Today is reveal day for the cover, title, and description of Stand, The Brazen Bulls MC Book 7. I’ll set up the preorder next week, in advance of its release on Saturday, 1 September–four weeks from today!
Stand is Caleb and Cecily’s story. If you’re caught up with the series, you know that Caleb and Cecily have had a couple thorny encounters in the past, and that Cecily has NOT been in a good place since her dad’s death. She’s basically a mess, and she knows it.
Caleb’s gotten into some serious trouble for his encounters with Cecily, and he’s got the scars to show for it, but he’s a patch now, with full standing in the club. Still, Cecily has a whole lot of stand-in fathers who’ve taken on the responsibility to keep her safe. Maverick in particular. Caleb is going to have to be right with them to get close to her.
They’re not the only family he’s got to get right with. He’s got troubles of his own at home, with a grandfather and a brother disappointed in the direction he’s aimed his life.
This story takes place mostly in 2001. Another major upheaval in the club is brewing, and chaos is about to hit the world as well.
Here’s the description for Stand:
Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2001.
Caleb Mathews is caught between two worlds: Osage Nation, the world of his ancestors, and the Brazen Bulls MC, the world of his brothers. Straddling both, he struggles to be steady in either. The pull he feels most strongly is to his club. There, he knows he’ll someday find his place to stand. But to choose them is to betray his blood.
After her father’s violent death, Cecily Nielsen turned her back on the Brazen Bulls—the world that her father helped create, and the only family she’d ever known. Now, she’s lost in the dark, unsure of what she has or who she is. Going nowhere, toward nothing, and spiraling out of control.
When Cecily finds herself in danger, it’s the Bulls she calls for rescue, and Caleb who answers. She doesn’t want to need the Bulls, whom she blames for her father’s death—and she especially doesn’t want to need Caleb, who’s seen her at her worst. But in her lowest moment, she calls out for the family she remembers, and Caleb brings her home.
At Cecily’s side as she finds her footing, Caleb finds his as well. Together, they stand on solid ground, and they keep each other steady when the club and the world itself fall into chaos.
The one who’s seen the worst of you and stays strong at your side is the one to hold close.
And the first half of Chapter One as a teaser:
“Can you give me a hand, Chief?”
Closing his eyes against the clench at the base of his skull that word always brought on, Caleb sighed and turned back to the truck. When he didn’t move right away to help, Van, one of the Great Plains Riders, tried to pull the last crate of AKs out on his own.
Caleb had had his top rocker almost a year—long enough that these assholes owed him some respect. Van knew Caleb’s name as well as Caleb knew his.
He was of a mind to let Van try to carry that crate his damn self. Instead, he stalked over and jumped up into the nearly empty compartment. “Call me ‘Chief’ again, and I’ll lift a tomahawk from a museum just so I can scalp you with it, motherfucker.” He shoved at the crate and pushed it around, then jumped down and grabbed hold of the side Van hadn’t been struggling with.
Van gaped at him. “Fuck, man, no offense meant. Didn’t know you were so sensitive.”
He wasn’t, generally. It always pissed him off, but he usually let it go without comment. If he fought every asswipe who threw that word his way, he’d never stop fighting. But there were some times and places he wouldn’t tolerate it. This was one of them. “Now you know. Lift.”
They lifted, and carried the crate into the quiet factory in the middle of Bumfuck, Nebraska, where Colin Murphy, the Riders’ VP, and Becker, the Bulls’ new VP, were heaving the crates through a trap door and into the basement below.
Setting this final crate on the floor, Caleb stood straight and looked around. The factory didn’t run on weekends, so the only people in the place right now were bikers on this job.
It wasn’t much, just a corrugated steel building with a cement floor and a framed-out storage area in the basement. About two dozen sewing machines, some pretty standard-looking and others pretty weird, were set up in neatly organized rows. He imagined that all those machines were run by hunched-over women during working hours, and this place was loud as hell.
Liberty Embroidery, it was called. Murphy’s cousin or something ran the place. They did embroidery for uniforms and patches—including the patches and flash on the Bulls’ and the Riders’ kuttes. And on hats and uniforms for Little League, and regional high schools, and all that. It was a humble family business and a great, low-profile location for short-term storage of black-market Russian weaponry.
It reminded Caleb a little bit of the beading business his grandma Jewel had run. That place was even smaller than this—just his grandma and his mom, his aunts, and a couple other women, and they’d mostly worked by hand, but they’d had a little storefront shop and worked in back, and their tables had been lined up a lot like this place.
The Osage were known for their elaborate traditional beadwork. Some patterns were sacred and only for their people, but the white suburbanites who wanted to hang tribal art above their sofas didn’t know a traditional Osage beading from a wallpaper pattern. As long as it was crafted by Osage women, they were content to pay top dollar. The shop had made a reasonable living for them all.
