“I did something bad.”
Blair Butler rarely returns to her small hometown in the Pocono mountains. Her best friend Molly was murdered in the woods there fifteen years ago, but 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. But is Blair prepared for the shocking truth . . .?
A deathbed confession has chilling consequences in this page-turning new novel of psychological suspense from Patricia MacDonald, author of 15 internationally bestselling novels of thrilling domestic suspense. Our publisher Kate Lyall Grant has hailed Patricia as “a master of her craft and at the top of her game” for THE GIRL IN THE WOODS, and we were gripped from start, filled with curiosity as to what really happened to Molly Sinclair. If you like stories full of twists, intrigue and shocks, this is one for you . . . Read the extract below and prepare to be hooked!
The hours dragged but the days seemed to pass in a twinkling.
Celeste rarely opened her eyes and when she did, she seemed to look upon the room and the friends and family members gathered there, as if she were already far, far away. Once in a great while she would utter a few words, but they were often garbled, and made no sense.
Sometimes Malcolm would come and stand beside the bed, staring silently at his mother. Blair tried to talk to him, but he mostly ignored her attempts, retreating to his room. One night, as Blair was sitting beside Celeste’s bed, all her muscles cramped, longing for the peace and release of a long yoga class, she suddenly saw Celeste’s eyes open and stare at her.
‘Hi sweetie,’ she said, glad she was here, rather than off in some class contorting herself into the downward dog. Here she was needed. Though, in truth, she was no longer sure if Celeste was aware of anyone or anything around her.
Celeste frowned, the parchment-colored skin of her forehead rippling slightly. She spoke in a whisper and Blair had to lean over to hear her.
‘I have to tell you something,’ she said quite clearly.
Blair’s heart jumped. ‘Anything,’ said Blair.
There was a painful silence.
‘I did something bad,’ Celeste whispered.
‘Oh Celeste. There’s nothing bad that you did,’ Blair said urgently. ‘Nothing that matters now. You’ve always been the best mother and the best sister . . .’
‘Blair . . .’ Celeste said, a note of impatience in her scratchy voice.
Blair was shocked by her sister’s insistence. She acquiesced immediately.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Blair. ‘Tell me what you were going to say.’
Celeste closed her eyes and, for a moment, Blair thought she was going back to sleep. And then she seemed to marshal her forces. She opened her eyes and looked straight at Blair.
‘Adrian Jones,’ she whispered.
The name surged through Blair like a jolt of electricity. It was about the last thing she had expected to hear. No one had mentioned that name in years. Adrian Jones. Blair understood that he had another name now. Something Muhammed. He had become a Muslim in prison. He was in the state penitentiary at Greenwood.
He was serving a life sentence for the murder of Molly Sinclair.
Blair frowned at her sister. ‘What about him?’ she asked.
Celeste stared at Blair for what seemed like a long time. She licked her lips a few times, as if she was going to speak and then she didn’t.
‘You’re talking about the guy that killed Molly,’ Blair prodded her.
Celeste looked relieved, as if she was not sure that Blair had understood who Adrian Jones was.
‘He didn’t,’ she whispered. ‘I was there.’
‘You were where?’ Blair demanded. ‘I don’t . . .’
‘That night. In his car. Like he said.’
Blair stared at her dying sister, trying to grasp what she was hearing. On the evening that Molly was killed, after she left Blair’s house, it had begun to rain. Blair could remember looking out at the rain and worrying about her friend. Chased away by Uncle Ellis, Molly had set out walking without even an umbrella or a raincoat. During the trial, the prosecution produced a witness; a delivery truck driver who had seen a car pull up beside Molly that rainy evening, on the road leading into the woods and saw Molly get in. From the man’s description, they were able to trace the car to Adrian Jones.
Adrian Jones, a young African-American man who had been picked up a few times for possession of marijuana and shoplifting, knew Molly. His mother made pies and pastries for the Apres Ski café. When he was questioned, Adrian insisted indignantly at first that it was not him, not his car. When the police searched his car and found Molly’s cell phone, wedged in the back seat, Adrian changed his story. He admitted picking Molly up, but insisted that he was not alone when he stopped for her. Celeste was with him and recognized the girl as Blair’s friend. They offered Molly a ride because of the rain.
