Simple Faith: Preorder is LIVE

PB1 digital cover

Simple Faith, the first in the new Pagano Brothers Mafia romance series, is now available for preorder! Release day is 14 July 2018!

Here are the key links:
Amazon
Amazon UK
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia
Kobo, iBooks, B&N (It’s not live yet on those platforms, but that’s the link for when it is.)
You can add it to Goodreads, too.
You can read the synopsis and the first chapter here.

I can’t wait for you to read Trey and Lara’s story!

 

Why I Don’t Accept Reader Friend Requests

Close up of facebook page with friend request

Hi.

I got another message from a reader who was hurt that I hadn’t accepted her Facebook friend request, so I thought it was time to make another post about why I generally don’t accept friend requests from readers. I answered her privately, but here I want to address the question more broadly.

The first part of my answer is that I write under my real name. My social media accounts are in my real name, and I’ve had most of them since before I ever tried to write fiction. I’ve had Facebook and Twitter going on 10 years now. Since I’ve opened those accounts, Twitter has been where I keep up with the world, and Facebook is where I keep up with my family and friends. I’m careful about who I friend on FB. I keep it to people I know in person, and people I’ve interacted with substantively and positively online.

The second part of the answer is that I’m very politically engaged and opinionated. On my personal Facebook, in addition to talking about my kids, my cats, and my students, and sharing videos of baby goats in sweaters, otters holding hands, and baby bats eating fruit, I talk about politics and culture a lot. I rant and worry. I donate and fundraise and exhort. I do it only with people who think like I do, because Facebook is my online house, and I keep it as safe as I can.

Which brings me to the third part of my answer: I struggle a great deal with anxiety and depression. While I don’t write for the money and don’t need to worry how I’ll feed my family if I piss readers off (that might be apparent just from the stories I write, lol), I do take it hard when I get hate mail. I know I should have a tougher skin, but I just don’t. It sends me to the dark place and messes with my writing mojo—and that absolutely terrifies me. I don’t write to get paid, but I do write to stay sane.

On Twitter, as I have since 2008, I follow a lot of political people. While I don’t actively tweet very much, and rarely about anything other than books and writing, I do like a lot of tweets from the people I follow. I’ve gotten angry messages from readers because those likes showed up in their feeds, and they were upset about learning where I stand on an issue. From that evidence, I can be sure that opening my Facebook friends list, where I actually am very active and political, would invite strife into my online house.

I don’t fault someone for deciding not to read me anymore because they don’t like my politics. And I obviously understand that hearing from readers, those who hate me as well as those who love me, is part of the gig. But those angry messages mess with my head and get in the way of my writing, which messes with my head even more. To guard against it, I compartmentalize and do what I can to at least limit where and when and how those messages come.

Twitter is the place where I keep up with the world, and that account is my original account in my actual name, so I keep it and use it the way I want. I deal with the occasional angry message there and don’t worry about follower count. My personal Facebook is home, so I limit my friends list mainly to people I know, and who know me.

For readers of all stripes, I have my FB author page, and there you will not see political posts. There I am only about books and writing and reading. Perhaps occasionally some mom brags (my kids are awesome!) and cute animal videos. It’s a safe space, too—for you as well as for me.

I also have Instagram and Pinterest, and they’re pretty safe, too.

If you’ve sent me a friend request and you were hurt when it languished unanswered, I sincerely apologize. I leave them sitting open because the options are to confirm or delete, and deleting feels too harsh. There are too many to send a personal message of explanation for each one, so I leave them unanswered. But it’s not a personal judgment. It’s simply that we don’t know each other personally.

That’s my essay about why I don’t accept most reader friend requests. Let’s just come together on my author page and love books.

xoxo
s—

NEW SERIES! THE PAGANO BROTHERS

The Pagano Brothers—A Mafia Romance Series
Simple Faith, Book 1, Coming 14 July!

Close up of businessman in suit over dark gray background with c

Hi!

I’m excited to announce the start of a new series. If you’ve read my Pagano Family series (digital editions on sale right now on all platforms for .99 each, btw!), then you know the Pagano Brothers organization is connected to that family, on “the other side of the pews,” as the Paganos say. If you haven’t read about them before: The Pagano Brothers is a crime syndicate started by the brothers of Carlo Pagano Sr., whose children are the main focus of the Pagano Family series.

Both sides of the family are based in Quiet Cove, a small town on the coast of Rhode Island, and the Pagano Brothers hold the most powerful seat in the New England Council of Families.

The Pagano Brothers organization features strongly in the background and in the plot of five of the six Pagano Family books, and is front and center in Book 4, which focuses on Nick Pagano, a formidable mafioso (and arguably the star of that series).

I love the whole Pagano family, but oh, I really love Nick. Four years after I first created him, my love is still a raging blaze.

*dreamy sigh*

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. The Pagano Brothers!

While you might enjoy the Pagano Family (contemporary romance/family saga, with a dash of Mafia for spice), and can get them right now for a great price, you do NOT have to have read those books to know what’s going on in this new series—it is a spinoff, and it opens at the point at which the first series ends, but The Pagano Brothers will focus on the Mafia side of the pews.

If you’ve read the Pagano Family, you’ll recognize several key characters. If you haven’t, you’ll meet them as new characters in a new series, and their backstories will be like any important character’s backstory in any book.

So let’s meet—for the first time, or as old friends—the key players in the Pagano Brothers organization (minor spoilers for the Pagano Family series):

Nick Pagano: Don of the organization and CEO of Pagano Brothers Shipping. The only son of Lorenzo Pagano, who with his brother Beniamino founded the Pagano Brothers (they are the brothers for whom the organization and the shipping company are named). When his father died, Nick became Uncle Ben’s underboss. When Ben died, Nick took the helm. When the new series begins, Nick has been don for nearly twenty years, and the Pagano Brothers are more powerful than ever.

Nick is smart, honorable, chivalrous, demanding, ruthless and absolutely willing to do bloody violence in the name of justice (or vengeance). He wields his power like a man who knows he’s earned it. And he always gets what he wants.

He holds his family above all else and loves his wife and children with his whole, fierce heart.

My visual inspiration for him is Raoul Bova.

You can read the story of the beginning of his great love with his wife, Beverly, in Deep, Book 4 of the Pagano Family. Deep is set about twenty years before Simple Faith.

By this point in the Pagano timeline (which is contemporary but not bound to any particular date), Nick is 65 years old. While he likely will not be a lead in this series, he will certainly be a pivotal secondary character throughout.

Donnie “The Face” Goretti: Nick’s underboss, the second in command. Donnie is an important secondary character in Deep. He was very badly injured in that book and bears severe scars, physical and otherwise. It was after his injury that he became known as The Face. Donnie began in the Pagano Brothers as an insecure but stalwart young man, with a sheepish love of geeky television and a fascination with the ballet (and ballerinas). Over the years, he’s risen through the ranks to become Nick’s right hand. He earned Nick’s wholehearted trust on the day he lost half his face. Living with his scars has changed him, however. To every extent he can be and still be the second most powerful man in the Pagano Brothers, Donnie is a solitary man. At this point in the Pagano timeline, Donnie is in his mid-40s.

In this series, my visual inspiration for Donnie is Vincent Cassel.

He will be the male lead of Book 2 (not written yet; hopefully coming in 2019).

Angie Corti: Nick’s chief enforcer and head of security. He and Donnie make up Nick’s entire inner circle. Angie is a significant secondary character in Miracle, Book 6 of the Pagano Family (the series conclusion). He is the eldest brother of that book’s female lead, Tina Corti. In that book, Angie maybe doesn’t come off too well. Already a made man and an enforcer for the Pagano Brothers, he’s arrogant and kind of a dick, and he’s not very nice to Joey Pagano, Miracle’s male lead.

But an event in Miracle sparked an epiphany in Angie, and he’s changed a bit in the intervening decade or so. He’s still arrogant, but he understands the limits of his power and control. He can still be a dick, but it’s more a choice than a personality now.  He’s also in his mid-40s.

My visual inspiration for Angie is Edoardo Costa.

He’ll get a book in this series as well, I think. I like him. It’ll be a challenge for him to fall in love. He’s not going to want it, but it’ll happen anyway. Heh.

Trey Pagano: Nick’s cousin, though with 40 years between them, Trey has always called Nick “Uncle” and continues to do so. He is an associate in the Pagano Brothers, the lowest rank in the organization. He is only half-Italian, which, in the ways of La Cosa Nostra, should mean he can never be made or rise in rank. Even so, after college, and despite his father’s furious objections, Trey chose to join the Pagano Brothers. Nick has kept a close watch on the only other man in the organization who carries Pagano blood.

And Nick always gets what he wants.

Because this series will focus on the organization, the leads won’t all be Paganos, but Trey is the reason I wanted to write this series at all, so he is the male lead of  Book 1, Simple Faith.

Trey was a cute little preschooler with an obsession with sharks in Footsteps, the first book of the Pagano Family series. Over the course of that series, from the first chapter of Footsteps to the epilogue of Miracle, he grows up.

