Today I’m revealing the cover, etc. for my next release! Crazy Cat, Book 2 of the Capital City MMA series, features Mila “Crazy Cat” Castro, a rising star in the league working to position herself for a chance at the women’s flyweight belt.
Mila has quite a lot of trauma in her childhood, and it’s made her hold most people at arm’s length. Even the people she does trust don’t get much closer than that. It’ll take somebody pretty special to get past all her guards.
Hector Lopez is that guy. Though he’s got plenty of baggage himself.
Release day for Crazy Cat is Saturday, 6 March. Preorder will be available starting Saturday, 13 February. You can add it to your Goodreads TBR now.
Here’s the description:
Camila “Crazy Cat” Castro is on the verge of MMA stardom, climbing the rankings, laser-focused on making a chance at the flyweight belt. After growing up in the system, she’s built a careful, mainly solitary life for herself, with nothing to distract her from her goal in the cage.
And no one close enough to hurt her outside it.
Hector “Hex” Lopez grew up in chronic homelessness with his mentally ill mom. Now he runs a shelter himself. He was able to overcome the obstacles and mistakes of his past with the help of a few good people, and he’s devoted his life to holding his own hand out to others.
He’s also got some atoning to do.
When Mila and Hex meet, the mutual attraction sparks at once. When they finally get together, those sparks catch fire. But before they can build something together, they’ve got to deal with their pasts—including the past they didn’t know they shared.
That shared past is painful, and it shaped them both forever. If they’re going to overcome it, they’ve got some hard work to do.
And as a preview, the first scene:
“What about this?” Mila Castro picked up a clear glass pot or pitcher of some sort that looked like it belonged in a museum and turned to present it to Shani.
“Ooh, is that a Pyrex stove-top coffee pot?” Shani snatched it from her hands and turned it over. “Yes! This is from like the Fifties!” She held it up to the sun as if it were the Holy Grail itself. “Perfect!”
Mila laughed and shook her head. Her best friend loved yard sales, thrift shops, flea markets, antique shops, anywhere you could buy other people’s discarded crap. They spent a lot of weekends crawling through garages and yards and parking lots looking for rare finds and white elephants.
It was a testament to their deep friendship, because Mila had worked her ass off from the moment she’d aged out of foster care to be able to afford new things. She’d lived with hand-me-downs and ‘freecycles’ all through her childhood and for years after, and there was nothing about ‘vintage’ that appealed to her.
Shani had grown up poor, too, dressed, shod, bedded, and sheltered in her older siblings’ hand-me-downs and her parents’ bargain shopping. But she’d turned that experience into an avocation.
Maybe it was the difference between growing up in a big family and growing up the way Mila had. To her, hand-me-downs and yard-sale buys were charity and failure. To Shani, who’d spent her childhood scouring sales with her family, they were the rewards of great adventures.
Anyway, Mila had been to hundreds of sales with Shani and had long ago stopped buying anything for herself, but she’d toted and lifted and packed hundreds of her friend’s new-to-her treasures.
“Can you tell who’s working here?” Shani asked, looking around the parking lot as she gingerly placed her holy coffee grail in the cardboard box in which she’d been collecting her treasures.
They’d been carpooling to Capital City Fight Center to work out when Shani had seen the sign for the St. Benedict Shelter’s rummage sale and had hung a right so hard her Wrangler had tipped onto two tires. It was a Saturday afternoon, and the lot bustled with people surrounding about a dozen long, flimsy folding tables and several rows of clothing racks.
Mila tried to see cash changing hands, to tell who was giving and who was receiving, but people kept blocking her view. “The assholes running this place should be wearing name tags or aprons or something so we can tell.”
“We are wearing name tags and matching t-shirts,” a male voice said behind her. “And I don’t think any of us is an asshole. Well, maybe one guy, but he can’t help it.”
Whipping around, Mila found herself face to face with a tall, dark-haired, bearded guy in a navy blue t-shirt with the St. Benedict logo across the chest. A small black pin clipped to the shirt said Hector.
Actually, Mila wasn’t quite five-one, so they were more face to chest, and virtually every adult on the planet seemed tall to her, so maybe he was only average. He was definitely shorter than Thor, Jake, or Niko, some of her fellow Cap City fighters, but those guys were enormous.
But he was definitely dark-haired and bearded, and she definitely felt like an asshole now for calling him and his coworkers assholes.
“Sorry. But those name tags are hard to see.”
He smirked and took a couple steps past her to set on the table a wooden crate full of dishes packed with what looked like straw.
