Today I’m revealing the cover and description of Rescue, Book 2 of the Brazen Bulls Birthright series. I’m doing things a little bit differently now, so the preorder is already live, and release day is less than 2 weeks away!
Rescue is Kelsey Helm’s story, and Maverick, her father, is not thrilled that his perfect little girl has fallen for Dex Denson, the Bulls’ Sergeant at Arms. He wouldn’t be happy for Kelsey to fall for any Bull, honestly, but he thinks Dex is particularly dangerous.
Dex thinks he’s too dangerous for Kelsey, too. He’s got a head full of demons feeding on a lifetime of trauma. But Kelsey sees the goodness in him.
And, you know, the heart wants what the heart wants.
Here’s the description:
Seth “Dexter” Denson is the Sergeant at Arms of the Brazen Bulls MC. As a former Marine Raider, the skills he honed in war are useful in the club’s battles as well—and the things he does wearing the Bulls patch ride him just as hard as what he did wearing desert camo.
Those aren’t his only demons. From childhood, Dex has struggled every day to control the darkness inside him. He decided a long time ago that he was too dark and damaged to love.
That hasn’t stopped him from wanting Kelsey Helm, eldest daughter of Maverick, the Bulls’ VP—but Kelsey is sweet and good, unsullied by the club’s grimy dealings. If there’s one woman who deserves someone better than a lost cause like him, it’s her.
Her father agrees. Emphatically.
Kelsey has liked Dex since the first time he brought one of his outcast dogs to the clinic where she works as a veterinarian. Watching him love and care for animals the rest of the world gave up on, she knows he’s much more than the club’s most violent patch. It’s not only animals; Dex never hesitates to step up and help those who need it—even at the risk of his own life.
Dex sees himself as a killer, her father sees him as a “psycho,” but Kelsey sees a hero.
Before they can find their way together, they both need to learn trust—in each other and in themselves.
Rescue works both ways.
And here’s Chapter 2 for a preview:
Dex stood just at the edge of the hallway, wearing his usual terrifying expression. The man must spend every moment of his life angry; he rarely didn’t look like he was one wrong word from mass murder.
And that was a shame, in her opinion. He was really good looking otherwise. His eyes especially—they were large, rimmed with long, dark lashes every woman she’d ever known would kill for, and a strange, beautiful grey-blue-green color she didn’t have a name for. He had dimples—the long, deep ones, like parentheses around his smile.
She’d seen him smile like five times in her life, but she’d noticed those dimples every time. Right now, they were buried under his winter beard—and an intimidating scowl.
He was dressed in his winter Sinclair uniform, and he held his arms crossed oddly, supporting a small bulge in his zipped green coat. When Anita had called back to tell her he was waiting for her, she’d said he had a badly wounded pup with him.
Her day was booked solid, but her next appointment was just a vax update, and emergencies took precedence.
So as Brodie dragged Ms. Halliday toward the reception desk, Kelsey gave Dex a smile, lifted one finger to tell him she needed a sec, and followed the Hallidays to the desk.
“It’s time for refills on his heartworm chews and Revolution, too,” she told Anita. “And go ahead and get Fifi started for me, please.” Then she lifted the lid from the treat canister. Brodie’s ears perked at the sound, and his butt dropped to the floor in a perfect sit.
“Good boy!” She gave the dog his treat. He took it gently, then snarfed it down like he hadn’t eaten all week. Laughing, she said goodbye to Ms. Halliday and turned to the waiting room.
Mrs. Baronski, her next actual appointment, sat in the front row, holding a Louis Vuitton cat carrier on her lap, in which lay a Sphinx cat named Fifi. Kelsey kept her smile on and went to her first. “I’ll be with you as soon as I can, Mrs. B. I need to take a look at this wounded pup first.”
Mrs. Baronski—the elderly widow of an Oklahoma oil baron—gave Dex a pinched look, but she also managed a nod. “I do have other plans for the day,” she told Kelsey.
“I know, and I’m sorry. I’ll be as quick as I can. Thank you.”
Thus excused, Kelsey went to Dex. “Hey. What you got in there?”
Silently, scowling, he tugged the zipper of his coat down.
Curled against his chest was a very small black pup, probably only two or three weeks old, though she’d have a better idea when she got a better look.
What she could see inside Dex’s coat was devastating. She didn’t need a better look to know that pup wouldn’t live. Its head had been crushed, and the open wound was obviously septic. She was shocked it was alive now, but its thin side heaved erratically. It was trying to hang on.
“Okay, come with me.”
