Today, I’m revealing the title, cover, and synopsis of the next BBMC book, and I have a preview for you as well. I’m also, at the end of this post, including the book’s Author’s Note, which contains a major spoiler. This book kind of needs a content warning.
Fight releases in 6 weeks, on Saturday, 2 June. I’ll set up the preorder a few weeks in advance. You can add it to your Goodreads TBR in the meantime.
Fight is Ox and Maddie’s story, and that makes it a little bit different right off the bat, since Ox and Mads are a long-established couple. There are some other differences as well–for one thing, Ox is the son of a Mexican immigrant, from Yucatán. He has a large and boisterous blood family, and connections to his father’s birthplace and Maya heritage, and all that figures in his story fairly significantly.
I won’t say more about the story right now; down below you can read the synopsis, and Chapter One, and, if you don’t mind a big ol’ spoiler, the Author’s Note, and get all the flavor you need from that. But I will say that I personally love this book. It’s one of my most personal stories, and the act of writing it was deeply emotional and cathartic. It wasn’t an easy write, and it probably won’t be an easy read, but I’m really proud of this one.
2017 was a very good writing year, now that I think about it. I wrote a lot of my best stuff last year. Including this.
Anyway, on to the rest of the reveals. Here’s the synopsis:
Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2000.
Fernando “Ox” Sanchez spent more than two decades as an enforcer in the Brazen Bulls MC before he was named to take the Vice President flash from a brother lost in club turmoil. In the time since, as Ox has settled into the place at their president’s side, the club has cleaned out festering wounds and begun to heal.
The Bulls are strong and growing, their work is expanding, and Ox’s life with his old lady is perfect. Their love has never wavered in fifteen years, their lust for each other still burns hot, and together, they’ve made a home that is a sanctuary from their past and their present.
Life is good. But Ox came from nothing, and scraped for years just to get by. He’s lived long enough to know better than to take the good times for granted.
Madonna “Maddie” Donne met Ox when she was at her lowest, and with him at her side, she’s climbed to heights of success and power matched only by the Bulls. After spending her whole life fighting for survival, she built herself up from that nothing, and Ox offered his shoulders for her to climb on when she couldn’t reach alone.
Together, they’ve built a beautiful life. But that beauty won’t protect them from the fight they’re about to face.
When Ox, named for his size and brute power, takes ill, he and Maddie will need every ounce of strength and resolve, every moment of love and trust, to fight the battle before them now.
Note: explicit sex and violence.
And Chapter One:
(Oh! I should point out that, since Ox and Maddie have been together for a long time, they get right down to the good stuff. This last scene of this chapter is very “smexy,” as they say!)
“Do we need to grow the table?”
At Maverick’s question, Ox scanned the faces around the Brazen Bulls’ table. Ten men sat at that scarred oak with him. Eleven members wasn’t the biggest roster Ox had known, in twenty-five years of association with the club, but they were talking about patching in three prospects at once, and fourteen members would make the roster the biggest in Bulls’ history.
Maverick had raised a good point—the club was in a period of peace, hard-earned, and there was no need for a large table in peacetime. Of course, that kind of thinking could leave the club undermanned should trouble rise up again. They’d been stretched thin, with thirteen members, during the recent war with the Street Hounds, which had come up in the middle of their Tulsa home after a long peace with Northside—stretched so thin they’d nearly lost.
In fact, they were contending with the question of patching in three members at once because they’d taken on three prospects to help fill the gaps as that war had loomed. Back then, they hadn’t had the luxury to consider the question of what they’d do when these men came up at the table all at once.
Another factor, the one that had spurred Maverick’s question, which had come on the heels of Eight Ball asking directly: how much would each patch’s take shrink when it was divided among fourteen men rather than eleven? The officers’ takes were bigger than the others, and all takes were calculated according to seniority and involvement, but everybody would take a hit. The money was rolling in, but three new patches meant a noticeably smaller cut. Not enough to cripple anybody—except possibly Eight Ball, who used up cash like it was toilet paper—but enough for everybody to feel.
But Caleb, Fitz, and Gargoyle had been prospecting for two years. Normally, they considered that the limit—if a prospect hadn’t earned his patch after two years, he washed out. It wasn’t a rule, though. The rule was only that a prospect period was reviewed after two years. Technically, a prospect could keep prospecting if he wasn’t ready.
