Having just lost her brother and mother in a tragic accident, dressmaker Megan Kincaid has never felt so vulnerable and alone. Then comes the startling request from the wealthy Brandon Reid of Washington Square to work as a private caretaker to his violently tempered nine-year-old stepson, Jeremy. Megan reluctantly accepts, despite the facts of Jeremy’s troubled past. Two years ago, the boy accidentally shot and killed his own father, a brilliant and esteemed New York district attorney.
Everyone in the Reid family tries to bury—and hopefully forget—this fatal incident, but as Megan struggles to help her lost young ward, she begins to fear that her new employers—including Brandon, to whom she is passionately, irresistibly, and dangerously drawn—also have secrets. Now, as Megan delves further into the mysterious Reid family past, she’s torn between a child she must save, a man she’s come to love, and the desire to run for her life.
A recipient of the Agatha Award for Lifetime Achievement, Phyllis A. Whitney has once again penned a “superior whodunit” (New York Morning Telegraph).
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
My first summons to the house in Washington Square came to me inscribed in an imperious feminine hand on rich cream notepaper. Apparently a friend had recommended me as dressmaker to Mrs. Brandon Reid. The note stated that Mrs. Reid would be pleased to receive me on Saturday, if I would come to her residence at eleven o'clock in the morning.
The name of Leslie Reid had a familiar ring to my ear. Had there not been some scandal a year or two before? Something to do with the death of her first husband and her eventual remarriage to his older brother? The details escaped me. In any event, they had no bearing on this work I needed so badly.
How anxiously I went to my appointment with Mrs. Reid that Saturday. The business of dressmaking was my mother's, built up painstakingly in the ten years and more since my father had died in the fighting at Shiloh. Now, with the sudden, shocking death of my mother and young brother beneath the hoofs of a runaway horse only six months before, I was left to continue my mother's work. I lacked her skill and interest in dressmaking, however. A fact that was all too evident to the ladies who had come to her for so long and were now reluctant to trust their wardrobes to a girl of twenty-two. I had a single order to complete and then I would not know which way to turn for my sustenance.
Autumn leaves were drifting from the trees in Washington Square and lay in golden swirls on every walk, crackling beneath my feet with the crisp sound that spells October. With increasing doubts of myself, I approached the row of red brick houses that faced the square, their tiny garden plots fenced in fancifully with wrought iron. The Reid House had marble steps and balustrades mounting to a columned doorway of the Greek revival period. I had often admired these handsome homes.
As I waited for an answer to my ring, I lifted my face to the hazy sunlight, letting its mild warmth flow through me. Grief had left me cold for so long, it seemed. The butler who opened the door did not warm me with his manner. He was high of nose and stiff of neck, and a glance at the unfashionable cut of my mourning must have told him that I was beneath his notice. He ushered me into a small, elegant sitting room and went away to announce my presence.
I had always enjoyed glimpses into the homes of the wealthy. Thanks to my mother's reminders and my memories of our own home, these surroundings neither abashed me nor made me envious. If my father had lived, I would have grown up in our big, rambling house in New Jersey, where he had been a professor of history.
Thus I looked about me at the teardrop chandelier, the French gilt furniture, and fine paintings, and found interest in them. I was fond of such evidence of good taste and elegance, and there was nothing about that bright small room to warn me of the blight that lay upon the rest of the house. Over the mantel of Italian marble hung a large oval mirror, gilt-framed, and I suppressed a feminine impulse to leave my chair and look at myself. After all, I did not want to be caught primping and I knew well enough how I looked.
Mourning did not become me. My coloring was too dark, my hair too black. Only the blue of my eyes must have lent contrast to the unhappy picture of sorrow I offered. My dress I had made hurriedly, with no time for the pains I must give to the gowns of my mother's clients. While it was drawn into a bustle at the back, it lacked the fussiness of present styles — a fussiness I decried and would not put upon my own person. The basque bodice fitted my figure well, with a neckline that ended in a touch of white ruching at my throat — since I could not resign myself to unrelieved black. The skirt was the current overdrape, with plain black showing beneath. In my ears I wore tiny gold earrings, and my hat was an old one of my mother's, small and rather flat, tilted forward over my bangs. Its black veiling I had put back upon entering the house.
So lost was I in this inventory of my appearance — sans mirror — that I heard no step in the doorway. I was staring at black-gloved hands clasped about my black reticule when a voice startled me.
"You are Miss Megan Kincaid?"
I rose at once, being here for purposes of serving, and faced the man who watched me from the doorway. Having once gazed, I could not look away. Seldom had I seen eyes so coldly gray and appraising. They were set in a face leanly handsome, somber, the brows dark and winged beneath high brushed dark hair. The nose was strong and faintly crooked, with a marked hump of bone at the bridge, the mouth full-lipped, or it would have been were it not pressed into so straight a line. He was a man in his early thirties perhaps, though he might have been older. I felt unaccountably drawn and yet a little repelled at the same time. Later I was to know that Brandon Reid often had this effect upon those who met him for the first time. Particularly when they were women.
