It’s time for the cover and synopsis reveal for Honor, the Brazen Bulls MC #5! Honor is Apollo’s story.
I’ve got also Chapter Four for you as a preview—when Apollo and his love, Jacinda, first meet.
Honor goes live on Saturday, 24 February—4 weeks from today!
Because I’ll be away at an academic conference during the week that I would normally set up the preorder for an upcoming release, I’m going to set this one up a few days earlier than usual—the preorder will be up next weekend. And, of course, I’ll let you know when it’s live.
Meanwhile, you can add it to your TBR.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1999.
Born on the day after the moon landing to a father with his head in the stars, Neil “Apollo” Armstrong has never felt that he could reach as high as his father’s dreams. He got as far as Tulsa, and there, with the Brazen Bulls MC, he found a way to fly on wheels. But he’s worried now that the club has lost its way.
The Bulls are reeling from a bloody, blazing street war that tore through the heart of the club. Their brotherhood has been badly damaged, and the trust among them is fragile.
Jacinda Durham doesn’t have a lot of trust to give. With a painful past still weighing on her present, she keeps people at a distance, preferring inconsequential encounters, to guard against the chance of being hurt. The career she’s chosen is another piece of her armor; she makes a living of suspicion.
After a blistering-hot night together, Apollo and Jacinda go their separate ways, despite a mutual sense that their attraction is deeper than skin. Then a fateful coincidence throws them violently back together, and Apollo finds himself standing between his club and a woman he barely knows, each a possible threat to the other. Where his loyalty lies should be clear, but his trust in the Bulls is shaken, and he can’t allow another innocent to be hurt.
It’s more than a question of loyalty. It’s love as well, a deeply rooted love for his club, and a powerful new love growing between him and this tough, beautiful woman who’s offered him her precious trust.
To save all he loves, Apollo must put everything on the line—his honor, his love, his life. He will have to pay the price that settles all their debts.
Note: explicit sex and violence.
“You have Adonis’s complete attention now,” Ryan said with a snort.
Jacinda didn’t look. She’d noticed the guy because the couple farther down on her side of the bar had had a spat about him, and her brain was wired to notice domestic spats and investigate. So she’d tagged him as he’d made his way around to the far side of the bar, the last seat, where the bartender had set his Guinness, and pose himself on the stool like the lord of the realm. Her job was to observe discreetly and see everything, so she’d observed and seen this guy.
His attitude was pure cock, straight-backed and strutting, but there was a dash of sweet in it, too, somewhere. Probably a blend he’d concocted to perfection by years of unbridled success with the ladies—because he was absurdly good looking. Easily the best-looking guy at Donovan’s, possibly the best-looking guy in Tulsa. A contender for the whole state of Oklahoma.
Handsome like Michelangelo had chiseled him from marble. Short blond hair, trim blond beard, cheekbones etched to precision. Big, too—over six feet, carved muscle from his neck down. He wore a blue and white checked shirt that strained against his substantial form. On her way to and from the bathroom, she’d seen faded jeans fitting nicely over solid thighs and slim hips, and black, square-toed cowboy boots on big feet.
Seriously. He was ridiculously hot.
She also saw a bit of smooth, contoured chest with an edge of ink showing under his shirt (three buttons open) and the white beater under it, and more ink on his arms, showing beneath his turned-up sleeves. She hadn’t been able to make out the images themselves. There might also have been a burn scar on an arm, or it had been a weird trick of the light. She hoped it was a scar. The dude needed a flaw.
That was all she’d been able to take note of without stopping and simply staring.
The bartender came over and set a fresh drink she hadn’t ordered on a green cocktail napkin before her. “From the guy at the end of the bar.” With his head, he indicated Adonis.
She looked, and he lifted his Guinness at her with a smile that must have been rehearsed in the mirror for hours until it had been perfected.
That was cocky as hell, seeing as fifteen seconds of noticing her would have produced the information that she was here with a man. That Ryan was gay and they were here because he had a crush on the grey-haired fiddle player was irrelevant; Adonis over there couldn’t know that.
