I’m pleased to have a fellow, Sierra Romance Writer, Meggan Connors join us today. What inspired you to become a writer?
I've always told stories to myself to help me get to sleep at night. Sometimes, my brain just didn't want to shut off, and so I'd dream of far away places, of handsome men and the women who loved them. I wrote for years—a scene here, a scene there—before finally trying my hand at writing a novel. But then graduate school came along, along with the requisite thesis and the follow-up academic articles, and the writing for pleasure took a backseat for a while. About two and a half years ago, I woke up and told my husband, "You know, I think I'll write a romance novel."
Who are your favorite romance characters (besides your own?)
Let's see. I like Colt Thunder in Johanna Lindsey's Savage Thunder. I also loved, loved, loved Dageus in Karen Moning's Dark Highlander. I love Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre (Michael Fassbender playing him was a dream-come-true), and Mr. Darcy (as played for Colin Firth) from Pride and Prejudice.
Tell me what inspired this story.
The Marker is the story of a man who wins a woman in a poker game. The inspiration literally came from my husband. A friend of mine suggested I try my hand at writing something light and funny. The husband and I were watching the World Series of Poker (actually, he was watching it; I was doing dishes), and all of a sudden, the idea came to me. I really enjoyed writing this story, too.
How do you balance your day-to-day commitments with your writing life?
I'd like to say that I have some magic answer to this. But I don't. The truth of the matter is, I find the time to write by not doing the dishes, or forgetting about laundry until everyone is out of socks. When the muse is really active, I rarely sleep more than four or five hours a night. I somehow manage to get everything done, but it's insane.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I love to hear from people who've read my books! Readers can find me on my blog at www.megganconnors.com and on Facebook. We'll be having some fun giveaways, and Facebook is the best way to find out about them!
Here is the back cover copy of my book:
When her father loses her in a poker game, Lexie Markland is sent to work in the household of Nicholas Wetherby for one year to pay off the debt. Innocent but not naïve, she is savvy enough to know she must maintain her distance from this man who frustrates her with his relentless teasing but whose kisses bring her to her knees. Because although she may be just another conquest to him, the marker he won at the card table, it’s not just her heart in jeopardy should she succumb to Nicholas’s considerable charms.
Since his brother’s death almost a year before, nothing has held Nicholas’s attention for long–not women, not booze, not even an excellent hand at cards. Nothing, that is, until he meets the woman he won in a drunken night of poker. Intrigued by his prize and her chilly reserve, he makes it his mission to crack Lexie’s cool demeanor. But even as passion explodes between them, the question remains: will Nicholas be able to take the ultimate risk… and gamble on love?
You can purchase my book from Soulmate publishing (www.soulmatepublishing.com) and from Amazon and Barnes and Noble any time after it comes out on December 14!
Thanks for having me, Mariposa! It's been such fun!
Nicholas Wetherby threw back his whiskey in a single swallow. He hadn’t touched his cards since he had first looked at them, casually raising bets as other players placed them. Recognizing Nicholas’s betting patterns as those of a man with a remarkable hand, the other players at the table folded, one after the other. All except one.
Idly twirling a silver dollar between his fingers, Nicholas leaned back in his chair, hooked his arm over the back and studied the last remaining a player, John Markland. Markland was a man who had been perpetually down on his luck since the death of his wife, and any good sense he may have once had must have died with her. Only an improbable run of good fortune brought Markland to this particular table, and he played like a man possessed. Nicholas had once heard he lived more or less hand-to-mouth in a seedy part of town with his daughter, and the stack of cash in front of him would keep him in food and booze for a good month. If the man had any common sense left, he wouldn’t push his luck—he would fold this hand, gather his winnings, and count both his cash and his blessings.
“How much you got, Markland?” he asked.
Tobacco smoke clung to the air as Markland mashed the end of his cigar between his teeth. Making a show of counting his money, he said, “Ninety.”
Still not looking back at his cards, Nicholas tossed in a hundred dollars. A part of him expected Markland to fold over the casual way he placed his bet, as if he didn’t care about the sum of money being wagered. And, in fact, he didn’t.
“Well, that ought to cover it.”
The desperate greed lighting his eyes poorly disguised, Markland stared at the cash in front of him. The problem with Markland was that he lacked both the fortitude and the skill to earn his money, so he had to win it. Pity he wasn’t even very good at that.
