Linda Earle’s stepbrother had a bright future. An aspiring athlete, he was being mentored by championship skier Julian McCabe, but then his career was cut short when he was accused of murdering Julian’s wife, Margot. Convinced of his innocence and determined to clear his name, Linda takes a job as après-ski hostess at the McCabe’s Pocono lodge, nestled in the shadow of their imposing estate.
Once Linda insinuates herself into the guarded family, she discovers that everyone behind the walls of Greystones mansion had a reason to murder the much-hated Margot, including her disturbed daughter, her malicious and jealous sister-in-law, even the brooding and handsome Julian, with whom Linda is falling dangerously in love. But with a mysterious killer in a house of secrets, Linda has reason to fear that anyone—including herself—could be the next victim.
New York Times–bestselling author “Phyllis Whitney is, and always will be, the Grand Master of her craft” (Barbara Michaels).
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Phyllis A. Whitney including rare images from the author’s estate.
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About the Author
Whitney resided in several places, including New Jersey. She traveled to every location mentioned in her books in order to better depict the settings of her stories. She earned the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award in 1988, the Agatha in 1990, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Midland Authors in 1995. Whitney was working on her autobiography at the time of her passing at the age of 104.
Born in Yokohama, Japan, on September 9, 1903, Phyllis A. Whitney was a prolific author of award-winning adult and children’s fiction. Her sixty-year writing career and the publication of seventy-six books, which together sold over fifty million copies worldwide, established her as one of the most successful mystery and romantic suspense writers of the twentieth century and earned her the title “The Queen of the American Gothics.”
Whitney resided in several places, including New Jersey. She traveled to every location mentioned in her books in order to better depict the settings of her stories. She earned the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master award in 1988, the Agatha in 1990, and the lifetime achievement award from the Society of Midland Authors in 1995. Whitney was working on her autobiography at the time of her passing at the age of 104.
Read an Excerpt
Far ahead along the road I could see a sign, and I slowed my car in snowy tracks. A picture of a tall evergreen, with the name JUNIPER LODGE printed beside it, told me this was the place. There was no turning back. Whatever my folly, I was committed.
My ungloved hands were damp on the wheel and that sense of time ticking away which had begun to haunt me so frighteningly was there again. There seemed so little time, and I had no conviction that I was clever enough or bold enough to carry this off and help Stuart.
He had been against my coming, warning me that it might even be dangerous, and he had hated the idea of a masquerade. "They'll find you out," he prophesied, "and then everything will be worse than ever."
I dared not listen. There was no other way. I had to come. The ad in the newspaper was fortuitous — a gift from the gods — and I've never believed in ignoring celestial invitations, even when they frighten me. "Headlong," Stuart used to call me when we were younger and I opposed him impulsively. At the moment I felt that being headlong was all I had. If I didn't hurl myself, nothing useful would happen anyway.
The road had wound out of the village through wooded Pocono hills — hills that had once been sea bottom. There were few houses in this area, and beyond the sign the old farmhouse that now served as a ski and vacation lodge was easily recognizable. It was painted white, two stories high, with a rambling addition built onto the original structure.
The other house — Graystones — was my real and secret goal, but I knew it was lost among thick woods of pine and hemlock that skirted the foot of the mountain, and could not be seen from the road. My stepbrother, Stuart Parrish, had told me about both houses. Graystones stood empty now because Julian McCabe and his sister and small daughter had gone to Maine after the tragedy and had stayed there for the last six months. I wondered if they would come home, now that Stuart had been arrested.
I followed the driveway to one side of the white house, and saw the small, neat cottages spotted here and there under the trees, with snow paths trodden toward several doors. It was early afternoon and the entire place lay silent. Everyone would be out on the ski slopes enjoying the December snows. But Mr. Davidson, to whom I'd talked on the phone, had said to come right away.
Ours had been a strange conversation. The ad I'd seen in a Philadelphia paper had told me that Juniper Lodge in the Poconos was looking for an après-ski hostess to help with guests during the evening hours. The lodge was owned by Julian McCabe, whose onetime championship skiing was still remembered for its precision and graceful daring. To be able to ski was necessary, the ad said. I was able to ski, thanks to Stuart, though I was no devotee and he hardly approved of my skill.
I had stared at that ad for one whole evening. Then I'd cut it out of the paper, packed my bags, and driven to the county seat where Stuart had been imprisoned. Bail had not yet been set, because of the seriousness of the charge. I had already been to see him, and I had found him a good local lawyer.
That was easy to do through the law firm for which I worked. David Boyce, my boss, had been thoroughly concerned for both Stuart and me, and he had driven me out to see him when I'd gone in the first time. He'd have come with me again, but I knew I must now act alone. I would show the ad only to Stuart, confide only in him. I had no intention of telling his lawyer or David what I meant to do. Both were practical men, and my imaginative scheme would alarm them and bring objections.
Only this morning I'd sat on a stool in the small, narrow room with medicine-green painted walls, facing Stuart through a grill of steel mesh that almost hid his face. I'd asked a guard for light in that gloomy place, and only then could I see Stuart through fine mesh that permitted no passing of small objects. These weren't visiting hours, but because I came from Philadelphia, two hours away, it was arranged for me to see him.
