Hard Target Teaser and Playlist

28 Jun

Mostly, I write to music. Preferably to a playlist. Listening to the same songs throughout the writing of a novel keeps me in the same emotional head space and sinks me into the creative zone much more quickly than staring at the blank page in silence.

Currently, I’m working on the follow-up novel to Sheet Music and Undercover Lover, tentatively titled Hard Target. The story is about Simon Jakes, burned CIA operative, whose one great love, Alexandra Valentine, unexpectedly falls back into his life. The only problem is, Simon knows Alex is the agent who burned him.

I’m sharing the Hard Target playlist of songs that have been inspiring me as I write, as well as an excerpt from the first chapter. Note, it’s still early stages, so there will likely be changes. Still, I think it’s fun to share the creative process with you so thanks for coming along for the ride!

Happy reading!
~ Tibby

Hard Target Playlist

Bad Romance by Lady GaGa
Blue Monday by Orgy
Cruel to Be Kind by Letters to Cleo
December by Collective Soul
Everloving by Moby
I’m Not in Love by Olive
I’m Still Standing by Elton John
I Like it Rough by Lady GaGa
Justify My Love by Madonna
Like a Prayer by Madonna
Love Game by Lady GaGa
Not My Idea by Garbage
Simon by Lifehouse
Torn by Natalie Imbruglia
Trust You by Olive
Unforgivable by Armin van Buuren
Waltzing Along by James
With or Without You by U2

Hard Target Teaser behind the cut!
Chapter One

Simon Jakes automatically scanned the fifteen foot brick wall separating Tansey St. James’ East Side mansion from the Manhattan traffic. After thirty hours of overtime in three days, shadows moved like men and men became easy to miss among them.

Running on fumes and a hefty dose of automatic pilot, he spoke by rote into his transmitter. “Perimeter secure. What’s your status?”

When his partner didn’t answer immediately, Simon’s skin tried to twitch its way up his neck and over his scalp.

“Gunter? Status?” Simon repeated.

One beat… Two… On the third he drew his cell from his pocket and checked for a signal. Seeing none, he cursed. They’d been jammed. Without radio communication, he needed eyes on the target.

Keeping to those same shadows he’d recently maligned, he sprinted between stone lions, sidled through grand arched entrance doors and slipped into the palatial foyer of one of the world’s most famous residences. Gun drawn, he hugged the wall just inside and paused.

The orchestra still played in the ballroom. The hum of voices drifted into the entryway along with the strains of a waltz. No sounds of panic met his ears, but no butler greeted him in the eerily empty space. With light steps, he kept out of sight of the balcony and edged his way into the ballroom.

Under the mellow light of crystal chandeliers, three hundred guests waltzed and mingled in glittering gowns and elegant tuxedos. Scanning the crowd, Simon discovered Gunter Faust discretely standing guard over the bejeweled Ms. St. James. Engrossed in conversation, the priceless and controversial Wiltshire tiara still dazzling amidst her mahogany curls, the socialite appeared very much alive.

He tucked his weapon more discretely under his jacket and caught Gunter’s eye. A tap to his earpiece along with a jerk of Simon’s head toward the anteroom made Gunter’s muscled form tense almost imperceptibly. The man blinked his understanding and turned toward their client. They’d worked together long enough that no further direction was necessary.

Simon’s quick check of the side room—crammed as full of objet d’art as the rest of the mansion—showed no immediate threat. Yet, long minutes later, when Gunter ushered Ms. St. James safely into the room without incident, Simon couldn’t shake the feeling he’d just greased the wheels of someone else’s plans.

“Do you realize you interrupted a—”

“Conversation with the French ambassador who’s been trying to convince you to permanently lend your Monet to the Louvre for years?” Simon interrupted the heiress in the interest of brevity.

Back to the closed door, Gunter crossed his arms over his chest and shot him a look. Simon shrugged. So, he still kept up on the wheeling and dealing in the art world. Fact was, the woman held out for a ridiculous price because what she really wanted she’d never have—a private party in the room housing the Mona Lisa.

The client shook her head as if clearing it. “I—that’s irrelevant. What—”

“Is missing?” Simon asked, speaking more to himself, his tired brain on autopilot.

Delicate brows lifted, the socialite looked none too pleased, but still seemed willing to listen. Generally the upper crust weren’t prone to hysterics. Thank God.

“Any number of things might’ve been taken I suppose, but what in the world would make you think something might be missing?”

“Good question.” Gunter cocked his head and pinned Simon with his shrewd stare. “What gives you the idea this is anything other than a broken earpiece?”

“Someone went to a lot of trouble to make certain we’d have eyes only on Ms. St. James this evening.” Simon pulled out his non-working cell and showed it to Gunter. “Next time we might want to rely on carrier pigeons.”

“Next time we’ll make certain the client budgets for the third security officer we advised her upon.” Gunter’s English accent made the set-down sound all the more set-downish. Without stepping away from the door, he addressed Ms. St. James directly. “Which staff have the alarm codes to your private gallery?”

As if the thought of losing a Renoir or two from the world’s most exclusive private art collection were no more bothersome than a fly, the woman flexed one painfully thin shoulder. “Only my curator.”

“How long has he been in your employ?” Gunter fired the question at the client and Simon could already see the mental checklist his friend constructed to frame the situation.

“Watch your tone,” the woman snapped. “I didn’t contract you to interrogate me.”

Defensive.

