(Cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing)

It's a bright, clear, sunny morning in LA, and sure, Lucy's been at work since 5, but on a day like today she can't bring herself to mind.

The bakery is humming with the tail end of the morning rush, and Lucy's just setting out a few more cinnamon rolls when the door opens. It's Angela, one of the cops from the station a few blocks away–she's a regular–but today there's another cop with her. And he's handsome. Tall, dark blonde hair, a strong jaw, and Lucy has never really stopped to fully consider the exact effect muscular biceps have on her, but damn.

"Morning, Lucy!" Angela greets her, peering over the counter. "Ooh, are those cinnamon rolls fresh?"

"Yeah, I just put them out."

"Officer Tim Bradford, this is Lucy Chen, baker extraordinaire. Everything she makes is delicious."

The tall, handsome cop–Tim, she now knows–nods at her. "Hi."

"Hi." She looks down at her sticky hands. "I'd offer to shake your hand, but–icing."


His eyes are somewhere between blue and grey, she thinks, as clear as the sky. He has a frank, direct gaze, and it takes her a second to realize she's been staring and catch herself. "What can I get you, Officer?"

"Just coffee, thanks."

Angela looks aghast. "You don't want a cinnamon roll?"


"Come on, Tim," she wheedles. "They're so good. My treat."

"Thanks, but no."

"Fine, suit yourself." Angela grins at Lucy. "Two coffees, a cinnamon roll for me, and nothing else for Officer Grumpy here."

Tim scowls at her a little. His hands are settled easily on his belt, and even as she wraps up a cinnamon roll for Angela, Lucy can see his eyes scanning the bakery, keeping an eye on their surroundings. Not unusual for police officers–plenty stop into Breadbox for coffee–but his haircut makes her wonder if he's been in the military, too.

Tamara hands over their coffee and Lucy hands Angela her cinnamon roll. The two officers head out, and as the door shuts behind them, Tamara pokes Lucy's shoulder. "Who was that guy with Angela?"

"A co-worker of hers."

"You sure he's not a stripper in costume?"

"Pretty sure."

"Huh. Too bad."


"What?" The younger woman shrugs. "Just calling it like I see it."

Tim doesn't eat a lot of sugar, especially in the morning. Never has. Playing football from an early age, then staying fit for the job, has pretty much locked him into the exciting world of protein, and though he enjoys the occasional treat, he doesn't have a particularly sweet tooth. Sure, the cinnamon roll looks excellent and smells even better. But he's walked right past Cinnabon plenty of times without stopping.

There will be absolutely no crumbs in the shop, so they stand outside as Angela finishes her food. "This is incredible," she says, far too pointedly to be casual.

"I'm sure it is."

"You're missing out."

"I'm sure I am."

"Just try it."


"Because it's good, and I'm right, and you know it."

Angela has clearly decided no is not an acceptable answer, and Tim knows when he's met an immovable force. He sighs. "Fine."

She breaks off a piece and hands it to him, and he scrutinizes it for a moment before popping it into his mouth.

Flavor hits him like a wave, and his eyes go wide.


He was expecting a cloying mouthful of sugar, but this is something completely different. Sure, it's sweet. But it's not just sweet. He can taste the warmth of cinnamon, something a little darker, and he almost thinks maybe there's a whisper of lemon? Maybe?

He chews and swallows. "Damn."

He's no connoisseur of sweets, but if he were, he'd want this on a daily basis.

"Pretty awesome, right?" Angela prods, handing him a napkin.

"It's very good." He wipes his mouth. "Now I see why you kept talking about that new baker."

"Yep, she's awesome. She said she adds extra ground cloves to give these a 'more balanced flavor'." She gets a sly look on her face. "And she's pretty, too, isn't she?"

Those big brown eyes, the pink cheeks and soft smile, the little wisps of dark hair framing her face–

"I didn't notice."

"Right. Of course you didn't."

Angela doesn't look convinced, but he decides that's not his problem.

The next morning, Angela walks in as Lucy's cleaning the front counter, Jackson's prepping meat and cheese for lunch, and Tamara stacks clean dishes.

"Angela! Hey." Lucy brushes crumbs into the garbage can.

"Hey, Lucy. Remember the guy in here with me yesterday?"

"You mean the grumpy hottie, right?" Tamara cuts in before Lucy can stop her, and Jackson raises an eyebrow.

"Did I miss something exciting?"

"Officer Grumpy," Tamara explains. "More like Officer Biceps."

