Posts Tagged ‘Chocolate’

FIRST KISS=TUESDAY from SWEET SUMMER’S KISS by Debra Salonen #NEWRELEASE

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

SWEET SUMMER’S KISS

Love at the Chocolate Shop, Book 10

 Salonen2-ChocolateShop-Debra-Salonen

A storybook kiss on New Year’s Eve at the Big Sky Mavericks Masked Ball in Marietta, Montana should have been the beginning of a grand romance for Gretchen Zabrinski and Daniel Andrews. But when Gretchen overhears a phone call from Daniel to his brother about what he really wants from a woman, she takes off…without leaving so much as a glass slipper behind.

Daniel wants a family. Gretchen will never be able to give him that. So why does fate keep throwing them together so cruelly? First, at a Copper Mountain Chocolate Shop Speed Dating event, then when he’s hired to open a new division at her PR firm. But competing, shoulder-to-shoulder, to sell the most exotic chocolate kisses for charity really is the last straw.

Is love a cosmic connection or a karmic joke? Sometimes, the answer reveals itself in a kiss—a sweet kiss shared beneath a warm Montana summer sky. 

~~~

FIRST KISS snippet © Tule Publishing

“How did you become such a wonderful dancer?”

“Lessons. My parents are both teachers. They don’t believe in leaving anything to chance—and given my father’s terrible lack of rhythm, Mom refused to inflict that on any woman in case two left feet was a dominant gene.”

“Please tell her I owe her a debt of gratitude.”

“You can tell her yourself. Dad called this morning. They’re starting home in the morning. My sister is ready to deal with her new reality alone. She might move back to Montana at some point, but for now, she doesn’t want to uproot the kids on top of adjusting to losing their dad.”

He’d alluded to a sad mystery surrounding his late brother-in-law’s death, but there were too many getting-to-know-each-other topics to get into any one conversation too deeply. Including her reason for dropping out of college and moving to Montana.

That would come out later. After the music ended. After the countdown began. After their kiss. After a night of unimaginable bliss in each other’s arms.

She crossed her fingers and stopped thinking. Tonight was about feeling. About taking risks and experiencing life to the fullest.

Moments later, the DJ played an Ed Sheeran song Makayla had shared with her earlier that week. Perfect. A shiver ran down the length of her spine.

She’d immediately downloaded the song and added the video to her playlist. She imagined the love story he sang about was her love story—the one that never happened. She squeezed her eyes tight, wishing she still wore a mask.

Daniel’s hold tightened a tiny bit, then he kissed a bare spot where her neck and shoulder met. “Nice song. I’ve never heard it before, but you truly do look perfect tonight.”

She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Thank you. I love my Cinderella dress. Krista’s sister has great taste.” He pulled back, a questioning look in his eyes. Did he think she was pretending to show false modesty or fishing for compliments? She blurted out a question she’d meant to ask earlier. “So, do you always take a tux with you when you travel to a dog-sitting gig?”

“My best friend has a key to my condo. He took it to a shipper I use all the time.” He looked down. “Luckily, he remembered my Ferragamos. Dancing wouldn’t be quite the same in snow boots.”

She recognized the designer’s name even if she hadn’t recognized the brand on his feet. My first time is going to be with a guy who can afford designer shoes.

In what felt like a blink, Austen returned to the stage, carrying a large digital clock and a microphone. “We are fast approaching the bewitching hour, my friends. A new year is about to begin. On behalf of the Big Sky Mavericks Charitable Group, thank you all for coming. We promise to put your generosity to beneficial use locally, and we’ll see you next year.”

On cue, people started shouting, “Ten…nine…eight…”

Gretchen turned in Daniel’s arms so their fronts were pressed together. Reaching up, she slipped her fingers under the rim of his mask and pulled it free. They looked into each other’s eyes as what she hoped was an unspoken understanding passed between them.

She looped her arms across his shoulders and brought her face closer to his. “Two…one…Happy New Year!”

His lips were warmer than she’d expected. And softer. And when she gave a little “Oh,” his tongue slipped inside her mouth. Curious, friendly, interested. His taste was hers. His smell? Completely his own and something she’d forever identify as Daniel Andrews.

She melted against him, needing to touch as much of her body to his as possible. Gretchen wanted him to be the one. Her first. From what she’d learned about him on social media, he was a fun-loving go-getter who didn’t seem the least bit interested in settling down.

Perfect.

When it came to women, he was…um…experienced. Perhaps a bit of a player.

Works for me.

She wanted to be with someone who would treat her with gentle finesse…or maybe not-so-gentle finesse. How would she know what she liked until she tried it?

An unnatural buzzing sensation near her breast made her startle.

Daniel groaned and pulled his phone from his inside jacket pocket. “My brother. Do you mind? He and Krista are in California. Different time zone.”

“Not at all. We wouldn’t be here if not for them. Please.”

“They’re on FaceTime. With all the noise, we won’t be able to hear a thing. Oh, well.”

He touched a button. A second later, two faces appeared on the screen. Krista let out a squeal of glee. “Oh, Gretchen, you look fabulous. Show me the dress, Daniel. Show me the dress.”

Daniel rolled his eyes, but he took one step back. He lowered and raised the phone as Gretchen did a spin. Then, he pulled her in close again.

Krista blinked as if to keep away tears. “I absolutely love it. You look like a fairy-tale princess. Are you having fun?”

“It’s been magical. Daniel hired a limo, and he dances like a dream. He’s been a perfect gentleman.” Until later, I hope. She bumped her nose against his cheek. “Thank you so, so much for making this happen.”

“No thanks necessary. Jonah and I are having a wonderful time, too. We only called to wish you Happy New Year.”

Jonah squeezed in. “We’re an hour behind you, so we get to make out in public twice. But hey, Daniel, quickly, did you leave the TV on for the dogs? In case someone starts shooting off guns? You are in Marietta, Montana, after all.”

Gretchen missed Daniel’s reply when Sarah Zabrinski walked up to them. “Aunt” Sarah was Gretchen’s father’s first cousin by marriage, but because of their age difference, people forgot they were part of the same generation.

She gave Gretchen a quick hug. “You two are just the cutest couple. We really enjoyed meeting Daniel. I hope you bring him tomorrow.”

Tomorrow. Since she’d never spent the night with a man, she didn’t know what to expect from the morning after.

Gretchen made what she hoped was a noncommittal reply and waved goodbye as the crowd swept Sarah away.

She turned back to Daniel. She reached out to touch his shoulder but stopped when she heard him say in a low, confidential tone, “I never thought I’d say this, brother, but I think I just kissed the mother of my future children.”

She sucked in an involuntary gasp when a pain as sharp and gut wrenching as the one she’d felt in her doctor’s office the day he’d explained the ramifications of her diagnosis made her knees wobble. Panic hit a second later.

No. No. It’s not supposed to be like this. Tonight is mutual fun, no commitment. No future. Period. Anything else wouldn’t be fair.

Especially to Daniel.

But she couldn’t speak those words aloud because then he’d ask why…and she hadn’t said those words to anyone. Not yet.

Intent on disappearing, she turned and melted into the crowd exiting the party. She grabbed her jacket from the coatroom, grateful her tiny purse held her cell phone. Her Uber app showed one driver in her area. Three minutes later, she was on the road back to Paradise. Her sister and niece might not be expecting her, but Sam would understand. And that was all Gretchen wanted. Someone who wouldn’t ask for something she couldn’t give.

