Generally, I do the cover reveal and stuff six weeks ahead of the release date for a book, but that would be next weekend, and I’ll be out of town on a day-job-related trip next weekend, so let’s do it now.
Twist, Book 2 of The Brazen Bulls MC will release on Saturday, 1 April 2017—and no, that’s not an April Fool’s joke I’m planning. 🙂 I’ll set up the preorder around mid-March. In the meantime, I’m sharing the cover and synopsis and a teaser, and here’s the Goodreads page.
Twist is Gunner’s story. If you read Crash (and this is a series where the books don’t stand alone all that well, so it would be a good idea to read Crash before you read Twist), you might remember that Gunner has some impulse-control issues. And anger issues. And just…issues. He’s got some things he needs to work out.
Generally, I share the first chapter or the prologue of a book as a teaser, but sometimes, for various reasons, the opening of a book isn’t an ideal teaser. That’s the case here. So I’m sharing most of Chapter Three, which gives some insights into Gunner and his story, and also introduces Leah, who has a story to tell as well.
Tulsa, Oklahoma 1996
Maxwell “Gunner” Wesson is the loose cannon of the Brazen Bulls MC. A loss taken when he was a boy left a hole inside him, full of chaos and noise, and only pain and destruction can quiet the tempest. Full of courage and fiercely loyal, he has the Bulls at his back, even when his outbursts threaten to damage the club.
But the club president’s patience is wearing thin. Gun’s lack of control has put the Bulls on the front lines of a brewing war, right in the heart of Tulsa.
Leah Campbell is a small-town girl, living the life her mother walked away from. She takes care of her father, the town minister, and keeps his secrets, ensuring that he keeps his place as the moral and spiritual center of their community. But Leah has secrets of her own, and she’s faltering under the weight of all the things she cannot say, and all the things she must be and do to keep the truth at bay. She’s filled the hole her mother made, but it’s left her empty.
When two such damaged souls, full of secrets and empty of hope, come together, they will either save each other or tear everything apart.
Note: explicit sex and violence.
And the teaser, from Chapter Three:
The little old lady rooted around in her beaded coin purse. Gunner reached through her open car window and tapped her shoulder.
“I don’t need a tip, Mrs. Greeley. I just need you to sign the slip.”
“You’re a good boy, Gunner. You deserve a little somethin’ extra.” She handed him a neatly folded dollar bill and snapped her little purse closed, then finally signed the credit card slip for her gas.
“Well, thank you, ma’am.” He shoved the bill in his pocket—she always tipped him one dollar, and he always told her not to—and then jumped out of the way when Mrs. Greeley put her big old Lincoln Continental into gear and pulled off. He ran up and grabbed the easel sign, advertising an oil and lube sale, out of the way before she could clip it as she turned around the pumps. She got herself out onto the street without calamity and headed off at about fifteen miles per hour.
Mrs. Greeley likely would not pass a driving test if anybody made her take one now, but at least she drove so slowly that she’d probably just bounce off anything she hit, even in that road barge.
Delaney’s Sinclair was one of the last full-service stations in Tulsa. They didn’t even have a single self-serve pump. A fairly steady traffic of full-service customers, mostly old folks from the neighborhood like Mrs. Greeley, kept the pumps, and the pump jockeys, busy enough, but being full-service wasn’t much of a money-maker. Delaney’s made its real money in service and repairs.
Gunner was one of the few Brazen Bulls patches who didn’t work the busy bays at their president’s Sinclair station. He was good with engines. Really good. But he wasn’t a certified mechanic and wasn’t ever going to be. If he could just show the certification suits what he could do and get the piece of paper that way, he’d be fine, but there were required classes and textbooks, and written tests, and he sucked at all that stuff.
Reading wasn’t really his thing. He could read, he wasn’t a drooling moron, but he was slow at it. The letters shifted around on the page, and he had trouble keeping what he read in his mind for very long.
Put something real in his hand, and he’d understand it completely in minutes. He’d take it apart and know all its workings and then put it back together with his eyes fucking shut. Ask him to read a set of instructions on the exact same thing he’d just taken apart and put back together, however, and he’d be lost. Ask him to take a written test on it, and he’d forget everything he’d ever known, including his own fucking name.
