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Cutler 5 - Darkest Hour

V. C. Andrews

  Cutler 5 - Darkest Hour

  Book Jacket

  Series: Cutler [5]

  Growing up on the thriving plantation called The Meadows, Lillian Booth cherishes the brightest, happiest dreams...

  Lillian's world is full of grand parties, of sunshine and promises, as thrilling as the fairy tales Mama spins for her and her little sister, Eugenia. No one, not even her cold, stern Papa and her Bible-spouting sister Emily, can crush her spirits -- until the day Emily reveals the shattering secret of Lillian's birth, a secret Mama sadly cannot deny. Still Lillian refuses to believe Emily's hateful claim that she is evil, a curse... even when sweet, gentle Eugenia loses her fragile hold on life, and Mama retreats further into her fantasies.

  But when tragedy befalls her best friend, the one boy whose tender heart mirrors her own, Lillian comes to believe Emily's grim words. Meekly, she endures her penance, finding a strange solace in the endless repetition of prayers in a room stripped of all comforts. Lillian's heart is torn anew when, in a drunken haze, Papa subjects her to the most brutal degradation. Then Papa loses The Meadows in a card game, and Lillian is faced with a new and terrifying prospect. Arrogant, handsome playboy Bill Cutler will return the plantation -- if Lillian will marry him! Now Lillian must leave her girlhood home behind, and make a bold new beginning as the mistress of a hotel called Cutler's Cove....

  Dear Virginia Andrews Readers,

  Those of us who knew and loved Virginia Andrews know that the most important things in her life were her novels. Her proudest moment came when she held in her hand the first printed copy of Flowers in the Attic. Virginia was a unique and gifted storyteller who wrote feverishly each and every day. She was constantly developing ideas for new stories that would eventually become novels. Second only to the pride she took in her writing was the joy she took in reading the letters from readers who were so touched by her books.

  Since her death many of you have written to us wondering whether there would continue to be new V. C. Andrews novels. Just before she died we promised ourselves that we would find a way of creating additional stories based on her vision.

  Beginning with the final books in the Casteel series, we have been working closely with a carefully selected writer to expand upon her genius by creating new novels—like Dawn, Secrets of the Morning, Twilight's Child, Midnight Whispers, and now Darkest Hour—inspired by her wonderful storytelling talent.

  Darkest Hour is the eagerly awaited conclusion to the Cutler family series. We believe it would have given V. C. Andrews great joy to know that it will be entertaining so many of you. Other novels, including some based on stories Virginia was able to complete before her death, will be published in the coming years and we hope they continue to mean as much to you as ever.





  I've always thought of myself as a Cinderella who never had a prince come with a glass slipper to whisk her away to a wonderful life. Instead of a prince, I had a businessman who won me in a card game, and just like a chip that is tossed across the table, I was tossed from one world into another.

  But that had always been my destiny, right from the day I was born. It wouldn't change until I was finally able to change it myself, following the philosophy an old black laborer at The Meadows told me when I was a little girl. His name was Henry Patton and he had hair so white it looked like a patch of snow. I would sit with him on an old cedar log in front of the smokehouse while he carved me a small rabbit or a fox. One summer day when a storm had begun to build a layer of dark clouds on the horizon, he stopped and pointed to a thick oak tree in the east meadow.

  "You see that branch there, bending in the wind, child?" he asked.

  "Yes, Henry," I said.

  "Well, my mammy once told me something about that branch. You know what she told me?"

  I shook my head, my golden pigtails swinging around to slap me gently on the mouth.

  "She told me a branch that don't bend in the wind, breaks." He fixed his large, dark eyes on me, the eyebrows almost as white as his hair. "Remember to go with the wind, child," he advised, "so you don't ever break."

  I took a deep breath. The world around me seemed so pregnant with wisdom back then, knowledge and ideas, philosophy and superstition hovering in the shape of a shadow, the flight of chimney swallows, the color of caterpillars, the blood spots in chicken eggs. I just had to listen and learn, but I also liked to ask questions.

