All of society believes former actress Helen Grey to be mad, but after a decade imprisoned in a crumbling Yorkshire asylum, she’s managed to cling to sanity. When a new doctor arrives, she finally sees an opportunity for freedom and she’ll do anything to not let it slip between her fingers.
Dr. William Carter knows Miss Grey is using him, but he can’t blame her. She’s no madder than he is yet she’s spent years in this place. He’ll help her escape, but they can’t cross the line and give into temptation—no matter how much he would like.
Helen and Will need to work together if she’s ever going to be free. It won’t be easy, not when her mysterious benefactor is determined to keep her locked up and hidden from society forever. When Helen is entangled in her own trap and begins to fall for Will too, she must fight not only for her liberty but for her right to love.
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A woman's shriek pierced the silence.
William Carter spun toward the sound as a murder of carrion crows burst from the trees and filled the air with their ominous cries. He shivered in spite of his greatcoat and dug his hands deeper into the pockets.
Just down the lane, his mother's cozy cottage waited, a warm fire crackling in the grate, but the scream had come from somewhere in the woods, and Hector was nowhere to be seen. Normally, Will couldn't take more than a few steps without tripping over him.
"Where are you, Hector, you bastard?" Will muttered, his breath warm against his woolen muffler. He lowered the thick scarf half an inch and whistled — a single, long note ricocheting from tree to leafless tree, then fading into the empty sky.
No response, but Will had a shrewd idea what might have caused that scream a moment ago. Snow crunched underfoot as he followed what remained of the old track into the woods. The ground here was easier. Patches of green broke through the white like little oases in the icy desert.
He stopped again to listen. The crows cawed in the distance, but otherwise nothing, not so much as a rustle in the undergrowth. The skin on the back of his neck prickled in reaction to the unnatural-seeming stillness.
"You filthy cur!" The woman's voice again. Less shrill this time and no longer afraid. Her anger cut through the eerie calm. "Get off me, you foul brute."
Will struck out through the trees, her outraged squeaks and groans his guide.
Soon other sounds reached him — the trickle of water and a low, excited panting.
The woods had changed since his youth. Where once there had been saplings, a wall of evergreens stood between him and the stream. He had to push through, emerging on the other side with snow caught in his collar and the scent of pine clinging to him.
The woman stood on the bank, her back flat against a gnarled oak, her nose wrinkled in disgust. A man's coat, much like Will's own, swallowed her, making it impossible to establish much more than the color of her hair (red), her height (tall), and her sex (female). Comely or plain, fat or thin, it was impossible to tell. Yet he knew exactly who she must be.
They were looking for her up at the house.
"Ugh! You fiend," she cried.
The object of her derision, a large black dog — Will's large black dog, actually — nudged her hand with his muzzle and licked her fingers with his huge, pink tongue.
* * *
Helen's heart simply ceased working as she waited for the gigantic beast to tear her throat out with its massive fangs. She'd been heading for the path when that thing came bounding through the trees, black and terrible — a true hellhound.
But then the dog ruined its dramatic entrance by barreling into her, tail wagging, hot, wet tongue lapping at her hands. Its slobber coated her chilled and sadly gloveless fingers, and disgust won out over fear. Shoving the creature off — or trying to, anyway — she launched into a stream of abuse.
"Here, Hector." A man's voice cut through the air like the crack of a whip.
She jerked her gaze to the right and saw him standing by the edge of the stream, a great bear of a man dressed in black.
Well, naturally. If the hellhound was here, Helen ought to have expected its master the devil to put in an appearance. But wasn't Lucifer supposed to be beautiful? This man was plain, his features unremarkable, with no horns or tail in evidence, and his clothes — now that she'd had a good look — like those of a gentleman farmer, not the Prince of Darkness. On closer inspection, the master proved as underwhelming as the dog.
Even so, he had an air of authority. In the dog's place, she'd obey, but though it had stopped its assault, the creature seemed loath to leave her side, looking up at her with wide eyes.
"Here, boy!" the man commanded again, and this time, miraculously, the dog — a Great Dane? — did as it was bidden. Padding forward, resentment plain in the set of its head and the droop of its tail, it parked its oversized rear on its master's foot.
"That thing slobbered all over me," she said, wiping her hands on her coat. No, not her coat, she reminded herself, but Dr. Sterling's, purloined from the gunroom when no one was looking. If anyone deserved the spittle, it was him. A pity she hadn't found gloves in the pockets, though.
