Six Years Later…
“Oh, Anthony, look. It is breathtaking,” Anne whispered as they travelled up the long drive toward the house of their newest client. As renowned garden designers, she and Anthony were called upon by all the well-to-do families in the area. Indeed, their fame had reached across England and into Scotland, now. Her father had sent them to Europe for three months as a wedding gift the summer after they had been married. The experience had opened their eyes to modern garden design as they had toured France and Italy, drawing inspiration to bring home to England.
Anthony took her hand, giving it a light squeeze as the carriage rolled slowly over the gravel-covered drive. “It is beautiful, isn’t it?” he agreed. He raked a hand through his dark hair, now streaked with white. But rather than diminish his good looks, it only proved to increase his handsomeness in Anne’s eyes. He met her gaze, realizing that she had been staring at him. “What?” He laughed.
“Oh, nothing. I just can’t believe that I got so lucky as to marry you.” She leaned over and kissed him, lingering there for a long moment before straightening.
“Indeed? I think I am the lucky one,” he argued. He lifted her hand and kissed it gently and then pressed it to his heart.
“You spoil me far too much.” She turned to look out the window once more, watching how the golden afternoon light flowed over the garden in front of the house. Several rose bushes had been arranged in what looked to be a geometric pattern. She guessed that the design was fully recognizable from the second-story windows.
“I must admit that I cannot see how it may be improved upon.”
“You always say that when we come to these big houses. You must not be intimidated by the fact that we are designing for the queen’s sister.” Anne patted his leg, trying to reassure him. But she could tell that he was still nervous about carrying such a responsibility.
“Did you ever think we would be here six years ago when we married?” Anthony asked, his thoughts turning to sentimental things. He often reminisced aloud in wonder of their love story and how blessed they both were to have found each other after so much heartache.
Anne shook her head. “I did not. At this time six years ago, I was looking out over the blooming gardens of my father’s estate, wishing that I did not have to endure another spring without William.” She smiled, leaning her head against his shoulder. “I had no idea that Fate would bring me another chance at love.”
He leaned down and kissed the top of her head. “Neither did I.”
They had talked several times about how he had felt as he had driven up to the manor that first day at Clatsbury. It was fascinating that two people who had been so broken and lonely could have come together as they had. It had been their blossoming love for each other that had brought them out of the dark and helped them build a new life together.
When they pulled up to the front of the house, Anthony opened the door and helped her step out of the coach. The estate owners were away but had asked them to come and take a walk about the grounds. They had even invited them to stay in the house for a few days as they came up with ideas and drew sketches for the upgraded design of the gardens.
“Shall we take a tour of the grounds before we lose the light?” Anthony suggested.
“Yes, that would be wise. There is an almost magical air about the place, wouldn’t you say?”
“Indeed. Thank you, coachman. We shall not need your services anymore today.”
The coachman nodded, and then the carriage pulled away toward the back of the house where the stables were located, no doubt. Anne sighed contentedly. This is what she had been born to do—helping others make their gardens into a landscape of magical possibilities. Anthony had allowed her to not only be a lowly contributor but a partner in his ideas. She had discovered over the last six years that she had a passion for gardening, and a good eye for design, as well. Anthony had taken to calling her the creative genius while he demoted himself to a humble labourer.
In truth, neither of them would be any good without the other. It was true that Anthony provided much of the physical labour when it came to redesigning gardens for the social elite. At least, he had been at the beginning of their ventures. They had a team of labourers who helped with the heavy lifting. Anthony was, after all, forty-one and deserved to settle down a bit.
“What would you do with the place, Anne? I mean, what strikes you as needing changes so far?”
Anne looked around, nodding when something pleased her and shaking her head when it did not. “Well, I think the hedgerow needs to be trimmed back a bit. I can tell that it has not been shaped in some time. Perhaps we can add a maze to give some drama to the scene here,” she pointed to the left side of the garden where the hedgerow had started to look very sad indeed. They had made their way from the front-drive around the side and back of the house.
“I agree. What else?” Anthony always let her state her ideas first, and then he would come in behind her and suggest minor changes here and there to improve upon them.
The back garden was impressive, with a wildness that appealed to Anne. The trees seemed to be encroaching ever so slightly on the more manicured parts of the lawn as if they were waiting for the chance to retake their rightful place. There was no wall on the edge of the property to show where the wood ended, and the garden began.
