It’s been five months since twenty-two-year-old Louisa Berry’s cherished grandfather died, and although she’s determined to live a life that honors his memory, she’s dropped out of college twice, and her refusal to play the corporate game has cost her three jobs. She thinks her new position—a live-in secretary to an elderly author, Marguerite Roberts—is perfect.
But the moment she arrives at the Roberts’ house, Louisa senses an undercurrent of menace. The wheelchair-bound Marguerite is confined to her room, and the family members can barely disguise their hostility toward one another. A series of threatening events soon makes Louisa question whether her growing affection for Marguerite is enough to keep her in a house in which she can trust no one—not even Marguerite’s grandson, with whom she is falling in love. As the danger escalates, Louisa is trapped. She can’t leave Marguerite alone and unprotected. But she may be risking her own life if she stays.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Don’ Fear, My Darling by Laura Stewart Schmidt, Louisa Berry is at a crossroads. She has lost her grandfather, whom she loved dearly, and even though she promised him she would straighten out her life, she has dropped out of college and been fired from her third job. She wants to live a life that honors his memory and her Native American heritage, but so far she has failed. She thinks her new job as a live-in secretary/typist for an elderly author will be just the thing to get her life back on track. But when she gets there, she discovers the family has some dark secrets and there is no one in the house she can trust.
Chilling, intense, and intriguing, this is a story that will grab and hold your interest from beginning to end. A great read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Don’t Fear, My Darling by Laura Stewart Schmidt is the story of grief, anger, and revenge. Louisa Berry is a twenty-two-year-old Native American whose cherished grandfather his died. Before he died, Louisa promised him that she would settle down, stay in college, and stop wrecking her life. But in the five months since his death, she has dropped out of college, twice, and been fired from her third job in seven months. She has a new job now, as a secretary for a wealthy, wheelchair-bound, elderly author, and she vows to her grandfather’s spirit that she won’t let him down this time. However, when she arrives at the home of the author, she is dismayed by the hostility between the family members. She becomes convinced that one of them is trying to kill her employer—and maybe Louisa as well.
Don’t Fear, My Darling is more than a mystery. It’s a story of tragedy, loss, a compelling need for revenge, and the lengths a twisted mind will go to achieve it—a book you will find both poignant and hard to put down.
Just before my grandfather died, he made me promise to stay in school and stop wrecking my life with what he called my stubborn impetuousness.
Five months later, I was doing a great job, if dropping out of community college for the second time and being fired from my third job in seven months could be called great.
Now there was a light in the darkness. My new employer had said some strange things during our phone interview, but I doubted she would tell me my hip-length hair and the dressings I loved to wear in it were unprofessional—as my most recent ex-boss had made the mistake of doing.
If she did, she would be Job Number 4.
I shook my head and my brush caught in an errant tangle. I couldn’t keep getting fired, even if corporate environments made me feel like a falcon shoved into a shoebox. If Grandpa were here, he would be crushed. He’d thought I was capable of a lot more.
This time will be different, I told him silently. I have an elderly woman to work with. I think we clicked when she interviewed me. I won’t let you down this time.
Morning rush hour was almost over. It was an easy drive to Issaquah, especially since most of the traffic went the opposite direction into Seattle. I flipped through the radio, pausing on KIRO news. Same stuff as every other day, only worse. President Reagan was admitting responsibility for Iran-Contra after months of investigation and testimony by several of the top people in his administration. Big surprise. Reverend Jerry Falwell thought his fallen comrade, Jim Bakker, who was probably facing some pretty serious prison time, was a scourge on Christianity. Bigger surprise. The Mariners were in second place, the first time they’d done this well in their ten-year history, but the Twins looked unstoppable. I didn’t care. I’d never been a big baseball fan.
I shut off the news and switched to a cassette of Tony Rice. Tony’s soothing baritone kept me company over the bridge and into Issaquah, and I hit town before seven. Issaquah was a historic mining town, settled into its own little carved-out spot in the mountains, untouched by urban sprawl—so far. I wondered how long it would be before the new arrivals to the area discovered it and jacked the prices up beyond even the stratosphere in which they already existed. Clearly money wasn’t an issue for the Roberts family.
