Be Warned: These are the scribblings of a writer unruly, unsupervised, and largely unrepentant

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Well, she is finally out in the world! It always seems like such a long wait from writing the last word in a manuscript until the big release day. And then, after all the build up, that wretched nervous feeling comes over me. What if no one likes it?
The best I can do - and I tell myself this every time - is write something that I love and then I just have to hope others like it too. After all, if I'm not writing something I love, what's the point?
As the first reviews come in for MISS MOLLY ROBBINS DESIGNS A SEDUCTION, I'm relieved to know I brought some entertainment and pleasure to readers. It makes the long hours scrabbling over a laptop, poring over research books and pondering out of the window with a glazed, silly look on my face, all worthwhile. It makes those hours of writing madly, squeezed tightly around working the "real" job, finally make sense to those who know me and have to put up with my anti-social nature.
People like my book! They like the characters that I fell in love with as I wrote about them.
Phew! Because you never know.
As I've said before, it's like sending a child off to school for the first time. I'm excited and yet I'm anxious. Will they make friends? Will they be bullied and come home with gum in their hair and dirty footprints on the back of their coat? You can love someone or something with all your heart, but there is no guarantee that others will feel the same.
So as I celebrate the release of the last book in the Sydney Dovedale series, I want to thank all my readers for their lovely reviews - and for befriending my little Molly "Mouse". Sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for picking up my book, taking the time to read it, and leaving a review!


If you'd like to win a copy of MISS MOLLY ROBBINS DESIGNS A SEDUCTION please leave a comment below.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cooking the Books - Part Four

And finally we come to MISS MOLLY ROBBINS DESIGNS A SEDUCTION, the fourth and final book in the Sydney Dovedale series. For this, my sister chose Creamy Au Gratin Potatoes, a dish that makes something rich and extra-special out of the humble potato. I think Molly Robbins, plain country girl turned successful Modiste, could certainly appreciate this dish!

Creamy Au Gratin Potatoes

1 garlic clove
1.2 kg potatoes - peeled
250 ml (1 cup) thickened cream
3 cups shredded Swiss cheese
Salt and pepper
2 tbs chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 160 degrees c. Lightly grease an 8-cup baking dish. Thinly slice potatoes.

Arrange potato slices in base of dish, slightly overlapping. Drizzle cream over the layer and sprinkle with some of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper and garlic. Make three more layers the same way, finishing with cheese.

Bake for 1 - 11/4 hours, or until potatoes are tender and top is golden brown. Set aside for ten minutes to stand. Sprinkle with parsley.

Excerpt from MISS MOLLY ROBBINS DESIGNS A SEDUCTION (release date  - this Tuesday, February 4th, 2014)

“Thank you for the flowers,” she blurted before he could even speak. It had been burning there on her tongue, her heart wracked with guilt for not acknowledging the unexpected thoughtfulness of his gift.

He seemed to be studying the charcoal she held in her fingers. Slowly his dark gaze lifted to her face. “Do you have my handkerchief? The one I lent you when I stole cake for you, madam?”

“No,” she answered so swiftly it took her breath away. “I lost it.” He wasn’t getting it back she decided in the blink of an eye. Besides, he had many handkerchiefs. Why would he need one back? It was all she had of him.

“I see. How careless of you.”

“If I find it, I’ll return it, your lordship.” Oh, such a filthy liar she had become.

He half turned away and then back again. “By the by, you made a mistake on that contract, Mouse.”

She squinted. “I don’t think I—”

“Tomfoolery. You should have checked the spelling.”


Towering over her in the doorway, he had to bend his head or else hit his brow on the crooked lintel. “Since it is spelled incorrectly, that makes the clause null and void.”

“I’m quite certain a word misspelled is not enough to—”

“You may confer with a man of the law, of course, if you don’t believe me.” He glared down at her, the challenge clear in his fierce expression. “Ask Hobbs.”

Naturally. Ask his faithful minion to confirm. Why not? “You came back just to tell me this?”

“I did.”

“It seems a dreadful waste of your time, when you must have more important matters to tend.” Her heart was overexcited, racing too fast.

“How I waste my time is up to me, Miss Robbins.”

“I suppose so. You must be very good at it by now.”

His eyes widened. “And there was nothing more pressing at this moment than correcting you.” A warm, teasing light simmered in his lightened gaze. “And your addlepated contract.”

“An addlepated contract you signed.”

“Under duress.”

Slightly breathless, she laughed. “Duress?”

“It was early. I was unprepared.” He propped his shoulder against her doorframe. “As you knew I would be.”

