I’m embroiled in working on a new book that came to me like a bolt of lightning. (Sorry Fallen Cupid and Sexy Assassin’s Creed ideas, you have to wait). It doesn’t have a title yet, but I’m calling it Pride & Prejudice & Snow. Beth Cho is a reporter given the task of trying to get ex-teen heartthrob musician Tristan Harty to open up. The two start off on every wrong foot, planning to flee, when a snowstorm traps them together in a cabin. Alone.
Read an excerpt below where the two first meet:
Pausing before the bedroom door, Tristan pulled in a calming breath. He’d run the gauntlet of reporters before his first chin hair sprouted, learning quickly to guard his words and freeze his emotions. But…it had been years since anyone wanted to know what passed between his ears.
A cough startled him and he turned towards the manager glaring at the top of his head. With a start, Tristan found his hand running roughshod over his scalp. The carefully styled locks crunched between his nervous fingers, dry gel raining down. Shake it off, Harty. It’s just another reporter.
Not even a reporter, he assured himself while opening the door. She was…
A solitary chair sat in the middle of the room encircled by darkness. The blinds were drawn, letting only a hint of the snow-speckled haze puncture past the curtains. Light beamed onto the seat as if aliens were about to abduct it. Tristan’s mind instantly scrolled through the interrogation scenes in every movie.
Movement drew him away from the hot seat to the would-be reporter. Even in the muted light of the closed shades, her eyes sparked like flint. Nearly filling her face, the size gave her an innocent and pure look. He’d dismissed the snow-bedraggled woman out of hand as she stood shivering in her coat. But then those flint eyes caught his and he nearly stumbled backwards into the fireplace.
“Mr. Harty,” she said, her hand extending from the darkness, “Beth Cho with Thorn.”
Accepting her fingers in his, it surprised him how warm they were. He gave a quick shake, and said, “Pleasure.”
That caused her lips to purse tight, her cheeks rising as if he insulted her with a single word. Reaching over, her fingers slipped to the dresser positioned behind him. Tristan froze in place, his eyes drifting from the calculating glare down the soft pink blouse just translucent enough to reveal a hint of a freckle on her collar bone.
An unwanted flush tried to climb up his cheeks, but he tapped it down — along with the thought of how many more freckles hid under her shirt. Ms. Cho’s focus broke from whatever she reached for on the dresser and her eyes burned into his. “I assume you are fine with my recording this?”
She was kind enough to phrase it as a question, but Tristan knew better than to argue. In truth, he preferred being recorded. Made it harder for reporters to invent their own stories later. “Please,” he said, racing to find his steps in this old dance. “I assume I belong in this chair.”
Perhaps it was his catching on to her plan, or his pointing directly at the interrogation seat, but a touch of pink skirted along Ms. Cho’s cheeks. After nodding, her pursed lips tried to force on a smile. With no recourse, Tristan sat.
It surprised him to find that the light off the table lamp did not pierce into his eyes. Instead, it back lit him, Tristan staring down at his shadow leeching across the hardwood floor. She positioned herself upon the bed.
The boxspring was propped up on high risers, Ms. Cho having to jump to elegantly slide her backside upon it. And when she did, she sunk into no doubt the best feather down vacationing packages could buy. He knew better, but a snort broke from Tristan at the reporter flapping her arms trying to keep from tumbling fully onto the bed.
She arranged herself quickly though, that flint glare narrowing upon his exposed throat. A knot plunged deep into his neck, Tristan’s hand rising to tug off the kitschy bowtie. One more look from the reporter with her legs locked together and he froze. Fingers digging into his knees, he tried to turn to face her, but the awkward arms on the chair prevented him.
“Mr. Harty,” she began. “You’ve been removed from the music scene for a long time.”
“I suppose,” Tristan tipped his head, shaking more of the crunched up gel onto his suit coat’s black shoulder.
