Today I am so pleased to welcome AJ Sherwood to Joyfully Jay. AJ has come to talk to us about her release, How to Shield an Assassin (which we reviewed here and loved). She has also brought along an exclusive excerpt. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Hello, all! I’m AJ Sherwood and I write—well, a little of everything.
Today let me tell you the background on How to Shield an Assassin, the first book of the Unholy Trifecta series. In fact, it didn’t start with book one. I had a flash of a scene for Hacker (which will be book three), wrote six pages in one setting and then sat back and went, huh. Where did you come from? But being busy with Jon’s, I just saved it and set it aside. Then Ariana Lee posted a story prompt. (I have no trouble blaming her for this.) The prompt went like this: “You are an assassin. A little girl has just come up to you, handed you all of her pocket money and asked you to kill her abusive relative. Assassin gives the money back, gives her his number in a private phone and go take the fucker out. Later he returns to adopt her and trains her to become the greatest, kindest assassin ever.”
I read that prompt and went oooooh. Then I read another prompt about a week later regarding a professional thief and went ooooooooooh. And at that point, everything clicked in my head. The Unholy Trifecta was born.
I’m a serious fan of heist movies, Leverage and Healer are my all-time favorite TV shows, and this book basically carries forth my love of all of that. And sexy men being together, naturally. I’ve already got a running start on the sequels to it, How to Steal a Thief and How to Hack a Hacker. I’m halfway through the draft of How to Steal a Thief now and will release that probably May of this year. How to Hack a Hacker will come out after it.
Ari was willing to admit he might, possibly, have failed to think this through.
Normal might perhaps be outside of his skillset. The making pancakes in the morning, and teaching Remi computer hacking, and MMA, all of that was easy. After six months he still hadn’t figured out the magic for little girl’s hair, but combing it seemed to work for now. And Remi was golden about being patient while he figured crap out.
School. School was definitely the issue.
His perfectly adorable little girl was sitting in the principal’s office with a belligerent look on her face, chocolate eyes squinting evilly at the mother of her assailant. The mother glared right back at her, looking very upper middle class. The principal—who had her grey hair in a bun and wore a cardigan—was either exasperated or alarmed in turns. Neither woman seemed at all pleased to see him, which was unfair, in Ari’s opinion. He hadn’t hit anyone. (Yet.)
The mother, one Mrs. Pritchard, turned her steely-eyed glare at him, a visible tic at the corner of her mouth. “And where is Mrs. Benelli?”
“There is no Mrs. Benelli,” Ari responded levelly. He was less focused on the women and more on his little girl as he took the hard plastic chair next to her. “Just me and Remi. Rems, what went down?”
Tilting in her chair, she looked up at him, still mad enough to spit nails. “That idjut Davy tried to put a hand up my shirt—”
Mrs. Pritchard tried to overrule her. “I’m sure you misunderstood—”
Giving her a look that could kill, Remi kept right on rolling, “—and he’d already done it to three other girls and got a warning for it, and a timeout, but he did it to me ’cause he thought I was an easy mark. I showed him different.”
Ari beamed at her proudly. “That’s my girl.”
“Mister Benelli,” the principal started in a hard tone. “I do not condone violence in my school.”
“Yeah? What’s your take on sexual harassment?” he countered easily, kicking back in his chair. He’d noted Mrs. Pritchard was now flushed with embarrassment. Didn’t know her son was a letch, eh?
“Of course we don’t condone that behavior either,” Principal Walsh responded, irritated. “But the correct course of action in this case was for Remi to report Davy’s behavior, not attack him.”
“Seems like it already had been reported, by other girls, and Davy didn’t care if he got a timeout or not. My daughter’s well within her rights to punch anyone who puts a hand on her.”
Principal Walsh ground her teeth audibly. “I quite disagree and she did more than punch him.”
“Yeah?” That was news to Ari. Then again, he’d only been in the office for two minutes and still hadn’t gotten the full story yet. Looking at his Remi, he asked, “Whatcha do, kiddo?”
“Widow combo,” she informed him proudly.
