New Mystery Reader is proud to present chapter 3 from from Karen Treanor's new title, The Angelus Ghost! As Karen is one of our very favorite reviewers, we're delighted to bring you this enticing excerpt, and hope you'll be as compelled as we were to read the rest of this fascinating tale!
But first, enjoy the review of Karen's new title:
Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards
Attention mystery and romance fans, here is a tale to grab your attention. Guaranteed to satisfy any reader.
A gloomy old house in Ireland owned by Charles Castlereagan is a temporary home to nurse Tara O'Neill when she undertakes the care of her stricken friend, Meade--wife of Sir Charles. Immediately, she is faced with the problem of dealing with Meade's mental confusion. Is her old friend losing her mind as evidenced by talk of ghosts and strange sounds that no one but her can hear?
Crisis follows crisis until Charles is convinced to send Meade away. Tara will be accompanying her, much to the dismay of Jeremy, Charles' younger brother who has pursued her vigorously.
Meade's absense from the house brings about a return to her former health and she returns home blooming and carrying a baby to replace the one ths lost the previous year. Tara has agreed to stay on and report to the doctor the state of Meade's health.
Mixed in her concern for her friend is a growing attraction between Tara and the doctor, a man she'd known some years back. But, until they are sure Meade is safe from further attacks, they will do nothing about their private feelings.
Tara is convinced someone, not a ghost, is haunting the house with evil intent toward Meade. The attacks are resumed with increasing intensity. Does someone want the Castlereagan line to die out?
Lots of mystery to keep you on the edge of your seat as you keep turning pages to see what happens next. Lots of red herrings, twists and surprises in store for the reader. An exciting read.
Highly recommended as something different, a read you will truly enjoy. I sure did.
Now for the exciting excerpt from chapter 3:
It's 1905 and modern ways are coming to even such distant places as the West of Ireland. Nurse Tara O'Neill has accepted a private nursing job at Angelus House. Most of the staff think that Meade Castlereagan, lady of the manor, is mad: she hears things no-one else hears, fire spring up when she's alone, and since her baby died, she's become increasingly withdrawn. There's a curse on Angelus, people say, and there's a mysterious being haunting its halls. Tara scoffs at the idea of family curses and haunted houses, and is determined to pull Meade out of her depression With good food, healthy exercise and companionship, Meade starts to improve.
We started taking daily rides when the weather was mild. These were largely uneventful except for one day when Meade's saddle gave way and dumped her unceremoniously on the ground not far from the house. As we had been riding cross-country on turf as soft as an eiderdown, she came to no harm. She lay on the ground, laughing, as a surprised Misty looked over her withers as if wondering where her burden had gone. I dusted Meade off and put her on Tralee over her protests. I took Misty by the reins, to lead her back to the stable. Before we left, I had a quick look at the saddle girth and thought it looked rather too new to have given way from wear. The parted edges did not appear to be much frayed.
Back at the stables, I told Demmy of the accident and asked him to have Mick bring in the saddle and give it a thorough going over. There was no real reason to suspect anything but an accident, but I'd be happier having an expert go over the tack and reassure me. Slipping off onto mossy turf was one thing, but had we been galloping on the gravel driveway, the result might not have been so amusing.
Jeremy did not pay a return visit to my room, although he did make thinly veiled comments from time to time calculated to put me off guard. He was a rogue and a cad but so charming and open about it that I found it difficult to maintain a frosty facade. Time after time I fell into his verbal traps and reacted to something he said, which always brought a knowing chuckle from him. I cursed myself for being an idiot and resolved to ignore him but never quite managed it.
Hodge, the old reprobate, prospered mightily. His wounds healed well and when the bandages and stitches were removed and his fur grew back, one would not have known he had suffered any damage. I advised Lady Arbella to have him neutered, but she countered with her own plan, which called for all male kittens on the estate to be drowned as soon as discovered. This eventually led to a population of female felines that resembled Hodge, which was a source of satisfaction both to the cat and his owner.
Meade and I went riding often. The matter of the cut cinch still bothered me, but when I asked Demmy about it again, he said he had not recovered the saddle and that he supposed it to have been stolen by a passer-by who thought it abandoned.
Putting pride in my pocket, I wrote to Dr. Hawkins in Cork, explaining my present case and asking his advice about my patient. I waited anxiously for his answer, on two accounts: one, for what he might say that could help Meade, and two, for what he might say on a personal level. Would he still remember that I had said I never wanted to see him again? Had he ever understood that that last fight between us had arisen from my frustrated feelings about him, or did he still think that it really happened because I thought his handling of a patient was wrong?
