Crash is LIVE!

crash-1

Meet the Bulls! Crash is now live everywhere. 

Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1995.

Conrad “Radical” Jessup, Sergeant at Arms of the Brazen Bulls Motorcycle Club, has life just about where he wants it: he’s free of a bad marriage, and his club is cruising along healthy and strong, their business relationships as solid as their brotherhood. He’s a contented man, riding his road at his speed.

Until a massive highway wreck brings a blonde on a little sportster crashing into his life.

Willa Randall is making a new life in Tulsa, working hard to put a demolished past in her rearview mirror. Trying to keep herself safe, she’s built a life insulated by locks and walls. Inside those walls, she’s alone, but she feels secure, and that’s enough.

Until a big, tattooed biker holds out his hand and helps her up from the pavement.

A love seeded in chaos grows fast and deep. But when chaos is a constant, can any love endure?

Links:

Amazon

B&N

iTunes

Kobo

And if you’re old school, the paperback is live on CreateSpace. It’ll be live elsewhere…whenever they get around to it.🙂

Enjoy!

s–

Love & Friendship: A Signal Bend Byway, Part One

lf-cover-p1

As promised, here’s the first installment of Love & Friendship: love-friendship-p1

A reminder: This novella develops a story that happens between two characters in the background of Nolan: Return to Signal Bend. If you haven’t read the entire Night Horde MC saga, then this novella is a major spoiler for it, and you should stop reading right now if you care about such things.

Moreover, if you have read the saga and weren’t happy with the development of which I speak (and I feel confident you know what I’m talking about), then you can skip this novella without compromising your understanding of the Night Horde stories as a whole. This takes place completely within the Nolan timeline.

Spoilers coming now….

Right now…

Okay, you’ve been warned…

Love & Friendship begins on the Thanksgiving immediately after Bart’s return to Signal Bend, so this Part One opens on a downbeat note. His grief is still fresh and raw. This novella is as much about Bart and his kids’–and Cory and her kids’–healing as it is about the love that grows between them.

Though eventually there is an explicit love scene, there is only one, very late in the novella. This is not an erotic read. It’s a story of love growing from friendship.

I hope you enjoy. Part Two is coming on Sunday, 4 December.

Happy Holidays!
s

The Pagano Family: The Complete Series

pagano-box-set-promo

If you celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, or if it was just a Thursday, I hope you had a calm, contented, and safe day.

This is just a quick post to let you know that I’ve released a digital “box set” of The Pagano Family series. If you haven’t read the Paganos, or if you know someone who might enjoy this saga of an Italian-American family living on the coast of Rhode Island (and the people who love them), this set is a good deal on the series.

Links:
Amazon
Elsewhere (links to Kobo now, to iTunes and B&N as soon as they go live)
Goodreads page

Have a great weekend!
xoxo
s–

The Brazen Bulls MC: New Series—Book One Cover Reveal & Teaser!

bulls-patch-leather-weathered

Susan here. I’m giving up the little gimmick of writing my posts here in the voice of Lola, my muse. That play has lost its appeal for me. Besides, after almost two years, the place was due for a little restyling.

As I mentioned during the FCP’s Sturgis Week celebration back in August, I’ve begun a new MC romance series: The Brazen Bulls MC. Today, I’m revealing the cover and synopsis for the first book, Crash, and offering the first chapter as a teaser.

Crash will release on Saturday, 3 December 2016. The preorder will be up around the middle of November.

In the meantime, you can add it to your tbr on Goodreads.

crash-paperback

If you’ve read the Night Horde series (Signal Bend and Night Horde SoCal), then you probably recognize the name of the club. The Brazen Bulls are allies of the Horde, and this series occurs in the same world as the Horde series do (actually, all my series occur in the same world, even my Vikings).

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about whether I’ll write more about the Horde, either a series about the next generation in Signal Bend, or about the new Montana charter of the club. My answer is: probably not. The timeline of the Horde saga is too far in the future from us for the stories to go any farther forward, at least not until we here in the real world have caught up a few years. But I can go backward, and once that occurred to me, I really liked the idea and found a rich field of story potential.

It’s been a big heap of fun writing about the kinda-near past. Remember a time when we didn’t carry the whole world of information and everyone we know around with us everywhere, in our pockets? I know—the olden days! How did we manage?

This new series begins in 1995, when the Bulls are early in their alliance with the Horde. The Bulls you meet in the Horde stories are young patches here, and the Horde will be secondary, recurring characters throughout the series. You’ll get glimpses of Isaac, Showdown, and Len as young patches, and you’ll meet Big Ike and see his relationship with his son. You’ll catch glimpses of Tasha and her dad, too.

And, of course, you’ll meet the whole Nineties roster of the Bulls, starting with their SAA: Rad.

I hope you dig the Bulls!

Cheers!

s—

PS: Little bit of cool/disturbing trivia: The Brazen Bull is a medieval torture device. The victim was sealed up in the belly of a large brass or bronze bull, and a fire was stoked under its belly, cooking the victim to death. Smoke—and screams—came up through the bull’s mouth and nose, which were connected to the belly through pipes intended to turn the sound of screams into the bellows of a bull. Here’s the Wikipedia page.

So, you know, as outlaw MC names go, I’m gonna call it pretty damn badass.

brazen_bull

Here’s the synopsis for Crash:

Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1995.

Conrad “Radical” Jessup, Sergeant at Arms of the Brazen Bulls Motorcycle Club, has life just about where he wants it: he’s free of a bad marriage and his club is cruising along healthy and strong, their business relationships as solid as their brotherhood. He’s a contented man, riding his road at his speed.

