Three Can Keep a Secret by Judy Clemens
Reasons for reading: I enjoyed Clemens' first Stella Crown book, Till the Cows Come Home, last year so chose this one for the Seconds Challenge.
Description: "When Stella Crown hires a new farmhand to help run her Pennsylvania dairy business, she gets more than she bargained for. The Mennonite widow arrives burdened not only with grief, but with rumors of infidelity and murder. And a young child. Stella herself is battling deep sorrow over the loss of her long-time friend and employee Howie and worries over her shaky finances. Before you know it, she is coping with an influx of nasty in-laws, heartbroken beaus, and spiteful vandalism. Determined to protect herself and her farm, Stella sets out to discover the truth while trying to give her new employee a respectful benefit of the doubt. Meanwhile, Stella's good friend and fellow biker Lenny is riding a crisis. At one moment jovial, the next angry and suspicious, Lenny is haunted by pain and secrets he won't share with Stella. His odd behavior is soon complimented by bizarre attacks on his home and his business. Now there are two people close to Stella with undisclosed pasts. And the saying, "Three can keep a secret, if two are dead," suddenly gains new and terrible meaning."
First line: "Dr Rachel Peterson stepped back and shook her head. 'I have to tell you, Stella. I'm concerned.'"
My thoughts: Hooray, a great sequel! Stella is a really interesting character. She's only 29 but has already had enough tragedy to last anyone a lifetime. She has a cow skull tattooed on the back of her neck and she had another one on her arm that said "To thine own self be true," but it got shredded in a terrible bike accident in the previous book, which takes place a few weeks before this one. She looks lean and mean, and she is tough, but she also has a very good heart underneath. She's fiercely independent, but is going through a time where she needs lots of help, as mentioned in the summary above.
That help comes in the unexpected form of Lucy (the Mennonite widow) and her young daughter Tess. Despite the rumors and air of mystery surrounding Lucy, Stella quite likes her and she's a lifesaver around the farm, but someone has it in for her. Unfortunately, someone also has it in for Stella's biker friend, Lenny, and the results are much worse than the vandalism and visits from Child Services plaguing Lucy.
This is less of a whodunnit (though there is some of that) than a why-are-they-doing it, which I found interesting and a nice change from the usual formula.
The verdict: It's no secret - I'll definitely be reading more about Stella!