Dead Before Dying

Dead Before Dying

by Kerry Schafer

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626819276
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 02/25/2016
Series: The Shadow Valley Manor Series , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 236
Sales rank: 1,066,124
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Kerry Schafer writes fantasy with its teeth sunk into reality, mystery that delves into the paranormal, and women’s fiction that embraces the dark and twisty realms of humanity. The first two books of her Between trilogy (Between and Wakeworld) were published through Ace Books and Penguin. Due to the ever-shifting landscape of publishing, the concluding book of the trilogy—The Nothing—will be coming out as an Indie book, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. Kerry's Paranormal Mystery series, Dead Before Dying, was recently acquired by Diversion Books, and rumor has it she is currently working on a Women's Fiction project, just to keep things interesting.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

I don't care what his nametag says, the young man standing by my bed can't really be a doctor. He wears the standard medico uniform — a white lab coat open over dark slacks and a button-up shirt, stethoscope draped around his neck. His nametag identifies him as Kevin Henderson, MD.

But he doesn't look a day over sixteen.

While he natters on about my discharge instructions, all I can do is focus on the brush of baby-fine hairs along his cheekbone. Sunlight slants through the window and highlights them, a golden, delicate fuzz. I want to ask him if he's old enough to shave but he hasn't pissed me off quite that much.

Not yet.

"Now, Ms. Keslyn," he says. "You qualify for some in-home nursing care, so someone will be coming by tomorrow —"

"No. They won't."

I've been polite; I've listened. Now I'm done. From my position, seated on the edge of the bed, it's fairly easy to slide my feet to the floor. The place in my belly, the one that has refused to heal properly despite weeks in the hospital, makes itself known as I stretch, but I'm pretty sure I haven't let the pain show in my face.

My right leg is another thing altogether.

It's damnably weak despite all the hours of physical therapy I've endured, and when I put weight on it I swear to God I can feel the pins creaking in the bone. The knee buckles. When I tighten my muscles to correct the fall, the pain in my belly flares. I gasp and grimace before I can catch myself.

Damn it. Rule number one: never let them see your weakness.

Dr. Henderson puts his hand under my arm, although I've already steadied myself.

"Oopsy-daisy," he croons, as though I am a child, then calls out into the hallway, "Can I get a wheelchair in here?"

He doesn't know how close he comes to a healthy slap on that baby-soft face. My fingers itch with the impulse, but he's saved by my grasp on reality. The blow would knock me flat on my ass and they'd probably tie me down and order in mental health. I'd have to tell lies to pass their little tests, and I'm just not in the mood for fun and games.

So, I smile. Apparently my smile, at least, remains the same, because the condescension is wiped off his face and his Adam's apple bobs. Ignoring his hovering, I bend for my bag, feeling the pulling of the fragile flesh, willing my knees to hold me. I manage to straighten up, wondering for a minute who's put weights in the bag and then realizing that it's the same as it's always been.

I'm the one who has changed.

Dr. Henderson takes the bag from me. "No lifting, Ms. Keslyn, remember? No bending. I knew you weren't listening —"

"I heard every word."

"Could you repeat it back to me?"

"I mustn't lift. I mustn't bend. I can bear weight on the leg but no jogging or jumping. Watch for redness, swelling, increasing discharge, or signs of a foul odor —"

He opens his mouth to speak but I ward him off with a gesture of my hand. "Wait — I forgot the last and most important thing. I must avoid any remotely useful activity that might lead to a meaningful life."

"Ms. Keslyn, I'm sure your life can have meaning. Have you given any thought to the referral I made to counseling?"

I tune him out. I've glimpsed a figure lurking in the hallway. Black skin, black suit, black sunglasses. If I listen I can hear him pacing, just outside my line of vision. A military pace, broken by a slight hitch and drag on the left.

"Ms. Keslyn? You're not listening again."

