Closed Conjugal Bliss (Lewis)
"Oh my," Lotte sighed, as she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. It might have seemed a strange place for there to be one - hanging on the wall behind the counter of the bakery. But it was her little vanity - something other women might not have felt appropriate for such a public space. But it wasn't as if it was easily visible from where a customer might be standing and watching. Besides, she just liked to have it there, and she glanced at her own image multiple times a day. As she had just done, and thus spotting that she had inadvertently swiped some flour across her cheek. She lifted the hem of her apron and very carefully wiped it away. With a loving smile, she turned to glance at her husband, asking "Why didn't you tell me I was all over flour?" Her voice was light, though not high, and clearly she was teasing with him. They were alone for the moment, and her behavior was thus prone to being a bit more playful.
"You were too perfect without it.." Lewis teased back and there was that small hint of a smile that one had to search his eyes for but she knew him too well she could just hear it. He kissed her cheek where it had been as he passed to continue putting out some rolls and pastries while it was still early. He had two trays that easily weight twenty pounds each balancing in his hands before he placed them on the counter to take the items off. He looked over at her and rose his brow curiously as he saw her quickly check the mirror once more. She was happy and that was all that mattered. The entire place could have a mirror on every wall if it was what she wanted and he'd have given it to her. "Are the kids already at school?" He couldn't even keep up with what days school was since he was terrible with that sort of thing but then that was just another reason he depended on her so.
She tsk'ed her tongue at his reply, but the smile on her lips was genuine and appreciative. She didn't often go fishing for compliments from her husband. But she did love to receive them, and Lewis was always willing to bestow them. Just like the kiss he placed on her cheek. They never engaged in such public displays of attention when others were around, even including the children. That rendered those rare moments even that much more to be cherished. Things might be far different behind closed doors. But outwardly, Lewis and Lotte were a very respectable married couple.

She did in fact take another quick peek at herself in the mirror, not noting his glance. Neither did she exclaim in amazement over his strength. They had been together too long and she would have had to so remark at least as many times in a day as she herself looked in the glass. But she always admired her husband's physique, and always had, from the first night they had met. Lewis was all man, and Lotte was a woman who could appreciate that type of traditional masculinity.  

At his question, she replied almost automatically, knowing he was quite bad at keeping up with such things. Working from before dawn into the evening six out of seven days a week was reasonable cause to excuse him that tiny foible. "Yes, Dylan's cough seems to have quieted nicely. I felt he could go without harm. David will cluck over him like a mother hen, so we've no need to worry." She laughed softly and with a warm, maternal expression on her face.

She moved to help Lewis offload the baked goods onto the shelves. The shop front was plain and no frills, but neat as a pin and spotless. With a hand on his arm, she observed, "Perhaps it's time we replace the shelf paper?" It hadn't actually been so very long since they had last done so, and the tiny rosebuds printed on the paper that lined the display shelves still showed bright and pink. But Lotte often fussed over having things look just so. She always wanted the shop to look nice, just as she tended to put in the extra effort to make herself look presentable, every day, no matter what was going on.

Her hand moved absentmindedly to the back of Lewis' neck and she stroked the soft hair at its nape.
Lewis nodded absently as he listened. No matter how busy he was, he would always listen even if he didn't appear to be. "That's good. He is taking after you, such a considerate boy. I'm proud." As they worked together, he heard her mention the paper. He didn't need to glance at it as he knew it was still pristine but he nodded. "Yes, perhaps you can go today when it is quiet again and pick some out. You have a better eye for this than I..." It was no question, whatever she wanted. Changing the paper, or their special of the day, or wanting a new dress. THey were all small things, and it made her life better and it made him happier. He placed the pieces out carefully and made sure they looked well displayed.

"Looks nice and neat, right?" He glanced towards her for her approval.
Did David take after her? Lotte often wondered if others saw any of her influence in the three boys who were not hers by blood relationship. She was pleased that Lewis thought so. She smiled and then she nodded briskly when he said she could see about ordering some new lining paper for the shelves. She had expected no less.

