Thursday, December 19, 2013


Hi, Tracie & readers! So glad I could drop in and share a cup of Christmas cheer with all of you. One thing I’ll tell you, though, is that after 19 days of blog hopping, I am really tired of talking about myself. [Laughs.] That’s why I decided to interview one of my characters for you guys today instead. Kate Adams is the young lady in question, and I thought I’d ask her a few Christmas-themed questions in keeping with the spirit of the season. Here’s what Kate had to say…
[Lights come up. KAREN and KATE sit opposite each other in leather wingback chairs in a home library. A very small PUG is draped across KATE’S lap, sleeping. KATE pets PUG throughout the scene.]

Karen: So, let’s start off with your favorite Christmas movie, Kate.
Kate: (enthusiastically) :  Oh, that’s an easy one. Holiday Inn, with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. It’s elegant and charming—almost like visiting some magical getaway, where everyone is an old friend and no one is a stranger. And what could be dreamier than “White Christmas” sung by the ol’ Bingster, right?

Karen: [Chuckles.] I guess that answers my next question, which is what’s your favorite Christmas song? But what about this one:  if there was one Christmas song that you could wipe off the face of the Earth, what would it be?
Kate:  Ugh! “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” It was funny the first time, but after that…not so much. Pardon me while I gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon.
Karen: Oh, I love that song! [Sings.] “Grandma got run over by a reindeer, walking home from our house…”
[KATE glares at KAREN with the death-stare of some God-forsaken soul being tortured by an endless reading of Vogon poetry.]
Um, okay…moving on then. [Looks down at notebook.] Christmas treat you can’t resist?
Kate (mollified):  Well, I’m a sucker for peppermint bark and peppermint ice cream—really, anything with peppermint in it. My mom makes the best Christmas treats on Earth, though. Just ask Mitch. Mom’s something of a cheesecake maven. She makes an absolutely ridiculous eggnog cheesecake with gingerbread crust and crushed peppermint on the top. The whole thing is drizzled in white chocolate, decorated with those red and green sugared gumdrops, and whip-creamed within an inch of its life. It sounds revolting, but it’s actually quite sublime. Goes perfect with a mug of hot buttered rum, too.

Karen: That does sound good! You must be really looking forward to getting home for that this year. What else are you looking forward to this Christmas, if you don’t mind me asking?
Kate: Ooh, that’s a good one. I’ve got a new boyfriend this year, so it’s always exciting to do things together as a couple that first Christmas. You know, drive around and see the lights, go ice skating—that kind of thing. Of course, I also have this long-standing tradition with my friend Mitch. Every year, we go to the Chester Historical Village and strap on the feed bag for their Holiday dinner at the Inn. It’s just decadent, omigod. Then we wander around and enjoy the sights and sounds in the Village. Christmas carolers in Victorian costumes, a reading of “The Night Before Christmas”…they even have chestnuts roasting on an open fire, literally. We’ve been going for nine years now, and it’s one of my favorite nights of the year. 

Karen: Nice. So if that’s your Christmas Present, let’s imagine your Christmas Future. If you were visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, what would you hope to see?
Kate: [smiles softly, petting PUG and looking into the distance dreamily]  Me, cuddled up with my sweetie under the down comforter on the couch, watching old movies and drinking hot cocoa with just a tipple of butterscotch schnapps. Maybe there’s even a rugrat or two already asleep, doin’ the dancing sugarplums thing in their dreams. [Aside:] That’s a few years down the road of course. [Shakes head and returns to daydream already in progress.] Anyhoo…the fireplace is crackling with a low, glowing warmth, and the stockings are stuffed full of goodies to be opened on the morrow, Christmas morn. The whole place is lit up with the sparkle of Christmas lights, and there’s a live tree in the corner, draped with silver tinsel, ropes of popcorn and cranberries, and all of the old-time ornaments we’ve collected together over the years. It’s so beautiful…

[Lights fade.]

