Cover & Excerpt Reveal
One reunion. One ghost. One night that will change everything…
From her earliest memories, Ashley Pearce has been drawn to Ruby Hill Lunatic Asylum, and she's not the only one. Decades after the abandoned hospital ended its institutional reign of torture and neglect, something lurks in the shadows. Since she’s a paranormal investigator, it's Ashley's job to find out what.
Crime scene expert Corbin Malone doesn't believe in ghosts. A born skeptic, he has no interest in entertaining the hype surrounding the mysterious deaths at Ruby Hill, but he won't turn his back while more women die. He agrees to an overnight investigation, never expecting his first encounter would be with the woman he pushed away a year ago. But when he discovers Ashley is a target, he learns his greatest fear isn't living with his own demons, but losing her for good.
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Death had a flavor. Equal parts bitter and bland, the damnable taste was more sickening than the stickiness in Corbin Malone’s throat. It soured his gut, leaving him with an unease he couldn’t quite swallow, and the deeper they drove into the countryside—the closer the car brought him to Ruby Hill Lunatic Asylum—the more potent the flavor. Five years a cop, he’d neatly sidestepped the ugly aftertaste until things got personal.
Until the body belonged to his brother, Cash.
Nearly six months had passed since Cash Malone fought for his last breath inside the dismal, abandoned halls of Ruby Hill. Though his body now rested six feet under a distant patch of cemetery grass, Ruby Hill remained his tomb—a giant, crouching headstone marring acres of otherwise beautiful, rolling hills. And for Corbin, a visage of murder.
Death had a flavor: metallic and bitter.
A quick glance at his superior, Joe Ellison, made clear Corbin didn’t have a choice. “You’re a sonofabitch, you know that?”
Joe’s attention shifted momentarily from the windshield, his expression tainted with bemusement. “Play nice, Malone. You’ll scare the civilians.”
Not just civilians, but ghost hunters. Crazies, as far as Corbin was concerned. People who boasted of hearing voices from thin air and seeing apparitions in the dark definitely belonged in an insane asylum, but he sure as hell didn’t want to babysit them.
And why were the ghostbusters there to begin with? Granted, blaming a ghost made for a good headline—Ruby Hill Deaths Attributed to Phantom Killer—but since when did the department fuel media hysteria?
“We’ve got bodies stacking up,” Corbin said. “Why the hell would you bring in ghost hunters to contaminate the crime scene?”
“People are dying, and there’s no clear reason why. The public wants answers, and there’s not enough money in the budget for the stuff we actually need, let alone to waste training our guys to hunt ghosts. Since there’s a line of paranormal investigators willing to get in there for free, we’ll let ‘em. Problem solved. Besides—” Joe shot another look Corbin’s way, longer this time. “—you need this.”
A brush with acknowledgment. It was likely all Corbin would get. Emotions weren’t allowed in this game. Feelings of guilt got people killed.
You did not kill your brother.
The well-practiced and seldom-heeded mantra didn’t have time to infiltrate Corbin’s shell. One last bend in the road, and Ruby Hill Asylum loomed. It had a way of doing that—looming—even washed in the fading sunlight. With a thick overgrowth of vines on the walls and an army of saplings standing at attention on the neglected lawn, nature had long marched to reclaim the facility. But despite the greenery, a sense of evil seethed. The waning sunlight seemed wary of bathing the storied institution. The few windows still glinting with intact glass reflected the sky’s deepening orange, giving the impression of eyes peering through the brush, yet the grounds were notably absent of wildlife. Even the wind seemed to steer clear, leaving damp, stale air clinging heavily to the latent heat. With the deepening shadows the only sign of life, Corbin realized he didn’t have to believe in ghosts for at least one portion of the asylum’s reputation to ring true: Ruby Hill was vile.
Joe steered the unmarked patrol car onto the drive and stopped at the gate. He flashed his badge for the benefit of the rented security guard, then followed the broken asphalt to Ruby Hill’s main entrance. A steady tap-tap-tap rattled the floorboard. Joe cut the engine, then stared pointedly at the source of the noise.
Corbin’s right boot.
Damn. Corbin threw open the car door and took a deep, trying breath of the stifling air. The effort didn’t work. Feeling no less anxious, he twisted in the seat and grounded the offending foot. The twitch moved to his calf. He set his jaw. “Where are the real cops?” he asked. “The old man at the gate won’t cut it.”
Joe opened his door. “He’s not supposed to. Our guys are waiting to see who wants in.”
Heat blasted away the last traces of conditioned air. God, but it was hot. Too hot for October. “Two murders in as many weeks and you think this guy is entering through the front gate?”
“Nah. But I don’t mind if he thinks we think that.” Joe climbed out of the car. His stance left Corbin with an unwelcome view of his almighty ass.
Corbin averted his eyes and ended up with a windshield full of Ruby Hill.
