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

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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