Still, they’d never let a prospect go much longer, certainly not without hope that his patch was in sight.
And there was more, something the table didn’t know yet. Only the officers knew. Until, Ox assumed, now.
At the head of the table, Delaney patted his kutte absently; he’d given up his unfiltered Camels a couple of months back. He chewed nicotine gum constantly now, but at the table, he really faltered. Ox saw his mood tank as he patted his empty pocket.
Delaney was a different president now than he’d been most of the time Ox had known him. He’d led the club for more than twenty years like a cross between a drill sergeant and a father, with a strong hand and a warm heart, never wavering in his confidence in his sense of rightness and integrity, always willing to hear other ideas.
His integrity hadn’t stumbled, but his confidence had. The last couple of years, since Dane Nielsen’s death, Delaney’s state of mind had darkened. And time, rather than easing the pain of losing his best friend and right hand man, seemed to have infected the wound. Now, he led the club with a palpable weariness and a dwindling sense of joy.
He’d made some bad calls, too.
Ox sat at his right hand, and he wondered, often, whether there was more he could do, should do, to bring Delaney back to the light. But they’d never been best friends. They were close as brothers, loved and trusted each other, but they’d never had the symbiotic bond Delaney and Dane had had. Delaney had tapped Ox for the VP chair because he thought he was the best fit for the job, not because he felt especially close to him.
There was much Delaney didn’t share with Ox. Personal, interior things he might have shared with a best friend.
His need for a smoke unsatisfied, Delaney scowled at Maverick. “Let’s get to the point that was first on my agenda, before Gunner brought up the prospects. Got a call from Irina. She wants to expand her reach into the west. Add a new route straight west, with a customer pickup in Bakersfield.”
Beside Ox, Apollo jerked up straight. “D, that’s…shit, that’s something like fifteen hundred miles. She wants us to manage that? Longest run we have now is Galveston, and that’s a third the distance.”
“Longest run we’re in charge of is to Canada,” Ox corrected him. “We hand off at Lincoln, but we’re responsible for the Riders all the way to the border. That’s a thousand miles. We brought them in, so Irina sees them as our subcontractors.”
“We’d have to ‘subcontract’ another club to get a fifteen-hundred mile run done,” Simon mused. “How often would this new route run?”
“Once a quarter,” Delaney answered. “Four times a year.”
Gunner laughed. “Fuck me. That’ll have us running Russian shit about once a month.”
Running guns for the Volkov bratva was by far their riskiest work. Every time they escorted a truckload of her wares, they ran the risk of getting caught up in a legal snare. In Tulsa, they were fairly safe; the club had highly-placed friends throughout the city government. In the whole state of Oklahoma, they faced little risk. But once they crossed state lines, the risk skyrocketed.
It was also by far their most lucrative work. All the Bulls had earned sizeable stacks of cash over the years of their partnership with Irina Volkov.
“We get paid a cut of the take and a transport fee by the mile, right? Same deal as the other runs?” Eight Ball asked. He could always be counted on to see the green first.
Delaney nodded. “That’s right.”
“And if we say no?” Maverick asked. He could always be counted on to shoot darts at Delaney’s plans.
Their president didn’t answer, except for what could be read in the lines on his furrowed brow.
After a silence so heavy and alive it thrummed, Delaney went on, leaving Maverick’s question without a voiced answer. “Alexei will come out, and we’ll hammer out the details face to face. The new run won’t start until we’ve got the route scouted. Simon’s right. We’ll need to bring another club on board—”
“At least one,” Maverick cut in.
Delaney’s scowl deepened, but he nodded. “At least one, yeah. I assume, Mav, you’re about to call for a vote?”
Maverick raised his head and lowered it, one time, slowly, and Delaney sighed.
“Do we agree to take on the Volkovs’ new run, or do we refuse and accept the consequences? Aye takes the work. Aye.”
It was eight to three in favor of the work. Maverick, Simon, and Gunner voted against it. Ox thought that was bullshit—they had the luxury of standing on principle because they knew the majority would go the other way. Everybody knew that the consequences of refusing Irina would be dire, and the vote was more formality than not. As far as Ox was concerned, a nay vote under these circumstances was a hairsbreadth from disloyal.