Author Bio:

Karen E. Martin, M.Ed. is a full-time freelance writer/editor. She has been in the publishing business since 2004, working on books and publications for major and independent publishers, universities, businesses, and private individuals. Prior to entering the field of publishing, Ms. Martin worked as a Senior EFL Fellow (English as a Foreign Language) for the U.S. Department of State in Romania, a Junior EFL Fellow for the U.S. Department of State in Jordan, and a teacher-trainer for the U.S Peace Corps in Mauritania, Jordan, Romania, and Morocco. Ms. Martin served as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years, teaching English in the Errachidia Province of Morocco. This is Ms. Martin’s first novel.

Book Blurb:

Kate Adams has it all figured out. Five years out of college, she’s got a steady job, a home she loves in the big city, and good friends who always keep her laughing:  her stylish but nosy roommate Evette, happily-married Cecie, and of course, good old Mitch, her seriously cute co-worker who’s been stuck in the Friend Zone since the day they met.

Everything is going just fine—until the night Kate crosses the line with Mitch, and the boundaries between friendship and love begin to blur. Things get even more complicated when hunky JP enters the scene. What’s a girl to do? Add to the mix a spunky little pug Kate never expected to fall for, and her neatly-ordered life is starting to look more like a dog’s dinner.  Maybe her roommate has the right idea after all:  forget the men, and stick with a canine companion instead.

It’s time for Kate to figure out what she really wants in life. But can she dig her way out of the mess she’s created before she ends up permanently in the doghouse?

Buy Modogamous


Connect with Karen Martin

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013


There’s no denying that I love the holiday season, and the undercurrent of excitement that passes from person to person in New York City, with each transaction at the deli or hand offered when exiting a city bus. It’s easy to take my beloved city for granted, since it’s my home and the backdrop for daily school runs and trips to the dry cleaner. But when I have guests, especially during the Christmas season, it allows me to see the city again with innocent eyes. 

Once again I feel the fizz of living within walking distance of Rockefeller Center with its monumental tree festooned in red and gold ribbons. I walk out-of-towners through Macy’s, making sure to take a ride on the old wooden-slatted escalators, and a peek at Santa so we can pretend we’re in the movie Miracle on 34th Street. And I love watching the ice skaters on the rink at Bryant Park, gliding to the music amidst the stalls peddling handmade holiday gifts, as we sip hot cider and cocoa.

After long days of walking in the chill air, I enjoy treating my guests to a homey dinner, as an antidote to the rich and exotic restaurant fare the Big Apple offers. Most guests will have sampled sweets and desserts ranging from cherry blintzes at the Edison CafĂ©, to Junior’s cheesecake, to Crack Pie from Momofuku, so I like to make savory dishes during the holidays. 

Here are a few of my wintertime favorites that I hope will help warm up your kitchen, your spirit, and your guests.

Minted Mashed Carrots

Winter is the time for comforting foods, the sturdy ones that stick to your ribs. I love root vegetables — carrots in particular — for checking that box. This cheerily bright side dish is homey, while popping as not-your-every-day fare. The tangy citrus harmonizes with the herbal mint, making this mash perfect for serving alongside savory meats with rich gravies. 

This recipe was inspired by one developed in the Fine Cooking “Fakesgiving” trial run cooking marathon in which cooks make as many Thanksgiving sides as they possibly can. It certainly holds its own on a table with a turkey dinner, or why not serve it as a complement to gamey venison steaks or rich Moroccan-spiced lamb meatballs.

Makes 4 Generous Servings

2 pounds / 900 grams carrots, peeled and cut into small chunks (about 1 inch / 2 1/2 centimeters)
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons whipping cream or double cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, set over high heat, combine the carrots with enough cold water to cover by about 1 inch / 2 1/2 centimeters.  Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the carrots are fork tender, about 30 minutes.

Transfer the carrots to a colander and drain, allowing them to rest.

In the same saucepan, set over low heat, combine the remaining salt, oil, cream, butter, mint, lemon zest, orange juice, and pepper, and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts and the ingredients combine.

Return the carrots to the pan with the oil and butter mixture and mash with a potato masher. Serve immediately.

Store in the refrigerator in a tightly lidded container for up to 3 days.

