Category Archives: The Baker of Brennan

The Baker of Brennan #22

Scott lay on the bed, still asleep. Rose stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame, watching his chest rise and fall under the blankets. The mug of citrus tea in her hand had stopped steaming a while ago. Her head buzzed with blank static, too tired to tumble in the same frantic spiral she’d suffered through earlier. He would heal, but that didn’t stop her from imagining all sorts of disastrous possibilities.

She didn’t see much of his three wounds as Moira cleaned and dressed them. Bandages covered his left shoulder and bicep, his left side, and his left thigh; she knew that much. Right now, men in the town rested in anticipation of talking to Scott in the morning to find out whatever they could about the thing they needed to hunt down for him. Rose ought to be resting, too.

The idea of leaving him there to wake up by himself in the dark bothered her too much. What if he had a nightmare about what happened, and thrashed about until he fell out of bed and ripped his wounds open? Something like that would set him back days in healing. She needed him up and able sooner than that. So he could reach things on high shelves. Open stuck jars. Lift heavy things. Stand and watch her work with that smug, smoldering grin that made her want to smack him and kiss him at the same time.

He shifted in his sleep and let out a sigh. Rose darted to his side, the cup forgotten and sloshing down the front of her dress. She grunted in annoyance and set the stupid mug aside before perching on the edge of the bed. Picking up his hand, she rubbed a thumb on the back and waited for him to do something else. It wouldn’t help anything if she deliberately woke him. Accidentally waking him, on the other hand, she wouldn’t feel guilty about. Not more than a little guilty, anyway.

A murmur slipped out of his mouth and his head turned towards her. She brushed some hair off his forehead, desperate to touch him as much as possible. The gesture made his eyes flicker in the moonlight, and he mumbled something she decided must be her name. But he didn’t wake up.

“Hey.”

Rose’s eyes snapped open and she sucked in a breath. Morning sunshine bathed Scott’s bedroom in soft yellow light, and she sat up, rubbing her face and eyes. “I fell asleep,” she croaked out.

“Yes, you did.” His voice didn’t sound much better than hers. Circles under his eyes, a droop to his lids, and a weak smile made it clear he still needed plenty of rest.

She covered her eyes and shook her head. “I missed the morning baking. Everyone will be-”

“Perfectly fine. They’ve survived worse than one day without bread and pastries.” His smile brightened and he closed his eyes. “I liked seeing you here with me first thing when I woke up.”

Pleased to her toes, she grinned and ducked her head. “I have to admit that’s kind of nice for me, too.”

“I want you, Rose. I want to wake up to you, I want to have you to come home to, I want to share my day with you, and hear about yours. ” His mouth ticked up into a grin. “I even want you to hit me with a rolling pin when I deserve it.”

She barked out a laugh. “At least you have your expectations straight.”

“I think I’m going to hurt myself if I make the effort to get up and kiss you properly. Give me a few days on that.”

She thought for a second about teasing him, about saying something bordering on mean. But then, he did just ask her to marry him, sort of. Leaning in, she gave him the kiss he couldn’t give her, and found┬áthat, while he might be exhausted, he could still handle wrapping his one good arm around her and pulling her close.

The Baker of Brennan #21

Rose sat in the tavern, several woman huddled around her. Most of their husbands and brothers had run off to join the Sheriff in his search for Scott and whatever killed that man in the sheep pen. Not her stepmother, of course. Catherine sat in the corner, flanked by her four younger children, secure in the knowledge that her husband wouldn’t go anywhere near anything remotely dangerous. Kent, on the other hand, did run off to help, though Ben promised to watch out for him.

Feasting peasants in a tavern by Adriaen Jansz Ostade

Feasting peasants in a tavern by Adriaen Jansz Ostade

True to form, Kevan strolled in, smiling to himself. He wore his party clothes – the best pants and shirt he owned – and seemed surprised to find everyone so grim. “Ladies,” he said with his hands out to welcome himself, “there’s no use worrying. Whatever is going to happen, it’ll happen whether we clench up in concern or not. Karen! A round of drinks!”

Behind the bar, Karen stopped cleaning to distract herself and sighed. “He’s got a point.”

