The students at the Goode School were handpicked for their intelligence—but do their good grades conceal sinister motives? J.T. Ellison’s latest psychological thriller is set in the fictional town of Marchburg, Virginia, where a prestigious all-girls prep school attracts the nation’s best and brightest. Musical prodigies and computer geniuses move through the halls, and a diploma from the Goode School is said to guarantee you entry into the Ivy League university of your choice. However, dark secrets lurk behind the meticulously crafted facade of success.
When a popular student at the Goode School is found hanging from the school gates halfway through the fall semester, rumors swirl around her untimely death. Though it’s deemed a suicide, a rash of mysterious deaths has been plaguing the school recently, casting doubt on this unfortunate student’s fate. Was it truly a suicide—or was it murder?
New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison has established her thriller-writing prowess, having penned the Dr. Samantha Owens series and the A Brit in the FBI series, in addition to a handful of standalone novels. However, this most recent effort might be her best yet. Called a “high-tension thriller” by Publishers Weekly, Good Girls Lie benefits from an unreliable narrator and multiple perspectives, which “raise the suspense, blurring the lines between what's true and false."
The narrator in question is Ash Carlisle, a recently orphaned transfer student from England. A six foot tall blonde with a dazzling smile and adorable accent, Ash can’t help but stand out in a crowd, though that’s the last thing she wants. For inquisitive eyes might notice that some of the skills listed on her application aren’t adding up—and that she’s not exactly who she says she is…
Keep reading to get a glimpse into Ash’s enigmatic past as she meets with the dean of the boarding school for the first time. Then, download this addictive thriller to find out what she knows about the unspeakable events that come to pass within the hallowed halls of the Goode School.
I knock on the thick, tall wooden door and am rewarded with a trilling “Come in!”
I step through into a lovely large space. Bookcases line three walls, floor-to-ceiling built-ins with crown molding, stocked so full it makes me itch to stand in front of them, run my fingers along their spines, ignore the dean entirely.
Along the fourth wall, flanked by tall casement windows, is a creamy red marble fireplace, wood stacked in the grate as if ready for the match despite the warm day. Two gray tweed sofas face one another in the center of the room, perched atop a thick wool Oriental rug in shades of green and cream. The big wooden desk looks like a French antique; the right side of the top is taken up by an old-fashioned typewriter, a crisp white page rolled onto its platen, the carriage slide half-mast as if the writer stepped away midreturn. I can see the faint image of words through the sheet.
Above the desk is a framed map of 1900s Virginia. A flag of the United States, stars out, housed in a triangular black frame, sits alone on a shelf in a place of honor.
The entire room is elegant, feminine, old-school, and inviting.
Dean Westhaven, too, is elegant, feminine, old-school, and inviting. Her dark hair is swept into a classic chignon; she is draped in a nubby Chanel suit, discreet black pumps with a two-inch heel on her slender, high-arched feet. She is not beautiful, her gray eyes with their large pupils too widely set and her nose a shade too thin to balance the sharp cheekbones, but she is striking, a presence. And watchful. So watchful. Like a gray-eyed hawk, measuring and peering.
Those disconcerting eyes hold unfathomable secrets and take my measure, and this unerring attention is intimidating. I am not used to being looked at so closely; I much prefer to hide in the shadows. Choosing to come to Goode means I won’t be able to do so, this I know. I am going to be seen. As one of only two hundred in such a small space, with my height, my hair, my face, there is no way to hide. Not completely.
Despite this scrutiny, there is something about the dean that makes me want to know more about her, and this puts up my guard.
Careful. Don’t go getting attached.
The dean gestures toward the two chairs in front of her desk. “Sit, sit. You must be exhausted after your journey.”
I take a high-backed wing chair, one leg bent beneath me on the soft seat until I remember my manners and put both feet on the floor, and watch the woman who is to direct my life for the next three years bustle around her homey office.
Dean Westhaven finally taps a stack of paper together, sets them on the desk, and smiles tremulously. “I can’t abide a mess. I was so sorry to hear of your father’s death, Ash. And your mother...” The sigh is audible, loud and sad. The words sound practiced, as if the dean has said them a hundred times.
How many students’ parents have died?
“It was all very sudden,” I reply, wooden, eyes cast down. I have learned this is an appropriate response.
“Yes. Yes, of course, it was. Forgive me, I hadn’t meant to bring it up, but I saw the inquest has been resolved... Would you care for tea?” The dean plunks a cup and saucer down in front of me, pours out from a lovely floral teapot. “Take some sugar. It will help with the jet lag.”
I dutifully reach for the sugar and drop two brown cubes into my teacup. I use the small silver spoon to stir, three times clockwise, then set it on the edge of the saucer. The tea is surprisingly good, hot and fragrant, and I close my eyes as I swallow. When I finish this display, the dean is looking at me curiously.
“It’s quite good. Oolong?”
“Yes. Not surprising that you have a palate for tea.” The dean smiles amiably, and I respond in kind, not the heartbreaking grin, but a small one, lips together, teeth obscured. It makes my dimples stand out.
“I was very pleased when you decided to join us for term after all. I know you weren’t excited about leaving so soon after...”
“It’s for the best. Thank you for having me still. I needed to get away.”
The dean is looking at me closer now. “You’ve lost weight since we spoke last. Granted, I’ve only seen you through Skype—it’s hard to get the full measure of a girl through a screen.”
The dean sips her tea, I follow her lead. Long silences are her thing, apparently.
“It’s understandable, considering. With some tender loving care, you’ll be back to yourself in no time. The loss of a parent—Were you close to your father, Ash?”
“He worked a great deal.”