Winter Turkey and Barley Soup

The holiday season is the time for roast dinners, and in my house, not many nights pass without chicken or turkey on the menu. Every bit as warming and as satisfying as  roast fowl, is a winter soup. And it’s the perfect dish to make with the leftovers from a Sunday lunch. It’ll fill your belly, soothe your soul, and ward off seasonal colds.

For the Stock:

Leftovers from a roast chicken or turkey
1 large white or yellow onion
1 head garlic
1 bay leaf

Using your hands, pick all the nice bits of chicken or turkey off of the carcass of a leftover roast, put it in a bowl, and set it in the refrigerator.

In a large stock pot, cover the bones, skin, and remaining meat, and cover with cold water by about 1 inch / 2.5 centimeters. Set the pot over high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium-low, and simmer covered for 30 minutes. 

Remove the lid, and reduce the heat to low,  and simmer for another 30 minutes to an hour, or until the liquid has reduced by half.

Strain, and let stand for half an hour. Using a large, wide spoon, skim the fat and film from the surface. Use immediately to make soup, or store in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

For the Soup:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound / 225 grams celery, ribbed if necessary, and chopped finely
1/2 pound / 225 grams carrots, peeled and sliced

1 medium leek, cleaned and sliced

1.2 lt/2 pt chicken stock (see box)

3 ounces / 80 grams / 1/2 cup pearl barley

8 ounces / 225 grams cooked chicken or turkey, chopped coarsely
6 ounces / 175 grams potatoes, cooked until tender, then chopped
(more or less, from one medium to large potato)
6 ounces / 175 grams cooked sweet peas, cooked until tender
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice

In a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot set over medium heat, warm the oil, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and leek, then saute for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables just begin to get tender. Add the stock, pearl barley, chicken and potatoes and season well.
Increase the heat to high, and stirring constantly, bring the soup to a high simmer, stopping just before the boil.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the barley, celery and carrots are tender. Stir in the cooked vegetables, return to the boil and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper. 

Store in a tightly-lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Endive Spoons, with Cheese, Fruit, and Nuts

I love this appetizer for its elegance as much as its simplicity. Easy to make, this pretty hors d’oeuvres makes a splash served at the table or passed during the cocktail hour.

The palate of this dish is genius: The bitterness of the endive, the sweetness of the pears and figs, the tang of the blue cheese and lemon, and the depth of the nuts combine to make each mouthful a mini-meal. And as far as holiday snacks go, this one offers health as well as flavor!

2 ounces / 50 grams goat cheese
16 leaves of Belgian endive (from 2 or 3 small heads), leaves separated, washed thoroughly and patted dry
2 large, ripe Bartlett pears, cored and sliced thinly (peel left on)
4 ounces / 100 grams dried figs, pitted and quartered
2 ounces / 50 grams gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
2 ounces / 50 grams walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 small lemon, halved and seeded

Lay the endive leaves out flat on a large platter, and spread a thin layer of goat cheese on each. Lay a pear slice onto each and press down firmly. Dot the tops of the pears with pieces of fig, then divide the gorgonzola, and walnuts over the tops. 

Squeeze lemon juice lightly over all of the hors d’oeuvres, plate on a decorative tray, and serve immediately. Store in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Author Bio

HarperImpulse novelist Lynn Marie Hulsman's varied employment background includes stints as a copywriter for a direct marketing agency specializing in casino advertising (Free buffets! Loose slots!), ushering at Manhattan Theatre Club where she ran smack into Steve Martin's chest, irritated Jeremy Irons's agent, and saw John Slattery naked over 50 times, editing materials for major pharmaceutical companies (Ask her anything about the prostate: She knows.), creatively ideating to re-brand major household products for huge corporations, and passing out cheese cube samples (a decided low point). As a performer she's been seen onstage at Caroline's, Stand Up New York, and headlining with her sketch group Hits Like a Girl at The Big Stinkin' Comedy Festival in Austin,TX. She can't tell you what she's ghost written (obv!) but she's co-written two books on cookery, and is sole author of the forthcoming cookbook The Kentucky Bourbon Dessert Cookbook. She does not believe in white chocolate.