“Come here, Kevan.” His wife patted a seat beside herself. “Sit with us.”

He plastered on a doting smile that Rose felt confident was fake and glided to her. “Of course, my wife.”

Rose rolled her eyes and didn’t watch him put an arm around her, pull her into his lap and kiss her. She heard it, though. “There are rooms upstairs,” she spat out.

“Oh, Rose.” Kevan let his lips drift down Catherine’s neck, nibbling and eliciting a soft moan from her. “Always so sour. We’ll see what you’re like once Scott has dipped his wick in your wax.”

Clenching her jaw so hard it hurt, Rose twitched her arm. She wanted to slap him, but stopped herself to avoid accidentally clipping her step-mother. When she saw his hand slipping up to grope his wife, she grunted in disgust and turned away. The man had no shame. From the way half the women here watched with eager eyes and parted lips, she suspected he routinely bedded all of them behind their husbands’ backs.

Karen brought around a tray of small cups filled with amber liquid. Rose reached for one, then pulled her hand back. Getting drunk wouldn’t make anything better. She wanted to be sharp when they finally found Scott. And they would. Not only that, but he would be alive. Something prevented him from coming home, that’s all. Maybe it would be an injury to his leg, something he could recover from with a few days of rest, or a creature he had to hunt down for killing that man.

“Are you sure?” Karen fixed her with stern appraisal. “It’ll take the edge off.”

Rose nodded. “I’d rather keep my edge.” She glared at the ceiling when Catherine moaned again. If this kept up, she’d lose her temper completely. Jumping to her feet, she headed for the door. “I’ll be in my kitchen if anyone needs me.” Before anyone could object, she strode out and to her bakery, intent on doing something productive and vigorous to occupy herself. Kneading bread dough would do the trick.

She grabbed her starter dough in the flickering light of a single candle and added to it, slapping the sticky glob around in frustration. She didn’t like sitting on her hands while Scott could be in mortal peril. If she found her way into danger somehow, she felt confident he would come looking for her in his armor and with his sword in hand. Put the shoe on the other foot, though, and the most deadly thing she could offer an attacker was a face full of pepper.

Maybe she could fashion a suit of armor out of bread.

The idea made her laugh, which made her cry. She didn’t want to cry. “This isn’t fair,” she told the dough, blinking away the tears and swiping a sleeve across her face. The bread, predictably, didn’t answer. It did help. Several minutes of kneading the dough later, she dropped it into a bowl and draped a towel over it. Come morning, it would be in fine shape, and she could make cinnamon rolls. That thought on her mind, she turned to mixing up the cinnamon filling and set that aside, too.

After all of that, she stared at the door for several minutes. Occupying herself should have fixed the problem. Someone should have found him in that time. Did she need to despair some more before he would come back to her? Was there some kind of quota amount of that she had to do?

The back door banged open. Kent flung himself inside, breathless and panting. “Found. Hurt. Bad. Home.”

Rose’s heart surged into furious pounding and she ran faster than she’d ever run before. For once in her life, she didn’t care if the bakery got locked up against children hunting free sweets. She didn’t even shut the door, leaving it for Kent to handle. The dash didn’t take long, yet it still offered plenty of time for her mind to conjure horrific images from the mere four words Kent gave her. If only she’d stayed home instead of going out!

The door slammed shut on its spring as she turned the corner. Huffing and puffing, she darted to the door and yanked it open. She found Ben, splashed with blood, carrying Scott under the armpits. Finley had his feet. Scott’s head lolled, and he’d been wrapped in a blanket. Rose covered her mouth in shock at seeing him to helpless.

“He’s alive, Rose.” Ben and Finley heaved him onto the couch, draping him across it. “Sent for Moira already. You want us to stay or go?”

Rose blinked and realized she needed to breathe. Sucking in a breath, she nodded and hurried to his side, brushing muddy and bloody hair off of his face. “Go ahead.” Their boots and the opening and closing of the door happened someplace so far away she barely noticed. “How long were you out there, hurt and hoping someone would come find you? I’m so sorry I didn’t go looking sooner. I always think of you as so capable. But you’re human, just like me. And listen to me, saying ‘always’.”