Simple Faith opens on the same weekend that the epilogue to Miracle takes place, when Trey is 25 years old.

In Simple Faith, he is a young man who has, for reasons he can’t quite articulate even to himself, chosen a dangerous path for his life. He is trying to find his footing with Don Pagano and the Pagano Brothers and to reclaim his relationship with his father as well.

I haven’t written farther into the series than Book 1 yet, but I have a very strong feeling that Trey’s story will continue in the background of subsequent books and serve as the spine of the series arc.

My visual inspiration for him is Alex Pettyfer. (I guess I could/should say that the model on the cover is my visual inspiration, lol, but I can’t afford Alex Pettyfer, and this guy gets damn close!)

In Simple Faith, because it’s Trey’s story, you’ll also meet (or visit with again) the leads from the Pagano Family series and their children: Trey’s mother and father, aunts and uncles, brother and cousins. But those characters will probably not be significantly present as the series progresses and characters not named Pagano take their turns in the lead.

If you’d like to get a peek at more of my character and story inspirations, you can check out the Pagano Brothers Pinterest board.

Okay, so that’s the context for this new series. Here are the deets (cover, synopsis, and Chapter 1) for Book 1: Simple Faith!

Release Date!

Saturday, 14 July 2018 (4 weeks from today)!
Preorder coming next week. You can add it to your Goodreads TBR now.

Cover!

PB1 digital cover

Synopsis!

Against his father’s wishes, Trey Pagano made a choice to join the other side of his family and stand with Don Nick Pagano, head of the Pagano Brothers, the most powerful Family in New England. Now he strives to find the balance between these two sides of himself, between the father who raised him and the don who means to lift him up.

Seeking the brightest mind to keep his secrets, Don Pagano recruited Lara Dumas, a woman with a brilliant intellect bound up in a damaged mind and frail body. Lara has carefully constructed a small world for herself in a comfortable corner of Providence, building boundaries within her limits.

When Lara is hurt by Pagano Brothers’ enemies, the safety of her world is destroyed. The don assigns Trey to take her away and protect her—and the things she knows.

Hundreds of miles from home, hidden from danger and cut off from everything they know and trust, Trey and Laura grow close. Against his better judgment, Trey falls for the woman whose strength shines through the cracks in her psyche. Despite her trauma, Lara comes to trust the man who’s kept her safe.

Whether the bond they forge in safety can survive when they return to the world is a matter of faith—in themselves and in each other.

Preview (Chapter 1)!

~ 1 ~

“There.”

Accompanied by a terse tip of his head, Angie’s syllable carried across the table, under the steady thump of house music. Trey looked over his shoulder, leaning back a bit to get a clear look around the blonde on his lap, and saw Kevin Swinton, co-owner of Cyclone—Quiet Cove, Rhode Island’s brand new club.

Cyclone was a typical dance bar, the kind full of chrome, shiny vinyl, and flashing lights. It was an all-ages club, with bouncers at the door to stamp patrons’ hands with marks showing they were old enough, or weren’t, to buy booze. Almost two months before Memorial Day, when the summer crowds would descend upon this sleepy little seaside town, it was the local kids celebrating the opening of the first real nightclub inside the town limits. An enthusiastic crowd, but not a large one.

Trey wasn’t the dance-club type, but he wasn’t here to party. While it might appear to the casual observer that the two men sitting in this sparkly purple vinyl booth, in the company of sparkly vinyl blondes, were enjoying a night out, it was Pagano Brothers business that had him and Angie stuck in this loud, flashy hell.

Swinton stood behind the bar, leaning in to talk at his bartender’s ear. He wore his thinning brown hair slicked back, and there was some kind of iridescent thread in his half-buttoned shirt—the combined effect of that slick glitz made him glow in the undulating rainbow of lights. Trey had never spoken to the man, had never seen him at a closer distance than the one between them right now, but he already couldn’t stand him. It didn’t take a heart-to-heart to know the guy was every nightclub-owner cliché embodied: slick, shallow, and craven.

Trey turned back to Angie. “That’s not Kenny, right? That’s his brother.” Kenny was the older brother, and the one truly in charge.

With a blithe sip of his scotch, Angie said, “Doesn’t matter. He’s a Swinton and an owner. You know what to do.”

That wasn’t wholly true. He knew what the outcome had to be, and he’d seen others, including Angie himself, do what needed to be done to achieve that outcome, but Cyclone was Trey’s first brand-new ‘account.’ Every other business he managed had been on the Pagano Brothers’ list for years.

There were two sides of the Pagano Brothers’ business. On paper and in reality, Nick Pagano was the President and CEO of Pagano Brothers Shipping. He filled that legitimate role and did the work it required. But from his office at the shipping company, he ran a much more important and lucrative business as well. He was the don of the Pagano Brothers, a powerful underworld family and the central seat of the New England Council of Five Families. He’d inherited both businesses from his father and uncle, who had been the Pagano Brothers.

Like most of the men closest to Nick, Trey worked for both branches of the Pagano Brothers. For the shipping company, he was an account manager—outside sales, cultivating and managing commercial transportation clients.

For the organization, his job was similar enough that the same title could describe his work, but Nick called him a ‘liaison.’ He didn’t do collections, but he set up the deals. He was the first contact for people who sought to reach out to Nick in some way, with business propositions or requests for help, and for people Nick wanted something from—but not favors. More like offers they couldn’t refuse.

Nick Pagano was not a man who often asked for favors. He bestowed them. And he collected on them.

Among the offers people couldn’t refuse was protection. Like every family organization in La Cosa Nostra, protection schemes were part of the foundation of their work. If you opened a business in the Cove, you paid the Paganos for protection. If you did not, then you needed protection from the Paganos. It was just the way things worked, and Nick took his end of the deal seriously. Quiet Cove businesses didn’t have a choice about contracting the Paganos for their security, but they could rest assured that their businesses would then be secure.

Tonight, Trey’s job was to introduce Kenny and Kevin Swinton to the way things worked.

Angie Corti was a capo in the organization, and Nick’s chief enforcer. He was here to make sure Trey didn’t fuck up, and to save the situation if he did, but what he was not here to do was help Trey do the job in the first place.

Knowing that, and having a strong enough sense of self-preservation to keep his self-doubt closed up inside his head where it belonged, Trey set aside his sparkly blonde and stood up. He buttoned the middle button on his Armani suit jacket, straightened his cuffs and his tie, and made a straight, steady path to Kenny Swinton.

The bartender was a local, and Trey’s age. They’d gone to school together all the way through high school. Jeff knew exactly who Trey was, and when he saw him approach, he gave him a nod and backed off, all the way to the other side of the bar.

Swinton sent a look twisted with confusion after his bartender and turned to Trey. “Help ya?” He did not recognize Trey, but there was no reason that he should, not yet.

Keenly aware of Angie’s eyes on his back, Trey set an elbow on the bar and leaned in. “My name is Trey Pagano.”

The name, Swinton knew. The twist returned, drawing his thick eyebrows together. “Pagano.”

“Yes. We need to talk.” He focused on keeping his voice at the right level, loud enough to carry past the techno din of the music, but not so loud that the effort was apparent.

“I don’t think we do,” Swinton replied, crossing his arms over his chest. “I don’t want what you’re selling.”

Trey smiled and hoped the expression showed exactly how much of that friendliness was artifice. “You haven’t heard my pitch. When you do, I think you’ll change your tune.”

“You can fuck right off, shithead,” Swinton snarled. “I know your game, and we’re not playing it.”

His heart hammering in his chest, Trey exerted all his will to keep his expression mellow and his tone steady. He was significantly younger than Swinton, and he had to put forth an image of dangerous strength that compensated for his youth. If he faltered, no one would take him seriously. If he wasn’t taken seriously, that reflected on Nick. Reflecting badly on Nick was a good way to get dead. “That’s a mistake, Kevin. A bad one.”

“Fuck off.”

With a head tilt and a disappointed shrug to indicate that the man had had his chance,  Trey turned and walked back to the booth. Angie’s eyes were on him the whole way.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

When he arrived at the table, Angie gave his blonde a swat. “Outta here, sweetcheeks. The grownups got some talkin’ to do.”

The girls left—Trey didn’t even remember their names—and he sat down and faced Angie, and the music.

“So that went well,” Angie said with a one-sided grin.

“He didn’t bite.”

“You know you’re not leaving without this guy in line, so what’s your move?”

Trey considered his options, none of which was giving up. He tried to think like the don would. Nick Pagano was nominally his first cousin once removed, but he was so much older that Trey had always called him Uncle, and he deserved the respect of the title. They were family. Moreover, in the nearly three years he’d been sitting on Nick’s side of the pews, the don had kept him close, let him watch, let him learn. Trey knew Nick. Were he here now, what would Don Pagano do?

“We wait.”

Angie leaned back against the glittery purple vinyl and snapped his fingers at a passing waitress. “We’ll need another round, sugarpants.”

