Welcome back to my blog, and to another feature from the Unwrapping Love holiday anthology, which releases on December first! If you want to join the release party, check it out here. If just that sentence (or the gorgeous cover below) makes you love it enough that you must buy the book, you can pre-order here.

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Done? Okay, good, let’s get started. Today, Crystal Hanley from the story Hanley’s Secret, written by S.K. Wills, has agreed to be interviewed on my blog. I’m impressed I was able to convince her to do so since, well, she has a pretty big secret, and she’s running from a past that isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy. A past she’s afraid will catch up to her. I’ll stop harping on it now, as she looks like she might bolt out of here before we even get started.

She’s invited me to meet her at a cozy bed and breakfast in southern Alabama for the interview. This is no hardship for me, given I live in the north and winter has already hit. The locals are complaining of the cold front that’s settled here, whereas I’m sitting across from Crystal in the front room, contemplating taking off a layer. The fire is roaring, burning seasoned wood, pushing a great deal of heat into the room. The drink she’s concocted – she calls it Boozy Hot Cocoa – is also helping to keep me toasty. There’s definitely more than powdered chocolate in this drink.

One more sip, and it’s time to pepper Crystal with questions. First, I’ll start with the basics. “Tell us about yourself, Crystal, er, Hanley. Do you consider yourself your author’s muse or bane of her existence?”

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Hanley flicks her mint-green eyes away and back as if hesitating. “I shouldn’t be talking to strangers about, um…me. He might find me.” She licks her lips, and leans forward from her spot on the couch, arms crossed, and voice low, and answers the question anyway. “Probably bane of her existence since I can be such a pain. Hard-headed and mouth like a sailor isn’t the type of heroine who makes a story easy to write, I imagine.”

I sip my delicious drink and tilt my head to the side. “Hmm. Maybe not easy to write, but I would imagine it would be exciting to read. What do you think readers will like best about you? How about the worst?”

She flops back against the cushions, her feet barely touching the floor. “How the hell should I know? I know they won’t like the secrecy, but it’s kind of necessary, you know? And Beckett is all, ‘tell me everything, Hanley. You can trust me, Hanley’. It’s not really that I can’t, but telling him puts us both at risk.” She blows out a breath that sends some of the dark hair around her face dancing away. “Trust has to be earned before it can be given, right?”

I nod enthusiastically. “Absolutely. Wait – Beckett? Are you married? Dating?”

Before she can hold it back, she laughs. “Oh God, no. Donovan would have tried, and I feel like it was heading there, without my consent mind you, before I left.” She pulls a loose thread free from her jeans, and rolls it between her fingers while shrugging. “I guess Beckett and I are dating. I mean, I know that’s what he wants. Is it what I want? I don’t know. There’s so much between us, and so much more to be discovered. What if he can’t get over my past once he knows everything?” The last is said quietly, almost to herself. “Still, we like each other and we’re intimate, so that’s a start.”

I’m positively dying of curiosity about Donovan, especially since before she agreed to this interview, she made it clear that I could not ask questions specifically about him. But when she admits she and Beckett are dating, I am distracted by her hint at intimacy. The spiked cocoa spurs me to ask, “Where is your favorite place to seduce Beckett?”

“I don’t know,” she says, and then she adds, “I mean before, I was expected to seduce partners for Donovan and that usually took place in the back room at the club. Beckett and I, we’re so new we haven’t really experienced all there is to experience.” An unnatural smile curves her lips. It’s almost shy. “I guess the one time on the dresser was quite nice. He’s so big.” Her eyes grow wide and she starts to giggle. “No, no. Not that kind of big, just big as in tall and muscular. Oh God.” She continues to laugh, clutching her sides. “I’m just so short and he’s so big. That’s all I meant,” she manages to say.

I chuckle along with her, my mind fully and entirely in the gutter. “Yeah, I know what you mean.” She continues to laugh and I try to come up with a more interview-appropriate question. “So what do you wish Beckett understood about you?”

She wipes at her eyes, the tears from laughing subsiding. “Oh, well. I wish he’d respect privacy a little more. I guess it’s in his nature to be so open and forthcoming… he says it’s a Southern thing, but in Chicago, you don’t find that much. I’m still getting used to it.”

