The Weekend Retreat by Tara Laskowski

Posted 30 December, 2023 by Heather in Blog, Blog Tour, Book Excerpt, Heather / 0 Comments

Unimaginable wealth, privilege, and a family that is very particular to outsiders joining them. Three couples on a retreat discover they can’t hide their problems, and the result is deadly. Here’s an excerpt of Tara Laskowski’s THE WEEKEND RETREAT.



Tragedy strikes at Van Ness Winery

SUNDAY, October 15—Multiple people have been reported dead at the Van Ness Winery after an altercation late Saturday night, our Eyewitness Team reports. Police were dispatched around 1:00 a.m. on Sunday morning after a 9-1-1 call from the estate’s main house, but they were delayed hours getting to the scene because of the torrential rainstorm that flooded Rte. 8 and many of the small roads leading up to the winery. 

Our news team is on-site but has not been able to verify details with officials, who are still investigating the scene. It appears the damaged substation in Parnell affected power to the estate as well as a number of neighboring homes and businesses in the Finger Lakes area. 

This tragedy is the latest to befall the Van Ness family, whose matriarch, investor and philanthropist Katrina Van Ness, died earlier this year of pancreatic cancer at the age of sixty-eight. 

The Van Ness winery, known for producing high-quality, award-winning wines, has been owned by the Van Ness family for several generations. The family started the business in the 1950s, after selling their Arizona-based copper mining company founded by Benson Van Ness. The 985- acre winery and estate is now managed by the Van Ness siblings, who live full-time in New York City. Their family investment office owns interests in multiple different real estate holdings and industrial and manufacturing enterprises. The siblings are believed to have been visiting the estate for the weekend for a family celebration. 

We will report more as details are confirmed.



Two Days before the Party


Ever since Zach told me about The Weekend, it’s all I’ve been able to focus on. Most people would naturally be at least a little nervous to meet their significant other’s family for the first time. 

But most people aren’t dating a Van Ness. 

“Earth to Lauren.” Zach snaps his fingers, grinning over at me. He left work early to get on the road sooner and didn’t have time to change, so he’s still wearing his suit, purple tie slightly askew but knotted even after hours of driving. 

“Sorry,” I say, tugging the ends of my hair. “Zoning out.” 

“You look like I’m driving you to your death,” he says, then grabs my hand and squeezes. “Don’t worry. I promise it’ll be fun. Even if my family’s there.” 

All I can see out my window are trees and fields and cows, my cell phone bars ticking steadily down. We must be close. Zach is taking care on the steep, curvy roads. One bad turn could send our car into a deep ditch or crashing into a thick tree trunk. 

It’s so beautiful up there, my best friend Maisie said when I told her about the invitation. She had that wicked look in her eye. All the rolling hills. A vineyard. Starry sky. Super romantic. Perfect place to propose. My stomach flips at the thought, and I breathe in deep. This weekend is not about us. It’s a birthday party for Zach’s older siblings, Harper and Richard, the twins, an annual tradition to celebrate at the family’s winery. I can’t get ahead of myself.

We drive up a winding gravel road, through patches of dense trees. Taller ones have already gone barren for the winter, but some of the smaller trees arch over the road, their branches meeting and entangling like fingers, blotting out the remaining light.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are now approaching the famous Van Ness estate,” Zach says in a booming voice as the car’s headlights flick on. “Please, no photographs, and keep all hands and feet inside the moving vehicle at all times.”

Zach had told me the estate was large—a thousand acres— but I didn’t grasp what that meant until the tunnel of trees ends and the view opens to a sprawling expanse of green fields and rolling hills, stretching endlessly against the purple-hued sky. We cross a small stone bridge that extends over a stream, then bump along a rocky road. The vineyards creep closer to us now, eerie in their precise organization, each plant in a perfect row. We’re inching toward winter, and all the grapes must have already been picked for the season, pressed and bottled, because the vines are bare and withered.

When I first moved to New York and waited tables at an Italian restaurant, we served the Van Ness wine. I remember those dark purple labels, the name stamped big and bold on the front. A brand that said, We are too good for you. But Zach is nothing like that, like the Van Nesses you read about online. Sometimes I forget he’s part of that family in the day-to-day rhythm of our lives. He doesn’t talk about them much, offers the scantest of information, or cracks a joke, or completely changes the subject when I bring them up. All I know of them is from the press, fleeting and superficial, like the pages of a glossy magazine, but hazy enough that I can imagine slicing open my finger on the sharp edges if I’m not careful.