Ouch. The ‘widow combo,’ as Remi called it, was an MMA combination of strikes, a three-pointer designed to take an opponent down quickly and ruthlessly. It started with a knee to the groin, slamming the opponent’s head down onto that same knee to break the nose, and then striking an elbow into the nape of the neck to take them down completely. Yeah, okay, widow’s combo might have been a touch overkill. “Is he out?”
“Like a light,” Remi confirmed, still proud of herself.
He didn’t want to dissuade his daughter from defending herself, but he’d apparently failed to give her limits when teaching her martial arts. That was his bad. Ari tried to mitigate this a little without sounding like Remi was in trouble. “Yeah, okay, I agree he had it coming, but kiddo? It’s kinda hard to get someone reported if they’re not awake enough to answer questions.”
Remi blinked up at him with her chocolate brown eyes, mouth forming a perfect o. “Rats, I didn’t think of that.”
“Yeah, maybe consider that next time,” he counselled, relieved she saw his point. “You know, leave it at a blow to the groin if he’s weak enough to go down with that.”
“Mister Benelli,” Principal Walsh snapped, looking horrified. “I don’t want her hitting anyone at all!”
“And I don’t want her in a position where she has to defend herself,” he responded mildly. “Look, Principal, I know you got rules here. And I agree with most of ’em. But my little girl had another guy’s hand up her shirt, which is non bene. And if he’s a repeat offender, I can see why she laid the guy out flat. She can’t trust the teachers to stop him. So, if you don’t want her hitting people? Maybe you should make sure the boys aren’t doing bad-touches.”
Both Walsh and Pritchard looked horrified by his logic. Ari briefly toyed with pointing out he routinely killed people who pissed him off, but figured that was too hardcore for elementary school. Also not helpful in this case. “Make you two a deal. I’ll teach her to hold back, you teach Davy not to sexually harass the girls.”
Walsh, at this point, had her head in both hands. “Mr. Benelli. By any chance, are you a soldier?”
“Was, yeah.” Briefly. Before he got kicked out for insubordination.
“That explains a great deal,” Walsh grumbled to the top of her desk. “I’m afraid I have to suspend Remi for a week for violence.”
“Yeah, that’s okay,” Ari assured her. It likely would take him a week to teach Remi the appropriate amount of force to use in different circumstances.
“And Mrs. Pritchard,” Principal Walsh continued, tone hardening, “While I am sorry Davy was hurt, I’m afraid Remi did have a point. We have tried multiple ways of discipling your son without any effect. He is also suspended for a week and if he touches another person inappropriately, I’m afraid I’ll have to expel him.”
Mrs. Pritchard was not happy—she was nearly purple with anger—but she managed a tight nod. “I understand.”
“Good. Thank you both for coming in.”
Glad to escape, Ari ducked out with Remi close on his heels. He now remembered why he’d ditched school more often than not. Taking Remi’s hand, he held onto it as they walked to the parking lot. “You’re lethal, kiddo.”
She grinned up at him, pleased at this praise. “Am I like Black Widow?”
“You sure are getting there. You just gotta remember, Black Widow only uses full on force against guys trained to take the punishment.”
Remi nodded agreeably. “I’ll remember that next time.”
“Okay.” Ari took his first easy breath in the past a half hour. Getting called into the principal’s office was never a good thing, no matter what age a man was at. Although, he was proud of himself for getting them both out of there as he had.
See? He totally had a handle on this whole parenting thing. “Let’s get ice cream, then you’ve got dance.”
Still holding onto his hand, Remi did one of those ballet lunge things. “I like ballet.”
“Yeah, honey, I know.” It was a little expensive, what with the tutus and shoes and tights and all, but it helped her balance and developed her core strength. Worth it, in his opinion. Besides, Remi had so much fun with it, he loved watching her.
They got ice cream at the local mom and pop shop on the corner, basically killing time. Remi was all over the place, as usual, talking about anything that occurred to her. And a lot occurred to her, most of it random and disconnected. Some kind of switch had flipped in her head about two and a half months into their relationship. An it’s alright now, and she went almost overnight into this child who chattered and cuddled and was at ease with him. He much, much preferred the chatterbox over that silent child who flinched at everything.
There were still days he felt lost—like had no idea what the fuck he was doing—and he knew he needed to get back in the game soon and take some jobs. But at least for the rest of the month he’d just focus on Remi. If today was any example, she wasn’t quite ready to face the wide green world quite yet.
