Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Sneaky peek and giveaway!

Excitement is mounting here at Darkins HQ, as the release date for Frozen Heart, Melting Kiss is just two weeks away. So to celebrate publishing my first novel for Mills & Boon I'm going to give away some free stuff! 

Here, for your reading pleasure, is the very beginning of FHMK, when the glorious Maya and (somewhat surly) Will meet for the first time. And if that's just not enough for you, then there are two copies of the book, in good old-fashioned paperback, to be won on Goodreads; so click the button below and throw your hat in the ring. As always, would love to hear what you think of it!

Ellie x

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Frozen Heart, Melting Kiss by Ellie Darkins

Frozen Heart, Melting Kiss

by Ellie Darkins

Giveaway ends September 02, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Chapter One

'You are going to try this one.'

Maya Hartney forced the corners of her mouth up into a professional smile while she waited for Will Thomas to bite. Behind her back she clasped her hands to stop herself chewing at a nail.

She'd tried dozens of combinations of dishes for this tasting, even though squeezing in an extra job next month was pushing her business to its limits. But it had been impossible to say no when Rachel, Will's assistant, had pleaded with her so earnestly to consider catering for an Appleby and Associates gala dinner.

These moments, waiting for a client to try one of her dishes, were nerve-racking but necessary. Once they'd taken a bite her nerves gave way to sheer pleasure. She loved to watch people enjoy her food. Ever since the first time it had happened, years ago, when she'd first cooked for her university housemates, it had given her a physical thrill. The joy that her food brought showed in the small smile people gave as they closed their eyes and savoured the taste for a moment. Now, ten years later, she lived and worked for that moment.

And she'd never had reason to doubt her food's capacity for bringing joy. Until now.

Will Thomas had already refused to try her starter, and her flutter of nerves congealed into a lump of dejection as she realised he probably wouldn't try this course either.

Maya swallowed awkwardly, thinking hard, wondering where she had gone wrong. Her late night last night had seemed worth it, if it meant she had this dish just right, but there must be something that she'd misjudged. She bit her lip for a second as she ran through the possibilities in her mind and her pulse picked up speed as she considered improvements she could make. Maybe the dressing wasa little too acidic? But then he hadn't even tried it, so he wouldn't know that. It must be the presentation that needed more work. The rest of the meal would have to be perfect to get this pitch back on track.

It had nothing to do with the fact that her mouth had watered the first second she'd seen Will Thomas and he'd met her gaze with steel-grey eyes. It was because she'd felt the chill of his presence since the second he'd arrived, and her whole body had wanted her to resist it. To fill the room with light and colour so that the cold couldn't take hold of her. She'd fought too hard against it to let it in now.

There wasn't a splash of colour anywhere in the office: grey walls, grey carpet, glass table and black leather chairs. She'd not experienced a chill like this for ten years, and would be a happy woman if she never felt it again. There was colour in every part of her life these days, displacing cold grey memories; now this room threatened to undo a decade's positive thinking.

When Will Thomas had walked in the room had suddenly made perfect sense. Charcoal suit, crisp white shirt, black hair with just a few flecks of silver at the temples. Grey eyes that bore an expression as clinical as their surroundings. Despite all this attraction had prickled at her skin, along with a warning, and she'd had to take a breath to steady herself.

His gaze had left his smartphone only briefly, dropped from her face to trace the contours of her curves and finally she'd seen a brief spark of heat in his eyes. The light had been there for just a fraction of a second before he'd caught it, extinguished it, and taken a step away from her, his eyes snapping back to his phone.

She'd crossed her ankles to stop herself taking a step forward, sensing that he wanted space, trying to respect that. Her eyes, though, had seemed desperate to pursue Will Thomas, to roam over the lines and planes of his face, down to where his shirt, crisp and starched and white, was open at the collar.

