Friday, March 4, 2016

Chapter Spotlight: Queen Of My Heart

Love Notes: Eight Country Romances is coming April 19th! Catch a glimpse of spotlights and other fun things on these books and authors as we come closer to release day!

Today's chapter spotlight is from USA Today Bestselling author Nikki Lynn Barrett's contribution, Queen Of My Heart. This is the first in the new Life Won't Wait Series.


When the next King of country music offers to take you under his wing, what's a girl to do?

Pinch herself, of course. Repeatedly. Then take the offer!

Quinn Winters is tired of being the actress known for most killed off characters. After discovering her love of music when her last role portrayed a country singer on a daytime soap opera, she's making a much needed change in life. Quinn is unprepared for the demands and expectations needed to succeed in Music City. One pleading call from her sister puts her in an all too familiar, but unwanted position.
Five years ago, Tucker McGinnis auditioned for a reality singing show, never expecting to win. His sudden fame and popularity comes as a major surprise. After a multi-platinum debut, his second album is suffering the dreaded sophomore jinx. His musical muse becomes elusive when guilt plagues him over an accident which affects his family. He is blown away by Quinn when he overhears her audition at his record label, singing his most personal song.
An attraction builds, and a connection through music is formed.  But when life gets in the way, Tucker makes another offer - A temporary marriage which will benefit both of them, until things become too real.
Two souls destined for the stage, two hearts blending together to create beautiful music as individuals, but even better as country music's next power couple- if they can shed the images of who they used to be.

Chapter One:

For The Love of Celebrities
Posted August 10, 2015

Actress Quinn Winters is moving on from the daytime show scene and making a debut in Nashville. Sources say she moved to Music City about three months ago, but no word as to whether she's signed with a record label or not. Known for shows like Rose Lane, The best White Lies, and All that She Can Be, maybe Winters is tired of being killed off on television. Is she cursed, or is there something more to the story than the world knows? After hearing her sing on Rose Lane, I'm curious to see how she fares in Nashville. What do you think? Does Quinn have a chance, or should she stick to acting? Should she find another career choice, since she seems to have a black cloud over her head. Maybe it's done on purpose. Who knows?

Chapter 1

     Quinn Winters didn't want to die again, so she made a change. A big one. The first death had been dramatic, as they always were. She'd been killed off in an automobile accident. Boy, did the shock waves go around the world in a big way with that one. Then, two years later, she died at the hands of a merciless gunman. The third time had been the worst, when a storm blew through and washed her away. The fourth, and if she had her way about it, the last, had been by her competition.
Enough was enough!

Well, no more dying. Those days were behind her. Quinn arrived in Nashville three months ago to pursue a new dream. Making the switch from acting to singing wouldn't be easy, but since the last show, where she sang before her life ended once again, Quinn realized she had a genuine passion for music. The producers at Bellany Records obviously thought so too, because they were very willing to meet with her and discuss things. 

Maybe 'discuss things' included a recording contract. A wave of chills ran over her skin at the thought.

She wouldn't die in country music. Maybe she'd return to acting one day. Quinn had been acting since she was nine. Now, at twenty-three, it felt right to make a change. For once, she'd discover something for herself.

Nashville, Tennessee wouldn't know what hit them.

Or maybe Quinn wouldn't know what hit her, and she'd go running with her tail tucked between her legs. Only time would tell. For the first part of her walk down Music Row, Quinn held her head high, full of confidence. That feeling wavered as she continued her stroll, intimidated by the tall buildings and the busy streets of the city.

The sidewalks were full of passerbys. How many of them were tourists? How many more were struggling and aspiring singers going for the same dream Quinn wanted? Was the woman on the corner waiting for the light to turn green the next Reba McEntire? One never knew. People weaved in and out of crowds, and any one of them could be the person to score a recording contract today.
She checked her purse for the hundredth time to make sure she had her demo with her. Quinn had worked on it for a while outside of Nashville, but being here in Music City really made this so much more real. She didn't think she needed the demo, since she'd be doing a live audition, but it didn't hurt to bring it anyway. The songs she'd put on it were cover tunes, but she'd chosen them carefully. They were songs she could relate to, and she poured every ounce of her being into performing them. Maybe they'd set her up with big name writers. She'd love to learn a thing or two about the process.
Ever since her 'debut' as a singer on Rose Lane, her agent had strongly suggested Quinn put a demo together and make the move to Nashville. Maybe Marybelle was tired of being ridiculed as the agent of the most killed off TV show and made-for-TV movie actress. Bets were being placed on how soon she'd die and how. Quinn found it hard to keep her eyes away from those comments. They stung. Really, she shouldn't care so damn much, but she had.

