In this excerpt from A Killer Retreat, Kate, Michael, and German shepherd Bella explore the grounds of Elysian Springs Resort and stumble across an area that will later prove to be more important than they could ever imagine….
When I caught up with them, I grabbed Bella’s leash in one hand and held Michael’s fingers in the other. The three of us crunched along the center’s network of interconnecting trails as we explored our new territory in the daylight. Bella weaved happily back and forth at the end of her leash, sniffing for hidden treasures, while I took deep breaths of pine-scented air, which was still redolent with ozone from the prior night’s storm. Golden oak leaves waved from the branches above and peppered the permanent carpet of pine needles covering the ground.
Last night the grounds seemed desolate; this morning, they bustled. Fellow vacationers sipped mugs of coffee and smiled friendly hellos. Maintenance staff scurried by on electric golf carts. Gardeners harvested, fertilized, and planted cover crops in a huge, fenced-in garden. A sign at the gate read, “Welcome to the Garden of Eden. Visitors are welcome, but please keep pets outside.” I smiled at the word play. Eden was the name of Elysian Springs’ organic vegan restaurant. The garden must supply at least some of the restaurant’s produce.
We wandered along the fence past beds of dark green kale, deep purple cabbage, and beige, peanut-shaped butternut squash. A few feet from the end of the garden, we discovered the free range enclosures of several of the center’s happy-looking animal residents. A dozen clucking hens seemed to smile as they pecked at the earth around their whitewashed henhouse. Next door, several ducks splashed happily in a bright blue wading pool, near a pair of fluffy white rabbits who sunned themselves in the corner of a huge fenced-in hutch. We even found a half-dozen floppy eared goats eating their way through a wall of blackberry bushes in an otherwise vacant field.
We hiked on the center’s property for over forty-five minutes, discovering quaint wooden cabins, hidden camp sites, even an old, rusted-out boat that had been abandoned on one of the property’s two private beaches. At the end of the beach, we turned left and continued walking—uphill now—away from the water. The trail ended at the edge of a cliff and a campsite labeled “Suicide Bluff.” Obviously someone’s idea of a joke. A squirrel chirped angrily from above, as if warning us away from his favorite hiding place.
I stood near the bluff’s jagged rock outcroppings, entranced by the view. Greenish-blue water extended for miles and birthed powerful waves that crashed over fifty feet below. The smooth, crescendoing sound was both calming and awe-inspiring at the same time. I moved closer to the edge, as if hypnotized.
“Kate, what are you doing? Get away from there.” Michael pointed to a sign several feet behind me.
“Danger. Cliffs are unstable. Walking prohibited less than three feet from edge.”
As if on cue, a rock broke free and clattered over the edge. I took several large steps back. “Suicide Bluff” suddenly felt more like a warning than a quip. The steep, dark cliffs dared me to come closer. Goaded me. Urged me to jump. An inexplicable chill burned the back of my neck. I couldn’t explain it, but the cliffs felt malevolent—evil somehow. Like they hungered for human sacrifice.
I looped Bella’s leash handle around my wrist and pulled her in closer. Gorgeous view or not, I wouldn’t come back here again. I didn’t trust this place.
“Michael, let’s go.”
The wary look on his face mirrored my own. He laced his fingers through mine and we hurried away, back toward our cozy little cabin, where the three of us would presumably be safe.
Tracy Weber is the author of the award-winning Downward Dog Mysteries series featuring yoga teacher Kate and her feisty German shepherd, Bella. Tracy loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. The second book in her series, A Killer Retreat, will be published January 8, 2015, by Midnight Ink.
Tracy and her husband live in Seattle with their challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha. When she’s not writing, Tracy spends her time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house.
Visit her at TracyWeberAuthor.com