She felt easy in his presence suddenly. It should have been odd and uncomfortable to have him there, leaning in her doorway, but she was no longer his servant, was she? She was Miss Margaret Robbins, her own woman. Lady Anne, who had never known the old Molly, called her “bold.” She had her own life now and could do as she pleased. So she pondered the hard set of his jaw and said, “You didn’t shave today. Your lordship.”

“Well observed, Mouse.”

“Lady Mercy would be appalled.”

“Lady Mercy is not here.”

Alas. None of this would be happening if she was. Molly would not be commenting on the state of his chin scruff, and Carver would not be visiting her lodgings in the dark of night if his sister was present to prevent it.

“Well, I just wanted to point out your spelling error, Mouse. While it was in the forefront of my mind.”

“Sakes, yes. We know how briefly thoughts remain there.”

He scratched his cheek, and she knew the little hairs must be itching. She’d bet five pounds it was all shaved smooth again by morning. He made no move to leave.

“Do not burden your mind further with the idea, your lordship. I’m sure you have many other thoughts waiting for their turn.”

“You infer I can have only one at a time?”

Molly fought hard to prevent her lips curving. “You are a man, your lordship.”

He shook his head. “I see your new success has gone to your head, Robbins. Pride comes before a fall.” Now he made a small movement that suggested he was ready to depart again.

“Speaking of falls, did Larkin get the grass stains out of your breeches?” she asked hurriedly.

Carver relaxed against the doorframe once more. “He did.”


“Your concern for my breeches is misplaced.” His eyes lightened even further, distinctly mischievous. “The knees beneath them were more severely wounded.”

She looked down at the items in question. “One should take greater care when one goes out riding, especially in advanced years.”

“And young maids,” he replied swiftly, “should take better care with their spelling.”

Pushing away from the doorframe, he took the charcoal from between her fingers, turned her hand over, and began to write on her palm.


She couldn’t breathe suddenly. His gloved hand holding hers was firm, steady. She prayed to all the saints that he would not feel her tremble, but surely he must. The Earl of Everscham was holding her hand. Holding her hand. The charcoal tickled across her palm, the lines already smudged by unladylike perspiration.


Molly knew she ought to pull her hand away and stop him at once, but if she didn’t let him keep her hand, where else might he write his letters? She feared to imagine.

“R…Y. There. Now you know how to spell it, Mouse.”

She glanced down at the word with which he’d marked her skin in giant letters. Unable to get them all on her small palm in one line, he’d made three-and-a-half lines, some of the letters riding up her wrist. With his free hand, he turned her chin up to face him.

“And now, just so we are clear about the definition too…”

It seemed to take forever for his lips to reach her. His height, of course, necessitated a low stoop. Molly had plenty of time to avoid his mouth, more than enough time to know his intention. But she tipped her head back, and her lips met his.

She closed her eyes. His fingertips stroked along her jaw and down the side of her neck, where he would feel her hectic pulse fluttering. His firm lips took that kiss from her ruthlessly, as if he expected a fight but meant to have what he wanted regardless. Stubble pricked her cheek, chafed slightly. His tongue delved into her mouth, tasting her slowly and yet not tentatively, just exploring at his own pace, relishing what he found. His hand around her fingers tightened until she almost yelped. Would have too, if his kiss had not taken complete possession of her capacities just then.


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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cooking the Books

Today's selection - Apple Tart with Chantilly Cream to match up with LADY MERCY DANFORTHE FLIRTS WITH SCANDAL. The rustic apple tart would suit our hero Rafe Hartley and, of course, that fancy Chantilly cream symbolizes Lady Mercy.


 For the tart

200g/7oz ready-made puff pastry

2 tbsp stewed apple, or sweet apple sauce

6 apples (Cox or Granny Smith), peeled, quartered and cored

2 tbsp caster sugar

40g/1½oz butter, cubed

1 free-range egg yolk, beaten

For the Chantilly cream

250ml/9fl oz double cream

1 tbsp icing sugar

1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

2. Roll the puff pastry out on a clean work surface to a large sheet, 3mm thick.

Using a bowl or plate, cut a circle about 25cm/10in in diameter.

Crimp the edge before turning the whole sheet over and laying it directly onto a flat baking tray. Chill in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.

3. Remove the pastry from the fridge and spread the apple compĂ´te all over the base of pastry, leaving a 1cm/½in border at the edge.

4. Slice the apples the thickness of a two-pound coin and place them onto the pastry sheet, fanning them out, starting from the outside and working in. The apples should overlap each other. Use the largest slices on the outside and place the smallest slices in the middle of the tart.

5. Once all the apples have been laid out, sprinkle over the caster sugar and dot with the cubed butter. Brush the border with the beaten egg and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden-brown and risen around the edge.

