I'm a little nervous about this one, so any feedback is greatly appreciated! It's likely to be several chapters of (mostly) pure, Parisian-pastry inspired fluff :). I won't waffle on any more here, but there's a couple of notes at the end of this chapter. A massive thank you has to go to my wonderful friend Zivacentric for reading over this for me and for all her encouragement.
Hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Rizzoli & Isles (or any of the cakes, pastries and recipes used in this story).
Maura Isles was many things.
She was a daughter - adopted, so technically a daughter twice over.
She was a lover - although, unfortunately, that one was redundant for the moment, and had been for some time. But that didn't mean the potential wasn't there.
She was a friend - or, at least, she would be if she had more time for socialising, and didn't feel so horribly awkward in social situations. As it was, her main confidant and companion was Coco the tortoise. She was already older than Maura, but at least she didn't argue, get drunk, or try and persuade her to go clubbing.
But, first and foremost, Maura was a pâtissière. It was her passion, her dream, and had been ever since her childhood in Paris. That city was the home of many a sweet-toothed genius, and Maura had found that, when her family moved to America in her early teens, even the bakeries of New York weren't quite the same. Now, back in the City of Light, pâtisserie was her business.
Being a pâtissière meant that Maura considered herself something of a scientist. In essence, pastry-making was a series of chemical reactions between the ingredients that, when handled a certain way, produced the desired result. Everything had to be exact, otherwise that final result could be completely different from what was intended and would usually be a disaster. Measurements had to be precise, timings observed to the second and temperatures accurate, and any variation had to be perfectly calculated. Maura liked that. She liked to be able to predict things, and hated surprises. She also loved knowing why things happened the way that they did, and the chemistry behind the creation was something that she would spend hours researching and discovering. This penchant for orderliness and reasoning was not new, and had led some of her more unkind classmates at school in New England to call her 'Maura the bore-a'. Now, at the age of thirty seven, she could look back and think that she probably had been.
Those traits, though, also came in very useful when it came to the business side of things, since running her own pâtisserie in a quiet corner of Paris had, to start with, tested even her high level of patience, intelligence and ability to deal with red tape. It had been a nightmare, and several times she had wondered what on earth she thought she was trying to do. But after years of hard work, two bank loans, and hundreds of bottles of pinot noir drunk in stress, anger, and just plain misery, she was successful. More than successful. She had a steady stream of regular customers that would have been enough to keep her going even without the special orders that flooded in for birthdays, weddings, christenings, funerals, bar mitzvahs, summer parties, Christmas parties...Eventually she had had to expand, and now employed two part-time assistants to help run things. It was with some pride that she now felt able to call herself a proper businesswoman.
But Maura was also something of an artist - a trait which was most likely inherited from her mother. The hands that formed the spun sugar swans that rested on top of the latest wedding cake were creative, and exquisitely skilful. Chocolate leaves, marzipan fruits, and iced roses were all made individually, with great care and patience, and, at Christmas, a beautifully life-like, miniature crib would fill one half of the pâtisserie window. It was made entirely out of gingerbread and icing, right down to the hay in the manger and the sugar-candy wool on the lamb. At Easter, that same window space would be transformed with huge chocolate eggs, chicks, and bunnies made out of marzipan. One year, she had even gone so far as to produce an entire crucifixion and resurrection scene using thin sponge cake, icing, sweets and caramel to hold it all together. Not being religious herself, she had had no qualms about eating it after the holiday was over, although admitting that to one of the nuns from the Catholic school and convent at the top of the road had not been the best idea.
Daughter, scientist, businesswoman, artist...Maura was all of those things. But the one thing that she was not also happened to be the one thing that she was most often referred to as, and it drove her mad.
The one thing Maura Isles was not was a baker.
In the grand scheme of things, being called a heathen by an irate nun - just for eating a marzipan Jesus - did not bother Maura. Neither, now, did 'Maura the bore-a'. But being called a mere baker made her grit her teeth and take a deep breath. If people wanted a bakery, then they should go three doors down to Pascal's. Maura had never baked a baguette in her life, and she had no intention of starting now.
It was therefore not surprising that she bristled when, crouching down behind the counter to retrieve a file full of customer orders, she heard a throaty American twang drift in from the open door.
'Ma, seriously? Another bakery?'