“Now,” Delaney said, breathing a bit more calmly, “we can take on the question of the prospects. Sponsors, are your men ready?”
Gunner was Caleb’s sponsor. Caleb had been prospecting a couple of weeks longer than Gargoyle or Fitz. He was the first to respond. “Yeah. Caleb’s ready. And it looks like we need the bodies after all.”
Eight Ball, Gargoyle’s sponsor, nodded. “Yeah. I’m not keen on a bigger split, but Gun’s right. If we’re gonna take on another run, we need them. Gargo’s a weird son of a bitch, but he’s tough and loyal, so yeah, he’s ready.”
“Same for Fitz,” Becker said. He grinned. “Not the weird, but the ready.”
“Alright, then,” Delaney said. “Let’s vote. Caleb. Aye.”
They went around the table three times, and all three votes were unanimous, as was required to seat a new patch at the table.
“Alright. We got us three new members. Simon, get the patches. Ox, bring the boys in.”
While Simon went to the safe at the far corner of the room, Ox went around the table and opened the door to the clubhouse. “PROSPECTS!” he shouted. “Get your asses in here, shitheads! NOW!”
Caleb stood behind the bar. He looked appropriately scared. “All of us? What’d we do?”
“DID I FUCKING STUTTER?” Behind him, the patches at the table coughed back their laughter. Ox didn’t have trouble stifling his own smile. He fucking loved scaring the shit out of prospects, and he especially loved the way this particular event had returned the table to its rightful goodwill.
Caleb flew out from behind the bar. Fitz ran from the kitchen. Gargoyle came last, up from the basement. Not taking his time, but not running, either. He was older than the others and not as easy to freak out.
When all the prospects were in the chapel, lined up behind the end of the table, Ox sat back down. The three men stood there, in varying stages of anxiety, while the patches at the table glared.
Delaney crossed his arms. “Sponsors, stand the fuck up and account for these assholes.”
This was all ritual, a performance the patches had each experienced themselves. Gunner, Becker and Eight Ball got up and stood behind their prospects. They each had a Brazen Bulls MC patch tucked inside their kutte.
Eight Ball moved more slowly that the others. Several months back, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, he’d laid his bike down on a Texas highway and spent months out of commission. His left leg now was a reconstructed mass of skin and muscle grafts, and not a pretty sight. He’d never be the same, and he’d never walk without a pronounced limp or move more quickly than that hitching gait, but he was back in the saddle again.
When Caleb tried to turn to his sponsor, Gunner slapped him upside the head. “Eyes front, meat.” Caleb’s head swung forward again, so fast that his long hair lifted off his shoulders.
When the prospects were fidgeting with tension, Delaney said, “What say you, sponsors?”
As one, the sponsors yelled “Aye!” and slapped the Bulls patches against the prospects’ backs. Almost as one, the prospects jumped. Caleb yipped out a chopped-off yell. Even Gargoyle jumped.
“Congratulations, brothers. Welcome to the table,” Delaney said, and the old patches stood up and cheered.
No matter what kind of shit had come up at the table, it was always a celebration when they named a new brother. Or three.
Ox grinned when he saw Maddie’s Porsche 911 in the driveway. He’d left the clubhouse while she was still at Signet Models, and yet she’d beaten him home. His old lady had missed her calling; she should have been on the NASCAR circuit.
He’d left the club still celebrating their new patches and didn’t feel at all guilty about it. They’d do the real party on the weekend, anyway, and tonight, the only celebration would be three young guys getting their rocks off every way they could. That would happen at the party, too, but there’d be more people around to dilute the obnoxiousness of it all.
Ox was getting old, no doubt about it. These days, when he could see fifty waiting up ahead, all that party-hearty bullshit was just that: bullshit. As much as he loved his brothers, hanging out at the clubhouse had lost its appeal even before the nastiness with the Street Hounds. If he wasn’t on the road, he preferred to be home.
Parking his bike on the driveway beside his woman’s little hotrod, Ox opened the garage overhead and walked past his truck and the covered corpse of his old 1950 Indian Chief. He’d restored that thing not long after he’d gotten his own patch, and he’d ridden it as his main bike for a while, which had been fucking stupid. He’d dropped it on a no-lane road out in the sticks, fuck, twenty years ago? Before he’d met Maddie. Wrecked a classic bike and fucked up his back, which had vexed him ever since.
