A snippet into life at Arnford Hall. You can catch Grace and Gabriel’s full story in The Secret At Arnford Hall

“Best Ever Read. Brilliant all round. It has everything from mystery& intrigue to hot & steamy scenes. Quite simply, this is the best book I’ve ever read.”   Ms HM

Secret at Arnford Hall

His life will never be easy…

“No, please. I can’t do this. I love someone now. I really love her. She’ll leave me if she finds out. She’ll hate me. Oh, dear God, help me—”
“Gabriel, it’s all right darling. I’m here.”
“Not you. Never you. You’re destroying me.”
“Darling, it’s me, Grace. You’re with me. There’s no more ‘her,’ she’s gone.” Grace wrapped her arms around her husband. It was four o’clock in the morning, and this was the second time this week that he had had this nightmare. Although his bad dreams were becoming less frequent, Gabriel’s scars were more profound than he was prepared to admit, and Grace was at a loss to know how to help him.
He steadfastly refused to see a counsellor. He was too proud and protective of the Black family name to reveal the real reason for his nightmares.
It was Christmas Eve and tomorrow was going to be a long day. At just four months old, their daughter, Rose, was too young to know very much about anything. But nine-year-old John was beside himself with excitement. It had been hard work getting him off to sleep, and Grace knew he would be up at the crack of dawn to check that Santa had been. She also knew that Gabriel usually awoke in the morning with a severe headache following a night tormented by the skeletons in his cupboard.
“I’ve done it again, haven’t I?” Gabriel sat up in bed and stared straight ahead.
“Let me get you some water.”
A moment later he stood behind Grace in their ensuite. “Share a bath with me.”
Grace stared at his reflection in the mirror. He was wide awake now, the haunted look from a moment ago replaced by a longing to be held. She turned and snuggled against his naked body, wrapping her arms around his waist as he enveloped her.
“It’s four in the morning,” she whispered.
Not wanting to allow time for protests, Gabriel withdrew from their embrace and began to fill the sunken bath with steamy water. He added droplets of lavender oil and the fragrance filled the air.
Grace traced the ripples of his spine with her fingers, knowing he needed her reassurance. Life with Gabriel Black was always going to be challenging, but reassuring him she loved him was easy. He was controlling, domineering and fiercely proud. But he was also attentive to people’s needs, kind to those around him, and very sexy. Their sex life ranged from erotic and exciting to sensual and romantic, and Grace relished it.
Stepping into the scented water, Gabriel held his hand out for Grace to join him. There was plenty of room in the double bath, but he made it clear he didn’t want her to lie beside him. He leaned back, and she nestled between his legs. His fingers began to tease her nipples, and Grace tilted her head tempting him to caress her neck with eager kisses. She edged her bottom closer to his groin. He was rock hard.
After a few moments he began to ease forward, and Grace knew he needed more. His hand slid beneath the water, and she opened her legs, lustfully waiting for his touch. Her moans increased with every stroke, and before long she was at the top of that delicious parapet, encased in a sensual blanket of pleasure amid the warm water.
“You’re my Grace. I love you.”
The tingling continued to delight Grace as he covered her shoulders with more hungry kisses. Then she broke away from his touch, ready for something more. She knelt before him and stretched forward.
“I need you to fill me.”
“You know I can’t live without you,” he murmured as his hands roamed over her hips and bottom.
“I know.”
Grace’s head was bent forward as she took a few moments to catch her breath, but she knew he heard her as he tightened his grip to possess the woman who had become his world.
With him buried deep inside her, their connection was complete.
The following morning came around all too quickly. There was a faint tapping at the door.
“Come on in, John,” Grace called as she watched Gabriel drag himself into the bathroom and heard the door of the cabinet open before a tap was turned on. He was taking his medication to ease his headache.
Seconds later he joined them on the bed and leaned down to kiss his wife and son. “Merry Christmas.”
John was desperate to go downstairs to the presents under the tree. As it was only five twenty, Grace suggested he be allowed to open three presents.
“You can open some more when Aunty Ell and Uncle Julian get up, and Roger and Steve come over.”
