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About The Book

A young girl trapped in a labyrinthine mansion may finally get the family she longs for when her estranged father reappears in her life in this new novel from the world of the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Flowers in the Attic and Landry series—now popular Lifetime movies.

After the tragic death of her mother and a long period of isolation under the thumb of a cruel grandfather, young Caroline Bryer has little to hope for in her life in the foreboding Southerland mansion. Her only companion, her enigmatic cousin, Simon, may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing and is not to be trusted. But when Caroline’s estranged father suddenly resurfaces with news of a new wife and stepchildren in Hawaii that she’ll finally be allowed to visit, Caroline dares to hope for a new, normal life. Desperate for her father’s love, Caroline will do anything to stay in this new home. But her troublesome stepsister has other plans, and Caroline cannot tell who to trust and who to run from. Will her new stepbrother and stepsister be a light in her dark life, or will they blot out the last slivers of sun forever?

Excerpt

Chapter One

CHAPTER ONE
The day after I was permitted to leave the bleak bedroom, Grandfather sent Mrs. Lawson out with me to buy new clothes. I had been told that everything I had owned before I was brought here, even things like dolls, books, and games, had been given to charities. Anyone would think that my grandfather had wanted to erase my previous existence just as he wanted to erase the memory of his daughter, my mother. Mrs. Lawson had told me that I would be reborn. She said that it was the only way Grandfather would accept me back as a Sutherland. It had nothing to do with Grandfather’s spiritual beliefs. Mommy had told me that he believed religion was a refuge for failures. He didn’t abide by church teachings. Nothing I had been doing or anything my mother had done was a sin to him, unless you could call defying him or damaging the Sutherland reputation evil.

I would almost have been happier if Mrs. Lawson had bought me nothing when she took me shopping. Practically everything fashionable for a girl my age, everything on display at the best department stores, was unacceptable to her. She bought me what she could stomach and then took me to one of her favorite thrift shops to find me the rest of my wardrobe. Some of the clothes and shoes were easily a decade old. When I protested, she warned me the way she warned me about anything, warned me the way Simon just had implied things were: “Do what I say, or I’ll tell your grandfather you haven’t changed a bit, and he’ll put you right back in that bedroom.” I couldn’t even look down the dark hallway, where, at the end of it, the double doors hovered in my mind like some cloud full of thunder and lightning. I was still waking up at night when one slammed shut in a dream.

Emerson, my grandfather’s driver and my mother’s favorite person working at Sutherland, drove us about and kept quiet even though I knew he could clearly see my unhappiness. He helped bring everything up to my room, and when Mrs. Lawson was not nearby, he said, “Think of all this as temporary, Caroline. Once you are out of here and away from one of the witches from Macbeth, you’ll blossom as you should. Cheers.”

I hadn’t read Macbeth, but I wasn’t surprised to hear him refer to Shakespeare. Emerson was a tall, thin man who had been born in East Sussex, England. He was always immaculately dressed in his uniform and cap. He had a trimmed mustache, as gray as his full head of hair, and dark blue eyes. His face was lean, with sharp creases in his forehead. Ordinarily, he kept his thick lower lip over his upper lip so that it looked like he had only one. My mother had told me that while she was growing up at Sutherland, she spent more time talking to him than she did with any of the other servants, save the cook, Mrs. Wilson. She told me she would sit and watch him wash and polish the limousine, vacuuming the inside immaculately. He was so intense about it that he would pick up something with tweezers. While he worked, he told her about his life in England and how he had wanted to be a race car driver when he was younger. He often sang old English songs to her and read to her from books of poetry and loved quoting lines from Shakespeare’s plays.

But even before everything terrible had happened, my mother warned me to be careful about what I said or told to him because he was very loyal to Grandfather. The truth was that I wished I could see whatever Emerson saw in Grandfather that made him willing to be so devoted to him and stay so long as his chauffeur. Mommy thought no one spent more time alone with Grandfather, not even his CEO, Franklin Butler, and certainly not Grandmother Judith.

