Barrett's Hill

Barrett's Hill

Anne Stuart

April 2014 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-027

Seduction and murder.

Adam Traywick may be capable of both.

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In this celebrated gothic romance, will Miranda be the next victim of Barrett’s Hill?

When her father’s will sends strong-willed, irreverent Miranda to the New England estate of nearby Barrett’s Hill to live under the guardianship of her elder cousin—the sour Reverend Smathers—and his scheming family, trouble quickly brews.

Two decades earlier a murder took place on Barrett’s Hill, and the suspects are few. Miranda’s spirited investigation raises the fear of public scandal among her hypocritical relatives—the Reverend’s alcoholic wife and viciously manipulative daughter—especially since the suspects are the Reverend, his toadying assistant Fathimore, Miranda’s own father, and the darkly irresistible Adam Traywick.

Adam turns his masterful charms on Miranda, and she falls in love. Yet as it becomes clear she’s provoked the killer’s survival instincts, with herself his target, she can’t help wondering if Adam is seducing her or planning her murder.



Coming soon!



Chapter 1

IT WAS COLD. Icy, icy cold. The kind of cold that pains your lungs when you breathe, cold that stings your face when you walk. Cold that seeps down into your bones and stays there till you’re three weeks into summer. Cold.

People said the winter of 1881 was the roughest they’d lived through yet. Seemed like every other day we’d have a snow storm, and when the snow wasn’t falling and clogging up the twisty dirt roads, then the wind blew hard enough to knock a person halfway to Montpelier. By mid-November I was practically housebound.

At that time I was living with my father’s cousin, the Very Reverend James Karlew Smathers. At the end of summer I had been dropped summarily on his doorstep per the instructions of my late and unlamented father’s will and consequently had spent the last three months in a constant state of rebellion against the holy postures of my cousin and his small-minded family. My father, a second-rate classics professor at a third-rate college outside of Boston, had only one good quality: he had left me entirely alone to bring myself up as I had thought best. My mother was never spoken of. She’d run off with an actor when I was barely four years old and then died some time later in a train wreck. My father seemed likely to live forever, I thought, until a disagreement with one of his colleagues brought on apoplexy, leaving me, at the age of twenty, dependent on a man my father had stigmatized as a hypocritical moron who supported himself by a God he didn’t believe in.

I took after my mother in many ways; I suppose that was one reason why my father hated me. I had her elegant curves, her blue eyes, her face. I was no great beauty, but I’d made peace with that long ago, accepting the fact that I was ordinary. My hair was a redder blonde than hers had been, and I was definitely lacking her charm of manner. In character, much as I hate to admit it, I resembled my father, with a tendency to say what I thought despite what people might think, mainly because I really didn't care. Unfortunately this failed to bring me closer to my father, since I detested him as thoroughly as he did me. I knew perfectly well that morning when I sat dry-eyed in Lawyer Hargreaves’s office, listening to that infamous will, that now my father had his final revenge for all the outrageous behavior of my adolescent years. He’d left my genteel fortune and my rebellious body in the care of the ruddy-cheeked individual looking suitably solemn as he sat to my left on the horsehair couch.

" whose custody she will remain until she has learned to control her wild behavior and provided herself with a husband, or, failing that most necessary adjunct to womanhood, until she reaches the age of thirty-five, at which time her money will be taken over by a trust fund.”

I choked in helpless rage, and Cousin Karlew, charitably assuming it was my grief getting the better of me, patted my shaking hand. I controlled the impulse to slap him away and raised my head defiantly. The Reverend looked at me in surprise. I think it was the poor man’s first inkling of my true nature. I could find it in my heart to pity him.

"Well, Miranda,” Cousin Karlew turned to me when Mr. Hargreaves’s fussy little voice had finally finished reading my father’s last words, "I hope you know how glad your cousin Elinor and I will be to have you with us,” he said jovially, his eyes a bit alarmed.

"I can imagine just how glad you must be, Cousin.” I smiled sweetly. "My father told me so much about you.”

