To Unlock Her Heart was born, because, as ever with my characters, I couldn’t say goodbye after the first book and decided I’d like to give Theo Elliott – the doctor in Once Upon An Earl – his own love story.
The prologue occurs two years prior to the previous book, but the main narrative begins about eight months after Billie and Giles’ wedding. Grace Fitzgerald, abused by a duke and shunned by society, is bequeathed a house in a small village, where she hopes to start afresh away from malicious gossips. Once there, she meets Theo, the local doctor who knows something of her history and the trauma she has endured. Although aware it will take a patient man to persuade Grace to trust again, Theo has long known he wants to be the man to unlock her heart and so begins a tentative courtship.
Sure that Theo will condemn her like so many before him, Grace acknowledges that if this relationship has any chance, she must share her darkest secret with him. She underestimates the gentle (and devastatingly handsome) doctor however, for Theo, already irrevocably in love with Grace is not easily deterred.
Of course, it isn’t all straight forward and just as happiness appears to be within her grasp, Grace is confronted by her abuser and it seems her past is about to ruin her future. As her nightmare becomes reality, Grace fears by the time Theo finds her it will be too late and her heart, now unlocked, with be shattered forever.
Theo was a delight to write, his strong, loyal dependable and totally unflappable nature was apparent in Once Upon an Earl, I just needed to let him step out from Giles’ shadow. Grace – although she has closed down, lost within herself – is a spirited woman with a backbone of steel. It was interesting to see her softening as the days progressed.
Abuse is a hard narrative and I wanted to portray it as sensitively as possible without allowing it to dominate the romance. Balancing the very natural revulsion Grace would feel towards anyone, man or woman, who tried to form a relationship with her after what she had suffered, with the emotions she was beginning to feel under Theo’s tender attentions, was a very fine line. I didn’t want to draw it out, neither did I want to just push it aside, but trust is hard fought and easily lost. It’s not an easy road for either of them, but in most romances, love muddles through.
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