Katie Knight folded blueberries through the rich muffin batter and let her mind drift to her favourite fantasy—a handsome nobleman rescuing a poor maiden from the clutches of a greedy landlord. Not surprisingly the maiden’s shoulder-length, auburn hair and green eyes looked a lot like her own. Greasing the muffin pan, she sighed. Life was not a fairy tale. No one was going to rescue her. If she wanted a happy ending she would have to make it happen for herself. Six-year-old Lizzie in pigtails and overalls, tugged on Katie’s apron and handed her a school excursion form. “Mommy, can you sign, please?” Katie glanced at the cost of the excursion and her heart sank. “Oh, Lizzie, we can’t aff—“ She broke off, unable to douse the excitement in her little girl’s face. Six months ago, her rotten ex-husband had stopped sending child support payments and disappeared. Katie could barely pay the rent much less afford ‘extras’ like excursions. She was trying to start a cottage business supplying home-baked goods to local cafés and restaurants. With no formal training, only a love of baking passed on by her grandmother, the enterprise had required a giant leap of faith. So far success had proved elusive. Every café owner loved her muffins, cakes and donuts, but either they already had regular suppliers or they weren’t willing to take a chance on a newcomer. That afternoon she had an appointment with Garth Yorke, a recent arrival in her small town and the owner of a new café. She’d heard snippets of gossip—he’d sold a thriving restaurant in the city, he was running from a broken heart, he was caring for an invalid wife. Half of it probably wasn’t true. All that mattered to Katie was that when she’d called him yesterday he’d expressed an interest in seeing her baked goods. She’d gone all-out with her very best recipes, using the last of the money she’d set aside to start up her business. If she didn’t strike a deal today she’d have to go back to waiting tables instead of working from home and caring for Lizzie. “Leave the form on the counter, sweetie,” she said to Lizzie as she spooned batter into the muffin pans. “I’ll fill it in later.” She slid the pans into the oven, crossed her fingers for luck and said a little prayer. Please, let me make a sale so Lizzie doesn’t get left behind the other kids. At two o’clock Katie loaded sample trays into the back of her van and slapped on the magnetic sign that read, ‘White Knight Ltd. Wholesale Baked Goods. Quality Guaranteed’. She dropped Lizzie off at her friend’s house for a play date and then continued on to the café. Bearing a flat cardboard box fragrant with freshly baked muffins, brownies, donuts and cookies, she stepped inside the light-filled restaurant decorated with greenery and bright paintings. A workman was installing an espresso machine while a young woman with short black hair and tattoos unpacked ceramic mugs from a box. “I’m Katie Knight,” Katie introduced herself. “I have an appointment with Mr Yorke at two-thirty.” “You just missed him. Garth had to leave suddenly, some kind of emergency,” the woman with the tattoos told her. “He won’t be back today.” “Oh, no. I hope the emergency isn’t serious but.... Katie nodded helplessly at her laden arms. “I brought all these bakery items for him to taste.” “Sorry.” The woman shrugged apologetically. “Could you come back tomorrow?” And let Garth Yorke sample day-old goods? “I don’t think that’ll work. Thanks, anyway.” Back in the van she crossed her arms on the steering wheel, her eyes closed against tears she refused to let fall. After all her effort, some random event had squashed her attempt to start a new life for her and Lizzie. Things could be worse for Garth Yorke, she reminded herself, with his family emergency. With a heavy heart, Katie started home, wondering how she was going to break it to Lizzie that she couldn’t go on the excursion. She slowed as she drove past the Seniors Centre. Her neighbour, Mary Bennett, often went there in the afternoon to play cards. If Katie couldn’t sell her muffins and donuts she would give them away to people who would appreciate an unexpected treat. Coffee and tea urns bubbled away on a table in the common room. Katie spoke to one of the volunteers and received permission to set out her baked goods. Soon appreciative noises were heard as the seniors enthusiastically tasted Katie’s wares. “You’re as sweet as your delicious cakes,” Mary told Katie, squeezing her hand. “It was so thoughtful of you to bake for us oldies.” “I had more food than I knew what to do with,” Katie said, sidestepping the painful truth. Through the window she saw an ambulance pull up out front. “Is someone sick or injured?” Mary nodded towards a room off the common room. “Velma had a fall during exercise class. The teacher doesn’t think she broke anything and she’s not in too much pain but her son wants her x-rayed and checked by a doctor.” “Poor thing. I’ll take her some treats.” Katie put a selection of goodies on a plate and carried it into the next room. There, an elderly woman in a navy track suit was protesting as paramedics helped her gently but firmly onto a wheeled stretcher. Once on the stretcher, she grabbed the upright support of a weight machine and clung on. “I’m not going to any hospital to be poked and prodded.” “Mother, please.” A harassed-sounded man wearing a button down shirt urged Velma in a compassionate tone to cooperate. Katie offered Velma the plate. “Would you like something to eat before you go to the hospital?” “Those do look delicious.” Velma cast her a wary glance then slowly released her grip on the weight