Book Blurb: 

Need a fun, festive treat to warm you up on cold winter nights? Don't miss this terrific debut from a witty new voice in romantic comedy!

When Juliet Hill unwittingly discovers a most-definitely-not-hers-rhinestone-studded lace thong in her high-flying lawyer boyfriend's apartment, this usually feisty chef is suddenly single and facing a very blue Christmas - with only a ready meal for one to keep her company!

So when she's personally requested to cater for the family at Thornton Hall three days before Christmas, it's not long before Juliet's standing at the (back) door of the impossibly grand ancestral pile.

The halls are decked, the guests are titled, those below the stairs are delightfully catty, and all-American Juliet sets to work cooking up a glorious British Christmas with all the trimmings.

But other flames are burning besides those on the stove... Sparks fly with Edward, the gorgeous ex-soldier turned resident chef, and are those sidelong looks Juliet's getting from her boss, the American tycoon Jasper Roth?

As the snow starts to fall on the idyllic Cotswolds countryside, so does the veneer of genteel high society and there are more than a few ancient skeletons rattling out of the Hall's numerous dark cupboards!

CHRISTMAS AT THORNTON HALL is a country house romance for the modern age, a must-read for fans of the scandals and drama of Downton Abbey and the charm and wit of Helen Fielding.

Buy Christmas at Thornton Hall

Connect with Lynn Marie Hulsman

Friday, December 13, 2013


Hello from atop the London Eye!

As an ice-breaker to each leg of my Blog Tour for UNDRESSING MR. DARCY, I’m taking you along for a ride to England, where I traveled during the summer of 2012 to do some research for the book. 

Where am I on this stop? In London, looking out over the city from the Eye. A key scene takes place in the London Eye in my new book UNDRESSING MR. DARCY. Oh my gosh, I had soooo much fun with that scene. You’ll have to read it for yourself to see why! ;) I’ve included some other fun shots from London here for you too, including the famous Mind the Gap warnings painted onto the Tube station platforms and, a reprise of me with the waxen Colin Firth in Madame Tussauds, because I figured Tracie’s readers would like that shot. As you can tell, doing all the research for my book was hard work, ha ha ha! 

Thank you, Tracie, for hosting me here on Books by Banister…it’s great to be here with you! I’m so glad the title UNDRESSING MR. DARCY caught your attention!

So, what’s the deal with this UNDRESSING thing?

Imagine a history lesson where you watch a very handsome Regency gentleman lecture about his clothing as he proceeds to take it off—down to his drawers. This is the premise of UNDRESSING MR. DARCY!

As I was researching male clothing for my first novel, DEFINITELY NOT MR. DARCY, I stumbled across an English website called The History Wardrobe and they had a show called Undressing Mr. Darcy in which a man disrobed while a woman lectured about his clothing. The show is no longer staged, unfortunately, but I have learned that there is a Dressing Mr. Darcy show in Louisville at the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Jane Austen Festival in the summer.

It wasn’t long after learning about the show Undressing Mr. Darcy that I came up with:

He’s an old-fashioned, hardcover book reader who writes in quill pen and hails from England. She’s an American social media addict. Can he find his way to her heart without so much as a GPS? 

Just to give you a taste, here’s the very end of the first chapter. My heroine, Vanessa Roberts, is standing at the airport, waiting for “Mr. Darcy” aka Julian Chancellor, in the crowd with her aunt and another young woman she’d just met:


Vanessa turned her attention back to her aunt. But the young woman and Aunt Ella weren’t looking at her. They were beaming at a tall, dangerously good-looking man on the other side of the rope wearing a formfitting Regency tailcoat, cravat, buff breeches, and black riding boots. He had an antique, leather-bound book tucked under his arm and didn’t carry suitcases but toted old leather trunks—leather trunks on a wheeled cart? A tumble of black hair spilled onto his forehead. 

How could he look so much better in person than in his author photo? She made a mental note to update that shot—it would increase their crowds. Pleased with his looks (for marketing purposes, of course), Vanessa cleared her throat, as if to clear her mind.

