All posts by laraarcher

Welcome to My Stop on the Historical Holiday Cookie Exchange!!


What a delight to have you here!

I’ve got a couple treats for you today–a recipe for a super-tasty gluten-free cookie both your gluten-free and fully glutinous guests will love: Chocolate Crinkle Cookies (or, as they’re known in my household, Chocolate Crack.)


Can you say YUM?????

I’ve also got an excerpt from my latest historical romance, HOLD ME CLOSE! Read it and leave a comment to be entered in a random drawing to win a Christmas Memories Box of luscious chocolates from See’s Candies!


First, the recipe! This one comes from the wonderful Nicole Hunn of Gluten Free on a Shoestring, who has an amazing knack for re-imagining  traditional recipes to be safe for gluten-free folks (and you know you’re likely to have at least one gluten-free guest over the holidays)! My family are Celiacs, so we really, truly can’t be exposed to gluten, but Nicole’s recipes help us make sure our holidays are merry and delicious!

Gluten-Free Chocolate Crinkle Cookies!!

If you’ve never had these amazing cookies, OH MY GOODNESS, you need to try them now!! They’re soft and brownie-like inside, with a crispy powdered sugar shell, and those amazing cracks that make them stand out on the holiday cookie platter!

The key to getting the surface right is dipping them in sugar TWICE. You can do both coatings with the powdered sugar (giving the cookie balls a few minutes to absorb the first coat before you add the second), or if you want to make sure the white part of the surface stays pure snow white longer, coat them in granulated sugar the first time, then powdered sugar the second.

Either way, DELICIOUS. And really easy and fun.

(A note on the gluten-free flour: Most supermarkets sell this now, and you can also mix your own, but if you have some lead time, I highly recommend ordering some of the one-for-one blend from Better Batter. It’s a staple in my gluten-free kitchen.)

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: about 12 mintes

Yield: 24 cookies

INGREDIENTS:

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

6 tablespoons (84 g) unsalted butter, chopped

1 1/2 cups (210 g) all-purpose gluten-free flour

3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your blend already contains it)

5 tablespoons (25 g) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-processed)

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar

2 eggs (100 g, weighed out of shell) at room temperature, beaten

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup (115 g) confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Prepare line baking sheets (I use reusable silicone sheets, but baking parchment is great, too). 

In a double boiler (or medium bowl over a pot with an inch of simmering water), melt together the chopped chocolate and butter until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool a bit (if the chocolate’s too hot when added to the other ingredients, you dough will end up runny).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, xantham gum, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and granulated sugar. Mix in the melted chocolate / butter mixture. Add beaten eggs and mix until you’ve got a thick but pliable dough.

Drop by spoonfuls (or use an ice-cream scoop)  onto the prepared baking sheet, about two tablespoons dough per cookie. You should get about two dozen cookies. 

One by one, pick up the dough balls in slightly wet hands and roll them in the FIRST coating of sugar (either powdered or granulated), then set them back on the sheet while that first layer of sugar soaks in a bit. By the time you’re done rolling the last one, it’s time to go back to the first and roll it in sugar AGAIN (definitely powdered sugar this time…that’s what gives you that “snowy” look on the finished cookie surface). REALLY, TRULY do that second sugar roll, or chances are the first coat will “melt” into the dough and your cookie won’t get the coveted cracks.

Bake for about 12 minutes until just set in the center, and cool 10 minutes before eating, if you’ve got the will-power for that.

Then watch them all disappear!!

 

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And now time for a little romance…and a chance to win that super-tasty box of See’s Candies (which, by the way, are naturally 100% gluten-free!)

For the Grand Prize, I’m contributing a copy of my Golden Heart and Daphne Award-Winning spy novel, THE DEVIL MAY CARE. But today I’m sharing a little teaser from my most recent release, HOLD ME CLOSE.

A little background first:

Widowed young, Lady Julia Grantleigh can’t imagine finding love again. Certainly not with the fearsome Major Holsworth, her late husband’s boyhood best friend, whose harsh, brooding presence has always unnerved her.

But Holsworth has returned home from long military service in India, and arrives unannounced at the first ball Julia attends after taking off her widow’s blacks.

Nothing could unsettle Julia more—or so she thinks.

Midway through the ball, Julia discovers a mysterious golden bracelet, which she can’t seem to resist trying on.  Almost immediately, her life takes an unexpected turn, as she quite literally runs into a hulking figure  in the darkened conservatory….

******************************************

Before Julia had time to scream, a great weight struck her, and she was knocked to the ground. Rough hands were at her throat, and a low, harsh voice demanded, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

He might not have recognized her, but she knew instantly who her assailant was.

Holsworth!” she hissed with what little breath she was able to draw, even while instinct had her twisting to free her arms and legs from the warm bulk pinning her to the floor. Her backside and shoulders throbbed from where they’d hit the hard marble. “You will get off me this instant!”

The huge dark form above her stiffened, and the hands that had been about to throttle her flew back. “Good God!” Holsworth’s deep voice swore. “Julia—Lady Grantleigh!” And she could feel the desperate tension in his body as he sought to scramble away.

It was a relief to be released from the crush of his weight, but as he tried to rise, her left wrist was tugged awkwardly along with him.

“Wait!” she cried. “My—my bracelet is caught. Don’t pull!”

He froze in place, still hovering just inches over her, his palms now pressed to the floor on either side of her shoulders, his knees on either side of her thighs, covering her, but somehow managing to avoid actually touching her again. “What?”

“My bracelet!” A hot blush burned from her very core. The thoughts she’d had about him entering her chamber upstairs made her want to shrink away in shame. “It’s—oh, I think my bracelet’s snagged somehow. On your—your uniform coat.”

In fact, his coat was the least of her worries. Judging from the warm air against her calves, the hem of her gown was jumbled all the way up around her knees. And Holsworth was so close she could catch the scent of his cologne, a warm mix of bay leaf and leather, with a hint of some tropical spice. The intimacy of their position was…simply too much. Somehow worse in the darkness than it would have been in the light.

Holsworth shifted his weight carefully onto one knee, and took her wrist in one of his big hands. She could feel his fingers working their way around the bracelet, seeking the spot where it had attached itself to his uniform.

If only there were enough light for her to see his face. If he were the one who’d put the mysterious bracelet in her chambers, he’d surely recognize it by touch, and she wanted to see his expression when he realized what it was.

Using her free hand to push up slightly off the floor, she managed to wriggle her way to something more approaching a seated posture, and to her relief, Holsworth squatted back on his haunches to give her room. Her forearm was still pinned to his chest, of course. And her legs were still trapped between his, with no easy way to extricate them without knocking the man over, at least until the bracelet was released and she had the use of both her arms again.

Good heavens, he was a big man, especially at such close quarters as this. Christopher had been only a little taller than she was, and lean of frame. The size and power of Holsworth’s body was a different thing entirely—he seemed to loom, to threaten, whether he wished to or not, the sheer mass and heat of him dominating all the available space. 