Uncle Ellis had been apoplectic when he heard this incredible lie. Blair could remember the raised voices, the accusations, the word ‘nigger kid’ spat repeatedly from Uncle Ellis’s lips. Celeste had been steadfast, insisted that she was nowhere near that car. That she didn’t even know Adrian Jones. Without an alibi, Adrian Jones became the obvious, the only suspect. At his trial, the jury convicted him in less than two hours.
‘Celeste, that can’t be. He went to jail for that. Adrian Jones. He’s been in jail for . . . years.’
‘Yes,’ Celeste croaked. ‘I lied.’
‘But why?’ Blair demanded, shocked by her sister’s treachery.
‘What were you thinking? Didn’t you know what kind of trouble you were getting him into? You were sixteen. You had to know what would happen.’
‘I didn’t . . .’ Celeste protested, and Blair saw tears form in her fever bright eyes.
Celeste held Blair’s fingers in a surprisingly strong grip. Blair could see that it was taking every ounce of her will to explain this.
‘Uncle Ellis. Me with Adrian . . . He would have killed me. Put us out in the street. You were so young,’ Celeste said. She closed her eyes.
Oh no, thought Blair. Wait, just a minute. She had to stifle the impulse to tear her fingers from Celeste’s grip. To push her away. You didn’t do this for me, she wanted to say, don’t use me as your excuse.
‘I’ve been gone from this house for years,’ she cried. ‘But Adrian’s still in jail. And you’re saying now that he’s innocent. How could you . . .?’
‘I was a coward,’ Celeste whispered.
‘Celeste, my God . . .’
‘I’m sorry,’ Celeste whimpered. ‘Sorry.’
But even as she reeled with disbelief, Blair knew that Celeste was right about one thing. Uncle Ellis never made any secret of the fact that having to raise his nieces had ruined his life. It would have seemed like all the rationale he needed to pitch them out. To expect a teenager to stand up to her bitter guardian, to defy those fascist rantings which were almost his religion, was the unforgivable thing.
‘Tell them,’ Celeste whispered.
‘I’m sorry. What?’ Blair asked.
‘Tell them. Tell someone,’ Celeste pleaded. ‘He didn’t kill her.’
Blair shook her head, as if she could not process the information all at once.
‘Please,’ Celeste whispered.
‘Yes. Yes, I understand,’ said Blair. ‘I will. Don’t worry. I will.’
Celeste sighed. Having rid herself of her terrible secret, she seemed to relax. Celeste’s eyes closed and her ragged breathing became shallow. Her grip on Blair’s fingers loosened and then her hand fell away.
‘Celeste,’ Blair whispered. ‘Can you hear me?’
Celeste seemed to be receding in front of her eyes. Blair stared at her sister’s waxy face, while her brain went into overdrive. My God, she thought. That man is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and now I know it for a fact. I have to do something about this. Celeste, freed of her guilty burden, began to breathe more slowly, with greater difficulty. Blair watched her helplessly. Her head was pounding and she was overcome with the exhaustion of sitting beside that bed, waiting. How long had it been? Her heart felt as if it were being torn and twisted in her body as she watched her sister start to disappear. Although she did not feel the least bit tired, she lay her head down on the bed, near Celeste’s face. She could smell her sister’s breath, foul as a pit. She closed her eyes, just for a moment, against the pain.
The next thing she knew, someone was shaking her by the shoulder. She opened her eyes and looked up. Ellis, unshaven, stood beside the bed in his work pants and thermal undershirt, the boots on his feet unfastened. He was staring down at Celeste’s face.
Blair blinked at her uncle, frowning. She was halfway between sleep and waking, trying to take it in.
‘What?’ she mumbled.
‘It’s over,’ he said. ‘She’s gone.’
Can’t wait to read more? THE GIRL IN THE WOODS is available now in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Click here for more information.