Simon’s internal radar went off. He’d put money on her involvement. Possibly the curator’s too. He still knew enough about the art world—both its players and its con-men—that he’d likely recognize an insider’s name.

“Unless your contract was made with magic self-editing ink, I believe it still says our primary responsibility is to see to your safety.” Normally he’d have smiled that smile his mother used to say would charm the pitchfork from the devil to soften the bite of the words. Tonight, he was too tired to pretend to be anything but what he felt—angry and frustrated.

Ms. St. James narrowed her gaze on him and Gunter cleared his throat behind his fist, but didn’t shake his head. Taking the cue as tacit permission to continue, Simon moved in closer to their client until she had to tilt her head back to look him in the eye. He loomed over her and pressed his psychological advantage.

“Who is your curator?” The question came out as velvet wrapped steel, its bladed edge not yet visible but very much present under the surface.

A pause painted the air with tension as Ms. St. James pursed her lips and glanced past his shoulder to the doorway on the wall opposite Gunter. Simon tensed, sensing a presence behind him.

Before he could turn, someone spoke. “Me.”

Simon jerked as if struck. That voice… Oh fuck. Not that voice.

Somehow, Alexandra Valentine always managed to sound like ice-encased smoke. Crystalline and husky all at once. Angel-sanctioned sin, one of Simon’s ex CIA colleagues called it. It drove a man wild. At least a man who liked that sort of thing, which Simon emphatically did not. At least not from this woman. Not anymore.

Turning, for the first time in half a decade he faced down the woman who’d stolen his ability to love. Their eyes met. Time froze. Pain, stark and raw, crawled out from a dark hole he’d thought long since filled and took away his capacity to breathe. He took a step toward her automatically, if only to fill that void before it sucked all the oxygen out of his universe and left him incapable of any movement at all.

Pink lips parted, cheeks flushed, she looked like every fantasy he’d made himself forget. Save one detail. Instead of the upswept mane of dark hair he remembered, a sleek pageboy left her neck bare in a way that made him curl his fingers into his palms. The short cut made her eyes appear large and luminous in her heart shaped face. When his gaze lingered on the petite flare of her hips and her high, pert breasts a slight shift in her stance—a delicate presentation of those assets she didn’t realize she’d made—had cock hardening with a swift kicking pulse of his blood.

She remembers.

The thought whispered through his brain, so insidious, so dark it sent a delicious thrill up his spine. It didn’t matter how she had behaved or what she’d done to him. She remembered what they’d had and he hadn’t been mistaken—she’d wanted their relationship as much as he. Had been looking forward to that weekend of promised sin as much as he. Then…everything fell apart.

Reality collided with the dream, evaporating tender emotion, stranding him in the icy blackness of an empty universe. Whoever the Alexandra Valentine was standing before him, she wasn’t half the woman he’d once thought her to be.

“I didn’t realize the FBI allowed moonlighting,” Simon said, finding his voice. It surprised him how easy it was to keep his tone aloof. Impersonal.

A hard swallow rippled the regal column of Alex’s throat. “I don’t—I have a consulting business.”

“They fired you?” Disbelief made Simon blink, momentarily betraying his shock.

Though she didn’t answer, a flush crept from the neckline of Alex’s shimmering black ball gown to pink her cheeks. The stubborn set of her jaw and squaring of her shoulders said it all.

A giddy lightness entered Simon’s chest. Oh, revenge. She tasted so sweet right then he wondered if he could ever get enough of her liqueur. His lips twitched into a self satisfied grin that he felt reach his eyes.

Spine snapping straighter, Alex turned her back on him and effectively dismissed him.

“The Gilroi piece is missing,” she said to her employer.

Blood left their client’s already pale face so quickly, Simon wondered she didn’t faint. Rather, however, she spun on a well shod heel and left the room through the same door Alex had entered.

At a quick trot, Gunter then Simon followed the sound of swishing silver fabric around a corner and into a wide hallway. Lights flickered on as they entered each dark section, heralding their coming. Brain catching up, Simon jogged to step in front of their client. She tried to push past.

“Tansey!” Gunter’s harsh use of their client’s name snapped her head around. “We need to go ahead of you.”

She frowned, then nodded to Gunter to move ahead.

Simon fingered the snap on his holster and flanked the woman. Keeping Gunter a healthy measure ahead of them, he tried to simultaneously grow eyes on both sides as well as the back of his own head.

They halted at the arch of the gallery entry and seemed to hold their collective breath. A quiet snick behind him made Simon jerk around, gun pulled. Alex rolled her eyes as she uncurled her palm to showcase a remote she’d taken from her bag. A series of clicks later, a quiet hum he’d not realized he’d heard abated as the infrared sensors protecting the gallery shut down.

Alex stepped forward. “If it’d been a weapon, you’d have been dead.”

Leaning in close, Simon brushed his thumb along her lower lip. He bit back a smile when his touch made her eyes flutter closed on a different kind of inhale.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” he murmured and stepped back quickly without completing the kiss. “I stopped thinking you had my back a long time ago.”

4 Responses to “Hard Target Teaser and Playlist”

  1. Marilyn Campbell June 28, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Cool playlist Tibby!

    • Tibby Armstrong June 28, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

      Thanks, Marilyn! It’s fun to share our creative inspirations, isn’t it?

  2. MamaKitty June 29, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    You have such fabulous taste in music! Can’t wait to read Hard Target – I adore Simon!! 😀

  3. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) June 30, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Thanks for sharing, Tibby!

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