Charles Slade clutched one bag in his large hand—all that he possessed was in that bag. He gazed up at Woodley Manor, knitting his brow. Since returning from the war in the Americas, Charles had nearly forgotten what luxury and opulence were. Woodley Manor was the epitome of these qualities, being the home of the Earl of Davenport.
As Charles slowly approached on foot, he heaved a sigh and willed himself to take in the beauty of his surroundings. It was a fine spring day, with an expansive blue sky overhead and the grounds surrounding Woodley shone majestic and verdant. But for Charles, he was still numb to such things and could scarce remove the tortured thoughts that flooded his mind, concerning the war, and the discovery of his father’s death.
It had occurred mere days before Charles stepped off the ship—the only battle scars to be found were located on his shoulder. He eagerly returned to his small village of Fowey where he was quickly informed of his father’s passing due to pneumonia. Charles’ father had been his world, and now his world was shattered.
For a moment, birdsong pulled Charles from his sadness, and the notion that he had quickly secured employment at Woodley Manor thanks to his old childhood friend, Sampson Young. They’d lost contact since Charles left for the war, but immediately upon returning, their correspondences felt as though they’d been friends all the while.
Finally, a figure walked around the grand estate wearing a rather high pair of boots. The person smiled and waved, and recognition took hold: That was Sampson, much taller and more broad than he’d been the last time Charles beheld him.
“Ha ha!” Sampson cried out.
“Ho there!” Charles replied, lifting his sole bag into the air.
Although Charles and Sampson shared much in common, their appearances had always differed. Where Charles had chocolate brown hair and eyes, Sampson was light blond in color and his grey eyes shined. Although there was a time where Charles was considered much more the Corinthian than Sampson, Charles was pleased to see that Sampson had filled out since working at the Earl of Davenport’s manor.
Once they approached, both men embraced one another. “How long has it been, my friend?” Sampson asked.
Charles gave him a firm clap on the back. “Too long, I know for sure.”
That was when it occurred to Charles that it was the first time he’d smiled in the devil knew how long. Being in Sampson’s presence, Charles felt like his old self—the self that hadn’t lost colleagues in the war, or lost his father.
“You look well,” Sampson said, peering into Charles’ eyes.
“A compliment. I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t seen better days.”
Sampson’s smile dissolved. “The war?”
Sampson put his hands in his pockets and gazed at the soft green grass. “You were always the courageous one, Charles. Everyone in Fowey knew that.”
“I wouldn’t say courage so much as stupidity,” Charles said disparagingly.
“You’re alive. That’s all that matters, old friend. We’ll get you back on your feet once more.”
Charles dropped his bag and massaged the back of his neck. “I cannot thank you enough, Sampson… for the position.”
“It’s the very least that I could do. His lordship was searching for a good groundsman, and when I mentioned your background, he was all too willing to hire you on.”
“I anticipate thanking him in person.”
“Come, let me show you around,” Sampson said, leading Charles around the perimeter of the estate.
The property was vast, indeed, with countless acres of land, all needing to be tended to. In the back of the estate, Charles was pleased to discover a large pond with willow trees hanging over it; their leaves falling into the water and floating on the surface. Attached to the pond was a small dock, where a simple boat waited in silence.
“Are there fish in there?” Charles asked in anticipation.
“Indeed. You often find his lordship out on the water with a fishing pole.”
“I’m delighted to hear it.”
“Off in the distance are the stables,” Sampson remarked, pointing in the direction of the structure. “And these woods over here are capital for hunting.”
Charles was more and more amused with Woodley Manor by the moment. These were all things that Charles once enjoyed. He was a skilled fisherman and hunter, and what’s more, he was an outdoorsman through and through. Perhaps employment at Woodley would prove beneficial in many ways.
“It’s a vast home,” Sampson said, turning his attention towards the back of the estate, the white stone of which gleamed in the afternoon sun. “Some fifty rooms, if you can imagine.”
“I can only imagine it because it’s before my very eyes.”
“Now, as you’ll see,” Sampson explained. “The back of the home is situated on this hillside, affording light to the rooms underground, which is naturally where you will reside.”
“I expected no less,” Charles replied.
