Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven is LIVE!!

suffragette digital cover FINAL

Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven is my favorite book I’ve written, and possibly the best book I can write, and it’s live now on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and B&N. I’ve approved the proof of the paperback version as well, and that should be available any time now on Amazon.

NOE&NIH is a historical romance set between 1910-1920, during the fight for women’s suffrage.

Here’s the synopsis:

England, 1910.

Lady Nora Tate is a young woman caught between the expectations of her station and the demands of her own heart and mind. The noble world of her birth is a luxurious cage, locking her away from all she wishes to know and feel and do, the woman she wishes to be. All around her, the world is changing, and she fights to join it, even as she creates scandal with her every attempt to break free.

William Frazier is the scion of an American railroad tycoon, in England to seek new business opportunities for his family’s empire and visit his good friend, Lord Christopher Tate. With Chris as his guide, he tours the London Season, and meets his friend’s younger sister. He’s captivated at once by the lovely young lady with the sharp wit and searching eyes.

Raised by visionary parents, William sees Nora’s cage for what it is and admires her striving against constraint. But her world will neither free her, nor accept him. William would be her hero and save her, but Nora wants to save herself, if she can.

Set against the tumultuous cultural and political backdrop of the end of the Edwardian Era, on two continents and across an ocean, Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven is a story about the deep love between a young woman finding her voice, and the man strong enough to stand at her side as she demands the right to use it.

2018: What the New Year Holds

Get lost, 2017. Hello, 2018!

Well, I thought 2016 was rude, but 2017 was positively abusive. Can’t say I’m sorry to see that nasty jerk walk out the door. 2018, if I let you in, you have to promise to behave—and maybe help clean up some of the mess 2017 left.

From a personal perspective, there’s a lot about 2017 I’d like to scrub from my memory, but from my writing life, there are a few things I’d like to pin for safekeeping.

#1: I went to my first signing, Penned Con in St. Louis, and got to meet some lovely FANetties and a bunch of other wonderful readers, as well as some very cool authors! 😀

#2: I published six novels, finishing my personally beloved Northwomen Sagas, continuing the popular Brazen Bulls MC, and beginning the Sawtooth Mountains Stories—and I got a lot of much-appreciated support for the odd way the first Sawtooth book, Somewhere, found new life. I’m so glad I decided to put that book back in the world under my own name, and I’m so grateful for the love and support of my readers, and for the new readers Somewhere has found! ❤

#3: I wrote seven novels (plus about a third of an eighth), challenged myself in new directions, and created a serious backlog of completed, unpublished work. I’m going to publish more often in 2018 and try to catch up with myself.

Even with a faster publishing pace, most of the work I plan to release in 2018 is already written, so now, on the first day of the year, it seems a good time to look forward to the new year and tell you what I know of my publishing plans—and other details of my writing life you might be interested in.

My 2018 Plans:

The way I mean to begin catching up with my backlog is to go back to a six week (or so) publishing schedule. That’s already underway, as my first book of 2018 is going live six weeks after my last book of 2017. I fudged that six-week thing a bit here and there to get release days to sync up with or get out of the way of other days in my personal calendar, but I think I’ll be able to put out 8 new releases this year.

Since so much of the work I mean to release this year is already completed at least in first draft, I can be pretty specific for dates through most of the year. To wit:

13 January: Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven
This is a standalone historical romance, set in the Edwardian Era. The female lead is an English suffragette (and a noblewoman), and the male lead is an American industrialist. It’s a big story, half again as long as most of my other books (which tend to be a bit long anyway), and absolutely my best work to date, IMO.

Every book I publish is the best version of that book I can write at that time. I think NOE&NIH might be the best book I can write, period.

Find a preview here.

The preorder is available now on Amazon and Kobo, iBooks, and B&N.

24 February: Honor, The Brazen Bulls MC Book 5
I guess this counts as a title reveal, though the cover reveal is a few weeks off. Honor is Apollo’s story. More details when I reveal the cover, toward the end of the month.

7 April: Aurora Terminus
This is a departure for me—it’s a post-apocalyptic story. That’s my favorite genre to read, but until this past year, I hadn’t written in it. While it is absolutely a love story, told in the dual POV of two characters who fall in love and become a committed couple, it’s not quite a romance, according to the genre guidelines. The story is bigger than the relationship between the couple, and the focus is really on how they navigate their broken world and work to build up a new one.

And the sex all fades to black. You know I’m not prim about writing explicit sex, but the vibe of this story never felt quite right for that. So it’s definitely a love story and definitely romantic, but there’s a lot of other stuff going on, and some stuff not going on (on the page, at least–they totally bang, they just do it in private), so not a romance. Still, I hope you like it. I’m proud of it.

It has the potential to be a series, and there’s more story I want to tell with some secondary characters, but it’s also a standalone.

Late last summer, I signed Aurora Terminus with a small press, and when all the paperwork was done, they and I both announced the deal. When we started to get the ball rolling to work together, however, it became quickly apparent that how I work and how they work didn’t mesh especially well. I asked if we might reconsider working together, and they were kind enough to let me out of the contract. It was all very calm and amicable, for which I’m really grateful.

Anyway, I’m publishing AT myself, as usual. Since it’s a different genre, I’m using a different variation of my name—S.E. Fanetti—and I have social media accounts set up in that name, which I intend to start using now. I’ll keep both “identities” linked and share AT news on my usual social media as well.

You can find links to S.E. Fanetti social media here. Please throw me a like/follow over there, if you’re of a mind. Those accounts will be more active as of now.

2 June: The Brazen Bulls MC Book 6
This one is done, has a title and even a pretty solid draft of a cover, but I’m not sharing any information about it until Honor is released. With seven books of the BBMC series written, I’m pretty sure this is the best of the bunch–it’s definitely the one closest to my heart. A bit different from the others, though. You’ll see. 🙂

14 July: The Pagano Brothers Book 1 (TENTATIVE)
The first book of a new Mafia romance series. If Deep is your favorite book of the Pagano Family series, then you’ll probably like this series, which will focus on the Pagano Brothers organization. I’m writing Book 1 now, and on my FB author page a couple of weeks ago, I shared the first few words I wrote. This story is developing in ways that surprise and challenge me, and I have no idea where it’s going. But I’m 30K+ words in at this point, so I feel confident enough it’s going to get finished and be worthwhile that I’m willing to stick my neck out and give it a likely release date.

The Pagano Brothers series begins where the epilogue to Miracle, and the whole Pagano Family series, ends, which is a little more than twenty years after that series begins. Carlo’s son, Trey, is grown, and Book 1 is his story.

In this series, I also want to write a story for Donnie Goretti, who became known in the Pagano Family series as The Face. And I kinda want Angie Corti, Tina Corti Pagano’s brother, to get a story, too; he caught my interest when I was writing Miracle, the conclusion of the Pagano Family series. Beyond that, we’ll see what characters ‘pop’ and demand their own stories. I kinda know where, and with whom, I want the series eventually to end, but it’s far too early to say that out loud.

28 JULY: MOTORCYCLES, MOBSTERS AND MAYHEM, Cincinnati, OH
I’ll be attending this themed author event for lovers of biker and mobster romance! I’ll have a preorder form up soon.

1 September: The Brazen Bulls MC Book 7
This one is written, too, but it’s too early to say more about it. It’ll be the last BBMC book of 2018, but not the end of the series. The series will end in 2019, with Book 8 and a subsequent standalone prequel.

20-22 SEPTEMBER: PENNEDCON 2018, St. Louis, MO
And I’ll be back at Penned Con this year, too! Again, I’ll have a preorder form up soon.