Angela laughs. "That's him. Well, Lucy's cinnamon roll might have converted him. He's not a sweets guy, but I convinced him to try it, and he liked it."

Lucy chuckles, running the cleaning rag across the counter again. "I'm glad to hear it."

"Oh, yeah. Plus, you guys have the best coffee in a quarter-mile radius." Angela grins. "Don't worry. He'll be back."


(Sourdough bread)

Tim does not like to let Angela know when she's right.

It happens all too often. And just because she kept prodding him to come get coffee at Breadbox with her, just because it was very good coffee, just because she talked him into trying the best cinnamon roll he's ever tasted, just because the baker had big brown eyes and a smile that–

He's not sure where this train of thought was going.

But the point is that Angela doesn't need to know that he's coming back to Breadbox on his day off, of his own volition, because he saw their sandwich list and it looked pretty good.

When he walks up to the counter on Saturday, it's 11:37am, he is greeted by possibly the friendliest person he has ever met.

"Hi there!" The tall, brown-haired man beams at him with a smile that seems suspicious, because no one can possibly be this cheerful working in food service. His nametag says JOHN NOLAN, MANAGER. "Welcome to Breadbox. What can I get for you?"

"Uh–sandwich, actually."

"Well, you're in luck, because today is Sourdough Saturday."


"Sourdough Saturday," John explains patiently, his smile never faltering. "We've got fresh sourdough on special. I thought the alliteration was nice."

Of course he did.

"But anyway, your timing is perfect," John continues. "Lucy's got a fresh loaf right out of the oven."

Tim absolutely does not perk up at the sound of her name, because that would be ridiculous. "Oh, nice."

"Well, I thought–she was here just–" John turns around, brow furrowed. "Hey, Lucy? How's the bread looking?"

"Just about ready," comes her voice from inside the kitchen. She appears behind the counter a second later, carrying a tray with a giant round loaf on it. Her eyes are fixed on the bread, but when she looks up, her eyes soften. "Hi."


"Tim, right?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Well, Tim, I hope you're hungry. Because this –" she waves a hand over the bread. "This is going to be excellent."

She takes a serrated knife and saws the loaf open carefully, fingers safely curled away from the blade.

"Lucy can handle your sandwich, sir, and I'll be back with your coffee," John assures him.

As the man heads for the coffee, Tim asks, "Is he always so cheerful?"

Lucy laughs. "Yes, he is." She slices off a tiny cap at the end and hands it across the counter to him. "Here."

It's still warm, savory and light. He hasn't had sourdough in longer than he can remember, but he knows without a doubt that this is some of the best bread he's ever had.

Lucy's watching him expectantly, eyes wide, like she's waiting for a grade. "So?" she prompts.

"Delicious," he says, watching her smile, clearly pleased with herself. "And here I thought you only made cinnamon rolls. Not just sweet stuff, huh?"

Her lips curve upwards in a soft smile, so light and teasing it makes him catch his breath. "I'm full of surprises, Officer."

"I'm sure you are."

She blinks, then looks down briefly, her cheeks softly pink. "You, uh–what kind of sandwich would you like?"

"Roast beef, please."

"You got it."

Lucy sets to work constructing his sandwich. He can't help noticing the precision: She spreads the aioli carefully, the meat is perfectly sliced, and the spinach and roast peppers and onions are layered evenly across the bread. It's not just a sandwich; it's a work of art.

John rings him up and hands over his coffee, and Lucy finishes wrapping his sandwich in paper, securing it with a little sticker that has a sunflower on it, which seems particularly on-brand for her.

"Here you go," she says with a smile. He takes the sandwich, and he absolutely does not notice the way their fingers gently brush against each other.



Tim walks out of the bakery, sandwich and coffee in hand, and Lucy should really head back to the kitchen, but she just… waits for a moment. For no particular reason.

Tamara pauses beside her at the counter. "Ooh, was that Officer Zaddy?"

"What did you just call him?"

"He's hot."


"Oh, don't worry. He's way too old for me. But he's totally into you."

Lucy tries to glare, but it's a lost cause. She can feel herself blushing.

"Come on, admit it," Tamara wheedles. "He's a hottie."

Lucy smiles down at the counter, her face hot, and finally allows herself to admit one thing. Just one.

"He has a nice smile."


(Croissants, mid-process)

Night shift isn't Tim's favorite thing in the world, but like everything else, it's part of the job.

A burglary at a clothing boutique at 3AM isn't going to have many witnesses. The nearby stores aren't open; most people don't have to report to work before 4AM.

But bakers sometimes do.

