She tumbles into the carriage the way she does everything—with sheer will and a touch of overzealousness.
“Fancy seeing you here,” is all she says when she hits the uneven floor, hooking the carriage door closed behind her with her boot.
Tewksbury’s tongue becomes lead in his mouth. Because he’s suddenly looking into the face of a harried Enola Holmes. Brown eyes and a mop of curly hair pinned to the top of her head.
By God, has he missed her.
It’s been 6 months, 22 days and 18 hours since he last saw her. After their moment at the gate outside the House of Lords in London, he wondered whether he might ever truly lay eyes on her again, despite her promise to the contrary. When a letter with no return address had arrived at his estate several weeks later, his relief had been colossal. Still disheartened that she had not accepted his offer to come live with him, his spirits had lifted substantially at the sight of her handwriting. Dearest Nincompoop, the first letter had begun.
That had been the start of the one-sided correspondence. Letters would arrive sporadically. Sometimes once a week, sometimes not for an entire month. They told of her adventures in London and her renewed interest in a variety of activities. Tewksbury had grown obsessive about checking for messages. Mother was thrilled, of course, mistakenly thinking that he had finally taken an interest in societal invitations.
“Everything all right there, my lord?” the coachman interrupts from above. Tewksbury says something reassuring in return. Though, if pressed, he could not be sure what.
After all, it’s one thing to think of her face every day. It’s quite another to encounter it.
She’s dressed to the nines, in a dark-blue gown, and rouge stains her cheeks. Whether that’s from tumbling into the carriage or actual powder she’s applied, Tewksbury isn’t sure.
Placing herself on the cushioned seat across from him, Enola smooths her skirts and cranes her neck toward the windows.
“And why, exactly, are we heading away from the Southerland Gala?” she asks.
Tewksbury finds his tongue, albeit slowly. “I grew…tired,” he says. “And so chose to retire early. Mother and my uncle are still there.” A thought arises, and a grin forms on his face. “Have you come all the way out here to see me? Is that why you’re wearing color on your cheeks?”
Enola rolls her eyes, though her face flushes further. She’s fairly glowing pink. “I see we’re still asking the all the wrong questions, Tewksbury.”
He can’t help it. He laughs. He’s so happy—no, overjoyed—to see her.
Enola folds her hands together and leans forward with a serious expression on her face. “This whole leaving-the-gala nonsense? Isn’t going to work for me. I rather need you to turn this carriage around, you see. For I am on a case. And I dearly need to uncover certain details regarding one Countess Crowfield.”
Tewksbury raises his brows as he mulls this over. “I see,” he says. Then jumps into action. Tapping his brand-new walking stick to the ceiling of the carriage, he calls for the coachman to turn about.
“One issue, as I see it, though,” he continues, looking back at Enola and knowing he’s pushing his luck a bit. “How, precisely, are we going to announce you at the entrance hall of this gala? Lady Tewksbury, perhaps?”
Now it seems Enola’s tongue is lead. After a moment, she scoffs, but the sound is half-hearted. “No,” she says. “In fact, I was just about to offer you five pounds to trade clothes with me.”
The next time Tewksbury sees her is at, of all places, the wedding of his second cousin—Lady Grey—to the prestigious Baron Sinclair. The union is the social event of the season, and Mother has insisted upon his attendance. Never mind that the Chelsea Gardening and Flower Show is occurring across town. He had been secretly hoping to sneak away to see the bloom of wild English roses, but “Duties must,” as Mother always says.
Duties must, indeed, Tewksbury muses, as he stands in front of the droning Viscount Ferrington and his loquacious wife at the post-wedding reception. They are speaking at length about their teenage daughters (“of great talent and exceptional beauty” the Viscountess keeps adding). Mother, naturally, had made introductions and then disappeared. Tewksbury isn’t stupid. He knows what game she’s playing. He pretends to listen and sips at his champagne, fighting the urge not to gag at the taste.
After a suitably long time, he excuses himself with polite reference to the water closet. He skirts the edge of the hall, watching the young newlyweds shake hands with attendees and thinking that this night will last forever. As he does, he feels a hand at his elbow and finds himself stumbling into a coat closet off the main hall.
“What—?” he starts, but does not finish. For Enola is standing in front of him. Directly in front of him. This time, in a footman’s outfit.
“The second course of the wedding meal has been poisoned,” she says by way of greeting. They are nearly nose to nose. She’s so close to him in this cramped space that he can see the freckles splayed across her face. Looking into her wild eyes, he breathes in her smell: gardenias and ink. Then forces himself to focus.
“Poisoned? What?” He clutches the champagne flute closer to his chest. It rests close between them.