Someday, he was going to put that Chief back together. Maddie didn’t really believe him anymore, after all these years, but she didn’t bitch about the hulking ghost taking up a slot in their three-car garage. She used her slot only in bad weather, anyway; she lacked the patience to pull it in and out of the garage. She liked to go fast in everything she did.
He went in through the garage door, which opened into a short hallway between the den and the huge, largely unused, kitchen. Maddie stood there, leaning on her hip at the end of the hallway, a glass of red wine in one beautiful hand, and a glass of tequila in the other.
“Hi, boo,” she purred.
God, she was beautiful. She could see fifty, too, not much more distant from it than he was, but whereas he looked every day of his age and more, she looked fifteen years younger. He liked her best as she was right now—all her jewelry off, her stilettos kicked away, her silk blouse untucked from her leather skirt, leaning on the wall in their house, holding a drink for him. His successful businesswoman home for a night relaxing together.
The danger and upheaval they survived, the turmoil and drama they tolerated, it was all for this.
“Hey, nena.” As he took his glass, he bent down and kissed her, tasting her wine on her tongue. “Good day?”
“Normal. You?” She held out the hand he’d emptied when he’d taken his glass, and he shrugged out of his kutte and handed it to her.
“Patched in the prospects.”
Maddie arched up an elegant eyebrow. “All three?” She hung his kutte on the back of a chair in the breakfast area.
“Yep.” He swallowed his tequila, letting the warm silk pour down his throat until the glass was empty. Then he set it on the table. As he untied his knife sheath from his thigh, he added, “Looks like the Russian work is expanding. Smells good in here, by the way.”
“I ordered from Jasmine Dream. Got here right before you did. Expanding how?”
Maddie didn’t cook, but she was a master takeout-orderer. She could get meals from restaurants that didn’t normally do takeout, and she could sometimes even get delivery from places that didn’t deliver or do takeout. Whatever they were in the mood for, she could get it in their house.
Ox loathed eating in restaurants. He had to do it plenty on the road, and he did not want to eat in public when he didn’t have to. Maddie loved eating out, the more posh and pampering the better, but she’d learned to do it with her friends instead.
When they wanted a homemade meal, Ox cooked.
“Thai sounds perfect. We’re adding a run to California.” He pulled his sheath off his belt and set it on the table beside his empty glass, and fastened his belt again.
Finishing her wine, Maddie picked up his glass and went to the liquor shelf in the kitchen. “California? You’re kidding.”
“I’m not. Nothing’s set up yet. We got a lot to do to get it ready. It’ll be months yet.” He sat down and pulled off his boots. Something in his back pulled, and he winced but held back a grunt. Something was always bitching in his back. He was getting old, and he’d lived a hard life. From when he was small.
His Mexican father had immigrated to the US after World War II; he’d married an Anglo girl in Texas, and they’d run north from her outraged father. They’d made their way to Tulsa, and they’d cobbled together a rocky living from seasonal farm work, odd jobs, and whatever charity or assistance they could get, mostly from the Church. Except for knocking up a girl before marriage, his father had been strictly Catholic and strictly traditional. Ox was the third of eight children. Like his older siblings and the two that had followed next after him, he’d dropped out of school after eighth grade and gone to work in the fields to help keep his family sheltered and fed.
So yeah, he had a lot of aches and pains. A new one barely deserved notice.
Maddie brought over his refreshed glass. “I don’t know, boo. I’m worried.” She smoothed her hand over his short-shorn head. “California is a lot of state lines to cross.”
Some patches kept their women in the dark about club business, but Ox’s old lady wasn’t the kind of woman who tolerated secrets and ignorance, and he didn’t like them, either. From the start, they’d been open with each other about what went on when they weren’t together.
Ox took the glass and pulled his woman between his legs. “You know we can’t say no to Irina.”
Her pretty mouth made an irritated twist. “You know, I worked my ass off to get to a place where there was nobody in my life I couldn’t say no to. I got rid of my pimp, but I’m stuck with yours.”
