Meet Sophia Nelson from A Summer of Secrets


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?


Read an excerpt…

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.”

Explore A Summer of Secrets on my blog for more excerpts, character profiles, and background information



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Photo Credit: LoganArt via Pixabay and used under CC0 1.0 Creative Commons

The Stately Home

A stately home is a property built in the United Kingdom and Ireland between the mid-16th century and the early part of the 20th century. They include converted abbeys and other church property following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Stately homes are different from country houses in that a country house is always in the country, but a stately home can also be in a town or city. The phrase ‘stately home’ originates from the poem The Homes of England by Felicia Hemans, which was published in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1827.


Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, England

King Henry VIII’s policy of the Dissolution of the Monasteries resulted in many former ecclesiastical properties being turned over to the King’s favourites, who then converted them into private country houses. Lacock Abbey, Woburn Abbey, and many other properties with Abbey or Priory in their name often date from this period as private houses. These houses were a status symbol for the aristocracy and famous architects and landscape architects such as Sir Edwin Lutyens, Sir John Vanburgh, and Capability Brown were employed to incorporate new trends into the buildings and gardens. Many stately homes are an evolution of one or more styles but driven by practicality just much as architectural trends.

Sir John Vanburgh and Capability Brown

The beginning of the decline of the stately home coincided with the rise of modern industry. It provided alternative employment for large numbers of servants, but its final demise began during World War I. The huge staff required to maintain them had either left to fight and never returned, went to work in the munitions factories, or filled the void left by fighting men in other workplaces. Of those who did return home from the war, many left the countryside for better-paid jobs in towns and cities.

Erddig, a group portrait of staff on the garden steps

Some estates employed at least one hundred indoor and outdoor servants

The death blow for many stately homes came following World War II. Many were requisitioned during the war and returned to their owners in poor repair. Many had lost their heirs in one of the World Wars. Owners who survived were required to pay high rates of tax and death duties. Agricultural incomes from the accompanying estates had also fallen.


Beaupre Hall, a medieval fortified mansion, was demolished in 1966

The solution for some owners was to hold contents auctions, selling its stone, fireplaces, and panelling before demolishing the house. But some properties, including Chatsworth House, are still owned by the families who built them, retain their furniture and paintings, but have opened their house and estate to the public during the summer months. Most stately homes now have to be a business as well as a home.

© Lorna Peel

Sophia Nelson returns to her hometown in Yorkshire, England to begin a new job as tour guide at Heaton Abbey House. There, she meets the reclusive Thomas, Baron Heaton, a lonely workaholic.

Despite having a rule never to become involved with her boss, Sophia can’t deny how she finds him incredibly attractive.

When she overhears the secret surrounding his parentage, she is torn. But is it her attraction to him the fear of opening a Pandora’s box that makes her keep quiet about it?

How long can Sophia stay at Heaton Abbey knowing what she does?

Read an excerpt…

In the library he retrieved a cardboard wallet from a shelf, and brought it over to a desk, before switching on the reading lamp.

“This is an aerial view,” he told her, extracting the etchings, and placing them on the desk. “Showing the layout of the monastic buildings. You probably know that most Cistercian monasteries were built to more or less the same plan. It was quite a small abbey. This is the church and a view of the cloister. Then along comes King Henry VIII…”

He was very knowledgeable and seemed to relax when he spoke of the past but with a temper like his, his chances of being a good tour guide were very slim.

“You’re from the town, aren’t you?” he asked, returning the etchings to the folder.

“Yes, but I’ve lived in Leeds and then in London until quite recently.”

“What brought you back? If you don’t mind my asking?”

“No,” she replied, giving him a weak smile. “My mother is ill. She had a stroke and is in Rich Hill Nursing Home. She suffers from dementia, so she couldn’t live at home anymore. She kept wandering off and Dad couldn’t cope. I didn’t want to be too far away so I came back. To the mining museum originally, but then someone took a dislike to it.”

He nodded. “I’m sorry to hear about your mother.”

“Thank you.”

“It must be very hard on your family.”

She noticed a book on Renaissance women in the desk drawer as he opened it and placed the wallet inside. “I’m an only child but, yes, it is hard. She used to be such an active woman. She and Dad married late in life. When the mine closed, Dad—”

“The mine?” he interrupted sharply. “Your father worked in the mine?”

“Yes, he did. And when it closed, he put his heart and soul into the museum. I don’t think there’s a single family in the town that doesn’t have a miner in their family history somewhere.”

“I must have met him at one point or another. What is his name?”

“William Nelson. He gave a very long-winded speech when the museum opened a few years ago.”

“I remember now.” He smiled and glanced at her curls. “Red hair.”

She grinned. “There must be Irish or Scottish in us somewhere.”

“Could you give him and your mother my best wishes the next time you visit?”

“I will, but there are days that I could tell her that I was the Queen of Sheba and she’d believe me.” Don’t cry, she ordered herself, but she couldn’t stop the tears coming. “I’m sorry,” she gasped and fled from the room.

She ran blindly through the hall—almost colliding with Lady Heaton—hauled the heavy front door open, and staggered out onto the steps before halting to catch her breath. Pulling a paper handkerchief from her pocket, she wiped her eyes. Oh, God, what the hell will they both think of you now, she demanded of herself. A hysterical, nosy idiot who doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut, that’s what.

Explore A Summer of Secrets on my blog for more excerpts, character profiles, and background information



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