The Gardener – an erotic romance

This is an excerpt from an historical erotic romance I wrote a while ago, which I hope you will like.

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Surrey, England, 1804

Kate squeezed under the overhanging branches of the laurel bush until she was hidden from the sight of anyone passing by. She wanted to see, but not to be seen. She fervently hoped that Barnes, the gardener, would walk past today, and if she was fortunate, he might even stop nearby. The fact that she had waited for three consecutive days and had not seen anyone pass, let alone the attractive man who had worked in her father’s garden for the past year, did not deter her. Surely, he would have to pass this way at some time during the afternoon? All she had to do was wait and her patients would be rewarded.

Today she was in luck. After just twenty minutes of a rather boring wait on a hot, summer’s afternoon, she heard the distinctive noise of the squeaky wheelbarrow that Barnes used all the time to carry his tools and plants coming her way. She gently pushed aside a couple of leaves and peered through the small gap, her heart beating furiously in her chest for fear of being caught. All she wanted to do was to look at him. She would be mortified if he, or anyone else, caught her doing that.

The squeaking barrow suddenly stopped just feet from the laurel bush and Kate held her breath, lest she be heard. She saw Barnes take a swig from a bottle of water he was carrying and then wipe his mouth on the sleeve of his shirt. He had his back to her and even though he wore a shirt, Kate could see the ripple of his muscles as he raised and lowered the glass bottle, and it caused a shiver to run down her spine. That man was too darned good looking for his own good.

Kate knew that she would be missed by now and if she didn’t get back to the house soon she would be in trouble. But as long as Barnes remained stationery just feet away from her there was no way that she could move, without the humiliation of being caught in her undercover observations.

Barnes turned towards the laurel bush and for a moment, Kate thought that he had seen her. His eyes seemed to bore straight into hers for a second or two, before they moved away and towards someone shouting from the big lawn in front of the house.

“Catherine, Catherine, where are you? Come here, you tiresome girl.”

Kate recognized the voice of her aunt as it came closer to the shrubbery where Kate was hiding.

“Ah, Barnes, have you seen Miss Winters,” her aunt asked. “I’ve been searching for her everywhere.”

“No Madam, I’ve not seen her today at all. Perhaps she is in the field at the back of the house. There is a new foal and I saw her looking at it yesterday. A pretty little thing it is, and Miss Winters seemed quite taken with it.”

“Very well, I will look there. If you see her, Barnes, please tell her to come back to the house at once. Her uncle is most displeased with her.”

“Certainly Madam.”

All went quiet as Kate’s aunt left the shrubbery and headed towards the back of the house. There was silence for a moment—broken when the gardener spoke aloud. “You can come out now, Miss. Your aunt has left.”

Kate froze. Barnes had seen her there after all. Now she had to face the humiliation of walking out in front of him. She pushed aside the branches of the laurel and stepped out into the open in front of the gardener, trying, but failing, to look nonchalant, as though she had a very good reason to be lurking in the bushes. He had an amused expression on his face.

“Did you like what you saw?”

Kate was stung into a reply as the man clearly thought she was there to spy on him— which she was, of course. But no need to let him know that. “I don’t know what you mean. I was merely trying to get away from my aunt.”

“Of course you were, Miss. I know you wouldn’t tell me any untruths, because we all know the penalty for that, don’t we?”

Kate’s face registered the confusion that she felt. She should have pushed past him and ignored his remark but something within her wouldn’t let the matter drop. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “And what penalty is that, Barnes?”

“Well I might have to put you across my knee for a spanking, Miss, and you wouldn’t want that, would you?”

Though he spoke it as a question, Kate knew that it was a statement of intent. The thought of being spanked by Barnes disturbed her and gave her a strange feeling in her belly. She wanted desperately to escape and return to the safety of the house before the handsome

young gardener could disturb her equilibrium any more than it was already. She ignored Barnes’ question and looked for a way forward.

The way that he had positioned the wheelbarrow left her with the choice of walking past him in a small gap between him and the bush, or going back into the bush and coming out of the opposite side, which would have made her look foolish. She stepped in the narrow space at the exact moment as Barnes turned. She found herself inches from his chest, her forward passage blocked.

“Excuse me, Barnes, I need to get back to the house. Would you please step aside?” She could feel her heart beating rapidly at the close proximity of the handsome man blocking her path, and noticed a small trickle of sweat going down the open collar of Barnes’ shirt. She had a sudden urge to stick her tongue out and lick the trickle of sweat before it dropped out of sight. How foolish, how foolish, she chided herself. Why did I let myself get caught like this? She waited for Barnes to step aside for her.

As he did so, his face came close and a quiet voice whispered into her ear. “I think you did like what you saw. Next time I will take my shirt off for you if you like.”

