Gambling On A Secret – Articles from the Tour

cowboy, contemporary western, romance, suspenseI’m sharing all the articles from A Gambling Book Tour that had information about Gambling On A Secret. So, if you missed the tour and would like to read more about how I came up with this contemporary western romantic suspense, the sexy ex-soldier turned cowboy Dylan Quinn, and runaway turned heiress Charli Monroe, you can find all the articles here along with the link to the orignal post.




Metamorphosis of a Butterfly

appeared  Jan 7, 2013 on You Gotta Read

“Where did you get the idea to write this story?”

Writers get this question all the time. Whether it’s from interviewers or from non-writer friends. Sometimes the answers are abstract and sometimes they are very concrete.

I would have to say the event that sparked the book that eventually became Gambling On A Secret and the series The Colton Gamblers to be as conceptual as an abstract painting. Since the story has nothing to do with the metamorphosis of a butterfly.

In the summer of 2009, I’d planted some herbs in pots. They were happily growing on my front porch. Among these pots was some parsley. One day while I was watering the plants, I noticed a worm eating the leaves. At first, I thought about spraying the invader with some insecticidal soap. Then I took a closer look at it. It didn’t look like any kind of “bad” worm I’ve ever seen. I began wondering if it might be a butterfly caterpillar and left it alone for a few days. I’m so glad that I did. The tiny, munching worm grew into an identifiable butterfly caterpillar—that of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

contemporary western, romantic suspense, cowboy romance, Texas romance, ex-military romance, Over the next two and half weeks, my kids and I watched as the caterpillar munched its way to the pupa stage to hang in its chrysalis on a stripped branch of the parsley plant. I never expected to see the butterfly, but by some totally amazing stroke of luck, we watched our butterfly come out of its cocoon.

But the beautiful swallowtail wasn’t the only thing to hatch. As I watched the chrysalis break and the butterfly come forth to sit on the devoured remains of the parsley plant letting its wings dry and become strong, Charli Monroe formed in my mind. Her story, her hardship life and her desire to turn that around into something worthwhile, just as this butterfly shed its ugly cocoon to spread beautiful wings.

Before our swallowtail took off in its first glorious flight amongst cheers from my kids, tortured, physically and mentally wounded Dylan Quinn followed Charli into the story quickly forming in my mind. By the end of the night, I had the first two chapters of their story written. I’ve dreamed about Charli and Dylan and the rest of the characters populating Colton, Texas, off and on ever since. Although the theme in these stories seems to be taking chances, gambling on the things these characters think they want, there is an even deeper theme woven throughout these stories—

Metamorphosis… Changing the ugly to something beautiful.

Photo Credit: Swallowtail Butterfly © Sara Walter Ellwood




What’s Luck Have to Do with It?

appeared Jan 11, 2013 on Night Owl Reviews

Gambling On A Secret is the book that almost wasn’t. Well, at least it almost wasn’t published when it was. This book had a long history—of sitting on an agent’s desk. Two years ago, I was signed with an agent. The then titled “Butterfly” was the second book I’d sent to her. She praised the book. Told me she loved the story… But she didn’t do anything with it.

I left the agent and took the rights of my books back. But I was discouraged. I feared something was majorly wrong with the story. After all, if it were a good story, she would have tried to sell it, right?

Then last February, my dear friend D’Ann Lindun hosted a pitch session with executive editor at Lyrical Press, Piper Denna. D’Ann begged me for about a week to pitch something. I kept telling her I didn’t have anything. The book that eventually became Heartstings (releasing April 2013 from Lyrical Press) was being considered by an editor at my other publisher—The Wild Rose Press. And “Butterfly” was a mess. It needed rewritten, and I really had lost my hope for this book.

After about the third email from D’Ann, I started to consider pitching “Butterfly”. This was the book of my heart, and I couldn’t believe it didn’t have a home. Besides, what did I have to lose? So, on the morning of the pitch session before I ran out the door for work, I logged into D’Ann’s blog and tossed up this pitch in less than a couple of minutes:

“When a mysterious runaway-turned-heiress trusts a drunk ex-soldier to rebuild her ranch, an entire town is shaken to its core as more secrets than just hers are revealed.