His face became more disturbed. "And my daughter Maxine is only a few years younger than you are. You and she will become great friends, I’m sure.”

"I’m sure,” I echoed tonelessly, glancing around the office for a way to escape this pompous man. My purse contained three dollars and some change, my few possessions of any worth were packed and already on their way to a tiny, misbegotten village in the hills of northern Vermont called Pomroy. I looked back into my cousin’s colorless eyes. "Whenever you’re ready, Cousin,” I murmured, temporarily acquiescing.

The train ride from Boston was endless, and Karlew did little to beguile the time. My black wool traveling dress was scratchy and rough against my skin; the air was stuffy and sooty. When I first sat down in my seat I’d taken out a frivolous novel, but the looks of shock and disapproval from my holy cousin made it impossible to concentrate, and I put it down within half an hour. The look of censure faded from his face, and some shred of tact (which he has not exercised since) prevented him from commenting on my lack of proper feeling.

It was late when the train arrived in Montpelier. The August night was cold, and for the first time that day I was glad my only mourning dress was made of wool. Feeling quiet and strange inside, I waited on the little platform while Karlew arranged for my trunks to be sent on. I’d never seen so many stars—or maybe I just hadn’t noticed them when I’d lived in Boston. I was still staring skyward when my cousin bustled up.

"We’ll push on ahead tonight, Miranda. The sooner you get settled with your new family the easier it will be for you in this time of bereavement.” He eyed me warily, expecting a denial. "I’ll just head on over to the livery stable and hire a wagon. Won’t take but a minute.”

I stared after his stocky figure with speculative eyes. My father had never been terribly perceptive about human nature, and he had been wrong about his cousin. Karlew was no moron, however shallow he seemed. It was possible this could prove entertaining after all. But not for fifteen years, I promised myself firmly.

An hour later we were following a winding dirt road along a seemingly endless series of hills and valleys. The pair of horses was slow and strong, lumbering along in front of us. The faint scent of manure clung to the wagon and mingled with the cool night air.

"How much farther is Pomroy?” I asked, staring idly into the underbrush alongside the road. It would have been almost too easy to imagine dark and malevolent creatures skulking there, waiting to attack, I thought, and gave myself a little shake.

"See that hill over there?” Karlew said, pointing to what my city-bred eyes considered a small mountain. "That’s Barrett’s Hill. We live a little ways up it.”

It didn’t look suspicious or threatening, just a hill, like any other. I glanced at it with mild curiosity, then dismissed it from my mind, deciding it wasn’t likely to be of much importance to me. Foolish girl that I was.

It was another forty-five minutes before we pulled up in front of a huge house, three stories high with several peaked roofs dark against the night sky. While Karlew stopped by the porch and I scrambled down, the front door opened, and a stout, friendly lady appeared.

"Where’s the poor orphaned girl?” she cried. Then, seeing me standing there stiffly, she folded me into a hearty embrace. I endured it with good grace, wondering what had possessed my cousin to marry such an exuberant creature.

"Hello, Nanny,” Karlew greeted her, quickly dispelling my illusion. "Is my wife asleep?”

"That she is, Reverend, and best not wake her up. She had one of her bad nights,” she said significantly, over my head. "I’ll just take Miss Miranda up to her room and get her settled in, poor thing. She must be exhausted.”

"I am, rather,” I said, letting her lead me through hallways I paid no attention to. Within fifteen minutes I had washed up a bit, changed into a borrowed nightgown, presumably belonging to my cousin Maxine—I couldn’t imagine a grown woman choosing that shade of pink—and been tucked comfortably into bed. I lay there, looking docile, while Nanny busied herself straightening the already immaculate room.

"Don’t you pay no attention to that hill outside,” she warned before she left me. "Gives some people the willies, it does, but don’t you pay it no mind. You just get a good night’s sleep, and tomorrow you’ll meet the rest of your cousins.” She beamed fondly at the thought of the treat in store for me.