So no certification, and Delaney wanted only certified mechanics in his bays. Which made Gunner a pump jockey. Well, hell, at least he had a job on the books, keeping the Feds off his scent.
His real job was next door, at the Brazen Bulls clubhouse. He was their munitions expert, keeping their weapons and ammunition in shape, managing the inventory, and, with Apollo’s help, researching any new weapons coming on their scene, including whatever shipments they were running for the Volkov bratva. He was certified on just about every kind of small arms, both military and consumer grade, and a wide assortment of large artillery as well—because all he’d had to do for that was show his Army instructors he could handle the motherfuckers.
And he could handle the motherfuckers.
That was where he made the money he lived on: in his cut of the club business. Going ten goddamn months without that cut—while he’d paid for the repairs to the pool hall, and restitution to Terry, the owner, and the huge damn fine Delaney had levied on him for starting a brawl on Dyson turf while he’d been wearing colors—had turned his financial landscape into something out of a Mad Max movie. He’d seriously considered putting his Chevelle up for sale, and he’d had that car since he was fifteen years old. He’d restored it from a husk.
If not for getting fed at the clubhouse, and Mo and Delaney’s house, and occasionally at his dad’s place outside of Grant, Gunner would have been living on ramen and tap water by the time Delaney had declared him square a couple months back.
If not for the kutte on his back, his landlord would probably have kicked him by then, too. But now he was square with club, his crib, and his chow again, and he still had his Chevy and his Harley. He just didn’t have room for much else yet.
Since that rave a couple weekends ago, he’d been really thinking about talking to his old man about renting out their barn. If they went in fifty-fifty, Gunner could get healthy. His father would fucking hate it all—the kids and cars and drugs and music—but if the money was decent, he might think about it, at least.
That rave had been fucking awesome. He’d been jacking off to his hazy memory of that little sparkle fairy ever since—way more than he’d been thinking about Willa, which was a nice, safe change. He wished he’d taken the time to really see her, but all he remembered was blonde and glowing. Like Tinker Bell. And slick and tight. Holy hell, she’d been a hot little number. She’d felt just perfect in his arms. He’d felt…he didn’t know. Like he’d found where he fit, maybe. But that was stupid.
Anyway, she’d made an impression, despite his dim recollection of her looks.
Behind him, the roar of hard wheels on pavement rose up, and he turned to see a group of neighborhood boys rolling their skateboards onto the station lot.
“Hey! No! You know better!” Gunner barked, flicking his hand, and the boys rolled back to the sidewalk. The kids liked to swing through, do turns around the pumps, and then roll on out. One of these times, Delaney was going to meet them with his shotgun. He insisted that it was a safety concern, but whatever the reason, his attitude about kids on the station lot could best be described as ‘crotchety.’
Gunner liked the kids. They were harmless, and he liked the hero worship. They lurked around the edges of the clubhouse and the station, trying to get a contact high of biker cool. Wally, in fact, one of their current prospects, had once been one of the skater boys.
Arrayed in plastic chairs along the front of the building, the usual suspects, a herd of retired old farts from the neighborhood who spent their days right there, bitching at each other about politics, talking about their days in The War, and trying to school a bunch of mechanics about cars, grumbled after the kids.
“You tell ‘em Gun,” Mr. Jones hacked in his three-packs-unfiltered rasp. “Buncha baby thugs.”
Offering the old coots an amiable shrug, he went back into the station.
Gunner opened the register and stuffed Mrs. Greeley’s charge slip under the till. An Oldsmobile pulled up at one of the pumps, and the driveway bell chimed over Gunner’s head. At the same time, the phone rang.
“Wally! Pump two!” Gunner shouted, and the prospect stopped stocking belts in the near bay and ran out.
Gunner picked up the phone. “Delaney’s Sinclair, this is Gunner.”
“Hey, Max. It’s Deb.”
He hipped the register closed. “Hey, sis. What’s up?”
“When are you done today? You have club stuff?”
