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.”

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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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An Excerpt From The Image of Her

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, 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:

This is the room,” she said, opening the door. “Delightful décor. Circa 1940, I’d say.” She fought to control a smile when she saw his lips part in horror as his eyes travelled across the faded floral wallpaper.

“Delightful is one word for it,” he said in an attempt to be diplomatic.

“I’ll be decorating as soon as I can,” she assured him.

“What colour?”

“Well, something warm…maybe a deep yellow?”

His eyebrows rose and he nodded, pushing the door open further, and stepping inside to get a better look. The old door swung around on its hinges, hit the wardrobe standing behind, knocking a box off the top. Rachel watched as, naturally, the lid flew off and the contents scattered across the floor. Both fell to their knees and began to gather the sheets of paper together.

“Oh, God, trust me.”

“It’s all right.” She caught him glancing at one of the many microfilm print-outs from the local newspaper in his hands. Plea for Abandoned Baby’s Mother to Come Forward. “She didn’t. My adoptive mum couldn’t have any more children after my brother, Rick, so she and Dad adopted me when I was a year old.”

“A year old?” He sounded puzzled.

“I was in a children’s home and then fostered in case my birth mother did turn up. But she never did.”

“Have you ever tried to find her or your biological father?”

“I began to but didn’t get very far.” She sat back on her heels. “According to my file, I was abandoned on the steps of the children’s home in Telbury with a birth certificate tucked inside the shawl. The certificate stated my name, date of birth, and place of birth—which was Aldabury Maternity Hospital—and my birth mother’s name and address. All I have is my first name and date and place of birth. Everything else regarding my birth mother on the certificate seems to be false.”

“I see.”

He reached for the last printout and glanced around the room again.

Rachel followed his gaze. With the wallpaper removed and a bit of TLC it would make a very pleasant bedroom. Above the seldom-used dining room, it was at the front of the cottage, across the landing from her own bedroom, and offered stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

“I keep meaning to try and do more but it seems to be such a dead end. Kathy started her family tree the same time as me and because I got nowhere, I started to help her and we managed to go back almost three hundred years on her father’s side. I loved the process—going back one generation and another and another—so I trained to be an archivist. Mum has no interest in genealogy and thought I was bonkers but I didn’t care. So, I’m a wannabe archivist but a wannabe archivist with no family history. Ironic or what?”

“Yes, I suppose so.” He passed the sheet of paper back to her. “Apologies for trying to demolish the place.”

She returned the box to its home on the top of the wardrobe. “It serves me right for hiding the box in here so I’m not reminded all the time that I’ve no idea who the hell I am.”

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