Now Simon and I were headed to the discussion of her funeral. I walked slowly, dreading the thought of returning to that family cemetery and looking at what I knew was my mother’s false grave. How could I stand there and not reveal that I knew the terrible truth, something only a few really knew?

Simon stepped ahead of me.

“We’re going to the—”

“I know where we’re going,” I said. “It wasn’t that long ago when we were all gathered in the Sutherland Room to discuss my mother.”

He nodded and walked a few steps ahead of me. The doors were opened on the grand living room, with its large fieldstone fireplace and gray area rug over the slate floor. There was something special about it, royal, because it was where Grandfather either spent his relaxing time alone or demanded everyone’s presence for some grand announcement. As soon as I stepped in, my memory of being summoned here for the announcements about my mother’s funeral brought a rush of blood to my face. Everyone would surely think that the tears floating in my eyes were for Grandmother Judith, when they were really still for my mother.

Once again, I looked up at the family portraits and the family crest, which featured three stars. It was the symbol of Grandfather’s company, Sutherland Enterprises. Ancestors seemed to come to life, looming above us with their familial authority. As a little girl, I recalled believing that their eyes moved along with us. Surprisingly, this time the gray window drapes were opened wide, the sunlight casting a glow around Grandfather Sutherland, who sat in his heavy-cushioned ruby-red chair that matched the semicircular sofa.

Everyone always had their assigned seat on that sofa. The last time there was a family gathering, for Grandfather’s decisions about my mother’s funeral, Grandmother Judith was sitting on his far right with her feet on the ottoman. A nurse had been attending to her because she had collapsed when she had heard the news of my mother’s death. I remembered how exhausted she was from her sorrow. No one dared take her seat today. All glanced at it as if Death sat among us. For some reason, as frightening as it was to imagine him dark and ugly, I always saw a gleeful smile, too.

Uncle Martin looked the saddest of all in the family. He had his head bowed and clutched his hands as though there was still a possibility Grandfather Sutherland could declare Grandmother Judith alive. He was squeezing so hard that his fingers reddened. From the little I could see of his eyes, he had apparently been crying. Aunt Holly sat with her hands in her lap, looking down as well. Mrs. Lawson, appearing more impatient than somber, stood to the right of them, scowling. Did she approve of anything anyone else but Grandfather did in this house?

Emerson stood just behind her, looking, as my mother would say, like a guard at Buckingham Palace. Often he was the first person seen whenever any visitor came through the main gate. Emerson was always in uniform. Mrs. Wilson, the cook who had been hired when my mother was three, stood beside him. She was the only one dabbing away the tears in her eyes. I saw her risk a small smile when she glanced at me.

Franklin Butler was to Grandfather’s right, his hands behind his back, staring ahead but not looking at anyone in particular. No one was apparently more important to Grandfather than this tall, stout man with a full head of completely white hair that contrasted sharply with his olive complexion. He had thin lips, a sharp nose, and high cheekbones. I had never looked at him carefully or with great interest but somehow noticed now that he had unusual brown eyes, closer to rust.

Even though he hadn’t been unpleasant to her, my mother hadn’t been very fond of him. She called him Grandfather’s hit man because he carried out Grandfather’s orders without delay, no matter who would suffer losses in their business or the loss of a career. He was an attorney to whom Grandfather had promised to someday award a judgeship.

This morning, Grandfather looked slightly pale, his freckles faded and the lines in his face chiseled deeper. He never sat with slumped shoulders, especially when he faced the family, but he did now. He had placed his mahogany walking stick beside him against the chair. His velvety blue eyes looked a little watery. Could he be very sad after all? Why should I believe what Simon had told me? How could he know so much and be so certain about Grandfather’s feelings? What did he really know about this family’s history?

“Take your seats,” Mrs. Lawson whispered to us loudly enough for everyone to hear.

Simon glared back at her but sat quickly when I did.