Contemporary Western Romantic Suspense, 100,000 words.”

Yep. That was it. Short and simple. I’d written the high concept line in a class I’d taken awhile back and simply copied and pasted it in the blog. I went to work and forgot about it.

Later that day, I checked my email. D’Ann announced that I got a request for a partial. I was thrilled, but now I had to go to work. Over the next few days, I rewrote the first three chapters—the first 90 pages of the book. Thank God, Piper hadn’t wanted the whole book. It needed completely revised before I’d ever let an editor see it. I sent off the partial with the rewritten synopsis and waited. I then went to work on the rest of the book. I eventually got a request for a full, and within two weeks after submitting, I got a contract offer.

I was shocked and totally stoked. Although my old agent had said she loved the book, she never sent it out anywhere. Piper is the only editor to ever read the story. Getting a contract the first time out of the shoot is rare. And very lucky.

I feel Gambling On A Secret is my lucky charm. Even the premise for the story came to me completely by luck—if I hadn’t been watering flowers the morning a butterfly hatched from its cocoon, I may never have come up with this emotional story of changing your life around—of changing the ugly into something beautiful—to use a line from the heroine, Charli.

I won’t even go into the luck involved at getting a bestselling author to read your debut book and offer an amazing cover quote. I’m still thanking the stars over that one. Then she named my book among some of the biggest names in western romance as being one of her favorites in 2012.

Here’s the last freaky thing. I’ve always pictured the hero, Dylan, resembling cover model Jimmy Thomas. I’ll never forget my shock the first time I saw the cover—especially after someone pointed out that Jimmy Thomas is on my cover! And no, I didn’t tell the cover artist that’s who I pictured as Dylan—actually it never crossed my mind to make the suggestion. But the artist’s vision for Dylan wasn’t the only surprise. The female model is exactly how I envisioned Charli—skimpy, lacy top, pouty lips and all.

Now, how lucky is that?




The Music of Gambling On A Secret

appeared Jan 14, 2013 on Lisa Ryans

Music plays a big part in all of my Westerns, particularly country music. I’m a huge fan of country and often tell people I was even country when it wasn’t cool, to quote the great Barbara Mandrel.

But in Gambling On A Secret country wasn’t the only music I heard while I was writing it, or the only music my characters are fans of. My heroine, Charli, loves all kinds of music. She’s a country fan, and is especially a fan of her secret older half-brother country star Nate McConnell. She also grew up on the sounds of James Taylor, Carly Simon and the fictional Sisters McGinnis (think the sound of The Mamas and the Papas). Charli gets the surprise of her life when she finds out the lead singer of the group is not only her neighbor, but the respected Texas lady, Jackie McGinnis Cartwright who is the mother of the county sheriff and local country singer Logan Cartwright.

Dylan, the hero of the story, dislikes country music and listens to very loud 80’s rock. AC/DC, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Def Leppard, to name a few.

The music played in the local saloon is all country. If it’s not coming from the jukebox, Logan Cartwright is burning up the stage with his country band Texas Justice.

Here’s what I envision the soundtrack of Gambling On A Secret would sound like…

Brooks and Dunn— Boot Scootin’ Boogie (This song is playing on the jukebox as Dylan enters the bar—Chapter 2)

Travis Tritt— T-R-O-U-B-L-E (Logan Cartwright and his band Texas Justice is playing this song to a rowdy crowd in the Longhorn Saloon—Chapter 4)

George Jones (Blake Shelton)— Ol’ Red (Another song Logan sings while Dylan and Logan’s brother, Sheriff Zack Cartwright talk about Charli—Chapter 4)

Guns and Roses— Sweet Child o’ Mine (The song on the radio while Dylan and Charli travel to the tractor dealership—Chapter 4)

Warrant— Heaven (Another song on the radio—Chapter 4)

Def Leppard— Love Bites (Song on the radio that Dylan works to in the stable—Chapter 5)

George Jones— She Thinks I Still Care (Jukebox song playing in the bar—Chapter 10)

AC/DC— Highway to Hell (Another rodeo song while traveling to the cattle auction—Chapter 15)

Garth Brooks— The Dance (The song Charli is playing on the radio on Memorial Day in the kitchen scene in Chapter 17—Although the actual song in the story is fictional and sung by her secret half-brother Nate McConnell and is titled Of All the Memories.)

Lee Greenwood— God Bless the USA (One of the songs playing over the sound system at the Memorial Day banquet—Chapter 17)

Toby Keith— American Soldier (Also playing at the Memorial Day banquet—Chapter 17)

Alabama— Feels So Right (Logan sings this at the ball—Chapter 22)

Charlie Daniels Band— Devil Went Down to Georgia (Another one of Logan’s songs at the ball—Chapter 22)

Little Texas— God Blessed Texas (The last song at the ball—Chapter 22)

If you’re a writer, do you incorporate music in your stories? Of if you’re a reader, do you like it when authors bring music into the background of their stories?




PTSD—What Is It?

appeared Jan 24, 2013 Redheads Review it Better

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, commonly known as PTSD, plays heavily in the characterizations of my hero and heroine of my debut contemporary Western romantic suspense, Gambling On A Secret book 1 of The Colton Gamblers.

So what is it? The textbook definition is a debilitating anxiety disorder that occurs after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event that involves either a real or perceived threat of injury or death. This can include a natural disaster, combat, an assault, physical or sexual abuse, or other trauma. (Yahoo Health)

As this disorder has done to thousands of returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has turn Dylan Quinn, the hero in Gambling On A Secret, into a shell of the person he had once been. Special Forces Captain Dylan Quinn proudly served in the US Army for thirteen years, until his Delta Team walked into an ambush during the final days of the hunt for Bin Laden. As the commander of the team, he blames himself for the deaths of four of his men, and the disastrous wounds the other eight members, including himself, have sustained.

Soldiers aren’t the only people PTSD affects. Charli Monroe seems to have it all. She’s smart, beautiful, and rich, but she harbors a past that most wouldn’t have lived through. A past she still carries with her.

How can both an elite soldier and a teenage runaway have the same disorder? Let’s discuss some of the symptoms and how I used them in Charli’s and Dylan’s characterizations. According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event.

For Dylan, this event is a combination of things. Two days before the mission to flush out Bin Laden for SEAL Team 6 and the other Special Forces Teams hunting for him, Dylan receives a Dear John letter from his wife of eleven years—she was in love with another man and wants a divorce because she’s pregnant with his baby. However, instead of going to his commander and explaining he wasn’t emotionally fit for duty, Dylan buries the pain and puts his mission first. Until he follows some intel that may have led them into a trap. His team is ambushed and targeted by a car bomb. Dylan will forever blame himself for his team’s loses.

For Charli, her terrifying event happened while she was working as a prostitute in Las Vegas. An event that led her to being tried as an adult and serving a year in prison while still under the age of eighteen. It’s the event she dreams about and will do anything to hide from her friends and neighbors in her new town. But her trauma actually began years before when she was just fifteen and her mother was killed in a car accident and she’s left in the care of her verbally abusive billionaire grandfather.

Charli and Dylan share many of the same classic symptoms of PTSD. Dylan is a current alcoholic, while Charli is a recovering addict and alcoholic. They both experience nightmares; however in the story, I only show Charli’s. She also exhibits more anxiety than Dylan, but he has it, too. They both are emotionally numb, wanting to hide from relationships that could hurt them.

Although Charli has done most of her healing before Gambling On A Secret opens, she still has a long way to go. When she meets Dylan, they immediately see each other’s tortured soul, and in it, the same desire to heal. But can they crack themselves open to all the pain and shed it like a cocoon to finally feel whole again?




Drugs, Sex and Abuse—The Life of a Runaway on the Streets

appeared Jan 30, 2013 Books-n-Kisses

There are two very heavy social issues that affect the hero and heroine in my debut contemporary western release, Gambling On A Secret. The first one is the hero’s PTSD—posttraumatic stress disorder, the other is the heroine’s former life as a runaway.

Charli Monroe has it all. She’s the sole heir to a fortune almost equal to that of the Trumps. She’s beautiful and smart. But she harbors a terrible secret—she’s a former runaway who fell into the vicious cycle of drugs, sex and abuse.

