Hello and welcome! I’m delighted to give you an early peek into the opening scene of Starting Over at Halesmere House.
Even though publication for the book isn’t until 19th October, I’m already looking forward to sharing it with you. It was my most difficult book to write so far, partly because of the timeline and plotting the events which take place. It is, of course, a contemporary romance and if you decide to read it, then you’ll be following Alice and Zac’s love story. I had a picture of Zac as a tree surgeon from the earliest days of planning the whole series, and he too, is starting over at Halesmere.
What can I tell you about the characters? Well, Zac is a good friend of Max and they met when both men lived in London. Their paths crossed via a mutual client and their friendship has grown to a close one since those days. Zac was a lot of fun to write and there’s definitely a humorous element to his and Alice’s scenes as they get to know one another.
Alice has been used to running a successful business with a large staff to manage and she’s definitely ready for a change of pace when she arrives at Halesmere. She has a relative there already; Sandy, the rector of the local church, is her aunt and they’re very close. Sandy’s keeping a careful eye on Alice and of course she’s not the only one. Stan is ready to make Alice welcome too, and he’s doing his best to make sure she settles in at Halesmere.
Lily and Arlo are seven and five when the story begins, and Lily will have her eighth birthday over the course of the book. We don’t see her party this time but Arlo’s very special gift from his fifth birthday last May are very much in evidence. The number of animals around Halesmere are growing too, and Lily’s got her eye on donkeys but that might be for another time, and perhaps another book!
The structural and copy edits were completed a while ago, and I’ve sent off the manuscript after my final read-through, always a nerve-wracking moment! This is the opening scene, a sneak preview just for subscribers. Alice is about to leave Sheffield on her journey to Halesmere, and her good friend Kelly has caught up with her before she sets off:
‘Have you thought about dating again, Alice? And why are you driving that old thing and not your car when you said you were giving it up?’
Alice Harvey bristled at these blunt questions from her friend Kelly, who was pretty much the only person bold enough to say them out loud. They’d barely even said hello after Alice had accepted the call and she was already half wishing she hadn’t. Kelly didn’t take any prisoners when it came to her own love life, and now she had Alice’s single status firmly in her sights.
Alice was more focussed on the journey she was about to take rather than thoughts of relationships. She hadn’t intended to make the drive from Sheffield to her new home at Halesmere by articulated lorry, but she couldn’t resist one last trip in her favourite cab. It had been her former colleague Ray’s idea, and when he’d offered to drive her car up and swap vehicles, she’d thanked him gratefully.
‘What do you mean, dating again? I’ve barely even started.’ A huff of laughter escaped, raising her voice above the engine as she took in the view of the haulage yard from her seat behind the wheel, as achingly familiar as her own home had once been. ‘And don’t be rude about my cab; she and I go back a long way.’
‘Yeah, yeah. You and your lorries. Nice try, by the way, changing the subject. You’re forgetting how well we know each other.’
Alice heard the smile in her friend’s voice and swiftly decided that Kelly could have picked a better moment for this conversation. Although knowing her, she probably had done it on purpose while Alice was distracted to get her to agree to some mad idea just so she could end the call and get going.
‘Could we possibly leave the question of dating well alone please, at least until I’ve moved into my new house? It is literally the last thing on my mind. And don’t you dare say I’m not getting any younger.’
‘You’ve said it now, so I don’t have to. And it’s true. Thirty-eight’s hardly on the shelf seeing as we’re not living in the eighteenth century, but you don’t want to be hanging about. Not if you want to meet someone before you’re forty.’
‘Forty!’ A tremor of alarm darted through Alice’s mind at the thought. ‘That’s ages away, thanks very much. And I really don’t want to meet someone; I’m doing fine on my own.’
‘I know you are.’ Kelly’s voice had fallen, and Alice sensed her concern now, banishing the frivolity of before. Kelly did have Alice’s best interests at heart, but they’d often included persuading Alice to do something she wasn’t keen on, like that time on holiday in Santorini when they were supposed to be going on a boat tour. Kelly had booked all-terrain quad vehicles instead and Alice had come home on crutches as a consequence.
Their teasing had always marked their friendship as much as their mutual affection did. They’d been looking out for one another since they’d met at college, the only girls on a mechanics course full of boys. At eighteen, Alice had gone on to work for her dad’s haulage firm while Kelly had headed off to university, qualifying as a mechanical engineer and now a partner in a consultancy firm in the north-east. Alice had picked Kelly up whenever she needed it in a life spent serial dating and now it seemed her friend had decided it was time to share the benefits of her experience.
‘And I think this move is perfect for you, Al, even though I would’ve loved you to be closer to me. Think of all the fun we’d have had.’
‘I know, and I love you for it. But Durham’s not for me; I can’t live in a city again. I need to be outdoors, in the landscape. It’s part of what got me through this past year. If I hadn’t had my garden or the time at Halesmere, I don’t know how I would’ve coped. And the new house is officially all mine now, deal done.’
That produced a happy glow as Alice thought of the converted barn she’d just purchased, a first ever home on her own. The happiness was also followed by a glimmer of nerves; even though she had a relative in her aunt Sandy at Halesmere, and friends she’d made on previous visits, this was still a whole other level of living alone since the end of her marriage. When her ex-husband had left with no warning, she’d swiftly let the guest room to the student daughter of a friend, preferring to have someone else around.
‘Well, when you do come and stay, we’ll hit all the best places in town.’ Kelly wasn’t ever down for long, and the merriment was back. ‘So, FYI, I’ve set you up a dating profile online. We just need a banging picture of you to go with it.’
‘You’ve done what?’ Alice wailed,so startled she hit the horn by mistake and a passing colleague leaped in alarm. She raised a hurried hand in apology and cut the engine. ‘Kelly! Why?’
‘Because it was your idea, remember? That weekend at mine, when we were out late drinking cocktails. You said it would probably be the only way you’d meet someone and that you were ready to give it a try once you’ve moved.’
‘I didn’t say that! Did I?’ Alice tried to drag her mind back to the summer, but the conversation was gone.
‘Oh, you did, Alice, you really did. I never forget a thing when it comes to dating. So, let’s go through your profile when I come over on Saturday. It needs to sound authentic, like you, not me. You’ll probably get plenty of matches if you go with something like, “sexy redhead with curves in all the right places who drives lorries like a boss and knows her way around an engine”, but Mr Petrol Head maybe isn’t what you’re looking for after all those years running the business. You’ve got to get back out there, have some fun.’
‘Fun! That’s not a word I’ve heard you using very often when it comes to dating. Maybe it’s still too soon for me? I’ve obviously wiped our little chat from my mind after that night.’
‘Saturday,’ Kelly said confidently. ‘We’ll talk then and if you’re still not on board, we’ll hide your profile for now, so you can update it again later.’
‘Or delete it?’ Alice replied hopefully.
‘Only if you absolutely insist. Gotta run; I’m meeting Damon, that gorgeous recruiter I told you about.’
‘The one who tried to head-hunt you?’ Alice was mentally going over their most recent messages. ‘That’s what, date number six now?’
‘Seven. And he’s lovely, I really like him. Hope all goes well with the move, take care.’
I hope you enjoy this early glimpse at Starting Over! Please do let me know if you’d like the opportunity to read an ARC before the book is published.
Love Suzanne xx