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Can't Even Keep a Bakery Running

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Oh, she was going to kill him next time she got her hands on him. Y/N was going to fire him, and then she was going to make him remake everything, and then she was going to kill him. That no-good, incompetent, two-faced bastard of a boy had gone and mucked up another delivery by eating everything. God, if only his attitude matched the beautiful face she’d hired him for. How was she supposed to keep a bakery running if her delivery boy couldn’t make it across town with intact cartons? Not to mention the fact there was a war happening, now, and it had sliced off more than a quarter of her customers, and her supplies, and her profits! And the crown had threatened to shut her down more than once!

“What ever has the ground done to you to deserve such a look, madam?”

She wasn’t glaring that hard. Snorting, she clenched her dust cloth in her fist and began complaining before she even knew who she was talking to.

“Well, the ground is apparently not interesting enough for my godforsaken errand boy Michael to keep his damn eyes on long enough to—“

Her words died in her throat as she looked up at the poor victim of her complaints.

The first thing she noticed was how he seemed to tower over her even at her full height, his broad shoulders and sturdy neck giving him an imposing appearance. His face didn’t quite match—it was almost delicately featured, high cheeks, a thin nose, soft grey eyes that seemed ageless, a strong, clean-shaven jaw. His dark hair was pulled back and pressed beneath a navy blue tricorn that matched the rest of his expensive-looking entourage. By the looks of him, he had no more than five years on her, just at the peak of his handsomeness. The blood-red tie around his neck gave an almost ominous contrast to his crisp white jerkin and linen shirt.

His sculpted lips split into a smile at her no doubt dumbfounded face.

“Long enough to what?” he asked, his now very noticeable English accent coating her ears like honey.

Y/N reined herself in and continued. “Long enough to get to a customer without eating most of the delivery.”

“I would think that is a testament to your skill,” he responded, as if they’d known each other for thirty years rather than thirty seconds. “Surely no one would pilfer your cartons if they were sod-awful, yes?”

She could feel a blush rising in her cheeks, and pretended to shade her eyes to (hopefully) hide it. Something in his eyes told her he caught it anyway. “I-I suppose.”

He took in a sharp inhale, looking up at the sign above her door.

“I take it this is your establishment, then?”

Y/N nodded. “The Vanilla Bea; she’s mine, alright.”

His head cocked slightly. “An interesting name. Might I inquire?”

She drew a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart. “My sister’s name was Beatrice. She was the inspiration for opening a shop in the first place.”

He nodded, keeping whatever thoughts he may have had to himself.

“I was actually looking for a bite to eat myself,” he commented. “I must admit I’m quite curious to know the baking that makes delivery boys unable to control themselves.”

The comment brought a smile to her lips, and she started towards her shop. “I’d be happy to help you.”

The gentle tingle of the doorbell helped soothe her nerves, and the smell of the muffins baking in the back room grounded her flighty head.

Just as the attractive man stepped onto the paneled floor, the timer on the counter that signaled her current batch’s time ran dry.

“Feel free to take a look around,” she told him, slipping behind the counter. “I’ve got to go switch batches right quick.”

The man, who was tucking his tricorn under his arm, nodded.

It didn’t take long to pull fresh blackberry muffins from her oven, and she smiled proudly at them. Fresh fruits like these were something of an anomaly nowadays, what with the rising taxes, but the Natives that visited the outskirts of the city to trade in the market were kind enough, and one very sweet old lady appreciated her odd stitchery projects in exchange for a small basket of fresh berries.

She shuffled the ashes around a moment to maintain even heat, and slid in the couple pans of cake that had been setting while her muffins baked. Setting the piping muffins into a presentation basket and covering it with a cloth to keep the heat in, she returned to the front of her shop. Tricorn had clasped his hands behind his back, under the navy cape that covered one shoulder, gazing out the window, and she noticed the bright red ribbon keeping his short hair back.

“See anything that catches your fancy?”

He turned back to her. “Indeed. But you’ve made it much harder to choose, bringing this wonderfully-scented basket out.”

“These are blackberry muffins,” she said, setting them down on the counter and kneeling behind the counter to swap out the appropriate hourglass. “Not too sweet, with a touch of cinnamon. Tuppence, if you’re interested.”

It took a moment to get the right one- it was towards the back of the cupboard under her counter. When she rose to her feet, Tricorn had offered his hand, two shiny pennies pinched between his fingers.

“I’d love one.”

His hands were rough, but gentle, and she tried to quell the blush that rose on her cheeks again.

She noticed his ring as she deposited the coins into her cash box beneath the counter and pick up a sheet of thin paper to package the man’s purchase, and almost paused, and fought to keep a frown from pinching her mouth.

If he noticed the slight change in her demeanor, he didn’t mention it. She chose a red ribbon from her scraps to match his red ribbon, and neatly wrapped the warm bread with trained fingers.

“Do enjoy,” she told him, searching his face one more time. His mouth turned up into an amicable smile, revealing nothing of his mind.

“I believe I shall indeed. If you are--”

There was a sudden clashing outside, cutting him off, and he turned his head to the window.

“Ah, I am afraid that is my cue. I do hope you get your delivery boy under control.”

And with that, he was gone, with a swish of his navy and crimson cape.

~

A couple days later, she had the door propped open- it was early fall, and the cooler weather had yet to roll in. She could afford to squeeze in a couple more days of letting the smell of her baking lead customers to her.

Today, she was pinning some light garlands on her window frames. Every year, she dried the last flowers of summer and hung them in early fall to bring a little bit of warm cheer to her shop. Her regulars liked it well enough, and the children that trailed after their parents would occasionally pick one to bring home when they thought she wasn’t looking.

She had her strings of flowers gathered in a basket beside on a chair by the door, and stretched up onto her toes to drape a string over the corner of the far window, by the counter.

She paused a moment and propped her hands up on her hips, listening to the shuffling of people outside, the slight hiss of the sand running in her hourglass, and the laughter of the dogs and children that scampered through the alleys. Closing her eyes, she drew in a deep breath of sweet-smelling air.

After a moment, she turned back to her basket to get the last strand that would span the front of her counter, she noticed something else among the flowers.

Striding to the basket, she picked up the slim envelope of fine paper, peering out of her front door to see who might have left it. It had no indication of who it might be, either, but the handwriting addressing her business was smooth and curling. Seeing no one but the common rabble, she stepped back inside, and gently tore it open.

Inside was a five pound note, and a slip of paper with the same fine handwriting.

Your baking is indeed phenomenal. I should like to know you will remain in business, so that I may visit again in the future.

-H

She blinked at the note, and its message, and her brow clouded. There was only one person who matched the circumstances, and, oddly enough, the script. Who was the man with the blue cape?

~ to be continued...