Today’s teaser comes from the new, re-revised version of Silver Hollow! RJ and I have been hard at work getting this new edition together. I’m so glad I decided to have her edit it one more round. It’s polished up so much nicer thanks to her critical and fun touch.
Cook opened the square window above the door and his voice boomed over to them. “Rachel Elisedd Underhill, brambling through the grass again, is we? You hobbled goblin!”
The maid gritted her teeth at the light jab and resisted the urge to box Alastair’s ears.
Underhill is for certain not one of those loathsome, mindless ollyfeathers!
As they stepped into the richly sweet-smelling kitchen, she shot him a look of promise. If she wasn’t in need of a favor she would never have come.
Afternoon sunlight shimmered through tiny high-set windows. Flour specks danced in the air like windswept summer cotton. It coated everything, from herbs to roots hanging from above and over three separate dishes being prepared below.
Cook’s round nose and flushed cheeks filled their view. It was quite impossible for the ogre of a male to do otherwise, and Underhill laughed as he swept her into a hug.
“Alastair, you old sourpuss!” she giggled, in spite of herself.
What is it about this fool that shoves my mind to the brimbles?
The burly cook, who was anything but sour, released her after imprinting her brown skirts with a fine layer of flour. “In my defense, you are one of the most bamboozling lasses I’ve yet to meet.”
Milady watched the exchange with a steady grin, certainly unused to Vale phrases. Then again, Rachel and Alastair had never had a normal relationship. His compelling green-blue eyes locked onto the maid’s and didn’t release them for a long pause. Thus far he was ignoring her silent pleas and gestures. After serving the household as long as they had, they had their silent communication down to alchemy.
Underhill felt her control over him slipping away as she watched a mischievous look fill his dashed, handsome face. Biting the inside of her cheek to keep from calling out, she knew it was too late when he rounded to Milady.
Cook took her in with all the force he applied to making every meal. “What is this gooseberry I find sweeting my kitchen, Rachel?” He winked.
Jessamiene’s eyes grew wide as saucers and she echoed, “Gooseberry?”
Underhill giggled at her mistress’s confusion and skipped over to sample some of Cook’s newest flavors. “Ooh, this one looks promising, Alastair!” In truth she was making threats. Alastair hated it when she stole his recipes.
Cook was still laughing while eyeing her warily and, taking Amie’s arm through his, he ignored the maid. “Aye, gooseberry! By far only the sweetest of the Creator’s nectar! And it makes a smashing sparkling wine!” He dragged her royally across the kitchen while Underhill continued to stick finger and spoon into his various inventions.
“Ah, here we are! Sample this one milady!” Cook’s blue eyes sparkled keenly over the bubbling cauldron steaming a red mist between them.
Amie hesitated then said, “What is it?”
“What an idea!” Underhill giggled while secretly pulling a tiny vial from her waistcoat and slipping half its contents into the mix. She kept it for emergencies, but Alastair needed to remember who the true alchemist of the house was.
Him! With his umbridged concoctions, thinks he’s king of the world, he does!
Cook said between guffaws, “What indeed! More like which, aye? I hardly know!”
Underhill whispered loudly behind her hand, “Cook’s quite the inventive mind!” His gaze settled briefly on hers, a warning. She tipped the vial and flashed him a catty grin.
“Moment of truth,” Jessamiene said with a shrug. Dipping her finger in the contrarily cool liquid Amie brought it to her lips. Her eyes shot round as tea cups and she spun on her booted heel to Cook. “Whoa! Man, that’s good!”
“Brilliant!” Cook grinned. “There’s another remedy for your vials then, Rachel! Draught of Joy, I’m thinking…” Pinching his square chin between two thick fingers, Cook practically danced across the floor and exclaimed, “Ach, me pie!”
Rachel gritted her teeth as Alastair passed. He brushed her shoulder and whispered too low for Milady to catch, “Care to best me, then? Your little vial shan’t tip my work to the brimbles.”