It didn’t bother him in the slightest that Charles would be living in the servants’ quarters. Considering all the precarious places that he needed to sleep during the war, his room at Woodley would prove lavish in comparison. What’s more, the simple cottage that he once shared with his father in Fowey was as modest as could be. Charles was sure that he’d enjoy an upgrade in lifestyle.
Looking up at the grand home, Charles spotted a young woman in the window looking down. She quickly closed the curtains once she beheld Charles.
“Who was that?” Charles asked.
Sampson looked up at the window that Charles referred to. “That was no doubt Lady Jane Langley, daughter to the earl. Or perhaps it was her maid.”
“The earl has sons, as well?” Charles asked.
Sampson shook his head definitively. “Merely a daughter. Sadly, the countess has already passed on.”
A flood of sadness came over Charles as he thought of his own loss. The death of his father was so fresh in his memory that Charles didn’t know how to hear about someone else losing a parent without feeling deep empathy.
“The home can be somber, despite its beauty,” Sampson went on to explain. “The daughter of the earl keeps to herself, and his lordship is often busy with business affairs and such. They take their breakfasts in their rooms, the earl takes tea in his study, and the two of them come together for supper. The daughter is engaged in several lessons throughout the day, improving her skills in this and that. Woodley runs like a clock, you’ll find.”
“I like that kind of order,” Charles said with a smile.
“Then you will find that this employment will be most suitable. You’ll see that as the seasons change, there’s a great deal of work to do on the grounds, and all those tremendous skills that you learned as a wee lad will be put to good use.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“But from what I can tell, Woodley Manor will not be under attack anytime soon, so I doubt that your skills as a soldier will come in handy,” Sampson added humorously.
“That’s good to know.”
Although Sampson spoke in jest, it was true that Charles had been a most remarkable soldier. He fought with courage and an unflinching sense of duty. Sadly, that kind of valency placed Charles in several dangerous situations that no one else would ever find themselves in. The memory of those gruesome events was unwavering.
“Let me show you the inside,” Sampson said, leading Charles up a flight of stone steps, across the veranda, and through double glass doors which led into a sitting room flooded with light. Several sofas adorned the room, all in soft colors that reflected the light.
Instantly, a man came to take the bag out of Charles’ hand. Charles pulled away at first, not understanding the situation, but then Sampson said, “It’s all right, Charles. This is a footman who will take your bag to your room.”
Charles smiled at his ignorance and unhanded the bag, allowing the servant to remove it. “I’m unaccustomed to such hospitality.”
“You’ll grow to enjoy it. There’s a rather large staff here, considering that it’s only his lordship and Lady Jane, but there are often visitors to Woodley and the occasional fete, when the guest rooms are then occupied.”
“His lordship does invite the occasional mistress,” Sampson said, lifting his brow. “If you ask me, he’s still interested in such matters.”
Charles respectfully cleared his throat. He, too, was interested in such matters, especially considering that he still adjusted to living in a world with the feminine sex present.
Each adjoining room was more spectacular than the last, with rare oil paintings, sparkling chandeliers, rich flower arrangements in ornate vases, and spotless carpets from the Orient. Every once in a while, a housemaid would pass wearing a starched uniform, or a footman with his powdered wig. All in all, the other staff eyed Charles with curiosity before turning away.
“Here we have a room that you will enjoy,” Sampson said, opening a door to what appeared to be the only dark room in the home, the walls covered with the heads of taxidermies.
“His lordship certainly enjoys the hunt,” Charles said.
“Indeed. Many of these beasts were caught in that very forrest out in the field. His lordship takes great pride in these creatures.”
“I can see why he would.”
It reminded Charles of his own hunting days. He was a rather skilled hunter—had learned from his father—and that accounted for much of Charles’ acumen in the war. But Charles feared that those days of hunting were behind him. He couldn’t imagine killing another creature in his life.
“My father would have enjoyed this room,” Charles said somberly.
Sampson’s demeanor turned heavy. “I’m sure that he would. He was a fine man, Charles.”
“That he was,” Charles replied, still gazing up at the remarkable animals.
“And he would be proud of you.”
“I do regret that he was unable to hear my stories from the war. He was opposed to my enlistment, for my father feared that I’d perish whilst away. Little did I know that I wasn’t the one to be concerned with.”
“It’s a strange thing, this life. One never knows what will transpire.”
“We cannot go back and change the past, now can we?” Charles said, heaving a sigh and willing himself to display a lighter demeanor. “I’m excited for my new life here at Woodley.”