Someone touched her shoulder and she looked up to see Moira, the town’s midwife. She had the most skill with healing, and a little bit of magic for emergencies. Without a word, the older woman placed her hand on Scott’s forehead and closed her eyes. She took two deep breaths and opened them again.

“I can do some, but he’s in bad shape. Rose, go get some water, warm if you’ve got it, and a few towels. We’ll clean him up and put him to bed, and I’ll come see him tomorrow again.”

“He’ll be alright?” She hated how much she needed to hear Moira agree. Her whole world shouldn’t hinge on whether this man lived or died, on whether he’d be crippled or not.

“I think so, yes.”

Rose got up and ran for the kitchen.

The Baker of Brennan #20

Rose paced. She sat and stood and sat and stood. When her stomach growled, she poked at her dinner without taking her eyes off Scott’s for more than five seconds. How dare he go missing? Was it really so difficult to just not do something stupid, or get attacked, or manage to have a tree fall on him, or slip in some mud and hit a rock and crack his skull open-

If she didn’t stop thinking along those lines, she’d drive herself insane. Scott was not dead. She did not just spend two months falling for him so he could go off and leave her. “Goddess bless,” she whimpered to the empty kitchen, “what if he got spooked and ran off?” In many ways, that would be worse. At least if he got injured, it wouldn’t be something he did on purpose to avoid her.

Her stomach churned, and she set the half-eaten pie aside. She snapped her head up when the house creaked, heart pounding and chest tight. It wasn’t the door, and she covered her face. “If your goal is to make sure I really want him, I think we’ve solved that question. Give him back, please.”

No answer came, and she found herself pacing without remembering taking the first step. An eternity later, she forced herself to stop pacing. It accomplished nothing. Waiting accomplished nothing, too. Grabbing her cloak, she tossed the door open and strode outside to… To do something instead of nothing.

With a firm nod to herself, she plunged into the near-dark gloom of twilight, headed for the tavern. Everyone would be there, and Karen would know as much as anyone else. The walk took her past other homes, none of which had any signs of activity. Between two of them, she caught movement as she passed. Something thrashed about in the tall grass the Coopers never bothered to keep tamed.

Patch of grass by Vincent van Gogh

Patch of grass by Vincent van Gogh

She stopped and peered that way. “Hello?” It could be a loose sheep or goat. Or, her mind helpfully supplied, a feral boar or wild bear. One that might have gored Scott and dragged him back to its lair for later dining. He could be alive right now, bleeding to death in a cave. Instead of speaking again when she got no answer, she clucked her tongue like the shepherd did to call the sheep in.

A sheep trotted out of the grass to her, baaing its distress to her. At once, relief and despair crashed over her. Then she noticed a long smear of blood on the ewe’s wool. Scratching its head, she bent to get a closer look, and made out a rough hand shape, one that had been swiped across it. She sucked in a breath and froze.

“Rose?” Sheriff Ben’s voice startled her enough that she jumped and upset the animal. “I thought you were going to- What’s wrong? Why do you have a sheep?” When she didn’t – couldn’t – answer, he approached and saw the blood. “Where did you find it?”

Still too stunned to speak, she pointed and watched Ben tromp to the grasses. He kept going and disappeared from sight. Her heart stopped. If something could take Scott, it could take Ben, too. In a blink, her feet forced her to follow him, as if one doughy baker could make all the difference between life and death for two trained and hardened men.

“Rose,” Ben hissed, “what are you doing? Go to the tavern and send down anyone willing to help.”

“If he’s here, I want to see him.”

“And here I thought you were sensible,” he grumbled. She suspected he didn’t mean for her to hear that. Too bad.

The words shook her out of her fear and let her focus on something besides the blood and what it might mean. “Don’t be an ass.” For good measure, she cuffed his arm. “That’s my Scott out there. Don’t you go getting all-” Unable to think of the proper word to put there, she waved her hands growled at him.

