A/N: This is a prompt fill for the Rumbelle Secret Santa event in tumblr. The original prompt was "cupcakes and smut". Enjoy!

Everything always seemed to stay the same in Storybrooke. Same people milling around, same stores opening every day, same small-town problems to oversee and gossip to overhear. It was a tedious, sleepy existence for Nick Gold, pawnbroker, landlord and one of the three attorneys in Storybrooke, counting the local DA. He had his son, Bae, who made his life an adventure at times and was, really, too good for him, and he had the fear and loathing of most people in town, but it was still a passive little existence most of the time.

New people, of course, settled there for time to time, but whatever little novelty they brought to the lives of the citizens of Storybrooke it quickly fizzled out, the newcomers blending into the quaint background like they'd always been there.

He thought it would be the same when he'd rented the empty lot beside the flower shop. It had once been a pizzeria, not a very successful one, and had been vacant for nearly three years, so he hadn't batted an eye at doing the whole process mostly online or through a mediator from the local bank. He hadn't been very curious about what type of shop was going to open up, but had checked on the renter's solvency, and demanded a three-month advance. He'd barely paid attention to the work crew that had arrived some days after the lease had been signed, even though the shop was on his way route to the pawnshop.

Proserpina's Seeds opened with nary a whisper. No grand affair, hardly any advertising. One day it was just there, as was its owner. Since there was only one other bakery and its pastries left much to be desired it wasn't long before almost everyone in Storybrooke had at least heard of the new business in town, but customers in tiny little hamlets were difficult to be swayed from their routine, so Gold didn't think much of the new venture. He only remembered after the first month was over and he was due the rent. He expected the experience of charging the new person would be like the rest: unpleasant and unwelcome, like pulling teeth. He prepared himself for the usual: harried explanations about "the business just taking off", mumbled expletives spoken under one's breath, maybe a dirty look or two (especially if the new owner had caught wind of his reputation as the town's leech) or a tearful plea for more time. He drew some rather shameful excitement out of the ordeal to come. He enjoyed studying people, figuring out their weaknesses, tying them up in strings and forcing them to dance to his tune. He didn't care if Archie Hopper, the town shrink, would have a field day if he ever knew the complete story: small man gets pushed around by everyone, called names and made a cuckold, then comes into money and properties and spends the rest of his life enjoying exerting his power over others. It was trite, it was common, but he liked it. He knew only two ways to relate to people: to submit or be submissive, and he much preferred the former. He only let his defences down for his boy, his Bae, and it was enough for him.

Rent day arrived cloudy and grey, altogether unpleasant, but it did little to diminish his good spirits. After dropping off Bae at Miss Blanchard's class he hurried to open his pawnshop, which would keep him busy till the time came to make the rounds. Rain began to fall shortly after he arrived, and Gold knew then he'd have no customers. Few people ever visited the pawnshop on a good day. Bad weather guaranteed solitude.

He was startled by the bell midway through checking inventory at the back. Feeling intruded upon he reluctantly paused, grabbed his cane and limped towards the front of the shop just as he heard a voice call: "Mr Gold? Are you here?"

"Of course, of course. This is my shop after… all."

He almost choked on the last word, but he was sure no red-blooded man would ever hold it against him. In front of him, with a smile on her face and some sort of small plastic container in her hands, was a woman, curly brown hair plastered to her face and neck and a rather drenched burgundy lace dress and nude pumps adorning her figure. She had startling blue eyes and plump red lips set against an ocean of creamy skin.

"Of course," she replied, her lilting Australian accent rather charming "Silly me. I just didn't want to leave this here. I thought it best to give it to you personally."

She extended both hands, and he noticed that on the other one she had a manila envelope, which she had somehow managed not to get wet.

"And who might you be, dearie?" he asked, refusing to take either offering. He itched to put the counter between them but doing so would display his weakness, and he could have none of that. The woman bit her lip, letting out an adorable nervous laugh.

"Sorry. My manners are sorely lacking. I'm Belle French, of Proserpina's Seeds… Your new tenant."

She smiled even wider, and it almost blinded him for a second. She took two steps towards him, depositing the envelope on the counter beside him.

"It's all there, in cash. I didn't know what the proper protocol was, whether to wait for you or leave it at your house, so I thought I'd come here, introduce myself and find out."

Something was wrong with the whole scenario, and it was getting to Gold. No one had ever seemed so… eager to pay rent before. He picked up the envelope like it was dipped in poison and gingerly opened it, taking out the money to count it. He risked a glimpse at his new tenant, wanting to catch the lingering trace of resentment at his blatant display of mistrust, but she simply smiled and waited patiently.

"All seems to be in order," he muttered at last, striving for aloof professionalism "Most of my tenants wait for me to make the rounds to pay me. No one has ever… volunteered the money so readily before."

She frowned, brushing her wet hair behind her ears.

"Well, if you'd prefer it I'd be amenable to that," she placed the rounded Styrofoam container she'd been carrying on the counter, opening it to reveal a… cupcake. The white buttercream piled up in a neat swirl, three tiny edible roses atop it. The cupcake itself was blood red and moist, altogether very inviting. It dawned on the pawnbroker just how hungry he was.

"And just what is this, dearie?" he asked in a low murmur, not making a movie to pick up the treat.

"Well, it's a little gift, to show my appreciation for you letting me rent the shop and the little at the back. Also, and this is entirely selfish and wicked of me, I'm trying to tempt you into stopping by the store someday for anything you might like."

The words sounded utterly provocative but, wet as she was, Miss French did not seem to be aware of it. She also seemed determined to make eye contact, which didn't happen a lot to the pawnbroker. Gold could count with the fingers of one of his hands the amount of people who dared, on occasions, make eye-contact, not counting his son. He grew uncomfortable with the blue of her eyes, and sought to dismiss her as soon as possible.