“Poisoned, yes. Do keep up, please.” She sounds exasperated, as though she’s had quite the day. Tewksbury’s mind works to process what she’s saying. “I overheard the sous chef talking about lacing the cabbage soup with arsenic. The Baron and Baroness are in danger.”
Tewksbury can’t help himself. “Why, good evening, Miss Holmes. Lovely to see you, Miss Holmes. How is your family, Miss Holmes?”
"Tewksbury, do not try my patience,” she says. Her mouth is set firmly. “You know very well that this is no laughing matter.”
It is not, but he smiles anyway. “Very well. How may I be of assistance?”
It turns out that he may be of great assistance. He provides a distraction while she enters the kitchens, he closes (and locks) an important Parliament member into the dry goods pantry, and ultimately, he helps to evacuate the high-bred members of society from the hall when a small grease fire erupts among the curtains.
The reception is ruined, of course, but nobody has been poisoned, and so the pair call it an evening by lying beneath the stars on the grassy knoll behind the building. After reassuring his mother that walking home would be “good for his nerves,” Tewksbury stretches out beside Enola on the green and tries to wind down from the events of the evening.
Enola bites into an apple she found somewhere. She wipes her mouth on the sleeve of her dinner jacket before offering it up to Tewksbury. He accepts, taking a bite, and thinks he’s never tasted something sweeter.
“Well, Lestrade will certainly have a time following that up,” Enola remarks, tipping her head back. Her light brown hair has fallen out of its carefully pinned coiffure. It cascades over her shoulder, and Tewksbury has the urge to touch it. “He’s been chasing down the wrong gentleman for weeks. This should set him straight.”
There’s a pause. Then she adds, “I do feel a bit bad about the wedding, though. Although I don’t much see the point.”
“The point?” Tewksbury asks.
“Of getting married,” Enola says, plainly.
That makes him sit up. “You don’t believe in marriage?”
Her eyebrows pinch together, as though no one has ever asked her this question before. “I…don’t know, really. It seems archaic, doesn’t it? Woman pledges herself to man. Promises to honor and obey him. I can’t see myself ever being bound by such an arrangement. I value my freedom and independence. A husband would make me go to balls and keep the house and care for the children. Lock me away, really. I would never be able to do my detective work if I were playing the role of wife and mother.”
Tewksbury has never thought of it this way. An uncomfortable lump forms in his throat.
“And…what if,” he begins. Knowing he shouldn’t. Asking anyway. “What if there were a man who did not place those expectations upon you? Someone who merely wanted to wed you for you?”
Enola turns her gaze upon him for a long moment. The silence is deafening. But Tewksbury does not look away first. She does.
“I don’t know,” she says, after the silence has stretched on for eternity. Her eyes are back on the stars. Then, quieter: “Perhaps.”
Tewksbury tries not to hope. “Perhaps,” after all, is not “no.”
The following autumn, he’s taking a walk through Whitehall Gardens during an afternoon recess of the House of Lords when he discovers it. A scribbled note in his coat pocket.
Peonies Cart, it says. Two o’clock.
He looks around the green, but no one lingers. There’s only one person who would leave him such a message anyway, so he quickly checks his pocket watch before hurrying toward Covent Garden Market.
When he arrives, he finds Enola leaning against one of the pillars, newspaper in hand and a flat-cap pulled low over her face. The disguise doesn’t matter. He would recognize her anywhere.
He considers plucking a daisy—a gift—from the cart nearest him, but thinks better of it. She may never understand his love of flowers, but she does understand him. And that’s what matters.
He approaches with a quip instead. “And what’s a fine young gentleman like yourself doing out here on such a brisk day?”
Rather than answer, she shoves the newspaper into his chest. “John Watson is missing.”
He’s confused. Understandably. But he’s learned to curb his reactions over the years. He looks down at the crumpled pages and asks the question she already knows is on his tongue. “Who is John Watson?”
“Watson,” she says, more firmly. Her brown eyes meet his as she looks up at him. As always, something warm and undefinable trickles through him. Even more freckles dot her tanned face. He recalls a recent letter detailing an extended stakeout that kept her out of doors for nearly a fortnight.
“Sherlock’s Watson?” she adds. “His partner in detective work?”
Ah. That rings a bell. “Oh,” Tewksbury says, lacking a true reply.
Enola doesn’t need one. “And so I require some assistance in setting a trap the day after next. Would you be able to procure a few bars of gold and a fishing net by then?”
She asks for these items as if they are purchases from the market. In her world, this is a request for a dozen eggs and a bag of loose-leaf tea.
“A fishing net?” Tewksbury asks, quirking a brow.
“Yes,” she huffs. “A fishing net. Although a large sack might also do….” She trails off thoughtfully, before looking up at him again. “You’ve grown taller. That’s annoying.”
