As teenagers, Cassie Kramer and her younger sister, Allie, survived a crazed fan who nearly killed their mother, a former Hollywood actress. Still, Cassie moved to L.A. from rural Oregon, urging Allie to follow. Yet while Cassie struggled with her acting career, Allie, suddenly driven, rose to stardom. But now her body double has been shot on-setand Allie is missing.
Crying In The Night…
As police investigate, Cassie begins to look like a suspectthe jealous sister who finally snapped. Soon the media goes into a frenzy, and Cassie ends up in a Portland psych ward. Is she just imagining the sinister figure at her bedside, whispering about Allie? Is someone trying to helpor drive her mad?
What Has Given You Such A Fright?
Convinced she's the only one who can find Allie, Cassie checks herself out of the hospital. But a slew of macabre murderseach victim masked with a likeness of a member of Cassie's familymakes her fear for her life, and her sanity. And with each discovery, Cassie realizes that no one can be trusted to keep her safeleast of all herself…
About the Author
LISA JACKSON is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of over ninety-five novels, including You Will Pay, After She’s Gone, Deserves to Die, You Don’t Want to Know, Running Scared, and Shiver. She is also the co-author of the Colony Series, written with her sister and bestselling author Nancy Bush, as well as the collaborative novels Sinister and Ominous, written with Nancy Bush and Rosalind Noonan. There are over thirty million copies of her novels in print and her writing has been translated into nineteen languages. She lives with her family and three rambunctious dogs in the Pacific Northwest. Readers can visit her website at www.lisajackson.com and find her on Facebook.
Read an Excerpt
After She's Gone
By Lisa Jackson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Lisa Jackson LLC
All rights reserved.
Mercy Hospital April
The nightmare was relentless.
Like a vaporous shadow it seemed to slip under her door and through the window casings, shifting and swirling through the hospital room before steadfastly pushing into Cassie's brain, infiltrating her dreams as she desperately tried to sleep.
No amount of medications or willpower could stop the nightmare from sliding a kaleidoscope of painful pictures through her subconscious. Tonight, in her mind's eye she saw it all again. Lightning sizzled across the sky. Thunder clapped. Rain poured from the heavens.
She and Allie, her little sister, were running frantically for their very lives.
The crack of a rifle exploded and she jumped, startled, the noises and visions racing through her head so real, so damned real. "No more," she whispered, and let out the breath she hadn't been aware she'd been holding.
Slowly she opened her eyes and saw the digital readout of her clock. Three AM. Again. Every damned night. Jittery as always from the nightmare, she slid off her hospital bed and walked to the window where rain ran in jagged rivulets against the glass. Her room was located on the fourth floor of this wing, part of the original building built over a century earlier. She peered into the darkness, past the parking lot flanked by hundred-year-old rhododendrons. Farther down the hillside the city of Portland stretched in myriad lights that pulsed along the snaky blackness that was the Willamette River. Bridges linked the river's shores and streams of lights blurred as cars and trucks sped across the concrete and steel spans connecting the city's sprawling east side to its hilly west. Atop this hill, Mercy Hospital was afforded a breathtaking view of the city. If one chose to be inspired.
With her index finger, Cassie traced the path of a raindrop on the pane, the glass cool to her touch. Slowly, as it always did, her heartbeat returned to normal and the nightmare thankfully withered into the hidden corners of her subconscious again. "Just leave me alone," she muttered as if the dream could hear. "Go away!" She was sick of being trapped here in this damned hospital, plagued by the nightmare and exhausted from lack of sleep.
Angry at herself and the whole damned situation, she made her way to the bed, slid between the sheets, and drew the thin blanket to her neck. Sleep would prove elusive, she knew, and she considered picking up the book she'd tried to read, a mystery novel that was lying on the table beside her plastic water container and a phone that looked like it had come straight out of the eighties, or maybe even an earlier decade. But her gaze wandered back to the window where, in the glass, she spied a watery reflection, a dark figure backlit by the illumination slicing into the room from the doorway.