When Lewis was finished, and glanced at her, she nodded emphatically and crossed her arms over her chest. "Perfection. Like always." A small grin played about her lips. Lewis was always a careful, methodical, precise kind of man. Some might have thought him a bit too pedantic to ever be classed as exciting or alluring. But Lotte knew better, and she knew how to bring that hidden side out in her husband. Unfortunately, knowing that it was there, lurking, she always tended to think other women, or even possibly men, might see the same thing, and find that allure too enchanting to resist. In a word, she was often seeing rivals where there were none. It was s source of frustration for her, and probably for him as well.

Lotte patted her husband's shoulder and moved off, back into the back of the establishment, where the kitchen and ovens were located. She busied herself about a task, humming almost inaudibly.
Lilly was still in quite a state. The discovery of poor Delia's body, broken and bloody, had put the parlor maid into a fit of near hysterics. It had taken the Housekeeper quite a long time and much effort to calm the girl down, as well as generous portions of brandy (which only made Lilly gasp and splutter and cough). Now, days later, she still felt completely chilled and malignantly thrilled with a memory she could not shake. She dreaded closing her eyes at night. She dreaded walking anywhere in the manor by herself. She was pale, with dark circles under her eyes. Despite the passion she had long harbored for her penny dreadful frights and plights, reality, it would seem, was not quite as much fun.

With some compassion, her superiors on the staff were allowing the young woman to perform duties that she might normally not have been assigned - ones which would get her out of the manor and away from the memories, if only for an hour at a time. So it was that on this day she'd been sent to the village with a huge basket to collect some additional baked goods. The oven at the manor was a finicky thing and never to be relied upon. They had run completely out of bread and had need of at least several loaves as well as other treats. Lilly had welcomed the chill air on her cheeks. The cold at least put some roses in the milky pallor. Pushing open the door of the bakery, she stepped in, to be embraced by fragrant aromas and warmth. The little bell above her tinkled merrily.

She walked to the counter. "G'mornin', Mr. Maddox," she greeted the man, with a very wan little smile.
Lewis nodded to the waifish girl. "Morning. What would you like today?" He walked towards her and offered leaned against the counter to lean off his bad leg.

"I have a deal on the rolls and this bread." He gestured to some rye and a few larger loafs that he liked best for their hard crusts.
Having heard the bell, Lotte quickly dusted flour off her hands and moved towards the front room. At the connecting doorway, she paused, surveying the young woman who had stepped up to the counter. She heard what Lewis said, in his low, calm voice. Was there some flash of interest there? In the girl's large, dark eyes? Lotte's own narrowed. This young woman wasn't a regular in their bakery. What had brought her here?

She decided to maintain her spot in the doorway and watch. You could never be too careful with these younger women. They were all out after a hard working, steady husband - except for those who were shameless and just wanted a quick roll in the hay, with another woman's husband! Lotte crossed her arms over her chest and waited to see what this one was up to.
Lilly smiled a bit more warmly. She'd known Mr. Maddox for a few years. Not well, of course, but enough to feel more comfortable in his presence than she would have if he'd been a stranger. She was in such an ennervated state that she was almost jumpy. But this was a somewhat familiar establishment, so she was able to relax a bit at his calm voice and no-nonsense expression.

"Oh. Good. Cook's sent me 'ere, with Mrs. Benbow's permission of course. To fetch some loaves and pies if you have any. You see, the oven at the castle has been acting up again, and we're fresh out of everything, really." Lilly's eyes scanned the cases critically, assessing what might suit Cook, and the family, and the guests. "I think we'll have three of the rye, and two cottage loaves. P'raps that will get us through til they get the oven fixed. And...let's see..."

Her eyes stopped on the pies. "Is that rhubarb? Oh I do love rhubarb 'n custard." She smiled more fully at the man. "Your missus is that lucky, to have a husband that knows how to bake! I'm that envious of 'er," she teased.
Lewis did not know his wife was right behind them. It wouldn't have mattered as he never flirted nor would he accept it. He started gathering the loaves for her and nodded.

"It is. Take three and I'll knock a little off the price since you are buying so many today." It was a good business model to be nice to those who took so many since he couldn't guarantee how much others would buy on a normal day.