“Tell me about the book, Hanley’s Secret,” I say encouragingly. “If you could rewrite one scene in the book, what would it be? How would you rewrite it?”

“Maybe the one where Beckett and I get into the fight about his neighbor, Collin. I mean, I was upset, he was upset and we both said things we didn’t mean. I shouldn’t have acted that way, but his accusations made me so mad! Ugh, men. I was trying to help him. Oh well…” She runs a finger along the hem of her loose-fitting blue top, another shy smile forming. “We made up, so it seems worth it now.”

I blow out a sigh, genuinely glad for her. I hate the idea of her and Beckett arguing over someone like Collin. And then I ask another question. “Has your author ever put you into an embarrassing situation? How did you handle it?”

She blinks a few times as if thinking it through. “S.K. and I haven’t had much time together since my story was a short, but I’m really looking forward to spending more time together when my story gets turned into a full-length novel for next year. Still, she better not put me into any embarrassing situations. Though if she does, I can handle it. I’m tough.”

I drain the last of my Boozy White Cocoa and nod, maybe a tad too enthusiastically. Whatever is in that drink… “Yeah, I can see that. Okay, tell me, is there anything specific in this book of which you are particularly proud?”

“Not sure if it’s proud, but I am thankful for Beckett’s Nan. She is an amazing woman full of compassion and quiet strength. She’s the reason I had a place to stay for Christmas and though she won’t admit to it, I know she helped Beckett and I find our way to each other.”

“That’s so sweet,” I say, because I’m a sucker for sweet romance, regardless of the hero and heroine’s beginnings. “Do you want to add anything else, before we wrap up the interview?”

“Well, one second.” She jumps off the sofa and pulls a folded piece of paper from her back pocket. “Here, this is Nan’s secret recipe from the book. She told me I’m welcome to share it with you and your friends. Best damn candied bacon waffles I’ve ever had.”

Candied Bacon Waffles? Holy God, it’s like, well… an orgasm for breakfast. Seriously, and that isn’t just the Boozy White Cocoa talking. Here’s the recipe. Try it for yourself, and tell me you don’t agree:

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Candied Bacon Waffles

Ingredients:

For the candied bacon:

  • 12 thick-cut bacon slices
  • 6 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar

For the waffles:

  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Warm maple syrup for serving
  • Whipped cream for serving

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 350ºF.

Set a wire rack on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the bacon slices on the rack and sprinkle evenly with the brown sugar. Bake until the bacon is cooked through and the sugar forms an amber glaze, 30 to 35 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 200ºF and keep the bacon warm while you cook the waffles. Break up the bacon into bite-sized pieces as soon as the waffles are done.

To make the waffles, preheat a Belgian waffle maker on medium-high heat according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, then whisk in the buttermilk, oil and vanilla until blended. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the flour mixture to the yolk mixture and whisk until smooth.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, fold 1 cup of the whites into the batter, then carefully fold in the remaining whites until just combined. Gently fold in the diced bananas.

Pour about 1/3 cup batter into each well of the waffle maker and close the lid. Cook the waffles until golden brown and crisp, about 6 minutes. Transfer the waffles to a wire rack set on a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with the remaining batter.

To serve, stack the warm waffles on a plate and sprinkle two healthy spoonfuls of candied bacon on top. Drizzle with warm maple syrup and top with whipped cream.

Serves 6.

(Candied Bacon recipe adapted from WILLIAMS-SONOMA)

 

Well, that ends our interview for today. I’m going to have a second helping of waffles and cocoa. Or maybe it’s a third. I’ve lost count. Anyway, If Hanley had won you over, you’ll undoubtedly adore Hannah, S.K. Wills’ heroine from her first full-length novel, Starting from Lost. Want more? Check S.K. Wills’ website. And her Facebook page.

And if that isn’t enough, S.K. Wills is having a Rafflecopter giveaway, since Starting from Lost just released THIS WEEK! Want to participate? Here you go: http://is.gd/Soe6ra

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Well that’s a wrap, my faithful readers. Yet another of the 21 total stories featured in the Unwrapping Love holiday anthology. More than worth its ridiculously low price tag. Be sure to check back often. Next week, I have quite a few Writing Wenches heading over here to join me on my blog. Trust me, you won’t want to miss a single post!

‘Til then… Read on.

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Tell me what you think!