“Hey, Mads, come on. We’re not gonna fight about this, right? That’s not what I want to do.” He drank his second tequila and set the glass aside again, freeing up his hands to undo the buttons on her blouse. “You’re wearing my favorite bra.” He flipped the sides of her blouse away and cupped her gorgeous tits in his hands. Such a contrast of his brown, battered mitts on her silky, sheer bra and fair skin, both the same pale tone. Her nipples beaded up against his palms, and he took one hand away and replaced it with his mouth, savoring the pink sweetness.
She moaned, and her hands dropped to his head. “Dinner’ll get cold.”
“I like cold Thai.” He stood, ignoring the twinge in his back and the creak in his knees, and pulled his woman to their bedroom.
Their bedroom was Ox’s favorite room in the house. He was proud of the whole building; he’d grown up sharing one of two bedrooms in his parents’ tiny rental shack with three brothers, his three sisters had shared the other bedroom, and his parents and the youngest brother had slept on a fold-out sofa in the front room. His entire, enormous family had shared one bathroom. This three-thousand-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bath, ten-room house in a style he’d learned was called ‘Tudor’ was like some kind of lord’s estate to him, and in the first year after he and Maddie had bought it, he’d roamed the rooms in the night, trying to understand how he’d managed to live in such a place, and strummed with anxiety that it would be taken away. He loved the whole damn thing. Even the leaky basement.
But the bedroom—that was the best. Though they lived alone, it was this room that felt truly private, and, thus, truly comfortable. Maddie had chosen the décor here, as in every room, according to her taste, and that was fine with Ox. He hadn’t really developed any taste growing up, so glomming on to hers had been easy. Now, after living here for several years, he could say that he shared her taste—big pieces of dark furniture, rich colors on the walls and fabrics, no fussy clutter. But a lot of plants. Maddie had a green thumb, and there were big tropical leafy things in every room. Even the bathrooms.
In this room, which itself had almost half the square footage of his parents’ whole shack, Ox’s favorite thing was the bed. King-size, four poster, ebony wood, heaped with soft linens and pillows. They’d had it custom-made to stand at exactly the right height so that Ox could stand his six-foot-six-inch body against the mattress and fuck his wife from behind. Maddie had to do a little hop to climb on at night.
He loved that thing almost as much as he loved his bike.
As he led his woman into the bedroom, she shook her hand free of his and went to her dressing area. He followed, and caught her hands as she moved to push her blouse off her shoulders. Their eyes met in the mirror, and she dropped her hands. The framing rows of round, pinkish light bulbs glowed in her clever grey eyes.
Ox’s palms and fingers were rough, but he’d learned long ago how to handle her dainty things without snagging them with his clumsy clubs. He pulled the silk back and down, letting it wisp over her skin until it floated past her fingers. Leaning around her, he draped the blouse over the back of her chair.
She stood still, her chest rising softly with each deep breath, and watched him in the mirror.
He skimmed his sandpaper palms up her bare arms, from her wrists to her shoulders, and then paused there to knead the muscles at her neck. When she moaned and dropped her head forward, Ox smiled.
“Watch me, nena,” he murmured, leaning close to her ear. “See me claim what’s mine.”
Under the transparent silk of her bra, her nipples tightened to hard pink knots. Maddie lifted her head and met his eyes in their reflection again.
Now that she was watching, he brushed his fingertips down her spine and unfastened her bra. She didn’t move, but let him ease the straps from her shoulders and push the silk away, until he could drop it to the floor at the foot of her chair.
Again, he swept his hands up her arms to her shoulders; this time, he pushed them forward, down her chest, over her tits, and swirled his fingers around points of tender flesh gathered tightly. In the mirror, he watched his hands and saw her eyes watching, too. She bit down on her bottom lip.
He took his hands away. “Shhh. You don’t talk.”
She closed her mouth, and her eyes.
Kissing his way down her spine, letting his tongue dawdle over his flame between her shoulder blades, Ox worked himself to his knees. He undid the hook and zipper of her leather skirt and pushed it from her hips, catching the slender sides of her thong as well. It matched her bra, the same creamy, see-through silk. Maddie’s underthings always matched. He pushed skirt and thong down to the floor. She stood still until he wrapped a hand around one of her graceful ankles, then she shifted so he could lift her foot and pull her clothes free.