Kate’s face went red and she pushed past the gardener and hurried across the lawn towards the house, furious both with herself and with Barnes for being so familiar. But isn’t that what I want—for this man to be familiar with me? A hot flush ran over her entire body as very strange feeling took root deep in her belly. How did the man know she was there? Had he seen her on previous occasions when she had gone into the garden with the express purpose of seeing him?

As Kate entered the front hallway, she met Mrs. Colefax, the housekeeper.

“Ah, there you are, Miss Winters. Your aunt has been looking all over for you. Your uncle wants to speak with you. He is in the Library.”

Kate reluctantly climbed the stairs and along the corridor that led to where her uncle awaited her. She wondered what she had done now. Was she in trouble again? It seemed as though she was always in trouble since she had come to live with her uncle and aunt a month ago. It didn’t matter what she did or said, she was always in their bad books. It hadn’t been so bad when she had come home from boarding school over holidays, but now that she had finished school and this was her permanent home, she couldn’t seem to do anything right.

Kate knocked on the Library door and waited for her uncle to tell her to come in. She had made the mistake of walking straight in once and got a severe telling off for not knocking.

“Come.” Her uncle was often a little brusque with his instructions.

She pushed the door open and walked into the room and paused in front of the desk where her uncle was writing. “You wanted me, Uncle Henry?”

Her uncle did not immediately reply and Kate stood and waited for his response. After what seemed an eternity, but was probably only ten seconds, Henry Winters put down his pen and looked up from his desk. He did not direct Kate to sit down, which she considered rather ominous.

“Where have you been? Your aunt tells me that she can never find you when she wants you.” He didn’t wait for Kate to reply, but carried on speaking. “As you know, your father’s will made me your legal guardian and I undertook to look after your welfare until you came of age. Now that you have finished your education, it is time to think of your future. You are now eighteen, a year older than your aunt was when she married me. I cannot afford to keep you in idleness until you come of age and can make your own way in the world, so I propose to find you a suitable husband.”

“But Uncle I…” she stammered.

“Be quiet girl, I haven’t finished talking,” her uncle barked. “Your aunt and I will, at our expense, pay for a coming out ball for you, to which we shall invite prospective husbands to be introduced to you, and from whom we hope that, if you play your part right, there might be one or more proposals of marriage. That is all I need to discuss with you at this time. The ball will be held one month from Saturday, so you have adequate time to prepare. Now, go and find your aunt so that you can discuss arrangements.”

Henry’s interest ended as abruptly as his conversation and he resumed writing.

Kate knew from experience that there was little point arguing with him. He was a stubborn man, and once his mind was made up, there was no changing it.

Her father had been Henry’s younger brother. They had never been close, being fifteen years different in age, and living some distance from each other. However, when Kate’s father had been diagnosed with a serious and fatal disease five years earlier, he had approached his brother and begged him to take care of his only child. His wife, Kate’s mother, had died many years before and he had struggled to bring up his daughter. Unfortunately, Kate’s father had not left much of a legacy and Henry had been forced to pay for the schooling of his niece—that resulted in some resentment towards his deceased brother, and by proximity, his niece. In his opinion, the sooner he could get her married and off his hands, the better. Kate was blessed with a fair countenance and a shapely figure and he did not anticipate too great a difficulty in finding someone suitable.

Kate withdrew from the Library and went to find her Aunt Miranda, still in a state of shock at the news just imparted by her uncle. She had known that marriage was a probability at some stage in her life, but could not dream it would come quite so suddenly after leaving school. Supposing her uncle compelled her to marry the first man to ask, regardless of her views on the matter? The thought horrified Kate, who had greatly looked forward to a little fun and frivolity after the austerity of her school years. She had pictured in her mind the excitement of attending balls and house parties, and being able to wear clothes that were a little more fashionable than the ones she currently possessed. She dreamed of making friends with other young women of the district and of flirtations with the local young men before having to consider the serious subject of matrimony.

Now, if her uncle had his way, there would be none of this. Her mind was so engaged in those matters that she almost walked into her aunt in the hallway.

“There you are, Catherine, I’ve searched high and low for you,” Aunt Miranda scolded. “Have you seen your uncle yet?”

Her aunt insisted on calling her Catherine, despite Kate’s own preference for the diminutive version of her name. “Yes, I have been to the Library, aunt. I am somewhat taken aback. I had no idea that uncle was planning for me to come out and be engaged within the month. Are you able to persuade him, aunt, to give me a little more time? It has come as rather a shock and I was greatly looking forward to a little freedom before getting married. After all I am only just turned eighteen.”

“Nonsense, girl. When I was your age I was already married to your uncle, and I considered it a great honour when my father told me that he had chosen your uncle to be my husband. I have never had cause to regret his choice. You must realize, Catherine, your father did not leave you any wealth and your uncle and I have used our own funds to pay for your education. It is time now, my girl, for you stand on your own two feet. We will assist you in finding a husband by providing you with a coming out ball. But after that, it is up to you. If you do not find a suitable husband, then I am afraid that you will have to consider the possibility of taking a post as a governess as we cannot continue to support you indefinitely. Now come along, we must start to plan for your ball. Your uncle is adamant that it should take place within the month.”