"Well, I'm sorry to tell you, Miss French, that I don't have much of a sweet tooth. You've seemed to have wasted your time."

The baker looked him up and down, her gaze appraising, and shook her head.

"You're lying. I can tell, it's a skill I've developed over the years. You're the kind of man who can't get enough of sweets."

She smiled, confident, wet and wonderful, and bid him goodbye, venturing out into the now drizzling rain without a care. When he was sure she was out of sight he flipped the sign on the door to "close", carefully pulled the paper wrapping from the cupcake and took a cautionary bite.

It was delicious.

Over the next few days he gleaned as much information about his new tenant as possible, feeling he had been remiss with the lack of background check before he had rented the property. Isabelle Marie French, who went by the name of Belle French, was a born and raised Australian, who had gone to Paris to be a Pastry Chef, had worked for some very exclusive restaurants, including Le Cirque in NYC, L'Espalier in Boston and Le Gavroche in London. She had also been quite an active traveller, picking up recipes from all over the world, or at least a good part of South America, Asia and Eastern Europe. Why someone of her calibre had decided to up and move to Nowhere, Maine, was a mystery.

After the initial check did not raise any flags he endeavoured to put her out of his mind. She might not react to him the way people should, but he was pretty sure she'd learn to despise him once she mingled enough with the rest of the people of Storybrooke. He noticed her making friends with Ruby down at the diner, even though Granny looked at her with suspicion in her eyes. She was her would-be competitor, after all, and he knew for a fact that most of Granny's pastries were brought by a delivery man. Granny was not one to bake herself, though she could weld like it was no one's business.

Another day, in passing, he saw her conversing with Mary Margaret, the town harlot. Nervermind that Miss Blanchard was the closest thing anyone ever got to Mother Theresa, the fact that she had slept with a married man, albeit a married man who had then divorced his wife and married her, made her some sort of Scarlet Woman, even above Ruby and her scandalous flirtations. No one seemed to care that Katherine Midas, the former Mrs Nolan, was very much over the whole thing, enjoying a rather saccharine sweet courtship with Jim Knight, the local High School's gym teacher, a former minor league baseball player.

After the third time he caught himself following a mass of chestnut curls as they disappeared down the street he vowed to himself that, really, enough was enough. It was pathetic the way his brain would fixate on anyone who showed him even a scrap of decency, who didn't treat him with scorn or fear. He needed to put her out of his mind for good.

And he did. He focused on his deals, on his shop and on his son and once again blocked anything else. His business and Bae were, really, the only things he could count on, and he needed nothing else to be perfectly content. His boy was bright and brave, kind and loyal and he would give him all he had been denied, so he wouldn't grow up to be cowardly and angry like him. Never like him.

He was growing like a weed, and was clever in ways that were more than just a parent being overly proud. He was observant, always attuned to his surroundings and to the people he interacted with. He had few friends, but those he had were fiercely loyal to him, and he to them. It didn't help that most adults treated his boy like he were a leper, someone to steer clear of at the risk of incurring the wrath of the town Beast. And that included most of his classmate's parents, who had taught their kids never to interact with "the Gold boy". He got invited to birthday parties and such, of course, no one would dare scorn his child, but it didn't help that Bae was celiac to the extreme, and would get violently sick if he so much as breathed in a bit of flour. It was, as far as chronic conditions went, not the worst one, but for a child to be set apart in such a way, to be singled out as "that boy who can't eat" pretty much anything, was terrible. No cakes, no cookies, no pasta, or pizza, or hamburgers. Nothing kids liked Bae could have, usually sticking with vegetables and other stuff usually considered "yucky" by kids. Moira, his ex-wife, had despaired over finding the little child something to eat that he'd take, having not yet discovered his intolerance for most types of flours, and, though that hadn't been the reason why she had eloped with a merchant marine, it certainly hadn't helped their marriage the presence of a screaming infant who would vomit all the time for no apparent reason. Gold had never blamed Bae, he knew exactly where the blame lay, but he knew his boy sometimes did, and it irked him.

Bae was his world, so the moment he got home to see him holding a half-eaten cupcake, his mouth full of it, he was… understandably upset.

"Bae!" he thundered, limping quickly to his side to try at get the baked good away from him "Spit it out, boy, come on! I will not have you puking till you dehydrate and I have to rush you to the hospital!"

The boy held on to his tiny cake, hiding it from his father as he defiantly swallowed the bite he'd taken.

"It's okay dad, it's okay!" he moved away from his father's grasp as he tried to explain the situation "It's a special cupcake, dad! It won't make me sick!" another dodge and a grumble "Miss Belle said so!"

That name made him see red. Belle French again. Intruding in his life. Messing it up.

"Explain," he finally allowed, realizing that chasing his son around the house was going to do nothing for the kid's stomach anyway.

"Well, today was the blood drive at school, and we all got our blood taken to test the blood type. Miss Blanchard had Miss Belle, the lady that owns the new bakery, give a cupcake to each kid after, but she told Miss Belle I couldn't get a cupcake because of my problem. Miss Belle asked her and me a lot of questions and then took out a box with two cupcakes. She told me they were special because they didn't have any of the stuff that made me sick, and gave them both to me. They are chocolate-flavoured, with some sort of cream and a brown paste that it's weird but really good and I love them. Can I finish it, papa? Please?"

The blood drive, he recalled, had been scheduled for right before lunch, so it meant at least five hours had passed since Bae had eaten the first cupcake. He was clearly not sick, so it might be actually true. The cupcake didn't seem to contain wheat flour, or any other sort of ingredient that contained gluten.

"Alright then, Bae, but next time I don't want you eating whatever a stranger gives you without consulting me first," he ruffled his boy's hair, seeing him happily munch on the treat.

"Dad, Henry, Nicholas and Ava are coming to study tomorrow and I wondered if… if you could get some more cupcakes to share."