She pushed the drink away. “No, thank you.”
With a wry smirk, the bartender took the drink away.
“So this is the dance tonight?” Ryan asked, finishing his beer and gesturing for a new round for both of them—making a statement of his own. The bartender set the drink he’d made in front of Jacinda again, and this time she didn’t refuse it.
“What do you mean?” she picked up the drink she’d already had.
“Please. I saw you Sherlocking the guy, and he sure as hell noticed you. Hottest guy and girl around notice each other across a crowded pub. Hottest guy buys hottest girl a drink. Hottest girl refuses it, plays hard to get. It’s like the opening of a romance novel. Or Cinemax After Dark. Next, he’ll get up, push himself in next to you, and ask why you turned down a free drink. I give it ninety minutes before you’re shagging in his…Jeep Wrangler. He looks like a Jeep Wrangler.”
“I’m not playing hard to get, and I absolutely will not be shagging anyone in a Wrangler. Ever in my life.”
Ryan simply grinned and paid for their drinks. Sidelong, Jacinda noticed Adonis notice that. If he got up and came over now, then he was either a glutton for punishment or pathologically confident.
He got up. And headed over.
Ryan, the turd, picked up his beer and pushed his chair back. “The band is back. I’m gonna go talk to Jimmy.” The fiddler.
He was leaving her with an empty seat at her side, all warmed up for Adonis. “You asshole.”
“Play nice, now. I’ll watch from afar and make sure you don’t break him.”
“Har har, asshole. This friendship’s over.”
Chuckling, he kissed her head and left, passing Adonis with a nod.
As expected, Adonis made himself comfortable in the seat of her betraying friend. “This seat taken?”
Of course he had a great voice, too. Deep and smooth, like velvet soaked in whiskey, rolling over the air.
Jacinda sipped her drink. “I thought it was, but apparently not.”
He nodded in the direction Ryan had gone, toward the stage. “You with that guy?”
She turned to look him in the—bright blue—eyes. Jesus, was this guy built in a lab or something? “You know I am.”
He grinned. Straight, white teeth, too. “I mean, are you with him?”
“Why would you think I’m not?”
He lifted a shoulder. “Just not the vibe I’m getting.”
“You do that a lot, get ‘vibes’?”
“I’m pretty good at understanding the things I see, yeah.”
That was a surprisingly interesting answer, and Jacinda gave him another hard look.
Ryan knew her well. The truth was, this guy here was hot beyond all reason and had the makings of a very nice fuck. She was into him, no denying it. For years, Jacinda had avoided relationships with men, but a harmless, meaningless good time was another matter. Maybe it seemed upside down, to trust strangers more than lovers, but she knew how to defend herself against strangers. It was lovers who came up from behind while her guard was down and did real harm.
She turned away from the blond god’s sapphire stare and sought out Ryan. She found him standing beside the stage, grinning and laughing like a schoolgirl while he chatted up his crush.
“Ryan’s a friend,” she answered, turning back to the guy she might or might not be shagging later on. But not in his Wrangler. They’d do it in a cheap motel, where meaningless fucks and illicit liaisons were meant to be done.
“As I thought. So, then, I have a question. Why’d you turn down my drink?” As he spoke, he watched her mouth; she’d used the stirrer straw because the drink was more ice than liquid now, and she didn’t like the ice dumping against her mouth when she tipped the glass.
She set the glass down. “Why’d you think I’d accept? I don’t know you.”
“In civilized societies, buying a lady a drink is an accepted means of getting to know her.”
“That’s what you are? Civilized?”
“I am if you’re a lady.”
“And if I’m not?”
His confident grin widened to unrehearsed enjoyment, and he leaned in close. “Then I’m anything you want me to be.”
He smelled good, too.
She laughed and shook her head. “You think you’re God’s gift, don’t ya?”
“I think we’re all God’s gift.” He nodded at her nearly empty drink. “Offer’s still good.”
“One drink. And I’ll buy the next round. Keep things even.”
