About the book
Only in the flush of her love did he dare to be brave…
Unwilling to keep suffering at the hands of her adoptive mother, Tiffany Bentley runs away with just the clothes on her back and a mind for stealing to survive. The day she finds herself at the mercy of a peculiar Marquess, she realizes that trying to steal from a nobleman, was a very bad idea.
When Percival Dandridge, Marquess of Northbury, apprehends a suspiciously feminine thief in his house, he decides to offer her a position in his kitchen. He never intended to fall in love with her.
But when an attempt against his life is made, all clues point to her.
Realizing she is being framed, she becomes a ghost, working to prove her innocence. A dagger, an old gold pouch, and a diligent constable are all she has to solve this mystery and uncover a string of old ones…
Tiffany swung down off the roof, keeping her grip on the rope loop that was at the end of the thin line. Her friend, Davy, had the end of the rope snubbed around a chimney top, and played it out gently. Davy was good at rooftop work, but he didn’t have any skill at all with locks, so it was Tiffany who quietly eased down the side of the Northbury manor house and stepped onto the balcony outside the late Marquess’s bedroom.
If the rumors were right, the young Marquess slept on the other side of the house, and his parents’ former suite still had all their personal effects untouched. With luck, she should be able to find some unmarked items that would not be noticed missing for months.
Carefully, she caught the rail of the balcony with the toe of her boot, and pulled herself in. Silent as a downy owl, she dropped lightly onto the stone floor. Her handstitched hide boots whispered on the cold stone. She winced as she stepped on a pebble that poked through a thin spot. Even used leather was hard to come by of late.
A few seconds with a lock pick, and she had the lattice window that gave out onto the balcony undone, and she slipped into the darkened room. The furniture was covered with dusty Holland covers. No fire had been lit on this hearth recently, the chill of the room made that clear.
Tiffany pulled the thick drapes over the window and took out a stub of a candle. She lit the candle, set it in a convenient holder on the mantle, and set to work. What luck! There were two unburned candles on the mantle already! She popped one out and dropped it into her carry bag.
The dresser yielded little in the way of loot. The jewelry in the case was paste and glass, nothing of any great value. But the top drawer held a treasure-trove of gloves, handkerchiefs, and three fancy reticules. Those all joined the candle in her bag. On a whim, she peeked under the dust cover on the bed.
Oh, what jolly good luck! The bed was still made up with blankets, sheets, and a fine coverlet. The coverlet was too likely to be missed, but she whisked the blankets and sheets into the bag, took it to the balcony, fastened it to the rope and gave it a tug.
Checking the cushions of the wingback chair that stood beside the fire yielded a small pocket containing a few coins and an extremely linty sugar candy. The embroidered stool contained knitting and sewing gear, to her delight, as well as a traveling knitting bag. She quickly bundled its entire contents and the pocket into the knitting bag, and sent it up in the same way she had sent her carry bag.
She was just turning to give the room one last look, when she heard the call of a nightjar, repeated thrice. That was the signal to hide, someone coming. She shrank back behind the heavy window curtain, and listened. A door opened, and footsteps entered.
The candle! Oh, gods, I left the candle burning.
She simply stood still and held her breath.
“You were right, McClellan,” said a quiet male voice. “Someone has been here, and has even left a candle burning. I am surprised. There is nothing of value in these rooms. All of Mother’s good jewelry is locked away in the counting room. Only her fun pieces that she wore just because she liked them are here.”
Well! That explained the paste and cut glass in the jewelry boxes. But nothing of value? This room was a virtual treasure trove, with its petticoats, blankets, pillows, and more. Some people simply had no idea!
“Right bold of them, My Lord,” answered a modulated baritone. “But I don’t see anyone now.”
“The dust cover has been moved, McClellan. And look, the sheets and blankets have been stripped. We pay the servants a decent wage. Why would any of them take the bedding?”
“Indeed, My Lord. It hardly seems logical. But look, My Lady’s sewing stool has been opened, and all her needles gone.”