She'd introduced her starter: a salad of hand-harvested scallops, pan-fried and served with rocket and prosciutto, finished with a dressing it had taken two full evenings to perfect. He'd given it a derisive look and asked her to move on, his fingers twitching on the screen of his phone. Email withdrawal, she assumed. She'd catered for enough business dinners to recognise the symptoms. But the knowledge that he was choosing to check his emails over trying her food made her restless. Her food always spoke for her—what was she meant to do with someone who refused to listen?

On this man those chiselled cheekbones and intriguing silver eyes were entirely resistible.

She closed her mouth and bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself from a very unprofessional outburst.

He had to try this dish. She was certain that it would fix their impasse. If he would just give the food a chance she could still win him over. She'd sourced tender duck from a nearby farm and selected only the most beautiful vegetables from her local supplier. The herbs had come from the garden of her cottage in the Cotswolds and the sauce, a delicate balance of wine, red berries and orange, was—as of last night's final run-though—perfect.

She wanted it to be right, needed it to be perfect, because if she could no longer rely on her food what else did she have to offer?

Taking a step towards him, she brandished the fork.

'You are going to try this one,' she repeated with renewed determination.

She tried to paste the smile onto her face again to soften the blow, but there was no disguising the fact that this was an instruction, not a request, and her frustration had made her words short and sharp.

Will met her gaze and seemed to study her; his eyes narrowed while he inspected her features, as if weighing up his opponent. He slipped the smartphone into his pocket and took the fork from her.

'Do I have a choice?'

Maya couldn't be certain but a ghost of a smile had seemed to flicker at the corner of his mouth. His eyes left her face only briefly as he forked a mouthful of the meat and dipped it into the sauce. She grew warm under his relentless scrutiny and thought again of that moment when she'd first seen him. His eyes had widened when he'd noticed her standing in the conference room, as if he couldn't quite take her in, as if he didn't understand her. She didn't want to be difficult to understand. She had no interest in being enigmatic. What she needed was for him to like this dish, to restore her belief in her food—in herself.

For a moment as he chewed she thought she'd done it, that her food had broken this man's icy resolve. He closed his eyes for a moment, and she was sure he was savouring the flavours she'd worked so hard to blend and perfect. His body stilled, his breathing was slow, his fingers were at rest on his phone. The muscles of his face hinted at a smile. But then in an instant it was gone; his eyes snapped open and she saw only indifference.

'That's fine.'

Fine? Fine? Perhaps she'd imagined it, she thought. That moment when it had seemed, however briefly, that he had been won round. Or maybe she hadn't, and he was just determined for some reason not to enjoy her food, whatever she put in front of him. Anger at his uninterest prickled—how could he be so determined not to enjoy something she had poured her joy and happiness into?

This wasn't going to get any better, she realised then. She just had to find a way to get through this. To protect herself from the barbs of his coldness until she could get out of there. She relaxed her hold on her anger, bringing it to the fore, letting it protect her from his cold indifference.

'Dessert?' she asked, dreading the response, dreading the rejection, but wanting to get it over with.

'I'm sure you've got that under control.'

'Blackberry fool?' Why not show him how his dismissal hurt? she thought. It wasn't as if he would even care or notice. And it might make her feel a little better.

His eyes held hers and she felt the heat in her face sink to her belly when he continued to stare at her. She shifted under his scrutiny, trying not to wonder what he was thinking, why he was studying her irises. It seemed that her anger could reach him where her food hadn't.

Will raised an eyebrow. 'It sounds like you've got the measure of things, Miss…'

'Maya's fine,' she said, her words still terse.

'Maya,' he repeated, his voice a little less steady than it had been.

He took a deep breath and she saw a blank mask descend over his face, shutting out whatever it was that had flashed between them in the past few seconds. It was a pattern, she realised. A few seconds when his features flickered with emotion, some pleasure or enjoyment. And then he chased it away, locked his face down hard. His voice too, when he spoke next, was the model of professionalism, his words hard and steady.

'Thank you for coming, Maya. Leave your quote with my assistant and someone will be in touch.'

