- - -

Dipping his pen back into the ink well Walter Corey sat back in his desk chair admiring the neat lines of correctly totalled figures. That was the household accounts audited for the month, glancing at his watch he wondered since there was a good hour before lunch whether he should head off and see what his footmen were up to as no doubt Mr Adams was letting them slack off. Or of course he could simply enjoy this rare treat of free time, settle down and read his paper properly for a change? Deciding a morning of labouring over the accounts had earned him some leisure time the butler surreptitiously picked up his lordship's morning paper quickly turning to read the latest political scandal. Yet he found himself unable to settle completely, not from a sense of guilt far from it, but from the now almost constant rumblings of his stomach due to the mouth-watering smells drifting down the corridor. Folding his paper the butler headed out to track down the illusive aroma, after all as butler it was his responsibility to make sure all the household was up to standard, that definitely included taste testing anything that took his fancy!

Having tracked the smell down to the bakery off of the kitchen the butler rooted around for the maid responsible, she couldn't have gone far as there was still half finished apple pies on the marble topped table and more pastry waiting to be rolled out. Inching towards the stove the butler bent down lifting the latch to sniff at the almost finished pies.

"OUT!" A sudden shrill voice demanded, almost maternal commanding in its tone and the startled butler's brain made that connection shooting up so fast that he bashed the back of his head on the underside of the table. Grousing and swearing under his breath as he held his throbbing head the butler looked up to glare at the housekeeper who stood in the doorway with arms crossed and an un-amused expression on her face.

"Can I help you Mr Jarvis, are you carrying out an inspection? The cleanliness of the oven's perhaps? May I suggest you come back when they are not in use."

"I was just…"

"I can guess what you were just." The housekeeper snapped back. "Those pie's are for his lordship's table and not for your mid-morning snack!"

"There is plenty." The Butler retorted waving at the waiting ingredients.

"Yes but not enough hands to make them, perhaps you will consider that when you allow Mr Adams to steal away my maids to help your lazy footmen in their duties, the same number of beds and fires need to be tended you know, they don't magically make or light themselves just because his lordship's new pictures need hanging! So the rest of us have to make do…After I finish these I have the brasses to start on, so I am sorry if I do not have the time to spare to make you your own pie!" Mrs Ryan insisted tying her apron back on as she rolled out the pastry for the last pie, not thinking as she quipped. "However if you have time to waste feel free to make your own!" Snorting in amusement at the ludicrousness of her suggestion, like a man could do such a thing.

"Fine…" The Butler snapped reaching for a pie dish and shoving a handful of apple in the bottom before reaching for the remaining pastry. "It can't be too hard…" He muttered as he slapped the poor defenceless pastry on the board pushing at it futilely with his fingers to stretch it before slapping it over the top of the disk to form a thick uneven crust. "See…" He snorted looking up to catch the housekeeper's horrified and amused expression. "What? It's a bit think but then you've got that roller thing…"

"Men." Flora muttered dramatically before moving round the table and removing the poor pastry from the top of the pie and then tipping the apple slices back onto the table. "Here first you need to line the bottom and sides of the pie dish." She quickly divided his lump of pastry into two and handed him the rolling pin, which the butler looked at as though she had just handed him a live ferret. Taking pity on him the housekeeper showed him a few demonstration rolls before handing the pin back.

"Wait you need to protect your suit!" She insisted as he began to enthusiastically attack the pastry. "Use some flour on the pin it will stop it from sticking." She muttered for a moment pausing spare apron in hand. Throwing caution to the wind she stepped up behind him wrapping her arms round his middle and threading the apron around his waist. Startled the butler jumped almost out of his skin stepping back into her, for a moment both of them stood frozen holding their breath his back pressed up against her chest. Then almost dropping the apron in her haste the housekeeper darted round the table on the pretence of checking the pies in the oven leaving the butler to tie his own apron.

When both had had enough time to calm their blushes Flora Ryan returned from the stove, but this time she kept the reassuring bulk of the table in between them and returned to her own baking. "That's better…Now turn the pastry round you want to try and get it about a quarter of an inch thick."

Nodding the butler kept his eyes strictly on his task, trying desperately to push thoughts of certain parts of the housekeeper's anatomy and how they felt pressed up against him completely from his mind. If he looked up at her he couldn't be certain his gaze wouldn't drop a dozen or so inches south of where he should be looking. "Now what?"

