Meet New Blood’s Sophia Nelson

Sophia Nelson from contemporary romance new blood by lorna peel

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, The 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?

New Blood

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?”

“Yes.”

“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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Buy New Blood at:  Amazon  Smashwords  iBooks  Barnes&Noble  Kobo 

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Amazon ASIN: B01KW0I7P2

E-book ISBN: 9781911381310

Print ISBN: 9781911381358

Visit my blog for more excerpts, character profiles, and background information

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Meet New Blood’s Thomas Heaton

thomas-heaton-from-contemporary-romance-new-blood-by-lorna-peel

Thirty-nine year-old Thomas Heaton is the 13th Baron Heaton. He inherited the title from his father when he had just finished university at Cambridge. For almost twenty years, he has had the burden and responsibility of not wanting to be remembered as the Heaton who had to sell Heaton Abbey House. Despite working long hours – often sleeping in his office – and being regarded as a recluse, he has been forced to open up the house to the public in order to keep the estate afloat.

Luckily, the house is somewhere tourists will flock to see. Thomas’ ancestor, Sir William Heaton bought the abbey and its lands following the dissolution of the monasteries in the late 1530s, renamed the abbey after himself, and remodelled the monastic buildings to suit his own domestic requirements.

A descendent of Sir William’s was created a Baron in the early 18th century and more rebuilding took place, reflecting the family’s elevation to the peerage. A further descendent made a fortune from coal mining, resulting in yet more rebuilding and restyling. A 20th century descendent made a catastrophic business deal and was forced to sell the mine and some land but, thankfully, the house with its mishmash of styles and five hundred acres of land remained unsold.

When he has a few minutes to spare, Thomas retreats to the abbey library to savour a glass of single-malt whisky. Having studied History of Art at university and with a weakness for full-figured Renaissance women, he can hardly believe his eyes when a curvy red-haired woman wanders in and begins to examine the books, not realising he is seated in a corner. The voluptuous Sophia Nelson may as well have walked off the pages of his art textbooks and will be working and living right on his doorstep.

Thomas’ elder sister, Stephanie, recently suffered a miscarriage at the hands of her violent boyfriend and lost a lot of blood. When Thomas offered to donate blood, he is told he can’t – and why – a secret that has been closely guarded for forty years and which shakes his world to the core.

When Sophia overhears the secret, Thomas can only hope she doesn’t reveal it. He struggles to keep his distance and his feelings under control, despite finding himself more and more in her company. She is the tour guide – staff – someone he really shouldn’t become involved with. Is it only a matter of time before the secret becomes public knowledge?

New Blood

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 the attraction or the fear of opening a Pandora’s box that makes her keep quiet about it?

How long can she stay at the abbey knowing what she does?

Excerpt:

Closing the bedroom door, she saw Heaton crossing the stable yard. It was the first time she had seen him dressed in anything but a suit and she stopped and stared. He was wearing a brown wax jacket with a bottle green jumper underneath, khaki combat-style trousers similar to her own and brown walking boots. She sighed and shook her head. It looked as though he was one of those men who looked fabulous in everything they wore. She reached for her mobile phone, pulled on a waterproof jacket, and grabbed her car keys before going downstairs to join him.

“You’ll have to move the seat back,” she said as she unlocked the Mini.

He got in and moved the passenger seat so far back that he might as well have been sitting on the back seat. She looked around at him, couldn’t help herself, and laughed.

“Sorry. I wanted something small and cheap to run.”

He pulled a comical expression. “I was looking to see if you had a sunroof that I could stick my head through. Maybe we should go in the Land Rover?” She nodded and he got out. “I’ll just get the keys from Des.”

She got out, locked the car, and saw him emerge from Des’ office. The two of them crossed the stable yard to the huge Land Rover.

“You’ll have to give me directions to where we start from,” he said as they got in.

“I will.”

Twenty minutes later, he pulled in at a small car park. “I haven’t been up here for years. You don’t walk too fast, do you?”

“No. There are two routes we can take. Up to what I call the big rock, which is eight kilometres there and back. Or up to the stone circle, which is five. Maybe five would be enough for today?”

He smiled. “I think so.”