I lay there alone in the darkness, waiting for sleep. But I was too restless, too curious about my new surroundings. I knew I was up on the third floor, in a small but attractively simple room. I was lying in a sturdy old sleigh bed, a patchwork quilt covering me, bringing me warmth I’d never thought I’d need in midsummer. A small amount of light from the quarter moon came through the casement windows above the window seat, throwing fitful shadows of the maple leaves onto the braided rug. I could see Barrett’s Hill rising behind the house, and I found its presence comforting.

When I awoke the next morning my first sight was a vision perched on the end of my bed. She had dark brown, almost black hair flowing in graceful curls around her shoulders, her dress a bright shade of rose pink that would make me look bilious but suited her perfectly, and her dark brown eyes were unpleasantly assessing.

"Good morning, Cousin Miranda." She smiled broadly, as though the number of teeth showing measured my welcome. "I thought I’d come and wake you up.”

"How thoughtful of you, Maxine. I assure you are Maxine and not Cousin Elinor?”

This apparently amused her, for she went into gales of affected laughter. I waited patiently for her to regain her self-control.

"Heaven, you’d know how funny that is when you see Mummy.”

"I’m sure I will,” I answered, glancing around the room for my trunks. "Have you any idea where my luggage is?”

"None.” She surveyed me for a moment. "You aren’t going to like it here, you know. It’s the back end of beyond, and you’re not very pretty, are you?”

I don’t know if she was expecting me to agree with her, but I kept my mouth shut. Maxine shrugged. "Still, you’re not my responsibility, thank God.” She jumped up, her curiosity satisfied. "I’ll see you at breakfast.” She almost seemed to disappear—a not unlikely occurrence for such a fairy-like creature. Or a troll, I thought.

I arrived downstairs in my travel-stained black dress, my hunger winning out over my vanity. I was directed to the breakfast room by a young maid whose name, I later discovered, was Emma. I entered the dark, depressing little room and met Maxine’s smirk.

"Good morning, Miranda!” Karlew said heartily across the room. "I trust you had a good night’s sleep?”

I nodded absently, my attention drawn to the third occupant of the room, my cousin Elinor. She was short and washed-out. Her hair had faded to an indiscriminate shade of blonde and gray, her eyes had faded to a watery hazel. Even her clothes seemed faded. She fluttered nervously, rising from her chair and floating to my side with a trail of wispy garments behind her. She touched her dry cheek against mine, and I could see tears in her eyes as she pressed my hand.

"My dear,” she murmured, quite overcome. "We are so happy to have you here! You poor thing.”

Too much emotion before breakfast has always been against my principles, so I gently disengaged her clinging form, helped her back to her chair, and then sat down opposite her. Karlew flashed me a look of surprised approval before embarking on a long and boring prayer thanking Our Savior for the oatmeal. I survived it the best I could, staring at the red-flocked wallpaper above the dark brown wainscoting and the tasteful still life of dead pheasants staring down at me with glassy eyes.

Karlew’s breakfast conversation was no better than his train conversation, consisting mainly of bald statements which he ended with "Eh?” expecting us to agree meekly. My cousins did their part; I preserved a stony silence. I was not about to compromise my principles to help Karlew’s obviously overwhelming vanity.

"Miranda, would you come into my study when you are free?” he inquired affably—but I could tell he was not best pleased with me. I nodded my agreement and followed him into that room, prepared for a stern and pious lecture.

He sat down behind his large, impressive desk and looked at me earnestly. "Miranda, my child, I am most disturbed.”

I sat down gracefully on a low stool. "Are you, Cousin?” My tone was not encouraging.

He was daunted for a moment but rallied bravely. "My dear, I realize how great your grief must be—”

"Grief?” I interrupted flatly. "Surely you don’t think I mourn my father? If you do then you must have forgotten what he was like. A more self-centered, evil-tongued, nasty individual—”

"Stop!” he commanded, horrified to the tips of his Christian toes. "You can’t know what you’re saying!”