There were sounds of drawers being opened and closed. “And they took all her handkerchiefs. How very odd! A thief with a cold?”
McClellan chuckled. “Well, I’m sure thieves do catch cold, as has this one!” Dramatically, the curtain was flung back, and Tiffany stood revealed, flattened against the wall beside the window.
McClellan quickly grasped her by the shoulder and hauled her into the light. “Well, now, lad, what do you have to say for yerself?”
Tiffany knew what she looked like. Dressed in shabby trousers and a baggy coat, she deliberately cultivated the appearance of a young boy. “It’s my sister, my lords,” she whined like a youth caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “She’s sick, an’ we ain’t got no medicine for ‘er, nor warm blankets. Twarn’t nobody usin’ these. I din’ mean no harm.” Tiffany let her voice break and warble as if it was swapping back and forth from a child’s treble and a young man’s mature voice.
“That might be debatable,” said the owner of the other voice, stepping into the light. “If you had come to the back door and asked, the steward would have been likely to have given you help. Bring him down to my office, McClellan, and we will sort it out there. Snuff that candle if you would, please.”
“Yes, My Lord,” McClellan acquiesced, although he clearly thought better of it.
He hauled Tiffany with him in an iron grip, picked up a candle snuffer, and doused the light. “Should I call the Watch, My Lord?”
“No, not yet. This story of a sick sister has me interested. I would learn more about our young intruder. Besides, I could not sleep anyway, after that supper we had. I feel more than a little bilious. Perhaps his tale will be amusing and distract me from the rumblings of my stomach.”
“If your Lordship thinks so,” McClellan said, clearly conveying his disapproval.
“Oh, come now, McClellan. What could one half-starved child do to me? I’ll at the very least hear him out. The winter has been bitter. Did not Steward say that he’d had more than the usual applications for help?”
“He did that,” McClellan said grudgingly.
“Look you now at the lad. His appearance clearly bears out that part of the story at least. His coat is out at the elbows, and his pants are more patch than whole cloth. As for those shoes! No one should be out in this weather in soft house boots.”
“The better for sneaking about, My Lord. No one does second-story work in hard-soled workman’s boots,” McClellan avowed
Tiffany felt her insides clench. The butler was a downy one! If she was not careful, he would give the lie to her tale, and more besides. What bad luck that she had gone back for thirds. Had not Samuel, before he got sent up, told them time and again, once, maybe twice, but no more lest ye be caught?
The butler, for such his costume clearly revealed him to be, hustled her down the corridor and into a well-lit study. A large oaken desk dominated the room, with a comfortable wing-back chair behind it. A less comfortable row of straight-back chairs with cane bottoms sat against the wall. McClellan snagged one of the straight-back chairs, pulled it up in front of the desk, and roughly pushed her into it.
“There now, mind your manners, you young tough. I’ll be right outside the door, so no funny stuff. One peep out of the Marquess, and I’ll be right back in, do ye hear?”
“Yessir,” she squeaked.
“Bah. Ye sound like a young girl. No guts.” McClellan glowered at her, then stalked out of the room.
The Marquess settled himself into the wingback chair. “So tell me, young miss, why were you in my mother’s rooms robbing me?”
“Wh-what?” Tiffany warbled in her best adolescent male imitation.
“Enough with the flummadiddle,” the Marquess said. “You are no more a boy than I am the Queen of Sheba.”
“But . . .”
“How did I know? My dear, your jaw is too fine for even a handsome lad of twelve or less, your hips are too round, and even though you are but modestly endowed and bound down besides, I’ve no doubt, that coat sits on your shoulders in a way that would never be on a lad. Besides, if you were of an age for your voice to break, you would also be starting to sprout a beard. Which I’ll note that you have not.”
“Oh.” Tiffany slumped in her chair, a lump welling up in her throat. Well and truly diddled, she was, and no hope for it. The best she could do was to not give the others away.
