I’m happy to present my interview with Cynthia Hampton. Her book Midnight Diamonds is the first book in the Rivers Brothers series.
(blurb and excerpt below)
* * *
Hi Cynthia, Thanks for stopping by to talk a little about your writing! Let’s jump right in. Tell me a little about the characters and the conflict in Midnight Diamonds.
Justin Rivers wants to be a superstar in country music, and he doesn’t want any distractions. Silver Madison, teacher at a private school, wants to keep her job amidst a financial scandal at her school and needs to avoid smooth-talking cowboys with heartbreak in their saddlebags. When the singing cowboy becomes Silver’s knight-in-shining-armor on more than one occasion, she decides to risk her heart–and nearly loses all she loves, including Justin.
Do you listen to music when you write? Does music ever influence your writing?
I prefer absolute silence so I can “hear” by characters as I write. Even when writing Midnight Diamonds, I didn’t listen to country music. I wanted Justin’s voice to be his own, not something I’d heard from someone else.
Do you have songs for specific characters?
Midnight Diamonds ends up being the title of a song Justin writes for Silver. Too bad my readers can’t hear the music I heard in my head when I wrote the lyrics.
When did you begin writing and why?
As young as five years of age, I began putting together stories to fill an intense artistic need inside of me. I can’t paint or sculpt, but words flow easily.
What is your writing process like?
I write when inspiration hits. Phrases and ideas for scenes; character names and situations. Then I put them together and an easy flow of words emerges, creating life and substance for the characters. I love losing hours of time as a story unfolds.
Are there specific challenges that writers face as opposed to other artists?
Time is a precious commodity. Maintaining relationships and balancing the long periods needed for concentrated writing can be difficult. It means declining invitations and fun events. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to look at the people around me and to say, “Not today.”
I think marketing is also a challenge for most every writer I know. There’s no quick fix for this, but it helps if you love reaching out to people through every available resource. After all, I want to write stories my readers would love to read, so I have to stay in touch with them.
Who are some of the writers that have most influenced you?
Jude Deveraux, Debbie Macomber, James Patterson, John Grisham, Shakespeare, Tennyson – all of these have left gentle imprints on my soul.
Do you prefer to extensively plot your stories, or do you write them as they come to you?
At first, as they come to me. Sometimes it’s a scene in the beginning then at the end to know where I’m going; other times it’s a straight shot out of the starting gate to the finish line.
Do certain themes and ideas tend to capture your writer’s imagination and fascinate you?
I have eclectic tastes in literature, so just about everything nudges me toward creativity…except horror. I’m a wuss with blood and dismemberment.
What are some of your favorite characteristics of a good alpha hero? Do you have one from a book or movie you particularly like?
Honesty, integrity, intelligence, common sense, and a protective instinct. I love Hugh Jackman’s character in Kate and Leopold – such confidence without arrogance!
What are some of your favorite characteristics of a good heroine? Do you have one from a book or movie you particularly like?
I don’t mind female characters who start out a bit unsure or whiney as long as they realize they must grow up and get past the needy emotions. I love strong, intelligent females, maybe a bit quirky, who aren’t deterred by challenges.
Have you, or would you ever write about a beta hero? Can a female character be stronger (emotionally or physically) than a man and still have a romance be satisfying for a reader?
Not in my opinion – I HATE weak, needy, “I’m a victim” men!!
Any advice to writers just starting out?
Don’t give up – ever.
What do readers have to look forward to in the future from Cynthia Hampton?
In the Rivers Brothers series, book two is titled Sapphire Dreams and shows Gabe’s struggles through a devastating family secret; book three, Ruby Starlight, follows the youngest brother, Hunter, as he finds a way to capture the attention of the woman he loves.
Thanks again for stopping by, Cynthia! Readers can discover more about Cynthia Hampton here:
Three Talented Brothers. Three Passionate Loves. The Rivers Family—A New Series full of romance, passion, and music.
Life is looking good for Justin Rivers. Breaking into the country music scene and being scouted by the top talent agency in Nashville is a dream come true. He’s determined to prove himself to his family, hoping to erase his past mistakes and win back his family’s respect.
Life isn’t looking good for Silver Madison. She loves teaching, but a possible scandal threatens the school, and her cheating fiancé has broken her heart. Sizzling romance and the relentless paparazzi are the last things she needs.
When Silver catches the eye of the up-and-coming country star, outrageous lies and intimate photographs taken by a sneaky reporter force her into the national spotlight. But as much as she tries to avoid the limelight, she can’t avoid Justin’s touch—or the passion between them. Justin’s determined to protect his family and win Silver’s trust, but when a woman appears claiming to be Justin’s wife, Silver’s not sure if her heart can take any more…
An Excerpt from Midnight Diamonds
Justin stood in the dressing area with the contestants, offering congratulations and posing for pictures. As the last one walked out of the room, the stage manager said the press was ready to talk with him.
