A Healthy HomicideWell, the O’Connell Organic Farm and Spa is still open for business, believe it or not. Zennia, our health-minded cook, continues to whip up occasionally intimidating but highly nutritious meals; Gordon, our business-oriented manager, is watching the budget like a hawk watches a baby chick in our hen house; and I’m using all my marketing skills to promote the spa like never before. I’d like to think my two-for-one coupons and blog postings have made the O’Connell Farm a household name, but we still struggle. Esther, the owner, is always worried. At least we haven’t closed completely, something I was sure would happen with the streak of bad luck we had those first few months.

In case you didn’t hear, a guest was murdered on opening weekend. The timing couldn’t have been much worse. Most of the guests who were staying here checked out, and nobody else dared check in until we solved the murder. Then, when things started to settle down, an ex-boyfriend of Ashlee, my attention-seeking younger sister, was killed. When the police focused on Ashlee as a possible suspect, my marketing work, as well as those extra chores I often do like cleaning out the pig sty and serving meals to the guests, took a nosedive while I spent all my time trying to clear my sister’s name.

Things started to look up when I helped organize and run a green living festival in downtown Blossom Valley. I figured it would be a great way to draw attention to the farm and spa. I spent hours creating a photo collage of the farm’s highlights and designing new brochures that would make everyone want to book a stay. I could barely contain my excitement when I’d finished setting up our booth. But wouldn’t you know it. I returned from grabbing a quick lunch and found the body of a former classmate in the booth next door. The festival almost fell apart after that. I mean, it’s hard to promote green living when everyone wants to talk about the dead lady. But somehow we managed to survive the weekend and even drum up a little business.

Around the same time as the festival, we also expanded our spa services and hired Gretchen, a masseuse and facial expert. With her magic hands and friendly demeanor, we’ve lined up a steady stream of regular customers, which has tickled Gordon to no end. But now all our progress may be in jeopardy because of a new spa that’s opened right downtown. Sitting in such a prime location, it’s bound to attract the attention of anyone driving through Blossom Valley.

Esther was in an absolute tizzy when she arrived at the farm this morning and told me that one of her friends has already gotten a manicure there. Her friend couldn’t stop gushing about how trendy the place is. Trendy is definitely not a word I would use to describe Esther’s business. Still, I told her there was nothing to worry about, even if I am already working on a new marketing plan.

To help me, Gretchen has agreed to stop by the downtown spa after work today. She’ll do a little snooping to find out what services they offer and whether our prices are competitive. She’ll be in and out before the spa owner even realizes Gretchen works for the competition. With such a simple plan, what could possibly go wrong?

You can read more about Dana in A Healthy Homicide, the fourth book in the “Blossom Valley” mystery series, published by Kensington. The first book in the series is Going Organic Can Kill You.

GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 12 p.m. eastern on March 5 for the chance to win a copy of A Healthy Homicide. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Winner will be notified within 48 hours after giveaway closes and you will have three days to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected. Make sure to check your SPAM folder.

About the author
Staci McLaughlin is the author of the Blossom Valley Mysteries. While she tries to eat as nutritiously as Zennia, the spa’s cook in her series, she can’t quite give up store-bought treats and frozen macaroni-and-cheese meals. When she’s not nibbling on a cookie, she’s often helping with homework or chasing after her two kids. You can find her online at www.stacimclaughlin.com or the LadyKillers blog. She currently lives with her husband, children, and various pets in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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