He wore his Mr. Darcy garb on the plane? Then she found herself trying not to notice the slight tug of his breeches, the snug way they fit him

Huh? He was a client, after all, regardless of whether he was paying her or not.

Even if he had been a prospect, she preferred a man in a well-tailored Italian suit or blue jeans and a button-down shirt, didn’t she? What woman, at thirty-five years old, with a condo, her own business, family ties, and a thing for modern American amenities, would consider a man from another continent—not to mention the nineteenth century? She didn’t understand it.

And, let’s face it, Mr. Darcy’s skill set—chiefly, diving into a pond in his shirtsleeves—would get him nowhere in today’s job market.

“Miss Ella Morgan and Miss Vanessa Roberts, I presume?” he asked in a bass-range voice that needed no emoticons to get attention. Then he bowed. 

He was none other than a very official-looking Mr. Darcy. On the big-screen TV above him, a bomb exploded on the news, and when Vanessa tucked her long brown hair behind her ear, her earbud popped right out.

End of Excerpt

Well, Books by Banister readers, what do you think? By the way, since I’m a huge Benedict Cumberbatch fan, I thought you might want to know that while in London I strayed off the Jane Austen trail to visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum! It was fabulous & a must-see if you’re a Sherlock fan. Sherlock’s home has actually been recreated with all details intact, as if he and Watson just stepped out on a case. The Sherlock Museum is where this pic of me with a “constable” was taken! Lots of photo ops in London!

Thanks for having me here, Tracie!

Buy now at Berkley PenguinIndiebound - AmazonB&NKobo BAM - iTunes


Comment below for your chance to win a copy of UNDRESSING MR. DARCY! Have you ever been to London? Whether you have or not, where would you most want to visit? To increase your chances of winning you can share this post on your Facebook page or Twitter—let us know you’ve done that! You can also increase your odds by following me on Twitter or Facebook, or, if you’re not already, following Tracie on her social media—don’t forget to let us know about it in your comment, thanks! Contest limited to US entrants only.

Karen is generously giving away TWO paperback copies of UNDRESSING MR. DARCY! Entries can be submitted until midnight on Thursday, December 19th. Please leave your name and e-mail address in the comments so that we have a way to contact you should you win!

Mr. Darcy’s Stripping Off…

…his signet ring. At each blog stop Mr. Darcy will strip off another item. Keep track of each item in chronological order and at then end of the tour you can enter to win a GRAND PRIZE of the book, “DO NOT DISTURB I’m Undressing Mr. Darcy” door hangers for you and your friends, tea, and a bottle of wine (assuming I can legally ship it to your state). US entries only, please. 

Karen Doornebos is the author of UNDRESSING MR. DARCY published by Berkley, Penguin and available here or at your favorite bookstore. Her first novel, DEFINITELY NOT MR. DARCY, has been published in three countries and was granted a starred review by Publisher’s Weekly. Karen lived and worked in London for a short time, but is now happy just being a lifelong member of the Jane Austen Society of North America and living in the Chicagoland area with her husband, two teenagers and various pets—including a bird. Speaking of birds, follow her on Twitter and Facebook! She hopes to see you there, on her website and her group blog Austen Authors.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013


A Family Christmas Bake Off
by Jenny Oliver

There’s a myth in my family. No one knows where it started or who’s responsible but it exists none the less. What is it? That no one likes Christmas cake. You know - the proper type packed with fruit, laced with alcohol, wrapped in marzipan and thick white icing and decorated with a red bow or a sprig of holly. Growing up we never had one in our house. But ask any individual member of the family who it is that has such an aversion, and no one can quite remember. It’s a mystery. But one that has given us a whole host of other delights...

At Christmas my grandmother would bring with her a battered metal box that would sit on the kitchen table teasing us with the treats inside. And it wasn’t till dessert on Christmas Eve that the lid was lifted. Inside were the biggest, fluffiest meringues - crisp and crunchy on the outside and gooey and soft on the inside, served with mounds of whipped cream and raspberry coulis. I’ll confess, I’ve never had the guts to make a meringue - possibly because I have watched both my grandmother and my mum bake endless rounds of them, watching through the oven door shaking their heads because they’re too brown, they’re oozing sugar, the oven’s too hot, too cold, they’re ruined! The meringue is a mystery of science, temperature and texture to me. Luckily however, the bakers in The Parisian Christmas Bake Off had slightly more guts when it came to piping out meringue mixture than I do!