~oOo~

At Trey’s word, they sat through last call and didn’t give up the booth until the music had gone quiet, the flashing lights had gone dark, and the house lights had come up. Then, when there was no one in the place but the Pagano men and the bar staff, they stood and walked slowly to the bar, Trey in the lead. With a backward nod, he called Ricky and Mel, the enforcers they’d had stationed near the door, to the bar as well, so that four Pagano men, all of them armed, stood before Kevin Swinton.

Trey sensed the staff making themselves scarce. They were all locals and didn’t bother to make even a show of standing up with their new boss. They knew how things worked.

Now he needed to get Swinton to read the memo.

With the club empty, quiet, and brightly lit, Swinton’s slick was more like slime. After a quick glance to see that not even his bouncers had stuck around and he was truly alone, he eyed the Pagano men warily.

But he stood his ground. “I guess this is the part where you start breaking my shit.”

Trey had had more than an hour to think about how to run this gambit, to try to think like Nick. He’d made some choices, and he hoped that they were decent. “No, Kev. We’re not gonna break your shit. It doesn’t help anybody to put you out of business. Not at this point, anyway.”

He turned to Ricky and Mel. The enforcers weren’t there to do his bidding—they were both made men, and Trey himself was not—and they weren’t his biggest fans. Most of the men on the lower rungs of the Pagano Brothers ladder resented Trey and his easy access to the don, particularly because he wasn’t made. He was a half-blooded associate who’d jumped way above his station, and they all wanted to drag him back down where he belonged. But he was the only man in the organization who shared blood with the don. Nick kept him close, so the soldiers and associates seethed quietly, out of sight of the don’s keen eyes.

Ricky and Mel answered to Angie, and that was what they were doing now, doing Trey’s bidding only because Angie had pushed him forward.

Trey didn’t care why they were doing what he wanted, only that Kevin saw him call the shots. Nick had taught him that there was power in being not the man who made the pain, but the one who ordered it. “I don’t want to break his shit,” he said, hoping they’d understand what he meant.

Angie got it. At his side, Trey heard a low chuckle and considered it an endorsement of his approach.

Mel got it, too. A sadistic sneer split his face, and, lightning-fast, he reached across the bar and grabbed Kevin Swinton by his shiny shirt. Yanking him forward, Mel threw his other hand up, got Swinton by the back of the head, and slammed his face into the edge of the bar. Blood sprayed up, and Swinton howled, the sound already stunted by his mangled nose.

“That’s for calling me a shithead.” He nodded at Mel, who still had Swinton by the shirt. The enforcer grabbed his head again, and made the same move. This time, the collision of face to wood had a distinctly squishy tone, and blood didn’t so much spray as gush. “And that’s for telling me to fuck off. Actually, you said that twice, didn’t you?”

The satisfaction of making this asshole eat his attitude created equilibrium in Trey’s mind. All his doubts and insecurities disappeared. He knew what to do.

“Wait, wait, wait!” Swinton shrieked, trying to hold back the blood fountain spurting from the middle of his face, and at the same time twist out of Mel’s grip. “Wait!”

“Waiting.”

“W-w-we’re …” He spat, swallowed, planted a bar rag on his face, and tried again. “We—we just opened. We put everything into getting the doors open. We’re tapped out. We can’t pay.”

“Kev, you haven’t even heard our offer yet. Don’t scream before you’ve been hit.”

At his side, Angie chuckled again.

“Let’s sit down and have a civilized conversation. I’ll lay out our terms.”

The rush he felt when Kevin Swinton’s shoulders slumped and his head nodded just about lifted Trey’s feet off the floor.

For nearly three years, he’d been working with Nick. This night was the first time he felt like a Pagano man.

~oOo~

The sun drew the next day’s first line of light across the Atlantic horizon, a pale streak across chalky blue, dividing the dawn sky from the night sea. Trey flexed his toes through the sand, digging down, finding yesterday’s lingering warmth under the crust of the night’s chill. He was alone on the beach; it was too early in the day, and still a bit too early in the year, for all but the most intrepid surfers. Trey was one of the intrepid, and surfed year round.

From the first time his father put him on a soft-top, the summer he was five years old, he’d been most at peace with himself when there was a board under his feet. From even before that, he’d loved it here—his earliest happy memories had to do with the ocean and the beach. He knew himself here like nowhere else.

Not even the rush of his success at Cyclone could match the powerful peace of the waves. Last night he’d finally felt like a Pagano man. But here, on this beach, he was Trey.

Quiet Cove was home base for the entire Pagano family, not just Nick and the Pagano Brothers, but the other side of the pews as well—his side of the family. Every corner of this little town was marked in some way by his people. With the exception of his years at Princeton, and his unremembered first years of life, when his father and bio-mom had lived an hour away in Providence, Trey had never lived anywhere else. And yet, since he’d been in middle school, he’d struggled to feel at home in this place that was the only home he’d ever known.

Except here, on this private stretch of family beach, and the wedge of the Atlantic beyond it. This was his home. If he could have sprouted gills and fins, he’d have dived under and never broken the surface again.

Failing that, he’d ride that surface as often as he could.

With the top of his suit hanging on his hips, and his board at his side, Trey stood bare-chested in the sharp slice of early spring breeze. He faced the breaking waves of a returning tide and waited for the light.

~oOo~

The surf was good, the waves firing at the perfect pace so that he spent little time on his knees, waiting for the next ride. By the time he let the water carry him all the way back to land, the sun blazed bright across the water, and the world had woken. He unleashed the board and carried it up to his little house on the beach.

His family had owned this house longer than he’d been alive. First, it had been his Aunt Carmen’s. Then she’d had a kid and gotten married—in that order—and moved out. Uncle John rented it from her after that, and eventually bought it, and when he’d gotten married and had a kid, they’d built an addition, and they’d stayed. Until their twins were born. For a few years after that, the family had used it casually, as a beach base and guest house. Trey had lost his virginity in the loft, in his junior year of high school. He’d gotten drunk for the first time—really drunk, not sucking-the-wine-puddles-from-the glasses-after-Christmas-dinner drunk—and stoned for the first time, on separate occasions in the living room. All his illicit firsts had happened in this little house.

The innocently illicit firsts, anyway.

After Trey graduated from Princeton, he’d asked Uncle John if he could rent the place, and he’d been here on his own since then.

Hooking his longboard at its place on the porch wall, Trey pulled a towel out of the weather-beaten cabinet by the door and knocked the sand off his feet. He stripped out of his wetsuit and dried off, shivering against the last kiss of cold in the breeze. Inside, his work cell chimed, and he went into the house, rubbing his head with the sandy towel, and grabbed the phone off the island counter.

Nick. “Good morning, Uncle,” he answered.

“Trey. This is the third time I’ve called this morning.”

Trey glanced up at the clock over the refrigerator. It wasn’t seven in the morning yet. But no one kept Don Pagano waiting. “Sorry, don. I was in the water.” When Nick didn’t respond, Trey asked, “Is there trouble?”

“An issue came up in the night. I want you here.”

Shit. Had the Swintons gone sour already? He’d only left the bar a few hours ago. “With Cyclone?”

“No.”

“Gessie’s First Communion is today.” Normally he’d never have dared push against a summons from Nick, but today was supposed to be sacrosanct, set aside for their family. Gessie was one of his little cousins, Uncle Joey’s middle child. They had a family breakfast before the Mass, and then a cookout at Joey and Tina’s place afterward.

Nick usually did all he could to keep work and family on separate planes; if he was letting work interrupt family, something big had come up.

“I’m aware, Trey. I want you at the office in thirty minutes.”

Thirty minutes was generous; Nick had heard Trey say he’d been surfing and was giving him time to make himself ready. “I’ll be there.”

Nick ended the call, and Trey stared at the phone for a second, thinking. Missing Gessie’s First Communion would set his father off, and he was not in the mood for one of their free-for-alls. Not that he ever enjoyed them, but sometimes he was in the mood to provoke them. Today was not one of those times.

Trey and his father, Carlo, had been butting heads for more than a decade, since he’d started high school. Before that, they’d been incredibly close—he’d gotten teased through the last half of elementary school because on some busy-work handout in third grade, he’d filled in the line, ‘My best friend’s name is ____’ with ‘Daddy.’ It had been true, and he’d asserted that truth, even in the face of ridicule and bullying.

But then, the summer before ninth grade, everything went wonky, all at once. Like he’d gotten up one day that summer and the world was different. His father wanted a particular kind of life for him. Trey had wanted it, too. They’d been working together toward it for years. But that summer, Trey hadn’t wanted to do what his father wanted. He hadn’t even known why not, or what else he’d do. He simply hadn’t wanted what his father wanted. Simply because his father wanted it.

They’d had their first real fight that summer, and then fought all summer, until, the August he turned fourteen, they could hardly be in the same room together for ten minutes without shouting. Trey remembered what that was like—just being sure, in his bones, that he absolutely could not, would not do what his father wanted, but having absolutely no idea why not. Even if it had been something he’d wanted, too—even if it still was something he wanted. It became his mission to find another way to be. He’d seen how it tore his father up, but he couldn’t stop himself. When his father’s frustration had hit it boiling point and he’d begun to ‘lay down the law,’ they’d broken apart.

