Summary: In nineteenth century London, it's not considered proper for a young lady to send flowers to a healthy, eligible young bachelor. But when Adrian Morey receives a bouquet with a challenge, he can't help but be intrigued. His curiosity only grows as the bloom induced correspondence continues and he finds himself becoming more and more fascinated by his mysterious admirer. Soon he's tearing up the city looking for her, but will his father's plans for his marriage conclude before he finds her?
Annabelle Bradford has adored Adrian from afar for years and when she finally finds the nerve to tell him of her feelings, she does it in the most frivolous of ways – with a bouquet! But then, to her surprise, Adrian answers her message with another posy and before she realizes it, they're running a correspondence of petals. But what is all this talk of his betrothal?
"He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not," Annabelle Bradford repeated over and over again as she striped a deplorable daisy of its petals. "He loves me. He loves me not." The last petal drifted to the ground and she sighed, flopping back on the plaid wool blanket she had lain over the grass in the garden of her father's London townhouse.
"Who on Earth do I think I can fool?" she muttered to herself and tossed the daisy stem aside. "He doesn't even know I exist and he probably never will. He'll live his life out, marry a woman who looks like an angel and always says the right thing and she'll bear him as many children as he likes – not too many, so as not to seem uncivilized and not too few because she'll be an obedient wife who will always do her duty." She watched the clouds float along in the sky, mentally picking out shapes among them as she went on with her ranting prophecy.
"One day, when his children are all grown up and he's bouncing his youngest grandson on his knee, the butler will walk in and say, "The mail, My Lord." And he'll go through it, laughing over letters from his friend and reading his grandson some passage from one his daughter in Italy wrote and then he'll come across a cream coloured envelope with flowing words in red ink. He'll open it and, lo and behold, there will be an invitation informing him that some strange woman obsessed with flowers died and, as her last wish, asked that he attend her funeral.
"Yes, and he'll go, even though he'll think it's odd and strange and rather grotesque. He'll go out of respect for a woman's last request. It shall be open casket of course; Melanie would make it so because that's just the way she is. He'll look down at me and pretend he's saying some monumental goodbye to someone he knew very, very well, but really he'll be thinking how awful I look in whatever dress it is that Melanie shall pick out for me. Then he'll go home and tell his still beautiful wife about what a strange day's he's had and she'll say something perfect that will make him laugh and by the next week, he'll have forgotten all about it.
"Well, I won't have it!" Annabelle sat bolt upright on the blanket, blinked and cast a look about the garden to make sure no one had heard her sudden outburst. There was no one near.
"I won't have it," she repeated, more quietly this time. "I won't stand for living without him ever knowing I even exist. There must be something I can do so he'll at least have a clue who I am when he goes to my funeral."
She looked around her garden, recalling the meaning of each plant planted there as she did. Her eyes fell on the two clusters of bluebottles on either side of the door. Bluebottles. It certainly was a suitable message, but was it…too suited, perhaps? After all, she didn't want him to think of her at her funeral as 'that pitiful girl who sent me those bluebottles all those years ago.' Gnawing on her lip, Annabelle considered the idea.
What does it matter what he thinks of me after I'm dead? So long as he remembers me at all, I'll be happy.
Decidedly, she picked up her garden shears from where they lay beside her on the blanket and crossed over to the bluebottles. As she did this, she called out, "Jack! Jack! Where have you gotten off to now?"
"I'm 'ere, milady," panted a young boy as he jogged through the garden from the coach house. He was roughly twelve years of age, with a mess of sandy hair covered by an old hat. His face was dusty and his shirt, which Annabelle could have sworn was white just that morning, was covered in dirt.
She stood, holding a small posy of bluebottles in her hand, her shears in the other, and looked at him wearily. "Whatever shall I do with you, Jack?"
The boy blushed and grinned. "What would ye do without me, milady?" he countered.
Annabelle laughed and waved for him to follow her into the small shed at the side of the garden. "You'd better start tidying yourself up, Jack," she chided him. "You know Father and Mother don't approve of me having you here. Father will have you thrown back onto the streets if he finds the smallest excuse."
Again, Jack looked bashful. "I'm awful sorry, milady. It just, me old chums was hangin' about an' we started talkin' an' –"
"Alright, Jack. Just don't let Father catch you in such a state." Annabelle tied the bouquet with a piece of straw and handed it to him. "Do you know where the Earl of Dunlap's townhouse is?"
Jack nodded eagerly. "'Sa one 'at those two blokes had 'eir big fight in front of last summer, ain't it?"
"Yes, that's the one. I need you to take these there and give them to his Lordship's son, Adrian – but don't tell him who they're from or anything about me. Just say that a lady told you to give them to him."
"What if 'e wants t' reply or sumtin'?"
"Tell him to send it back with you."