You did not kill your brother.
Joe was talking, the words muffled by the car’s roof and thick air.
Corbin forced himself out of the vehicle. When the second foot hit the ground, the knot in his chest traveled to his stomach.
“. . . in one room. We’ve been over it for evidence, just in case, but we can’t go over the whole asylum. Just keep them in and everyone else out, and everything should be fine.”
Joe deserved some credit. The room he’d rented the ghostbusters for the night was on the wrong side of the enormous complex, not that they’d ever know the difference. The exact location of the crime scene hadn’t been released to the media. Still…“And if it isn’t fine?”
Joe shrugged. “They signed waivers. Your job is to make sure they don’t leave that room. It’s nowhere near the crime scene area, but don’t let that particular cat out of the bag. It’s an interior room and the walls are concrete. It’ll be secure. Any questions?”
“Yeah. Why are you humoring these morons?”
Joe sighed with a heaviness that suggested he’d heard the question one time too many. “They can collect evidence we can’t. Maybe our ghost is in the mood for a confession. That’s the official answer, anyway.”
“What’s the unofficial version?”
“They want to prove it’s not a ghost. I don’t believe in what they’re doing, but they’re in a unique position to put a damper on the hysteria. It’s much more effective to let them discredit the ghost theory, however they think they can. People are more likely to listen to them say it isn’t true.”
Joe turned his back. Case closed. Only, it wasn’t.
“Why am I here?” Corbin asked.
Without turning around, Joe replied, “You’ll find out soon enough.”
From Ruby Hill’s front entrance, Ashley Pearce watched Corbin Malone step out of an unmarked car. The distance didn’t hide the familiar stance of his body, nor did it hurt the view of the tee stretched decadently over his chest. Jet-black hair illuminated pale blue eyes, crystalline against the pallor he’d worn since his brother’s death.
A chill broke through the oppressive heat, sweeping over Ashley’s skin. She shivered. For as long as she could remember, she’d been drawn to Ruby Hill—to its dark past. In a hundred years of operation, tens of thousands of residents called the asylum home. Most never left alive.
Hundreds, dumped anonymously in unmarked graves, never left at all.
Despite the scars left on so many lives—and by extension, the community as a whole—Ruby Hill was an astonishingly beautiful piece of history. The building boasted the trademark Kirkbride design so closely associated with institutionalized care. Though long neglected, the complex could not shed the remnants of its past glory. Ashley wasn’t blind to the horrors that took place within its walls, but she could not look at the building without seeing what it must have once been before abuse and abandonment took its toll.
Stately. Breathtaking. Desecrated.
The media, with its claims of a phantom killer, had turned it into a circus.
When the local PD’s Joe Ellison asked if she’d bring her team to collect evidence of the haunting, she’d been stunned—police departments didn’t typically make sanctioned agreements with paranormal investigators—but she’d agreed. She didn’t want to demonize the asylum. She wanted to defend it. Ashley didn’t care what the media reported. Whoever committed the murders inside Ruby Hill was no ghost.
That single point was probably the only one on which she and Corbin would agree.
He didn’t believe in ghosts. And after Cash’s death, he stopped believing in her. In fact, she was the only person Corbin blamed more than himself. Because when Corbin couldn’t stop Cash, Ashley should have.
She shook her head, biting down a flare of anger until her teeth hurt. She didn’t deserve his blame, but that didn’t stop her from carrying it around for the past few months. A slew of profane sentiments, each laced with Corbin’s name, grazed her lips, but she didn’t release them into the damp air.
Ruby Hill felt different this night. The air vibrated with a dark intensity, setting forth a chill untouched by the unseasonal heat. She could easily blame Corbin, but the feeling had been there from the start—long before he’d unfolded himself from the passenger seat and shifted her already unsteady axis.
Something wasn’t right in this, her place of solace.
Behind her, the concrete walls whispered discord. On the weedy, derelict lawn, shadows grew long with the encroaching eve. The wrought iron gate marking the asylum entrance sent elongated threats, sharp fingers pointing away from the imposing batwing complex.
Lunatics. Ghosts. Murder.
The media grabbed the story like rabid dogs, shredding and tearing the meat of the so-called facts until nothing was left but gristle and hyped-up gore. Rumors took flight. Poltergeists, demons, a portal to hell, and all because torture had to leave a mark. Ruby Hill certainly had.
So had Corbin Malone.
From the drive, Corbin twisted his head her way. The moment his eyes met hers left a scar on her heart.
Either he hid his emotion well or he lacked any. Not a flicker of reaction crossed his face. He simply turned to watch the car retreat through the gate, a security guard stepping over to shut and lock the leggy ten-foot barrier as soon as the vehicle’s rear bumper cleared.