He thought about the dozens of times his son had ingested cookies or bowls of cereal when he knew he couldn't just to share a moment with his friends and that thought alone made his answer a no-brainer. That was how the next day found him spending his lunch break on the new bakery in town. It was done in shades of Earthy red, with splashes of burgundy and cream, and displayed, amongst the usual pastries, some more exotic foods, like baklava, rare French concoctions, things called banistas, and all sorts of other things. It was a bit fascinating, the shapes and colours of some things, and the aroma that hung in the air, a mixture of honey, chocolate, bread, sugar and Bavarian cream that was heady without being cloying. Seeing Miss French nowhere he paused to look at a display of brightly coloured small tarts, the green icing decorated whimsically with ribbons of chocolate sauce. The small pie crust peeked from beneath the green icing, and he wondered what it was filled with.

"That's a carac, from Switzerland. The recipe calls for green icing, but I put mint paste instead. Gives it a lovely kick."

When he straightened up, slowly and deliberately, to avoid looking startled and losing part of his fearsome reputation, he found himself uncommonly close to the baker. She wore a cap-sleeve white shirt and a dark blue, bell-shaped skirt, very feminine and proper, and an apron to protect the pretty satiny fabric from the flour and other ingredients. Had he not once caught her downing beers with the local miners he would have pegged her for one of those very traditional women by the way she dressed, down to impractical heels and glossy hair pulled back by a headband.

"Fascinating," he deadpanned, summoning every ounce of sarcasm he had in him "But, alas, I'm not here to discuss recipe alterations, Miss French. I came to order some cupcakes like the one you gave my son. My sick son. Without my permission. Does that ring a bell?"

He expected either a show of contrition or some form of indignation but he got neither. Belle French seemed to be uncannily resistant to his attempts at intimidation. What a nuisance.

"Oh, yes, Mary Margaret briefed me on Bae's little problem and I offered him one of my cupcakes. My father was diabetic, and I spent most of my teenage years developing sugar-free recipes. After I became a Pastry Chef I started exploring food restrictions, both sugar and cereal grain flours, and came up with a lot of recipes that way. The sugar-free stuff sells well with people on diets, but I also like to explore what uncommon types of flour can make, and thus these were born."

She guided him to a small display of cupcakes, separated from the others, and Gold recognized amongst the small selection the one Bae had been eating.

"That's called Bombom, a wet cake of chocolate caramel and vanilla cream, with dulce de leche, a sweet confection made out of sweetened milk slowly heated in a copper pot. I got hooked on it in Argentina, and I learned how to make it from scratch. Most people assume it's a form of thickened caramel," her voice was engaging and full of life when she talked about food, linking stories of her life into it, and the pawnbroker found himself captivated without meaning to "That one over there is called Orange Blossom, it's a moist orange cake with creamy chocolate."

She asked him how many he wanted, added some other flavours for the other kids, and rung him up. He noticed that, to the purchase, she added one separate cupcake in a now familiar Styrofoam container.

"For you, Mr Gold. It's a wet chocolate cake with raspberry sauce filling and topped with white chocolate cream. It's a bit too… refined for children, but I thought you might appreciate it," she smiled, making it impossible to refuse her "I'll make a regular buyer out of you yet, Mr Gold. Have a good day."

As he closed the shop later that day he took the cupcake into the back room and bit into it. It tasted the way he imagined Miss French did.

It was for Bae that he returned to the shop, over and over. Walnut Rosemary bread for his breakfast, almond raspberry bars for recess during school, oatmeal chocolate cookies to snack on at home. He made sure to stop by on his lunch break, usually stopping to enquire after some exotic dessert or pastry on display, which he usually ended up buying for himself. Surprisingly he developed a penchant for middle-eastern pastries, as well as some obscure German delicacies and that damnable dulce de leche Miss French made from scratch, which she used to make a small, chocolate-covered cookie-type delicacy called an alfajor. Sometimes he'd have to do inventory very early in the morning, at least once a week, and would stop by on his way to the shop, and he'd be privileged to the sight of Miss French in less than immaculate attire. She'd be baking usually, a smidgen of icing across her cheek or a drop of caramel making its way down her neck and flour everywhere around her person, her hair pulled back and her whole body smelling of vanilla, chocolate and orange peel.

It was mouth-watering. Her cooking, of course. It seemed to transport him, to take him away from the sleepy little town he lived in, taking him instead to exotic lands in Asia, India or South America. She had a knack for recommending things he liked in some way or another, and most of the time the sweets were accompanied by a story from her travels, something always interesting and sometimes personal that gave him tantalizing glimpses into the baker's pretty little soul.

"You cannot be making a lot of money, Miss French, if you escort every customer around the shop and share stories about travels every single time you try to get someone to purchase something," he commented one time as he saw her seed pomegranates under a bowl full of water. He loved to watch her at work, and getting something for Bae was a nice way not to feel guilty for leaving his son asleep on his own for half an hour most mornings. He noticed then that the darker red colour in some of the walls was the exact shade of the fruit. He also noticed, which he hadn't before, a detailed copy of Rossetti's Proserpina hanging above the cash register. He woman in the painting's hair was the exact shade of Miss French. Happy coincidence, he supposed.

"Oh, I don't do that with every customer, it'd be too… personal," she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, unknowingly transferring three glistening seeds from her fingertips to her neck. Gold observed them, mesmerized, as they slid a bit down her throat before the sticky juice stuck them properly to her skin. Miss French, he'd come to realize, was a rather messy baker, particularly oblivious to whatever ingredient she managed to get her neck and collarbone messy with.

"What is that going to be?" he enquired, eyes intent on her work.