Blast it. Much as she wanted to know whether he’d given her the mysterious gift, her nerves longed for him to get the bracelet loose so she’d be free of him as well.

His fingers made another circuit of the gold oval, his touch hot whenever it brushed her wrist. “I don’t understand how it’s managed to catch on me at all,” he said at last. “The surface feels smooth all the way around.”

“It—it has hidden closures,” she said. Surely that information would identify the bracelet for him, if he was in fact the source of it. Her heart beat a little harder than before. “There’s a concealed hinge at one end, and a pin at the other that lets the two halves slide apart. Some part of that mechanism must be stuck in the fabric of your coat.”

 “One side seems stuck in the cloth of my shirt as well,” he growled, giving the bracelet an experimental tug. “It won’t give way on either end. Good Lord, you women find the most infernally complicated ways of ornamenting yourselves.”

 Well, that answered her question: the tone of simple masculine irritation made it quite clear the bracelet hadn’t come from him.

 “I can’t get it loose,” he said, tugging again. “And we certainly cannot stay here on this floor.” Without waiting for a reply, he let go of the bracelet and seized her waist with both hands. Then he simply stood, his powerful arms sweeping her to her feet as easily as if she were a china doll.

Her stomach lurched and her lungs seemed to bump her ribs, and worst of all, standing didn’t render their posture appreciably more appropriate. With her bracelet still snagged, they stood close as lovers, his arms about her, her forearm pressed to his chest with her fingers all but brushing the underside of his jaw.

And, Lord, much as she really, truly did want to get away from him, some deeper, less civilized part of her was having other impulses entirely. Holsworth was so warm and strong and solid, so utterly male, she felt the strangest urge to bury her face against his chest and breathe in more of his cologne.

Which she most certainly would not allow herself to do.

At least gravity had dropped her skirts more or less into the correct position again. 

 Still, she really did need to dispel the enforced intimacy of the moment. “Generally speaking,” she said, in the arch tone she might use at a formal dinner, “it’s men who make the ornaments ladies wear. Ladies are in fact obliged to wear them, to shore up masculine pride.”

“Is that so?” he answered, this time giving the bracelet and his lapel a simultaneous, and still quite ineffectual, pull. “And who obliged you to wear this particular one? And why now, precisely? You weren’t wearing a bracelet earlier tonight.”

 She raised her brows, though she doubted he could see them in the darkness. “You made an inventory of the jewelry I was wearing?”

A pause. “Not of your jewelry specifically,” he said. “But soldiers learn to observe everything closely. Attentiveness to detail saves lives.”

“Ah. Like you observed my failure to keep myself adequately fed.”

Holsworth made a sort of scraping noise in his throat, and the vibration of it ran through the bracelet into her wrist. “That observation wasn’t meant as an insult, Lady Grantleigh,” he said. “It was—merely an expression of concern for your well-being.”

“Was it? I don’t know a single lady who wouldn’t take umbrage at being called too thin.”

 It was absurd,of course, to banter with him like this. But she had no other bulwark against the discomfort of their situation. “In fact,” she continued, “some ladies would go into a decline at hearing such a thing, and never show their faces, or their figures, in society again.”

Holsworth went very still, and she could make out just enough in the dim glow of moonlight to tell that he was staring hard at her. “You never struck me as that kind of woman,” he said.

“As what kind of woman?”

“Trivial. Vain.” His voice darkened, seemed to drop half an octave. “Unaware of your true value.”

Oh. He was still staring at her, and suddenly bantering didn’t seem like a safe thing to be doing, at all.

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Want to read more of Julia’s and Holsworth’s story? Find it on Amazon.

Remember to leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing for the See’s Christmas Memories box!

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Where do you go next on the Holiday Cookie Exchange Hop?


Lara Archerhttp://laraarcher.com
Katharine Ashehttps://katharineashe.com/extras/cookies-fit-for-a-prince/
Lori Ann Baileyhttp://loriannbailey.com/christmas-eve-cookies/
Tammy L. Baileyhttps://www.tammylbailey.com/
Katherine Bonehttps://m.facebook.com/AuthorKatherineBone/
Liana De la Rosahttps://www.facebook.com/LianainBloom/
Elizabeth Essexhttps://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.essex.37/
Tina Gabriellehttps://www.facebook.com/TinaGabrielle
Virginia Heathhttps://www.facebook.com/virginiaheathauthor/
Piper Huguleyhttp://piperhuguley.com
Julie Johnstonehttps://www.facebook.com/authorjuliejohnstone/
Kris Kennedyhttps://www.kriskennedy.net/Blogsm
Elizabeth Keysianhttps://elizabethkeysian.com/
Tara Kingstonhttps://www.facebook.com/TaraKingstonAuthor/
Eliza Knighthttps://eknightauthor.com/2018/12/cookie-exchange-hop/
Elizabeth Langstonhttp://www.elizabethlangston.net/holiday-hop/
Jeannie Linhttp://www.jeannielin.com/blog/
Diana Lloydwww.diana-lloyd.com
Nicole Lockehttps://www.facebook.com/NicoleLockeAuthor
Alanna Lucashttps://www.facebook.com/AuthorAlannaLucas/
Deb Marlowehttp://www.debmarlowe.com/historical-holiday-cookie-hop.html
Madeline Martinhttp://www.madelinemartin.com/blog/
Heather McCollumhttps://www.heathermccollum.com/kitchen/
Maddison Michaelshttps://www.facebook.com/MaddisonMichaelsAuthor/
April Moranhttps://www.facebook.com/AuthorAprilMoran
Kate Parkerhttps://www.facebook.com/Author.Kate.Parker/      ;
Emma Princehttps://www.EmmaPrinceBooks.com
Vanessa Rileyhttp://vanessariley.com/blog/2018/12/04/3-ingredient-peanut-butter-cookies/
Ava Stonehttp://www.avastoneauthor.com/ava-s-scandalous-oatmeal-cookies
Jennifer Tretheweyhttps://www.facebook.com/jennifertretheweyromance/
Victoria Vanewww.victoriavane.com/blog
Harmony Williamswww.harmonywilliams.com/xmas-hop

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Good luck collecting all the delicious cookies on the Holiday Hop and (fingers crossed!) having a shot at the Grand Prize of a $160 gift card and all 32 historical romances!

Remember to email your list to Heather@HeatherMcCollum.com when it’s complete, but no later than midnight December 15th!

WELCOME TO MY STOP ON THE HOLIDAY COOKIE HOP!!

Happy Holidays, everybody!! It’s the MOST DELICIOUS time of the year!!

If you’re hosting a holiday party soon, and looking for fabulously festive recipes, you may want to include some gluten-free treats for guests who otherwise must steer clear of the cookie buffet.

Many gluten-free cookies and pastries require special gluten-free flours, but if you want to whip up a quick cookie with things you’ve probably already got in your holiday kitchen, I’ve got a recipe for you!

