“I have to tell you something … I did something bad”.
Ever since her best friend Molly was murdered fifteen years before, Blair Butler has returned to her small hometown in the Pocono mountains as seldom as possible. Now she has been summoned home to see her terminally ill sister one last time – only for Celeste to make a shocking deathbed confession. Is it really true that the wrong man has spent fifteen years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit?
Having promised her dying sister that she would do her best to right the wrongs of the past, Blair sets out to discover what really happened that cold, wet November night fifteen years before: the night Molly’s battered body was found in the woods behind her home. But is Blair prepared for the shocking truth … ?
|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
|Edition description:||First World Publication|
|Product dimensions:||5.55(w) x 8.74(h) x (d)|
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Blair sailed through the streets of Philadelphia, weaving in and out of traffic on her sleek, silver racing bike. On this windy November day, she was far from alone. The streets of this once stuffy, historic city – now a mecca for the young – were thick with bicycle riders, eschewing the lumbering SEPTA buses, for a green, efficient way to navigate the streets. Blair's apartment was the first two floors of a federal style brick building, but she worked thirty blocks away in the thriving Drexel University neighborhood north of 30th street station. Blair, whose graduate degree was in computer science, and two friends from the medical school, had taken a leap of faith and opened a firm that had developed a 3D computer printer capable of printing body tissue. Their process had produced immediate interest, a flurry of grants and an avalanche of work which came with it. The way it took off had taken them all by surprise. One of her partners, Anna, had recently had a baby, who had a crib in Anna's office. Her other partner, Todd, lived almost next door to their offices in a loft with his husband, Louis.
Blair took her bike into the building and up in the elevator. She always rode her bike, except on days when she went to yoga after work, her yoga class being far across town. Those days she drove her shiny, new Nissan just because she knew that she was more likely to go if she could get there quickly. And she needed the workout and relaxation. But, in truth, she felt more herself on the days she rode her bike. Blair rolled it off the elevator and parked it, beside the bikes of six other employees, in the spare, open reception area. Blair felt almost more at home here at work, than she did in her apartment. The apartment was beautiful, with shining floors and exposed brick walls, but it was more of a reflection of her success than it was a home. After all these years, she was still trying to figure out how a home was supposed to feel.
Blair passed through the main work area which was spacious and flooded with light from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Across the floor, in between desks and printers there were pieces of robots and life-size human models in varying degrees of detail. They gave the office the appearance of a workshop dedicated to creating human pods. Blair always felt exhilarated stepping into the workspace. We made this, she thought. We dreamed it and we made it come true. There were young people, casually dressed, yawning, texting and sipping from coffee cups. Blair spoke to everyone she passed. Her crew. This place was where she belonged.
She had a cubicle on the floor by the windows, which had no door or walls to separate her from the action. It was just a desk where she could organize her day. She sat down in her leather chair and looked at her phone. Just then it rang and she looked to see who was calling. Her heart sank and her hands began to shake. She took a deep breath and answered.
'Hi Uncle Ellis,' she said.
'She's on hospice now. You better get here pronto,' Ellis replied bluntly.
Blair knew exactly what he meant. She had been dreading this call for a while.
'Ok,' said Blair. 'Let me tie up a few things, and I'm on my way.'
Blair looked longingly around the office which was just coming to life for the day. She wished she could stay here and keep the world out, but that wasn't going to happen. This day had been coming for a while. Celeste had fought a battle with the same vicious cancer which had taken their mother, twenty years ago. Now, it was about to claim Celeste, who was only thirty. Blair had taken Celeste to the best medical centers in Philly and sought out cutting edge treatment for her sister, but even the most advanced treatments had only bought a little time. The last time Blair went out to the old house in Yorkville, Celeste had been weak and emaciated; her skin a sickly mottle of gray and yellow.
With a sigh, Blair pushed her chair back and put her phone into her purse. Her bespectacled young assistant, Eric, came up to her desk and set some papers on it.
'You going out?' he asked.