“Can I have one minute, please?”
“Sure thing, Justin.”
Standing in front of a mirror, Justin tousled his hair in a futile attempt to get rid of hat head. He paused and took in a deep breath.
Sometimes the reality of fame overwhelmed him. Despite all the warnings from his older brother, his dream was happening. No more rodeos. No more smoke-filled bars or trying to convince local radio stations to play his self-produced CD. No more hopeful YouTube videos. The screaming fans and record sales were proof that this was real.
And still he found himself wondering if something would get in his way or keep him from reaching the top. The emcee had mentioned ACMA’s Best New Artist, and damn, he wanted that award, no matter what it took. Although his manager had done a good job of getting him noticed, Justin had signed with a fairly unknown label, and he wanted top billing, the kind of exposure that would make him a household name.
More than anything, he wanted his family to be proud of him…to respect him again. Time to move past the year of stupidity that had nearly destroyed everyone he loved.
“Almost ready for the press,” he answered, smoothing his shirt.
“They can wait.”
Justin turned to his manager, Sam Fletcher, a short, slender man with a friendly smile standing at the door. His brown hair was combed straight back and he wore a brown, western cut suit with dark brown boots. The man rubbed his hands together as he walked into the room.
“Great show. Listen, I have some news. You’ve heard of GramMer in Nashville?”
Justin nodded. “Who hasn’t? They’re the top talent agency in country music.”
“They want to talk.”
Justin’s heart pounded with excitement. The holy grail of representation and they wanted him. “Did they say when?”
“I told them to give me a call tomorrow and we’d set up a meeting.”
“Good, good.” He fake punched Sam in the stomach. “This could be it, Sam. For both of us!”
His manager laughed and dodged the punch. “Hell, it’s about time, right? Now all we gotta do is keep you in the news. Make sure your face is everywhere. I’ll handle that part.”
The stage manager knocked on the door frame. “Time to go, Justin. The press is getting restless.”
He smiled. “Right now, I’m ready for anything.”
Thirty minutes later, Justin’s face hurt from smiling for the photographers and answering what seemed like hundreds of questions. Next thing on his agenda was food. He picked up his cowboy hat and set it on his head. A woman’s voice stopped him.
“Mr. Rivers? Becky Sinclair with Tulsa People magazine. I have a few more questions if you don’t mind.”
Letting out a deep breath, he turned to ask if they could reschedule. The words died on his lips when he saw the women standing behind him. One had auburn hair, a bright yellow shirt, and a beautiful smile that made it hard to say no as she extended her hand.
He glanced at the woman beside her and his breath caught. Blonde hair framed green eyes and a delicate face, one he knew because they’d already met. There was no way he’d forget that pretty name or beautiful lady. “Silver. How’s Buddy doing?”
“Still working when I came in, so thanks again. Wow, you did a great job out there.”
“Thanks.” Realizing Becky’s hand was still extended, he shook it but spoke to the beauty beside her. “Tulsa People wants to talk to me? I’m nothing special.”
Becky stepped closer. “My editor disagrees and, after that fantastic song you did tonight, so do I. Can you spare a few minutes? I hope you don’t mind if Silver sits in with us.”
“Listen, I’m on my way to Tangled Saddles. If you ladies want to join me, I’ll answer your questions over dinner.”
Silver smiled at him. “That sounds great.”
He couldn’t take his eyes off her. “It’s a new barbecue place down the road a bit.”
“I’ve heard the food is delicious.”
“Meet you there?”
The reporter tapped his shoulder. “Uh, hello…party of three here.”
“Oh, right. Sure, no problem.”
Sam walked over to stand beside them. “Hey, Justin. Ready to go?”
“Sam, this is Silver. And Becky is with Tulsa People. Ladies, this is Sam Fletcher, my manager.” He put a hand on the other man’s shoulder. “I’m giving an interview over dinner at Tangled Saddles, so I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”
His manager crossed his arms over his chest. “Don’t I need to be there?”
Becky frowned. “Not unless you’re afraid of what he might say.”
Sam narrowed his eyes. “Just thinking about my client, that’s all.”
“Same here,” Becky replied with her head tilted. “I’m a professional, Sam, so I’ll do right by Justin.”
The manager watched Becky for a moment before giving her a tight smile. “Hey, it’s free publicity, right? Justin, call me and I’ll give you an update on that matter we discussed earlier.” He left the room, stomping down the hall.