Nicholas despised men like him. But then, Nicholas despised just about everyone these days.
“I’ll sign over the house to you if you go all in, Wetherby.”
Nicholas chuckled, but it felt hollow in his gut. “I’m sure it’s mortgaged for more than it’s worth. I think not.”
He didn’t want anything Markland had to offer, but at least the betting was getting interesting. The familiar rush accompanying a big win caught his attention and pierced through the languor that had been dogging him for months. Ever since the death of his brother almost a year before, no amount of drink or women seemed to be able to fill the void in his life, though a big win at poker at least piqued his interest for a time.
“I’ll give you my watch,” Markland said, fishing into his pocket. “It’s pure gold.”
Nicholas eyed the banged-up trinket his opponent dangled in front of him, acting like a street vendor hawking ‘genuine diamonds’ or some cure-all elixir. As if he would want such a piece of junk. Nicholas almost wished the man had more pride.
“I have a pocket watch, and I don’t need another,” Nicholas replied, swiftly losing interest in the betting and wanting to move on to the next hand. “Just call with the ninety and let’s be done with this. Except for the cash in front of you, you have nothing I want.”
Markland fidgeted in his seat and tapped his index finger nervously on the worn, green felt of the card table. His eyes shifted from Nicholas to Nicholas’s money, and over at the bar. “A moment, Wetherby,” he said, holding up his hand. “Barkeep!” he shouted to the man standing behind the gleaming mahogany bar. When he turned in their direction, Markland said, “Bourbon whiskey, for me and my new friend here. The ‘48, if you would.”
“Going for the good stuff, I see.”
“Nothing but the best for me and my friends,” Markland said, raising a glass in a toast.
Never one to turn down a free drink—especially not one as good as the ‘48—Nicholas nodded his thanks, replied, “Indeed,” and drained his glass. He placed it on the table with heavy thud and said, “Just call.”
“No, wait!” Markland cried. “My daughter! If I lose, I’ll give you my daughter!”
An audible gasp went up around the table. Nicholas leaned back in his seat and laughed, thinking Markland must be jesting. “You would wager your daughter?”
“She’s a rare beauty. She’d even please a man such as yourself. A goodly, moral woman.”
It took Nicholas a moment to realize Markland was serious, willing to wager his daughter over a hand of poker. Astonishment and raw excitement pulsed in his veins, and he laughed, enjoying the thrill and secretly expecting Markland to withdraw his bet.
“I’m not overly interested in goodly, moral women. They have very little to offer me,” Nicholas returned, laughing at his own joke. Calling the older man’s obvious bluff, he asked, “What precisely are you proposing?”
Markland wiped sweat from his brow and suggested, “She could work in your household. I’m telling you, she’s a rare prize.”
The nervous voice, the perspiration, and the desperate betting all told Nicholas he had his opponent exactly where he wanted him. “Smacks of desperation to me, Markland,” he said with a smirk. “I’d bet this ‘rare prize’ looks and acts like a harpy. Thank you, no. Let’s just finish this. I bet, and you have nothing left to raise my wager. Show me your hand.”
“No!” Markland insisted. “I’m telling you, she has skin like porcelain, the temperament of an angel, and a voice to match. She is a beauty, I tell you.”
Nicholas was just drunk enough to enjoy the desperation, and this was by far the most interesting thing he had been involved in for months. He almost pitied the poor girl. It was bad enough being the daughter of John Markland, a man who clearly lived above his means despite the recession gripping California, but now her father offered her up as a marker in a card game. Markland would leave the girl destitute.
Nicholas leaned forward in his seat and regarded the older man for long moments. With a sigh, he finally checked his cards and pondered his options. He should never accept Markland’s offer—if he were an honorable sort, he wouldn’t—but he couldn’t help the rush of excitement that accompanied the thought of accepting. He would win the girl, keep her for a short while, and return her unscathed to her father. Hopefully, in that space of time, Markland would learn his lesson and would give up the game at least for a time. Sure, if Nicholas took her, scandal would result, but he never been one to shy away from gossip. Nicholas didn’t want the girl—he had plenty of female companionship and the last thing he needed was a hysterical woman in his household.
But watching Markland fall would at least be entertaining.
The shadow under which he had lived for the past year lifted a little as he considered Markland’s offer. Why not see how far Markland would take this? It wasn’t like Nicholas was responsible for the girl—or the actions of her father.
