Going Organic Can Kill You (Blossom Valley Mystery Series #1)

Going Organic Can Kill You (Blossom Valley Mystery Series #1)

by Staci McLaughlin

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780758275004
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 07/03/2012
Series: Blossom Valley Mystery Series , #1
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 788,962
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Staci McLaughlin was a technical writer in Silicon Valley for eight years before becoming a freelance writer. She is currently a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. She is also a member of the LadyKillers, a group of thirteen writers who alternate posting daily blogs at www.theladykillers.typepad.com. Staci also blogs on her own website stacimclaughlin.com, where she offers more healthy-living tips to compliment those in her Blossom Valley mysteries.

Read an Excerpt

Going Organic Can Kill You

By Staci McLaughlin

Kensington Publishing Corp.

Copyright © 2012 Staci McLaughlin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-7500-4

Chapter One

"That pig got out again."

I glanced up from my brochure notes as Gordon Stewart, manager of the O'Connell Organic Farm and Spa, strode into the kitchen, tie flapping over his shoulder, face mottled. His slicked-back hair glinted in the overhead lights. Not for the first time, I wondered if its black color was his or came from a Grecian Formula bottle.

"Clients don't want filthy animals running amok while they're relaxing," he said to Esther. "You're lucky that news van left." He turned his attention on me. "Dana, I saw you near the pigsty. Did you leave the gate open?" How did I get sucked into this? "Not a chance." I focused back on my list of spa promotion ideas, but kept one ear tuned to the conversation to find out what happened with the pig.

Esther stuck the needle in her cross-stitch and laid her WELCOME TO THE FARM sampler on the table. "Good heavens, I don't know how little Wilbur keeps escaping."

As owner, Esther O'Connell had hired me a month ago to promote her new farm and spa. Considering how much farmland she'd razed to create the ten cabins and pool area complete with an adjoining Jacuzzi and two patios, the spa portion now overshadowed the farm side, but all herbs, fruits, and vegetables served at meals were grown organically in the nearby vegetable patch.

I'd been back in Blossom Valley for six weeks, following a nine-month stint of unemployment in San Jose. When Mom had mentioned my job status, or lack of status, to Esther, she'd hired me after her original marketing guy quit to become a blackjack dealer in Vegas.

Esther stood, her ample belly under her light blue cotton blouse jiggling against the table edge. "I'll round him up, but I hope he doesn't get the best of me again. I never thought I'd get the smell of manure out of my hair after the last time."

An image of Esther floundering in muck while wrestling with Wilbur filled my head. Not good, especially now that guests were roaming the property. I flipped my notebook closed. "I'll help." Sure, I only wrote the marketing materials for the farm, but how hard could catching a loose pig be?

"Then get to it," Gordon said. "We don't need a squeamish client throwing a fit during opening weekend. Everything has to be perfect."

"Wilbur running around will remind people they're at a farm, too, not just a spa," I said, wondering why Gordon didn't catch the pig himself if he was so worried. After all, the manager's number one priority at any place was to make sure the customers were happy. If he felt the spa guests wouldn't like loose animals, Gordon needed to lasso that little piggy. But then he might get his dress shirt and shiny shoes dirty.

I followed Esther out the back door and down the path that led through the herb garden, my Keds crunching on the pea gravel. The striped rosemary saluted us in the warm morning sunshine, while the bright green cilantro swayed in the light breeze, the herbal scent filling the air.

As we rounded the clump of oak trees, I heard snorting and grunting mingled with the fainter clucking of hens. We stopped at the pigsty and I leaned over the top rail, watching the pink pigs root in the mud, snuffling over mystery bits. Sure enough, only four pigs. Wilbur had escaped again.

"Oh, no. Where could he be?" Esther touched my arm. "If this weekend isn't a success, I'll be ruined."

"Don't worry, the clients already love this place." I pushed off the rail and turned to face her. "We have all the amenities these people expect, right down to the thread count in the sheets. No one can complain. Well, except for that Maxwell guy, but complaining seems to be his hobby."

"That's what I'm worried about. You know how fickle these celebrity types can be. 'The swimming pool is too cold.' 'My mattress is too firm.' And like Gordon said ..."

I waved a hand dismissively. "Forget Gordon. He's wound up because the press is here."

