Romantic Times Bookclub awards 4 ½ stars to A Garden Folly. Their review says: "A craftsman of impeccable elegance, Ms. Hern taps brilliantly into the hopes and fears of the human heart as she weaves an unforgettable love story from our deepest fantasies."
Rendezvous says: "Ms. Hern has written a delightful book with captivating characters, each of whom has their own particular foibles brought wonderfully to light through enchanting dialogue. Both humorous and bittersweet, A Garden Folly is an excellent read!"
Under the Covers Book Reviews says: "Candice Hern comes through with yet another stellar performance. A deeply moving and emotionally charged novel, A Garden Folly is destined to become a perennial favorite."
A Garden Folly is the first in a pair of books set at English Country House Parties.
I admit it. I stole the idea for this story. I completely lifted the plot from the 1953 movie, "How to Marry a Millionaire." As I was watching that movie one night on video, I was struck by the crackling, witty dialogue and how very "Regency" some of it sounded. The more I watched, the more I was struck by other similarities. What could be more Regency-like than a story about girls on the look-out for husbands? Rich husbands.
Soon after this book was released, I received several letters and emails from people who said that I had described Chissingworth exactly as they remembered it when they had visited there. I hated to tell them that I had made up the place and they could only have visited it in their dreams! But it did make me feel good that my descriptions made Chissingworth seem like a real place.
The reclusive Duke of Carlisle is avoiding his mother's annual house party on his famous estate. He refuses to make his presence known to guests in order to avoid all the inevitable toadying. But one morning the duke, a serious gardener, literally stumbles over one of his mothers guests, a beautiful young girl.
Stephen gazed down into the flashing eyes of a very pretty little termagant. Bloody hell! He was in for it now, for she was no doubt one of his mother's guests. He hadn't expected anyone in the gardens this early. He had not been paying much attention to the path, his eyes surveying the center garden as he hurried past. He had not seen the girl as she knelt down at the edge of the gravel walk. And here he was sprawled atop her in a most improper manner.
If it wasn't so awkward, he might be tempted to enjoy it for a moment. She really was very pretty. Dark blond curls were revealed beneath the bonnet that had been knocked askew. Her brows and eyelashes were a much darker color, providing a striking contrast to her fair hair. Her eyes, framed by the long, dark lashes, appeared to be gray.
She really was very pretty.
"Get off me!" she repeated in a choked voice.
Coming to his senses, he realized he must be practically smothering her, so he quickly rolled to the side. "I beg your pardon," he said as he struggled ungracefully to his feet. He extended a hand to help her up. "I am terribly sorry. Are you quite all right?"
She grabbed his hand and allowed him to pull her to a sitting position. She neither looked at him nor answered him, but adjusted her bonnet. "You might have looked where you were going!" she said in a petulant tone. She sat up on her knees and Stephen offered his hand again. She took it, pulled herself upright, then immediately dropped it to shake out her skirts.
"I am terribly sorry," he repeated, brushing himself off and searching the area for his hat. He did not know what else to say. He was reluctant to get into a conversation with the young woman, attractive though she may be. If she recognized him as the duke—which she had thankfully not yet done—there was no telling what sort of fuss she would make. He must get away as quickly as possible before the chit realized who he was and went squealing off to the other guests that she had sighted the elusive duke.
Damn his mother and her parties, anyway. Why couldn't they leave him in peace to putter in his gardens?
"I am so sorry," he said again, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice as he retrieved his broad-brimmed straw hat from beneath a patch of blue gentian. He slapped it against his thigh a few times and plopped it back upon his head. "It was my fault completely. I trust you are uninjured?"
"I am fine," she said, still straightening her skirts and not looking at him. Stephen's stomach seized up with the notion that she had not yet got a good look at him. There was still a chance she might recognize him. "No thanks to you," she continued in that irritated tone. "And of course it was your fault. I was simply minding my own business, admiring the—" She stopped as she looked down at her hand. "Oh, dear."
Stephen moved closer, thinking she might have injured her hand and cursing himself for his own carelessness. "What is it? Have you—" He paused as he saw that she was not injured, but was holding on to a crushed purple blossom.
Good God! It was one of his violets.
His prized, rare, pure-bred violets.
Forgetting for a moment his own culpability, he raged at the girl. "How dare you pick my flowers without asking! Do you think these are placed here for anyone to pluck at will? Don't you know—"
"Your flowers?" she said, her eyes widening in surprise.
Good Lord. He had given himself away. What an idiot! He was in for it, now.
But his poor violets.
"Oh! You must be the gardener," she said.
The gardener? Looking down at himself, he realized that no one would take his scruffy appearance for that of a duke. He experienced an almost uncontrollable urge to laugh. "Yes," was all he could say. They were his gardens, after all. And he did design them and work in them. So in a sense, he was the gardener.
"Well, you still might try to watch where you are going next time," the girl said.
By God, she was looking him straight in the eye and truly believed he was the gardener. It was too good.