So why did he have this strange tightness in his chest and an odd twinge of pity for a girl he’d never met? What Markland proposed was preposterous. Insane. Unfortunately, Nicholas was just drunk enough, and reckless enough, to accept.
“Fine, but I want a contract drawn up.”
Low murmurs went around the table as men spoke of the wager in shocked, hushed tones. Markland glanced at them uneasily, and Nicholas thought he would back down at the mention of a contract. Instead, after a moment’s trepidation, his eyes rested on the stack of cash in front of Nicholas and his face lit up. The man obviously believed he had this game won.
“Of course,” he answered, his voice reedy with anticipation. “I expect no less.”
Oh, this was going to be fun. “So, what, precisely, are your terms?”
Markland shrugged and chewed thoughtfully on the end of a cigar that would be nothing but pulp by the end of the hand. “She’d be yours, of course.”
Markland shrugged and chewed thoughtfully on the end of a cigar that would be nothing but pulp by the end of the hand. “She’d be yours, of course.”
“Slavery isn’t legal here, and I don’t want to be responsible for some woman for the rest of her life. Sounds too much like marriage. I like my life just fine, thank you.” Drunken laughter rang out as the men surrounding him laughed at his joke.
Markland eyed Nicholas’s money. “How much you got?”
Nicholas counted. And then he had to recount because somewhere in the middle he’d lost track. “Enough to cover the wages of a maid for about a year. I guess your daughter could serve in my household for that length of time.”
“She comes back untouched?”
“I don’t beat my staff, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Markland regarded him for a moment with troubled eyes. He caught Nicholas watching him and glanced meaningfully at the men gathered around him. Leaning forward in his seat, he said in a voice so soft Nicholas had to strain to hear the words, “That’s not what I’m asking.”
“No, I’m sure it’s not,” Nicholas responded with an amused smirk. Anyone who frequented the taverns and gambling halls in Sacramento had heard of Nicholas’s reputation as a notorious rake. Nicholas enjoyed the fairer sex, and he had recently ended an entanglement with a beautiful, wealthy widow. Soon, he would be on the hunt for female companionship, but he didn’t make it a practice to bed virgins. Never had. Virgins always seemed like far more trouble than they were worth, and while he didn’t mind scandals, he’d never been one to drag the innocent or naïve into them. He wasn’t an honorable sort, but even he had a line he wouldn’t cross.
He preferred his women savvy to the ways of men, anyway.
“I’m not in the habit of bedding my staff,” Nicholas responded with a shrug. “I am not wanting for companionship.” He glanced over toward the parlor and saw a prostitute loitering in the doorway. He didn’t want her either, but he winked and blew her a kiss. Just to make Markland daft.
“Untouched.” Following Nicholas’s gaze, he said with a scowl, “I want her back untouched.”
Nicholas smiled, enjoying himself. “I make no guarantees,” he said, just to be difficult. “If you’re so worried, call with your ninety and take the pot. And, if she’s as honorable as you say she is, I guess you’ve got nothing to worry about, do you?”
Markland fidgeted, drumming his fingers on the table again. “All right, I’m in.”
Nicholas gave a breath of wry laughter and sat back in his chair. He had thought, by making his reputation clear and giving Markland no assurances, he would back down, his honor overcoming his greed. Secretly, Nicholas hoped his opponent would back down—not only was there a certain delight in having everyone wonder if he had won the hand on a bluff, but a part of him long since silent didn’t care for the direction the betting had taken.
With a shrug, Nicholas pushed his uneasiness aside and said, “All right.”
Twenty minutes later, the contract had been drafted and signed. James Campbell, Nicholas’s business partner and a frequent companion on his trips to the gambling hall, had written it, and the intent of the agreement was clear: should John Markland lose, his daughter would pay his debt by working as a servant in Nicholas’s household. Once she earned enough to pay back what her father owed him, she would be free to go.
“You don’t need to do this, Nicholas,” James said in confidence. “Your reputation will be ruined if you claim her. So will hers. This isn’t a good idea.”