"Garnish, mostly. Pomegranate seeds are rather a signature of mine. Though I might turn some of the fruit into jellies for Mary Margaret's Book Club meeting. Which reminds me," she stepped away to retrieve a small little cake "Cheesecake with a raspberry and pomegranate sauce for the man whose birthday I'm not supposed to know, I'm sure," she smiled at him, and it dawned on the pawnbroker what date it was "Bae sold you out, wanted to buy a cake for you and told me this one was your favourite. It's Bae-friendly, so you should take it and go home. He told me he'd wait for you with a cup of coffee and your birthday present."

He knew enough about money to know that he didn't pay enough for doing house chores and weeding the garden to get both a present and a cake. The cheesecake looked expensive, practically drowning in sauce, but Belle didn't mention anything as she carefully slid it into a plastic container and then into a box for him to carry. For a moment he thought that the gesture would be followed by something. A carefully-nonchalant mention as to the need for more time to make next month's rent, or a loan. He held his breath near the door, waiting for her to call out but when he turned to look back she had gone to the back, to finish preparing the goods for the day. He clutched the square box closer to him, careful not to jostle it as he made his way home, where coffee and Bae waited for him. It was a Saturday, he could afford to be lazy and not open the shop for the day.

He didn't know exactly when he allowed himself to admit that he wasn't so much hooked on Miss French's pastries as he was on her. It wasn't, annoyingly enough, just her stunning appearance. He didn't feel the need to stalk Granny's just because the main waitress had everything on display, nor did he feel the need to visit Arabian Nights, the tasteful little burlesque house everyone pretended not to know anything about.

Belle was stunning, yes, in all the ways that appealed to him. Petit, curvy, with tumbling curls and legs that had no business being anywhere but wrapped around his waist, but it went beyond that. The little minx, no doubt on purpose, had filled his head with so many stories of her travels, and had cajoled him into so many interesting conversations, that he couldn't really think of her as just a pretty face in the crowd. He had gotten to know her, enough to know he wanted more. He wanted all.

He couldn't have her, though. He was, for one, a single parent no longer in his prime, hardly a worthy catch in spite of his money and status. He was also the town ogre, hardly a coveted single man. He had long ago learned not to lie to himself as to what he was and how others viewed him. Self-delusions lead down dangerous paths, and he would never make himself vulnerable like that again. It had been enough with his ex-wife. He had convinced himself he loved her, and she him, and it all had ended in unpleasantness and self-loathing.

But it wasn't just that she could not possibly be drawn to him. He couldn't risk himself even if she could. He had gone down that road once, and it had left him raw and open, and unwilling to repeat the experience. Besides he had a reputation in town to preserve. Love, or affection of any kind, was a weakness he was only ever willing to bear for Baden. No one else was worth it, no matter how good her cupcakes were or how interesting conversing with her was.

He could look, but not touch. Converse, and long, and imagine, but never make it real. He had to keep it in his head, where it was safe and easy and couldn't hurt him, or make him wish to run away. His cowardice was of the hidden kind, it had cost him years to make it so no one suspected it lurked inside him, breeding fear and doubt. He was too old to change, but wise enough to know how to keep his fearfulness in check.

It was only Bae that could make his heart pound, the only one he'd allowed near enough to affect him so, and the child seemed to take advantage of it every chance he got. That was how he found himself looking everywhere for him on a Friday night, after going to pick him up from the Michael Tillman's house only to hear from the mechanic that he had allowed a bunch of twelve-year-olds to go out alone.

"I think they went out for pizza." he said, like it made anything better. With Bae's condition the idea of pizza only frightened him more. He didn't even have time to berate the idiotic man for his neglect, forcing his Cadillac into a speed he was sure was not allowed in Storybrooke to reach the local pizzeria. To his relief, or chagrin, Baden and his little group of friends were nowhere in sight. It took him close to half an hour of driving around slowly to spot them sitting on one of the few tables at Proserpina's Seeds, munching on the crust of a slice of Margherita pizza. He forced himself to look for Belle- Miss French!- and relaxed when he spotted her by the cash register, an old thing not unlike his own, smiling. Clearly if she wasn't alarmed by his son eating pizza crust, neither should he. It still didn't excuse Baden thinking it was ok to wander around town on his own at night.

He stepped into the bakery, ignoring the tantalizing smell of vanilla and baked bread he'd come to associate with Belle- MISS FRENCH!- and going straight for the kill, so to speak. Before he could reach his son, however, he found an adorably little obstacle on his path, wearing a rather short fringed grey dress and shoes that had no place inside a bakery.

"Let him enjoy his first pizza with his friends, Mr Gold. You can yell at him to your heart's content when you get home," she smiled, taking the sting out of her words, and took his arm, guiding him to the opposite side of the store, where a similar round table was set up. She paused to flip the sign on the front door to "closed" and then proceed to place a plate with a flaky dough pastry in front of him.

"It's a bridie, I thought you might appreciate something from back home. You look like you haven't eaten," she paused, ducking her head to look at him from beneath her lashes. He forced his heart not to stutter inside his chest "And, if you're really good, I might let you have a cupcake on the house too."

It was on the tip of his tongue to enquire what he'd get if he was really, really bad, but he bit the inside of his cheek till the urge passed, instead focusing on the pastry in front of him, not really surprised when he found it delicious. As he ate he watched his son joke around with his friends, happy to accept a piece of crust that the Tillman boy didn't want, and it warmed his heart. In spite of everything, of his deals, of his unpopularity and his utter failure as a role model, Bae had found a way to break the cycle and reach out to others. It didn't matter if those others were the children of the local mechanic or the adopted son of the dreadful Madam Mayor. They were friends, people his boy would be able to count on. He wouldn't grow to fear others, or emotional intimacy. He wouldn't be like him.

"I suppose we have you to thank for the pizza, Miss French," he engaged her in conversation partly so that she'd sit with him. With a table between them he felt safe enough to draw her out. She nodded, a happy little smile on her face and warmth in her eyes as she looked at Bae.