“Well, let me see….” Anne said as they continued to walk. She placed a finger on her jawline, something she often did when she was deep in thought. Anthony always teased her about this, saying that she looked like an old philosopher. She looked to the house and saw that the terrace only occupied a small section near the grand salon. Surrounding the terrace were groupings of rose bushes and climbing vines. “First off, I would not have the climbing vines intermingled with the roses. It looks a bit too messy for my taste. I would have them choose one or the other.”
Ideas started swirling in her mind as if inspiration had suddenly touched her, giving her free rein to her wildest dreams. When Anne was first starting to design gardens, it was as if she needed to put a voice to all her ideas and then slowly work back to a comfortable middle ground. Anthony had helped her do that, allowing her the freedom to dream.
“What if we started at the house, with the manicured French style. And as we travel further out toward the wood, we get wilder and more organic. I noticed it as soon as we came around the bend of the house. Do you not see how the trees seem to be leaning toward the house as if they are holding their breath?”
Anthony was slowly nodding his head, taking a few moments to come up to her way of thinking. “It could be a very interesting concept if the client is happy with it.”
Anne nodded. “They are royals, I know. But perhaps we could create a space for them where not everything has to be so ordered. A little chaos is good sometimes, you know.”
“I agree,” he said, smiling at her as she continued down the path toward the house. She halted before a pond with a very sad-looking fountain in the midst of it.
“Well, this will have to be changed. I think that it is the most boring fountain I have ever seen,” she said. Anne hurried over to the fountain, clicking her tongue in disapproval. “It needs two more levels at least. We need to see some excitement. Or perhaps a sculpture of a nymph?”
Anthony let out a laugh. “You do love the nymph sculptures, don’t you?”
“The ones I choose are always tasteful, despite Michael’s teasing.” Anne continued to walk around the fountain, tsking her tongue all the while.
“How is Michael, while we are on the subject. He seems to write more to you these days than to me.” Anthony joined her, looking over the fountain and then turning to look out over the green.
“He is well. He says that he misses you and hopes to make you proud.” Anne came to sit next to her husband on the little ledge that encircled the fountain. Its gentle trickling was the only sound that broke the silence for a time.
Michael was now sixteen and something of a genius, as it happened. After she and Anthony married, her father had spared no expense when it came to his education. He was a bright young man and had found a passion for the law early on in his studies. He was on his way to London now, preparing to embark on his next phase of schooling to become a barrister.
“I am already proud of him,” Antigone said quietly, without taking his eyes off the view. “The original designer of these gardens did do one thing right. He knew how to set it up so that the light catches your attention and sets different things as a focal point. Look there.” He pointed to a faux Roman ruin. It had a round domed roof and sat atop twelve pillars. Surrounding the ruin was a copse of trees, set in natural intervals which cast shade round about the ruin.
“And how does Jane fare?” Anne asked. It would seem that her daughter now confided in Anthony more than she. But Anne didn’t really mind. She had one more year before she was thrust upon society, as she would be presented at court next season.
“She has not ceased asking me questions about young gentlemen and how she should act around them. I think she is very nervous over her debut.”
“It is only to be expected of a fourteen-year-old girl. I know she appreciates the advice you have given her.”
Indeed, it was very helpful for Jane as well as Anne to have insight into the male perspective. Anthony had coached her to be genuine. Men do not want silly, useless wives, he would always say. He had encouraged her to be well-read. But she was not only to be someone who could spout the ideas of others, simply regurgitating what she was told. Anthony had encouraged her to think for herself.
Jane had come to her several times as well. One conversation, in particular, had stood out to her. Jane had been struggling with a piano lesson and had come to her for advice. “Why must I learn all of this if what Papa says is true? Should I not spend my time doing things that interest me?”
“And what does interest you, Love?”
“Not the piano, to be sure.”
Anne could tell that something else was bothering her, so she endeavoured to pry a little bit. “May I tell you what I think, Jane?”
“By all means,” she had replied, scooting to the edge of her seat as if that would help her listen better.
“I think you are worried about finding a husband. Am I correct?”
Jane had let out a frustrated sigh, springing to her feet so that she might pace in front of the windows. “Yes, of course I am!”
Anne had patted the chaise lounge and bid her sit down. “Well, perhaps you could calmly tell me what is bothering you then?”