(A nice plus for guests who keep Passover: these treats are also kosher for Passover as long as your vanilla extract is…just check the label.)

The recipe follows, but first I’ve got another treat on offer: for anyone who leaves a comment below (any holiday greeting will do!), you’ll be entered in a random drawing to win a PRINT copy of your choice of any of my books!

(Learn more about them on my Amazon Author Page!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s the spicy treat….now for the sweet one!!!

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SUPER-EASY FLOUR-FREE MACAROONS

This recipe makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups sweetened, shredded coconut (pack well in measuring cup)
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract…or ½ teaspoon of each!

Instructions

OPTIONAL: If you like the coconut in your macaroons to have extra lovely toasty brown crispiness, spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast for five minute until you just see a tad of color. Remember, they will toast more during baking. Let cool for a few minutes.

  1. Move your oven rack into the bottom third of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together egg whites, sugar, salt, and vanilla: The egg whites and sugar should be completely combined, and the mixture frothy but not stiff.
  3. Add the coconut to the egg white mixture in your bowl. Stir until evenly moistened.
  4. Shape the new mixture into balls: Make balls about 1 ½ inches in diameter, or use a small meatball scoop. Wet hands can prevent sticking. Space about an inch apart on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet (or silicone sheet).
  5. Bake 15 to 20 minutes: When they’re golden, they’re done!
  6. Let cool a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Yummy!!

For some extra fanciness, drizzle finished cookies with a bit of melted chocolate, or mix a few mini chocolate chips into the batter….or both!!

And if you’re really wanting to expand your gluten-free cookie repertoire and don’t mind tracking down some high-quality gluten-free flour, I highly recommend the wonderful site Gluten Free on A Shoestring. Her recipes are SCRUMPTIOUS!!!

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Ready for your next stop on the Cookie Hop? Have fun!!!

Once you’ve hit all the stops, remember to send me your complete cookie list at laraarcherromance@gmail.com to have a chance to win the $100 Amazon Gift Card Grand Prize!!

Diana Layne – http://dianalayne.com/2017/12/05/ruby-slippered-sisterhood-cookie-exchange/

Heather McCollum – https://www.facebook.com/HeatherMcCollumAuthor/

Lizzie Shane – https://www.facebook.com/LizzieShaneAuthor/

Julia Day – http://www.juliaday.com/

Jennifer Bray Weber – http://www.jbrayweber.com/

Katie Graykowski –  www.facebook.com/katie.graykowski

Hope Ramsay – http://hoperamsay.com/rss-christmas-blog-hop-giveaway/

Liz Talley – www.facebook.com/liztalleybooks

Elizabeth Essex – http://www.elizabethessex.com/christmas-cookie-hop-with-the-ruby-slippered-sisterhood/

 

Happy Halloween!! Join Me for the Ruby Trick-or-Treat Blog Hop!!

Boooooooo!!!!! Welcome to my spooky stop on the 2017 Halloween Blog Hop!

For me, Halloween is as exciting as Christmas, so I’m eager to give away some goodies!!

First of all, find my CANDY below and add it to your Ruby list to get your chance to win the Grand Prize $100 Amazon Gift Card!

You also have two chances to win a special prize right here on this blog by reading an  excerpt from my latest sexy historical romance HOLD ME CLOSE.

Read the excerpt below, leave a comment about a line you like, and you’ll be entered in random drawings for the following two prizes:

One is a print copy of my Golden Heart and Daphne du Maurier Award winning novel THE DEVIL MAY CARE,

The other prize is this gorgeous, mystical Halo necklace from Brighton.com, which looks like it could help you get up to all sorts of romantic witchery :

What’s not to like?

FYI: If you’re “collecting” CANDY TREATS to be eligible for the GRAND PRIZE $100 Amazon gift card, my candy is HEATH BARS!!Yummmm!!!!

 

Be sure to add my candy to your list, and when your list is complete, email it to me at laraarcherromance@gmail.com!

I’ll be drawing the winner of the Grand Prize $100 Amazon Gift Card on Halloween Night, and announcing the name on the Ruby blog on November 1!!

 And now for an excerpt–with just a touch of Halloweenish spookiness–from my latest historical romance, HOLD ME CLOSE!

Leave a comment about a line you like to be entered in the drawing for my book and necklace prizes!!

A little background first:

Widowed young, Lady Julia Grantleigh can’t imagine finding love again. Certainly not with the fearsome Major Holsworth, her late husband’s boyhood best friend, whose harsh, brooding presence has always unnerved her.

But Holsworth has returned home from long military service in India, and arrives unannounced at the first ball Julia attends after taking off her widow’s blacks.

Nothing could unsettle Julia more—or so she thinks. . . .

*****************************************************

Holsworth turned to Julia and his dark eyes met hers directly, sending an uncomfortable jolt through her. His gaze flicked lower, taking in the length of her body, and her flesh tingled as though the silk of her gown had turned entirely transparent.

Blast him. He had no business unsettling her so.

“You’ve grown too thin, Lady Grantleigh,” Holsworth said gravely, his expression almost accusing.

Blast him twice. The state of her figure was no business of his. Despite his spotless scarlet-and-gold uniform and his perfect soldier’s posture, he clearly had things to learn about genteel ballroom behavior.

Aunt Margaret sighed again. “I can scarce get the girl to eat,” she said, her own manners apparently forgotten in Holsworth’s presence. Then her eyes suddenly sparkled, and she gestured toward the pairs of dancers moving to the center of the room as the orchestra paused to re-tune their instruments. “But, look! The waltz is about to start! Please, Marcus, do an old woman’s heart some good and let me see you dance with darling Julia. She needs something to lift her spirits.”

Major Holsworth’s brows shot up in apparent alarm, and Julia felt just as taken aback. The last thing to lift her spirits would be Holsworth’s huge body in such close proximity to her own. To her own too thin one, apparently.

Before the man could form a polite response, Julia hurried to say, “No, please, Aunt. This talk of Christopher has been distressing for me. I need a few moments to myself, if you don’t mind.”

Aunt Margaret frowned. “Oh, Julia.”

“I promise, I will return in a few minutes,” she said. Surely the waltzes would be over if she could delay just half an hour. “And perhaps then…a quadrille or a Scotch reel? If Major Holsworth is amenable.” Anything that limited their contact to a few touches of the hands would be vastly preferable to the waltz.

Holsworth managed a surprisingly courtly bow. “It shall be as the whim of the musicians dictates, Lady Grantleigh.” And now his mouth quirked with a touch of wry irony, causing that cruel scar on his cheek to bend like a drawn bow.

Julia’s belly twanged at the sight of it.

She curtsied again and hurried off, hoping it wasn’t too obvious she was fleeing.