Nicholas shrugged and glanced up at the gentlemen who, drawn by the drama unfolding, had come to stand around the table. James’s disapproval of the arrangement did give him pause. A notorious womanizer like Nicholas, James wasn’t known for his strict adherence to conventional morals. While everyone liked James, he claimed few people as friends—and fewer still did he hold had any allegiance to. What others did on their own time was none of his business. For James to actually voice censure was something of a novelty. Nicholas frowned. He wanted to win this hand, but even he recognized the bad form in allowing Markland to go through with this wager. The tatters of his honor rose up in angry protest. Did he really want to destroy a girl in exchange for his own, short-lived pleasure?
Nicholas focused on the sound of the jaunty tune being played on the piano, using it to drown out both his long-ignored conscience and the low voices of the men who had come to witness the bargain being struck for the fate of a woman. He raked his hands through his hair, considering James’s words. If her father were willing to do go through with the wager, why should Nicholas have any qualms? He owed neither the girl nor her father any allegiance.
With a sigh, Nicholas said, “Her reputation’s her father’s problem, not mine, and mine’s not going to suffer. I know what I am. I’m not folding my hand.”
“You’re drunk,” James told him. “You know you’ll regret this in the morning.”
“Probably,” Nicholas responded with a reckless grin.
“The girl doesn’t deserve this. Doesn’t matter who she is or who her father is. She doesn’t deserve this. You’re better than this, Nick.”
“No, I’m not.”
James sighed. “Why don’t you just go home and sleep it off?”
“Because he bet. You really want me to fold and lose my money—our money—because you don’t approve of the other man’s wager? It’s not my fault he wagered what he did and is gonna lose.”
“Not his daughter’s either.”
“Maybe not, but that’s not my problem.” The odd twinge of guilt intensified, but Nicholas wasn’t going to let James ruin the glow of good booze and a great hand of poker. Besides, embroiling himself in a good scandal might serve as an interesting diversion.
“You’re really going to do this?”
James shook his head and warned, “This is stupid.”
“Yup.” He threw back another shot of whiskey, ran his hand through his hair and asked, “You gonna stop me?”
“No,” James said.
“Then put the contract in the pot and let’s be done with this.” He glanced at Markland, who stared at the cash at the center of the table with greed lighting his eyes. Disgust rolled through him for this man who was willing to risk his own daughter for the sake of the game, a man so weak he didn’t recognize when he had been bested. “You can still just call the hundred,” Nicholas urged, carefully enunciating his words to keep them from slurring. “There is no dishonor in betting only what belongs to you.”
“Scared, Wetherby?” Markland asked, his lips curving into a smug sneer, and Nicholas fought the sudden inclination to punch him in the face. “I’ve placed my bet. You can call or fold.”
Nicholas shrugged and leaned forward to push the remainder of his cash into the center of the table to join the rest of the goods in the pot, and he heard James’s wry breath of laughter. Under his breath, James muttered, “You’re right. He does deserve it.”
If anything had sealed the girl’s fate, it had been her father’s words.
“Fine,” Nicholas retorted. “I call.”
Flipping over his hand, Markland said, “Four eights! Beat that Wetherby!”
Nicholas whistled, stunned to find the Markland had a far better hand than he had thought. “That’s a...a good hand,” he said, and the older man leaned forward to eagerly begin collecting his winnings. With a wave, Nicholas stopped him. “Not so fast, my friend.”
Markland stared up at him in bewildered surprise. “You know I have you beat. You said so yourself. I have a good hand.”
“It’s a good hand, but I never said it was the best.”
With the back of his hand, Markland wiped away the sweat dotting his brow as he backed away from the pot. “The jacks and queens are out, so I know you don’t have those,” he said, and Nicholas could almost smell the desperation leeching from his pores, much like the cheap tobacco and equally cheap alcohol already did. “You can’t have the kings or aces—I think Campbell had at least one of those. I have the best hand.”
With a smile, Nicholas said, “I don’t have four of anything, that’s true.”
“Then what?” But even as he said the words, Nicholas watched Markland’s face fall as the older man finally realized which hand he hadn’t taken into account. Nicholas leaned forward, and to Markland’s dismay and Nicholas’s everlasting delight, he turned over the best hand in poker: the royal flush. Without another word, Nicholas collected his winnings and the contract. The crowd gathered around the table dispersed, seeking out the next big drama. Looking back at Markland, who sat at the poker table with his head in his hands, Nicholas said, “I’ll be by tomorrow to pick up the marker. Make sure she’s ready.”
With those parting words, Nicholas left the hall.