Jane had halted, flashing a guilty look at her mother. “What if I cannot find a man that is good—like Papa or Anthony?”
Anne had let out a sad sigh. The pain of losing her first husband had dwindled over the years, but there was still a pinprick of sadness that came with any mention of his name. “You will, dearest. You may have to be patient, but I am convinced there is a man who is good and kind out there for you.”
“But what if I do not recognize him when we meet?”
Anne had stood, wrapping her arms around Jane’s shoulders. “What do you think Anthony is here for? He is here to help you, and he has your best interests at heart. He would never force you into a marriage that you did not want.” Anne had let out a laugh, trying to lighten the mood. “Besides, Michael would see to it that anyone who tried to hurt you would be dealt with severely.”
They had shared a laugh, and Jane had continued with the joviality. “So, does this mean you are telling me to continue with the piano lessons?”
“Music is a gift, Jane. But if you would rather not continue, then I can speak to your grandfather about it.”
Jane had thought for a moment and had finally come to a decision. “No. Gladstone’s do not quit. And neither do Smith’s.”
Anne had left that conversation feeling about as proud as a mother could be. And she could sense that William would have been proud as well.
Thankfully, Anne’s father was still very much alive and well. He had been very present as Jane and Michael had grown into adolescence. And had also been very excited when a new addition had arrived in the family.
Anne and Anthony’s youngest son, Liam, was five now and just as bright and handsome as his father. He had the same intelligent grey eyes and curly dark hair. It was no great surprise when her father had announced that Liam would be his heir and would inherit the title, all his wealth, and Clatsbury Manor. But until he was of age, he had announced that Anthony and Anne would hold his inheritance in trust, managing the estate for him. It was an honour that Anthony had never had his eye on. However, Anne knew he would do an excellent job when the time came.
“What are you thinking?”
Anthony asked, offering his hand as he stood. He pulled her up and then tucked her arm into the crook of his arm.
“Oh, just about the children. Do you know what Liam told me the other day?”
“No, what is that?”
“He says that he would rather be a gardener like you than a duke. He got the funniest look on his face when he said it. I asked him why he wanted to be a gardener, and he said that it was because Grandpapa had to sit behind a desk all day and give out money to his tenants.”
Anthony tilted his head, shrugging his shoulders. “He’s not wrong.”
“No. But I think he will grow into the title and responsibilities. He is a born leader.”
“Not wrong on that count, either.” He sighed heavily. “I just hope I have what it takes to train him. I have no idea how to run the estate.”
Anne put her hand on his shoulder, willing him to stop on the path. “That is why Papa has been training you in those things when we are home. He does not want you to feel that way. You will do well in training our son because you are good and just and loyal. Any boy would be lucky to have you as a father.”
Anthony hung his head, thinking as he studied the ground. She could see the wheels turning in his mind. He was so humble and never wanted to draw attention to himself in a boastful way. Some might have said that he was bashful, but Anne knew differently, for his strength was found in his humility. “How did I ever deserve this?”
Anne laughed, going into his arms. “Come. We should continue our walk.”
She started to head down the path, but he captured her hand in his, his eyes alight with mischief. “I have a better idea. Why do we not return to the house and see where we will be staying tonight?”
Anne gave him a sideways look, her face blooming with an impish smile. “Oh, is that so? Well, you shall have to catch me first.”
She jerked her hand free and started off in a sprint down the path, squealing in a very unladylike manner. But there was no one there to hear them. Anthony’s laughter rang out over the green, and their game of chase soon ended under a towering oak tree.
“All right, now I’ve caught you, you have to do as I say.” Anthony placed both arms on either side of Anne’s shoulders, effectively pinning her to the tree’s trunk. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling his head down for a kiss.
Even now, her stomach still swirled with butterflies when he kissed her. And kiss her, he did.
When they separated, they were breathless, their eyes swimming with desire. “Shall we?” he asked, dancing his eyebrows up and down.
She laughed, gently swatting his chest. “Lead on, sir.”
Anne relished the colours playing in the sky as they walked back to the house. The sun was beginning to set to their left, and she sighed contentedly. Her life had been in shambles when Anthony had entered the scene all those years ago. And the ruins were still there, but new life had sprung from them. Never again would she underestimate the power of love, for she had seen and experienced the miracle of it for herself.
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