Esther had been excited when a production company had wanted to scout nearby locations for an upcoming horror movie and made reservations at the farm, even if she'd had to cut her rate by thirty percent. The extra attention from the Bay Area and Hollywood newspapers and TV stations that the film crew generated seemed like a good trade-off for the lost revenue. With enough press, the stars would soon see Esther's spa as the go-to place for relaxation and rejuvenation.

I'd noticed the press myself in the form of one very hunky reporter for the Herald, Blossom Valley's weekly paper. When I wanted to know what was happening in the world, I read the San Jose Mercury News or the Press Democrat. When I wanted to know what time the Fourth of July parade started in town, I scanned the Herald. The cute guy with the dimples in his cheeks hadn't interviewed me yet about my marketing position at the spa, but I was keeping my fingers crossed.

"Gordon knows these media folks are important," Esther said.

"But he thinks one bad review will shut the whole place down," I said.

Esther clasped the front of her blouse, clearly worried.

"Not that anyone will write a bad review," I added before she panicked more. "When people get wind of the Hollywood types staying here this week, they'll be pounding down our door."

"I hope so. But I've heard people at the feed store talking and they're not crazy about an organic farm. Think the place is too highfalutin, especially with the yoga classes and spa food."

A pig stuck his snout through the fence and bumped my leg. I patted his head, the coarse bristle on his skin scratching my palm. "You'll always find naysayers. Most people are thrilled that you're bringing out-of-towners into Blossom Valley. The downtown needs a boost before more businesses go under." Already, the vacancy rate on Main Street was hitting an all-time high.

"I don't know if my little farm and spa can help the town much, but I'll give it my best shot. Thank God I have you and the others helping me. I couldn't possibly do this alone, now that my dear Arnold is gone."

Her eyes filled with tears. I reached out and squeezed her hand, her words reminding me how she and Mom had bonded at a widows' support group. Her wrinkled flesh was clammy to the touch and my heart ached at the sight of the grief etched on her face, reminding me of my own pain when my father passed away last year. I instinctively reached up and fingered the St. Christopher medal he'd given me years ago and that I always wore now.

"Let's track down Wilbur," I said, shaking off my melancholy. "Before he freaks out a guest."

I left the pigsty, looped behind the chicken coop, and started down the paved walking path that led past the cabins, studying the dense bushes that lined the walkway for any sign of hoof prints. The soil at the base of the foliage was soft and crumbly from that morning's sprinkler session, but offered no clues as to the location of the errant pig.

Esther trotted behind me, alternating between calling Wilbur's name and whistling as if Wilbur was a dog instead of a pig. I was pretty sure Wilbur wouldn't respond to her pleas, but at least this distraction kept Esther's thoughts away from her husband and his death from cancer a few months ago.

As we approached the pool and the large patio on the other side, Esther stopped whistling. Maroon crepe-paper streamers cascaded down the backs of the deck chairs. Silver and gold balloons hung from the posts of the redwood pergola that partially covered the expansive patio. The banner that we had strung between two posts, proudly proclaiming O'CONNELL ORGANIC FARM AND SPA, had loosened on one side and now drooped toward the brick below.

The dozen or so guests had arrived Thursday night, serenaded by The Kicking Boots, Blossom Valley's country-western band. The drummer couldn't keep a beat and the lead singer was tone deaf, but Esther couldn't argue with the rock-bottom price. Between the questions from reporters and the chatter of the locals who'd been lured to the opening by the promise of free food, no one noticed the off-key performance.

The party had wound down around one, when the guests dispersed to their rooms. Once the staff stopped replenishing the food trays, the locals had disappeared faster than a lizard when you flipped over a rock. Yesterday had been subdued in comparison, as guests lounged by the pool, soaked in the Jacuzzi, or hiked on the nearby farm trails in the warm May weather.

Now, across the pool's clear blue water, Christian Harper led four guests in a series of yoga postures on the smaller patio. At the moment, everyone was concentrating on the Proud Warrior pose, while Christian studied their forms, bending a knee here, straightening an arm there. Though I'd been working here a month, I barely knew Christian; but then, I'd been creating brochures and fliers in the office to advertise the big opening, and he had only joined the staff a few days ago.

In his mid-forties, Christian was lean and tall and sported a long brown ponytail. His tank top and electric blue biker shorts emphasized his well-defined biceps and quads. According to Zennia Patrakio, the farm's forty-two-year-old cook, he was once an accountant but had gone on a spiritual retreat to India a few years ago and found his true calling. Esther had hired him to teach yoga and Pilates. When he wasn't directing a class, he provided massages for the guests.