Okay, that’s what I know about 2018. Here’s what I’m planning for the rest of the year, but since it hasn’t been written or started yet, I can’t be sure. Don’t want to take Lola for granted, you know. She’s prickly.

13 October: The Sawtooth Mountains Stories #2 (TENTATIVE)
This book here is the whole reason I decided to put Somewhere back out in the world, and I haven’t even written it yet. Sigh. I’ll admit to a little anxiety about starting this one, but it’s next in the queue. It will be Logan’s story, and that’s all I’ll say about it for now.
Assuming that I get Logan’s story written (please, Lola), I do have other ideas in mind for this series. I really love my little town of Jasper Ridge, Idaho.

Finally … in December …
I want to put out a Christmas book. I don’t actually have an idea yet for it, haha, but I’ve wanted to write a Christmas book for a couple of years now, and this is the year I mean to do it, dammit!

In other words, I have no frakkin’ clue what I’ll put out in December. Hopefully a Christmas book, maybe taking place in one of my series. Or another installment in one of the current series. Or something else. 2018 will tell.

And that’s my plan, so far, for the next twelve months.

As for what I plan to write this year: More Brazen Bulls, more Pagano Brothers, more Sawtooth. That Christmas story, should inspiration strike. And I’ve got an idea for another standalone historical romance that I’m pretty stoked about.

Beyond that … whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.

I wish you health, happiness, and calm in the new year!

Salut!
s—

2017 Fave 5: My Favorite Reads of the Year

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Since I began writing fiction, and because my day job also requires a lot of reading and writing, I don’t get to read for simple pleasure as much as I used to. But I manage a couple books a month or so. Last year, I posted a list of my top five reads, and readers seemed to appreciate it, so I thought I’d do it again and maybe get into the game and make it a yearly thing.

My favorite genres as a reader are science fiction and fantasy, and since I’m steeped in romance as a writer and beta-reader, my list of pleasure reads tends to lean away from the genre I write in. But I read a few wonderful romances just for fun, and I’ve included my favorite here.

So, let’s do this from bottom to top. In each heading, I’ve linked the title to its Amazon page:

#5: Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

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I am a fan both of Neil Gaiman (I’m going to be teaching a senior seminar on his work next semester) and Norse mythology (as evidenced by my Viking romance series, The Northwomen Sagas), so I had Gaiman’s Norse Mythology on preorder from the moment it was available, and it didn’t disappoint. Gaiman retells prominent Norse myths in his typical style, managing to balance irreverence and respect, humor and pathos on a thin blade of perfection.

#4: The Butterfly Project, by Emma Scott

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Oh, I enjoyed this so much. Zelda and Beckett are wonderful, deep, interesting characters, and their individual stories pack as much emotional punch as their romance. The writing is graceful and true, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE the way Zelda’s comic frames and shapes the story. I’m an avid comic and graphic novel reader, and I found the integration of the comic here seamless and interesting–and thematically powerful. Highly recommend this, if you haven’t already read it.

#3: Saga, Volume 7, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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You know how I just said I’m an avid reader of comics and graphic novels? I’ve been following about a half-dozen current titles since their first issue (one, I’ve been reading for about ten years now), and Saga is hands-down my favorite of these regular reads. Last year, Volume 6 made my Fave 5 list, and Volume 7 might be even better. This series has everything–gorgeous art, characters to care deeply about, a unique, epic story, and some deep themes and ideas. At the heart of this story are two powerful people in love, and the small family they’ve made together. If you are a reader of comics, you really should be reading Saga. You won’t be sorry.

#2: The Stone Sky, Book 3 of the Broken Earth Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin

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The Stone Sky is the final book of The Broken Earth trilogy. I’ve been reading this series since last year, and each and every book is a favorite. The first two books (both Hugo Award winners) deserved two places on my list last year, but since this is very much a trilogy, one story in three books, I wanted to wait to recommend it until the end, to be sure Jemisin stuck the landing.

She stuck the hell out of it.

This series is absolutely fantastic, and my favorite SFF read of the last ten years. Jemisin’s world-building takes my breath away, and her characters are deep, diverse, fascinating. They are real people, sometimes prickly, sometimes loving, sometimes brave, sometimes weak. Flawed and wonderful. You will come to love the ‘villain’ as much as you love anyone.

It is not a typical hero’s journey kind of SFF story at all, though it is about a journey, and there is a kind of world-saving thing as a goal. Strong arguments could be made to consider it either science fiction or fantasy. I consider it both.

The first book is The Fifth Season.

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And #1–my favorite book of 2017: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

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This book has been #1 on the NYT list pretty much since its release, so I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Let me add my voice to the thunderous chorus of praise.

I’ll start by saying that I know I’m seriously in the minority of genre readers, but I generally hate first person present POV. Like, unless I have other reasons to proceed, I will decide against a book on page one of a sample that’s written in first present, because I really, really, really don’t like the characters telling me what’s happening while it’s happening. I always wonder why they have time just then to narrate their lives. Shouldn’t they be focused on what’s happening? I want characters to sit me down and tell me a story. So first person is fine in past tense, but third person past is absolutely my favorite POV (note that that’s what I write in, lol).

Now, though I think it’s the POV that’s most often done poorly, I have indeed read some amazing books written, at least in part, in first present (The Handmaid’s Tale, for one), and if there is a compelling reason for me to push through my resistance (a book I’ve been assigned to read, or one a friend has written, for instance, or one that everyone is talking about and my curiosity overcomes my distaste for the POV), and the story is good enough, the writing strong enough, I might eventually get wrapped up enough to forget the POV and just enjoy the story. But it’s usually a struggle to get over that hill, and I need a reason beyond the book itself to keep going.

I say all that because THUG is written in first present, and I struggled with the POV for a good while. I kept trying to put it down because I couldn’t get into it. But E V E R Y O N E  I know and respect had read and loved this book, I’d read countless articles about its importance and worth, and I teach YA literature, so I was considering it for my syllabus. I pressed on. And then, at one very important scene, I crested the hill. More importantly, it became very clear that first present was the exactly right POV for this story. The reader needs to be there while things happen. In the moment. The emotional impact is nearly overwhelming.

This is an important book. It’s a necessary book. But more than that, it’s a brilliant book. It tells a powerful story with nuance and compassion, and it is beautiful.

And yes, it’s on my syllabus.

(Aside: The Broken Earth Trilogy is written in part in first present, too. That’s another read that was so good I overcame it. And it’s another read for which, in retrospect, I see that the POV choices make the book stronger.)

And that’s my Fave 5 list for 2017!

Happy holidays, everyone! xoxo
s–

 

 

 

Cover Reveal & Preview: Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven

suffragette pb cover FINAL

Today I’m revealing the cover and title of my next release. Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven is a standalone historical romance that opens in 1910.

I loved writing this like I can’t even describe, and I’m super proud of how it turned out. It’s a big ‘un—155,000+ words. In paperback, it’ll be 735 pages—and the scope of the story is bigger than anything else I’ve written. The research for this one was intense—and so very much fun. The bulk of the story takes place from 1910-1913, and there was a lot going on during those years!

The title comes from the epigraph, which is a quote from Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the women’s suffrage movement in England. The quote is: “Once they are aroused, once they are determined, nothing on earth and nothing in heaven will make women give way; it is impossible.”

The release day for Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven is Saturday, 13 January 2018—four weeks from today. It’ll be available on the usual digital platforms, and in paperback as well. I’m sort of waffling on whether I’ll set it up for preorder, but I’ll let you know if I do.

