• Home
  • /
  • Blog
  • /
  • A Poisonous Flower for the Lady

Chapter 1

June 16th, 1811Aurora Washam

Aurora's lungs burned as her entire body shook with the force of the coughing fit that had taken over her. Doubled over, hands clutching at the grass, it seemed to Aurora like this was never going to be over.


Yet she wasn't thinking about her coughing fit, or the way her chest heaved and struggled. No, the only thing running through her mind was those few words Father had just told her; that her mother's death was all her fault.


“Aurora,” Father's voice called, but he sounded far away. Then his gentle hand landed on her shoulders and eased her upright, and Aurora looked up to see something in his free hand. “Drink this,” he insisted, “and you'll feel better. Remember what the physician said — if ever these coughing fits appear, drink wild bergamot tea.” His voice was soft, reassuring yet firm, as he passed Aurora the cup.


Still fighting back the cough, Aurora took the cup with shaking hands. The tea was strong and bitter, the scent barely masked by the sugar Father had added in. Yet the steam soothed her aching chest and, without even needing to drink it, the bergamot had eased her cough.


Aurora saw how Father visibly relaxed, and a patter of her own relief echoed in her chest.


Slowly, she settled down into the grass. Earlier, they had been sitting here admiring the new chamomile growing in, until Aurora had asked that silly question and the world had come crashing down around her. Now, she stared down at her tea and wondered, why didn't I think to ask before?


Father settled down beside her, brushing a lock of golden hair from Aurora's face. His smile was kind, reassuring, but it did little to make Aurora feel better.


Truthfully, she wasn't sure if she wanted to press the matter. She asked a lot of questions, but she was only five, and Father said that she was too young to know the answers. Like when she asked how Mrs. Belfour had passed away last year, and Father had said something like oh Aurora, you're too young to be asking such morbid questions.


But this was about her mother. Even if it brought on the worst coughing fit in the entire world, she had to know.


So, hesitantly, Aurora asked, as she had asked before the fit took over, “if Mama really did die when I was born, does that make it my fault she's gone?”


Father's expression pinched in pain, his eyes screwed shut. Yet when he spoke, it was with purposeful calm. “Of course not, my dear Aurora. Nobody could have foreseen it, not even the physician who delivered you. Life has a nasty way of surprising us, but don't ever think it's your fault.”


Aurora shifted awkwardly. She glanced down at her cooling tea, felt another tickle in her throat that told of another coughing fit. Before it had the time to grow, she took a gulp of tea and swallowed harshly.


“Slowly,” Father insisted, “don't drink it too fast, or you'll choke.”


The tea was sweet and bitter all at once, and Aurora would have been happy not to drink it at all. She knew that if she drank it fast then the taste wouldn’t have as much effect, but Father was right. Slow, steady sips were what helped most.


As she drank, another thought struck her mind like the painful stab of a needle. “Why did you never tell me about Mama before?”


Surrounded by their beautiful gardens, with chamomile growing wild and all kinds of healing herbs surrounding Aurora, it should have felt peaceful. Yet the look in Papa's eyes was anything but, his features twisted in pain. She wanted to help, but didn't know how.


“Aurora, you must understand that you were always a happy child. Carefree. You never seemed to care that you only had one parent, nor seemed to see how it was unusual. I didn't want to ruin that naïve happiness, because once you discovered the truth, I knew that things would change between us.”


He was using such big words, but Aurora thought she understood. He feared hurting her. The thing was, Aurora was hurting; her chest ached and she couldn't bare to think of her Mama, the woman she'd only ever heard about in stories. Yet it wasn't because of Father that she hurt, and it wasn't his fault that she had to find out the truth eventually.


“Aurora,” Papa said, a hitch in his breath, “I know I should have told you sooner, but I wasn't even sure if you would understand. You're so young...


With a sigh, Aurora shuffled closer. The bergamot tea was now abandoned on the grass, forgotten, as she settled into Father's side. She was too young to think of the right words, or any words at all that would suffice, and so she settled for simply resting her head against his arm and hoping it was all the reassurance he needed.


And it must have been, at least a little, because he let out a great sigh — much larger than her own — and his entire body relaxed.


They sat in silence for a long moment. Each lost in their own thoughts, there was no need for spoken words. Ever since she was a baby first learning how to speak, Aurora had enjoyed the peaceful quiet.


And her thoughts lingered, of course. Of a mother she would never meet, of old stories she wasn't alive to remember, and the knowledge that while all of the other children had two parents to love, all she ever had was Father.


He was a good father, an excellent one, yet Aurora had spent her life wondering what was missing. She was never as naïve as he apparently thought; Aurora had known that her family were different.


That tickle grew again, tugging at the back of her throat. With a wince, Aurora tried to bite her tongue and shove the feeling away, but to no avail. She reached blindly for the now-cold tea, hand knocking into the saucer as the first cough forced its way past her lips.


Father swept in to save her, grabbing the tea with one hand while the other pressed against her back in a soothing gesture.


