Nick hung back in the doorway.
“And you can try one,” she said firmly, not looking round from the open oven. “It’s seasonal, it’s what everyone else is doing, and … I baked them myself. Which,” she straightened, putting the baking sheet on top of the stove and nudging the door up with her knee, “I’ve never actually done before.”
“Which is a warning, I assume.” Nick twinkled as he said it, but could see that the quip was not going to be well received. (Never tease a woman about her cooking, he thought.) “You made so many,” was his next comment.
“Only a dozen.” She shucked the oven mitts onto the counter. A basket awaited, napkin inside.
“I’m sure they’re delicious,” Nick added prudently, and then suggested, “Surely Grace—and the others at the morgue—will want to help you to eat them p.”
Natalie gave him an exasperated look. “You’re missing the point, aren’t you? Deliberately, if you ask me.”
“Which one?” asked Nick. He glanced at the baking sheet, and surreptitiously shuffled half a step backwards.
“Either the one about acting human or the one about solid food,” she declared. “I don’t care which: they both apply.” Gingerly, she pried a bun loose. It was much too hot. She half-flung it at the basket, then licked her fingers and shook them.
“This the latest modern hygiene?”
He got a dirty look. “You won’t catch any germs.”
“Well, that’s true,” he said (and shuffled back another half step).
“I followed the recipe exactly,” Natalie declared. “It said traditional.”
“Oh, they look it,” said Nick quickly. “I’ve never seen more traditional. You didn’t miss a thing.”
Mollified, Natalie gingerly pried loose another couple of buns for the basket. Then she picked it up, whisked past him, and went through to the living room. On the coffee table she had already placed mugs, butter dish, cream and sugar, and a teapot keeping hot under Nana Tash’s patchwork cosy.
“Come and get it,” she called, not looking back. “And I’ll pour—since they definitely didn’t have tea back when you were mortal.”
Nick hesitated in the lobby, taking in the domestic scene. It was, in its own way, quite charming … if you weren’t a vampire victim of culinary coaxing.
Natalie put down the basket, turned, and saw him lingering. “Oh, come and sit down!” she said, annoyed. “I’ve been slaving over a hot stove, so to speak. The least you can do is try my baking.”
He tried a sheepish grin, but won no reprieve. Reluctantly facing the inevitable, therefore, he sidled past the coffee table to sit on the far end of the couch from the basket.
Natalie sat down, set aside the cosy, and poured. Nick refused both cream and sugar; then, with her eyes firmly on him, took a small, prudent sip.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Manfully, he swallowed.
“Now,” Natalie said firmly. His heart sank as she plopped a plump bun on a plate.
He took refuge in another sip of tea.
“Mmmm, good,” he lied. “You know, if I try this long enough, I might get to like it.” (It’s the season for miracles, he thought.) He hid his face in the mug.
“Here, take a bite,” he heard, and suddenly found the plate thrust under his nose.
“Oh, for Chrissake!” Natalie exclaimed. (Being irreligious in import, this caused him no turmoil.)
“No, please. I’d rather not,” he said feebly. “I’m … really not hungry right now.”
“You’re ‘really not hungry’ ever when I cook for you,” she pointed out. “But you’ve got to get used to eating real food. It’s—”
“—the blood that keeps me from coming across,” finished Nick. “Yes, I know. You say it; and you’re the doctor. But I’d … I’d just rather stick to the tea today, if you don’t mind.”
“I do mind,” said Natalie indignantly. “You might at least try it.”
“I’d rather not,” said Nick—as firmly and politely as he could, he felt. In the circumstances. “I really don’t feel up to it.”
Natalie looked at the plate.
“Not the bun,” added Nick. “All things considered … taking into account what it is, after all.”
“Flour and yeast, with dried fruit?” she asked. “That’s ‘what it is’,” she added, puzzled. “Won’t hurt you.” She rolled her eyes. “I mean, after all … what’s a bun?!”
He reached out a cautious finger, and recoiled with a shock.
“Hot and cross,” he said ruefully.