I’ve set up the Goodreads page, if you’d like to add it to your TBR.

Without further ado, here’s the synopsis and Chapter One as a preview.

Happy Holidays!

s—

SYNOPSIS:

England, 1910.

Lady Nora Tate is a young woman caught between the expectations of her station and the demands of her own heart and mind. The noble world of her birth is a luxurious cage, locking her away from all she wishes to know and feel and do, the woman she wishes to be. All around her, the world is changing, and she fights to join it, even as she creates scandal with her every attempt to break free.

William Frazier is the scion of an American railroad tycoon, in England to seek new business opportunities for his family’s empire and visit his good friend, Lord Christopher Tate. With Chris as his guide, he tours the London Season, and meets his friend’s younger sister. He’s captivated at once by the lovely young lady with the sharp wit and searching eyes.

Raised by visionary parents, William sees Nora’s cage for what it is and admires her striving against constraint. But her world will neither free her, nor accept him. William would be her hero and save her, but Nora wants to save herself, if she can.

Set against the tumultuous cultural and political backdrop of the end of the Edwardian Era, on two continents and across an ocean, Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven is a story about the deep love between a young woman finding her voice, and the man strong enough to stand at her side as she demands the right to use it.

This novel is a standalone.

Note: explicit sex.

PREVIEW:

ONE

 

White light blasted suddenly through Nora’s head, murdering sleep with its fiery blade. She moaned and rolled over, burying her head beneath a silken pillow. It seemed she’d closed her eyes mere moments earlier, but the sun had quite obviously risen since she had.

“It’s time to be up, milady,” Kate, her maid, chirped as she flung open the draperies at the other windows. “I held back as long as I dared, but if you lie abed much longer, you’ll leave your father waiting.”

“What time is it?” Nora mumbled under the pillow.

“Nearly half nine, milady.”

Nora pushed the pillow up and exposed her weary eyes to the sunlit room and the doubly bright glare of Kate’s smile. Her father liked to leave for their morning ride in Hyde Park promptly at ten. Now that she’d been presented at court, to the new King George V, and was a proper lady, it took thirty minutes or more to get dressed in the morning—and in the evening, much longer than that.

If her first few weeks of womanhood were a mark by which to judge the condition, she preferred girlhood.

But it wasn’t her maid’s fault, so Nora sat up and blinked her eyes into working order as Kate set a tray across her legs. While Nora grumpily nibbled at a piece of toast with jam and sipped the day’s first cup of tea, Kate bustled around the room, fluffing Nora’s riding habit, arranging the brushes and pins and other assorted necessities of Nora’s ablutions, and gathering up the crumpled underthings Nora had been too tired to allow her to attend to the night before—or earlier in this same morning. The bells had tolled for three while she and her father were yet in the carriage last night.

“How was the ball?” Kate asked, setting out Nora’s boots for a polish.

Nora finished her tea and set the tray aside. “Like all the other balls. Women preening for the men and trying not to show it, and the men browsing the women like wares on a cart. Everyone trussed up like Christmas geese and too uncomfortable to breathe, let alone enjoy the evening.”

Kate stood at her dressing table, brush in hand, and Nora, understanding the unspoken message, slid from bed. She sat before the mirror and let Kate begin her torturous ministrations.

“But was the Duke there? Did you dance with him?”

Richard Jameson, The Duke of Chalford. He was the supposed catch of London, and he’d turned his eye toward Nora at most events so far this Season. He was handsome—tall and broad-shouldered, with a nicely arranged face and wavy ginger hair. At first, hearing how coveted his attention was, and seeing how pleasant he was to look at, Nora had been, she could admit to herself, dazzled in the beam of his bright blue eyes.

But then she’d sat beside him at a few dinners and spoken with him in a few drawing rooms and during several dances. Now she knew that everything interesting about him was apparent from across a crowded room. And he didn’t like her much better. She talked too much and had too many opinions.

Indeed, that was the growing consensus among everyone in London, whispered in tones loud enough for all to hear. Lady Nora Tate talked too much about unseemly things, like politics. Lord Tarrin had let his youngest child and only daughter run wild for too long. She thought she was a man.

No, Nora knew full well she was a woman. She simply wished she were a man.

She sighed and watched in the mirror as Kate began the painstaking, and painful, ritual of winding her thick blonde mane into the coils and ratted puffs of a proper style. All those pins, digging into her scalp, all the day long. Already she missed the days when she’d worn her hair loose and long—only weeks ago, but never again.

“He was there,” she answered Kate’s question. “We had one dance.”

Kate pulled a little face of disappointed commiseration. “Well, that’s all right. You’ll have another chance at your dinner tonight.”

Her dinner. Before they’d arrived in London, while she was in Paris with her Aunt Martha, buying so many lovely dresses and shoes and hats, Nora had been excited at the prospect of her first Season. Now, after weeks of visits, and dinners, and breakfasts, and parties, and balls, and weeks more to go, seeing the same people over and over, either struggling dully to comport herself like a lady or scandalising the people around her by daring to express an opinion about anything more controversial than the neckline of another lady’s gown, weeks of feeling the baldy estimating gaze of men she barely knew, all she wanted was to return to Kent and the home she loved.

Each day, the expectations for her ladylike comportment, miles wide but barely an inch deep, wore harder on her. She thought it unlikely that the Duke would find her temper any more appealing at her own dinner this evening.

“I doubt it, Kate.”

The robust optimism of her maid was not so easily thwarted. “He’ll have made way for someone else, then. As lovely as you are, the fine lords must be clamoring amongst themselves to claim your hand. You’re sure to have a list of proposals before the Season is out.”

Nora studied the mirror as Kate transformed her into a lady of the Realm. In that glass, she could see everything about herself that was of value. Here in London, no one seemed to care what she wanted, or what she had to offer besides blonde hair, blue eyes, a fair figure, and a titled father.

 

~oOo~

 

Like most young ladies in London during the Season, Nora rode with her father in Hyde Park every morning that the weather was fair. The effort was ostensibly intended for fresh air and good health, but truly, riding the Ladies’ Mile was an event like all the others, meant to display the young ladies to their best advantage so that they might catch the fancy of a likely gentleman.

Nora had always loved to ride with her father, but at home in Kent, she’d been allowed truly to ride—to gallop and jump and splash through muddy pools, to sit astride and even to wear breeches, so long as there were no guests in residence who might be scandalised. When there were guests at Tarrindale Hall, and now here in London, Nora sat sidesaddle, dressed in a cumbersome and dour riding habit, a uniform virtually indistinguishable from that of all the other young ladies riding the Mile.

She wondered whether her father would allow her to sit astride when they returned home in August, or whether, like her corsets and coiled hair, a side saddle and riding skirts were all her future might hold, now that she’d left girlhood behind.

On this morning, like all the other London mornings, Nora and her father rode abreast, nodding greetings to the other pairs of riders they passed. As usual on these daily rides, her father spoke little beyond pleasantries, to her or any other. He was keenly aware of the gossip—that in his great grief at losing his wife and two of his sons all within the span of a single week, he’d left his youngest child to grow up wild in the country, and now, her manners were mannish and unseemly—and he fretted that he’d failed her, that because of him, Nora wouldn’t get the marriage proposal of which her maid was so confident, and her future wouldn’t be secured.

Twelve years earlier, her mother, and Edmund and Peter, her two middle brothers, had all succumbed to scarlet fever. Nora herself, then a child of only six years, had been gravely ill as well, but she’d recovered. Only Christopher, the eldest, and their father had been spared the illness, if not its consequences.