When the detective sets patrol officers to canvassing, there's no particular reason Tim volunteers to take the direction where Breadbox is. It's entirely coincidental.

It has nothing to do with the way Lucy's face lights up when she answers his knock.

She wipes her floury hands on her bright yellow apron, unlocks the door and cracks it open. "Tim?"

"Sorry to bother you, but–"

"Can we talk while I work?" she cuts in, looking back over her shoulder. "This dough is time-sensitive."

"Uh–sure, yeah."

He follows her back into the kitchen, where he immediately feels a temperature difference; it's noticeably colder. Huh. She grabs a rolling pin and starts attacking a rectangular slab of pale dough on a floury surface. "So what brings you by at 4:30 in the morning?"

"The clothing store down the block was burglarized," he explains, reaching for his notebook and pen. "What time did you get here this morning?"

"Oh, no! Okay. Uh–I think I got here about 4?" She thinks for a moment. "Sometime between 3:45 and 4."

"Did you see or hear anything unusual?"

"Nope. Just came straight inside and started working."

He looks around. "Are you always here alone this early?"

"No. Normally Jackson or Tamara's here helping, but she's on vacation this week and he's out sick," Lucy explains.

"You keep the doors locked?"

She pauses, looking up at him with an amused smile. "Yes, Officer, I keep the doors locked. And we've got a camera, so I can check to see who's outside before I answer."

So that's why she answered his knock so readily. "Good."

"Are you checking up on me?" Her tone is light, her eyes sparkling.

"Just wanna make sure you're safe."

She seems pleased with that.

His radio crackles: dispatch reports that the suspect is in custody. Well then. Lucy looks at him curiously. "What was that?"

"Guess they caught him." He tucks his notebook and pen back in his pockets. "Sorry to bother you."

She fixes him with an arch look. "You're not bothering me."

Tim rests his hands on his belt for a moment, and in his short sleeves, he can't help shivering a little. "Okay, I have to ask–why exactly is it so cold in here?"

"I need the butter not to melt."

"Why does it matter? Aren't you going to bake it?"

She smiles. "Yes, but before that, butter needs to stay solid. In order to make those flakes, I need pockets of butter that evaporate while they're actually cooking. That's what leaves the tiny pockets that make pastries flaky. If the butter melts before it bakes, the water content reacts with the flour to form gluten chains, which means the dough ends up chewy. Which is fine in some recipes, but this is going to be a batch of croissants."

"Huh." He cocks his head. "What are you, a chemist?"

Lucy laughs. "There is actually a decent amount of chemistry involved in baking."

"That sounds complicated."

She shrugs. "It is. But it's worth it."

Tim checks his watch. He's been out of the shop long enough; he really should get back on patrol. "You all set here? Anything you need before I go?"

"Nope, I'm fine. Just me and my dough. And John will be here soon," she assures him. "Coffee's on, if you want to grab a cup on your way out. And before you try to refuse a freebie because you're on the clock," she continues even as he opens his mouth to protest, "the register's not open, so technically it's not for sale, which means you wouldn't be able to pay for it anyway."

Her smile has an impish quality to it, and he's tired enough to admit to himself that he finds it endearing. "All right, fine."

After he takes his coffee and she hands him a few napkins ("why do I need napkins for coffee?" "just in case, Tim"), Lucy follows him out to the front door. The early morning air is cool and grey, and off in the east, there's just a faint hint of gold where the sun will be coming up soon.

"Locking up behind me?" he asks, and she smiles.

"Of course."


She leans in the doorway as he heads back for the shop, soft tendrils of hair swirling around her face in the early morning breeze. With the cheery yellow apron tied over her white t-shirt and faded jeans, her bright smile, a pale streak of flour on her cheek, she's an absolute picture, and it hits him squarely in the chest, just how beautiful she is.

"Nice to see you, Officer Bradford."

"Have a good day, Miss Chen." He raises his cup in salute. "Thanks."


(Salted caramel, step by step)

Order: 36 white chocolate caramel cookies
Customer: Mid-Wilshire PD Station
Notes: for Sgt. Grey's birthday. an officer will be in contact to pick up when ready

Salted caramel is pure magic.

It's one of Lucy's favorite things to make. It's so simple, so procedural, just one step after another, but it yields something so delicious that the only possible explanation for it must be supernatural.

Butter is sputtering and foaming in her pan, and she's finally located her favorite heat-proof spatula and set aside her second favorite heat-proof spatula, when she hears a familiar voice.