Maura paused, her hands on the folder and her lips pursed into a frown. She had always believed that her fluency in both French and English was one of the reasons why her business had done so well. Not only was she able to communicate with the locals easily, she could also chat to tourists - the majority of whom spoke some form of English - and serve the growing community of English-speaking expats. But today was hot. It was getting towards lunchtime, when she would be closing for the afternoon before re-opening at around four. She was tired, having not slept at all well the night before. And she was in no mood to pander to Americans who called her pâtisserie a bakery. For the first time in a long time, she considered employing the old French trick of pretending to not understand a word.
'This isn't a bakery, Janie, a bakery is called a boulangerie. This is a pâtisserie, and look! Don't those look amazing?'
Now that sounded more promising.
Maura stood up, clutching the folder and tucking a stray strand of honey-blond hair back behind her ear. Making a mental note not to wear these particular peep-toe heels in the shop again - her feet were killing her - she took a deep breath and looked over to the door, a well-practised smile already in place.
'Bonjour. Can I help you with anything?'
'Not just yet, thanks'.
That throaty voice had come from a young, dark-haired woman, who was still standing by the door and gazing with grudging admiration at a macaron pyramid. But the older woman seemed far more enthusiastic.
'I don't know where to start...Janie, look at these! They must take hours to make...'
Maura smiled. She always liked it when customers appreciated the amount of work that did indeed go into making some of the delicacies on display.
'What are they?'
The dark-haired woman called Jane had finally turned her attention from the macaron pyramid, and had joined her mother by a chiller cabinet at the side of the shop. At least, Maura assumed it was her mother - but she didn't think about it for very long. The younger woman was now facing her, and Maura suddenly, inexplicably, felt like she couldn't breathe.
She told herself that it was the Boston Red Sox t-shirt that Jane was wearing. The last time Maura had seen one of those, her fiance had been wearing it. In Boston. Two weeks later, he had become her ex-fiance, and two weeks after that, she had been on her way back to Paris, nursing a broken heart and a sore hand from slapping him so hard.
So why was it Jane's liquid brown eyes that she was looking at, rather than the t-shirt?
'Petite pâtisserie'. She cleared her throat, trying to get some sort of grip. 'That one is a fraisier - white sponge cake layered with vanilla chantilly cream and strawberries, and finished with white chocolate. That one...' She indicated the one that Jane was now looking at. 'Choco-framboise'.
Jane blinked. 'Bless you'.
'Oh, Janie, don't be silly, it's another cake!'
Maura nodded, not sure enough of herself around this woman to know for certain whether she had been joking or not.
'Thin layers of chocolate sponge soaked in raspberry liqueur, then layered with fresh raspberries and chocolate mousse. They're both traditional in France, although the exact history is vague. No one knows for sure when they were first made, or why'.
'Oh my goodness!' The older woman gasped as she drank in the sight of the perfectly round, layered cakes in the chiller. 'Which one should I get?'
Jane was now looking at her mother as if she had gone mad.
'Which one?' she repeated. 'You've just had breakfast!'
'And I thought you wanted lunch at that mussels place?'
'I do. But that's still an hour or so yet'.
Maura decided to come to the older woman's aid. Jane's dark eyes and tall, athletic figure were certainly arresting - wait, had she seriously just thought that? - but it didn't look like she was particularly bothered about buying anything.
'Here'. She walked over to the chiller and, reaching in between them, opened the door and carefully took out one of each. Taking them back to the counter, she reached underneath for a small paper plate off the top of the stack she always kept there, and a tiny fork. 'Try them. It might help you decide. No charge'.
'Oh. Thank you'.
Maura busied herself at the counter, flicking through her customer orders folder to try and find the one she wanted, but for some reason she couldn't concentrate. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the mother hold the fork out to her daughter, and saw Jane's eyes widen in surprise as she tasted the first bite. The moan of pleasure that reached Maura's ears made her heart beat a little bit faster, and she decided that she would be eternally grateful to Pascal from the bakery, who chose that particular moment to come in and ask her for three chestnut millefeuilles and a strawberry tart.
'All for you?' She loved teasing elderly Pascal, who had run the bakery for fifty years, taking over from his father before him and his father before that. But Pascal was unmarried and had no children to take after him, and so, at the age of sixty eight, he still rose at three every morning to bake bread and croissants before opening his shop at six. And he always came by before lunch to get himself something sweet 'to keep me going for the evening shift' - and that always involved gently flirting with Maura.
