Read The Abandoned Online

Authors: Amanda Stevens

Tags: #Fiction, #Paranormal, #Romance

The Abandoned

BOOK: The Abandoned
12.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

The Abandoned

The Graveyard Queen Series

Amanda Stevens

There are rules for dealing with ghosts. Too bad Ree Hutchins doesn’t know them.

When her favorite patient at a private mental hospital passes away, psychology student Ree Hutchins mourns the elderly woman’s death. But more unsettling is her growing suspicion that something unnatural is shadowing her.

Amateur ghost hunter Hayden Priest believes Ree is being haunted. Even Amelia Gray, known in Charleston as The Graveyard Queen, senses a gathering darkness. Driven by a force she doesn’t understand, Ree is compelled to uncover an old secret and put abandoned souls to rest—before she is locked away forever….

An ebook exclusive prequel to The Graveyard Queen series.

Dear Reader,

Please allow me to introduce Miss Amelia Gray, aka The Graveyard Queen. She’s a taphophile, a blogger and a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. Hungry ghosts. Greedy, grasping, ravenous ghosts. In order to protect herself from these netherworld parasites, Amelia has always followed her father rules.

BUT…a haunted police detective has entered her world and his ghosts have tried to make contact. Another has coerced her into a deadly (!) alliance and she’s just discovered a whole new realm of nasty specters called the Others. Oh, and a deranged taphophile is using gravestone symbolism to target victims.

And it’s not even Tuesday yet.

You, too, can enter Amelia’s misty world via The Graveyard Queen Series—
The Restorer
(May 2011),
The Kingdom
(November 2011) and
The Prophet
(May 2012)—available wherever MIRA Books are sold.

For more mysterious goings-on, please arrange a viewing at www.thegraveyardqueen.com and/or www.amandastevens.com.

Happy restorations!

Amanda Stevens

VIOLET

Ree Hutchins was dozing at the old woman’s bedside, a dog-eared copy of
The Call of the Wild
open on her lap, when Violet Tisdale passed away.

Exhausted from her hectic schedule, Ree had fallen asleep reading from the leather-bound edition Miss Violet always kept on her nightstand. Ree often wondered how many times the old woman had heard Buck’s story during her confinement at the Milton H. Farrante Psychiatric Hospital. She was well into her eighties and had been institutionalized for as long as anyone could remember. Other than her clothing and toiletries, the book was the only personal item in her quarters, although the inscription in the front read:
To my daughter, Ilsa, on the occasion of her tenth birthday. June 3, 1915.

No doubt the tattered volume was a hand-me-down from some former staff member or another patient perhaps, because no one could remember the last time Miss Violet had a visitor.

Ree shivered awake as a chill seeped into the room. The fluorescent reading lamp over her shoulder flickered and she would later remember that the clock on the nightstand had stopped precisely at 8:30. Twilight had fallen, which meant she’d been asleep for close to an hour. Miss Violet lay propped against her pillows, eyes open but unseeing, lips parted but forever silent. She hadn’t been gone long. Her wrist was still warm where Ree felt for a pulse.

Closing the book, Ree set it aside and rose to summon a nurse. Trudy McIntyre came at once with a stethoscope and mirror, and after a cursory examination, left to notify the proper authorities. Ree didn’t know what else to do so she followed her out.

“What about next of kin?”

Trudy was an efficient woman with a careworn face and weary eyes. She’d been at the hospital for a very long time. “There is no next of kin that I know of. I expect Dr. Farrante will handle the arrangements himself. He always does in cases like this.”

At the mere mention of his name, Ree’s heart fluttered. Dr. Nicholas Farrante was out of her league and much too old for any serious romantic notions, but that didn’t stop her and every other female student in the Emerson University psych department from hanging on his every word. Not that Ree wouldn’t have found “Experimental Psychology and Human Aging” fascinating regardless of the professor, but Dr. Farrante brought so much to the classroom beyond his charm and charisma. The niche his family had carved in the field of developmental psychology was astounding, going all the way back to his grandfather, Dr. Milton H. Farrante, who had been a student of Wilhelm Wundt, the father of modern psychology.

Milton had opened the facility in the early 1900s and for nearly a century, it had remained one of the preeminent private psychiatric hospitals in the country. Ree was lucky to have been accepted as a volunteer because even the unpaid positions were quickly snapped up, usually by other grad students whose families had a lot more clout than hers.

Following Trudy to her desk, Ree battled an inexplicable urge to glance over her shoulder. “Can we at least check the files? There must be someone out there who would want to know about Miss Violet.”

Trudy looked up with a heavy sigh. “Honey, I’ve been here for over twenty-five years, and in all that time, not a single, solitary soul has ever paid that old woman a visit. I’m sure her family’s all gone by now. Or else they just don’t care. Anyway, it’s out of my hands. As I said, Dr. Farrante will handle the arrangements. He’s always taken good care of Miss Violet.”