Blair nodded. 'It's Celeste. I have to go. I may be gone for a while.'
Eric looked genuinely stricken. 'Oh Blair, I'm so sorry,' said Eric sincerely. He had been Blair's right hand through her frequent absences from the office. He knew all about Celeste's illness and the prognosis. 'You know we've got you covered here. Not that that's what matters ...'
'It does matter,' said Blair. 'This place is ...' She looked around the workroom fondly. 'It's my baby.'
'We'll take good care of your baby,' Eric promised with a wry smile. 'I'll keep you updated. Don't worry.'
'Thanks. Really,' said Blair. She could see that Eric wanted to hug her, but she drew back before he had the chance. Eric knew better than to take it personally. That was Blair. 'Let the others know?' she said. 'I don't want to have to ...'
'I know. Will do,' he said.
Blair waved without looking back and went to pick up her bike and head back to her apartment. There wasn't a lot she needed to accomplish. She had no pets and her refrigerator was empty. Her clothes were virtually a uniform. Jeans, a heavy leather jacket, long-sleeved T-shirt and running shoes. These days she wound a long, fine alpaca scarf around her neck in deference to the weather. Her beauty routine was non-existent. All she needed was lip gloss and some coated bands for her pony tail. She would throw a few Ts and some underwear in a bag. Then, she would just lock up, get her car, and be on her way. She had no idea how long she would be gone. As long as Celeste needed her there. It was fairly simple. Simple, and terrible beyond belief.
Don't think about it, she told herself. Just go.
She tried to listen to music on the drive, but finally, she had to turn it off. Everything seemed banal and inappropriate in light of the reason for her trip, and Blair felt the need to think without distraction.
For so long, she had focused all her efforts on trying to find a physician who might have a cure for Celeste's condition. Working closely as she did with doctors and surgical teams in Philly, she called in every favor she could think of to explore the latest treatment options. But some cures were still beyond the reach of even the most skilled physicians. Celeste was not going to recover. As unbelievable as it seemed, Blair was going to lose her sister to this cancer.
To Blair it seemed that Celeste had been trapped by her life in the mountains. She had tried to escape, enrolling in a community college and moving into an apartment when she was eighteen, with her best friend, Amanda, as a roommate. The arrangement didn't last. Amanda ended up marrying her high school sweetheart, Peter, and moved out. Celeste spent a lot of lonely evenings in the bars, and became pregnant after a one-night stand.
Broke and unemployed, Celeste had been forced to return to her Uncle's house. She had fled at eighteen and, at twenty, she was back, pregnant and without options. From then on, she never managed to leave. Celeste gave birth to Malcolm ten years ago. As Blair moved out into the world, climbing from one success to another, Celeste stayed behind in Yorkville in Ellis's house and raised her son on a shoestring budget. Now, Malcolm, already fatherless, would be orphaned, just as Celeste and Blair had once been.
Blair noticed the traffic thinning as she crossed through the suburbs and began to climb into the Poconos. The day was gray and cloudy, and the deep woods made the November day seem dark, even though it was only early afternoon. Blair passed few cars on the way. It was a weekday and the high season in the mountains had not yet begun. It would be another month before the skiers and snowboarders clogged up the streets of Yorkville, contributing to a lively bar and restaurant scene.
Now it will be like a ghost town, Blair thought. Then again, for her, Yorkville would always be a ghost town.
She and Celeste had arrived there as children, haunted by the memory of their mother, who was lost to them forever. Soon, the specter of Celeste would also inhabit these woods. And, of course, the unquiet spirit of Molly Sinclair would always linger here. In Blair's young life, that loss had been almost as terrible as the loss of her mother. Making friends with Molly had given her hope. It had provided an escape from her bleak life in Uncle Ellis's household and suggested a different world full of possibility. But her uncle had sent Molly out into the rainy, foggy night alone and Blair had lost her friend forever. It had not been Blair's choice to let Molly walk out into the gathering darkness by herself. It was her Uncle Ellis's fault, as she tried to explain to the police at the time. But, in the end, it didn't really matter whose choice it was.