"I know perfectly well what I’m saying, Cousin Karlew. You should have paid more attention to the will. Along with the trusteeship of all that money you have the care of someone my dear father variously called a termagant, a shrew, a feminist, and a creature worse than her mother. And that, my dear cousin, describes me well enough for your purposes. The sooner you give me possession of my money and allow me to leave, the happier we both shall be.”

Karlew sat in silence for a moment, his bland face creased in thought. Finally he spoke. "Miranda, how can you ever hope to get along with your fellow man if you don’t take a more conciliatory attitude? Surely you must see that I can’t let you leave here until the terms of your dear father’s will are fulfilled? I would feel that I had broken a sacred trust if I avoided my responsibilities and let you run off.”

He folded his hands and arranged his puffy features into a look of benevolence. "You’ll be happy here, Miranda. I have given the matter a great deal of thought, and I feel your father regretted his renunciation of the Church and gave me your guardianship so that I could right the grievous wrong in your upbringing. I can think of no better way to start your life with us than with prayer.”

With that he got down on his knees then stared at me suspiciously. "What was that you said, Cousin?” Reluctantly I sank to my knees on the slightly threadbare carpet.

"I said ‘Oh, Lord,’ Cousin. A little prayer of my own.”



Chapter 2

LIFE AT KARLEW’S soon settled into a pattern: bearable but stifling. That first evening I was introduced to the honorary member of our happy little family, Fathimore Wilby, Karlew’s meek assistant. Just above medium height, and weighing as much as a wet cat, he had a pinched, pock-marked face, tiny little eyes, a sickly gray mustache, and an extremely large, pimpled nose. When we first met, all I could do was stare at the monstrous nose; his light conversation was not such that could distract me.

He had rooms at the local hotel and to my regret was given free run of the house. He took almost all his meals with us and from the start made me the object of fulsome compliments and attentions. I found him repulsive, and I kept out of his way as much as possible. I had never cared much for men at all, but the idea of Fathimore paying court was ridiculous. Besides, he had a way of looking at me through those moist, ravening eyes that made me extremely uncomfortable.

"You should feel complimented, Miranda,” Maxine told me with cheerful malice. "He hasn’t looked at another woman besides his mother for as long as I’ve known him. Why, maybe he’ll propose and you can be mistress of your own house.”

I gave her a look of sheer hatred in reward for that. "Where’s his mother now? I’m surprised the disgusting creature isn’t tied to her apron strings.”

"Oh, he was. They used to live in the little red house by the church for the longest time. You know the one I mean?”

I nodded.

Her voice took on a sepulchral depth. "They seemed like the perfect couple until it happened.”

"Until what happened?” I demanded.

"Until his mother was found dead. Fell down the stairs, they said. I don’t believe it for a minute.”

"You think Fathimore pushed her?” Life in Pomroy was becoming more interesting all the time.

"I don’t know,” Maxine admitted. "But I wouldn’t put it past him. His eyes are enough to frighten anyone.” She shuddered. "Like spiders.”

"Well,” I said calmly, "who would have guessed such depths lurked beneath this New England calm? Murders and such.”

"That’s not the only murder that happened around here,” Maxine said darkly. "There was another one.”

I waited for her to continue. "Well?” I demanded. "Tell me! Who was killed? Who did it?”

"I don’t exactly know,” she admitted. "All I know is it involved your father, mine, Fathimore, and a man named Adam Traywick. But no one will ever talk about it.”

Here, thank heavens, my sixth sense, which had failed so miserably with Barrett’s Hill, began to work. Adam Traywick immediately fascinated me.

"Adam Traywick,” I repeated slowly, savoring the sound of his name. "Who do you suppose he murdered?”

"I didn’t say he murdered anyone,” Maxine said grumpily. "I just said he was involved. And I know where it happened, too. On Barrett’s Hill!”

"Well, if you know who was involved and where it happened I don’t see why you don’t know who was killed,” I remarked sensibly. "Have you ever seen this man?”