The pressure helped, as did the last dregs of tea, and Aurora sank back into his side with a grateful sigh.


“I wish I knew what was causing this,” Father muttered as he brushed fair hair from Aurora's eyes. His own hair was fair too, billowing in the breeze, but he didn't try to tame his own. “Perhaps we should take another trip to the physician; bergamot tea isn't enough.”


Aurora simply stared into the depths of her teacup, at the muddy stains left behind. She knew that Father was what they called a botanist, who grew flowers and herbs and everything else. He had started to grow his own patch of bergamot to soothe her cough, and chamomile to help her sleep, as well as half a dozen other things for various remedies. If they had all of this, why bother with the physician at all?


It was as if Father had heard her thoughts, because at that exact moment he said, “the physician thinks that because you're not getting worse, then there's no cause to worry. I don't agree. There has to be a cause, and if there's a cause then there's also a cure.”


There he went, rambling to himself again. It was almost enough to distract Aurora from the thoughts crowding her mind, but not quite. A nagging sense of discomfort had started to grow deep in her stomach, and for once it wasn't because of her cough. No, this was something else; and with it, came the horrible thought that after today, Aurora's life was never going to be the same again.


Yet here, with Father, she felt safe. Protected. He had a beautiful garden that grew everything she could ever think of, and more; besides, this was her safe place, where Aurora could come to meander through the flowers and leave her worries behind.


Cuddling closer into Father's side, Aurora resisted the urge to yawn. These fits always left her exhausted and delicate, enough so that sometimes she slept for hours afterwards.


“Would you like to go inside?” Father asked gently.


Although the promise of her favorite armchair — or even bed — was tempting, Aurora shook her head. “No thank you,” she answered sweetly, “I want to sit here with you.”


Father nodded, of course, because he could never turn down such an innocent request. “Then let us at least move to a proper seat, hmm?”


Aurora didn't argue, as he helped her to her feet. There were plenty of wooden benches dotted about the garden, placed near the footpaths for easy access; Father took her to the closest one before insisting on returning to the house to brew more bergamot tea.


Aurora's hand shot out to catch the sleeve of his shirt. “Wait,” she said, eyes turning wide, “I feel fine now. Really. Can't we just sit together?”


He watched her for a brief moment, lips turning up in a smile. Finally he said, “all right, I suppose we can stay a while.” When he settled back down, Father put an arm around Aurora's shoulders and tugged her close. He looked as if he wanted to say more, but the words didn't quite form.


Meanwhile, Aurora was struggling with her own words. She wanted to talk about Mama, to hear Father's funny stories about when they were young — except, she couldn't find the right way to ask.


Father always got this sad look when he spoke about Mama, even if the memories were happy. In the aftermath of all she had learned, Aurora wasn't sure that she could bear to see that look again. Not right now, not with the knowledge of her death still fresh. Because even if Mama had died five years ago, when Aurora was born, it still felt new.


After a long moment, Aurora found herself sinking down in her seat, staring up at the cloudless sky. It was such a warm and bright day, it seemed a shame to be thinking such sad thoughts. Had Mama liked summer, or had she enjoyed spring more, like Father did?


In the end, Aurora would never know. At least not firsthand; all she had were Father's stories and no memories of her own.


That tickle rose a third time, but Aurora fought it down before it could grow into something more. Father had that distant look, and she didn't want to worry him again. She didn't want to ruin this peaceful moment, either.


They watched the garden together, Aurora and her father. It was beautiful; rich green and a rainbow of color spread as far as she could see, until the flowers began to blur together and vanish into the distance. She began to list the different plants in her mind; chamomile, baby's breath, lavender, lemon balm...


She wasn't sure how much time passed that way, tucked into Father's side as she recited every plant she could remember. It could have been hours, but in reality it was much more likely to be only a handful of precious minutes.


Yet eventually, her eyes began to feel heavy and her breaths evened, as sleep threatened to take her. The breeze was soothing to her warm skin, rustling her hair and the sleeves of her dress. There was something about it, something Aurora couldn't discern, that put her instantly at ease.


She was hardly aware of Father's laughter as he looked down at her tired form, or of how he shifted to lay her across the bench. Her eyes fluttered closed, soon after, and the last thing she felt was Father's soft kiss to her forehead, before she fell into an easy sleep.


Chapter 2

 August 1820. Present timeAurora Washam

Aurora watched from the sidelines as Father talked with his botanist friends. Well, friends was a loose term, because half the time it seemed as if Father didn't like them much at all; but they visited often to compare notes and talk about important things that Aurora wasn't privy to.


They sat in the living room now, two of Father's botanist friends, while Father shifted through invitations to the yearly meeting. She hated to see him so stressed while the others laughed and talked; it seemed that it was always Father who was left on the sidelines, excluded from conversation he should have been a part of.