"You ought to keep it chained up," she said, giving the dog another good glare.
"My apologies, Miss Grey," the man said, dislodging Hector as he stepped closer. "Are you all right?"
This stranger knew her. She opened her mouth to ask how then snapped it shut a second later. After all these years enduring prods and pokes, she ought to recognize a doctor at twenty paces.
"You have the advantage of me. Your name would be ...?"
"Carter. Dr. William Carter."
The name suited him. She found it easy to imagine him, with his broad shoulders and strong limbs, hefting heavy loads onto a laborer's cart. He had a simple, coarse-featured face, too. Only his voice didn't fit the picture. He spoke beautifully, with no hint of a regional accent.
A couple of days ago she'd overheard some of the nurses gossiping about the new doctor who was set to arrive. A local lad, they'd said, the son of a former Blackwell employee, from back before the house became an insane asylum.
"Oh," she said, "you're the old housekeeper's son."
He didn't blush; nothing so feminine. A muscle worked in his jaw, and a slight redness tipped his ears. She hadn't meant her words as an insult, but it was good to know she possessed a weapon if she needed one.
"We heard you were coming," she added.
"Miss Grey." He offered his arm, all politeness. "I think you must be very cold. Won't you walk back with me?"
She took a step away before she caught herself. She would not show fear. Not in front of a doctor. Not in front of anyone. "How gentlemanly. And yet you are no true gentleman."
In truth she thought no worse of him for his lowly birth. How could she when her own was so irregular? If he chose, he might with justice say that she was no true lady herself. As it was, her rudeness had no visible impact. She'd taken him by surprise earlier, but since then he'd girded himself against further insult. Sensible man.
"Did you mean to run away?" he asked.
That's it, Doctor. Put me in my place. But you can't make me answer.
Even as she'd donned the stolen coat, she'd recognized the futility of her actions. With no money, she had no hope of escape, especially at this time of year. But she owed this man, this doctor, no explanation. He was nothing to her.
He sighed — a short, exasperated exhalation that irritated her. "What did you mean to do, stay out here until you froze?" He'd used past tense, and yet Sterling, indeed any of the other asylum staff, would have dragged her back to the house by now.
The dog crept forward and nuzzled her hand with its snout.
"For heaven's sake, get off," she snapped.
Dr. Carter flinched as if the words had been meant for him. "Here, Hector."
The dog whimpered and obeyed. Its master placed his hand on its head and stroked absentmindedly. The gesture looked almost like sympathy.
"Are you in earnest?" he asked Helen.
Done with talk, she turned her back on the pair of them.
Now he must do one of two things: grab her and carry her back to the house over his shoulder like an errant child or walk away. She hoped for the latter. If he left her here, even if he sent someone else to do his dirty work afterward, he'd reveal himself as a weakling and a coward. She'd dealt with those before. They were much easier to predict than the Dr. Sterlings of this world.
"I'm not sure I believe you." His words sent a thrill of shock through her.
The asylum staff bullied and cajoled her, but she couldn't remember the last time anyone had confronted her like an equal.
"I beg your pardon?" She turned to face him again. "Do you ..."
The words wouldn't come, even though she knew what she wanted to say. Not a problem with which she usually struggled.
She tried again. "Do you always insult your patients? Did they teach you that at the Royal College of Physicians?" Frowning, he inclined his head. "You'd freeze more quickly without the coat."
A grudging spark of respect flickered within her. Best to stamp it out at once. If he wasn't going to take her seriously, she'd have to show him how wrong he was.
Her fingers, sluggish with cold, worked clumsily as she felt for the row of buttons. Undoing them took much longer than it should have, but at last the coat sagged open. She shrugged free of the heavy wool and let it fall in a heap at her feet.
"There," she said, or actually, "Th — the — there."
With the coat on, she'd been cold, but now, where the air rushed to meet her skin, she burned. Her thin white day dress was suitable attire for a warm summer's afternoon but woefully inadequate for the snow and ice of a January twilight. Her limbs shook so violently, she feared Dr. Carter might take it for a fit.
Teeth rattling, she wondered, not for the first time, if she was mad after all.
The doctor shoved his hands deep into his pockets, perhaps to keep from seizing hold of her. But he was difficult to read, and she couldn't be sure of his motives on any score. Had he truly meant his words as a challenge, or was this all some colossal mistake?
Perhaps the latter, because Dr. Carter withdrew his hands again almost immediately and held one out to her. "Come back with me, Miss Grey."