~~~

SWEET SUMMER’S KISS is available at these vendors:

AMAZON / AMAZONUK

BN / iBOOKS

 Kobo / iBooks/BN

All vendors: BOOKS2READ

 Kiss Reviews Shelagh

 

Happy reading!

Deb

FIRST KISS=TUESDAY from SWEET HOME COWBOY by Marin Thomas #NEWRELEASE

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

SWEET HOME COWBOY

Love at the Chocolate Shop, Book 9

 Sweet Home Cowboy cover

When Marietta newcomer Elena Puente is coerced into attending a speed-dating event at the popular Copper Mountain Chocolate shop, she’s blindsided by a serious attraction to local cowboy, Wesley Banks.

Still recovering from a broken engagement, the first-grade teacher from Las Vegas isn’t looking for romance. She’s in Montana to get to know the great-grandfather she never knew existed until she found some hidden family letters. Judge Kingsley is a grouchy recluse and he’s far from welcoming, but Elena is determined to stay in town long enough to give his neglected estate on Bramble Lane a facelift.

Elena’s resolve to avoid romance is tested when she discovers Wesley is the caretaker of her grandfather’s rural property. Soon, she and the cowboy are attending more speed-dating events at the chocolate shop and she’s seeking his advice on how to deal with his ornery boss. Local gossips wager the old Judge will run Elena out of town before anything serious develops between her and Wesley. But Wesley’s a determined man, too, and he’s betting Elena belongs in Marietta forever…with him.

FIRST KISS Excerpt © Marin Thomas:

             Wes pointed to the river where Elena’s bobber went under the water. “You caught a fish.” He set his pole aside. Wrapping his arms around her, he placed his hands over hers before turning the reel slowly—very slowly, savoring the feel of Elena against him.

            “Where’s the fish?” she asked. “I can’t see it.”
“Shh… It’s there.” He could stay right here in this moment with Elena all day and never tire of touching her. When he turned the reel twice more, a small trout rose out of the water.

            “I caught one!” She jerked the pole too hard, and the fish plopped into the water. “What happened?”

            “Your excitement scared him off the hook.” Wes loved staring into her eyes—blue as a clear Montana sky. Her gaze lured him closer but right when her mouth was within reach, the judge’s voice rang out. They jumped apart and Elena dropped the pole, which fell into the water and was swept away by the current.

            Elena climbed to her feet. “Hello, Gramps.”

            Gramps?

            The judge’s mouth twitched as if he found the endearment amusing.

            “I thought you were spending all day in court?” She left Wes at the end of the dock and walked over to her grandfather.

            “Two of my cases were rescheduled.” The judge eyed Wes as he approached. “Are you going to finish mowing the yard or sit out here and fish all day?”

            Wes opened his mouth to respond, but his boss turned on his heel and disappeared through the gate in the hedge.

            Elena retrieved the tackle box and surviving pole, then stopped at his side. “I’ll take a rain check on that kiss.”

            He grasped her wrist. “I don’t give out rain checks.”

            “Then maybe you should pay up now.” The pupils in her eyes dilated, leaving only a sliver of blue visible.

            “Gladys Simons is still on her porch.”

            “Then we’ll give her something to watch,” she whispered.

            Wes brushed his mouth against Elena’s not once but twice before he pulled away.

            “Is that all you’ve got?” she teased.

            He cupped her face, tilted her head to the side then he swooped in and kissed her again—not a flirty peck, but a long, soft exploration of her mouth that left them breathing hard. “How was that?”

            “Much better.”