Until a massive highway wreck sends a blonde on a little sportster crashing into his life.

Willa Randall is making a new life in Tulsa, working hard to put a demolished past in her rearview mirror. Trying to keep herself safe, she’s built a life insulated by locks and walls. Inside those walls, she’s alone, but she feels secure, and that’s enough.

Until a big, tattooed biker holds out his hand and helps her up from the pavement.

A love seeded in chaos grows fast and deep.

But when chaos is a constant, can any love endure?

And a little taste:

CHAPTER ONE

The plate clattered to the table before him, and he scowled down at it. His order of blueberry pie with a scoop looked like someone else had chewed it first and hocked it back onto the plate. He was pretty sure he saw a froth of spit swimming in with the melting ice cream.

He looked around the table at the picture-perfect slices of fruit pie before his brothers, each topped with a pretty ball of vanilla ice cream. Delaney’s even had a little sprig of mint or something.

He lifted his eyes to the waitress still standing at his side. “Come on, Kay Ann…”

She gave him a blatantly insincere smile, then shifted her attention to the full table. “Y’all let me know if there’s anything else you need.” As she shimmied off in her blue polyester uniform, the men at the table who didn’t have a plate full of garbage broke into raucous laughter.

“What the fuck you do to her, Rad?”

Conrad ‘Radical’ Jessup, Sergeant at Arms of the Brazen Bulls MC and notorious enforcer, glared at his brother Becker’s grinning gob and shoved the heavy china plate away. “Not a damn thing.” Becker was a smug young asshole. He needed some time in the ring, Rad thought. A little seasoning.

“I’m gettin’ a picture that her story’s different.”

He had no doubt. But shit, the chick was a waitress at a truck stop just south of Dallas, on I-45. The Bulls landed here maybe six-eight times a year, tops. So what if he’d been banging Kay Ann pretty regular the last two years or so, when they were here for a night or a few hours? So what if last time they’d come through he’d wanted a change and taken on the new little brunette—whatshername? Kay Ann was a good fuck and a sweet girl, but shit. Nobody had any claim on anybody. He’d’ve been fine if she’d spread for one of his brothers.

Spending the night at her place that last time with her had been a big fucking mistake. He’d known it at the time. Rad loved women, but since his—nasty, expensive—divorce three years before, he steered clear of romantic entanglements. But he’d been tired and beat up—and, yeah, feeling lonely and sorry for himself—and Kay Ann had offered him comfort. He’d been weak and taken her comfort, and now he wasn’t getting her pie.

It was possible that he’d gone for the little brunette the next time on purpose; Rad was self-aware enough to realize he might have been looking for a reset after that night at Kay Ann’s. When he’d woken in her bed, with her snuggled on his chest and purring like a cat. Definitely needed a reset.

It was also possible he was an asshole. His ex, among others, would say that was a certified guarantee.

He fucking hated being called an asshole.

Delaney, their president, sliced his fork into his flaky piece of pie and took an appreciative bite. Around the mouthful of berry and crust, he said, “What do I say, brother? I say it all the fuckin’ time.”

“One chick to a roost,” about six of the men at the table chimed in. Delaney’s big wisdom: outside the clubhouse, never bang two chicks who know each other.

Rad flipped them all the bird and poured himself another cup of coffee from the carafe Kay Ann had left on the table. He didn’t really want pie, anyway.

He was in too damn good a mood to let a bitch’s hissy get him down. He wasn’t looking to get his knob polished today—they were planning a straight shot home this run and only stopping here to refuel body and bike.

The Bulls were on their way back from a charity run and rally in Houston, and they were all in high spirits. They’d been riding in a massive formation with other friendly clubs, and the occasional solo rider or couple of buddies. Clubs didn’t mind some civilians in their midst on runs like this, as long as they kept their manners and didn’t get tangled up inside different club formations or try to showboat. Bikers respected each other, sporting colors or not, until that respect was broken.

The diner here at Ethel’s Fuel & Food was nearly packed, and Rad guessed more than half of the clientele was affiliated. Several of the clubs they’d been riding with had pulled off with them—he saw patches from the Night Horde, the Priests, the Vikings, and a couple others the Bulls didn’t work with much or at all. As they’d been eating, more bikers had come in, wearing colors or just carrying their helmets. The Houston rally pulled people internationally, from Mexico and Canada both. They’d just spent three glorious days partying hard with friends from all over.

The clubs taking this route home to points east would all probably stick more or less together as far as Tulsa, where the Bulls called home, and the rest would break off onto different interstates and keep on rolling.

As Rad finished his third cup of coffee—he was going to have to drain the pipe before they hit the road—and his brothers finished their pie, Big Ike Lunden, president of the Night Horde MC in Missouri, came up to the table.

The Horde was a piddly-ass club in the middle of bumfuck nowhere. They ran a tiny town that was dying on the vine, and they shouldn’t have been of any account to the Bulls or anybody else. But Delaney and Lunden went back some kind of way, and he’d convinced the club to bring the Horde into some business, to help them keep their club—and, apparently their whole damn town—afloat.

Rad didn’t like it much. Lunden was a sour son of a bitch who ran his two-bit club like his own personal kingdom. Way too goddamn big for his boots.

Delaney saw Big Ike coming and wiped his mouth before he stood and held out his hand. “Hey, Ike.”

Ike grabbed his hand and shook. “D. We’re headin’ out. Wanted a proper handshake if we don’t see ya on the road. And I want to thank you again.”