His laugh is unexpected. Much like her. “Or perhaps you’ve grown shorter,” he teases. She elbows him in response and starts to wander the market, folding up The Gazette beneath her arm. He joins her, walking stick grazing the cobblestones. As they move, their hands dangle at their sides—his left to her right. Their pinkies graze each other’s from time to time, but neither acknowledges the connection.
"Of course I’ve grown taller,” he says, relenting at last. “My eighteenth birthday is just around the corner, you know.”
Enola shakes her head. “I’ve never understood why people make such a big to-do in regard to one’s date of birth. Age is merely a number.”
“Ah, but tell that to my mother,” Tewksbury says back. “She intends to host a ball in my honor. As if it’s not bad enough that she’s continuously throwing doting mamas and their daughters in my directi—” He breaks off quickly, realizing the thin ice upon which they skate.
Enola stops. “She’s sending…women after you?”
“Well.” He feels awkward. Tries to clear his throat. Fails. “Typically, young lords of…marriageable age…are meant to…seek brides, or, um, at least court young women. And Mother is convinced that I should follow such traditions. Starting with my eighteenth birthday.”
Enola looks stunned. Knocked off course in a way that is unfamiliar to her. She is frozen in the walkway of the market. And though her mouth moves, no words come out.
Her silence helps Tewksbury find his courage. He moves closer, reaching out to touch the brim of her cap. “Not that I intend to find a bride of my mother’s choosing.” Looking into her eyes, he tries to impart the unspoken. The always unspoken. He slides his hand from her cap to a curl peeking out from behind her ear. “But maybe, if someday, you wanted to—”
At that moment, an automobile backfires on the high street, and Enola comes back to herself.
“So,” she trills, moving forward toward one of the market exits. She is speaking too quickly now. “A fishing net, several bars of gold, and, um, your pocket watch, if you can spare it.”
Tewksbury feels disappointment rush through him. “Of course,” he says. Because no matter what, he’s going to be there for her.
“I—I’ll send a message, with the time and location,” she throws out, before disappearing into the crowd.
The morning of Tewksbury’s eighteenth birthday dawns gloomy and overcast. When he arrives downstairs for breakfast, he finds the house buzzing with activity. The grand dining room has been transformed, with tables lining every wall. The sitting rooms are being aired out, and the ballroom is decorated beyond compare.
There isn’t a bouquet of flowers in sight.
“Darling,” Mother says, as she bustles into the second dining room, where poached eggs and toast await. She wears her nicest gown. “Happy birthday.”
Tewksbury thanks her. Then takes a breath and asks what he knows is a silly question. “Mother, have there been any…more accepted invitations?”
Lady Tewksbury turns to the mantel, where the latest stack of messages lies. “Hm,” she tuts, “Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam shall be in attendance, with their daughter, Lady Madeleine.”
Excellent, he thinks sarcastically, another débutante daughter.
“And the Baron and Baroness,” she finishes. Her eyes slide to her son, now seated at the table. “Why, darling? Is there someone to whom we forgot to send an invitation?”
“No,” he says, looking down at his teacup. For he had already sent Enola one, knowing—deep down—that her attendance would be too great a risk. It does not stop the disappointment from creeping in, however.
Tewksbury takes two bites of his toast before finding that he has lost his appetite. Folding up the serviette in his lap, he makes to depart the dining room.
“Do not forget,” his mother calls after him. “The guests shall arrive at six o’clock, sharp.”
But by the time clock reads half two, he feels as if he’s going mad. He would much rather be wandering the woods than selecting a sensible pair of loafers to wear for the evening. He doesn’t, however, think he can escape the house without attracting too much attention.
As he’s debating climbing out his window or going downstairs for another cup of tea, a knock sounds at his chamber door.
“My lord?” the valet’s voice calls out. “There’s a delivery for you. It’s quite…heavy.”
Tewksbury is at the door in a flash. Two footman and the valet stand on the other side, holding a large black trunk. A smile breaks across his face. “In here, please,” he gestures quickly. “Just through here.”
The footmen place the trunk in the middle of his bedchamber and bow before turning to leave. Tewksbury is closing the door behind them and rushing to the trunk before he even finishes giving his thanks.
Flipping the lock on the lid produces—as he knew it would—Enola, wearing a lavender day dress and a long ribbon in her hair. He hugs her to him, brushing aside the thought of the last time he was this close to her, and chuckles. “You could have simply used the front door, you know.”
“And what fun would that have been?” she retorts, returning his hug. “Happy birthday, Viscount Tewksbury, Marquess of Basilwether.” He breathes her in. More gardenias.