Ree couldn’t argue with that. Miss Violet’s private suite—bedroom, bath and sitting area—was located in the south wing of the hospital, a quiet, sunny area with peaceful garden views. Ree could imagine Miss Violet sitting there year after year, watching the seasons pass by. Waiting for spring. Waiting for the violets outside her window to bloom.

Trudy picked up a thick packet from her desk and handed it to Ree. “Here. If you want to make yourself useful, take this up to Dr. Farrante’s office. I’m sure he’s gone for the night so just leave it on his assistant’s desk.”

Ree glanced back down the hallway. “What about Miss Violet?”

“What about her?”

“It just seems so sad, leaving her all alone like that.”

Trudy’s face softened and she gave Ree’s arm a motherly pat. “You’ve done all you can for her. More than anyone else has bothered in years. Now it’s time to let her go.”

She was right, of course, and Ree honestly didn’t know why the death had hit her so hard. She’d only been working there a couple of months and at Miss Violet’s age, her passing wasn’t unexpected. Given her circumstances, some would call it a blessing. She was free now.

But Ree couldn’t shake the lingering pall as she climbed the stairs to Dr. Farrante’s second-floor office. The swish of her sneakers sounded like whispers and she found herself turning yet again to check the hallway behind her.

The outer office door was open and she took a quick peek inside before entering. The spacious suite was much as she would have imagined—subdued and tasteful, from the soft brown leather furniture to the thick Oriental rugs on the teak floors. She walked across the room and placed the package squarely in the center of the desk so the assistant would see it first thing when she arrived the next morning.

It wasn’t until Ree turned to leave that she realized the set of double doors leading into Dr. Farrante’s office was also open, though only a crack. The sound of his voice stopped her cold and she paused, not meaning to eavesdrop so much as she wanted to savor the timbre of that rich baritone.

Then she heard a second voice and as the conversation continued and Dr. Farrante’s anger became apparent, she was too afraid to move, too worried that the telltale squeak of a loose floorboard might give her presence away.

“…shouldn’t have come here!”

“Oh, trust me, Nicholas, what I have to tell you warranted a special trip. Besides, I thought I’d look in on Violet while I’m here. My father’s recent passing has made me realize she won’t be around for much longer. I hope you’ve finished your latest treatise.”

A warning tingled down Ree’s spine. What did this man have to do with Miss Violet?

“Your concern for her is touching,” Dr. Farrante said sarcastically.

“As is yours. The Farrantes have always taken such
good
care of my aunt.”

Aunt
? So she did have a living relative. Why had this man not come to see her before?

“She’s lived a long and, I believe, contented life here,” Dr. Farrante said.

“Whatever you have to tell yourself to sleep at night.”

“And just what do you tell yourself, Jared? You or your father could have taken her out of here at any time. Made a place for her in the family home.”

“You never would have allowed that.”

“But you never even tried. So let’s not kid ourselves. The arrangement suited everyone involved.”

“The arrangement is why I’m here,” the man said. “I assume you’ve heard about the plans for Oak Grove Cemetery.”

Dr. Farrante’s voice sharpened. “What plans?”

“Camille Ashby wants to have the cemetery restored. She has her sights set on the National Register in time for Emerson University’s bicentennial. Of course, she’ll have to get approval from the committee. You can’t so much as paint a front porch in this town without their say-so. But you know Camille. She has a lot of influence in those circles and she won’t give up without a fight.”

“When do they put it to a vote?”

“Soon, I would imagine. Camille’s already submitted the name of a restorer, a woman named Amelia Gray. If her credentials check out and her bid is reasonable, there’s no reason the committee won’t approve her.”

Still frozen in place, Ree frowned.
Amelia Gray
. Where had she heard that name before?

“I don’t like this,” Dr. Farrante muttered. “A restoration could draw media interest. Some nosy reporter might decide to find out why Oak Grove was abandoned in the first place. That kind of attention could be disastrous.”

“For you, perhaps. But I’ve decided to look at it as an opportunity.”

“An
opportunity
? Are you mad?”

“You’re the expert in that regard, but I’ve often thought madness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.” Amusement crept into the man’s voice. “Take you, for instance. You’ve devoted your whole life to the workings of the mind and yet you clearly dwell in an alternate reality. You’re so inwardly focused, so entrenched in your own world here that you’ve failed to grasp how the dynamics of our relationship have changed since my father’s death.”

“Meaning?”

“I don’t care what our families did two generations ago. I’m not the slightest bit interested in preservation, be it the Tisdale name, Oak Grove Cemetery or that dirty little secret we share. As long as the old man was alive, I was willing to honor his wishes. But he’s gone now and I find myself in the unfortunate position of owing a great deal of money to some very unsavory people.”