Roberts, as in Airtech, one of the biggest companies in Seattle. In the country. As in Oh, those Roberts, which was what I’d thought when Marguerite Roberts explained who her family was. Until then I’d thought I was speaking just to a Newbery Medal-winning children’s author.
Her newspaper ad had asked for a “competent and discreet” typist to help with her latest novel. I hadn’t had a chance to ask her why she wanted discretion. Nor why her family lived with her but went their own ways, in her words.
Nor why she had offered me a live-in job within a day after our phone interview—just long enough to check the references I’d given her. If indeed she had.
Clearly there was something Mrs. Roberts wasn’t telling me.
But whatever it was, it couldn’t be worse than the three jobs I’d been fired from. Nothing could.
And if I kept telling myself that, I’d believe it.
The town was quiet and cool. Morning fog hadn’t dissipated yet, and the surrounding mountains were green and silver. It promised to be one of the days when Seattleites say, “The Mountain’s out,” meaning we can see the white crown of Mount Rainier over the city instead of its usual veil of clouds. Even in mid-August, Seattle mornings are light jacket weather, and I had to run my defroster as I drove down the narrow street past the Historic Society and up the road that wound by the high school.
The side road Mrs. Roberts had told me to look for was about a mile beyond the school. Signs bellowed PRIVATE PROPERTY NO TRESPASSING. The road was so steep I had to shift gears, and then a mansion came into sight, looming before me, a Colonial design with a flat façade.
The gate was open, so I didn’t have to bother with the passcode she’d given me. As I drove up the long, curving driveway, I got a better look at the house. Utilitarian popped into my mind. The stark, glassy architecture was broken only by a long balcony extending from the front of the house to the right side. The kind of walkway someone was always getting shoved off in old movies.
“You just got here,” I told myself. “How about putting your imagination on a leash?” But something about the house didn’t give off a welcoming vibe, and I wondered if this had been such a hot idea. I felt like Maria in The Sound of Music, arriving at her new job and taking one horrified look before whispering “Oh, help.” Like the Von Trapp castle, this house had a personality, and if the inhabitants’ matched it, maybe I should turn around and drive like hell in the direction of out.
Apparently most of Mrs. Roberts’ family had already left for work, as there was only one car in the open garage—a brown Nova, dusty spots from the latest drizzle peppering its trunk, and stickers covering the bumper. Surf Naked. Party Naked. Study Naked. Let’s All Get Naked and Get in a Pile.
I’d have to find out whose car that was and thank them. I wasn’t intimidated anymore.
I knocked on a massive front door with a knocker shaped like an airplane. It was opened by a woman, thirtyish, in khakis and a pink blouse. “Are you Louisa Berry?” she asked.
“I’m Carol, the maid. Follow me, please.”
I stepped inside and my scuffed moccasins sank into a cream-colored carpet. I tilted my head back as far as it would go to find the ceiling. When I looked back down, Carol was waiting with a patient twist to her mouth that could have been either a smile or a smirk. “Mrs. Roberts would like you to go to her room.” She led me to a staircase and pointed up. “Her door is that first one on your right.”
The staircase was steep as stadium bleachers. No banisters, either. Unless Mrs. Roberts was in exceptionally good health or was younger than I had thought, that probably made it a challenge to get around the house. There was a mosaic of family pictures along the wall. I wanted to take a closer look at them, but it would have to wait until later. I did pause long enough to pick out the people I’d be living with for a while. From what Mrs. Roberts had told me, the impeccable redhead had to be her daughter-in-law, Jenna. A young man with dark hair and eyes and the kind of smile that made you wonder what he was thinking—Mrs. Roberts’s grandson. A movie-star blonde, hair worn in stylish chaos and probably dyed, and the kind of suntan most Pacific Northwesterners had to pay for—her granddaughter.
I reached a landing with a bay window that overlooked acreage no one would refer to as a backyard. There was a covered swimming pool and a tennis court, surrounded by woods that sloped into the mountains. The fog veil was gone and everything sparkled green.