            Wes watched her fanny twitch back and forth as he followed her through the gate.

~~~

SWEET HOME COWBOY is available at these vendors:

AmazonUS / AmazonUK /

 Kobo / iBooks

All vendors: BOOKS2READ

Happy reading!

Deb

EAT=LOVE=TUESDAY Deb Salonen’s Christmas Trifle + HER FOREVER GIFT!

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

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Food=love in my books.

To celebrate HER FOREVER GIFT, my Montana Mavericks’ holiday novella, going FREE on all platforms, I’m sharing a recipe–and excerpt–from the book.

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 Louise’s trifle isn’t something to be trifled with…and, as you’ll see, your options for fruit is varied, to say the least. Pick what your family likes and run with it, as Louise did.

trifle recipe

 

5.0 from 1 reviews
Christmas Trifle
Author: 
Recipe type: dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
This dessert if light and refreshing and easy to prepare. Plus, you can pick your family's favorite fruits. Be creative! These are the fruits my family likes best, my heroine, Louise Jenkins, chose other variations. Nuts and dried fruits might be interesting, as well.
Ingredients
  • Ingredients
  • 1 packaged Angel Food cake or 2 packaged sponge cakes, broken into pieces
  • 1 package fresh blueberries
  • 1 package fresh blackberries
  • 4 cups frozen strawberries (fresh are okay, too, but frozen are easier to come by at Christmastime)
  • 4 C whipping cream prepared to taste (I like mine not overly sweet with a couple of drops of vanilla)
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • optional: ¼ C liquor (I use Cointreau for the hint of orange.)
  • optional: ¼ C chocolate syrup
Instructions
  1. Wash fruit and drain completely. Reserve ¼ cup of raspberries for decoration.
  2. Break cakes into bite-size pieces, set aside.
  3. Prepare whipping cream to stiff set, sweeten as you desire.
  4. Slice strawberries and mix with sugar and liquor, as desired.
  5. Layer cake on the bottom, fresh fruit, strawberry mixture, then whipped cream.
  6. Repeat.
  7. Arrange reserved raspberries on top, then drizzle with chocolate, if desired.
  8. Refrigerate until ready to serve. The longer it sits the more the flavors mingle.

 

Excerpt:

“The soup is fabulous, Louise,” her new son-in-law said.

“Really great, Grandma, can I have more?” Chloe asked.

“Of course. Eat up.” Louise stood to reach the ladle. “What about you, Mark?”

The youngest of them shook his head. “No, thanks. I’m leaving room for dessert.”

Everyone’s gaze followed Mark’s to the tall-sided glass bowl that held Louise’s trifle. She’d removed it from the refrigerator moments earlier so it could come to room temperature before serving. Three distinct strata were visible: coarsely torn bits of white cake topped by marinated cherries, blueberries, mandarin orange slices and pineapple, and lastly whipped cream. Each portion would be topped with warm Copper Mountain Chocolate Company’s decadent and nearly immoral dark chocolate syrup.

Mark wasn’t the only one to lick his lips.

“Where’d you learn to make that, Mom?” Bailey asked. “We’ve had it on Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember.”

Louise looked at OC. The intensity of his stare made her blush. “I made it up. Our first Christmas after we were married, we were too poor to make anything fancy and I remembered reading that in olden days, people served stale cake with fruit that they marinated in rum or brandy then poured over the cake to make it palatable. So, that’s what I did.”

OC let out a laugh that made everyone look his way. “First time I ever saw your mother drunk.”

“Mom doesn’t drink.”

“She didn’t have to–every bite was like taking a shot.” OC slapped his knee. “It was funnier than heck. Unlike some people–” He tapped both thumbs to his chest.” –Luly was a happy drunk. But, boy, did she have a headache in the morning.”

Markie sat forward, rubbing his hands together. “Am I going to get drunk eating it?”

Paul elbowed him. “No.”

Paul looked at Louise for confirmation. “That was the last time I used whiskey to make my trifle, Mark. Sorry to disappoint you, but the brandy flavor comes from the little bit of natural fermentation produced by the fruit.” She leaned over and squeezed his thin little arm. “It still tastes yummy and you won’t have a terrible, horrible headache in the morning. Like I did.”

And my husband won’t have fallen off the wagon when he’s been doing so well, she didn’t add.

 

FREE:

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BN

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Have a wonderful Christmas, my friends! And may the New Year bring you many wonderful books!

Deb

EAT=LOVE=TUESDAY Lilian Darcy’s Pumpkin Scones/The Sweetest Thing

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

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Food=love in my books. And it’s my great pleasure to welcome back, Lilian Darcy. She’s one of my auto-buy authors, and she just completed a wonderful series of connected stories for Tule Publishing. She’s also a great cook. So, what do you do with all those left over pumpkins? Scones, you say? I believe I will, thank you. Take it away, Lilian.

auth_LilianDarcy-500x500“So we’ve just had Thanksgiving and there is pumpkin left overs.

 

Or maybe there isn’t, but I would argue that pumpkin and all its close relatives are well worth the purchase at any time of the year.

 

Here in Australia, we call pretty much any of those hard, orange-fleshed vegetables pumpkin. There’s Butternut, Grey, Kent, Jap, and Queensland Blue, and probably more. I think we must eat a lot of these various pumpkin varieties in Australia, as the internet tells me the country grows 114,417 metric tonnes of it per year, for a population of 23 million. Per person, that’s… no, I’m not going to try to work it out.

 

Here’s one of my favorite recipes, which you can make with any variety of hard orange pumpkin or squash.

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Note that they’re savoury rather than sweet. If you want sweet, then you can find my women’s fiction novel The Sweetest Thing free on major ebook platforms, but you’ll probably want to have some chocolate on hand while you’re reading it.

5.0 from 3 reviews
Pumpkin Scones
Author: 
Recipe type: side
Cuisine: Universal
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
These are savoury, not sweet, but that's what chocolate is for when you settle back to read The Sweetest Thing!
Ingredients
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 oz butter, chopped into small pieces
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅔ cup cooked and mashed butternut pumpkin
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400F/200C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Sift dry ingredients into a bowl, add butter and rub in or cut with a pastry cutter until mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
  3. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add buttermilk and pumpkin.
  4. Mix with a spoon or your hands until it forms a dough.
  5. Knead lightly on a floured surface until smooth.
  6. With a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough until it’s an inch thick, and use a cookie cutter of your desired size and shape to cut out the scones.
  7. Re-form the dough and cut until it is all used.
  8. Place the scones on your tray and brush with buttermilk, then bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until risen and golden.
  9. Serve with plain or herb butter, and/or cheese.

TheSweetestThing-MEDIUM

Tully Morgan hasn’t been back to Marietta for more than a few brief visits since the night of the 1996 senior prom eighteen years ago, when the chance exposure of a long-held family secret sent her running to her uncle in California in shock. She stood up her date Ren Fletcherthat night, and she hasn’t seen him since.

Now she’s here for an extended stay, to help take care of her seriously ill mother. It’s an edgy reconciliation, the first time that Tully, Patty and Sugar Morgan have been together since that long ago prom night. Tully has had so much anger toward Sugar… can she ever forgive her?

And Sugar still has one more secret that needs to be dealt with, one that needs Ren Fletcher’s help. Has he forgiven Tully for leaving him in the lurch on prom night? And is there any chance that he and Tully can rekindle what they might once have had, when he’s still tied to someone else?

