No maids, no cooks, no hope. The whispered words were building to a shout in Corianna’s mind.
“You don’t need to cook a feast, dear. They know where you are coming from and your… ummm... struggles with … adjusting.”
Corianna twisted in the porch swing to look at her friend and housemate. “Are you trying to help? If that was your attempt I do believe you need to try a different approach.” Her grin and the twinkling eyes softened her words. “Truly, Ella, I think I deserve and have earned a little more respect from my closest friend. I may have had a few kitchen… mishaps… but it will be different this time!”
Their laughter mingled in the chill evening air… laughter that the two of them had shared so very often over the six months since she had moved to the western town. Laughter that had woven a cord between them, bound them together for life.
They watched the snow fall for several minutes, the peaceful silence blanketing them. Ella was the first to speak. “I am getting cold. When are you planning to start cooking?”
Cor shifted in the swing and looked away.
“Well… I have to admit something to you. I… well I… I have a bit of a… um… problem.”
Steps squeaked the snow as someone approached. Both ladies peered into the darkness, straining to see.
Derek stepped into the pool of light, snow dancing around him. His black hair wore the snow like a cap and even his thick eyelashes were frosted. Corianna felt the butterflies that always painfully tickled her when he was around.
“Good evening, Derek. What brings you here?” Ella smiled warmly at him as he shuffled his feet. One foot pushed the snow from the step, then the other.
“I was dropping by to see how Corianna is doing.” His words were light and friendly but his voice was tense with concern.
Ella stared at him for a moment and then turned to Corianna. Cor felt a blush of heat travel down her neck and up into her hair. “Cor?”
Derek spoke up quickly. “I bumped into her as she was leaving the Mercantile and she nearly fell.”
“You caught me, so I didn’t actually fall.” She remembered his arms clasping her and his eyes gazing into hers. If the cold had been bothering her before, now she was melting from the inside out.
Ella looked from her to Derek and back to her. Again Derek answered Ella’s unspoken question. “She twisted her ankle and I carried her home then went back for her packages. I had to finish work at the mill, but I wanted to see how she was doing.”
Now both of them pinned her with concerned looks. “It’s much better. I just was being cautious and staying off it tonight.”
“That’s why you aren’t baking. Why didn’t you just say so?” Cor dropped her eyes to her hands twisting a handkerchief in her lap. “I wasn’t… I just…”
Ella reached out and wrapped her fingers around Cor’s restless hands. Let’s go in now and you’ll sit at the table and I’ll be your servant for the evening.”
She stood and turned to Derek. Cor saw him stand up straighter and meet Ella's eyes. Something passed between them but she had no idea what.
“Come help us, Derek.” Ella’s voice was more than an invitation to help bake for the evening. Cor flushed again.
A grin from Derek set the butterflies going. But when he stepped in front of her and lifted her into his arms again, she thought she might never catch her breath.
They baked snickerdoodles and gingerbread. Apple pie from dried apples and pumpkin pie from the cellar stores. Cinnamon buns and lemon bread.
It was late when Derek reached for his coat. Cor stood for the first time that evening and step carefully over to him. The tenseness between them had diffused with the silliness of baking Christmas goodies. She reached put to wipe flour from his cheekbone, right near the scar that roused her curiosity.
“I’ll come by tomorrow with a turkey. Can’t have Christmas without one.”
“You’ll join us of course.” The question had her heart tangled in it.
“If I am invited.”
He stepped out of the door and she turned to find Ella grinning at her. “What are you smiling about?”
“More than just desserts were cooked tonight, Corianna.” Ella giggled. “Christmas sweets of a different kind.”
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