Please help me welcome K.L. Noone to the blog, my second visitor here to talk about her naked gardening shenanigans, and all around lovely human being. Welcome, Kristin, we’re happy to have you!!
Hi there! Thank you to Nell for letting me drop in again – this time, it’s to tell you about my contribution to our collaborative World Naked Gardening Day project – for which Nell, myself, A.L. Lester, Holly Day, and Amy Spector have all written gay romance novellas based around World Naked Gardening Day, which happens on the first Saturday in May. This year it’s the 7th, which is when all our stories will be released!
My story for our project is called The Hermit of Aldershill Manor, a 17,000-word m/m romance between Lionel, a gardener on a historic estate, and Charlie, the newly arrived historian, here to help with the archives. There’s a bit of an age gap, and an unexpected summer storm, and shelter in an old hermitage. And an instant spark, among rain and flowers and green growing things.
My family loves gardens, and it’s always been a part of our lives (even though at the moment we’ve got low-maintenance and drought-tolerant landscaping—it’s far too hot where we live for anything else!). When we travel, especially with my parents, we always find a garden to explore—we’ve been to historical and botanical gardens in Ireland, Iceland, England, and Australia, as well as here in the United States! It’s also the field my father works in, so my brother and I grew up with flowers and trees and roaming around the (plant) nursery and getting his help on botanical science-fair projects, as kids. (We got good grades on the projects, of course!) So when our writer chat was tossing around the World Naked Gardening idea, well…of course I wanted to join in the celebration! Plus, I got to make some truly terrible puns about roots and seeds. (I couldn’t resist. But at least I avoided the joke about being sappy?)
I always have music on when I’m writing, and I know Nell likes songs about rain, so I figured I’d share a couple from this playlist before I go! This time, we’ve got the Eurythmics, with “Here Comes The Rain,” and Savage Garden, “The Best Thing,” because how could I not have Savage Garden in a gardening-themed story, plus The Pretenders, “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” and for something very recent, Wet Leg, “Wet Dream,” and also Tegan and Sara’s “Closer,” because it’s so perfect for the fizzy bubbling-over wanting-more emotion. And Lionel and Charlie definitely do get closer. (And naked, as per the theme…)
Here’s a bit more about Hermit! I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you enjoy all our Naked Gardening stories—I’m so excited to share this project with you all!
Charlie Ash is ready to start a new job and a new life at Aldershill Manor. As a historian, he’s thrilled to dive into the estate’s archives. Plus, he can move on from the end of his last relationship, when the man he’d thought he’d marry broke his heart. He’ll find solace in exploring the manor’s famous gardens…until he’s caught in the rain, and found by a gardener.
Lionel Briar enjoys making people happy, as long as he doesn’t have to talk to them. He does not enjoy tourists, small talk, or social obligations. But he does like plants and history and his job, taking care of Aldershill’s gardens, helping beauty grow. He likes gently tending the world.
So when Lionel discovers the estate’s adorable new historian getting drenched by a summer thunderstorm in his gardens, he offers Charlie shelter…a rescue that could bloom into love.
Just around the bend, and up the small rise; the old hermitage beckoned: an eighteenth-century fantasia of ornamental tower-curved stone and climbing roses and tumbling ivy, tucked into a garden corner by the stream. The honeysuckle and irises by the door, drenched in rain, perfumed the afternoon. Old stones welcomed wet feet, going up the shallow steps.
Lionel opened the door, tugged Charlie in—the young man was looking at the tower with wide-eyed delight, as if expecting dragons and princesses—and only then realized that he’d done more touching of another person, in the last five minutes, than he’d done in the last three years.
His hands catching a slim arm when Charlie’d slipped, earlier. His hands brushing ungloved fingers, handing over a jacket. His hands resting on Charlie’s shoulders, nudging thinness inside.
It’d felt right. It still felt right. He didn’t know why.
Charlie hadn’t protested being nudged, either. Though he was now gingerly peeling off Lionel’s coat, wincing, apologizing. “I’ll just stand over here, I’m dripping everywhere…” His hair, darkened by rain, had flattened into treasure-box colors: old gold and shimmering amethyst.
“You’re not a problem. You need to get warm.” Lionel yanked off his own boots, winced as the tangle of his hair got into his face, shoved it back. “I’ll find you some clothes.”
“I’ll be right here.” Charlie waved a hand at him. “Which is already better than being out there, thanks.”
Lionel did not know how to answer, and so escaped, heart beating faster than it should’ve done. He felt Charlie’s presence at his back as he went.
The hermitage had been converted to a residence sometime in the nineteen-thirties, and then updated in the seventies, and then again much more recently, with the influx of visitors and finances to the estate. It was an odd shape, only four rooms, the one main tower and the three smaller towers joined on at the back, all of them short and snug. But the walls were white-plastered and the wood floorboards were pleasant, and books lined most of the main room, and the central fireplace would heat the whole space, once he got that going.