Checking to be certain the Lady was still sampling the gooseberry dish, Underhill turned her chin up at him and said, “Consider our battle begun, Alastair Dearborne.”
Over the next few minutes Cook taught Milady the difference between gooseberry and elderberry, then set her and the Miss Underhill to work on two of his three dishes. The two servants laughed and giggled respectively as they threw pinches of herbs and liquids together. Secretly, however, when Mistress wasn’t observant, a hard edge affected their amusement. Underhill was convinced she would win. She would remind the Mister Dearborne he couldn’t best an alchemist.
Jessamiene stirred the fat wooden spoon in the cauldron set over the blazing hearth. Cook dumped all the contents from his bowl into the cauldron. When the stew began to bubble and hiss a thick magenta-colored steam, he turned and grinned cheekily at Underhill.
“So what exactly are we making?” Milady asked with her face half buried in the pink cloud.
He craned his neck back the maid’s way, certain he had her attention, and then faced Amie with a chuckle. “I’m not for certain, but she mustn’t catch wind of it or she might try to steal me recipe!”
“And you two don’t share your secrets, I’m guessing?”
Cook’s eyes narrowed and he said, “The result of such a blunder would be catastrophic, gosling.” With all the grace a man of his size shouldn’t possess he ambled back to Underhill to check on her progress.
For her ears alone he leaned over her shoulder and said, “Didn’t you see? You’ve already lost, my little hobgoblin, and I fear you shall never best me.”
“I would nay count on that, Alastair Dearborne,” Rachel grumbled, releasing another three drops from a green-tinged vial. Her eyes gleamed as the colors began to blend and swirl into patterns, glinted when she caught Cook’s open-mouthed stare.
Shaking his head he remarked, “You are truly a wunderkind, my love.”
Oh gill-plucked Loreleis, he did nay dare call me love!
He laughed when she suddenly grabbed her bowl and attempted to move round him. When he stuck out an arm to grasp the counter and keep her close, she nearly spilled the mess on both of them.
“Where are your senses?” she hissed, then caught her breath at their close proximity.
You will nay have such treacherous thoughts, Rachel Underhill, she commanded her mind.
“Hey!” Milady called to them, and the intensity in Alastair’s eyes faded. “Are you two going to make eyes at each other or help me finish this stew? My arms are about to fall off.”
Taking the opportunity to duck beneath his arm, Underhill rushed to the cauldron. After dumping her finely tampered liquid into the magenta stew, she darted quickly back. Only after she found safe refuge did she realize she had left their Lady behind.
“Oh that’s just perfect, Underhill!” she said to herself.
From the cauldron arose something in the shape of a mini-mushroom cloud. Cook threw his arms on either side of Underhill, taking the hint. And she tried for the life of her to forget the one foolish afternoon they had spent together four years before.
They had been arguing as usual, over some new invention of his and a medicinal brew of hers, when it happened. His lips were suddenly on hers and that was the end of all sense. She lost herself to him for a very languid, luxurious day. Yet when they met for their duties the next day, a new awkwardness rested betwixt them. Underhill had vowed never to let it happen again, so she did not appreciate his hands on her waist now.
“What did you slip in me brew, love?” Alastair asked with a hint of well-deserving fear in his voice.
Spoon in hand, Jessamiene dove after them with a shout as the mini-mushroom cloud turned ivory white. Immediately after, the giant cauldron shook and the tremor echoed in pots and pans shuddering overhead. They all jumped when a sharp tiny whistle popped the cloud like a bubble instead.
Frowning, Milady slowly stood and crept towards the exploding stew and saw what appeared to be a perfectly brown brew within. “Huh…” She started to turn back to them, then added, “Guess that wasn’t so bad.”
Brown smoke puffed from the cauldron and thoroughly engulfed Lady Wenderdowne’s unsuspecting form.
Underhill threw her face into her hands and said, “I am thoroughly and rightly poshumicked!”