"I am sure you are quite busy and all," she continued, "with such a large estate to care for. But you must know that the duchess has a house full of guests who might be wandering the gardens at any time. You really must be more careful."
The petulant tone had disappeared and she seemed less offended. Interesting. He would have expected most young women of her station—for she must be aristocratic to have been invited by his mother—to disdain the working staff. He would have expected her to rail against his clumsiness, to threaten to report him to his employer, to exert all the superiority of her station. Instead, she looked wistfully down at the crushed blossom in her palm.
"And I was not picking your flowers, if you must know," she continued. "I was simply admiring them. I must have accidentally grabbed at it when you fell over me."
"Yes. Yes, of course," Stephen muttered. His cheeks felt warm and he knew he must be blushing as he recalled how he had been sprawled atop her. "I should not have shouted at you. It is just that..." He paused and looked down at the remains of the tiny purple flower. "Well, you cannot know how precious that little plant is."
"Oh, but I can," she replied. "It is a pure viola odorata, is it not?"
"Why, yes," he said, completely taken aback that this young woman would know such a thing. "Yes, it is. How did you know?"
"Oh, I have never actually seen one before," she said, "not really, anyway. But I have seen many pictures of them. I love flowers, you see and have— had—many books on the subject. Some with lovely colored prints of various blossoms. Violets have always been my favorites, the simple viola odorata most of all. When I saw this patch of them," she said, gesturing to the clump of purple blossoms at the edge of the path, "I could not resist examining them up close. You must have cultivated them especially to bloom so long into summer, did you not? I thought to sketch one, you see. Oh, and I had also considered drawing this one, too," she added, bending to admire the fringed gentian. "Very unusual. The dark blue coloring and the fringed edges are a combination I have never before seen. Are they a special hybrid?"
Stephen's breath was almost knocked clean out of him as he listened to this extraordinary speech. Here was a very pretty young woman, with dark blond curls spilling out of her bonnet and huge gray eyes peering at him guilelessly, who knew about rare flowers and special hybrids—his favorite subjects—and wasn't fawning all over him. And she actually had no idea who he was.
It was delicious.
It was too perfect.
He could not keep from smiling.
"Yes," he said at last. "How clever of you to notice. They are indeed a special hybrid. I developed the strain myself."
"How wonderful," she exclaimed. "You must be very proud. Of everything here at Chissingworth."
"I am indeed," he said, strangely affected by her genuine interest and admiration for the one thing in his life of which he was truly proud. "You must feel free to sketch or paint all you want while at Chissingworth. I promise you will not be so rudely accosted again."
She smiled at him, and he almost forgot to breathe. "Thank you," she said. "I imagine there are many other rare specimens besides viola odorata. It would be lovely to sketch them."
"I would be pleased to show you the gardens myself, and point out the most unusual specimens and such." He could have bitten his tongue off the moment the words were spoken. What on earth had made him say such a thing? He was trying to hide from his mother's guests. He had no business encouraging this young woman, this very pretty young woman, to fraternize with him. What if she discovered his true identity?"
"How kind of you," she said, flashing a brilliant smile. "I would enjoy that. What better tour guide could I possibly ask for than Chissingworth's gardener? By the way, I am Miss Catherine Forsythe."
Good Lord. What was he to do now? Introduce himself as the owner of Chissingworth, not merely the gardener? How would she treat him, then? Her open, artless conversation would change to egregious fawning and preening, and that inevitable predatory glint would brighten her eyes. He did not believe he could bear it.
And so, how should he introduce himself? Give his name as Stephen Archibald Frederick Charles Godfrey Manwaring? Would she recognize that moniker as belonging to the Duke of Carlisle?
Perhaps not. Perhaps if he just shortened it, did not give her all the important bits, he might get away with it. "I am Stephen Archibald," he blurted, without further thought.
"I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Archibald."
By God, it had worked. She believed it. Miss Forsythe truly believed him to be Mr. Archibald, the gardener at Chissingworth. He bit back a grin. It was almost too perfect.
"And I must tell you how much I have enjoyed your gardens," she continued. "I have only just arrived, though, and look forward to seeing the rest of the grounds during my stay."
"Shall we meet again tomorrow morning, then?" In for a penny, in for a pound. "I could show you the botanical gardens where the more exotic plants are kept." It was the least frequented area of the estate and they were unlikely to run into any other wandering guests.
"That would be lovely."
"The same time tomorrow morning, then? But some other place, please. I would not have you reminded of our ignominious introduction here. Through those hedges and a bit beyond is the Chinese garden. There is a small pavilion in the center. I could meet you there."
"Assuming the duchess or my aunt have no other plans for me," she said, "I shall be there. Thank you so very much, Mr. Archibald. I look forward to it."
With a wave and a smile, she was off, disappearing through the entrance to the rose garden. Stephen watched her go and gave a wistful sigh.
And wondered what on earth he had got himself into.
End of excerpt. Like it?ORDER IT!
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