Lionel had always liked the hermitage. They fit each other, awkward but hopeful, part of the garden grounds.
He tried to hurry, crossing the main room, opening the third door. He tried not to drip on his sofa or his books or the braided rugs, not too much, at least.
The wardrobe and his bed took up ninety-five percent of the space in the bedroom tower, and that wasn’t an exaggeration: he barely had room to walk around. He liked his bed, though. The wood had been hand-carved by a local artisan, crafted from a fallen oak on the estate; it belonged here, and had a purpose. Right now it gazed at him in silent four-poster astonishment, as Lionel flung open the wardrobe and dove into denim and flannel and knit.
Too large, everything would be too large—sweatpants, perhaps—heavy socks—
His hair, wet, got into his eyes. He swore. Found a hair tie, and contained it.
He ran back out. Charlie had obediently remained in place by the coat-rack, dripping onto the mat, which was designed for that. His lips were more pale, and he was shaking, though he was trying to hide it.
He was still beautiful. Those cheekbones, that chin, the way his eyes were framed by the knowledge of laughter. Lionel swallowed roughly. Thrust clothing his way.
Charlie took the offering, but paused. “Should I…go and change in your bathroom? I mean, unless you want me to sort of do that right here, and not get anything else wet.”
Lionel’s cheeks got warmer. He felt it, wondered if it was visible, tried to recall how to speak to humans instead of rosemary and yarrow. “You. Either door. Bedroom. Or bath. You can.”
“Thank you again,” Charlie said, and went off to the second door, which led to the hermitage’s small but serviceable bath. He was careful, Lionel noticed, to leave muddy shoes back on the mat, and to drip as little as possible along the way. Precise, and considerate.
Precise, considerate, beautiful, and in Lionel’s house. Lionel exhaled, and wanted to collapse back against the aged stone tower wall and let it hold him up. He didn’t, because he was still gently damp. But he wanted to.
A person. A man, obviously an adult but also obviously younger than Lionel himself, probably by a good ten years. Someone he’d only just met.
And now here. In his home. How’d that happened? What had possessed him to offer? For that matter, why had Charlie said yes?
He scrubbed a hand across his face. He also needed to shave. And evidently he’d had a leaf in his hair the whole time, which he only discovered upon dislodging it.
He took a deep breath, let it out. What mattered most was the next step. Charlie was here now, and Charlie needed to get warm. Which meant a fire, and tea. Perhaps biscuits. Or bread.
He could do those things. Concrete, clear-cut, things. Warmth and comfort. Yes.
He found the kettle. He tried not to shiver, because although he wasn’t too wet, he hadn’t managed to change clothes yet.
Which a mysterious young man was doing. In his house. Which he was not thinking about. Obviously.
He built up the fire, in the old-fashioned fireplace. He made it large and glowing.
He turned from poking a log, and found Charlie behind him, having just come in.
Their eyes met. Lionel forgot how to breathe, momentarily, because that was what happened when one discovered a petite American garden sylph standing in one’s living room, dressed in too-long sweatpants and a thick knit jumper. He managed, “Sorry.”
Charlie’s eyebrows went up, spring-blond drifts of surprise. “For what? I hung the wet stuff in your tub, by the way. If you’ve got a dryer—”
“In the kitchen. Don’t worry about it. Sit down.” He dove for tea, a shield. “Tea? Chamomile. From the gardens here.”
Thunder boomed, and rain burst against the windowpane, a sharp rattling clamor. Charlie laughed, and curled up in the chair closest to the fire, giving in. “I guess I’m not going anywhere.”
“No. Yes. I mean. Not in that.”
“Well, thanks for the sanctuary.” Charlie accepted tea, wrapping slim fingers around warmth. He took a sip and made a small pleased sound, and Lionel couldn’t take that and therefore gulped half his own to drown out any thoughts. It was very hot.
“So,” Charlie went on, grinning at him, pushing one too-large knitted sleeve up, “what’s your name? And what do you do? When you’re not rescuing academics in distress, that is.”
Lionel stopped to gaze at him. Academic? A scholar? Not an enchanted flower-sprite or dryad? With that bewitching gift for conversation, familiarity, putting the world at ease?
He was holding the mug halfway up, in front of his face. Neither here nor there. He lowered it hastily. Felt his cheeks flush. “Lionel. Is my name. Lionel Briar. I’m a gardener.”
K.L. Noone teaches college students about superheroes and Shakespeare by day, and writes romance – frequently paranormal or with fantasy elements, usually LGBTQ, and always with happy endings – when not grading papers or researching medieval outlaw life. She is currently the servant of a large black cat named Merlyn, who demands treats on a regular basis.