Poor child, he's feeling unimportant and neglected, but it can only do him good. He's too young to be getting the almighty doctor treatment; it will only go to his head. Let the nurses fawn over him. I have business in the hallway.

"I'm sorry, Doogie. I've got to go."

He looks at me blankly.

"You don't even know who Doogie Howser is, do you? My God."

"Wait for the wheelchair, Ms. Keslyn."

"My ride is here."

I limp out of the room. I am not going to meet Abel sitting in a wheelchair or pushing a walker like some decrepit old woman.

He's pacing down the hallway, hands clasped behind his back. Twenty paces, then he swivels in my direction. His shaved head glistens in the glare of the fluorescents. Dark glasses hide his eyes, but I know he's seen me. There's a predatory tilt to his head, a tightening of the muscles.

He wants something.

"Well, this is a surprise," I say. "If you'd like to take my bag from the good doctor here, we can be on our way." "You need a wheelchair," Dr. Henderson protests. "And the nurse still needs to sign you out."

"I'm walking. If somebody wants something signed, present it before I reach the door." I see freedom and I'm not looking back. Abel's car will be waiting outside. If he wants to talk, he can give me a ride home. It will be quicker than a taxi.

The nurse is almost my age, grey hair in a smooth helmet over her head, a no-nonsense green uniform. Thank the stars she's said no to teddy bear prints or other falderal. She catches me halfway down the hall and presents me with a clipboard and a pen.

No point making her life more difficult. I sign, and then I'm in the clear.

The door seems too far away, like a destination in a dream. I walk and walk and don't seem to get any closer. I hear wheels behind me and I know that infernal doctor has either sent somebody after me with a chair or is pushing one himself.

My left leg feels like rubber, the right is full of lead weights. Sweat slicks down my back, my breath keens in my chest as though I've been running for miles, and my heart is throwing a tizzy.

None of this matters. I am walking out that fucking door, and I'm doing it under my own steam.

I hear Abel's voice behind me. "Lose the chair, doc. She'll fall over dead before she'll sit in that thing." His steps lengthen and pick up speed until he's at my side, my bag dangling from his fingers like it's filled with feathers. Rage over my own predicament supplies a little extra boost to muscles thinking of surrender, and I make it out into the lobby.

"I'm parked right outside," Abel says, and sure enough I can see his car through the glass doors, exactly the car to match the suit and glasses, a black sedan with tinted windows arranged at an angle in a NO PARKING, AMBULANCES ONLY zone.

I'm grateful for his arrogance — I wouldn't have made it across the parking lot.

He opens the passenger door but lets me struggle in without offering a hand, and I know for sure he wants something. Abel doesn't act out of kindness and decency. Never mind that his FBI badge puts him in the good-guy camp or that he focuses his predatory nature on harassing the dark side. If he wasn't out to garner a favor he'd have plunked me into that wheelchair himself, or picked me up and carried me.

Sweat-soaked and shivering in the chill of an October afternoon, I catch my breath, corral the pain, and prepare myself for whatever it is he's going to throw at me. Abel slides in behind the wheel and puts the key in the ignition but doesn't turn it. "Can we talk?"

"Home, James."

"Care to tell me why Ed isn't picking you up?"

"He doesn't know I've been cut loose. Which brings me to a question ..."

Abel starts the car, pulls out onto Division, and heads north, the direction of my house.

"I badgered the doctor," he says. "That's how I knew you were getting out today."

"Why?" It's not out of any special concern for my wellbeing, that's certain.

"Something for you under the seat."

"I'm not supposed to bend."

He makes a rude noise of dismissal, and I am — of course — already defying both the doctor and my body's pain messages. My fingers fumble with the edges of a hard plastic box before I'm able to get a grip and drag it out into daylight.

Rugged plastic. Black. I open it to find two items inside: my revolver and my FBI guest ID. Cold shock settles over me as I realize what it is he wants, and then I start to laugh. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, but you do realize I barely made it to the car?"