She led him to the exam room she’d just vacated. As Dex opened his coat, Kelsey disinfected the steel exam table. She washed her hands and pulled on a fresh pair of sterile gloves.
When she turned, the pup lay on the table, on Dex’s coat. His hand covered the pup protectively. It wasn’t moving, except for its heaving sides. Each exhale came with a tiny, tremulous whimper.
The only thing Kelsey could remember ever wanting to be was a vet, and she loved her work. But it was hard, too. For all the happy, healthy animals she got to take care of, all the strays she was able to help find forever homes, all the sick animals she was able to make well, there was also a fairly steady stream of animals she couldn’t help—beloved pets dying of illness, injury, or old age, abused animals hurt beyond saving, animals abandoned to the cruelties of an Oklahoma winter.
The only solace she could find in that aspect of her job was the knowledge that she could, at least, end an innocent creature’s suffering.
Before she began her exam, she knew that was the only help she’d be able to offer this pup.
But she would do the exam and be sure. “Let’s take a look.”
First, she determined that the pup’s spine, ribs, and legs were intact. It was a female, and the state of her paws and pads suggested that Kelsey’s first guess about her age—three weeks or so—was correct. The head generally provided much better age markers—teeth, eyes, etc.—but in this case, with the magnitude of the injury, she didn’t think she could trust any information the pup’s head might offer about age.
She didn’t get a temp; the pup was so hot to the touch she could confirm fever that way, and she didn’t want to distress her any more than necessary. She didn’t need a number for the temp unless she were considering remedial intervention. So far, she was not.
“Tell me how you found her,” she asked Dex as she gathered the supplies to flush the head wound.
Dex focused on the pup, shifting his hold so Kelsey had better access to her head. When Kelsey began to flush the wound, the pup cried weakly.
“Shhh, baby girl,” Dex crooned. “It’s okay. I’m here.”
As Kelsey began to work, and Dex comforted the pup, he answered her question. “On the side of the road, under a bush. Her mom’s body was under there with her. I’ve got her mom out in the back of my truck.”
“So you don’t know what happened?”
“It’s pretty clear the mom was killed by another animal. Looks like a dog to me. And Baby Girl here, her too. That’s what it is, right? She got bit by a dog and it crunched down on her skull?”
Kelsey nodded but didn’t speak. She thought he was right, but what she was finding as she cleaned the pus and filth away was even worse than she’d thought. The only reason she could imagine this pup had survived so long was the cold slowing things down.
The pup was writhing and crying with what little energy it had. Kelsey stopped the exam. There was no point causing that poor baby any more pain.
She set aside her equipment and brushed her fingers along the pup’s frail, heaving side.
“Can you help her?” Dex asked.
When Kelsey looked up, she met those large, strangely beautiful eyes. He wasn’t scowling now. His expression was a plea.
“I can help her, but I can’t heal her. Her skull is fractured in so many pieces I can’t count them. There is exposed brain matter, and the wound is septic. I’m stunned she’s still alive now.”
“You’re saying we should put her down.”
“There’s nothing to be done to make her well, but we can end her pain, and it’s the only way we could. If I tried to give her some pain relief, she’s so frail that would probably kill her anyway.”
“There’s no chance?”
Kelsey shook her head. “This pup is dying right now, Dex. What we can do is make the last part of her little life as gentle as possible.”
Focused on the pup under his hand, Dex was quiet for a long time. Finally, he nodded. “Okay. Will you do it?”
“I will. I’ll go put together what I need and be back in a few minutes, okay?”
Kelsey went out through the door that led to the main work area of the clinic. Peggy, one of the vet techs, sat at a desk updating a patient file.
“I need a euthanasia solution for a three-week-old puppy, about 250 grams.” Kelsey said, estimating her weight.
Peggy looked up, jaw loose. “Oh no.”
“Yeah. She’s in really bad shape.”
“Should I get the quiet room ready?” Like most vet clinics, they had a room devoted to euthanizing pets, where their people could sit with them as they passed on, and then stay and grieve as long as they needed.
But Dex had just found this pup this morning. “No, I’ll do it in the exam room. She’s a stray. But the pup’s mother’s carcass is here, too, in the back of my friend’s truck. I’m going to need somebody to get it and bring it back. Is Roy around?”
“He’s been cleaning crates, so he’s out back. Do you need him right now?”
“No. After the pup.”
“I’ll make sure he’s ready.”
As Peggy got up to get the solution, Kelsey got a blanket out of the warmer.