Nora didn’t remember being ill, and she barely remembered her mother or her brothers, but she hadn’t been neglected and allowed to ‘run wild’ after their deaths. She’d been raised by her father and brother, two wonderful men who’d lavished love and encouragement on her and allowed her interests to flourish and her curiosities to be sated. When she’d asked a question, whatever the question, they’d provided an answer, or directed her to the place where the answer might be found. At home alone with family, she’d been free to work out what she wanted and valued in herself and in the world. And to wear riding breeches and ride astride.

Her father had, however, withdrawn from Society upon his grief and never fully returned to it until now. He’d rarely gone to London, and Nora had never been at all until this year. At the few country balls and dinners she’d attended before, she’d thought the other girls vapid and silly and assumed they were country rubes.

She’d expected London to be different. All the most interesting news came out of London. Politics and culture, business and entertainment—it all happened in this great city. For the past several years, Christopher had spent most of his time in the city, when he was in England at all, and he’d always come home with dazzling stories about great debates and brilliant artists. Especially after a few weeks in Paris, Nora had been beside herself with anticipation of her debut London Season, thinking she’d meet many fascinating people and have many captivating discussions.

But no one in London wanted to hear what women had to say, or seemed to have any use for them at all except as ornaments to be hung on a gentleman’s arm. The young ladies here, with whom she was expected to strike up great friendships, were just as insipid as the girls in Kent—either that, or they were well practiced in pretending to be so. Nora was not. Used to speaking her mind at home, she had not yet managed a reliable habit of holding her tongue in London—nor had she managed to understand why she should.

Thus her father, who at home would quiz and challenge her about current events, now in public barely spoke to her, lest she lose control of her tongue and try to express herself, exposing herself as a thinking human being, and thereby ruining her chance to make a good match.

Glum and bored, still tired from the long night before, and hungry now for breakfast, Nora rode at her father’s side, keeping a social smile in place. Most of the riders were young ladies and their fathers or chaperones, but a few young men rode around and with the ladies as well. They were there for the show, of course. Nora could see them considering the ladies as they rode past, leaning over to remark to each other and chuckle.

She’d learned to shoot from the saddle a few summers earlier. If she had her bow and quiver here in London, she could make those ‘gentlemen’ a bit less arrogant. Her fantasy of racing through Hyde Park hunting conceited young men improved the ride markedly, and Nora grinned. Her father noticed and looked around.

“Is there someone here you’d like to speak to?” he asked. “The Duke, perhaps?”

Nora rolled her eyes. The Duke of Chalford would not warrant such an expression from her. But she scanned the people around anyway, hoping to find someone—a lady would be best—she could mention, since she could hardly tell her father that she’d been imagining running arrows through all the young gentlemen in Hyde Park.

She was saved by broad shoulders and blond hair, riding in from an intersecting path. “Christopher!” Heedless of the propriety, she urged her horse into a trot and weaved through the riders to her brother.

He grinned as she rode up and turned her horse to stand beside his, and he leaned over to kiss her cheek. “Hello, little sister! I wondered if you’d be riding today.”

“Of course. I’m surprised that you’re here, however.” Christopher enjoyed the balls and parties of the Season, but he was critical of the aspects that made it seem overtly like a market—like the Ladies’ Mile.

He smirked. “Just out for a ride on a lovely day.”

“And seeing the sights,” she challenged, nodding toward the lovely riders, most of them batting wide, hopeful eyes at her ruddily handsome brother. If the Duke of Chalford was considered the greatest catch in London, the younger Lord Tarrin might be next in line.

“These are lovely sights indeed, and I am not a man who would turn a blind eye to beauty.”

“You would turn none of your parts, especially the one that leads you,” Nora muttered, hoping she’d been quiet enough that only Christopher could hear.

He laughed and kissed her cheek again. “Careful which man’s cheeks you redden with such words, Nono,” he muttered while he was still close. “What you might say to your brother for a laugh, could turn against you in someone else’s ear.”

She sighed. “I know. I’m trying.”

“I know you are. From all I hear, you should try harder.”

Nora glared at him, and he simply shrugged.

Her brother was twenty-eight years old and had little interest yet in choosing a bride. That was another injustice of Society: women were expected to marry the moment they were old enough to do so. Men were expected to wait—for years—and ‘sow their wild oats’ before settling down to domesticity. Nora had some wild oats, too. There were things she wanted to do, and see, and know. She imagined that most women had wild oats. If they didn’t, they should have.

She’d barely left Kent. Christopher had traveled the world. He’d fought in the Boer War. He’d been to India and Africa and America. He’d seen things, done things Nora could scarcely dream of.

Their father wanted him home now, and to settle down. Brother and sister were finally in the same place, expected to marry. But Christopher had got to have a full life first.

Nora didn’t begrudge him his adventures; he’d brought her marvelous stories and treasures. But she envied him. She envied him even the war, though she’d never say so aloud. That was the only adventure he wouldn’t tell stories about. He’d brought home nothing but a thick scar across his chest and a long stare in his eyes.

“Good morning, Father,” Christopher said with a courtly nod, and Nora turned to see that their father had caught up with them.

“Christopher.” A small, warmly paternal smile flickered at the corner of his mouth. “It’s early for you to be out, is it not?”

“You both wound me with your surprise. I’ll have you know I was abed before the clock struck twelve last night, and up whilst cocks yet crowed this morning.”

“Are you ill, brother?” Nora asked, trying to shape her voice into a guise of concern but unable to control her grin.

“Wronged, I tell you. I am wronged.”

Their father nodded to a point beyond Christopher. “You are not the only one. Forgive me, sir. My son forgets his manners.” He nudged his horse a few steps forward and held out his hand. “I am Oliver Tate, Earl of Tarrin, and this sorry fellow’s father.”

Surprised that there had been someone beside Christopher all this time, Nora nudged her own horse up a step and saw … oh. Oh.

Oh heavens.

Christopher slapped his forehead. “I’m sorry, old bean. I’m an ass. Father, allow me the great honour of introducing my friend William Frazier. William, my father, who has stepped in where I failed and introduced himself already.”

Christopher’s friend grasped their father’s hand. “It’s a true pleasure, sir.”

Hearing his name, Nora had expected the dark-haired, bearded man at Christopher’s side to have a Scottish accent, but he did not. He was an American. She’d never met an American before.

“It was William who saved my life in San Francisco,” Christopher added.

Their father’s aspect changed abruptly, from socially pleasant with a touch of haughty peerage, to openly pleased. “Well, good heavens!” He reached forward with his other hand and shook Christopher’s friend’s hand with both of his. “It is indeed an honour to meet you, Mr. Frazier. We are all in your debt.”

Mr. Frazier responded with a smile and a nod. “Think nothing of it, Lord Tarrin. I’m honoured to call your son my friend.”

Christopher had been in San Francisco, California four years earlier, in 1906. A terrible earthquake had nearly leveled the city, including his hotel. He’d been trapped under rubble, with fires burning all around him, until someone had pulled him free.

This man right here, dressed all in black and seated astride a powerful bay horse. Unlike nearly everyone else in Hyde Park, he wore no hat.

As broad across the shoulders as her brother, but dark where Christopher was fair. His hair and beard were sable-dark, his hair a bit longer than the fashion. Even his skin was a shade or two deeper, the sun-kissed tone of a man who spent a great deal of time out of doors. The crinkled rays at the corners of his eyes—she couldn’t tell what colour they were—spoke of an outdoor life as well.

He was the handsomest man Nora had ever seen. And a hero in the bargain.