This was who they were in this favorite room: Maddie was his, and she gave herself up to him, put herself in his hands. To some it might seem strange, that a woman who’d spent twenty years, from the time she was thirteen, working with her legs spread, doing the sexual bidding of an abusive pimp and every john who had the rate, would, now that she was free of that and in charge of her own life, wish to submit, but it made sense to Ox. She got off on being able to trust him, on knowing that his sexual desires were about her pleasure and not her pain. On being able to give freely what had once been bought and paid for or just plain taken.
Kneeling behind her, still clothed while she was now fully bare, Ox wrapped his arms around her hips and pressed his mouth to one of the round scars on her firm, shapely ass. A cluster of three dark, rough circles—cigar burns. She had two more on her belly, from another of her pimp’s ‘corrections.’ And a ruched scar at the top of her inner thigh, all the way to her pussy; the same pimp had tried to rape her with a butcher knife when she’d made her break for freedom.
Ox had very much enjoyed breaking that bastard’s bones until he could fit into a footlocker. He was buried in that box inside the concrete foundation of an office building downtown. As far as Ox knew, he’d still been alive when he’d sunk into the soft cement.
He’d killed more men, but none had ever been so satisfying.
When Ox loved on his woman, he loved on her scars, testaments to her toughness and spirit.
Working his way up to his feet, pushing back the pain in his knees, he stood behind Maddie again, head and shoulders taller than she. With his arms around her, he bent his head to her shoulder and kissed the knob of bone there. He trailed kisses to her neck, to her ear, and whispered, “What do you want tonight, nena? What do you need?”
“You, just you.”
“Just me?” He smoothed his palm over her sleek belly. “What do you want from me?”
“Your cock. Your beautiful cock.”
He brushed his nose through the tickling silk of her short blonde hair, taking in the tropical linger of her shampoo and styling gel. “What will you do for me if I give you what you want?”
She knew the answer; it was always the answer. “I’ll come for you.”
“When I say you can.” He pushed his fingers between her legs, over the smooth, hairless flesh at the heart of her. She was hot enough to scald him and wet enough to ease the burn. As he slid over her clit and into her, she moaned and trembled in his arms. “Not until I say.”
“Not until you say,” Maddie echoed on a breath.
He removed his hand and led her to the bed. “Up you go, and on your knees. Ass up.”
While she climbed up on their perfect bed and got into position, Ox yanked off his shirt and shoved out of his jeans. She was ready for him by the time he was as naked as she was; he fed himself into her, sliding easily into her scorching sheath, and grabbed her hips in the coarse mallets that were his hands.
Fifteen years. Thousands of fucks. It didn’t matter. Time between them was endless and immaterial. As well as they knew each other, as well as they knew the dances of their foreplay, the moves of their bodies, the places of their greatest pleasure, their intimacy had never grown routine. Each time with his old lady was better than any time he’d had with anyone before her. Every time his body and hers joined, his world rocked.
He thrust into her, picking up the drumbeat of their familiar rhythm. Each time he slammed against her, she grunted, the sound high-pitched and plaintive, each one like an extra stroke along his aching cock. When those high grunts became squeaks, he knew she was struggling to hold back, to do his bidding and wait to come. Struggling himself, the hot pool of need at the base of his gut catching flame, he held himself off, driving her to desperation.
Not until she flailed on the mattress, her head turning back and forth, those gorgeous grunting squeaks becoming the word please bursting out on every breath, not until his own body had tightened like a spring, did Ox relent. Still pounding into her, sweat seeping from his brow into his eyes, he leaned forward and slid his hands under her shoulders. He dragged her up until her back crashed into his chest. With one arm across her body, that hand gripping a tit, and his other hand shoved between her legs, over her clit, Ox worked Maddie with everything he had, until she screamed her pleas to the ceiling and her hands clawed at his arms.
“Please, Ox! Fuck, please let me come!”
“When I say,” he growled at her ear, tearing the words out through his clenched teeth. “You. Are. Mine.”
As always, those three words at her ear drove her need to its final frenzy, and as her nails dragged ridges into his arms, he said, “Go, nena. Show me.”
She exploded almost at once and went wild in his arms, her release washing over him as he kept up all his frantic attentions, chasing after her body that would no longer do his bidding. He let go of his own reins, too, and got slammed by his own climax just as she began to settle. His hoarse shout and tense clench drove her back up for another bump of fresh pleasure, and then he fell forward, dropping them both back to their sumptuous bed.
