Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors

by Susan R. Sloan


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Raised in a large, loving Irish Catholic family, Valerie O'Connor is a sheltered and innocent young woman who comes of age in the 1950s. When, at age 18, she meets and falls deeply in love with Jack Marsh, a dashing veteran of the Air Force, little does she know that she is about to begin a relationship that is doomed from the start.

Their many years of marriage are filled with Jack's drunken rages followed by morning-after remorse, and scenes of escalating violence witnessed by children too terrified to speak out lest they become Jack's next victims. A powerful story of a marriage begun with the best intentions but cursed by a legacy of violence that will have shocking consequences.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446530293
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 08/25/2004
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.19(d)

Read an Excerpt

Behind Closed Doors

By Susan R. Sloan

Warner Books

Copyright © 2004 Susan R. Sloan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-53029-8

Chapter One

A HUSH SETTLED over the fourth-floor courtroom, the kind of hush that always came at the end of a trial, before the verdict, when the frantic battle of adversaries was over, and there was nothing left to do but wait.

The San Mateo County Hall of Justice was a utilitarian building, with none of the warmth or charm or history of the Old Courthouse next door, which had been turned into a museum. The courtrooms in the new eight-story structure were functional, not grand, making the justice meted out in them seem more mechanical than traditional.

On one side of the bar in this particular courtroom, four rows of flip-down upholstered seats accommodated spectators to the show. On the other side, the bench, backed by the state seal and flanked by American and California flags, was impressive in its size, but unremarkable in its design. The jury box held twelve well-padded armchairs. Behind the bar, the floor was linoleum. In front of the bar, it was carpeted. All the walls were paneled. All the wood was mahogany. Everything else was gray.

For reasons of security or privacy or both, the room was windowless. Recessed into the ceiling was a huge bank of fluorescent lights. Two thirds of the lights had been turned off, and court personnel were quietly removing all traces of the proceeding that had just been concluded-charts, documents, photographs, pieces of evidence, put into cartons and carried out. The jury box and the spectator seats had long since emptied.

Valerie O'Connor Marsh sat quietly at the defense table, a polished mahogany rectangle just inside the bar, in a simple gray dress that almost matched the color of her hair, and the color of the courtroom. It was a few minutes past three o'clock on a Thursday afternoon in early June, and there was no real reason for her to be sitting there, she knew. It could be hours, or even days, before the jury decided her fate. There was a little room just down the hall from this one, where she could wait in privacy with her attorney and her family. Or she could even go home. The court clerk would notify her attorney when the time came, and he would notify her. But it was as if the mere act of standing up was too much for her even to contemplate.

The past four days had left her drained, drained and curiously detached. Not unlike the way she had felt that night in the kitchen, almost eight months ago. A night that now seemed a lifetime away, and in many ways was, because it marked the end of the life that Valerie had lived for almost forty-four of her sixty-two years, and the beginning of the life that she would live from then on.

It wasn't the verdict that worried her, because she had no control over that. Her fate was in God's hands. Well, God and a dozen men and women she had never laid eyes on until last week. No, of far more concern to her was how she would ever be able to hold her head up in her small, coastal community ... now that everyone knew.

Valerie had pleaded with her attorney not to go to trial, to make some deal with the district attorney, but he had been adamant, assuring her that they could win. Only, in his effort to save her, he had thrown open the door to her most private life and shone a harsh light into every corner, for everyone to see. And it had been so unbearable for her to sit there, helplessly, as every agonizing moment of her life with Jack was played out in front of strangers, that the only way she could get through it was to pretend that he was talking about some other person and some other family that had nothing to do with her.

But of course, it did. She saw the looks she got from the people in the courtroom, read the accounts of the trial in the daily newspaper, watched the recaps on the local television channels, and her face grew hot with embarrassment. If suicide had not been a mortal sin, she knew she would have put an end to her life sooner than sit there in such anguish.

"Tell me, Mrs. Marsh, had your husband ever beaten anyone to death before the night of October 26?" The prosecutor's strident voice echoed in her ears.

Valerie had held in her anger. "Not that I know of," she said.

"Then why did you think he was going to that night?" Valerie had not replied. She simply sat there and glared at the man. "Your Honor, will you please instruct the witness to answer the question?"

"Mrs. Marsh," the judge said, kindly enough. "You must answer the question."

"I don't know, I wasn't sure," she was forced to say, her fists clenched so tightly in her lap that her fingernails cut little half moons into the palms of her hands. "But my husband was a violent man, and when he was drinking, there was no way of knowing what he might do. I couldn't take the chance."

"What chance couldn't you take, Mrs. Marsh?" the prosecutor pressed. "That you might never have had a better opportunity to do what you had been wanting to do, perhaps for years?"

Her attorney objected to that, of course, but it was too late. The damage had already been done. She could see it in the eyes of the jurors, and hear it in the gasps of the spectators. So she sat at the empty defense table in the empty courtroom, staring at nothing, with her arms wrapped tightly around her shoulders to keep herself from falling apart.


Excerpted from Behind Closed Doors by Susan R. Sloan Copyright © 2004 by Susan R. Sloan. Excerpted by permission.
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