“So tell me about yourself. Let’s begin with names. I’m Percival Dandridge, the Marquess of Northbury. I became the Marquess when my father was killed in a hunting accident, and my mother, who was ill at the time, followed him into death shortly thereafter. So what is your story, Miss I’m-not-a-lady?”
Tiffany swallowed and thought very fast. How much to tell? Everything except about her friends. “My name is Tiffany. I’m an orphan, too. My parents had just gone to work at a tavern, leaving me in the care of their landlady. But there was a brawl at the tavern, and it caught fire and burned. My parents were not able to get out and they both died.” She paused.
“That is quite terrible, if it is true,” said Lord Northbury. “But I can see that this will be a long tale, so I will send McClellan to procure us some tea.” The Marquess rang a small bell that sat on his desk.
“Yes, My Lord?” McClellan asked, appearing quickly at the study door.
“Some tea, if you would please, and some of those hearty sandwiches the night chef makes up for me when I can’t sleep. Oh, and some of the tinned biscuits and that candied orange peel.”
McClellan’s eyebrows shot up.
“Talking is thirsty work,” Lord Northbury explained. “And I find I’m a might peckish. I didn’t find dinner especially palatable, but do bring enough for two.”
“Of course, My Lord,” McClellan acquiesced. “I’ll see to it at once.”
“Now,” the Marquess said, “do go on with your story. How old were you when your parents were killed?”
“Scarcely more than a baby,” Tiffany replied. “I don’t remember them at all. There was a baker, Henry Bentley, and his wife. They could not have children, so they took me in.”
“That does not seem so bad. I think I remember Henry Bentley. I used to visit his shop with my mother, and then later with my cronies. He seemed like a kindly man.”
“He was. And he taught me everything he knew about baking and about running a shop.”
“So why were you stealing things from my mother’s room?”
Tiffany hung her head. “I’m sorry. But I did not think anyone would miss them. I’ve been on my own, on the streets, since I was eighteen.”
“Oh?” The Marquess seemed to invite more explanation.
“It was Mrs. Bentley,” Tiffany burst out. “She hated me, but needed my skills. At last, she accused me of having a secret lover. So I broke out of my room and ran away. That was two years ago. I’ve been on my own ever since.”
“I see.” The Marquess nodded his head. “I must think. Wait here a few moments. Do not seek to leave. There will be someone guarding the door.” He stood up and walked out.
Tiffany hunched in the chair, pulling her knees up and catching her heels on the front edge of the seat. That’s it. I’m done for. It’s gaol for me for sure. Oh, Father Bentley, I’m glad you aren’t here to see me now.
Percival stepped outside his study and looked around. Lucas, the footman who was on night duty, stood at quiet parade rest in the hall. McClellan was nowhere to be seen.
I probably offended his proud Scottish conception of what is right and proper.
“Lucas,” Percival said.
“Yes, My Lord,” Lucas said immediately, snapping into full attention at the sound of his name.
“I need for you to guard this door and do not let the young person who is inside out. Restrain . . . uh . . . him by any means necessary should an attempt be made. I need to check on some things.”
Percival clattered down the back stairs at a great rate, and burst out into the kitchen. “Chef Michaels!” he called from the doorway.
The night chef, a lanky, cadaverous man, turned from the pot of soup he was stirring. “Yes, My Lord?”
“Do you remember Bentley’s Bakery?”
“Why, so I do, My Lord. It closed down not quite two years ago. Mistress Bentley sold off the kitchen equipment shortly before going to the poorhouse to eke out the rest of her days. I trust she got what she richly deserved.”
That was certainly not what Percival had expected to hear. “That is a very strange thing for you to say, Michaels.”
“I suppose it might be, Your Lordship.” Percival winced at the not-quite-right honorific, but Michaels was originally from America where they had very odd notions of things. “The old biddy wasn’t quite right in the head, I don’t think. After Baker Bentley passed away, tis said that she had his apprentice running the shop. I spoke to her kindly one afternoon when I was picking up your mother’s sweet rolls. Next thing you know, I heard that the young woman had run away, and the shop was closing down. Old Mrs. Bentley never set foot in the kitchen, you know.”