Almost twelve years later, they’d never again been best friends. The life Trey had chosen, he hadn’t chosen to spite his father, but after years of him acting out of spite, his father couldn’t believe he acted any other way. When Trey joined the Pagano Brothers and moved to the other side of the pews, his father had considered that the highest form of betrayal. He’d almost cut Trey out of the family over it. Trey’s stepmother, and aunts and uncles, had intervened, and after months of strife there had eventually been a truce between them, but some damage seemed permanent.

Trey hadn’t had a best friend, someone to confide in, since middle school, honestly. Since his father had held the title. The only kids he’d ever been able to tolerate, he was related to. He had his family, his cousins, his aunts and uncles, his stepmother—who was the only mom he remembered or needed. His life was full of love and friendship. But he missed his old man.

Who would totally lose his shit when he found out Trey was missing Gessie’s First Communion.

Setting the work cell down, Trey went to his bedroom and picked up his personal. He called his mom’s phone—she was a reliable buffer between Trey and his father, and unfailingly reasonable.

“Hello, sweetheart,” she answered warmly.

“Hi, Misby. How are you this morning?”

“I’m well. You’re calling early. All is well?”

“Uh … I have to work this morning. I’m probably going to miss the breakfast, maybe the Mass, too. I don’t know yet.” He heard her sigh, and guilt poured through the phone into his head. “I’m sorry, Misby.”

“Your father…”

“I know. I’d be there if I could. I want to be there.”

“I know you do. I’ll tell him. I’ll make it right.”

“Thank you. I love you.”

“I love you, too. Be safe.”

“I will be—and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

When he got off the phone, he put his ass in gear to get showered and dressed. You went to Don Nick Pagano’s office in one of only two ways: well dressed, or bound and gagged. Either way, you got there on time.

~oOo~

Pagano Brothers Shipping had gotten its start as a little one-truck operation run by Trey’s great-grandfather. The elder two of his three sons, Beniamino and Lorenzo, had built that little enterprise up into a successful company and built the Pagano Brothers organization on the same foundation. When Beniamino died, Nick, Lorenzo’s son, took over and, with savvy and ruthlessness, increased the power and influence of both.

Trey hailed from the other side of the family. His grandfather, Carlo Sr., had been the third and youngest Pagano brother, and he’d rejected his brothers’ decision to expand their father’s company into illegal trafficking, a decision that was the origin of the Pagano Brothers organization. Instead, Carlo Sr. began a construction company, and their hometown of Quiet Cove had become the base of two separate sides of the family: The Pagano Brothers, and Pagano & Sons. Now Trey’s true uncles, Luca, John, and Joey, ran Pagano & Sons.

Carlo Jr., Trey’s dad and the eldest of Carlo’s six children, had never wanted to work in the family business—like his own son, he’d been a disappointment to his father. He was an architect heading an elite firm in Providence.

Though the two sides remained family and bound together, the separation had always been apparent, all the way down to where they sat for Mass at Christ the King Catholic Church: Carlo Pagano and his family on one side, and Ben and Lorrie Pagano and their families and associates on the other side of the pews. Everyone in Quiet Cove knew exactly who and what all three Pagano brothers were, and everyone respected them all.

But Carlo Sr. had badly wanted his family to stay out of Pagano Brothers business. His oldest son felt the same.

Carlo Sr. had been bitterly disappointed when his youngest son, Joey, had crossed to the other side of the pews, but Joey’s tenure had been cut short by a disabling bullet.

Carlo Jr. had been enraged when his eldest son had crossed over. Trey was now in his third year in the organization and had no plans to leave it.

His father would have to come to terms with his choice.

Trey parked his Audi Q5 at the end of a short row of vehicles he knew: Angie Corti’s Hellcat, Donnie Goretti’s Porsche, and Nick’s Navigator. That was the inner circle.

He checked his watch—still had five minutes to spare, but he didn’t like being the last one in.

With a fresh sense of urgency, he keyed in the access code on the front door; it was Sunday, and the shipping part of the company was closed. In the reception area, Ray, Nick’s driver and bodyguard, sat comfortably on a sleek, black leather chair, reading on a tablet. He looked up as Trey came in, and they shared a nodded greeting as Trey headed straight for the don’s office.

One of the dark double doors was ajar, and Trey pushed it open as he knocked.

The room had a classy décor that told a story of a wealthy, high-level executive with tastes that ran to modern European style: clean lines, dark wood, firm leather, and earth tones. Doodads and knickknacks at a minimum. The wide window overlooked Quiet Cove Harbor, but Nick kept the view obscured with simple, semi-sheer white drapes.

Nick sat on the front edge of his vast desk. Angie and Donnie sat in the two leather chairs that faced the desk. Angie was still dressed as he’d been at Cyclone last night, and he looked like he hadn’t gotten anywhere near a bed in the few hours since they’d left the club.

“Trey. Excellent.” Nick stood and came over, his arms out for their usual quick hug of a greeting.

“Hello, Uncle. If I’m late, I apologize.”

Nick checked the Rolex on his wrist. “You’re not. Donnie and Angie were here with me when I called. Let’s sit.” He gestured to the sofa against the wall, and the hairs on Trey’s neck twitched. Was this meet about him? Had Cyclone gone wrong after all?

Knowing that showing anxiety would tweak Nick’s patience hard, he simply walked with him to the sofa and sat. Donnie and Angie shifted their chairs. Trey focused for a second on Angie; he was most likely to give him goodhearted shit, so if he looked overly serious, Trey would know he was in trouble.

He didn’t—he didn’t look amused, but he wasn’t turning his murder look on him, so whatever was wrong, it wasn’t Trey. That allowed him to let out a surreptitiously held breath.

“You said trouble came up in the middle of the night, Uncle?”

“Yes. I had a call from Frederick Dumas, and I spent the early hours with him in the ER in Providence.”

Frederick Dumas was the Pagano Brothers’ chief finance guy. Trey had done quite a bit of work with Dumas and sometimes had a thought that he’d like his job, when Dumas was done with it. His degree was in international finance, with a minor in information technology.

His father had wanted him to be an architect, or at least an engineer.

“What happened? Is he okay?”

“He’s fine. It was his daughter who was hurt. Lara. They hurt her to get a message to him. You understand why it’s doubly dangerous that they got to Lara.”

Trey nodded. Lara was the brains of the Dumas operation. She was an elite cryptologist and created all the encryptions for Pagano Brothers—not just their financial data, but their job codes, their asset locations, their schedules, everything. She knew everything. Her father was the one with the good financial sense, but otherwise, he just mashed the keys his daughter told him to mash and served as the mature masculine face their business associates trusted.

They’d gone for the daughter to get information from the father, but it was the daughter’s brain where it all was stored.

Trey had met Lara Dumas only once, and from a distance—nothing more than a brusque wave from the other side of a large room. All he knew of her was blonde, slight, and unsmiling. And that her brain should have been about seven sizes bigger than her skull could contain.

“What did they do to her?”

“What they always do to women when they want to hurt the men who care about them.” Nick said that sentence with a dangerous snarl. “Then they turned her out to wander naked in the streets.”

“Jesus. Who did it?”

Nick nodded at Donnie, who pulled his phone from his suit coat pocket, flicked his thumb across the screen a few times, and handed the device to Trey.

He squinted at the screen, trying to make sense of the image on it. That was … skin, wounded skin. Shit, that was a brand. In the angry, livid wound, he could make out the shape that had been burned into someone’s skin—Lara Dumas’s skin. Once he realized that the scar showed the original image in reverse, he saw it: a B capped with a crown.

It was difficult to make out the details in the swollen burn, but Trey knew that if he saw the thing that had made it—a big ring, he guessed—the B would be drawn with flourishes, and the crown would be elaborate as well. “Bondaruk.”

A Ukrainian bratva based in New Jersey. Minor players in the underworld of the Eastern Seaboard, but they’d been making some noise in the past year, attempting to raise their profile.

Nick nodded. “Yes, good eye. Bondaruk.”

“Is this a message to you?”

A surprising hint of a smile lifted Nick’s mouth. “We’re not yet in agreement on that. I don’t think so. I think they’re trying to flip Dumas and had no intention of me finding out until it was too late.”

“I think it’s nuts not to act like it is a message direct to you, don,” Angie said. Though Sam was Nick’s bodyguard and Donnie was his underboss, Angie was their security expert. By nature suspicious, he was the one who saw deepest into the dark corners.

“And we will,” Donnie answered. “But we won’t tip our hand.”

“They go for families,” Angie pushed. “That breaks the code.”

“These Ukie bastards don’t give a shit about our code.”

“Easy, Donnie,” Nick admonished. “I’m not taking any chances with our families, Ange. You know I won’t. But tipping our hand puts everybody at risk.” Nick turned back to Trey. “This is where you come in. I have an assignment for you.”

“Of course.” Trey sat up straighter.