In the end run, they helped her make this choice.

And damned if it didn't come with feedback already. The critics pounced, saying she turned away from acting to chase a pipe dream. Quinn wished she could say with full faith that she'd show them, but there were no guarantees. The music executives could love her, but things could fall through. No one knew.

Signing a contract in Nashville was a lot like gambling in Vegas. Luck. Lots of luck. So many talented artists didn't have a record deal. Having merit with an acting career didn't mean a damn thing.

Still, she could hope, and hope some more.

Standing in front of the building, she breathed in deeply, then exhaled. Bile rose, but she fought it and won. “It's never too late to start over. Here goes.” Quinn pulled open the door that led to her future. This was Bellany Records, home to artists such as Tucker McGinnis, the man the media labeled as the next King of Country. If she could get a deal here on the same label with one of country music's latest big names, what an opportunity!

But Nashville was so different than the acting world she'd grown up in.

Quinn approached the desk, taking in the sights of the front office. Large photos hung on the walls of the stars signed to the label, Tucker's face being right in the middle. There were leather chairs by the windows with a huge oak coffee tables full of magazines and books, potted plants every few feet along the back wall. Black tile reflected the bright lights above. A big blue neon sign behind the front desk that said Bellany Records caught her eye. This was it, the moment she'd been waiting for and fearing at the same time.

“How can I help you?” A woman behind the desk smacked her gum, hit a few keys on the keyboard, then finally glanced up at her. “Oh. My. God. No way! Quinn Winters! Wow! I've been such a fan of your shows! What brings you to our neck of the woods? Are the rumors true? You're trying your hand at music?” Her nasally voice was full of enthusiasm.

Quinn's nerves eased as she smiled back at the woman. “I am! I have an appointment with Sean Becks.”

“Gosh, how did I not know this? Okay, let me tell him you're here.” The woman picked up the phone, tapped a number, then said, “Your ten o'clock is here.” She hung up and focused her attention back to Quinn. “Can I get your autograph? Maybe a photo together? Am I bugging the hell out of you?”

Quinn chuckled. She'd never tire of this. Odd as it was to be fangirled over, even to this day, she had a deep appreciation her fans. “You give me something, and I'll sign it. As for the photo, absolutely.”
The receptionist handed her a notebook and opened it to a blank page. “Right there, please!”

“And your name is-”


She scrawled out a personal message before signing. They were in the middle of Pearl's selfie when the doors to another room opened from the back. Pearl snapped the photo and then moved away.
“Ah. There's our resident actress turned singer. Pleased to meet you in person. I'm Sean. Come on back, and we'll get started.” A man in a pin striped suit, middle aged with white hair stood before her, a warm smile stretched across his clean shaven face.

“Good luck!” Pearl's enthusiasm provided a small reprieve to Quinn's nerves.

“Thanks! If you post your photo on Facbeook, be sure to tag my page. I have a whole photo album dedicated to meet and greets with fans,” she offered, making Pearl squeal. Quinn followed Sean to the back. He led her to a room with a small stage. A microphone on a stand sat right in the middle of it. Just a lonely little thing in the middle of the room. She'd be behind that microphone soon, hoping to win big.

Don't dwell on it.

“Give me a second to get my team in here, and we can begin your audition. I see you don't have a guitar. Do you want to borrow one, or are you going a capella?”

“Umm.” Should she admit she didn't know how to play guitar? Did she need to? Oh, crap. “Yeah. A capella.” She swallowed hard, almost choking on air. Ugh.

“Fantastic.” Sean replied with a genuine smile.

