I wandered over to the muffins, salivating. “Blueberry muffins?”
She tilted her head from side to side. “Sort of. It’s lemon-blueberry quark cake. Well, these are muffins. We’re still working on the cake.”
I picked one up, hot or not. It smelled too good not to.
“Be careful,” she said with a laugh.
“Please, step back, ma’am. I’m a trained professional.” I bounced the muffin between my hands, unwrapping it as I went while my salivary glands worked overtime. Once it was free, I broke off a steaming piece, held it as long as I had the patience for, and popped it in my mouth.
Where it promptly melted.
I thought I saw my brain when my eyes rolled back in my head, and a low moan rumbled up my throat. “Oh my God,” I said in the second between swallowing and shoving another bite in.
She leaned against the island counter, watching me eat with an amused look on her face and her arms wound around her small waist.
“No fair, Daddy! I want one too,” Sammy said with a magnificent pout.
“Sorry, son. These are all mine.” I pretended to gobble them all, and he squealed my name.
When I turned around, I popped the rest of heaven in my mouth. I peeled the wrapper from another muffin and broke it in half to blow on it. When the steam was mostly wafted off, I offered half to Sammy and the other half to blueberry-faced Maven.
They greedily tucked in, and I reached for another muffin, practically drooling still as I hurried to unwrap it.
“God, Hannah, what’d you put in this? Crack?”
“What’s crack?” Sammy asked with his mouth full.
“A special kind of sugar,” I answered around a bite.
Hannah laughed again, grazing her lips with her knuckles. “The secret is the cheese.”
I warily eyed the muffin. “There’s cheese in here?”
She nodded. “That’s what makes it so moist.”
I shrugged and shoved another bite down the hatch. “It’s unreal, Hannah.”
“Thank you,” she said, turning back to her bowl to pour the batter into a Bundt pan. “All right, who’s going to help me with the bosbes?”
“Me!” Sammy cheered, raising his hand while Maven clapped.
She offered them a dish of berries. “All right, just like last time. Put them on the top very gently, like this.” She demonstrated, placing a few blueberries on top of the batter.
The kids followed suit.
I unwrapped another muffin. “Gee, Hannah, I’m not sure how having you around will work out for my waistline.”
She smiled at me over her shoulder. “Oh, I think you’ll be all right.”
Hannah hadn’t said a single salacious thing, but I couldn’t help feeling like there was some underlying meaning to her words. Maybe it was something in her voice, the hint of softness, or maybe it was the way she looked at me, like I meant something, like I was special. It made me feel like more, made me wish I were more.
Maybe I was high off her crack cakes.
More likely, I was just stupid.
“Do all the Dutch bake this well?” I asked, eager to halt the train of thought I’d found myself riding.
“I’m sure quite a few do. My grandfather owned a bakery, and my grandmother, mother, and aunt ran it after he died. Baking has just always been in the family, I suppose.”
“Do you enjoy it?” I asked as I took another bite, slowing down.
When she turned with the pan, her cheeks were high and rosy. “Oh, I love it. To take bits of things and turn them into something whole, something more. The time and care that goes into making something that brings someone else pleasure. The routine of it—measuring, stirring, kneading. The smells and the warmth of the oven … all of it. I love it.”
“Think you’ll take over the business?”
“No. My eldest sister and eldest cousin have taken over in our mothers’ places.” She sounded a little sad, and the thought that she couldn’t have what she wanted sent a bolt of irrational anger through me.
I frowned. “Well, that’s not fair.”
She opened the oven and met my eyes as she slid the pan in. “You sound like Sammy,” she teased.
“The kid’s got a point.”
“It would be nice, but I’m happy. And I’ll find a job that makes me happy. I’m sure of that.” She set the timer.
“Hannah, can we have cake tonight too?” Sammy asked.
She used her towel to wipe off his hands before dusting his nose. “Not tonight. It won’t be cool and ready to eat until you’re far away in dreamland.” She lifted him off the counter and set him down, picking up Maven. “Come, come. Let’s go take a bath, yeah?”
Sammy cheered, and Maven clapped again.
Hannah was still smiling when she looked back at me. “I’ll be back to clean up, okay?”
I nodded, feeling like I should step in, take over. But in the end, I just said, “Thanks, Hannah,” and watched her disappear.