One of the things I loved doing when my girls were small was making treats for class parties. I nearly always did something or other; my favorite thing to do for Valentine’s Day was little cookies that melt in your mouth. When I was writing THE COWBOY’S VALENTINE, I had my heroine do the same thing for Amber, who is the hero’s daughter.
I thought I’d share both an excerpt and a recipe with you today – these can be made for any occasion and in any shape. But I love them as little hearts.
Chocolate Shortbread Valentine Hearts
½ cup butter at room temp
1 ½ tbsp. cocoa
½ cup powdered sugar, sifted
½ tsp vanilla
1 cup flour (unsifted)
Cream the butter. Cream in the powdered sugar, the cocoa, and then the vanilla. Then work in the flour, using your hands. Knead until the dough is smooth and forms a ball.
Lightly dust your surface with flour and roll out your dough to between ¼ and ½ an inch thick. Cut with a small heart-shaped cookie cutter (mine is about an inch and a half across). Place on a greased cookie sheet (or on parchment paper) and bake at 325 for 8-10 minutes, or until the bottoms start to brown. Note: baking time will vary depending on how big your cookies are.
Cool for 5 minutes, remove to a cooling rack. When completely cool, frost if desired and add sprinkles or red or pink sugar.
From THE COWBOY’S VALENTINE
February 13th rolled around and Amber and Lacey spent the afternoon making tiny heart-shaped chocolate shortbreads. As the cookies cooled, they decorated them with pink icing and left them to set a bit before packing them in cookie tins for the next day’s event.
Lacey looked around the messy kitchen and realized it was going to be harder than she expected, leaving this house. It felt like a house should feel—warm and welcoming. Of course that could all change when Quinn and Amber left again. It wasn’t really made for one person. If she moved out, and Quinn went back home, the big house would be empty again.
“There,” she said, dusting her hands off on her apron. “That’s the last pan in the oven. And there are extra. What do you say, should we taste test?”
“Yes!” Amber bounced up and down on her toes, then looked at Lacey speculatively. “How many extra?”
Lacey burst out laughing. “Enough for you to have two and no more or you’ll ruin your supper.”
“Okay.” Amber made a close examination of the cookies and plucked two off the rack. Lacey expected her to pop the cookies in her mouth but instead she hopped off the stool, came around the counter and handed them to Lacey. “These ones are yours,” she stated, then popped back around to choose her own.
“Thanks,” Lacey said, and waited until Amber was ready, then they took first bites together.
Crumbs flaked away from the buttery cookie onto the floor. “Yummy,” Amber said, breaking into a crumb-and-frosting smile. She licked her lips and looked at Lacey with pure adoration. “Lacey, I wish you were my mama.”
The innocent words were a shock to Lacey’s heart. A yearning so powerful, so pure, enveloped her and for a fleeting moment, she wished it too. But being Amber’s mom would mean being Quinn’s wife and that simply wasn’t going to happen. “Oh, honey,” she murmured, and went over and put her arm around the little girl. “That is such a sweet thing to say. I can’t be your mama, but I’ll always be your friend, okay?”
“But why can’t you be my mama?” Amber peered up at her with curious eyes. “You already do what mamas do. You wash my clothes and do all the cooking and tidy the house and make Valentimes cookies and you love me too, right?”
Lacey sighed, so torn and yet happy too. “I do love you. And don’t you forget it. But to be your mommy, I’d have to be married to your daddy, see?”
Amber shrugged. “So marry my daddy.” Unconcerned, she started putting decorated cookies on the bottom of the big tin.
How on earth could Lacey answer that? She was just trying to figure it out when the front door opened. Great. Just what she needed. Quinn. Instead of answering Amber, Lacey went to the sink and started piling up dishes to be washed.
Quinn entered the kitchen, the top of his hair flattened from his hat, his shoulders looking impossibly broad in a soft denim shirt. “Cookies?” he asked, looking at Amber, sparing Lacey a brief glance before smiling at his daughter.
“Lacey helped me for my party tomorrow,” Amber explained.
Lacey heard the strain in his voice. Remembered how he’d told her to back off trying to replace Marie. She knew she should let it go but somehow couldn’t. “Amber asked if I’d help her make cookies. It’s her first Valentine’s Day party.”