“Free drink from a beautiful woman? Sounds great to me.” He waved for the bartender. “Bobby! ‘Nother round over here—and send one to her friend over there—and the band, too.”
The bartender took in the scene at the stage, and her and Adonis, and gave him a smile she couldn’t quite read.
“Spending money isn’t gonna impress me, if that’s your gambit.”
“No gambit. Just a nice guy is all.” He held out a large hand adorned with two heavy rings. “I’m Apollo.”
Sweet baby Jesus, he was an actual Greek god. She choked on the last sip of her current Sea Breeze. When she’d coughed her throat clear, she gasped, “You have got to be shitting me.”
“Nope. Apollo.” His offered hand hovered between them. “In civilized societies, it’s also accepted that you shake a hand when it’s offered.”
She shook his hand. Rough, like he did manual labor. She could feel the strength in it, but he didn’t squeeze hard. Before she let his hand go, she turned it and noted his rings—an intricate bull’s head on his middle finger, and a thick, solid band on his ring finger, etched with letters. She leaned in and saw icent desol. “Magnificent desolation?”
“Yeah.” She could hear in his tone that she’d pleasantly surprised him. “It’s a quote. You know it?”
“Buzz Aldrin said it from the moon. About the view from there. Is that why your parents named you Apollo? They’re space nuts?”
He gave her hand a gentle squeeze, and she realized she was still holding him. She let go. As he pulled his arm back, she saw the ink on his forearm in better detail: a bull, breathing fire.
Bull ring, bull ink, rough hands, cocky—fuck, he was a Brazen Bull.
He confirmed it with his answer. “My dad’s a space nut. They didn’t name me Apollo, but yeah, that’s why I’m called that. I was born the day after the moon landing, to folks named Armstrong. Guess what they named me.”
“Not Neil.” Nobody would really do that, right? That was worse than naming him Apollo—which was obviously his road name.
His sardonic grin was answer enough. Jacinda had a strong urge to offer condolences, and might even have done so, but Bobby the Bartender brought over their new round of drinks just then. Jacinda thanked him with a smile.
“You’ve got a great smile. Don’t suppose I could get one turned my way.” Apollo said, leaning close again. “Or at least your name.”
“I’m not a trained poodle. I don’t do shit on command.”
“I’ll earn the smile, then. But it’s only fair you tell me your name. You got my whole name and a story.”
She’d gotten more than that. Sitting here with him, she’d also learned that he was a patched member of the Brazen Bulls MC. She’d lived in Tulsa her whole life, so she knew the Bulls, and last year, she and her parents had paid very close attention to what had gone down between the Bulls and the Street Hounds. It had been hard to miss for even the most casual viewer of the ten o’clock news, but people in their line of work had contacts with more information than the average Tulsan. Jacinda had good information about exactly what both sides of that war had done.
Before last year, she would have said that she didn’t have a problem with the Bulls. They stayed on their playing field and didn’t cause trouble for regular citizens, and Jacinda herself had wobbled on the fine line between legal and expedient more than once. It was part of the job. Sometimes law had to be pushed out of the way a little bit to reach justice.
But last year—that was something else. Innocent people had gotten hurt. Lives and livelihoods had been destroyed. After the war between the Bulls and the Hounds, the racial line between black and white, always solid in Tulsa, now had barbed wire.
They hadn’t pushed the law out of the way, they’d obliterated it. If they’d found justice, it wasn’t for Tulsa.
The question now before her, as Neil ‘Apollo’ Armstrong of the Brazen Bulls MC awaited her name, was whether it mattered to this moment and, if so, how much. Not at all, for a meaningless fuck at the Osage Motor Inn. But she’d be careful what she told him about herself.
And it probably wasn’t a Jeep Wrangler he’d ridden in on.
The band began their next set, filling the pub with folk music. She turned and sought out Ryan, who’d taken up a seat at a tall two-top near the stage. Seeming to sense her attention, he turned and smiled at her, lifting his hands in a question. She sent back a subtle thumbs-up, and he laughed. Cocky fucker.
