Saturday Excerpt: Before She Was Found by Heather Gudenkauf

If you’re looking for a new thriller to add to your bookshelf, you won’t have much longer to wait! Before She Was Found by Heather Gudenkauf is on sale April 16, but you can get an early look at the book in the preview below!

About Before She Was Found:

Before She Was Found by Heather GudenkaufA gripping thriller about three young girlfriends, a dark obsession and a chilling crime that shakes up a quiet Iowa town

For twelve-year-old Cora Landry and her friends Violet and Jordyn, it was supposed to be an ordinary sleepover—movies and Ouija and talking about boys. But when they decide to sneak out to go to the abandoned rail yard on the outskirts of town, little do they know that their innocent games will have dangerous consequences.

Later that night, Cora Landry is discovered on the tracks, bloody and clinging to life, her friends nowhere to be found. Soon their small rural town is thrust into a maelstrom. Who would want to hurt a young girl like Cora—and why? In an investigation that leaves no stone unturned, everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted—not even those closest to Cora.

Before She Was Found is a timely and gripping thriller about friendship and betrayal, about the power of social pressure and the price of needing to fit in. It is about the great lengths a parent will go to protect their child and keep them safe—even if that means burying the truth, no matter the cost.

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***

Mara Landry came to my office that evening after our first meeting. I was sitting at my office desk flipping through the collection of notes that I jotted down throughout the day. I’ve always found that my young patients get anxious when I record my observations during our sessions and tend to spend more time trying to see what I’m writing about them rather than sharing their feelings.

The sun was dipping behind the linden trees that line the campus streets when I heard a light knock on my door.

“Come on in,” I called, thinking that it was one of the residents or fellows stopping by my office to discuss a patient. The door opened and Mara Landry stood uncertainly in the doorway. “Mrs. Landry,” I said, surprised. I really didn’t expect her to reach out to me after our initial meeting and after seeing her husband’s reaction to me. “Please, come in. How is Cora?”

“I don’t want to interrupt you. I know it’s getting late and you probably want to get going,” she said apologetically.

“It’s no interruption at all. Please, sit down,” I invited. Mara Landry looked worn out. Her face was drawn and pale, her shoulders slumped as if the events of the day were pressing down on her and she was suffocating beneath them. A look I’d come to know well on worried parents.

“I can’t stay long. I just wanted to thank you for stopping by earlier and to apologize. I know that Jim wasn’t exactly…” She struggled to find the right word so I jumped in to rescue her.

“No apology necessary. Tell me about Cora. Did surgery go well?” I asked.

“The doctor said it went well considering all her injuries.” Mara’s face buckled momentarily as she struggled to keep her composure. I waited and she went on. “There will be scars.”

Mara’s fingers fluttered near her cheek. “But it could have been much worse and Cora is a strong little girl. She’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.”

“Is Cora awake?” I asked. “Is she in much pain?”

“Some.” Mara nodded. “They’ve been keeping her sedated and she’s pretty out of it. But she’s scared. She’s absolutely terrified. I can tell. She starts to fall asleep and then jolts awake and cries out. I tell her over and over that no one can hurt her anymore, that she’s safe, but…she keeps calling out for whoever did this to her to stop. To please not hurt her anymore and Jim can’t stand it. The police aren’t telling us much right now. They just say they are investigating and once they have information to share they will.”

I nodded sympathetically. This was a common refrain I heard from the families of victims of a crime.

“My oldest daughter, Kendall, won’t stop crying and can’t even look at Cora. Can’t even stand to be in the hospital room with her. My family is falling apart, Dr. Gideon.” Mara’s voice cracked. “One minute we’re hosting an overnight for my daughter and her friends and the next Cora is bleeding next to the train tracks.”

“Are the other girls okay?” I asked.

“As far as I know. We ran into Violet’s mom down in the emergency room but she said that Violet was just being treated for shock.” Mara pressed her fingers to her lips. “Oh, God, that sounded terrible,” she said shakily. “I’m glad she’s okay. I really am.”

“Of course,” I said.

“I need to get back to Cora,” Mara said. “But tomorrow? Do you think you might have some time tomorrow to visit with her?”

“Certainly,” I said. “How about I stop by around eight or so?” “Maybe closer to nine would be better,” Mara suggested and

I wondered if perhaps that was a time her husband wouldn’t be around. It’s not a good sign if one parent is open to my services and the other is not, but it’s a start.

“Nine will be perfect,” I assured her. “Try and get some sleep tonight and I’ll see you in the morning.”

I watched Mara walk wearily down the hallway. I’d seen it hundreds, maybe thousands, of times: the unsteady, almost drunken walk of those suddenly in the midst of a life-changing event. Mara’s equilibrium was off, but with time and help and with some luck she’d gather herself up and see to it that her family get through this and whatever else was to come.

No matter how determined I was to leave work at a reasonable time, I got home well after nine o’clock that evening. As usual, the house was dark and quiet. I immediately peeled off my clothes to shower but couldn’t wash away the thoughts of Cora Landry and what happened to her in that train yard. The world was a dangerous place even for a little girl from small- town Iowa.

I stepped from the shower, toweled off and put on my favorite pair of sweatpants and a University of Grayling Wolves sweat- shirt. All I wanted to do was go to bed but instead I poured myself a glass of wine, opened my laptop and logged into the hospital’s secured online system. I pulled up Cora Landry’s medical records and learned that Cora was born at the hospital five weeks early. She spent some time in the NICU and made several follow up visits to the pediatric specialty clinic over the years. I jumped to the clinic visit just prior to her attack. Eight months earlier she saw one of the docs for a routine checkup and overall Cora appeared healthy. Height and weight measures indicated that Cora was quite a bit smaller than her peers. The physician wrote that Cora conveyed feelings of extreme anxiousness and worry when it came to school and relationships with her peers. When he broached the subject with her parents, they chose to forgo any sort of psychological or pharmaceutical treatment at the time.

The doctor also noted that Cora had a series of scratch marks at various stages of healing on the inside of her forearms. Cora explained that they were from her cat and the doctor suggested an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment.

I closed the laptop and f lipped on the television. I scanned the channels in hopes of finding some mindless sitcom but landed on a video of a reporter standing in front of the emergency room of the hospital. The tagline read Urban Legend Main Suspect in Train Yard Attack on Preteens?

I sat up and increased the volume. The reporter spoke into a camera while a flurry of insects buzzed around the bright red emergency room sign above his head. “Two twelve-year-olds are the purported victims of a decades-old urban legend known as Joseph Wither. Sources say that at least two Pitch girls were hospitalized early this morning after a brutal attack at the abandoned Pitch, Iowa, train depot.

“Though police and hospital officials remain mum on the investigation and the condition of the girls, an anonymous source tells KQIC News that at least one of the victims pointed the finger at Joseph Wither.”

“Oh, Jesus,” I murmured and increased the volume on the television.

The reporter glanced down at the notebook in his hand and then back at the camera. “According to the legend, Joseph Wither began his crime spree back in the 1940s, over seventy- five years ago. While only a few disappearances of young girls have been officially credited to Wither, over the years John- son County residents have reported sighting a shadowy entity matching the description of Wither corresponding to the time of a disappearance.

“Tonight, the small community of Pitch is on high alert and eagerly waiting an official statement from law enforcement as to what happened to these young girls. Stay tuned to KQIC for the most up-to-date information on this bizarre, frightening case.”

The news report sealed it for me. Ghoulish, I know. This case had it all: a vulnerable little girl, a crime apparently carried out by a fictional villain, a family in crisis. A challenge. I was up for it. In fact, I couldn’t wait to get started.

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