So, I’ll end this sequence of World Naked Gardening Day posts with a post about my own story, “The Hermit of Aldershill Manor”! I do want to take a moment to appreciate all my collaborators – Ally Lester, Holly Day, Nell Iris, and Amy Spector ! This has been such fun, and we’ll have to do it again in the future! You can read about all of our stories here over on Ally’s blog!
My story, “The Hermit of Aldershill Manor,” is a contemporary (despite the title) ~17k m/m romance with a small age gap – it’s about Charlie, the young historian who’s come to Aldershill to start a new job in the historic house’s archives…and Lionel, the taciturn shaggy gardener who’d rather talk to plants than people. But when Charlie’s caught in a surprise thunderstorm while exploring the grounds, Lionel offers shelter…and that first meeting just might bloom into something more.
I don’t write insta-love type stories all that often, because it can be tricky to do believably (the Character Bleed novels rather famously took ~80k for them to even get together!), and in fact no one says the I love you in “Hermit”…but there is an instant attraction, both physical and emotional. There’re the heightened emotions of the storm and the need for warmth, and of course being wet all over, clothes clinging, gazing at each other…but Charlie and Lionel also fit into some little lonely places in each other’s lives, almost instantly. Charlie’s looking for someplace to belong, after a rough break-up and essentially restarting his life, and Lionel is kind and shy and awkward and brilliant and good at offering sanctuary. Lionel is clumsy around people and dreadful at small talk, but he does like people–he always wants to help, to do the right thing, but he never knows how to say the right thing and he’s baffled by some human interactions. So having Charlie in his house, someone he can take care of…someone bright and cheerful and unselfconscious, someone who’ll talk to him but not mind that Lionel isn’t good at words…someone who makes him feel less alone, in a nice way…
Well. They’re good for each other.
Here, want to see their first meeting, in the rain? I’ll share that below!
Billows of color, pinks and purples and golds, fluttered like butterflies in the rain-mist. Centuries-old ornamental fountains glimmered. The river leapt and splashed.
It was splashing even more in the deluge. Lances made of drops sliced tiny needles through his thin jacket.
Charlie eyed the mudslide of the path up the hill. Considered his shoes. Considered, with longing, thick manor walls and a cozy old-fashioned scholarly guest room with the heat turned up, and a cup of tea.
He could go around the lower incline over there, past the kitchen gardens, where there’d be stone steps, and less mud—except that’d be a longer walk, and he had short legs, and the rain wasn’t relenting, and his fingers were getting cold—
He could find someplace to hide, in the picturesque rock garden or under a tree, though with his luck the tree’d get hit by lightning or the rocks would fall over—
He really was starting to worry about his fingers now. And he liked his fingers. Good for research. Writing. Emphatic gestures while teaching. Not that he was doing that, these days.
He essayed a step, in the mud, in the direction of the stepping-stones and the kitchen gardens.
His foot slipped. He flailed, caught himself, shoved a flop of damp hair out of his eyes.
And discovered a person, equally startled, having materialized on the path.
The person stared right back at him. They regarded each other.
The person was a tall shaggy tree of a man, skin sun-browned, hair black and grey and tied back inadequately; he was made of long angles and broad shoulders and astonishment, with eyes like antique amber, the heart of a forest, a pulse. He also had on a large puffy coat and extremely solid boots, complete with mud, and he had a trowel in one hand.
Charlie, entranced by the vision and also needing to talk, in case the cold was causing extremely attractive hallucinations, offered, “Hi, do you work here?”
The man stared at him some more.
Maybe that’d been a prying sort of question. Or the man didn’t approve of waterlogged American academics wandering into historic gardens unsupervised. Charlie tried, in case this was the problem, “Okay, sorry, I’ll just go back the way I came, sorry again, I’m staying up at the house, I swear I’m not a random person trying to trample your herbs, I’ll get out of your way.”
The man blinked at him. Shifted the trowel to the other hand. “You’re staying up at the house?” His voice emerged low and deep and rumbly, like rich brown earth. It was a warm sort of accent, someplace full of history and hills and the sun on open meadows.
“Am I not supposed to be out here? I’m really sorry, no one told me. I’ll just go—” His foot slipped. Again.
He flung both arms out. Failed to find any balance. Skidded in mud. And found himself caught: a serious callused hand, firmly steadying him.
The man had dropped the trowel. Had rescued him.
They stood there gazing at each other for several seconds. The grip was warm, even through soaked layers of fabric: as if a touch, a saving, had somehow imprinted itself directly onto Charlie’s skin.
The man was so tall and so strong and so elemental, right there and holding on to him. And those eyes were spectacular, up close: luscious golden-brown, framed by long lashes, concerned for him. Focused entirely on him.
Charlie found himself shivering again, not entirely because of the weather.
The man let go of his arm, which instantly missed the touch. “You’re cold.”
“It’s a good walk back to the house.”
“I’m not sure good is the word.”
“You should come home with me.”
“I should do what,” Charlie said, because he hadn’t heard that correctly, had he? Those rain-induced hallucinations again. A gorgeous man, a rescue, and apparently a pick-up line. “Sorry, I thought you said—”
“It’s closer. You should come home. With me.”