The next door down from Mrs. Roberts’s opened just enough for me to catch a glimpse of tawny hair and hazel eyes narrowed in a frown. I could smell coffee coming from the white cup held in raspberry-tipped and multi-ringed fingers just before her other hand bumped the door closed.
Nice to meet you too.
I took a deep breath, turned right, and knocked at the first door. “Mrs. Roberts?”
“Come in, Louisa.”
I opened the door and stopped short.
Marguerite Roberts was not even close to what I expected.
I hadn’t realized she would be in a wheelchair. Nor that she would be so attractive.
She smiled at me. “Is something wrong, dear?”
I recognized her voice or I would have wondered if I’d made some mistake. Wordlessly, I shook my head and did some quick mental math. Her son had died six years before, in 1981. He would have been forty-three had he lived, so his mother was at least in her mid-sixties. However, she could have passed for a much younger woman. Her nearly shoulder-length dark hair was only half gray, and her brilliantly blue eyes were clear and unobstructed by glasses. Even in her chair she was tall, and she shared her granddaughter’s pert nose and high cheekbones. In her youth, she would have been a very beautiful woman.
Youth, hell. She still was.
“My father had that much gray hair at forty,” were the first words out of my mouth.
I did too. “Of course, he had me.”
She gestured to the door. “Please close that, then sit down and we’ll talk.”
I closed the door then sat in the dusty-pink and white wingback chair she’d indicated. She smiled as I draped my hair over one arm of the chair. “What beautiful hair. Do you always wear it so long?”
“I’ve never cut it.” I fingered my hair ties.
“What nationality are you, dear?”
“Yakima. I’ve been mistaken for a lot of things. One time in college some guy walked up to me and started speaking something like Vietnamese or Thai.”
I glanced around the room, which was easily double the size of my apartment’s living room. There was enough floor space to allow her motorized wheelchair to move about easily. Her bed was hospital-style, with controls for adjusting the incline. A floor-to-ceiling bookshelf held neatly arranged hardbounds. I could read enough of the titles to tell that Mrs. Roberts’s taste ran to classics—both adults’ (To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre) and children’s (A Wrinkle in Time, Julie of the Wolves). She also had her own books, with several editions of the Newbery winner, I’ll Take the One On Either End, as well as the expected tools of her trade—a dictionary, thesaurus, and Writer’s Market. A small television rested on a table in a corner, and a remote lay on top of it. My TV didn’t have a remote, but I could see where it would be easier for her.
I studied a five-by-seven photo at my left elbow of a blond young man handsome enough to be a museum piece. Mrs. Roberts saw me looking at it. “That was my son, Carl.”
“I thought so.” I didn’t see a computer of any kind or even an old-fashioned typewriter. “Where’s your computer?”
She waved one hand in dismissal. “I hate those things. Jenna bought me a fancy word processor on my last birthday. It was thoughtful of her, but I would have been just as happy with an old Royal standard. I do my first drafts in longhand.”
“The computer would probably make things easier, especially if you do a lot of re-writing.”
“That’s why I wanted a secretary. My handwriting isn’t what it used to be, and I’m too old to learn to use a computer.”
“Will I have to work with your agent or publisher?”
“I don’t have an agent. I was lucky enough that my first manuscript was accepted by a publisher, and I have good business sense, so I’ve never felt the need for a middleman.”
I got the idea Marguerite Roberts didn’t feel much of a need for anyone. No wonder I’d bonded to her so fast. “Uhm, do you need help getting in and out of your chair, and can I do that?”
She smiled. “No, dear. As long as the chair is by my bed I can get in and out of it on my own. Remember I have a nurse who comes to check on me twice a week. Your job is the book, period. That’s why I didn’t tell you I can’t walk. I didn’t want you to think you would be expected to do something you’re not prepared to do.”
“But you can’t possibly navigate that staircase.”
“There’s an elevator,” she said. “However, right now it’s broken.”
“I’m guessing someone’s coming out to fix it?”
