When Katherine Hunt receives word that her archaeologist brother has died, his battered body found on the moors, she leaves London immediately for the remote village of Darkmead. There she vows to carry on his life’s work: a comprehensive history of the primitive rites of the ancient Celts. But soon she discovers that her brother’s half-completed manuscript is gone.
Rumors swirl around the village and among the inhabitants of the magnificent ancestral estate called Castlemoor: seductive Burton Rodd, who runs the local pottery factory and warns Katherine to leave; beautiful, unbalanced Nicola; and Edward Clark, Rodd’s charismatic cousin. The discovery of a strange amulet sweeps Katherine into a secret circle where chilling blood rituals are carried out under cover of night. Amid whispers of a secret Druid cult, violence claims more and more innocent lives. As Katherine begins to uncover the unspeakable truth, she grows desperate to find someone she can trust . . . before she becomes the next sacrifice.
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About the Author
Jennifer Wilde is the pseudonym under which Tom E. Huff (1938–1990) wrote his groundbreaking New York Times–bestselling historical romance novels, including the Marietta Danver Trilogy (Love’s Tender Fury, Love Me, Marietta, and When Love Commands). Huff also wrote classic Gothic romances as Edwina Marlow, Beatrice Parker, Katherine St. Clair, and T. E. Huff. A native of Texas who taught high school English before pursuing a career as a novelist, Huff was honored with a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times in 1988.
Read an Excerpt
Come to Castlemoor
By Jennifer Wilde
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1970 Tom E. Huff
All rights reserved.
The men in leather aprons lifted the huge mahogany chest. Their brows were beaded with sweat, and their muscles strained. They carried the chest out of the room and down the stairs. The empty room was a shell now, stripped of life, bleak and depressing. The rich maroon carpet had been rolled off the floor, revealing the ugly gray boards, and the heavy pearl satin draperies had been taken down, exposing the dirty windows that looked out over the dingy roofs and chimneys of the congested neighborhood. The room held only memories, but I had no time to grieve.
I heard the cart clattering over the cobblestones and knew the men had finally gone, carrying with them all the things I had once cherished. I had saved only my brother's books and a few mementos. It was all over now, and in the morning Bella and I would be leaving London. A new life was beginning, but I was finding it painful to part with the old one.
Footsteps rang loudly on the stairs and came pattering down the hall. Bella whirled into the room, her cheeks flushed pink, her blue eyes radiant. The moment I saw her saucy, captivating smile, I knew she had been up to some mischief. Bella herself was captivating with her touseled brown curls and pert face and hoydenish mannerisms. She was impudent and vain, bold, bossy, and frequently exasperating, but she was completely devoted to me, more close friend and confidante than maid.
"Stevie Green!" she cried. "What brass! Just because I'm leavin' he thinks he can take liberties! I guess I showed him!"
She rubbed her backside and grinned, no doubt contemplating the liberty Stevie had taken.
"He begged me not to go," she said, "and I asked him why I'd want to stay and put up with the likes of him. A blacksmith's apprentice! Can you imagine me settlin' for that? "
"Stevie's a fine lad," I told her. "He'd make you a fine husband. You might be better off if you accepted his offer. I don't know what we'll find in Wessex...."
"Marry Stevie Green and let you go off to them moors alone? No thank you, Miss Kathy. You can forget that right now! Besides," she said, wrapping a long brown curl around her finger and smiling pensively, "there are bound to be lots of good-lookin' fellows in them parts, lusty lads that haven't seen any thing like me!"
"If there are, you'll find them," I said. "Or they'll find you."
"That's what I'm countin' on," she replied confidently.
She put her hands on her hips and looked around at the bare walls. She frowned and seemed very firm and resolute. Although she was only nineteen, three years younger than I, I sometimes felt she was much older. Bella had been a scrawny little scullery maid in the old house, a minx of twelve who broke china and forgot to dust and quarreled constantly with the other servants. When my father died, bankrupt, leaving Donald and me alone and penniless, the other servants had been discharged, but Bella had begged to stay with us. She was an orphan, without a friend in the world, and I had persuaded Donald to let her remain.
Donald went off to Oxford on a scholarship, and Bella and I had to go live with Aunt Clarice for the next four years. Aunt Clarice, a widow with three unwed daughters, lived in a large gray-brick mansion with blue shutters, a rose garden in front, in back a green lawn that rolled down to the bank of the Thames. Bella was given a room in the attic and put to work in my aunt's pantry. I was given a small, dim room on the second floor and put to work stitching embroidery and memorizing sermons.
Life was not pleasant in the large gray mansion. My three cousins saw me as an intruder and never let me forget that I was living on charity. My aunt saw me as a flighty, frivolous creature who needed to be taught severity and Christian virtue. My mother had died when I was an infant, and my father had reared Donald and me as a couple of young heathens. Neither of us had the least idea of what was right and proper, she claimed, and it was amazing to her that a young man as headstrong and blasphemous as Donald had won a scholarship to Oxford.