He locked the Land Rover, they climbed over the stile, and walked up onto the footpath which ran through the heather.

“It’s lovely up here, isn’t it?” He halted after a few paces, hands on hips, and looked around them.

“If you need to stop and catch your breath just say.”

“Thanks. I’m not very fit. Walking between my office and the house isn’t really enough.”

They set off again at a slower pace.

“Where did you go to university?” she asked.

“Cambridge. The Heatons have always gone there. I was halfway through my final year when I learned that my father had cancer. I still have no idea how I got through my finals. The last time I saw him, he didn’t know who I was, so I do understand what it’s like. Unfortunately, he had run the estate like there was no tomorrow. I went into his study the day after the funeral and found drawers full of bills, invoices, and tax demands. Some went back years. It took years to pay all the creditors and the tax bill was astronomical. I’m still struggling to make ends meet and when the idea was put forward of opening the house up to coach tour parties, well, you saw what I was like. I apologise if I was rude to you. It’s no excuse, but I had to go to a funeral that day and I loathe funerals.”

“I hate funerals, too, and I wouldn’t like complete strangers traipsing through my home so I can sympathise. But there are tours booked for the next three months and Lady Heaton is scheduling additional daily tours because so many coach tour operators want to add the abbey to their list of stops. The way things are going, the abbey will soon have tours all year round.”

He nodded. “I know, but I am not dressing up as a monk or in a suit of armour for anyone.”

She laughed. “What do people say to you when they ask what you do for a living?”

“When people find out I have a title it is a bit of a conversation killer. I think some people have this idea that lords are all at least fifty, frequent gentleman’s clubs, and hunt, shoot and fish. I do none of those things. I was twenty-two when I inherited the title; I’ve been working to keep the place afloat ever since and I don’t want anything to spoil that.”

“It seems to be working, though.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “Just about.”

“Mum and Dad remember when you went down the mine instead of your father when he became claustrophobic.”

“Really?” He gave her an incredulous frown. “Good God, I must have been only about twelve or something. I wanted to go down with him but he wouldn’t let me. Then, when he had to come back up I asked if I could go and he just waved his hand in agreement.”

“Mum said that you asked lots of very good questions and that Dad was impressed. That is a huge compliment from my dad.”

“Were you ever down the mine?” he asked.

“No, I was never allowed, and it’s far too dangerous now. The nearest I got was the museum. I’d liked to have satisfied my curiosity but I much prefer the open air.

Mum’s grandfather was killed in a pitfall and I think she always worried that the same would happen to Dad. Now most of the time she thinks he’s dead.” She burst into tears. “Oh, God, I’m sorry.”

“Come and sit down.” Taking her arm, he led her off the path. They sat down in the springy heather and she wiped her eyes. “You have to cry, and let it all out,” he told her gently. “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve locked myself in the library and just…”

He pulled a comical expression as she stared at him. It was hard to imagine him crying his eyes out but who knows how he reacted when he left the library after learning that his real mother was a complete stranger.

“I used to cry for my family,” he continued. “Me; the bills that still needed paying; the career I never had; the nightmare of possibly having to sell the estate; the fact that I have no life…that sort of thing. You have your cry then you dust yourself down and, in my case, head back out to the office.”

“My friends in London didn’t want me to come back up here.” She fished a handkerchief out of a pocket and blew her nose. “But I had to, she’s my mum. She and Dad are all I’ve got left and I know I’m quickly losing her. This morning she thought I was Sally, her sister. I’m really dreading a time when she forgets that I exist.”

“Do you not have any other family?” he asked.

“Mum’s brother, Martin, died when he was twenty,” she explained. “Sally lives in Cornwall. They were never close, anyway. Dad was an only child.”

“So why did you go to live in London?”

“I followed a man down there.” She shook her head at her stupidity. “I thought I’d found ‘the one’ at long last and I thought I’d be able to persuade Dad to come and live in London, even though I knew deep down that he’d never leave Mum up here and he’d never move her down there. Anyway, needless to say, it didn’t work out between Lee and me, and I was packing up down there when I got a phone call telling me that Dad had fallen and badly broken his arm and he couldn’t live on his own anymore. That was six months ago. He said himself that he should go into sheltered accommodation so he sold the house and he’s in The Beeches Complex now. Finding a job which has a flat going with it is fantastic.” She smiled. “Do you feel like going on?”