She knew the story, of course. Christopher and Mr. Frazier had become good friends in the weeks and months following the earthquake, while Christopher’s broken bones had healed. The hospitals had been overwhelmed, so Mr. Frazier had invited him to convalesce at his ranch across the bay. His father was an industrialist of some sort. Railroads, Nora thought.

The man was looking right at her now, his mouth canted to one side in a lopsided, and inordinately appealing, smirk. With her father and her brother at either side of her, she’d been left without an introduction.

Entirely done with being ignored, Nora cleared her throat with a theatrical flourish. “And I am—”

“—My sister,” Christopher cut her off. “Forgive me again. Lady Nora Tate, please meet my dear friend, Mr. William Frazier.”

Mr. Frazier made a deep bow from his saddle. “It’s a particular honour, Lady Nora.” His voice was deep and smooth, his accent not at all what she’d expected, without drawl or twang. When he sat up again, Nora saw that sardonic grin had taken over his eyes as well. They glinted at her as if she and he shared a secret.

It made her insecure, and her attraction made her self-conscious, and, after being so blithely ignored, that unsettling roil of feelings was just too much to take. She straightened her spine and squared her shoulders. Using the imperious tone she’d heard so often in the past few weeks, when a lady wished to be mannerly but also convey contempt, she offered him a single, terse nod. “Mr. Frazier. Papa, we should be off. Mrs. Owen will have breakfast waiting.”

Christopher and her father stared at her, surprised. Mr. Frazier’s expression changed not a jot.

“Oh. Yes, I suppose you’re right. Well, it was a real pleasure to meet you, Mr. Frazier. Please do pay us a visit at Grosvenor Square—in fact, we’re having a dinner tonight, in my daughter’s honour. I would consider it an honour as well if you would join us.”

It was Nora’s turn to be surprised. Her father had just invited a stranger to her dinner. Her dinner, what was supposed to be the pinnacle event of her first Season. Of course, almost all the guests were strangers to a degree. Certainly, few were friends.

His gaze had hardly shifted from her, nor had its wry gleam faded. “I would be honoured to join you. If it’s all right with Lady Nora?”

Her father had made the invitation, so she could hardly refuse to extend it herself now. The oddly tumultuous feeling he seemed to instill in her would only make a stressful event more uncomfortable. On the other side, Mr. William Frazier was very nice to look at. Also, as an American he wasn’t a suitable match, so she wouldn’t have to be quite so careful of the things she said to him—or quite so worried when she wasn’t careful enough.

She smiled in the way she’d practiced for her presentation at Court. “I, too, would be honoured, Mr. Frazier. Of course.”

 

~oOo~

 

Breakfast that morning was a quiet affair. Christopher normally stayed in the family townhouse when he was in London, but, pleading an intolerance for the commotion of Nora’s debut Season, he’d gone off to stay at the Carlton when she and their father had come to town. Thus, on days without visitors, Nora and her father took their meals alone.

After returning from their ride, Nora went up to change into the day’s second ensemble. With her dinner that evening, she was able to decline visitors and stay in for the better part of the day, so she would have only four changes of dress for the day: her riding habit; her day dress, for breakfast and luncheon; her tea dress; and finally, her dinner gown. On most days, she changed clothes five or six times, dressing additionally for luncheon and for evening.

Being at home without company for the next several hours, Nora was able to wear her corset a bit looser and her hair a bit less pinned. One had, of course, always to be ready for the unexpected visitor, so she could hardly go about the house in her dressing gown, but she was glad to be somewhat more comfortable.

After breakfast, her father closed himself into his study to conduct his correspondence of the day. Nora wandered listlessly in the same direction, toward the adjoining library, where her correspondence awaited her. Thank you notes to send and visitor cards to answer.

On the way, she chanced to meet Mr. Gaines, their butler, moving through the main corridor at a sharp clip. When he saw her, he drew back, pressing the papers in his hands to his chest as if to protect them from her view.

“Excuse me, my lady.” He stepped to the side, out of her way.

The fold of papers he held so protectively was only the daily newspaper—the Times, she could see by its type and layout—and Nora couldn’t fathom why Gaines would try to shield them. Her curiosity piqued, she held out her hand.

“I’ll take those to my father, Mr. Gaines. I’m on my way to the library.”

He glanced guiltily at his burden, as if he held a penny dreadful rather than the most esteemed newspaper in London. “Thank you, my lady, but there’s no need.”

She pushed her open hand closer and used her London Lady voice. “I’ll take them, Mr. Gaines, thank you.”

It worked! The butler bowed and handed them to her, albeit reluctantly. “They aren’t for you, Lady Nora. They’re too coarse for a fine lady’s lovely eyes.”

With a sudden crash of understanding, Nora snatched the fold of papers from the butler. She’d always shared the news with her father. When they were alone together in Kent, they would even read at the breakfast table, and her father would ask her what she thought about the most important items. But that was to be taken from her now, as well?

What was it, exactly, that proper ladies did to spend their hours? What thoughts filled their heads?

Nora spun on her heel and stalked down the corridor, toward the library. Her father wished her to marry well and want for nothing. She wished to make him happy. But this life he wanted for her was no life she wanted. For herself, all she truly wanted was a life like her Aunt Martha—independent and alone. Of course, Aunt Martha had married a man much older than she and been widowed within a few years.

Perhaps that was what Nora should do. Find an old lord who still needed an heir. Perhaps one who was hard of hearing.

In the library, she closed the door and opened the papers, wondering what had happened in the world to make Mr. Gaines so worried about defiling her virgin eyes.

Nothing. But oh—this wasn’t the Times. Another paper lay atop it: the Daily Herald. Oh, interesting. Why was her father taking the Herald? It was the paper of the lower classes, with a decidedly pro-Labour editorial stance. Her father hated the Herald.

Feeling almost as if she’d in fact come across a penny dreadful, Nora glanced guiltily at the closed door of her father’s study before she set the Times aside and settled at the desk at which she’d been meant to write her notes and replies. She laid the Herald out before her and, beginning at the front page, undertook to read every word.

 

~oOo~

 

Deeply immersed in an editorial regarding the recently convened constitutional conference, Nora heard the door open but didn’t heed its warning until her father’s shadow loomed over the desk and his hand settled gently on her shoulder.

“What are you reading, monkey?”

Nora flinched, and he leaned closer.

“Is that…what is that rag doing in my house?” He snatched the paper from the desk in an angry fistful and wadded it up.

“Ga—“ She stopped abruptly. Clearly, the papers Gaines had been holding had not been her father’s. To say more would impugn the butler. “I found it outside. I went out for a breath of air.”

“And brought a filthy piece of rubbish into the house with you? And read it? Nora, what were you thinking?”

Abashed and outraged in equal measure, Nora stood up and faced her father, her fists clenched and shaking at her sides. “I was thinking that it would be interesting to read what the workers think! I was thinking that I wanted to know! I had questions and I was thinking to find the answers!”

Her father glowered at the wad of newsprint in his hands. “GAINES!”

Gaines was at the main library door at once. “My lord?”

“Lady Nora informs me that she dragged this foul thing in from the streets.” He thrust the Herald at the butler. “Rid us all of it, please. And see to it that better attention is paid to the condition of the grounds around our gates.”

“Of course, my lord. My apologies.” With a quick and grateful dash of his eyes to Nora, Gaines took the bundle and absented himself from the room.

“I don’t understand, Papa. It was only the news. Why does it give you such offense?”

Her father turned a far softer look on her then. He took her hand. “Oh, my love. Come and sit with me.” He led her to the nearest sofa, and they sat together. “The Herald is not the news. It’s claptrap masquerading as news. But that’s hardly the point.”

“The point is I’m not supposed to care about such things any longer.” She pulled her hand free and threw herself against the back of the sofa. “Now that I’m a lady, all I’m supposed to care about is dresses and suitors. But you’re the one who taught me to care.”

“I know, Nora, and I did you a grave disservice. All I wanted after your mother and brothers died was to make you as happy as you could be, and I didn’t see that it was my task to teach you how to be happy in the life you would lead. Instead I let you follow your own will, and now…”

“Now I’m a scandal.”

“Not a scandal. But not properly studied in the ways of our world.”

“This isn’t our world, Papa.”

“It is, Nora. This is the world you must find your future in. I will see you settled and secure. I will be sure of it. But I need your help. People say you are the greatest beauty in London this Season, and perhaps even for many seasons before. You should be in high demand and have your choice of proposals. I want that for you, to be able to choose the man who will be your husband. But you speak of vulgar things, and it puts good men off.”

Nora might dispute the point that a man was good if he could be put off by a woman having thoughts of her own. Her own father, the man now cajoling her to act the empty-headed mannequin, was the one who’d taught her to think for herself. “It’s not vulgar to know what’s happening in the world. Politics is not vulgar.”

He chuckled bleakly. “Little in the world is more so, Nora. If you were part of it, you would see it to be true. Such talk is not for graceful ladies.”

It wasn’t her fault she wasn’t part of politics. Women couldn’t vote, much less hold office. “I don’t want to be a graceful lady. I want to go back to Kent and be as we were.”

In his forceful sigh, Nora heard the end of this argument. He would hear no more. “You sound like a petulant child, Nora. You are my daughter. I am the Earl of Tarrin, a line more than a thousand years old. We all have our roles to play in service to our ancestors and to our King. Yours is to marry well and produce strong heirs for your husband. Mine is to preserve the Tarrin legacy. I have faltered with you and Christopher both, giving you too much your own way, but I will not fail either of you. I see my errors now, and I will repair them.”

“Papa…”

“Enough.” Her father stood and pulled her to her feet as well. “Do you love me, Nora?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then do this for me. Be the elegant lady I know you can be. Find your happiness where it should be. Show me tonight that I needn’t worry for you.” He squeezed her hands. “Please, monkey. Give me some ease.”

How ironic that he would use his pet name for her, a name she’d earned as a small girl, climbing and cavorting like that animal through the woods at home, at this particular moment, as he demanded that she set that part of herself—which was her whole self—aside. Yet Nora could hardly deny such a request from the man she loved best in all the world. “Very well, Papa.”

He folded her in his arms, and Nora promised herself she would try to find something of interest in the interests she was allowed to have.

© 2017 Susan Fanetti

suffragette digital cover FINAL

Cover reveal and preview! BLAZE, BBMC #4

blaze digital cover

Happy Saturday!

Today, I’m revealing the cover of the next Brazen Bulls MC book. Blaze, Book 4, is Simon’s story. If you’re caught up with the series, you know that we left things off in Book 3 (Slam), with the club in conflict with the Street Hounds, a gang that had taken over the the north side of Tulsa from Dyson, a longstanding crew with whom the Bulls had had a primarily (but not entirely) peaceful relationship. Well, in Blaze, that conflict becomes an all-out war. A whole lot happens in Blaze. Things get pretty damn intense–for the club and for their family.

But the heart of the story is Simon and Deb, Gunner’s sister. They started up a friendly “booty call” relationship a couple of years back, and they kept that to themselves. You might remember the scene at the end of Slam when Gunner notices Simon checking out her ass and wonders if there’s something going on there. Mav blows it off, but Gun was right.

Not that he’s happy about it when he finds out. Ha! No.

As often happens, there’s only so long that two good friends can bang each other’s brains out on the regular before “friends with benefits” is not all they are. Blaze begins as Simon and Deb start to figure that out–at the same time that war breaks out in Tulsa.

Blaze will go live on Saturday, 2 December 2017. I’ll set up the preorder as usual, about mid-November. In the meantime, here’s the synopsis–and, as a preview, the prologue, which takes place in 1996, two years before the present time in Blaze.

In Twist, which takes place in 1996, the Bulls ride out to Gunner and Leah’s hometown, Grant, after a deadly tornado. Gunner rides toward Leah, in town, and two of his brothers veer off and ride toward his family farm, to check on Gunner’s dad and sister. Simon is one who rides off to check on Sam and Deb Wesson.

And their relationship begins.

SYNOPSIS:

Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1998

Simon Spellman isn’t a native Oklahoman. He’s a city boy, born and raised in Chicago, but he’s lived in Tulsa, and worn a Brazen Bull on his back, for years. Tulsa is his home, and the Bulls his family—the only one he claims, and the only one he wants. As far as he’s concerned, life as a Bull is too risky, and the club too demanding, to make room for anyone else.

Especially now, while the Brazen Bulls MC stands on the brink of war, smack in the middle of their hometown.

Debra Wesson has been part of the Bulls family since her younger brother first put on a kutte. She’s known Simon for years; since a crisis threw them together a couple years back, she’s known him intimately. They are perfectly compatible, both adventurous in bed and neither interested in a relationship. They’ve enjoyed each other and kept their hookups a secret from her volatile brother and everyone else.

Until they realize that friends with benefits has become something much deeper, despite their guards against it, and they’re forced to contend with what’s real between them.

But it’s dangerous to be a Bull, or to love one, right now, as the conflict with the Street Hounds finds its flashpoint. With the enemy standing just on the other side of town, there’s no safe place to be.

When war hits home, everything that matters is in the line of fire.

Note: explicit sex and violence.

 

PREVIEW:

PROLOGUE

October 1996

Simon and Apollo rode side by side over one of those narrow country roads that didn’t even rate a set of yellow lines down the center. Both their bikes—Apollo’s ’93 Wide Glide and Simon’s ’90 Super—had 1300-plus CC engines and drag pipes and were loud as hell, yet the world around them felt heavy and eerily quiet. It was twilight, and their headlamps swept over a landscape that seemed a step or two off normal. Nothing obvious to see, just a feeling Simon couldn’t shake.

Tornadoes had missed this area, but the storm that had brought a bevy of them had not. Maybe that was the off-ness: the usual scatter left by a hard storm seemed wrong in contrast with the destruction that had brushed by them like the touch of an angry stranger passing by.

Simon was freaked out. He’d lived in Oklahoma most of his adult life, and he’d been through a couple of actual tornadoes and more watches and warnings than he could count. But this had been a strange year for storms. He’d never known so many twisters to touch down in the same storm, and he’d never known one to hit Tulsa itself. He’d been around for only one other F5, and that one had dug a trench through miles of Oklahoma, vaporizing everything in its path.

This big daddy hadn’t hit Tulsa on the nose, either. The city had gotten tagged by a couple of smaller ones, an F0 and an F1. Damage and inconvenience, a few low-level injuries. The clubhouse had taken some damage, but nothing that couldn’t be set to rights in a weekend. Mostly blown-out windows and the like.

But out here in Osage County, God had put his hand down on the ground and swept it clear.

Simon and Apollo had veered off from their brothers, who’d headed toward the little town of Grant, which had taken the F5 straight up the ass. The early reports and images they’d seen before they’d split the clubhouse suggested that their brothers were arriving at a cataclysm. It had sounded like Grant was just about gone, and a lot of its residents had gone with it.

Gunner’s new girl was from Grant, and she’d been in town, as far as they knew, for the twister.

