Flint had been gone for about two minutes, needing to sign for a delivery of more compost, and pausing on his way back to remind a shirtless Billy to at least apply sunscreen. Yet by the time Flint got back Vane was sitting in a deckchair with a bloody nose, Eleanor was standing nearby with her arms crossed tightly and an unreadable expression on her face, Max was dabbing at Vane's face with a handkerchief, and Silver was watching the entire debacle.
"What happened here?" Flint glared at Eleanor, who merely lifted her chin, and then at Vane who glowered back before returning to enjoy Max's ministrations. Max ignored him completely.
Miranda was relying on Flint and this bunch of ne'er-do-wells to get the garden completed before the judging of the prestigious competition began. This was now just three days away and so they could not afford to get sidetracked. Blisters, cuts, sunburn, thorns in fingers; Flint made sure these were dealt with efficiently and the victim sent straight back to work. How the hell Vane had managed to damage his nose was another matter.
"You have until to the count of ten before I let him explain it to me," Flint said, stabbing a finger in Silver's direction. Silver perked up at the prospect of being the centre of attention.
"It was a misunderstanding," Eleanor said, clearly not wanting Silver to give his version of events.
"Details then, quickly," Flint said.
Eleanor looked to Vane, who remained silent. Max sighed. "It is nothing," she said. "An accident."
Flint gazed heavenwards and then turned to Silver. "Your turn."
Silver beamed at him. It was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. "We were tending that bed, like you said, and I said, 'Where's the hoe?' which is a perfectly innocent thing to ask, and Vane pointed at Max and said 'There' and then Eleanor – "
Seeing the pointed looks the other three were giving him, Silver faltered before continuing, "Eleanor accidently sort of hit Vane in the nose. With her trowel. On purpose."
Eleanor swore. Vane gave a sniff. Max shot daggers at Silver, who took a miniscule step closer to Flint. Flint rubbed at the bridge of his nose.
"I am not ashamed," Max said with defiance. "My erotic dancing pays well. If Vane wants to insult me, let him. I'm not the one in serious debt."
Vane got up, pressed his sleeve to his nose. "It was a joke."
"I over-reacted and I apologise," Eleanor said tightly. Her expression softened. "Max, I was just – sometimes I get overprotective."
"I don't need you to protect me." Still, Max's anger was gone. Eleanor moved to take her hand and the two women smiled at each other like they were the only ones in the garden.
Flint clapped his hands. "All right. Vane, if you're done bleeding, go and help Jack with the roses."
Rackham had shown a talent for handling the prickly plants. He was the only one who hadn't hurt himself on the thorns, and the display he was working on was shaping up beautifully. "I'm used to the danger that comes with such beauty," he'd said, cheerfully pruning without a care in the world.
As Vane went on his way, Flint said, "Max and Eleanor, back to clearing that bed and planting the begonias."
"Petunias," Silver said. Flint bit back a sigh. He'd been muddling up plants all day. If he was honest, Flint couldn't wait for Miranda to get back but she was out buying some last minute ornamental shrubs to finish off the shady area near the pond.
"You," Flint said, taking out his remaining frustration on Silver for daring to correct him, "come with me."
"But you said I wasn't to be trusted trimming the bushes with sharp implements after what happened with the secateurs," Silver wailed as he followed Flint along the path.
"You can help with the compost, and stay in my sight, because clearly I can't take my eyes off you for five seconds," Flint returned.
"It wasn't even my fault!" Whatever response there was to that was lost as the two men moved too far away to be heard.
Max and Eleanor exchanged a glance and then Eleanor smirked at the squabble and Max laughed. Eleanor leaned over and pressed her lips to Max's forehead. Max gave a soft laugh.
"Later, cherie," she said. "We have petunias to plant."