Free at Amazon , BN,  iTunes, Kobo

Happy reading…and eating, my friends. Enjoy!

Deb

EAT=LOVE=TUESDAY Deb Salonen’s Christmas Pudding + A Bundle of Cowboys!

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

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Food=love in my books.

To celebrate the release of The Cowboys of Copper Mountain bundle, I’m reprising my Warm Chocolate Pudding recipe. Who can resist something this yummy, rich, delicious…and the pudding’s good, too. 😉

Check out this great party and contest. (Book goes on sale sometime today–Tuesday–for six days – ONLY.)

ChristmasInJune-promo

Did I mention this bundle is packed full of great stories AND recipes–some of them are mine. I’m hoping this one made the cut. It’s really delicious!

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4.3 from 3 reviews
Warm Chocolate Puddings
Author: 
Recipe type: dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Get the prep work done ahead of time then pop the tray into the oven shorty before you're ready for the grand finale. Guaranteed to impress.
Ingredients
  • Ingredients
  • 4 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Large eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • Ice cream for each serving (optional) (any flavor) or whipped cream!
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place four 6- to 8-ounce ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet. Set aside.
  2. Place chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of gently simmering water. Stir occasionally just until melted, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat; mix in 2 tablespoons sugar, then egg yolks and vanilla. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Still beating, gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar; beat until mixture is stiff and glossy.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, mix about ⅓ egg-white mixture into chocolate mixture; gently fold in remaining egg-white mixture just until combined. Divide among bowls. (Puddings can be prepared in advance up to this point; cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate up to 1 day.)
  5. Bake until tops are puffed and cracked but insides are still quite soft (a toothpick inserted in center will come out gooey), 20 to 25 minutes, or 25 to 30 minutes if puddings were previously refrigerated. Serve, warm or at room temperature (puddings may sink as they cool), topped with ice cream, if desired.

Check out the cute cover of The Cowboys of Copper Mountain. Don’t miss the most excellent sale price of 99¢ (six days only), but even at the regular price of $4.99, it’s a great deal. Four complete books AND tons of other goodies–it is Christmas in June, after all!

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AMAZON

Enjoy and happy reading, my friends!

Deb

EAT=LOVE=TUESDAY Deb Salonen’s Chocolate Cracked Earth (flourless chocolate cake)

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

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Food=love in my books.

Eek, I ran out of friends. 🙂 LOL.

Actually, I forgot to put out the call for more recipes/excerpts. Easy fix (I hope). So, improvising today, with a yummy recipe from my daughter-in-law, Ruth.

And since Smashwords is promoting “Read An eBook Week,”

I’ve put a bunch of my ebooks on sale thru March 8. Here’s an excerpt from Are We There Yet, which you can pick up for 50% off by using this code: REW50 Click here: Smashwords

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Me. Happy. Rain is here. Spring to follow. 😉

Chocolate Cracked Earth (flourless chocolate cake)
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
 
(adapted from the foodnetwork.com/Tyler Florence by my daughter-in-law, Ruth Smiley)
Ingredients
  • 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • (I used 1(one) 8-oz package of semi-sweet chocolate and 2(two) 3-oz 70% dark chocolate candy bars...because I failed to read the recipe before I went shopping. But, this worked. Simply use less sugar--see below.)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 9 large eggs, separated
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar , plus 1 Tablespoon (I used ½ cup because of the candy bars.)
  • 2 C heavy cream (I like to whip mine with ½ teaspoon sugar and a few drops of vanilla flavoring)
  • confectioners sugar for dusting (optional)
Instructions
  1. ~Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 9-inch springfoam pan.
  2. ~Put chocolate and butter into the top of double boiler and heat over about 1" of simmering water until melted.
  3. ~Whisk egg yolks with the sugar in a mixing bowl until light yellow in color. Whisk a little of the chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture to temper the eggs. (This will keep the eggs from scrambling from the heat of the chocolate.) Then whisk in the rest of the chocolate mixture.
  4. ~Beat the egg whites in a mixing bowl until stiff peaks form and fold into the chocolate mixture.
  5. ~Pour into prepared pan and bake until cake is set and the top starts to crack.
  6. ~Test with a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake. It should come out with moist crumbs clinging to it.
  7. ~The recipe says: 20-25 minutes; mine took 35-40 minutes.

 

bn DEBRA SALONEN 7-1

Excerpt:

A sex addict? Me? Judy swallowed her laugh for fear it would lead to a full-blown crying jag. The effort was painful. Her grimace must not have been pretty because he lifted his hand toward her shoulder in a gesture of support before changing his mind. Maybe cops weren’t allowed to show their human side. He left without another word.

Since nothing was required of her for the moment, she escaped to the bathroom. She put down the toilet lid and sat, dropping her head to her hands. How the hell had life gotten so screwed up?

Why me?

“Why not me?” Judy said aloud.

Her voice echoed off the walls of her compact potty room, bringing with it the memory of her final conversation with Shawn. “Face it, Judy, you’re a slut. Why else would you take back your maiden name after our divorce? You grew up a Banger, and now you’ll die a Banger. Good luck with that.”

His caustic cynicism and stated conviction that she’d never find another man to love her still made her bristle.

She scrutinized the card she held. Nice thick paper with raised letters. No expense spared. The name Wendy Wiggman was followed by a plethora of letters, some capped, none that mattered to Judy. In her book, “Ph.D.” stood for “Pay here, Daddy.” Some people had money and advantages, others didn’t. Judy had a doctorate in being screwed–first by her demanding, judgmental mother, then by her selfish, hedonistic husband. She was an equal opportunity scapegoat.

She’d always been a bit naive and trusting, but when exactly had she turned into a gullible fool? Why had she believed Buddy when he told her he was healthy enough to have sex? Because she’d trusted him not to risk his life on one quick thrill, she supposed. Who would do such a thing?

An old man with nothing to live for.

Her chin quivered as grief threatened to return, but she sternly closed off her tears. Anger felt more empowering. Buddy was dead. Tears wouldn’t change the fact. But the way he died left her with a big fat mess on her hands–and a tarnished reputation she’d probably never live down.

“I am sick and tired of being the screwee,” she muttered, crumpling the elegant card in her fist. She didn’t even care if screwee was a word. The Universe knew what she meant. “I ought to just say, ‘Screw it!’ and start living up to my name.”

She squared her shoulders and sat a little straighter. I could, you know. The sex part was downright awesome right up to the moment she realized Buddy was dead. She wasn’t getting any younger and the only men looking for women her age weren’t exactly spring chickens. If not now? When?

She knew what her mother would say. “Why can’t you be more like your sister? Live a normal, respectful life. God is going to punish you for your willful wildness. Just you wait ‘n see.”

Ironically, Mom had slacked off on her criticism after Judy married Shawn. Ironic because Judy’s marriage was anything but normal and respectful of those holy vows her mother held so dear. The fact they’d never been able to have children was viewed as God’s judgment. Judy’s divorce had added ‘disappointing loser’ to her catalogue of faults.