Jack scratched his head as he regarded the flowers. "Why're ye sendin' 'im flowers? 'E sick or sumtin'?"
"No, no. It's nothing like that. Just bring him the flowers. Please, Jack?"
"Alright." He turned towards the door, still looking slightly confused. Just when he reached the threshold, he turned around and asked, "Ye ain't in luv wit' 'im, are ye?"
Annabelle flushed scarlet and Jack's eyes opened wide. "Ye are! Ye are!"
"Stop making such a ruckus, Jack," she hissed at him. "Just give him the flowers and don't tell anybody about this."
Grinning, he tipped his hat with his free hand. "As ye says, milady." And then he was gone.
Annabelle sighed and leaned back against the worktable. A wave of remorse swept over her and she had the sudden urge to run after Jack. Groaning, she sank to her knees and buried her head in her arms. What on Earth had possessed her to send those flowers to Adrian? Women didn't send flowers to men. Men sent flowers to women. And how likely was it that he would even know the meaning of bluebottles? She had never met anybody yet who cared as much as she did about the meaning of flowers. He would think her odd; insane, even. What was she to do? She should have sent a note or told Jack to explain the significance of the flowers to Adrian. But that couldn't be helped now. Adrian would never know that the message she had sent him.
'I admire you from afar, being too timid to approach.'
Adrian Morey strode through the doors of his father's London townhouse, handing his top hat and jacket to the butler, Neal Oliver.
"There's a rather scruffy looking character waiting for you in the drawing room, sir," Oliver informed him. "He seems to be under the impression that he has a message to deliver to you – personally, it seems." The butler smiled wearily, as if he found the matter ridiculous, but said nothing out loud of his opinion.
Adrian cast him a curious look before striding to the drawing room, rolling up his sleeves against the stuffy summer weather. A boy of about twelve was joyfully playing with the usually dull cocker spaniel, Chaucer, who was yapping happily at his unexpected playmate. Adrian's eyebrows rose and he remained unnoticed until he had finished rolling his sleeves and cleared his throat, hands now folded behind his back. The boy jumped up, grabbing a bouquet from the floor beside him.
"I was told you have a message for me?" Adrian inquired, looking down his nose at the boy. A scruffy little devil, just as Oliver had said. An orphan living on the streets, most likely, hailed by someone to deliver a message, with the promise of a coin.
"Ye his Lordship's son, Adrian?"
"Yes, I am."
"Milady 'old me to give these t' ye," the boy said, holding out the flowers.
Adrian blinked, shocked. Flowers? Sent by a lady? Was the lad joking with him?
"I can't tells ye who she is 'cause she 'old me not t'," the boy continued. "She said t' tell ye they was from a lady an' 'at's all. If ye want t' send 'er a reply, ye 'ave t' send it back wit' me."
Drawing in a breath, Adrian regained his composure. He still couldn't tell if the boy was just playing a joke or not. He seemed sincere, but boys on the street were known to be skilled tricksters.
"You can't tell me anything about her at all?" he inquired.
"Not a tin', milord."
"And there's no message to go with the, er, flowers?"
"Well, then," Adrian smiled and raised his eyebrows. "How can she expect a reply if she hasn't said anything?"
The boy's eyes darkened and he all but glared at Adrian. "She ain't stupid. She's right smart, pro'ly smarter 'an ye is. She knows the meanin's of flowers an' such. 'At's all she needs t' say anythin'."
The meaning of flowers. Adrian's heart softened. His mother had loved gardening, the individual significance of each type of flower. She had kept several tomes on the subject which had been transferred to the library after she died. Would any of them be here in the London townhouse? He wasn't sure. He had never had cause to look before. He regarded the offered bouquet now in a new light.
"Can you tell me the name of the flowers, at least?" he asked the boy, doubting he would get an affirmative.
"They's bluebottles or sumtin like 'at, I thinks."
Bluebottles. He had never heard of them, but the flower was a common one, often seen in gardens.
"What did she give you for running this errand?"
"A bed an' 'ree meals day."
Adrian looked up in surprise. "For one day?"
"Nah. Until 'er old man finds an excuse t' kick me out of the 'ouse."
"You do errands for her regularly, then?"
The boy nodded and Adrian considered this for a moment. If her family could afford to take in orphans, there were obviously well off. She was charitable, but had a stingy father, a bit like his own. She had an interest in gardening, like his mother, and sent messages in the form of bouquets. He smiled. What a delightfully intriguing diversion from the lull of the summer.
"Be back here by nine tomorrow," he told the boy, finally relieving him of the flowers. "I'll have an answer for your lady by then."
The boy nodded and stooped to give the spaniel a parting pat.
"What's your name?" Adrian asked.
"Jack," the boy answered. "Jack Wollag."
A.N. I know, I know. I shouldn't be starting another story, but I seriously can't think of anything to write for my other stories and this one just came to me and I had to get it down.