Thirty-three year-old Sophia Nelson is about to start work as tour guide at Heaton Abbey House, a stately home and former Cistercian Abbey in Yorkshire, England. She returned to her home town six months previously to be closer to her ageing parents, working for a short time at the town’s mining museum before a suspicious fire burned it to the ground.
Her mother has dementia, suffered a stroke, and lives in a local care home. When her father fell and badly broke his arm, he couldn’t live on his own anymore, so he sold the family home and moved into sheltered accommodation. Sophia slept on her father’s sofa for a short time before her best friend, Michelle, offered Sophia the bed in her loft conversion. Sophia can’t believe her luck in securing a local job which comes with accommodation – a flat in what used to be the stable yard of Heaton Abbey House.
Sophia gets off to an unpromising start with Thomas, Baron Heaton. She first encounters a man she later realises is him behaving suspiciously at a boathouse on the abbey estate. The following day, trying to familiarise herself with the sprawling house, she wanders into the dark library and begins to examine the leather-bound books on the shelves, not realising her employer is seated in a corner enjoying a glass of whisky. He is not too impressed that the tour guide has managed to lose herself in the house on her first day. For Sophia, it is lust at first sight of her tall, dark, and handsome employer, and who turns her into what she describes as ‘a gibbering mess’.
Matters don’t improve when she witnesses Lord Heaton throwing a man out of his office and later that day she bursts into tears and runs from the library when he asks her about her parents. Returning to the library to apologise for her behaviour, she hears him speaking about his sister, Stephanie, who is in hospital having just suffered a miscarriage. What Sophia overhears leaves her torn between her attraction to Lord Heaton and the fear of opening a Pandora’s box if the truth were to get out. How long can Sophia stay at Heaton Abbey knowing what she does?
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She was at Michelle’s at eight o’clock on the dot that evening.
“Come in.” Michelle smiled. “I’ve just put the kettle on.” They brought their mugs of coffee into the living room and sat on the sofa. “So what’s up? You sounded like you were about to strangle someone yesterday.”
“Lord Heaton,” she replied simply.
“What, he’s a pain in the arse?”
“Yeah, and the rest.”
“What?” Michelle’s eyes bulged. “Oh, my God, you don’t fancy him, do you?” Sophia looked away. “Sophia?”
“I don’t know what to do,” she said miserably. “I need to leave but I can’t because I need the money and I need the flat but…”
“Heaton,” Michelle finished and Sophia smiled sadly and nodded. “Okay, tell me what’s been going on.”
“Everyone thinks he’s a recluse. He isn’t. I mean, he doesn’t go out much but it’s not like he never leaves the house or anything. I mean, we’ve been going walking together for weeks now—”
“Walking?” Michelle interrupted incredulously. “Hang on. Hang on. Rewind. You go walking together?”
“It came up that I go walking and I asked if he’d like to come. He said yes after a bit and we go walking on the moors. Stephanie comes too at the moment, though.”
“His sister?” Michelle asked.
Sophia swallowed. “Yes.”
“Okay. Go on.”
“I fancied him from the start. Bloody hell, it’s so corny but he’s tall, dark and handsome. But he’s got an awful temper and he smokes.”
Michelle shrugged. “You can’t have everything.”
“No. We just…talk. He’s shy and he’s lonely. He hates to admit it but he is. Everyone just treats him like ‘Lord Heaton’ and it’s like he’s become this character and has to keep on playing it. I mean, he continually calls me Ms Nelson. He’s never called me Sophia once.”
“And what do you call him?” Michelle frowned.
“Lord Heaton,” she replied. “It sounds ridiculous but he’s never once asked me to call him Thomas.”
“And you never once thought to ask him to call you Sophia?” Michelle added and Sophia shrugged. “Does he fancy you?”
“What?” Michelle had reached for her mug but had to put it down again. “How do you know?”
“He, um, draws people. He’s got drawings of me.”
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Amazon ASIN: B07B51ZTH2
Paperback ISBN: 9781986599504