"Would have been a shame to call an ambulance before you'd even left the grounds."

I am not going to ask him what exactly it is he thinks I can do in my condition, so I shut up and watch the world go by. Only three weeks out of commission, but everything looks both new and strange — as though I've pulled a Rip Van Winkle and slept a hundred years. The world has moved on fine without me, a fact hammered home when Abel pulls into my driveway.

During the time I have been gone, the leaves on the big maple have turned to crimson and begun to fall, drifting across the lawn. Frost has touched the flower beds, and only the marigolds are still in bloom.

In the driveway, parked beside my Jag convertible and Ed's much more sober Beemer, there's a minivan. Company.

I note the minivan, but it's the Jag that draws my full attention. Doesn't look too bad from this distance, other than the bullet holes and fractured glass in the windshield and the dent in the front fender. It needs a good wash, but at least Ed's had the decency to put the top up so it's not full of leaves and dirt.

There will be bloodstains on the seat covers, though.

Memory rocks me, hard. The sluglike paranormal oozing between me and the steering wheel, its tentacles probing into my belly through skin and then muscle, eating at my innards. Bullets slamming through the windshield. My hunger for air as my lungs fill with blood. And then nothing. The before and the after are a blank.

This sudden flash hurts more than any of the physical pain and I fight it back. Not now. Not with Abel observing every nuance of my behavior. Not with Ed emerging onto the porch.

He stands there, hands in his pockets, black hair lightly frosted at the temples. He's sixty-five and still a beautiful man. I feel like I'm looking at him backwards through a telescope, small and distant. I'm still trying to decipher the look on his face — surprise, disappointment, unease — when a woman steps out behind him, putting a questioning hand on his arm.

She sees me and freezes, mouth curved in a round O of understanding. A breeze presses the velour pantsuit over a body matronly rather than voluptuous, and she puts her other hand protectively up to hair so shellacked it won't be blowing anywhere anytime soon.

"The doctor told me you'd be released next week," Ed says.

"I'm a fast healer. Who's your friend?"

For the first time he glances back at her, as if surprised she's there. She's the one who answers me. "I'm Glenda. You must be Maureen."

Indeed I must. And this is my house, and somewhere in my kitchen there is a bottle of wine, and I am going to have a drink. As I hobble toward the porch the two of them draw together, unconscious of their own body language, but it's clear to me and, I'm certain, to Abel. They do not want me in the house. I avoid Ed's eyes, don't offer even a token kiss. This is before I realize the extent of the betrayal.

The house is no longer mine. There are crocheted afghans hanging over the back of the couch, needlepoint cushions decorating the easy chair. Plants have invaded. Someone has been burning candles in a heavy, floral scent that makes me cough.

Coughing should have been on the list of things I must not do, although I suppose even the good doctor knows there's no point warning me against this one, and when the paroxysm clears I've got both hands pressed against my belly and I'm looking around through a haze of involuntary tears.

I smell Ed behind me. Thirty years of close proximity and you learn the scent of a person. "When were you planning to tell me?" Thank God my voice is steady. I have no intention of letting him see me cry.

"I tried —"

"Funny, I don't remember any mention of this." Anger comes to my rescue and I turn on him. "An affair I can understand. Always half expected you had a woman snugged away somewhere. Moving her in while I'm in the hospital? Did it occur to you I might need to make some living arrangements?"

"You can stay here as long as you need to." The woman sounds like someone's grandmother. Ed wraps his arm around her waist, protective. Good God, she's not even young and sexy. Old-lady hair, waved and colored, magenta nails, a pantsuit that looks like it's lingered since the fifties. My chest burns and my voice is drenched in acid.

"How about you wait outside? This is between me and my husband."

She makes a bleating noise and Ed pats her, comfortingly. There is a softness in his face that I haven't seen before. "She's not going anywhere, and I won't allow you to —"

"Bullshit, Ed! This is my house. Not hers."