Most of what he knew of the shop, or his grandma, or his mom, came from old photographs and stories his grandfather told. His memories of them were sketchy and blurred; he’d been only seven when an overtired delivery driver had lost control of his truck, driven through the back of the shop, and killed them all. Every female member of his family gone, all at once. His grandfather had raised him and his brother.
Every time he stood in this place, his hazy memories of his grandma’s shop, and every woman of his family, rose up and perched on his shoulder for a day or two.
A hand slammed onto his shoulder now. “You ready, brother?” Apollo asked.
Caleb looked around—the crates were gone, and the trap door was closed up, with one of the sewing stations moved over it. Four Bulls and three Riders stood idle.
He shook off his ghosts. “Yeah. Let’s ride.” Time to get his ass back home.
Tulsa to just outside Lincoln and back again in one day was a long fucking haul, long enough that they couldn’t do it when Delaney or Eight Ball rode this run—Delaney because he was too old to ride all day, and Eight because his bad leg wouldn’t hold up for ten or twelve hours in the saddle. But this time, one of the few times that they ran all three runs at once, it was Becker, Apollo, Fitz, Slick, and Caleb riding north—nobody too old, everybody spry. With the truck empty of dangerous cargo, they got some speed going, too, and carved off an hour or so from the trip home.
The riders on the northern run would be back in town first; the other runs planned to stop for the night. With Delaney still on the road, and no call to the chapel likely, Caleb peeled off from his brothers near Ponca City and headed east, toward his grandfather’s place in Pawhuska.
This whole portion of Oklahoma, the huge wedge from Tulsa north and northwest to the Kansas state line that was Osage County, was Osage land, but there wasn’t an actual reservation in Oklahoma. Not like other reservations, which worked in part like separate countries, with firm borders. Through a series of political moves on the part of the federal government back in the 1800s and into the 1900s, moves that Caleb, much to his grandfather and brother’s chagrin, hadn’t studied well enough to entirely understand, the state of Oklahoma sort of overlaid Osage Nation, and tribal members coexisted with other Oklahomans. The result was that the Osage were a minority on their own reservation. But the Osage had three towns in Osage County that were substantially populated by tribal members, and they still held communal mineral rights as well. Including oil rights.
Those ‘headrights’ had been bones of contention between the Osage and whites for all the years the tribe had existed in Oklahoma—and they were here only because they’d been forced off their ancestral lands to the north and east. Back in the Twenties, Caleb’s great-grandfather had been murdered by a white rancher and his mob, set on stealing his land and the oil beneath it. Dozens of Osage had been killed in a span of a few years back then, in a plot worthy of a novel.
The tribe wasn’t nearly as rich as it had once been, but the land was still Osage land, and honestly, Caleb thought they were better off than most tribes. Not being fenced in had given them power in negotiation with Washington that others never had. That murderous rancher and his accomplices had been found out and imprisoned. They had good ranchland. They’d had oil. The elders were in talks with the federal government to remediate losses taken from the tribe through fraud and coercion. And now the tribal council was arguing, with the state and with each other, about casinos.
The sun had just about set when he made it to Pawhuska. Twilight turned the little town to shadows, but the last rays of sun behind him still flashed amber on the Main Street shop windows and made his shadow roll out long and thin on the road ahead of him. He rolled through town and hung a right, taking that road all the way to the end, where it gave up any pretense of being a paved road and hooked around near Bird Creek. He pulled his bike up on the broken blacktop of his grandfather’s driveway and parked behind his old Ford pickup.
Before he’d killed the engine, he could hear Ace barking, and by the time he had the stand down, the blue heeler had barreled up from the back. The dog jumped up onto his lap, that strident, ear-splitting bark still tearing from his mouth, even as his tongue turned Caleb’s face into a dripping mess.
Holding the wriggling dog, Caleb dismounted and got down on the ground with him to wrestle for a minute, until his grandfather’s whistle sliced the air, and the dog tore off toward it.
Caleb rose from the scrubby yard and brushed himself off as his grandfather ambled to him. They met under the dusk-to-dawn light humming in the front yard. The eerie glow directly above their heads deepened the creases and divots in the old man’s hawkish, pockmarked face and turned it into a death mask.
And then he smiled, and that fearsome look vanished. “Caleb. Didn’t expect you.”
“Hey, Grampa. Coming back from a ride, and I thought I’d stop in and see how you’re doing.”
Caleb was careful not to call it a ‘run,’ but his grandfather’s smile still wavered a bit at his words. He didn’t like that Caleb was a Bull. “I’m good. You hungry? I was about to heat up some stew and cornbread.”