Even on fun runs, some business always got done. This time, the officers had met with Kirill Volkov to finalize changes to their gun routes, and Delaney and Dane, the Bulls VP, had met with Big Ike and Reg, the Horde VP, to pull them in on some of the transport work.

“Always help a brother out, you know that.”

They embraced, and Ike nodded at the rest of the Bulls collectively. “Fellas.”

They all nodded and muttered vague pleasantries back. The rest of Lunden’s small club were standing, hanging back a few steps; when Big Ike headed toward the door, his men followed in a line, nodding to the Bulls and other riders they knew as they walked out. Lunden’s son, Little Ike, brought up the rear, as far from his old man as he could be.

That kid was young, not long patched, but not remotely little. Rad figured ‘Little Ike’ for a good six and a half feet, maybe more, and he carried lots of muscle on that tall, broad frame. He was near twice the size of his old man.

The vibe between those two had never been warm. When Delaney had started throwing work the Horde’s way a couple of years back, Rad had protested—he was concerned that so much obvious venom between the king and the prince could only mean instability in the club as a whole, which was a dangerous risk in outlaw work, but Delaney knew them better, knew Big Ike well, and insisted that the boy would toe his father’s line.

In Houston, Rad had made note of the new, nasty red scar that climbed up half the kid’s face, from his mouth to his temple. He’d also noted the way Big Ike looked at it, and he wondered if that scar hadn’t been Little Ike getting his toes dragged back where they belonged.

Rumor had it that Big Ike was damn loose with his fists in his family. Some even said he’d killed his wife.

Not that that was any of Rad’s business. But he’d had a hard father, too. He remembered the lash and the fist, the buckle and the switch. He carried the scars, too. So he felt a little sorry for the big kid sauntering out of the diner door behind his buddy Showdown, dragging a hand through dark hair almost long enough to pull into a ponytail.

Rad sent a thought out to the kid. Little Ike was big. His father was not. When you were beaten down all your life, it was hard to see when you got bigger than your old man. You had to be bigger on the inside as well as the outside before you could see it. But one day it would happen, if it hadn’t yet. It had happened for Rad, and it would happen for Little Ike. On that day, the old man would learn that his days of beating his boy down were over, well and truly.

Rad’s face stretched in a bitter, nostalgic grin.

~oOo~

From Ethel’s, they took US-75 north to Oklahoma. The sun on this early April afternoon shone warm and gold in a blue sky, and Rad settled into the saddle and let his mind wander. It was a long day of riding—eight hours on the road—but he was in no hurry for the ride to end, and he doubted anyone else with an engine between his legs felt any different. You didn’t ride if you didn’t want to be on the road as much as you could.

Rad rode near the head of the Bulls pack, alone in the lane for the most part, just behind Delaney and Dane, who rode side by side. Every now and then, Griffin, a young patch Rad had sponsored, would pull up alongside, just being companionable. But Rad preferred the lane to himself, and Griff knew it, so he’d drift back after a few minutes.

They cruised along just faster than cage traffic when they could, but when they got bogged down, it was no sweat—just meant sharpening the senses to guard against the drivers who were still on autopilot.

It was a fine day and a fine ride, and Rad’s spirit puffed up and crowed.

Every now and then, a sport bike or three would zoom past, wanting the speed more than the ride, but so far, nobody had been obnoxious. In fact, for a good ten miles or so, two brightly-cladded Kawasakis, each carrying two riders, all in full gear, had ridden up with the Bulls. Rad could tell they were youngsters, getting a rush from riding with the Big Bad Outlaws, checking out the massive American metal, and they behaved themselves.

The passenger on the green bike, nearest Rad, was wearing a pack on her back with a shiny logo from Six Flags Over Texas. Her bright red ponytail brushed wildly over it. Rad figured that was how they’d spent their spring weekend, and it confirmed his assumption about their youth.

Cruising wasn’t what the kids were after, and it didn’t take long for them to tire of the easy pace. When the rider on the green bike held up a gloved thumb and then waved, Rad returned both gestures, and the two crotch rockets surged forward with the high-pitched racket of bumblebees on steroids.

Rad cringed. That was his number-one reason for hating sport bikes. They had no throat at all. When he opened the throttle, he wanted a roar, a rumble, something that would make a civilian quiver in fear, thinking a beast was on his tail, ready to eat him, not swat at his neck, expecting to be stung by a bug.

Not long after his young Kawa bees had flown off, another bike pulled into the lane beside Rad’s. As always, he took note. A little Harley sportster with a silver tank. The rider was wearing full gear, even an armored jacket, and a solid black full-face helmet. But Rad could tell it was a chick—that ass, sheathed in black riding leather, was a work of art. Jesus on a biscuit.

Ascertaining that she was solo, he slowed up just enough to get her a bit more forward and then settled in to appreciate the view.

Since he’d slowed, Griffin pulled up at his flank and waved at him, checking in. Rad gave him a thumbs up. He was great. He was building up a nice picture in his head of what that ass might look like naked and rocking on his cock.

Then the hot ass on the little Harley turned that black face shield and pointed it right at him. He could see nothing—fuck, for all he knew, it was a dude with a feminine shape in there, not that he was going to let that thought stomp around on his fantasy—but still he felt sure that it was a she, that she was fully aware that he’d been checking her out, and that she was letting him know she knew.

She faced forward again and opened her throttle, pulling up ahead, lane splitting and putting some distance between her and the Bulls.