She looks up to see Officer Grumpy himself. He's in civilian clothes, though, worn jeans and a soft grey henley that manages to be casual and excessively attractive, all at once.

"Hey, Tim." Why is he in the kitchen, though?

"Tamara told me to come back here," he explains, as if he could hear her wondering.

Oh. Of course Tamara did. "Gotcha. Well, hi. You're early."

"I know." He scrubs a hand over his face. She can see the weariness in his eyes.

"You okay? You look tired."

He shrugs. "Fine. Just, uh. Long day."

"It's nine in the morning."

"That would mean more if I'd gotten to bed last night." Tim gives her a wry smile. "Yesterday was the long day. It just hasn't ended yet."

Despite knowing he's a police officer, Lucy hasn't really seen anything to hint at the harder part of the job for him. She sees him when he wants coffee or a sandwich. And it hits her suddenly–probably far later than it should–that if she looks through the local news, she might find whatever robbery or murder or abduction has made him so exhausted. The thought is a sobering one.

But then it occurs to her: he's almost half an hour early for the scheduled pickup. And he's certainly aware of that.

Maybe he just needed a friendly, non-criminal person to talk to.

"So I know I'm early," Tim continues, oblivious to her line of thought. "Are they already done?"

"Were you going to help bake them?" she teases. "Too bad, that's finished. I just have the drizzle left to go."

"Is that what this is?"

"It will be."

He leans in beside her to peer into the pan, and she catches her breath. "So what is this?"

"Browning butter. This is step one for caramel."

" Car-a-mel? " he repeats, raising an eyebrow. "Why don't you call it car-mel?"

"When I put in this much effort, I'm going to use three syllables," she informs him. "I deserve that."

"It doesn't look very appetizing."

"Not yet. But it will."

Tim looks down again, wondering if she's leading him on. The pan full of yellow-brown goop doesn't look particularly promising.

"Essentially, we're burning sugar. Just… very, very carefully."

"I assume you have the fire department on speed dial."

Lucy narrows her eyes. "Very funny, Officer Grumpy. I'll have you know I've only ever set one fire in the kitchen–"

"You set a fire?"

"-and it was a very small one, so it doesn't even count."

"You set a fire?"

"It was on accident, obviously."


"The trick," she tells him, her eyes locked on her pan, "is to watch the color very carefully. You want just the right shade of brown."

"So you don't set a fire?"

"Would you just–" She rolls her eyes. "It's a stage of cooking, okay? Burning sugar takes something sweet and turns it into an acidic compound, so the flavor is more complex. And then the salt acts as a flavor enhancer to balance out the bitterness. Caramel is good. Salted caramel is next-level."

"Is this chemistry again?"

She looks up at him, startled, and for just a second she could swear he was gazing at her lips.

"Yeah." She swallows. "Yeah, it's chemistry."

Tim really did just come here to pick up cookies. He wasn't expecting an entire cooking lesson and some pretty blatant flirting. But he's enjoying this, and he's fairly sure that soft flush on her face isn't just from the stove's heat. "Where do you go to learn all this?"

"Culinary school."

"Where was that?"

"New York."

Huh. "Pretty fancy."

Lucy makes a face. "Well, my parents weren't thrilled when I decided on culinary school instead of grad school or law school," she says with a wry smile, "but that's their problem."

He gets the sense that there's a whole story there, a lot more to unpack. But she seems content to leave it alone as she swirls the pan gently, her eyes never leaving the mass of bubbling brown goo.

After a long moment of silence, punctuated only by voices from the front of the bakery and the bell above the door jingling, Lucy shuts off the burner and moves the pan to a trivet on the counter. "Now comes the fun part."


She picks up a nearby measuring cup in one hand, whisk in the other. "Cream," she explains, then tips it gently, pouring it in slowly, like a long, thin white ribbon. As soon as the cream hits the pan of sugar, the mixture bubbles and hisses furiously, a cloud of steam rising up.

"Is it supposed to do that?" Tim asks, wondering if he should look for the fire extinguisher.

"Yes." Lucy seems entirely unfazed, whisking away without pause. He supposes that's a good sign.

Eventually the liquid seems to settle in the pan, leaving something stable and calm that at least looks like caramel. Lucy stirs it slowly, then nods, satisfied. "Almost done. Time for the salt."

"Is this the secret ingredient?"

"Well, given that it's called 'salted caramel,' I don't know how secret it is, but yeah." She flicks in a pinch of salt, stirs, dips in a tasting spoon, and tries it. "Not quite," she murmurs, more to herself than to him. Another pinch of salt, more stirring, a clean spoon, and her face lights up. "That's it."