She bolted upstairs like a rabbit with a fox on its heels, and shoved her bedroom door closed behind her as though to fend off teeth and claws. The moment she was alone, a well of emotion rushed up from the pit of her stomach, the sort that had so often made her burst out in sobs during the first year of her widowhood.

Before the tears could come, though, a startling sight distracted her: the fireplace was in full blaze.

And the lamp by her bed was lit.

Odd. She’d snuffed the lamp herself just before she went downstairs for the dancing, and she’d watched the chambermaid bank the embers in the hearth. The room should have been dark and cool, but instead it was warm and full of light.

Someone entered my chamber while I was downstairs.

She scanned the room quickly, but she was quite alone.

And yet she felt …something, a sort of presence. A sort of weight in the air. Not threatening, she realized as she let the feeling settle over her, but comforting somehow. Like a soft shawl draped over her shoulders.

Protective. Warm and safe.

“Christopher?” she whispered.

Even as she spoke his name, she felt foolish. Of course the sensation she felt was just the relief of returning to her sanctuary, and the fire’s unexpected warmth on her chilled skin. No doubt Aunt Margaret had anticipated her early retreat to her chamber, and had instructed a footman to come and light the lamp and build the fire high again.

Nonetheless, the sensation of solace was too sweet to dismiss. Indulging herself just a few moments more, she stepped towards the fireplace, holding her palms up to feel the waves of heat.

And that was when she saw it.

A little box.

A little carved wooden box, a few inches square, sitting on the tiles of the hearth, gleaming in the firelight.

Scarcely able to breathe, she stepped closer still to look at it more carefully.

A thousand thoughts scrambled through her head at once. Christopher had collected carved objects like this, sent to England from India, where he always dreamed of going himself, if only his uncertain health had allowed it. He’d given her many such gifts over the years: a beautiful rosewood mirror and hairbrush, a mahogany frame for a miniature of their wedding portrait, small carved bowls in which she kept her rings and earbobs, the teak letter tray inlaid with starbursts made of brass. Those sweet little gifts were her most beloved treasures, far more precious to her than the fabled Grantleigh Sapphires or the heaps of other jewels he’d given her.

Her heart thumped hard, and her head felt light.

Half afraid it would vanish if she touched it, she bent over and picked the box up.

It was solid in her hand—unquestionably real. And the carving was magnificent once she could see it up close: the edges of the lid lined with dozens of perfect little lotus blossoms, and in the center, in delicate relief, the figure of a woman.

And, goodness, what a woman. The figure was caught in the motion of a dance, and wore no clothing beyond a pair of flowing pantaloons that scarcely covered her hips and thighs. Her arms curved outwards, one ankle crossed over the other knee, and one rounded hip was thrust to the side. Tiny beads of inlaid ivory formed a cascading necklace over her bare breasts and belly, and she wore a crown and girdle of inlaid filigreed gold, with gold bracelets about her wrists.

Sensual and serene all at once.

A warm blush crept up Julia’s throat. Her husband had never given her an object decorated quite like this one. She’d only ever seen such voluptuous figures painted in some of the fine old Indian manuscripts Christopher kept in his private library, which she’d dared look at just the one time when she was packing away his things.

Oh, but the box was beautiful, and very old, with a rich patina that nothing but time could bring. She brushed her fingers over the satiny surface, breathed in the subtle scent—sandalwood.

So lovely.

But where on earth had it come from?

Much as her heart longed to believe Christopher had somehow sent her one last gift, her reason sought a more earthly explanation.

The box had come from India, that was clear enough.

And who had just arrived from India?

Her stomach twisted, and she almost threw the thing into the fire.

Holsworth.

But why would Holsworth give this to her? From her husband, the gift, with its erotic carving, would have been uncharacteristically risqué, but romantic. From a man to whom she wasn’t married, it would be…shocking. Beyond shocking. Were Christopher still alive, he’d call the offender out with pistols at dawn.

Even Major Holsworth, rough as he was, would know that.

Julia fought to calm her jangling nerves. It was nearly unimaginable that Holsworth would do something so scandalous as to come into her private chamber and leave this box.

And yet—she glanced again at the blazing fire, at her lamp glowing bright beside her bed, and a new suspicion prickled. Good Lord, Holsworth hadn’t done that, too, had he? He hadn’t meant to join her here, for some sort of secret assignation?

She whirled to face the door.

But it was still closed tight, and the hall outside was silent.

Oh, for pity’s sake—of course he hadn’t intended anything of the sort. Her suspicions were perfectly ridiculous.

And yet, a potent image filled her mind, of Holsworth sweeping through the door, huge and hulking, stalking towards her, seizing her by the waist with his powerful arms, and opening his mouth over hers.

 

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Thanks so much for stopping by!!! Be sure to leave a comment to be in the running for a print copy of THE DEVIL MAY CARE or the Brighton Halo necklace!

Then visit the next Ruby on the hop, and see what treats (or tricks!!) she’s got in store for you!!

Remember: keep a list of the featured CANDY TREATS to have a chance to win the GRAND PRIZE $100 Amazon Gift Card, and email your list to me at laraarcherromance@gmail.com by midnight EST on Halloween Night!!!!

 

Here’s the list of participating Rubies:

Heather McCollum – www.heathermccollum.com

Tamara Hogan- http://www.tamarahogan.com/category/blog/

Autumn Jordon – https://www.facebook.com/authorAutumnJordon/?ref=bookmarks

Shelley Coriell – http://www.shelleycoriell.com/blog/

Julia Day – http://www.juliaday.com/

Jennifer Bray Weber – http://www.jbrayweber.com/

Jacie Floyd – http://www.jaciefloyd.com

Rita Henuber – http://www.ritahenuber.com/

Kate Parker – www.facebook.com/Author.Kate.Parker/

Katie Graykowski –  www.facebook.com/katie.graykowski

Lara Archer https://laraarcher.com/

Hope Ramsay – http://hoperamsay.com/rss-halloween-blog-hop-giveaway/

Kim Law – www.kimlaw.com

Lizzie Shane – https://www.facebook.com/LizzieShaneAuthor/

Diana Layne – http://dianalayne.com/2017/10/10/ruby-slippered-s…od-halloween-hop/

Darynda Jones – https://www.facebook.com/darynda.jones.official

 

HOLD ME CLOSE is here!!

The stand-alone version of Julia’s and Marcus’s story (which appeared last summer in the Nice Girls Writing Naughty anthology The Charmed Bracelet) is out under its own cover now!!

I just love this super-romantic, sexy tale, with its subtle hint of magic.

Widowed young, Lady Julia Grantleigh can’t imagine finding love again. Certainly not with the fearsome Major Holsworth, her late husband’s boyhood best friend, whose harsh, brooding presence has always unnerved her.

But a mysterious gold bracelet that turns up in her chambers seems to have other plans. When its clasp gets caught in Holsworth’s uniform, some disrobing is required—and Julia discovers the fine line between fear and desire.