But Judy called her divorce a step in the right direction. And, although she’d never told anyone–especially her mother, the main reason she’d taken back her maiden name was to honor the only man who never judged her–her father.

While some might argue that Cecil Banger didn’t live long enough to get to know his daughter well–a belly full of gin and a poorly marked train crossing took care of that when Judy was eleven, she preferred to believe he would have been her champion to this very day. After all, Mom had been hypercritical of Dad, too. Some even speculated Cecil chose the train over his wife’s constant nagging.

And while Judy may have made her share of mistakes over the years, she’d learned one lesson well–life didn’t give do-overs. Drink and drive, you die young and your family suffers. Marry the wrong man and watch your youth disappear. Wait too long to take that magic pill and…poof!…it’s lights out.

Buddy’s death might prove publicly humiliating for her, but at least she was alive to deal with the fallout. She could whine and moan or she could embrace this tragedy as a wakeup call to snap out of her complacent rut. The time had come to accept her failings and stop apologizing for her name, her weight, her sexuality.

She’d been a virgin when she married Shawn. He introduced her to sex then called her a slut when she had the audacity to enjoy the games he made her play. After her divorce, she’d let guilt and low self-esteem–augmented by her mother’s fanaticism and her sister’s unwavering criticism–steer her into another role: neutered martyr.

Well, screw that.

She shifted back and forth on the toilet seat. She still could feel a faint tingle of arousal–Buddy’s parting gift to her. She’d feared her sensuality had burnt up in a flurry of hot flashes, but Buddy proved otherwise. She had a vagina and she knew how to use it.

For the first time in hours, a smile started to form on her face. She stood and walked to the mirror. She fluffed up her hair and re-applied the lipstick she’d bought for the occasion. Maybe the snippy cop couldn’t see it, but Judy Banger was a sexual being. From this point on, she planned to do exactly what she wanted, with whomever she wanted whenever the opportunity arose. If society–and her family–blushed…so what?

“I owe it to Buddy,” she said, faking a saucy smile. “If I learned anything from this–besides what a 71 is–then he didn’t die in vain.”

She’d made resolutions in the past, but this epiphany felt different. She’d already started down a more proactive path just by working out at the gym. Where this new road would take her was anybody’s guess, but she was going to have fun getting there.

 Remember: this is the “less naughty” version. If you want to pick-up all of the Screw Senility novellas for FREE, here are the links:

Bang! You’re Dead  Free Screw Senility #1

In With A Bang! Free Screw Senility #2

More Bang For Your Buck  Free Screw Senility #3

Big Bang Theory Free Screw Senility #4

And my sweet short story, 100 Years or More is also free this week, in case you missed it.

A Hundred Years of More Free – a short story

Happy reading!

Deb

EAT=LOVE=VALENTINE’S DAY Deb Salonen’s Warm Chocolate Pudding + A GIFT!

Monday, February 10th, 2014

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Food=love in my books.

To celebrate your upcoming Valentine’s Day, what better than warm chocolate? Dark, rich, delicious…and did I mention warm?

This recipe comes via my Wine, Women and Words Book Club. Several of the founding members are celebrating our 10th year together. We’ve lost a few dear friends and gained several more. We’ve read and discussed nearly a 100 books.

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When we meet next week, we’ll be discussing THE LAST RUNAWAY by Tracy Chevalier. I enjoyed this book a great deal. It made me want to stop writing and learn how to quilt. (Not going to happen.) It also made me want to hop on a soapbox and tell people to treat each other fairly and equally, with kindness and love. (That might happen. You’ve been warned.)

Alas, The Last Runaway is not mine to give away, so I’m including my favorite short story, 100 Years or More, as a little Valentine’s Gift for you. First, your recipe…

5.0 from 1 reviews
Warm Chocolate Puddings
Author: 
Recipe type: dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Get the prep work done ahead of time then pop the tray into the oven shorty before you're ready for the grand finale. Guaranteed to impress.
Ingredients
  • Ingredients
  • 4 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Large eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • Ice cream for each serving (optional) (any flavor) or whipped cream!
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place four 6- to 8-ounce ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet. Set aside.
  2. Place chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of gently simmering water. Stir occasionally just until melted, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat; mix in 2 tablespoons sugar, then egg yolks and vanilla. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Still beating, gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar; beat until mixture is stiff and glossy.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, mix about ⅓ egg-white mixture into chocolate mixture; gently fold in remaining egg-white mixture just until combined. Divide among bowls. (Puddings can be prepared in advance up to this point; cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate up to 1 day.)
  5. Bake until tops are puffed and cracked but insides are still quite soft (a toothpick inserted in center will come out gooey), 20 to 25 minutes, or 25 to 30 minutes if puddings were previously refrigerated. Serve, warm or at room temperature (puddings may sink as they cool), topped with ice cream, if desired.

Now, here’s a Valentine from me to you. It’s a love story, not a romance. If you enjoy it and want to add it to your Kindle or gift to others, I’d be so grateful if you’d buy it at Amazon for just 99¢.

DEB COVER-1

The funeral is finally over.  Four days, start to finish. A chaotic time with scores of adults in and out. Men in uniforms. Women in black dresses with somber demeanors. Such a fuss, but nothing compared to the party that just concluded. Drinkers. Talkers. People who couldn’t stop pushing food into their mouths to speak even a few words of kindness for the dearly departed. And, not surprisingly, a few too many children for my taste.

There was mention of the reading of the will. The disposition of the deceased’s possessions. That would include me, I suspect.

I should have gone first. It would have simplified things. Being the one left behind isn’t easy, but I didn’t have a choice in the matter, of course. Parrots can live a hundred years or more. I know this because I’ve heard her children and grandchildren repeat this dire prediction every time they pass by my cage. They shake their heads sadly and speculate out loud, as if I’m dumb as well as mostly mute.

“What will become of Jack?” one will ask.

“I don’t know,” another will answer. “Such a shame. He’s always been a one-person bird.”

“How old is he?”

“No one knows for sure…”

They wouldn’t know. How could they? Even I don’t know the year I was born because such things aren’t measured the way humans attempt to partition and document each and every second of each and every day. In the rainforest where I started my life, all living things understood that there were seasons. I knew without being told the time would come for each young bird to mate and begin a new phase of life. That never happened for me. I was captured before my season of juvenile freedom and foolishness was over.

 I like to think that was one reason why I was so angry when I first came to this new world that would become my life.  I’d lost everything familiar to me–my family, my group, the tastes, smells, colors, and sounds of the only life I’d ever known and was thrust into a metal cage by brutal hands.

Touch. To go your whole life knowing only the touch of the wind and rain upon your feathers, then suddenly feel a clamp of leather-gloved fingers, musty burlap and wire boundaries curtailing one’s freedom can not be expressed by words in any language.

Those early years in captivity remain in my memory as a white background blurred from time to time by scars of red. Blood – drawn anytime some foolish human came close enough for my razor sharp beak to leave a mark.