It wasn’t until I came to writing the book that I realised quite how much baking and creating I had been privy to growing up. From my home economics lessons plaiting tiny loaves of bread, that we ate when no one was watching and all got detention, to my sister making thick, chocolatey fudge when she got bored and only Columbo was on the TV. My granny pouring chocolate into silver moulds to make Christmas decorations shaped like Santa and snowmen and my aunt wrapping tiny spoonfuls of feta with the thinnest filo pastry to make cheese pies that burst and cracked in the oven.

I would watch and taste and stir and to me it was the preparation that was the best bit... the endless cups of tea, the gossip, the arguments, the reminiscing, the fuzzy old black and white TV that never got any reception crackling in the background. And at Christmas that only got better because added to the hustle and bustle was a massive great Christmas tree and a terrible old tape of Christmas chart-toppers that had survived many a chewing-up by the stereo.

For The Parisian Bake Off every single cake, tart, dessert we’d ever made appeared on the page - and then some! Apart from the macaroon. These I adore but I worry that attempting to recreate them at home might spoil the magic. They’re so tiny, bright and delicate I want them to appear in the world ready-made! But everything else, well, I either spied it through the counter of the local patisserie on our summer holiday to France or it came out of my family kitchen - even down to the tiny chocolate cakes iced into the shape of a house and roofed with chocolate buttons and a flake (Blogger's note - A "flake" is a chocolate bar.)

Because, as I say, when it comes to Christmas cake, it’s never fruit. My sister’s wedding cake was passion cake, my wedding cake was a torte, and at Christmas it’s always, without fail, chocolate. Three tiers high, sandwiched together with chocolate icing and always the same recipe. I asked my mum to photograph it and send it over just so you could see how well used it is! (There’s no cover on the cookbook any longer but consensus is that it’s called “The Homepride Book of Home Baking.”) Everyone must have a recipe like this in their family. And, while it’s not the fanciest recipe in the world, I swear it’s the easiest! Everything just goes in one bowl at the same time and then you whack it in the oven - it can’t fail. Just remember if you want to make a house with it, you have to triple the ingredients...depending on how flashy you want your house to be!

And by a stroke of luck, while the fruit cake myth rumbles on back at my parents’ house, it turns out that my mother-in-law bakes a batch of them every year for each of her kids. So now, I get to have both my cakes and eat them!

Merry Christmas, Jen xx

Author Bio 

Jenny Oliver wrote her first book on holiday when she was ten years old. Illustrated with cut-out supermodels from her sister’s Vogue, it was an epic, sweeping love story not so loosely based on Dynasty. Since then Jenny has gone on to get an English degree, a Masters, and a job in publishing that’s taught her what it takes to write a novel (without the help of the supermodels). She wrote The Parisian Christmas Bake Off on the beach in a sea-soaked, sand-covered notebook. This time the inspiration was her addiction to macaroons, the belief she can cook them and an all-consuming love of Christmas. When the decorations go up in October, that’s fine with her! 

Buy The Parisian Christmas Bake Off



Connect with Jenny Oliver

Friday, December 6, 2013


The author interviews her hero, Lord Edward, halfway through the story of Doubting Abbey

‘Hello Lord Edward. Very nice to meet you!’ Yum! I blush.

‘Good morning – and thank you for this opportunity, to talk about beloved Applebridge Hall.’ Edward runs a hand through his honey curls. ‘Promotion isn’t something that comes naturally to me - but needs must. Please, do start your interview.’

The author visits Lyme Park in Cheshire – all in the name of research about brooding heroes and aristocratic estates, of course! 

If I can concentrate with this hunk in front of me, yes… ‘So, your cousin Abbey lives here at Applebridge, now - temporarily. Is she, um, exactly what you expected?