Her heart nearly stopped.
She swung her head around and expected the room to be empty, that the image she saw was imagined, a play of light and dark, a figment of her imagination, but she was wrong. A tall woman in a nurse's uniform stood in the doorway, garbed in an outfit straight out of the fifties or early sixties: crisp, pointed cap; white dress; pale nylon stockings; heavy-duty shoes; and tiny red cross earrings. In her hands, she carried an old-fashioned clipboard and a medical chart, and she ignored the computer monitor mounted near the bed. The thin scent of smoke followed her into the room.
It was all weird as hell.
"You work here?" Cassie asked, not completely sure she wasn't dreaming. What was this? The nurse was almost ghostlike in appearance, her skin pale and sallow, her eyes buried so deep in her skull their color was in question.
Staring down at Cassie, she didn't try to take her vital signs or offer medication or anything.
"Who are you?" Cassie asked, and her fingers moved on the bed rail to the nurse's call button as she searched the snowy uniform for some kind of name tag. None was visible in the half-light.
"Your sister is alive."
"Your sister.." The woman's voice was flat, her face with its deepset, haunted eyes expressionless. "She's not dead."
"How do you know?" God, this had to be a dream. Allie had been missing since the time she hadn't shown up for the final shot of Dead Heat. "Have you talked to her? Seen her?"
Cassie asked, "Where is she?" And when that didn't garner a response, added, "Of course she's alive." Allie had to be okay. She just had to. No way would Cassie let the doubts creep in, the doubts that had been shouted across the tabloids, screamed in all those horrid blogs, discussed on fan-based chat and message boards, regurgitated over and over again in celebrity news media that Allie Kramer, one of Hollywood's brightest stars, was missing and feared dead. Speculation ran rampant that she'd been kidnapped or committed suicide or been murdered, or come to some deadly fate, but it was all just gossip. No one knew where Allie Kramer was, least of all Cassie, and she felt miserable about it. Allie who had been such a sweet, sensitive child until the monster had come. Long ago, in one of the coldest winters on record, their world had been shattered and Allie had never recovered. Nor, she supposed, had she. Now her insides shivered and she twisted the blanket in her fingers.
Cassie's mind wandered a bit. She's alive, she thought, before suddenly coming back to where she was. The nurse, if she had ever really been standing near Cassie's bedside, had left, slipping quietly away on her crepe-soled shoes.
Cassie's skin crawled.
That terrible little voice that taunted her at night started nagging again.
The nurse was all in your mind, Cass. You know it. No one dresses like that anymore except in the old movies you're addicted to. Nurse Ratched — that's who she was. "Big Nurse" in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Right. All just your imagination running wild again. It's not the first time you've seen someone who wasn't there, now, is it? Or had a blackout? It's not as if you haven't "lost time" or seen someone no one else has. Ever since you were kidnapped, nearly murdered, you haven't been completely able to sort fact from fantasy or even know what you may have done. ... Remember the sleepwalking incidents? Of course not. But they happened. The hospital has the security footage to prove it. You're losing it, Cassie ... all over again, and God only knows what you're capable of when you're "out."
"Stop it!" Cassie hissed, then glanced wildly to the door. On the other side the nurses convened at a wide desk and they might hear her talking to herself again, or worse yet, to whomever or whatever was just here.
You idiot, no one was here. No ghost. No apparition. No nurse, for God's sake. Pull yourself together.
She struggled, her brain at war with her senses. But she knew this time was different from the others, the hallucinations that had landed her here in this mental ward. Didn't she still smell the odors of cigarette smoke and perfume?
Goose bumps crawled up Cassie's arms and she felt a chill as cold as the waters of the Arctic. This was nuts. No way had that nurse really been here. The weird-looking woman's "appearance" was all part and parcel of the bad dreams, the result of exhaustion and fear. She was just stressed out. That's all. Her guilt-laden mind was playing tricks on her. Again. And if the hallucination wasn't caused by her own neurosis, then it was probably caused by the medication they were force-feeding, the stuff that was supposed to keep her "calm" and "stable." Cassie wasn't going crazy. Of course not. Just because the tabloids said —
She looked up sharply. The door had swung open and this time a nurse in pale blue scrubs, a staff member she recognized as Leslie Keller, RN, stepped into the room.