They lay in a heaving heap, her legs hooked back around his hips, his legs drooping off the end of the mattress.
“Love you, boo,” Maddie gasped, her voice muffled by the comforter.
“Te amo, nena,” Ox answered. “You hungry?”
And finally, the Author’s Note. WARNING! SPOILERS!
If you’re a reader like me, who wants to go into every book blind and experience the story without any preparation or protection, even if that means unexpectedly feeling raw pain, then you shouldn’t read this note. Just jump to Chapter One.
If you’re a reader for whom certain topics might trigger traumatic response, or who simply prefers to be girded before encountering hard topics, or who wishes to avoid them entirely, this note is for you, and will include certain specific spoilers for the story ahead.
I’ll wait before I proceed, while you decide whether you’d like to read this note.
Okay, now that I’m talking only to readers who don’t mind spoilers…
The trigger I’m warning you about here is terminal cancer.
In some way, every book I’ve written, from bikers to Vikings, contains a little part of me. Not only in the way that all books contain a piece of their writer, but in my own history and specific experiences. That’s not so unusual, either, of course. In my case, sometimes it’s a fairly subtle inclusion—a character who thinks like I do, for example, or looks like someone I know. But other times, I give a character an important piece of my history or personality. Cory’s unstructured parenting. Lilli’s Italian heritage (though I’m not fully Italian) and love of cooking. (And, of course, the whole Pagano Family, too.) Rad’s favorite exclamation. Sadie’s secret self-harm box. Carmen’s tendency to blow shit up when she gets scared. Theo’s professorship. Solveig’s self-doubt. Sid’s college rape. And so on.
Ox has a deeply important part of my own history, in several layers. The story of his father’s cancer is largely the story of my father’s cancer, all the way to the ages Ox was when it was diagnosed and when his father died. Ox’s decision about how he would respond should he ever be diagnosed with cancer himself, and how that decision, when he is faced with it, is complicated by love and obligation to others, is my own (though I haven’t had to face that diagnosis). His experiences with his own treatment reflect my experiences watching my father contend with his treatment.
Ox is alive at the end of this story, and he and Maddie are in a good place, content and at peace, wrapped up in their love. But even so, I’m not labeling this book a romance, because when it ends I know, you will know, and more importantly they know, quite clearly, that Ox won’t be alive much longer. Their happiness is thus too bittersweet and obviously fleeting, even for my own rather liberal interpretation of the genre guidelines for romance.
I’ve written about terminal cancer before, in Today & Tomorrow. That was a story about a young life flowering to fullness, finding fulfillment and new love in the brief moments before its untimely end.
This is a story about a mature life lived fully, and a deep, long-term love coming to terms with the time of parting.
Maybe because it’s so close to the rending loss of my father, I cried harder and more often—big, ugly, shirt-soaking tears—writing this book than any other book I’ve written, and I needed several days to recover before I could start the next thing. But those tears were cathartic and ultimately deeply satisfying. I’ve found myself returning again and again to read Ox and Maddie’s story. It’s full of love and strength and peace, and even hope.
It’s also full of family, both club and blood, and important things happen in the Brazen Bulls as well. So this book is not a “Byway” or a “Side Trip” or anything else that suggests it’s a pull-off on the series’ road. It’s not Book “5.5.” This is Book 6 because it is an integral part of the series. If you choose to skip it, but continue on with subsequent books in the series, you might need to ask someone for a recap of club events in the book so you can keep up. I’ve written Books 7 and 8, and I’ve done my best to include that recap myself in Book 7, within the context of that story.
I want to be clear, so you know what you’re getting into: though it’s also sweet and sexy (these two are seriously smoking hot, actually), though there’s club action and deep friendship, this isn’t a book with a difficult chapter or two. A lot of this story focuses on Ox’s illness and how it changes his and Maddie’s life together. This is a book about finding peace in the certainty of dying, and finding strength when you know you’ll lose the one you love most in the world.
I’m proud of this story. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve written, and not simply because it’s intensely personal to me. Ox and Maddie’s love gives me hope, and their strength makes me feel strong.
I hope you’ll join me here, at the end of their journey.
© 2017 Susan Fanetti