"You don't measure the salt?"

"Nope. When it's right, it's right." She dips in a clean spoonful and turns to him, free hand hovering beneath the spoon. "Want to try?"


Lucy tips the spoon carefully into his mouth, letting him taste it. There's a brief flash of warmth. And then the flavor hits him.


Sure, he's had caramel before. But this is just–it's another level entirely. It's sweet, but it's savory, and there's salt but it's not exactly salty , and there's an underlying dark richness to it that he has no words to explain.

He must look as dumbfounded as he feels, because Lucy's laughing as she looks at him. "Can I take that stunned expression as a compliment?"

"Absolutely." He doesn't even have a witty remark. It's just too delicious.


Lucy dips in the handle of the spoon for her own taste and hums in satisfaction. She licks away a stray droplet from her lower lip, and his mouth waters in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with salt or sugar, but has everything to do with heat.


(Birthday cake, on short notice)

It's not quite 6AM, and the bakery's been open for almost an hour, when John pokes his head back into the kitchen. "Lucy? Can you come out front for a sec? We've got a baking question."

"Sure." She sets aside a bowl of macerating strawberries and wipes her hands on her pink apron, tucking a wisp of hair behind her ear as she follows him to the front, where she sees their current customer standing with his hands in his pockets.

"Tim! Hi."

"Hey, Lucy."

Her heart stumbles a little in her chest. He usually only comes in this early when he's working night shift, so he's in uniform. But today he's wearing jeans and a buttondown, and it's… distracting.

"Tim's asking about a specialty order," John explains, "but you're in charge of baking, so it's only if you think we can take it in addition to the rest of today's orders."

"Okay." She folds her arms. "What do you need, Tim?"

"I'm up a creek today," he admits. "I don't even know if this is something you could do, but if it's at all possible–"

"That depends on what it is."

"It's my niece's birthday," he says, "and the cake my sister ordered didn't work out, I don't know what happened, but they had promised her a really nice cake and now they're out of luck. Genny was going to just grab a box mix and make that, but I told her I'd see if I could track down a better one."

"Better than box mix, huh?" John says. "Lucy, what do you think?"

She purses her lips, glancing back into the kitchen at the shelves of ingredients. "How old is she?"

"She's seven."

"Any food allergies or sensitivity?"


"Does she like chocolate?"

"She'll eat it, but it's not her favorite."

"Hmm." She glances back at the kitchen again, mentally combing through her catalog of recipes. "Strawberries?"

"I'm not sure."


"Uh–yes. Yeah, she likes cinnamon rolls and coffee cake."

"What time do you need it?"

"Presents are at four, Genny's thinking dinner at five."

"How many people?"

"Seven. It's just family."

Lucy glances up at the clock and tilts her head as she thinks. Seven people means a pretty standard size, and two layers wouldn't be hard to throw together. "Okay. Okay, so it's–yeah. I can do it."

"You sure?"

"Jackson's already got a start on the other big order, and a cake for seven people won't be a problem." She pats Nolan on the shoulder. "See? This is why you hired me."

"This is just one of many reasons," he replies. "All right, Mr. Bradford. Let me get your order written down here." He pulls out an information sheet and jots down a few things, then pauses. "What's the birthday girl's name?"


"Oh, very nice!" John writes that down, adds a few more things, and slides the sheet across to him. "Okay. How does this look?"


"If you want to leave your number, we can text you with updates."

"Sure." Tim scrawls his cell number in the field, then digs out his phone to text his sister quickly. Bakery said they can do it. No response, but it's 5:45 in the morning; Genny will see it when she wakes up. He's definitely getting a few extra brother points for this.

"I can't believe you guys can do this so quickly," he admits as John processes his payment. "I was hoping, but I wasn't sure."

"Lucy's a wizard," Nolan tells him. "She can whip up anything, in no time, and it's incredible."

Normally John Nolan's unstoppable cheeriness is irritating, but right now, with a crisis averted, Tim actually feels more than a little cheerful himself.

His phone buzzes at 2:47PM. Incoming text: Your Breadbox Bakery order is ready for pickup! See you soon!

"Tim! Hi." She wipes floury hands on her pink apron. "Here to pickup?"

"Part of me doesn't believe it could possibly work out so well."

"Well, the joke's on you," she teases. "See? Cake."