Anger fought for room with sorrow and the pain that had haunted her since her childhood. Will had shut her out in a fraction of a second. It had taken him the space of a blink to forget whatever it was that had made him pause and consider her the moment before. And she couldn't help but remember how her parents had so easily done the same.

He'd reduced everything that she'd created to a string of numbers on a spreadsheet. A simple calculation that took no account of love and passion. She couldn't meet his eye—didn't know if he was even trying to as she shook his hand. As he walked out she let her frustration loose as she tossed cutlery and crockery back into bags and boxes and then packed away the barely touched food.

She tried rationalising what had happened to make herself feel a little better. It wasn't that he wasn't interested in her food, it was just that he only cared about the numbers. Perhaps she should have guessed the moment he'd walked into the room that this was just another business meeting for him.

She'd never been so infuriated by anyone in her life, she thought as she headed out to her car. It wasn't just his lack of enthusiasm for her food, it was the way that he'd seemed completely unwilling to let himself enjoy it, his determination to see life in columns and cells. He'd only tried one course out of three: her food had never stood a chance of impressing him because he had never been prepared to let it.

That thought drained her anger, sapped the tension from her muscles, as she remembered the last time her passion been faced with pure indifference.

Even if she was offered the job she knew she wouldn't be seeing him again. She knew that to cook, and cook well, for that man after today's disaster would be impossible—a complete waste of good food and time, and too close to too many bad memories. She couldn't do it.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

My writing journey

For ages I've been meaning to write my own story, and get down on paper (or pixels) how I woke up one day as a published author... So from green biro to published copies, here's how it happened!

When I was ten years old, I decided I’d write a book. My first novel ran to seven pages of a lined A4 notepaper, and I only remember two things about it. One, the main character was an ill-disguised version of my best friend. And two, for some reason, I chose to write the whole thing in green biro – fortunately, for my editors, not a habit I’ve kept.

Fast-forward fifteen years, and I was still writing in fits and starts, though I didn’t seem to have the confidence to take my writing seriously.

I can pinpoint, though, two key events that finally kick-started my writing career, and for which I’ll be forever grateful. The first was the coming together (*ahem*) of two of my great loves: Mills & Boon and rugby (players…). When M&B announced that they would be releasing a rugby-themed miniseries, working together with the RFU, I was inspired. I put pen to paper, and started work on a novel featuring an ill-disguised Jonny Wilkinson (do you see a theme emerging?). I got about seven thousand words down before my hard drive died, taking all my hard work with it. Not enough words to have developed any real conflict, characterisation or plot, but there were one or two sentences in there – I seem to remember a honey-coloured shoulder – that made me think that I might actually be okay at this writing lark, given enough practice.

And that’s when I discovered NaNoWriMo.

Now, I’ve gushed before on the joys of NaNo, so I won’t do it again here, but suffice it to say that without these month-long writing exercises I might never have gone on to take my writing seriously, or to ever get to The End.

It took three years, and three completed NaNo manuscripts, before I turned around on 1 December, and thought to myself, I might actually have something here. Another year of hard graft later, the book was Hiding from Hollywood, and a year after that, it hit virtual bookshelves, edited and published by the lovely folks at Crimson Romance.

And while I was waiting for Hollywood to find the right home, I was working on something else, inspired by too many hours in front of food-themed reality TV (a habit I’ve not shaken. I’m counting down the minutes to tonight’s Bake Off … currently 54!). I had the manuscript finished and edited when I saw that Mills & Boon were running a pitch competition to find new authors, and thought that I’d run my foodie story idea past them – maybe they’d like it. And they did! I came runner up in that competition and the editors asked to see the partial manuscript, and then the full! Several rounds of revisions later, they offered a contract not only for that book, now titled Frozen Heart, Melting Kiss, but for the next one too!

And that’s where you find me now. I’ve just put the finishing touches to my second book for M&B, am working on promoting Frozen Heart, Melting Kiss, and am looking forward to receiving my first sales figures for Hiding from Hollywood. And, of course, trying to sort through the various ideas simmering in my brain to decide which story I’m going to tackle next!