Her poor bakery. Those two trees they managed to pull out of the wreckage already must have been flung by the wind. Rose shuddered at the thought of what kind of force it took to do that, and was glad she hadn’t been out when it happened. Even if she did almost die because of it and would have been perfectly fine if she stayed home. The snow really didn’t seem that bad last night.
She trudged up to the front door, still standing, and opened it. Inside was hive of activity. Men lifted beams and stones, hefting the debris and getting it out of the way. The Sheriff followed her in and whistled shrilly to get everyone’s attention. Those working here included Scott the adventurer, of course. The rest were all townsfolk she knew well enough.
“Folks,” Sheriff Ben called out, “Rose needs to take a look around to see what she can salvage, so let’s help her out with that. You, your name is Scott, right? Miss Rose has a spare room you can use tonight.”
Wonderful. Rose sighed and wished he hadn’t said that quite so loud in such a public way. It would be all over town by nightfall that Rose was hosting a virile young man for the night, one of those stranger survivors, and we all know what that means, right? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. She forced herself to smile, and felt certain it was very fake.
“I appreciate that, Miss Rose. Can I escort you through the debris?” Scott offered her his gloved hand with a pleasant, disarming smile.
She clenched her jaws together so hard it hurt. Who dd he think he was? Escorting her through her own bakery, indeed! “No, thank you, that won’t be necessary.”
“Oh, Rose, stop trying to be so damned self-sufficient for five minutes.” Sheriff Ben grabbed her mitten covered hand and stuck it in Scott’s before he could withdraw the offer. “Footing here is treacherous. Let’s not have you twisting your ankle or anything.” The Sheriff turned and left, his work here done for now.
One corner of Scott’s mouth tugged up in a grin as he pulled her forward. “I just want to make sure you don’t get hurt, Rose.”
Apparently, if left to her own devices, she would trip and fall and kill herself. Couldn’t have that, not when there was a chance to maybe pair her off with some man who had a firm hand and would fix whatever nonexistent problem these men seemed to think she had. Individual thought, perhaps, or childlessness. She gave him another very fake smile and let him guide her through the disaster area. At least he did actually do something of value when he prevented her from stepping on some broken glass.
It was so sad to see how much was broken or spilled out an unusable. Flour paste was everywhere, mixed with herbs and spices. The cheese seemed fine, at least, and all her dried fruit was still good. Most of her jams and jellies were lost, and some of her equipment was bent or broken beyond repair. She collected everything she could save outside the front door, Scott helping her carry things.
On her third trip, she caught sight Ada hurrying up the cleared path and stopped to wait for her. The girl ran right up and hugged her. “Oh, Rose, I’m sorry I was here earlier! I figured we’d be closed today and only just heard what happened. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay, Ada.” Rose patted her on the back and gave her a good squeeze. “Everyone is fine, and we’ll get back to working order soon. Until then, you should go home and keep warm. Come over to my house tomorrow morning, and we’ll do what we can.”
“Are you sure?” Ada gave Rose her earnest ‘I’m not useless’ look. “I could help. Are you planning to take all of this home? I can start carrying it all.”
“If you want to, sure. Kent is home, have him help, too.” As she turned to go back inside, she saw Ada bending down to scoop up an armful. That would make everything go quicker, and she should have thought to send someone for her sooner. She wasn’t sure why she didn’t, but decided to blame Scott and Sheriff Ben. Maybe she ought to blame Kent, too, for good measure.
An hour or so later, she had all the ingredients she was going to salvage, and was almost done pulling out her baking tools. By then, the swarm of men was done pulling out the large pieces of stone and wood, and was now working on cleaning up the tavern next door. Rose took a minute to rest, leaning against the counter, while Scott came back from the front, hands empty again.
He stopped before getting close and looked down at her with an indulgent smile. “Are we done?”
“No, not quite.” She wanted to slap that look right off his face. Like she needed his approval or worse, affection. “You can go help with other things, you know.”
“Sure,” he shrugged, “I could. But I’m a stranger and a volunteer, so I can do whatever I want, and I choose helping the baker.”
“And why’s that?”
The way his brows went up was probably caused by how surly she sounded. He grinned, though. “Because I like bread.”
“I’ll bet you do,” she grumbled.
He pretended not to hear that, picking up his cup of water and taking a drink. “The sooner we finish here, the sooner you can go home and bake things, while I stay behind and help out at the tavern.”
She jumped to her feet and got back to work.