“That’s okay. I can’t stay long. I’m going over to Kelly’s.”
The smile came back, this time with a hook of wry understanding. “So you’re here to get a shower before you go on a date.”
Not a date, exactly. More booty call. Kelly didn’t know he was coming over. But she never said no, and she was almost always around. She worked liked ten-hour days at the market, five or six days a week, so when she was home, she was home. But she was always game for some sweaty sex, and he liked a good fuck after a long run. Got the kinks out.
Kelly wasn’t the only sure thing in his life. In Tulsa, there was a clubhouse full of sweetbutts there for the pleasure of the Bulls. But sweetbutts tried so damn hard. They were all big hair and huge jewelry, and tits and ass everywhere. Most of them were heavily inked, too. There was some appeal, sure, but he liked normal girls, too. Kelly wasn’t the kind of girl anybody noticed on the street; even her Osage features were bland. But she was easy to be with, and sometimes that was exactly what he needed.
“I’m here to see you. And to get a shower. If that’s okay.”
His grandfather laughed. “Come on, son. Wash the road dust off you. I’ll get you a beer.”
Kelly’s roommate opened the door and rolled her eyes. “You’re such a shit, Caleb. You could at least call first. I’m surprised you don’t come to the door with your dick already out.”
“Gena, back off,” Kelly said from within. “Hey, Caleb.”
He looked over Gena’s head and into the room. Kelly was sitting on the sofa, still in her work smock. The television flickered blue over her face. “Hey, Kell.” He held up the flat box burning his hand. “I brought pizza.” He raised the six pack in his other hand. “And beer. Want to hang out?”
Kelly must have nodded or otherwise indicated assent, because Gena heaved a gale-force sigh, shoved the door open, and stepped clear. “There better be enough pizza for me, too.”
“Extra large. Plenty even for your wide ass.”
She kicked at the back of his knee and nearly sent him headlong. “Asshole.”
He stumbled but kept his feet and turned to her with a grin. “Bitch.”
They’d all grown up together, were all Osage kids, and had been friends their whole lives. He’d never dated either of them—or anybody, really, until after high school—but a year or so ago, right around the time he got his top rocker, he and Kelly had started up this semi-regular thing, and Gena had always been weird about it. Not jealous, but hostile. Caleb didn’t have to guess why; she said it outright every chance she got. She wanted more for Kelly than a booty call. But it wasn’t like he was keeping her from having a relationship, or even getting laid by other guys. He saw her once a week, at the most. She’d been spending her nights sitting on her sofa watching television before they’d started their thing.
Kelly got up from the sofa and dragged over to their Formica table as he opened the box and pulled three beers from the pack. Her hair was up the way she wore it for work, pulled hard back from her face and all knotted up on the top of her head. First thing when they got back to her room, he was going to pull that down. Then he’d get that sad smock off of her. And then he’d see if he couldn’t put a smile on her.
“Yeah! Oh God, oh shit! Shit! Harder!”
Caleb clutched Kelly’s hips and shifted his position, bringing his left leg up and planting his foot on her mattress so he could get better leverage and give her what she wanted. With his next thrust, she squealed—the sound had a weird metallic undertone, and it wasn’t until his phone rang again that he understood what it was.
Fuck. His fucking club burner. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He thrust a couple more times, trying to ignore it, but he couldn’t let it go. They had two teams out on runs.
He’d stopped moving, and she was close. The phone rang again. “I have to get that.” When he pulled out, she shrieked in frustration.
“You’re shitting me,” she gasped as he stood.
The phone was still ringing when he dug it out of his kutte pocket. “Yeah!”
A female voice he almost recognized, thought he should know, asked, “Mav?”
“No, wrong number, sorry.” Apollo did some weird shit with the burner phones, collecting them every now and then and wiping them clean. They weren’t supposed to give anybody the numbers but club members, but everybody did it all the time, so he shuffled the phones around to make it harder to use them as personals. It hadn’t worked. By now, all the old ladies had all the numbers, and they just—wait. This wasn’t Jenny, Maverick’s old lady, and it sure as hell wasn’t his little girl, Kelsey. It wasn’t any old lady, he didn’t think. So who the fuck had Mav given this number to? A sweetbutt? No way. “Who’s this?”
“Who’s this?” The voice was so damn familiar. Maybe it was an old lady? The words were badly slurred; even those two syllables had taken a twisty path out of the speaker’s mouth.
“I asked you first.”
“I need Mav. It’s an em—emer—emercy. I needim. Sposed…callim.”
Jesus hell, he knew who this was. His heart did a weird shifty thing that he hated. “Cecily?”