Aurora could have made her presence known as she lingered by the doorway, relieved some of the growing tension in the room. She didn't, though, not knowing if father would have appreciated her stepping in — or if the other botanists would have approved of Anthony Washam's daughter getting in the way. They were old fashioned men, see, who preferred their women quiet and on the sidelines.


“I do believe that we should be going, Anthony,” one of the botanists — an older man by the name of Charles Buckley — stated. “Do try to have the guest list finalized by tonight, yes? It's important that everybody is here on the day.”


Aurora bristled at how Mr. Buckley spoke, but kept her lips tightly sealed. She stepped aside when Mr. Buckley and the other man, Mr. Richards, strode past.


“What are you doing, girl?” Mr. Buckley snapped, “hovering by the door like a lost puppy?”


She winced, but said nothing, ignoring how his words made her stomach twist. While her automatic response was to snap, Aurora held that urge back


Father was already under so much pressure, and Aurora wasn't going to make things worse by starting an argument in their own home.


She noticed Father now, glaring at Mr. Buckley from the corner of his eyes. “I would appreciate if you could refrain from speaking to my daughter like that,” he said coolly, “now, good day, and get home safely.”


Only once the two men were gone, the door shut behind them, did Aurora dare to return to the living room. It smelled of strong coffee and cigars; Father had always hated smoking, even if it was popular amongst other men, but those like Buckley insisted it was their right.


Ignoring the stale scent, Aurora darted into the living room and leaned over the small desk in the corner. “Mr. Buckley and Mr. Richards are gone,” she chirped, trying to raise his mood, “maybe you should break for supper.”


In recent years, Father's vibrant blonde hair had gone grey at the temples. It was the job, Aurora thought sometimes; or rather, how people treated him because of it. Father was what Aurora called a “plant breeder”, creating new varieties of plants and flowers. He also worked for the Duke as his own personal gardener; that was where Father earned his money, and gave him the opportunity to create beautiful new varieties of flower.


Lots of people said it was too feminine a job for an older man. A glorified florist, Mr. Buckley called him. Aurora knew better; it was the best job in the world, and she hoped to continue it.


He tugged anxiously at his hair now, staring down at a half-written letter.


“While I would love to take a break,” he said with a sigh, “I'm afraid I should really finish this first. There are a lot of invitations to look through, so I know who's coming. I don't even have a proper guest list yet, I can't remember where I put last year's roster–”


“Papa,” Aurora cut in, because if she didn't then he was only going to spiral. She was twenty-five now, and had years to learn the signs. “Let me help. I can go through the invitations to find out who is or isn't coming — and then create a new guest list.”


He shifted in his seat, restless. Anxious, even. When Aurora had been young, Father had been the most patient man in the world — but recently he was short with her, prone to outbursts of frustration when Aurora least expected it. It was no different now, as she saw how he was trying to stay together.


“That's kind of you, but it isn't your duty to help me. This is my responsibility — and you need a life outside of me and this garden.”


Aurora paused, brows furrowed. “I don't want a world outside of this garden — and anyway, why shouldn't I help, if you need it.”


“Because I can't rely on my twenty-four- year- old daughter to do everything,” Father snapped, and his fingers tightened around his pen. “And besides, you should be out there exploring the world, making friends with people your age. Did you know that Mrs. Belfour's granddaughter is marrying next year? You should be thinking about finding a husband, too.”


Aurora paled at the thought. Physically paled! Deep down, she knew that it was expected of women her age to be married, or at the very least being courted by a nice man. Yet, Aurora had never been able to put herself in that position; why did she need a man, when everything she loved was inside this home, or her father’s garden?


“Other girls can do as they please,” Aurora pointed out, “and if Mrs. Belfour's granddaughter has found love, I'm happy for her; but it isn't for me.”


“My Aurora, I worry-”


“And you don't need to. If you can take care of yourself without help, then so can I.” There was quite a lot more than she could have said, but Aurora was trying not to antagonize him more than necessary.


It was perhaps a stroke of luck, that Father was too exhausted to argue. With a heavy sigh, he set down his pen and pressed his palms flat to his temples; as sure a sign as any that he had a headache coming on. Aurora sympathized.


“Perhaps it's time for bed?” she suggested gently, “I'm quite tired myself, and I've to be up early tomorrow to run errands in town.”


“You're right,” he replied, “I should rest. I'll be no help to anyone if I'm too tired to think properly.”


Ah, good. This was what Aurora had hoped for — once Father was asleep, he rarely woke before dawn, not even for a glass of water as Aurora herself often did. She would pretend to ready for bed, wait until Father was asleep...then see to the invitations herself. Yes, Father would realize in the morning what she had done, but that was tomorrow's problem.


Father remained oblivious, as they bid goodnight to each other in the dark hallway. He traipsed upstairs to bed, while Aurora pretended to blow out the candles in the living room — but she left the lamp above Papa's small desk, where she could just barely see the stack of invitations waiting to be read.


Only once she could hear Father's soft snoring, did Aurora dare to pluck one from the pile.