"Actually, it's in my name." His tone has gone logical and annoyingly calm. "Remember? You were gone so much we agreed it would be easier that way. I'm not going to be a bastard about this — when we sell it I intend to give you half. And you can stay as long as you need —"

"Fuck you."

I turn around and walk back outside. Abel leans against his car, arms crossed, waiting. He opens the door when he sees me coming and I slide in without a word.

He drives in silence for several blocks, while I stare out the window and try to come to terms with the fact that I am aging, wounded, and homeless.

"You knew."

"Ready to hear my proposition now?" he says.

"You're a cruel bastard. You could have told me."

"You needed to see for yourself."

"I can't imagine what you think I can do for you."

One hand on the wheel, he reaches behind the seat and pulls a folder out of a briefcase and drops it in my lap. I know these folders. There will be pictures — contacts, locations, things I will see, memorize, and burn when I'm through.

I open the thing and stare in disbelief. "You're insane." Right on top is a picture of smiling old people with golf clubs and Bermuda shorts. Behind them is a clinical-looking building with the words "Shadow Valley Manor" blazoned across it.

This stings. I know Abel is missing most of the softer feelings, but this — this is outright enemy territory. "Stop the car and let me out."

He doesn't even blink. "You'll be working, not vegetating. Your contact is Phil Evers."

Now there's a name I haven't heard in a while. My skin warms at the thought of him, even after all these years, and my stomach does an inappropriate little butterfly dance. I squash it.

"Lies. Phil's been out of the game for years."

"He said you'd say that. He also said to remind you that you owe him."

"You talked to Phil."

"I did. He bought the Manor. Apparently, it came with a bit of a problem." The twitch of his lips looks suspiciously like a smile.

Not surprising. Phil Evers is something of a legend in our world, the 007 of paranormal investigators. Smooth, smart, and with a voice that can melt a whole lot more than butter. If he's involved in an investigation after all these years then it's going to be bigger than an intestine-eating slug.

For the first time in my life, I'm not up for that sort of danger. I feel vulnerable and frail and have a sudden strong urge to get on a plane to someplace tropical, with a beach.

"I don't care who my contact is. I am not going to any place called Shadow Valley."

Abel is too sharp for his own good. He sees right through me. "You can handle this. All undercover. Easy. No danger."

"Do tell." Undercover is good, as it means they'll pay my expenses and I'll have a roof over my head. But there's more to this story; there always is.

"Really. That's it. You hang out, keep your eyes open."

"Who else is in?"

"Just you. He asked for you. I'm your chain of command."

"Does he know?" I gesture at my leg, my ruined body, unable to articulate the damage.

"He knows."

Damn the man. Phil could always play me with a well-placed word. With just that one phrase — he asked for you — I know I'm in. I feel needed. Despite my years and the distance between us I catch myself preening like a cat.

"What am I looking for?"

"He said he'll brief you himself."

"Where, Abel?"

"Small town. Perfect place for a little rest and recovery."

"Alias?"

"No need. You're hiding in plain sight."

"Shadow Valley Manor. I don't know, Abe." Better judgment is trying to make itself heard, kicking and screaming for my attention. There are two possible explanations here. One: Phil heard about my disaster and still cares enough to offer me a way to salvage my pride. Two: Phil is up to something dangerous and he means it about me being the best person for this job. Which scares me. Even in the days when I knew he loved me, he would have risked me in a heartbeat for the good of an operation.

And I'm not at all sure that I'm up to the task.

