Journalist Eleanor McCartney leads a glamorous life in London exposing the sordid secrets of famous celebrities for Hot Gossip! magazine. But her perfect life is a sham. So when her world collapses, she has to reluctantly head home to her mum and friends in the quiet country village of Cranley.
Willow Tree Hall is still in the midst of extensive renovations under the careful eye of Eleanor’s best friend Annie and her fiancé, record producer and future Earl of Cranley, Sam Harris.
With a recording studio now in the grounds of the estate, it should be the perfect place for global singing sensation Tom Kingsley to hang out. But Tom is burnt out after a gruelling worldwide tour and is escaping the paparazzi after yet another scandal. Eleanor cannot believe her luck. A story on the world’s biggest superstar would be the ticket that gets her job and glamorous life back in London.
But soon both Eleanor and Tom begin to fall under the spell of Willow Tree Hall. Eleanor begins to wonder whether she can really betray his trust. And does she really want her old life back or is home really where the heart lies?
As a heatwave soars, friendships are made, truths are told and, with the help of a stray dog, perhaps love can be found as hearts are healed. By escaping to the country, maybe Eleanor and Tom have found their new beginning.
Theresa had announced the previous week that a senior position had just become vacant within the media group that Hot Gossip! belonged to. It would involve proper investigative journalism. That would mean no more gossip. She could write articles that actually interested her and could make a difference.
Eleanor knew that she alone was the senior member of staff on the team. She had worked there the longest. All it would take was one more big story and the promotion was hers. Then she could leave the celebrity world far behind in the capable hands of Killer Kourtney.
Finally, she could have a job that she could be proud of. A job she didn’t have to lie about any more. She could relax and be herself for the first time in a very long time.
Eleanor shivered, her clothes were soaking. Her knees were almost at breaking point in her crouched position. She had been there for two hours and was chilled to the bone. How much longer would she have to wait? She longed for a hot shower.
She grabbed her phone and automatically checked her appearance. With a grimace, she saw that her long dark brown bob was beginning to kink and curl in the rain. Thankfully her mascara and eyeliner hadn’t run, but her face looked pale and gaunt in the harsh glare of the street lamp.
Thank god, nobody was around to see her like this. Eleanor prided herself on her immaculate looks. Feeling less than perfect on the outside panicked her. Even her boyfriend Lucas had never seen her without makeup on. She liked to look polished and poised at all times. Soaking wet with messy hair wasn’t a good feeling for her and added to her misery.
She gave a start as the mobile suddenly rang out into the quiet of the night. Seeing the name on the screen, she immediately grimaced. It was her editor, the fearsome Theresa. A woman so rude and abrupt in nature that she could make Cersei Lannister look cute and cuddly.
With her phone in one hand, Eleanor reached out with the other to stroke the smooth pink petals of one of the roses. Her floral comfort blanket.
‘Hello. You’re working late,’ said Eleanor, faking a bright tone of voice.
‘That’s because I got called into the boardroom this evening,’ snapped Theresa, straight to the point as always. ‘Circulation is down. The owners want to know why.’
‘Well, everyone in the industry is struggling at the minute,’ began Eleanor. ‘It’s tough out there in the current climate, what with…’
‘Your stories have been a total snoozefest recently,’ said Theresa, talking over her.
Eleanor was taken aback. ‘Well, it’s getting harder and harder to get an exclusive when everyone is so empowered with Twitter and Instagram these days. But I’ve had a tip-off that…’
‘Kourtney manages it.’
Eleanor took a deep and calming breath. ‘Kourtney’s Dad owns a Formula One team. She has access to all those secret parties.’ The ones that you know I can’t possibly get into, she added silently.
‘Quite. The London season is coming up and I need someone young like Kourtney to handle it.’
‘Young? I’m only thirty,’ blurted out Eleanor, with a shocked laugh.
‘Anyway, I’ve decided to make Kourtney the senior reporter in my team.’
Eleanor quickly stopped laughing. ‘What? No!’
‘Look, thanks to her contacts, she can bring in exclusives that you can only dream about,’ said Theresa.
‘But I’ve earned this promotion!’ Eleanor told her, beginning to lose her temper. ‘I’ve spent eight years working on this magazine! She’s only been with us for six months!’
‘Kourtney assures me that she can bring in a different angle on things, liven up the stories and that will boost circulation.’
Eleanor could feel her pulse racing as her heart hammered away in panic. It was the third time this month that it had happened. She had assured her doctor that her stress levels would be back to normal soon. But that had been when she had thought the promotion was hers.
