“Bread dough. There’s nothing to it.”
“Do you want…help?”
“Are your hands clean?”
He looked down at his hands and nodded.
With one finger, I scooted the dough in front of him. “Show me your skills.”
His gaze held on me, assessing my challenge. After a moment, he took the dough and sat down, while I walked to the sink to scrub my hands. He was elbow-deep by the time I returned.
“You don’t bake, do you?” I guessed.
Not unless I have to. This is a workout. Could you grab me something from the fridge?”
“A little early for a beer, don’t you think?” I said as I pulled the refrigerator open, about to reach behind the half-empty takeout cartons from last night, expecting to find rows and rows of dark bottles. I was surprised to find absolutely no alcoholic beverages whatsoever. How very un-collegiate.
“No beer,” Henry said. “My paternal grandfather died of cirrhosis of the liver when he was forty-five.” His chin was tucked, kneading away. “I’ve never had a drink in my life.”
I stared at him for a moment. What a thing to admit. And he seemed almost proud of it. Well, not that being a teetotaler was something shameful. In fact, I couldn’t help wishing my own father had followed that particular practice when he was in his twenties, instead of boozing it up and leaving my mother home with three kids. Five years sober or no five years sober, I still hadn’t forgiven him for choosing alcohol over his family all those years ago.
“You weren’t drinking at the party?” I asked, remembering perfectly that he’d been holding a red Solo cup.
“No,” he said. “I knew I had to keep my wits about me that night. I heard there were snakes.”
I snorted under my breath. “You’re killing me.”
“I’ll take a water, though,” he said, “if you can manage.”
“I can manage.” I slid a bottle from the door shelf.
“Yeah, thanks,” he said, preoccupied, as I set it in front of him. With no luck, he was trying to scratch his cheek with his shoulder. I was familiar with Murphy’s Law in the kitchen: the moment your hands are incapacitated, every inch of your face—and other various body parts—inevitability begins to itch.
“Could I get a little help here?” he requested, his voice pinched.
I sat down across the table from him and rocked my chair back on two legs.
He let loose a rough exhale of frustration then rubbed his cheek with the back of his hand, leaving behind a flour smudge.
“Sweetie, you got a little something”—I pointed at my own cheek—“right there.”
Henry stopped kneading to return my smile, only his was much more menacing than mine. I examined my nails. A moment later, something small and sticky hit my face.
I blinked, glanced up and dabbed at my cheek. “Et tu, Brute?”
His sinister smile grew as he flicked his fingers like a whip toward me, sending more chunks of dough in my direction. Most of them landed short.
“Aww, you missed,” I said as my chair legs dropped down on all fours. I leaned forward, elbows bracing my weight. Henry followed suit, his floury palms flat on the table, angling toward me. His gaze flicked to something to the side of him then back at me. His smile widened.
That’s when I noticed the open bag of flour on the table, closer to him than to me. Without needing to turn around, I knew that behind me on the counter sat sugar, salt, pepper, oatmeal, baking soda, bread crumbs, and other substances of the grating, powdery,
Two seconds later, our respective chairs flew out from behind us. Five seconds later, like an explosion of snowy dynamite, flour was everywhere.
He stepped right, I stepped left. And so we danced…
After a particularly dastardly pitch of cornstarch on my part, Henry blinked and coughed, shaking his head, white dust falling from his dark hair, catching in the curls.
He went on the offense.
I staggered back, temporarily blinded, clutching the edge of the counter so my feet wouldn’t slide out from under me. It was hard to breathe with cocoa powder up my nose, and I sputtered a laugh, making myself choke. When I regained focus, Henry was at the sink, filling a tall glass under the faucet.
“Whah-ha-ha-ha,” he taunted over his shoulder.
“Dry ingredients only. Dry.”
“I don’t remember hearing rules.” He shut off the tap when the water reached the top rim.
I backed away, hanging onto the counter. Henry was blocking the only suitable exit out to the backyard. I was trapped. The hair on my arms stood on end when he took a single step forward, full glass in hand, aimed right at me.
“You wouldn’t dare!” I rasped, slipping and sliding in retreat.
He dipped his fingers in the glass and flicked. Large drops of water soaked into the front of my T-shirt.
I was desperate for a weapon, any weapon. That’s when I spied Lilah’s bowl of bright red cranberry sauce sitting on the corner of the table, just begging to be tagged into the ring. Henry’s
eyes went wide as I slid it off the smooth surface and into the palm of my hand, my arm cocked like a baseball pitcher.
“Put that down,” he ordered.
I pointed my chin at him. “You first.”
“Not a chance.” His grin made my arms prickle again.
Additional verbal and nonverbal threats were issued. Promises of everlasting revenge were pledged, but neither of us lowered our weapons.
“One inch closer,” I cautioned, eyeing his shirt, “and it’s bye-bye to that Armani Exchange you’re wearing.”
“I have another.” He was about to flick more water at me, when suddenly, while stepping on an exceptionally puffy mound of flour mixture, he lost his footing. Thanks to this brief distraction, I made my move, lunging forward, sword unsheathed.
