Pumpkin Pie, Apple Crisp…and Hunky
Growing up in a small rural community, one of my greatest memories of fall were sales and bazaars that the various women’s groups held as fundraisers. Most times it would be at the community hall or at the church. There were always handicrafts, homemade gifts, and oh, the food. I remember my mom baking for the church bazaar and making bread, cakes, cookies, squares….we’re talking BOXES of baking. It was EPIC.
The sale halls are always noisy and there are delicious smells – percolating coffee, tea, and spices. These ladies know how to bake, y’all. So when I was writing the third novella in my First Responders series, INTO THE FIRE, it seemed natural to have a special event going on in the community where I could serve up some seasonal favourites. It also made sense to have it benefit the local volunteer fire department – the second vocation of my hero, Chris Jackson.
And like any big, strapping fireman he
can’t – and doesn’t have to – choose between pumpkin pie and
The place was hopping when they arrived just before one in the afternoon. One area was roped off and art displays by local artisans were showcased. Another area was set up for the tea, and there were no empty seats. The hall smelled of urns of strong coffee and the spicy tang of cinnamon and nutmeg. Before Ally could say anything, her mother grabbed her arm and led her through the throng.
“You didn’t eat lunch. Have some tea and pie,” Judy ordered.
Setting her teeth, Ally smiled at the woman behind the table and asked for coffee… and apple crisp. It was probably childish, but she was growing more and more restless lately. She could pick her own snack, for heaven’s sake. It was hardly all her mom’s fault. Ally was the one who’d put herself in the rut to begin with. Ally had been the one to stay at home because it was easy.
She was balancing the cup in one hand and the plate and fork on another when the back of her neck started tingling. She turned around and saw Chris in the line-up, smiling down at a woman who was old enough to be his grandmother. Ally noticed that he got a piece of crisp and a generous slice of pie. Not that she blamed the old girl. When Chris turned on his smile, it was hard to say no.
His gaze caught hers and his eyes warmed, sending a flush from her head straight down to her toes. He wore his uniform today, the blue shirt bringing out his eyes and the tie knotted precisely at his throat. His long legs were emphasized by the trim cut of the dark pants. Legs that were, right now, making their way over to her, weaving around chairs while he held his cup up high so as not to spill.
“Fancy meeting you here,” he said, sliding up beside her.
Suddenly the afternoon out didn’t feel like such a burden. “Indeed.” Her lips curved up and she lifted her chin. “Look at you, sweet talking the ladies into giving you double.”
“No sweet talking at all. Just my natural charm. Most ladies can’t resist it.”
“There is one. I keep trying and trying, but she’s a tough cookie.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.”
“Not really.” His eyes twinkled at her. “I find I’m enjoying the challenge.”
Their gazes held for several seconds until he grinned, showing his stupidly white teeth for just a second before lifting his cup for a drink of coffee. “I wish there was a place to sit. We should have come later, after things slow down.”
“You came with your parents?”
She raised her eyebrows, then nodded.
“Here, put your cup down here so you can eat.” He slid over to a wall and put his cup down on the ledge. She put hers beside it and let out a breath. There was slightly more room to breathe just here, and she dipped her fork into the baked apples and oatmeal topping.
“How’d the career counsellor go?” He popped a gigantic piece of pumpkin pie into his mouth.
She shrugged. “Okay. I answered a bunch of questions, only for her to tell me after an hour what it took you all of two minutes to say.”
He smiled. “I’ve known you longer. So, any decisions?”
She shook her head and reached for her coffee to wash down the crisp. “Not yet. Vet school is out. I’d have to take my science degree and then hopefully get into vet school and spend another four years in Charlottetown. And we know how well I did in university the first time…”
“A lot to think about.”
“Yeah.” She scraped the last of the crisp off her plate and licked off the fork. “Okay, now I know why you got both. I didn’t have lunch and that pie smells amazing.”
There wasn’t much left of his piece, but he sliced some off with the edge of his fork and held it up. “Try some,” he said, holding it out.
She leaned forward, took the fork between her lips and sucked the custard off the tines. “Oh, it is good,” she said, closing her eyes. “I should have listened to my mother. She said to get the pie.”
She opened her eyes to find him watching her the same way he had the other night, just before he kissed her. But he wouldn’t do that here, not in the middle of a community event. Instead, he stayed put, just watching her in a way that made her feel all jumped up and tall and perhaps even pretty.