They were within an hour of Tulsa, though. The afternoon was getting old, the shadows were long, and traffic was thickening up. Lane splitting was illegal and drew unwanted attention, so most riders resisted the urge. On straightaways, he could still glimpse the Kawa bees. Hot Ass wasn’t getting far.

He entertained the thought he might follow her a ways, if she pulled off before the Bulls did. He was curious what was under that helmet and that armored jacket.

Letting his mind play around with that thought, Rad settled in for the last leg of this long ride.

~oOo~

Fifteen minutes later, all thoughts of how that ass might feel in his hands were gone.

Rad saw it all happen.

The road lay before him like a ribbon, rising just enough to clear the view, like standing at the bottom of an amphitheater and looking up into the seats. About a mile ahead, maybe a little less, with the last of the sun glinting off their cladding, he could still make out the bright green and red flashes of the Kawa pair, heading up the rise of the road.

Hot Ass had almost caught up to them; she was about three or four cars behind.

A fuckwit in some kind of cage—Rad could name most bikes at some distance, but cages these days all looked the same to him—was starting to get ragey in the thickening traffic on this spring Sunday evening. Rad had seen him do the move drivers did where they shoved themselves into a space barely as long as their cage, then tailgated until they could shove themselves in front of a car in the next lane, like that video game with the frog. That was dangerous shit, especially for bikers, because there was no way the asshole driving like that was paying attention to anything but the slimmest hint that there was room in the next lane. If that.

Noting that driver make that fucked-up move three times in succession, Rad had his antennae up. The road was still full of bikers, but the traffic had broken them up some. Few drivers understood that it was bad form to break into a riding formation. They figured if the bikes weren’t all grouped in a knot, they could slide in.

They could, technically. There might be room, technically. But they shouldn’t. They should let the bikes keep together. The best kind of drivers would slow down or pull over, in fact. But pretty much the only drivers who did that were also riders.

If you rode, you knew it was up to you to look out for your own head. Nobody else was going to bother.

Rad had just about enough time to wish there were a way to send a warning up ahead, because those kids on the sport bikes were riding too comfortably, like they believed that everybody on the road with them understood that they had a right to be there.

He wasn’t surprised, therefore, when the rager shoved his cage into the lane and took both Kawas out.

What happened next, however, shocked the shit out of him.

The green Kawa went airborne, its riders flying pell-mell, and the red bike laid down, spinning wildly backward, into traffic. Rad didn’t see either rider part from the bike, but they must have.

The rager’s cage spun forward and stopped facing the median.

“Don’t do it, jackoff,” Rad muttered as he quickly instinctively maneuvered out of the way of the continuing crash.

He pulled to the shoulder, sensing every bike around him doing the same, and brought his Dyna into the median as the chain reaction went on. Trained to pay attention to his surroundings, he listened and watched. He lost count at ten collisions—they were overlapping each other too much to distinguish—but they were nowhere near done.

The wrecks up at the front were bad—fatally bad. He had every expectation that he’d get up there and find the young bikers in mangled pieces. As the reaction rippled down the line, it finally petered out at fender benders not far ahead of where he and the rest of the Bulls—and another twenty or so patches from other clubs—had come to rest in the median.

Screams and moans already undulated in the air.

The cage that had started all this mess was gone—the rager had bolted. As Rad had suspected he would.

Nearly as one, every biker stood his bike on the shoulder or laid it in the grassy median and ran forward to offer their help. It would take some time for emergency crews to get to the scene, through the mess of traffic and the crumpled snarl of involved vehicles.

Rad saw the little silver sportster on its side in the middle of the interstate, its rider lying prone not far from it. He ran there first.

As he neared, he felt a charge of relief when the rider worked her way to a seated position. She pulled off her black helmet and showed short blonde hair.

Rad skidded to a stop at her side, then dropped to his knees. “You okay?”

©2016 Susan Fanetti

Cover Reveal & Teaser: Heart’s Ease

HE paperback

Hello, all!

Today Susan and I are revealing the cover for Heart’s Ease, the second installment of The Northwomen Sagas. The Goodreads page is updated, too, so you can add it to your TBR, if you’d like.

In the first installment, God’s Eye, we met the leads of Heart’s Ease: Olga and Leif. Their meeting and burgeoning relationship happens in the background of Brenna and Vali’s story, and they don’t end up in a good place. Leif makes some difficult choices that he can’t explain to his friends. Especially not to Olga.

They don’t start in a good place, either, frankly, seeing as Olga is enslaved by the Northmen who have ransacked her homeland, and Jarl Åke’s people aren’t known for treating their slaves well. But Leif is not like most of his clansmen.

Heart’s Ease opens at about the same time that the main action of God’s Eye starts, but only the first part overlays the same timeline. Here, Brenna and Vali’s story moves into the background, and you’ll see how Olga and Leif became close. You’ll also see why and how Leif made the choices he did, and what the consequences were for Olga.

The rest of the book moves forward beyond the time spanned in God’s Eye. Olga and Leif have a lot of healing to do and a lot of work to restore the relationship they’d started. And, of course, the hard times aren’t entirely behind them.

If you haven’t read God’s Eye, Heart’s Ease should work as a standalone, too.

Heart’s Ease will release on Saturday, 1 October 2016, and the preorder will be live a couple of weeks before that. Stay tuned for updates!


Here’s the synopsis:

When raiders from the North land in Olga’s world and take it over, she is captured and made a slave. She and her people suffer at the hands of creatures that seem more beasts than men, and not even her talent and skill as a healer can help them.