With me two seconds ahead, he whipped around, pitching the water in my direction. It only tagged my shoulder. I ducked and bobbed behind him with just enough time to dump the entire bowl of slimy cranberries over his head.
And then, with my arm still in the air, I froze. Surprised, maybe, at my easy triumph.
That was my mistake.
With a yelp, I whirled around, making a beeline toward the patio door. But I was a breath too late.
Henry yanked the back of my shirt, then caught my wrist. “Not so fast, Honeycutt.”
By one arm, I was pulled back and spun around, my feet sliding across the slippery floor. I could see the whites of his eyes and teeth beneath the red jelly oozing down his face. I wriggled
and squirmed against his clutches while he smiled fiendishly, dragging me toward the sink.
Flour and water coupled with the white V-neck and blue-striped bra I was sporting was not the impression I wanted to leave on Thanksgiving morning.
“Stop!” I squeaked, struggling to break his grip.
“Nope.” He stopped dragging me long enough to seize my other wrist, holding me securely by both hands.
“Let’s call it a draw,” I offered. “We’re even, okay?”
“I’m about to make it even,” he said, his voice low. When I tried to squirm away, he let go of my wrists long enough to slide his hands up my arms and take hold of my shoulders. I couldn’t help thinking that in a parallel universe, it might look like we were about to embrace.
This thought slowed me down, though I did try once more to pull free, pretty halfheartedly. I felt strange, a little lightheaded, as I looked at his face through my flour-caked lashes. His hands were strong and warm around my skin. Capable.
The next thing I knew, my feet were sliding again. This time, however, Henry wasn’t pulling me to the sink, he was pulling me to him.
He wasn’t smiling anymore. Neither was I. His intense gaze slid to my mouth, and just as my eyes were drifting down his face in a similar manner, I noticed a tiny drop of cranberry sauce
trickling down his nose. Like a thick, crimson tear, it dripped off the end.
I tipped my chin and laughed. “Armistice?” I asked, panting to catch my breath. When I leveled my chin, Henry was examining me skeptically.
“Only if you declare defeat.” Because of his stern expression under all that red goo, another laugh bubbled up my throat. His fingers pressed into my skin, his eyes flashing to the sink.
“You win, you win! No water!” I begged. “Now, unhand me, sir.”
Instead of letting go, he gripped my shoulders, leading me a few steps until my back hit the wall. “Not until you say it,” he whispered. He was close again, closer than before, making me
hyperaware of his strong hands, the warmth of his skin, his long fingers curling around my arms.
“Say what?” I asked after a hard swallow.
“Repeat after me: Henry Edward Knightly, the third, is the king of the kitchen.”
“The third?” I couldn’t help cackling.
“Say it,” he demanded, his fingers gripping my shoulders, pressing me against the wall. “I don’t know why you’re fighting so hard against it, Spring.” His voice turned eerily calm. “You know what’s coming if you don’t completely obey me. I will dunk you, and believe me”—he glanced down at the front of my shirt—“I’ll enjoy every second of it.”
“Okay, okay!” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Henry Knightly is the king—”
“No,” he cut me off, moving his hands to either side of my neck. “Henry Edward Knightly, the third.”
I opened my eyes just so I could roll them and mutter something mocking. But his face was nearer than I expected, his hands gentle on my neck, holding me in place. He stared into my
eyes, not blinking. We were so close, almost chest to chest, and for a moment, I forgot I was supposed to breathe.
Without another word, he bent his flour-covered face to mine, and I stopped breathing altogether.
When he kissed me, there was an explosion of stars behind my eyes. His body shifted, pressing me hard against the wall, leaving me no choice but to grab on to the curves of his elbows. His hands still held my neck, fingers moving over my skin, his thumbs brushing across my cheeks. I could taste the sugar on his lips, the flour and the sweet tang of cranberries, a delicious combination that made my mouth water. Without realizing it, I parted my lips,
needing a deeper taste.
Before I got the chance, it was over.
But I couldn’t move away, didn’t want to open my eyes, needing to remain in the moment when I’d caught a glimpse of what Henry might be. Not the arrogant tutor or the mute Greek statue, but the man who made me laugh, pushed my buttons, had a food fight in his spotless kitchen, and managed to blow my mind in ten seconds flat.
His strong hands were still holding me; I could smell his skin, hear him breathing, still near enough to kiss. My throat ached at the thought, and I felt his heart racing, going faster than mine.
“Now we’re even,” he said in a low voice. Then I was released. He stepped back and wiped the back of his wrist across his sauce covered nose.
“This…this isn’t over,” I managed to say, choosing to totally ignore what had just happened—if he could do it, so could I. I ran my fingers down my braids, attempting to strip away the pasty goop. Somehow, the bright red cranberry sauce-covering the top half of his body had transferred to my hair and all down the front of my shirt. My mind went wonky, imagining how that had happened.
“I will have my revenge,” I forced myself to add.
“I’m counting on it.”
When he pulled back a slow grin, the pit of my stomach flooded with heat and I caught myself staring at his cranberry-stained mouth. I needed to get out of there, now, before I did
something I would regret.
Henry picked up a hand towel off the counter, wound it, and
snapped the end in my direction. “Now step out back,” he said, “so I can hose you off.”