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Haunting Miss Trentwood
Father knows best... even after death. Mary's father crawls from his grave the day of his funeral. Imagine her reaction when she realizes she is the only one who saw. Mistaking the newly-arrived Alexander Hartwell to be her father’s solicitor—-for who else would interrupt her time of mourning?—-Mary welcomes him into her home reluctantly, not realizing Hartwell hunts a blackmailer.
Resigned to a lonely life in her quiet manor house in the English countryside, Mary Trentwood is horrified when she watches her father crawl from his grave the day of his funeral. Mary clings to her routine, finding it increasingly difficult to avoid her father's ghost as she questions her sanity.
Mistaking the newly-arrived Alexander Hartwell to be her father's solicitor-for who else would interrupt her time of mourning?-Mary welcomes him into her home reluctantly, not realizing Hartwell is on the hunt for a blackmailer.
Caught in a tangle of secrets, Mary fights a series of events which threaten to bring Death to her door once more.
Compton Beauchamp (three days ride west of London), February 1887
At two in the afternoon the coffin of Mary Trentwood’s father was lowered to its grave. The sun shone unseasonably bright. Mary squinted through burning eyes. She heard the wooden box hit the bottom of the hole. She heard the whispers of her servants and father’s friends behind her. However quietly they thought they were speaking, Mary heard every word. The whispers grew louder and moved closer, crowding her ears.
“Right barmy, that’s what she is.”
“I heard she hasn’t any feeling at all.”
“Certainly would explain the lack of tears.”
“Making us stand here and watch the digging of the grave, it’s indecent, that’s what it is.”
“Well, I certainly don’t know how you can expect any better from hermits, they’re not fit to be gentry, I say.”
Mary didn’t know who they were, these people whispering about her as she stood a mere four feet in front of them. She didn’t care. They weren’t there for her, they—whoever they were for she hadn’t invited them, no, that had been the workings of her aunt Mrs. Durham—only cared about their gossip mongering. The local farmers and tenants would never treat her thus. But the funeral guests were certain to spread their hissing rumors across the countryside. Mary hated that unnamed mass of huddled, whispering heads standing behind her. She hated her father for dying, for making this entire ordeal necessary in the first place.
The vicar finished his sermon and snapped his Bible shut.
Mary hunched her shoulders as the mourners filed past. She gritted her teeth, but allowed the men to solemnly brush their lips against her gloved fingers. Her jaw all but shattered in her effort to not scream at the women making tut-tutting noises.
And then Mary was alone, her black netted veil scratching her pale cheek as the wind blew. She stared at that father-sized hole. She stepped closer. How close to the edge did she dare tread? How soon before her nerves, strained to their last, snapped, rendering her as lifeless as her dear father at the bottom of that dark pit?
Mary jumped when Mrs. Durham’s hand touched her arm.
Mrs. Durham was a squat woman, with soft features that hinted at great beauty, once. Once upon a time, a very long time ago, Mary figured. Mrs. Durham had been her mother’s twin, fraternally speaking. Mary was glad she didn’t resemble her aunt in the slightest. Mrs. Durham’s cheeks arched upward—reaching, straining, pushing—trying to touch the topmost curve of her eye sockets. Truly an appalling sight; Mary decided her aunt should never squint, if she could help it.
“Come away,” Mrs. Durham murmured, “let the men folk do their job.” She shifted so Mary’s view of the gravediggers filling the grave was blocked. She began pushing Mary back to the manor house, where a light luncheon waited for them.
Whatever suggestive power Mrs. Durham had on Mary could not prevent the horrifying vision of a man, muddy and coughing, clawing his way from the grave site. He hung from the edge of the hole into which Trentwood’s coffin had descended, his elbows digging into the dirt as he wriggled his way out.
Mary stared open-mouthed.
He was dismayingly flexible, able to swing a leg over the edge and roll onto the disturbed ground. He stood, brushing himself off almost apologetically though no dirt clung to his clothing. He gave Mary time to study his determined chin, firm mouth, and snappish eyes. He combed his sandy hair back from his forehead while clearing his throat, revealing streaks of gray running from temple to crown. The overall effect was chilling familiarity.
Mary wrenched free of Mrs. Durham. “Father?” she said, her voice hoarse from not speaking the week since his death. “Papa?”