elp but say something she really didn’t want to say.

 

“I’ll help take care of the order to the Countess.”

 

Brenda said she’d be fine with just Drew, but as it turned out, she wasn’t.

 

Baking wheat bread for the church and the cookies on the Countess’ whim, the ovens were in constant need of wood.

 

Between fetching wood and checking the temperature of the ovens, Drew was busy rolling out flour, beating eggs, and kneading dough.

 

They also had to cool the baked wheat bread, and load it onto the wagon.

 

In between trips to the store, Claire found work in the kitchen.

 

She washed used crockery, took baked cookies out of the oven to cool, and helped Drew move loaves of wheat bread.

 

As the hours passed, the three of them grew increasingly sweaty.

 

It was unfortunate, but it was necessary to keep busy in the heat of the ovens.

 

In the few moments where they were waiting for all the dough to be done, for the cookies to be baked just right in the oven.

 

They gobbled up a salad with tomatoes for a late lunch.

 

Normally, they would have had a cup of tea after the meal, but today they couldn’t afford it.


 

Drew left for church in the wagon loaded with wheat bread, while Brenda and Claire carefully stacked the cookies in the basket so they wouldn’t crumble.

 

Ugh, the clock was ticking.

 

Claire locked eyes with Brenda, then left the Lemon House without a moment to say goodbye.

 

“I’ll be back!”

 

Claire hurried her steps, the bell jingled as the door closed behind her.

 

She was so busy and preoccupied that she forgot about Clive for a while.

 

However, as she headed out of town and into the birch grove, her thoughts naturally turned to the necklace she’d found in these woods.
Then, her thoughts turned to Clive.

 

Oh no, that necklace belonged to Grandmother Caitlyn Norton.

 

Claire was still dumbfounded by the realization.

 

Luckily, she couldn’t afford to let that feeling linger.
The soles of her feet were throbbing as she walked, almost ran, to make it in time.

 

The birch grove, that had once been so breathtakingly beautiful, was a mere memory.

 

However, the memory of being suspected as a thief quickly sank below the surface of her aching body.

 

She was out of breath, but she had no time to rest…, no.

 

If she passed out, she wouldn’t be able to deliver the cookies safely, then her boss would think she’d snuck off with them.

 

They might go, and ask Isabelle about it.
Even the Countess of Norton might send someone to harass her sister to get the cookies back.

 

So, this was for Isabelle’s sake.

 

Claire made a nonsensical excuse, bent over and stood with her palms on her knees, breathing heavily.

 

It wasn’t long now.
Just a few more steps and she’d be out of these woods and in sight of the Count’s manor.

 

She wiped the sweat from her forehead with her sleeve, but it only made her sleeve damp.

 

After roughly catching her breath, Claire trudged on.

 

She didn’t know why.
She couldn’t pick up the pace anymore.

 

Her legs were tired.
Claire mechanically raised, and lowered her legs.

 

When she finally reached the Count’s mansion, she found Sally standing nervously in front of the servant’s entrance.

 

No, she spotted Claire and came running toward her.

 

“Oh my goodness! Claire, are you okay? You’re so red and sweaty.”

 


“It’s okay, please take these.”

 

Sally accepted the basket of cookies as she studied Claire’s complexion.

 

Claire felt her hands lighten, and she felt liberated. 

 

“You’ll pay for them later when you come to the Lemon House, right?”

 

“Yes, I’ll return this basket to you then, too.
Thank you very much.”

 

Sally set the basket on the ground for a moment, and pulled a handkerchief from her pocket.

 

She wiped Claire’s forehead and cheeks with the handkerchief.
Although the cloth was of lower quality, it was clean and embroidered with yellow birds.

 

They had just met today, but the way she gently wiped away the sweat was affectionate.
Claire clutched at the gentle hand.

 

“Can I wash it, and give it back to you later?”

 

“It’s okay, it’s just a handkerchief.
I’ll wash it quickly.”

 

“I’m sure I’ll be sweating a lot on the way back to…”

 

She realized that wiping with her sleeve had its limits.

 

“I’ll lend it to you, then.”

 

“Thank you.
Ah, the countess will be waiting, and I’ve taken up too much of your time.”

 

Sally suddenly realized she didn’t have time for this, and picked up the basket.

 

“You worked really hard today, thank you.”

 

“Go in.
I will go too.”

 

Having completed her mission, Claire waved goodbye with a sense of relief.

 

Her steps were slow and laborious as she walked away from the count’s estate.
Still, the way back was good because her hands were light.

 

Leaning her back against a birch tree that felt like nothing more than a feature, she took out Sally’s handkerchief and wiped her forehead, cheeks, and nape.

 

Claire’s brow furrowed slightly.
Her body was damp and reeked of sweat from the heat of the ovens.

 

She wished she could wash her face, but that’s something she couldn’t hope for in the forest.

 

As she rose to her feet after a brief, honeyed rest, she heard the sound of hooves on the other side of the path that cut through the forest.

 

There was also the sound of carriage wheels rolling over the ground.

 

The end of the road is the Count of Norton’s estate, so it was clear that’s where they were going.

 

A member of the Count’s family? Or a guest? Nobility?

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