The warning was issued: don’t make a big deal out of this, I did it for your kid.
But Amber, being four, didn’t sense the undertones and picked up a cookie. “Lacey said there’s extras. Here.” She pressed it against his lips, and with a laugh he opened his mouth so she could pop it inside.
He was still chewing when Amber went back to her cookie-packing and said, matter-of-factly, “I asked Lacey if she’d marry you and be my mama. Is that okay, Daddy?”
Lacey knew she should not feel quite so gratified when crumbs caught in Quinn’s throat and he started coughing.
He looked over at her, eyes watering, crumbs on his lips and she struggled not to laugh. He would not find this funny. But he looked so comical, all red-faced and watery-eyed with the odd crumb flying out of his mouth when he coughed.
Amber, God love her, was waiting patiently for him to finish.
Lacey quietly handed him a glass of water which he took, drank, and finally breathed normally.
“So?” Amber persisted. “Can Lacey be my mama?”
Quinn’s face flattened as his expression turned serious. “Honey, it’s not that simple.”
Amber’s little eyebrows puckered in the middle. “It’s easy. You ask her to marry you and she says yes and then she’s my mama. Lacey said she would marry you.”
Lacey’s stomach clenched but she kept her voice soft and soothing. “Sweetie, that’s not what I said. I said that while I love you, I can’t be your mama because I’m not married to your daddy. We’d have to love each other for that to happen.”
Amber’s eyes filled with tears. “You don’t love my daddy?”
Oh God. She went to the child and knelt down in front of her. “You have the best dad ever, Amber. But we are just friends. We’re not…like the princess and that ice guy in the movie you like so much, know what I mean?”
“But I want you to!” The tears in Amber’s eyes spilled over and Lacey’s heart broke. It was hard to be mad at Quinn for his stance the other day. This sort of thing was exactly what he was trying to avoid. She only wished he’d believe her when she said she wouldn’t hurt Amber for the world.
“I know,” Lacey answered softly. “And you can’t know how happy it makes me to know you would like for me to be your mom. It’s the biggest compliment ever. But like I said, I don’t have to be your mama to be here for you. Right?”
Amber nodded halfheartedly.
Quinn came over and said quietly, “Come here, chicken.” When Amber turned, he hefted her up into his arms and folded her into a quick hug. “So, are you okay now? Do you understand what Lacey said?”
She nodded, tucking her head into the curve of his neck. Quinn looked at Lacey over top of Amber’s head. Lacey was sure she’d never seen him look so bleak.
About THE COWBOY’S VALENTINE
Heart of a Cowboy
Coming home is hard enough without ranch manager Quinn Solomon making Lacey Duggan feel like an unwanted guest. She’s only here until she figures out what to do with her one-third ownership of Crooked Valley. But Quinn’s irresistible daughter is giving Lacey ideas about being part of a family. And though they don’t even like each other, Lacey’s having crazier notions about the widowed single dad.
Does Lacey think she can waltz in and turn Quinn’s life upside down…only to leave again? The pretty accountant knows nothing about running a ranch, yet she’s making the Montana homestead feel like a home. Quinn isn’t looking for love again. Until a woman who’s all heart and a determined little girl help one lovestruck cowboy see the light.
“I found myself liking this story right from the start. Donna Alward does a splendid job of making her characters walk off the page and into our hearts.” ~Fresh Fiction Reviewer Clare O’Beara. Read our full review of this Valentine’s Day Fresh Pick.
About Donna Alward
A busy wife and mother of three (2 daughters and the family dog), Donna Alward believes hers is the best job in the world: a combination of stay-at-home mom and romance novelist.
An avid reader since childhood, Donna always made up her own stories. She completed her Arts Degree in English Literature in 1994, but it wasn’t until 2001 that she penned her first full-length novel, and found herself hooked on writing romance. In 2006 she sold her first manuscript.
Donna loves being back on the East Coast of Canada after nearly 12 years in Alberta where her Harlequin career began, writing about cowboys and the west. Donna’s debut Romance, HIRED BY THE COWBOY, was awarded the Booksellers Best Award in 2008 for Best Traditional Romance. Donna loves to hear from readers; you can contact her through her website or visit her Facebook page, or through her publisher.