Hyacinth Roote is the youngest of six daughters and, according to her mother, the one whom it will be hardest to marry well. Instead of an acceptable Society wife to a wealthy man Hyacinth wants to become an artist. In despair her mother takes her to the summer garden tour of her relative, the august and much feared Countess of Edensmarsh.
Though she finds the ‘marriage mart’ prospect of the house party unattractive Hyacinth does look forward to sketching the gardens - until she meets Vere, a lowly gardener and the most handsome, desirable man she has ever met. Unfortunately, Sir Nugent Gilbreath - a London style leader with £8,000 a year and a very bad reputation - pays marked attention to Hyacinth, a situation which dismays Hyacinth and sends her mother over the moon with dreams of a quick wedding. Mistaken identity, jealousy and the thorny circumstance of a missing duke complicate matters until thanks to a ball and a bit of magic, everything ends satisfactorily.
“That truly is very good.”
Jerked from intense concentration, I looked up with martial fire in my eyes, ready to give Sir Nugent the set-down he deserved.
“Vere!” I breathed with a smile, glad I had not followed my initial impulse of lashing out knife-like with the pointed end of a pencil.
“I apologize if I startled you... you were deep in thought.”
“I always am when I work.”
“If you always do work like this it is a worthy thing. This is quite lovely. I like the way you have caught the fullness of the leaves even though they are so narrow... moss roses are of the succulent family, you know.”
I really didn’t know anything of the sort, but once he said it the roundness of the needle-like leaves made sense. “I know so little of the flowers I paint...” I said in apology.
“That you can learn,” he said, leaning over my shoulder, his gaze riveted to my drawing. My gaze, I must sadly admit, was riveted to him. I vow I could actually feel the power - the, dare I say it - the maleness of him radiating out like heat. “This... this is genius. I cannot see how you have made those little leaves seem so patently tubular in such a small area.”
“That is simply some shading. Here, let me show you.” I flipped back to what I called my trial page where I did quick sketches or tried an unfamiliar technique, and was half-way finished with a quick example before his amused chuckle made me look with horror at the rest of the page. The part of the page where his image resided. I would have covered the sketch with my hand, but he gently stopped me with the light touch of a finger against my wrist.
I should have been outraged at such an unwonted intimacy - and from a gardener, no less - but my embarrassment overrode all such polite conventions. Perhaps I was indeed not a lady, as Mother said so often.
He probed the contours of his face with his other hand. “Please tell me my chin does not actually possess such a meandering line.”
“Truly it does not,” I replied in the tiny voice of a small child caught in some naughtiness. “I am not skilled in portraiture.”
He chuckled again, a sound so happy and infectious that I could not help joining in. “At least you are honest.”
“I apologize. For doing your likeness without your permission.”
“Why?” he asked with a devastating smile. “It is a most flattering attention.”
“What are you doing here?” Sir Nugent’s voice sliced through the peace of the garden. Strange that I had never noticed before how thin and unpleasant it was. “I will not have you bothering this lady. Go on, get about your work at once or I shall report you to the Countess.”