Read An Excerpt

by Elizabeth Bass

Genre: Mainstream

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In another second, the side screen door banged open and closed, and Rue was flying down the stairs. She looked furious.

“What the hell has gotten into you today?”

The growled question nearly sent Laura reeling backward. For one thing, she had no idea what Rue was talking about. She glanced at Webb for help, but he simply shoved his hat on his head and walked away in the direction of the truck. Abandoning her.

“I wasn’t aware that anything had gotten into me.” Laura attempted a casual shrug even as she mentally armored up for battle. “Up to now it’s just seemed like a normal day.”

“Normal? Normal?” Rue gaped at her in wonder. “You call it normal to try to kill all our guests?”

“I haven’t killed anybody.” Too late, she thought of Jeanine, whose fate was still unknown. “For certain.”

And technically, she couldn’t be held responsible for killing Jeanine, even if the woman was gasping her last out in a pasture somewhere. Was it her fault that a fully functioning adult couldn’t manage to walk a mile without coming to grief?

Her answer nettled Rue. “First, you nearly let Heidi pass out from heatstroke—”

“I did not! I didn’t even notice she was having a problem!”

“Exactly,” Rue said. “You were completely oblivious. Webb noticed her.”

Laura snorted. “Right! She probably executed a well-timed swoon as he was passing by.”

Rue didn’t even deign to respond to that. “But nearly letting one guest nearly dehydrate and pass out on the job wasn’t enough for you. Oh no! You had to go drag the others out through a pasture full of bull nettle. You should see those poor nurses’ legs, all covered in bumps.”

“I warned them to be careful! If they hadn’t been wearing shorts…”

"It’s over ninety degrees outside! Everyone in their right mind wears shorts.”

“I don’t.”

“I rest my case.” Rue folded her arms. “And now Jeanine. God only knows what’s happened to her.”

“I pointed out the way to her!” Laura said for what felt like the hundredth time.

Rue rolled her eyes. “You’re supposed to watch out for them, Laura! These people are as helpless as newborn bunnies. You can’t just point.”

“All right. Next time, I’ll know.”

“Next time? We’ll be lucky if there is a next time! We’ll be lucky if we aren’t sued for negligence and shut down.”

“By whom?” Laura asked. “The agri-tourism police?”

“It might just be the regular police.”

“Don’t go overboard, Rue. We don’t even know anything’s happened to her yet.”

But the mention of lawsuits and police did sober Laura somewhat. All they needed right now was to have the law come crashing down on them. Her lists of things to dread was growing: drought, guests, pigs, Heidi, lawyers.

“Not to mention,” Rue added, just when Laura thought the accusations against her were all finished, “as I was going to get Erica for dinner, guess what I found her doing?”

“Putting the finishing touches on her Leanne Dench voodoo doll?”

“No. She was on the internet reading about Charles Manson!”

Laura laughed.

Judging by Rue’s withering look, this was not the proper reaction. “She said she’d heard about him from you.”

Laura lifted her hands. “Okay, okay, I plead guilty. I just happened to mention that my old basketball coach looked like Charles Manson.”

“And now her head is going to be full of serial killings, and poor Sharon Tate.”

“For pete’s sake,” Laura said, exasperated. “You can’t shield kids from famous mass murderers forever, can you? I mean, this is America. It’s part of our heritage.”

The look Rue leveled on her could have frozen a lava floe. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I really don’t. You’re hopeless.”
“Rue, I’m sorry. The Charles Manson thing just slipped out in conversation. It’s not like I sat her down and told her the story of Helter Skelter like it was the birds and the bees. And as for the rest of it, I promise I’ll be more careful with the stupid inmates from now on.”

“They’re not stupid! And they’re not inmates. They’re not pests, cattle, or citified halfwits, or whatever else you call them. They’re human beings, and they’re paying us money to be here on vacation. Here’s a newsflash for you. People usually don’t go on vacation to be dehydrated, poisoned, or killed.”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I’ll turn over a new leaf.”

The apology didn’t appear to penetrate. “It’s not just the guests, Laura. It’s Erica, the farm, everything. What am I going to do if you won’t be responsible? What’s going to happen to everything here?”