Incarceration had not changed him in the least, and for a moment I could hardly speak for looking at him. The tie between us was close. Between us we had shared tragedy. In a sense, Stuart owed me his life — and the death of our mother and his father. We both carried inner scars. After the fire which had left us parentless, it had been I who had built a life for Stuart, and he'd grown dependent upon me. He was a gay, lively, confident boy, yet underneath lay an obscure fear of believing in anything.
Now he was indignant over his arrest, but amused too, and seemingly sure of an early release. He was the least likely candidate possible for a murder charge, and he still did not believe in what was happening to him. We'd been over the whole thing again and again, trying to find an answer.
"Margot was sitting on the balcony outside her room on the first floor of the house," Stuart had told me. "Her wheelchair was near the start of that dreadful ramp that led down into the yard and was supposed to make the grounds available to her whenever she wished. I had always told Julian it was too steep, but there were brakes on the chair and he thought it safe enough. Usually someone wheeled her up and down anyway — mainly because she was indolent. And, after all, what could a slanting ramp mean to a skier like Julian McCabe!"
I sat at the high counter before the row of steel mesh windows, listening unhappily to my brother's optimism. I never thought of him as a stepbrother. After my father's death, my mother had married again when I was five, and Stuart one. He was her new husband's only child, as I was hers, and he had been my charge until the tragedy when I was fourteen and Stuart ten. An aunt had taken us then, and there was money for our schooling and care. But Stuart remained my dear and chosen charge, and he was still that. I knew better than he of what flimsy stuff his bright confidence was made. Through dimming green mesh I could see his young face, still untouched by fear, his look of being accustomed to freedom — and I wanted to keep him that way.
Though counter and screen separated us, he lighted the drab room with his presence, as he could light any room. He had that golden shine about him that gave evidence of superb health and youth and well-being. His hair was a pale honey color and he wore it thick at the back, though not too long. He couldn't be bothered with long hair on the slopes. His eyes were a golden brown and they carried the same characteristic shine. I could remember the times when I'd seen them alight with eagerness when he'd talked to me about Julian McCabe and skiing, and I could remember how I'd hated to see that response in him. I would give anything to see it now.
Stuart was tall and slim and muscular, as a skier should be, and his reflexes were like lightning, his control extraordinary. He was Julian's protégé and was being groomed for the Olympics. That was what he minded most now — that there'd be no skiing for him this year, that precious time was being lost and he was letting Julian down. He couldn't believe that the man he admired most in the world would join those who were saying Stuart Parrish had murdered Julian's wife.
"It will be all right as soon as Julian gets back," he assured me. "He'll pull me out of this."
I wasn't at all sure. I had been prejudiced against Julian for a long time, and he was no hero to me.
"It could have been an accident," I said across the width of that discouraging counter. "If her chair was so close to the top of that ramp it could have gone out of control. Tell me about it again. I want it all to be clear in my mind when I go to Graystones."
He snorted in a sound that was half laugh, half an effort to discourage me. "You'll never get away with it. Someone will recognize your name, even though it's different from mine. There was your picture in the paper as my stepsister, Linda Earle, right after what happened six months ago."
There had been an attempt to blame Stuart then, but it had come to nothing and I had been briefly noted as his anxious stepsister at the time.
"An awfully poor likeness," I reminded him. "And who's to remember a name mentioned once six months ago? I have to use my own name because they'll ask me for identification when I apply for a job."
I lived in the city, and from the beginning I had not been happy with Stuart's skill at skiing. I had not been happy when Julian McCabe discovered him and perhaps saw in him the fulfillment of his own aborted career as a champion. I'd never wanted to meet Julian or any of those who lived at Graystones. And because I was difficult about it, Stuart had said little about having a sister. So my anonymity was fairly safe.
"Tell me again," I insisted. "Adria was with her mother just before it happened. Isn't that true?"
He smiled wryly. "Adria was having a bang-up fight with her mother and yelling with all the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old. Clay and I were talking in the next room — the library. I never went near Margot at all. I left Clay in the library and went toward the front door. Julian's sister, Shan, was just coming downstairs and she wanted to know what was wrong with Adria, who had just run past her up the stairs. I stopped to talk to Shan for a moment, and then went out the front door. In the meantime Margot's wheelchair went down the ramp full tilt, struck the guardrail above the ravine so that it broke and she was flung upon the rocks in the stream below. You know the rest."
I knew the rest. Her neck had been broken and she had died at once.
"Was the guardrail all that flimsy?" I asked.
"No — that's the strange thing. It had always seemed to be strong enough. I'd like to follow up on that. I don't know what the police have done."
"I'll follow up on it," I said. "But what about right afterwards? There was that man in the garden — the caretaker?"
"Emory Ault. An oddball character. Rough and ready. A top skier. But often with his nose in a book. Devoted to Julian, though he never seemed to like anybody else. He's been with the family since Julian was a small boy. In fact, he taught him to ski, and even had a hand in my training, though he doesn't like me. I think he resents the fact that now I can ski better than Julian. Emory was working in the garden and he's the one who claims that I pushed Margot's chair. Though he admits that he didn't see it pushed, or who was with her just before. Why he's lying, I don't know."