I could see the scene in my mind's eye: the bereaved young husband and Sean Hawkins berating him to allow an autopsy for the good of future patients. I had sided with the young man, whose wife had died in childbirth. Why hadn't Sean been able to understand the man's grief? I had thought him inhuman then and later in his office had told him so. Now, from a vantage point years later, I could see that my schoolgirl crush on the doctor had interfered with my objectivity. Thank goodness, that was all behind me; never again did I wish to go through that sort of turmoil. I was taking a chance, re-establishing contact with him, but I was much older and wiser now. This time I should manage to be cool and professional, and not disgrace myself with emotional outbursts.
One night when I had been about a month at Angelus House, I retired early but could not sleep. Long after midnight I was still wide-awake. At last I got up, put on my robe, and went out into the hall. Perhaps a cup of tea, if the kitchen range was still hot, would help me sleep. As I passed the door to Lady Arbella's suite, Hodge came up to me in the hall and meowed imperiously to be let in. I opened the sitting room door and was about to continue to the kitchen when the old lady herself popped out of the adjoining bedroom. "What are you doing up at this hour?" she hissed.
"Letting His Royal Highness in," I said, indicating Hodge, who was now savaging a silk cushion with his claws, preparatory to making his bed for the night. Lady Arbella said "scat" to him, then said to me, "As long as you're up, you can make us both a cup of tea. " She kept a spirit lamp in her bedroom, and I busied myself making tea while she got again into her high bed and arranged the coverlet and her shawl to her satisfaction.
"Restless?" she asked me.
"A bit. I usually sleep like a baby," I said, spooning tea into the tiny silver pot. I made the tea and we sat in companionable silence sipping it, Lady Arbella throwing in comments now and then as thoughts struck her. After a bit she said "Meade looks better, but she still behaves like a scared rabbit. I cannot think what has happened to that girl. When she came here I thought she was the answer to my prayers--healthy, lively, well-bred, young, and she had such spirit." She sighed.
"I know how you feel. When I knew her years ago, she was never like this. I would not have thought losing a baby would have made her change this way. I'd have expected her to bounce back in a few weeks."
"It's not just the baby; it's all the wicked talk: ghosts and boggles and what-not. Pagan Irish nonsense and it's driven her mad!" snapped Lady Arbella. "You know, they say this place in haunted, just because in the past two centuries there have been a few odd deaths. Show me an old family without a few oddities. Why do the Irish have to make a mystery of things? Bells ringing and ghosts walking and that sort of foolishness.''
Knowing my countrymen's predilection for romance and mystery, I really could not defend Ireland with my usual vigor against this charge. I finished my tea and asked "Would you like me to fix you a sleeping draught?"
"No, never touch them. What won't come naturally oughtn't to be forced. Good night Tara." She fluffed her shawl and picked up a book.
I returned to my room and eventually fell into a fitful doze. It must have been about an hour before dawn when I awoke, suddenly aware of something. There was a cold draft in my room and a dim bluish light seemed to be moving about at great speed. I fancied I could hear gasping breaths in the darkness. I could not stop the scream that came from the depth of my lungs and certainly proved to me that my breathing apparatus was all first-rate goods. In a few seconds, my door burst open and Jeremy rushed in with a candle, brandishing a fire-iron.
"What happened? Are you all right?" he demanded, coming over to the bed. I nodded, temporarily unable to speak. At last, I was able to breathe again, although half-sobbing. "You're white as a ghost," Jeremy said, taking my hand and sitting on the edge of the bed. "What--"
Before he could continue the nursery door flew open and Sir Charles stood there, a night lamp in one hand and a riding crop in the other. Looking from Jeremy to me to the broken door, he said, "Now, really, Jeremy; this becomes too much! Must I hire useless crones to nurse my wife because none but they are safe from your willful ways?"
"No, no, Sir Charles; it isn't what you think," I protested. "There was something in my room, something horrid. It was cold and draughty, and it smelled and it gave off a bluish light. Altogether nasty, whatever it was," I explained. Sir Charles and Jeremy started violently at this Jeremy said "My dear girl, who's been telling you the family ghost stories?"
Sir Charles said, "Nonsense, superstitious nonsense. Stop frightening Tara, Jeremy. Go to your room and I'll have a look around here."
"If it really is the family haunt, wouldn't it be better for us all to look together?" said Jeremy in a mocking tone which did not entirely disguise his unease. He had been startled by my description of the nocturnal prowler.