As she worked her way through the invitations, noting down who was attending Father's meeting, Aurora's mind began to drift. Papa brought up courting more and more these days, insisting that Aurora needed to meet a nice young man and settle down. He was worried, she knew, but it didn't make it any easier to digest.


Once, several years ago now, Aurora had drawn the eyes of a young man. Christopher Allan had flirted, made her feel special in a way that nobody else had before, or since. He had been a handsome man of good standing, the kind of man that all kinds of women swooned over...but she had quickly learned that popular didn't mean good, and he had left broken hearted only two months later.


A familiar tickle scratched the back of Aurora's throat, and she pressed a hand to her chest. She thought of the dried bergamot that Father kept in the pantry, but the cough never arrived. Instead, the itch faded away, and Aurora continued with her task.


She recognized most of the names, even if there was no face to put to them. Mr. Buckley and Mr. Richards were coming, of course, as were several others that Aurora had met before. After all, this meeting was a yearly affair at the botanist’s museum —the men took turns to organize — and many were repeating guests. All were wealthy botanists, some more famous than others. As a plant breeder, Father wasn’t the most well-known on the list, even as the Duke’s gardener. He certainly wasn’t famous compared to those that taught at universities, or owned enormous botanical gardens to show their efforts.


Some of the men were less familiar, only vague memories or names recognized from conversations with Father — there was only one name that Aurora didn't know at all.


Lord Winters Winter, the Earl of Glouchestershire. He must have been important to be an Earl, and Aurora felt a sudden flash of guilt for having never heard the name before –but perhaps he was new, was all. Somebody that Father hadn't invited before, or a new botanist still trying to find his footing. Except, what would an Earl be doing, as a botanist? She couldn't picture it.


Intrigued now, Aurora flicked through the invitation — only to realize that it hadn't been answered. This Earl, he hadn't specified if he wished to come or not...and the meeting was less than a week away!


How strange. Usually, those attending the meeting replied as soon as possible, especially if they intended to go. This happened only once a year, after all, and it was important in the botany world. Some looked forward to it more than anything else, even birthdays and holidays.


Personally, Aurora didn't understand the excitement; it was a lot of old men sitting around a big table, when they could have been outside in the actual nature they claimed to love. Then again, Aurora hadn’t always thought like that; she had been so much more optimistic before that Christopher broke her heart. An aspiring botanist himself, he had stolen something much more precious than her affections; he had stolen her work.


Regardless, that wasn't the point. The point was that this Lord Winters hadn't responded, and time was running out.


She turned to glance at the ceiling. Above her, Father snored softly, and the sounds drifted down through the floorboards of his bedroom. He was stressed enough as it was, and Aurora hated to think that this could hurt him more. Mr. Buckley had been no help, rushing Father when he was already exhausted enough.


Perhaps it wasn't so terrible if one person didn't show up. Who was this Earl, anyway? Except, Father would only stress if he missed somebody, and would probably blame himself if the invitation went unanswered...he had this terrible habit of blaming himself for every inconvenience, which was probably another cruel result of his anxiety.


Well, there wasn't much that Aurora could do right now. At the very least, she had to get through the rest of the invitations if she wished to sleep tonight. So, without complaint, she set Lord Winter's unanswered invitation aside and continued through the pile.


She hadn't realized until now just how many people there were at these meetings; she had always worked from the sidelines, present but not exactly involved. Older men, she knew, didn’t approve of women in their space. Besides, she hadn’t been inside a meeting since Christopher. Seeing these invitations now though, it became apparent how big this yearly meeting was.


Only when the last invitation was set aside, did Aurora think to write an actual guest list. Usually, Father simply edited the one from the previous year, scoring out names or adding new ones...but it was about time that he had a properly organized guest list, written clearly. It wasn't much, but maybe it would ease some of his troubles.


It didn't take long for Aurora to finish, writing each name alphabetically in her neat and looping script. Attendees on the left, those that couldn't make it on the right.


It was only Lord Winter's that gave her pause; his invitation separated from the rest. Did he plan to come? He was the only one titled Lord on the list, perhaps the most important guest there. If he showed, and Father wasn't prepared...well, Aurora had never met an Earl before, but all wealthy and titled people were the same; arrogant and rude. Entitled.


A particularly discontented Lord could, if he wished to, ruin Father's meeting and clear his reputation. The thought made her stomach squirm, and she had to turn away from the desk to fight back another rising urge to cough.


The only thing that stopped Aurora's cough was the knowledge that it could wake up her father. The last thing she wanted was for him to come downstairs and see her there, and to realize she'd gone behind his back. Just thinking about it made Aurora wince.


Well, no matter. She could deal with Lord Winter's letter in the morning; for now, she settled for bundling up the letters into two piles, with the guest list between them. Now that it was all arranged neatly, Father had one less thing to worry about. Maybe, when he saw what a good job she'd done, he would even allow her to help some more.


