It seems to be my lot in life to fall in love with my characters. As I was completing the final edits for Once Upon An Earl, a second story began to clamour for attention. Even though I really wanted to get back to the ancient world to begin a series of mysteries that have been sitting patiently in the background, the scenario wouldn’t let go, so I gave in and let it unfold.
This book revolves around Theo – Giles Winchester’s best friend and the doctor for Oak Stanton, the small village that borders the Earl’s estate, and Grace – a woman trying to learn how to breathe again after being caught in a scandal. It is a stand alone novel but does include all the characters from the previous book.
Abused by a duke, and shunned by Society, relief seems at hand when Grace Aldeburgh is bequeathed a house in a small village, far from malicious gossips.
Once there, a tentative friendship blooms between Grace and Theo Elliott, the local doctor, who has already resolved to be the man to unlock her heart.
Just when happiness appears to be within her grasp, her erstwhile tormentor once again stalks Grace. After a failed kidnap attempt, the duke’s quest culminates in an acrimonious confrontation, and the reason for his venal pursuit becomes agonisingly clear.
The subject of abuse is not easy to write about, it needs to be handled with the utmost respect, and I certainly did not want the story behind the story to be a trigger for readers. However, it seemed a scenario such as the one in this book was not uncommon during the Regency era, and to ignore it was to belittle the plight of those affected. Women, even those of status, had no voice, no real avenue of recourse, and to accuse a gentleman of inappropriate behaviour usually meant the victim, not the perpetrator, was the one ostracised – at the very least by her peers but more often than not, by Society as a whole. The stigma was almost impossible to shake, ruining any chance of a good marriage, even friends preferred not to have their names tarnished simply by association – it was a harsh world.
It was also a chance to explore whether, with a sympathetic ear offered by someone who understood trauma – albeit in a different sphere – a victim of abuse might be able to overcome, or at least learn how to cope with it. The recent Napoleonic wars had resulted in many returned veterans being debilitated by battle fatigue, something most, including the sufferers, did not understand. While I accept that domestic violence is not the same thing, reactions might not be dissimilar. Certain circumstances provoking an unconscious reflex – a smell, an image, even a sound, acting as a trigger – like the crack of a whip cracking, resembling a gun being fired. Trauma is trauma, it is the causes which differ, not necessarily the effects. Theo, who witnessed the horrors of war first hand, was part of a group of doctors dedicated to helping soldiers overcome the horrors of the battlefield. He would doubtless be aware that Grace could reap the benefits of this form of therapy. Interestingly, both Theo’s expertise and Grace’s experience proved valuable in the last two books of this series.
To Unlock Her Heart is available worldwide on kindle and in paperback, from Amazon.