He returned a smile. “To be honest, I’d rather sit here and talk to you. I haven’t had a conversation about anything but estate business in…I don’t know how long.”

“To be honest, I think you work too hard.”

He nodded. “I think you’re right. But I have to work hard. I’m not going to be remembered as the Heaton who had to sell up. And if that means coach parties and teas, then it means coach parties and teas.”

“Did you find the fridge in the end?”

He rolled his remarkable eyes. “Yes. It’s now built into the kitchen cupboards in the pantry. Integrated, I think Mrs Fields called it, so no wonder I couldn’t find it.”

“At least you can raid it now,” she teased.

He shrugged. “There’s no Branston Pickle.”

“I can make you a sandwich if you get a craving.”

“I might just take you up on that.”

She smiled and looked away, hoping that he couldn’t see her blush.

“I rang the opticians in the town,” he announced and she turned back. “They gave me an appointment for tomorrow morning.”

“Oh. Good.”

“I hope I don’t pick the most hideous frames there.”

“Would you like me to come with you?” she asked, hoping she wasn’t overstepping the mark, and he failed to hide his relief at her offer.

“Thank you. I’d welcome another opinion. Even if I could ask Stephanie, God knows what I’d end up getting.”

“I suppose I should have mentioned it before,” she began. “Properly, I mean. But I was sorry to hear about Stephanie. A friend of mine in London lost a baby. It was awful.”

“I suppose you’ve also heard that it was because her boyfriend hits her?”

Sophia nodded.

“She won’t leave him. I’ve begged her, Lady Heaton has begged her, her friends have begged her, but she won’t. I’m terrified that one day he will kill her. She went home to her apartment the other day, refused my offer of coming here for a bit. Stubborn to the last.”

“I take it that she doesn’t know?” she asked.

“No. And that’s the way it’s going to be.” He sighed. “Look, I’m sorry you’re caught up in all of this.”

“I have to say this: I just can’t help but feel you’re burying your head in the sand over it all.”

“Well, what can I do?” he demanded. “Turn up on your friend’s doorstep and introduce myself?”

“Her name’s Michelle,” she told him.

“Michelle’s doorstep, then. Her whole family could fall apart. It sounds dramatic but if it’s anything like what’s happened between Lady Heaton and me—” He stopped abruptly realising he’d said more than he had intended to. “For now,” he continued quietly. “I just want to try and get my head around it all and let sleeping dogs lie.”

She shrugged sadly. “All right.”

“We passed a pub about a mile back,” he said, jabbing a thumb back in the direction of the road. “Would you like a coffee?”

“I would love a coffee, thank you.”

“Good. I’m freezing.”

“Why didn’t you say?”

He just shrugged comically and they returned to the Land Rover.

new-blood-cover-mockup

Buy New Blood at:  Amazon  Smashwords  iBooks  Barnes&Noble  Kobo 

Buy the New Blood paperback at:  Amazon  Barnes&Noble  CreateSpace  BookDepository

Amazon ASIN: B01KW0I7P2

E-book ISBN: 9781911381310

Print ISBN: 9781911381358

Visit my blog for more excerpts, character profiles, and background information

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Meet New Blood’s William and Maria Nelson

old-couple

Sophia Nelson’s father, William, is seventy-eight years old and was a coal miner. When the mine closed in 1990, he put his heart and soul into the town’s mining museum, only to see it burn to the ground in a suspicious fire and Sophia lose her job there as a result. He continues to hold out hope that the museum will be re-built and, while he is pleased Sophia has found another job, he isn’t too happy that it is as tour guide at Heaton Abbey House.

Sophia’s mother, Maria Nelson, is seventy-five. She worked in an engineering firm in Leeds and became friends with Danielle O’Hara, mother of Sophia’s best friend Michelle, but they drifted apart when Danielle married Don Armstrong and moved to London. Maria now suffers from dementia, has recently had a stroke, and lives in Rich Hill Nursing Home.