"Yes, I am Megan Kincaid," I managed and wondered why I should feel suddenly nervous in this man's presence. After all, I had come here to see Mrs. Reid and no one else.
"I'm sorry," he said, coolly courteous. "My wife is indisposed this morning and unable to keep her appointment with you."
My face must have betrayed my disappointment, though I tried to hide it at once. I straightened my shoulders proudly, having discovered that it is often by the set of one's shoulders that inner despair is revealed.
"I am sorry Mrs. Reid isn't well," I said. "Perhaps I may see her another day?" With that I moved toward the door to indicate that I meant to take nothing of his time.
He did not, however, move out of my way, and I was forced to come to an awkward halt a foot or two from him. His gray eyes had never left my face except for the moment in which they flicked over my person, as if still measuring, still weighing. Then he stepped abruptly out of the doorway.
"If you will come with me, please," he said and turned toward the stairs.
What this meant I did not know, but his manner of authority was not to be disregarded. I followed as he led the way, aware of his distinguished height and carriage.
The houses of Washington Square are apt to be narrow and fairly deep, but this house seemed of greater width than most. The staircase was graceful in its upward curve around a central oval. My hand on the black walnut banister, I glanced up and saw the oval glass skylight three stories above. There was no landing, but a continuation of wedge-shaped steps around the graceful turn, mounting to the second floor. The wallpaper was a dark figuring of raspberry upon cream, with the darkness predominating. The gas fixture on the wall lighted our way with a greenish-yellow, faintly hissing glow. Above, the hall was as gloomy as the stairs.
The man who conducted me led the way to closed double doors at the front of the house, flung them open, and stepped back to permit me to enter. Still commanded by his manner, I went past him into a great square library. Here there was brightness again, for the dark green draperies had been drawn back from windows that made up one wall of the room. Pale sunlight set the glass aglow and lessened the dark severity of the room.
On each side of the double door, on each side of the mantel and chimney, and covering the remaining wall were shelves of books. My heart quickened a little at the sight. I could remember such a library from my childhood and I could remember my pain when from time to time since his death my mother had sold my father's books. But this room had some foreignness of ornament that I did not look at closely just then, my attention being mainly for the man who had brought me here.
Mr. Reid drew a chair before the handsomely carved mahogany desk and seated me. Then he took his place in a larger chair behind the desk, still watching me in his curiously intent manner.
"Tell me about yourself," he said, and I heard the rich, deep timbre of his voice, warmer and more winning than his cold, grave manner. Again my face must have betrayed bewilderment, for he added quickly, "I have good reason for asking."
By now I had lost much of my earlier poise. I felt younger than I wanted to feel and I did not like to be measured and studied as this man seemed to be studying me. I had come here to offer myself as a dressmaker to his wife. Why should he question me?
Nevertheless, I began somewhat stiffly to tell him how I had taken over my mother's work and mentioned the name of a client who had stood by me and found satisfaction in my efforts. I did not get far with this recital because he stopped me with an impatient wave of his hand.
"No, no — I know all that. What I want to hear about is you. Tell me about your background, about your family life."
More bewildered than ever, I managed a brief account of where we had lived when I was a child. Of my father's death in battle during the war, and of the way I had learned to help my mother.
"Your education?" he asked curtly.
I mentioned the well-approved seminary for young ladies which I had attended at home, and explained that my parents had tutored me besides.
All these things he listened to with the same slight air of impatience, so that I wondered why he bothered to ask. When I fell silent with nothing more to tell, he picked up a carved ivory paperweight from his desk and weighed it from palm to palm.
"Have you any special interests?" he asked. "Is there any subject that particularly absorbs you?"
"I used to be fond of history and geography," I said. "My father helped me to cultivate an interest in foreign lands and antiquity."
I fancied a flicker of attention and surprise in his face, but his next question had nothing to do with my education.
"You had a brother, did you not?"
I didn't want to talk about Richard. He had been so young to die — just before his twelfth birthday. And yet, although I missed him with all my heart and had not yet been able to face the task of putting away his toys and small possessions, I knew death had been a release from a burden too heavy for one so young to bear.
With more self-possession than I had shown before, I managed to return Mr. Reid's measuring look.
"My brother died in the same accident that took my mother," I told him quietly.
Perhaps his manner toward me softened a little, but his words remained remote, objective. "I can understand your pain in this recent bereavement, Miss Kincaid. A mutual friend has told me of how good you were with your brother, of how he improved to the fullest of his capacities because of your interest and care."
"My brother was injured at birth. Mentally he would never have been more than a child," I said with dignity and then was silent, not understanding what this interrogation signified.
The man behind the desk set down the paperweight, and I followed the movement, noting his long, thin hands and strong, flexible fingers. He rose abruptly and stepped to the windows behind the desk, staring through them, not looking at me now. With the removal of his gaze, I stirred in my chair, feeling as though I had been released from a spell.
"Why are you asking me these things?" I inquired.
