A thrilling debut in women’s suspense—a ghost story set in 1920s England
Sarah Piper’s lonely, threadbare existence changes when her temporary work agency sends her to assist a ghost hunter. Alistair Gellis—rich, handsome, scarred by World War I, and obsessed with ghosts—has been summoned to investigate the spirit of nineteen-year-old maid Maddy Clare, who haunts the barn where she committed suicide. Since Maddy hated men in life, it is Sarah’s task to confront her in death. Soon Sarah is caught up in a desperate struggle, for Maddy’s ghost is real, she is angry, and she has powers that defy all reason.
Can Sarah and Alistair’s assistant, the rough and unsettling Matthew Ryder, discover who Maddy was, where she came from, and what is driving her desire for vengeance before she destroys them all?
Release date: March 6, 2012
Print pages: 336
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The Haunting of Maddy Clare
Simone St. James
he day I met Mr. Gellis, I had been walking in the rain.
In the morning, unable to face another day alone in my flat, I wandered through the bustle of Piccadilly, the collar of my thin coat pulled high on my neck. The air was swollen with cottony drizzle that did not quite fall to the ground, and pressed my cheeks and eyelashes. The lights of Piccadilly shone garishly under the lowering clouds; the shouts of the tourists were loud against the grim silence of the businesspeople and the murmurs of strolling couples in the square.
I stayed as long as I could, watching the bob of umbrellas. No one noticed a pale girl, with cropped hair under an inexpensive and unfashionable hat, her hands plunged in her pockets. Eventually, the mist resolved itself into rain and even I turned my reluctant steps home.
Though it was only noon, the sky was near dark when I opened the gate and hurried up the walk to my small and shabby boardinghouse. I climbed the narrow stairs to my room, shivering as the damp penetrated my stockings and numbed my legs. I was fumbling for my key with chilled fingers and thinking of a cup of hot tea when the landlady called up the stairs that there was a telephone call for me.
I turned and descended again. It would be the temporary agency on the line-they were the only ones with my exchange. I had worked for them for nearly a year, and they sent me to one place or another to answer phones or transcribe notes in ill-lit, low-ceilinged offices. Still, the work had dried up in recent weeks, and I was painfully short of funds. How fortunate I was, of course. I would have missed their call had I come home only five minutes later.
In the first-floor hallway, the house's only telephone sat on a small shelf, the receiver lying unhooked where the landlady had left it. I could already hear the echo of an impatient voice on the other end.
"Sarah Piper?" came a female voice as I raised the receiver to my ear. "Sarah Piper? Are you there?"
"I'm here," I said. "Please don't hang up."
It was the temporary agency, as I had suspected. The girl sounded flustered and impatient as she explained what had come up. "A writer," she told me. "Writing a book of some sort-needs an assistant. Wants a meeting with someone today. He wants a female."
I sighed, thinking of fat, sweaty men who liked a succession of young ladies in their employ. Normally I'd be sent to an office to begin work right away, not to a personal meeting. "Is he a regular client?"
"No, he's new. Wants to meet someone this afternoon."
I bit my lip as my stomach rolled uneasily. Temporary girls were easy targets for any kind of behavior from a man, and we had nearly no recourse without getting fired. "At his office?"
She huffed her impatience. "At a coffeehouse. He was specific about meeting in a public place. Will you go?"
"I don't know," I said.
"Look." She had an edge in her voice now. "I have other girls I can call. Are you going or not?"
To meet a man alone in a coffee shop? Yet my rent at the boardinghouse was two weeks past due. "Please," I said. "This isn't a matchmaking service."
"What's to lose?" she replied. "If you don't like it, I'll give it to the next girl."
I looked out the window, where rain now streaked down. I pictured the girl at the other end of the phone, bored and brassy and fearless. A girl like that wouldn't think twice. It was girls like me who thought twice-about going back out in our only good set of clothes, about meeting unknown men in unknown places. About everything.
I took a breath. I could go back to my damp little flat, and sit at my window, thinking and drinking endless cups of tea. Or I could go out and meet a stranger in the rain.
"I'll be there," I said.
She gave me the coordinates and hung up. I stood for only a moment, listening to the water on the windows and the sound of coarse laughter in one of the first-floor rooms. Then I went back out to the street.