Or he should say, the world wasn’t ready for her.
They went to dance class. Mrs. Nelson was a genuinely nice woman who had been teaching dance for twenty years. She cut him some slack for being a single dad, always taking five minutes to put Remi’s hair up in a bun before class started. He mostly felt awkward, sitting in the chairs off to the side of the long room. Pink tutus weren’t exactly in his wheelhouse. But Remi loved having him there, and he was still new enough at this parenting thing, he didn’t want her to think he’d gotten tired of her or some shit. It was easy enough to sit there and look at jobs on his phone, keep his ear to the ground.
They were learning pirouettes today, which Remi got down before any of the other girls. Ari felt a little smug about that. His Remi was a natural athlete. It made teaching her MMA really fun. She’d be terrifying in another ten years.
Class ended, the girls dispersed. Remi routinely spent ten minutes after class practicing what she’d learned, just to make sure she had it all down, so Ari didn’t move. Mrs. Nelson, used to her, waved at Ari as she ducked into her office in the back of the building.
Ten minutes came and went, so he left the chair, intent on moving things along. “Come on, princess. Time’s up.”
“I don’t have this down yet. There should be more of a wooosh feeling.”
“Yeah, I’m feeling the woosh, but you can practice at home if you want to keep going,” he informed her.
“The kitchen—” From the corner of his eye, he saw the door open and he automatically tracked who had just entered. He knew the face well, even though he’d never actually crossed paths with the man in person. Whirling, he drew and leveled his Glock at the mercenary who had just walked in, keeping Remi behind him. “Harrison.”
Splaying both hands to his sides, Harrison said evenly, “Hey, Malvagio.”
Ari felt Remi put both hands on his waist and lean around him to get a look at the man. Harrison looked good, five-foot-ten of muscle and lethal grace. Salt and pepper highlights streaked his hair in the high faded sides, gelled-back top strands, the stubble ringing his mouth. His skin glowed with a healthy tan, so he’d been somewhere warm recently. Rumor had it he’d started out as an Army Ranger before leaving. Now he was the mercenary people hired when they absolutely had to have the job done right the first time. Ari appreciated not only the professionalism of the man, but the rugged beauty he sported. For the first time in a long time, Ari’s libido piped up and waved a flag of approval and interest, which was interesting.
It was just a shame he might have to kill him.
It’s not stealing if you’re stealing it back….
Ari had a game plan for life. Shoot people. Get money. Hang out with fellow criminal friends. He saw absolutely no reason to change that plan until one dark night in Memphis, when a little girl reached out to him with pocket change and a desperate plea for him to help her.
Adopting an abused little girl off the streets was, needless to say, not part of the plan.
Ari has no idea what to do with an eight year old. Things get more complicated when a mercenary, Carter Harrison, approaches him with a job. He needs Ari’s expertise to get into the very high-security museum and steal back Monet’s “Water Lily Pond.”
The job isn’t an easy one. It will take more than the two of them to make it happen. The situation is further complicated because Ari’s not sure what to do with his new daughter while working this job. And for that matter, how’s he supposed to handle the sexy mercenary?
Tags: Not child safe but child approved, children know best, Remi approves this book, idiots in love, but Remi loves them anyway, criminals make the best uncles, family of choice, Ari acknowledges Remi as the smarter one, Carter admits his own insanity, nothing blows up, Ivan is very disappointed by this, Kyou has PLANS for Remi, licking solves all problems, bedsheets, lifeskills, children should come with warning labels, it’s not stealing if you’re stealing it BACK, right?, the author once again regrets nothing
AJ Sherwood believes in happily ever afters, magic, dragons, good men, and dark chocolate. She’s often dreams at night of delectable men doing sexy things with each other. In between writing multiple books (often at the same time) she pets her cats, plays with her dogs, and attempts insane things like aerial yoga.
She currently resides in Tennessee with aforementioned cats, dogs, and her editor/best friend/sister/partner in crime.
Welcome, A.J., and thanks for sharing some of how your story came to be as well as the excerpt. Best wishes for the success of How to Shield an Assassin!