THE VANISHING AT CASTLE MOREAU by Jaime Jo Wright
GENRE: Inspirational Dual Timeline Suspense
PUBLISHER: Bethany House
RELEASE DATE: April 4, 2023
A haunting legend. An ominous curse. A search for a secret buried deep within the castle walls.
In 1870, orphaned Daisy François takes a position as housemaid at a Wisconsin castle to escape the horrors of her past life. There she finds a reclusive and eccentric Gothic authoress, who hides tales more harrowing than the ones in her novels. With women disappearing from the area and a legend that seems to parallel these eerie circumstances, Daisy is thrust into a web that threatens to steal her sanity, if not her life.
In the present day, Cleo Clemmons is hired by the grandson of an American aristocratic family to help his grandmother face her hoarding in the dilapidated Castle Moreau. But when Cleo uncovers more than just the woman’s stash of collectibles, a century-old mystery of disappearance, insanity, and the dust of the old castle’s curse threaten to rise again. This time to leave no one alive to tell the sordid tale.
Award-winning author Jaime Jo Wright seamlessly weaves a dual-time tale of two women who must do all they can to seek the light amidst the darkness shrouding Castle Moreau.
Two Years before Present Day
They had buried most souvenirs of the dead with the traditions of old, and yet what a person didn’t understand before death, they would certainly comprehend after. The need for that ribbon-tied lock of hair, the memento mori photograph of the deceased, a bone fragment, a capsule of the loved one’s ashes—morbid to those who had not lost, but understandable to those who had.
Needing to touch the tangible was a fatal flaw in humanity. Faith comforted only so far until the gasping panic overcame the grieving like a tsunami, stealing oxygen, with the only cure being something tangible. Something to touch. To hold. To be held. It was in these times the symbolism attached to an item became pivotal to the grieving. A lifeline of sorts.
For Cleo, it was a thumbprint. Her grandfather’s thumbprint. Inked after death, digitized into a .png file, uploaded to a jewelry maker, and etched into sterling silver. It hung around her neck, settling between her breasts, just left of her heart. No one would know it was there, and if they did, they wouldn’t ask. A person didn’t ask about what was held closest to another’s heart. That was information that must be offered, and Cleo had no intention of doing so. To anyone. Her grandfather was her memory alone—the good and the bad. What he’d left behind in the form of Cleo’s broken insides were Cleo’s to disguise. Faith held her hand, or rather, she clenched hands with faith, but in the darkness, when no one was watching, Cleo fit her thumb to her grandfather’s print and attempted to feel the actual warmth of his hand, to infuse all the cracks and offer momentary refuge from the ache.
Funny how this was what she thought of. Now. With what was left of her world crashing down around her like shrapnel pieces, blazing lava-orange and deadly.
“Pick up, pick up, pick up,” Cleo muttered into her phone, pressing it harder against her ear than she needed to. She huddled in the driver’s seat of her small car, all of her worldly possessions packed into the trunk and the back seat. She could hear the ringing on the other end. She owed it to Riley. One call. One last goodbye.
“Riley!” Cleo stiffened in anticipation.
“. . . you’ve reached Riley . . .” the voice message continued, and Cleo laid her head back against the seat. The recording finished, and Cleo squeezed her eyes shut against the world outside of her car, against the darkness, the fear, the grief. This was goodbye. It had to be.
The voicemail beep was Cleo’s cue. She swallowed, then spoke, her words shivering with compressed emotion. What did a person say in a last farewell?
“Riley, it’s me. Cleo. I—” she bit her lip, tasting blood—“I-I won’t be calling again. This is it. You know. It’s what I hoped would never happen. I am so, so sorry this happened to you! Just know I tried to protect you. But now—” her breath caught as tears clogged her throat—“this is the only way I can. Whatever happens now, just know I love you. I will always love you.” Desperation warred with practicality.
Shut off the phone.
There was no explaining this.
There never would be.
“Goodbye, Ladybug.” Cleo thumbed the end button, then threw the phone against the car’s dashboard. A guttural scream curled up her throat and split her ears as the inside of the vehicle absorbed the sound.
Then it was silent.
That dreadful, agonizing silence that came with the burgeoning, unknown abyss of a new start. Cleo stared at her phone lying on the passenger-side floor. She lunged for it, fumbling with a tiny tool until she popped open the slot on its side. Pulling out the SIM card, Cleo bent it back and forth until it snapped. Determined, she pushed open the car door and stepped out.
The road was heavily wooded on both sides. Nature was her only observer.
She flung the broken SIM card into the ditch, marched to the front of the car, and wedged the phone under the front tire. She’d roll over it when she left, crush it, and leave nothing to be traced.
Cleo took a moment to look around her. Oak forest, heavy undergrowth of brush, wild rosebushes whose thorns would take your skin off, and a heap of dead trees and branches from the tornado that had ravaged these woods decades prior. The rotting wood was all that remained to tell the tale now, but it was so like her life. Rotting pieces that never went away. Ever.
She climbed back into the car and twisted the key, revving the engine to life. Cleo felt her grandfather’s thumbprint until it turned her skin hot with the memories. Memories of what had set into motion a series of frightful events. Events that were her responsibility to protect her sister from.
There was no explaining in a voicemail to a twelve-year-old girl that her older sister was abandoning her in order to save her. Cleo knew from this moment on, Riley would play that message, and slowly resentment would seep in as she grew older. Resentment that Cleo had left and would never come back.
But she couldn’t go back. Not if she loved Riley. Sometimes love required the ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes love required death. Death to all they knew, all they had known. If Cleo disappeared, then Riley would be left alone. Riley would be safe. She could grow up as innocent as possible.
So long as Cleo Clemmons no longer existed.
Chapter 5, pages 15-18
From The Vanishing at Castle Moreau © 2023, Jaime Jo Wright, published by Bethany House Publishers.
Used by permission.
praise for the vanishing at castle moreau
“Wright (The Souls of Lost Lake) captivates with a thrilling tale of two women who get caught up in the secrets of a Wisconsin castle…The twisting, fast-moving plot is loaded with secrets, and the characters remain morally ambiguous until the end. Readers won’t want to put this down.”— Publisher’s Weekly
“Wright (The Premonition at Withers Farm) pens another delightfully creepy tale where nothing is quite as it seems and characters seek freedom from nightmares both real and imagined.”— Library Journal
“Jaime Jo Wright never disappoints, and The Vanishing at Castle Moreau is no exception. With real, flawed characters who grapple with real-life struggles, this gripping suspense novel will draw readers in from the very first page. Good luck putting it down. I couldn’t.”— Lynette Eason, bestselling author of the Extreme Measures series
Jaime Jo Wright is the author of eight novels, including Christy Award and Daphne du Maurier Award-winner The House on Foster Hill and Carol Award winner The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond. She’s also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of two novellas. Jaime lives in Wisconsin with her cat named Foo; her husband, Cap’n Hook; and their two mini-adults, Peter Pan and CoCo.
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