"He's a lovely boy, Mr Gold. You must be proud."

Baden was a subject that he could speak of for hours, so he happily did so. The conversation led to his food problems, and how they'd limited his eating considerably.

"It should not be so. There are recipes for all sorts of food that usually contains cereal flour. It's a shame there is no store that provides such foods here, but you could make it."

He hadn't thought really of the possibility. He was a passable cook at best and even if he wanted to learn who'd have the skills to teach…


Oh, yes.

It was that how he'd found himself taking early morning cooking and baking lessons from Belle. She refused to charge him, but she couldn't keep him from drastically lowering her rent in order to compensate her for her time and skills. Three times a week he found himself watching intently as Belle French selected ingredients, measured them, mixed them together and kneaded the resulting dough. She taught him how to handle differently bread dough and pasta dough, how to wrap it in plastic wrap and let it sit and then how to use roll it out, cut it and dry it. It was surprisingly gruelling work, and he could know get the kneading part right, his dough always falling apart and never becoming the perfect little bundle that Belle's was.

"Oh, your technique is all wrong," she told him one day, dragging him to the work table after he carefully removed his suit jacket, rolled up the sleeves of his priceless shirts and put on a blessedly white an unassuming apron. She placed herself between his body and the table and started mixing the ingredients for a new batch of bread, placing his hands atop hers so he could feel as well as see all of her movements. When the time came to knead the dough she remarked on the amount of pressure she was applying, and the way she was digging the heel of her hand into the centre. He could hardly hear her when she was so close and he could smell her and feel the heat of her skin against his. She was close, and warm and inviting and the worst part was that he was pretty sure her whole attention was actually in baking.

The little dash of raspberry marmalade she had on her neck was not helping. His eyes focused on it, noticing how good the dark red colour looked against her pale skin and wondering how it would taste, trying to picture the sweetness of the confection mixing with the salty taste of her skin. Before he could actually think it over he found himself ducking his head and lapping at the spot of jam. He heard Belle take a sharp breath, her whole body freezing beneath his touch. He panicked, half of him wanting to pull away and the other half wanting to push closer. When she exhaled and begun again to knead the dough, her movements hesitant, he forced himself to follow her lead. Just as he thought they were going to pretend his stupid stunt hadn't come to pass she slowly, deliberately, tilted her head to a side, exposing the pale column of her throat to his surprised gaze. Haltingly he lowered his lips back to her neck, licking sedately at the still-sticky skin there. Belle sighed, settling more snuggly against him as he focused back on the dough.

From then on it became a tradition. Either Belle French was charmingly clumsy with the cupcake toppings or she was doing it on purpose. Either way there was hardly a lesson that didn't end with him sucking something off her neck, or sometimes her cheek (and one wonderful, wonderful time, the corner of her mouth), his fingers digging into her hips or sometimes caressing upwards, teasing the underside of her breasts. He didn't dare question it or broach the subject in any way. To do so would lead to discussions that could end in nothing but disappointment and emptiness. Too scare to push for more, lest he lose what he had and wish to ran away from whatever he'd gain, he gritted his teeth and became use to being painfully hard for half an hour every other day or so.

The day things changed started no different than any others. Her hands guided his as she taught him how to knead the dough, her thumbs pressing into his skin so he in turn dug the heel of his hands against the sticky mass, pushing forward slightly. Flour floated about the air, settling over his hair and clothes but the pawnbroker found it hard to care when he had Belle French cradled in his arms, her back pressed against his chest and her hair caressing his nose as she helped him fold the dough. She was plastered to him, his chest against her back, and smelt of vanilla and sugar. He could see a splatter of pomegranate sauce on her exposed collarbone, and a dash of vanilla frosting on his cheek, and debated which one to lick first. As his fingers concentrated on the feel of the dough, gauging its elasticity and readiness, his tongue darted out to clean her cheek, already familiar with the taste of her sweat mingled with the sweetness and freshness of the frosting. He almost missed her sigh of pleasure, but couldn't ignore the way she tilted her head to a side, baring her neck to him. The dark, burgundy trail of pomegranate sauce called to him, urging his lips lower, past her throat and into forbidden territory. He'd never gone beyond her neck, but it seemed futile to try and restrain himself, to remember his objections to intimacy and vulnerability when his senses were saturated with Belle and his heart was beating a mile a minute, urging him forward, always forward. He was tired, and the air was heady with the scent of baked bread, chocolate and woman, and he wanted to sink into Belle, and rest. It was exhausting, keeping everyone out at all times, always being on his guard, protecting himself, protecting Bae, protecting the life he'd built for them, the power he'd hoarded…

It was too appealing to stop for a moment, and he did so, his hands leaving the dough to position themselves around her hips, urging her closer as his mouth went lower, to that splash of red against the white of her skin. He lapped at the pomegranate sauce, the taste astringent enough not to cloy, mixing well with the sweet-and-salty flavour of her skin. He heard her make a low sound on the back of her throat, letting her head fall on his shoulder as she pushed back more firmly against his front. She was voicing her acquiescence, nay, her eagerness, and it snapped Gold's control in half. His fingers toyed with the hem of her pretty yellow lace dress, so deliciously short, before slipping beneath it, brushing the soft material of her underwear. He spun her around, trapping her body between the flour-covered table and his body and yanked her close by her hair, slanting his lips across hers with something akin to relief. He swept a hand through the table, letting the dough splatter to the floor without a second thought and grappled for some of the linen towels Belle kept in hand to clean when baking, hastily laying them on the flour-covered table. Careful of his bad leg he grabbed her by the waist and hoisted her up on the table, wasting no time in coaxing her legs open so he could position himself between them. He grabbed her by the hair, tearing at her ponytail to have her curls tumbling down over her shoulders. He fisted a hand in her curls, pressing her as close as possible as he licked the roof of her mouth, moaning at the faint taste of cinnamon. Every part of Belle seemed to have a distinctive flavour, and he wanted to know them all, to be full of her.