"Who, Adam Traywick? I’ve never seen him in my life. Anyway, I told you, no one will talk about the murder,” she complained. "Lord knows, I’ve tried dozens of times. Nanny once scrubbed my mouth out with soap when I tried to question her.”

"Well, I’m a bit too old for that sort of treatment,” I said confidently. "I’ll find out what happened.”

"You’d better be careful,” Maxine warned.

"Don’t worry, Maxine. I can get away with a lot more than you can.”

Maxine stuck her tongue out at me.

"COUSIN KARLEW...,” I began casually at dinner that night, trying to avoid Fathimore’s fawning gaze from across the table. "Who was murdered on Barrett’s Hill?”

Karlew dropped the knife with which he was carving the roast and turned to me, his puffy face pale with anger and perhaps fear. "That is something we don’t discuss in this house, Miranda!” he said shortly.

"Don’t we?” I said. "Then I suppose I’ll just have to keep questioning everyone else I see until I get an answer.”

Horror at the idea silenced Karlew for a moment or two. Even Fathimore lost his habitual leer.

"A prostitute was raped and murdered twenty years ago,” Elinor spoke up suddenly. "As it had nothing to do with any of us we don’t like to speak of it.”

Maxine was looking at me with reluctant admiration. ‘Thank you, Cousin Elinor,” I said. "That’s all I wanted to know. Except... who was Adam Traywick?”

"Miranda, you will leave the table immediately!” Karlew thundered.

I smiled sweetly. "Of course,” I murmured, and left the room, happy for my reprieve. Whoever Adam Traywick was, he still had a strong effect on the Reverend Smathers. I wondered if he was still alive and where he was at that moment. His return would be just the thing to put the cat among the pigeons.

AUGUST PASSED TO September, and the trees turned flaming red and gold up on Barrett’s Hill. Cousin Elinor and Maxine began extensive redecorations on the house—I didn’t bother to ask where the money came from. I was perfectly comfortable in my little room on the third floor. There was only one other bedroom up there, and that was unoccupied. The rest of the space was taken up with storerooms and such. I had no desire to trade my patchwork quilts for Maxine's satin bed-hangings.

The days got colder. To Karlew’s great disgust I had given up mourning when I’d ordered new winter clothes from the village dressmaker, and Karlew’s little family now made quite a fashionable impression when we were dragged to church to hear his impossibly boring sermons. My one consolation was that Fathimore was allowed to preach only once a month—any more and I would have become an atheist. Maxine and I sang in the choir: I with a good strong alto and Maxine consistently off-key. September passed to October, and I wondered how long I’d have to stay there.

One day towards the end of October, Karlew announced he would take Maxine and me with him into Montpelier the next day. "Give you a chance to look around the big city,” he told me jovially. I sniffed, demonstrating my disinterest while my brain was quickly assembling a plan of escape.

I was tense the next morning as we climbed into Karlew’s fancy new carriage—my money was certainly not idle—and started off. Maxine was wearing a traveling costume of a deep shade of pink; its one redeeming feature was the fact that it set off my sky blue wool perfectly. I settled back among the cushions and smiled, well-satisfied with myself. Karlew had been very generous to me with my money; I had more than enough cash to carry me halfway to California. Not that I intended such a long distance. I thought Boston would be the best choice. I could throw myself on my mother’s relatives.

"Well, Miranda, it’s nice to see you smiling for once,” Karlew said cheerfully, winking broadly at Maxine in a display of good-humored indulgence. "I hope the addition of your devoted swain won’t impair your pleasant temper.”

"My dear cousin,” I said calmly, "the moment Mr. Wilby steps into this carriage I step out!”

Karlew chuckled. "Now, now, my dear. I was only teasing you. I’ve never known such a girl for discouraging admirers. Prospective husbands don’t grow on trees, you know.”

"Neither prospective husbands nor money, Karlew. Since the good Lord saw fit to provide me with the latter, I’m sure he’ll produce the other in His own good time.”