6. For the Chantilly cream, whisk the cream, icing sugar and seeds from the vanilla pod in a bowl until very soft peaks form and set aside until ready to serve.


            He paced in the churchyard, hat in his hands. When Molly was half an hour late, he’d thought she must be ill or some tragedy had happened to keep her from getting to the church. But as time wore on and he saw his stepmother’s face and then his aunt’s peering fearfully at him around the corner of the chapel tower, he knew this was not the case.

            Finally, here came Mercy Fancy-Breeches Danforthe, picking her way daintily over tussocks of grass. Trust this damned woman to be in the thick of it.

            It was some time now since he’d seen her this close, but there was no avoiding each other today. Rafe readied himself, gathering the memories of all those things she’d done to him, all the pain she’d caused. It was because of this woman that Molly went off to London and developed a fancy for finer things. Molly’s experience of life in Town had been very different from his, of course. The side of London she saw was clean and shiny as a newly minted penny.

            “Well, say what you’ve come to say,” he exclaimed as Mercy drew near. “Give it to me straight. I can take my punches.”

        She looked up. “So I hear, Mr. Hartley.” A flare of bright sun lit her wretchedly pretty face, and a sharp spur of anger burned in his gut. The opinionated wench was more beautiful today than he remembered. Stunning. The sight of her sent his mind into a furi­ously spinning vortex from which it could not rescue itself. His temper traveled rapidly likewise. He supposed she was satisfied now, having ruined his wedding day. Again. Ruined his life, for the second time.

        It was five years, five months, one week, and three days since The Danforthe Brat persuaded him, in a wild moment of stupidity, to run off with her to Gretna Green. It shocked Rafe that he knew the exact number of days, for until that moment he hadn’t realized he was counting. Her brother, the Earl of Everscham, would never tolerate the match, of course. Their marriage was declared void within hours, because they were both too young and neither had consent. Good thing too, Rafe could say now with hindsight.

        Slowly she untied the ribbons of her bonnet, lingering over her message.

        “What are you waiting for?” he grunted impatiently as he shifted from foot to foot.

        Mercy slid the bonnet from her hair, and when she tipped her head to one side, another brilliant glimmer of sun caught on her curls. She squinted. “I’m sorry—”

        “I’ll bet you are.”

            He saw her straighten her shoulders and wrap her bonnet ribbons tightly around her fingers. “I may as well tell you without preamble.”

            “I’d be grateful,” he snapped. “My lady.”

            She exhaled sharply. “Molly says she can’t marry you. Not today.”

            “Does she indeed?”

            “She’s confused. Afraid. It’s just nerves.”

            Rafe looked away for a moment, curbing the instinct to curse out loud. The temperance wouldn’t last long, he knew. Good manners were never his strong point.

            “I’m sure she’ll come to—”

            “Why can’t she tell me this herself?” he demanded.

            The woman stepped closer, taking shelter under the dappled shade of a yew tree as if that might protect her, not only from the sun’s rays but from his wrath too. “It seems there is much the two of you have not discussed.”

            “What business is it of yours?”

            Even in the shade of the tree she glowed. Her buttercup-yellow gown held on to the sunlight, as did her hair. “Molly is very upset. Distraught.”

            “What the bloody hell do you think I am?”

            She nodded, her full lips pressed tight.

            Rafe wiped his brow on his jacket sleeve. “Content now, woman?”

            Her eyes widened. They were a very light shade of green, inquisitive and watchful. Like cat’s eyes, Rafe thought. He never did like cats much. “Me?” she replied. “Why should I be content? I don’t like to see my friend in tears.”

            “She’s not your friend. She’s your servant, and you tell her what to do. You never wanted her to marry me.”

        “That’s not true.” She was too steady, too calm. The superior little witch stood before him as if butter wouldn’t melt in her pouty mouth.

        Humiliation soared within Rafe. That she, of all people, took it upon herself to play messenger. She probably could barely contain her amusement. In that moment he forgot all about his own doubts and fears regarding this marriage. All he knew was that he’d been made a fool before his family and the entire village. And before this woman who already looked down on him, just because she was the daughter of an earl. Just because one of her ancestors, back in the dark ages, probably murdered and cheated his way into land and a title. That made her imagine she was above him, that her existence was somehow more worthy of life’s breath than that of the men who worked her brother’s land, the women who dressed her every morning, or the man who shoed her horses. Or him.

        The flames of a hot, tinderbox temper consumed any last sensible thought he might have had, and all the resentment he held against folk of her class came quickly to the fore. She was the symbol of everything he despised.

            Why did she have to be there? Why did she have to come with the message?
* * * *

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