“And so you should be. You’ll be spending most of your time out of doors, and since I remember you to be rather a hermetic fellow, you needn’t encounter anyone unless you choose. What’s more, you can decide to take your meals with you out to the field, or dine within your room at night.”
Charles had to laugh to himself. “You know me all too well.”
“Some things never change,” Sampson replied, leading Charles out of the dark room and into the light of the hall, where to Charles’ amazement, his lordship stood waiting.
“My lord,” Sampson said, bowing his head deeply to the Earl of Davenport.
“Good afternoon, Sampson,” his lordship said, turning to Charles. “This must be the soldier that you described.”
“Yes, my lordship, this is Charles Slade, who served honorably for his country.”
Charles bowed his head, just as Sampson had done, and waited for the earl to address him.
“Mr. Slade, such an honor to have you at Woodley Manor. I’m told that you’re a rather skilled craftsman and outdoorsman.”
“My lord, I can help in any of those areas and so many more.”
“I do not doubt it,” the earl said, nodding in approval. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have matters to attend to in my study.”
As the earl departed, Charles watched him walk away, in awe of his rich apparel and bearing. Without question, Woodley Manor was to be a whole new world for Charles Slade.
Lady Jane Langley sat at her dressing table; her maid, Maria Swinton, standing behind her.
“So much has already transpired today,” Maria said with a smile upon her pink lips. “I viewed Sampson out in the garden. He’s looking as handsome as ever.”
Jane ever so slightly rolled her eyes, sensing that she was in for a morning of gossip and intrigue, which were Maria’s favorite sports.
“Why don’t you approach him, Maria?”
Maria’s jaw dropped open and she shook her head defiantly. “I cannot do such a thing. Sampson must approach me. Don’t you know how these matters work, m’lady?”
Jane couldn’t help but laugh. “Of course, I’m aware how these matters work. I just choose to never follow the rules of custom, whenever I can.”
Maria patted Jane upon the shoulder. “Oh, you’re so wicked. But I do admire your spirit.”
Jane smiled to herself and looked in the mirror at her brown hair, which had lightened a bit after spending so much time in the sun. It was Jane’s favorite time of year, after all; when winter snow cleared and Jane was left to bask in the sunshine, spending all her time in the garden or intrepidly walking out into the field.
Gazing into her own green eyes, Jane saw someone look back at her in the mirror who desperately wished to be as free as a bird. Sadly, being the only daughter to the Earl of Davenport, Jane would need to focus on custom… and finding a husband.
“Tell me what you admire about Sampson so much?” Jane asked while Maria continued to set her curls.
“What is there that can’t be admired?” she replied. “He’s so tall and broad, with that marvelous blond hair and grey eyes. I could get lost in those eyes.”
“Maria, I simply don’t understand how you can talk of one man all day long, yet you find it impossible to do anything about your affections.”
“I’ve already mentioned, there’s nothing that a lady can do. I’m unsure if Sampson even shares in my affections. The man is so impossibly aloof.”
Jane knit her brow and considered the matter. She never found the groundsman to be aloof in the slightest. He was always warm and open with her, even sharing brief chats from time to time when they encountered one another in the field. It was so impossibly strange that Maria had a differing opinion of him.
“What if I were to arrange something,” Jane suggested. “Such as, when I know that Sampson will be working in the garden, I’ll give you some sort of signal and you can rush out to me, telling me that my presence is requested inside and that you’re to remain out of doors.”
“That will never work.”
Jane turned in her chair indignantly to look up at Maria. “Why on earth would that not work? It seems sensible enough.”
“Because, it’s forced, m’lady. Nothing can be forced.”
Jane turned back around and gazed into the mirror once more. Whatever protocol that Maria had in mind, it seemed vastly overcomplicated in Jane’s estimation.
In terms of her affections, Jane believed in simplicity. It was uncommon that she fancied someone that might be a suitable prospect. As a titled lady, it was accepted that Jane needed to marry a man of means, and there were a number of men that had captured her attention in the past—but these could only be admired from afar if they were no better than a baron’s son.
Jane would often resort to her imagination in such circumstances, dreaming of gentlemen in certain settings and under certain circumstances. She also delighted in reading romance novels, where Jane could disappear from her life entirely. Life at Woodley Manor could be terribly boring at times, and these exercises in the imagination proved most favorable.