  "What happens when the wind stops, Henry?"

  He laughed and shook his head. "Well, then you can go your own way, child."

  The wind didn't stop until I was married to a man didn't love, but when it did, I followed Henry's advice.

  I went my own way.




  When I was very young, I thought we were royalty. We seemed to live just like the princes and princesses, the kings and queens in the fairy tales my mother loved to read to me and my younger sister, Eugenia, who would sit perfectly still, her eyes as wide and as filled with awe as mine, even though at two she was already quite sickly. Our older sister, Emily, never liked to be read to and chose instead to spend most of her time by herself

  Just like the regal men and women who pranced over the pages of the books in our library, we lived in a big, beautiful house with acres and acres of prime Virginia tobacco farmland and beautiful forests. We had a long, wide, rolling front lawn that grew thick with clover and Bermuda grass and on which there were white marble fountains, small rock gardens, and decorative iron benches. On summer days, the wisteria tumbled over the verandas and joined with the pink crepe myrtle bushes and the white-blossomed magnolias that surrounded the house.

  Our plantation estate was called The Meadows and no visitor, old or new, came up the long gravel driveway without remarking about the splendor of our home, for in those days Papa had an almost religious devotion to its upkeep. Somehow, maybe because of its location deep enough off the road that passed by, The Meadows escaped the destruction and plunder so many southern plantations experienced during the Civil War. No Yankee soldiers ground their heels into our fine wood floors or filled their sacks with our valuable antiques. Grandfather Booth was convinced the plantation had been spared just to demonstrate how special The Meadows was. Papa inherited that devotion to our grand home and vowed that his last dollar would go toward maintaining its beauty.

  Papa also inherited our grandfather's rank. Our grandfather had been a captain in General Lee's cavalry—it was as good as being knighted and made us all feel regal. Even though Papa was never really in the army, he always referred to himself, and had others refer to him, as Captain Booth.

  And so, just like royalty, we had dozens of servants and laborers ready to move at our beck and call. Of course, my favorite servants were Louella, our cook whose mamma had been a slave on the Wilkes plantation not twenty miles south of our home, and Henry, whose daddy, also once a slave, had fought and died in the Civil War. He fought on the side of the Confederacy because "he thought loyalty to his master was more important than freedom for himself," as Henry put it.

  I also thought we were royalty because we had so many fine and rich things in our mansion: vases of shining silver and gold, statues from places all over Europe, fine hand-painted knickknacks, and ivory figures that came from the Orient and India. Crystal prisms dangled from lampshades, from wall sconces, from chandeliers catching colors, refracting rainbows that flashed like lightning whenever sunlight managed to steal through the lace curtains. We ate on hand-painted china, used sterling silver dinnerware, and had our food served on sterling silver platters.

  Our furniture had many styles
, all of them fancy. It seemed each of the rooms was in competition, trying to outdo each other. Mamma's reading room was the brightest with its light blue satin curtains and its soft carpet imported from Persia. Who wouldn't feel like royalty on Mamma's purple velvet lounging chaise with the gold cording? Sprawled elegantly on that chaise in the early evenings, Mamma would put on her mother-of-pearl framed glasses and read her romance novels, even though Papa ranted and raved about it, claiming she was poisoning her mind with polluted words and sinful thoughts. Consequently, Papa rarely set foot in her reading room. If he wanted her, he would send one of the servants or Emily to fetch her.

  Papa's office was so wide and so long that even he—a man who stood six feet three in his bare feet, who had wide, powerful shoulders and long, muscular arms—looked lost behind his oversized dark oak desk. Whenever I went in there, the heavy furniture rose up at me in the half-light, especially the high-backed chairs with deep seats and wide arms. Portraits of Papa's father and his grandfather stood over him, glaring out from large dark frames as he worked in the glow of his desk lamp, his hair in a riot of soft curls over his forehead.