At age fifteen, she leaves a verbally abusive grandfather for the unknown life on the streets of Las Vegas. While coming up with her back story, I had to do some research on the life of a runaway on the streets. And what I found made me sick. Here are a few of the stats that just totally staggered me. I’ll cite my sources at the end.

  • Of the 2.8 million children living on the streets, 1 out of every 3 will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. Most of these kids (85%) fall between the ages of 14 and 17, and approximately 75% are female.
  • Most runaways who become prostitutes ran away from home to escape their abuse, then become prostitutes to survive. Females are more likely than males to have abusive pimps.
  • A pimp typically has 6 girls in his “family” who call him “Daddy” and earn him approximately $500 per night. The selling of a child for sex is a felony that carries a maximum jail term of 15 years, but most prostitutes will not turn in their pimps even if they themselves face jail time.
  • Pimps often subject female prostitutes to beatings and force them into porn and strip dancing.
  • Boys enter into prostitution at age 14 and leave it around age 25.
  • Most prostitutes became addicted to drugs and/or alcohol on the streets. In a study of more than 400 homeless young adults (aged 13 to 23) in Hollywood, CA, more than 70% abused drugs (16%), alcohol (12%), or both (43%).
  • Domestic violence is cited as the number one reason a child runs away.
  • Most prostitutes have considered suicide.
  • A prostitute is raped 19 times, kidnapped 10 times, and beaten repeatedly every year.

I could go on and on, but these are some of the things I took into consideration when I created Charli’s story, and it is this life she wants to so desperately to protect other girls from when she buys a rundown ranch with the dream of opening it as a halfway house to teens like herself.





Missing Man Ceremony—What Is It?

appeared Jan 22 on Everyone Needs A Little Romance

While writing my debut contemporary western release, Gambling On A Secret, I was able to incorporate one of the most touching ceremonies I’ve ever witnessed in my career as an Army civilian.

The Missing Man Ceremony.

From Chapter 16:

 A few moments later, silence fell over the hundred or so people gathered as a woman in the dress uniform of the Army stood and headed for the podium. As she passed a beautifully set table near the podium, she paused and saluted the six empty plates.

She cleared her throat and solemnly began speaking, riveting Charli with her words. “Set for six, the empty places represent Americans still missing from each of the five services–Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard–and civilians. This Honors Ceremony symbolizes that they are with us, here in spirit…”

Charli looked around as everyone stood at the woman’s request. She sensed Dylan stiffen beside her and glanced at him. He stood tall and straight, as did Tom and every other former or current service man or woman in the place. Even those whose old backs were normally stooped by hard work and age stood with pride. As the officer read from an index card, the “Honor Guard,” consisting of Zack, his uncle, Ella Larson, Tom Miller and two other men, each placed hats from the five branches of the military on the plates. Ella placed a cowboy hat on the sixth.

She had never witnessed such a moving service before. By the end, she wasn’t the only one sniffing back tears and reaching for tissues. Many of the men were, too.

The scene takes place during a Memorial Day banquet, and Charli’s awe at seeing the service for the first time echoed my own the first time I’d witnessed it. Several years ago, when I attended our annual Christmas party, I’d noticed a small round table set up near the front of the room. I’d wondered what it was for, but hadn’t asked anyone. Then before dinner was served, one of the enlisted soldiers stood and headed for the podium. The sergeant stopped and saluted the table—not just a quick flick of the hand to the forehead, but a full-fledged, textbook salute. I was puzzled. I work in a clinic, and for the most part, we are a laid-back bunch. In fact, I’d never seen any of the soldiers I worked with ever salute even the commander of the place, who is always a colonel, in such practiced precision.

After the sergeant took his place behind the podium, he started reading the ceremony. Like Charli, I couldn’t keep back the tears.

Usually done at banquets, the Missing Men/Man Ceremony acknowledges the absence of the missing in action and deceased veterans. Originally done to honor Vietnam POWs/MIAs, it has become a way to remember all war dead/missing/prisoners.

contemporary, western, romance, romantic suspense, contemporary western romance, contemporary western, cowboy, cowboy romance, Texas romance, Native American romance, country music star romance, miltary romance
Photo Credit

The service is as follows (source:


“As you entered the dining area, you may have noticed a table at the front, raised to call your attention to its purpose — it is reserved to honor our missing loved ones [or missing comrades in arms, for veterans].