Blair got off the highway and wound her way through town. She passed the Apres Ski café on Main Street. Molly's parents still ran the coffee house, eventually taking over the stationery store beside it and doubling the space. Though Janet and Robbie Sinclair had been kind, insisted to Blair that they understood and did not blame her, Blair had never believed them. Of course they blamed her. She blamed herself. She always would.
Blair's car bumped along the rutted road which led to Ellis Dietz's house. The road had not changed in all these years. The same trailers and barking dogs that were pacing behind chain-link fences shared the streetscape. At the end of the road was Uncle Ellis's house. It seemed to have reached a point of stasis in the decaying process: the paint was almost gone from the shingles; the yard was still piled with automotive detritus; the windows had missing panes and had never been washed, it would seem. The only difference from Blair's childhood was that the Confederate Flag, which had hung until it was in tatters, had been removed from the front of the house. She remembered the keen sense of shame she always felt when she arrived home and saw it hanging there. Its absence was something to be grateful for, she thought.
Blair parked her Nissan beside a compact blue Toyota with Colorado license plates and got out, hoisting her bag from the back seat. The blue sedan had a decal of the cross, encircled by flowers, on the rear window and there were bible verse bumper stickers on the rear fender. Blair took a deep breath and trudged up the steps.
She pulled open the ripped screen door and pushed in the weather-beaten wooden front door.
'Hello,' she called out. 'Anybody here?'
'We're in here,' someone called back from the living room in a sweet, high voice.
Blair went in. The room was gloomy except for the light on a table beside the hospital bed. A thin, mild-eyed woman in her fifties wearing a pale blue cardigan and glasses was seated in a chair beside the bed. An IV bag on a pole dripped into a tube, which snaked down and then up, ending under a patch of tape which was fastened to Celeste's bony forearm.
'You must be Blair,' said the woman. 'I'm Darlene, from the hospice.'
Blair avoided looking at her sister. She had to work up her courage. She smiled at Darlene, who gave her a bright, encouraging smile in return.
'Hi,' she mumbled.
'How was the trip?' Darlene asked kindly.
'It was fine,' said Blair. She could not help herself. She glanced at Celeste's face. At every stage, it had been a shock to see it. Celeste's dry, dyed black hair was fanned out on the pillow around her face. Her cheeks were sunken and her lips were pale, coated with a dried, white crust. Her eyes were rimmed with dark, bruised-looking circles and, at this moment, they were closed.
Darlene observed her gaze. She looked tenderly at Celeste.
'She just fell off to sleep a few minutes ago.'
'Let her be,' said Blair. 'Let her sleep.'
'My uncle told me to come. He said she's ... not good.'
Darlene sighed. 'No, she's not got a lot of time left.'
Tears rose to Blair's eyes. She knew it was happening. That was why she was here. But the reality of it stubbornly refused to register. She knew it rationally, but the small child inside of her kept on hoping that this was all some big mistake. She wiped her eyes and sat down in a chair on the other side of the hospital bed.
'She sleeps a lot now,' said Darlene.
Blair nodded. She wrapped her hands around the top side rail of the bed and lowered her chin onto her own fists.
'Is she in pain?' Blair asked.
Darlene frowned at the emaciated figure on the bed.
'No. We make sure she's comfortable.'
Blair knew what that meant. They had explained it all to her before, a month ago, when Blair visited the hospice center to discuss the process. Morphine on demand was the end game. Blair wiped her eyes and sniffled.
Just then, Uncle Ellis ambled out from the kitchen at the back of the house, carrying a steaming mug.
'Hi there, Blair,' he said. He handed the mug to Darlene. Then he walked around to Blair and put an awkward arm around her shoulders and gave her a brief squeeze. He gazed down at Celeste.
'Poor kid,' he muttered.
Blair nodded. 'I just can't believe it.'
Ellis scratched his head self-consciously and sighed.
