This week, Erin Satie—the author of the No Better Angels series—kicks off a brand new historical romance series with a ‘deconstructed’ Beauty and the Beast story featuring weddings, odious fiances, and a Lord who may or may not have the best intentions. And I have a sneak peek for you.
“Many orchids are rare by design.” Loel pulled the plant closer, his keen green eyes narrowing in concentration. He had a low, rich voice and a peculiar accent, the aristocratic tones of his youth twisted by years at sea. “The flower might be common as a weed in its native land—even in England we have wild orchids—but if collectors cannot find it, harvest it, and keep a specimen healthy during the long voyage across the Atlantic, it will be a novelty here—and, therefore, valuable.”
He fiddled with the wire skeleton, tweaking it minutely. “Orchid collectors sabotage their competition as best as they can. They hide the exact location where they discovered a specimen. Most try to harvest every flower they can find, every single one, to ensure that any collectors who come after leave empty-handed. In some cases they travel with crews of workmen who cut down the trees on which the orchids grow; they devastate whole forests.”
“But that’s awful!” Bonny cried.
Loel shrugged. “So? It’s faster, safer, and frustrates the competition. My crispum hails from the Andes and grows on trees. That’s all I know—and even that much information comes grudgingly.”
“On trees?” Bonny asked.
“It’s an epiphyte, as many orchids are.” Loel gestured overhead, where flowers spilled from myriad dangling perches. “And now you know why it would be so hard to replace, were you to make the attempt.”
Bonny cringed. She had been caught up in the lecture—these were fascinating, exotic plants—but Lord Loel wasn’t educating her. He wanted her to know exactly how precious and irreplaceable this Odontoglossum crispum was so that she’d feel bad.
A great deal of Bonny’s guilt evaporated on the spot. She had apologized. Several times. She’d returned to Woodclose for the express purpose of expressing regret… which, come to think of it, probably explained why he’d responded so nastily.
Lord Loel had set the whole town on fire, and no one had cared to hear his apologies. Now it was time to give the people of New Quay—and probably, Bonny acknowledged, herself in particular—a taste of their own medicine.
Very well. If that was what he wanted, she would oblige. Sometimes the bitter pill did the most good.
“I didn’t know,” said Bonny. “I understand better now, and I’m very sorry.”
He squinted at her and pushed the Odontoglossum crispum into the center of the table so it sat equidistant between them. “Tell me, is it healthy?”
Bonny guessed. “No?”
“How can you tell?”
“I assumed, since you’re so upset—”
“I didn’t ask you to diagnose me. I asked you to diagnose the orchid.”
“How do I do that?”
“If the leaves are too dark a green, the plant isn’t getting enough light. Spotting might indicate rot, disease, or burning. A slight bronzing of the leaves can be a good sign—it means the orchid is ready to flower—but too much means it’s suffering from overexposure to the sun.”
“How would I know any of that?”
“It takes time. But—you asked about watering, didn’t you? That usually comes next. Why don’t you pick it up?”
Bonny hesitated. “Are you sure you want me handling the thing?”
Instead of answering, he crossed his arms over his chest and glared at her.
Bonny did not want to pick up the orchid. It seemed an invitation to disaster. But he’d asked, and as a sincere penitent, she couldn’t refuse. She leaned over the table, arms fully extended, and lifted the pot a bare inch or two into the air.
It was surprisingly light.
“Good.” Loel propped his hip against the thick slate tabletop. “How much does it weigh?”
“I couldn’t tell you exactly.”
“Is it wet or dry?”
“I don’t know.”
“So we’ve run into more trouble. You should be able to tell by feel alone.”
“Which is it?”
Loel smiled wickedly. “Wet.”
Bonny put the Odontoglossum crispum down and took a nervous step away. That smile was not proper. “So you’ve already watered it?”
“But—when we were outside—I thought it needed water!”
The smile vanished as quickly as it had come. “Watering the orchid at this time of day would kill it.”
“What plant can’t survive an afternoon shower?”
“The Odontoglossum crispum grows on a tree, Miss Reed. In a forest, in the shade. It doesn’t like direct sunlight. And drops of water might as well be magnifying lenses. They focus the light into deadly beams that burn right through tender leaves.”
“I see. I didn’t know that either.” He wanted her to feel ignorant, but that was all right. She was ignorant. If she’d known the plant was valuable, for example, she’d surely have been more careful. “When do you water the plant?”
“You have too many plants here to water them all at dawn. It doesn’t last long enough.”
“Most need water once or twice a week. I’m usually finished before eight in the morning. If I’m delayed for any reason, I wait until after four in the afternoon. Those are the only hours when the flowers will be safe from the sun.”
“What if it’s rainy or cloudy?”
“And risk the clouds parting unexpectedly? It doesn’t take long to do irreparable damage.”
And since, even if he allowed her to lend her fumbling aid, she could never be here at the right time, she would never water the Odontoglossum crispum. Not today or any other day.
So Bonny told Loel what he wanted to hear, the hidden meaning behind all his lectures about the orchid: “I see I have nothing to offer.”
“Good. We understand one another. Now if you don’t mind.” Lord Loel glanced pointedly toward the door. “I have work to do.”
“Of course. Good day.”
She’d almost reached the door to the greenhouse when Loel spoke again.
“I understand you’re newly engaged.”
Bonny looked back. “That’s right.”
He was still leaning against the slate tabletop, arms crossed, expression neutral. It amazed her that a man could surround himself with soft, tender things and still be so hard and unfeeling.
“Charles Gavin is not the man you believe him to be.”
Bonny stiffened. “Pardon?”
“You heard me.”
“You’ve no right to say such things.”
Lord Loel shrugged.
“And besides, you’re wrong,” Bonny insisted. “I’ve known Charles Gavin all my life. He’s a good man.”
“I’ve known him just as long,” said Loel. “And I assure you, he is not.”