"Are you all right?" the RN asked, glancing from Cassie to the monitors surrounding her bed, checking her vitals. Tall and willowy, with springy black curls and smooth mocha-colored skin, Nurse Keller was all business. "I heard you speaking with someone." Nurse Keller's gaze swept the semi-dark room. It, of course, was empty.
"Bad dream," Cassie said.
"Another one?" The nurse sighed and shook her head. "While I'm here, let's get your BP." She was already adjusting the cuff over Cassie's arm.
"Has anyone called? Or asked about me?" Cassie queried.
Nurse Keller's plucked eyebrows shot up and she gave Cassie an are-you-kidding look. "At three in the morning?"
"I meant earlier."
She shook her head, wild curls dancing around her face as her features drew into a scowl. "A little elevated," she said to herself, taking note of the blood pressure reading.
"The dream. Got me going, I guess," Cassie said.
Before she could stop herself Cassie asked, "No one around here wears any of those old uniforms, do they? You know, the white dress and pointy cap?"
"Oh, God. And retro blue and red cape?" She shot Cassie a wry glance of disbelief. "Not in like forty or fifty years, I guess. Why?"
"No big deal."
"Welcome to the twenty-first century, the age of scrubs, thank God." Quickly she typed some information into the keyboard positioned near Cassie's bed. Cassie desperately wanted to ask more questions about the nurse in white, but realized it wouldn't help her cause to appear more confused — that was the term they used — than ever. She cleared her throat and faked a yawn. Better to end this conversation before she said something she'd regret. That was her problem, well, one of them, she was too inquisitive, too forthright, too eager to say what was on her mind. People, especially the doctors and nurses at Mercy Hospital, didn't appreciate her overabundant curiosity and quick tongue. So she held it. For now.
"Do you need anything else?" the nurse asked.
"I don't think so. I'm ... I'm fine."
Nurse Keller didn't seem convinced and Cassie held her breath, hearing the rattle of a tray from the hallway and the gentle hum of a whispered conversation from the nurses' desk. "Okay, so, if you do need anything, just call."
"Got the button right here," Cassie said, lifting the electronic paging device attached to the rail of her bed.
"Good." A quick smile as the nurse turned to leave.
"Uh, wait. There aren't any cameras here, right? In the room?"
At the reknitting of the nurse's brows, Cassie instantly knew she'd made a mistake.
"I mean monitors, you know?" Oh, she'd stepped into it this time. "Just ... just to keep an eye on patients, make sure they're okay. For medical reasons."
"Mercy Hospital is very concerned with patient privacy and patient rights. Private rooms are just that: private."
"Oh, good. I thought so," Cassie said with a smile she didn't feel, then pretended to yawn again.
"Is there something wrong?"
"No, no. Just wondering."
Nurse Keller wasn't buying her excuse for a second, Cassie could tell. She hesitated, then with an almost unnoticeable shake of her head, said, "Well, try to rest now," and was gone a few moments later, her footsteps padding down the hall.
This was all so very wrong. Through the crack, she saw Nurse Keller approach the nurses' station. From her elevated bed, she had a view of the curved desk that molded beneath the chest-high counter. Phones, equipment, and monitors were tucked beneath the counter and desk chairs on wheels moved from one station to the next.
Wide hallways fingered like tentacles on an octopus from the nurses' station to the patient rooms. A bank of elevators was positioned across from control central. She couldn't see them from her room but they were close enough that she heard the soft ding of bells announcing the elevator cars' arrival on this the fourth floor, all day and deep into the night.