“Fine, fine.” In the swiftly gathering dark, she could almost make out a smirk, though it could have been a grimace. “Just keep quiet.” The scrape of his sword as he pulled it from its sheath made her stumble. A few more paces into the tall grass, a groan slipped past them on the breeze. He froze and held out his empty hand to make her stop.

If that moan didn’t come from Scott, Rose would eat her best loaf pan. It meant he was alive, but hurt. She desperately wanted to run to him and glared at Ben’s hand, preventing her from doing so. Except it didn’t. His hand held no real power over her. Shoving him aside, she hurried forward, not caring about the noise she made.

“Scott? Can you hear me?” She ignored Ben’s string of curses behind her and kept running. Another grunt kept her going past the fence of the paddock that sheep must have escaped from. Ahead, she saw where one of the beams had broken, leaving a hole big enough for the animals to wander through.

Ben caught up and grabbed her arm, yanking her hard enough that she spun and hit the ground on her side. The tumble surprised her and scrambled her head. Lifting her head, she shook it and looked around. Just inside the fence, Ben crouched or knelt over something.

“Is he okay?”

“Rose, go to the tavern right now and get help.”

“Is he…?” She gulped and her eyes burned.

“This isn’t him.”

A fistful of grass helped her clamber to her hands and knees. “I heard him.”

“This man is dead, Rose. You didn’t hear him.”

“Scott. I heard Scott.”

Ben huffed in annoyance. “Rose. Get your head on straight. Whatever killed this man is still out here, and you aren’t equipped to deal with it. Tell everyone we need the militia.”

“But-”

“No,” Ben roared. “Every second you argue with me is a second I could be spending looking for Scott. Go! Tavern, now.”

Rose sniffled and got to her feet, then ran off as quickly as her feet could carry her. If he died because she refused to go when Ben first told her to, she would never forgive herself.

The Baker of Brennan #19

“Just be someplace else, Kent. That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.” Rose wiped the table off with a clean towel, instead of the usual wet rag. She already put on her nicest dress, the white one with tiny purple flowers. It belonged to her mother, once upon a time, and she kept it in a bag in a box in a drawer in a closet. Once she smoothed out the wrinkles and put it on, it looked good on her.

Kent huffed at her. “Where am I supposed to go? No matter where I pick, you know it’ll be nonstop questions all night. Everybody always wants to know what’s going on with you and Scott.”

Magpie eating cake by Rubens Peale

Magpie eating cake by Rubens Peale

Bustling into the kitchen, she checked on the meat and vegetable pies she made for dinner. Scott’s cookie sat on a plate covered by another clean towel, and she had a small cake, too. “Just go to the Equinox party.”

“But I want to know what’s going on, too,” Kent whined.

Rose fixed him with a glare. “Nothing, if you’re here.” She threw her hands up at the kicked puppy look he gave her. “Just this one night, Kent. I’m not going to ask you to move out, or throw you out. You’re part of the household, and if he can’t accept that, he should’ve said something weeks ago. I just want some alone time with him, and some privacy for it. That’s all. It may happen again at some point, but not soon, I promise.”

“You can’t promise that.”

“Sure I can. It’s my house.”

Kent heaved a melodramatic sigh and dragged his feet to the door. “I’m going to spill everything, all over the party,” he grumped. Before she could answer, he grabbed his jacket and slipped out the door, letting it slam shut behind him.

Rose gave the door a dirty look. It lasted a full three seconds before she dropped it to eye the vase sitting on the kitchen counter. For the tenth time, she changed her mind about where it should be and stuck it in a cabinet. After that, she set the table. She paused at the idea of pulling out candlesticks. If he changed his mind about asking, which he had every right to do, then candles would be silly.

The idea he might change his mind made her belly flutter. She left the candlesticks in the cabinet. The moment she shut the door, she opened it again and stared at them, willing them to tell her what would happen tonight. If he asked, would he want to run off to the tavern to make it official? That’s where Sheriff Ben would be, and since Brennan didn’t have a Disciple, he performed the Handfastings in town. Unless a Disciple or a member of the Order of Middyn happened to be visiting, which sometimes happened for Equinoxes and Solstices.

