ABOUT THE BOOK
The Suffering Tree
Release Date: June 13th 2017
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal
“It’s dark magic brings him back.”
Tori Burns and her family left D.C. for claustrophobic Chaptico, Maryland, after suddenly inheriting a house under mysterious circumstances. That inheritance puts her at odds with the entire town, especially Jesse Slaughter and his family-it’s their generations-old land the Burns have “stolen.” As the suspicious looks and muttered accusations of her neighbors build, so does the pressure inside her, and Tori returns to the pattern of self-harm that landed her in a hospital back in D.C. It all comes to a head one night when, to Tori’s shock, she witnesses a young man claw his way out of a grave under the gnarled oak in her new backyard.
Nathaniel Bishop may not understand what brought him back, but it’s clear to Tori that he hates the Slaughters for what they did to him centuries ago. Wary yet drawn to him by a shared sense of loss, she gives him shelter. But in the wake of his arrival comes a string of troubling events-including the disappearance of Jesse Slaughter’s cousin-that seem to point back to Nathaniel.
As Tori digs for the truth-and slowly begins to fall for Nathaniel-she uncovers something much darker in the tangled branches of the Slaughter family tree. In order to break the curse that binds Nathaniel there and discover the true nature of her inheritance, Tori must unravel the Slaughter family’s oldest and most guarded secrets. But the Slaughters want to keep them buried at any cost.
The story of The Suffering Tree centers around a young woman’s search for answers about her ties to a piece of land her family has inherited under mysterious circumstances. The story unfolds in alternating chapters, told by two narrators; Tori, the new owner of a piece of farm land that was an 18th century tobacco plantation, and Nathaniel, an indentured servant hanged for the crime of witch craft on that same plantation in 1706. This deleted scene belongs to Nathaniel and reveals the details of the day that sealed his fate, when his attempt to rescue the girl he loved from a witch trial (and protect her secret) went terribly, terribly wrong.
My fingers were bloodied and stiff when I pried away the last of the cut planks and slithered face-first under the floor of the shed. The space beneath was dark and narrow, the boards above scraping my back and the dirt pressing into the dull knife at my hip. I wriggled my way to the edge and pulled myself into the searing daylight. The lawns of the main house were curiously empty and quiet. How long had I been locked inside? I offered up a prayer that I wasn’t too late, then sprinted to the woods.
I ran along the river’s edge, concealed by the dense growth. Slaughter’s men weren’t hard to find, a cacophony of grunting and angry men shouting out orders. Through the trees I could make out the flash of Emmeline’s white and brown skirts tossed over a man’s shoulder, her long legs kicking wildly and her fists pounding against his back, a string of swears on her lips that made several of them turn away, some red-faced and scandalized. Some wide-eyed and afraid.
Emmeline threw two hard punches into her captor’s lower back. He buckled and screamed, nearly dropping her. She tore away from them, back toward the trees, and I prepared to follow her. But she froze at the sight of Slaughter in her path.
“I see I am not yet too late,” he said coldly, watching her, his arms ready to grab her as if he’d cornered a wild animal. Her hair hung in snares over her eyes. Blood covered her fingertips, darkening her nails where she’d clawed and fought her way free, and her chest heaved with fear and exertion. Slaughter held a long, thick switch in one hand. He tested it with the palm of his other. Emmeline took a small step back, unable to look away from it. “If you gentlemen are finished letting the witch best you, you may bind her. With stones.”
Emmeline darted from side to side, desperate for a clear path of escape. But each time she feinted, Slaughter snapped the switch at her feet, making me flinch where I hid in the underbrush, making Emmeline jump back again. Cautiously, the men closed in around her, overcame her. They tossed her to the ground, binding her arms and legs, tying heavy rocks into the folds of her skirts until she was all but immobile.
Slaughter came to face her. She held her chin high, her eyes brimming with hatred and rage.
“If you are indeed a witch, will we all bear witness as you call upon the devil’s power and swim.” Slaughter trailed the back of a finger slowly down Emmeline’s cheek, his voice taking on a low tone that managed to sound both endearing and threatening in the same breath. I moved slowly, silently toward the shoreline. “And if you are innocent, the water will accept you. It will take you peacefully into its arms, and you shall be accused of accepting the devil into your heart no more.” He pressed a kiss onto the top of her head. “Goodbye, sweet girl,” I heard him say. “For I have no doubt this is a test you shall pass.” When he pulled away, Emmeline spit in his face. Slaughter’s lips twisted with fury and he threw an arm toward the river. “Take her deep! Leave no room for doubt!”