“Tell me about them,” I say now, when there’s no evading the topic.

He glances over at me. “My family? What more do you need to know?”

“I don’t know. How can I win them over so they all love me forever and ever?” I say, trying to hide my nerves.

He laughs. “They’re impossible to win over.” 

“Oh perfect,” I say. “That makes it easy then.” 

“Nah, they aren’t that bad. They’re…particular is all.”

We head up a slight incline. To the right, there’s a gravel path marked Private—Staff Only. We pass it and stop in front of a large metal gate. Zach rolls down his window, fetches a key card from the glove compartment. “We had this installed years ago for extra security,” he says. Once the machine reads his card, the gates swing open soundlessly. I turn to watch them rotate back and slam into place. 

As we round a corner, I finally catch a glimpse of the house, a stone mansion, stoic on the hill. The long driveway curves up to an overhang in front, flanked by a series of round potted trees. 

“Here we are,” says Zach as we pull up. He shuts off the car, taps the digital clock on the dashboard. “And on time for dinner, too. Elle will be pleased.” 

My stomach does another flip. 

Breathe deep. 

Project confidence.

They’re going to love you. 

I get out. The air is chilly—it’s dropped at least ten degrees since we left the city. I wrap my arms across my body. 

The massive wooden front door opens, and an older man walks out, gray hair and beard, a deep purple polo shirt with the Van Ness logo stitched on the pocket, two flutes of sparkling wine in his hands.

“Bill! You are the man.” Zach trades him the keys to the car for the glasses. “Lauren, Bill and his wife Linnet have been taking care of the estate—and us—since I was a snotty-nosed kid.” 

As Bill heads for the trunk to unload our baggage, I survey the house. My eyes follow the three short steps up to a wide entryway with pillars, to the archway above the door, and then outward to the wings on either side. Greenery climbs up the stonework between the windows, and I imagine Bill must trim it often to keep it so nice. I touch a pillar next to me and feel its cool smoothness. 

“Where’s everyone else?” Zach asks Bill. For him, this is business as usual. I doubt he even notices the grandness anymore. 

“Oh, they’re around,” he says. “Miss Elle says dinner at 6:30, and you can all meet in the library.” 

I smooth down the gold silk top Zach picked out for me, hugging and hiding in all the right places, like expensive clothes do. What would my parents say if they saw me? They would never guess I’d be weekending with a famous family like this. They never thought I’d make it in New York, thought I’d come crawling back begging to return to my night shift writing obituaries at our small-town paper. 

But I’m never going back.

I take a sip of the sparkling wine. The bubbles pop, cold and hard against the back of my throat.

Excerpted from The Weekend Retreat by Tara Laskowski, Copyright © 2023 by Tara Laskowski. Published by Graydon House




On Sale: December 26, 2023; 352 Pages, Graydon House

Lost. Missing. Murdered? How do you find a woman who didn’t exist?

It’s a case that has gripped a nation: A woman with a shocking secret is missing, presumed dead. And her two husbands are suspects in her murder.

DCI Clements knows the dark side of human nature and that love can make people do treacherous things. You can’t presume anything when it comes to crimes of the heart. Until a body is found, this scandalous and sad case remains wide open.

Stacie Jones lives a quiet life in a small village, nursed by her father as she recovers from illness, and shielded from any news of the outside world. But their reclusive life is about to be shattered.

How are these families linked, and can any of them ever rebuild their lives in the wake of tragedy?



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About Tara Laskowski

Tara Laskowski

TARA LASKOWSKI is the author of The Mother Next Door and One Night Gone, which won an Agatha Award, Macavity Award, and Anthony Award, and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, Left Coast Crime Award, Strand Critics’ Award, and Library of Virginia Literary Award. She is also the author of two short story collections, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and Bystanders, has published stories in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Mid-American Review, among others, and is the former editor of SmokeLong Quarterly. Tara earned a BA in English from Susquehanna University and an MFA from George Mason University and currently lives in Virginia. Find her on Twitter and Instagram, @TaraLWrites.

Connect with Tara Laskowski

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I'm a PhD chemist who loves sarcasm, music, and books-paranormal, mystery, thriller, suspense, horror, and romance. Most of my free time is spent at the martial arts studio these days--whether practicing Combat Hapkido or reading books while watching my son's Taekwondo classes, or even working up a sweat with Kickboxing for fun. Goodreads

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