Turning back to the cocky fucker at her side, she said, raising her voice above the music, “Jacinda.”
“That’s beautiful. Never known a Jacinda before.”
“You don’t know one now.”
He laughed, his confidence unshaken. “I’d like to.”
Every time he parried one of her barbs, she liked him more. He flew by all her checkpoints, never turning into an asshole, never getting hurt and then pissy. Just evaded the blow of her snark, or absorbed it, and kept moving.
“Do women ever tell you no?”
“Sure. You’ve told me no several times already.”
“Do you ever take no for an answer?”
“Sure. But I told you, I’m pretty good at reading situations, and your nos don’t seem firm. Tell me I’m reading this wrong, and you want me to go, and I’m gone.”
He wasn’t reading it wrong. She sipped her drink and said nothing, until he laughed and picked up his glass.
“You are an interesting woman, Jacinda.”
“How do you know? Maybe I’m just a secretary who lives alone with her cat.”
“I know a lot of secretaries. Never met one who wore black leather pants and boots like that.”
“You have now.” Not a lie, strictly speaking. She did all the administrative work of the agency, including answering the phones most of the time. And she lived alone. With a cat.
He cocked a blond eyebrow at her over his glass. “A secretary, huh? What kind of secretary?”
“I work at a company that does insurance work.” Also true. They got a lot of business from insurance companies investigating claims. It seemed prudent to keep the specific nature of Durham & Associates Detection Services’ work to herself while talking to a Brazen Bull.
“Well color me surprised. Are you like Catwoman, meek and mild by day, pouncing on unsuspecting men by night?”
She laughed. “Sure. We’ll go with that.” As she sipped the last of her drink, Apollo brushed a finger along her cheek.
“Damn, it is a gorgeous smile.”
She tipped her head out of his reach and focused on getting the attention of Bobby the Bartender so she could order another round and square things up between her and the Greek god who was making a claim on her.
Bobby came over, and she ordered. That would make five drinks for her in—she checked her watch—less than two hours. Shit, when she stood up, the room would spin. She’d be too drunk to drive. She might already be.
Okay. That meant making conversation for a while until she could get some water in herself and have another pee, too.
“So what is it you do, Apollo?”
Of course he was. At Brian Delaney Auto Service, no doubt. She let him dissemble, as she had. There was no need for full disclosure between them.
Bobby brought their drinks. As Jacinda reached for hers, Apollo laid his hand on her arm. Yeah, that was a burn scar, dark and smooth. At the same time, he held Bobby up with a gesture of his other hand. “Hold up.” He turned to Jacinda. “You’ve been pounding those back. How about we get something to eat?”
He wanted to sober her up? “You want to sober me up? I thought you had designs.”
“Basket of chips,” he ordered, “with salt and vinegar, and a cheeseburger for the lady.”
“I’m a vegetarian.”
That was a pants-on-fire kind of lie that had come out of nowhere, probably because she didn’t like him ordering for her, but Apollo simply said, “Make it a garden burger.” Bobby made a note and handed it to a bar-back.
When the bartender was gone again, Apollo leaned in close. “Never in my life have I needed to get a chick drunk.”
Of course not. They probably passed out from the sheer power of his pheromones. “Point of pride?” she asked, adding a little stinger to her tone.
“Point of human decency.” He sat back and picked up his glass.
Well, shit. That was a good answer. She was starting to like this guy, and not just because he was beautiful and she was—yes, getting drunk.
She watched him while he poured Guinness down his throat. Even the cadence of his swallows, the flex of those muscles, showed his strength. An urge grabbed her to press her fingers against his pulse point and feel that strength; she quelled it and sipped her own drink.
Setting his glass down abruptly, Apollo leaned toward her and fished in his jeans pocket. He pulled out a cellphone. “’Scuse me,” he said and answered. “Yeah. … Hey, Ox, there trouble?”
He turned away and pushed his chair back, as if he meant to get up, but stopped, leaning forward. Jacinda couldn’t help but listen. Eavesdropping was a professional skill that became an unavoidable personal habit.
