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Secret Desires of a Gentleman
If there be no bread, let them eat cake.
This couldn't be right. Maria Martingale came to a halt at the intersection of Piccadilly and Half Moon Streets, staring doubtfully at the shop on the corner. It was in an ideal location, appeared to be in excellent condition, and the sign over the doorway declared the premises had formerly been a tea shop. It was perfect—so perfect in fact that Maria was sure there had to be some sort of mistake.
She glanced down at the order to view in her hands, then back up at the engraved brass kick plate of the door to verify the address: 88 Piccadilly. No mistake. She was in the right place.
Just come into the market, the agent had told her as he'd given her the order to view. Just what she was looking for. Clean, he'd hastened to add, handing over the keys, and freshly painted, with a thoroughly modern kitchen.
Maria had not received these assurances with much enthusiasm. For three months now, she'd been combing through the streets of London, looking for the right place for her pâtisserie, and though she'd had little success in her search, she had learned a great deal about property agents and their descriptions. A modern kitchen often meant nothing more than a closed range and a few gaslights, fresh paint covered a multitude of sins, and "clean" was a relative term. Even in the finest neighborhoods, she'd stepped on so many beetle-infested floors and inhaled the noxious odor of bad drains so often, she'd almost given up the whole venture in despair.
But asshe studied the building on this particular corner, Maria felt a spark of hope. The location was first rate. It had frontage on Piccadilly, was within the street's most popular shopping area, and the neighborhood surrounding it was prosperous. Wealthy, influential businessmen lived here with their ambitious, social-climbing wives, wives who would willingly pay to provide their busy cooks with the best in ready-made baked goods. And Maria intended to provide the best. What Fortnum & Mason was to the picnic hamper, Martingale's would be to the tea tray and the dessert plate.
It was all due to Prudence, of course. If her best friend, Prudence Bosworth, hadn't inherited a fortune and married the Duke of St. Cyres, none of this would have been possible. Maria wouldn't have been able to leave her position as pâtissier to the great chef André Chauvin and strike out on her own. But Prudence had pots of money and had been happy to back her dearest friend in the venture of her dreams.
Maria folded the order to view and put it in the pocket of her blue-and-white-striped skirt, then she walked a few steps down Half Moon Street. As she viewed the exterior of the shop, her hopes rose another notch. There were enormous plate-glass windows on both streets, and the entrance, set at an angle to the corner, boasted a door with glass panels. This design would provide plenty of opportunity for those walking past to be tempted by the delightful confections she would have on display. She could see from the window wells set in the concrete of the sidewalk that the kitchen was in the basement. Steps on Half Moon Street led down to it through a tradesmen's entrance door.
Eager to see the interior of the shop, Maria hastened back to the corner, opened her handbag again, and extracted the key given to her by the property agent. She walked up the whitened front steps, unlocked the door, and went inside.
The front room was large, with enough space for the display cases and tea tables necessary to a pâtisserie. The fresh paint extolled by the property agent, however, would have to be redone, for it was that peculiar shade known as yallery-greenery, quite fashionable nowadays but most unsuitable for a bakery.
Maria scrutinized the floor and took several deep breaths. No bad drains, and not a blackbeetle to be seen. Perhaps this time the property agents had got it right.
There was only one way to be sure. She tucked her handbag under her arm and crossed the room, the heels of her high button shoes tapping decisively on the blackand-white-tile floor. Upon opening the door to the back rooms of the shop, she found the arrangements typical of a thousand other London establishments. There was an office and storeroom, and one set of stairs led up to sleeping quarters while another led down to the kitchen and scullery. Maria knew she could hardly expect anything below stairs other than the damp, depressing hole that usually passed for a kitchen in London, but when she reached the bottom of the steps, she stopped in her tracks and stared into the most perfect kitchen she had ever seen.
There were oak cupboards, two full walls of them, with shelves, drawers and bins of every imaginable shape and size. Iron pot racks hung from the heavy oak beams that crossed the ceiling. Above the cupboards, the windows she'd spied from the sidewalk above not only let in some natural light, but they also opened at the top for ventilation—something that would be most welcome in the heat of summer.
Maria moved forward into the room, studying her surroundings in amazement. The concrete walls had been sheathed in a fresh coat of white plaster, and the linoleum floor beneath her feet was a soft, cheery yellow. To her right were four coal-fired ranges, each one fitted with burners, a boiler, and a tap. Above them hung a decorative hood of hammered copper.
The back kitchen was equally modern. The scullery had two sinks, a dual water tap, and a long, tin drain board, and the larder was generous, with shelves to the ceiling. There was even an ice room for cold storage.Secret Desires of a Gentleman. Copyright © by Laura Lee Guhrke. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.