"You have a better idea?" Abel asks, and that's where he has me.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Dead Before Dying"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Kerry Schafer.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Dead Before Dying 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
canelli More than 1 year ago
Dead Before Dying by Kerry Schaeffer is the first book of the Shadow Valley Manor series. It is a paranormal thriller that involves both the FBI and the local sheriff’s office. This had all the markers to be a great book, supernatural creatures a creepy old house with a story. I just feel the author was too vague with the story and left too much out. I understand that she was trying to build suspense but all it did was make me think I missed something in the story.
canelli More than 1 year ago
Dead Before Dying by Kerry Schaeffer is the first book of the Shadow Valley Manor series. It is a paranormal thriller that involves both the FBI and the local sheriff’s office. This had all the markers to be a great book, supernatural creatures a creepy old house with a story. I just feel the author was too vague with the story and left too much out. I understand that she was trying to build suspense but all it did was make me think I missed something in the story.
EALANGE More than 1 year ago
Dead Before Dying by Kerry Schafer is a paranormal book unlike any other I have read. It was unique and really intriguing. From the beginning I was pretty interested in what was going to happen. The author did a great job at keeping me in suspense because I really had no idea how it would end. So when everything happens I was really surprised and didn't see it coming. The characters were well written and the plot was very interesting. I think it was definitely a good story and I would read others in the series. I really liked the female lead and her tenacity to keep going even if she was injured etc. Federal Agent Maureen Keslyn doesn't want to take on a job that's being offered but when her husband has shacked up with someone else and essentially kicks her out she doesn't feel like she has much of a choice. Paranormal beings exist in our world and Maureen's job has been to find them and do What needs to be done etc. When her ex lover and colleague Phil ends up dead things end up taking a turn and all kinds of stuff goes down. It becomes a who can you trust scenario. One character in particular is pretty gnarly from the get go and I really wasn't a fan. Anyway I enjoyed this book and would rate it 4 stars.
Debi-Kircher More than 1 year ago
Dead Before Dying: A Shadow Valley Manor Novel (The Shadow Valley Manor Series Book 1) by Kerry Schafer 5 Amazing Stars O.M.G. what an awesome book!! Let me start by saying I don't normally read paranormal or supernatural thrillers, as in like never, something about the synopsis of this story caught my attention and I am so genuinely glad it did. I started this with the intention of just getting it started and would get some things done and then pick it back up, YEA RIGHT!! Breathing was even an unwanted distraction while reading this story. The flow was perfection, the character building was awesome, I just don't have enough perfect words to describe this book!! Maureen Keslyn is getting out of the hospital at the beginning of this book, recovering from being injured in her last assignment. Still sore and with a good amount of recovery left she is offered another assignment which would have her checking in to Shadow Valley Manor. Working undercover she sets out to find out what is going on at this strange and eerie place. Residents and staff are mysteriously dying and with her only contacts expiring quickly she finds herself aligned with the local sheriff, who she's not sure she can trust, the undertaker's daughter who obviously has her own secrets, and the newly hired cook. Her past experiences of fighting the supernatural will be her only hope to seek and destroy whatever evil is at play. Each resident also seems to have their own secrets, as well as the director who seems determined that Maureen not stay there. There is just so much happening in this book, the twists and turns and AHA moments are too many to list, and the dark humor that popped up throughout was perfect. I can not wait to read the next book of this series, but I will be better prepared because if it's anything like this one I'll need to make sure all is done before I start LOL LOVED LOVED LOVED IT!!!