I lived for his letters during those four long years, and the whole bleak pattern of my life took on an incredible sparkle on those rare occasions when he was able to come for a short visit.
"I'll get you out of this, Kathy," he had promised. "Just you wait. We'll show the old hag what the Hunts are made of."
I wanted to believe in this promise, but it was difficult. Donald was studying archaeology, leaving Oxford periodically to study the Celtic ruins that are so profuse in certain parts of the country, and while his professors considered him one of the most brilliant and imaginative students they had ever had, I did not see how such study could possibly bring him the fame and fortune he so intensely desired. He was planning a book about the ruins and filling notebooks with observations and research. He participated in an excavation in Cornwall that received national notice, and his articles on this discovery were published in several prominent journals. He was receiving a lot of attention but very little money. The money was to come from a completely unexpected source.
Donald and I were both aware that we had an uncle in America, but we had never met him and didn't even know his full name. My mother's brother, he had crossed the ocean at the age of seventeen and been swallowed up by that vast country. We knew that he had been connected with lumber in some way, and I had always imagined him in heavy wool jacket and boots, chopping down trees with a mighty ax. A month before Donald was to graduate, he received an amazing communication from America. Our uncle had died, and Donald was his only surviving male heir. Lawyers came to call, papers were signed, and my brother received a small but impressive sum of money. Most of it was tied up in investments that would provide an annual income, but there was enough immediately transferred to him to enable him to rent and furnish an apartment and finish writing his book without financial strain.
He kept the inheritance a secret. After graduating with honors, he found an apartment large enough for both of us, with a room for Bella. He hired workmen to come in and redo the whole apartment, and had a firm furnish it with style and taste.
I'll never forget the day he came charging into my aunt's home, young and virile and audacious. We were all in the parlor, stitching fine linen napkins and presenting a picture of typical Victorian womanhood. Donald stormed into the room, his brown eyes ablaze, his tawny gold hair disheveled. He was wearing tall brown boots of shiny leather and an expensive brown suit that fit his large body with dandyish elegance. A white silk stock flowed at his neck, and he carried a brown leather riding crop. To my eyes he looked like Saint George, come to slay the dragon. My cousins tittered in alarm, while Aunt Clarice gasped and rose to her feet, haughty and imperious. Donald ignored them all. He seized me by the wrist and jerked me up. Startled, I dropped my stitching.
"You're leaving this place!" he cried out.
"Now! This minute!"
"She's waiting in the carriage!"
He dragged me outside and thrust me into the carriage. My cousins came running outside to watch the spectacle. My aunt stood on the front steps, her face pale. Donald leaped up on the seat and seized the reins. Bella was clapping her hands in delight. When the wheels began to rattle on the cobblestones, Bella stuck her head out the window and made a face, sticking her tongue out at my aunt. One of my cousins fainted. Donald drove straight to the apartment and led me up the stairs, calm now, and gentle. His brown eyes were tender as he held my hand and opened the door and led me through my new home. He scolded me for my tears and told me I would never have to cry again.
He was wrong, but he had no way of knowing that.
The next day he escorted me to the shops to help me choose a whole new wardrobe. No more drab gray and brown, he informed me. No more coarse cotton and heavy wool. I would wear bright silks and soft cambrics, take down the severe braids and let my hair fall loose and lovely. I would look like the girl of nineteen I was instead of an old maid of thirty. When that day was over, I was completely exhausted, but glowing with a happiness never felt before.
The next two and a half years passed quickly. Donald wrote his book. It was a chaotic time, the apartment littered with books and journals and papers, pots of ink tipped over, important documents lost, lamps burning in the small hours, my brother wildly ecstatic or bleakly dejected, snarling, laughing. I helped him with the manuscript and was soon as absorbed in the subject as he. The book was published, and while such books seldom came to the attention of the general public, it was hailed by scholars and historians, all of whom hoped he would continue with his writings on this unusual subject.
Donald went to Wessex on a research expedition, prowling on the moors outside the town of Darkmead. He came back seething with excitement, telling me about the fantastic ruins and the book he was planning about Celtic religions. He said we would have to move to Castlemoor County so he could be near the source of his research. Leaving Bella and me in London, he went back to Wessex, promising to send for us soon. He bought a small house on the moors, near Castlemoor, a relic of ages past that stood in the middle of the desolate land and gave the county its name. His letters were full of scholarly information as well as references to the Rodds, the peculiar people who actually lived in the castle. He said he would send for us in a month, and when the month passed he wrote again and said it would take some time before arrangements could be made. Then his letters no longer made any mention of our joining him. He said his manuscript was growing, that the book would astound the world. It was all rather mysterious and puzzling. He asked me to do some minor research at the library and send him the results, along with some books he needed. Then a month passed without any letters.
During all this time I had become immersed in the Celtic tribes, and while I could hardly have been called an authority, I was more than well versed in their customs and religious ceremonies. Their exotic pagan rites were fascinatingly bloody and bizarre, some so graphically erotic in nature that I couldn't obtain books on them. Such studies were clearly not suited for proper young ladies, the librarian informed me, shocked that I had even asked for such scandalous volumes. I seethed with frustration and did the best I could, all the time waiting for Donald to send for us.