Right now, Christian was eyeing the young blonde in the boy shorts and sports bra who stood closest to the pool, as if he'd only recently discovered the difference between girls and boys. I'd met a few of the guests opening night and remembered she was an actress named Tiffany Starling. In her early twenties, she'd booked her stay to celebrate landing her latest role, something to do with a giant octopus and man-eating crabs. She'd told me about a handful of other movies she'd had roles in, and while I'd seen a couple, I couldn't remember her face at all. Since they were all slasher films, she'd probably played Victim Number Two or Dismembered Body in the credits.

I'd met the woman now posing next to her, Sheila Davenport, this morning, when she'd come looking for aspirin. Her smooth skin and rich auburn hair made her appear to be in her early forties, but the creases in her neck and lines on her cleavage suggested she was a good decade older. She took one look at my bare earlobes and ringless fingers as I handed her the pills and gave me a card for her jewelry design business just over the hill in Mendocino.

I watched as she brought her legs back together and squatted into a chair pose, her short hair gently swaying with the movement. Yoga was clearly nothing new for her.

Next to her was a plain-looking woman I hadn't met yet, and on the end stood Maxwell Mendelsohn, his thighs quivering as he tried to maintain his posture while also looking around the other woman to watch Sheila. A little romance in the air?

Esther had approached me yesterday afternoon to get my opinion on why Maxwell was here. He'd refused to eat the wild rice and tuna salad for lunch, calling it "rabbit food." Not that I'd ever seen rabbits eat tuna. He'd complained that the curtains were too thin to keep the morning light out and whined incessantly to Gordon about the spotty Wi-Fi reception. Even now, his Bluetooth was lodged firmly in his ear, matching his close-cropped business hairdo. Judging by his wobbly tree stance and the price tag peeking out of the waistband of his yoga pants, yoga was not a form of exercise he normally practiced.

As I watched, Maxwell's right leg, the one supporting all his weight, swayed from side to side. His arms pin-wheeled as he crashed into the woman next to him. She somehow managed to put her other leg down and stop Maxwell's momentum before he toppled them both.

"This damn malarkey," Maxwell said, his voice carrying over the water. He glared at Christian. "You don't even know what the hell you're doing." He snatched up his terry cloth towel from the nearby redwood bench and stalked off toward the cabins.

Christian watched him go, and then turned back to the other students. "Release your pent-up breath. Let the negative energy flow from your body." He bent forward. "Now try Downward-Facing Dog."

Esther tugged on my sleeve and I snapped back to attention.

"Sorry, we've got a pig to catch," I said. We started down the path again.

"He's probably rooting around the vegetables," Esther said with a quiver in her voice. "Eating tomorrow's lunch."

"I bet we get him before he can do any real damage."

We rounded the bend to find Wilbur, a pink and brown piglet, knee-deep in arugula, snorting happily as he ripped another set of dark green leaves off the plant. The scent of pepper filled the air.

"Wilbur, no!" Esther shrieked.

Wilbur's head shot up. Esther lowered her voice to a more soothing timbre. "You need to go back to the pen. The other pigs miss you."

I dug a black-and-white elastic headband from the back pocket of my jeans and pulled my dishwater blond hair into a rudimentary ponytail, getting ready in case Wilbur made a run for it. Esther inched toward the pig and he watched her approach. I looked past them at the nearby low hills, the lush green from the spring rains already fading after the temperature had noticeably risen in the last two weeks.

Standing among the vegetables, I tried not to think about the fantastic job offer that had come in from a major computer company days before I was set to depart for Blossom Valley. Although any twenty-eight-year-old would be thrilled at the offer, I'd had my reasons for refusing the job, but helping Esther catch a loose pig only added doubts to my decision.

I watched as Esther got within arms' distance of Wilbur. As she reached out, he gave a snort, pawed at the ground, and ran between her legs. He headed straight toward me, a wild gleam in his eye, bits of arugula hanging from his lip. Did pigs even have lips?

Not knowing what else to do, I launched myself at the pig, landing with an oomph as Wilbur easily sidestepped me and thundered past. I craned my head around in time to see him pound across the patio and disappear through the back door of the kitchen. Well, crap, now he was in the house.

"Dear, are you all right?" Esther asked as she helped me to my feet.