His gaze was fixed upon the street and the square, and he spoke over his shoulder without turning.
"It was at my suggestion that my wife wrote asking you to come here today. Neither of us is interested in your dressmaking skill. She has a son — the son of my brother who is dead. He is a difficult, unbalanced boy. Neither his mother nor I, neither his tutor nor governess, has been able to handle him. He responds to no one. We have reached a point of desperation with him. Would you, Miss Kincaid, consider coming here to devote yourself to this boy?"
The suggestion was so startling that I could only stare at him. My reply when it came was faltering.
"But I have no training as a teacher. Caring for my brother was a simple matter. A matter of loving him dearly. I doubt that it would be wise for me to let my mother's business go while I attempted something for which I am unprepared."
"I've taken that into consideration," Mr. Reid said, and mentioned a monthly salary that made me gasp inwardly. It was more than I could hope to gain in months of dressmaking. Yet something held me back and I could not give my assent readily.
"I cannot see that what I have to offer is sufficient to justify this experiment," I told him.
He swung away from the window. "It may be that you will make a frock or two for my wife while you are under this roof. If you wish at any time to withdraw from this ... arrangement, Mrs. Reid will see to it that you do not want for dressmaking orders from her friends. Is that not enough of a guarantee?"
It was more than enough, yet still I hesitated, unprepared to the core of my being for this sudden turn of events. There was an air about this house, about the somber, handsome man before me that set up an uneasiness in my spirit. There was more here, I sensed, than was to be easily fathomed or quickly explained, and however much I might need employment, I must now move with caution.
"This boy is unbalanced in his mind, like my brother?" I asked.
"Unbalanced, yes. Not in the same way as your brother, however. We believe that his mental growth is not impaired. But he is unpredictable, moody, with a violent, dangerous temper. There is nothing easy, I warn you, about this assignment, Miss Kincaid."
I did not want him to think I was afraid of the difficult. "May I see the boy?"
Brandon Reid seemed to hesitate for a moment. Then he gave a flick of his fingers that indicated decision. With a long stride he crossed the room to a braided rope of dark red silk and jerked it. A bell sounded in the depths of the house.
"I will send you up," he said. "It will be better if I do not go with you. Perhaps a little dissembling is necessary for the moment. There is another child — Jeremy's younger sister, Selina. The boy is nine, the girl eight. They are together in the nursery at the moment with their governess, Miss Garth. Let us say you are here in the role of dressmaker — to make a frock for Selina. It is she you wish to meet. Perhaps you can take her measurements — something of the sort?"
I had brought with me the equipment of my trade in a small basket and I nodded. When the maid appeared, Mr. Reid gave her directions and I was led into the hall and up a second flight of stairs to the top of the house.
On this floor the somber gloom of dark wood and wallpaper continued to prevail, and again the hall area was lit by a single gas globe. There were closed doors all around and from beyond one at the front of the house I could hear voices raised as if in anger or excitement. The pert young maid gave me a sidelong glance and rolled her eyes skyward as she tapped on the panel. From her look I gathered that this sort of thing was not uncommon in the nursery.
A feminine voice bade us enter, and the door was opened upon a room of moderate size in which a roaring fire blazed and the atmosphere was stifling for the bright, mild weather outside. I was to learn that Thora Garth was always cold to her very marrow and no room could be too warm for her.
The maid bobbed a curtsy, murmured that the master had sent me to measure Miss Selina for a dress, and fled as if she could not wait to get away. With the door closed, facing the angry scene in that hot room, I did not blame her. The turkey-red carpet on the floor seemed to add its own burning heat to a room busily crowded with furniture — sofas, chairs, tables, cabinets, all set in an array that made them seem as quarrelsome as the persons in the room.
The governess, a tall, full-figured woman in a severe dress of brown merino, must have been in her late forties. She wore her thick, ungrayed brown hair in fashionable waves and puffs that revealed a certain vanity in its arrangement. Her face, with dark, deep-set eyes beneath the forehead puff, was handsome if forbidding. She wasted hardly a glance on me. All her attention was for the slight, brown-haired boy who sat at a round table near the fire, his head bent intently over the pages of a book.
About them danced a sprite of a little girl with long fair hair floating about her shoulders, her face screwed up in a mischievous grimace.
"He took it, Garthy, he took it!" the little girl shrilled. "Make him give it back to me at once!"
Miss Garth held out her hand to the boy. "Whatever you have taken of your sister's, give it to me immediately."
The boy might have existed in a world of his own. Indifferently he turned a page and continued to read, ignoring her. While the girl was probably pretty when she wasn't grimacing, I found the boy had about him the look of an angel — a dark and sullen angel.
I stepped hastily to the table to present myself to the governess and interrupt this unpleasant scene. "You are Miss Garth, I believe? I am Megan Kincaid. I'm to make a frock for this young lady and I would like to take her measurements if I may."
Excerpted from "Window on the Square"
Copyright © 1962 Phyllis A. Whitney.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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