“Set for six, the empty places represent Americans still [our men] missing from each of the five services — Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard –– and civilians. This Honors Ceremony symbolizes that they are with us, here in spirit. [One place setting can be used if space is an issue.]

“Some [here] in this room were very young when they were sent into combat; however, all Americans should never forget the brave men and women who answered our nation’s call [to serve] and served the cause of freedom with honor.

“I would like to ask you to stand, and remain standing for a moment of silent prayer, as the Honor Guard places the five service covers and a civilian cap on each empty plate.” [NOTE: if you do not have an honor guard participating, place the hats on the empty plates as you are setting up the table.]

Honor Guard: (In silence or with dignified, quiet music as background, the Honor Guard moves into position around the table and simultaneously places the covers of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, and a civilian hat, on the dinner plate at each table setting. The Honor Guard then departs.)


“Please be seated. I would like to explain the meaning of the items on this special table.

“The table is round — to show our everlasting concern for our missing men.

“The tablecloth is white — symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty.

“The single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the life of each of the missing, and the loved ones and friends of these Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers.

“The vase is tied with a red ribbon, symbol of our continued determination to account for our missing.

“A slice of lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land.

“A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers.

“The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.

“The glass is inverted — to symbolize their inability to share this evening’s [morning’s/day’s] toast.

“The chairs are empty — they are missing.

“Let us now raise our water glasses in a toast to honor America’s POW/MIAs and to the success of our efforts to account for them.”




Charli’s Omelet Recipe

appeared Feb 1 on

My heroine Charli Monroe likes to cook and she realizes it’s one way to help the hero Dylan Quinn after she hires him as her ranch manager. Dylan’s main food of choice is either Jack Daniel’s or Jim Beam.

Charli invites him to eat breakfast with her the second day he shows up for work. She confronts him about his drinking and lays down one important law… If he wants a job, he has to be sober. Dylan’s sense of duty and need to protect her from the threat he sees in his mother’s step-brother and Charli’s neighbor gives him enough motivation to agree with her and to join her for that very first breakfast—something that becomes a ritual for them.

Here’s the recipe for the omelet Charli makes Dylan that very first day… Dylan also later makes this same omelet for Charli. But his looks nothing like the omelets she makes.


Makes 2 Omelets

4  eggs, beaten

¼ cup chopped green bell pepper (if you like some spice, exchange for hot pepper)

1 chopped green scallion or 3 tablespoons of chopped onion

¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese (or any cheese of your choice)

½ cup finely cubed Canadian bacon

¼ cup milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and pour half of the mixture into 8 inch frying pan. Let brown, fold and flip onto plate. Repeat with the rest of the mixture. Serve.




Charli’s Chicken and Vegetables Casserole

appeared Jan 15 Sharon Cullen

Today, I’d like to share a recipe I developed for my heroine Charli Monroe in Gambling On A Secret. Charli cooks this casserole for dinner after she and her manager, Dylan Quinn, clean out the stable of her newly purchased ranch.

Dylan doesn’t want to stay, but he really doesn’t want to go home either. So, he helps Charli cut up the chicken, and after it’s finished cooking, they share a simple meal. One of many.


6 skinless/boneless chicken breasts, cut into ½ inch strips

2 tablespoons of butter

1 14.5 can of chicken broth plus enough water to equal 2 cups of liquid

1 package of long grain and wild rice mix (such as Uncle Bens)

1 package frozen mixed vegetables—Broccoli, Carrots and Cauliflower

1 cup of shredded cheese (Cheddar or Colby)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in 10 inch frying pan. Add chicken and brown. Pour in broth and bring to a boil.

Add rice and season packet, cook until rice is tender and sauce begins to thicken. Spray 4 quart casserole dish with Pam and spread vegetables on bottom. Pour chicken and rice mixture over the vegetables, and toss together. Sprinkle cheese over top and bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and vegetables are tender. Serves 6.




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One Comment Add yours

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