Grandfather Sutherland stared at us so hard that my heart started to pound. Was he angry at me already? What had I done wrong? Did he think I wasn’t dressed properly for the meeting in the grand room? That’s not my fault, I wanted to say. Mrs. Lawson bought my clothes. Before he spoke, he stroked his thick silvery-gold mustache, something I remembered he often did when he made a major announcement.

“Your grandmother and I discussed the arrangements for her funeral,” he began. Why was he was talking only to Simon and me? After a beat of silence, he looked at everyone else. “She was always worried about social gatherings, and for what it’s worth, she saw her funeral as simply another.”

He paused to pick up some papers and put on his dark brown reading glasses. They tottered on the bridge of his nose until he tucked the handles in behind his ears abruptly. I knew enough about Grandfather Sutherland to know he abhorred anything that made him appear old, something I knew Grandmother Judith had spent most of her days fighting, maybe because she didn’t want to appear older to him. However, I really thought Grandfather was more concerned about any of us appearing in any way weaker. That was all he seemed to talk about. In fact, I remembered him saying recently that age wasn’t an excuse for anything but death: “If you still have your wits, your mistakes carry your byline.” Almost immediately, I thought of my father agreeing.

“These are her instructions. I don’t approve of everything, but… they’re hers, and I promised to carry them out. A Sutherland promise is as good as a constitutional amendment,” he said in a louder voice as if he could hear someone questioning it in their thoughts. “All of you remember that before you ever make one.”

He looked especially hard at Uncle Martin, whose face turned the color of a raspberry. When did a son stop being a little boy to his father, especially a father like Grandfather Sutherland, who demanded so much and expected so much from his family? I wondered. Would he ever?

My mother once said that if her brother defied their father, “at least once, he’d respect him more.” My father disagreed. “You don’t win respect with defiance, disobedience. You win it with accomplishment.”

There was another long pause, and then abruptly, Grandfather raised his right arm with the papers clutched in his hand. Franklin Butler practically leaped forward to take them, putting on his own reading glasses.

“The funeral ceremony will begin at nine a.m. this Thursday at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. Reverend Joseph Vance officiating,” he began.

“Didn’t he retire?” Uncle Martin asked. When he grimaced, his cheeks bubbled.

“Mrs. Sutherland wished him to conduct the ceremony, and he’s agreed,” Franklin Butler said.

“I keep that church afloat,” Grandfather practically grunted. “They’ll do what we want. What’s the difference to you anyway, Martin? You hardly go to church and went only to please your mother.”

Aunt Holly looked like she was going to speak, perhaps to defend him, but then pressed her lips together tightly. She was keeping her light brown hair longer, probably because Grandfather Sutherland had said something critical about her keeping it so short. According to my mother, Aunt Holly was more gleeful and happy as a young woman, but when she and my uncle Martin lost their baby girl, Annabelle, at three months to sudden infant death syndrome, she became an entirely different person, meek and soft-spoken. She always looked thin and vulnerable to me. My mother told me Uncle Martin and Aunt Holly’s infant’s death rocked their marriage badly, too. She once told my father that they remained together only because Grandfather Sutherland wanted it that way. “Sutherlands don’t divorce; they destroy,” she said.

“Nothing, no difference,” Uncle Martin muttered. “I just—”

“Just listen to your mother’s instructions,” Grandfather snapped, and Uncle Martin seemed to shrink back so much that his jacket and shirt looked a size or two too big for him, and he was stout but soft, with shoulders my father said were too small for a man of his size.

My father had the same disdain that Grandfather had for his own son. Daddy said he reminded him of putty. He told my mother that if he had two weeks with him, he’d turn him into a man.

“Following the burial at the family cemetery,” Franklin continued, “we will return here, where the funeral reception will be held. Mrs. Lawson is in charge of all the arrangements: flowers, food, and the harpsichordist Vanesa Hume, Mrs. Sutherland’s favorite, whom you might recall because she’s been here a few times. The reception will be over sharply at three. At his discretion, Mr. Sutherland will discuss the disposal of Mrs. Sutherland’s possessions. There is no will or any other document that will impact your lives. Mr. Sutherland has already chosen her clothes for her interment.

