All summer long we’re featuring great e-books at great prices as part of our “Pocket Star-E Nights” program! With the help of some amazing blog partners (our “Shooting Stars“), we’re sharing some deliciously decadent excerpts of these terrific novels. If you like what you’re reading, you can purchase the book via the buy links just below this post.
The following excerpt is from bestselling mystery author Jan Burke; “Tried” is one of six story collections from this master of suspense–don’t miss excerpts from “Apprehended” and “Convicted” this week as well. And the best part? Each of them is available for only $1.99! Some of the stories in each collection are from her most recent book, EIGHTEEN, but these excerpts are all from the brand-new, never-before-published stories she wrote for this digital-first release.
excerpt of “Tried”
“Why, Doctor! I was just about to send a boy out to find you!” the porter said. He peered out at the downpour. “Where’d all that come from, I’d like to know? Come in, come in out of the rain. You, too, Shade.”
Once he closed the door behind them, he said, “The sisters are doing their best, but Miss Bailey has been asking and asking for you and the dog, which is passing strange, because she’s never been known to speak a word of sense in all the time she’s been with us, so the sisters thought—we were hoping—well, we didn’t even know you knew her!”
“I met her brother Andrew briefly.”
“Ah, during the war,” the porter said knowingly. “Sad, that. Very sad.” He took Tyler’s hat and driving coat, then led the way.
As they followed the porter down the hallways, Tyler noticed that the few patients who were awake grew quiet as the dog passed their doors. The porter noticed it as well, and whispered, “I don’t know what it is about him, but he brings peace to the place. Soothes my own nerves, for that matter.”
“Mine as well,” Tyler said quietly.
This asylum was vastly different from the Erie County Almshouse, where the poor and the insane of all degrees were housed together. At the county facility, those in charge seemed to be more concerned over expenditures than care or feeding of its residents, and the suffering there was unimaginable. Fifteen or so years ago, the Buffalo Medical Journal said the diet there was one that exceeded “anything Dickens ever described” in estimating the starvation point. Matters had not really improved since then.
As they neared the room in which Susannah Bailey was being kept, they heard her become quieter. “Poor lady has been having seizures. They’ve exhausted her.”
“She is epileptic, then?”
“Yes, and no trouble!” He frowned. “A kind soul, even if she can’t speak sensibly. I don’t believe she would ever hurt anyone.”
Before Tyler could ask him what he meant by that, the porter tapped softly on the room’s door and said, “I’ve brought them, Sister Elizabeth.”
A tall nun opened the door. “So quickly!”
“He arrived here just as I was about to send the boy out,” the porter confessed.
“Well, how good of you to bring him to us right away,” she said.
“Any word from her family?”
“Her stepfather, well, imbibed a bit too much and is in no condition to be out. But the servants said her mother was in Williamsville, where she was staying with a friend, and would be sent for straightaway, but there’s a storm, Sister, so I don’t know if she’ll make it back in time.”
“We’ll leave that in God’s hands then, and do our best for Miss Bailey. Come in, come in, Dr. Hawthorne. And you, too, Shade. It’s as if she heard your approach.”
“They all did,” the porter said, stepping aside. “Listen.”
She did. The only sounds to be heard were made by the steady fall of rain. “A blessed silence it is, too.” She smiled at Shade. “How true that the Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Tyler thought of the initial resistance he had faced when he had asked to bring Shade inside with him. It was not necessary that Shade be at his side when he did his work, but he had long ago noticed the dog’s effect on those whose minds were troubled. It took only one demonstration of this fact to make the dog a welcome guest at the asylum.
“They are here!” the woman in the bed cried out.
“She spoke clearly!” one of the nuns said in amazement.
Tyler moved quickly to Miss Bailey’s side. Her features were twisted as if in a spasm. She was restless and tried to sit up, reaching out with thin hands. He took them in his own, and she sighed and fell back onto her pillow, keeping her gaze on him. In that moment, her facial features relaxed, and he saw that she was a beautiful woman, probably in her early twenties. It was hard to tell. After all, he appeared to be about the same age.
Oh, at last you are here!
He read her thoughts as clearly as if they were his own. Keeping silent, he said to her, Yes. Your brother Andrew asked us to come. He conveyed to her all that Andrew had said.
She was marveling, as many had before her, at the transformation felt by the dying when in contact with him.
How wonderful to have my thoughts clear, to be able to speak to someone! Ah, and no seizures. I was growing so tired. How lovely to have strength again!
