Rachel Harris is an unemployed librarian, having lost her job when her library branch was closed due to county council cutbacks. She has recently moved into the cottage left to her by her late grandmother and is looking for a lodger to share it with. Having recently turned thirty, Rachel is also thinking of her birth and adoption, and wonders if she should try again to find her birth mother who abandoned Rachel as a new-born baby on the steps of a church-run children’s home.
The cottage is old and creaks and groans but Rachel begins to hear rustling noises and the pot plant she keeps on the bathroom window sill ends up regularly on the floor. She mentions the noises to her adoptive mother and her best friend, Kathy, but thinks nothing more of it until Kathy e-mails her to let her know that she has arranged for the ‘Hot Vicar’ standing in for the holidaying local clergyman to call to the cottage and investigate the noises.
Returning home from a job interview, Rachel finds the Reverend Matthew Williams waiting for her and discovers that, yes, he is pretty hot, while he finds that the strange noises are caused by nothing stranger than a large bat roost in her attic. When Matthew sees Rachel is looking for a lodger, he asks if she would consider him. Single since discovering her boyfriend was married with two children, Rachel puts aside her attraction to the first man since Craig and agrees. She can’t be eyeing up Matthew now she is going to be his landlady. But only days after Matthew moves into the cottage, the anonymous and increasingly frightening incidents begin.
Is Rachel being targeted? Is it Matthew? Or is it someone who has a grudge against both of them? And why? You’ll have to read The Image of Her to find out…
* * *
Rachel Harris was abandoned as a baby on the steps of a church-run children’s home in England and later adopted. Who was her birth mother and what were the circumstances which led her to give up her baby?
Searching for someone who doesn’t want to be found seems a hopeless task until Rachel meets Matthew Williams, a Church of England clergyman.
Then the anonymous and increasingly frightening attempts to end their relationship begin. Are these actions connected to the mysterious events surrounding Rachel’s birth?
Read An Excerpt:
“Your dad asked me whether I was single, married, divorced or…gay, I suppose…”
She groaned. Dad. You wanted me to get a lodger, and now I have one you immediately start giving him the third degree. “I thought you’d be safe with him. Mum’s usually the one cross-examining people.”
“Then he told me about you, that you were adopted, and about…” He tailed off and her heart began to pound with fury at her father. “I’m sorry, I didn’t question him about you.”
“No, you’re far too polite,” she replied. “Yes, my ex, Craig turned out to be married with two kids. He just forgot to tell me.”
He gave her a sympathetic smile. “This competition of ours might end up as a draw yet,” he said and she pulled a comical expression. “But it must have been awful.”
“Yes. I was his mistress for four months; the idea of it makes me shudder now. It was all downhill for a while afterwards. I lost my job. A few months later Gran died, then I reversed the car into a concrete bollard.”
“Then I arrived.”
She gave a little laugh. “Once you arrived I could tell Mum and Kathy that this house isn’t haunted and I wasn’t going nuts, I’d got someone to share an ancient house with no double glazing with, and I’d got a new job. That’s good in my eyes.”
“Well, I’m relieved.”
“Well, I’m furious you were interrogated about your marital and sexual status. It’s none of either of my parents’ business.”
“I can’t blame them for trying to match-make.” He shrugged. “I am single and straight after all.” She flushed and he smiled. “Enough. I’m embarrassing you. Friends, yeah?”
He came across to her and held out a hand.
She grinned, clasped it and squeezed it. “Friends.”
“Did you tell his wife?”
“No,” she replied. “I wanted to, to get my own back, but I didn’t. Why wreck her life, too? And the children’s if she left him. Do you think I should have?”
“No, you did the right thing,” he assured her. “It’s only natural you’d want revenge, but I think you were wise in not giving into it.”
“I hated him for doing that to me and to his family. I mean, I have no idea where I come from or what sort of situation my birth mother was in. I’m not going to create problems for Craig’s wife if she believes there are none.”
“How did you find out?” He seated himself in the saggy floral armchair opposite her.
“I saw them.” She pulled a wry expression. “They were grocery shopping in Aldabury. It was a workday afternoon, so he obviously thought it safe for him to be in the supermarket with them. I wasn’t feeling too well and was on my way home from work but had popped in to the chemist there. I saw them as I was leaving. There they all were at the freezers, choosing what kind of pizza to have for dinner that evening. He was supposed to be in Scotland at a conference. I almost threw up on the spot. I just dropped everything and ran.”
“Did you confront him?”
She swallowed and closed her eyes, recalling the awful experience. “Yes. He didn’t bother denying it so I just asked him to leave. I was very calm, very dignified, but once he left I cried solidly for days, then gave notice on the house, packed my bags and went home to Mum and Dad. I haven’t seen him since. Have you seen your ex since you split up?”
“Ages ago. Just to see, not to talk to. I’m not so sure if I could have been as dignified as you.”
“What about now? I used to dread running into him again, but I heard a few months ago that they’d moved. It was a huge relief.”
“Not sure.” He shrugged and crossed his legs. “I certainly wouldn’t try and get back with her. One bitten, twice shy. I think I could just about exchange a few clergyman-like comments about the weather, or something. I don’t know where she is living now, anyway, and I don’t really care.” His raised his eyebrows. “I can hear Mike cheering from here. I wonder what you’ll think of Mike? He always takes the mickey out of me. I wonder what he’ll make of an a librarian soon-to-be-archivist?”
She pretended to ponder it for a couple of moments. “Well, I’m not the elderly spinster-type with glasses on a chain around her neck and who wears a twin set and pearls.”
She roared with laughter and was delighted to see him laugh, too. “So what does this Mike call you?” she asked.
“Well, he used to call me Fox Mulder. I’m sure he’ll think of something new eventually.”
“And you don’t mind?”
He shrugged non-committally. “From Mike I can take it. Just about. Sometimes you need to laugh, don’t you?”
“I could have made you laugh last night if you’d told me.”
He met her eyes with a grateful smile and she fought to control another flush. “If it happens again—which I hope it won’t—but if it does, I’ll tell you. If you hadn’t guessed what was wrong already, that is. Your dad also told me about the children’s home you were in. You do know the Church of England ran it?”
“Yes. The building is still there, too. I went there and took a picture of the steps. People must have thought I was completely nuts, but anyone working there thirty years ago has long gone.”
“Tell me if I’m interfering.” He sounded hesitant. “But I could make some enquiries about people who used to work there. They might remember your birth mother.”
Her heart leaped and she clenched her fists. “No, you wouldn’t be interfering at all. Fantastic, Matthew. Thank you.”
The Image of Her is currently unpublished and will be republished in due course.
Photo Credit: panajiotis via Pixabay and used under CC0 1.0 Creative Commons