"Another thing for me to find out."
Stuart grimaced. "Afterwards he told everyone that the chair came down the ramp so fast that it must have been pushed. The hand brakes weren't on when the chair was found. Emory was the first to reach her in the ravine, and then he ran around the house to meet me walking away from the front door. So he nabbed me and started making wild accusations."
"But they didn't stick. The inquest never charged you. No one proved that you went anywhere near Margot, and both Shan and Clay know you went out the front door. Anyone else could have gotten to her. Any one of them. Unless it really was an accident. So what can possibly have come up now?"
Stuart shook his head, not really worried, holding off the darkness in his own gallant way. "The county sheriff has bulldog blood. He believed Emory and now there's supposed to be new evidence. Enough for the Grand Jury to indict me. Look, Linda, forget about this crazy idea. Nothing is going to be proved against me because there isn't anything to prove. I never had anything against Margot, and everyone knows it. I didn't like her, but I didn't kill her."
"What if someone has presented trumped-up evidence to make sure the person who really pushed that chair isn't discovered?"
"You've been reading mystery stories! But if that's the case, I don't want you to go anywhere near Graystones. Just going there could be dangerous if someone discovers who you are. So go home, Linda, and don't be a darling idiot."
But I had to do what was necessary. This was too good an opportunity to find out something useful and I didn't mean to pass it up. I told him I'd be back to see him soon, and I went out of that dreary place and looked for a phone booth.
There was one in the nearby courthouse, and I shut myself into it and called Juniper Lodge. Clay Davidson ran the lodge and when he answered my ring I said my name was Linda Earle — because I wanted to get over the hurdle of stating it right away — and that I was calling about his ad. He talked to me for a few minutes, asking questions. I told him I was twenty-seven, that I'd worked for a Philadelphia law firm, that I was looking for a job away from the city. Yes, I skied a little, and I seemed to get along well with people.
"Can you start tonight?" he asked abruptly. "I need help — and fast."
This was unexpected, but I didn't need time to think. David Boyce knew I might need a leave of absence in order to be near Stuart, and I'd brought along a suitcase and tote bag because I meant to stay at a motel in the vicinity, whether I got the job or not. I had packed ski clothes and my skis were in the carrier on top of my car — just in case. It was still morning, and presumably I was phoning the lodge from Philadelphia. I told him I could be there that afternoon — and he said to come along.
Whether Stuart liked it or not, I was going to be on the grounds at Juniper Lodge, I was going to have a look at the main house — Graystones — and if Julian McCabe brought his family home, I was somehow going to get acquainted with all of them. And with Emory Ault, the caretaker. Even if Julian came to Stuart's aid — and there were reasons why I doubted that he would — I, as a stranger, might be able to learn more than he could. If someone had pushed Margot McCabe to her death, I was going to find out who it was. I couldn't share Stuart's optimistic view that everything would automatically turn out all right. Innocent men had been sent to prison before this.
When I hung up the receiver I discovered that I was shaking. I stayed in the booth for a few moments longer, fighting my nerves and my feelings. I would have to hold onto my emotions if I took this job. The painful picture of Stuart shut into a jail might spur me on, but I must not let it crack my control.
Before I left the booth I called David, told him of my visit with Stuart and that I'd be staying here for a while. His voice was warm and comforting, and I could imagine how he looked at the other end of the line — calm and unruffled, as always, his gray eyes steady, comforting. That was the way he looked to troubled clients who had been cheated through fraud and needed his reassuring manner. It was based on all that was solid, and I had found satisfaction working for him. I wished I could feel something more. Six months ago he had asked me to marry him, but I had shied away with very real alarm. "When are you going to start living for yourself?" he'd asked me. But he didn't understand. I was fond of him, but only that, and at the moment Stuart needed me more than he had in years.
Somehow I managed to kill the intervening hours before I would be expected, and now I sat in my car beside the tall juniper tree that gave the lodge its name, and gathered my forces to breach the first outer rampart. If outer it was. Clay Davidson had been as close to Margot that day as Stuart had. I was eager to meet him — and just a little fearful. I wasn't very good at masquerading, and I wished that Stuart had not put all those uneasy warnings into my mind.
In any case, I'd sat out here long enough. If Mr. Davidson had seen me, he'd be wondering why I didn't come in. I ran a comb through brown hair that curled upward just above my shoulders, and took a quick look at myself in my compact mirror. Brown eyes that were not unlike Stuart's — heavily lashed. A nose a shade too pert, a mouth that was generous in its width and often tensed more than I wanted it to. I wasn't sure exactly what an après-ski hostess was supposed to be like. I could pass as pretty, but not flashy. And it was true I got along with people — ordinarily. But ordinarily I was not as nervous as I felt now. So much depended on whether Mr. Davidson accepted me, liked me — was unsuspicious. The fact that he had not reacted to my name on the telephone was at least in my favor.
Excerpted from "Snowfire"
Copyright © 1983 Phyllis A. Whitney.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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