“How is that my concern?” Dr. Farrante snapped.

“Because you
are
interested in preserving secrets. If the truth about my aunt ever came to light, the great Farrante legacy would crumble like a house of cards. They’d close this place down, retract all those awards, expunge your grandfather’s name from the history books. Think of the kind of attention
that
would attract. You’d be shunned by your peers and maybe even imprisoned.”

“So this is a shakedown.” Beneath all that velvety smoothness, Ree heard something in Dr. Farrante’s tone that rocked her to the core.

“Such a crass term from someone of your stature.”

“How much?”

“Half a million should do nicely.” The man paused. “For starters.”

“That’s a lot of money.”

“Not for you. I’ll wager you still have every penny of your inheritance.”

“I certainly haven’t squandered it away on gambling as you apparently have yours, but the upkeep of this hospital is astronomical. Not to mention my research. I’m not a rich man.”

“I’m sure you can manage to scrape together half a mil. Because if you don’t…” He trailed off on a warning note. “You said it yourself. The restoration of Oak Grove Cemetery is likely to titillate the media. A name or two dropped in the right ear and you can kiss your reputation good-bye.”

A pause. “You’re bluffing. Even with your father gone, you wouldn’t dare betray the Order.”

“As secret societies go, the Order of the Coffin and the Claw has pretty well been neutered,” the man mocked. “The members are hardly the power brokers they once were. So maybe I’ll just take my chances.”

“Then you’re a bigger fool than I thought.”

“And you’re a megalomaniac with an Achilles heel. Just like your father and grandfather before you, Nicholas, your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. If her name were to be made public—”

“Your aunt is an old woman. Don’t drag her into your pathetic scheme.”

The man laughed. “I’m not talking about Violet. I’m talking about her mother. Even from her grave, Ilsa Tisdale still has the power to destroy you…and you well know it.”

As he said her name, an icy hand fell on Ree’s shoulder.

Ree turned with a shudder, certain that someone must have come into the room without her knowing. She’d been caught red-handed eavesdropping on a personal conversation and for a terrifying moment, her heart actually stopped.

But the office behind her was empty.

She felt a rush of relief even as she shivered in a sudden draft. Perhaps the air-conditioning had come on and she was standing in front of a vent. That would explain the gooseflesh that popped along her arms and at the back of her neck.

Ignoring the chill, Ree told herself to get out of that office before she really was caught. But she remained frozen to the spot, petrified that she’d make some involuntary noise and alert Dr. Farrante and his companion. What she’d overheard was blackmail pure and simple—if blackmail could ever be pure or simple. The whole conversation had left her shaken and she knew that she would revisit it later, dissecting every disturbing nuance. But what could be done about it? As ugly as it was, the situation had nothing to do with her.

Still, she couldn’t dismiss a dark foreboding, and she knew the threats and innuendoes she’d heard in that office would forever change her perception of Nicholas Farrante. But…time enough later to dwell on her fallen hero. Right now she had to get out of there.

She turned to leave, then remembered the package she’d placed on the assistant’s desk. If Dr. Farrante spotted it tonight, he’d know that someone had been there. A quick word with Trudy McIntyre would reveal Ree’s name, and she had a sinking feeling that academic censure and immediate dismissal from the hospital might be the least of her troubles.

Easing back to the desk, she lifted the envelope and paused. The rumblings from the inner office reassured her that she hadn’t been made. She crept across the room, her footsteps blessedly silent on the plush rug, and was just slipping into the hallway when she heard the doors slide open behind her and the voices grew louder.

Ree cast about frantically for a means of escape. She’d never reach the stairs in time and there was no place to hide. Whirling, she stepped back up to the door as if she’d only just arrived and halted in feigned surprise as a man came rushing out of Dr. Farrante’s office.

He looked to be in his midforties—tall, wiry and with the kind of everyman appearance that would allow him to go unnoticed in a crowd. But Ree was good with faces, a trait she’d inherited from her P.I. father. She automatically implanted his features in her memory—the weak jawline and chin, the puffiness around his eyes that suggested a propensity for drink. As their gazes met, it hit her rather forcefully that she was staring straight into the eyes of a blackmailer.

His gaze flicked over her, assessing and dismissing, before he crossed the room and brushed past her. Ree would have glanced after him, but her attention was caught by Dr. Farrante. He stood in the doorway of his office, rage contorting his distinguished features.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

BOOK: The Abandoned
12.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

1999 by Richard Nixon
Blood Sweep by Steven F Havill
The Ice Cradle by Mary Ann Winkowski, Maureen Foley
Tequila Mockingbird by Tim Federle
Shadow Dance by Anne Stuart
The Fatal Child by John Dickinson
Throb by Vi Keeland