Then, in a move so painstakingly slow it had to be deliberate, Corbin found her again. Blue eyes pierced her with such force she took a step backward. As she stumbled, the slowest of smiles crept across his face.
But he was not the threat.
She heard the asylum’s whispers. This was personal.
She hugged herself tightly.
Author Special Bonus:
If you thought you had to get your crazy on to land in a place like Ruby Hill, you’d better think again.
The following list of reasons folks were locked up for “treatment” between 1864 and 1889 at the RUBY HILL-esque yet very real Trans-Alleghany Lunatic Asylum is absolutely true. My commentary, however, may be prone to exaggeration. (Source)
- Bad Whiskey – I don’t know if this guy drank bad whiskey, sold bad whiskey, or manufactured bad whiskey, but you’ve got to feel for anyone forced to sober up a lunatic asylum. I’m pretty sure that type of residence is exactly where I’d most need whiskey, bad or otherwise.
- Drospy – I admit I had to look this one up. It’s the old word for edema, which is what happens when you carry excess fluid. Basically this means if you’ve ever taken off your socks to find they’ve left dents in your legs, you could have been committed. Now THAT is lunacy.
- Fighting Fire – Not setting them, but fighting them. Apparently firefighting in the 1800s wasn’t always considered the heroic profession we know it as today. And someone at the admissions desk is a pyromaniac.
- Menstrual Deranged – What does that mean, exactly? Aside the menstrual part – we get that. Monthly, even. But deranged? We probably don’t want to know, but what do you want to bet a man came up with that one?
- Masturbation for 30 Years – Erm, okay. But why THIS GUY and not EVERY OTHER GUY ON THE PLANET? I’m just sayin’….
- Suppressed Masturbation – So what we’ve just learned is there is clearly a target zone for this particular activity—somewhere between once and 30 years’ worth. Good luck with that, boys.
- Ill Treatment by Husband – Okay, so he’s a jerk so they lock HER up? I bet a man thought of that one, too. (I’m gaining a whole new appreciation for my fabulous husband, who—in over 16 years of marriage—has not once sent me to an asylum.)
- Seduction and Disappointment – I’m not sure who was seduced in this scenario and who was disappointed, but apparently this was not the time to oversell oneself. (No wonder that one guy just stuck to masturbation for 30 years.)
- Scarlatina (Scarlet Fever) – You there, with the contagious disease. Into the criminally over-crowded asylum. Yep, that’ll fix you. That will fix all of you. Muahahaha.
- Medicine to Prevent Conception – To be fair, all forms of contraception were made illegal in the United States in 1873, so this was at least technically a crime. By the 1880s, though, there was a handy-dandy sausage casing device (yes, that would be animal intestine) alternative. Might have been worth a shot because…
- Dissipation of Nerves – There’s nothing to indicate the dissipation of nerves was in any way related to conception rates, but my husband and I have six children (one of whom was conceived after I was surgically sterilized) and I’m telling you, asylum people. YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS. It a classic inverse proportion, and if you don’t believe me just ask all those people who see me with six kids and immediately assume I’m crazy. But I digress.
- Carbonic Acid Gas – I’m not sure of the particulars here, but just so y’all know, this is a byproduct of breathing. BREATHING WAS A CRIME.
- Novel Reading – ERMAGERD, YOU GUYS. First we can’t breathe, and now they take away our novels! But fear not, for RUBY HILL is not a novel, but a novella. Which can only mean READING RUBY HILL WILL KEEP YOU OUT OF AN INSANE ASYLUM!
Here’s a related little historical twist that blew my mind.
In September, Entangled Scandalous released my historical romance, HER WICKED SIN, which is set during the Salem Witch Trials. Back then, the Salem in question was actually Salem Village, which has since been renamed Danvers. Danvers is home to the Danvers State Lunatic Asylum (reportedly one of the most haunted places in the world, and they turned it into APARTMENTS, y’all!), which sits on Hawthorne Hill, the very site of the gallows where the Salem witches were hanged. Nice little coincidence, right? But it gets better. Back in 2011—long before I’d given any thought to writing about the Salem Witch Trials or a haunted lunatic asylum—I had out there a little novella about a haunted house. Its name?
Now that you’ve been properly wooed (yes-I-said-wooed), are you ready to dive into the dust, abandonment, terror—and yes, romance—of an abandoned mental institution? (Come on—you’ve got to see how the romance fits in there, right?) If so, I hope you’ll consider a dark, dangerous trek (or, you know, just click over) to your favorite e-tailer for the scoop on RUBY HILL!
PS: I’m probably hiking with grizzly bears as you read this, so bear (ha!) with me if I don’t respond immediately to your comments. I do look forward to your replies—and I have been promised nightly wifi—so if I’m not mauled, eaten, or otherwise incapacitated, I will SO come back for you! ☺
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Sarah Ballance Goodreads author page
Sarah Ballance Amazon author page
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