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Book II. The Peppered Sweets Trilogy

“Tell me Harry, what do you think of rabbits in waistcoats?”

  • Brief description: Alice Marchant is completely content with her lack of marriage prospects. Or at least, that is what she thought, before she found Harry Karsten hiding behind the wall curtains during his mother’s soiree. It will be challenge indeed to get this most reasonable botanist to embrace his hidden illogical nature. It’s a good thing she is patient and has an endless supply of blackberry jam.
  • Includes: 3 short stories. (Farcicalities, Lemon Biscuits, & A Lesson in Botany)
  • Genre: Romance, Comedy
  • Word Count: 19,922
  • Price: $.99; for the month of July, 2012 this is currently free!
  • Download: The Smashwords page is here
  • Excerpt from Lemon Biscuits:

It was perhaps, the most poorly attended tea party Harry had ever been to. Not that his experience was vast by any means- the few small events his mother had forced him to attend on the premise of introducing more eligible young women were hardly a fine starting point.

But Harry figured that in this strange place where the rules stopped applying, at least this would be a lively spot.  Aside from the Harry and Alice only three (or rather, two and half) others were present to partake of the mountain of treats and jams and various kettles of tea set before them. The small man with the very tall hat held his teacup in the air like some sort of pagan idol, purple clothes oddly suiting his rather flamboyant demeanor. Alice and he sat with little introduction, joining the fray with an ease that would have been impossible elsewhere.

Purple had to be the color of choice down here, Harry decided. Even the small mouse that darted its head out of the teapot had a small maroon cap between her overlarge ears. The small creature was pleasant enough, although she tended to fall asleep in the middle of a sentence and had to be woken up by banging the porcelain with a sugar spoon. The Hatter smiled often and for any reason, his nonsensical speech a welcome change from the Cat’s abrasive questioning. Harry had trouble following the train of thought, but Alice seemed to speak for both of them, and no one minded. It almost felt as though the world had closed in on the tea table, and Harry was merely an observer, half-present, half-participating. No one talked to him, but there had been a curious glance from the head of the table when he had arrived with Alice.

The only reason he had for discomfort was the presence of the trembling hare at the seat to the Hatter’s right. His teacup was in a constant clatter against the dish and he was forever mumbling rather disturbed ideas into its lukewarm contents. Every so often his left eye would twitch in a spasm that lasted a full five minutes, but he never took his gaze from the center of the cup beneath his nose.

When Harry mentioned it, the Hatter had waved off his concern.

“He’s always like that at tea-time.”

“Which,” Alice chimed in, “Is twenty-four hours a day.”

Absolutely mad, but Harry was more concerned at how such a large hat fit on such a small head. Perhaps his skull was in some way malformed….

The Hatter suddenly pulled out a tray, heaping with yellow colored treats, bright red sugar dusting the tops like chunks of cinnamon.

“Lemon biscuits! A gift from the Duchess’ kitchens.”

The little man was entirely too cheerful for someone who always was having tea parties, Harry thought, but there was no distain in his mind. Only… amusement? He really was getting used to things down here.

Alice raised her eyebrow, looking at the plate in suspicion. “Is there pepper in it?”

Door Mouse poked her head out of the teapot, nose twitching “We tried to exchange his spice jars, but he-” she broke off in a yawn, falling backwards. The Hatter immediately rapped the pot with his spoon and a second later the mouse emerged, rubbing her small wet eyes as she finished her thought. “He always finds the pepper anyway.”

March Hare mumbled behind his cup. “Pepper.”

The Hatter was still smiling, Harry wondered if his cheeks ever hurt. “A gift for our party is always welcome! How splendid. I do love gifts.”

With a shrug, Alice took a biscuit from the plate, then moved to offer some to Harry, catching herself at the last minute before she offered the plate to her other side. “Anyone else?”

I know more about you than you think, she had said. He never said anything about himself, but she knew him. She had watched him, observed him, understood him, however she was able to do so in the limited time they had spent together. She knew much more than her appearance and personality would initially let on, probably more than he knew himself.

Harry hated sweet things, but he reached his hands across and plucked a biscuit from the plate. Before anyone could say anything he stuffed the entire biscuit in his mouth.

It was incredibly sweet, with a splash of lemon flavor, and another, spicier undertone, that made the treat melt in his mouth like a gingersnap. It was that final, pepper-laced taste that made the biscuit bearable. It was unexpected, but not completely unwelcome. Harry chewed for a moment, to savor the remaining bite, then promptly reached for another off the tray that was still being held midair in Alice’s frozen grasp.

