Another Little Red Hen excerpt, this one from the contemporary fairy tale novel, The Last Winter Knight, free to download this week only:
The bedroom door opened on a long upstairs gallery that looked down on the entryway she’d seen when he carried her in. All of the gas lamps were lit, giving all the dark woodwork a cozy glow. The smell of something baking was coming from downstairs, and in the distance she was sure she could hear a woman singing. Closing the bedroom door behind her, she padded downstairs, the worn carpet runner soft and warm under her bare feet.
An archway down the hall from the library she had seen before led to a dining room. The windows were shuttered, and none of the lamps were lit. All of the furniture was covered with white dust cloths, even the chandelier over the long dining table and a huge, framed something hanging over the massive fireplace. But the swinging door to the kitchen was propped open, and she could see light beyond it. The singing and the smell were coming from there.
“Hello?” She passed through a narrow butcher’s pantry lined with glass-front cabinets full of china tucked away in quilted bags. “I don’t want to startle anyone.”
The singing stopped. “Not to worry, dear.” A white-haired woman in a black dress and a white apron was working at a long, wooden table in a kitchen straight out of a BBC country house drama. “You didn’t.” She was kneading a lump of pale brown dough. “Good morning.”
“Good morning.” The woman didn’t seem the least bit surprised to see her. “I’m Christabel.”
“Oh yes, dear, I know.” She sliced the dough into two lumps. “Bernard told me last night. I’m so glad to see you up and around.” Her accent was less obviously English than Bernard’s, but she was definitely not local. “I’m the housekeeper. Mrs. Sealy.” She finished shaping the second loaf and dropped it into a pan. “Can I get you some breakfast?”
“I can get it,” Christabel said. “I don’t want to be any trouble.” She was acutely aware of being naked under Bernard’s robe. Did Mrs. Sealy serve a lot of girls breakfast? she wondered.
“Don’t be silly. It’s no trouble.” She wiped her hands on a towel. “I just took a pan of cinnamon rolls out of the oven. Or we have chocolate croissants, if you’d rather.”
“They both smell amazing.”
“Sit yourself down. I’ll get you one of each.” She pulled a china plate down from a cupboard “And a glass of milk?”
“That sounds perfect.” She sat down at the table, the robe closed over her knees. The housekeeper set a plate of pastries in front of her and poured a tall glass of milk from a clay pitcher still beaded with moisture from the icebox. “Bernard is still asleep, I think.”
“I’m not the least bit surprised.” She set down the milk with a smile. “He’s always been a slugabed since he was a boy.” It was obvious from her tone that she was very fond of him. “Eat, dear, eat. You must be starving.”
She picked up the delicate croissant and took a bite. “Oh my god…” She thought she might be about to orgasm again. “That is so good.”
“Oh good,” Mrs. Sealy said, smiling as Christabel ate. “Did they come out all right? I was worried.”
“Trust me.” She took a big gulp of milk. “I don’t think I’ve ever had anything that good.” She was gobbling, she realized; the croissant was almost gone, and she had crumbs all down her front.
“Aren’t you sweet?” the housekeeper said, obviously pleased. “Try the cinnamon rolls. It’s a new recipe, and I’m afraid they won’t be fit to eat.”
Christabel took a bite. “Perfect,” she promised around a mouth full of sticky, spicy bliss. A sense of almost perfect well-being had come over her as she ate. A few moments ago she had felt embarrassed to be dressed in a robe; now she could easily contemplate dropping the robe and devouring the rest of the goodies naked.
“I’m so glad you’re enjoying them,” Mrs. Sealy said, setting the full plate of each within her reach. “You poor dear…Bernard said it was a terrible accident.”
“The car blew up,” Christabel said, still eating. Usually her tolerance for sweets was pretty low, but she could have eaten these all day. “If Bernard hadn’t been there…” She shuddered, remembering the smell of gas and the heat of the flames as he carried her away. And there was something else, something she had forgotten…she had dreamed about it…something horrible.
“Don’t think about it, dear.” The housekeeper was refilling her glass. “He was there. That’s all that matters.”
“Yes.” She took another bite of cinnamon roll, and the weird sense of foreboding faded away.
“What on earth were you doing in these mountains on your own in the middle of a blizzard?”
“I was lost.” She felt as if she could tell this woman anything. “I was supposed to be going to a spa. I had an appointment.”
Suddenly a door slammed open above them, and footsteps came thundering down the stairs. She turned to look just as Bernard came racing in, wearing nothing but a bedsheet.