Maria has periods of lucidity but at times she thinks Sophia is Sophia’s aunt Sally, or even Sophia’s grandmother. William visits his wife every day but after falling and badly breaking his arm, he had to spend some time in hospital. Because he was unable to visit her, Maria assumed he had died. Even when he left hospital and started visiting her again, Maria still thinks William is dead and that he is her long-dead brother.

Like her husband, Maria isn’t happy that Sophia is now living and working at Heaton Abbey. She begs Sophia to ‘get out of that place’ and but refuses to say why. What happened at the abbey and is Maria speaking to Sophia, or is she thinking of someone else?

New Blood

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 the attraction or the fear of opening a Pandora’s box that makes her keep quiet about it?

How long can she stay at the abbey knowing what she does?

Excerpt:

“You are looking for another job, aren’t you, Sally?” her mother added.

“I’ve got another job now.”

“Where?”

“Up at Heaton Abbey. I’m the—”

“The abbey?” Mrs Nelson exclaimed. “No.”

“Yes… What is it?” she cried as her mother began shaking her head violently. “Mum, stop it, don’t do that.”

“Not that place. Not that place.”

“Mum.” She tried to calm her mother. “Mum, stop.”

“You get out of that place. You must get out of that place.”

Sophia could hear feet running down the corridor and her father and a nurse rushed into the room.

“Mrs Nelson?” The nurse tried to soothe her.

“You must get out of that place. You have to get out.”

“Sophia,” her father ordered. “Leave her.”

“Why do I have to get out, Mum?” Sophia demanded. “Tell me.”

“Sophia. Out. Now.”

“Please?” the nurse begged.

Sophia got up and went out into the corridor, kicking the skirting board in frustration. A couple of minutes later her father followed.

“What the hell was that about?” he demanded.

“I don’t know. She asked if I had got a job yet and I told her that I was at Heaton Abbey and she just started shouting and shaking her head.”

“Right, well, you don’t mention the abbey again to her. Do you hear me, Sophia?”

“Yes. I’ll just lie as usual. Pretend I’m Sally one day. Pretend I’m her mother the next.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “I’m sorry.”

“I know,” her father said quietly. “Let the nurse calm her down.”

“All right.”

“You like the abbey, then?” he asked.

“Yes. I did my first tour yesterday.”

“What’s Lord Heaton like?” Mr Nelson added. “Is he a recluse like everyone says?”

“I don’t really know,” she replied truthfully. “He seems to work very hard and doesn’t leave the estate much but I don’t know if that makes him a recluse.”

new-blood-cover-mockup

Buy New Blood at:  Amazon  Smashwords  iBooks  Barnes&Noble  Kobo 

Buy the New Blood paperback at:  Amazon  Barnes&Noble  CreateSpace  BookDepository

Amazon ASIN: B01KW0I7P2

E-book ISBN: 9781911381310

Print ISBN: 9781911381358

Visit my blog for more excerpts, character profiles, and background information

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Meet The Image of Her’s Rachel Harris

Rachel Harris from mystery romance The Image of Her by Lorna Peel

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…  

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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?

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.”

“Not yet.”

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.”

TheImageofHerbyLornaPeel-500

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Meet The Image of Her’s Matthew Williams

Matthew

Matthew Williams is a 38-year-old Church of England clergyman. He has returned to the church after a year’s sabbatical following a violent assault on him and has recently been appointed editor of the Diocese of Aldabury’s church magazine.

The assault left Matthew with PTSD and has only increased his trust issues. His relationship with his ex-girlfriend hadn’t been going well even before the assault—she had wanted him to look for a country parish and he was appointed to an inner city parish instead. She then thought that when he resigned from his parish following the assult, he was, ‘flushing his career right down the toilet’. Their attempt to live together while he was on sabbatical was disastrous, with her continually nagging him to find another parish. They soon went their separate ways and Matthew moved in temporarily with a friend, sleeping on Mike’s sofa.

While waiting to begin work as editor and undergoing IT training, Matthew stands in for clergy who are away and he is asked to call to a woman claiming to be hearing strange noises in her house. He finds nothing stranger than a large bat roost in her attic and when he sees that Rachel is looking for a lodger is is he who asks if she would consider him.