He spared her an amused glance, noting her surprised face, the roundness in her eyes, and the shock that turned the blue irises cloudy. He savored the picture, knowing it would probably be the only time he saw her speechless and off guard. After a moment, she seemed to compose herself, placing the platter in the center of the table and picking up her teacup to hide her expression.

The Hatter went on, oblivious, “Pepper does add a certain quality to the cook’s meals.”

Alice made a barely discernible sound, “I just wonder how he has a never-ending supply of it.”

The March Hare dropped a pastry into his teacup, muttering barely audible, “Could set the kitchen on fire.”

The eerie calmness of the statement might have set Harry off, but neither Alice nor the Hatter seemed surprised, “If we do that, he’d probably save all the pepper.”

“Then we’d have nothing but pepper. Imagine that? The lot of us sneezing our tea-time away? Not good.”

Harry reached for a third biscuit, pretending not to notice the acerbic twist to Alice’s mouth as she watched him. She hadn’t even touched her own. With a strange sort of glee, he bit into it deliberately. When she flinched, he decided to take her out of her misery.

“Is something wrong Alice?”

She didn’t skip a beat, gesturing to him as though he had lost his senses. “You hate sweet things. You almost took my head off the one time I added sugar to your tea.”

Feeling like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, he indulged in the strange new attitude that was coming on so naturally. Unfamiliar and daunting, it wasn’t so difficult to slip into this new skin. Harry leaned over her ear, “A little sugar here and there is not so bad.”

She leaned away, stuttering. “B-but-” How charming, he thought.

A strange sort of trepidation crossed her face, color rising past her neck collar. It was a pleasing warmth that swept through him at the sight. To know that he had caused such a reaction on a girl who kept a tighter lid on her emotions than he did himself.

She coughed into her hand, “Well.”

Harry smiled. The muscles in his jaw contracted, unused to the expression, but he bore the strain. He had a feeling he would be using those muscles more often, anyway. “Well?”

“I hope you don’t think your sudden-” she flailed her arm around, nearly smacking him in the face, “behavior change will do anything. I may have forgiven you, but I told you I’ve already given up on you. I’m going to be a spinster and will move down here to live out the rest of my life.”

He nodded and replied honestly, “Of course you are.”

Her eyes narrowed, “Don’t patronize me.”

“I would never dream of it.”

Pursing her lips, she leaned away from him warily, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but I don’t like it. I do wish you would stop.”

Almost as soon as the words exited her mouth, the smile on his face grew, curving more with the knowledge that a slight change in his character was all that was needed to throw such a vibrant, unconventional young woman like her.

How could he have missed it before?

Perhaps if he had just stopped predicting her unpredictability, he might have understood sooner. To stop waiting for something outrageous to come from her and just to enjoy her mercurial nature, or even indulge in a little madness himself.

“We should come back here again.” As he spoke it, he knew it was the truth. The next time she came back here, even if he had to sneak away at the dead of night to follow her, he would be here too. A million years of study wouldn’t help to understand even one inch of this place, and he loved the thrill of the challenge. In more ways than one. His gaze slid over the features of the young woman next to him. “I would like to meet more of your friends.”

Alice didn’t look accommodating in the least. If anything, she looked more cautious than before, as though regretting sharing this part of her life with him. “I wish you wouldn’t get such ideas, Harry.”

“Why not?”

She was either oblivious to or pointedly ignoring the way the conversation at the other side of the table had tapered into silence as they garnered a rapt audience. “It’s not in line with your character, that’s why.”

“And what would be in my character?”

She started to answer, then snapped her mouth closed, eyes narrowing, “You spent too much time with the Cat.”

Did he? He was starting to wonder if the madness wasn’t a virulent infection of some kind. He’d never smiled so much in his life. “When do we see the queen?”

His easy attitude only seemed to make her frown more severe, “You should know that she plays croquet with flamingoes for mallets and hedgehogs for score balls.”

“Really?”

This time she tore the cloth napkin she had been fiddling with in two jagged pieces. “Don’t,” she enunciated, “make me leave you here. You’d never find your way home.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that. I’d chase you anywhere you go.”

The anger left her face in a fast moment, color leaching as she finally realized what he had been doing. What he was going to do. Taking pity on the fear that stamped her eyes, he decided he would slow down his assault. A good chase was never fun when it finished so quickly anyway.

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