"I don't suppose they told you much," the young man across from me said as he poured his tea. "I told them as little as I could."
He was nothing like I had pictured: young, perhaps twenty-five, the same age as I. His dark blond hair was not slicked down as was the fashion, but worn longish and windblown, as if he combed it in the morning and forgot about it. Quick intelligence gleamed in his gray eyes, the wry set of his face, and the eloquent movement of his hands. The coffeehouse he had brought me to was in Soho, and the bohemian atmosphere of it matched his style-an olive green coat of soft well-worn wool over a white shirt unbuttoned at the throat. He blended perfectly in a place like this, with its offbeat paintings and thin, sullen waitresses.
It was I who was out of place here. I never came to Soho; its reputation was too wild, too artistic for me. But as I sipped coffee that made my mouth burn with flavor and watched Mr. Gellis' fascinating smile, I ceased to care. I wrapped my cold hands around the cup, curled my sodden toes in their cheap shoes, and managed to smile back.
"Not much," I agreed. "They said you are a writer."
He laughed. "I hope you didn't get too excited. I don't write lurid books or anything of that sort. Just dry academic books."
"I don't read lurid books."
"You won't be disappointed, then." He dropped a lump of sugar in his cup. "A lady who doesn't read lurid books is promising. I asked for someone intelligent."
I blinked. The agency thought me intelligent? I doubted it; likely I had been chosen because I was currently available. Still, the compliment warmed. I took off my hat and quickly ran my fingers through my earlobe-length hair, which was curling a little in the damp. "Do you require a secretary? I can transcribe."
He leaned back in his chair. "There may be some of that." He tapped his fingers on the tabletop and looked out the window, as if thinking. I watched his clean, debonair profile with the beginnings of warm pleasure. His presence was so comfortable, so easy, I was suddenly glad I had come.
Mr. Gellis tapped his fingertips on the tabletop again and turned to me. He seemed always in motion, as if his thoughts could not sit still. "I confess I'm not entirely sure how to approach this. What I need done may seem rather strange."
Some of my happiness drained away. "Strange?"
"I met you in public for a reason," he went on. "I specifically need a female, and I did not want you to feel uneasy, presented with something that might frighten you."
I was cold now. "I beg your pardon?"
He reddened. "I'm terribly sorry. That came out wrong. I don't get out much socially, you know." He sighed. "I'll let my notes do the explaining."
He pulled a large notebook from the leather satchel slung over the back of his chair and slid it across the table to me. The notebook was well used and full; I could see corners turned down, the edges of glued-in clippings, extra pages folded and stuffed between leaves.
I opened it to the first page, which contained a newspaper clipping about a haunted house in Newcombe. In the margin next to the clipping was a neat set of handwritten notes. I turned to the second page and found more notes, in a careful hand that was squared and bold and masculine.
I read the notes for a long moment; then I looked up. "This is-"
"An eyewitness account of a ghost."
I felt his gaze on me as I flipped through more pages. It was a notebook of hauntings, one after another. "So-you research ghosts?"
"I document them." He rubbed a hand through his hair. "Well, what do you know? I'm so used to it I don't really think of it anymore. But it sounds strange said out loud, doesn't it?" He dug into his bag again and handed me something else-a book. I took the slender volume and read the title.
Accounts of Haunted Properties in the North of England, by Alistair Gellis. I looked up at Mr. Gellis, who was staring modestly down and stirring his tea with a spoon. "You said you write dry academic books," I accused.
"I certainly try to." He shrugged. "I travel to haunted places and test the veracity of the claims. I use technology to document them, or debunk them, as the situation calls for. Then I compile all of my conclusions into books filled with citations and footnotes. As dry as I can make it, really."
It was all too wild for me to take in. "You believe in this?" I said without thinking.
He frowned, and I wished I could swallow my words. Of course he believed in ghosts, or he would not write about them. "It isn't a matter of believing, really," he said. "I believe what I see."
"But surely some of these are hoaxes?"
The corner of his mouth curled. "Yes, some of them are hoaxes. Many of them, in fact. The hoaxes go in the books, too. But some of them . . ." He paused, then shrugged again. "What can I say? Some of them simply are not."
