Have you ever experienced the shock of discovering someone close to you has done something you’d have sworn blind they’d never do?
Jem and Eloise in my story have to deal with the fallout of just such a discovery. It’s an emotional journey for both of them, but by the end of this book they’ve a new compassion for human frailty and an understanding of how small decisions can have big consequences. Of course, they’ve also fallen in love, which is always fun to write!
I don’t know about you, but the idea of marrying into the landed gentry is a very beguiling idea. The United Kingdom is peppered with the kind of historic stately homes that would make any sensible girl drool.
Coldwaltham Abbey is entirely fictional, but the village of Coldwaltham is tucked away in the Sussex countryside. Nearby there’s the medieval town of Petworth and its late seventeenth-century mansion of the same name. It was while I was walking in the 700 acres of deer park landscaped by “Capability” Brown that this story was born.
Now, if only Jem Norland had been walking the other way….
“I’m sorry—” she began, but he interrupted swiftly.
It held her silent. She knew exactly what he meant. They’d come too far together for any apology to be necessary. He knew so much of her journey…because he’d walked it with her.
A deeply compassionate, empathetic man. From the very first he’d made her feel safe. He did that now. She felt safe. Protected. Loved.
Loved. The truth imploded in her head. Laurence’s words echoed in her head, “a thousand small decisions” and then “as important as breathing.”
Ordinary Girl, Society Groom
NATASHA OAKLEY told everyone at her primary school she wanted to be an author when she grew up. Her plan was to stay at home and have her mom bring her coffee at regular intervals—a drink she didn’t like then. The coffee addiction became reality and the love of storytelling stayed with her. A professional actress, Natasha began writing when her fifth child started to sleep through the night. Born in London, she now lives in Bedfordshire, England, with her husband and young family. When not writing, or needed for “crowd control,” she loves to escape to antique fairs and auctions.
Like Jem Norland in this book, Natasha owns a much-loved pewter-colored Aga stove. She’s a passionate cook and all the recipes from this book are on www.natashaoakley.com.
Books by Natasha Oakley:
3838—FOR OUR CHILDREN’S SAKE
3854—THE BUSINESS ARRANGEMENT
3878—A FAMILY TO BELONG TO
IT WAS true what people said—you were more alone in a crowd than any other place on earth. Eloise Lawton felt as lonely tonight as she ever had.
All she wanted to do was go home, run a bath and soak away her troubles. Instead she was here, making social small talk and avoiding the barbs of people who were fearful of what she might say about their dress sense. As well they might; she’d become more vitriolic of late. She couldn’t seem to help it.
Eloise shifted her weight from one leg to the other, acutely aware of the way her Eduardo Munno sandals cut into the sides of her feet. Stunning to look at, but desperately uncomfortable when they were a size too small. Borrowed plumes for a woman who didn’t fit in. Not with these people.
Everyone was vying for position, all judging the others on what they owned and who they were connected to. It was pitiful. Except it wasn’t pity she felt. It was a deep, sickening sort of loathing. The kind that made her feel she needed to stand under the shower for half an hour to rid herself of the contamination.
But it was work. It paid the mortgage—and she didn’t have the luxury of a handsome trust fund or an inherited ancestral pile. Unlike every second person here.
Eloise gave her wrist-watch a surreptitious glance and calculated how long she’d have to stick it out before she could make her excuses to Cassie. Not so long ago this kind of event would have filled her with excitement, but now…
Well, now things were different. A spontaneous decision to take her mother’s belongings out of storage had changed everything.
It had seemed such a sensible thing to do. After six years it was certainly past time. She’d completed all the release paperwork without the slightest presentiment that she was opening a Pandora’s box of emotions.
She’d known it was a mistake almost instantly. So many memories had rushed to crowd around her. Barely healed wounds had been ripped open and they felt as fresh and raw as when a lorry driver falling asleep at the wheel had altered everything.
She’d re-read the letter her mum had so carefully tucked inside her will and, six years on, she’d read it with a slightly different perspective.
Eloise let her eyes wander around the galleried grand hall. Enormous chandeliers hung down from the cavernous ceiling and huge displays of arum lilies, white orchids and tiny rosebuds had been tortured into works of art. No expense had been spared. Everything was perfectly beautiful.
A magical setting—but it felt like purgatory. How could it not? An ostentatious display of wealth for no apparent purpose. And her role in all this?
She no longer cared what colour anyone should be wearing or whether silk was the fabric of the season. When she sat at her keyboard tomorrow she’d summon up enough enthusiasm to get the article done but tonight it left her cold.
There was too much on her mind. Too much anger. Too much resentment.
‘Mutton dressed as lamb,’ Cassie hissed above the top of her champagne flute. ‘Over there. At three o’clock.’
Eloise jerked to attention and swivelled round to look at the woman her boss was referring to in such disparaging