He felt her own hands in his hair, her nails scratching against his skull in delicious patterns, and grunted when her legs wrapped around his hips, her bare feet pressing against his lower back, urging his pelvis closer. A quick sweep of her upper back made him aware of the tiny hooks and buttons that kept her clothed and he almost whined when he realized it'd take all of his concentration to get her out of the dress. He struggled through it, Belle's tongue seeking his out and distracting him every two minutes, her roaming hands doing nothing for his peace of mind either. Every few buttons he'd pause to slide his fingertips across the newly-exposed skin, marvelling at the smoothness of it. The last button yielded before he could give in to the primal urge to tear the dress off of her, and he was quick to ease it off her shoulders, letting it pool at his feet along with the apron he'd quickly untied from her neck and waist. Her underwear was made out of white lace, scratchy to the touch and he let his hands cup her, feeling the heat of her core through it. He growled against the skin of her throat before giving into the urge to bite. It tasted like pomegranate and Belle, completely forbidden and totally worth it. She arched against him, not quick enough to stifle a surprised and happy cry as his teeth sunk carefully into her skin, choosing a place the dress wouldn't cover to leave a mark.

She was better than any cupcake she'd ever given him, and as he went lower, lapping at the tops of her breasts, which tasted of white chocolate, he thought of what it would be to eat off of her skin, have her splayed on his impressive dining room table with every cupcake topping she'd ever used. The thought had him scrambling for the clasp of her bra, Belle obligingly arching her back to give him access. He peeled the garment off of her with relish, tossing it backward, but before he could bend over and finally wrap his lips around a nipple she stopped him, hands on his shoulders urging him away from her. For a moment he felt ice in his veins, thinking that of course she was putting a stop to things, because he was a monster and no one could ever…

"I am not getting naked without at least getting your suit jacket off," she growled, yanking at the offending garment till it joined her dress on the floor. He felt her hands on the knot of his tie next, and then the slide of silk as it also yielded to her, the first buttons of his purple shirt popping open quickly as she worked on him. When he was down to his undershirt and pants, having toed off his shoes at some point, he took back control, capturing her mouth with his and lowering her back on the table, one of his hands in her hair and the other on her neck, stroking and feeling her pulse flutter against his fingertips. He slowed down, taking a deep breath and just enjoying the feel of her nude upper body pressing against his, the flimsy fabric of his undershirt letting her warmth seep through into his skin and allowing him to feel the light sheen of sweat that had formed there from the heat coming from the many ovens in the kitchen. He felt feverish and alive, heady as he breathed her in, the hand in her curls moving to caress her jaw, feeling as it worked to reciprocate his kiss. It was a moment he thought would scare him, drive him away from her. It was vulnerability, weakness, and Belle did not seem to want or care to exploit it. She was content to lay herself bare as well, not just her body but also her mind. She made no attempt to hide her attraction, or her pleasure when he found a spot on the roof of her mouth the seemed to drive her wild. She was just there, with him, wanting and needing as much as he did.

She was the most real person he'd ever known. She was also half covered in flour, in spite of the linen towels he'd thought of putting on the table.

"You look ready to be put into the oven, sweetheart," he murmured into her ear, brushing off a bit of powder from her throat. He felt the vibration of her laugh, spontaneous and clear.

"Your hair might have gotten a bit greyer too, I'm afraid," she replied, lovingly carding her fingers through it, vainly trying to restore it to its proper state. He let her wrap herself around him and nuzzle his neck, his bad leg almost giving out as he felt something cold being spread across his throat before her warm tongue licked it away, a hum of pleasure following it.

"I knew buttercream would be good on you," she purred, and he saw a dirty spatula in her hand. Glancing at the far end of the table he spotted the cupcake toppings she'd been laying out and preparing before he'd arrived. There were marmalades, curds, syrups, different types of frostings and chocolate sauce, all ingredients he'd tasted at least once since he'd met Isabelle French. Ingredients he now needed desperately to see on Isabelle French.

"Up you go," he hoisted her up fully on the table so that her head was near the bowls of toppings, quickly discarding his pants so he could follow her. It was tricky with his knee but he got close to the edge so he could dangle his injured leg and not press the knee against the wood. He paused for a moment to look at her, hair splayed out, body almost all bare but for her knickers and blue eyes staring at him with warmth and longing and something else that eluded him. She was glorious, glistening and open and his, willingly his for no other reason than genuine desire.

"You're gorgeous," he said, voice hoarse and low, a bit of awe seeping through. He reached out, filling a discarded spoon with a bit of berry curd and painting a path with it from the base of her throat to her navel "but you could do with a bit of colour, love."

He bent down to tease her navel with his tongue before lapping at the sweet confection, humming in pleasure as the saltiness of her sweat made it less saccharine than it would've been. It was a perfect combination and he sought to express so by sucking on the end of the trail, leaving a lovely, perfectly rounded bruise there.

He then picked up a heavy cream-coloured concoction, the smell indicating it was white chocolate. With something akin to reverence he drizzled lovely patterns on her breasts, taking care to put the bowl down carefully before bending down to take a nipple into his mouth, his tongue quickly cleaning the bud and surrounding skin with military precision, loving the little whimpers and sighs that came out of Belle's mouth. She cradled his head with her hands, seeking to draw him even closer, guiding him to her other breast when her nerve endings became overly-stimulated. He was getting chocolate in his hair, and his undershirt was already sticking to him, but it didn't matter. All that he could think of was how responsive his little Belle was, the way she arched beneath him when he carefully tugged on her nipple with his teeth, laving the bud with tender strokes of his tongue afterwards. He felt her shift slightly and soon found her hands tugging on his t-shirt, wanting it off. He complied immediately, tossing the garment to a side before seeking her lips again, slow and languid and intent on concentrating on the feel of bare skin against bare skin. He wasn't surprised when he felt something sticky dribble down his back, shivering a little at the cool temperature of the thick liquid as it made its way down his spine.