It will not last, I’m afraid. Tyler replied. I know you can tell that we have only a little time. What can I do for you?
I am so glad to hear this news of Andrew, she said. Thank you. Please thank Sister Elizabeth and all the others here, and especially Sister Rosaline. The Sisters of Charity saved me from a horrible fate.
A series of images and sensations flashed across his mind, as she relayed memories of being chained to a wall, of hunger, of cold, of darkness and isolation.
“I am so sorry,” he said aloud.
Sister Elizabeth said, “We have been unable to stop the seizures. They come frequently, and as a result, she has been growing exhausted. We’ve done our best to prevent injury, but—”
“I am sure if she could speak, she would thank you for rescuing her from the almshouse, for all your merciful care of her.”
“Sister Elizabeth,” one of the others said softly, “look at her face. She’s smiling.”
He focused again on Susannah Bailey.
Thank you, she said. As you say, I must tell my story quickly. Ten years ago, on June 7, 1861, my sister Amelia disappeared. She left the house early that morning, dressed in a pink gown and wearing a bright gold locket, as well as a ring with a small ruby at the center.
When she did not return that evening, my stepfather, Ira Podgett, hired a person he said was a detective to look for her. A Mr. Briggs. A few days later this seedy-looking man returned to our home and made his report. After he left, my stepfather told my mother that Amelia was well but refused to return home, that she had eloped with a soldier. He told my mother that he didn’t blame Amelia, that
living with me had been too much for her. He said that only his love for my mother allowed him to tolerate my dangerous presence in the house, and he again pleaded with her to have me locked away.
He does not love my mother. He loves her money and her social standing.
But part of what he said was the truth—Amelia, who did flirt shamelessly with soldiers, was mortified by my epilepsy, and often said that no one would offer her marriage, as it was widely known there was a madwoman in the family. But no matter what is said of me, I never harmed anyone. My epilepsy does not make me dangerous!
Tyler replied. No, of all the cases I have seen, epilepsy is only dangerous to the person who suffers it. I think we err in deeming it a form of madness. Alas, it is a belief I share with no more than a handful of my colleagues.
She sighed aloud, as if in contentment at finding this small amount of support. Thank you.
Tyler was vaguely aware of murmurs around the bed.
But I must continue, she said. Andrew was away at school when Amelia disappeared. Within the year, though, he left school to serve in the navy.
Soon after, when I reached the age of nineteen, my seizures abated and there was hope that I had been cured of epilepsy—my physician said he had seen such cases, where it passed off after childhood.
I was, for the first time in my life, allowed to be without a constant attendant. However, the fear that the seizures might return remained strong—and may I say, even stronger, the fear that I might embarrass the family should I have a public seizure—so I continued to be restricted to living on an upper floor of our home, although if we were not entertaining guests, I was free to walk about the grounds when the weather allowed.
Needless to say, I preferred the gardens and lawn to the confinement of the house. The property is bordered by woods, which I was strictly forbidden to enter. Of course I went into them secretly from time to time, and was caught at this once or twice, but it was well worth any lecturing or additional confinement I was ordered to endure for the transgression.
One drizzly day, while I sat reading near a window, I saw a man carrying a shovel, making his way across the lawn, toward the woods. He glanced back and I quickly leaned away from the window, although I doubt he saw me watching. His face was concealed by a woolen scarf wrapped round it, and his hat was pulled low.
My mother was away at a meeting of one of her societies. My stepfather, who is a portly man, not of the build of the man who crossed the lawn, was in his study. Neither was the man one of our staff—both the butler and my stepfather’s valet were much older; the stable lads much younger; the gardener taller and more slender; the coachman much taller, and away, driving my mother to her meeting.
Curious, I put on a dark wrap and stealthily made my way downstairs. I left the house unseen, or so I thought.
By the time I reached the lawn beyond the gardens, the man had disappeared into the woods, but I was easily able to follow his footprints across the dampened grass. The same was true within the woods. I followed them farther into the trees than I had ever gone before. I was a little frightened, but also excited.
Soon I heard the sound of the shovel at work and slowed my approach. I came within sight of him and hid myself well.
He grew heated from his labors and removed his hat and the muffler about his face. It was then that I recognized him as Mr. Briggs, the “detective” hired by my stepfather.
I came a little closer to see if I could determine why he was digging a hole in our woods. I soon saw that he was not digging a hole. He was exhuming a body.