Matthew hopes that by living in a beautiful cottage in the countryside, he can put the assult firmly in the past and look to the future. But only days after he moves in, the anonymous and increasingly frightening incidents begin.

Is Matthew being targeted? Is it Rachel? 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…  

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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?

Excerpt:

Rachel saw nothing of Matthew the following day; didn’t hear him leave and didn’t hear him come home—but he must have—as she found a mug and plate, knife, fork, and spoon left to dry on the draining board the next morning.

That night, she was in bed with a detective novel when she heard him come home. Glancing at the clock radio, she saw it was ten to midnight. He came straight upstairs and went into his room. Some minutes later, she heard murmuring then a louder and clearer “Amen,” then all was quiet.

A few hours later, she was woken by an anguished cry. She leapt out of bed and ran across the landing just as another cry came from Matthew’s room.

“Matthew?” She knocked at his door, then thought to hell with it, and opened the door. Fumbling for the switch, she turned the light on. A bare-chested Matthew was sitting up in bed, the heels of his hands in his eyes, and his fingers in his hair clawing his scalp. Little by little, he dragged his hands down his face and groaned.

“What is it?” she asked, crouching down beside the bed and just managing to keep her voice steady.

“I’m okay.” He shrugged.

“No, you’re not. Want to talk about it?”

“It?” he repeated.

“The nightmare.”

“I can’t remember it,” he told her in a flat tone. She knew he was lying. “I’ll be okay. Thanks, Rachel. Sorry for giving you a fright. Oh.” He rubbed his eyes. “Tomorrow… today, I don’t have to work, so I’ll have a lie-in.”

“All right. Goodnight.” Reluctant to leave him in such a state, she closed the door and returned to her room. As she got back into bed, she heard murmuring again.

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More Tea Vicar?

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The word ‘vicar’ means ‘deputy’. In the Middle Ages, the word ‘rector’ meant the person who had the right to collect the income of his parish (known as the ‘living’). The rector would appoint a deputy, the vicar, who did the work we associate today with ministers and priests. So the term ‘vicar’ became commonly used to refer to any working church minister.

These days, vicar is a term which refers to a parish priest of the Anglican Church and are free to marry. Since 1992, women have been able to become vicars. The first female vicar in England was appointed in 1994 and the first female bishop, the Right Reverend Libby Lane, was consecrated in 2015.

The Image of Her’s Matthew Williams isn’t technically a vicar as he currently doesn’t have a parish. Yes, he’s a clergyman, but he has returned to the church after a year’s sabbatical following a violent assault on him and he has recently been appointed editor of the Diocese of Aldabury’s church magazine. But that doesn’t stop Rachel Harris’ best friend Kathy referring to Matthew in considerable disbelief as a ‘Hot Vicar’.

Matthew

This is because British vicars have been portrayed for years as stuffy, conservative, tea or sherry-drinkers, and not exactly the sharpest tool in the box. I’m just about old enough to remember the comedian Dick Emery’s portrayal of a vicar with all the above characteristics.

Cliche Vicar

This is changing, though. I was a big fan of Rev, a BBC comedy which was set in an inner city London parish, and The Vicar of Dibley, with a female vicar in a rural parish.

Matthew is none of these things. I didn’t go out of my way to overturn all the stereotypes, I just wanted to portray Matthew as a normal bloke, who lived with his ex-girlfriend during his year away from the church. He just happens to be a clergyman.

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Excerpt:

Macbeth is opening in a few weeks,” she began. “If I can get tickets, will you come?”

His face brightened and her heart leapt. “I’d love to.” He drained his glass and topped it up again. “Thank you. The last play I saw was some Oscar Wilde thing. The whole production was awful.”

The Importance of Being Earnest three months ago.”

“You were there?” He gave a hearty guffaw. “The opening and only night?” She nodded. “Lady Bracknell forgot her lines twice and someone else almost fell off the stage.”

“It was pretty awful. Francie’s refused to go to the theatre with me ever again.”

“Francie?” He stacked the empty pizza boxes on top of each other then had to grab them as the breeze threatened to blow them away. He put them on the floor by his feet.

“A friend of mine,” she explained. “We worked together a few years ago.”

“Could he or she not move in with you?”