‘Yes, of course, I mean…’ He won’t meet my eye, clearly guilty at having to pretend they were best mates when they’d only met each other once,  growing up. ‘I do know her very well… We are a terribly close family. And apart from the occasional unexpected outburst she is everything a strong Croxley woman should be –although granted, her behaviour is less… restrained than I, um, remember.’

I nod. Blimey. He did it. Upstanding Lord Edward managed a fib. Although little did he know that the ‘Abbey’ staying with him now was actually a pizza waitress – Gemma - in disguise. In fact talking of her…

‘And what about the girl with the red hair and high shoes that you met in the gardens, the other night?’ Oh yes, flighty Gemma bumped into him, when she was out of her Abbey disguise.

‘You know about that?’ For a second the serious fog around him lifts and light dances in his eyes. Edward chuckles. ‘Gemma is… is a beam of honesty, directness and… f…fun.’

I lean forward. ‘You seem to have trouble saying that f word.’

His brow goes back to its default setting: a frown. ‘I do. What with the last few years filled with worry about not letting our ancestors down… Applebridge Hall is seeped in history… Father and I don’t want to be the Croxleys who see the place go to rack and ruin. Fun doesn’t picture much in the daily routine, I’m afraid.’

His shoulders sag and I just want to put my arms around him and… *sigh*. ‘But it wouldn’t be your fault – many estates struggle nowadays,’ I say softly.

No trace of light in his eyes now, Edward sits up taller. ‘It’s my responsibility to protect the Croxley home and its history – and I’ll do everything in my power to achieve that.’ He shook himself. ‘There’s no point complaining. One must strive to be a glass half-full sort of person. I have to believe that, with Abbey’s help, Applebridge Hall will win reality show Million Dollar Mansion and thus secure its financial future.’

I nod, a lump in my throat at the stoic determination in his tone. ‘Well, I um, won’t keep you any longer. Thank you for your time.’ I smile.

Lord Edward leans forward and shakes my hand. ‘Many thanks, Samantha.’

Heart racing, I manage to remain composed until he leaves the room. Wow! His touch sent a bolt of electricity right through my fingers. Despite his uptight nature and conservative clothes, Edward, baby, is one hot guy…!

Sadly, Lord Edward did NOT re-enact the infamous 'Darcy emerges from a swim in the lake in a wet, clingy shirt' scene when Samantha met with him.

Book Blurb 

Swapping downstairs for upstairs… How hard can it be!?

Look up the phrase ordinary girl and you’ll see a picture of me, Gemma Goodwin – I only look half-decent after applying the entire contents of my make-up bag, and my dating track-record includes a man who treated me to dinner…at a kebab shop. No joke!

The only extraordinary thing about me is that I look EXACTLY like my BFF, Abbey Croxley. Oh, and that for reasons I can’t explain, I’ve agreed to swap identities and pretend be her to star in the TV show about her aristocratic family’s country estate, Million Dollar Mansion.

So now it’s not just my tan I’m faking – it’s Kate Middleton style demure hemlines and lady-like manners too. And amongst the hundreds of fusty etiquette rules I’m trying to cram into my head, there are two I really must remember; 1) No-one can ever find out that I’m just Gemma, who’d be more at home in the servants quarters. And 2) There can be absolutely no flirting with Abbey’s dishy but buttoned-up cousin, Lord Edward.

Aaargh, this is going to be harder than I thought…

Author Bio

Samantha lives in north-west England with her lovely family and two cats who think they are dogs. Along with writing, her days are spent swimming, willing cakes to rise and avoiding housework. A love of fiction developed as a child, when she was known for reading Enid Blyton books in the bath. A desire to write bubbled away in the background whilst she pursued other careers, including a fun stint working at the EuroDisney theme park. Formally trained as a linguist, Samantha now likes nothing more than holing herself up in the spare room, in front of the keyboard. Writing romantic comedy novels and short stories is her passion.

Samantha has sold over 80 short stories to women's magazines.

Her debut romantic comedy novel, "Doubting Abbey" is out now, from digital-first imprint CarinaUK, (Harlequin).

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