He never did. Three weeks ago his body had been found on the moors. He had apparently tripped and fallen down a crevasse, his body battered on the rocks below. He died instantly. The body was shipped to London. My world collapsed; the funeral was almost unbearable. The minister spoke of golden youth and lost dreams and eternal rest, his voice solemn and monotonous. I could hardly stand by the graveside when they lowered the casket and began to shovel the dirt over it. Bella stood by me, holding my arm, a pillar of strength for me to lean on.
Aunt Clarice wanted me to come back with her. It wasn't at all proper for a young woman to be living alone, she claimed, not at all. I told her it was out of the question. Donald had left everything to me, of course, and I needed neither charity nor sympathy, particularly the kind I would find at the large gray mansion. I had money in the bank, an annual income, and owned a house in Wessex. Nothing could have induced me to accept her offer.
The apartment where I had known such joy became intolerable. It held too many memories, each one painful. I could see Donald striding through the rooms, his hair spilling over his forehead, his shirt opened at the throat, his eyes blazing with intelligence and curiosity. I could see him with a pen in his hand, scribbling furiously at his desk, then pacing up and down expounding his theories, completely oblivious to the rest of the world. There was the fireplace where we had sat and talked, and there was the table where we had eaten bread and cheese and drunk the hearty ale he loved so well. It was too much to bear, and I realized I would have to leave.
Though I was bowed with grief, I knew I couldn't go on this way. Donald had liked to see me full of life and vitality, busy with some project, lively, gay, amusing. The woman with tearstained cheeks and shadowy eyes would not have pleased him at all. I had to find something to tear me out of my lethargy. I decided I would go to Wessex. My brother had left a half-completed manuscript. I might be able to finish it. At any rate, the house was mine, and I thought I would like to live there for a while until I could find some kind of purpose for my life.
Aunt Clarice protested violently, as expected. I needed a husband, she declared, and she reeled off a list of young men she knew who would be only too glad to take my hand in marriage. Though not really wealthy, I was nevertheless an heiress, and London was full of suitable men who would find such a match eminently desirable. I wanted nothing to do with them. The money was mine, and I didn't see why I should turn it over to some man who would spend it as he pleased and relegate me to kitchen and bedroom to obey his orders and satisfy his whims. I was stubborn and independent, and when I decided to marry I would choose my own man. Aunt Clarice took it as just another sign of my barbaric upbringing.
"If you carry on this way, no man will have you!" she exclaimed.
"I'll take that risk," I replied calmly.
"Impudent! Always were! You go running off to those moors like this, and you'll regret it, mark my word! It isn't decent. Reading about those filthy pagans with their stone circles! I couldn't hold my head up in public when my own nephew published a book about them—"
"I see you read it," I said.
"With horror!" she retorted. "No God-fearing Christian would have such garbage in his home—"
I didn't argue with her. I managed to break the lease on the apartment and arranged to sell the furniture. Now Bella and I stood in the empty room. It was not yet noon. In a few minutes the carriage would be here to take us to the hotel. Our trunks had already been shipped to Wessex, where they would be waiting for us. We each had only a small valise for the journey the next day. I stared at the barren walls, remembering those days when they had surrounded happiness. Bella sensed my mood. She took my hand and squeezed it.
"You know Mr. Donald wouldn't have liked to see you lookin' so sad and gloomy," she said.
"I know, Bella."
"He liked you best when you were laughin' and carryin' on. Remember those parties when he'd have his friends come up and you'd be the only girl and they'd all flirt with you, 'n' you'd let 'em tease you? Mr. Donald was mighty pleased when he could show you off."
"I remember," I said quietly.
"They were a wild bunch—all them students. Some of 'em mighty handsome, too. Not as handsome as Mr. Donald, though, not by a long chalk! They were all in love with you, Miss Kathy."
"I never noticed," I replied.
"Sure they was, every last one of 'em. They were afraid to be too brassy 'cause they knew Mr. Donald didn't want 'em givin' you any ideas. They were brassy enough with me, I can tell you! I was black and blue for days after every one of those parties. Such cheek! No wonder he wouldn't let any of 'em take you out!"
"I never wanted to go out with any of them," I told her.
"'Course you didn't. You had too much sense. Mr. Donald always said you were going to marry a real gentleman, someone fine and good and worthy of you. He wanted you to have the best. Maybe you'll meet someone in Wessex, Miss Kathy."
"Maybe," I said, humoring her. Bella was incurably romantic.
"Someone tall and dashin'," she elaborated. "Rich, too! He'll sweep you off your feet, and he'll be madly in love with you. I'm not just sayin' this, Miss Kathy, and it's God's truth: you're the prettiest girl in London, and if you think I'm lyin', just look in the mirror."
Excerpted from Come to Castlemoor by Jennifer Wilde. Copyright © 1970 Tom E. Huff. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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