After one madly passionate night, Marcus Holsworth is as determined as Julia is to put their indiscretion behind them. Although he has secretly loved her for years, as a farmer’s son, he feels he has no right to a lady of Julia’s highborn class, and he won’t dishonor his best friend’s memory by embroiling his widow in scandal.

The bracelet, though, has a powerful secret history which pulls Julia and Marcus back together. As danger from the past threatens, they must learn soul-shaking lessons about when to let go, and when to hold tight for a chance for love.

Get your copy today, and share in the magic!

Available at Amazon.

Yummy!!! It’s the Holiday Cookie Exchange Hop!!!

ruby-cookie-exchange

 

 

 

 

What’s Christmas without delicious cookies?? (Santa ain’t the only one who can use a couple on Christmas Eve.)

I can’t eat gluten, so I’ve had to toss out all the old family cookie recipes and search the internet for replacements. This recipe, from the amazing site Gluten-Free on a Shoestring, is so scrumptious, even the gluten-eaters in my household gobble them up. (Bonus: they’re lactose-free as well! And the dough freezes fabulously!)

If you’re gluten-free, or are expecting holiday guests who are, Gluten Free on a Shoestring has got a fabulous post on LOTS of different kinds of gluten-free Christmas cookies.  Plus they have great everyday cookbooks those of us who are GF can’t live without!

The recipe follows below, but first I’ve got a couple other treats to offer!!

One lucky commenter here on my blog will win THEIR CHOICE of either a copy of Gluten-Free on a Shoestring’s latest book, Gluten-Free Small Bites OR a super cute and tasty Wreath Keepsake Tin full of See’s Chocolates!!

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(FYI: All See’s products are gluten-free, and I’m happy to substitute something nut-free if you prefer.)

 

 

LaraArcher_TheDevilMayCare_200And I’ve got one more offer to make: I’m giving away as many as FIVE print copies of my most recent book, THE DEVIL MAY CARE to the first commenters who say they’re willing to read it and leave an honest review on Amazon by January 25, 2016. Just let me know in the comments if you’re willing!

 

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*****And now for the recipe for THE BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies!!!!****

***********************

Cook time: 12 minutes   Yield: 24 cookies

INGREDIENTS:

2 1/4 cups (315 g) all purpose gluten free flour (Nicole of Gluten-Free on a Shoestring uses Better Batter, but her DIY Better Than Cup4Cup blend works well, too)

1 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your flour blend already contains it) NOTE: xanthan gum is essential for giving these cookies the right texture!!

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar

3/4 cup (164 g) packed light brown sugar

12 to 16 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

8 tablespoons (112 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 eggs (100 g, weighed out of shell) at room temperature, beaten

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

 

DIRECTIONS:

 

  • Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line rimmed baking sheets with unbleached parchment paper and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, place the flour, xanthan gum, salt, baking soda and granulated sugar, and whisk to combine well. Add the brown sugar, and whisk again to combine, working out any lumps in the brown sugar. Place about 12 ounces of the chocolate chips in a small bowl, add about 1 teaspoon of the dry ingredients, toss to coat the chips and set aside. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and add the butter, eggs and vanilla, mixing to combine after each addition. Add the chips and reserved dry ingredients, and mix until evenly distributed throughout. The cookie dough will be thick but not stiff.
  • Divide the cookie dough into about 24 portions and roll each tightly into a ball about 1 1/2 inches in diameter (and about 50 grams each). Press each of the balls of dough into a disk about 1/2-inch thick and place about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. As you’re rolling the dough, add a few more chocolate chips to each ball, if desired, and roll them into the dough. Scatter a few chocolate chips on top of each disk of dough, and place the baking sheet in the freezer for 5 minutes, or until the dough is cold.
  • Remove the chilled dough from the freezer and place the baking sheets, one at a time, in the center of the preheated oven. Bake until the cookies are golden brown around the edges, light golden brown all over and set in the center (about 12 minutes). Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes or until firm before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

ENJOY!!!!

 

***********************

The next stop on the Cookie Exchange Hop is Jennifer Bray-Weber – http://www.jbrayweber.com/

Or if you want to hop freely:

Autumn Jordon – https://www.facebook.com/authorAutumnJordon/

Lizzie Shane  – www.lizzieshane.com

Rita Henuber – http://www.ritahenuber.com/

Elizabeth Langston – https://www.facebook.com/AuthorElizabethLangston

Heather McCollum – http://www.heathermccollum.com/

Shelley Coriell – http://www.shelleycoriell.com/blog/

Laurie Kellogg – http://www.LaurieKellogg.com 

Liz Talley – https://www.facebook.com/liztalleybooks/

AnneMarie Becker – http://www.annemariebecker.com/Anne_Marie_Becker,_Author/Home.html

Jeannie Lin – http://www.jeannielin.com/

Diana Layne –  http://dianalayne.com/2016/11/29/welcome-to-the-r…-cookie-exchange/ 

Lara Archer – https://laraarcher.com/

Jennifer Bray-Weber – http://www.jbrayweber.com/

Kate Parker – https://www.facebook.com/Author.Kate.Parker/

Katie Graykowski – http://www.facebook.com/katie.graykowski

Jacie Floyd – http://www.jaciefloyd.com/ 

It’s the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood Halloween Blog Hop!!!

halloween-blog-hopBoooooooo!!!!! Welcome to my spooky stop on the Halloween Blog Hop!

batsI’ve got some goodies for you today, including an excerpt from my latest stand-alone romance, THE DEVIL MAY CARE, which you can find below.

Read the excerpt and leave a comment here about a line you like, and you’ll be in the running for a random drawing that has prizes for two winners: one is a print copy of THE DEVIL MAY CARE, and the other is this pair of earrings from Brighton.com:

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What’s not to like?

FYI: If you’re “collecting” CANDY TREATS to be eligible for the GRAND PRIZE SWAG BASKET (with lots of gift cards hidden inside!!), my candy is CARAMEL APPLE POPS!! Be sure to add it to your list, and when your list is complete, email it to me at laraarcherromance@gmail.com

caramel-apple-pops

 And now for a sexy excerpt from my Regency-era spy adventure THE DEVIL MAY CARE.

LaraArcher_TheDevilMayCare_200A little background first:

When Rachel Covington’s twin sister Sarah is murdered, revenge requires making the killers believe Sarah’s still alive, so the sheltered governess must take on her twin’s double role as London’s most notorious courtesan and undercover English spy. Sarah’s former espionage partner, Sebastian Talbot, is assigned to train and protect Rachel, but he seems more interested in vexing her in every possible way. For Sebastian, the mission is a nightmare, a replay of his failure to save Sarah, but with a woman whose unfamiliar innocence threatens to slip past all the barriers of his cynical soul. Together, they must lure Sarah’s murderers into the open, distinguish loyal agents from traitors, and struggle to trust one another. The slightest misstep may mean Rachel’s death, so Sebastian must help her play her courtesan role convincingly, and that means awakening her long-buried sensuality—a process which threatens both their professional detachment and their surprisingly vulnerable hearts.