The sound of the human voice was a grating, industrial noise that roared in my ears like an engine that never turned off. Music, they say, soothes the savage breast. Not mine. Not at that time. The pet store, that eventually bought me from the merchant who bought me from the trapper, piped in music around the clock. I later learned that the radio belonged to the owner who was slightly deaf. He honestly didn’t realize the radio was still playing when he closed for the night.

I have no way of knowing how long I lived in this prison of harsh light and constant noise. I never slept. I rarely ate. I wanted to go home, and if that wasn’t possible, then I wanted to die.

Neither happened. Instead, I was sold to an unsuspecting family with two young children: Todd, a serious ten-year old with thick glasses, and Delia, who was eight.

The only good part about this move for me was it meant a bigger cage. The children’s father considered himself a bird man. He’d raised pigeons as a boy on a farm in some country I’d never heard of. An exotic parrot seemed the likely next step in bird ownership, naturally. “The pet store guy told me parrots can live a hundred years or more.”

We were a poor mix, to say the least. But the noise level improved. The house was silent at night, for the most part, and best of all, the mother insisted that my cage be covered. Since she couldn’t trust her irresponsible husband or her very young children to do this chore, she would take care of this herself, gingerly, every night. “Sleep well, poor thing,” she’d say.

Poor thing. Since very few human words made sense to me then, I began to think that was my name. Poor thing. The father made sporadic attempts to teach me words. Yes, even the very lame “Polly wannacracker?” I did my best not to encourage him. He eventually gave up – on me, on his family, on his life, in general. He died after a short illness that was only spoken about in whispers. “Polio.” A very bad thing, I came to learn. I wondered if I’d be next. But no, the little girl was its victim.

Delia left us for what seemed like a very long time. Her mother still covered my cage at night, but I was no longer, “Poor thing.” I was a habit. One she probably resented, but she seemed too weary to even muster the energy it took to be resentful.

The silence around me grew as the family’s possessions thinned out, one by one. I was certain I’d be next to go, but then the unexpected happened. The little girl came home. She couldn’t walk at first, so they converted “my” room–the parlor–on the first floor of the house into a place for her to stay. The sofa disappeared, traded, I assumed, for a skinny bed made of metal.

I had a roommate.

Delia was the one who officially named me. Prior to this, I’d been simply “the bird.” But Delia told her mother the second morning she was home, “He looks like a Jack to me. We’ll call him Captain Jack.” I liked the name, but nobody bothered with the title.

From that night on, when she closed her eyes, instead of falling straight to sleep, she’d tell me a story about how Captain Jack, a brave and virtuous pirate–virtuous? I wondered the same thing, but since she didn’t understand my squawks at that time, I wasn’t able to ask. Anyway, in various renditions of the same basic theme, the esteemed captain happened across a mean and bothersome witch who turned him into a bright green parrot with red markings and coal black eyes. All because he refused to tell her he loved her. “He couldn’t lie,” Delia stated with such gravity it seemed the inescapable truth.

Each night, she would add another chapter to Captain Jack’s adventurous life. As her strength returned, she’d talk about other things, too. Her fear that her mother would have to go to work. Mothers didn’t do that, but they were terribly poor now that her father had died. And there were hospital bills. So many.

Until that time, I’d acquired words that humans made a pointed effort to teach me. I gave into their coaching partly for the treats they proffered, and in part because I was bored. Did these rote “Hello,” “Hi, Jack” or “Pretty bird” make sense to me? No. Of course, not. But, listening to Delia was different. For one thing, her delivery was slow, slightly breathless and very deliberate. And she spoke to me as though I were capable of understanding everything she said. That’s how I came to learn that each of the harsh, guttural sounds that had been around me all those years were actually words, with meaning. That revelation changed everything. As odd as it sounds, this was the moment I ceased to be a bird–not physically, of course, but in my mind that last remaining connection to the distant, shadowy memories imprinted on my DNA slipped away. I remained a bird, but I became–then and forever–Delia’s bird. She was my family, her flock would be my flock. I could never return to my old world, so, instead, I would go forward. With her.

Delia. She was so many things to so many people: daughter, sister, friend, woman, warrior, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother. Transitory labels, at best. The one that never changed was: Jack’s owner.

Her life probably wasn’t all that special or unique. I’ve been privy to many such stories over the years–first, when school chums came to spend the night with the young girl who had recovered from her illness and its lingering effect with such resolute determination and good cheer that people never saw the crutches, the cane, the limp. I was happy to witness each stage of recovery. But each new triumph took her further from the sick room–my parlor.

As if sensing the impact this physical separation would have on me, Delia arranged for surrogates. First, a dog. An old dog because the thought was an old dog wouldn’t try to eat me. He didn’t. But he wasn’t much company, either. All he did was sleep. And eat. I don’t know what they fed him, but he had terrible gas.

Later, she procured a television, which Delia mistakenly thought I might enjoy. To my surprise, I did become rather attached to the folly played out daily on General Hospital, but I’d rather not talk about it. Those old friends left me, too, you know.

One thing I’ve come to understand about the human species is its capacity for selective blindness. For years, Delia chose to pretend her mother was a strong woman. But Mama was not. She married the first man who asked her. Todd, who was two years Delia’s senior, tried his best to disappear any time the new father came into the room. Delia played the role of peacemaker–except where I was concerned. The new father called me dirty, disease-infested, a waste of birdseed. Delia turned into a warrior, as inflexible as the bars of my cage–which had turned into a refuge whenever Delia wasn’t around.

Lucky for all of us, the second father dropped dead one afternoon while pushing the lawn mower in the back yard. I won’t say how long Delia’s mother stood at the window and stared outside without moving or calling for help, but I can say she waited long enough. His money was a kindness the man himself was incapable of giving. It kept the roof over our heads and paid for both Delia and Todd to go to college.

College was a bleak time for me–and the mother. “You miss her, too. Don’t you, poor thing?” Yes. Yes, I did, and I molted to prove it.

But college took less time than usual because Delia fell in love. And married impulsively. A man I truly loathed. The words I longed to be able to say stuck in my craw, bitter tasting and caustic. “Why, Delia? Why him? He doesn’t respect you. He thinks you’re handicapped. He acts like he did you a favor, when, in fact, he doesn’t deserve your sweetness, your grace.”

The divorce was almost as swift as the wedding, but Delia’s grief lingered. So many nights she’d sit beside my cage and tell me how devastated she felt, how stupid, how distrustful of her ability to read people. Always, I paced my perch, angry and frustrated because I couldn’t make her see how wonderful she was. How unique and gifted. I have the vocabulary but I lack the ability to have the words make sense. My curse, I’ve come to understand, is to observe without comment.

But that doesn’t mean I’m mute. Oh, no. Once Delia began dating again, I did my best to influence her choices. We called it the Squawk Rating System. A frenzied ruckus meant jerk alert. Giving the new contender the silent treatment meant: “Why bother?” But a feathers-forward, head tilted to the right “Hello there, big boy” was a clear sign that this one had potential. That’s how we met Andrew.