I put the book down on the table. This was surely the strangest assignment any temporary girl had ever been given. I did not know what to make of it. Mr. Gellis seemed young, intellectual, and even eccentric: the type of person who could fall prey to charlatans, I thought. It had not escaped my notice that his clothes, for all their casual elegance, were more quietly expensive than those of anyone else in the room. Likely he attracted liars like magnets.
"You think I'm mad." When I looked up, he was smiling, amused and a little rueful. "You can say it. You think I'm barmy. Most women do."
"No," I protested. "No."
"A liar, then."
I was shocked. "No! Of course not."
"Very well, then. You simply don't believe in ghosts."
"I don't-" I shook my head. "I don't know. I've never thought of it. I don't know what I believe." I took a breath, traced a finger along the edge of the small book in front of me, trying to put into words what concerned me. "I don't have an opinion about ghosts. It's people I don't believe in, I suppose."
"What a very unusual girl you are," he said.
I looked up, surprised. Mr. Gellis sipped his tea, his eyes watching me calmly over the rim of the cup. I talked through my confusion. "So-the, ah, job. I am guessing you need someone to organize your notes?"
"Yes, yes." He put down his cup and sat forward. "I have an assistant. He takes my notes for me and keeps everything organized. That is his notebook there."
He gestured to the fat notebook on the table between us, and I pictured a serious and bespectacled man, meticulously keeping all of Mr. Gellis' clippings in order and writing notes with that neat, sure hand.
"His name is Matthew Ryder," Mr. Gellis went on. "But he is away this week, visiting his sister who is having a baby. Normally I would not need a replacement, but I find that this week I do."
I nodded. Taking notes, organizing clippings-it was easy enough. "Certainly I'll help you," I said.
He held up a finger. "Ah-I haven't finished. Don't agree just yet. You said you have no opinion on the existence of ghosts."
"I've certainly never seen one," I conceded.
His smile was like sun breaking through the clouds. "How lucky for you, then. Because you're going to see one this week. For me."
here was sharp laughter at the next table, but I barely registered it as I stared at Mr. Gellis. "You wish for me to witness a ghost?"
"I hope so," he replied, as if we were discussing everyday business. "If the lead I have is authentic. I've done this long enough to believe it is."
A hard, cold lump formed deep in my stomach. A waitress came by, and Mr. Gellis took another cup of tea. When she turned to me, I shook my head, embarrassed, as there had been no discussion of who was paying and I did not have enough money for a second cup of coffee. "I don't understand," I said when she had left.
"Then let me explain." Mr. Gellis rubbed his hands together and a glint of excitement came into his eyes. "I assume you are not familiar with the famous ghosts of England?"
I shook my head.
"Of course not. As you see here, I've documented many of them. There are a lot of ghosts in England, but there are a few of us writing books like mine, and we tend to cover the same ground. It's inevitable. The challenge is to find something new-an entirely unseen haunting that has never been written about before. And just this week, I've finally found one." He gulped his tea, swallowing nearly half the cup's hot contents, and I realized he was truly excited. "Just a few days ago a vicar contacted me. He had been living in a tiny town called Waringstoke, where a local family asked him to attempt an exorcism. This was several months ago. The exorcism failed spectacularly-not only did the ghost not leave, but according to this vicar, she physically attacked him. A physical attack, Miss Piper! It is entirely extraordinary."
It was the first time he had said my name, and I dropped my gaze to the table, embarrassed that I had noticed. "What kind of physical attack?"
"Throwing things, mostly. Heavy things. He told me he felt the disturbance almost immediately; he described it as a feeling of rage. He said he's never felt anything like it before, and hopefully never again."
"And why did he contact you?"
"Why, I offer money for tips, of course."
I looked up again. Mr. Gellis waved a dismissive hand, and I knew he was one of those people born to money, so effortlessly gifted with it that it meant nothing to him. "That is neither here nor there. He was so rattled by the experience that he got a new living and moved away. He still has nightmares. I've met many liars in my life, and I don't believe he is one of them. I immediately wrote the family living in the house and asked their permission to come. They agreed, but on two conditions."
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