She pulled the candlesticks out, stuck candles in them, and set them on the kitchen counter. When he walked in, she’d pick them up and act like she’d been just doing that. Standing there, she drummed her fingers on the counter, waiting for him. And waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

So much time passed that she had to pull out the pies or risk them burning. Did he forget and go to the party? Was he expecting her to go to the party and meet him there? He said to take the cookie home for him, so she thought he wanted to meet her here. She covered the pies with a towel and paced across the kitchen, four steps across.

The door flew open, startling her. “Rose, come quick!” Kent stood there, panting. “It’s Scott.”

Rose paled and clutched at her chest. “Is he alright?”

“He’s missing.”

“Missing?” She covered her mouth, then had a horrible thought. “Is this some kind of joke where you get me down to where he’s got a surprise? Because it’s not funny.”

“No, I swear.” Kent looked sincere and worried. “He’s really missing. Ben sent him to do one last check of the road before the party, and he hasn’t come back.”

Leaning against the counter, Rose forced herself to take a deep breath. “What do they need me for, then? I’m no good for search parties or anything.”

Kent blinked. His mouth open and shut. He stepped all the way inside and shut the door behind himself. “That’s a good point. I’m not sure. I guess staying here is just as good as going there.”

“If he’s playing at something, I’m going to…I’ll be upset.” Rose gripped the edge of the counter, wondering if the room suddenly got warm. “And disappointed. I have his cookie right here, and he’s supposed to come get it, and it’s not fair if he doesn’t. He’s the first man interested in me who isn’t an overbearing ass, and he swoops in here and tells me his name and makes me care about him. He just better come and get his cookie, that’s all I’m saying. I saved that cookie especially for him, not anyone else.”

Somewhere in there, fat tears started rolling down her cheeks. Kent hurried over and hugged her. “I’m sure he’s alright, Rose. He probably got slowed down helping an old lady get her wagon out of a ditch. Or Finley conned him into hauling some logs, or Verne got him to lift some heavy things.”

“And one of them fell on him and now he’s stuck because nobody knows about it, and he’s bleeding to death alone. In pig manure.” She let him comfort her even though she didn’t want to be comforted. He shouldn’t matter that much. She should be able to function without him.

“He’s not,” Kent told her with firm finality. “He’s fine.”

“There where is he?”

A long silence filled the kitchen. Kent finally said. “Maybe you should wait at the party after all. People will chatter and there’s all the stuff you baked, plus half the town cooked. It’ll take your mind off it?”

Grabbing one of her towels, Rose wiped her nose and her face. “You swear this isn’t a setup or a joke? I’ll hit you with my mixing bowl if it turns out to be.”

“I swear. If it is a setup or a joke, they’re playing it on me, too. Which is meaner than mean.” Kent put his arm around her waist to walk with her out the door.

Walking past the dinner table, Rose balked. She rubbed her eyes and shook her head. “No, I can’t go deal with everyone. It’s too much. They’ll all be sympathetic and prying at the same time. I’ll stay here and wait.”

Kent nodded and left again without arguing.

The Baker of Brennan #18

Flowers in a vase with blue decoration by Renoir

Flowers in a vase with blue decoration by Renoir

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.”

The Baker of Brennan #17

“I had an interesting conversation with the Sheriff this afternoon.” Scott picked at a chunk of bread from one of the first loaves made with the new flour. His plate sat empty, cleaned of even the juices from Kent’s vegetable concoction by that very piece of bread. The man ate like a horse, downing easily three times as much as Rose. At least he wasn’t picky.

Rose reached over and stacked her own empty plate on top of his as a reminder he promised to wash up after dinner. He may have meant it just for last night, but she chose to interpret it as an ongoing, long term sort of thing. She picked up Kent’s plate and did the same with it. “Do tell,” she said, giving him a smile that dared him to object to his given chore.

Scott smirked and stood up, taking the plates to the kitchen. “He offered me a job. Said he’d been paying attention, and could use some help dealing with the sometimes unruly folks that wander through town. Something about him getting older and slower in there, too.”

Giving Kent a smug grin, Rose stood to gather the leftover bread and store it for the night. “Did you take it?”

Kent grinned back at her and picked up the butter to put it away.