But one barbarian, big and golden, seems different from the others. He doesn’t revel or partake in the suffering of the new slaves, and, when he learns that Olga is a healer who knows some of their words, he releases her from her bonds.

The raiders stake claim to Olga’s world and mean to settle it, and she and the rest of her people who survived make a new community with the invaders. The barbarians who destroyed her world and made her a slave grow to be her friends and her equals.

The friendship she forms with the one who cut her bonds is the deepest of them all.

Leif is a valiant and esteemed warrior who’s raided for many summers. As a leader in this new world they mean to settle, he forges deep, close ties with those who’d been only allies, and sometimes enemies, and with the native people of this new land.

In particular, he’s drawn to the dark-haired healer, whose tiny body holds the will and spirit of a mighty raider.

Leif is deeply loyal to the jarl who’s treated him as a son. When the jarl arrives to view their success, Leif struggles to understand the ways his mentor has grown cruel and deceitful and to see the man he’s loved as a father, whose sons he loves as brothers. But he recognizes the brutal lies for what they are.

Torn between the man to whom he’d long ago sworn his unconditional fealty and the friends to whom he is devoted, Leif makes a devastating choice, trying as best he can to save those he loves, at any cost to himself. Even at the cost of their love for him.

The consequences of his choice are severe. Perhaps too severe to allow forgiveness.

But until there is forgiveness, there can never be ease.


And here’s the first chapter as a teaser:


1

The barbarians won the village and all its meager spoils.

Eight women had been spared from death during the scourge and claimed as slaves, Olga and Johanna among them. Johanna’s young friend, Helena, was also dragged away, bound by wrist and neck with hempen rope.

They were dragged farther inland, where the raiders made camp. A pen was made to hold the women, as if they were nothing but livestock. Olga understood enough of the talk around them to know that they were less than livestock to these strange men—and women, there were women among the raiders, bearing sword and shield and stained with blood as much as any man.

Four men—three fishermen and one soldier—had been held alive as well. The soldier was blindfolded and bound to a tree. The others were working to build the camp.

Some of the women were dragged away from the pen, and some were beset where they were, still tied to the post in the center by the rope around their necks.

Johanna was one who was dragged away. She screamed and clutched backward for Olga, her fingernails gouging deep into the flesh of Olga’s arm, until the barbarian hit her in the face and threw her over his shoulder.

For her part, Olga was taken in the pen, thrown face-down in the dirt, the rope tugging at her throat.

It was not the first time she had been taken in this way. She knew the pain of it, and she knew that men who could take this pleasure would take more pleasure in her suffering, so she bore the pain quietly.

She could hear the screams and wails of the other women and the girls, and she spoke clearly, as calmly as she could. “Be strong, sisters. Your pain and fear feeds them.”

Their anguish was too great, however, and they could not heed her.

Roaring fetid breath into the side of her face, the raider completed and left her. Before she could push herself from the ground, another was on her. She bore that, too.

And the next.

She did not resist; she lay as still and malleable as she could be, and she let it happen, because it would happen no matter her struggle, no matter her pain. It was the way of things.

Then she was left alone, as were the others in the pen. And then those who had been taken were returned. None of the women were unscathed; they showed ill use, and several had only scraps left of their clothing.

The raiders seemed to have burned off their savage need and were grouping now near a large fire, from which the smell of roasting meat wafted. They had a new appetite, and the women had a reprieve.

Johanna had been dropped near the pole and tied again to it. She made a weak cry and curled her body into a tight coil. Olga stood and went to her, ignoring the pains of her own body. Helena, bruised and battered herself, left wearing only a torn blouse, her bottom nearly bare, knelt over Johanna, sobbing; Olga nudged the girl to the side.

“Let me see, kullake. Let me see.” At Olga’s gentle urging, Johanna relaxed her body enough for Olga to examine her.

Blood had soaked through Johanna’s skirt, turning the red wool black and shiny. Olga turned to use her hands behind her and pushed the skirt up, over skinny, bare legs, pale but for the vicious bruises blossoming red and purple over the young flesh. And the blood coming from her woman’s place. Running freely. She had only twelve years. Only twelve, and the first blood to come from her womb should not have been this blood.

The sun still shone through pale clouds, and a light, cool breeze made leaves dance and sing on their branches. It seemed too light and gentle a day to hold such darkness.

The quantity and rush of blood foretold that Johanna would die on this day, in this awful place, so close to her home, and yet a world away. She would die in agony, when all around them were herbs for healing and comfort. Barely more than an arm’s reach away was bed of mouse-ear, which could slow the blood and ease her pain. And there were mushrooms that could take her away from this place. That could take them all away.

A certain kind of mushroom, and Johanna need never know pain again.

All of it, almost close enough to reach. But she was tied to a post, and her hands were bound against her back. In powerless frustration, Olga cast her eyes about the camp, as if there might be some help for them among the monsters making this nightmare.

Walking near their pen was the golden giant who had stopped the raider in Johanna’s hut. He had washed the blood from his face and hands. Olga had no cause to think him less terrible than any other of these barbarous creatures, except that he had met her eyes in the hut, and she had seen in his something other than the rapacious hunger of his blood-smeared fellow. And he had not come for the women. Not in the village, and not here in the camp.

She stood and walked the length of her rope.

Palun!” she called, and then remembered herself and sought the word in the raiders’ tongue. “Please!”

He stopped and cocked his head but didn’t speak.

Olga swallowed, and the rope rubbed against her throat. “Please.” She searched her mind for the words her brother had taught her. “Girl is bad hurt.” A nod toward Johanna on the ground would, she hoped, suffice to fill in any gaps in her words.