Shani dived at that crate like it was the last package of toilet paper in the apocalypse.
“This is Corelle! The Indian Summer pattern! My mom is gonna faint.”
Hector laughed. “I don’t want to cause anybody any health trouble, now.”
Sparing a moment to give him a brilliant smile, Shani went back to ransacking the crate. “This is a great sale. Where’d you get so much awesome stuff?”
“Donations. We’ve got arrangements with a few consignment places around town, too.” He turned to Mila. “You’re empty-handed. You don’t want to help out the shelter? It’s a great cause.”
Impervious to his little guilt jaunt, Mila shrugged. “I’m just the help. Shani’s the one who likes paying for other peoples’ trash.”
“Trash? That’s harsh.” He set a hand on his chest like she’d wounded him, but he smiled to show he was teasing. Nice smile. Good teeth. After a childhood of indifferent and erratic foster care, Mila had gone through a fuck ton of dental work to have a nice smile.
His hand was inked—a black and grey skull—and there were symbols on the backs of his fingers, too. Strange black marks that almost looked like letters. Mila felt a faint ping, like she should be able to read them, but they were really just squiggles.
Noticing that, she also noticed that he was fairly heavily inked in general—hands, arms, a little ink showing on his neck, rising from his t-shirt. A t-shirt he filled out pretty nicely. Mila spent her life around fighters, a whole lot of extremely fit men wearing not very many clothes, so she wasn’t necessarily impressed by big muscles. This Hector person was not extremely fit, but he took care of himself. There was a bit of pectoral contour under his t-shirt, and enough swell of biceps to pull his sleeves taut.
Mila had far too much going on in her life, and had had far too much going on in her past, to be interested in romance and relationships. Honestly, she didn’t like many guys even as friends, and she knew better than to trust any of them to get too close.
However, she liked a good lay, and for that she had to let a guy get a little bit close every now and then.
Often, she’d wished she were like Shani, who was bi and tended to prefer women. Mila had tried to be into women, but it turned out it wasn’t a choice one could make. Despite plenty of evidence of its dangers, she liked dick. Her finely tuned antennae were telling her this guy might be interesting in that regard.
“I calls ‘em likes I sees ‘em,” she answered him with a smirk, dipping a toe into the waters of flirtation.
His posture and affect changed slightly, picking up what she was putting down. His good smile grew wide, and he leaned in. “Well, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, they say.”
“Have we ever pinpointed the location of this ‘they’ who says so much? You know, for a drone strike?”
He laughed. It was a very nice laugh, low and a little raspy. A laugh that suggested there were things he knew but wouldn’t share. A seductive laugh.
The more she let herself see of him, the more interesting he got. He wasn’t exactly handsome in a fashion-model, movie-star way, but he was good looking. His face was kind of rugged, with a few scars she recognized as the remnants of fighting, and he had a little age on him, some grey speckles in his beard, some lines around his eyes, enough so she thought he was maybe ten years older than her twenty-nine. Right at the outside edge of acceptable. She was extremely and emphatically not into older guys. One grabby foster dad had ripped any Daddy complex inclination right out of her.
This guy was Latino, too—he had the look, and the name, so she felt pretty secure in that assumption. She herself had the name, and maybe the look, but she’d had to do one of those DNA tests to learn that her heritage was a hodgepodge of Latin American, and some other tiny percentages. According to the analysis of the results she’d gotten back, Cuba was the likeliest source of her largest percentage.
Knowing where her blood had likely come from hadn’t given her the grounding she’d hoped for, however. It hadn’t really meant anything at all.
That had been a hard blow, getting the results back and not feeling any different about herself. Her whole life, she’d wondered who she was, who her people were. But then she’d stared at the results, and they were just numbers. They changed nothing. She had no people.
Blood wasn’t a culture. Or an identity. It was just blood. Despite her name or her looks, or her blood, her culture and identity were nothing more than ‘foster kid,’ and there was no way to change that.
It sucked. The foster kid identity meant mistrust, anxiety, generally major psychic and physical scarring, and the hardwired certainty that everything could and likely would go tits-up in a finger-snap.
Maybe it was her need for an identity founded on more than loss and insecurity that made her gravitate to Latinx people. Shani was Afro-Latina—African American and Dominican—and her Dominican mother had scooped Mila up immediately upon meeting her and plopped her in the middle of the Jones family chaos.
The Joneses were the closest thing she’d ever had to family, but it hadn’t eased her sense of placelessness.