Wisely, he courted us both. He brought her candy. He brought me sunflower seeds. Unsalted, of course. No bloody fingers for Andrew.

Their marriage wasn’t perfect, but it was worth fighting for. Three summers later on a bright, fragrant morning in May Delia gave birth to a baby girl. A tiny thing with wisdom in her eyes. But the toll on Delia’s body had been extreme. There would be no more children, she told me, tears streaming down her pale cheeks.

But the sadness passed quickly because Andrew’s job kept the family on the move. North, south, east and west. Places Delia would point out to me on a map, but I never bothered to learn their names. What did it matter when my world remained essentially the same? The one place that truly sticks out above the rest was the beach house. For two months every summer, no matter where we were living in the country, Delia would move us all, lock, stock and animals, to the airy white cabin on Michigan’s northern shore. Poor Andrew missed out on so much, but when he was present, the family seemed whole, exhilarated and truly happy.

Andrew was a good man, if somewhat simple. Smart in terms of his work–some sort of engineering, Delia claimed, but he never looked too deeply beyond the obvious. For example, one day he decided I should have a companion. A bird friend. Delia vetoed the idea–one more animal in the growing menagerie meant one more animal for her to feed and clean up after. But Andrew was determined, so one day he brought us Chloe–my potential mate.

Unfortunately, she was actually a male. A young male. Procured as a hatchling, which made him fairly docile. But he was easily upset and he expressed his frustration by plucking out all his pretty feathers. No one has ever said a bald parrot is an attractive parrot. Baby Girl wouldn’t even look at him. If she did, she’d break into tears. One morning, without any warning, “Chloe” toppled off the center bar in our cage and fell to the bottom screen, dead as the drowned flies floating in our water container. For a while I thought the whole transgender humiliation killed him, but it turned out he’d been exposed to a highly contagious avian virus.

It nearly got me, too, but Delia nursed me through – an eye dropper at a time.

The busy school years seemed to fly by as we watched our little girl flourish and grow to adulthood.

These times were punctuated by losses, of course. The old mother went first, poor thing. Followed much too quickly by Todd, Delia’s brother. I wish I could say he forgave me for nipping his finger when he was little, but I don’t think he did.  His death hit Delia hard. In part because she’d just lost her mother, in part because he was so young. Delia told me he died from a disease they called Gay. Humans don’t make sense. You come to understand that after awhile. And they don’t age well, either.

As I approached middle age in bird years, my humans were slipping into their twilight. After Andrew retired, he and Delia were as happy as I’d ever seen them. They did everything together. They threw themselves–and a great deal of money–into giving Baby Girl the most dazzling wedding possible. Since they’d traveled so much in their working years, neither seemed inclined to go anywhere–except to the beach house. Summers were filled with grandchildren, now. Baby Girl was a much healthier version of her mother. She popped out three little angels before anyone could get over marveling at the last. The girls loved their Nana and Papa, and, to my surprise, they held me in awe. I never once had to bite any of them. I can’t say the same for their friends.

Gradually, small health concerns became major health woes. There were operations, pacemakers, pill boxes on every table. I’d watch them nap, occasionally dozing off mid-sentence. Their little arguments usually wound up making them laugh – at each other and themselves. Always, there was love and forgiveness, hands holding hands as they made their way up the stairs to bed. Slowly. Very slowly.

I knew Andrew was gone before she even awoke that morning. His spirit left in a loud whoosh, down the stairs and out the door – in a hurry to move on. I knew I would miss him, but not nearly as much as she would. If not for the grandchildren–and me–I don’t think Delia would have found the will to stick around. For months, she sat on the pretty padded chair a few feet from my perch and looked out the window, never speaking. I began to think I’d never hear her voice again. So, despite my physical limitations, I started telling her a story about a brave and valiant pirate girl who was taken hostage by an evil witch. What I couldn’t convey in words, I tried to make up for with affection. I only left her shoulder when she held out her arm to create a bridge straight into my cage each night.

Did my words pull her back from that murky shore where her mate now resided? I doubt it. Quite frankly, I think she decided she couldn’t trust anyone else to take care of me. Baby Girl was a busy professional with three teenage daughters. Their comings and goings were enough to make anyone dizzy. Oh, they might have remembered to feed me, but could they be counted on to talk to me? Cover me up from the draft at night? Challenge my vocabulary?

Obviously, Delia didn’t believe so. She kept breathing. Long enough to become a great-grandmother, to witness two more beautiful, elaborate weddings, to welcome a new, young family into her home. Just temporarily, her youngest granddaughter told everyone. “Just until Nana doesn’t need me anymore.”

We all knew what that meant–even though she didn’t mean it that way. That girl reminds me a great deal of her grandfather.

My beautiful Delia did her best not to die, but age wears on the body–and hers was fragile from the polio. The granddaughter bought her a splendid wheelchair. They put a bed in the front parlor–my room, just as her mother once did for her. She was my companion again, day and night, only much of the time, her spirit wandered. She would remember the early days, but not the recent. She’d forget the face of her beloved granddaughter. The poor girl would leave in tears.

But she never forgot Jack.

“Captain, I really think it’s time for me to go, don’t you?” she asked. Four days ago.

What could I say?

“Good-bye, me pretty,” I said, with my best pirate accent. I’d seen my share of movies over the years.

She closed her eyes and her breathing stopped, but her spirit didn’t leave right away. It danced about the room, touching mementos, smiling at a photo or two, then the shimmering light that humans don’t seem capable of seeing stopped at my cage. For a moment, I thought she was going to open the door of my cage. Freedom. But no. Instead, she smiled and kissed my beak. “Journey on without me, dear friend. But I’ll be waiting for you.”

Parrots live a hundred years or more, Delia’s father had claimed.

“In the wild,” someone at the wake had stressed. “Their lifespan is considerably shorter in captivity. This one probably won’t last long, now.”

Jack wished his beloved had known that. Perhaps she had. If he closed his eyes and looked hard enough, he could almost see her–watching from the deck of a pirate ship poised to take them off on their next great adventure.

© Copyright 2011 Debra Salonen

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 Have a most happy, love-filled and delicious Valentine’s Day, my friends!

Deb

EAT=LOVE=Tuesday: Jean Brashear’s Hershey Bar Cake

Monday, December 9th, 2013

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Food=love in my books.

So, I’ve decided to share recipes that have some connection/significance in my books and/or my life–and I’ve asked my writer friends to join me.

Today’s recipe comes from my dear friend (and former Superromance buddy) Jean Brashear. Jean is from Texas. They do food up right in Texas–and they do romance up right, too. Be sure to check out her brand new book, TEXAS DREAMS: The Gallaghers of Sweetgrass Springs Book 3.

 BUY

I can sorta picture you reading Texas Dreams while you snarf down a big ol’ piece of Hershey Bar Cake. 🙂

Hershey Bar Cake
Author: 
Recipe type: dessert (or main dish--life is short, right?)
Cuisine: American as Hershey's syrup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
We call this Chocaholic ☺ Hershey Bar Cake. (You know who you are.) Enjoy!
Ingredients
  • 4 regular Hershey bars
  • 1 – 5-oz can Hershey syrup
