Cameron's Landing

Cameron's Landing

Anne Stuart

January 2022 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61026-173-9

A governess is not a murder investigator . . .

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A governess is not a murder investigator. To new governess Lorna MacDougal, that seemed a safe and reasonable assumption. Until her employer, the grand matriarch of the Cameron family sees fit to change all the rules of childcare. The woman seriously expects Lorna to discover who murdered her husband.

The family's three sons are obvious suspects: Stephen with his shallow wife, Gentle Charles who wouldn't hurt a fly, and the most dangerous of them all, Alexander Cameron—the black sheep of the family and the most irresistible man Lorna has ever met.

But no one is as they seem, and her worst enemy is the one man she can't trust. The mystery deepens until death follows, and Lorna can't decide if she's in love with a monster or a wronged man. Or whether she'll be the next one to die.

Author Bio:

Anne Stuart has won every major award in the romance field and appeared on the bestseller list of the NYTimes, Publisher's Weekly, and USA Today, as well as being featured in Vogue, People Magazine, and Entertainment Tonight. Anne lives by a lake in the hills of Northern Vermont with her fabulous husband.

"One of the best Gothics ever written" - Deborah Macgillivray, Amazon Hall of Fame and Vine Reviewer

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Chapter One

IT WAS A VERY old man rowing the small, well-made dory. He tied up at the dock, climbed out very slowly, and took stock of me through his rheumy old eyes.

"You’ll be the girl for Cameron’s Landing,” he said briefly, his eyes not quite meeting mine. "We’ve been expecting you.” He reached down and shouldered the trunk with strength surprising in a man so old. "We’d best be going. It’s getting on toward supper, you know.” His voice was accusing. "Wouldn’t do to be late for supper.”

I could think of nothing to say. "Yes,” I murmured inanely. He de­pos­ited the trunk neatly in the stern of the boat, then turned to help me climb in.

"Mind where you step,” he cautioned sullenly. "It’s damp in here.”

"Thank you, Mr....?” I let it trail meaningfully as I seated myself on one of the rough plank seats, tucking my long legs beneath me.

"You might as well call me John. Everyone else does,” he said morosely. Without waiting for reply he cast off and we rowed in silence. He made strong, smooth sweeps through the icy blue water of late spring, and once more I was impressed with the deceptive strength of him.

"Is something wrong?” I questioned hesitantly.

"Wrong?” he barked. "Why should anything be wrong? Don’t tell me you’re one of these overly imaginative females who jump at their own shadows. You won’t be on Cameron’s Landing for long if you are.” That idea seemed to please him, for he cackled merrily. "Though whose idea it was to bring an inlander here I don’t know. We don’t need out­siders around here; we can take care of our own when we’re in trouble,” he snapped.

"And are you in trouble?” I questioned casually.

"No!” he spat back at me. "Stop asking questions that don’t con­cern you.”

I was getting exasperated. The man was clearly bordering on the senile, and it was useless to argue with the sly logic of the old. "All right,” I said firmly. "I don’t want to fight with you. I’m here to earn my living, nothing more.”

He considered this for a moment, then cackled again. "That’s what they all say. Well see, girly, we’ll see. You may not be too bad, at that. All the same, you’d better watch out. There’s ghosties on this island. They might like to trip a young lady like yourself and toss you into the water by the rocks. Surrounded by cliffs on three sides, this island is. And how would you like that, my girl?”

"Not a bit,” I answered coolly. "I’ll keep an eye out for ghosties and troublemaking old men, don’t you worry.”

This pleased him, for he grinned a toothless grin as the boat reached the sandy shore. A horse and wagon were tethered in front of what was obviously a combination boathouse and stables.

"There’s our elegant transportation, girly. As you can see, the Camerons do not share your lofty opinion of yourself. You get the kit­chen cart, not the family carriage.” This seeming slight amused him even more, for a wheezing chuckle escaped him.

"You’re a nasty old man!” I said roundly, fairly fuming with indig­n­ation. "I’ve come almost two hundred miles from my father’s farm in Vermont to take a job with people I’ve scarcely heard of and I’m met by a mean, demented old loon who’s doing his best to scare me out of my wits. Well, I won’t be scared!” My own fierceness surprised me. "I’ve come this far and I’m going to stay!”

"Hoity-toity,” he muttered, unimpressed. "You may have second thoughts after you’ve spent a few nights here.”

Ignoring this, I scrambled out of the dory and onto dry land again. I was now in the Camerons’ domain, totally dependent on their whims. And whims they had in plenty, if I were to believe all that I had read about them in the society pages of the Boston and New York news­papers my father had subscribed to.

It was a deceptively tranquil place. The sea was strong in my nos­trils, and that, combined with the damp spring smell of awakening earth, brought a small ache of loneliness. The trees were taller here on this island, and the white birches grew in abundance. I sighed, and looked at the ancient figure of Old John, sincerely hoping his ideas of ghosties and danger were only figments of his imagination. From an island there was only one avenue of escape, and I had never seen the ocean before this afternoon.

The sun was setting as we drove through the tall pines and birch trees that bordered the rutted dirt road. The smell of the pine needles mingled with the air and I felt a sudden wave of determination. It was a strange and lovely place in the late spring twilight, and I could belong here if I tried. And try I must.

The road turned a sharp corner, and suddenly we were upon the house. I stared up at it in amazement not unmixed with apprehension. It was gigantic, more like a castle than a private home. It was made from heavy stone, and I could just imagine the barges bringing the materials across that narrow strait, day after day until this edifice was finished. The cost must have been enormous, even back then, but that was in keeping with all that I had heard of the illustrious Camerons. They had made their fortune in shipping, and had husbanded it wisely, so that none of the descendants need do anything but spend their generous inheritance.

