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The Hollow House by Janis Patterson - Fiction
I decided to use the name Geraldine Brunton. It's not the name I was born with, nor the name I married, but it will hide who I really am...and what I have done.
I've taken a job as companion to wealthy invalid Emmaline Stubbs, whose fragile exterior hides a will of iron. Despite its opulence, the Stubbs household is not a happy one. Emmaline's equally stubborn daughter and charismatic, untrustworthy son-in-law want control of her fortune, forcing the entire staff to take sides in their power struggle. I must tread carefully in this tension-filled household if I want to keep my job and my secrets.
Events take a deadly turn when Mrs. Stubbs is nearly killed and a maid is found murdered. Though I ought to keep a low profile, it soon becomes clear I must uncover the truth. Because if I don't, my past will make me the prime suspect...
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I decided to use the name Geraldine Brunton. It is not the name I was born with, nor the name I married, but it would do, being as good a name to hide under as any other.
I wish I were pretty. Pretty women can get away with so much that we, their plainer sisters, cannot. I was fairly good-looking as a girl, but now I am best called "interesting" or "distinguished"--epithets that more often than not wound in their clumsy kindness. It comes more from my remote and shuttered expression, I believe, than from the deformity of my broken and ill-healed nose. Whatever it is though, it sets me apart not only from others but from the me I used to be, as much as my carefully concealed scars.
I had been in Denver for over a week. Every workday of that week I had been seeking a job, a search which so far had turned out to be futile. I was not fussy, yet only two days ago one of the city's moderate hotels had refused me for the position of chambermaid. There was a time I would have disdained to stay in such a place, but now I was not considered capable of cleaning up its inhabitants' dirt.
The day had not yet turned hot, so it was a pleasure to sit in the park, to feel the strengthening sun on my face and maybe for a moment forget the problems that beset me.
For one thing, there was money. I possessed enough for the next few months at least, especially if I lived as frugally--and as uncomfortably--as I had been. After that, though, there would be no more. However much right I had to the fortune I left behind there was no way I could access it, so for all practical purposes it had ceased to exist.
It was essential I find work and so I perused the newspaper every day.
With so many men returned from the Great War there were few positions available. There were fewer for women, especially women with no skills. Again I wondered if I dared take the time and the money to take a course in typewriting. If I did, though, there was no guarantee of employment, as there didn't seem to be many positions open even for those with such a modern skill.
WANTED -- Companion to a semi-invalid lady.
I read the ad again. I was cultured, I suppose. My father had seen to that with a ruthless succession of governesses and private academies. Companionable? I didn't know. I certainly was quiet, having been hard schooled in its necessity. Willing to please? Oh, yes, I possessed a great deal of experience in trying to please. What a pity I couldn't tell anyone about it.
They were the sticking point. I knew no one, and no one knew Geraldine Brunton existed, let alone would write a reference for her. For me.
I read the ad again, sighed and moved on to the next, and the next, and the next. Either the job required skills I did not possess, or I would be disqualified immediately, as I had been for the chambermaid's position.
A slither of steel crept up my spine, giving it an unaccustomed stiffness. I could not simply sit around waiting for the perfect position to appear. I had to do something. Maybe references were something I could talk my way around. If not, what was the worst that could happen to me?
The worst? That they would recognize me, that they would send word...
But surely no one out here would know me. Even back East the scandal had died down months ago. Out here in the West they looked forward, not back. No one would care who I had once been.
Or what I had done.
The Hollow HouseBy: Janis Patterson