“They’ve shown they can get to Lara, and we have to protect that asset at all costs. I don’t know what kind of pressure she might withstand, and I won’t take the risk they’ll find out that it’s her who has the knowledge and take her again. I need her somewhere secure and under guard. That’s you, Trey.”

His first impulse was to resist the assignment. He hadn’t the first clue how to keep someone hidden, and, setting aside the shooting range, he’d fired his weapon two times in all the time he’d been with organization. Last night was the first time he’d led anything significant, and he’d had Angie right at his side.

But to push back would be to challenge the don’s decision, and no matter what his last name was, he did not have that kind of juice. The other two men in the room were the only men in the organization who could tell Don Pagano to stop and think again. They both seemed on board with this crazy plan, so Trey nodded.

“Tell me what I need to do.”

PB1 paperback cover

© Susan Fanetti 2018

 

 

Summer! Made it!

Freedom car travel concept - woman relaxing

Freedom car travel concept – woman relaxing with feet out of window in cool convertible vintage car. Girl relaxing enjoying free holidays road trip.

Hi!

I just finished my last day of classes for the spring 2018 semester last night! There are still some meetings to survive, and more papers to grade than I want to think about, but summer is so close I can smell the sunscreen!

Who am I kidding? I’m not going to need sunscreen, because I’m going to spend the summer like I always do–writing my fingertips off.

(Actually, the hubs and I are taking a romantic road trip up the Pacific Coast this summer, but I think my need for sunscreen might remain minimal in the Pacific Northwest, lol!)

Since I’ve finished writing everything I’m going to publish for the balance of this year (and I’m about 85K words into a book I’m going to publish in 2019), I thought I’d take a minute to update my release schedule and firm up some deets for you–and talk a little about what’s on deck this summer for writing, and some hints about what you might see beyond that.

So, first: a reminder and firm-up of my plans for the rest of 2018. No more tentative dates; here are the releases still to come this year:

2 June: Fight, The Brazen Bulls MC #6. That’s already been announced, and you can find details here. I’m going to set up the preorder this weekend, so keep an eye out.

14 July: The Pagano Brothers #1 (title and cover to be revealed in June–look for a post introducing the whole series then, too). This is the first book of a mafia romance series, spinning off from the Pagano Family series. Book 1 is Trey Pagano’s book. He’s all grown up now. Heh.

1 September: The Brazen Bulls MC #7 (title and cover to be revealed mid-summer).  I’ll announce which Bull has the lead here when I reveal the cover and title, but if you’ve been reading the series, I hinted at this couple in Honor.

13 October: The Sawtooth Mountains Stories #2. (title and cover to be revealed in September). This is Logan’s story. If you’ve read Somewhere, then you’ve already met his One True Love.

24 November: At the beginning of the year, I told you I wanted to write a Christmas novella, and I wrote one! I’m going to drop this after Thanksgiving–no preorder or anything, just a release. Until then, I’m gonna leave the mystery intact. Like a wrapped package. 😉

As for my summer plans…

Last summer, I used my expansive writing time to stretch my wings into a new genre, and I wrote Aurora Terminus, my post-apocalyptic science fiction novel. This year, I’m going to give another favorite genre, epic fantasy, a whirl. Oh, I love my idea for this one so very much!!! But I’m also freakin’ terrified to try a story on a scale this big. So we’ll see.

I’ve also got another historical romance on deck. And a couple other wing-stretchy projects to dabble around with this summer, if there’s time.

Oh! And I’m gonna read! I have so many cool books on my TBR right now!

Finally, I’ll be in Cincinnati, OH on Saturday, 28 July for the Motorcycles, Mobsters, and Mayhem Event. Check the link for details. If I’ll see you there, you can preorder books for that event here.

Updates on current series:

I’m just about done writing the final book of the Brazen Bulls MC (Book 8), which will come out early in 2019. After that, there’s going to be a bit of a biker lull in my schedule for a while. When the Bulls are done, that will be 27 novels and novellas I’ve written about outlaw bikers in the past 5 years (not to mention all the SOA fanfic I wrote before that), and I’m gonna need to recharge those batteries.

What can you expect in the meantime?

Well, there’s a prequel standalone for Delaney and Mo in the offing eventually, maybe in 2019, but the research on that one has been a bit of a slog, so I’m not ready to commit to it quite yet. Lola is chasing other stories at the moment.

The Sawtooth Mountains series is just getting going, and I can see that series ending up in the 4-6 book range. I love Jasper Ridge almost as much as I love Signal Bend, and there are a few residents there whose story I want to get my hands on.

Same with the Pagano Brothers. I’m only beginning to plumb the dark depths of Nick’s side of the pews, and that world is a place Lola can really slake her bloodthirst, so I expect that series to go 4-6 books as well.

I’ve had a few readers ask if there will be more books in the world of Aurora Terminus. The answer is…maybe. AT has an ending that could be simply the end, or it could branch off into more story. I have ideas for enough story to make a trilogy. But right now, I’m not sure if there will be more.

Though I love it now and think it turned out great, writing AT was absolutely the most difficult, soul-rending, confidence-busting experience of my writing career to date, so I’m not yet ready to leap into that volcano again. AT didn’t really get noticed out in the world, either (mainly because I 100% suck at doing literally anything that would get my work noticed). Selling books is not my primary motivation for writing (were that the case, I’d write nothing but bikers and cowboys), but when I’m facing a painful writing task that I might not enjoy, not selling books doesn’t exactly get my juices flowing, lol.

So, anyway…

I have a few plans for this fall, too (besides the obvious writing, writing, writing–oh, and teaching, teaching, teaching), but other than Penned Con 18 in September, they’re not fixed well enough for me to say much about them, except keep an eye out for more info.

Beyond that, who knows what the future holds!

All I know right now is THANK GOD IT’S (almost) SUMMER! Now, where’s the tequila?

xoxo
s–

 

Summer drinks with blur beach on background

Summer drinks with blur beach on background

COVER REVEAL & PREVIEW! Fight, The Brazen Bulls MC, Book 6

fight digital cover

Hi all!

Today, I’m revealing the title, cover, and synopsis of the next BBMC book, and I have a preview for you as well. I’m also, at the end of this post, including the book’s Author’s Note, which contains a major spoiler. This book kind of needs a content warning.

Fight releases in 6 weeks, on Saturday, 2 June. I’ll set up the preorder a few weeks in advance. You can add it to your Goodreads TBR in the meantime.

Fight is Ox and Maddie’s story, and that makes it a little bit different right off the bat, since Ox and Mads are a long-established couple. There are some other differences as well–for one thing, Ox is the son of a Mexican immigrant, from Yucatán. He has a large and boisterous blood family, and connections to his father’s birthplace and Maya heritage, and all that figures in his story fairly significantly.

I won’t say more about the story right now; down below you can read the synopsis, and Chapter One, and, if you don’t mind a big ol’ spoiler, the Author’s Note, and get all the flavor you need from that. But I will say that I personally love this book. It’s one of my most personal stories, and the act of writing it was deeply emotional and cathartic. It wasn’t an easy write, and it probably won’t be an easy read, but I’m really proud of this one.

2017 was a very good writing year, now that I think about it. I wrote a lot of my best stuff last year. Including this.

Anyway, on to the rest of the reveals. Here’s the synopsis:

Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2000.

Fernando “Ox” Sanchez spent more than two decades as an enforcer in the Brazen Bulls MC before he was named to take the Vice President flash from a brother lost in club turmoil. In the time since, as Ox has settled into the place at their president’s side, the club has cleaned out festering wounds and begun to heal.

The Bulls are strong and growing, their work is expanding, and Ox’s life with his old lady is perfect. Their love has never wavered in fifteen years, their lust for each other still burns hot, and together, they’ve made a home that is a sanctuary from their past and their present.

Life is good. But Ox came from nothing, and scraped for years just to get by. He’s lived long enough to know better than to take the good times for granted.

Madonna “Maddie” Donne met Ox when she was at her lowest, and with him at her side, she’s climbed to heights of success and power matched only by the Bulls. After spending her whole life fighting for survival, she built herself up from that nothing, and Ox offered his shoulders for her to climb on when she couldn’t reach alone.

Together, they’ve built a beautiful life. But that beauty won’t protect them from the fight they’re about to face.

When Ox, named for his size and brute power, takes ill, he and Maddie will need every ounce of strength and resolve, every moment of love and trust, to fight the battle before them now.

Note: explicit sex and violence.

***

And Chapter One:
(Oh! I should point out that, since Ox and Maddie have been together for a long time, they get right down to the good stuff. This last scene of this chapter is very “smexy,” as they say!)

CHAPTER ONE

“Do we need to grow the table?”

At Maverick’s question, Ox scanned the faces around the Brazen Bulls’ table. Ten men sat at that scarred oak with him. Eleven members wasn’t the biggest roster Ox had known, in twenty-five years of association with the club, but they were talking about patching in three prospects at once, and fourteen members would make the roster the biggest in Bulls’ history.