In this scene, they’re riding in a coach on the way home from their first mission together:

********************

Rachel turned her head to stare out the window at the dark city rolling past. Hard as it was to believe, she actually found Lord Gargoyle more bearable in his bad moods.

Blast it all, though—she could feel his gaze still poring over her.

The longer she tried to ignore him, the thicker the silence around them felt. When he spoke again, the sound of his voice made her jump.

“Rachel,” he said, low and terrifyingly earnest. “I wasn’t joking about you needing some practice. You really must grow more comfortable with me. When I put my palm on the small of your back tonight, your spine was stiff as a board.”

“That was good posture.”

“That was fear.”

Her eyes snapped back to his face again. “I’m not afraid.”

“No?” A smug smile played about his lips, and he stretched out a hand towards her. “Then come here.”

Oh, the look in his eye was hypnotic—a blend of challenge and heat. The force of it tugged at her, as surely as if he’d seized her wrist and were pulling her physically towards him.

Her pulse quickened, began to throb. The heat of it bloomed up her throat, spread over her cheeks. Damn him. No doubt he could see the effect he was having on her, and no doubt he was enjoying the sight.

His smile broadened. “When I said I was an excellent protector,” he murmured, “I wasn’t just talking about my generosity with money. I assure you my mistresses are always more than satisfied in my bed.”

Oh. All those sprawling couples at Lady Barham’s party tonight flashed back into her mind—and the gasps of pleasure they’d made.

More than satisfied.

Her chin lifted. Hopefully, Sebastian would see her resistance, and not her trembling hands. “Are they indeed?”

“Most definitely.” He still held out his hand in invitation. His arm was rock-steady, his eyes gleaming, his expression so utterly confident.

She swallowed hard. Against all her efforts to steel herself, her nerves began to thrum, and suddenly it was as if she still felt the pressure of Sebastian’s hand against her back—and worse, far worse—as if she still wore that plum-colored gown she’d worn that night in the bedroom of his townhouse, when his hands had stroked her arms and breasts and even slid between her thighs, when she’d nearly surrendered everything to him.

The flesh throbbed now at the joining of her legs.

How easy it would be to let it happen, to let him touch her like that again—and perhaps not stop him this time. Her breasts seemed to strain against the tightness of her bodice, and she caught herself biting at her lip.

“You’re curious,” he said, his voice deepening still more. “That’s obvious. Why don’t you come find out exactly what I’m offering?”

His extended his hand just a few more inches closer. Now he did seize her wrist, and it was as if a tongue of flame lashed her. He pulled, not hard enough to force her, but enough to break through the last bit of her resistance. Her insides quavered, but she let that gentle tug pull her to her feet, make her step towards him, her knees unsteady.

“Excellent,” he said, grinning. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

“What wasn’t?”

“Giving in.”

Her spine stiffened once more. “Who says I’ve given in?”

He chuckled again. “I suppose that remains to be seen, doesn’t it? Clearly, you enjoy a challenge. So let’s up the stakes.”

“How?”

His fingers released her wrist, and his hands went to the sides of her skirts. He took the fabric in both fists and began to lift it towards her knees. “Straddle me.”

“What?”

“Sit atop me, with your legs on either side of mine. The way a man rides a horse.”

Her breath caught in her throat. “I’ve never ridden a horse.”

“Or a man either. I’m well aware of that. Don’t worry; I won’t take this any farther than you want tonight. But if I’m going to teach you more about pleasure, I’ll need access.”

Access? Her mouth went dry, and a hot-cold shaft of panic went through her.

He cocked an eyebrow. “Unless you don’t think you’re up for the challenge.”

“But you said you were a mass of bruises,” she said desperately. “I—I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Bruises are of no consequence. I assure you, I find you soothingly soft.”

She licked fitfully at her lips. “Do you?”

“Oh, yes, very soft. Very soft indeed.” His voice seemed strangely abstracted as he repeated the word, and his gaze left hers for a moment, as though drawn off into some profound philosophical conundrum. Then he heaved a sharp breath, and looked her in the eye again. “Come now, show me how brave you can be.”

She stood stock-still for a long moment, her mind racing. She really did need to get over her awful stiffness around men—she’d nearly given the game away tonight, several different times. And that sort of mistake could get them both killed.

Sebastian promised not to take this farther than she was ready for, and oddly enough she trusted him to keep his word. His damnable self-control was dependable for that, at least.

Brave, yes. She could be brave. Heedlessly, thoughtlessly brave.

As if in a dream, she climbed atop him as he lifted her skirts out of her way. The seat of the coach was well padded, but not deep, so her knees had to slide apart rather wider than she wished before the backs of her thighs settled over the iron-hard tops of his. As her skirts dropped back down around her hips and legs, the emerald silk was full enough to cover most of her bared flesh, but with her legs spread so far, and no barrier but the fabric of his breeches between her and him, she still felt dangerously exposed.

And excited.

What would he do to her now?

*********************************************

pumpkinThanks for stopping by!!! Be sure to leave a comment to be in the running for a print copy of the book or the Brighton earrings!

Then visit the next Ruby  on the hop, and see what treats (or tricks!!) she’s got in store for you!!

rubytrickortreatRemember: keep a list of the featured CANDY TREATS to have a chance to win the GRAND PRIZE SWAG BASKET which has all sorts of fun loot, plus a bunch of gift cards stashed inside.

Heather McCollum – www.heathermccollum.com

Lara Archer – www.laraarcher.com

Kate Parker – www.kateparkerbooks.com

Laurie Kellogg – http://lauriekellogg.com/

Lizzie Shane – http://www.lizzieshane.com/

Darynda Jones – https://www.facebook.com/darynda.jones.official/

Katie Graykowski –  www.facebook.com/katie.graykowski

Kim Law – http://www.kimlaw.com/ruby-blog-hop-trick-or-treat/

Jamie Michele – http://www.jamiemichelebooks.com/

Jackie Floyd – http://www.jaciefloyd.com

Autumn Jordon – https://www.facebook.com/authorAutumnJordon/

Anne Marie Becker – http://www.annemariebecker.com/Anne_Marie_Becker,_Author/Home.html

Diana Layne – http://dianalayne.com/?p=3307&preview=true

Jennifer Bray-Weber – http://www.jbrayweber.com/

 

 

Meet Marcus and Julia from HOLD ME CLOSE in the anthology THE CHARMED BRACELET

cover bit for NGNW anthology facebook eventWidowed young, Lady Julia Grantleigh can’t imagine finding love again. Certainly not with the fearsome Major Holsworth, her late husband’s boyhood best friend, whose harsh, brooding presence has always unnerved her.

But a mysterious gold bracelet that turns up in her chambers seems to have other plans. When its clasp gets caught in Holsworth’s uniform, some disrobing is required—and Julia discovers the fine line between fear and desire.