“I said I’d think about it. Need to decide if I want to stay for sure or not.”

“Is that something you have to think really hard about?” Rose tucked the bread into her breadbox and sidled up beside him while he worked the water pump.

Like the good little brother that he was, Kent stashed his burdens and slipped out in silence.

“Well, there’s this girl.” He grabbed the soap and a rag. “Actually, that’s not true. She’s a woman, not a girl. Girls are twittery things with little sense, and obsessed with silly things. This one is most definitely a woman. Wise and strong, and not overly concerned with looks. I don’t mean hers, of course, because she’s probably the loveliest creature I’ve ever seen. Fairly well glows when she’s angry, it’s enchanting.”

Rose arched an eyebrow at him, her lips quirking into something between a grin and a smirk. He had something to say, though, and she found no real fault with it so far. “She sounds special.”

Scott nodded, his eyes on the dishes. “I didn’t think so at first. In fact, I had every intention of not getting to know anyone in this town at all. My friends and I are wandering adventurers, you know. We travel around together and slay monsters that happen to be terrorizing people. Usually for money, but not always. Until I came here, I actually thought I had everything I needed. Then I met this woman. It didn’t happen immediately, mind – none of that love at first sight nonsense. It was sort of a gradual buildup over the past few days. I think I realized I might want to settle down and spend my life with her when she slapped me.”

Despite how long she went without being interested in a man for anything other than carrying heavy things or reaching high shelves, Rose’s heart fluttered. All thoughts of pushing him away fled her mind as if they’d never appeared. “I can do that more often, if you like.”

He laughed. “No, thank you. Once was enough.” Finally, he met her eyes. “Rose, I’m not going to make promises. I haven’t lived in one place for a long time. I don’t know if this life will suit me, and I don’t know if you and I will work out. I just know I’d like to give it a try. Will you give it a try with me?”

She had a thought to be coy, but he showed her so much raw honesty, she couldn’t do it. “You can stay in my house for as long as you want.” Her smile felt sappy and stupid and dopey. His looked about the same. “If you can survive the rest of the winter here without wanting to kill me and survive the spring without running off to chase monsters, then this just might work.”

“At what point will it become acceptable to kiss you?”

She tore her eyes away from his to check the dishes. Just the main pot left, and it would be easier after it soaked for a while. “When your hands are dry.”

He grabbed a towel.

The Baker of Brennan #16

Flour, glorious flour. Rose wanted to rip one of the sacks open and run her hands through it. “Never really notice how great a thing is until you haven’t got any,” she muttered, patting the sack.

“Rose,” Kent’s voice called down, “I’m going to tell the Sheriff we got the stuff. You want to come along and see how the rebuilding is coming?”

Did she? She looked around at her stocked cellar and thought about it. “Yes, actually, I do.” Hurrying to and up the stairs she gave him an approving smile. “Good thinking. Thanks for asking.” She ignored Ada’s knowing grin as she tossed her cloak on and stepped into her boots. “Get some regular bread dough started.” That would keep her busy.

“Sure, no problem.” Ada winked at her, the minx, and headed for the cellar.

Rose pushed the door open and stomped out with Kent right behind her. In town, she saw the walls had been repaired now, and they worked on the roof. Scott sat up on the top next to Hardy and Gin, both farmers with nothing better to do in the winter. All three hammered away at the roof, setting up the frame to keep the thatch in place.

Sheriff Ben sidled up with a steaming mug in his hands. Kent told him the Countess had been by with supplies. He nodded his understanding and turned to Rose. “Did you want to see the inside and make sure we’ve done it right?”

“Yes, absolutely. Is it safe?”

Pennsylvania Barn in the Snow by Walter Schofield

Pennsylvania Barn in the Snow by Walter Schofield

“Sure. Biggest worry is a hammer falling on your head. That Scott seems to be pretty handy.”

Rose glowered at him. “I’m sure.” With his reassurance of relative safety, she strode forward to take a look inside. Almost everything looked like it should.

“The table got repaired, along with the ovens.” He came in behind her. “Finley replaced the shelves and bins, and the roof should be ready for tomorrow morning’s baking. We added some extra protection for your flour bin, in case there’s ever another disaster like this.”