I dusted off my jeans and GOT MILK T-shirt and tucked an escaped lock of hair behind my ear. "Just peachy." No need to mention the giant bruise to my ego. That little injury would remain a secret. "But we'd better catch that pig before he tears the place apart."

As if Wilbur heard my comment, a loud shriek emanated from the house, followed by the dreaded words, "A pig! A pig!"

I looked at Esther, her eyes wide, her face gone pale.

"Oh, no," she said. "The guests!" GOING ORGANIC CAN KILL YOU 9

Chapter Two

I broke into a run as I streaked toward the house, glancing over my shoulder once to see Esther huffing and puffing her way down the trail. Rescuing the guests from the pig was up to me, not that I had any idea what to do. I darted in the side door to the dining room and came to a sliding halt on the tile.

One of the guests, a woman whose name I didn't know, stood to one side. She pointed toward the hall, her mouth hanging open. "A pig ran by."

"Don't worry, I'll catch him." I just hoped she didn't ask me how. I was still working on that part.

As I tried to think up a pig-catching plan, I detected a humming sound. What the heck? I made my way down the hall to the lobby where Zennia sat on the floor, humming loudly, her long black braid hanging over her shoulder. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear she was humming the Green Acres theme song. Wilbur lay on his back before her, Zennia slowly scratching his belly. When she caught sight of me, she put a finger to her unadorned lips.

"I've hypnotized him," Zennia whispered.

"How do you hypnotize a pig?" I whispered back.

Zennia ran a hand along Wilbur's side. "You must look at the pig to find his inner soul, what makes him tick. Then you can communicate with the pig."

When I looked at a pig, all I saw was bacon, but I kept that to myself.


Excerpted from Going Organic Can Kill You by Staci McLaughlin Copyright © 2012 by Staci McLaughlin. Excerpted by permission of Kensington Publishing Corp.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Going Organic Can Kill You 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why did this other poster not only retype the overview, but reveal 99% of the books plot line? Why do posters do this? Why ruin a book for other readers? Just state if you liked it or not. Dont write a dissertation, dissecting every plot point. We dont need you to tell us every detail. I'll bet if we have nooks, chances are we can read and dont need you telling us everything about the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. I loved the humor and trying to find out who the murderer was. I would buy more books from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this, and it kept me guessing who the killer was until the end. I will be getting the next in this series.
Alisbegonia More than 1 year ago
I am an avid fan of mysteries; got to page 55 and quit. Just too boring. The characters were dull , uninteresting, flat. The plot-who cares?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time finishing this book. The 2nd 1/2 was better than the first, however.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed this book. It was light fun reading with some unexpected twists and quirky characters.
vincagf More than 1 year ago
enjoyable easy read
Michelle1948 More than 1 year ago
okay. I picked this for my nook from the daily deal for $2.99. For the first in a series it was an okay read. The plot line was good and it moved at a decent pace. My only complaint is the main character. She seemed so whiny in the beginning of the story. She returns to her hometown to help her mother who is a recent widow. But the story starts with her complaining about could she lose her job?, how will she find another job?, why does she have to do such menial work just to keep a job?.....jeez...give me a break... thanks goodness the main character comes out of this slump or I would never have finished this book. But I finished it and it was halfway decent.
EM-SD-CA More than 1 year ago
Fun light reading.
Cinderlu More than 1 year ago
Funny, quirky, easy reading for when you just want to relax and enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the book. Enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nothing objectionable, no character development.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fairly well written, well edited. The mystery held my attention and the characters were interesting. The corny names of the shops in town became irritating. The author tries too hard, going to great lengths making a point to tell us the name of each shop...which are all annoying and too-cute. Perhaps in an attempt to make it the unique "Thing" about the series (??), which is sad because she probably stayed awake at night coming up with all of these names. If you can overlook it - the story as a whole is worth reading. No gore, no swearing, very minimal references to sex.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We found it to be ploddingly slow with lots of irrelevant fill and trite attempts at humor. Not interested in reading anymore of this authors work.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the read and the mystery of who done it. I would read other books by this author in fact have. She weaves a clever story from a barnyard view.
dgvt More than 1 year ago
a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book for a light hearted giggle. The characters are all entertaining, and the story flows well and doesn't get boring.
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Barguy More than 1 year ago
I found this to be a cute, entertaining, little novel with a unique approach. The writing is very good and keeps the pace moving along. Some interesting characters, some could use a little more interest, but being the first in a series that may develop later. I enjoyed reading this book and will read the next one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago