Winter Blogfest: Cassie O’Brien

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win a paperback copy of It’s Christmastime Once More. A paperback copy of Once Upon a Christmastime. A selection of Christmas themed chocolate items and a boxed Christmas cracker. (Photo available if req.).

The UK is Christmas Crackers

It wouldn’t be Christmas in the UK without these little cardboard tubes of joy decorating the festive dinner table. We Brits pull a world beating 154,000,000 of them each year – yep – that’s 154 million.

Invented by the sweet maker, Tom Smith, in the early 1840’s, the tissue-wrapped tube contained candy in the form of sugared almonds and a love motto. They did not sell well. Then, while watching the crackling logs on his fire in 1861, inspiration struck and the cracker, as we know and love it today, was born.

The candy was replaced by a small gift, the motto rewritten as a riddle or groan inducing corny joke and the explosive ‘snap’ added. Rebranded as ‘Bangs of Expectation’ the new format was an immediate success and has remained a firm favourite ever since, although we had to wait until 1869 for our paper crowns, when they were added to the contents by Tom’s son, Walter.

Modern day crackers, while containing the same range of contents, come in a huge price range depending on how valuable the gifts are inside. A supermarket budget box, containing a small plastic novelty, will set you back £2.99, while at the other end of the scale, a box of 6 from the Royal Mint are priced at an eye-watering £5,000, but then they do contain a diamond and 18ct gold necklace amongst other items of solid gold.

So, with all my good wishes for a jolly, snap, banging time – Happy Christmas, Everyone!t

Four Romantic Christmas Stories

Secrets And Christmas Surprises
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One Mistletoe Kiss
Aran Vair was Arietta’s childhood hero, and although they’ve drifted apart over the years, her feelings haven’t changed. A snowstorm reunites them, but when Aran suggests a friendship-based marriage, it’s not a prospect Arietta can contemplate. Living as an independent woman in the cottage she owns will be preferable – unless Aran can persuade her otherwise.

The Best Gifts Aren’t Wrapped
Lauren hates Christmas. It’s a painful time and her heart is locked as securely as her front door to keep the world and its festivities out. Joe, a divorcee with two sons, arrives on her doorstep with an uncooked turkey in his hands. There’s a power outage, and if can use her oil-fuelled Aga, his children can still enjoy their Christmas feast. And maybe she would like to join them.

Christmas By Candlelight
When Arietta’s husband, Tai, walks out her, she hightails it to the rural cottage she inherited from a long-dead ancestor and namesake, to lick her wounds. She converts the property into a B&B, and as Christmas approaches, she anticipates taking a relaxing break – until like a bad penny, Tai turns up. The ashes of their relationship are not quite dead, and as the flames rekindle, Arietta questions herself. Was she too hasty in running away?

Cassie O’Brien – mum of four – writer of romance for Totally Entwined Group and committed party animal with a love of champagne and high-heels.

Raven McAllan lives in Yorkshire, along with her husband and their two cats—their children having flown the nest—surrounded by beautiful scenery, which inspires a lot of the settings in her books.


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The Earl of Callander’s Secret Bride by Raven McAllan and Cassie O’Brien – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Raven McAllan and Cassie O’Brien who are celebrating the recent release of The Earl of Callander’s Secret Bride, the first book in their The Scots and the Sassenachs series. Enter for the chance to win a $50.00 First for Romance Gift Card!

A treasonable letter. Attempted blackmail. Can a secret marriage save the day?

Duncan, the Earl of Callander, loves his beautiful neighbour Lady Cairstine McColl but has held back from proposing until she has enjoyed her debut in Edinburgh. However, matters are taken out of his control when Cairstine discovers a plot to blackmail her father with her hand in marriage demanded as the ransom price.

A daring plan is hatched. To protect Cairstine, she and Duncan will wed under Scottish law, then travel to England incognito to find and destroy a letter that could see her father accused of treason and the family ruined.

But all is not straightforward once they arrive in Corbridge.

They must hide the passion they feel for each other from the blackmailer, and worse, there may not be just one blackmailer, but two.

Enjoy an Excerpt

Lady Cairstine McColl knew it was wrong to slip out from her family home unnoticed and go for a long tramp across the hills. Nevertheless, after the news her papa had just imparted, she’d had to get away. It was that or completely lose her temper. Shout, scream and be the termagant she didn’t want to be. She acknowledged it had been a close-run thing. Hence her escape. A pity she couldn’t escape the future as easily.

How could he?

She skirted the three large boulders that edged the head of the loch and jumped over the burn that flowed into it with a gurgle as it danced across the stony bottom. In winter, when it was in full spate, she would have had no chance. Now in June, when the nights were short and daylight hours long, the weather was sometimes drier and the burn no more than a trickle.

Cairstine strode up the slopes to where the forest began, her boots giving her purchase on the slippery rocks. It might not have rained recently, but these slopes were always damp and covered in moss. As she walked, she mulled over her papa’s words.

How, how could he?

He had promised her in marriage to an Englishman. An Englishman! Whom she had never met. How draconian. And how undoubtedly, in this so-called enlightened age, unacceptable. Surely she should at least have met the man and decided if this marriage of convenience was for her?

Sadly, her papa had been unmoved by her pleas. He’d simply told her she would leave for England in five days’ time.

England. Who on earth would want to go there? And to a place called Corbridge? Not even London, or Carlisle. Until she’d studied a book of maps in the library she’d had no idea where Corbridge was. Evidently between Newcastle and Carlisle. A market town, near the site of the wall built in Roman times to keep the Scots out of England. What a pity it was no longer used for the same purpose. That would have meant there was no way she could have been forced to head south.

According to a pamphlet she’d found on the desk—it seemed her papa had been investigating—this Corbridge was a pretty well set-up place with lots of new and imposing buildings sitting side by side with older, equally as imposing ones.

She couldn’t have cared less. It wouldn’t matter what it was like, it was not home.

George Armstrong, she thought in disgust. An Armstrong. One of those murdering, thieving Border Reivers of old who had thought nothing of riding from England into Scotland to steal the cattle of good honest Scotsmen—and women. The family names of the marauding bands were still notorious enough to put the fear of God into anyone who lived within a day’s ride of the border even in these modern times. Cairstine had been raised on stories of Scots venturing as far as Yorkshire, and the English to Edinburgh. All in retaliation for some real or imagined wrongdoing. You had to be thankful such days were over—but that made her papa’s demands even harder to fathom.

Worse though than the raids—if it was possible for anything to be worse—Armstrong was a Sassenach with, he was said to boast, not one jot of Scottish blood in him. Where was the common ground?

Why, oh why had her papa thought she’d be happy married to one of them?

If he had thought at all. These last couple of weeks he’d been preoccupied, less likely to chat or ask what she had been doing, and never sharing his day with her. Not at all the man she had adored for so many years.

How could he? Is he demented? When the name of her prospective husband was enough to put fear into even the bravest of people… She was no different.

She shuddered and gathered her breath for the final steep few yards to her favourite place on the estate. The lookout. Where in times gone by a sentry would have been placed to keep guard for enemies.

Now she was the only one who ever went there.

Or so she’d imagined.

Head down, deep in thought, she ploughed into a tree.

A very human tree, which swayed before it steadied again.

She scowled. Of all the people it could be it had to be Duncan Callander. Her neighbour, her…her what? She had no idea except that he was the one man who made her skin tighten in an arousing way and made her wonder…what if?

A child of the countryside, she was no stranger to the way animals mated and had on more than one occasion caught sight of a man and a woman in the undergrowth, the lady’s skirts kilted around her waist, his trews around his ankles. It wasn’t something she’d contemplated doing herself though—until recently.

“Where’s where the enemy? Who do I have to shoot?” Duncan grabbed her arm with one hand to rescue her from falling on her rump, put his other hand to his forehead and scanned the area with an extravagant movement. “Pistol or bow and arrow?”

Cairstine giggled. Trust Duncan to cheer her up. “The culprit is too far to reach with either,” she said glumly as she smoothed her skirts down and remembered what had sent her to the lookout in a rush. “In England, at a place called Corbridge.”

“Corbridge?” he said as he dropped his hand from his face. The confusion in his eyes mirrored the incredulous tone of his voice. “Why in hades Corbridge? What the hell’s going on?”

Cairstine sighed. “Hell just about sums it up. My papa says I am to marry the black-hearted devil that is George Armstrong.”

Duncan’s jaw clenched as she said the name. George Armstrong of Corbridge…the bastard! Not that he had ever met the man, but the fame—or infamy—of the Armstrong family was well known and noted in the annals of history. Around a hundred years earlier they had been given a baronetcy—under somewhat suspicious circumstances—and they revelled in their reputation.

Blood raced through his veins at the thought of Cairstine in the clutches of such a man. She stood close enough to kiss, her lips mere inches from his own. Another part of his anatomy stirred deep within his trews with an emotion other than anger. The heady scent of her teased his nostrils and he sniffed the air. Violets, he decided—sweet and seductively entrancing like the lady herself.

He dropped his hands to his sides against an urge to sweep her into his arms and assure her he would not allow the marriage to take place. He was powerless to prevent it—Cairstine’s father’s title being higher ranked in the natural order than his own. What was he, as an earl compared to a duke? Instead he concentrated on not curling his hands into fists and asked with a calmness he didn’t feel, “When and where is this event to take place?”

Cairstine gazed at him, a question written in her eyes as if she sensed the power of the emotions running through his body. “I leave for Corbridge in five days. Oh, Duncan, something is wrong, and I have no idea what it could be. I have asked Papa to explain his decision, but all he says it I have to do this thing. Why?” She whirled around and her skirts followed her, giving him a tantalizing glimpse of a well-turned ankle visible above her half boot. How he wished it showed more.

Callander, get your mind out of the gutters.

“What on earth could be going on?” Cairstine asked in a plaintive tone that hit him hard. “Duncan, I’m at my wit’s end. I cannot move him.”

Duncan nodded, his mind busy with possible plans, and he turned to one side, needing time to think of ways and means to execute them as well as considering the likely consequences. “Stay strong. I’m off to check my snares and have a think. Don’t worry, I will see you again before you go. Can you be here at the same time tomorrow?”

Cairstine nodded. “I will make sure I am.”

Duncan nodded. “Until then.” He spun on his heels and set off in the direction of his manor a mile or so distant on the opposite hill, his thoughts in a whirl.

What in hades is her father up to? To date, the Duke of Glenard, known as Lord Nathaniel McColl in these parts, had been a loving and somewhat protective father to his only daughter.

He strode on. The smell of pine resin carried on the warmth of the June breeze replaced the scent of violets in his nose, but Duncan hardly noticed as he began to gather his thoughts. A rescue plan was needed, one that would absolve Cairstine from all blame so as not to leave her in her parent’s bad graces. Or give any hint of collusion between the two of them. She should not guess his part in it, to allow her to answer with perfect honesty if questioned later by her father.

A bold idea occurred and he quickened his pace while contemplating the prospects and pitfalls of it. A disguise would be required so she didn’t immediately recognise him. It would ruin everything if she inadvertently gave his identity away to anyone with her. Plus, he needed to decide on a place of safety for her to pass the time until his plan achieved its aim.

About the Authors

Raven McAllan After 30 plus years in Scotland, Raven now lives near the east Yorkshire coast, with her long-suffering husband, who is used to rescuing the dinner, when she gets immersed in her writing, keeping her coffee pot warm and making sure the wine is chilled.

With a new home to decorate and a garden to plan, she’s never short of things to do, but writing is always at the top of her list.

Her other hobbies include walking along the coast and spotting the wildlife, reading, researching, cross stitch and trying not to drop stitches as she endeavours to knit.

Being left-handed, and knitting right-handed, that’s not always easy.

She loves hearing from her readers, either via her website, by email or social media.