"Lay down," she whispered, getting up to let him have more room. He managed to do as she wished without putting any weight on his knee out of sheer experience. He felt first the tickle of Belle's curls before her mouth skimmed across his back, applying more pressure as she drank the liquefied honey, leaving goosebumps in her wake. She then lifted his hair, applying a liberal coat of vanilla and strawberry frosting to the nape of his neck, taking her time licking and sucking him clean. Her hands gently kneaded his shoulders, turning his muscles into butter and dispelling the rest of his niggling doubts. He'd never felt this comfortable, this exposed and secure at the same time, and he relished the experience, even though he wasn't sure it would ever come to pass again.

He turned, unwilling to waste his time when Belle was one piece of clothing away from being naked. He gently coaxed her into a kiss, one of his hands holding her tenderly in place and the other tugging on her underwear, seeking permission. Her own hands slipped the scrap of lace off of her before her fingers grazed the silk of his boxers, dangerously close to his straining erection. He didn't think it twice, yanking them off with alarming speed, letting them join the rest of his clothes on the floor somewhere.

"I thought I'd never have you like this," Belle sighed into his ear, nuzzling into him with a happy little sound. He stroked her back with his hands, content for a moment to just breathe her in and feel her on his fingertips "I've wanted his for so long…"

The raw quality to her voice almost had him coming, but he gritted his teeth and focused on getting her on her back again. He grabbed the pomegranate sauce, some of the fruit's tiny seeds still whole and visible inside it and promptly spilled it all over her chest and stomach, watching the liquid paint her skin red and remembering the cheesecake that she had covertly gifted him for his birthday. His hands faintly traced little patterns on the syrupy liquid, idly painting her thighs red as well, careful to stay well away from her tempting sex. When he was satisfied she was well and truly covered in pomegranate he leaned over, reverently tracing her tongue across her skin, his movements unhurried as he cleaned her off, his hands stroking up and down her arms, soothing her as his mouth on her skin inflamed her.

"You were right about my sweet tooth," he whispered against her, the words spilling out of his lips between licks "You've always been right. And fascinating. And kind. And I tried to fight it, and you, but I can't anymore. I don't want to. I want you."

He swirled his tongue inside her bellybutton, sucking on the accumulated sauce there and managing to get a hold of the pomegranate seed that had crawled in there with his teeth, making it the third one he swallowed. Three seeds, the magic number. Food of the Underground to trap the fair maiden in the depths of Hell, only it was reversed and it was the wicked older man getting trapped in his own little heaven of flour and sweets. Gently he drew one of her legs up, hooking it over his shoulder so he could clean the inside of her thigh, repeating the process with the other, each stroke getting him closer to his intended destination. He paused when he reached her core, taking a minute to hone into her scent, trying to pick it out in a sea of smells. It was, by far, his favourite and he made sure to memorize it before running his tongue across her folds, moaning at how wet she was for him. He lapped at her with a ferocity that surprised him. The taste was driving him mad, urging him on, and he became deaf, dumb and blind to anything but her sex, her keening cries and the way her hands fisted on the sides of the table, holding on for dear life. For once it was not the power he had over another person the one giving him such a rush, but rather something else he couldn't and wouldn't name.

She was slick and wet almost to the point where he couldn't find her clit, but a careful hearing of her moans and gasps allowed him to find the elusive bud, carefully parting her lips to scrape his teeth against it. She cried out and bucked her hips, one hand fisting in his hair and almost tearing it out.

"God, Nick," she hissed, her hand massaging his scalp where she'd almost made him bald. He wondered idly how she'd learned his name. Bae, probably. He loved to hear it in her lilting accent, so he begged her to say it again.

"I'll scream it from the rooftops if you stop being a tease," she grunted, smothering a cry when he slipped two fingers into her and curled them slightly. Whatever spot he hit must have been magical because she found herself climaxing, thrashing on the table till she felt his hands tracing soothing patterns across her thighs, easing her down from her high.

"I expect that charming rendition tomorrow morning at the latest, my dear," he whispered into the skin if her calf before continuing to suck and nibble at her skin. She paused to catch her breath and chase away the unwelcome languidness that was taking over her body. She- they - were not done. Catching him by surprise she managed to flip them over, narrowing missing tipping him over the edge or hitting his knee on the hard surface of the table. She sat astride him, making sure to keep anything important from touching. She wanted to draw it out, to bask in the anticipation for a moment. She'd never seen Nick so vulnerable and happy, even though he was covered in flour and would need three showers at least just to get the remnants of the honey off his skin.

"I could eat cupcake batter off of you," she whispered, fingertips gliding across his soft skin. He wasn't a muscled man, but there was a sinewy quality to his lean frame, something that spoke to her of power and ability. Her fingers dipped into the hollow of his throat, feeling him swallow what was most likely a curse when she teasingly lowered herself enough to feel the length of him brush against her curls.

"I want to consume you," he replied, hands grabbing her ass roughly and pushing her down on his lap, moaning at the contact "Let me have you, please."

She bent down, hair hiding their face as she placed a butterfly-soft kiss on his lips with a touch of tongue, tasting pomegranate and herself there.

"Yes," she whispered against his mouth, a hand snaking down to guide him into her.