After that one passionate night, Marcus Holsworth is as eager as Julia is to put their indiscretion behind them—as a farmer’s son, he has no business loving a woman of Julia’s class, and he won’t dishonor his best friend’s memory by embroiling his widow in scandal.

He’d do the sensible thing and walk away—but he fears Julia’s in danger from the same traitor who he suspects may have murdered her husband. Bound together by fate, Marcus and Julia learn soul-shaking lessons about when to let go, and when to hold tight to a chance for love.

charmed braceletYou can read their story, HOLD ME CLOSE, in The Nice Girls Writing Naughty anthology, THE CHARMED BRACELET, available now wherever e-books are sold!

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I should point out that HOLD ME CLOSE is set in the era of Jane Austen. It’s the one historical tale in the collection, and it provides a delicious origin story for the bracelet that will unite the lovers in the contemporary stories that follow.

Want a little excerpt? Here you go. This is from fairly early on, when a collision in a darkened room causes Julia’s bracelet to snag on Holsworth’s uniform. Things get steamy pretty quickly after this, but I’ll give you a little taste:

******************

Good Lord, was he aware she’d always disliked him?

He breathed out an impatient sigh. “You never did approve of me, did you?”

Well, that took care of that question as well.

It was he who’d first disapproved of her, of course. But even so, if she’d been so indiscreet as to let her feelings about him show, it was time to make amends. “You were my husband’s dearest friend,” she assured him in the most gracious tone she could manage. “Christopher respected you as he respected no one else in the world. And I would never gainsay his judgment.”

Holsworth gave a dark laugh. “A suitably equivocal thing to say. Your husband always respected me. And of course a proper lady would never refute the word of her lord and master, no matter how sharply her private opinion might diverge. Your manners are, as always, exquisite, Lady Grantleigh.”

Well, then. Holsworth was rather more nimble at this bantering business than she’d given him credit for. He’d managed to shut her mouth entirely, for the moment at least.

“Come now,” he said abruptly. “We must get into the light, or I’ll never get this blasted bauble of yours unhooked.”

Blasted bauble? That helped her find her tongue again. “It’s your blasted clothing that’s hooked my bauble.” It was a silly retort, and by no means a proper one, but it was strangely refreshing to speak so tartly. How long had it been since she’d teased or joked with anyone?

Oh, she knew—she knew exactly. Eighteen months.

Since Christopher had been taken from her.

That Major Holsworth, of all people, should spark the habit in her again was rather painfully ironic. But she couldn’t seem to stop herself.

“Besides,” she heard herself saying, “why should I follow you anywhere? You haven’t yet explained why you were skulking about in the darkness in the first place.”

His shadowed outline stiffened. “I never skulk, Lady Grantleigh,” he said. “I am merely unaccustomed to the frenzy of society ballrooms, and withdrew a moment to admire the moonlight.”

“We’re in the wilds of Devon, sir. Ballrooms here are hardly frenzied.”

“Compared to the wilds of India, ma’am, your ballroom is frenzied indeed. And I might point out that you yourself were doing some skulking.”

Her chin jutted forward. “I wasn’t skulking. I live here.”

“Fair enough. In that case, you might know of a reasonably private space where I could actually see to disentangle us. If you could lead us there, I’d be most grateful.”

Ah, yes. Disentanglement was, of course, the goal.

If they stood here much longer, all but entwined, someone was sure to come upon them and think they were in the midst of a scandalous romantic rendezvous.

“There’s—there’s a sitting room just a little way behind us,” she said. “Hidden behind that stand of date palms.”

“Good,” Holsworth said, his deep voice rough. “Since this might require removal of my coat.”

Her heart skipped a beat, or perhaps tried to perform several beats at once. She swallowed hard. “Removal of …your coat?”

Well, they certainly couldn’t let anyone else be witness to that. As far as the sticklers of Society were concerned, a gentleman showing his shirtsleeves to a lady was tantamount to stripping nude.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “that damnable bracelet’s snagged between my coat and my linen in some maddeningly complicated way.”

Maddeningly complicated. Yes, that phrase seemed apt at the moment.

For the man as well as the predicament.

And for her own mood, too. She was irritated, frustrated, of course, by the absurdity of the situation, but also somehow…buoyant.

I am almost enjoying this.

Not a thought she wanted to consider in detail.

Thankfully, Holsworth got things moving. He set one large hand to the small of her back, and wrapped the other about her trapped wrist, presumably to keep the bracelet from ripping at his clothing as they walked, or perhaps to spare pressure on her arm. It might even be…courtly of him, she supposed. Considerate, at least. Perhaps even protective.

Despite his sometimes primitive manners, the man seemed more than capable of protecting a woman.

A realization which sent a peculiar flutter through her insides.

To her relief, he released her wrist to open the sitting room door and to throw the lock shut behind them, but then he made the fluttering worse by reaching across her to feel for the tinderbox that was always kept on a little table just inside the room.

And then it occurred to her that he’d been teasing before: he knew perfectly well this room was here. After all, he’d grown up in this house. Had in fact spent more years in it than she had.

A maddeningly complicated man, indeed.

He struck the flint, and a wood splint flared. He dipped it into the lantern beside the tinderbox, so neatly he scarcely rattled the glass, and the candle-wick hissed into flame.

Now a golden circle of light surrounded them.

And, oh, she wished they were still lost in darkness.

The sight of him, so very close, was after all far more disconcerting than being with him in the shadows. Lord, she’d never paid attention to the shape of Holsworth’s mouth before, to the generous sweep of his lower lip.

Or to how striking his dark eyes were, with their black fringe of lashes. Christopher had been so fair, his hair nearly as silken as a child’s and his pale scalp showing along his part, but Holsworth’s hair was thick and dark as night, its waves so dense she couldn’t tell if he parted it at all.

And then of course there was that frightening scar…

Oh, why should she be more self-conscious now than she had been in the shadows about the warmth of his breath mingling with hers?

He seemed to be studying her face, too, his body unnaturally still, his gaze intense but impenetrable in its intentions. She felt it like pressure against her skin—and had the disconcerting sensation that she was being stroked with black velvet.

A flush of heat ran up her throat.

Perhaps he noticed the color come into her cheeks, because he looked away suddenly, grasping her wrist again almost roughly. “Let me get a look at that bracelet,” he said.

He had to crane his neck awkwardly since it was snagged right near his collarbone, and he twisted her wrist back and forth to see the closures as best he could. His eyes widened suddenly, and his gaze snapped back to hers. “Where did you get this?”

His tone was sharp, almost accusing, and his fingers closed tighter on her arm.

“Why do you ask?” And what business is it of yours? Her pulse was growing more rapid again. Did he recognize the bracelet after all?

“It’s from India,” he said harshly, and it seemed to be a statement and a question all at once.

“It is,” she confirmed, refusing to let her discomposure show on her face. After all, she was under no obligation to tell him that she herself had no more information about the bracelet than that. “How did you know?”