Maverick had raised a good point—the club was in a period of peace, hard-earned, and there was no need for a large table in peacetime. Of course, that kind of thinking could leave the club undermanned should trouble rise up again. They’d been stretched thin, with thirteen members, during the recent war with the Street Hounds, which had come up in the middle of their Tulsa home after a long peace with Northside—stretched so thin they’d nearly lost.

In fact, they were contending with the question of patching in three members at once because they’d taken on three prospects to help fill the gaps as that war had loomed. Back then, they hadn’t had the luxury to consider the question of what they’d do when these men came up at the table all at once.

Another factor, the one that had spurred Maverick’s question, which had come on the heels of Eight Ball asking directly: how much would each patch’s take shrink when it was divided among fourteen men rather than eleven? The officers’ takes were bigger than the others, and all takes were calculated according to seniority and involvement, but everybody would take a hit. The money was rolling in, but three new patches meant a noticeably smaller cut. Not enough to cripple anybody—except possibly Eight Ball, who used up cash like it was toilet paper—but enough for everybody to feel.

But Caleb, Fitz, and Gargoyle had been prospecting for two years. Normally, they considered that the limit—if a prospect hadn’t earned his patch after two years, he washed out. It wasn’t a rule, though. The rule was only that a prospect period was reviewed after two years. Technically, a prospect could keep prospecting if he wasn’t ready.

Still, they’d never let a prospect go much longer, certainly not without hope that his patch was in sight.

And there was more, something the table didn’t know yet. Only the officers knew. Until, Ox assumed, now.

At the head of the table, Delaney patted his kutte absently; he’d given up his unfiltered Camels a couple of months back. He chewed nicotine gum constantly now, but at the table, he really faltered. Ox saw his mood tank as he patted his empty pocket.

Delaney was a different president now than he’d been most of the time Ox had known him. He’d led the club for more than twenty years like a cross between a drill sergeant and a father, with a strong hand and a warm heart, never wavering in his confidence in his sense of rightness and integrity, always willing to hear other ideas.

His integrity hadn’t stumbled, but his confidence had. The last couple of years, since Dane Nielsen’s death, Delaney’s state of mind had darkened. And time, rather than easing the pain of losing his best friend and right hand man, seemed to have infected the wound. Now, he led the club with a palpable weariness and a dwindling sense of joy.

He’d made some bad calls, too.

Ox sat at his right hand, and he wondered, often, whether there was more he could do, should do, to bring Delaney back to the light. But they’d never been best friends. They were close as brothers, loved and trusted each other, but they’d never had the symbiotic bond Delaney and Dane had had. Delaney had tapped Ox for the VP chair because he thought he was the best fit for the job, not because he felt especially close to him.

There was much Delaney didn’t share with Ox. Personal, interior things he might have shared with a best friend.

His need for a smoke unsatisfied, Delaney scowled at Maverick. “Let’s get to the point that was first on my agenda, before Gunner brought up the prospects. Got a call from Irina. She wants to expand her reach into the west. Add a new route straight west, with a customer pickup in Bakersfield.”

Beside Ox, Apollo jerked up straight. “D, that’s…shit, that’s something like fifteen hundred miles. She wants us to manage that? Longest run we have now is Galveston, and that’s a third the distance.”

“Longest run we’re in charge of is to Canada,” Ox corrected him. “We hand off at Lincoln, but we’re responsible for the Riders all the way to the border. That’s a thousand miles. We brought them in, so Irina sees them as our subcontractors.”

“We’d have to ‘subcontract’ another club to get a fifteen-hundred mile run done,” Simon mused. “How often would this new route run?”

“Once a quarter,” Delaney answered. “Four times a year.”

Gunner laughed. “Fuck me. That’ll have us running Russian shit about once a month.”

Running guns for the Volkov bratva was by far their riskiest work. Every time they escorted a truckload of her wares, they ran the risk of getting caught up in a legal snare. In Tulsa, they were fairly safe; the club had highly-placed friends throughout the city government. In the whole state of Oklahoma, they faced little risk. But once they crossed state lines, the risk skyrocketed.

It was also by far their most lucrative work. All the Bulls had earned sizeable stacks of cash over the years of their partnership with Irina Volkov.

“We get paid a cut of the take and a transport fee by the mile, right? Same deal as the other runs?” Eight Ball asked. He could always be counted on to see the green first.

Delaney nodded. “That’s right.”

“And if we say no?” Maverick asked. He could always be counted on to shoot darts at Delaney’s plans.

Their president didn’t answer, except for what could be read in the lines on his furrowed brow.

After a silence so heavy and alive it thrummed, Delaney went on, leaving Maverick’s question without a voiced answer. “Alexei will come out, and we’ll hammer out the details face to face. The new run won’t start until we’ve got the route scouted. Simon’s right. We’ll need to bring another club on board—”

“At least one,” Maverick cut in.

Delaney’s scowl deepened, but he nodded. “At least one, yeah. I assume, Mav, you’re about to call for a vote?”

Maverick raised his head and lowered it, one time, slowly, and Delaney sighed.

“Do we agree to take on the Volkovs’ new run, or do we refuse and accept the consequences? Aye takes the work. Aye.”

It was eight to three in favor of the work. Maverick, Simon, and Gunner voted against it. Ox thought that was bullshit—they had the luxury of standing on principle because they knew the majority would go the other way. Everybody knew that the consequences of refusing Irina would be dire, and the vote was more formality than not. As far as Ox was concerned, a nay vote under these circumstances was a hairsbreadth from disloyal.

“Now,” Delaney said, breathing a bit more calmly, “we can take on the question of the prospects. Sponsors, are your men ready?”

Gunner was Caleb’s sponsor. Caleb had been prospecting a couple of weeks longer than Gargoyle or Fitz. He was the first to respond. “Yeah. Caleb’s ready. And it looks like we need the bodies after all.”

Eight Ball, Gargoyle’s sponsor, nodded. “Yeah. I’m not keen on a bigger split, but Gun’s right. If we’re gonna take on another run, we need them. Gargo’s a weird son of a bitch, but he’s tough and loyal, so yeah, he’s ready.”

“Same for Fitz,” Becker said. He grinned. “Not the weird, but the ready.”

“Alright, then,” Delaney said. “Let’s vote. Caleb. Aye.”

They went around the table three times, and all three votes were unanimous, as was required to seat a new patch at the table.

“Alright. We got us three new members. Simon, get the patches. Ox, bring the boys in.”

While Simon went to the safe at the far corner of the room, Ox went around the table and opened the door to the clubhouse. “PROSPECTS!” he shouted. “Get your asses in here, shitheads! NOW!”

Caleb stood behind the bar. He looked appropriately scared. “All of us? What’d we do?”

“DID I FUCKING STUTTER?” Behind him, the patches at the table coughed back their laughter. Ox didn’t have trouble stifling his own smile. He fucking loved scaring the shit out of prospects, and he especially loved the way this particular event had returned the table to its rightful goodwill.

Caleb flew out from behind the bar. Fitz ran from the kitchen. Gargoyle came last, up from the basement. Not taking his time, but not running, either. He was older than the others and not as easy to freak out.

When all the prospects were in the chapel, lined up behind the end of the table, Ox sat back down. The three men stood there, in varying stages of anxiety, while the patches at the table glared.

Delaney crossed his arms. “Sponsors, stand the fuck up and account for these assholes.”

This was all ritual, a performance the patches had each experienced themselves. Gunner, Becker and Eight Ball got up and stood behind their prospects. They each had a Brazen Bulls MC patch tucked inside their kutte.

Eight Ball moved more slowly that the others. Several months back, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, he’d laid his bike down on a Texas highway and spent months out of commission. His left leg now was a reconstructed mass of skin and muscle grafts, and not a pretty sight. He’d never be the same, and he’d never walk without a pronounced limp or move more quickly than that hitching gait, but he was back in the saddle again.

When Caleb tried to turn to his sponsor, Gunner slapped him upside the head. “Eyes front, meat.” Caleb’s head swung forward again, so fast that his long hair lifted off his shoulders.

When the prospects were fidgeting with tension, Delaney said, “What say you, sponsors?”

As one, the sponsors yelled “Aye!” and slapped the Bulls patches against the prospects’ backs. Almost as one, the prospects jumped. Caleb yipped out a chopped-off yell. Even Gargoyle jumped.

“Congratulations, brothers. Welcome to the table,” Delaney said, and the old patches stood up and cheered.

No matter what kind of shit had come up at the table, it was always a celebration when they named a new brother. Or three.

~oOo~

Ox grinned when he saw Maddie’s Porsche 911 in the driveway. He’d left the clubhouse while she was still at Signet Models, and yet she’d beaten him home. His old lady had missed her calling; she should have been on the NASCAR circuit.

He’d left the club still celebrating their new patches and didn’t feel at all guilty about it. They’d do the real party on the weekend, anyway, and tonight, the only celebration would be three young guys getting their rocks off every way they could. That would happen at the party, too, but there’d be more people around to dilute the obnoxiousness of it all.