An hour later Roger and Steve arrived. Although they worked for Gabriel, Roger Courtney was his best friend. They lived in the Old Coach House within the grounds of Arnford Hall and were regarded as members of the Black family.
They found Gabriel and John, but mostly Gabriel, busy building a death star from Lego.
“Merry Christmas,” they called.
John raced over to hug the men. “Look what Santa brought me.” He pointed to some toys then took their hands and dragged them over to Gabriel. “And look what mum and daddy got me.”
“John.” Gabriel raised his eyebrow to his son.
The young boy looked up sheepishly. “Merry Christmas, guys. Did Santa come to your house?” His excitement was contagious.
“He sure did.” Roger beamed and pulled a new black leather Gucci wallet from his trouser pocket.
The gift was from his husband, Steve, but everyone in the Black household agreed to carry on the dream of the man with the white beard for as long as John, and then Rose, continued to believe in it. Grace had warned them it wouldn’t last long, and they should make the most of the biggest secret in the world.
Glad of a break from scrutinising tiny bricks, Gabriel sat beside Grace, who was playing with Rose on her lap. He began to tickle their daughter’s tummy, eliciting squeals of delight. “You didn’t need to come over this early.” He was practically singing to his daughter in soothing tones, but the words were aimed at his PA and chef.
“We thought you’d be ready for breakfast by now.” Steve glanced at his watch—it was nearly six.
“And I thought you’d be needing some help with that.” Roger smiled, his eyes falling on the small shape which would eventually form a large death star.
Roger was the expert on all things child-related and Gabriel smiled at him, grateful for the assistance. With over four thousand pieces, it was going to be a long job. Grace had warned him John wasn’t old enough to appreciate such a structure of architectural detail, but it reminded Gabriel of his own childhood, when he and Julian had been happy at Arnford Hall, and Grace hadn’t wanted to spoil his fun.
A little later, at a more respectable hour, Ellouise and Julian, Gabriel’s sister and identical twin brother, surfaced.
Julian took one look at the instructions Roger was busy studying and headed over to John. “Let’s play that T Rex game…”
Passing Rose over to her Aunty Ell, Gabriel took Grace’s hand. “I want to show you your gift,” he said, his voice filled with expectation.
They walked down the hallway and mounted the first few steps of the grand staircase. When Grace looked up she saw that one of the many hunting scenes lining the staircase had been removed. In its place hung a guilt frame, the painting within covered by red velvet.
“Close your eyes.” Gabriel pulled the cloth away to reveal an oil painting of himself and Grace, together with John and Rose. “You can open them now.”
Grace gasped. “Gabriel. It’s beautiful. How on earth did you arrange this?”
He raised his eyebrows and smiled, relieved that his painstaking efforts to conceal the work of his favourite artist had paid off. Between photos taken by Julian, and clandestine visits by the artist to observe the children when Grace was preoccupied, the painter had compiled the perfect family portrait. There was just time for a romantic embrace on the staircase before heading back to join the others.
By two o’clock, all the presents had been opened and “thank you” hugs shared, and everyone sat around the dining table to enjoy a sumptuous Christmas lunch prepared by Steve, Gabriel’s chef.
By nine o’clock that evening, John and Rose were sleeping in their beds, and the adults enjoyed some quiet time relaxing in the octagonal room.
Gabriel twirled his whisky around the lead crystal tumbler, mesmerised for a moment by the spectrum of colours as the glass sparkled in the light. There had been little opportunity to have any time alone with his wife—even the walk with Satan, his Chesapeake Bay retriever gundog, had been an outing for everyone. He was trying to decide if it would be rude to steal his wife away so early. But he didn’t need to worry.
Grace stood up. “How about we head off to bed, darling, and leave these to carry on without us.”
His face lit up when she grabbed the bottle of Krug and two champagne flutes. This wonderful Christmas day wasn’t over yet.

§

Some of life’s experiences leave scars that are painful to bear, but if you’re lucky, your life path can be crossed with ways to heal. And if you’re luckier still, love will consume you and the scars eventually fade into nothingness. With his family beside him, Gabriel Black was the luckiest man in the world. He was confident his nightmares would end. It was just a matter of time…