This wasn't the almost formal gesture he'd made before. This time, his hand was open, palm up, almost as if he offered it in friendship. No weapon could hide in a hand held out so. It would feel warm even through his glove.
She could put the coat back on, take that hand, and let him lead her back to heat and light. Instead, she stared stupidly, her mind slowing, seizing up.
If I go back, they'll never let me go again. Impossible. Blackwell had been her prison for nearly a decade, and she couldn't endure another moment there. Better to freeze out here in the snow.
"Won't you let me help you?"
"You medical men," she said, and even her own words came to her ears as if through a long tunnel. "Always ready to help, always eager to strap me down and manhandle me."
But she barely knew what she was saying anymore. Before she had a chance to marshal her sluggish thoughts, her legs gave out — just crumpled out from under her. Fire kissed her skin as she sank into the snow.
"Drat," she whispered as Dr. Carter rushed forward and gathered her into his arms.CHAPTER 2
Will struggled to his feet, the woman cradled clumsily against his chest. As he'd noted earlier, she was tall, and now that she'd discarded the coat, he could make out the abundant curves beneath the thin fabric of her gown.
"Miss Grey?" He gave her a gentle shake, but her eyes stayed closed, her head lolling drunkenly. First slowed speech and reduced coordination, and now a loss of consciousness. This wasn't a fainting fit; this was hypothermia. "Bloody hell, woman," he muttered and winced when the words came out pure Yorkshire. For years, he'd worked hard to obliterate every trace of his accent, but in times of stress, a hint of the north crept back.
Only a fool would try to carry her to the asylum when the village was closer, and after his first few steps, he knew the short walk through the trees and down the lane to his mother's house would prove challenge enough. He was exhausted, the snow made progress slow, and the woman weighed heavy in his arms.
Hector ran in circles around them, his bounding strides kicking up a fine spray of snow.
"You're no help," Will told him.
As the daylight continued to dwindle, the temperature plummeted, and he cursed himself for leaving her coat behind, but he hadn't dared stoop to retrieve it for fear of dropping his burden.
"We'll be there soon, lass," he whispered.
His scarf gaped where he'd pulled it aside, and the mist of his breath, trapped against her hair, was so warm that he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
Not long now.
By the time they reached the little cottage, the dog had vanished. A law unto himself, he tended to wander off unless he was chained. At least he'd be out from underfoot.
Will kicked the gate wide and trudged up the path. On the doorstep, he eased Miss Grey down until her feet met the ground. Still supporting her weight as best he could with the left side of his body, he hammered on the door with his fist.
"Mam?" he called and hammered again. "Mam!"
"Hold on." His mother's voice came from within, followed by the jangle of keys. "Slow down, boy. What's your hurry?" The door swung open to reveal a little old lady holding a paraffin lamp: his redoubtable mother but shriveled with age. Time galloped faster as people grew old, and two years had wrought a significant change.
"Good heavens, boy. Who's this?" At least her voice remained the same — loud and strident, ringing with authority. "Bring her in, then. You can explain later."
Between them, they half-dragged, half-carried Miss Grey into the warmth of the cottage and along the narrow passage that led past stairs and a kitchen to a tiny parlor.
"Put her on the settee near the fire," his mother ordered. "I'll be back in a minute."
He eased the unconscious woman onto the cushions and began undoing her buttons. The thin white fabric rendered the dress little better than a glorified shift. They had to get her into something warm and dry as quickly as possible. Her skin looked almost as pale as the fabric, though whether that was the usual redhead's pallor or something more sinister, he couldn't be sure.
Six buttons in, he realized she wore no undergarments. He was a psychiater — a mind doctor — so undressing women wasn't something he did with any frequency, and she was young and curvaceous.
Concentrate on her face. Christ, man, you're a professional. Act like one.
Yes, her face. The square jut of her chin, the light color of her eyelashes, her ghastly pallor, the shadows underneath each eye. All the while, his hands continued their work. The buttons done, he needed to free her arms from the sleeves.
"I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients ..." he recited as he slid and jerked the fabric free. The Hippocratic Oath came to him in fits and starts. "I will preserve the purity of my art ... I will keep myself far from all intentional ill-doing ...seduction and especially ... from the pleasures of love with women or men."
"Stand aside, William Carter." A gruff, red-faced woman he'd never seen before bustled into the room and slapped his hands aside. "That's no work for you."
Mam followed, her arms laden with blankets. "Don't be a fool, Sarah. He's a doctor."