“That is an interesting story, Michaels. Do you think you would recognize the girl?”
“I think I could, if she’s not changed too much, Your Lordship.”
That was one too many misuses for Percival’s sensibilities, although he suspected that Michaels sometimes did it on purpose to see him wince. “Lords sail on ships, Michaels, they are not ships. The correct honorific is 'My Lord’. Would you mind coming upstairs to identify a young person I caught stealing from Mother’s chamber?”
“Stealing?” Whatever pert rejoinder Michaels had been about to make, his jaw now hung open in astonishment. “I’d be more than glad to, M’lord, but surely it can’t be her.”
“Come up and see, Michaels. It is a matter of some urgency, as I feel sure that McClellan is itching to call the Watch.”
“No doubt, no doubt. He takes locking up and keepin’ things secure most serious, he does.”
Percival lead the way back to his office. The young woman sat in a miserable lump, feet drawn up and her chin resting on her knees, in a most unladylike fashion. She put her feet down at once and sat up straight when she saw them enter. Her eyes glittered like expensive green emeralds in the candlelight. She had been crying, he suspected, but she made not a sound as she stood up to face them.
Michaels stared at her from a moment. “Why, as I live and breathe! It is Tiffany Bentley. What are you doing dressed up as a boy, Girlie?”
Tiffany’s chin came up at that. “I told you not to call me that. You got me beaten, you know.”
“Oh, sweetheart,” Michaels crooned, shocked regret coloring his voice, “No, I didn’t know. Did she turn you off, then?”
“Oh, no. She knew who did the baking, the cleaning, and everything else. No, she locked me in Father Bentley’s room, and told me to think about the kind of girl he would have expected me to be. But I showed her! I dressed in Father Bentley’s clothes and took my real father’s old clasp knife and picked the lock. I’ve been on the street ever since.”
“Tiffany, I had no idea. No one had heard of you or from you. I thought that perhaps you had married your way out of the old harridan’s clutches. Everyone knew that she was a wicked old witch of a thing, and that she made life hell for you. But the streets! Good lack!”
As Percival listened to this exchange, he made up his mind to take a chance on the little thief. “Michaels, if I hire her to work in the kitchen, will there be any trouble from you? You know my rules.”
Michaels drew himself up smartly. “My Lord!”
There was no error in the honorific this time, only shocked rebuke. “I’ve known Tiffany Bentley since she was barely tall enough to see over Baker Bentley’s counters, standing on a stool! My captain used to send me to him to get our hard tack made for the ship, and to pick up some soft rolls and biscuits. My old captain had a sweet tooth, he did. Carried him off, our last trip across the pond, an’ left me stranded when war broke out. I might tease the young’un a bit, but she is more like a daughter than aught else.”
Percival nodded thoughtfully. “You would speak for her, and be responsible for her behavior?”
“Wait a minute!” the little thief burst out. “I speak for myself, and I’m responsible for myself. I don’t belong to nobody!”
“Quite so,” Percival said, amused by her fiery rejoinder, even in her current predicament. “But if Michaels will speak for you, then I’m of a mind to offer you a position. If you are half as good a baker as the two of you claim, it could bring a huge improvement to our current dining. Michaels has a fine hand with a roast, and there is none better when it comes to preserving and jarring up provender for the winter months, but he makes these things he calls journey cakes on which you could easily break a tooth or two.”
Tiffany opened her mouth, then closed it. “A position, My Lord?
“Yes, indeed. A bona fide position in my house, baking the daily bread. Believe me when I say that if you can make a decent loaf, we shall all be in your debt.”
“A position? Me, as hasn’t slept in the same place twice in two years, nor dared ask for honest labor lest the Widow Bentley hear of it?”
“Yes, indeed. That is what I am offering. Your wages would be fifteen pounds a year, paid quarterly. You will be provided a room, uniforms, and meals, as well.”
Tiffany lifted her head and stared boldly into his face. “Fifteen pounds? Coo, such wages. I can make twice that in one night if I’ve a mind to.”