She inspected the heavy wood lid over the box, both much more sturdy that the original bin. The lid’s weight didn’t slow her down right now, but she could easily imagine it as a chore towards the end of her baking day. “Ada’s going to need a lever to lift this.”

“I’ll get that set up. Anything else?”

The wash basin was the only other thing to attract her attention as different. After staring at it for a few seconds, she realized why. “The pump handle’s broken. Someone needs to fix that.”

He smirked at her. “No, actually. Verne upgraded it.” Reaching over, he pushed the handle down and got water running out of it without pumping the handle. “We thought you ladies might appreciate doing a little less work for your water.”

Rose gave it a try, finding the lever too difficult to raise up again. “It’s too tight or something.”

Sheriff Ben cranked it up and frowned. “Yep, sure is. I’ll get that seen to. I swear he demonstrated it and the thing didn’t stick then.”

“Rose, hi,” Scott called down. He hefted his hammer and smiled at her.

She waved up at him, not wanting to crane her neck back only to look up at his britches and boots. “If the roof falls again, I know who to blame.”

Scott laughed. “And you know where to find me, too. I guess I’d better do a good job.”

Rose waved him off and decided she approved of the ovens. These men hadn’t tried to ‘upgrade’ it, they just fixed it. “Sheriff, if Scott does decide to stick around, would you give him a job?”

His brow raised and he looked up at the man, then back at her. “A job? Doing what?”

“Chasing squirrels.” She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Ben, why would I ask you if I meant something other than Sheriffing?”

He laughed. “I knew he’d tickled your fancy.”

“He hasn’t tickled my anything, thank you very much, Ben Carder. I’m only asking because of things he’s said. Being neighborly. He’s living under my roof, so I’m doing my piece for him. And for you, too. How many times have I heard about you wishing you had someone else you could trust to fire a bow straight to help you out with those damned poachers?”

Sheriff Ben rubbed his chin. “You’ve got a point. I’ll ask him if he’s interested.” He waggled his eyebrows at her. “Should I ask Moira about setting up a Handfasting?”

She punched him in the shoulder. “If I wanted a damned Handfasting I could take care of that myself. I don’t need you to ‘handle’ it for me.”

“Did I hear something about Handfasting?”

Rose cringed at the voice behind her. Damn Kent for not warning her. “No, Dad, I’m not getting Handfasted, and neither is Kent.”

They had the same eyes. Everything else about Rose came from her mother, Goddess rest her soul. Except, perhaps, her stubbornness. Kent, on the other hand, looked a lot like his father. The man stood there with a smug, pleased smile. “But you’re talking about it. Ergo, you’re thinking about it.”

“What are you doing here, Dad? Aren’t you afraid Ben’ll put you to work?”

He shrugged and grinned at Sheriff Ben, who smirked back at him. “Bah, he knows it’s not worth the effort. I stopped by the house to see if you had anything for Catherine this afternoon. Kent brought some things by this morning, and it went over well, but it wasn’t enough. Ada said you were here.”

“Isn’t she helpful,” she muttered. “No one’s got enough, Dad,” she said louder, “that’s why everyone is working so hard to get the bakery back together. Your wife’s just going to have to feed all your little darlings herself.” That came out more shrill than she meant it to. There was no reason to be rude about her father’s second wife, or about their kids. After all, she liked Kent well enough to rescue him.

“Oh, Rose, you’re so sour.” He put his arm around her shoulders. “I wish you would think about Handfasting more. Might loosen you up.”

She shrugged out of his grip and went to inspect the ovens more closely. “Your opinion has been delivered, so you can leave now.”

“Dad,” she heard Kent say, “I’ll see what I can bring over later. The kitchen is kinda small, so it won’t be much.”

“That’s my boy. You know, your mother would like to see you more. She misses you.”

Rolling her eyes at this exchange, Rose walked back over and broke it up. “Quit it. He has a job, and she knows where it is. We don’t do home deliveries. Come on, Kent, I’ve seen enough, and it’s still cold out here.” She pulled him away, pushing past their father on the way.