“Hang on,” he looks down at her, not quite letting her go. Her hair is shorter and plaited down one side with the ribbon. “You’re not here on a case, are you?”
She laughs lightly. “No, alas, I am not. Unless you’re in need of a detective? Have you got any missing housemaids? Stolen jewels? Mysteries worth solving?”
Pulling her from the trunk and setting her on the floorboards instead, he shakes his head. “I’m afraid not. Although I could hide some of the pastry chef’s cakes for this evening, if you’d like.”
She brushes off the sleeves of her dress and looks him square in the eye. “About that,” she says. “I have some…other plans for today.”
Tewksbury knows this, of course, but it does not stop the sadness that spreads through his stomach. He lets her go and walks back toward his writing desk. “Ah. That’s quite all right,” he says, not looking at her. Not looking at anything. “I understand.”
“Well, I don’t think you do. For, you see,” she continues, “you also have some other plans for today.”
That makes him turn back. She’s on her knees now, holding up a velvet box. His breath catches, then releases. It’s much too large to be what he thinks it is. “Enola Holmes, if I didn’t know better, I would assume you’re trying to propose.”
“Lord Tewksbury,” she intones dramatically, cracking the box open. It holds two small pieces of paper. Tickets. “Will you…attend the grand opening of the gardens at Kew Palace with me?”
The grin on his face feels like it’s stretching to his ears. A thought occurs. He bites his lower lip. “But what about the ball?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she huffs. “We’ll have you back in plenty of time.”
In the end, they both climb out his window.
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are far better than anything Tewksbury could have dreamt. Each greenhouse contains plants and species from all around the world. Orchids, thrifts, even cacti line each one. In his excitement, he finds himself dragging Enola from one to the next. It isn’t until she hooks her arm around his and slows his pace that he even realizes. He offers an apology, but she only laughs.
“You’re rather excitable when it comes to plants, aren’t you?” she teases.
He doesn’t respond. He can’t counter that, after all.
When they step into The Waterlily House, it takes his breath away. The enormous pads stretch the surface of the pond and blooms emerge from between each one. The water is still, calm.
Because there’s no one else around, Tewksbury takes the opportunity to kneel in front of it, closely examining the pink and yellow buds.
“Magnificent,” he says, under his breath, after a moment. “Utterly marvelous.”
He turns his gaze to the stalks of papyrus and feels his heart swell. “This is what I want,” he says quietly. Almost to himself. “I want to plant things. Watch them grow. I want to be a botanist and build my own garden nursery. I want to discover a new flower and see how well I can maintain it. I want to leave behind the House of Lords and travel the world. I want to see how bamboo grows from the ground and coconuts from the trees. This—here—is what I want for my life.”
He feels a hand on his arm and turns. Enola.
“Tewksbury,” she says. Her voice is quiet, slightly nervous. There’s a tremor in it that makes him sharpen his gaze. “You can have that.”
“But I can’t,” he says. In a moment of weakness, he slides his hand down her arm. Wraps his fingers around her own. Pulls her close until their foreheads are resting against one another’s. “I’m not brave enough.”
“I’m not, though,” he says. “Not without you.”
Enola lets out a shaky breath. Tightens her hold on his. A long beat between them, then, “I don’t want to go to balls.”
“What?” he asks, caught off guard. He lifts his forehead from hers.
“I don’t want to go to balls,” she repeats. “Or embroider.”
“I don’t unders—” he starts, unsure where this is coming from.
“I will not, under any circumstances, be told where I can and cannot go.”
“I will not live in that massive hall you call a house. And I will continue to take cases and investigate on my terms. Even if that means going undercover, or, or—sneaking out late at night.”
Tewksbury’s heart begins to patter in his chest. He thinks he knows what she’s saying, but he doesn’t dare hope.
"I will not wear corsets unless necessary, and I will decide if—and when—we marry. Is that understood?”
“Yes,” he says. Before she can say anything else. Before she can change her mind. “Enola,” he says, pulling her chin up and looking directly into her eyes. “Yes.”
And that’s when she kisses him.
Her lips are warm and soft, everything he’s ever dreamed. She tugs at his bottom lip with her teeth, and before he knows it, their tongues are intertwined. And it's perfect.
They break apart when they lose their breath. He’s smiling so wide, but he can’t keep his lips from her. He nuzzles her neck before kissing her cheek, her temple, the shell of her ear. He bites and nips until she hums, pulling him back to her lips. She scrapes her nails up the base of his neck in retaliation, causing gooseflesh to break out across his skin.
Slowly, slowly, they ease away from each other. He doesn’t let her go. Even when she breaks the silence.
“Are we clear, then?” She sounds almost stern, but the twist of her lips gives way to a grin of her own.
“Crystal,” says Tewksbury. Before kissing her again.