“Ah.” The dean says this as if she’s heard it all before—the daughters of scions are often neglected by one parent or another. The pursuit of power dictates long hours.
“I do miss him. But we didn’t see him much.”
“I understand. And your mother. To lose her, too, so soon after... It’s simply tragic.”
“Yes.” I shut my mouth resolutely, praying the dean will take the hint and stop the inquisition.
The way she speaks, a human ellipsis, waiting for me to fill in the blanks, is unnerving.
She does, changing tack entirely. “During our interview, we talked about the Honor Code, how important it is to the school, to our heritage, to our students. Absolute trust, that is what we ask. Lying, cheating, or other violations of the Honor Code will not be tolerated. There is no warning system—you openly violate the code and you’re out. Lesser infractions will be dealt with by Honor Court, which is run by our head girl. Do you remember the Honor Pledge?”
“Yes. It is protection for both myself and for the students around me.” I clear my throat, state with perfect clarity the words I am expected to say. “‘I will hold myself and my fellow students to the highest standards. I pledge absolute honesty in my work and my personal relationships. I will never take a shortcut to further my own goals. I will not lie, I will not cheat, I will not steal. I will turn myself in if I fail to live up to this obligation, and I will encourage those who break the code in any way to report themselves, as well. I believe in trust and kindness, and the integrity of this oath. On my honor.’”
This recitation makes my heart thunder in my chest. My hands shake a bit as I clutch the teacup, but the dean either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.
“Excellent. It will be up to you how much of your past you wish to divulge, Ash. I don’t see keeping your family’s plight to yourself as a violation of the Honor Code. I think the name change is a good idea, and support your decision to keep this unfortunate situation apart from your studies. Likewise, your status as a scholarship student is not something we discuss. Most of the girls aren’t even aware this program exists. Since your case is so circumstantial, it will behoove you not to mention it. Teenage girls aren’t very understanding in general, not to mention unaware of the issues with arcane British inheritance laws.”
Oh, the irony—don’t ever lie, cheat, steal—but lies of omission are just fine.
The dean briskly continues, “Because of your exemplary insights into Plato in your admissions essay, we’ve loaded you heavily into the liberal arts track. You placed out of math, so there is still an open slot in your schedule. There are three classes offered during that time period—French, Latin, and computer sciences. The former are eventual requirements junior and senior year and I highly recommend—”
“Computers, please. Ma’am.”
“Dean, not ma’am. And are you entirely sure? This isn’t a class to enter into lightly, Ash. You won’t be able to use the computers to email with friends back home or work on your social media feeds. This is a nuts-and-bolts education on programming, highly advanced and usually reserved for the young ladies who have shown an aptitude and plan to head into engineering and aerospace programs at leading technical schools, like MIT or Caltech. We don’t normally allow sophomores in this class, but we have a new professor and he wishes to expand the program to include all class levels. I disagree, but times have changed, and Goode must change with them.”
I feel such a sense of relief at this option, this one small thing I know I’ll be comfortable with, I nearly cry. “Yes. I am absolutely sure. I like computers. Not the social media nonsense. I like how the systems work.”
“I noticed you aren’t active online, unlike many of your peers. I was happy to see it. Unless you have private accounts we aren’t aware of?”
“Goodness, no. I find social media a waste of time. Not to mention an invasion of privacy.” She has no idea what an invasion it would be. I plan to keep it that way. All my accounts were deactivated before I got on the plane.
The dean smiles wryly. “Good. Computer science it is. If you do like this sort of thing, you’ll enjoy your professor, Dr. Dominic Medea. He used to work in Silicon Valley. And as for piano, you’ll be with Dr. Muriel Grassley. She is a Juilliard-trained pianist who has wonderful connections, so you’ll be able to work with some of the best programs in the country. She’ll be expecting you in the theater after convocation. I knew you’d want to get started right away.”
“About piano, I—”
A small chime dings, sweet and gentle.
“We’re out of time, I’m afraid. Take your bags to your room, and then change for convocation. I will see you in the chapel in thirty minutes. Welcome to Goode.”
Dean Westhaven turns her attention to the stack of papers on the desk in front of her.
I am dismissed.
Relieved and vaguely excited by surviving my first important meeting at Goode, I replay the conversation as I make my way to the grand staircase.
I was so sorry to hear of your father’s death...
My parents are a sore subject, too fresh, too indecipherable, so I push their faces out of my mind. I don’t want to think about them, nor about him. Not now, not ever.
Pale. So pale. Waxy. Quiet. Hair parted on the wrong side. The red of his lips unnatural as if he’s been kissed too hard and too long. Crying. A crush of people. The smells: chlorine and stale, piped, air-conditioned air overlaid with overly ripe white lilies, stamens pushing aggressively toward the ceiling, stinking of death...
Vomit dribbling from his mouth, eyes staring, blank and empty... The screams...
“Stop!” I glance over my shoulder to make sure no one has heard. I am blissfully alone.
Get it together. You will not think of this now. You will never think of this again.
Lies. I tell myself such pretty lies.
Want to keep reading? Download Good Girls Lie today.
Ash can’t help but notice that the school’s strict Honor Code is at odds with the dean’s encouragement to keep her traumatic past hidden—and with her own motivations for doing so. The air heavy with words unspoken, her first confrontation with the dean sets the tone for suspense to come. Ash even struggles with lying to herself, vowing not to replay the frightening memories of her parents’ deaths—a promise that will prove impossible to keep. Download Good Girls Lie today to find out what happens next.
This excerpt originally appeared on Early Bird Books.
Featured photo: Kimberly Farmer / Unsplash