“Slick and Fitz are on that.”
Apollo. Ox. Slick. Only big bad bikers could get away with calling themselves such ridiculous names without being ridiculed.
“Yeah, that’s right. You need me to come in? … Okay, man. Call again if you don’t get him. Yeah, ‘night.” He ended the call and pushed the phone back into his pocket, then turned to her with that well-rehearsed smile. “Sorry about that.”
“Nothing I have to deal with.”
“You and your friends have interesting names. Is that a thing with…mechanics?”
He shrugged. “It’s a thing with my friends, how ‘bout that.” Shifting his chair to face hers, he leaned in, so close that she felt his beard on her cheek, a sensation that tripped wires all the way through her, tightening her nipples and clenching her pussy, and murmured in her ear, “It’s not nice to listen to other people’s conversations.”
Turning her head slowly so the touch continued, her cheek slipping against his beard, her nose brushing his, their mouths close enough that his breath tickled her lips, she whispered back, “In civilized societies? I thought we’d established that we weren’t civilized.”
When he smiled, his beard brushed her lips, they were that close. “I guess we’re not. I like you, Jacinda the Catwoman.”
Though they were already practically mouth to mouth, and the magnetic fields of their bodies drew them to close the infinitesimal distance remaining, they didn’t. Jacinda liked that zing of the pull, the way the chemistry between them tingled all through her, too much to give into it, and Apollo seemed to like it just as much. So they hovered there, quivering on the fulcrum of potential, and everything around them dimmed to an inconsequential hum.
Until a broad shadow loomed over them and parked itself there. Reluctantly, Jacinda leaned back and looked up into Ryan’s smug face.
Jacinda sighed. “Ryan, meet Apollo. Apollo, Ryan.”
To her friend’s credit, though his eyes narrowed at the name, he kept his snark about Greek gods to himself and shook Apollo’s hand.
“Don’t mind me. I just want to let Jacinda here know that she doesn’t have to wait on me. I’m going upstairs to hang with the band after last call, and I’ll call a cab after.” Donovan’s kept an apartment above the pub to house talent while in town. Ryan shifted his friendly grin to one with some edge. “But until then, I’m just over there if you need anything.”
“I got it. Thanks. Have fun!”
Ryan blew her a kiss and wended his way back to the band’s table.
“Your friend dating the singer?” Apollo asked.
The singer was a waifish woman named Nuala. Ryan was out, but Jacinda made a point to let him deliver word of his outness to the people he met. This time, however, the words coasted out on a Sea Breeze wave. “The fiddler.”
“Oh. Ah.” Apollo shot a glance over her shoulder, toward the stage.
“You have a problem with that?”
“Why would I? Where he puts his dick is his business, as long as he has permission to put it there.”
Again, this guy surprised her. Not only for his lack of judgment, but for the oddly astute and precise way he had of explaining his reasoning. She liked it. She liked him.
So she kissed him.
She’d surprised him, but he recovered quickly and opened his mouth for her, letting her find his tongue. Oh, she liked that, too, how he didn’t take over and try to dominate her. This guy was smooth as glass. The rich taste of Guinness lingered on his tongue and rolled over hers. His lips were soft and full, and his beard was just rough enough to electrify the contrast of sensation. He smelled—God, what was that? He didn’t smell overly chemical or like she’d just dodged the cologne gauntlet at Dillard’s.
God, it was good, whatever it was.
She lifted her hand and hooked it around his neck—so solid and firm—and that touch charged through him somehow. Without ending the kiss or pulling back at all, he gripped the arms of her chair and yanked it around so that she faced him directly.
That surprise really hit her, and she turned away from his mouth with a gasp she couldn’t hold back. But he was right there, his hot breath skimming over her flushed cheek.
“Food’s here, Catwoman,” he murmured, his lips caressing her skin as he spoke.
Jacinda swallowed and tried to focus, no longer clear on whether she was drunk on vodka or on the god whose tongue had just memorized her mouth.
© 2017 Susan Fanetti