“Where have you gone in your mind, m’lady?” Maria asked.
“I apologize,” Jane replied, her lips breaking out into a smile. “I was considering things.”
“Well, I have something for you to consider. Did you know that there’s a new groundsman?”
“I was unaware,” Jane replied, putting crystal earrings into her ears.
“Oh, Jane!” Maria exclaimed. “I would hate to admit that he’s more handsome than Sampson!”
“Well, considering how Sampson appears in your mind, I find that rather difficult to believe.”
“It’s true,” Maria said, placing her hands on her hips. “He’s even taller than Sampson, and what’s more, I’m told that he’s just returned from war.”
Jane thought it all rather peculiar. Her father always informed her when there was a new staff member at Woodley. Not that it was of any particular significance, but Jane was always amused when there was someone new to be introduced to.
“What does he look like?” Jane asked in amusement.
“I only saw him from your window, just as you were finishing your toilet. He’s dark in coloring, and very striking, even from a distance.”
“Then I look forward to meeting him.”
“You look forward to feasting your eyes upon him, m’lady,” Maria said humorously.
“Enough of that,” Jane protested. “Let’s finish this business so that I might go down for breakfast.”
Maria sighed to herself. “Very well.”
Once Jane was entirely ready to remove herself from her room, Maria gave her one last inspection and then nodded her head in approval.
Coming down the stairs, Jane watched as each servant that she passed bowed or curtsied. She gave each of them a delighted smile, respecting those who served at Woodley in the manner that they ought to be.
As she stepped into the dining room, Jane was struck by the same sensation each and every morning; she missed her mother terribly. It was always at the breakfast table where Jane and her mother would have the most fun. They’d chat and eat, all whilst his lordship read his paper and kept to himself. Then, Jane and her mother would go for a walk in the field. Those halcyon days were gone.
“Daughter, come and be seated,” her father said.
Jane did as she was told, taking her customary chair and gazing across at her mother’s empty seat.
The Earl of Davenport held a paper up in front of his face. He peeled back the edge of it to gaze at his daughter.
“Everything all right?” his lordship asked.
Jane sighed. “Will it ever get easier?”
“Daughter, we lose those that we love in life. It’s the natural course.”
“Sometimes, I still feel her present, and I wonder to myself, is she some kind of angel?”
His lordship folded his paper and placed it to the side. “Yes, she is some sort of angel,” he replied warmly.
The sideboard was brimming with hot food, and Jane finally got up from the table and filled her plate with eggs, ham, and a biscuit. Returning to the table, the footman poured piping hot tea and Jane tucked in, enjoying her customary breakfast.
“You might see outside, I’ve hired someone on,” his lordship said.
“Maria was telling me of it,” Jane replied. What she couldn’t admit to was Maria’s recounting of the man’s handsomeness.
“He’s a veteran of the war, about Sampson’s age. I believe that they lived in the small town of Fowey when they were young. He’s rather strong in bearing, just as Sampson is.”
“How very interesting. I look forward to meeting him.”
“What with the warmer months approaching, there will be a great deal for him to accomplish on the grounds.”
“I anticipate no less,” Jane replied, buttering her biscuit.
“Would you fancy a dinner with Lord Hervey?” his lordship asked.
Jane froze, unsure of how to respond. Lord Norman Hervey was the son of the Earl of Pelham, and it seemed as though her father was interested in instigating the match, for Lord Hervey was mentioned several times.
“What are you implying, father?”
“Merely that he’s a kind gentleman and there’d be no harm in inviting him to Woodley for an early supper. The Earl of Pelham has expressed interest, as well.”
Although her father’s tone was casual, Jane knew exactly what was transpiring. The Earls of Pelham and Davenport wished for their son and daughter to come together.
She’d only briefly met Lord Hervey, but Jane was under the impression that he was something of a boring fellow. Not that it was easy to cast such aspersions upon first meeting someone, but Jane had a keen sense of others and she instantly knew that he didn’t have an intrepid spirit within his possession.
“Tell me, father. What is it that you like about Lord Hervey… aside from his income?”
His lordship knit his jaw. “Come now, daughter. You know that that’s not my only concern.”
“Then what is your concern?”