Gunner was from Grant, too, more or less. Simon and Apollo were on their way to check on his family’s farm, and on his family—his dad and sister. They were out of the F5’s path, just barely—Simon had heard that the thing had been more than a mile wide—but they were Gunner’s family, and practically club themselves, and Gunner couldn’t be in two places at once. Leah had been right in the heart, so Gunner was there. Apollo and Simon would take care of the rest of his family.

And, Simon hoped, the brothers with Gunner could hold him together.

They rode around a hairpin, and a low valley opened up before them. In the falling darkness, Simon could see the Wesson farm, barely making out the pretty little white farmhouse—the dusk-to-dawn light was out. All the lights were out.

That was what was so strange about the way the world looked—it was always dark in the country, but they’d passed several farms, and not a single light anywhere.

As they passed the fields, he couldn’t tell if there’d been damage. Luckily, the harvest was done, so no crops had been lost. At the bottom of the long, low hill, they turned onto the gravel drive. Simon had been here quite a few times, helping out with the sowing or the harvest when Gunner sent up a call for it, and he knew that the gravel was white quartz that sparkled in the sun. Sam Wesson kept up his place. But the big black mailbox was gone from its white post and nowhere to be seen in the dark. The post itself listed drunkenly.

They parked their bikes at the end of the drive, and they saw the next signs of the storm: Sam’s big old pickup and Debra’s station wagon were off the drive, shifted sharply to the left as if a broom had come by and pushed them out of the way. The truck was flush against the garage, and the station wagon wasn’t square on the ground; it had been pushed so hard against the truck that one of the wheels had come up about a foot or so.

It took a lot of force to move cars that size that much.

“Shit,” Apollo muttered. “You think they’re okay?”

Simon studied the darkness in the direction of the house. He’d thought they were coming to do a quick check-in so they could assure Gunner that his dad and sister were okay. Now, he wasn’t sure. Without answering Apollo, he headed toward the house.

“DEB?” he called. “SAM?” Apollo picked up the call, and they crossed the yard, yelling.

No longer twilight, full dark had landed on the night, and Simon tried to remember the layout of the yard. He could barely see the porch, but he felt his way to it and put his foot on the first step, calling their names all the while.

“Here,” came Deb’s voice off the side of the porch. She came around the side of the house, a pale arc from a flashlight leading her way. She shined it up at them. “Hey. We were in the cellar. Dad’s hurt.”

Changing course, they met her at the corner of the porch.

“How bad?” Apollo asked.

“The cellar door hit him in the head when we were trying to get down. Knocked him out. He says he’s okay, but he was out for a couple of minutes, and his head is bleeding. Scared the crap out of me.”

She turned around right away to retrace her steps, but Simon grabbed her arm. “Hey. You okay?”

“Yeah.” Behind the flashlight, she was no more than a vague shape. Pulling herself free from his grip, she headed toward the slant doors of the cellar. “Shaken up. We heard about what happened in town.” At the open doors, standing at the top of the cellar stairs, she turned and faced him. “Is Max okay?”

Max was Gunner’s given name. “Yeah—it wasn’t too bad in Tulsa. I don’t know how he’s doing in Grant, though. Leah was there.”

“Fuck.”

“I hate that word,” her old man called up from below. “What’s wrong?”

Simon followed Deb down, and Apollo followed him. He and Apollo were both over six feet, so they bent low to make their way down.

A battery-operated Coleman lantern made a bright circle in the dark cellar. The farmhouse was more than a hundred years old, and the cellar was probably not much changed from the hole it had started out as. Dirt floor, wood slat walls, the house resting on hunky wooden support beams sunk in concrete. Heavy wooden shelving units that held the wide assortment of junk a country life accumulated. In the bright circle of lantern light, Simon could make out a few of those units. One of them was lined with Mason jars. Deb had a robust roadside produce stand in the spring and summer and canned a lot to sell in the winter.

“Max’s okay,” Apollo answered, hunched over beside Simon. “But Leah was in Grant when it happened.”

“Fuck,” Sam Wesson muttered, and Simon laughed. It sounded all kinds of wrong. Sam, sitting on a stack of aged Mason jar crates at the end of that preserves unit, holding a bandana—its fabric faded to grey and soaked with blood—to the top of his head, looked up at him. “She hurt? Max’ll…” He didn’t finish.

Simon crouched down so Sam didn’t have to crane his neck. “Don’t know. He’s there now. He’s got brothers at his back.” Nodding at Sam’s head, he asked, “What happened here?”

“It’s nothing. Debra fusses over everything.” His cheek was scraped up, too.

Debra scoffed and shoved her hands onto her hips. “Dad, you got knocked out. You need to go to the hospital.”

“I need no such thing. I barely closed my eyes.”

Blood had run in streams through the man’s white hair and striped his neck and plaid, pearl-buttoned shirt. It still looked wet. “Sam, can I take a look?”

“You a doctor all a sudden, Simon?”

“No sir, but I’ve seen my share of bloody wounds.”

That made the old man chuckle. “S’pose you have.” He took his hand away, dropping it with evident relief to his lap, and Simon took a look.

Just past the middle of his noggin was a goose egg, its center split open. “It’s pretty deep, Sam. You’re gonna need stitches to close it up. Yeah, you need the ER.”

Sam sighed and put the bandana back in place. “Fine. How’ll Max know where we are?”

Simon didn’t answer; his brain was occupied with the question of how they were going to get to Osage Regional Hospital. He and Apollo had ridden, and the Wesson vehicles were shoved up against each other in such a way that they wouldn’t be able to simply pull one out.

“I’ll ride to Grant and find him,” Apollo offered.

Simon nodded. “Wait up, though. We need to figure out how to get Deb’s wagon free.”

“What?” Deb asked. “What happened? Oh God, is there a lot of damage?”

Her voice had started up that ramp to panic that women took sometimes, and with that always came tears. Simon hated it when chicks cried. He took hold of her arm again and gave it a quick stroke. Even through the sweater she wore, he felt slim firmness, and a little bulge of bicep when she pulled free.

“Easy,” he said. “It’s not a big deal, and we didn’t see much damage. Wind just knocked ‘em around a little.”

“Them?”

Deciding that such questions were better answered with their own eyes, he asked, “Can you walk, Sam?”

“Course I can walk,” he barked and stood up. He wasn’t tall, so he could stand straight, but his hand was still on his head, and his knuckles nearly grazed the beams from the floor above.

“Then ‘Pollo, grab the lantern. Let’s go up and you can see for yourselves. And we’ll figure out how to get the wagon free.”

~oOo~

They got the wagon free when Simon drove the tractor over and they winched it. Sam’s truck was totaled, bent around the corner of the garage and sandwiched between that and Deb’s station wagon, and the wagon was pretty rumpled, but it ran. Apollo rode off toward Grant, and Simon drove Deb and Sam to the hospital.

By the time they were ready to go, Sam was not steady. He took the back seat and leaned his head back. He went quiet, but Simon checked the rearview mirror and could see his chest rising, deep and steady, and he was still holding a bandana—a fresh one, from the glove box of his truck—on his head.

Deb sat in front, chewing on her thumbnail and swiveling her head back and forth, checking on her father.

“I can see him in the rearview, Deb. I’ll let you know if he looks like trouble. You’re gonna give yourself whiplash.”

“Just restin’ my eyes,” came a tired, scratchy voice from behind them.

They rode quietly for a while. Osage Regional Hospital wasn’t all that close; they had more than a half-hour ride. Simon thought about turning on the radio to fill the empty air but decided that was insensitive, considering. Besides, he had no idea what kind of music Deb liked. He’d hate to switch it on and find his ears assaulted by Celine Dion or some shit.