In fact, when she sat in the middle of their boundless busyness, she usually felt more isolated, not less. She’d always be a guest in other people’s families.
She’d had all those thoughts in the half-second of Hector’s laugh, and had left just enough of a silence after it that he’d cocked his head at her.
“Hey, Hex!” a female voice shouted from some distance before Mila could speak. Hector turned toward it, and Mila did as well. A woman built like a softball coach, short and stocky, wearing a bright pink t-shirt with the St. Benedict’s logo, stood in the midst of the throng, holding a carved wooden giraffe, about four feet tall. “Where should I put this? Toys? Décor? What?”
“Hold on, Callie, I’m coming!”
Hector turned to Mila. “Excuse me. Duty calls.”
“Hex?” she asked with a grin. “Cute nickname.” Considering that her fight name was ‘Crazy Cat,’ she had no room to tease, but he didn’t know that.
“Remnant of a misspent youth. Couldn’t shake it, so I embraced it.”
Reluctant to let him go, Mila tried to think of something else to say before he did. Her brain shorted out and offered no help.
Shani, however, did. “Before you go, who do I talk to about buying this stuff?”
Hector leaned close to her—Mila felt a little zing of jealousy—and pointed toward the building. “See that table by the door? We’ve got people set up there for transactions. Cash only.”
“Obviously,” Shani said and adjusted her now overflowing box of goodies. She slanted a mischievous grin Mila’s way. “Her name’s Mila, by the way. If you ask for her number, I bet she’ll give it to you.”
Mila sent a look to her friend that shouted FUCK YOU HO YOU SUCK WHY DO YOU SUCK SO HARD also thank you. Shani grinned back.
Hector—or was it Hex?—turned back to Mila. “That true?”
“HEX!” shouted the giraffe-carrying Callie.
“TOYS!” shouted Hector-slash-Hex without looking her way.
Mila decided she might kind of like this guy. In a totally casual, totally unserious, potential good fuck kind of way.
“Looked more like décor to me,” Shani said on the sidelines.
Mila and Hex both laughed.
“Do you want my number?” Mila asked.
“Sure,” Hex answered. “Or you can take mine, if it makes you feel safer.”
She both liked that he thought of her sense of safety and was irritated that he thought she might feel vulnerable. But that was her problem, not his; she was smart enough to know he’d just done a good-guy thing.
“I have some questions first.”
“Married or otherwise involved?”
He held up his inked left hand. No ring. “Nope.”
He smirked. “Rude.”
Mila lifted an eyebrow and waited for him to answer.
Younger than she’d thought. Comfortably within acceptable range. “Gainfully employed?”
He tapped his nametag. “What do you think?”
“You could be a volunteer. Which might make you a decent human being, but doesn’t mean you aren’t living in the shelter.”
That earned her a chuckle. “I’m the director. Even got an office, in which I sometimes sleep but do not live. And yes, it comes with a paycheck that covers all my expenses. Any other questions?”
“No, that’ll do.” She wasn’t interested in anything serious, but there were boundaries around what she’d do casually, too. No deadbeats, cheaters, or creepy old men.
“Do I get to grill you, too?” he asked, still smirking.
“My answers are no, twenty-nine, and yes.” Her job was a little weird, maybe, but it was gainful.
She didn’t tell him what it was, and he didn’t ask.
“Then here.” He shoved his hand into a back pocket of his jeans and pulled out his wallet—it was brown, accented with red stitching like a baseball. He pulled a small white rectangle from it. A business card.
He handed it to her. A basic card, black ink on white cardstock. Under the St. Benedict’s logo and address, it said, Hector Lopez, B.A., M.S.W.; Director. Beneath that were two phone numbers, for office and cell.
“Hex!” another voice shouted, sounding harried. “I need help!”
“I gotta get back to work,” Hex said to Mila. “Call me, if you want.”
“Maybe I will,” Mila said.
“I hope you do.” With one last smile, he headed off into the crowd.
With her overflowing box in her arms, Shani stepped to her side and read the card. “MSW—he’s got a Master’s in Social Work? Nice. An educated man. And pretty damn fine, too. Looks like Mila found the best deal today!” she said and rocked a hip into Mila.
Mila wasn’t so sure an MSW was a great endorsement. She’d sat in front of the desks of countless MSW types in her childhood, and few of them had made her life better. Still, this Hector-Hex guy was fairly appealing. Casually speaking, of course.
“Shut up, ho,” she said, in the usual banter of their friendship.
“Make me, bitch. Come on, I get to do some haggling and then we need to get going.”
©2020 Susan Fanetti