Spud Muffin Sneak Peek: Read the First Two Chapters


Chapter One


“You’ll like Mo,” my friend Ciara said on the other end of the line.

I was standing in the living room of my tiny third-story apartment in Portland, surrounded by boxes, my phone in one hand and a roll of packing tape in the other. Tomorrow was moving day. I was giving up city life and becoming a farm girl—as hard as that was to imagine.

“Mo’s nothing like you at all,” Ciara continued, “but I believe you’ll work very well together.”

“Thanks very much!” I said. “Is being nothing like me supposed to be a compliment?”

I have my flaws, plenty of them, but there are good things about me, too.

“I just meant—” Ciara said.

“I’m listening.”

“You’ve heard of opposites attract, haven’t you?” Ciara said.

“I have heard of the concept, but I strongly question the entire premise—”

“You should have seen Mo out in the field yesterday,” said Ciara. “He was digging potatoes, and all I can say is that he’s a real spud muffin.”

Ciara likes bad puns, but I think she was mostly trying to cheer me up.

It had been a rough couple of weeks. I’d gotten fired from my dream job as head chef at the fanciest restaurant in Portland, and I was probably blacklisted from getting another job in the entire metro area, up to and including line cook at Bob’s Burgerama.

Did I mention I have flaws? Well, anger management is one of them. I don’t take criticism well. Never have.

“You should have seen how Mo wielded that shovel,” Ciara continued. “He’s all muscle, that man.”

The way she was talking at the moment, you’d think that Ciara was man-crazy, but you’d be mistaken. She’d never admit to it, but there was only one man she had eyes for, and that was Mateo, her long-time frenemy and now business partner at Ferndale Farm, not that he seemed to have noticed how she felt about him yet.

Ciara wasn’t fooling me with all this talk about Mo’s muscles.

“I’m not looking for a ‘Spud Muffin,’” I told her. “I’d settle for a sane, sensible—”

“Mo’s that, too,” Ciara said. “Very sane, very sensible. The only thing is—”

There always is that one thing.

“Well, he’s kind of shy,” said Ciara. “He doesn’t talk.”

“You mean he’s selectively mute or something?”

Would that I might have been blessed with such a condition. Then I wouldn’t have thrown away a promising career just for the satisfaction of telling Anthony, the owner of Purple Sage, what I thought of him, his ancestors, and his offspring.

“Mo doesn’t have selective mutism,” said Ciara. “He just doesn’t have much to say. But you’re going to like him—”

“I don’t need to like him.”

I just needed to tolerate him. I just needed to not blow up at him and burn yet another bridge behind me.

“I don’t think Mo has much experience with relationships,” said Ciara, as if that was something I needed to know.

It was not something I needed to know, but I couldn’t help asking, “What do you mean by not much?”

“I mean at all.”

“How old is this guy?”


“Isn’t that a little unusual to be thirty-five and have had zero relationships?”

“According to Mateo, there was this one girl in high school; they dated until they were in their twenties—”

“High school doesn’t count.”

“That’s why I didn’t count her,” Ciara said.

It was time to change the subject.

“I’ll be there by suppertime tomorrow afternoon,” I told Ciara.

“I’ll ask Alice to cook something special.”

Alice is Ciara’s late Uncle Jim’s widow. After Jim died and left the farm to Ciara and Mateo, Alice had agreed to stay on for a while to look after the big old farmhouse the four of us farmworkers—Ciara, Mateo, Mo, and I—were going to share for the summer.

“Don’t have Alice go to any trouble,” I insisted.

“Oh, it’s no trouble,” said Ciara. “We’re all so happy you’re coming!”

Ciara was happy. I wasn’t so sure about the rest of them. I’m confident in my cooking skills. Farm work? Not so much.

“I just know you’re going to be the one to bring Mo out of his shell!” said Ciara.

“See you tomorrow,” I said and hung up before she could keep going on about how this taciturn “spud muffin” and I were going to be perfect for each other.

The next morning, I left Portland shortly after noon. The sun was shining as I got onto the interstate, but as I’d driven southwest out of the metro area and gotten on Highway 101 heading toward coastal farm country, the sky had darkened.

From time to time, a drop of rain would splatter on the windshield, but I didn’t dare turn on my wipers. I’d just smear around the film of dust and deceased insect life that covered the glass.

Five miles from my destination, I saw a flash of lightning in the distance. I assume there was thunder that followed, but I couldn’t hear it over the disconcerting rattle that had developed somewhere in the nether regions of my little Honda hatchback.

I needed a new car. Desperately. But since Horace—as I’d christened him—had never actually left me stranded on the side of the road, I hadn’t prioritized upgrading my transportation even though I’d been making good money at Purple Sage.

The rattle in Horace’s rusty undercarriage was getting louder. I turned up the radio, which I’d tuned in to the only available station. The local weather forecast was on, which didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know except that there was a chance of hail.