The thought made Aurora smile, as she stood to leave. The house barely creaked as she stood to blow out the last light. Then she traipsed upstairs, turned left, and slipped inside her bedroom.


She slept soundly that night, knowing that she had helped, but the curious matter of Lord Winters remained.


Chapter 3

 Elmore Winter

The moment that Elmore stepped into the foyer and saw the wide-eyed look on his doorman's face, he knew that something was wrong.


“My Lord,” the doorman stammered, “I wasn't informed that you'd be here so early.”


He only raised a brow, already feeling heavy disappointment rise in his chest. “I did send a letter on ahead of me,” he said with a huff, “and informed my carriage driver two weeks in advance. How did you not know to expect me?”


The doorman was a younger gentleman, perhaps only nineteen or twenty at most — he stood awkwardly, with the air of somebody who didn't really know what they were supposed to be doing. He was stiff and, dare Elmore say it, afraid.


Elmore relaxed somewhat, knowing it wasn't the poor doorman's fault. He was only here in London at all for this botanist's meeting, held by Mr. Washam, and perhaps two weeks of notice wasn't enough to get his London house in order.


“You aren't in trouble,” he said, in what he hoped was a reassuring tone. “My letter must have gotten lost in the mail. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the first time such a thing has happened — but you were aware that I was coming?”


“I'm so sorry, my Lord, we haven't had a letter, but we were all informed months ago of the yearly botanist’s meeting. Same date every year, it’s only the host that changes.”


Then it wasn't a complete disaster. Elmore didn't much care if the house was ready or not, so long as it was livable. He even preferred his London home to his manor in Glouchestershire because it was so simple. That wasn't to say it was poorly cared for, but it was a much more comfortable place to live because it didn't try to be perfect.


“Well,” Elmore said kindly, “no matter. Would you mind sending for somebody to take my bags upstairs, to the master bedroom?”


The doorman nodded. “I can do it, my Lord. Please, make yourself comfortable and I'll have the maids finish tidying. The cooks will have dinner ready for you, too.”


After hours of travelling on the rough roads, Elmore wasn't convinced that he wanted to eat. His coachman was an excellent driver, of course, but even a man like him could only do so much on uneven country roads; it had honestly left Elmore with a queasy stomach and no desire to eat.


“Actually, I was hoping to visit Mr. Washam in person, to tell him I will be attending his meeting next week. It's important that I see him as soon as possible.”


It was at that moment that the coachman arrived, carrying Elmore's two enormous travel bags. Elmore probably took much more than he needed, especially given that this house had everything a house needed, but he was unwilling to part with his favorite suite or his books, even for a few nights.


“Thank you,” Elmore said kindly, “the doorman has offered to take my things upstairs, so you are relieved.”


The coachman sighed, relief filling his every movement. It was true that they had been on the road for so long, and Elmore was embarrassed to admit that he hadn't realized just how difficult it must have been for his staff. While Elmore had been inside his carriage, the coachman had been outside and unprotected against the elements, and the poor man must have been tired.


It was a split decision, really, for Elmore to say, “perhaps we will break for dinner. Something simple tonight, I think. It will give the maids time to get the house in proper order. It will be ready by the time I return tonight, yes?”


The doorman offered a nervous smile. “Of course, my Lord.”


“Good, then I believe I will take some time in the dining room to sort out my notes for Mr. Washam's meeting — assuming the dining room is habitable?”


“The dining room is just fine, My Lord.”




In truth, Elmore didn't have much to prepare at all. He had never attended one of these meetings before, nor met most of the other attendees in person, but it seemed only sensible to have an idea of what might be discussed. Having always loved botany, even as a child, he was growing excited at the prospect of the chance to talk with experts.


He made his way to the dining room without delay, and was grateful to see that it was, at least, tidy. As Elmore didn't live here all year round, it was easy to imagine the place falling into disrepair in his absence — but other than a fine layer of dust over the oak cabinets, everything was perfectly in order.


He'd have to point out the dust to one of the maids; but if they hadn't been expecting him, he wasn't going to blame them for such a small oversight.


Elmore spent a while with his thoughts, scribbling the odd note onto a piece of parchment as he went. He wanted insight into his own garden, of course, and how his gardeners could improve it. The purpose of this meeting was to learn, to embrace new knowledge and impart his own; because it was all very well and good to learn from books and studies, but the best way to grow was by learning from other people.


And if Mr. Washam had invited him, then he obviously thought that Elmore was important to this discussion; something that he honestly hadn’t expected, given how new he was to this botany thing. His mother had always thought him silly, for his interest in nature; now here he was, included in a meeting with some of the greatest botanists in England, and perhaps even some from further afield.


Eventually, however, dinner was served and Elmore had to put away his pen and ink. It was disappointing; until the scent of rich roast beef wafted over, and Elmore realized just how hungry he had been this entire time.


He ate quickly, perhaps more so than usual, in his eagerness to visit Mr. Washam. Had he been with family, or hosting for friends, Elmore would have looked forward to a several-course meal; yet having asked for something simple, tonight he didn't even bother with dessert.