She was hot and tight and either it had been a very, very long time since he'd been inside a woman or Belle was utterly, completely perfect. Both, probably. He heard her moan faintly, throwing her head back as they both sought a rhythm they liked. He was content to let her set the pace, watching her ride him with a sort of savage pleasure he wouldn't have associated with her usually gentle nature. His hands settled on her hips, kneading at the flesh there, trying to speak through touch, telling her how lovely she was, and how beautiful she looked atop him, fucking him senseless. He heard some of the bowls and spoons rattle somewhere near his head but he was beyond caring, and it didn't matter to him if he got frosting, chocolate sauce and blueberry syrup all over his hair and skin as long as it meant he could keep Belle on top of him forever. She was a goddess towering over him and he felt like her most fervent supplicant, ready to worship her for the rest of his days.

She was relentless, setting a gruelling pace that somehow left him on the edge of pleasure but didn't push him over it. He was glad of it, a part of him never wanting to orgasm. He just wanted to lie on that table for the rest of the day, watching as Belle rocked back and forth, mercilessly gripping his cock as she took her pleasure from him. He'd never had sex like that before, even way back when his knee hadn't been a problem. It was… feral. Almost desperate, rough, hard and exquisite and when her inner muscles fluttered around him, signalling her orgasm, he finally found his own release. The aftermath left him weak and sweaty and with a chest-full of Belle, the Pastry chef snuggling into him, no doubt shaken herself. He enjoyed the feeling of her nose as it nuzzled against his throat, her low hum of pleasure and the fact that he was still blessedly enveloped in her heat. He was determined to bask in the afterglow, cuddle Belle close and forget about what may come for a while but the sudden, jarring voice of Madame Mayor put a damper on his plans.

"Miss French? Are you there, Miss French?" she asked for somewhere at the front of the store. Belle swore, scrambling to the floor, biting back a whimper when she felt him slip out of her. She fished out her panties and bra from the floor, quickly putting them on.

"I'll… I'll distract her. I won't let her get anywhere near here," she paused to card a hand through his hair, something akin to nostalgia already in her eyes "You make yourself presentable and, whenever you're ready, slip out the back. I'll keep her talking long enough to allow you to get some distance from here."

She paused, seemed to gather her courage and kissed him one more time before slipping away, her hands tugging her hastily-donned dress in place before disappearing behind the door that separated the kitchen from the front of the store. For a moment Nick just sat there, naked on the kitchen table and partially covered with flour. Something snapped in place when he heard Regina raise her voice, obviously displeased by whatever Belle was telling her, and he silently located the discarded pieces of clothing he was missing, pulling on the boxers and undershirt and trying to ignore their soiled state as he put on the shirt and suit pants over them. Shoes and jacked where next and he found his cane underneath the table itself, forgotten amidst the passion. With a skill honed from years of limping he made his way quietly to the back door, slipping out without being noticed. It was then that he paused, his intense need to flight, a constant life companion, stuttering to a halt.

What was he running from? A gorgeous woman who didn't want his money, didn't mind his limp, was really into food-enhanced sex and provided him with intelligent, interesting conversation? A person who his son adored and who seemed to love him in return? Happiness? Fulfilment? Love?

When Belle finally got rid of Madame Mayor and walked back into the kitchen she almost collided with Mr Gold, fully dressed and wearing an unreadable look on his face.

"What are you still doing here?"

She didn't understand. Everything she knew about Nicholas Gold seemed to indicate a complete refusal to any and all forms of emotional intimacy with another human being, the exception being his son. Though it had killed her she'd given him the perfect opening to flee, unwilling to make him uncomfortable in an effort to try and force him to change. She'd assumed he'd take the opportunity gladly, but there he was, risking Regina, who was still somewhere out there, catching him in a very compromising position.

"I think I'm being brave," he replied, his tone slightly dazed before he dug his fingers into her hair and kissed her senseless.

He wasn't going to run away. Not anymore.

Emma Swan gracelessly let herself plop into a seat next to her roommate at Granny's, grumbling something about "fucking older men" with "canes so far up their asses they should be spitting out splinters". The school teacher fought back a laugh, and Ruby promptly deposited a steamy mug of hot chocolate to try and cheer her up.

"Gold again?" Granny asked from her place beside the cash register, half of her attention on the numbers she was crunching.

"Yeah," the deputy replied, huffing "That man is… ugh, how come no one has ever tried to off him? I mean, I can't be the first one to think about it, can I?"

The waitress shook her head.

"No, but there's a trick to handling Gold that most of us have learned. If you absolutely have to approach him for something, anything, you have to wait until right after he has his afternoon cupcake."

The blonde cocked her head to a side, puzzled.

"What do you mean?"

Mary Margaret nudged her shoulder, pointing with her chin towards the bakery across the street.

"There, just watch."

All women easily spotted the limping figure of the town's pawnbroker making its way across the street to disappear inside the shop the short-haired brunette had indicated. When nothing seemed to happen after several moments Emma frowned.

"Now what?" she asked. Ruby smiled widely.

"Now we wait."

Forty-five minutes later the waitress called everyone's attention to the bakery. Exiting it was, indeed, Mr Gold, looking very much like he had almost an hour before.

"I don't get it. Almost an hour waiting in line for a cupcake? Seems like a waste of time, and Gold doesn't strike me as a person who likes to wait."

Mary Margaret bit her lip and Ruby outright laughed but before the new deputy could ask for clarification she saw the lithe figure of the baker, with a pretty blue dress and peep toe pumps that had no place inside such a business, rush out the door, catching up with Mr Gold, getting really close and tenderly, carefully, tucking a handkerchief he seemed to have dropped inside his breast pocket, arranging the fabric with precise movements, Gold raising a hand to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, fingertips lingering around her jaw. There was something about the gesture that made it surprisingly intimate and… and…

"Oh, God, you're using 'cupcake' as a euphemism, aren't you?"

Mary Margaret blushed, Granny grunted and Ruby smiled wickedly, leaving little room for doubt. Emma's mind blanked out, unsure what the appropriate response to the idea of Gold having a sex life was, except…

"Forty-five minutes?"