'Well, now that you're here, Blair,' said Darlene, 'I've got some errands to run, and then I'll be back.'
Ellis turned to Darlene.
'I'll go with you,' he mumbled. 'Keep you company.'
Blair expected Darlene to protest, but instead, Darlene smiled.
'That would be very nice,' she said. Blair could hardly conceal her surprise.
Ellis walked over to a hook by the front door and pulled his old, plaid jacket down and shrugged it on. Then he held out Darlene's puffy parka so that she could slip into it. Blair could not remember ever seeing Ellis do such a thing.
'Thank you very kindly,' said Darlene.
'Malcolm will be home soon,' said Ellis to Blair. 'Kid's taking it hard.'
'I can imagine,' said Blair.
Ellis opened the front door and, as he did so, a gray and white cat slipped inside, paused for a moment and then dashed past them toward the kitchen.
'Hey,' said Blair. 'Did you see that cat that just came in?' Ellis looked sheepish.
'It's Malcolm's,' he said. 'Got her at the vet's. Somebody brought in a feral cat and she had a litter six weeks ago. They've been taking care of them over there.'
'You got Malcolm a cat?' Blair could scarcely believe her ears. She and Celeste were never allowed a pet.
'I suggested it,' said Darlene matter-of-factly. 'A pet can be a big help to a child at a time like this.'
'Right,' said Blair, staring at them. 'I'm sure that's true.' She watched in amazement as the two middle-aged people made their way out the front door, Darlene chatting in her lilting voice and Ellis grunting in assent.
A cat? Darlene had talked Uncle Ellis into getting a pet for Malcolm. What next? The two of them taking dancing lessons? Blair would not have expected this woman to catch Uncle Ellis's fancy. Blair could understand how it might happen with normal people. A situation like this was very ... intimate. It would be easy to imagine how a man could become dependent, even tender, toward a woman who was always there, helping his loved one through the final passage of life. But this was Ellis!
There had been times, in the course of Celeste's illness, when Ellis had seemed genuinely troubled. Maybe he was, in fact, grieving. As families went, they were a sorry lot, but Blair, Celeste and Malcolm were all the family that Ellis had.
'Blair?' Celeste's voice was a whisper.
Blair looked up at her sister's face tenderly.
'Hey. You're awake.'
Celeste did not bother to answer. Blair gripped her hand.
'I just got here,' Blair said. 'Can I do anything? Get you anything?'
Celeste shook her head slightly. Blair reached out and brushed Celeste's hair back off of her forehead.
'Darlene and Ellis went out to do some errands. You know, I have to tell you this,' she said, in the conspiratorial tone she used to use, when they shared secrets as young girls. 'I think there might be something going on with those two. Ellis helped her on with her coat. I saw it with my own eyes!'
Celeste's gaze was foggy, but a mischievious light appeared in her eyes for a moment.
'Unbelievable, right?' asked Blair.
Celeste nodded slightly.
'Honestly,' said Blair, 'I am trying to imagine what she sees in him. Uncle Ellis? I mean, how hard up would you have to be?'
Celeste suddenly gripped Blair's fingers with more force than Blair could have imagined possible.
'Blair, listen,' she said. 'While they're gone ...'
Blair frowned and leaned in close to her sister's face.
'I'm listening,' she said.
Celeste licked her cracked lips.
'We have to talk about Malcolm,' she said.
Excerpted from "The Girl In The Woods"
Copyright © 2018 Patricia Bourgeau.
Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Girl in the Woods is a cosy murder mystery that is an enthralling read full of suspense, guilt and a determination to right a wrong. Blair’s best friend Molly is unceremoniously sent home alone from Blair’s house by her guardian, Uncle Ellis. Ellis is a well-drawn and unpleasant character that shows how hateful, uncaring and racist he is. Lumbered with two children to raise he has become bitter and difficult, especially with his 13-year-old niece. That night Molly is murdered before she ever reaches home and her body dumped in the nearby woods. No-one knows for sure what happened, but a young black man, Adrian, is convicted of the murder based on the evidence that Molly’s phone was found in his car. Fifteen years’ later Blair’s sister, Celeste, is dying of cancer and on her deathbed reveals that she was with Adrian that night and she could have provided an alibi, but didn’t. She claims that they gave Molly a lift home and drove off leaving her at the bottom of her path. Celeste’s dying request of Blair is to put the record straight and help get Adrian (now Mohammad) released from jail. No-one has any interest in reopening the case, even if it means releasing an innocent man and finding the real killer. However, Blair made a promise to a dying sister and her conscience, sense of loyalty, family guilt and principles, all drive Blair forward to put the matter right. The characters and their interactions all felt very real as the unravelling of the events of that night and potential other suspects, slowly and gradually materialise. This is a well written, believable plot where the natural investigation line, although at times extremely daunting and challenging, eventually bears fruit. The best approach to freeing Mohammad and finding justice is to find the real killer – but with that comes danger and that person may be closer than you think. This was a really good enthralling and captivating read that enables the reader to feel the frustration, guilt and determination Blair needs to resolve this crime. The ending finished well and wasn’t dragged out to cover for a badly structured plot. Many thanks to Severn House Publishing and NetGalley, for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.
The Girl in the Woods by author Patricia MacDonald was a very twisty story. It is the story of Blair both before and after her move from home. At the age of 13, Blair's best friend Molly is murdered after her Uncle Ellis sends her home alone in the rain. Blair has always felt guilty about this situation. Uncle Ellis took the girls in after their mother died and he was not a very good guardian. he was bigoted, cheap, mean, and more. The only thing he did not seem to do was sexually or physically assault the girls. When Blair got the opportunity, she left, got a great education and started her own business. When she gets the call that her sister is now in hospice, she returns home to spend time with her in her last few days or weeks. Shortly before Celeste dies she whispers a confession to Blair that reveals that the man who has been in prison for 15 years for killing Molly is innocent. Blair is shocked and promises Celeste that she will do everything she can to free him. It is not easy to get those in authority to listen, believe, and become involved in freeing a convicted man. Blair realizes that it is up to her to find the real killer in order to keep her promise to Celeste. There are a lot of clues still out there and as Blair finds more and more information, the story takes several turns. The characters in the story are all fascinating. Ellis Dietz, the crotchety uncle, is easy to dislike, until he does something that makes you think, maybe he is not all bad. The P.I. that Blair hires seems to not care about the case, but then does everything he can to help Blair. The newspaper reporter who starts off helping Blair, leaves her high and dry when it benefits her. Even Blair's young nephew has to make some pretty heavy decisions and as young people often do, takes a misstep along the way that could be very dangerous. The Girl in the Woods by author Patricia MacDonald was a good story. I enjoyed the book not only for the psychological suspense but also for the questions it brought to my mind about the whole plot of the story. What would you do in this situation? The thing I did not like was that there were several themes that seemed to be taken from various stories and lumped together in this book. I did figure out who the murderer was early in the story, but not why. I liked this book and once I started reading I finished it quickly as I wanted to see what would happen next. Those who enjoy thriller/suspense stories, will enjoy this one. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.
This is a gripping tale of a young girl whose best friend is found murdered in the woods and who, many years later, returns to her childhood home as her sister is dying. Her sister then makes a deathbed confession that changes everything. It's really well written and keeps up at a pace throughout. I was reasonably sure that I'd figured it out about 25% of the way through, but, no! Love it when I'm wrong! And, even when it's gaining momentum and you do have a good idea who the perpetrator(s) is/are....it doesn't spoil the book as there are still surprises to come. The lead character of Blair is a confident young woman with a successful company and I thoroughly enjoyed the way she progressed her discovery of the truth, but, in a way that felt honest and true to life. It's a really good mystery whodunit with believable characters and storyline. Thanks to netgalley and Severn House for the opportunity to preview this really good read.