Her father eyed her intently. “I wish for you to be well taken care of, Jane. There are many eligible bachelors to choose from. You’re a beautiful girl with fine prospects. But Lord Hervey is just nearby and his father is of excellent standing.”
“I think it’s too early in the morning to carry on with this conversation,” Jane said precociously.
“Just consider it,” his lordship said, bringing his paper back up in front of his visage.
Looking out the grand windows of the breakfast room, Jane admired the remarkable day it was turning out to be. The sun shone bright, the leaves in the trees were think, and she greatly anticipated that afternoon’s walk, or perhaps even a ride on her horse, if Maria was amendable to accompanying her.
Sad thoughts about her mother drifted away and the delicious breakfast warmed her belly. Just as Jane was beginning to fully drift off into her imagination, two figures passed the window—one of them was certainly Sampson. The gentlemen that walked beside him was just as Maria had described.
Jane cocked her head to the side. For once, Maria’s description was quite perfect for the fellow was considerably handsome, even from a distance. Jane looked away, not wishing to dwell on the image of him for too long.
“What is the name of the new groundsman?” Jane asked in curiosity.
His lordship considered her question. “Charles Slade, I believe it is.”
“Charles Slade,” Jane repeated. “Rather an interesting name.”
“If you’d believe it,” his lordship said with a sigh. “He lost his father but days before he returned from war. Sampson informed me of it, and that’s why I chose to hire him on.”
A wave of sadness came over Jane as her father spoke. Although her mother died some years ago, her loss continuously felt fresh. She could only imagine the grief that Charles Slade must be feeling. How silly that moments before she considered his handsomeness when now, all that she could think of was how strong Charles’ heart must be to endure so much.
Breakfast being done, Jane excused herself from the table and went to her chambers to change for the afternoon ahead. She informed Maria of her desire to go out into the garden to pick some vegetables and flowers, therefore Maria secured a hat with a large brim. Once she was fully arrayed, Jane made her way down the stairs once more and headed out back.
Jane stepped into the sunshine and closed her eyes, up-tilting her face towards it. Already, it was deliciously warm, even though the morning was still young. She inhaled deeply, smelling the flowers from where she stood. With her basket in hand, Jane walked down the steps and across the field to the garden, swinging her basket as she did so. Already, her heart danced in anticipation of spending time in the garden.
Upon entering, Jane discovered that she was entirely alone, and that would give her a chance to sing her favorite song in privacy. The first order of business was to pick the roses, which were blossoming beyond compare. Taking her shears to one stem, Jane heard footsteps behind her and turned to discover Charles Slade.
“A Lady’s Garden Of Desire” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Being an Earl’s daughter, Lady Jane Langley spends her days in contentment; gazing out at the expansive grounds and delighting in the company of her lady-in-waiting, Maria. However, all is put into turmoil when the alluring Jane is informed of her father’s firm intentions to give her hand to the son of a local peer. Trapped in a situation she never intended to be a part of, the only thing that acts as balm to her soul is her new friendship with Charles Slade, an enticing former soldier. In Charles, not only does Lady Jane find a lovely friend, but also the awakening of her hidden desire. The more time she spends with the seductive soldier, the more she finds herself wondering… How long will she manage to resist the smoldering passion in order to satisfy her father’s expectations?
Charles Slade returns from war only to discover the untimely death of his father. Alone and with no prospects, Charles sends word to his best childhood friend, Sampson, who instantly secures him employment at Woodley Manor. When Charles discovers that one of his dear friends has feelings for Jane’s lady’s maid, he comes up with a plan to bring those two together. However, in an unexpected twist of faith, Charles’ intentions only end up bringing him closer to the seductive Lady Jane. Their forbidden encounters in the woods ignite Charles’ affections; albeit something much more uncontrollable… With their hearts soaring and scandal being just around the corner, will he be able to tame his growing feelings for Jane?
The more Jane and Charles become lost in each other, the less they can resist the temptation, realising they are each other’s sinful escape. With him, she feels that her fiery nature is finally awakened. In her, Charles finds a remarkable answer to emptiness and loss. Will they finally succumb to their passion or will their undeniable lust be torn apart by external forces? The flaming couple must traverse many insurmountable obstacles, but in the end, will their irresistible connection prove strong enough to shatter them all?
“A Lady’s Garden Of Desire” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.