This concerning piece of information was interrupted by a special news bulletin of an even more sinister nature. It seemed that there had been a breakout at the Oregon State Penitentiary, and an inmate serving a triple life sentence for abducting and murdering a string of women had managed to escape custody.

The man was described as being in his mid-thirties, two-hundred-seventy-five pounds, six foot seven, dark hair, dark eyes, and last seen with facial hair—a mustache and a beard.

I took this last bit of information with a grain of salt. Any criminal in his right mind would know to alter his appearance at the first opportunity. The newscaster went on to say that this killer on the loose was thought to be driving a stolen vehicle and heading south on Highway 101.

This was not comforting news. I was on Highway 101. The news bulletin ended, and the DJ returned to inform the general public that tomorrow would be cool and partly overcast with a slight chance of rain.

I wasn’t worried about tomorrow. I was worried about the worrisome rattle in Horace’s rear end, possible hail, and a serial killer on the loose.

Fortunately, I only had five miles to go.

Surely, nothing could go terribly wrong in just five miles.

It was just as I was about to turn off the highway onto the side road leading inland to the village of Ferndale when the concerning rattle became a cacophony of grinding metal, followed by a loud thud.

I looked in my rearview mirror to see something tumbling off the side of the road and into the ditch. I would later find out it was my muffler and part of my tailpipe, which had rusted through and finally parted company with Horace minutes from my destination.

I decided that convict on the loose or no convict on the loose I was safer on the shoulder than attempting to get my old car the remaining four miles to Ferndale Farm, so I coasted to the shoulder and shut off my engine.

I knew reception was spotty in the area around Ferndale, but I had one bar.

“I'm stranded on the side of the road,” I told Ciara as soon as she picked up. “I’m still on 101 right before where you turn off to go to Ferndale. I think my car will have to be towed.”

“What?” Ciara said on the other end of the line.

“My car broke down,” I yelled into the phone. “I’m on the side of the road.” As if shouting into the phone would make up for the bits and pieces of words that were missing due to the poor connection.


“Just before the turnoff to Ferndale Road.”

“Wait there!” Ciara ordered as if I could do anything else. “I'll send Mateo—”

I was surprised she wasn’t sending Mo, seeing as she was so certain this “spud muffin” and I were soulmates, but she’d clearly told me to expect Mateo, and since the call dropped just as Ciara was saying so, I took her at her word.

Ferndale Farm was only minutes away. I decided it wasn’t likely that an escaped convict driving a stolen vehicle down Highway 101 was likely to pass by in the next ten minutes, but I locked my doors just in case.

I waited ten minutes for Mateo to show up and then another ten. I tried texting Ciara to see where Mateo was, but I'd lost my single bar of reception.

Nearly half an hour into my solitary sojourn on the shoulder of the road, a red pickup pulled in behind me. A glance in my rearview mirror convinced me it must be Mateo, so I got out of my driver’s side door all smiles to meet him.

I knew exactly what Mateo looked like. In fact, there had been a time when I’d had an undignified crush on the man—although now I was rooting for Ciara and Mateo to get together. Unfortunately, between the droplets of rain on my back window and the dirtiness of the glass, I’d not gotten a good look at the driver of the red pickup.

As soon as the man emerged from the truck, I knew it was not Mateo.

It was an enormous, bearded man in his mid-thirties, dark hair and dark eyes, easily six foot seven, and at least two-hundred-seventy-five pounds.

While I was trying to decide whether to get back in my car and see if I could get it started again or simply lock my doors and honk for help, the man kept walking toward me. Then I considered taking off on foot across the field—I’m a marathon runner—and see if I could outpace him.  

I considered my options too long, frozen like a deer in the headlights until the beast of a man was standing three feet away.

“Get in the truck,” he said as I stood there, cars whizzing past, and wished I was the sort of woman who carried bear spray in her purse.


Chapter Two


The only things I knew about Ciara’s friend Mia were that she drove an old white Honda hatchback, wore her brown hair long, and had a bad temper.

Ciara had warned me about the temper when I’d interviewed for the job at Ferndale Farm. Apparently, since Mia and I would be working closely together, Ciara had felt obligated to give me a heads up.

When you’re quiet, people seem to think they need to protect you, like you can’t stand up for yourself. That may be true for some quiet people, but it wasn’t true for me. I can hold my own with anyone when I have to.

I’d been warned about Mia’s temper, but the woman standing next to the old white Honda hatchback didn’t look mad, although that would have been understandable given that her car had broken down just short of her destination.

She didn’t look angry. She looked terrified, and I had no idea why.

As I got out of my truck, Mia just stood there on the shoulder, perfectly still, her eyes as big as saucers. She was looking at me like I was an ogre, or something come out of the woods to carry her back to my cave and roast her for dinner.