“I’m sure her husband and kids would have something to say if she did.”

“Oh.” He made an inarticulate gesture with a hand. “It’s a right pain in the arse when your friends all go off and get married on you, isn’t it?”

How many glasses of wine had he drunk? She stole a glance at the bottle; there was a dribble in the bottom. Two? Whatever it was, he was pretty tipsy on it.

“Very inconsiderate,” she agreed.

“You’d like to get married?”

“Maybe.”

“Or would you rather live together?” he asked, reaching for the wine again.

“Maybe.”

He smiled at that and emptied the last of the wine into his glass. “Maybe?”

“Maybe. How about you?” she went on before they started going round and round in circles.

“Not sure. The church believes in the sanctity of marriage.”

“Do you?”

“Are you trying to trip me up here?” he enquired with a smile.

Was she? “Maybe.”

“Then, yes, I suppose I do. And, yes, I would like to get married one day, but I’m very wary after the whole Karen mess. Are you a bit…after what happened with you?”

“A bit, yes,” she admitted and took a sip of lemonade.

“It’s hard, too, when you’re out in a club, say, and you’re asked what you do.”

“What do you say?” Now she was really curious. A clergyman in a night club.

How on earth does he go about chatting up girls?

“I haven’t been in a club since the attack, but I used to I tell them I’m a clergyman,” he responded with a firm nod. “I never lie about it. As to specifics…” He swirled the wine around the glass before draining it. “I used to tell them exactly what I did, that I was the vicar of a parish in the city, and that’s when they either laughed at me or disappeared to the ladies’ toilets and never came back.”

“I laughed at you. I’m sorry.”

“You apologised.” He shrugged. “A first for me. In fact, you’ve been really good about it all. Incredibly good. You’ve never once interrogated me.”

Except now. “I left that to my parents.”

“Mine were horrified when I told them what I do now. ‘Why do you always have to be different, Matt?’” He mimicked a high-pitched voice, which must be his mother’s. “‘Why can’t you be a normal clergyman, if it’s what you really want to do?’”

“I’m sure they are proud of you,” she said, sounding feeble.

“They never show it or say so.”

“I’m sorry.”

He pushed his empty glass away and rested his folded arms on the table. “There you go apologising again.”

“I mean it.”

“I know you do.” He sighed and peered up at the sky. “I wish I could live at the cottage again, but if something happened to you I’d never forgive myself.”

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The Image of Her – An Excerpt

cropped-theimageofherbylornapeel-fbbanner.jpgRachel 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?

Rachel and Matthew from The Image of Her  dfef82dbdc16cf899c6ca8c5ee8595d3

Excerpt:

Hot Vicar Alert! The e-mail screamed at Rachel out of a sea of spam and she glanced at the sender. Kathy Roberts. Hmm. It could mean anything but was doubtless some rubbish joke doing the rounds or, worse still, one which Kathy in her infinite wisdom had dreamt up herself. Rachel braced herself and opened it.

Hi Rachel,

That caught your attention, didn’t it? 🙂 Anyway, I know HOT and VICAR don’t belong in the same sentence but trust me on this one, OK? Reverend Sykes is on holiday and this guy’s the locum, or stand in, or whatever they’re called in the Church of England, and he’s GORGEOUS. I managed to be at Gran’s when he was doing the rounds of the pensioners and he’s just WOW—tall, dark and handsome—the works. So off you pop to morning service in Upton on Sunday, have an ogle, and you can thank me profusely on Monday, OK? 🙂

Kathy

Have an ogle? In church? At the vicar? Well, thank you, Kathy, subtle as ever. Rachel closed the e-mail then began to wade through the rest. It was high time she got one of those spam filter thingies. A second e-mail from Kathy caught her eye and she opened it, wary of its content.