“The memorial cards will be arriving at the church and here for those who don’t attend the church service. Mrs. Sutherland designed them herself, the colors, the eucalyptus borders, and chose the picture of herself.

“I will handle any press inquiries. Mrs. Sutherland approved of the obituary I was honored to write. Copies of that will be available at the reception as well.”

“When did she ask you to write her obituary?” Uncle Martin asked. He looked and sounded upset that he wasn’t asked to do it.

“Three days ago.”

“I encouraged her to do it,” Grandfather said. “What does the timeline for that have to do with anything?”

“I just—”

“Any more unnecessary questions?” Grandfather asked.

On the tip of my tongue was the biggest question of all: Wouldn’t it be nice if we buried my mother’s ashes in her grave the same day?

Of course I didn’t ask it, but as if he could read my thoughts, Grandfather Sutherland nodded at me as a way of signaling Franklin Butler.

“Dr. Kirkwell will not return for your tutoring, Caroline, until the day after the funeral,” Franklin Butler said, suddenly turning everyone’s attention to me. “However, she left some instructions and work for you to do in the interim,” he added.

Interim, I thought. We’re mourning my grandmother’s death. How can that be called an interim? It sounded so cold, indifferent, something to tolerate and get over. Grandfather was still staring hard at me, challenging me even to appear upset. I looked down. I couldn’t imagine how my mother ever outstared him.

“Are any of her friends speaking for her at her funeral, in church or at the ceremony?” Aunt Holly asked.

Uncle Martin looked at her and then quickly and fearfully at his father.

“She didn’t ask for anyone in particular, and no one has come forward, Holly,” Grandfather said. “Most of her so-called close friends can’t put a sentence together. Why? Do you want to speak?” His eyes sparkled. He enjoyed putting the question to her.

Her face flushed almost as red as Uncle Martin’s. “Oh, no,” she said. “I couldn’t without… oh, no.”

“Before you ask, I informed her older sister, Irene. It was your mother-in-law’s wish, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. As you know, she ran off with the family’s chauffeur and was three months pregnant at the time. I don’t expect her to show her face, even for this. I’d put my foot down when it came to her and her husband staying here, as well as either of their children, before she could even consider it.”

“Did Irene stay in touch with Mom?” Holly asked as if she had just become a member of this family.

“If she did, I certainly wasn’t told, nor did I care to inquire.”

Aunt Holly looked at me. I knew what she was wondering: Had my mother kept in touch with her disowned aunt? I really didn’t know, and I didn’t remember her even mentioning an aunt Irene. Aunt Holly could see it in my face.

Then I glanced at Simon, who didn’t change expression, but in his eyes, I could see he was smiling. I really might need his help to understand and live with my family.

“Franklin and I have some things to do now,” Grandfather said. “Business that can’t wait.” He used his walking stick to rise to his feet. “We’ve had our breakfast. Mrs. Lawson, come to my office in two hours to finalize details for the wake.”

“Yes, Mr. Sutherland.”

“Mrs. Wilson has prepared breakfast for you,” he said, looking more at me than anyone else. “Just go to the breakfast nook. Clara Jean is waiting to serve it just like any other morning,” Grandfather said, and walked out with Franklin Butler. No one got up until he was gone. Mrs. Wilson and Emerson left quickly after them, and then Aunt Holly rose.

“You can go have breakfast with Simon and Caroline, Martin. I’m not very hungry. I’m going to sit out in your mother’s garden for a while.”

She started out before Uncle Martin could respond.

“I’m hungry,” Simon said. He looked at me. “It’s warm enough to eat on the patio. No sense staying cooped up in here on such a warm spring day.”

“It’s not a time to play any games on the lawn or courts,” Mrs. Lawson warned him, and fixed her eyes on me.