Cassie's gaze followed Nurse Keller as she joined two other graveyard shift nurses. Tom was tall and lanky. His once-red hair was starting to gray and somehow, despite the constant Oregon drizzle, he boasted a perpetual tan. The third nurse was in her twenties, a pudgy blond woman whom Cassie didn't recognize. They whispered among themselves and glanced in her direction, then the blonde giggled.
Cassie exhaled heavily. She was a celebrity of sorts. Both her sister and mother were far more famous than she, each an actress who had found the public's favor, while her attempt to conquer Hollywood had been pretty dismal, but here, at Mercy Hospital, she'd finally found fame.
Not that she wanted it.
She'd heard her name whispered between the staff and sometimes people Cassie didn't recognize, people she hoped were part of the medical community. She'd caught bits of conversations and had gleaned that there was more discussed than just her physical or mental condition — not that both weren't juicy grist for the gossip mill on their own. But with Allie missing and her own hospitalization, Cassie had probably gained more fame, or notoriety, than she'd experienced in all her years of work in the film industry. Not that she really gave a crap right now. Her fame meant little with her sister gone missing and another woman dead in the freak accident on the movie set.
A soft, persistent ding caught the group of nurses' attention and Tom and Nurse Keller hurried off, leaving the blonde to answer a phone, which she did with her back turned to Cassie's doorway. Good.
From the bed, Cassie stole a glance at the window again. The rain had stopped, only a few lingering drops visible on the glass. The room seemed to lighten again and in the reflection she saw the door crack open farther, thin light seeping into the room from the hallway.
A stealthy figure slipped into the room.
Her heart clutched.
She whipped her head around just as the door shut with a soft thud. "What the —?" Her body tensed and she grabbed the nurse's call button, but stopped before depressing it when she recognized Steven Rinko.
She let out her breath. Rinko was the weird kid who had been here longer than she and had the ability to move between rooms on stealthy footsteps, the staff rarely noticing. Around thirteen, with a shock of blond hair and skin starting to show signs of acne, he rarely spoke, but when he did, he seemed more genius than mentally challenged. Though usually silent, when prodded, Rinko could tell you every feature on every make and model of car ever designed in America or around the world, or he could rattle off the most insignificant baseball stat about anyone who'd ever played the sport in college or professionally. He hung with a small group of boys who were forever bickering. Why he was at Mercy Hospital, she didn't know, nor, she supposed would she ever as she planned to spring herself by tomorrow or the day after. Enough with this place. She'd checked herself into the hospital and planned on checking herself out.
Now, Rinko sidled to her bed. He knew how to get around the security cameras, guards, and nursing staff, traveling the halls on stealthy feet, almost a ghost himself. "She was here," he said in a whispered voice that cracked.
"I saw her too."
Cassie's skin seemed to shrink on her scalp as he reached forward and grabbed her hand. She bit back a scream as he turned her wrist over and dropped something into her hand. A bit of red, she saw, then recognized a tiny cross, one of the earrings the weird nurse had worn.
"Where did you get this?"
"The nurse," he said, and before she could ask him anything more, Rinko was already sliding out of the room on noiseless footsteps, slipping into the hallway, disappearing from view. Her heart clamored as she curled her fingers around the tiny bit of metal, feeling it press into her skin. It was real, and that meant she wasn't dreaming or hallucinating from the high-octane psychotropic medications that could easily be the reason she blurred reality with lies, fact with fiction, all because she believed something horrid had happened to her younger sister.
Allie, the innocent.
Allie, the sweet.
Allie, the liar.
How had she grown from a naive girl to a self-serving bitch? A once-shy teenager who would now step on anyone in her path to fame? A beloved sibling morphing into an archrival?
Cassie drew in a long breath, fought her jealousy, reminded herself that Allie was missing, perhaps dead.
This was all so wrong — her life, these days.
The little bit of metal in her hand cut into her flesh.
She closed her eyes and let her breath out slowly, calming herself, telling herself that she wasn't losing her mind, that everything would be all right. She just had to check herself out of the hospital.
Excerpted from After She's Gone by Lisa Jackson. Copyright © 2016 Lisa Jackson LLC. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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