I may not be a thing of masculine beauty, but abject terror isn’t usually the reaction I get from women. I never talk to strange women, but it’s not uncommon for strange women to talk to me, not that these one-sided conversations ever get very far. I’m not one for small talk. I just don’t see the point, but this woman wasn’t talking at all.

The wind had picked up, and when I felt the sting of a small pellet of ice hit the back of my neck, I knew the promised hail was coming.

“Get in the truck,” I told Mia.

She stood there frozen, looking back at me in horror like I was Sasquatch or something.

“Get in the truck,” I said again, wondering if she’d even heard me.

Was the woman deaf? That seemed like something Ciara would have mentioned. Besides, every hearing-impaired person I’d ever met was an excellent lip reader.

“It’s starting to hail,” I said, putting my hand to the back of my neck where another stinging bit of ice had hit me.

Mia continued to stare back at me.

Was the woman mentally unbalanced? Was she prone to sudden delusions? Was she even seeing me at all? Any one of those things seemed like something I should have been warned about.

I settled on paranoid delusions as an explanation for Mia’s behavior when she abruptly darted away from me, sprang over the ditch, and started running across the rough, recently plowed field that stood next to the highway.

I pulled out my phone to call Ciara and ask what I should do next when Mia stumbled and went down about ten yards off the side of the road.

It looked like a bad fall, and when she tried to get up again, it was clear Mia couldn’t put weight on her left ankle.

I glanced down at my phone and saw that I was in a dead spot. No reception. I was alone with an insane woman. Hopefully, she wasn’t armed.

I decided the possibility that Mia was carrying a deadly weapon was remote. Surely, she would have already threatened to use it on me, although nothing about her behavior so far suggested that she was acting rationally.

I picked my way across the field towards her as quickly as I could.

The hail was coming thicker now, and the pellets were the size of marbles. Hopefully, they wouldn’t get any bigger, but I wasn’t counting on it.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” I said when I reached the woman who scrambled to get away from me as I approached.

“Please just take my car,” she said. “The muffler is missing, but I think it still runs.”

Then she tossed a set of keys at me.

Why should I want to take her car? I was here because it was broken down. I was supposed to be rescuing this woman, but she was acting like I was trying to kidnap her or something. Nothing about this woman’s behavior made sense.

It was just as I was retrieving the keys out of the mud that a hailstone the size of a golf ball hit the toe of my boot. That was when I finally lost patience with the situation.

It takes a lot to get me riled. In fact, I’ve heard my temperament described as being similar to a cow standing in the middle of a field of grass on a bright sunny day.

At the moment, I might be standing in the middle of a field, but the day was far from sunny and bright.

I also try to avoid grievous bodily injury if possible. Another golf ball size hailstone hit the ground not far from Mia, but she didn’t seem to have noticed yet.

“Let’s go to the truck,” I said, taking one step closer, “the hail is getting bad.”

Mia still didn’t move. She’d frozen in place again. That’s when a big ball of ice hit me on the elbow.

I weighed my options. Making a run for it on my own and leaving this deranged woman lying injured in the field to get hailed on was definitely the safest option, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that.

Instead, I gave up reasoning with Mia, picked her up off the ground, slung her over my shoulder fireman style, and carried her back to the truck.

It was just as I was setting her down so I could get the passenger side door open when Mia punched me in the face.



When the escaped serial killer picked me up and slung me over his shoulder, I knew my time was running out.

I remembered reading somewhere that the key to surviving a kidnapping scenario was to do everything possible to avoid being taken to a second location. There was still hope. Someone might see this homicidal maniac carrying me across the field and stop to rescue me.

That wasn’t what happened, however. Despite my attempts to get loose, I was powerless.

I tried to kick him, but he had my legs clamped against his chest. I tried to hit him, but my blows bounced off his massive back like I was pummeling a punching bag.

As a last resort, I tried to bite him but just got a mouthful of plaid flannel for my trouble.

It was as he was setting me down at the truck and struggling to get the door open, all the while we were both getting painfully pelted with hail, that I punched him in the face.

I may have failed in all my previous attempts to inflict pain on the brute, but my one good punch sent him stumbling backward, and he hit his head so hard against the side view mirror that it knocked it clean off, so it dangled against the side of the truck by a wire.

He put one hand to his gushing nose and the other to the back of his head, which I was pretty sure was also bleeding. He sunk to a sitting position on the ground next to the truck, which offered partial protection from the hail coming down all around us.

“Look, lady,” he said through his bloody hand, “I know you’re out of your mind, but I wish you’d get it through your head that I’m just trying to help.”

That was when I noticed the Ferndale Farm logo on the side of the pickup.

End of Sneak Peek

Spud Muffin is releasing June 21st, 2021. It will be available in Kindle Unlimited. If you haven't gotten a copy of Heart Beets, the free prequel Novelette for the Ferndale Farm series, you can get it on Amazon. If it's not free in your region you can also find it here


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