Percival stared back into the bold green eyes that were fixed on him. “But will you sleep safe and secure? And how likely is it that your current career will end with you swinging from the gallows? What happens if you are found out as a woman instead of a boy? It seems to me that the life of a baker is far more secure than that of a thief.”
Tiffany set her jaw. “Sixteen pounds, and I gets half-days off o’ Sunday.”
Percival laughed. “Miss Bentley, you are not at a hiring fair or agency. Still, I will bargain with you. If your bread is as good as Michaels claims it to be, then I will, indeed, pay you sixteen pounds a year. But if it is not, I will reduce your wage to ten pounds, and we shall say no more about it.”
“Will I have the things I need? Bread is only as good as the flour, hops, and milk that goes into it. To make a superior loaf, I need a superior flour.”
“Michaels, see to it.”
“Yes, My Lord,” Michaels replied. The corners of the night chef’s lips twitched, but he did not smile.
“Ask Mrs. Twitchel to find her a room and uniforms, if you please. I shall expect my first loaf at tomorrow’s dinner.”
“Yes, My Lord,” Michaels sketched him a modest bow.
“Consider yourself under house arrest until your first half-day, Miss Bentley. Do consider that your other option is for me to do as McClellan thinks proper and call the Watch.”
Her face paled, went still and she swallowed, hard. “Yes, My Lord,” she whispered.
“Come, come,” Percival admonished her. “Nothing will be asked of you beyond the normal duties of the bakery cook.”
He then turned to the night chef. “Michaels, I would like clarification on one thing. You originally said that you met Miss Bentley when you picked up sweet rolls for my mother. But then, you said that you had known her as a small child, and that you used to get the ship’s bread from Baker Bentley.”
Michaels sighed. “Both true, My Lord. I was a ship’s cook... A big whaler out of Nantucket. We used to stop in and refresh our stores here. Captain, he wanted fresh sweets an’ sent me in to get some ever’ time…maybe about twice a year or so.”
“So what happened to your Captain?”
“He had the sweet sickness. Took him off, it did, and him not quite forty years of age. That left the ship in dock without a master, so she got confiscated. I skedaddled right out o’ there, an’ as luck would have it, your steward was lookin’ for another cook.”
“But you bought sweets for my mother at Bentley’s Bakery.”
Michaels looked embarrassed. “Well, My Lord, as you well know, my bread is not the best. Cookin’ at sea, we most had hard tack an’ beans. I’m lucky that the last day cook afore this one was a marvel at most ever’ thing, an’ a good teacher.”
“But the sweet rolls?” Percival persisted.
“Well, she wanted ‘em and I had to do somethin’,” Michaels burst out. “So’s I went to where’s I knew they made good ones. I’d no idea that Mr. Bentley had passed on, or that teasin’ the little Girlie would get her in trouble.”
Percival sighed. “It seems that it is a small world. Well, Michaels, since it appears that you are indirectly responsible for Miss Bentley being on the street, it is up to you to help her turn over to a new page in her life.”
“Yes, My Lord,” Michaels straightened and gave Percival a salute.
Percival turned to Tiffany. “I am making you his responsibility. By the same token, you are now responsible for making him look good. I hope that your skills are as advertised, for I expect the bread for dinner to be excellent.”
Meekly, Tiffany followed Michaels down to the kitchen where they were met by the housekeeper, although inside she was fuming. Mrs. Twitchel met them in the kitchen. “Is this the young person?” she asked, peering at Tiffany through a lorgnette.
“This is Tiffany Bentley,” Michaels said. “She will be doing the bread baking.”
“Likely poison us all. I have never heard such goings on. The late Marchioness, God rest her soul, would never have allowed such a thing,” Mrs. Twitchel fumed.
“She was a lovely lady, the Marchioness,” Michaels said soothingly, “She is sorely missed.”
Apparently somewhat mollified by this statement, Mrs. Twitchel again peered through the glasses that were attached to a long stem and looked Tiffany up and down.
