomorrow. Says he feels like he’s coming down with something. Which means you might see me in a Santa suit.”

Maddie laughed as she rubbed more lotion onto her palms and then worked it into his shoulders. The warmth of her hands felt wonderful and he slowly felt some of his tension dissipate. He always walked out of a session with Maddie feeling refreshed and calm. Maddie managed the spa and was the best masseuse they had on staff at River’s End Ranch. She was also a very good friend. He’d known Maddie, and her eight-year-old daughter Vivian for years. 

“But enough of my whining. How are you doing? How’s Vivian?”

“She’s great.” Maddie’s voice softened when she spoke about her daughter and even though Wade couldn’t see it, he could tell by her tone that there was a smile on her face. “She announced this morning over breakfast that she and Sadie’s daughter, Violet, are officially best friends.”

“Everyone needs a best friend.”

“That’s true.”

Wade thought he detected a hint of sadness in her reply. “How’s your day going so far?” he asked gently.

Maddie sighed. “It’s fine. I’m still always a little sad on this date. It’s the five year anniversary of when Tim died. He was my best friend.”

“I’m sorry. I know it must be hard. I still miss him, too. Wade had been Tim’s best man when he and Maddie got married. 

“I’m actually doing much better. It’s just when these dates roll around—birthdays, anniversaries, holidays—there’s always a little emptiness.”

Maddie finished his back and shoulders and turned her attention to his feet. Something about the way she pushed and pulled and kneaded his feet seemed to relax him more than anything else. He always came close to drifting off to sleep by the time she finished massaging his feet.

“Okay, you’re all set, Wade. I hope that helped,” Maddie said softly as she draped the crisp cotton sheet over his feet, signaling that their time together had come to an end.

“That hour always goes by too fast,” Wade lamented.

“I think that’s a compliment,” Maddie said with a laugh. “Although you did cancel our last two sessions. I was starting to worry a bit.”

“I’m sorry. I hated to cancel. It’s just been so insane lately. It’s not always easy to get away.”

Maddie nodded. “I know. But that’s all the more reason why it’s so important. It’s a really good stress reliever. Seems like it does you good.”

Wade smiled. “Oh, it definitely does. I always look forward to coming in.” A little too much, if he was being honest with himself. Maddie gave a great massage, but he looked forward to seeing and talking to her as much as the massage itself. He’d been sorry to cancel the last few times and found himself missing their sessions.

He had to keep reminding himself that Maddie was off-limits, though, for multiple reasons. He wasn’t convinced that she was ready to be with anyone else. Even though Tim was gone, it still felt sort of wrong, since they’d been such close friends. And, of course, Wade was also her boss, which turned a tempting idea into a really bad one.

“Let’s book your next three appointments now, so you won’t have to think about it. It will just be on your calendar,” Maddie suggested.

“Sounds good, set me up.”

While Wade was at the spa on his lunch break, his right hand assistant, Bernie, who was extremely efficient and capable, had put half a dozen sticky notes on his computer—all needing his urgent attention. She smiled when he walked in. “It’s been wild. Check your computer and let me know if you have any questions.”

Lily, the resort’s event planner, shared the office with Bernie, and waved as he walked into his connecting office and sat down to get to work. He’d felt so relaxed when he left the spa, but now as he scrolled through his email and reviewed the sticky notes, he felt a tightness spread across his back and chest. There were so many urgent issues that he wasn’t sure what to tackle first.

As general manager of the ranch, he oversaw all areas of the business. His five siblings all helped in their different areas of interest, but he was involved in everything and though he loved it, the workload lately was often overwhelming. Today’s issues were all urgent.

The zoning commission had questions about a permit they needed to begin construction for the kids’ corral. There was a leak in the kitchen ceiling that was getting worse and needed immediate attention. The fish that was supposed to be delivered the next day for a holiday party wasn’t available due to some issues with the supplier.

It was one thing after another and then the last one had him shaking his head, wondering what else could possible go wrong. The sick Santa he’d talked to earlier had already called and left a message that he wasn’t going to make it in for the rest of the week as he was certain he had strep throat, even though he hadn’t yet seen a doctor.

Wade took a deep breath and pressed his hands against his temples to calm a sudden, pounding headache.  His phone rang and he saw it was his mother. He debated answering it as there was no such thing as a five-minute call with his mother. But what if something was wrong?

His parents were traveling the country in an RV and even though they were hundreds of miles away, they still managed to somehow know everything that was going on at the ranch and just about every time they called, it was with a new project. Wade didn’t have an ounce of energy left for anything new. But he didn’t want to put the conversation off either. Easier to deal with it and move on.

“Hi, Mom. How’s it going?”

“Hi honey! I’m so sorry that we won’t be with you all for Christmas this year, but the Blizzard couldn’t have picked a better place to need some repairs. The Florida sunshine is just lovely.”

The running family joke was that his parents couldn’t get home because they were stuck in a blizzard—which was the name of their RV. It had been almost a year since they’d started their cross-country adventure. They were having a ball traveling all over the country but they were also newly retired and having a little bit of a hard time letting go. His mother’s recent projects that had needed his immediate attention included the new barn building for big catering parties and special events and the kids’ corral, for onsite daycare.

“I have a new project I think you’re going to be really excited about….” His mother rambled on about her newest great idea while Wade stared at his stack of sticky notes and mentally prioritized what needed his attention first. When he hung up the phone, he worked his way through the list and once everything was taken care of, except finding a new replacement Santa, he stood up to get a cup of coffee and walked into the office that Bernie and Lily shared. Lily was on the phone and Bernie looked at him with concern as he leaned against the doorway and put one hand to his head. The headache was back and worse than before, and the tightness in his chest was so strong, it was hard to get a breath.

“Wade, are you all right?”

“I think so. I’ve just been having the strangest tightness across my chest. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

He felt himself try to smile as everything went black and he could faintly hear Bernie’s panicked voice as his legs buckled.

“Lily, call 911. Wade looks like he’s having a heart attack…” 


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4 thoughts on “Sneak peek, first chapter of Merry Manager, River’s End Ranch

  1. I love all the Rivers End Ranch books. Have read all of them and am looking forward to Merry Manager.
    I have read some of the Montana Sweet Western Romances and love them too, plus !Trust of the Waverly Beach Mystery Suspense.

    Looking forward to more wonderful stories.

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