“I don’t play games,” Simon replied. “Nor do I need you to tell me what and what not to do on this occasion or any other.”

She gave us both a mean look and left.

“I have some things to do that can’t be delayed,” Uncle Martin said. He looked stunned and confused. “I’ll return in a few hours. Try to behave yourself,” he told Simon, but looked away quickly and left.

I had always thought Simon’s parents were afraid of him. It was almost like they weren’t sure he was theirs. But I couldn’t stop thinking about something else.

“I don’t remember anything about a great-aunt Irene running off with the chauffeur,” I said. “Why was that such a tragedy even if she was pregnant? They married, right?”

“It happened close to forty years ago, not that it would matter when to Great-grandfather or Grandfather. Let’s just say people were a bit more intolerant and leave it at that. I’m warning you. Don’t bring it up again in front of Grandfather.”

“But my mother never said anything about her and—”

“Who knows what your mother knew? My father is certainly afraid to mention her. Everyone obviously is, as you can see. The halls of Sutherland are full of land mines.”

“You’re right,” I said. “There is a lot to learn about this family.”

Simon smiled. “Exactly. I’ll tutor you when it comes to that education. Let’s eat,” he said. “Clara Jean will serve us outside.”

He started for the door and stopped.

“Don’t you want breakfast?”

“It doesn’t seem right. It’s almost like nothing happened. Grandmother just died, but Grandfather’s going back to work. Even your father is doing something with the business, I bet.”

“Yeah, well, life goes on, especially at Sutherland. Get used to it. Tell you what. I’ll do all the homework Dr. Kirkwell left for you. Probably in less than an hour for me. And no quid pro quo,” he quickly added.

“Then what?”

“We’ll start the tour. I have some special things to show you in the basement.”

“I don’t know. I mean… exploring the mansion seems not the right thing to do right now.”

What I really meant was I didn’t trust him.

“Why not? What else would you want to do?”

“I don’t know. I just…”

“Well, let’s have some breakfast, and then you’ll be able to think more clearly.”

I followed him slowly. He told Clara Jean we were going to the patio, which had two tables, each with six chairs, and an awning that shaded it from the morning sun. When I stepped out, I saw that Aunt Holly was sitting on a bench in Grandmother Judith’s garden. Apparently, Grandfather Sutherland had given her permission to design it and choose the plants and flowers early in their marriage. It had two fountains, both with tiered pots on a stack of field-stones.

I didn’t stop to sit at the table Simon had chosen. I continued to walk toward the garden instead. I remembered my mother enjoyed it and took me to it most of the times we came to Sutherland. However, I couldn’t remember my grandmother enjoying it with us more than twice. She was always busy with something. Mommy said her mother was the only person she knew who had devoted her life to ignoring it, whatever that meant.

“Hey, where you going?” Simon called after me. I ignored him.

He caught up with me and seized my right elbow. I turned sharply on him.

“I’m just going to talk to your mother, Simon. Get your breakfast. I’m not as hungry as you.”

His eyes narrowed. “Don’t tell her that I overheard anything between her and my father and then told you,” he warned. “You’d be sorry if you did.”

I pulled my arm from his grip.

“Take it easy,” Simon continued. “I only mean I won’t be able to find things out for you. No one else is going to tell you anything, especially Mrs. Lawson.”

“You’re not the only one with brains. I’m not stupid,” I said, and walked on.

Aunt Holly didn’t know I was there until I sat beside her on the bench.

“Oh, Caroline,” she said, wiping the tears off her cheeks. “So much new grief so soon.”

“Yes. I was hoping to spend more time with my grandmother.”

“I’m sure after things settled down, she would have liked that.”

“Why?”

“Why what, honey?”

“Why are you so sure?”

“Oh. Well, I think she reached a point where she would have defied anyone. She didn’t have the strength, perhaps, but she had the will.”

She looked straight into the garden and not at me.