Sorry, Rachel, I forgot to mention that I managed to arrange for said HOT VICAR to call around to you in the next couple of days about the weird noises you’ve been hearing at the cottage. With a little luck he won’t think you’re nuts and it’ll take your mind off your mum’s nagging for a bit. Good luck with the job interview tomorrow. Found a lodger yet? Ask HOT VICAR to move in. 🙂

Rachel’s mouth fell open. Oh, God, Kathy had told a complete stranger about the weird noises. She rested her forehead on the laptop keyboard and groaned. She ought to be worrying about her job interview, not this. Hot Vicar? She couldn’t help but laugh…complete contradiction in terms…

* * * *

The job interview went well, Rachel mused the following day, as she treated herself to lunch in town. She’d just managed to clear her mind of vicars—hot or otherwise—and weird noises for the half hour duration. She collected her car from the garage, tried not to wince as she paid for the new back bumper, then drove home. She’d better get the job now, and try to remember to bring the advertisement for a lodger with her the next time she went out.

A green Volkswagen Golf was parked outside the cottage as she pulled up at the side. Zippy, her Irish terrier, yapped at the garden gate but she shushed him before going to see who the visitor was.

The driver’s window lowered. “Rachel Harris?”

“Yes?” She shaded her eyes against the sun as a tall man dressed in black got out. “Sorry, I’ve been in town.”

“That’s okay.” His response sounded cheerful. “Your friend wasn’t sure what time your job interview was.”

“My friend?” She tried not to sound suspicious and, to her relief, he laughed kindly.

“Mrs Roberts asked if I could call. My name is Matthew Williams.”

She frowned. This wasn’t Hot Vicar already? If so, he was scarily eager to learn more about the weird noises. She’d better make sure.

“Sorry, I’m not with you. Are you a Jehovah’s Witness, or something?” She cringed as soon as the words were out of her mouth. Now you’ve said so, he must be. “Because, well, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m not—”

“I’m Church of England, actually. I’m standing in for Reverend Sykes while he’s away on holiday. Here.” He fished into his jacket’s inside pocket and handed her a business card.

She squinted at it. Reverend Matthew Williams. Editor of The Message – The Magazine of the Church of England Diocese of Aldabury. He lived in Aldabury but—she noted the address—in one of the awful 1960’s tower blocks on the north side of the city and not in a vicarage. This had to be Hot Vicar but, she raised her eyes to him again, he wasn’t wearing a dog collar either, just a plain white shirt under the black suit.

“I’m not a churchgoer, sorry.” She made an awkward shuffle from one foot to the other. “I don’t know what Kathy’s been saying. I know I’ve had a lot of bad luck lately, what with my Gran dying, my job disappearing, and then pranging the car. But these things come in three’s, don’t they, and I’ve just had my third so…”

“I’ve come about the house, actually.” He gave the old stone cottage, covered in Boston Ivy, an appreciative glance. “Your friend was worried about you, er, hearing noises?”

Bingo. He was definitely Hot Vicar. She shouldn’t have asked him if he was a Jehovah’s Witness, though. She peered at him, trying not to make it obvious. He seemed normal enough, with short dark hair and brown eyes. But hot? It was hard to tell with the sun in her eyes and especially as he was staring back at her with quite a puzzled expression, waiting for her to reply. But good-looking? Oh, yes, which was a pity as he was probably a bit of a nutter and one who clearly thought her one, too.

“It’s up to you whether you would like me to come in, but I must admit I am curious. I don’t get many calls about weird noises to be honest.” He gave a comical shrug and smiled.

“There won’t be a sudden thunder and lightning storm the moment you step inside, will there?”

He chuckled and glanced up at the sky. “I hope not.”

“Do you, like, feel things? Presences and things?”

He froze as if he had never been asked such a question before and Rachel closed her eyes for a moment. Well done, two stupid questions in about as many minutes.

“No, I’m not psychic, though there have been times I really wish I was. I’m not in the Ministry of Deliverance and I don’t carry out exorcisms. Here.”

He held his driving license out to her. His photograph stared back at her and the address matched the business card so she passed it back.

“Thanks. Um, so what in particular do you do, if you don’t mind me asking? If you’re not in this Ministry of Deliverance, I mean? I’m not sure how this sort of thing works.”

“Mrs Roberts rang the diocesan offices and explained your problem. First point of contact is the local minister and as Reverend Sykes is away, that’s me at the moment.”

“And if you believe it’s necessary, you’ll refer the problem to this other ministry?”

He responded with a grave nod. “If it’s necessary.”

“Blimey. You’d better come in, then.”

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