As soon as he was finished eating, Elmore freshened up, fixed his hair, and then he was ready to leave again.


He met the coachman by the entrance, which was an enormous and hollow space leading to the outside steps. It wasn't nearly as grand as his main home, which was made of grey and silver marble, but it was still an impressive space that allowed his voice to echo as he called to the coachman.


“Are you refreshed?” he asked, “I require you to take me to Mr. Washam on Cherrywood Street. It isn't far, I don't think, so the journey won't be too taxing.”


Despite the tired look in the coachman's eyes, he only smiled in agreement. “Whatever you need, my Lord. Allow me a few minutes to ready the horses.”


“Of course.”


The coachman scurried off down the long road, where the carriage and horses already waited. He was nothing if not prepared, that coachman, and for that Elmore was grateful.


The doorman was, of course, standing dutifully by the door as usual. Elmore turned to him now and said, “do ensure the house is ready when I return. I understand that you weren't expecting me, but I would like to sleep on a fresh bed tonight and know that I will wake up tomorrow knowing that everything is in order.”


The doorman gave a quick nod that didn't hide his nerves, and attempted to smile. “Yes, my Lord. I will inform the maids to be as thorough and quick as possible.”


“Thank you. I appreciate it…?” Elmore realized now that he didn't know the man's name, nor that of his new coachman. “Sorry, I don't believe I know what to call you.”


“Thomas, sir.”


“Then thank you, Thomas.”


He gave another of those awkward little nods; then the coachman appeared again, and it was time to depart.


Elmore and the coachman wandered back towards the carriage together. Several long moments dragged on, before Elmore said, “I do apologize, but I don't know your name. I was so looking forward to this meeting, that I believe I focused on it too much — it was rude of me not to make more of an effort.”


The man shrugged awkwardly. “It's no trouble, My Lord. I'm only your coachman, it's no concern of yours.”


“It is, though — you've taken me all the way to London, haven't even complained when I asked you to take me out again.” Elmore frowned at that.


Had he been taking advantage of his staff? He had given them only two weeks of notice, and not even considered that his letter wouldn't have arrived, despite it being a known problem. Not only that, but his coachman had hardly had the time to catch his breath, and being new, they’d not even had the time for a proper introduction.


Even now, he didn't complain; he simply opened the carriage door to assist Elmore inside and said, “my name is Alexander, but I really don't mind that you didn't ask, My Lord. Most employers wouldn't even care.”


Wasn't that the problem, though? Wealthy men like Elmore had a reputation for being cold and callous, but reputations like that didn't come from nowhere. A lot of titled men and women were cruel to their staff, too focused on their own lives to think of others.


Elmore wasn't like that, though. At least, he hoped not.


“I've been looking forward to coming back to London,” Elmore said now, “it has been a long time since I've spent real time here, and this botanist meeting was the perfect reason to return. That isn't an excuse for bad behavior, though, so I thank you for your patience.”


The coachman — Alexander — only offered a shy smile as he shut the carriage door. Then he shuffled to the front and out of sight.


A moment later, the carriage lurched into motion. It began to roll down the road at an easy pace, towards the open gates that led out onto the quiet street.


For not the first time, Elmore was grateful that his London home was more modest than his home in Glouchestershire. It was a lot easier to go unnoticed if people didn't immediately assume his title. It was also why he chose a plainer carriage than usual, a natural wooden brown instead of his favorite one painted gold and green.


Even so, as they reached busier streets, a few people turned to watch the carriage go. Mr. Washam was relatively wealthy, or at least wealthy enough to own a large house with acres of land, but it seemed that carriages were still unusual here. Perhaps these people were more used to the simple coaches for hire, or perhaps they preferred to walk everywhere instead.


It didn't matter, because in only twenty minutes they had reached the street where Mr. Washam lived. It was a quiet place, the houses separated by sprawling gardens and tall wooden fences. It was peaceful, and beautiful in a way that made Elmore's shoulders relax at the sight.


The carriage rolled to a stop outside of the most stunning house of all, the gate and fence flourishing with bright red roses. Across the way, Elmore saw more of that beautiful red shade travel around the side of the house and out of sight.


It was something else, this place. While his own gardens were always kept perfectly neat, this garden was wild. Free. The plants were left to grow naturally, instead of being clipped into place. Several types of flowers grew together, spilling from their flower beds and out across the grass, which was left to grow long and thick.


Even then, it was clearly loved, as not a single flower failed to bloom and there was not a single dry patch of greenery in the entire expanse.


Elmore was left in awe at the beauty of it all, and for a moment he forgot why he was even here.


Chapter 4

Aurora Washam

Although Aurora loved nothing more than the beaming sunshine, it wasn't always what was best for the plant life. Some species bloomed in summer and died off in the winter, but even the most hardy of flowers needed a little love in the dry summer months.


