Lord Litchfield sauntered by the bakery as he did every morning. Not too early, mind. It would never do to be seen in town before noon. He already felt enough of a fraud. He was no Corinthian, didn’t box at Gentleman Jackson’s, refused to wear the nipped waists and bright waistcoats of the Pinks of the Ton and his purse was not heavy enough nor his visage handsome enough to catch the eye of an Incomparable in the ballroom. He couldn’t risk adding “early riser” to his character flaws.
He pulled out his quizzing glass – a necessity not an affectation – to read the signs in the window of the little shop that smelled so heavenly. Pausing longer than reading required, he breathed in the honey-scented goodness emanating from inside as his mouth watered. Perhaps today he would actually purchase something – glazed buns or jam tartlets or rout cakes. He went so far as to lean his head against the glass window to better see what other delectables hid within.
A sharp rap on the glass jerked him upright. Crimson with embarrassment he dropped his eyeglass, letting it dangle and tap against the pane. Turning away, foiled again in his quest to find the taste of home he so missed, he nearly collided with a pretty young lady as she stepped out of the shop. Furthering his discomfiture, it caused her to spill her box of sugar covered morsels all over his waistcoat.
“Oh! I’m dreadfully sorry!” she exclaimed, her cheeks tinting a delightful rose pink.
“N-not at all!” he countered. “The fault is entirely m-m-mine.” He only stuttered when upset, but then it could be quite dreadful. “P-p-please. Let me replace those cakes for you.”
“Oh. Oh, I, I don’t know. You needn’t pay for something that really is my fault.”
“Well… if you insist on being gallant,” she dimpled as she answered. “Then I will let you replace the ones we cannot salvage. But only because they were a treat for my niece and nephew and I have no more coins with me.”
“Excellent!” he crowed. Then his face colored as he tried to clarify, “N-n-not that you have no more c-c-coins, but that you will let me rectify what is clearly my error.”
She blushed again. “Very quickly, though. Aunt Posy is waiting in the next shop. She will not be pleased if I take more than a few moments.”
A moment or two more with this delightful creature was beyond his fondest wishes. He grinned in answer, opened the door and bowed her into the shop.
“Miss Fairchild! Did you forget something?” the shopkeeper called from behind the counter.
Fairchild. An apt name for such a sunny lady. He must find out more about her from his sister. Kate knew everything about everyone in the village.
“And Lord Litchfield! How can I assist you this morning?”
How did this shopkeeper know his name?
“Happy I am you decided to enter my establishment today instead of just window shopping.”
Litchfield groaned inwardly that his hungry gazes had been noticed but adopted a confident manner. “I managed to upend Miss Fairchild’s box of treats and would like to replace them as quickly as possible.”
Miss Fairchild smiled prettily at him as he waited for the baker to recall the order.
“Oh dear,” she tutted. “You’d best have a seat while I see if I have more of those tarts Master James likes and the raisin cakes for Miss Emily.”
“Whatever you have will be fine,” Miss Fairchild assured her. “They had no notion I was bringing sweets so any offering will be met with glad surprise.”
Litchfield seated Miss Fairchild at the small wrought iron table, his usual awkwardness reasserting itself as he stood by with his hands clasped, completely tongue-tied.
“You must come by here nearly as often as I do, Lord Litchfield, if Mrs. Simpson knows your name.”
Velvety brown eyes gazed into his. He froze, struggling for a suitable answer until her sigh penetrated his consciousness, her smile fading in the too long pause.
“I come by quite often to see what treats are on display,” he blurted. “But I never allow myself to enter.”
A startled gasp met this revelation. “But whyever not? As lovely as the baked goods look, they taste even more wonderful.”
“I-I fear disappointment. Never have I eaten sweets the equal of Cook’s when I was a lad, they were the very essence of home. I couldn’t risk discovering those delights no longer exist.”
“I suppose I understand. But what if they were the same?” She smiled conspiratorially and whispered, “Or even better? Isn’t it worth the risk?”
“Impossible!” Litchfield exclaimed, then laughed at her mischievous smile.
The baker brought the replacement treats to their table along with two lifelike marzipan flowers; a rose for Miss Fairchild and a daisy for Litchfield.
About to refuse them, Litchfield was stopped by a groan of delight.
“Oh, you simply must try this! It is divine.”
He froze. The sight of those rosebud lips sighing in pleasure almost undid him. To cover his confusion, he bit into the confectionary daisy and startled at its perfection.
“You’re right. It’s wonderful.”
Mrs. Simpson beamed as Litchfield paid her for the cakes. When he tried to pay for the marzipan, she refused his coins.
“It’s a new recipe and I thank you for showing me I got it right. Besides, such a lovely couple deserves a treat.”
“Thank you,” Litchfield interrupted. He couldn’t bear to hear Miss Fairchild explain he was not someone worth knowing.
The bell over the door tinkled as a thin-faced woman entered and glared at Miss Fairchild.
“Aunt Posy,” she whispered, rolling her eyes. “Thank you for your kindness, sir.” She gave him her hand and curtsied. “I hope we shall meet again. Remember, some things are worth the risk.”
Stunned, he nodded agreement and bowed as the lovely lady left with his heart.
The mother of two, the grandmother of two, she dragged her special agent husband back to her southern roots to live happily ever after in South Carolina.