Website | First for Romance

Cassie O’Brien I love:

Being with family and friends.

Writing and having the freedom to do so now child four of four has passed her driving test and is off to uni later this year.

I Like:

Any excuse to throw a party.

Any excuse to open a bottle of fizz.

Shoes in vast quantities – the higher the heel the better.


To write many more books.

To own a pair of Louboutin’s.

To never go near an iron or a hoover again.

First for Romance | Facebook | Twitter


Buy the book at your favorite online venue or First for Romance.

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Winter Blogfest: Cassie O’Brien

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win a paperback copy of Once Upon A Christmastime and a hamper of Christmas chocolate..

The Tradition of the Christmas Goose in Olde England

Christmas is coming. The goose is getting fat.

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat

If you haven’t got a penny

A ha’penny will do

If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you. 

Whilst turkey was first eaten at Christmas during the reign of King Henry VIII (1509-1547) it remained an expensive luxury in the south of England until the well into the 20th century. Even in the Victorian era, a fat goose was the more normal highlight of the feast.

The birds were raised in East Anglia and herded along Drovers’ roads to London to be sold fresh in time for Christmas. Daniel Defoe recorded that 150,000 were driven from East Anglia to London each year, a journey that took three months to complete. To protect their feet, the geese had theirs tarred and sanded.

In London itself, many working-class citizens banded together to form ‘goose clubs’ as a way to make the Christmas meal more affordable. Each individual paid a few pence a week towards the purchase, and unlike the scene in the Cratchit household as portrayed in the Hollywood version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens – most family homes did not have an oven in which to roast one.

As a boon to the neighborhood the local baker normally agreed to leave his oven alight. The goose was prepared, stuffed to eke out the meat, then cooked as a community effort which was then shared out between the contributors.
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Lady Caroline’s Unexpected Christmas Guest
The last thing Bertie expected to do whilst attending the Duke of Avondale’s Christmas house party was to fall in love. Can he persuade the shy and reclusive Lady Caroline he is the man for her?
The Darling Dowager’s Christmas Treat
The Duke of Ancester is not a man to take no for an answer and certainly not from the young widow he has decided to marry. To escape his persistence, Isabella departs the capital, and travelling incognito, sets out to spend Christmas at the remote property she owns in Yorkshire. But the duke is hot on her heels.
Fairy Dust Wishes
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the shop floor of Robins and Son’s department store is thronged with customers. Working behind the perfumery counter, Megan encounters the shop’s seasonal Santa, and her generosity in helping him out of a fix changes her life forever.
Elle’s Christmas Surprise
Elle knows just what she wants for Christmas. Some quiet time in the company of a good book and a bottle of wine and definitely no turkey and tinsel parties. Bah humbug! Her giftshop is busy with customers, her plans are in place, until a blast from her past walks in with other ideas in mind.

A festive collaboration between the authors Cassie O’Brien – mum of four – writer of romance for Totally Entwined Group and committed party animal with a love of champagne and high-heels and Raven McAllan.

Cassie O’Brien – mum of four – writer of romance for Totally Entwined Group and committed party animal with a love of champagne and high-heels.

Raven lives in Scotland, along with her husband and their two cats–their children having flown the nest–surrounded by beautiful scenery, which inspires a lot of the settings in her books.

She is used to sharing her life with the occasional deer, red squirrel, and lost tourist, to say nothing of the scourge of Scotland–the midge.
Her very understanding, and long-suffering DH, is used to his questions unanswered, the dust bunnies greeting him as he walks through the door, and rescuing burned offerings from the Aga. (And passing her a glass of wine as she types furiously.)


Buy the book at Amazon.

Winter Blogfest: Cassie O’Brien

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win a paperback copy of her Christmas novella, “The Best Gifts Aren’t Wrapped”, a paperback copy of her book, “Ellie’s Rules” and box of Christmas chocolates. No restriction on where the prize will be shipped..

Christmas Memories

Memories of a 1950’s British child. 

