Rose stepped carefully to avoid the fresh mud too thick to be baked by the glorious sunshine today. A little dirt wouldn’t bother her so much, but slipping would probably send the tray of delicate pastries flying. Two hours of work made these little morsels. If that got wasted, it wouldn’t be because she didn’t take the time to watch where she walked.
“Karen?” She held the back door of the tavern open with her behind, calling out for her friend.
“Coming!” Karen hurried into the kitchen with a wide smile. “Right on time, as usual. Those look incredible!” She bustled over and took the tray. “You really went all out for this.”
Rose brushed her hands on her skirt. “I am more ready for this Spring than words can express.”
“Oh?’ Karen’s smile turned to a smirk. “Is Scott driving you insane?”
Rose narrowed her eyes. “I’m just tired of being cold.”
“And here I thought he was keeping you warm.” Karen waggled her eyebrows.
Choosing not to dignify that with a response, Rose rolled her eyes. “The basic bread will be ready in an hour. That’ll be it for us for today, so Ada will bring it over.”
“Mmhmmm. Not answering. Is he being a good boy and waiting until he can talk you into Handfasting?”
“That’s none of your business.” It could be Karen’s business, except whatever Karen knew spread around town faster than anything ought to. Better to keep everyone guessing. He stayed behind when his friends moved on without taking another stab into the Pit, and had been living in her house, working for the Sheriff as a Deputy. Everyone wanted to know everything they could. Lucky for her that Kent knew to keep his mouth shut. So did Scott.
“It’s getting warmer at night. Maybe I should send the kids to lurk under your window and see what they can hear.”
Rose rolled her eyes again and backed out to return to the bakery. “Grow up, honestly.” The door cut off Karen’s laughter when it shut. She slipped inside her bakery and checked on the bread dough. Finding it ready, she enlisted Ada to help shape the dough and transfer it to the oven. One loaf in, an interruption came.
“Rose?” Scott’s voice came from the front, moving towards the back. Kent would let him through, so she didn’t have to drop everything to see him. “Is it safe?” Experience (and a swat on the rear with her peel) taught him to stop in the doorway and check before walking in.
“Somewhat. If you can wait a little bit, it will be. We’re almost done with today’s work. Grab a cookie.” She already knew he suffered a fundamental loss of willpower in the face of her chocolate coffee cookies. Since it was the Equinox, she made a batch for the shop and set aside two for him. He would be putty in her hands when he found out about the second one hidden in the kitchen.
“You’re awful.” Ada giggled and set a loaf aside.
“He likes it.”
Ada kept giggling. “My mother always says that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
“She’s wrong,” Rose sniffed. “You start with the tongue. If it doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t matter what happens in his belly. Besides, tongues are more…useful.” Ada blushed bright pink, letting Rose know exactly what the younger girl thought she meant by that. “Goddess bless,” Rose chuckled, “where’s your head? Looks like someone’s bedchambers.”
Ada blushed more. “I have no idea what you mean,” she managed with a mild stutter.
Scott reappeared, cookie in hand, chewing with his eyes rolled up in ecstasy. The two women glanced at him and returned to their work. “I think this is better than the last time you made them.”
“You always say that.” Even so, she preened under the compliment.
He made a face, thinking about it. “No, there was that one time I said they were up to your usual high standards. It’s a good thing I run around town all the time for Ben. Otherwise, I’d go soft with all the delicious baked goods you heap upon me.”
“It’s only been two months since you got here,” Rose snorted. “Listen to him. You’d think I shove pastries in his face all day, every day.”
Scott grinned at her and took another bite of his cookie. Ada giggled. Rose set the last loaf aside and patted Ada to get her to put them in the oven. She pulled off her apron and washed her hands, knowing without looking that Scott’s eyes followed her. Mostly, they followed her bottom. What he got out of that when she wore skirts, she had no idea.
Turning to face him (and noticing how his eyes flicked up to her face), she smirked. “There’s a second cookie.”
He blinked several times, regarded his half-eaten cookie, then looked at her. A slow, mischievous smile spread across his face. “The lady may, of course, name her price.” He closed the distance to her with a cocksure swagger, a gait appropriate for his job and the sword on his hip. Also for a man thinking he’s likely to get what he wants.
With a crooked finger, she beckoned him closer so Ada wouldn’t overhear. He obliged, putting his free hand on her hip and making a fist in the fabric. “I’ll trade it for flowers.”
His eyebrows went up. “Flowers are for Handfasting.”
Rose put a hand on her chest and pretended to be shocked. “My goodness, I had no idea.”
“Oh, I see.” He brushed her lips with a featherlight kiss. “That’s how it’s going to be. Bring the cookie home, Rose. I’ll set it up.”