When she went back into the exam room, fully equipped for this sad, and sadly common, procedure, Dex was sitting in one of the chairs, holding the pup on his shoulder, tucked against his neck.
Dex’s name was actually Seth. Rad Jessup had given him the road name “Dexter” because he was, according to club gossip, so knowledgeable about torture and murder—like the protagonist of the show of the same name.
Kelsey had grown up as a daughter of a Brazen Bull. That MC constituted her entire family, and she loved them all as such, even those she didn’t know well—like Dex, for instance. Her parents, especially her father, had shielded her from a lot of the Bulls’ various escapades when she was a child, but now that she was grown, his protective influence could be skirted. She understood who these men were, and she had a very high tolerance for outlaw behavior.
But understanding why Seth Denson was now Dex Denson to anyone who mattered had given her some pause. His angry, silent demeanor was intimidating on its own; coupled with a reputation for scientifically brutal torture, he became pretty terrifying, and for a long time, she’d been actually afraid of him in a way she’d never been with her Uncle Rad, who’d held the same position in the club—Sergeant at Arms—and the same responsibilities.
Until the day Dex had first brought one of his dogs to the clinic for her care.
The Bulls who had pets all came to this clinic, and they all paid the normal rates for care. They came to support her, not get free vet services, though she understood enough about her father, and the Bulls, to have a pretty good idea that calling her their vet was not really a choice. Dex had a lot of dogs, though—five, she thought—so he came to the clinic more than anybody else. All of his dogs had been supposedly hopeless cases, either aggressive or unhealthy or both. He’d rescued them all from kill shelters and trained them into good pets.
The first dog Dex had brought to Cedar Ridge was Lennie—a horribly abused pit bull who’d been found on the street. Among his many injuries, his eyes had been gouged out. The wounds had looked awful and were no doubt painful, but they weren’t life-threatening. Her treatment had been fairly basic: cleaning and suturing the wounds, sealing his eyes, a course of antibiotics, and the usual treatments for parasites and malnourishment.
What made that day memorable was Dex. He was quiet as ever and only took his attention from Lennie to answer her direct questions and listen to her instructions for home care. When he ignored her and spoke to the dog, however, his whole aspect changed. He became gentle and loving. He didn’t pull back from any unpleasantness or worry about getting blood or pus on his clothes. He was fully invested in making things as easy on Lennie as he could.
It had taken her ten minutes to reassure him that the dog would be comfortable and calm while he stayed overnight for the procedures. Dex had wanted to stay—and he’d insisted that George, a terrier mix bonded with Lennie, be allowed to stay.
Only when she’d agreed to that had Dex agreed to go home for the night. He’d only adopted the dogs that same day, and already he’d been their ferocious protector.
She looked at him now, with this pup he’d known an hour or two at the most, and knew that he was already fully bonded and would mourn her passing.
Kelsey spent her life with animals and the people who owned them. Not every pet owner was a good one. Most were okay, many were devoted, but some were negligent at best, and others should never have been allowed within fifty feet of a trusting animal. One thing she was sure of: someone who loved animals the way Dex loved animals was a good soul. It didn’t matter what bad things he might do, how angry he was or how violent he could be. He was loving and gentle with animals, ergo he was inherently decent.
She’d known that before he’d saved her life. But he’d done that, too.
She wasn’t afraid of Dex Denson anymore. In fact, it might not be a stretch to say she’d developed a little crush.
“I brought a blanket to wrap her in,” she said when Dex looked up. His angry expression had eased into sadness.
“Can I just hold her?”
It was going to be difficult to get a good stick in a pup so small and frail, but she didn’t think doing it while Dex held her would add much complexity. “Sure.”
She went to the prep station, took the cap off the hypo and added a butterfly. That would help her get a good stick on the first try.
When she crouched before Dex, she said, “Her heartbeat is slow and erratic, which can slow this process down, but even so, it should only be a minute or two.”
“Will it hurt her?”
Kelsey shook her head. “No. Some dogs get anxious when the feeling begins to set in, but they’re usually dogs that are already anxious about being at the vet. She’s so quiet, I think all she’ll feel is the pain abating as she goes to sleep.”
“Okay. That’s good.” As Kelsey moved to begin the stick, he asked, “What—what do you do with the bodies?”
Animal carcasses that weren’t used in vet schools were sent out to be incinerated as bio-waste. The clinic had an arrangement with a pet cemetery that sold urns and small plots, but that wasn’t appropriate to this situation. She didn’t think. Then again, maybe Dex would want … “They’re cremated. If you want her ashes, I can arrange for that, and put you in touch with a company that sells urns for pets.”