The war has been over for nearly a dozen years, although rationing has only been finally declared as ‘over’ in 1956. The luxury of being able to purchase sugar, fresh fruit and meat along with other imported goods has been restored, although the supply of them is not plentiful. Mother provides three ‘square’ meals a day at eight am, noon and five o’clock—there is no snacking or treats in between times, unless of course, it’s Christmas Day…


The most wonderful day of the year is nearly here and our house smells of pine, spiced fruit, tangerines and rum. The aroma of roasting meat will soon join them when Mother slow cooks our turkey overnight on gas regulo two—the bird enormous enough to feed the extended family that have squashed into our house for the next three days. There won’t be enough beds, but none of the men mind sleeping on the floor in their overcoats, so long as we are all together.

Dressed in my nightie, my damp hair rag-rolled to be released into ringlets when dry, I gaze at the clock on the mantlepiece and will the hands to move faster. My brother, as impatient as I for bedtime to arrive, can barely keep still. At last, Grandma nods at the Christmas tree. We are lucky, he and I, and pick-up not a sock or a lady’s stocking from beneath it, but a clean, white pillowcase apiece—it will bulge with interesting shapes come the morning, but it will not be full.

We drape our pillowcases over the foot of the narrow bed we are sharing and try to settle down, but if the anticipation of hearing sleigh bells is not enough to keep me from sleep, the tightly tied worms of linen festooning my head certainly are. However much later, my favorite aunt joins us, and in a soft voice croons Christmas carols into my ear until my eyelids flutter closed.

A noise wakes me. I hear a metallic clunk. The chain connected to the overhead cistern is being tugged to release the flush of the toilet. I sit up and blink. My brother does the same and in the grey light of dawn, my aunt smiles and asks. “Have you been good children this year? Has he been?”

Catching sight of our pillowcases, I bounce up and down on the bed laughing. “We have! Look!” She grins. “Come along, then.”
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A half-filled pillowcase is not a magnificent thing unless you are five and dragging it behind you as you run toward Mother and Father’s bedroom. Rather than Papa, their bed contains Grandma, Mother and another aunt and they make room for us to squeeze in between them under the eiderdown. The rest of the family, in thick dressing gowns and coats range themselves around the room to watch us. My hands are shaking, mottled with cold, for there is no heating on the upper floor.

I close my eyes and reach in, our presents are not wrapped, gift paper is so expensive as to be out of the reach of most. My haul includes a coloring book, crayons, a miniature tea set, a jigsaw and a bundle of candy canes. My brother’s is similar although he has more grown-up lead pencils and a chocolate tool set.

Nobody tells us off when we tuck-in to our sweeties before breakfast and there is spicy gingerbread on the table when we sit to eat it. Afterward we stand in front of the Christmas tree with our eyes closed for our big present to be brought into the room. Mine is a baby’s cot made by Grandpa in his shed, dressed with satin edged blankets sewn by Grandma, and a beautiful dolly from my parents. My brother’s is a collection of die-cast cars and a homemade two-level garage with a working ramp, operated by way of a small handle wound with string.


Wonderful times. Would I go back? Yes, in an instant! Would I transport my children and grandchildren back in time with me? No. The Christmas memories of your childhood belong to the time in which you were that child.

Who says Santa doesn’t bring even the saddest person a beautiful gift?
Lauren hates Christmas. It reminds her of the death of her husband, Brian, and brings back memories too painful to bear. To keep herself busy over the festive season, she decorates a room in her house and shuts the rest of the world out—the door locked as tightly as her heart and emotions.
Until Joe comes along, a neighbor who is divorced, has two sons, and enough compassion to see her through the dark times. Although Lauren’s not looking for love, it creeps up on her, stealing her breath and forcing her to see that although she’s angry at Brian for putting himself in a fatal situation, she can now remember him fondly with the affection he deserves. Joe has helped her to see life is precious, and when Santa arrives with an extra-special gift, her world is complete and she can once again go about the business of living—with her heart well and truly taken.

Author of erotic romance published by Totally Entwined Group. My books can be found at


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