The statement that Miranda had never had cause to regret her father’s choice in husbands was, in fact, untrue. Kate knew that Miranda had often regretted being married to a man who was sometimes so cold and unfeeling. She had seen the scornful looks that her aunt cast in the fleeting shadows as her uncle walked away. At the same time, Kate also knew that Miranda would never reveal her true feelings towards Henry to her young niece. She wondered if her aunt had felt as trapped as she did right now when her father informed her of the impending marriage.

Kate followed her aunt to the drawing room feeling both sad and anxious. This had all been the furthest from her mind earlier in the day when she had gone to hide in the shrubbery to catch a sight of the handsome young gardener. She thought of the moment when Barnes had threatened to take off his shirt the next time they met and the delicious and strange feeling she had felt in the depths of her body. She again shivered with a strange delight at reliving the event. Would she meet anyone at her coming out ball that would make her feel like that? She desperately hoped so. The idea of marrying someone she did not love simply to provide her with a home and income filled her with gloom.

The discussion with her aunt over the ball was more of a one-sided debate, with Kate’s opinions hardly even sought, let alone acted upon. Aunt Miranda barely paused for breath as she sat at her desk and wrote long lists, whilst Kate sat on a chair at her side.

“Now, Catherine, I think we must pay a visit to the dressmaker in a day or two so that they can make a start on your ball gown, and a few other items you will need if you are to be courted by any of the gentlemen who might come calling. I will make a list of the people we need to invite, and I will ask my friend, Lady Fitzwilliam, if she has any recommendations on that matter. She is one of the most prominent people in the county and anyone she does not know, is not worth knowing. I think we can fit fifty people into our the drawing room and dining room, although it will be a bit of a squeeze, but hopefully the weather will be warm and we will be able to spill out onto the terrace. Now I will talk to cook in the morning about planning the supper menu, and I must have a word with Barnes to ensure that there will be plenty of fresh flowers for decorating the rooms.”

At the mention of Barnes, Kate once again felt the strange tingle in her body that she had felt earlier. She drifted off into thought as her aunt continued to chatter away on arrangements for the ball.

“Are you listening, Catherine,” Miranda said sharply. She watched the girl jar out of her daydreams and she frowned. “I asked about colour schemes. Do you have any preference? I think that pastel shades would be appropriate for the floral displays. We don’t want anything too bold or vivid.”

Miranda hurried on without waiting to hear if Kate had any preference. She was in full flow now and nothing would stop her plans now that the ball was an actuality. She had no daughters and had been robbed of the pleasure of planning a coming out ball for a girl of her own. As such, she was determined to make the most of this one, even if it was for a girl who had been foisted on them by circumstance.

She had given Henry a son, John, but had not been able to have any more children, which had not been too great a misfortune for her. She had never really enjoyed the intimate side of marriage and was quietly relieved when Henry had stopped coming to her bed. Miranda had a vague suspicion that there had been the occasional straying by her husband, but he had always been discreet and there had never been the hint of scandal. She was content with the way things were.

Her mother had told her, the night before she wed, that there were certain matters she needed to know about men and marriage, but that her husband would explain it all to her. All she had to do was submit to her husband’s wishes and eventually, once a son and heir had been produced, then the need for her to submit would diminish and fade, and she need not bother about such matters again.

Abruptly, Miranda realized that it would fall to her to have the same conversation with Catherine before her wedding. She frowned. It wasn’t exactly a conversation she was looking forward to. She had tried to get along with the girl, for her husband’s sake, but had not enjoyed having a young, attractive woman around the house since Catherine had returned from school. It reminded her too much that her own youthful looks were now behind her and she had settled into a middle-aged rut. She and Henry hardly conversed now, except for the odd word at mealtimes. He didn’t approve of her going to tea with her friend, Lady Fitzwilliam, a former classmate who had married well, so she kept her visits to a minimum and only had her friend back for tea when she knew that Henry was going to be away from home for the day.

She sighed and brought her thoughts back to the matter in hand. “I think I will send a message to Lady Fitzwilliam and ask her over for tea in the next few days. I don’t think that your uncle will mind if it is for such a good cause. Now get along, Catherine, and leave me to write a note. I will ask Barnes to take it over to her, together with a basket of flowers from the garden.”  With that, she dismissed her niece.

Will Kate have to marry a man of her uncle and aunt’s choosing?  Will her friendship with Barnes, the Gardener continue in secret and risk a huge scandal?  To read more, my book The Gardener is available at Amazon US here and at Amazon UK here.

 

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