Cecily was the oldest daughter of Dane, the first Bulls VP. He’d died on the clubhouse floor, at the hands of another Bull, and Cecily had been on some kind of collision course ever since—and doing her damnedest to pull as many people as she could along with her. Including Caleb.
“Mav? Need you.”
“Mav’s in Texas, Ciss. This is Caleb.”
“Need Mav. Hurry.” She’d started to whisper now, and Caleb heard other voices in the background. A lot of them.
“Where are you?”
“Dunno. Bad place. Needmav.” The phone went dead.
Behind him, Kelly had sat up. “What’s wrong?”
He ignored her and dialed the incoming number. When he didn’t get an answer, he called Apollo, who picked up on the first ring.
“Yeah.” Apollo whispered, and Caleb could hear him getting out of bed. Jacinda was pregnant, and they’d had some trouble getting and staying that way. Caleb pictured her sleeping and Apollo tiptoeing out of the room so he wouldn’t disturb her.
“It’s Caleb. There’s a problem with Cecily. Can you trace her phone?”
“She doesn’t have a club phone. I don’t know her number. What kind of problem?”
“I have it. She just called me. I don’t know the problem, but she sounds like she’s in trouble. She was looking for Mav, says she needs him. She said she was in a ‘bad place’.”
“Shit. Shit. I can’t—I don’t have the tech to trace any number I want to. Just ours. But give me the number and I’ll see if I can call in a favor at this time of night. You at your granddad’s?”
Close enough. “Yeah. I can come in, though.”
“You better. If she’s in real trouble, it’s gonna take more than one of us to get her. What’s her number? I’ll call a friend and see if I can get a trace. Meet me at the clubhouse.”
Caleb gave Apollo the number. They ended the call, and he pulled the condom off his deflated dick. “Sorry, Kell. I got to go.”
Kelly had the sheet tucked up across her chest. “I heard. She’s somebody important to you, this Cecily?”
“She’s the daughter of a friend.”
That answer was close enough to the truth. Caleb had been only a prospect at the time of Dane’s death, and he’d mostly been intimidated by the club officers. He hadn’t known the man well. But he’d gotten to know his daughter since his death. A bit too much, if you asked some. Not as much as he’d have liked to.
“Are you coming back?”
He buttoned up his jeans and grabbed his t-shirt. “I doubt it, not tonight. I’m really sorry.”
“That’s okay,” she sighed. “I hope she’s okay.”
“Thanks, sugar.” Caleb kissed Kelly on the cheek, grabbed his kutte, and split.
Apollo was waiting for him when Caleb got there, but otherwise, the clubhouse was deserted. Most of the club was still out on the southern and western runs, and the others were, he supposed, home in bed. Apollo apparently hadn’t called them. Not even Becker, their new VP.
It was hard to get used to the idea that Becker was their VP. Just a couple months ago, he’d been a grunt like the rest of them and not obviously a standout at the table. But with Ox retiring and going off to Mexico to wait for his cancer to kill him, and Rad not wanting the VP flash, Caleb guessed there wasn’t a better candidate.
Honestly, he would have thought Maverick the best fit. He was smart and definitely a standout at the table. But for reasons above Caleb’s pay grade, that hadn’t happened.
“I got her 20,” Apollo said as he met Caleb at the door. “She’s east of downtown, off of 11th Street.”
“11th?” That was all hookers and pushers. “What the fuck?”
“If I’m right, she’s in more trouble than just tonight. But we can’t go thundering in there, or we’ll start some kind of shit. That’s too close to Hounds turf.”
It was still Bulls ground, but that close to Greenwood, in the northern part of the area that used to be neutral before the Bulls won a war against the Street Hounds and claimed that turf in the truce, the boundary was porous. The Hounds had permission to sell there and cut the Bulls in.
The Bulls drew a strange and, from Caleb’s perspective, arbitrary line around drugs. Delaney wouldn’t hear of selling it or running it, he had some kind of moral superiority about it, but every damn thing they did was connected to drugs in some way. The guns they moved went to drug cartels and their dealers. And they took a cut from the Hounds’ drug trade in Tulsa. Caleb thought it was damn hypocritical to get all high and mighty about staying clear of drugs, when most of their income came from a Russian bratva up to its ushanka in every kind of drug there was. But he was at the bottom of the heap, so nobody much cared what he thought.
He got what Apollo was saying—Cecily was in some kind of drug den, almost definitely run by the Hounds, and if they went in hot, they could start more than a brawl. But they had to get Dane’s daughter out of there. “What’s the plan, then?”
“You and me. Just us, no colors. We’ll take the van and see if we can get her out quietly.”
“Should we carry?”
“Oh, yeah. Let’s not be stupid. But if we can avoid starting a new war, let’s do.”
from Stand © 2017 Susan Fanetti