Harriet lives with her brother, Jamie, who was injured in the car crash that killed their parents. Their cottage was tied to their parents’ jobs as head gardener and housekeeper at the nearby castle. Hubert Cotterill, the elderly owner of Stoneham Castle, was at the wheel that fateful day and died of a massive heart attack.
To compound Harriet’s problems, the head mistress of the school where she teaches reveals plans to amalgamate local schools, possibly closing theirs.
On fine evenings, once Jamie has settled down to his music or reading, Harriet likes to go up to the castle to sit in a secluded courtyard and play her guitar. She is doing just that one evening in early autumn when a figure erupts through a door onto the walkway overlooking the courtyard. Has he escaped from one of the family portraits? Is he a ghost? There are already two resident ghosts, it is said.
No, it’s Greg Cotterill, the new owner of the castle. In the dim light, he thinks Harriet, in her long dress and flowing red hair, is a ghost.
Once they’ve decided they are both real, Greg introduces himself. Harriet has heard of him as the owner of a highly successful software company. She also acknowledges that he is a very attractive man.
He has come to look at an inheritance he neither expected nor wanted and must now decide what to do with it. Harriet hopes he won’t sell up but she fears that she and Jamie will in any case lose their home.
Greg drives her home, where Jamie is entertaining his pretty young physiotherapist, Rosemary, and Harriet senses an attraction between them. She is happy for them but feels excluded.
Greg insists that Jamie should claim compensation and offers to pay his medical expenses meanwhile. Rosemary organises treatment at a London hospital and arranges for him to stay with her sister’s family in Surrey, to be closer to the hospital.
While Jamie is away there is a storm. The electricity supply fails and the phone is cut off while Harriet is telling him about a tree crashing onto Jamie’s bed. He imagines the worst and drives straight down, which takes hours because of all the obstructions. As the cottage is uninhabitable, Greg invites Harriet to move into the castle while it is repaired and he will work from home.
Jamie makes excellent progress and tells Harriet he wants to resume his law degree.
Greg’s sister, Jane, arrives from Canada with her four children. She says she has left her husband, Ralph, but is so disagreeable that Harriet decides to move out and stay with a friend.
She packs all her belongings into her car, except her precious guitar. She doesn’t want to risk it being crushed under everything else. After she has gone, Jane’s twin boys find the guitar, fight over it and break it. Greg apologises and begs her to come back. His sister has taken the children to visit their grandma in Oxfordshire.
The following day Greg can’t get back and, for the first time, Harriet finds the castle spooky. She gets to sleep but is woken by the sound of an intruder. It is Jane’s husband who, unable to find a bell, climbed in through a window with a broken catch. Having established who he is, Harriet feels safer with him there. He thought Jane was just on a visit.
Harriet visits Jamie and realises how much she misses family life.
On her return the twins apologise. Jane seems to have had a personality transplant and confides to Harriet that she is pregnant again and has been feeling sick and worried about telling Ralph. When she does he is delighted and full of plans to enlarge their woodland home in Canada.
Harriet is pleased they are all sorting out their lives but what about her? What does the future hold for her?
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by Nora Fountain
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by on October 28, 2016
- Nora Fountain, November 2012
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