The doors opened again, and several people entered the room. They all had eyes on her. Sean introduced her to them, and they sat around in a circle.

“So we saw your singing debut on Rose Lane. Very impressive. Do you write your own songs?”
Quinn wanted to slump in her seat. “No.” No instrument, no songs. Hell.

“Do you play any instruments?” Another man asked. She'd already forgotten his name. Hopefully they wouldn't quiz her on that later, too. Quinn already felt like she failed the first two questions.
Again, she wanted to kick herself in the ass. She'd come so unprepared! “No.”

All faces were neutral. Acid churned in her gut. So, maybe singing the song she'd chosen might not be a good idea? Should she have done something original? Did all aspiring singers need original material right off the bat? This was going to be a bust!

“All right, well why don't you get up there and show us what you've got?” Sean gestured. What she'd give to be a mind reader right now! Or maybe not, otherwise she might mess up her audition song as well.

Keeping her chin and pride up, Quinn marched over to the microphone and cleared her throat. “Thank you for this chance. I'm going to sing a favorite song from Tucker McGinnis, if you don't mind. War Within Me is one of his best.” Yeah, talk up the biggest star on the label. Sure, like it'll get her anywhere.

A hush fell over the room. Quinn didn't wait for approval. She launched into the song. Quinn closed her eyes several times, unable to stand the idea of everyone watching her. She worried about their questions at first and wondered if this would hinder her chance. She'd come to Nashville far more unprepared than she imagined.

You always tell me
I'll never be enough
You're pretty damn certain
I'll never find a love

Your words are a weapon
Sharp, painful and deep
I'm walkin' along this road
but the incline is pretty damn steep

Voices are shoutin'
The battle lines are clearly defined
It's me against the world
I feel I'm always undermined
Wherever I go you always seem to follow
There's an ache in me
a heart which is always hollow
I haven't learned to break free
Left to die, I fight alone
There's a war within me

The storm is ragin'
can't find an end in sight
Our fight is brutally engagin'
A cold, empty darkness kills the light

Your words are a weapon
Sharp, painful and deep
I'm walkin' along this road
but the incline is pretty damn steep

Voices are shoutin'
The battle lines are clearly defined
It's me against the world
I feel I'm always undermined
Wherever I go you always seem to follow
There's an ache in me
a heart which is always hollow
I haven't learned to break free
Left to die, I fight alone
There's a war within me

An empty shell of a soul
Is all that's left of me
Until I find the way out
There's a war
A raging war
There's a war within me

The silence after she finished her performance scared her.
Quinn opened her eyes, waiting with baited breath for a response. Something. Anything.

I failed.

This isn't going to work.

Stupid inner voices should shut up right about now.

The man beside Sean spoke first. “There's no denying you have talent.”

“Thank you,” she replied into the microphone. Uh huh … and, and? Is it enough?

“However, we're looking for a unique style. A lot of artists these days are writing their own songs and playing instruments.” And there it went. Not specifically a dismiss, but it didn't sound good from her point of view.

Defeat sagged her shoulders. She'd really been hoping for this one after a string of 'No thank you's'.

“What I want is to see what makes Quinn Winters tick. I want to feel the song from your heart. Your rendition of Tucker's song definitely touched my soul, but we want more from deep down inside.”

“Are this a no?” Quinn squeaked out. What did they want, her damn life story on a silver platter? She'd picked War Within Me because it spoke to her in ways she couldn't describe on her own.

Still, it wasn't her song. It belonged to Tucker, and he already touched people's hearts with it.
“This is a 'We want you, but try to discover yourself as an artist first'.” Sean's eyes were full of compassion, but Quinn could read between the lines.

She hated that line more than anything, because it wasn't a definite yes, and it wasn't a definite no.
Like her acting career, her life in Nashville also hung in limbo.

Could she get any more naive than this?

“Take a few months and write some music. Pick up a guitar and fiddle with it. Then come on back to us.”

“Yes, thank you. I- I'll do that.” Quinn stuttered, wanting to get the hell out of here. She scrambled to pick up her purse. “I appreciate the opportunity.” Avoiding their faces, Quinn bolted.