Justin thought Sam had overreacted, but they’d talk tomorrow. Right now a beautiful lady waited for him. He turned to Silver. “Ready to go, darlin’?”
“Don’t call me darlin’.”
That was the second time she’d chastised him for the nickname. Why the hell didn’t she like it? “No problem, Silver.”
Becky motioned them both toward the doorway. “Still a party of three. Now that the apologies are out of the way, can we please eat?”
* * *
Silver hadn’t prepared for the media fiasco waiting outside Tangled Saddles. Members of the press blocked the door to take pictures of Justin, and reporters called out questions, asking who she was and why she was with him.
“How did they know where to find us?” she asked while trying to avoid the cameras.
“Looks like Sam tipped them off.”
Justin waved and worked his way through the crowd, but getting past them wasn’t easy. Finally Becky wormed her way into the mess and took control.
“Hey, listen up. Mr. Rivers is here to relax, and he’d appreciate some privacy.”
One man yelled out. “But who’s the girl?”
Silver ducked her head as Justin answered, “She’s a friend. Good to see you all and thanks for the hard work you do.” He put one arm around her and followed Becky who made a path through the crowd.
Once they were inside, fans cheered and rushed to greet him. She had to admit, he handled it like a pro. Glancing around the room, she saw Chase and Darcy sitting in a booth near the front. Now that cheater would see she wasn’t sitting at home, crying over him. While Justin finished with the fans and spoke to the hostess about getting a table, Becky gripped her elbow and pulled her back toward the door.
“You knew Chase would be here.”
Silver couldn’t look at her. “I heard him mention they were coming here, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to rub it in his face a little bit.”
“OK, I get it.” Becky leaned close to whisper as she cracked her knuckles. “But please let me do my job. My editor is counting on this article and I have a deadline tonight.”
“I promise. Just being here is enough, trust me.” She bit her lip. “Am I a terrible person?”
“Now that you’ve started this game, you have to play it. Like I said earlier, Sil, I hope this doesn’t come back to bite you.”
Justin motioned them forward, and they were seated at a table right across the room from Chase and Darcy. She pretended to not notice the redhead waving or Chase’s frown as she checked out the western décor.
Heavy wooden tables and chairs filled the room. Red leather booths lined two sides by the windows. Children’s booster chairs were shaped like small saddles. Each table had a blown glass centerpiece with a small votive candle inside and encased in rusty barbed wire; western paintings of cattle roundups and campfires were framed in weathered wood, and horseshoes held hurricane lamps on the walls.
It wasn’t her favorite kind of room, but it could be worse. At least there were no glassy-eyed, stuffed animals guarding the place.
“Ladies, what’s your pleasure?” Justin asked.
Wasn’t that a loaded question, especially when he raised one eyebrow at her and grinned?
She pretended to study her menu. “I’ll have what you’re having.”
He laughed and shook his head. “I don’t think so, dar…um, Silver. The hot sauce would probably make you faint.”
Irritation bubbled to the surface but she smiled at him. “You think I’m that delicate?”
Leaning forward, he studied her face. “Like a beautiful rose.”
Her breath caught at the softly spoken words, and she shivered as if he’d touched her. His dark blue eyes challenged her. “Roses have thorns, Justin. Bring on the hot sauce.”
With a resigned shrug, he ordered for the two of them, then Becky ordered a smoked chicken sandwich. After a server delivered their drinks, Becky pulled out a small notebook.
“Mind if I ask a few questions now?”
“Fire away. And I liked how you handled things with the reporters. Thanks.”
“Anytime, cowboy. Let’s get started.”
While Becky talked with Justin, Silver took a drink and stole a glance across the room. She nearly sputtered with laughter when she saw Chase glaring at them. She leaned closer to Justin, listening as he answered Becky’s questions. By the time their food arrived, the interview was done and Chase looked ready to explode.
* * *
A huge platter of smoked brisket sat in front of her as well as French fries and coleslaw. There was no possible way she could eat all of this. Beside the meat sat a miniature glass mason jar of sauce. She’d seen the running water logo on the jar somewhere else but couldn’t place it. Dipping a forkful of brisket into the sauce, she grinned and took a bite at the same time as Justin.
Oh. My. God.
If fire from hell could be bottled, this was it.
Sweat beaded on Justin’s forehead and his mouth tightened with white lines. “Well?”
“This is the most amazing barbecue I’ve ever tasted,” she croaked, licking her lips. Wrong thing to do—don’t lick Hell. The room swam for a moment as she let out a burst of air from her burning lungs. Was smoke coming out of her mouth?