Ox was getting old, no doubt about it. These days, when he could see fifty waiting up ahead, all that party-hearty bullshit was just that: bullshit. As much as he loved his brothers, hanging out at the clubhouse had lost its appeal even before the nastiness with the Street Hounds. If he wasn’t on the road, he preferred to be home.

Parking his bike on the driveway beside his woman’s little hotrod, Ox opened the garage overhead and walked past his truck and the covered corpse of his old 1950 Indian Chief. He’d restored that thing not long after he’d gotten his own patch, and he’d ridden it as his main bike for a while, which had been fucking stupid. He’d dropped it on a no-lane road out in the sticks, fuck, twenty years ago? Before he’d met Maddie. Wrecked a classic bike and fucked up his back, which had vexed him ever since.

Someday, he was going to put that Chief back together. Maddie didn’t really believe him anymore, after all these years, but she didn’t bitch about the hulking ghost taking up a slot in their three-car garage. She used her slot only in bad weather, anyway; she lacked the patience to pull it in and out of the garage. She liked to go fast in everything she did.

He went in through the garage door, which opened into a short hallway between the den and the huge, largely unused, kitchen. Maddie stood there, leaning on her hip at the end of the hallway, a glass of red wine in one beautiful hand, and a glass of tequila in the other.

“Hi, boo,” she purred.

God, she was beautiful. She could see fifty, too, not much more distant from it than he was, but whereas he looked every day of his age and more, she looked fifteen years younger. He liked her best as she was right now—all her jewelry off, her stilettos kicked away, her silk blouse untucked from her leather skirt, leaning on the wall in their house, holding a drink for him. His successful businesswoman home for a night relaxing together.

The danger and upheaval they survived, the turmoil and drama they tolerated, it was all for this.

“Hey, nena.” As he took his glass, he bent down and kissed her, tasting her wine on her tongue. “Good day?”

“Normal. You?” She held out the hand he’d emptied when he’d taken his glass, and he shrugged out of his kutte and handed it to her.

“Patched in the prospects.”

Maddie arched up an elegant eyebrow. “All three?” She hung his kutte on the back of a chair in the breakfast area.

“Yep.” He swallowed his tequila, letting the warm silk pour down his throat until the glass was empty. Then he set it on the table. As he untied his knife sheath from his thigh, he added, “Looks like the Russian work is expanding. Smells good in here, by the way.”

“I ordered from Jasmine Dream. Got here right before you did. Expanding how?”

Maddie didn’t cook, but she was a master takeout-orderer. She could get meals from restaurants that didn’t normally do takeout, and she could sometimes even get delivery from places that didn’t deliver or do takeout. Whatever they were in the mood for, she could get it in their house.

Ox loathed eating in restaurants. He had to do it plenty on the road, and he did not want to eat in public when he didn’t have to. Maddie loved eating out, the more posh and pampering the better, but she’d learned to do it with her friends instead.

When they wanted a homemade meal, Ox cooked.

“Thai sounds perfect. We’re adding a run to California.” He pulled his sheath off his belt and set it on the table beside his empty glass, and fastened his belt again.

Finishing her wine, Maddie picked up his glass and went to the liquor shelf in the kitchen. “California? You’re kidding.”

“I’m not. Nothing’s set up yet. We got a lot to do to get it ready. It’ll be months yet.” He sat down and pulled off his boots. Something in his back pulled, and he winced but held back a grunt. Something was always bitching in his back. He was getting old, and he’d lived a hard life. From when he was small.

His Mexican father had immigrated to the US after World War II; he’d married an Anglo girl in Texas, and they’d run north from her outraged father. They’d made their way to Tulsa, and they’d cobbled together a rocky living from seasonal farm work, odd jobs, and whatever charity or assistance they could get, mostly from the Church. Except for knocking up a girl before marriage, his father had been strictly Catholic and strictly traditional. Ox was the third of eight children. Like his older siblings and the two that had followed next after him, he’d dropped out of school after eighth grade and gone to work in the fields to help keep his family sheltered and fed.

So yeah, he had a lot of aches and pains. A new one barely deserved notice.

Maddie brought over his refreshed glass. “I don’t know, boo. I’m worried.” She smoothed her hand over his short-shorn head. “California is a lot of state lines to cross.”

Some patches kept their women in the dark about club business, but Ox’s old lady wasn’t the kind of woman who tolerated secrets and ignorance, and he didn’t like them, either. From the start, they’d been open with each other about what went on when they weren’t together.

Ox took the glass and pulled his woman between his legs. “You know we can’t say no to Irina.”

Her pretty mouth made an irritated twist. “You know, I worked my ass off to get to a place where there was nobody in my life I couldn’t say no to. I got rid of my pimp, but I’m stuck with yours.”

“Hey, Mads, come on. We’re not gonna fight about this, right? That’s not what I want to do.” He drank his second tequila and set the glass aside again, freeing up his hands to undo the buttons on her blouse. “You’re wearing my favorite bra.” He flipped the sides of her blouse away and cupped her gorgeous tits in his hands. Such a contrast of his brown, battered mitts on her silky, sheer bra and fair skin, both the same pale tone. Her nipples beaded up against his palms, and he took one hand away and replaced it with his mouth, savoring the pink sweetness.

She moaned, and her hands dropped to his head. “Dinner’ll get cold.”

“I like cold Thai.” He stood, ignoring the twinge in his back and the creak in his knees, and pulled his woman to their bedroom.

~oOo~

Their bedroom was Ox’s favorite room in the house. He was proud of the whole building; he’d grown up sharing one of two bedrooms in his parents’ tiny rental shack with three brothers, his three sisters had shared the other bedroom, and his parents and the youngest brother had slept on a fold-out sofa in the front room. His entire, enormous family had shared one bathroom. This three-thousand-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bath, ten-room house in a style he’d learned was called ‘Tudor’ was like some kind of lord’s estate to him, and in the first year after he and Maddie had bought it, he’d roamed the rooms in the night, trying to understand how he’d managed to live in such a place, and strummed with anxiety that it would be taken away. He loved the whole damn thing. Even the leaky basement.

But the bedroom—that was the best. Though they lived alone, it was this room that felt truly private, and, thus, truly comfortable. Maddie had chosen the décor here, as in every room, according to her taste, and that was fine with Ox. He hadn’t really developed any taste growing up, so glomming on to hers had been easy. Now, after living here for several years, he could say that he shared her taste—big pieces of dark furniture, rich colors on the walls and fabrics, no fussy clutter. But a lot of plants. Maddie had a green thumb, and there were big tropical leafy things in every room. Even the bathrooms.

In this room, which itself had almost half the square footage of his parents’ whole shack, Ox’s favorite thing was the bed. King-size, four poster, ebony wood, heaped with soft linens and pillows. They’d had it custom-made to stand at exactly the right height so that Ox could stand his six-foot-six-inch body against the mattress and fuck his wife from behind. Maddie had to do a little hop to climb on at night.

He loved that thing almost as much as he loved his bike.

As he led his woman into the bedroom, she shook her hand free of his and went to her dressing area. He followed, and caught her hands as she moved to push her blouse off her shoulders. Their eyes met in the mirror, and she dropped her hands. The framing rows of round, pinkish light bulbs glowed in her clever grey eyes.

Ox’s palms and fingers were rough, but he’d learned long ago how to handle her dainty things without snagging them with his clumsy clubs. He pulled the silk back and down, letting it wisp over her skin until it floated past her fingers. Leaning around her, he draped the blouse over the back of her chair.

She stood still, her chest rising softly with each deep breath, and watched him in the mirror.

He skimmed his sandpaper palms up her bare arms, from her wrists to her shoulders, and then paused there to knead the muscles at her neck. When she moaned and dropped her head forward, Ox smiled.

“Watch me, nena,” he murmured, leaning close to her ear. “See me claim what’s mine.”

Under the transparent silk of her bra, her nipples tightened to hard pink knots. Maddie lifted her head and met his eyes in their reflection again.

Now that she was watching, he brushed his fingertips down her spine and unfastened her bra. She didn’t move, but let him ease the straps from her shoulders and push the silk away, until he could drop it to the floor at the foot of her chair.

Again, he swept his hands up her arms to her shoulders; this time, he pushed them forward, down her chest, over her tits, and swirled his fingers around points of tender flesh gathered tightly. In the mirror, he watched his hands and saw her eyes watching, too. She bit down on her bottom lip.

“Ox…”

He took his hands away. “Shhh. You don’t talk.”

She closed her mouth, and her eyes.

Kissing his way down her spine, letting his tongue dawdle over his flame between her shoulder blades, Ox worked himself to his knees. He undid the hook and zipper of her leather skirt and pushed it from her hips, catching the slender sides of her thong as well. It matched her bra, the same creamy, see-through silk. Maddie’s underthings always matched. He pushed skirt and thong down to the floor. She stood still until he wrapped a hand around one of her graceful ankles, then she shifted so he could lift her foot and pull her clothes free.