"Uhh…Oh lay it over the dish and push it down gently till it fills the base then take the knife and leaving about half an inch of overhang trim of the excess pastry."

Following her instructions the butler began to push his pastry down, roughly shoving it to fit the dish.

"Gently." Flora admonished reaching over to catch his fingers as she would any of her kitchen maids before they did irreparable damage and guiding him with her hands.

"Thank you Mrs Ryan." The butler managed gasp, suddenly his hands felt rather hot and clammy and he had to shake of the urge to pull them back and wipe them on his apron.

"Better." The housekeeper added when he softened his nudging. "Although my old housekeeper would have ordered you out of the bakery, you hands are too hot…"

"What?" The butler asked panicking that she had caught onto his nervousness.

"Only girls with cool hands for pastry making she always said."

"Cold hands warm heart." The Butler quipped trying to join in only realising what his mindless drivel must have sounded like.

"Well that's what they say…" He added nervously glancing up, expecting her to be scowling over at him but instead the housekeeper seemed more intent than ever on her work, concentrating on it with a single minded determination he found at first disturbing but then he caught sight of the raging blush that had stained her cheeks. Stifling a small smile he reached over for the apples. "So what do I do with these?" He asked kindly.

Glancing up the housekeeper caught his teasing smile and matched it, fine if he wanted to play games; reaching out she lucked the apples from his hand admonishing him with a sharp tut. "If you put them in now without baking blind the pastry will go all soggy."

"Oh really I didn't know that." Jarvis replied a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "How do we go about this baking blind?"

"Here…Put the ceramic beads in the bottom." Flora replied pushing a scoopfull towards him and watching in amusement as the butler laid each bead in the bottom individually and very precisely. "It works just well if you dump them in you know…"

"If something is worth doing its worth doing well!"

"If your life has a motto then that is certainly the one!" The housekeeper giggled watching as Mr Jarvis glared up at her from under his frown of concentration.

"Do not go composing my epitaph just yet Mrs Ryan I hope I have more than a far few years in me!" He retorted gravely pushing his pie case over to her to place in the oven.

"I should think at least another fifty Mr Jarvis!" The housekeeper retorted as she returned to the oven retrieving her now baked pies and placing in his and her new one in to blind.

"Another fifty why you cheeky minx!" Jarvis snapped picking up a peeled apple and biting into it before gesturing wildly. "I'll have you know I have not yet reached that austere milestone!"

"If you say so Mr Jarvis…" The Housekeeper replied airily reaching for the other apple and coring it expertly before slicing it into neat sections. "I suppose you would know after all and you would never stoop so low as to lie about your age now would you?"

Astounded by the sudden re-emergence of her playful streak, which had been missing for far too long Jarvis snorted as he tried to suppress a burst of laughter. "I am glad I have your full confidence Mrs Ryan, and since we are both now agreed I am well under that august age unlike other members of our faculty I could name…"

"Some of them being more obvious than others…"

"Oh Wilf is the obvious one I know…But how about Mr Adams…And Simpkins the gamekeeper oh and then there is a certain lady's maid who I would have you know is closer to the other decade than a mere 50…"

"Noooo." Flora gasped in surprise, she would have never have thought the illustrious Mrs Diggins was approaching 60. "Mr Jarvis you know it is terribly rude to reveal a ladies age."

"I didn't reveal it I just gave a rough approximation and besides I don't recall actually naming the lady in question!"

Raising an eyebrow the housekeeper didn't deign to answer instead she flung his remaining pastry down on the worktop in front of him.

"Is that a hint?"

"Is that a question?"

"Mrs Ryan it appears you are becoming quite rambunctious in your old age, perhaps…"

"My old age!" She spat back staring at him in shock. "I do not know what you think you think you know Mr Jarvis but…"

"Well how old are you then?" The butler shot back turning his attention back to his pastry but keeping an eye on the housekeeper waiting for her reaction. "30?….40? Surely no older than that?"

"I am not going to be bullied into answering Mr Jarvis."

"Over 40, why you are wearing well Mrs Ryan…" The butler retorted jovially attacking the pastry with the pin lest the housekeeper was tempted to bash him over the head with it.

"You know very well I am nowhere near 40!" Flora spat back fingering the small knife dangerously. "And to think you pretend to be a gentleman."

"You've thrown that barb at me before, at least this time it is halfway deserved." Jarvis muttered, immediately regretting his careless jibe when the colour quickly left the housekeeper's cheeks.

After a few minutes of pained silence the housekeeper managed to mutter. "If you will excuse me I should really check on my girls."