“Nooo…” he answered, wondering what he was letting himself in for. “Off at two.” He’d opened the station this morning. Though he went to bed drunk or baked or otherwise altered most nights, he actually liked the early-morning shifts. He didn’t need, or want, a lot of sleep, and he liked the quiet of a drowsy dawn, before the day had had a chance to go to shit.
“You want to come for supper? I’m frying up the last of Dad’s bass and walleye from his trip. And coleslaw and beans.”
“Cornbread?” His stomach rumbled at the thought, and he looked over at the greasy bag of McDonald’s fries he’d been chomping on since Becker had done the lunch run a couple of hours earlier.
She laughed. “Sure.”
“What’s my tax for this wonderful feast?”
“Well, I could use some help. Dad wants to take some stuff in for the church donation run. They’re collecting for Berry Creek—you know, the twister that took out most of the town?”
Depending on the map you were looking at, either the entire state of Oklahoma formed the heart of Tornado Alley, or the western half of the state was its heart and the rest was its soul. Either way, Oklahomans knew wind like Alaskans knew cold. Dozens of tornadoes whipped through the state every single year. Sometimes they’d blow by and do little more than shake up a few windows, and other times, they’d erase whole towns and the people in them right off all the maps.
And sometimes they tore families right in half. Gunner stomped on the dark thoughts that started swirling around the base of his skull.
Berry Creek was a town smack in the middle of the state, in the heart no matter what map, so it was destined to get erased eventually. May 1996 had been its fated time, apparently. The Bulls’ old ladies had put together a collection, too: clothes, household goods, furniture, everything. Everybody in the neighborhood had chipped in —and not many people who lived around the clubhouse had much to spare. The women had done a big Wal-Mart run for toiletries and crap like that, too. The club was riding it out there on the weekend.
He should’ve asked if Deb and Dad had stuff for the Bulls run, he should have expected that they’d be chipping in, but it hadn’t occurred to him at all. He was shit about things like that. Oh well. They had it wrapped up, seemed like.
“I can’t get much in the Chevy, Deb.” He’d long ago taken the back seat out and customized the trunk for his NOS tank—and for his most excellent speakers.
“No, we can take the truck. I just need your muscles to carry stuff. I don’t want Dad doing it. His back’s been bugging him, though he won’t admit it. He’s doing that thing where he shakes out his leg, when he thinks nobody’s looking.”
Their dad had sciatica, and it got pretty bad, but he still worked every day on the farm. He had a couple paid hands, and Gunner came in and helped, too, at the beginning and end of each season, but Sam Wesson would be sitting in his own tractor every day until the day he died, even if he had to get tied in to keep his seat.
“You only love me for my muscles.”
“Not true. I also love you for…nope. You’re right. Just your muscles.”
“Loser. See you around three?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there.”
“Great. Bring beer.”
“Hey!” But she’d hung up.
The Wesson family farm wasn’t much, just a few fields of wheat, corn, and sunflowers in rotation, plus Deb’s big vegetable garden and her couple dozen chickens, which kept her little roadside stand going through the summer. The big companies weren’t exactly fretting over the competition, but it had kept the family warm and full for generations. Some years were warmer and fuller than others, but they’d made it through them all.
It wasn’t much to look at, either, nearly indistinguishable from every other family farm for hundreds of miles. Unless it was your home. Then, it was beautiful and unique.
When Gunner rode down the driveway, he lifted a hand to his father, who was out in the wheat, doing a soil test. His father returned the wave and went immediately back to his work. He wouldn’t be back in until it was time to wash up for supper.
Gunner pulled his Fat Boy up between his father’s truck and his sister’s station wagon, the back of which was full of some weird thing. Once he was off his bike, he peered in through the side windows and tried to make it out. A bunch of wood. Some kind of contraption. No telling what bizarre thing Deb was up to. She was always on some new project.
He was fascinated, though, and he stared through the dusty window, trying to see how all the pieces would fit together—it was definitely in pieces as it was.
“It’s a loom.” His sister’s reflection came up beside his own in the wagon window.
“A loom? What’s that?”
She rocked her hip into his leg. “For weaving, dope. I got it at an auction for cheap. It’s broken, but I bet you could fix it.”
“Do you know how to weave?”
“I will when I have a loom to learn on.”
He’d thought often that his big sister had been born about ten years too late. She would have made a great hippie. She was artistic and mellow and a little bit weird—and fearless.
“What’re you gonna make?” he asked her reflection, which shrugged.
“I don’t know. Rugs, maybe? Whatever I can. I was thinking maybe you could bring it inside when we get back from the church.”
He laughed. “I’ve been had. You got a whole honey-do list for me. There’d better be pie, too.”
“Strawberry. And ice cream. Did you remember beer?”
He stood straight and nodded at his bike, where a twelve-pack of Coors Light, their father’s brand, was bungeed to the bitch seat.
His older sister beamed at him and then went and freed the beer. “We better get this in the fridge and get started. I got all the boxes and bags sealed up and ready to go.”
“I’ll bring the loom in first, if you want.”
A weird little look passed over Deb’s face and then was gone, pushed away by one of her sweet smiles. “No, no. No time. They stop taking donations in at four. We should get hoppin’.”
Gunner took the pack of Coors from her. “Okay, I’m all yours.”
Heartland Baptist Church was in the actual town limits of Grant, a few blocks off the town square. The parking lot was crowded with people offloading donations, and other people taking them in, logging them, and going through the boxes and sorting out what was brought in. Men were loading furniture onto pickups, and Gunner thought he’d ask if he could help, once he got their own shit handed off.
While Gunner put down the tailgate and dragged off the first box, Deb went over to talk to the Reverend, who greeted her warmly. She and their dad still went to church most Sundays. Gunner hadn’t gone, except for a couple of Christmas services he’d been guilted into, since he’d joined the Army.
He’d gone in the Army, too, for a while. The best way to get through Basic was to keep your faith. You got Sunday mornings off if you went to chapel. If you didn’t, you did KP.
Everybody had religion in Basic Training.
But they were wrong about there being no atheists in foxholes. Some people became atheists in foxholes.
Or sitting behind the gun in a helicopter door.
Especially if they’d already been really fucking confused.
The big box said CLOTHES in his sister’s spiky letters, so he carried it over to a table mounded with clothes. A girl with a long blonde ponytail was picking up items of clothing and describing them to an older woman, who was writing everything down in a spiral notebook. The girl had a nice bod, and Gunner always noticed nice bods, so he let his eyes roam a little.
She wore a white pair of those pants that stopped just below the knees and a little flowered shirt that absolutely screamed ‘good Baptist girl.’ Buttoned all the way up to her neck. Those tits, though, couldn’t be camouflaged by some buttons and ruffles.
Kind of a shame to put a figure like that on a good girl. If there was a God, he had a fucked-up sense of humor.
He put the edge of his box on a clear spot of the table and said, “I guess these are for you.”
She looked up. Oh, she had a cute face, too. Not gorgeous like a model, but nice. Pretty blue eyes. Really great mouth, with pouty lips. The kind of lips a guy would want to see on him. And feel on him.
A sense memory wafted through his head: the taste of bubblegum. His cock got a little tingle.
Then that mouth dropped open. Her eyes were wide, too; she was a picture of dumbfounded shock. Delaney’s wife, Mo, had a word she used that Gunner had always liked: gobsmacked. This girl seemed like someone had come over and smacked her gob.
Gunner looked to see if something weird was going on behind him. Nope. He turned back. “You okay?”
She didn’t seem inclined to answer. Then his sister called, “Max!” and he turned toward her voice.
“They want the blankets and bedding over here. They’re finishing up a load. Can you get that box?”
“Yeah. One sec.” He turned back to the girl, who had, at least, closed her mouth.
“You’re Max,” she said. “Max Wesson.”
“That’s what they named me, yeah.” Suddenly, his brain cleared up, and he recognized her. She was the Reverend’s daughter. Leanne or something like that. She’d been a little girl with bows in her hair the last time he’d been a regular around here. “You’re Lee…” he bailed, not sure if Leanne was right.
“Leah.” Her voice cracked. When she held out her hand, it was shaking. It shook harder when he took it and gave it a squeeze.