And there it is on the counter. Creamy white frosting is swirled artfully around the sides, pink and gold sprinkles scattered around it, and on the top of the cake, Happy Birthday, Robin! is written in a pretty looping pink-and-gold script, surrounded by little sunflower-shaped candies.

"It's a cinnamon cake with brown butter cream cheese frosting," she tells him. "I hope the decor is all right. I had to use what we had in stock, so I just went with pink and gold."

"Are you kidding? It's incredible."

"Jackson did the lettering," she adds. "He's our resident calligrapher."

"Tell him thank you. It looks amazing." He's almost afraid to stand too close to it. "I really owe you one."

He sends another quick text to his sister. Cake looks great, I'll have it there in 30.

Lucy boxes the cake up for him and seals the box lid with a sunflower sticker. "Drive carefully. It's fairly stable, but better safe than sorry."

"Will do." Tim cradles the box in his arms like it's a human baby. He has every intention of crawling there 5 under the speed limit. "Thank you so much."

"You're very welcome." She waves. "Tell your niece happy birthday from us, too."

He walks into the bakery on Monday in uniform to buy coffee, and as Nolan fills his cup, Tim hands Lucy his phone. "Birthday girl was thrilled with her cake. You saved the day, big time."

"Oh, Tim!" Lucy awws at the photo, in which a little girl with dimples and blonde pigtails beams at the camera, posing with her birthday cake. "How precious."

"Isn't she adorable?" Tim's biased, obviously, but she's basically the cutest kid ever.

"She has your smile," Lucy teases.

Tim glares at her, which just makes her laugh. "Don't insult my niece like that."

She hands the phone back over. "Yeah, I get the feeling Robin knows 'Uncle Tim' is not-so-secretly just a big, grumpy teddy bear."

Tim's definitely not going to dignify that with a response, although when it comes to Robin, it's more true than he wants to admit. "The cake was great, and my sister said she's going to come here for cakes from now on."

"I'm glad to hear it."

"Thank you. Really. I know it's your job, but still."

She leans on her wrists on the counter. "You're welcome. I'm glad your family liked it."

"I, uh–" He's been going over and over this, and he had convinced himself this is perfectly acceptable, but suddenly he's feeling antsy about it. "You know Las Torres? The bar a few blocks from here? Angela and I go there sometimes after we're done with work. If you wanted to come by, if you're free tonight, you're welcome to join us. I definitely owe you at least one drink." It's not a date, it's not pressure, just an invitation to join him and another friend she already knows. At least, he hopes.

Apparently he calculated right; her face lights up with a smile, and he has the distinct, unwavering feeling she can see right through him.

"Sounds great."

Tim sits at the bar that evening, chatting with Angela, who finally sighs. "Hello? Earth to Tim?"

He blinks. "What?"

"You've had one eye on the door all night. Who are you waiting for?"

"What makes you think–"

"Oh, come on."

As if on cue, the door opens, and Lucy walks in. For a brief moment, everything else falls away, every other person suddenly relegated to secondary importance as Tim sees her and nothing else.

Her hair is down.

He hadn't really thought about it before, but when she's at the bakery, she keeps it pulled up or back or braided. But now it's loose, cascading around her shoulders in a riotous mass of glossy waves. For once, she's not wearing an apron; she looks casually stunning in a soft embroidered blouse and tight jeans, her full lips red, her eyes bright.

"Holy shit. Did you finally ask her out?" Angela pokes his shoulder. "Good for you."

Tim groans. "I didn't ask her out, I just told her we'd be here."

"Very smooth, Casanova."

He grimaces. "I'm not gonna ask her out in uniform. Or when she's making food for me. That's just–weird."

"Sure, I get that. But now she's here, and you're not in uniform. So you can absolutely ask her out. And you should." She turns and waves to Lucy, who visibly brightens when she sees them and makes her way across the floor.

"Hey, guys."

"Lucy! It's so good to see you." Angela hugs her quickly. "You look gorgeous."

"Thanks! You do, too." Lucy looks up at Tim, and he could be imagining it, but it looks like she's blushing. "Hi, Tim."


Tim's about to suggest the three of them find a table, but apparently Angela has everything figured out. "I hate to drink and run," Angela says, sliding off her stool, "but I told Wesley I'd be back at a decent hour tonight. Lucy, my seat's all yours."

Tim narrows his eyes. Subtle, Lopez. Really subtle.

"Oh–okay, I guess." Lucy looks a little bewildered, but lets Angela push her onto the stool.

"Have fun, guys! See you tomorrow."

Angela's out the door quickly, and Tim lets out a short laugh, shaking his head. "You know, sometimes she's a literal human hurricane."