She had taken to watering some of them by hand, even though the English rainfall usually took care of most of it. Given that some plants needed more water than others, it was best to wander around the garden every so often and check the dryness of the soil, just to make sure everything was as it should have been.


Although it was getting late now, Aurora had still taken time after dinner to check on her favorite parts of the garden. Now she was with the wildflowers, running her hands through the delicate white chamomile flowers as she wandered past on her way to the bergamot.


Although she was unsure that the bergamot helped her cough as much as Father and the physician insisted, she was still grateful that Father had taken the time to grow his own. It was a beautiful, faded purple, with slender green stalks. It grew in great clumps that resembled shrubs, and sometimes Aurora liked to sit close by and feel the leaves tickle her cheeks.


It was too wet to sit on the ground now, though, and so Aurora settled for bending down to smell the sweet aroma.


When she popped back up, it was with a nervous squeak as she caught sight of someone standing just a few feet away. It wasn’t Father like she had first suspected, but a tall and broad-shouldered man with sandy blond hair.


“Excuse me,” she said, “I didn’t notice you approach. Are you here to see Father? It’s a bit late.” Nearing on eight o’clock, she suspected.


The man offered a smile, showing bright teeth. “You must be Aurora Washam, Mr. Washam’s daughter?” he asked, “I see you’re standing amongst the wild bergamot there; it’s a beautiful flower. Excellent for cold or cough remedies, I believe — and delicious in tea as well.”


Aurora felt her stomach twist. “Yes, it's quite beautiful indeed. My father grows the bergamot, along with everything else you see.”


“Then your father is an incredible gardener and botanist. Did you know that wild bergamot and bergamot are different, but people often get the two confused?”


Was this man trying to condescend her? He had seen her, standing in her own garden, and assumed she didn't know her own plants.


Of course wild bergamot was different, it was a herb and not a citrus — but she hardly needed to specify each time, when it was only wild bergamot that they even had here. Aurora knew the difference, as did Father; they'd been growing wild bergamot since she was four.


Shouting at this stranger wasn't helpful, though, and so Aurora forced herself to take a calming breath. “If you're here to see my father, he's inside. Perhaps you should let him know he has a visitor?”


“Oh, but this garden is so wonderful. Perhaps a tour, first?”


Aurora bit the inside of her lip, to keep in her snappish comment. Had it been her decision, she'd have sent the man inside and made herself scarce...but Papa had always told her to be a good host. So, despite her better judgement, a good host she'd try to be.


“There isn't much here except for herbs and other natural remedies,” Aurora explained, “the West garden is where our most beautiful flowers are, as well as our apple trees at the edge of the property.”


The man smiled. “I'm sure that the flowers are as stunning as the rest of this place, but it's the wildflowers that interest me the most. Is this cow-wheat?” He raised a brow and bent at the waist to gently touch the delicate purple flowers.


The little yellow flowers in question were swaying gently in the breeze, bright and colorful against the greying sky. They were perhaps one of Aurora's favorites for their beautiful simplicity — it was easy to let it grow out of control. but together she and Papa had managed to keep it within the confines of the flower bed, nestled behind the bergamot to brighten up the place.


“Personally,” the stranger was saying now, “I wouldn't have included it. The color is a lovely gold, but it can easily sap the nutrients from the soil and kill other plants nearby. Is it really worth the risk, for such a plain looking thing? The wild bergamot is much too valuable.”


Here he went again, acting all superior. Although the stranger smiled mildly the entire time, brushing a loving hand through the flowers, it hadn't seemed to occur to him that he was talking to a fellow botanist...Aurora would have assumed it was because she was a young woman, had he not given the air that he was like this with everyone.


“It's your father's garden though,” he conceded, “and I'm sure he knows what he's doing. He's certainly cultivated a beautiful space.”


We've cultivated it together, Aurora wanted to snap, but held her tongue. Over and over like a mantra, she told herself not to be rude. It was becoming increasingly difficult to hold to that.


She bent to pick up her watering can, which was now empty. As she did, a bee landed on the side of the can and bristled its wings. It was so cute, she just had to reach out and touch its hair. It was so soft, it was almost like a dog's fur.


“You shouldn't touch those. Bees rarely sting, but it could take your touch for aggression.”


No longer trying to hide it now, Aurora sent him a scathing look. “I've been picking up bees since I was eight, and I've only been stung once. It's wasps to worry about, and I haven't seen any yet this summer.”


“Even so, you should be careful.”


She felt like telling him to be careful, because this wasn't his garden; but once again, Father's voice echoed to be a good host, so Aurora said nothing. If it meant ending this conversation quicker, then she'd happily stay quiet and let him talk.


“I think,” Aurora said sweetly, “that we should go back to the house. You were here to see my father, weren't you?”


His eyes narrowed, and for a moment she worried this stranger knew she wanted rid of him; but he only shrugged and nodded, apparently satisfied.


“I suppose that is it late, and you don't want to hear me talk all day. If you wouldn't mind, though, I would love to see the rest of the garden.”