Karlew was silenced for the rest of the journey.

Montpelier was barely larger than the village of Pomroy, even though it was the state capitol. A few feed stores, dry goods stores, the capitol building, a hotel and a restaurant sufficed the local citizenry. The leaves had left the trees, and everything was a dull, dead brown that matched the color of the buildings. I would be almost sorry to miss the snow.

"Now, what did you two have in mind? I have to see old Judge McQueeney over at the courthouse, but that shouldn’t take more than an hour or so. Where would you like to go?”

I thought fast. "When we crossed the river I noticed a dry goods store near the railroad station. If Maxine wouldn’t mind, I thought I’d go over there and look at a few things. I thought I might take up needlework. I’m sure you’d approve of me having a useful occupation?”

"I would indeed!” Karlew said heartily. "I wish you could persuade your cousin Maxine to do the same.” He directed the horses back towards the train station.

"You want to go to this grubby old store?” Maxine demanded in disgust. "They look like they’ll have nothing but burlap bags.”

"Oh, I wouldn’t want to waste your shopping time, Maxine,” I said easily. "I’m used to being by myself in much larger towns than this. You could go on ahead with whatever you wanted to do, and I could meet you in a couple of hours—perhaps at the hotel?”

Karlew was silent as he maneuvered the carriage to a stop by the railway station. "I must say, I don’t really care for that idea, but I suppose... His voice trailed off, and a look of blank horror paled his ruddy face. "No—no—” he gasped, and quickly I followed the direction of his stare.

And there he was, standing in the doorway of the station, amusement as strong as Karlew’s horror written on his face. He was tall, very tall, with a lean strong body that gave the impression of controlled strength, and even danger. Looking across the dusty street at him, I felt surprisingly small and defenseless, in a not altogether pleasant manner. He had long blond hair and a strong-featured face. And his eyes were like emeralds, hypnotic and sensual. I stared at him, open-mouthed, and for a second his eyes met mine.

"Who’s that, Daddy?” Maxine’s avid voice disrupted my reverie. Karlew was hurriedly moving the horses, keeping his attention away from the man in front of the railway station.

"I don’t know what you’re talking about!” he snapped as the carriage leaped ahead with a jerk.

I turned back to look at the stranger once more as we sped out of town. He smiled at me.


Any attempt at conversation on that long ride home was quickly stifled by Karlew. His face was creased with a secret fear as he hurried the horses along the road. I sat back, absorbing what I’d just observed. Surprisingly enough, I never even thought of my frustrated plans for escape. I was far too busy remembering that slow, sensual smile with a pleasure I’d never felt before. I hugged my strange delight to myself, jealous of the new sensations filling me.

"I wish someone would explain what’s going on,” complained Maxine. "Daddy’s looking terrified, and you keep grinning like the Cheshire cat in that book you lent me.”

Karlew turned to me in a fury, nearly going off the narrow road. "How dare you give my daughter that book? I don’t have it in my house—that man was a drunkard and had strange habits. I refuse to allow his foul writings to pollute my child’s mind!”

"He is a mathematician,” I corrected him, being fully aware of the identity of Mr. Dodson. "And I do not consider that book evil, Cousin. It’s merely a fairy tale, and a lovely one at that.”

"I refuse to discuss it any further. When we arrive home you will kindly bring me that book, and I will dispose of it in the manner it deserves,” he said angrily.

"Certainly, Cousin,” I said with false calm. "But tell me, can we expect Mr. Traywick to pay us a visit now that we know he’s in Montpelier?”

A tense silence filled the carriage. "Miranda, if you don’t want me to take this horsewhip to you, I suggest you not utter another word!” He was furious enough to do just that, so I remained silent, meeting Maxine’s amazed expression with intense satisfaction.

"How did you know that was Adam Traywick?” she asked me as soon as Karlew had dropped us off at the house and gone on to stable the horses.

"Logic,” I replied. "And something else.”


"I don’t know what to call it,” I confessed. "Somehow I just knew.”



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