“You speak our tongue.” He stepped to the rope fence that bounded their prison.

“Little, yes. A plant at woods. Golden flowers?” She didn’t know how to say ‘mouse-ear’ in any other way. “It help her. Please.”

“You are a”—he said a word she did not know, and she shrugged and shook her head.

“I not know this.”

He paused as if he were thinking and then said, “You make people well?”

“Yes. I try.”

The raider pulled a knife from a sheath on his thigh and came into the pen. Olga ran backward, away from him and what she was sure was her bloody death. She tripped over her feet and had no way to correct or catch herself, with her hands bound behind her. She would have fallen, except that the raider caught her, his massive arm sweeping around her waist.

He was even more enormous up close. Olga felt sure he could have snapped her in two, and she was sure he was about to do just that. Instead, he set her on her feet and used that knife to cut her rope free from the pole. They had the complete attention of the other women, all but Johanna, who was curled again and moaning.

“Please. She suffers. More than we others. She is girl only.” Her mind raced, seeking all the words she knew of this strange tongue, which did not fit in her mouth very well.

He turned and looked down at Johanna, and, again, Olga saw something softer in his eyes. “How old is she?” When she couldn’t quite make sense of the question and didn’t respond, he asked, “How many years?” With that, she understood the first question, too.

“Twelve.”

His eyes closed. When he opened them, he turned them on her. They were deep blue, like twilight sky. “You can be of use. If you will work and do no harm, I will unbind you.” He shook the rope. “Understand?”

She understood most of his words, but she struggled to make sense of the change in her circumstances. Even if only temporary, it seemed an unthinkable boon. “I help girl?”

“If our healer can use your help, then yes. You will have run of the camp, and may see to the other slaves if you like. But if you make trouble, I will slit your throat.” Brandishing his knife, he asked again, “Understand?”

Olga nodded. “Understand.” She understood enough—he wanted her to work, and he would let her help Johanna. Perhaps the others as well. And he would unbind her.

He cut the rope from her hands and her neck, then sheathed his knife. With a huge hand wrapped completely around her arm, he led her from the pen and into the camp. Over her shoulder, she called to the other women in their own words, “Be strong! I will bring help!”

She hoped that was a truth.

~oOo~

The barbarian healer was another large man—they were all so big—though smaller than the blond, with bushy red hair and beard. He gave the blond one a long look and then nodded.

“You speak our language?” he asked of her.

She kept her eyes downcast; she knew well the role of the subjected. “Yes.”

“You know how to care for wounds—battle wounds?”

Running that sentence through her head as quickly as she could, translating the words, she nodded. “I am healer.” She used the word the blond one had used and thought she now understood its meaning.

There was only one wounded man in the tent. His face was covered in bloody bandages.

“I have no need of her now, Leif, but she can be useful,” the healer said to the blond one. Leif. His name. She looked up at his face and found his eyes on her.

“I will have her tend to the thralls, then. Some of the women are already ill used and will not be of much more use if they aren’t tended to.”

Olga’s head ached from trying to understand the raiders’ words, but sense was already coming more easily to her. “Please,” she said. “I help girl.” Too much time had passed already.

The blond one—Leif—nodded and took hold of her arm again.

But then a horn blew somewhere, and instead of leading her out of the tent, he pushed her back toward the redheaded raider. “You stay with Sven.” To the red one, he said. “Keep her here.”

And he was gone.

~oOo~

“Usch,” the redheaded healer—Sven—muttered under his breath again, while battle screamed and clanged outside the tent. “Usch.”

He went to the tent opening and stood looking. Olga could not see around him, but she didn’t need to; she had seen enough of battle in her lifetime. She had seen enough horror in this one day to last more than one lifetime.

She knew that she would be no help to Johanna now.

Sven turned back to her, a fierce scowl warping his features. “What are you called?”

“I…” She had not expected him to address her. “I…”

“Your name, girl! I am Sven.” He slapped his chest.

“Olga.”

“Olga. Fine. I have use of you after all.” He waved a hand at the corner of the tent. “Lay out the mats and furs. I will prepare. We will have wounded. There are always wounded. Understand?”

She nodded and went to the place he’d shown her. His voice called her attention back, and she turned to him again.

“If we are beset, get behind me. Understand?”

Again, she nodded. Though the soldiers, if it was they who had attacked the camp, were ostensibly on her side, she had no trust that she would be rescued by anyone attacking the healing tent.

His eyes traveled the length of her body, one eyebrow cocked in appraisal. “You are the size of a child. There had better be more strength in those skinny arms than a child’s.”

Olga said nothing. She was small among her people, and slim, but not child-size. These giant beast-men seemed hardly human to her.

He turned and crouched before a chest and dug into it, then threw something at her. Of instinct, she caught it. Cloth.

“Cover yourself.”

He had tossed her a tunic made of rough-spun wool. Olga looked down at herself and saw, for the first time, that her own blouse was rent down the middle. Her breasts were all but exposed.

She pulled the tunic over her head and rolled the too-long sleeves until her hands were clear.

“Let us prepare for our work.” Sven said, and then proceeded to ignore her.

Olga got to work.

~oOo~

Four men and two women—Olga marveled again at the idea of women warriors, with leather breeches and blood-spattered faces, wielding swords that seemed as long as she was tall—were brought into the tent. One of the men and one of the women were soon carried out, after Sven looked them over and then shook his head.

The other four, and the unconscious man from before, made up their charges. A raider who had carried in some of the wounded stayed and began to help the healing, lifting heavy bodies and stripping armor from bloodied limbs.