Aurora realized that there was no getting out of this and sighed. A quick tour it was, then, before going inside. “I can show you our rose garden, if you like? Father is experimenting with different colors. I think he wishes to curate his own variety someday.”


“Excellent, I would love to see.”


At least the rose garden was on the way to the house, albeit through an indirect route. It took them around the side of the house, past Father's shed, and towards the back patio. There, a rainbow of climbing roses spread across a stunning framework of latticed wood, interspersed with little flower beds that held even more flowers. It was like a miniature maze, but instead of organized green shrubs, it was all roses.


She heard the stranger sigh happily, his shoulders relaxing. “It smells so sweet,” he said absently, “but not overpowering at all.”


“Like I said, Father wants to curate his own variety; something with a delicate scent and a unique color. Unfortunately, he can't quite decide on what he likes best.”


Aurora reached out to touch a flower, the petals coarse beneath her fingers. She especially loved the soft orange roses, almost peach in color, because they had such a pale hue. When it began to get dark at night, they reflected the moonlight.


“I can see gallica roses here, and Provence roses too — but there are some I've never seen before. Do you think he would mind, if I took a cutting or two back home with me?”


Aurora fought to keep her face even. Kind. What kind of a question, to ask someone he didn't even know. “He's protective of his roses,” she replied plainly, “you should ask him yourself, but I can't guarantee he'll say yes.”


Although he frowned, thankfully the stranger didn't press the matter of roses. Instead, he turned his attention back to the bergamot — even though it was nowhere in sight.


“Then how about the wild bergamot you have? I'm sure that growing my own could come in useful, if ever I fall ill. Surely you don't grow it just for looks.”


Aurora kept walking, trying to spur him on without asking quite so outright. “I'll be honest,” she said, wincing in annoyance, “it was my father that insisted we have it to make teas and other remedies, but I don't entirely believe in its health benefits.”


“Then you can't know much about the stuff!”


“I know plenty, thank you; but that is beside the point. There's very little proof that it actually helps, whereas things like chamomile have been proven to have health benefits.”


Although he grumbled, he followed her lead as she took him around the back of the house.


Through the rose gardens, Aurora walked past rows and rows of brightly colored flowers, until she reached the last lattice and popped out at the other side.


The scent of roses was still strong; but as the stranger said, not overpowering. Although Father was undecided on color, he knew exactly what scent he favored; apparently, it was based on an old perfume of her mother's. Unfortunately, the perfume was no longer made, and the last bottle used, so Aurora had never had the chance to smell it.


Maybe, if Father was close, she'd have that chance in the future. A little more to connect her with a mother she'd never met.


Another bee fluttered past, as they walked. They loved the roses most of all, except perhaps for the lavender, and she lost count of how many bees she spotted now.


“You might have a hive nearby,” the stranger said now. She still hadn't asked his name, and truthfully didn't want to. “There are a lot more than I'd expect. Your father isn't a beekeeper too, by chance?”


“No,” Aurora answered, “no beekeepers here, only botanists. Although, we do try to grow varieties of flowers that attract bees, since they're so important to pollination and such.”


“Oh, you seem to know quite a bit about gardening.”


So when it was Father, he was a botanist; but she was only a gardener? It would have been insulting, had it not been so predictable at this point. He hadn't even considered the idea that she was also a botanist, or at least an aspiring one who knew almost as much as her father did.


Well, who cared? She didn't need his approval; it was simply irritating how he kept condescending her, even though Aurora had the feeling he had no clue that's what he was actually doing. Some men were just oblivious to the effect they had on others, for good or for bad.


“Anyway,” he continued now, before Aurora could cut in and say they were nearly at the house. He must have been able to see it, the house was large and tall, with lovely arched windows. Yet he hardly noticed as he continued, “it's good, what you and your father do here. I saw his name in an article on botany recently. His name was alongside a...Mr. Buckley?”


“A man who did a quarter of the work and took half the credit,” Aurora replied sourly, “but yes-”


She didn't have the chance to finish, because as Aurora threw out a hand in frustration, a sharp and sudden pain erupted in h her wrist. It was enough to make her squeak and stumble back, eyes wide in surprise.


There was a red mark at the edge of her wrist, just where her sleeve ended. Already, it was starting to burn.


A bee sting, just what she needed!

My New Novel will be Live Soon!


Follow me on Bookbub!

Help me grow my followers on Bookbub and I will recommend you some awesome books very soon!

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

PrologueSusanThree Years Ago“Now, Liam, Arnold, who can tell me what planet this is?”Two identical pairs of brown eyes

Stealing Away the Governess

Chapter 1Georgiana Montgomery awoke feeling rested but in a leisurely mood. It was one of the benefits of

Betrayal and Redemption

Prologue 1799   Strains of music drifted up from the main hall below, soft and melancholic; the undulating

What the Governess is Hiding

Page [tcb_pagination_current_page] of [tcb_pagination_total_pages]