On the way out, she bumped into him.

Tucker McGinnis, in the flesh. God, he was hotter in person. She nearly fell over. Tucker reached out to steady her. His eyes widened as they studied her. Tucker wore his hat, which cast a shadow over part of his face.

Absolutely breathtaking.

And of course, she was in tears and looked her absolute worst.

How much more could a woman take?


Tucker McGinnis hated labels. Everywhere he went, someone labeled him. With labels came expectations, and he didn't do well with those. Maybe most would be excited as hell to be labeled country music's next king. Considering the current singer who held the title, Tucker had no idea how he even compared within a mile of that man. But there it was, splashed across the pages of magazines and news articles everywhere. His debut album sold multi-platinum. Three of the five singles released went number one for multiple weeks.

Hard to fathom for a shot in the dark audition on a reality singing show where he thought he had zero chances of winning.

The doubters who dubbed him as a reality show graduate now had different words for him, but if he didn't get something going with the latest record, they might swing their vote downward once again.
Pressure. Too much damn pressure.

The world had anticipated his sophomore album. He'd delayed it for several reasons- life, pressure, the attempt to make it anywhere near as epic as the first. It showed. The first song barely cracked the top ten and lost its traction almost immediately after. The second song hit the top 20, and he wasn't sure how the third was doing. This must be why they wanted to meet with him today. Tucker didn't want to go through the sophomore jinx, the one where the album flopped and was nowhere near the caliber of the first one. And damn it, he might be hitting it.

Somehow, Tucker had to keep up the momentum. Maybe start writing for the third album in hopes that he could get some success anywhere near the first again?

Except he couldn't come up with a damn thing. His songwriter's muse went AWOL. Every song pitched to him didn't suit his mood. He couldn't sing it with real feeling, because he didn't feel the vibes from them.

Or he could do his best and cut out after the six album deal. Some days, Tucker was unsure of the whole business. Maybe he just couldn't get the hang of it because he'd never expected to be here, let alone have this amount of success.

As requested, Tucker arrived at Bellany Records for another meeting. Probably more questions about when he'd be getting in the studio to record the next album.

Truth was, he didn't have an answer.

“Heya, Tuck.” Pearl, the receptionist who loved to flirt with him, purred as he entered.
“Morning, Pearl,” he said cordially. “How's your day goin'?”

“It's great! Thanks for asking. Sean's handling an audition right now, so he'll be out in a little while,” she informed him.

“Thanks for the heads up. I did come a little early, so I'll wait around.” He plunked down in a chair and shot her a friendly smile before busying himself with his task of listening to tunes. As he was about to put the headphones over his ears, a sultry voice singing very familiar lyrics caught his attention. He put the headphones down. “Who is that?” he asked Pearl, shooting to his feet. 

Goosebumps broke out on his arms- an effect he'd never had from anyone singing before.
“Probably our auditioner. Have you ever heard of Quinn Winters? She's a pretty popular TV actress. She plays on-”

The rest of Pearl's words went unheard. Tucker walked past her and moved as close to the door of the audition room as possible, completely entranced. The woman singing didn't have any guitar or music backing her up. Too bad there were no windows to the room. He wanted to watch this performance firsthand. The way she carried the notes to War Within Me pulled on Tucker's emotions. What a soulful voice.

Quinn Winters. He had to admit, not having time for shows and movies lately, he had no idea who the hell she was. Her name snared a slight recognition, but he couldn't pinpoint exactly why. That might have to change. Tucker rubbed his arms as he continued to listen to her belt out his lyrics. They were words he took straight to heart, and hearing someone else sing them with the same emotion he put into them ripped him to shreds. Holy hell, he wanted to meet this woman.
He stood there like a fool, completely at the mercy of a voice with no face, until the very last note. Even when the room went silent, Tucker couldn't make himself move. What was being said on the other side of that door right now?