  There were pictures everywhere in our house. There were pictures on practically every wall in every room, many of them portraits of Booth ancestors: dark-faced men with pinched noses and thin lips, yet many with copper-brown beards and mustaches, just like Papa's.

  Some of the women were lean with faces as hard as the men, many looking down with an expression of chastisement or indignation, as if what I was doing or what I had said, or even what I had thought, was improper in their puritanical eyes. I saw resemblances to Emily everywhere, yet in none of the ancient faces did I find the smallest resemblance to my own.

  Eugenia looked different too, but Louella thought that was because she had been a sickly baby and had developed a disease I couldn't pronounce until I was nearly eight. I think I was afraid to say it, afraid to utter the words for fear the sound could somehow spread a contagion. It made my heart thump to hear anyone say it, especially Emily, who, according to Mother, was able to pronounce it perfectly the first time she had heard it: cystic fibrosis.

  But Emily was always very different from me. None of the things that excited me excited her. She never played with dolls or cared about pretty dresses. It was a pain for her to brush her hair and she didn't mind that it hung listlessly over her eyes and down her cheeks like worn hemp, the dark brown strands always looking dirty and drab. It didn't excite her to go running through a field chasing after a rabbit, or go wading in the pond on hot summer days. She took no special pleasure in the blooming of roses or the burst of wild violets. With an arrogance that grew as she sprouted taller and taller, Emily took everything beautiful for granted.

  Once, when Emily was barely twelve, she took me aside and squeezed her eyes into tiny slits the way she always did when she wanted to say something important. She told me I was to treat her special because she had seen God's finger come out of the sky that very morning and touch The Meadows: a reward for Papa's and her religious devotion.

  Mother used to say that she believed Emily was already twenty years old the day she was born. She swore on a stack of Bibles that it took ten months to give birth to her, and Louella agreed that "a baby cookin' that long would be different."

  For as long as I could remember, Emily was bossy. What she did like to do was follow after the chambermaids and complain about their work. She loved to come running with her forefinger up, the tip smeared with dust and grime, to tell Mother or Louella that the maids didn't do a good enough job. When she was ten, she didn't even bother to go to Mamma or Louella; she bawled out the maids herself and sent them scurrying back to redo the library or the sitting room, or Papa's office. She especially liked to please Papa, and always bragged about the way she had gotten the maid to shine up his furniture or pull out each and every one of the volumes of books on his dark oak shelves and dust each jacket.

  Even though Papa claimed he had no time to read anything but the Bible, he had a wonderful collection of old books, most first editions bound in leather, their untouched and unread pages slightly yellow on the edges. When Papa was away on one of his business trips and no one was watching, I would sneak into his office and pull out the volumes. I'd pile them beside me on the floor and carefully open the covers. Many had fine ink illustrations, but I just turned the pages and pretended I could read and understand the words. I couldn't wait until I was old enough to go to school to learn to read.

  Our school was just outside of Upland Station. It was a small, gray clapboard building with three stone steps and a cow bell that Miss Walker used to call in the children when lunch was over or recess ended. I never knew Miss Walker to be anything but old, even when I was little and she was probably no more than thirty. But she kept her dull black hair in a severe bun and she always wore glasses as thick as goggles.

  When Emily first went to school, she would return each day with horrifying stories about how hard Miss Walker would beat the hands of ruffian boys like Samuel Turner or Jimmy Wilson. Even when she was only seven years of age, Emily was proud of the fact that Miss Walker relied on her to tell on the other children if they misbehaved in any way. "I'm the eyes behind Miss Walker's head," she declared haughtily. "All I have to do is point to someone and Miss Walker will sit him in the corner with a dunce's cap smack over his head. And she does that to bad little girls, too," she warned me, her eyes full of gleeful pleasure.