Was it her imagination, or were Jane's eyes on her as Pascal grinned and patted her on the arm?
'Of course not. My sister's coming. And I remembered from last time that she's partial to those chestnut pastries'.
It wasn't until Pascal had paid and left that Maura turned back to the two American women, and realised that she had been right. Those eyes were on her, and it was making her blush.
'I think we might have to have one of each'.
'Oh, come on, Janie, when was the last time I had a vacation with my only daughter? You gotta admit, they didn't have cake like this in Italy. Great pasta, but not so good cake. And since your father isn't around anymore to tell me I'm getting fat, I intend to enjoy myself'.
'Aw, Ma...' Jane protested, finally tearing her eyes away from Maura. 'You're not getting fat, but...'
'What do you mean, but?'
'You're getting divorced, not going into a nunnery!'
'What's a nunnery got to do with eating cake?'
Jane looked exasperated, and turned back to Maura.
'Ok, so one of each. Erm, how much...?'
Maura knew the prices of everything off by heart. She could have recited them in her sleep, back to front and upside down. But she still fumbled with her words and hesitated before she answered.
But Jane's wide-eyed curse was cut short by her mother's shocked interruption.
'Jane Clementine Rizzoli!'
'Sorry'. Jane rolled her eyes and muttered as she pulled out a wallet from the back pocket of her jeans. 'But that's like...fifteen dollars! On two cakes!'
'Just excuse her'. An apologetic, but wide smile turned Maura's way. 'She's a cop'.
Maura smiled back, not knowing whether Jane being a cop was supposed to explain everything or nothing. She took the money, and packaged up two fresh cakes in a little cream box with 'La Belle Epoque' printed on the top in flowing black script. And then she watched as Jane and her mother walked slowly out into the midday sunshine. Automatically, she reached for the paper plate that they had left behind on the counter, and was about to throw it in the bin when she saw that there was still a bite of the chocolate one left.
Maura would never have admitted to anyone that she had favourites among her creations. As far as she was concerned, it was like asking a mother to choose her favourite child. But, if she was absolutely forced to, she would probably have chosen the choco-framboise, and there was no way she was letting that bite go to waste. Without thinking about it, she scooped up the cake on the fork and popped it in her mouth, before folding the plate in half and placing it carefully in the bin. It was only then that she realised she had used the same fork that she had given Jane and, unbidden, the thought crossed her mind that that was maybe why she had caught a faint taste of strawberries as well as the chocolate. Jane must have tried the fraisier as well...or maybe she would taste like that anyway...
Maura gave herself a mental slap, shocked at herself. Glancing guiltily around to make sure that no one else had seen the horrified look that she was sure was written all over her face, she saw that it was already ten minutes past her closing time and she hastened to shut and lock the door. She was obviously more tired than she had thought - she needed a short sleep and something to eat before she opened up again for the evening trade later. Then she would maybe feel better.
Living in the apartment above the pâtisserie had its advantages. Usually, Maura was the first one to point out that size was not one of them, but today she was grateful that it was only a few steps from the door at the top of the stairs to her bedroom area. Pulling the curtains closed, she stripped quickly and set the alarm clock for two hours, to give her plenty of time to get something to eat and check on Coco before heading back downstairs. Because of the tiny amount of space in the apartment, she had made the effort to decorate in light, airy colours to make the space seem bigger, and the bedclothes that she tumbled into were a pale, dusky pink that gave a splash of colour against the cream walls. Sighing, relaxing, she kicked the quilt down to her legs and closed her eyes, letting the sounds of the city float through the open window.
It wasn't until she woke up, two hours later, that she realised she had been dreaming about chocolate cake, strawberries, and a woman named Jane Rizzoli.
A/N - Yes, I have renamed (and resexed) Bass. I'm sorry - but the reasons why will become clear later!
When I showed this to a couple of my nearest and dearest, they both called me out on spelling 'macaroon' wrongly. So I thought I should probably explain that a macaron and a macaroon are actually different things! A French macaron is meringue-based (and incredibly gorgeous and moreish - more from Maura on this later :)). I promise I didn't just make a spelling mistake!