We drove straight to the back of the mansion, past extensive stables and outbuildings. "This’ll be your entrance,” Old John wheezed, putting me in my place. "A part-time governess-companion ain’t considered to be exactly of the quality level.”

"Naturally,” I agreed calmly, seething inwardly. This business of working for a living was going to be harder than I had imagined back in the gentle atmosphere of my father’s house. Being a Vermonter and a Scot, I found any form of subservience hard to bear. Well, this was one of the things I would have to accustom myself to, I warned my rising temper.

"It’s a dour house,” I mentioned, unable to free myself from my feelings of foreboding at the sight of that dark pile of masonry with its leaded casement windows.

"That it is, missy,” he said with new respect in his voice. "Some don’t see it right off, those that aren’t gifted with ‘the sight.’”

"More damned than gifted,” I murmured thoughtlessly, looking upward at the looming building.

"Eh...?” Something was troubling Old John. "What would your name be, miss?”

"Lorna MacDougall,” I answered in surprise. "Didn’t they tell you?”

"Eh, they don’t tell Old John nothing,” he muttered. "I’m sorry, miss, if I seemed a bit rough. I didn’t understand that you were a Scot too. That makes a difference.”

"Does it?” I asked dryly. "Why?”

"This is Cameron land. They’re as Scottish as you can be, and all who work here are Scots too, with the exception of that Thora Monroe, who brought you here. And in some ways she’s not a bad woman either,” he reflected. "But you’re welcome here, Miss Lorna. Maybe one with the sight might make a difference to this troubled house.”

"Don’t tell anyone about that, would you?” I asked hastily. "It’s more a trouble than a blessing, and I prefer to forget about it.”

He shook his grizzled head sorrowfully. "That’s as may be, miss. But you won’t be allowed to forget it, not here at Cameron’s Landing. You may need it to survive.”

With this gloomy pronouncement he brought the wagon to a halt and leapt to the ground with surprising agility. Tying the horse to a hitching post, he was around to my side and helping me down with newfound courtesy before I could pull my scattered thoughts together. A door opened in the black mass of stone and light poured out into the twilight.

"Is that you, John?” a rough, scarcely feminine voice called out. "Have you brought her?”

"That I have, Thora. We’ll be there in a shake,” he called back, pulling my heavy trunk from the back of the wagon effortlessly and starting toward the light. "Follow me, miss.”

I did so, picking my way over the muddy ground. The light inside the door was blinding for a moment, and a blast of heat overwhelmed me. It hadn’t been more than mildly brisk outside, but this warmth more than made up for it. Slowly my eyes became accustomed to the light, and I focused on a skinny, severe-looking middle-aged woman in house­keeper’s black bombazine. She looked quite fierce, and I nearly trembled as I held out a hand. "Miss Monroe?”

She smiled, and all severity left her bony face. "Heavens, call me Thora, dear. So you’re Ian MacDougall’s daughter? You poor little thing.”

I nodded, bemused by her terming me a poor little thing. I stood close to six feet in stout leather brogues, and I quite towered above the housekeeper. She rambled on. "I was so sorry to hear about your father’s accident, my dear. It must go hard on him to be bedridden, an active, charming man like he was. And your sweet mother’s holding up just fine, I’m sure. I suppose they’ll miss you terrible—those ten brothers and sisters of yours...”

"Nine,” I interposed hastily.

"Well, nine, whatever.” She waved off an extra child or two as something of no consequence. As I suppose it was, to her. "So now you’re here to help make ends meet for your poor beleaguered household. It’s pleased I was to get your mother’s letter asking if we needed someone, for I’ve missed my friends and kin in the thirty-five years I’ve been here. I’m glad you could come to us for a bit., instead of finding yourself a husband and a family of your own right off, as you could have easily done, a pretty little thing like you. However, you look like you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and I’m sure you’ve plenty of time for weddings and birthings to come.” She gave a deep sigh, presumably for her own lost weddings and birthings, and then beamed upon me like a proud mother.

"I guess so.” I was at a loss for an answer in the face of this hearty little woman. I had no doubts at that time as to the sincerity of her welcome, and the kitchen exuded a pleasant., easygoing atmosphere that seemed to give the lie to my previous misgivings about the Cameron mansion.

"You must be terribly tired after your trip. Come and meet the girls and then I’ll show you where you can wash up before you meet the old lady.” She turned her ramrod-straight back and called loudly, "Katie, Nancy, get off your lazy bottoms and come over here.”

My eyes followed the direction of her order and saw two young girls in starched uniforms curled comfortably in chairs around the scarred oak table. The two of them, with surprisingly similar motions, uncurled themselves and came forward to be presented. Katie was the older and bolder of the two, with thick black hair and a sensuous, curving mouth. Nancy was plumper and jollier, yet both of their greetings were innocently friendly. They were both very pretty, but I felt no jealousy. Life would have been difficult in the extreme were I constantly exposed to the importunities of men. As it was, my height had sufficiently discouraged most of them, and my education, unusual for a woman in those times, frightened the rest.

"Beautiful hair you have, Lorna,” Katie sighed, touching her own raven locks with patent dissatisfaction. "I always wanted to have red hair.”

"Not if you were born with it,” I assured her wryly.

"Maybe.” She was skeptical. "You’re going to be the little ones’ governess?”

"I’m not sure,” I began, as Thora answered at the same time.

"Now, Katie, we’ll have to see what the old lady says.” She turned to me. "I’ll show you to my room where you can have a bit of a wash before supper. I’m afraid I can’t show you to your own quarters yet—they haven’t been decided upon.”

"Really?” I questioned. It seemed rather late to make a decision like that one.

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