"No kidding."

"Well, we're here." He settles his elbows on the bar. "Can I buy you a drink?"


By the time the bartender slides Lucy's gin and tonic in front of her, she and Tim are already deep in conversation.

"–anyway, that's how Robin ended up getting three different princess crowns."

"Actually, that sounds great."

"Yeah, she's seven. She loved it." Tim takes a long sip of his beer. "But like I said, she really loved the cake. She asked me to tell you that it was her favorite cake ever."

"That's really sweet." She stirs a tiny straw in her glass. "Did you have some?"


"Did you like it?"

"Of course."


"What do you mean?"

"I know you're not really into sweets. And that's fine," she assures him hurriedly, "I know not everyone is and it's really fine. So–you know. If you liked it, that means a lot."

"Well, I don't have them often. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate them when they're extraordinary."

His eyes are fixed on her, keen and direct in the dim golden light of the bar, and she is one hundred percent sure he's not just talking about cake.

There's an intensity about Tim, she's noticed. It's hard to put into words; it's intangible, the kind of thing she can't pin down to any specific quantification. But his presence is engrossing. His energy is powerful. And now, with all his attention focused completely on her, it's utterly intoxicating.

Lucy takes a long sip of her drink, if only to give herself a chance to cool down a bit. "Do you cook?"

He shrugs. "Kind of. Not like you, obviously. I don't really bake, but I can grill a mean steak."

"I bet."

Tim eyes her suspiciously. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It's not an insult!" she laughs, touching his arm gently. "Just–you strike me as a meat and potatoes guy, and I'm not at all surprised. It seems right for you."

"Can I–" He pauses. "If you're interested, would you like to have dinner with me sometime?"

Tim says it so casually, so measured and even, but she can see how keenly he's watching her. She can tell that evenness is a facade, and it warms her from the inside out to think that Tim Bradford is even the slightest bit nervous about asking her out.

"I'd really like that."

"Would you trust my cooking?"

She props her chin on one hand.

"Yeah. I would."

He nods, and again, through the facade of calm, she can see just how pleased he is. "Good. Okay. Yeah."

He walks her to her car later. It's a rickety-looking orange Datsun, and somehow that is as profoundly on-brand for Lucy Chen as sunflower stickers and brightly colored aprons streaked with flour.

She pauses next to the driver's side door, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear as she looks up at him with a soft smile. "Thanks for inviting me to come out. This was really nice."

"Yeah, it was." Talking to her is easy. They talked for two hours without even realizing it. And Tim's not really a talker. "Good night, Lucy."

She stretches up on her toes to kiss his cheek, and he thinks she can't possibly miss the way he takes in a sharp breath when her lips touch his skin, one of her hands gently pressed to his chest to steady herself. He can smell the lightest hint of her perfume, spicy-sweet and clinging to her like a delicate cloud.

"See you tomorrow."


(Cake. Sort of.)

Text message from Tim Bradford, 7:32am:

Sorry I forgot to ask. you okay with dogs? I have one

Response from Lucy Chen, 7:34am:

I LOVE DOGS 🐶❤❤❤❤❤

Tim lives in a cute, tidy little house in a quiet neighborhood.

He opens the door before she can even raise her hand to knock. He's already smiling, and it hits her again, just how handsome he is when he smiles. "Hi."

"Hey. I know you said not to bring anything, but I felt weird showing up empty-handed, so–"

"-so you brought wine," he finishes, chuckling as he takes the bottle she hands over. "This looks great, thanks. Come on in. Can I take your jacket?"

He ushers her inside, hanging up her jacket next to his on a coat hook by the door, and Lucy immediately zeroes in on the big brown and white pitbull mix standing nearby watching them, his whole body vibrating with excitement. "Your dog is adorable."

"This is Kojo. Kojo, this is Lucy, and she's a guest so you're going to behave yourself, right? Sit." The dog obeys. "Shake." He offers a paw, which Lucy takes politely. "Good boy, Kojo."

He tosses a treat, which Kojo snaps out of the air, and Lucy crouches down to scratch his ears. "I love your dog."

"Yeah, yeah. He's a monster."

Kojo immediately rolls onto his back for a belly rub, and Lucy coos good boy, who's a good boy?

The grill is heating up, vegetables are sorted, potatoes are in the oven, and there's a little chocolate cake sitting on the counter which–he proudly informs her–he made himself. Lucy offers to help with food prep, but Tim hands her a glass of wine and tells her to sit back and relax. "You're not cooking, for once."