“Once declared the next Bob Dylan when only sixteen,” the woman spoke as if she were reading but her eyes burned through the side of his cheek. Tristan flinched at the memory and the flurry of magazine covers with his face. Some fool got it in his head to declare him thus and the rest ran with it, inviting the wrath of the old powers that be to thunder down upon him.
“It’d have been less damaging if the Stone called me bigger than Jesus,” Tristan admitted off hand.
She didn’t even pause in her thoughts, but the eyes seemed to dart from his chin up to his nose. “Yet, you wasted that promise with a string of weak albums in your twenties before vanishing completely.”
“A promise I do not remember declaring,” he insisted.
“So, when you reappear, with the world questioning why it should give you a second glance, why choose a Christmas album of all things?”
A flush beat through Tristan’s veins, his eyes narrowing at the edges as he tried to track the woman. Despite the phone recording his every breath, she kept scribbling away at a notepad in her hands. The cheap pen swerved like a vengeful bee, making it impossible for his eyes to follow. What was she writing?
“What’s wrong with Christmas?” He struggled to keep his voice light and airy. Every other stop on his ‘redemption tour’ the people would smile, ask him about his songs, then request a happiest Christmas memory to pad out their article/runtime. Tristan had a store of invented ones to dole out.
Those hard as diamond eyes rolled up from her scratch pad. With a shrug of her shoulders, Ms. Cho said, “You cannot get more trite than a Christmas album. Add a few helium pitched rodents and you’re on your way to starring in a rotoscoped animation.”
His fingers flexed deep into his knees, wrinkling the silk-lined pants in an instant. A warning bell clanged in the back of his head telling Tristan to keep his tone light. There was an app recording his every word. Through gritted teeth, he spat out, “If you think so little of my latest work, why are you here?”
The question seemed to surprise her, that cursed pen pausing. To hell with the damn chair, Tristan stretched a leg out and leaned to the side to stare directly into her eyes. They hovered a moment towards her phone, or perhaps the purse to aid in her escape, before she honed them to a razor’s edge.
“I’d ask the same of you.”
“Why now? Why return to the spotlight after you so thoroughly shunned it seven years ago?”
Do not say the name. He glared the order at her, but banged it around his heart as well. Do not let the name grace your lips, or you shall never recover.
“One of my songs recently returned to the charts, perhaps you hadn’t heard…”
“Yes, your magnum opus, My Half.”
Tristan scoffed, “I’d hardly call it my magnum opus.”
That struck a nerve, her eyes opening wide and he’d swear he caught a spark rising upon the flint. “It was the song of the summer for two years in a row. Damn near every high school had it playing on repeat during homecoming and prom.”
He perked up at her knowing that. It seemed hyperbole, Tristan remembering well the other teenage musical savants he toured with. All of them were sold as the Next Big Thing. Some made it, others faded.
“Well, that’s interesting,” he mused, his fingers finally leaving the safety of his lap to push together. Tapping the false prayer against his lips he dissected the woman. She looked young, her skin flawless save a tiny mole on the top of her cheek. But the right makeup and genetics could hide her age.
A smile cracked over his taciturn lips and Tristan snickered. “You’re a Harty-throb, aren’t you?”
“Card carrying member of the club? Attended all the concerts with your babysitting money? Had a poster of me on your bedroom wall?”
Fire crackled in her eyes, her shoulders rising to strangle her head. “You know nothing of who I am,” she snarled, leaping to her feet.
Tristan remained seated. Despite her towering above him, he had the upper hand. Gripping onto the chair’s arms, he leaned forward, his smile turning devious. “Was it the one with the blue guitar and the open shirt?”
For a brief second he feared she might slap him. One hand remained locked to her notebook and the other clutching the pen raised back. But she had enough presence to rein herself in, and those calculating eyes snapped to the phone. Shit. He forgot about that and now she had proof of how vain the ex-child prodigy was.
Barry was right. Reporters were his Achilles heel.