It didn't take long for the double doors to swing open, nearly hitting him in the face. Tucker reeled back, and a gorgeous dark brown haired woman came barreling out. Long, toned legs led up to a sexy short skirt and a red top that showed enough cleavage to make his mouth water. Full lips that he'd bet were kissable. Tears accentuated her soft brown eyes. One quick move had him doing something outside the norm for him. “Quinn Winters?” he asked, reaching out a hand to stop her as she bumped into his shoulder and blew past him. Damn good looking as she was, Quinn's voice shook him to his core, especially that song.

She whirled around to face him. “Yeah- Tucker McGinnis! Oh wow. What a moment. Ugh, I'm crying in front of you.” Quinn swiped at her tears.

“You were also singin' my song.” She smelled like peaches. He didn't let go of her. In fact, Tucker wanted to pull her closer and make the tears fade away. He couldn't shake the voice from his mind.
“I love the song. I had no idea you could hear me.” Hell, that blush looked damn good on her. Looking closely at Quinn, he did recognize her from something. What that something was, he couldn't put a finger on.

“Oh, I heard you all right. Stopped me in my tracks. I hope they did the right thing and signed you to the label.” He gestured to the still open doors.

Quinn's face crumpled. “They love my voice, but I don't have any original songs, and I can't play instruments. They hesitated. I don't think it's going to lead me to a contract.”

“Well that's a damn shame. Tell you what, let me have your number, and I'll help you out. I can teach you guitar, and I'll be your crutch to lean on in the basics of Nashville. A voice like yours needs to shine. I'll help you with the rest of it.” Why did he just offer to help her? Tucker couldn't even help himself at the moment, but he didn't want to let this woman go without at least giving it a shot.

“We're ready for you, Tuck. Come on back.” Sean waved him in from the room.

Torn, Tucker glanced from Sean to Quinn. Then he turned to Pearl. “Don't let this girl leave without getting her number for me. Please, I'm begging you. I'll owe you big time.” He couldn't keep Sean waiting, and the faster he dealt with this meeting, the faster he could find out more about Quinn Winters, the woman with the stunning voice which he now couldn't get out of his head. Tucker grabbed Quinn's hand and kissed her palm. She retracted her hand immediately. “I don't normally do that, but please consider my offer. I'd be even happier if you were out here waiting for me. This shouldn't take long.” His eyes bore into hers, then he bolted into the room. Sean closed the door behind him. The look he shot Tucker told him what he needed to know. This wouldn't be a good meeting.

“Your second album is being labeled as a flop,” Sean began, folding his hands together at the head of the table.

Bah. There went the damn label thing again. Everything had to be labeled. Good, bad, in between. Labels... Fuckin' hell!

“Maybe if you'd have toured...”

Tucker held up a hand. “It's not the tour. It's the songs. You wanted me to go a different direction, which I did. I can't help it that my personal situation affected how much effort I put in. I wasn't feeling the songs. I'm trying to come back from this, but it's not easy,” Tucker said.
“You know the pressure is on for the third album now, don't you?” Sean pinned him with an exasperated glare.

“I know.”

“The sooner you get working on it, the better. We want to come back with something quick, especially with this album flop. We could try and add some exclusive tracks and re-release it in the meantime, but you'd have to have something really good.”

Tucker leaned back in his seat, pondering this. “Okay. Not a bad idea. How long would I have for this route?”

“I wouldn't go more than a few months. The latest single off of Remorse just started getting airplay. We have maybe two more shots at putting a major hit on the radio from this album before we write it off as a complete loss. If we do a few bonus tracks, that might buy us some time. Get on that music for record number three. Agree to a tour. Simple as that, Tuck. I'll hook you up with a few more songwriters and demos to get the lead going on your bonus tracks.”

“Sounds good.” He sat up in the chair again. “You should totally sign Quinn.”

“Focus on your career, Tucker. Don't worry about label mates.”

“I will. But I'm telling you, that girl can sing. I'm going to help her,” he swore.

Sean laughed. “You can't even help yourself right now. What makes you think you can take on another project? I want this third album on track, and I want to see something good come off the current one. I mean it. Take yourself, and this career, seriously.”

Love Notes is on pre-order for 99 cents. All eight stories are never before published and exclusive to the set. Stay tuned for another chapter spotlight from another author featured in the set!