“Glad you like it,” he responded in a voice that sounded hoarse. “It’s called Triple Threat hot sauce.”
“Real smooth. Can we get more?” she asked before taking another small bite of torture. Her vision glazed over slightly.
“I think he’ll take everything he sees,” Becky quipped as she swiped a French fry from the platter.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Real men eat this every day.” He took a huge bite and grimaced as he chewed. Picking up his napkin, he wiped down the side of his neck.
Silver drained her water glass but the burn continued. “Can we stop now? You win.”
“Whew, thank you.” They all laughed as he motioned to a woman standing close by with two glasses of milk and more sauce jars. “Drink the milk first then we’ll try the Barely Burned level.”
She downed the milk and moaned with almost instant relief.
An older woman came to stand beside their table, hands on her hips. “Justin Rivers, what were you thinking?”
“Hey, the rose wanted to prove she has thorns. Sharon, how have you been?” He stood and hugged the woman.
Definitely older but nice looking, so a former girlfriend?
“I can’t complain. Things are staying pretty busy, and I don’t have time to call an ambulance because you want to test some girl’s mettle.” Sharon held out her hand to Silver. “Sharon Bradford. I manage this place and occasionally run interference for stupidity.” She gave Justin a pointed look.
Silver laughed and shook her hand. “Silver Madison. Nice to meet you, Sharon. This is my friend, Becky Sinclair, with Tulsa People magazine.”
The smile froze on Sharon’s face. “Silver Madison? Daughter of Amelia and Stewart Madison?”
“They’re my parents.”
The woman’s eyes shifted to Justin then back to Silver. “Well, small world. Tell them I said hello. Gotta get back to work. Dinner is on the house.” She turned and practically ran back to the kitchen.
Silver frowned. “Something I said?”
Justin shrugged. “I have no idea. I’ve known Sharon all my life, and I’ve never seen her act that way.” He picked up his fork. “Ready to go for something tamer?”
Cautiously, she tried the new sauce. After the first bite, Silver relaxed. “Wow, this is much better.”
He took a huge bite dripping with sauce. After chewing several times and wiping his mouth, he asked, “What grade level do you teach?”
“Senior English at Gordon A. Gladstone Academy.”
“GaGa? I’ve heard of it. College prep, very exclusive. You like teenagers?”
“Teaching is my passion,” she responded, dipping a French fry into ketchup. “I don’t like what I do, I love it. Or I did before today.”
Becky leaned back in her chair. “Oh yeah, I meant to ask. What happened?”
“Nothing important, just one of those days as a teacher.” She shook her head slightly in a way that said, “Later.” Becky nodded, letting her know she understood.
The three were quiet for a few minutes as they ate. Justin finished his dinner and pushed the plate away. “Will GaGa get any of the funds from tonight?”
Silver’s shoulders tensed as she shook her head. “No, our money is tuition based and from donations.”
“I guess that makes things tough sometimes.”
“You have no idea. It’s a great school with wonderful teachers.”
“Uh oh,” Becky whispered loudly. “Incoming.”
Silver turned to stare at the approaching catastrophe. She’d forgotten about Chase. He strutted over and stood by their table. Becky gave her a swift kick under the table, and Silver had the distinct sensation of something nipping at her backside.
“Hi, Silver and Becky. Gonna introduce us?”
Good manners prevailed. Unfortunately.
“Justin, this is Chase Richards and his friend, DeeAnn.” Oops, she hadn’t meant to say the wrong name again.
The redhead stomped her foot. “Darcy. Who the hell is this DeeAnn person?”
Chase ignored her. “Later, baby. Hey, we caught the contest tonight. Great performance, man. You really had the place going.”
When Justin glanced at her then back at Chase, Silver stared at her plate, unable to meet the singer’s eyes. Becky had always said cream and crap ooze to the surface, and it wasn’t hard to figure out how to label this situation. So nothing surprised her more than when Justin laid his arm across the back of her chair and leaned close.
“Thanks, dude. I appreciate that.”
“You must have worked some kind of magic to get Silver—” Chase tilted his chin toward her. “—to a country music show.”
She opened her mouth to answer, but the gentle touch of Justin’s hand on her arm stopped her from answering. “How do you know Silver?”
“Oh, we go way back. Almost married her, but she decided to go for richer pastures.”
Cold anger settled in her stomach. “Excuse me?”
Becky held up a hand toward Chase. “Stop. You know that’s not the truth. If I remember correctly, and I do, your idea of faithfulness took a hike when you met DeeAnn.”
Darcy pulled on Chase’s arm. “Who is DeeAnn?”