“That door came slamming down, and he dropped down the steps and just lay there. Jesus, Simon. A tornado already took half our family. How much more does God want?”

And there were the tears. Dammit. Not knowing what else to do, but wanting the waterworks to stop just as quickly as possible, Simon reached over and took hold of the hand she hadn’t been chewing on. “Hey, hey. Everybody’s okay. Your dad just needs his head sewn up. Gun’s fine. You’re fine. The farm is fine.”

Simon didn’t know much about Gunner’s family history. He knew that their mother was dead, of course. And maybe there’d been a brother, too? He wasn’t sure. It sounded like that was the case, though. He hadn’t known that they’d been killed in a tornado, but that sounded like the case as well.

That was a hard thing. No wonder Deb was freaked out now. No wonder Gunner was crazy always.

She kept crying. Shit. So Simon held her hand and kept his eyes on the road and tried to pretend that she wasn’t. After a very long minute, she took a deep, shaking breath and got herself together. She squeezed his hand and pulled free, opening the glove box and rooting out a little packet of tissues. In the glow from the glove box light before she slammed it closed, Simon caught a dull metallic flash: she had a little snub-nose revolver in there.

“Sorry.” She muttered the word into her tissue, then honked her nose clear. Simon couldn’t help but grin. He was used to chicks preening around him, every little move made for an audience. Sure, the conditions on this night were hardly favorable for flirting, but now that he thought of it, he didn’t think Debra Wesson had ever behaved like she’d noticed that he, or any Bull, for that matter, was a man. Or that she herself was hot.

Because she was. Quite hot, in fact. Skinny, and not much in the chest department, but a very nice face. And all that wild black hair? That was something else.

He blinked all that out of his head as the bright lights of the hospital rose up ahead. “Don’t worry about it,” he finally replied to her apology. “It’s a rough night. ‘Course you’re emotional.”

“Yeah,” she sighed and twisted her neck to check on her father again. “Dad, we’re here.”

Silence from the back seat.

“Daddy?” Panic leapt back into her voice.

“Okay, Debra. I’m okay. Take a breath.”

She did, and then wiped her cheeks again with the sodden tissue.

Simon pulled through the ambulance lane and parked in a no-parking zone. He helped Sam—who took the help with a bad attitude, despite his shaky balance—into the ER, then ran out and parked the wagon in the patient lot. The lot was nearly full, and he had to park way in the back.

It was going to be a long night.

~oOo~

The sun was up when he pulled back into the Wesson driveway, with only Deb as a passenger. Sam had eleven stitches and a concussion, and they were keeping him for a night or two, concerned about his loss of consciousness. Leah was in the hospital, too, hurt pretty badly. Gunner was doing okay with the stress of that, but the Bulls planned to do a rotation to make sure he wasn’t on his own until Leah was out of the woods. They spent a lot of time babysitting that guy.

Leah’s father had died in the storm. A lot of people in Grant had been killed or hurt; Simon hadn’t heard an official count yet, but a rumor going around the hospital said that it was several dozen dead and more than that injured. Grant itself had been killed. Most of the town was nothing but splinters.

In the bright sun of a fall morning, the damage to the Wesson farm was obvious—and not that bad. Some fencing down, some broken windows, a few smaller pieces of equipment overturned. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed with enough muscle, and insurance would cover anything big. Considering what had happened a few miles off, lucky was not a strong enough word for what they were.

“Thanks for the ride,” Deb said as she put her hand on the door.

Simon laughed. “It’s your car, hon.” He nodded toward the front. “Had to come back for my bike anyway.”

“Ah, right.” She smiled. It was the first one he’d seen since he’d gotten caught in her flashlight beam the night before. She had great dimples. “Well, then, just thanks. You were a huge help.”

“No problem. Gun’s family is my family.” He opened the driver’s door as she opened the passenger side, and the sound of angry chickens about knocked them back.

“Shit, the animals,” Deb groaned. “I locked them in before the storm and didn’t give them another thought. Idiot!”

Like he was agreeing with her self-assessment, a rooster crowed.

“Shit!” she said again. “Dandy gets so mean when they’re closed up too long. And after last night, they’ll all be agitated.”

“I’m still here, Deb. I’ll help.”

“Yeah? Thank you.” Her eyes sparkled. Oh God no, was she going to cry again?

Hoping to hold them off, he grinned. “No problem. But if I get attacked by an angry rooster, you supply the Band-Aids.”

“Deal.” She gave him a dimpled grin back, the clouds of tears clearing from her eyes, and they headed to the coop.

~oOo~

They turned the chickens loose. Deb didn’t want to turn the horses out to pasture until she could ride the fence lines, so they released them into the paddock.

Simon helped Deb clean up the coop and stalls, and they went into the house, where he helped her put boards on the broken windows and clean up the mess. Then she made him lunch—a couple of big turkey and cheese sandwiches on homemade white bread, with a mountain of potato chips. And beer. Good eats.

By the time she walked him to the boarded-up front door, though, Simon was absolutely fucking exhausted, and Deb looked not much brighter.

She leaned on the edge of the open door. “Thank you so much, Simon. I honestly don’t know how I’d’ve gotten through the night and day without you.”

“Don’t mention it, hon. Glad I could help. Like I said, Gun’s family is my family.” On the compulsion of some mysterious force, he brushed his fingertip down her nose. Cute nose. Straight and delicate. “You should get some rest.”

She looked up at him. Her eyes were pretty, too. This close, eyes he’d always thought of as simply ‘light’ turned out to be grey and green and brown. Hazel, he thought the color was called. Rimmed with long black lashes.

“Yeah,” she breathed, and the sound was…something had changed. “You should, too.”

Simon’s cock stirred. The air between them suddenly crackled like a storm front, and he was no longer thinking about how tired he was. That compulsion still had hold of him, and before he could consider what he was doing, his hand went around her neck, under all that hair, and he bent down and kissed her.

She let go of the door and wrapped her arms around him, kissing him back at once, her tongue shooting forward and finding his, twisting and lapping together. He went for her sweater, shoving his hand under it, pushing it up, finding her tits. They were covered in soft cotton, and so little. His hand took all of one and had space left over, but her nipple was like a rock against his palm, and that was beautiful. He shunted the cotton to the side and gave that hard nub a pinch.

Deb leapt back, out of his arms. “Shit,” she gasped.

“Yeah.” His breathing wasn’t any steadier.

They just stood there, panting, and stared at each other.

He needed to go. Under the heading ‘Reasons Fucking Debra Wesson Is a Bad Idea’ were at least a dozen entries, starting with ‘Gunner’s Sister.’ But he didn’t move.

Neither did she. They stared, and the air crackled.

“I don’t want to be with anybody. Not seriously,” she finally said. “I don’t need the bullshit.”

“Me either.” Get out, get out, get out. His feet wouldn’t move.

She pushed her hair back, trying and failing to tame it behind her ears. She made that move a lot—and he realized, for the first time, that he’d noticed that before.

“Max can’t know.”

Gunner wouldn’t celebrate the idea of his sister with a Bull, that was certainly true. Not even for a one-er. Maybe particularly not for a one-er. “No, he cannot.” Shit, were they doing this? It hadn’t been on his radar at all. Had it? His cock strained at his fly. “Deb…”

She charged forward and closed the distance she’d made, and Simon stopped talking. When she twisted her fingers in his hair and bit down on his lip, he quit thinking. He picked her up and carried her up the stairs, where he assumed her bedroom was.

© 2017 Susan Fanetti

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