"Wait. I…forgive me that was somewhat gauche and thoughtless of me. Here we are well getting on and I put my big foot in it."

Nodding the housekeeper wavered unsure whether it was still appropriate to flee or if that would bring back the walls of silence and uncomfortable.

"If you do have a few more minutes Mrs Ryan…"

Forcing a smile on her face the housekeeper nodded before adding. "Well I cannot abandon you now I mean just imagine the state of my bakery not to mention my poor pies."

"Eh One of those pies is mine remember!" The butler retorted jovially before reaching over and catching her flour covered hand with his own. "A fresh start don't you think Mrs Ryan?"

"Why not, I mean you are going to need all the friends you can get after this evening."

"Why this evening?" The butler asked, confusion clear on his face and the housekeeper had to bite her lip to keep from bursting out loud.

"Well when his lordship eats that pie I am sure most people will pretend they don't know you!" Freezing for a moment the butler couldn't quite work out if she was joking or not but then Flora's control on her lip began to fail and a smile broke out over her face. "You are a truly wicked woman!" The butler managed when he could calm his racing pulse enough.

"And you are a truly messy cook!" The Housekeeper countered waving at his flour stained suit. "What was the point of giving you an apron, if you were one of my girls you would be straight upstairs to change."

"Well not all of us are so perfect Mrs Ryan it is un-natural…It seems only fair to even the score." He added picking up a small pinch of flour that he flicked right in the housekeeper's face.

Coughing in surprise and outrage she quickly retaliated by grabbing a handful of flour herself and flinging it wildly back at the butler.

"I cannot believe you just did that."

"Believe it." She added giggling as she reached for another handful.

"Don't you dare…"

"Oh and to think you just accused me of being perfect and un-natural it seems I can't win either way."

"If you throw that, it'll be all out war." Jarvis warned.

"Which I'll win."

"Don't say I didn't warn you woman!"

Standing at an impasse on either side of the table both armed with a handful of flour each, each waiting for the other to draw first so they could be the one blamed. Unable to keep her cool Flora was the first to flinch and that earned her a face full of flour. Wiping it from her cheeks she coughed delicately into her free hand, a stern expression replacing the playful open one of a moment before as she sought to restore her appearance to some semblance of normality. The Butler by comparison couldn't quite believe what he had done, it hadn't even been a conscious action, he had been bluffing before when he threatened war and had never intended on throwing the flour. Yet a moment later and it was flying through the air and his precise aim had it plastering Flora Ryan's delicate features.

"Forgive me I…"

"You seem to be saying that a lot today Mr Jarvis."

"Yes but…"

However he never got to finish as the housekeeper let loose her ammunition and the flour was strewn across his chest a few stray grains going in his open mouth which he choked on. "You…You…." He gasped out stalking her slowly round the table watching in amusement as the housekeeper began to back away grasping at her skirts as she tried to escape. Moving quickly he changed direction cutting off her only escape picking up one last huge handful and advancing.

"Oh no…"

Reaching out the butler caught her arm reeling her in like he would a rather stubborn carp and holding the handful of flour up high. "What do we say?"

Giggling furiously the housekeeper tried to twist her way out of his grasp but part of her revelled in the way his strong long fingers closed around her wrist and the feel of his chest against her back and that part of her struggled deliberately so he had release her wrist and wrap his arm around her in order to hold her still.

"What do we say Mrs Ryan?"

"Alright…I surrender you win!"

"I'm not interrupting things am I?"

Whirling apart the pair turned to catch sight of the amused chef standing in the doorway.

"Felix We were just…"

"Yes I can see what you were just!"

"Cooking." The Housekeeper cut in sharply.

"Oh so it's yours that's burning! I had wondered."

"What!" They both gasped at the same time dashing over to the stove where grabbing a thick cloth the housekeeper brought out the now burnt cases.

"Blast." The butler huffed watching his chance of a slice of apple pie quickly disappearing.

"What are we going to do now? The Earl…"

Smiling broadly at the despondent pair the Chef quipped jovially as he returned to his own kitchen. "I suggest you start again…You looked like you were enjoying it!"

Reaching over for the paper bag of flour the butler took another handful catching the housekeeper's eye. "Well Mrs Ryan are you game?"

Picking up one of the slices of apple that were slowly browning the housekeeper bite down watching him through half lidded eyes then tossing him a piece she smiled mischievously. "Always Mr Jarvis."

- - -