He shrugged her off. “I can see why this guy is a better option, Silver. The Rivers family enterprise? Money? Prestige?” He gave a bark of forced laughter. “Are you holding out on him, too, or did his money get you into his bed?”
Justin’s chair slammed into the empty table behind them as he stood up and grabbed the front of Chase’s shirt. Silver saw flashes outside the restaurant windows. Those reporters hadn’t left.
“Justin, it’s OK. Don’t make a scene.”
“No, Silver, it’s not OK. Richards, you have five seconds to get the hell out of here.”
Two men ran into the room, cameras on their shoulders, pointed right at what was happening. Customers had their phones in hand, filming every word.
Snorting, Chase knocked Justin’s hand away and draped his arm over Darcy’s shoulders. “Whatever. At least one of us will get lucky tonight. You’re stuck with the Silver Ice Princess.”
Justin’s fist moved so fast that Silver’s mouth dropped open. One second Chase was standing and the next he was on the floor with blood streaming out of his nose. Darcy squealed and grabbed a napkin from a table, handing it to Chase.
Sharon came running out from the back. “Justin,” she exclaimed. “Get a grip!”
Chase pushed himself to a standing position, holding the napkin under his nose with one hand. “You’ll pay for that, Rivers.” He stumbled across the floor with Darcy’s help as she asked about DeeAnn again.
“Any time you want a rematch,” Justin called. “The blood is an improvement over that crappy shirt!”
Chase shoved his way past the cameras and out the door. The photographers followed him and Silver saw the reporters crowding around her ex-fiancé.
Sharon groaned and covered her face with her hands. “Your mom is gonna fire me.”
“This wasn’t your fault, Sharon. No one is getting fired.” Justin ran fingers through his hair and spoke to the other customers. “Sorry, folks, but I don’t like it when a man disrespects a woman. Dessert’s on me.” He grinned sheepishly at Silver when the people began clapping. “I need some ice for this.” Shaking out his hand, he walked to the back of the restaurant, Sharon hot on his heels.
When Becky stood and picked up her purse, Silver held up one hand. “Please don’t say anything. I feel bad enough as it is.”
“I have to get this story to the editor.” Becky grinned. “But I have to admit, it was so freaking cool to see Justin defend you like that. And to see Chase bleeding? Worth the price of admission.”
Silver wanted to agree but knowing she’d caused this fight took away the satisfaction. With shaking hands, she leaned over to get Buddy’s keys out of her purse, dropping them on the table with a loud clatter. “I’ll take you. Let me leave some money with Justin.”
“Money for what?” Justin asked, walking toward her and holding an ice pack on his knuckles.
Becky swiped the keys off the table. “Can you take Silver home? I have a deadline at the magazine.”
Shaking her head, Silver tried to intercept the keys. “I don’t—”
Justin shrugged as he dropped the icepack on the table. “Sure, no problem.”
“Thanks. I’ll have Buddy back in the morning.”
Raising one of her hands, Silver spoke louder. “Excuse me—”
Justin handed his keys out to Becky. “Hey, take my truck. I’d love to drive Buddy.”
Silver shook her head. “No one drives Buddy but me and—”
“It was acting up on Silver earlier today anyway,” Justin said to Becky. “Wouldn’t want you to get stranded.”
“But you fixed it—” Silver began.
Becky exchanged keys with Justin. “Awesome. I’ll get the truck back to you at her house, and Sil, I’m bunking with you.”
“Wait! Don’t I get—”
“Not tonight, you don’t. You poked the bear; you do the time. Love you, Sil.”
“That’s not how the saying goes. Becky!” Her friend—now former friend—practically ran out the door. Silver couldn’t believe Becky had actually left her with Justin. She turned to him with her hands palm up. “I can call a cab.”
Justin put a hand over hers. “It’s really OK, Silver. I don’t mind spending more time with you. That is, if you aren’t totally embarrassed by what I did. Sorry I lost my temper, but I can’t handle a disrespectful attitude toward a woman.”
Guilt washed over her in waves. He helped with her car. He asked them to dinner. He did to Chase what she’d wished she could do for months, and now Chase would probably sue him. She rubbed a hand across her forehead.
“Justin, it’s not your fault. If I hadn’t…”
“Don’t. The guy’s a jerk. He obviously doesn’t recognize a lady when he sees one, and his wardrobe sucks.”
“I need to explain…”
Suddenly the room moved like a Tilt-A-Whirl carnival ride. She felt hot and cold at the same time. Standing slowly, she reached out to him.
Justin stood and grabbed her arm. “Silver?”
“Hope reporters are gone…”
She couldn’t finish when the room pitched sideways and everything went dark.