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by C.L. Wells for Readers' Favorite FBI agent Maureen Keslyn has just been discharged from the hospital after an almost fatal encounter with a paranormal being. She returns home to find her husband shacked up with another woman and her smashed-up Jaguar sitting in the driveway – still riddled with the bullet holes incurred during her most recent tangle with evil. Unwilling to stay in the house that is no longer a home, and with no place to go, she agrees to take an undercover job at a retirement home called the Manor at the request of her long-lost former flame and mentor. Agent Keslyn is hoping for a chance to rest her still-injured and aging body while she considers what to do next. Instead, she encounters a strangely engaging mix of geriatric residents and supernatural beings. Kerry Schafer delivers a boatload of entertainment as Maureen gets to know the eclectic residents of the Manor and tries to decide if any of them are involved in the string of recent murders at the home. As the bodies begin to pile up and she struggles with her own injuries, she must solve the mystery of the Manor before she becomes the next victim. Dead Before Dying by Kerry Schafer is an engaging and page-turning romp that you won’t want to miss. The protagonist is thoroughly likable, even as she offends practically everyone she meets with her winning personality. I have to be honest and say that this is the most fun I’ve had reading a novel in several months. I couldn’t put it down and finished it in less than 24 hours. Want a fun, satisfying read with plenty of twists, turns, and surprises? Check out Dead Before Dying by Kerry Schafer.
Manda_Beth More than 1 year ago
Dead Before Dying by Kerry Schafer is a book I didn't expect. I didn't expect to like it quite as much as I did. I don't know what to expect picking up this book but it was a refreshing new investigative book. I love paranormal books as much as the next girl but I don't think I have ever read a book from the point of view of a paranormal investigator. I really loved following Maureen through her day to day life, meeting people who would make and break her investigation. Sophronia was my favorite character through this book, she may not have been the main character but I wanted to know everything about her from the very beginning. The characters were well developed, the book was very well written, the story line didn't stray too much from the main point and the book ended very well. 4.5 Para stars, can't wait to read more from this author.
ToManyBooksNotEnoughTime More than 1 year ago
I would like to thank Diversion Books & NetGalley for an e-ARC of this book to review. Though I received this e-book for free, that has no impact upon the honesty of my review. Goodreads Teaser: Twisting and eerie, sharp and unforgettable, DEAD BEFORE DYING brings a heroine worthy of Sue Grafton to a terror worthy of Dean Koontz. In this supernatural thriller, shot through with biting wit, Maureen Keslyn checks herself in to Shadow Valley Manor to recuperate and rehabilitate from her last job. There, she runs afoul of the stern director and makes friends with some of the other residents, mostly older, all harboring either a secret or a grudge. With secrets of her own, like why she has her own Federal Agent checking up on her, and how she injured herself in the first place, Maureen fits right in, even as she sticks out like a thorn. But Shadow Valley isn't just for rest Maureen is working undercover, seeking to find and eradicate whatever forces are picking off the residents (and staff) at a grisly clip. With her resources dwindling one death at a time, and unnatural forces seething to rise up once more, Maureen's experience fighting the supernatural will be her only hope to destroy a clever and powerful evil and her only chance at surviving it. She'll need people as paranoid as she is from the sheriff, to the undertaker's daughter, to a cook whose knife skills in the kitchen could prove deadly out of it if she is going to bring rest to the weary, and peace to the dead... Brilliantly crafted, horrifyingly twisted, this book is easily a must read for fans of mysteries and the paranormal. Thought the story begins a tad slow, that only lasts for a very few pages, and by then you're already knee deep in Maureen's world; a world where the things that go bump in the night are more than real, and you know better than to laugh about your child's fear of the monster under the bed. A world where people she loves, and peoples she's barely met are dropping like roaches after the exterminator pays a visit. Maureen is a wonderful protagonist, gutsy, tough, and yet every so often little cracks appear that let her inner vulnerability shine through. She's reached that age where her body is no longer as dependable, especially given what she's currently recovering from. But not only does that not stop her, she barely even allows it to slow her down, a certainly not in front of anyone else. Maureen's story is this story. The two are so well intertwined that it's almost impossible to figure out where one ends and the other begins. And it stays that way almost to the end of the book. The twists and turns will keep you on your toes, as unpredictable as they are. This isn't one of those books where you can tell within the first few pages who did what, when, and why. In fact you may not have those answers even when you've reached the end. But that's part of the joy of reading this book. This particular case may be solved, but that doesn't mean this is the last we'll hear of Maureen. Not if we're lucky anyway! As the first book of 2016 I'd easily say this is setting an awfully high bar for all the books to come!