Soléil Dupont watched the guests outside the mighty Montacute House searching only for one. Splayed out over the acres of sun-kissed emerald grass, they sat under beaded parasols and fine lace tablecloths, devouring her creation of spongy brioche cake stuffed with raspberry mascarpone.
“Is that him?” The kitchen maid pointed a few feet away toward the disappearing snow-soft cocoa souffles.
Soléil thought her heart would stop beating when her eyes found his.
“Ms. Dupont is most talented.” His voice circled those enjoying her culinary treats. “She was trained by my uncle’s baker when I was a boy.”
Such depth was hidden in those simple words. Soléil’s mind flooded with memories of rolling through richly flowered fields together, swimming in the Epte river, and stealing forbidden kisses beneath their hackberry tree.
“He looks so sharp in his suit.” Soléil sighed. “From childhood, his parents pawned him off on his aunt and uncle in France during the summers. He stayed in the house next to mine in Giverny.” There, they were able to pretend he had no responsibilities. But here in England, he was the fifth child of the earl of Somerset. “The last time I saw him, we were sixteen.” And at that young, naive age she had professed her love for him.
“He’s looking at you.”
Soléil turned and ladled velvety crème pâtissière into the miniature tart shells. She topped them with cream, juicy ripe strawberries, and glassy glaze before they were handed over to the footmen.
She stiffened then spun, nearly bumping into him. “My lord.” She bowed.
“We have too much history for you to call me that.” His smile was sincere.
“Lyndon.” His nearness made her stomach flip.
His spoon cracked the layer of torched sugar over the rum crème brûlée in his hands. He made quick work of it then placed the empty bowl on the nearest tray. “I was right about you being the newly hired confectioner. Only my Soléil could make desserts so magnificent.”
“Should I be happy to see you?”
“Not as happy as I am to see you, alive and well.” His warm eyes circled her face. “You look just as beautiful as you did four years ago.”
Her cheeks warmed. “Sweet words cannot make up for leaving me behind.”
“I searched so long for you. I sent letters, but you never replied.”
“You wrote to me?”
“Of course. As soon as I was allowed, I went back for you, and they told me your father’s bakery had caught fire.” His eyes swam and pierced her with such intensity she couldn’t move. “I thought you died in that fire.”
“W-We moved to the south of France after it happened, and years later, to England. You…came back for me?”
“Ms. Dupont!” The housekeeper’s bark startled Soléil. “I know you come highly recommended, but I’ll not tolerate lollygagging. The guests have requested more of your desserts.”
“Yes, Mrs. Alby.”
Dismissed, Soléil set off for the kitchen, pushing away her longing for Lyndon, and with a glance over her shoulder, she saw guests already elbowing their way into his graces. How easily forgotten she was amid the upper class.
In the kitchen, sunlight bled through the jeweled glass, casting a warm rainbow over her workspace. She arranged dainty, edible violets over the peach tea cakes drizzled in maple sauce. Her pastry dough folded over dark chocolate bars she staggered on a baking tray before slipping them into the oven.
Glancing at the open doorway connecting the worlds of master and working class, she imagined his frame filling the scullery entrance, her heart both thrilled and fearful at the prospect. Turning, she sprinkled brown sugar over the madeleines, the crystals crumbling like sand between her fingertips. She dipped each shell-shaped cookie in chocolate, spilling some on her apron.
“Distracted?” Mrs. Alby passed by. “I wouldn’t be able to focus either if one of the earl’s handsome sons was making eyes at me.”
Soléil’s face heated faster than the iron range behind her. “I don’t know what you mean.”
She turned and found no one. She tasted the first pain au chocolat straight from the oven. The bitter chocolate folded between sweet, flaky layers danced on her tongue. A buttered aroma wafted through the kitchen. So did the sound of someone’s shoes as steps approached the scullery.
“Soléil?” Lyndon’s voice, smooth like dark coffee, had her wiping her mouth and slapping her hands against her apron. He ran a hand through his thick curls and erased the space between them. His eyes landed on the tray peppered with vanilla meringues draped in caramel. He plucked one up, took a bite, and gave a satisfactory sigh. “How I’ve missed your treats.”
“Is that all you have missed?”
He wiped his mouth with his thumb, staring at her all the while. Stepping closer, he cast a shadow that hadn’t existed when they were children. He took her hand. “I want you to know that I’ve thought of you every day since I left. I never wanted to leave France without you. My parents forbade me to return after I told them I was in love with you.”
She swallowed, her throat suddenly parched.
“I’m sorry if I hurt you. I would never intentionally cause you harm.”
“Regardless, four years can change things.” She lowered her head.
He lifted her chin with his fingertips, and her eyes followed. “It’s true. Time can change things, but not how much you mean to me. I still want you, Soléil. I always have, and I always will.”
She bit her lip to keep from smiling, hoping her cheeks weren’t as red as the strawberry tarts. “But I am just a baker’s daughter, and you are the son of an earl.”
“And I’d leave it all just to be with you.”
Slowly, he leaned in and pressed his lips to hers. She had always compared his eyes to sweet, divine melted chocolate, and his kiss tasted like it, too.
When she isn’t writing, which is her favorite passion, she has her nose in a good book. You can find her homeschooling her kids, prioritizing at-home sushi date nights, and planning her next costume party. She has also created a group for writing mothers and is passionate about encouraging moms in their God-given passion for writing and creating stories.
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