Surrounded by work to do, work she knew, Olga focused on her tasks. After a short time, Sven seemed to understand her skill and to trust that she would do no harm, and he left her alone to work. When she said she needed a certain herb, using pantomime to bolster her faulty language and make herself known, he even sent the raider out to gather it.

Beyond the tent, the sounds of battle became the sounds of aftermath. Olga did not need to see outdoors to know that, again, the raiders had won.

Then there was a new commotion outside the door, and a crowd of raiders—four of them—barged in, nearly tearing down the tent in their hurry to be in it. They bore a blood-washed monster in their arms, a man bigger than any Olga had ever seen. A man so big he dwarfed Sven and the others.

They carried him face down, and Olga saw instantly why. He appeared to have been nearly sliced in half. A long, wide gash split his back from shoulder to waist, and as the men carried him and laid him on a pallet far shorter than he, the gash widened, and Olga saw the ladder of his ribs.

She watched and waited for Sven to shake his head and the men to carry the giant out again. But this man must have been special somehow. Perhaps he was truly a giant. Sven knelt at his hip and dug his fingers deep into the wound. Then he brought his hand to his own mouth and sucked the blood.

“Clean. Thank the gods. Get out and let me work.” The men who’d borne the giant into the tent all nodded and took their leave, and Sven began to clean the blood from that massive back.

“I help?” she asked, quietly.

Turning intent green eyes on her, Sven answered, “You help by seeing to the others and leaving me to this work. Dan”—he nodded to the other raider, who had stayed to help—“will help you. Understand?”

“Understand.” Olga ventured to ask more. “This one is important?”

Sven stopped and looked at her directly. This time, she did not look away. “Yes. He is important. A good man and a legend.”

“Sorry. I not know…le-gend.”

The other raider, Dan, now standing at her side, answered. “Our people tell stories about him. Do you know stories?”

“Yes, I know. We have stories. Of great men. Strong.”

“Vali Storm-Wolf is such a man,” Dan said. “The best of us.”

Olga thought even the best of men like these could not be so great a man, but she was moved nonetheless.

~oOo~

The rain that Olga had seen in the sky in the morning, long hours and a lifetime ago, crashed over them in the dusk, not long after the raiders’ legendary giant had been carried into the tent. Olga turned and studied the opaque sheet of water beating down into the mud outside the tent, she listened to the deafening roar of rain pelting the tent roof, and she thought of the women tied to the post.

Without ever meaning to, she had abandoned them. She knew that by now Johanna was dead, and perhaps others as well. Hours since Leif had taken her away, and Olga had been so wrapped up in the work here that she had barely spared them—her friends, her own people—a thought. And now she was dry and protected, and they were alone, exposed to the elements and countless horrors.

The giant was conscious, but barely. Sven had begun to stitch the terrible wound closed, and a hoarse groan erupted from his patient every now and then, when the bone needle went into the tattered flesh.

In Olga’s opinion, Sven was causing more pain for no sound reason. No mortal being, not even a legendary giant, unless he was made of something more than flesh, could survive such a wounding.

The tent shook as someone came in, and Olga turned quickly, her heart racing. She did not like these raiders coming up behind her; she expected each time to be grabbed or stabbed.

It was a woman, a warrior, drenched from the storm but still covered head to toe in blood. She was tall, more than a head above Olga.

She took note of the people in the tent. When her eyes turned her way, Olga saw how strangely lovely they were. Two different eyes in the same head. The left eye was a shade of blue, light and deep like a cloudless sky. Pretty, but not unusual. The other, though, was a marvel. Olga had never seen its like. Without thinking, she narrowed her focus, trying to see all there was to see in that right eye. The candles in the tent burned brightly, and Olga saw green and blue and amber swirled together in the woman’s eye. More fascinating than that were the streaks of brown, almost like something drawn over all that color.

The warrior woman cocked her head, and Olga realized she was staring and dropped her eyes. She was sorry to do so.

“How is he?” the woman asked Sven.

Sven seemed shocked that she had spoken. He didn’t look up at her. “There is no offal in his blood. He might yet live if the bleeding stops.”

“See, Brenna God’s-Eye?” the giant gritted the words out. “We are fated to save each other.”

Vali Storm-Wolf and Brenna God’s-Eye. Olga almost smiled. There was something strong between these two. A true bonding. Olga could sense the way their life forces mingled and became something new, something singular and unified, and she thought she understood the raiders’ word.

Legend.

~oOo~

Vali Storm-Wolf’s wound might have been clean of offal, but it had not been clean of filth. The next day brought fever and swelling, and Sven and she had worked long to draw the corruption from him.

The warrior woman with the strange and beautiful eye came to sit with him again. Brenna God’s-Eye. These people must have thought her eye more than strange. They seemed all to fear it, and her. All but the giant, Vali.

Olga’s people had no gods. They believed that what lay on the earth, and in it, and above it, and beyond it, was all of a piece, that life rolled like a wheel through it all, and that balance in all things was the only true reverence. They celebrated the solstices, the longest and shortest of days, and the sowing and reaping, because those days were days when balance was most clear.

They treated beasts and trees and plants, and earth and sea and sky, with the respect due equals, holding no thing above another.

The nobles, perhaps, saw balance in another way, but neither Olga nor any of her people saw nobles as part of them. They were merely raiders of another sort. The sort that never sailed away and left them alone.

A horn blew again, and Brenna left Vali’s side. Shortly thereafter, a large party of the raiders left the camp on horseback. Sven stood at the tent opening, muttering under his breath.