Tiffany stared back, knowing what the housekeeper saw: a heart-shaped face, slender to the point of emaciation; large green eyes framed with long dark eyelashes, faintly tipped with gold highlights; a bush of dark brown hair that had been chopped off with a belt knife then allowed to grow to about chin length. Dressed in trousers and a disreputable old coat, she could pass for a boy if not examined too closely. Her face was smeared with dirt to disguise her lack of whiskers.
She had to look up at Mrs. Twitchel, who was a tall, raw-boned woman, with faded red hair and a dusting of freckles over a florid skin. The housekeeper glared at her with disapproval.
“One thing is for sure, she cannot be seen in that. There are some spare uniforms in the laundry room, and there is a tub of hot water. Come right through here, young woman.”
Tiffany glanced at Michaels, but he made shooing motions with his hands, so she went with the housekeeper.
The laundry room was quite a fine one. Clearly, the Marquess spared no expense providing for his servants’ convenience. Or perhaps he merely valued truly clean shirts.
There were three great fireplaces, each with a wash boiler on a crane. A row of wooden tubs stood against one wall, along with a rocker tub for the truly dirty items. In the center of the room was a box clothes press, and two or three ironing boards were set up on trestles, with smoothing irons on the hearths, basking in the glow of the coals.
“Hearth one and two have linens soaking in them,” the housekeeper said, “but number three is just coming up to temperature. There is a bucket there, and a ladle. You can get yourself some hot water. The pump there at the corner brings cold water up from the cistern.”
“Thank you,” Tiffany said. “It has been far too long since I dared take a full wash.”
Mrs. Twitchel’s expression softened just a little. “It is a hard life when you have no protector. Make no mistake now, the Marquess will do well by you if you do well by him. Honest work, for honest wages.” Her mouth firmed up again into a disapproving line. “There’s a jar of soft soap in that corner, and a crock of ointment for rough skin next to it. I will leave you now, but mind you do not think to slip out the back with the Marquess’ fine handkerchiefs.”
“No, Ma’am, I will not,” Tiffany said.
“Oh, and one more thing. That rack over there has extra under-maid uniforms. Find one that comes close to fitting. You will find an extra chemise or two, as well. If you’ve no objection to it, there is even a cot in here by the fire. We’ll find someplace more permanent for you in the morning.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Twitchel. You are most kind.”
“Don’t thank me, Bentley. Thank your lucky stars that it was the Marquess who caught you stealing, not one of the under-footmen. His Lordship is a most kind and gentle man, in every sense of the word.”
With that, Mrs. Twitchel swept out of the room, leaving Tiffany with the impression of a thin, unbending back above a cloud of black bombazine.
Tiffany lost no time following the housekeeper’s instructions. She mixed hot and cold water in one of the tubs and used a generous amount of the soft soap to scrub herself all over. She discovered a stack of soft towels and cloths that were just the right size for scrubbing.
When she had finished, she pulled on a chemise and a uniform that seemed to be near her size. It was a little large, but by doing up the laces snuggly and tying the apron strings tightly, she was able to manage a decent fit. A maid’s cap helped make her scandalously short hair into something presentable.
Respectably clad, she dunked the clothing she had been wearing into the water, and gave them a thorough washing before hanging them up before the fire.
“Might as well begin as I mean to go on,” she muttered, then lugged cold water from the cistern to refill the nearly empty boiler.
With that done, she went back into the kitchen to look for Michaels. She found him basting a haunch of something, while turning it on a spit over the kitchen fire. “Michaels . . .”
He jumped. “Good heavens, Girlie, you nearly scared me out of my skin. Why are you not abed?”
“Because if I am to have good bread for dinner, I need to begin on it now. Do you have a sponge already set?”
“The day cook keeps starter on the far hob where it will not get too hot. I’m forbidden to touch it, I am. The last time I did, the loaves all fell as if they were the walls of Troy.”
“Trojan horse, are you?”
“I don’t know about that,” Michaels said, a little bemused. “But my bread always falls.”