“The color of the gold—a purer alloy than Europeans use. And the inscription appears to be in Sanskrit.”

“Yes,” she said. “Do you know what it says?”

He hesitated. “I can’t see enough of it to tell. In any case, I’m no scholar. Urdu and Marathi are of more use to army officers.”

Christopher was a scholar. That thought went through her with a pang.

Oh, why was she here with this piratical soldier and not with her gentle husband? Why should the man who’d spent years having bullets fired at him be alive, while the one who’d sat safely behind a desk have perished? The universe made no sense at all.

And why on earth could she not stop feeling so conscious of the heat and size of Holsworth’s body, of that disquieting exotic scent of his, of the dark tinge of stubble along his jaw?

This excessive awareness of him was merely the reaction of her flesh, to be sure. For all these months since Christopher died, she’d lived in dreams and shadows, lying in her cold bed alone at night. She’d barely remembered she had a body.

And Holsworth was certainly very bodily.

So large and strong and irrefutably male. So vital, she fancied she could hear his heart pulsing, the blood rushing beneath the surface of his skin.

Suddenly the thought of him putting his arms around her, of him putting his mouth against hers, began to beat at the back of her skull like a drum.

Thankfully, Holsworth, for his part, now seemed focused entirely on practical matters. He had his chin down, squinting at the bracelet again. “Where is this pin you mentioned? To release the clasp?”

She had to feel for the tiny metal nub herself, her knuckles brushing the underside of Holsworth’s jaw and pressing into his uniform front as she searched. Goodness, the man was hard as a rock, everywhere.

Holsworth could probably snap her in two if he wanted. And judging from the harsh expression on his face just now, she wasn’t entirely sure he didn’t want to.

There—her fingertip found the pin at last. She pressed her nail into the tip as she had the first time, and waited for the front seam to pop open.

It didn’t pop.

She pressed once more.

Still nothing.

“It—it’s not working.”

“Damnation,” he swore. “You must have damaged the mechanism in the fall.”

I must have damaged it? May I remind you that you knocked me down. Deliberately, I might add. And you still haven’t explained why.”

He blew out an impatient breath. “I thought you were—oh, never mind what I thought.”

She planted her one free fist on her hip. “In any case, it was your weight that struck the bracelet, not mine! I merely struck the floor.”

He swore again—a word she wasn’t familiar with, and which might not be English at all, but uttered in the unmistakable tone of male obscenity.

“Are you sure you can’t just pull your hand out?” he asked, gripping her wrist with thumb and forefinger as though he were about to force the issue himself.

“Stop that!” she snapped. “If I were capable of pulling my hand through, don’t you think I’d have done it by now?”

“Well, I can’t seem to get the fabric free,” he said, as though that were somehow her fault. “It looks like part of my shirt is caught inside that little separation where you say the clasp is, and the inside of my lapel’s caught in the seam on the other side. It’s like the bloody thing bit down on me, on purpose.”

She laughed. “You’re attributing malevolent intention to my bracelet?”

“You explain it.”

“You’re big as a bull,” she said bluntly. “Your weight probably forced the two sides apart just long enough to wedge the fabric inside. And they closed up again when you got off me. And now it’s—it’s jammed somehow.”

She didn’t feel as though they were bantering anymore. Merely being quite direct with one another. But it was strange—as uncomfortable as she felt with him in so many ways, she also felt more at ease in his presence than she ever had when they were actually trying to be civil. Necessity makes strange bedfellows, she thought. And instantly regretted the image that brought into her mind.

“Big as a bull, eh?” he said, musing, his voice oddly softer than before. “That I am, I’m afraid.” His gaze met hers again, steadily, and now his brow creased with concern. “Good Lord—I didn’t hurt you, Lady Grantleigh, did I, when I knocked you down? I suppose I should have asked you that much earlier than this. Beg pardon—I’ve spent my adult life disabling enemies, not inquiring after their welfare.”

Again, she laughed. “Enemies? Do you count me among their number?”

To her shock, a tinge of ruddy color appeared on his cheeks.

“No. Never,” he said. “Of course not.” Lord, his eyes were so very black, almost unfathomable. And somehow, as deep as they were, they seemed to reach far inside of her, too. “You must know, Lady Grantleigh,” he said softly, “you are everything admirable.”

Oh. She wasn’t at all sure what to say to that. It became a little hard to breathe, and the flesh prickled all along her arms, and along the fronts of her legs.

Standing close to him had been far easier to manage when he was being harsh with her.

“On your wedding day,” he said, just as softly, his eyes still boring into hers, “do you know what Christopher asked of me?”

“No,” she whispered.

“He asked me to protect you, and look after you, if ever he could not.” His gaze sharpened, somehow, and he seemed about to say something even more profound. But then his mouth pursed, and his eyes slanted back down at the bracelet again. His tone became lighter, ironic. “And look what a fine job I’m doing of it.”

The joke did nothing to lighten the strange tension that gripped her. Christopher had asked him to protect her?

The oddest sensation twinged in the center of her chest.

The sheer power of the man seemed palpable, pressing down against her.

And, then, for some reason, the image of the carved dancing girl atop the jewel box came into her mind, the silky-looking cloth about her hips, the pearls draped over her bare breasts. And Julia’s own breasts seemed to tighten.

Good Lord. She really did have to dispel this strange mood that was taking her over, or the next thing she knew, she’d be thinking dangerous thoughts about Major Holsworth taking off his coat, and perhaps his shirt as well, and she’d be wondering what that huge, hard body of his looked like when it was stripped bare.

She gave her head a little shake. “Oh, please, Major,” she said, trying to keep her tone nonchalant. “Don’t be so serious about things. What’s happened here was a silly accident, nothing more. Something to laugh over one day.”

He nodded gravely. “I’m glad to hear you have that attitude,” he said, “because it’s about to get worse.”

A peculiar thrill raced down her spine at his words. “Worse? In what way worse?”

“If the pin on your bracelet won’t work, and you can’t slide your wrist through, there’s no help for it, Lady Grantleigh.” He drew a rather ragged breath. “I’m going to have to start disrobing.”

 

THE CHARMED BRACELET: The First Nice Girls Writing Naughty Anthology is Here!!!

charmed braceletFrom Regency England to modern day Chicago, a mysterious golden bracelet connects lovers through centuries and across continents.

A widow born to wealth and the military hero who loves her…
The determined young woman and the man she rescued from the streets…
A feisty waitress and the financier who always appears when she needs help…
A computer programmer and the cop who saves her life…

Authors Lara Archer, Leela Lou Dahlin, Nona Raines, and A. Catherine Noon and Rachel Wilder, members of the Nice Girls Writing Naughty, bring you this anthology celebrating the unexpected twists of fate that lead to true love.

Are you ready for some nice with a heaping helping of naughty?

Just 99 cents for four steamy stories!!!

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