  But no matter what Emily did to make school seem terrifying, it remained a wonderful promise to me, for I knew that within the walls of that old gray building lay the solution to the mystery of words: the secret of reading. Once I knew that secret, I, too, would be able to open the covers of the hundreds and hundreds of books that lined the shelves in our home and travel to other worlds, other places, and meet so many new and interesting people.

  Of course, I felt sorry for Eugenia, who would never be able to go to school. Instead of getting better as she grew older, she became worse. She was never anything but thin and her skin never lost that, sallow look. Despite this, her cornflower blue eyes remained bright and hopeful and when I finally did start attending school, she was eager to hear about my day and what I had learned. In time, I replaced Mamma when it came to reading to her. Eugenia, who was only a year and a month younger than me, would curl up beside me and rest her small head on my lap, her long, uncut, light brown hair flowing over my legs, and listen with that dreamy smile on her lips as I read one of our children's storybooks.

  Miss Walker said that no one, not any of her children, learned to read as quickly as I did. I was that eager and determined. No wonder my heart nearly burst with excitement and happiness when Mamma declared that I should be permitted to begin my schooling. One night at dinner toward the end of the summer, Mamma announced I should go even though I wouldn't be quite five when the school year began.

  "She's so bright," she told Papa. "It would be a shame to make her wait another year." As usual, unless he disagreed with something Mamma said, Papa was silent, his big jaw moving unabated, his dark eyes shifting neither left nor right. Anyone else but us would have thought he was deaf or so lost in a deep thought he hadn't heard a word. But Mamma was satisfied with his response. She turned to my older sister, Emily, whose thin face was twisted into a smirk of disgust. "Emily can look after her, can't you, Emily?"

  "No, Mamma, Lillian's too young to go to school. She can't make the walk. It's three miles!" Emily whined. She was barely nine, but seemed to grow two years for every one. She was as tall as a twelve-year-old. Papa said she was springing up like a cornstalk.

  "Of course she can, can't you?" Mamma asked, beaming her bright smile at me. Mamma had a smile more innocent and childlike than my own. She tried hard not to let anything make her sad, but she cried even for the smallest creatures, some days even moaning about the poor earthworms that foolishly crawled onto the slate walkway during a rain and fried to death in the Virginia sun.

  "Yes, Mamma," I said, e
xcited with the idea. Just that morning, I had been dreaming about going to school. The walk didn't frighten me. If Emily could do it, I could do it, I thought. I knew that most of the way home, Emily walked along with the Thompson twins, Betty Lou and Emma Jean, but the last mile she had to walk alone. Emily wasn't afraid. Nothing scared her, not the deepest shadows in the plantation, not the ghost stories Henry told, nothing.

  "Good. After breakfast, this morning I'll have Henry hitch up the carriage and take us into town and we'll see what nice new shoes and new dresses Mrs. Nelson has for you at the general store," Mamma said, eager to outfit me.

  Mamma loved to shop, but Papa hated it and rarely, if ever, took her to Lynchburg to the bigger department stores, no matter how much Mamma cajoled and complained. He told her his mother had made most of her own clothes and so did her mother before her. Mamma should do the same. But she hated to sew or knit and despised any household chores. The only time she became excited about cooking and cleaning was when she staged one of her extravagant dinners or barbecues. Then she would parade about the house, followed by our chambermaids and Louella, and make decisions about what should be changed or dressed up and what should be cooked and prepared.

  "She doesn't need a new dress and new shoes, Mamma," Emily declared with her face screwed into that old lady's look—her eyes narrow, her lips thin, her forehead crinkled. "She'll only ruin everything on the walk."

  "Nonsense," Mamma said, holding her smile. "Every little girl gets dressed up in new clothes and new shoes the first day of school."

  "I didn't," Emily retorted.

  "You didn't want to go shopping with me, but I made you wear the new shoes and new dress I bought for you, don't you remember?" Mamma asked, smiling.