Was she freaked out by his ink? That happened sometimes. Sometimes people stared at him like he was the headliner in a circus sideshow. He didn’t have all that much. Rad had twice the ink he had. But his arms were pretty well sleeved, and his hands were covered.
Maybe that was it.
“Leah, right. You grew up good.” He gave her a little grin and took his tattooed hand away. “Anyway, here’s a box of clothes, according to the label, and I got to go be my sister’s errand boy. Nice to see ya.”
She nodded, still looking like she’d seen a ghost or a monster or something. That girl obviously needed to get out more. The Rev probably kept her locked up in a tower with her Bible all day and night. Considering her bod built for sin, he probably had her sealed into a chastity belt, too.
He went back to the truck and jumped into the bed, looking for the box marked BLANKETS AND LINENS, which, he remembered from loading the truck, was the box from their father’s fucking thirty-inch RCA.
Debra did not understand about efficient packing. Bigger wasn’t always better, but she did not get that. Pack a big enough box, and even blankets got heavy. Not to mention awkward. He pushed the big dumb thing to the tailgate, jumped down, and heaved it onto his back.
As he passed the clothes table, Leah was just opening the box he’d left. Her fugue state seemed to have passed, thank fuck.
Gunner dropped the television box of bedding off at the table where his sister was now working, and he turned right around and headed back to the truck for more.
A flash of white caught his eye, for no particular reason, and he looked that way—to Leah and the box he’d left. She’d opened it and was pulling things out, describing them to the woman with the notebook.
The white was a shirt she was holding up. Not just a shirt. A St. Louis Cardinals jersey. Small, for a little boy. Across the back, where the player’s name would go, in red satin letters, was the name MARTIN.
He stopped and stared. Somebody brushed against him, like he’d stopped short on them and they had to cut around not to run into him, but he barely noticed. He watched Leah as she set the little jersey aside and pulled out another one just like it. Again, she held it up. On the back was the name MAXWELL.
“What the fuck?” Gunner muttered. “What the fuck?” He went for the table. “What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck?”
Reaching the table, he snatched his old jersey out of Leah’s hands—she was gobsmacked again, but fuck her—and grabbed his brother’s from the pile of people’s fucking discards. Their discards. Their giveaways. “WHAT THE FUCK? WHAT THE FUCK?”
He grabbed hold of the box and yanked it forward. It toppled off the table and spilled onto the parking lot.
The box was full to the brim with Martin’s clothes. And his clothes. All the stupid outfits their mom had dressed them in, him in blue and Martin in green. Were all those boxes marked CLOTHES his brother’s? All those boxes he’d lugged to the truck with a goddamn smile on his face? Was Deb throwing Martin the fuck away?
“FUCK! FUCK! FUCK YOU!” He swept everything up and shoved it all back in the box.
“Max! Max, calm down! Honey, it’s okay!” Hands grabbed at his arm, and he swung, wanting to be free of them. He felt his hand connect, and he heard people yell, but he didn’t fucking care. He stood up and carried the box back to the truck, and he slammed the tailgate shut. It didn’t latch, it bounced in his hands, and he slammed it again and again until it caught.
Then, roaring in rage, he punched the tailgate over and over, until his hand hurt enough for the pain to be heard.
Calming slightly, he looked back and saw a crowd of people staring at him. The Reverend had his arm around Deb. Her mouth was bleeding. That was what he’d connected with: his sister’s face.
Just at that moment, he didn’t give a fuck.
He got into the truck and drove away.
He went back to the farm, where he returned all of his brother’s belongings to the room they’d shared from the day of their birth until Martin and their mother had died.
He’d meant to put everything in its place, but he couldn’t. The room was empty; Deb had cleaned it out completely. Their father, too; there was no way this had gone down without his approval.
Gunner stood there, feeling the fury swirl and the chaos clamor. He flexed his hand, which he was pretty sure was broken, until the shifting bones hurt enough that he didn’t think he’d lose his shit again.
When he went back out, a car was pulling away, and Deb and their father stood near the garage. He walked right by them both, got onto his bike, and got the fuck away.
If they tried to do anything like that ever again, he’d burn the whole motherfucking place to the ground.
© 2017 Susan Fanetti