The Heiress of Winterwood - By Sarah Ladd



Katherine was going to die. And Amelia could do nothing to prevent it.

Amelia Barrett dabbed at her dearest friend’s brow with a damp cloth. A single tear, hot as fire, slipped unchecked down her cheek. Exhaustion pulled at her limbs. Fatigue pleaded with her to sit and rest. But she dared not stop.

Beyond Winterwood Manor’s stone walls, icy rain pelted the earth, driven hard by the gusts from the moors. Not so very long ago, that wind had hummed soothing lullabies. Now, in dawn’s gray light, its mournful wail whispered chilling omens.

From a distant chamber a wee infant’s cry echoed through Winterwood’s ancient halls. The babe, at least, would recover from the horror of the past three days. Katherine, however, would be fortunate to see another sunset.

Amelia rubbed her palms against her forehead, longing to erase the memory of a childbirth gone terribly amiss. Hours of anxiety had rolled into days of dread, and now her unconscious friend’s breathing waned. Each shallow pant hinted another might not come.

The fire’s dancing light cast shadows across Katherine’s ashen cheeks. Perspiration trickled down her neck. Fiery locks clung to her damp forehead. Amelia immersed a cloth in a basin and drizzled cool water over her friend’s fevered skin. At the touch, Katherine’s eyelids fluttered. Amelia snatched back her hand with renewed optimism and fell to her knees next to the bed.

“Katherine!” Amelia clutched her friend’s arm. “Katherine, do you hear me?”

A groan escaped Katherine’s parched lips, followed by a shallow cough. “Where is the letter?” Her voice sounded dry. Raspy.

Eyes wide, Amelia nodded toward the letter on the writing table. “It’s here.”

“Promise you will give it to him.”

“Of course.”

“My baby.” Katherine’s weak whisper broke as a sob caught in her throat. “Please do not leave her. You will soon be all she has.”

Deadening pain surged through Amelia’s core, constricting her lungs. She squeezed her fingers around Katherine’s clammy hand. “You have my word.”

Katherine released a slow breath and closed her eyes.

The air thinned. The suffocating weight of death crept into the room. It lingered in the shadows, loitering like an unwelcome guest. Watching. Waiting.

Amelia’s hands shook. She released Katherine’s hand and curled her own into tight fists to prevent them from trembling. How could God let this happen? How dare he take away yet another person she loved? If she thought a prayer might help, she’d cry out in desperation. But she’d seen death’s shadow too many times. Prayer had not saved the life of any she had cared for. She had no illusion it would avail this time.

She swallowed the dry lump in her throat and began to recite. Katherine would find comfort in her words, even if she did not. “The Lord is my shepherd,” she began. “I shall not want.”

Eyes still closed, Katherine’s cracked lips mouthed a slow, faltering response. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still—”

Katherine’s voice stopped. Her labored breaths dissolved into shallow gasps until she breathed no more.

Amelia stared unblinking at the lifeless body before her. Her limbs tingled, then numbed. Disbelief rendered her motionless. No tears remained for her to cry.

The infant’s wail pierced the eerie silence and snapped her from her trance. With deliberate, reverent movements, Amelia pressed her lips to Katherine’s forehead, then drew the linen sheet over her friend’s pallid face.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.


Amelia knew what she needed to do. In fact, she’d known ever since Captain Graham Sterling returned to Eastmore Hall.

Her plan would work. It must work. She had addressed every detail and anticipated every objection. Now nothing remained but to convince the captain.

Her only regret was sharing her intentions with her younger cousin Helena.

“This is madness. Absolute madness!” Helena’s russet curls bounced in animated vigor with every syllable. “Whatever would possess you to even consider such a thing, let alone see it through?” She tossed her embroidery on the small side table and jumped up from the settee. “Captain Sterling will think you are a lunatic, and then where will you be?” Helena waved her hand in the air to silence Amelia’s protest. “I will tell you where you will be. You will be without a husband, without money, and without prospects. That is where you will be.”

“Oh hush. You are overreacting.” Amelia shifted the sleeping baby in her arms. “You will wake Lucy with all