Olga waited until he sighed and turned back to his patients before she asked if she might finally go to the women.

~oOo~

Johanna had died. The other women had tended her body as well as they could, but she yet lay tied to the post.

The storm and the night, and the raiders, had been hard on them all. They were all of them nearly or entirely naked, and they huddled together in the chill, trying to keep warm.

Olga, fully dressed and recently fed, knew deep guilt, and saw the condemnation on the faces of her friends.

But she had brought round loaves of flat bread and two skins of water, and a bundle of herbs gathered from the camp edges, and she did what she could to ease their way. They tore the bread and water from her hands.

With no way to prepare properly the healing herbs she had found, she made the best adjustments she could. After she treated the women’s open wounds with a quickly-prepared healing paste and gave them herbs to eat to thicken their blood, she handed small bunches of wild mushrooms to each of them. “These will make it easier when the men come. I will ask to take Johanna away, and I will try to bring you cover. I am sorry I can do no more.”

“It is the way of things,” Lagle said and took a bunch of small, long-stemmed mushrooms. She stared at her hand. “If we eat these all at once?”

Olga understood what Lagle was asking, and she shook her head. “That will make you only ill and hurt more. I cannot go far enough into the woods for the right growth to do more than that. Forgive me.”

There was commotion at the camp head; the raiders were riding back. “I must go. I will come back as quickly as I can.” With a last, lingering glance at Johanna’s small, broken body, Olga hurried away from the pen, back toward the healer’s tent.

~oOo~

Olga left the tent later, needing to relieve herself. Though many of the men frightened her, they did not accost her and had not since Leif had removed the rope. It was as if word had been passed to leave her alone.

Only Vali was left to heal, and he had fought off the fever and corruption. Olga thought the giant would live. He must indeed have been something more than mere man.

Brenna, the warrior woman—Olga had heard a word several times, shieldmaiden, and she believed that she had parsed out its meaning—was sleeping in the healer’s tent, stretched out at Vali’s side. Indeed those two were bonded, though Brenna did not seem to know it. A strong aura of peace rose up around them when they touched. There was so little of peace in this place that Olga could not help but notice, and she could not help but take from it some small ease in her heart as well.

Coming back from the tree behind which she’d crouched, Olga heard something and stopped to make it out. A beast in the woods?

No, a man. Either in distress or in pleasure. The sounds some men made were similar in any extremity.

Distress. It was distress—the long, deep, wrenching groan of true pain. She had earlier heard the screams of a soldier being tested, but this could not be a captive, beyond the edge of the camp. It must have been a raider making such a dreadful noise, and Olga considered ignoring it and returning to the healer’s tent. Now that Vali was recovering and alone in the tent, perhaps Sven would consider helping the women.

Or he could decide that he no longer needed her and send her back to the pen. Either way, she wondered how much the private pain of one of the monsters merited her attention.

Except that she was coming to see them as more man than monster. She was coming to like Sven, and Dan. And Vali and Brenna. Hidden away in the healer’s tent, doing the work she knew and being treated as one who had skill, she had seen more of these people as humans than the women in the pen, tied to a stake, could see.

And she could not ignore pain when it was so close and so obvious. She headed in that direction.

Leif was sitting on a large rock, his back to her. She recognized his leather and fur, and the long, loose mane of golden hair lying over it. He was folded over, his face buried in his hands, and he roared into his palms, again and again, a sound of pure misery.

This was, indeed, private pain. Deep and harrowing. He wanted to be alone. Meaning to turn and leave him before he knew she was there, Olga’s feet instead went forward, until she stood nearly at his side. He took no notice of her until her arm stretched out and her hand touched his head, stroking the length of his hair. Soft and straight, like spun gold.

He jerked from her touch and stood, his big hand gripping the pommel of the sword at his hip. His body was tensed to fight, but his face showed every shard of the anguish his voice had conveyed.

“You,” he said, but there was no accusation or malice in the sound. Only surprise.

“You have pain.”

His shoulders relaxed. “None that any healer can ease.”

Not knowing why she did so, Olga took the steps between them and laid her hand on his chest. “Pain of heart, then. Sadness.”

Leif stared down at her hand for a moment, and she felt the rise and fall of his breaths. Then he brought his own hand up and wrapped it around her wrist. He pulled her touch away and released her.

Again he said, “None that any can ease,” and he turned and walked back toward the heart of camp, leaving her in alone in the growing dark.

©2016 Susan Fanetti

The Freaks Do Sturgis!

Sturgis promo

This is the week of the 76th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and the Freak Circle Press is celebrating that yearly crush of bikes and bikers over on the FCP Facebook page.

Each day, a different writer of the FCP is taking the spotlight, sharing their work, offering discounts on their books, doing giveaways, and other cool stuff:

TUESDAY 8/9: C.D. Breadner
WEDNESDAY 8/10: Lina Andersson
THURSDAY 8/11: Sarah Osborne
FRIDAY 8/12: Catherine Johnson
SATURDAY 8/13: Shannon Flagg
SUNDAY 8/14: Susan Fanetti

On Sunday, 14 August, in addition to sharing pretties and stuff, we’ll be making an announcement.

Meanwhile, we’ve put Kindle editions of the entire Night Horde library on sale for this week. So if you haven’t met the Horde, or if you haven’t finished their ride, here’s your chance to hop on!

The Signal Bend Series
The Night Horde SoCal
Nolan: Return to Signal Bend

Horde Sale 99 nolan

xoxo
Lola