Sir Charles was about to protest, when a thought came to me that I blurted out suddenly. "What about Meade? She'll be frightened to death by all this." It had not escaped my notice that Sir Charles had come to my room via the nursery, which must mean that he was sleeping in Meade's room once more.
We all three paused for a second, listening. No sound in the dark house: my scream must not have been as loud as I'd thought. Throwing back the covers, I grabbed a shawl and followed Sir Charles into the nursery. He went through to the bedroom, returning in an instant, his face stormy. "Not there! "
Jeremy said, "Check the hall door--this suite is self-contained. I broke Tara's bolt getting in when I heard her scream, so Meade can't have left this way."
Sir Charles went back to the bedroom while Jeremy searched my room and I looked about the nursery. After ten minutes, we had to give up. We'd looked into and under everything and no trace of Meade could be found. We met again in my room, where Jeremy had lit all the lamps and stoked up the fire.
"Tara, tell me again, exactly what happened," said Sir Charles, gnawing a knuckle and looking grim. I repeated my story, which left none of us the wiser. He sighed and said, "Jeremy, rouse, the servants--no, get Thomas to do it; then take a horse and go to the home farm and get the men from there. We must organize a search at once."
He strode out of the room, leaving me wondering what I could do. I paced the floor, then couldn't stand the tension any longer. Throwing aside my night-clothes, I put on my riding outfit and boots and hurried down that back stairs. With some effort, I saddled Tralee and clattered out of the yard. I had no clear idea where I should go or what I should do, but to stay at Angelus, waiting, would have driven me mad. A bloody smear on the eastern rim of night foretold the dawn. I turned Tralee towards the dim light and headed away from Angelus.
Less than a mile from the house, around the breast of the sloping green hill that protected it from the worst of the ocean winds, was the old family burying ground and beyond it, the ruins of an ancient monastery. I remembered that Meade had been found in the graveyard when she went missing the last time. It was worth a try now. From my seat on the little horse I could see that no one stood among the grey stones, now coming out of darkness one by one as the light grew. I walked Tralee all around the graveyard, but found nothing,
I headed for the ruined monastery. In daylight it was a rather pleasant place, but in the shifting, pre-dawn light, not a welcoming one. I dismounted and tied Tralee to a bush. I walked among the ruined walls and pillars, calling Meade's name. Once an owl answered me from high above, but no human voice responded. I began to feel chill and wished I had stayed in my room.
As I crossed the cloister garth, my foot struck something and I went sprawling full-length in the damp grass. A large stone projected a bit above the edge of the turf. I got up and was about to pass on when something caught my eye. A scrap of something, a bit of old rag, protruded from under the stone. I sprang back. The tiny scrap spoke to my instincts of death and dark places better not thought about. Against my will, I looked closer. Was it only my imagination, or did the scrap glow with a bluish light? Imagination, of course. Risking a hernia, I found a broken lump of stone nearby and dragged and tugged it into place atop the flat stone. If anyone had been coming and going from under it, he'd have a harder passage now. I must report this to Sir Charles at once. I ran for Tralee, mounted and headed back to Angelus.
As I again passed the Castlereagan burying ground, the mausoleum caught my eye. The heavy oak door appeared tight shut, but how could I leave without checking? I dropped Tralee's reins, knowing she'd stray no further than necessary to fill her belly with summer grass and walked up the path. I put my ear to the door. Was it my heart thumping or did I really hear something inside?
Gingerly, I pushed open the doors and stepped inside. The building was shaped like an 'L'. A stained glass window of the vilest Gothic Revival style gave the only illumination. It was cold and damp-smelling in the tomb. In the corner was a pile of leaves, swept in by the wind and pushed aside by a haphazard caretaker, no doubt. I looked about, not moving far from the doorway. Brass plaques and marble tablets listed the occupants of this grim dwelling, and ugly funeral statuary filled every nook.
"Meade? Are you in here, Meade?" I called, unwilling to go further into this uninviting place. Something rustled in the gloom at the far side, around in the leg of the ell. "Meade, come out, everyone's worried about you! " I called. Coward that I was, I felt a dreadful loathing of going into that shadowed corner. I took a half-step forward. My foot struck something and I looked down. It was a dead lamb--horribly dead, its throat gaping and one leg torn off. I gasped and stepped to one side. As I did so, something rushed out of the darkness and cold hands took me by the throat and threw me to the floor.
I fell back into the pile of leaves in the corner, half-fainting with fear, my nostrils choked with the loathsome stench I had smelled faintly in my room on the previous night. I had found the lair of the thing that haunted Angelus House!