She’d said it lightly enough, but I caught the same undercurrent I’d heard on the phone. I wondered how long it had been broken and what the holdup was. However, it probably wasn’t something I should be grilling her about when I’d been there less than fifteen minutes.
I changed the subject. “How old are your grandchildren?”
“Joel is twenty-four and Tamara is nineteen.” She pronounced the name TAM-uh-ruh.
I was twenty-two, right in the middle. “Do they work at Airtech?”
“No. Joel has a marketing degree from Seattle University and sells stereos. Tamara finished one year at Seattle Pacific University. She had to take this semester off because she had mononucleosis earlier in the summer.”
That explained why she was still at home when the others had, presumably, gone to work. The Nova must be her car. “Bad enough to keep her out of school for an entire semester?”
“She also caught pneumonia and had to be hospitalized for two weeks. She’s recovering fairly well, but her doctor insists that she not go overboard with physical activity. Jenna’s main concern is that Tamara is a competitive swimmer, and nothing in this world can keep her out of a pool. If she’s at home, Jenna can keep an eye on her, but once she leaves the house she won’t obey anyone’s orders.” She chuckled. “Tamara inherited her father’s stubborn streak, but I don’t think you’ll—” Slight stress on you’ll. “—have any trouble getting along with her. You may find her a kindred spirit.”
I grinned. It sounded like she loved her granddaughter.
Marguerite gestured to a notepad and pen on her nightstand. “When you come back here, we can get to work.”
“How far are you in the book? What’s its title?”
“I haven’t titled it yet. I’m on Chapter Two. The computer is in the spare room next to Jenna’s bedroom, but if you prefer, I’ll have Carol set it up in your room.”
“I can do that.”
“Let Carol. That’s her job.”
I didn’t like the idea of other people waiting on me, especially since I was basically a servant myself, but it was too early to start arguing with my new boss.
“In the meantime, why don’t you ask my granddaughter to show you the house and grounds?”
You mean the one who shut her door in my face?
There must have been something in my expression. “Have you met her?” Mrs. Roberts asked.
“Uhm, sort of.” For once I weighed my words carefully. “As I was coming up the steps, she opened her door to look right at me then closed it.”
Mrs. Roberts made a rueful face. “It’s not personal. She’s having trouble adjusting to being home by herself.”
She’s not by herself. She has you.
But I didn’t say that. “I sort of got that idea.”
“She’ll come around. She’s a very interesting and intelligent girl with nothing to do. I think she’ll enjoy having another young person around the house.”
I wasn’t so sure. “Okay, Mrs. Roberts.”
“Now, we can’t have ‘Mrs. Roberts’ and ‘Louisa.’ Either you call me Marguerite, or I will call you ‘Miss Berry.’”
“Okay, Marguerite.” As I turned to leave, something thin and pale blue near the floor caught my eye. I bent down to see what it was. “What…”
“What is it?”
“It’s a piece of fishing line.” I couldn’t break it, so I moved aside so she could see. “It looks like it’s tied from one closet door to the other.” I opened the door and, as I’d expected, it was a walk-in closet, with sliding doors on rollers, everything immaculately organized at Marguerite’s eye level. “So, if you…”
I trailed off. I didn’t really want to say, didn’t see it and rolled into the closet, your chair might snag on this, and if it didn’t break or come untied, you’d have to catch yourself before you went pitching forward onto the floor.
Who could have done such a thing?
Just what the hell was going on in this house?
© 2019 by Laura Stewart Schmidt
Cynthia A. Graham:
“It’s been said that money can’t buy happiness, but when Louisa Berry finds herself employed by the secretive and elusive children’s author, Marguerite Roberts she has her doubts. The family seems to be unfairly blessed with looks, health, and a lot of money. But it doesn’t take Louisa long to figure out that something seems definitely off and that even nice families have secrets. And, at the secluded mansion in which they are all living, everyone has something to hide. Don’t Fear, My Darling is more than a whodunit. It is a psychologically compelling story of love and how, when twisted, it can distort and pervert.” ~ Cynthia A. Graham, winner of several writing awards, including a Gold IPPY, two Midwest Book Awards, and named a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award.