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
Instructions
  1. Melt candy and syrup.
  2. In large mixing bowl, blend all dry ingredients, then add all other ingredients, including nuts. Mix well.
  3. Pour into well-greased and floured bundt cake pan or tube pan.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
  5. Let cool 1 hour before removing.
  6. No icing needed, I promise you!

 

Join the fun in a new tale in Jean’s popular TEXAS HEROES series that brings all three branches–The Gallaghers of Sweetgrass Spring and Morning Star plus The Marshalls–together in a heartwarming homecoming that’s all about family, and all about love:

Texas Dreams-300

 Take two reluctant brides and two frustrated grooms, mix with both clans of Gallaghers and season with a SEAL or three, a movie star, a Hollywood Barbie and a country music giant–and you get a recipe for family mayhem, laughter and a tear or two.

Watch as Sweetgrass Springs matriarch Ruby Gallagher and her granddaughter Scarlett, aided and abetted by the irrepressible Maddie Rose Gallagher, try to pull off surprise wedding plans for each other in the worst-kept secret in Texas.

EXCERPT:

“I need to plan a wedding,” Ruby Gallagher blurted into the phone without even a hello.

“Ruby, that’s fantastic!” Maddie Gallagher responded. “Arnie must be thrilled.”

“Arnie?” Ruby paused. Debated between a chuckle and a frown. These young ones needed to stay out of her love life. “Not you, too. I’m talking about Scarlett’s wedding, goose.”

“Oh.” But her great-nephew’s wife quickly recovered her enthusiasm. “Poor Arnie, but Ian will be happy, I know.”

“Heaven knows the boy has had to wait long enough. Don’t know what my granddaughter’s waiting on.”

Maddie snickered. “Pot, meet kettle. How many years has Arnie been waiting on you?”

“Don’t you get smart with me, young lady. There will be consequences.”

“Consider me duly terrified,” Maddie responded. “Given that my five-year-old is nearly as tall as you, my knees are quaking, I assure you.”

“Not fair the Gallagher men get all the height,” Ruby grumbled.

“You and Scarlett are the only pygmies, best I can tell.”

“Enough of that impertinence. Do you want to help me plan this wedding or not?”

“Are you kidding? Of course I do. I was just telling Boone we need a family get-together soon. What better excuse? When were you thinking? A spring wedding?”

“Not hardly. I was thinking Thanksgiving.”

“You don’t lack ambition, do you? How about Christmas instead? What does Scarlett want?”

“She wants to get the old courthouse renovated for her new restaurant. Then she’ll focus on getting that up and running. Then she’ll want lord knows…and Ian is too patient with her.”

“Is he complaining?”

“The man is goofy in love and too nice for his own good.”

“So…” Maddie began. “Basically, Scarlett’s grandmother wants Scarlett to hurry up and get married?” She paused. “That’s never worked with you, and Scarlett comes by her stubbornness honestly.”

“I’m hanging up now,” Ruby grumbled.

Maddie burst out laughing. “Okay, okay…but it’s late enough that Scarlett’s friends from New York would have a hard time booking tickets for the heaviest travel time of the year. How about early December?”

Ruby had never been on an airplane in her life. “I never thought of that. All right. So, you’re in?”

“Absolutely. And Perrie can do the cake. She’s turning into quite a pastry chef. My sister Lacey could help with flowers, I bet.”

“Veronica Butler owns a flower farm,” Ruby reminded Maddie. “She’ll handle the flowers.”

“Absolutely. Lacey has many other skills—she could organize the wedding of the century in a week, I swear. All that socialite training didn’t go to waste. She’s a whiz at planning social galas and charity functions. I’ll call her. We need to come down for a girls’ weekend.”

“If you show up here, Scarlett will get wind of it.”

Silence fell.

“Ruby.” Another pause. “You cannot mean to say you’re planning her wedding as a complete surprise. Seriously?”

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to bring Ian in on it.”

“You are something else.” Her quick laugh hovered somewhere between horrified and intrigued. “You can’t do that to her.”

“Didn’t your little town of Morning Star pretty much put your wedding together?”

“Well, yes, but—”

“And wasn’t it wonderful?”

“It was, but nobody sprung it on me. Do you honestly want to incite Scarlett’s likely reaction? She’ll freak. At best, you’ll wake up and find yourself married one morning, you know you will. She’ll get Judge Porter to marry you in your nightgown, fast asleep.”

“Judge would never do that, unless he wants me to evict him from my boarding house. And there’s the little matter of my agreeing to it.”

“And your point would be…?”

Ruby sighed. “All right. I just…I want to see her settled while I’m still here.”

“You’re going to live forever, Ruby. We all insist on it. Sweetgrass can’t do without you, and neither can the family.”

“No wonder Boone is still crazy for you, sweet-talker.”

Maddie chuckled. “It’s true, though. But back to Scarlett—maybe if we could put a plan together to show her instead, so she’d see she wouldn’t have to start from scratch? That might make things more doable if lack of time is all that’s holding her up. Lacey and I could compile a timeline, and I know Perrie will be onboard. We’ll talk to Veronica and Scarlett’s cousin Rissa, as well. Since you can’t easily get away from Scarlett, operating the diner together, we can put a rough outline together, run it by you, then you let me be the bad guy and spring it on Scarlett.”

“I wasn’t planning to give her advance notice.”

“At all? Ruby, you can’t do that.”

“Of course I can. It’s my right. I’m old.”

Maddie burst out laughing. “What you are is incorrigible.”

Ruby barreled on. “Ian will help you with her when the time comes. He has a way with her.”

“I just bet he does,” Maddie responded drily. “There’s something about those good-lookin’ cowboys…”

“It’s not that she doesn’t want to marry him. She just has this notion that she has to get the events center running first, as if I’ll kick the bucket next week and she has to assure me Sweetgrass will be taken care of beforehand.”

“She’s hungry for family, Ruby. She adores you.”

“She’s the blessing of my life.” Ruby’s throat went tight. “I thought I would never have a family again after my daughter Georgia ran away.”

“You have all of us, Ruby. And everyone in Sweetgrass considers you family.”

“Do I hear a sniffle, young lady”? Maddie was a soft touch, with a heart as big as the world.

“Of course not. Would I dare get weepy in front of you?”

“Are you breeding again, Maddie Rose?”

“What a sexist thing to say.” But the smile was there in her voice. “Yep. Knocked up bigger ‘n’ Dallas, but only Boone knows. As if those hellions of ours aren’t plenty already.”

“You talk a good game. I’m happy for you, sweetheart.” Ruby knew Maddie had been all alone until she’d inherited Boone’s ranch out from under him. She, like Scarlett, had been hungry for family. If not for her, the existence of Boone and Mitch’s half-sister would never have been discovered. Lacey and her husband Devlin were now deeply ingrained in the Gallagher family.

“Thank you. So, see, I won’t be dragging my heels on this wedding because I have an ulterior motive. I want to be a bridesmaid while I’m still hot. Pregnancy boobs without the belly.”

Ruby had to laugh. “You are a caution, honey. Boone needed some shaking up. Boy was always too serious.” His career in the SEAL Teams had not been a joyride, nor had his life with his father, after his mother had died.

“He doesn’t have that problem now, I promise.” Free-spirited Maddie had blown into Boone’s life like a spring storm, and the man was crazy about her.

“So we’re set, right?”

“I will start calling as soon as we hang up. But you should still tell her.”

Silence ensued.

Maddie sighed. “I’ll get back with you in a few days, okay?”

“Thank you, honey. You’re a good girl.”

“Practically a saint, I tell Boone every day. Talk soon, Ruby.” With another bawdy laugh, Maddie disconnected.

 Thank you, Jean!!

 Hope everyone’s holiday shopping is going well. If you’re looking for a fun gift ON SALE this week, check out my single title romantic comedy ARE WE THERE YET?, which will be part of the Kindle Countdown Deal beginning tomorrow, Dec. 11. Just 99¢ for 2 days. And add Judy Banger’s first Christmas as a newlywed, IS IT CHRISTMAS YET? for another 99¢, and you’ve got the whole package. 🙂 

Merry, Merry!

Deb