“Mine usually does not. Show me the sponge.”
Tiffany opened the crock where the yeast mixture was kept. The scent of hops and grain rose from it with a sharp, sour tang. “That will make sourdough,” she said, “but it will be no good for sweet dough. Is there anyone nearby who makes beer? Or, better yet, a winery?”
Michaels looked puzzled. “Why do you want to know? Won’t do no good to come up three sheets in the wind on your first day.”
“I want some of the mother, you old pirate. I’d go ask for it myself, but His Lordship has said that I’m under house arrest.”
“Pirate! You wound me, Girlie. My ship was a whaler, turned privateer for love of God and country.”
“Was it, indeed? And you were a prince in your own land. How did you ever get such a respectable job as this one?”
Michaels laughed. “Oh, Girlie, how I missed coming in and sparring with you.”
Tiffany blinked back tears. It had been fine to banter with the customers when Father Bentley had been alive.
“Aw, now, I’m just funnin’ with ye. I’ll send Lucas down to the brewery at first light, and the winery, too. Will that be soon enough?”
“I guess it will have to be. Meanwhile, I’ll get started on some sourdough since that is all this is fit for.”
“But I’ve been real careful with it. I ain’t even touched it.” Michaels nearly whimpered.
Tiffany softened her voice a little. “You have been. Keeping a sponge proper so’s it don’t sour is hard. If you’ll send out for a sample from the brewery and the winery, I’ll show you how to keep your yeast from becoming sharp.”
“Aw, now, you don’ need to be givin’ away trade secrets.”
“Hardly that,” Tiffany said. “It’s mostly plain common sense. Now, have you got a potato or a handful of raisins?”
“Well, yes, of course we do. But why do you need those to make bread?”
“I don’t,” Tiffany replied. “But while we wait for the samples from the brewery and winery, I can begin our own starter to use next week.”
“Oh.” Michaels looked at her as if she had lost her mind. “Oh!” he exclaimed again, light beginning to dawn for him. “So you mean to stay?”
“What? You thought I’d scarper off at the first chance? Well, I might at that. But I know when to lie low and bide my time. Or I might just make up my mind to take your job.”
“Not to worry about that,” Michaels laughed. “No one makes a roast the way I do. But I’m glad that you’ll be staying for a time, at least. This old pile has been way too dull. I’ll be glad of a joke or two.”
“Yes, yes,” Tiffany muttered absently, poking a spoon in the clay jar of starter. A cloud of what appeared to be dough had risen to the top, sediment had settled to the bottom. The clear fluid that separated the two had a sharp, sour, alcoholic aroma. “Is this starter, or are you making your own Blue Ruin?”
“Tiffany! Would I ever?”
Tiffany lost patience. “Honestly, Michaels, I am sure I could not say. You were my father’s customer, not my favorite uncle. You put in a good word for me, and I’m grateful. But to make a decent loaf to serve to the Marquess, I need something to work with. What kind of flour have you got?”
Michaels seemed about to say something, but then thought better of it. “Yes, Ma’am, Lady Baker,” he twitted her, showing her the way to the pantry where the flour was stored.
By the time the sun peeped over the horizon, Tiffany had a list for Lucas. There were weevils in one barrel of the flour in the pantry, the rye had a tang that she did not care for at all, the butter was bitter, the milk had begun to sour. “What were you thinking?” she asked Michaels. “It is amazing that the crew of the Antelope lived to catch a single whale if this is how you fed them.”
“Weevils just adds protein,” he shrugged. “Besides, purchasing is done by the day cook. He’ll be in any minute now, and I’ll be off.”
“I’ll be off…off shift that is. It be nigh my sleep time, Girlie.”
“Send Lucas now before the shift change. I don’t want to argue through this with another stubborn cook.” With that, Tiffany measured out flour from the one good barrel, caught a cupful of drippings from the roast, and set about doing what she could to revive the failing yeast.
Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!
Want to read how the story ends?
The Marchioness Who Tempted Fate is live on Amazon now!