Sarah? Yes, he remembered now. In one of Mam's letters several months ago, she'd told him about a widow she'd taken in as lodger. This must be she.
"Well, in my day, doctors left that sort of thing to the womenfolk," Sarah grumbled. "They didn't examine you unless they'd tried everything else first."
"Be a love," Mam said, "and fetch me the kettle off the stove. Oh, and the mixing bowl."
Sarah nodded and stamped out, muttering under her breath.
"Well?" His mother regarded him, one hand on her hip. "Sarah's right. Stand aside. No need for you to do that when I'm here."
Between the two of them — the three of them once Sarah got back with the necessities — they soon had Miss Grey out of her wet things and covered in a veritable mountain of blankets.
Only then did his mother turn to him for advice. "Do you think we need do more?"
"Do you have hot water flasks?" he asked.
She nodded. "I'll get mine. You too, Sarah."
While he waited, he shrugged out of his coat, adding it to the mound of blankets, tucking it in, trying to make some feeble amends for his earlier actions. You'd freeze more quickly without the coat. What had possessed him to speak as he had? He'd known who and what she was, yet he'd practically dared her into an act of madness.
He'd been tired after the journey from London, but Hector had desperately needed a run after spending the entire day penned up, and so Will had ventured out again despite his aching limbs. He'd been frozen near solid by the time the dog decided to hare off on his own. Yet none of these woes excused such a lamentable lapse of judgment where Miss Grey was concerned.
His mother returned with the hot water flasks and waited, foot tapping, while he positioned them under the blankets, one to the girl's left, one to her right down by her feet. Once he'd arranged them to his satisfaction, he turned to face the questions he knew would come.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Madness of Miss Grey"
Copyright © 2019 Julia Bennet.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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
This book was so interesting. Not only because the majority of it takes place in an insane asylum, but because William takes the cases like a modern doctor. Whereas Sterling, the head doctor in the asylum, was stuck in his ways where a woman, if they looked too long at something, was deemed unfit. It really astonished me that that kind of thinking is still in place today. Helen didn’t let that stop her though. She knew her own mind and she wasn’t going to let anyone influence her. In fact, she was going to make sure that everybody knew that she didn’t belong in the asylum. The romance between Will and Helen was slow burning and quiet. But boy did it burn strong. It was really sweet because he legitimately trusted her to know what she was doing and she trusted him to know when he wanted to help. It was a super cute dynamic and I really want to go back and re-read this book.
Dr William Carter is a doctor in an insane asylum. The son of a housekeeper, he does not fit into society. The ton thinks that Miss Helen Grey, a former actress is insane. After being admitted to the asylum for ten years, she has barely held onto her sanity. When She meets Dr Carter who is new there, she hopes for a chance to prove she is sane and get out as she is as much prisoner as patient. He understands that she is sane and decides to help her escape. Although feelings are involved, they can't let them distract from what they must do. She has someone who is paying for her to be kept against her will. Love is the one thing that she must fight for as well as freedom. I loved Dr Carter, a good doctor who is down to earth and Helen who has a strength that is to be envied Great characters and a wonderful story. I loved it. I received this book from Net Galley and Entangled Publishing for a honest review. I voluntarily read this book.
Yorkshire 1882 "If I go back, they'll never let me go again." That was the thought of Helen Grey as she met Dr William Carter as she tried to escape the asylum. This story pulled me in right from the first page and did not let go until the end. Helen had been in the asylum for ten years since she was almost sixteen . Put there by someone who did not want her known and with no way to escape. She wasn't crazy, although at times with the way she was treated, it was almost hard not to be. Will was the son of a former housekeeper for the home before it turned into an asylum. He had been able to train as a doctor and he hoped to get recommended by a staff physician, Dr. Sterling. Thus the journey to helping Helen get out of the place. They are really attracted to each other, but she has been so mistreated it is hard to trust. An almost gothic story (which I am a fan of!) that takes us down the path of how horrible the conditons of asylums where back in this time and how women were mistreated. Could Will help her and get her away or would it jeopardize his position? Julia Bennet is a new author to me and I look forward to reading more by her and would recommend this story! I read this through NetGallery. Lori Dykes
I enjoyed William and Helen's story. I was definitely a different type of historical romance than I normally read, but still enjoyable. It didn't have all the positive things that you tend to get in a romance. Helen is locked up in an asylum when she shouldn't be, so much of the storyline is her life there and how horribly she has been mistreated. I would probably classify this as more of a historical fiction story with a little bit of romance thrown in.