He's brought the steaks in their marinade out to come to room temperature–he's cooking for a professional here, he's not cutting any corners–and he starts slicing peppers and mushrooms. Lucy perches on a stool nearby, sipping wine and watching him.

"Olive oil," he murmurs to himself, "okay, there's salt, a little balsamic–"

Tim pauses, looking around. Lucy perks up. "What do you need?"


"Oh, let me get it. At least this way I feel like I'm putting in some kind of effort."

"Sure, if you don't mind. Up there, cupboard by the fridge."

He wipes off his hands and turns. Too late, Tim realizes she's looking in the wrong cupboard.

"No, no, not that one, the–"

"Tim?" She turns back to him, holding up what she's found. "What's this?"

Damn it.

"I wasn't–" He sighs, looking down at the pan. "You weren't supposed to see that."

She opens the container, looks in it, and then looks over at the cake sitting on the counter. And Tim knows she's already got it figured out.

Damn it. He really thought he was going to look good tonight.

"You made this?"

"I tried."

Her face is expectant, and Tim knows he's caught. No way he's getting out of this without looking stupid.

"That was the first one," he admits. His ears are red. "I screwed it up, okay? It smelled fine, and it doesn't taste bad, but it looked so embarrassing, I wasn't going to serve you that."

She's never seen him look so bashful. "You made a new cake, just because this one looked bad?"

"Well–I–" He's trying very hard not to answer, but he sighs. "Yeah."

Tim rebaked an entire cake, just because the first one came out poofy and lopsided and sunken in the middle. And he tried to hide it because he was embarrassed. Because he wanted to impress her.

She crosses the kitchen in two steps, stands up on her toes, reaches for his face and kisses him.

There's a clatter as the tongs he's holding hit the counter, but that doesn't matter, because he's kissing her back, his fingers tangling in her hair. It's sweet and soft and delicate and perfect.

Lucy pulls back for just a second, looking up at him. Her hands are still on his face, the faint scratch of his five o'clock shadow scratchy against her fingers.

"Tim Bradford, this is the cutest thing I have ever seen."

He leans in to kiss her again. It's just so easy to kiss him, she thinks dazedly. All that intensity is turned on her and his mouth is hot and his hands are so strong but so gentle and it's sheer sensory overload.

"Wait, wait." He pulls away for a moment, and she can't help noticing that he's breathing as hard as she is. "Hang on."


"So all I had to do was screw up a cake?"

Lucy swats his chest. "Go finish dinner, Officer Grumpy."

He just grins that stupidly handsome grin at her. It's not remotely fair that he's this good-looking.

After dinner and a walk around the neighborhood together with Kojo, Lucy regretfully tells him that she needs to head home, and he kisses her goodnight in his front doorway. Her hair is soft, her lips are tempting, and he knows he's absolutely lost.

Plus: Kojo already loves her. So this is pretty much meant to be.

"Thank you for dinner," she murmurs against his mouth. "It was wonderful."

"Glad you enjoyed it." He kisses her again because he can, and he wants to. "You picked out good wine."

"Yeah, yeah." Her hands are settled on his chest, and she toys idly with the buttons on his shirt. "You did 99% of the work."

"Hey, we're a good team." He leans in to nuzzle her neck gently. "We're like salt and caramel."

She hums, her hands sliding over his shoulders. "Mmm, don't start with that dirty talk."

"We're like chocolate and peanut butter."

"Unless someone's allergic."

"We're like–" He's running out of ideas. "We're like bread and whatever you put between it for a sandwich."

"Oh wow, that's sexy."

He drops a kiss on edge of her jaw. "It's the yeast I could do."

"Oh my God, that's the worst joke I've ever heard," she groans, pushing at his chest. "That's it, you're banned from the bakery."

"Oh, really?"

"Yeah, you– mmph."

He swoops in again to kiss her again. And this time it's long and slow, the kind of drugging, hot, overpowering kiss that makes him want to stumble back to the bedroom with her and spend all night finding out how she tastes.

She finally pulls back, her eyes fluttering open, her lips full and pink and curving in a smile. And when she finally speaks, it's breathless. "Goodnight, Tim."

He steals one last kiss. "See you tomorrow."

Tim waves one last time as her little orange car vanishes around the corner, and finally looks down at Kojo. "Yeah, she's pretty great, isn't she, boy?"

He'll text later to make sure she got home safely. And then tomorrow morning, well. He's definitely going to need coffee.

He might even get a cinnamon roll.