Four men dragged her into the water, one claiming each arm and leg. They splashed in the shallows, fighting against her writhing weight and the sucking thickness of the muddy river bottom. I ran toward the water’s edge, far enough from Slaughter’s direct line of sight to escape notice, my own splashing drowned out by Emmeline’s livid screams and the crash of her limbs as they cut through the water. I submerged, swimming beneath the surface as fast as I could toward her while the men turned their backs and made quickly for shore. Coming up for air, I searched for a stream of bubbles amidst the roiling water.
“Look, the devil comes for her!” one of the men shouted.
“A familiar! He must be!”
I didn’t hear any more. Water churned close. I took the knife from my waist and dove for her, finding her fighting her bindings on the river’s bottom. Emmeline’s eyes flew open wide when she saw me, her cheeks full of air and her hair billowing like a dark cloud all around her. The blade was dull and slow. I sawed frantically at the ropes around her feet, freeing her of the stones so she could kick her way to the surface. Our heads broke the water together and we gulped in huge gasps of air while I cut the bindings from her wrists. Emmeline struggled to keep her head above the water, her heavy skirts weighing her down. Clutching her tightly to me, I stroked out with my other arm, but her weight was dragging both of us below the surface. I sucked in a deep breath and dove under, using the knife to cut the length of her dress and tearing it away from her, pulling the fabric over her arms until she was free of it.
When we both came up again, she was choking. Gasping.
“Can you swim?” I asked her. She nodded, still spitting water and coughing, unable to speak.
I swam down the river, listening for Emmeline’s long strokes behind me. On shore, the men’s voices were loud, all of them talking over each other as they pointed and watched. From the corner of my eye I could see them running alongside us, until the thick brambles began to slow them down. A point of land lay ahead, marking a narrow inlet that widened to a larger cove. If Em and I swam across the opening to the far point, Slaughter and his men would be forced to circle the full length of the cove on foot to catch up. If we were fast enough, if we could get ahead of them . . .
A hard current swirled within the mouth of the inlet, slowing our progress. I checked behind me with every few strokes to make sure Emmeline followed close. On the far side, the shoreline grew still and quiet, and I turned toward it only when I was certain we were alone.
I reached back for Emmeline, pressing her to move faster as we scrambled up the embankment. Her feet slid in the mud. Without thinking, I reached down with my right hand, ready to pull her up the slope. She grabbed it, squeezing hard against the blistered burn and I gritted my teeth against the pain, determined not to let go of her. When we finally reached the top, we both leaned over our knees, dripping and shaking and cold.
“A daring rescue,” said a chilling, close voice. “Albeit a damning one. For both of you.” Slaughter sat perched on a carriage behind a frothing mare. As he dismounted and came toward us, I scanned the trees for another way out. But Slaughter’s men were rounding the bend of the point on fast feet, and a crowd of men and women were quickly approaching on foot from the path to the plantation.
I tucked Emmeline behind me, shielding her naked body with my own. She peered over my shoulder, choking out a harsh embittered cry as Elizabeth Slaughter’s committee of women approached.
“My Lord, what is the meaning of this?”
Slaughter turned abruptly at the shock of his wife’s voice. “Go home, Elizabeth. This doesn’t concern you.”
Elizabeth pushed her husband’s arm aside as the men who had tossed Emmeline in the river ran closer, pointing at us and shouting over themselves. “She swam. We saw her! The water would not have her! She’s a witch!” Winded, the men stood at a safe distance, none of them brave or foolish enough to come near enough to restrain her. “The Bishop boy! He’s a familiar! Sure as I’m breathing! He’s in league with her! He’s consort to the witch!”
I clutched my knife before me, ready to lunge at any man who dared get close.
But I was unprepared when Elizabeth Slaughter stepped forward. A hush fell. Emmeline’s breath held behind me. If I killed Slaughter’s wife, Emmeline and I would die, here and now. And I wasn’t prepared to give up that easily.
I stood frozen as Elizabeth reached for her. Emmeline held her ground until Elizabeth jerked her hard, yanking her out from her hiding place behind me. Elizabeth’s wide skirts blocked the view of the onlookers, but could not shield her from the truth. Emmeline’s belly was undeniably swollen and hard, the child already several months growing inside her. Several long red cuts marked her where I’d accidentally grazed her skin while trying to keep her from drowning. The rest of her—her upper arms, her chest, her legs—were banded with bruises, and I wondered if Elizabeth recognized the shape of the hands in them.
Her cheeks were flushed, her jaw clenched. There was a tremble in her voice when she finally spoke. “Have your men take the Bishop boy back to the shed. You may do with him whatever you like. The witch,” she said, practically spitting the word. “The witch you will give to me.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Author of NEARLY GONE, NEARLY FOUND, HOLDING SMOKE, and THE SUFFERING TREE (Disney*Hyperion, 2017). Represented by Sarah Davies of The Greenhouse Literary Agency.