Deborah Woodworth's
KILLING GIFTS
A dead body in a Massachusetts Shaker village ...
 
 
 
 
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KILLING GIFTS
Chapter One
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Chapter One

Julia Masters twirled a honey-gold curl around her finger and pushed out her lower lip in a pout that might have been alluring to someone other than her companion.

"I'm cold" Julia said. "I want my wrap."

"It's unseasonably warm."

"We're in for snow, and you know it.' Julia's voice quivered with petulance.

"Then you should have dressed more warmly.'

Julia paced the length of the unheated Summerhouse, hugging her bare arms. "Oh, stop being so mean," she said. 'This is my very best dancing dress."

"So you said."

Well, I wouldn't even have this one if it weren't for Cousin Vera in Boston. She hasn't passed me down one for winter yet-not something up-to-date. Anyway, why did I have to dress up just to meet in this stupid old Summerhouse? I'm not one of the sisters, you know."

"Indeed, you are not."

Then why are we here?"

"I told you" her companion said with growing impatience. "I'm taking you dancing. You'll have so many invitations you'll be glad to be wearing something so pretty and light."

"You've never taken me dancing before." Julia tilted her head and smiled, as she had earlier to her mirror. She knew her smile was fetching. Few men had ever been able to resist her. But her companion was immune to her soft shoulders and the sweet, inviting scent of the rosewater she'd swiped from the Shaker store to dab behind her ears.

The midwinter sun had drawn in the last of its rays and given the moon its turn. The silent cold enveloped Julia. Freezing and alone was an all-too-familiar state, and one she'd vowed never to feel again.

"This is silly and boring," Julia said. "If we're going dancing, then let's go. I still can't see why we had to meet here,of all places. "

"It isn't silly. I wanted a quiet place. Sit down, Julia. I've brought something for you-an opportunity, shall we say? You'll understand when you see it."

"A present!" Julia spun toward the cracked wood table in the center of the Summerhouse. Her pink satin evening gown shimmered like a seashell in the moonlight as she clasped her hands together in childlike excitement. Two lengths of shiny fabric hung down her back to her waist; one of them had flipped forward over her breast, and she smoothed it back over her bare shoulder with a manicured finger.

"Sit down and be patient like a lady."

With an irritated sigh, Julia shivered and slid into a ladder-back chair. Her companion placed a package on the table in front of her, just out of reach. Julia eagerly stretched out her arm.

"What is it? I hope it's a necklace or a bracelet. Something really bright and sparkly." Julia's stiff fingers fumbled at the wrapping, a piece of calico tied with a ribbon. With a jewel or two, even if they were fake, she knew she could catch the eye of somebody important. Maybe she could get out of this boring town, go somewhere exciting, like Boston, or even New York.

Julia had managed to claw open the wrapping to find a wooden box, one of those roundish Shaker ones. It would make a good jewelry case. She paused, savoring the thrill. She hadn't received a gift that wasn't a hand-me-down since the Christmas of '29, just after the crash. It might be years before she got another.

"I wanted you to understand."

Julia reached for the Ed and lifted it.

"I wanted you to know, Julia-just a moment before ... It's important, I wanted you to understand what you have done. Why you must pay." The voice now came from behind her. Julia did not turn around. She stared at the contents of the box, her painted eyebrows knit together and her scarlet lips parted.

"I wish I could see your face now," whispered her companion. "It would help somehow. But this way will have to suffice."

For most of the world's people, snowfalls ceased to be enchanting as soon as Christmas had passed. January and February were months to endure, especially in the Northeast, where gray skies dumped regular deposits on rolling hills and mountains and winter-weary villages.

The Shakers of Hancock, Massachusetts, however, not being of the world, watched with growing anticipation as the dreary midwinter days passed, bringing them closer to their treasured holiday -- Mother Ann's Birthday. Their beloved foundress had been born on February 29, and since it wasn't ,currently a leap year, the celebration was planned for the first of March, less than two weeks away.

Preparations consumed the energy of the small band of remaining Shakers, which was why no one had so much as glanced toward the Summerhouse for days -- Aespite its proximity to the large Brick Dwelling House where they lived, ate, and worshiped. After all, the sisters had scrubbed the small building months earlier, once the weather had turned too cold for afternoon tea. So there'd been no reason to go near it. No one had even noticed that the door was slightly ajar. As Eldress Fannie Estabrook explained to the Pittsfield police, no one had the slightest idea how long the body had been in there. It had probably happened at night, though, Fannie speculated, when the residents of the dwelling house were fast asleep after a long day of work.

Fannie knew the identity of the unfortunate young woman, as did all the sisters. Her name was Julia Masters, and she'd often helped out in the Fancy Goods Store, selling Shaker products to the world. No one could even guess why she'd been found dressed for a summer night on the town, her long dark blond hair piled on her head in disheveled curls, a style more reminiscent of the turn of the century than the late 1930s...

KILLING GIFTS
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