machine. Taking a brownie she fixed Katie with a steely gaze. “This doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere.” “No, of course not.” Katie exchanged a glance with the man. Looking to be in his mid-thirties, he had chestnut brown hair and lean, handsome features. “She has a sweet tooth,” he said to Katie in an aside. “Thanks for defusing the situation.” While Velma munched, the paramedics continued to work, placing a blanket over her and raising the stretcher. One went ahead to open the doors. “Would you like one of my Blueberry Stud Muffins?” Katie asked the son with a warm smile. He looked as if he could use some cheering up. “Thanks.” He bit into the moist crumb and his weariness transformed to an expression of surprized delight. “This is good!” Velma sniffed. “The brownies are almost as tasty as mine.” “High praise,” the man said to Katie. “Why do you call them Stud Muffins?” “It’s a bit silly,” Katie said, feeling her cheeks warm. This guy was a bit of a stud himself. “I gave a batch to the high school football team to eat after practise. Some of the players thought eating muffins was a sissy thing to do so I told them they were healthy as well as tasty and that their girlfriends would thank me when the boys built up their biceps and six packs. One joker then called them Stud Muffins. The name stuck.” “Stud Muffins,” the man repeated with a chuckle. “Maybe I’ll have another.” He glanced at the array of baked goods on the plate. “Did you make all these?” “Yes. I wouldn’t normally have so much to bring to the Seniors Centre but today—” She stopped before she could explain her sorry situation. He had enough problems of his own. Instead she took a muffin for herself and said simply, “I’m glad you like them. I’m Katie.” With a smile, he shook her hand. “Garth Yorke.” Katie choked on her muffin. Family emergency. She should have guessed. “Are you alright?” Garth reached for one of the unopened bottles of water kept in the exercise room for the seniors and handed it to her. “Have a drink.” As she sipped the water she looked into his dark eyes. They were filled with concern and...interest. For the space of two, three heartbeats, time slowed. Her troubles seemed very far away. Finally she was able to swallow. “Thank you. I’m fine now.” Garth finished his muffin and reached for a brownie. “I’m not usually a glutton but these are outstanding. It’s funny. I was supposed to meet a baked goods supplier this afternoon but I was called away because of my mother’s accident.” “I’m sure the supplier will understand when you explain,” Katie said, biting back a grin. She should have revealed her identity when he told her his name but she’d been choking. Now she was savouring the situation. In a moment she would tell him. “I rang my café just before the ambulance arrived. My employee told me the woman left and isn’t coming back.” Garth looked from the remaining muffin on the plate to Katie. “I don’t suppose that by some miracle you bake on a commercial basis?” Before Katie could reply, Velma brushed off her fingers and announced loudly, “I’m ready to go for my X-ray when you stop lollygagging about. I’ll take a cookie for the journey.” Garth signaled to the paramedics to wheel his mother to the ambulance. Then he said in a low voice to Katie, “You sweetened her up.” Katie followed them to the parking lot and waited by her van while Garth told his mother he’d meet her at the hospital. He walked over to Katie and did a double take at the sign on her van. She handed him her card. “I was the supplier you were supposed to meet today. I’d be delighted to bake for you.” “White Knight,” Garth read and chuckled, his eyes crinkling attractively at the corners. “You rescued me in more ways than one.” A corner of his mouth quirked up dryly. “Your husband is a lucky man. Not only are you very kind but you’re a fantastic cook.” Rather than a clumsy probe for information or a cheesy pick-up line, the compliment felt genuine. Garth’s unabashed admiration boosted her spirits. “I’m divorced,” she said matter-of-factly. “I have a six-year-old daughter, Lizzie. I’m the lucky one.” A shadow crossed his eyes. “I wanted kids but my ex-fiancée didn’t. It was a deal-breaker.” “I’m sorry,” Katie commiserated. “It was hard. But better we found out before we got married.” Then he gave her a warm smile and tucked her card in his breast pocket. “I’ll call you later, to let you know how many of those Stud Muffins I want. We could talk about it over coffee tomorrow at the café.” Katie smiled as they shook hands again, securing the deal. Someday she would tell him who had rescued who, but right now she was content to let him think she was the hero. As she drove to pick up Lizzie, she felt another fantasy brewing—about a handsome single man who took good care of his mother, who loved children and who believed in Katie’s business. Maybe, just maybe, fairy tales really did come true.
Blueberry Stud Muffins Makes 18 muffins
3 eggs 1 cup brown sugar ½ cup oil 2 cups buttermilk 1 tsp vanilla 1 cup wheat germ 1 cup bran 2 cups flour 2 tsp baking powder 2 tsp baking soda ½ tsp salt 1½ cups blueberries (frozen blueberries work fine)
1. Preheat the oven to 200°. 2. Add the eggs to a large bowl, beat well, add the sugar and beat again. Add the oil, buttermilk and vanilla and mix well. Stir in the wheat germ and bran. 3. In smaller bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then stir in the blueberries. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the liquid ingredients and stir until just mixed. 4. Spoon the mixture into greased muffin cups and bake for 20–25 minutes.