‘Theresa, listen to me,’ said Eleanor, rubbing her throbbing chest. ‘Please. I can’t carry on doing these celebrity stories any more. I just can’t. I’m losing the will to live on a daily basis. You’ve got to give me a break, let me do something different. I beg you.’
‘Well, there may be some relief for you there, I suppose,’ drawled Theresa. ‘I’m afraid that I’ve got to let you go. The board want us to downsize. Cut our overheads.’
A chill came over Eleanor that had nothing to do with being soaked to the skin. ‘Downsize?’ she repeated, in a daze.
‘I’m sure you understand.’
‘Actually, I don’t think I do,’ said Eleanor, struggling in her shock to form a coherent sentence. ‘I’m out of a job? Who’s going to get the celebrity stories for you now?’
‘Kourtney’s going to do both for the time being. It makes more sense.’
‘But I need this job.’ Eleanor could feel her dream of a garden flat slipping far out of reach. Even a bad job chasing celebrities was better than no job at all.
‘Surely working somewhere that makes you lose the will to live on a daily basis can’t be good for you?’ She could hear that Theresa was almost smiling down the phone as she carried on speaking. ‘I’m sure you can find something more suited to your lofty position.’
‘I was kidding!’ said Eleanor, quickly. ‘I mean, aren’t there any other vacant jobs in the company that I could take? I don’t care which department they would be in.’
‘The board are making cuts all over the place,’ Theresa told her. ‘It’s not just you. Now, I’ve had a look at your contract. Your redundancy package will be in accordance with your time of service, of course. Three months’ pay, I think. I’ll email you the details first thing. I’m sure you’ll find it more than fair. But it’s probably for the best that you don’t come into the office any more. Internal politics can be so exhausting. Make sure you return your pass to reception at some point.’
Eleanor’s head was reeling, trying to take in everything she was being told.
Theresa finally took a beat. ‘Look, if you can find me a decent story at some point over the summer, call me and we’ll talk.’
Then she hung up.
Eleanor sank onto the ground, barely registering the wet grass soaking through her jeans. She couldn’t believe it. She had just lost her job. What was she going to do? What was she going to tell everyone back home in Cranley?
Her Mum and best friends, Annie and Megan, actually believed in the fake lifestyle that she had created for them so many years ago. The fiction she had told them bore no resemblance to her real job. They would all be horrified if they knew that she had been lying over and over to them. And now, at the end of so many wasted years, it turned out that her gut instinct had been right all along. That she wasn’t the big success in the city that she had pretended to be. That deep down beneath the expectations of her friends and family, she really was just a big, fat failure after all.
On the opposite side of the street, the front door opened to Tuesday Tavistock’s apartment just as a taxi drew up outside. Eleanor watched in a daze as Tuesday kissed an elegant woman on the cheek. They looked so alike it could only have been her mother.
The tip-off had turned out to be nothing. Just like the rest of her career.
Eleanor slowly became aware that she was still holding the rose, clutching the petals so hard that as she let go, they floated down to the sodden ground next to her, along with her dreams.
Whatever the future held, it was unlikely that her very own Superman was going to show up and rescue her. Tights, cape or otherwise.
Escaping to the Country seems to be everybody’s dream nowadays, but Eleanor had the perfect country life and longed for the bright city lights of London. After a few years, she doesn’t recognise who she is. Tom is living the dream but he still he’s lonely. Serendipity decides to give them another chance and when Eleanor loses her job and Tom has an accident they both end up in the country and have a chance to start again.
Eleanor is a likeable, flawed character; appearance is everything to her because its the only thing she can control but her health is suffering, and she needs to recapture her former friendships and values to recuperate. Looking for someone to love the real man is all Tom wants; it’s all he’s ever wanted and losing his Gran makes him evaluate his current choices of companions and lifestyle. Eleanor and Tom’s encounters are stormy, but gradually circumstances make them value the other, but both have secrets, and Eleanor’s could ruin their romance.
There are many humorous scenes in this story and some questionable choices and values, but the message is clear, be true to yourself and don’t live a lie. The country setting is idyllic, and Sam and Annie and Rose and Arthur who provide an oasis for Eleanor and Tom are lovely characters, vividly described and realistic.
Dylan is a star and makes this a must read for any dog lovers.
The second book in the Willow Tree Hall series, this reads well as a standalone story. It’s a lovely breath of fresh air with conflict, humour and romance making an ideal summertime read.
I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Alison Sherlock enjoyed reading and writing stories from an early age and gave up office life to follow her dream. Alison lives in Surrey with her husband and a daft golden retriever.
Author, blogger and book reviewer.
I am the author of 'The Dragon Legacy' series and 'The Dangerous Gift'.
Animal welfare supporter. Loves reading, writing, countryside walks, cookery and gardening,
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