“I’m sorry I didn’t do more to help you, not that I have that much influence here or ever have. I was very fond of your mother. She was actually my best friend in so many ways. I also felt sorry about your grandmother, sorrier than her own son felt,” she said, turning back to me with a flash of anger in her eyes. “Very often, especially in the earlier days, whenever I came here with Martin, I would spend my time with Judith. We were more like sisters comforting each other.”

She smiled.

“I don’t know which one of us had more complaints that we were afraid to voice to anyone else. For a long time, I blamed my weakness on the loss of my child, but I should have gotten stronger. Your grandfather is a force few can reckon with, especially not his son.”

She looked back at Simon, who had just been given a glass of orange juice.

“It seems I’m failing everyone now.” She looked at me again. “I’m hoping you’ll be stronger as you get older. Or maybe you will live with your father and escape Sutherland.”

“I don’t think that even if I lived with him and his new family in Hawaii, I would escape Sutherland,” I said. From what well of knowledge I drew that, I couldn’t say. It just felt like something my mother would say, because she had never truly escaped, either.

Aunt Holly smiled and stroked my hair.

“Maybe you’ll surprise us all and be the strongest. My husband and, unfortunately, my son are servants. Both cherish my father-in-law’s favor.”

She looked back at Simon again.

“Be careful with Simon. He’s grown into almost a stranger. I know he’s brilliant, but most of the time, I wish he was just an average teenager. I think it was a mistake to let him become part of that Advanced Placement program. Young people need the company of other young people. Good grades and being ambitious are important, very important, but socializing is just as important. I missed out on it and grew up almost as isolated as Martin did, which was what attracted us to each other. I thought he’d get stronger after we married and had our own home.”

She smiled.

“Actually, I thought your grandfather would get weaker with time and Martin would develop his self-confidence and his own self-image. Perhaps it’s not too late. I guess we just have to wait and see,” she said. “After the funeral, I’m going to try to be here more often for you. Maybe you’ll be the daughter I lost. Would you like that?”

If I said yes, I felt I would be betraying my mother, but I could sense Aunt Holly might need me more than I’d need her.

I nodded.

She put her arm around my shoulders and kissed me on the forehead just the way Mommy would.

“The women have to stick together in this family,” she said, and smiled.

“I’d like to know more about Great-aunt Irene,” I said. “I never even heard her name mentioned.”

She sighed. “In time. Too much about this family at once could smother you,” she said.

We sat silently.

“Hey,” we heard Simon say. He had gotten up and drawn closer to us. “Mrs. Wilson made a great breakfast. Everyone needs to eat something, right, Mother?” he asked. He sounded just like Grandfather Sutherland, enough like him to make Aunt Holly turn and nod.

“Yes, Simon’s right. We don’t want to get weak just when we need strength the most.”

“Well, it’s not the most, but it’s important enough,” Simon said, then turned and headed back toward the patio, satisfied he had made his point.

Aunt Holly rose, and I followed. She held my hand.

“Like I said, be careful with Simon,” she said, and we started for the patio.

I almost stopped her to tell her what he had already done to me, but that would have revealed everything.

And Simon was right.

Once I told her, I might well be locked up in that horrible bedroom again.

About The Author

Photograph by Thomas Van Cleave

One of the most popular authors of all time, V.C. Andrews has been a bestselling phenomenon since the publication of Flowers in the Attic, first in the renowned Dollanganger family series, which includes Petals on the WindIf There Be ThornsSeeds of Yesterday, and Garden of Shadows. The family saga continues with Christopher’s Diary: Secrets of FoxworthChristopher’s Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger, and Secret Brother, as well as Beneath the AtticOut of the Attic, and Shadows of Foxworth as part of the fortieth anniversary celebration. There are more than ninety V.C. Andrews novels, which have sold over 107 million copies worldwide and have been translated into more than twenty-five foreign languages. Andrews’s life story is told in The Woman Beyond the Attic. Join the conversation about the world of V.C. Andrews at Facebook.com/OfficialVCAndrews.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (September 12, 2024)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668015940

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