This was who they were in this favorite room: Maddie was his, and she gave herself up to him, put herself in his hands. To some it might seem strange, that a woman who’d spent twenty years, from the time she was thirteen, working with her legs spread, doing the sexual bidding of an abusive pimp and every john who had the rate, would, now that she was free of that and in charge of her own life, wish to submit, but it made sense to Ox. She got off on being able to trust him, on knowing that his sexual desires were about her pleasure and not her pain. On being able to give freely what had once been bought and paid for or just plain taken.

Kneeling behind her, still clothed while she was now fully bare, Ox wrapped his arms around her hips and pressed his mouth to one of the round scars on her firm, shapely ass. A cluster of three dark, rough circles—cigar burns. She had two more on her belly, from another of her pimp’s ‘corrections.’ And a ruched scar at the top of her inner thigh, all the way to her pussy; the same pimp had tried to rape her with a butcher knife when she’d made her break for freedom.

Ox had very much enjoyed breaking that bastard’s bones until he could fit into a footlocker. He was buried in that box inside the concrete foundation of an office building downtown. As far as Ox knew, he’d still been alive when he’d sunk into the soft cement.

He’d killed more men, but none had ever been so satisfying.

When Ox loved on his woman, he loved on her scars, testaments to her toughness and spirit.

Working his way up to his feet, pushing back the pain in his knees, he stood behind Maddie again, head and shoulders taller than she. With his arms around her, he bent his head to her shoulder and kissed the knob of bone there. He trailed kisses to her neck, to her ear, and whispered, “What do you want tonight, nena? What do you need?”

“You, just you.”

“Just me?” He smoothed his palm over her sleek belly. “What do you want from me?”

“Your cock. Your beautiful cock.”

He brushed his nose through the tickling silk of her short blonde hair, taking in the tropical linger of her shampoo and styling gel. “What will you do for me if I give you what you want?”

She knew the answer; it was always the answer. “I’ll come for you.”

“When I say you can.” He pushed his fingers between her legs, over the smooth, hairless flesh at the heart of her. She was hot enough to scald him and wet enough to ease the burn. As he slid over her clit and into her, she moaned and trembled in his arms. “Not until I say.”

“Not until you say,” Maddie echoed on a breath.

He removed his hand and led her to the bed. “Up you go, and on your knees. Ass up.”

While she climbed up on their perfect bed and got into position, Ox yanked off his shirt and shoved out of his jeans. She was ready for him by the time he was as naked as she was; he fed himself into her, sliding easily into her scorching sheath, and grabbed her hips in the coarse mallets that were his hands.

Fifteen years. Thousands of fucks. It didn’t matter. Time between them was endless and immaterial. As well as they knew each other, as well as they knew the dances of their foreplay, the moves of their bodies, the places of their greatest pleasure, their intimacy had never grown routine. Each time with his old lady was better than any time he’d had with anyone before her. Every time his body and hers joined, his world rocked.

He thrust into her, picking up the drumbeat of their familiar rhythm. Each time he slammed against her, she grunted, the sound high-pitched and plaintive, each one like an extra stroke along his aching cock. When those high grunts became squeaks, he knew she was struggling to hold back, to do his bidding and wait to come. Struggling himself, the hot pool of need at the base of his gut catching flame, he held himself off, driving her to desperation.

Not until she flailed on the mattress, her head turning back and forth, those gorgeous grunting squeaks becoming the word please bursting out on every breath, not until his own body had tightened like a spring, did Ox relent. Still pounding into her, sweat seeping from his brow into his eyes, he leaned forward and slid his hands under her shoulders. He dragged her up until her back crashed into his chest. With one arm across her body, that hand gripping a tit, and his other hand shoved between her legs, over her clit, Ox worked Maddie with everything he had, until she screamed her pleas to the ceiling and her hands clawed at his arms.

“Please, Ox! Fuck, please let me come!”

“When I say,” he growled at her ear, tearing the words out through his clenched teeth. “You. Are. Mine.”

As always, those three words at her ear drove her need to its final frenzy, and as her nails dragged ridges into his arms, he said, “Go, nena. Show me.”

She exploded almost at once and went wild in his arms, her release washing over him as he kept up all his frantic attentions, chasing after her body that would no longer do his bidding. He let go of his own reins, too, and got slammed by his own climax just as she began to settle. His hoarse shout and tense clench drove her back up for another bump of fresh pleasure, and then he fell forward, dropping them both back to their sumptuous bed.

They lay in a heaving heap, her legs hooked back around his hips, his legs drooping off the end of the mattress.

“Love you, boo,” Maddie gasped, her voice muffled by the comforter.

Te amo, nena,” Ox answered. “You hungry?”

***

And finally, the Author’s Note. WARNING! SPOILERS!

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If you’re a reader like me, who wants to go into every book blind and experience the story without any preparation or protection, even if that means unexpectedly feeling raw pain, then you shouldn’t read this note. Just jump to Chapter One.

If you’re a reader for whom certain topics might trigger traumatic response, or who simply prefers to be girded before encountering hard topics, or who wishes to avoid them entirely, this note is for you, and will include certain specific spoilers for the story ahead.

I’ll wait before I proceed, while you decide whether you’d like to read this note.

Okay, now that I’m talking only to readers who don’t mind spoilers…

The trigger I’m warning you about here is terminal cancer.

In some way, every book I’ve written, from bikers to Vikings, contains a little part of me. Not only in the way that all books contain a piece of their writer, but in my own history and specific experiences. That’s not so unusual, either, of course. In my case, sometimes it’s a fairly subtle inclusion—a character who thinks like I do, for example, or looks like someone I know. But other times, I give a character an important piece of my history or personality. Cory’s unstructured parenting. Lilli’s Italian heritage (though I’m not fully Italian) and love of cooking. (And, of course, the whole Pagano Family, too.) Rad’s favorite exclamation. Sadie’s secret self-harm box. Carmen’s tendency to blow shit up when she gets scared. Theo’s professorship. Solveig’s self-doubt. Sid’s college rape. And so on.

Ox has a deeply important part of my own history, in several layers. The story of his father’s cancer is largely the story of my father’s cancer, all the way to the ages Ox was when it was diagnosed and when his father died. Ox’s decision about how he would respond should he ever be diagnosed with cancer himself, and how that decision, when he is faced with it, is complicated by love and obligation to others, is my own (though I haven’t had to face that diagnosis). His experiences with his own treatment reflect my experiences watching my father contend with his treatment.

Ox is alive at the end of this story, and he and Maddie are in a good place, content and at peace, wrapped up in their love. But even so, I’m not labeling this book a romance, because when it ends I know, you will know, and more importantly they know, quite clearly, that Ox won’t be alive much longer. Their happiness is thus too bittersweet and obviously fleeting, even for my own rather liberal interpretation of the genre guidelines for romance.

I’ve written about terminal cancer before, in Today & Tomorrow. That was a story about a young life flowering to fullness, finding fulfillment and new love in the brief moments before its untimely end.

This is a story about a mature life lived fully, and a deep, long-term love coming to terms with the time of parting.

Maybe because it’s so close to the rending loss of my father, I cried harder and more often—big, ugly, shirt-soaking tears—writing this book than any other book I’ve written, and I needed several days to recover before I could start the next thing. But those tears were cathartic and ultimately deeply satisfying. I’ve found myself returning again and again to read Ox and Maddie’s story. It’s full of love and strength and peace, and even hope.

It’s also full of family, both club and blood, and important things happen in the Brazen Bulls as well. So this book is not a “Byway” or a “Side Trip” or anything else that suggests it’s a pull-off on the series’ road. It’s not Book “5.5.” This is Book 6 because it is an integral part of the series. If you choose to skip it, but continue on with subsequent books in the series, you might need to ask someone for a recap of club events in the book so you can keep up. I’ve written Books 7 and 8, and I’ve done my best to include that recap myself in Book 7, within the context of that story.

I want to be clear, so you know what you’re getting into: though it’s also sweet and sexy (these two are seriously smoking hot, actually), though there’s club action and deep friendship, this isn’t a book with a difficult chapter or two. A lot of this story focuses on Ox’s illness and how it changes his and Maddie’s life together. This is a book about finding peace in the certainty of dying, and finding strength when you know you’ll lose the one you love most in the world.

I’m proud of this story. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve written, and not simply because it’s intensely personal to me. Ox and Maddie’s love gives me hope, and their strength makes me feel strong.

I hope you’ll join me here, at the end of their journey.

xoxo
Susan

© 2017 Susan Fanetti

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Aurora Terminus is LIVE!!

 

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Aurora Terminus, my (zombie-free) post-apocalyptic novel, went live today! It’s available for Kindle and other platforms. Paperbacks will be available soon as well.

You might notice that I’m using a different variation of my name for this. I decided to do that since this is a different genre (there’s definitely a love story, but it’s not the focus of the book). I have social media set up as S.E. Fanetti and I had to set up a Goodreads account in that name as well. If you’re of a mind, I’d love to get some likes on those accounts.

I hope you enjoy Aurora Terminus. It was a wild ride to write it.

And if you’re here for the bikers, the sixth book of the Brazen Bulls MC is my next release. I’ll have more details about it soon!

Cheers!
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