“No, no. Just—can she go with her mom? I think she’d want to be with her mom.”
One of the most challenging aspects of becoming a vet was building up enough callus on her heart that she didn’t cry every time she saw an animal in pain or dying, didn’t key off every grieving pet person’s sorrow. She still felt it, but had learned, for the most part, to keep the signs of her feelings in check. Sometimes, though, her feelings would not be denied.
This was one of those times. She bit down on her lip until the urge to spill tears backed off. “Yeah, Dex. I’ll make sure she goes with her mom.”
When he nodded, Kelsey found the right spot on a tiny foreleg and slipped the needle in.
By the time the plunger was fully depressed, the pup’s respiration had slowed and shallowed. By the time she removed the needle, she was gone. To confirm, Kelsey put her stethoscope in her ears and set the disc on a tiny, still chest. Silence.
She met Dex’s eyes and nodded.
He lowered his head and snugged that poor baby as close as he could.
“I’ll leave you alone. Stay as long as you need to; I’ll make sure nobody else comes in. Just knock on this door”—she indicated the door to the work area—“when you’re ready, and somebody will come in to take care of her.”
Without looking up, he nodded.
Kelsey stood and gathered up the used supplies. When she stood, an impulse grabbed her, and she set her hand on Dex’s shoulder. He tipped his head and rested it on her hand—for a second only, then lifted it as quick as a flinch and curled even more snugly around the pup.
She set the supplies on the counter and slipped from the exam room. When the door latched, she leaned back on it and closed her eyes. That had really rocked her.
“You okay?” Peggy asked. “I thought it was a stray?”
“She was. But …”
“I get it. I’ll take care of the room. Mrs. Baronski is getting snippy about waiting.”
“Leave the room for now. He’s still in there with her, and I told him to take his time.”
Peggy frowned. “She was a stray today, right?”
“Yes,” Kelsey answered and then pushed off the door and went to wash her hands, foreclosing any further discussion about Dex’s grief over a puppy he didn’t know. Or her own.
After Mrs. Baronski was mollified and Fifi examined and fully vaccinated, Kelsey went back to check on Dex and the pup. The room was empty and clean, ready for the next patient.
Peggy wasn’t in the back, but Roy was. Fixing himself a cup of coffee.
“Did you get the dog carcass from the truck?”
“No ma’am. Peggy told me not to go far, so I’ve been waitin’.”
“Okay. Come up front with me. I hope he stuck around.”
They went to the waiting room. Dex wasn’t there. Poop. She turned to look out the glass entry at the parking lot—and there he was, heading to the front door with a tarp-wrapped dead body. Did he mean to come into the waiting room with it?
“Roy, this way. Hurry.” Without waiting for him, Kelsey pushed her way through both doors, out into the frosty day. “Hey,” she said to Dex. “Let’s not take her in through the front. Roy will take her from here.”
His brow drawn low over red-rimmed eyes, Dex gave Roy a slow, assessing look. “Okay.”
Roy reached for the dog like he was taking a jar of honey from a grizzly. Dex eyed Roy like a grizzly protecting his honey. But the exchange got done, and Roy hightailed it around the building.
When they were alone at the entrance, Kelsey asked Dex, “Are you okay?”
He sighed. “Yeah.” His eyes met hers and locked. “Thank you. You’re … you’re amazing.”
Those words floated through the cold and caressed her cheek. All she could do was smile.
“I should go in and pay,” he said.
“No. I already coded it as pro bono.” This clinic did a lot of work with area shelters, and what couldn’t be paid with donations was written off. She didn’t think it was an ethical or legal stretch to code her work with the pup as shelter work.
An arctic wind gusted through the lot and slammed Kelsey with icy cold. She gasped and clutched her lab coat around her.
“It’s freezing. You need to go in. And I need to get to the station.”
“Thanks again, Kelsey. It’s heroic work, what you do.” He looked away, down at the asphalt at their feet. “I guess you kinda balance me out.”
In this moment, she felt like she understood Dex in a real way, a deeper way than ever before. It would probably pass, when he again became the inscrutable glower across the clubhouse party room, but right now, they’d shared something raw.
So she couldn’t abide such a self-defeating statement. Without thinking much about it, she went right up to him, lifted onto her toes, and kissed his cheek. “You’re a good man, Seth. You don’t need anybody to balance you out.”
Before he could, with look or word, make her feel more self-conscious about that kiss than she already did, Kelsey turned and went back into the clinic.
©2021 Susan Fanetti