"These are lemon tarts. Want to try one?" He put one on the counter for her. "You will want one all the time." While he sounded the same it was clear there was a positivity in his voice. He was very proud of the tart.
Those words, spoken in innocence by Lilly, brought Lotte striding out into the front room of their shop. Her arms were crossed still and her face was like cold marble. There was the tightest of small smiles on her thinned lips, which barely parted as she said, "Yes, I consider myself very lucky. My husband's talents go far beyond baking, I can assure you, Miss. How entirely blessed for me that Mr. Maddox asked for my hand and is as steady and faithful a husband as a woman could ask for." She looked daggers at the younger woman, her eyes like chips of dark ice. Meanwhile she placed a proprietary hand on Lewis' arm.
Lilly was a bit taken aback by the severe look and tone of the baker's wife. There was something odd about her, to Lilly's reckoning. She seemed large and formidable, hardly a very feminine seeming woman. But the maid was too well trained to say anything out loud. Clearly, Mrs. Maddox was very mindful of her husband. And as Lilly would never have any thought to step between a man and his wife, there was really nothing for her to say.

Her attention reverted to the man, and she bobbed her head and murmured, "Oh, how kind of you. Ta," when he mentioned discounting the price of the bread. As for the offer to try the lemon tart, Lilly smiled, a bit less warmly this time - due to his wife and the hand she had placed so conspicuously on his arm - and nodded. "Oh. How nice of you to offer!" She reached for the tart and took a bite. Once again, the smile on her face bloomed, into something quite radiant.

"Oh, my! These are like a slice of heaven Mr Maddox! I'm sure Cook will be pleased to have some of these to serve with tea this afternoon! I should think...." She had to count in her head to make sure all the family and guests would be taken care of. "...two dozen should be enough."

The baker got busy wrapping up the tarts. "Thank you. Can you put these on the manor's tab please?" she asked him, casting a quick, careful glance at Mrs. Maddox, who never moved nor said anything further. She waited a bit uncomfortably as the man stowed the loaves and the pie in the basket.

With a last head bob, Lilly retreated with her prizes, having found the atmosphere of the bakery a bit less warm than the frosty air outside.
Lewis gave a wave as the girl left, very happy with the compliment about his tarts. He thanked her for her business. He knew the castle would pay, despite the strangeness of the place, they always paid their debt.

When he was left alone with his wife, he turned to her and gave a small smile and kissed her forehead , being very careful of any sign she didn't want his touch or attention. She fit nicely in his large arms as he held her gently.

"You know I am the lucky one to have you. You are what makes me most happy. No other woman gives me such joy."

He touched her cheek briefly as he looked into her eyes, hoping she would relax and realize it was true. He had said it a thousand times and will say it a million more never wavering from the truth.

"The lemon tarts were your idea, I knew they would be very popular. "
The feel of Lewis surrounding her, with his strength and gentleness, thrilled Lottie to her core, and some of her misgivings and irritation melted away with that warm feeling. There was just something inside that always - always - awoke whenever other women were near him. Other real women, the voice inside her chided. No matter how long they'd been together, no matter the thousands of proclamations of his love, no matter how Lewis each and every day of their lives together had exemplified that his declarations were sincere and that he showed her in so many ways that he did indeed love her....the fear was always there. Right under the surface of her calm outward appearance. For the first two decades of her life, she had been judged, condemned, reviled, ridiculed and outcast, for being who she was. The scars were hard to erase, and even all of Lewis' love had not done so, so far. Possibly they never would.

Doing her best to tamp down her insecurity, she tried to smile, for him. She was not tall enough to look him square in the eye. But she was able, without stretching upwards, to place a soft, fleeting kiss to his cheek. "And it was your magic that brought them to life," she said softly, in her rather deep voice.

Sidestepping the issue of how she had behaved when the maid had been transacting business with him, Lottie also stepped back out of his loose embrace, and turned and paused. Her face turned from his she said, in a low volume, "I love you Lewis," before moving off to return to what she had been doing, in the back room.
Lewis gave her a small smile in reply to hers. He tilted his head a bit to welcome her kiss. "My cooking skills would be nothing without your inspiration." He gently brushed his fingers over her hair and he gave her a look that said all the ways he loved her and her deep voice always made it feel more sincere somehow.

He watched her go, being very familiar with the things she did. Without missing a beat, he returned to placing things out but then went to packing up the breads and tarts to deliver to the castle though he knew it wouldn't be a surprise if she decided to take them instead. Anything to keep him from seeing the girl who had taken the order again.

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