I know it’s been longer than usual between releases for me, and I thank you for your patience. I have good news for you today–I’m revealing the seventh and final book of the Brazen Bulls Birthright series: Respect. Yep–this is the series conclusion, and it’s Duncan’s story.
If you’ve been reading this series, you know that Maverick, Duncan’s father, has been struggling with how deeply embedded his children are with the club. Maverick’s always been the moral conscience of the Bulls, and he really wanted his kids to find other kinds of lives. Unfortunately for Mav, he, Jenny, and the rest of the family did way too good a job making that family for his kids to want to be anywhere else.
I’ve really enjoyed writing Maverick as a father to grown children who won’t do what he wants, and Duncan, following directly in his father’s footsteps, has been the main focus of his frustrations. In Respect, I got to really explore that father-son relationship and see how they are both changing as time passes. I also really liked Duncan developing second thoughts of his own about the club.
This series has been about change. The first series, the Brazen Bulls MC, was about the club Delaney founded and led. This series, set a generation after the conclusion of the first, is about what the club has become since his retirement–and where it’s headed next. It seemed fitting to end it with Duncan, picking up his father’s torch as the moral center of the club.
Phoebe, Duncan’s One True, is one of my favorite kinds of characters to write: someone who is both squishy and prickly, depending on what she thinks about you, and someone both deeply loyal and slow to trust. Someone whose struggles have forged armor over a fragile heart. Though she is slow to trust, when she meets Duncan–in particular the way she meets him–she sees right off the kind of man he is and puts her hand in his with nary a qualm.
Release Day for Respect is Saturday, 2 September. I’m doing a longer preorder than I usually do, so it’s available for preorder as of Saturday, 15 July. You can find it on Amazon and elsewhere. If you’re a Goodreads user, you can add it to your TBR now.
Here’s the description:
Duncan Helm loves the Brazen Bulls MC with his whole heart. It is his family and all he’s ever wanted, but he had to fight his father, Maverick, tooth and nail to claim his birthright and wear the Bull. Since he finally got a seat at the table, he’s never known a moment of doubt that he is where he belongs. Until now. The club is making a big move, and to get what they want, they’re doing things Duncan can’t quite square in his conscience. Now he’s starting to wonder if the Bulls are what he’d always thought they were, and if not, what that means about who he is.
A few years ago, Phoebe Davis returned from Afghanistan with a Purple Heart and a long road to get back to herself and her home. Now she’s living a quiet, good-enough life, running a farm-animal rescue in rural Oklahoma, building a found family with her best friends and making it work. But they’re living at the edge of their resources, without much room for trouble. As is usually the case, that’s when trouble turns up.
Duncan and Phoebe meet on a dark, cold January night, on the side of the Broken Arrow Expressway. Phoebe needs help, and Duncan was taught never to ride past a motorist in distress. By the time dawn breaks, they both suspect that chance meeting has changed the route of their future.
But Duncan is struggling to understand what path he should be on, and Phoebe is facing the possible washout of her whole life. They don’t know if they’re heading in the same direction, or if they should be, or if they even can.
How much trouble can love overcome?
And a couple of scenes from Chapter 3, for a preview:
As he drove home from his sister and brother-in-law’s place, Duncan’s head whirred. That parting shot of Dex’s had really set him back: mere days before the Eureka run, the Bulls’ Sergeant at Arms wanted the younger patches to stay back? How did that make sense?
It didn’t. The club had been talking about this run for weeks. Planning, playing out different scenarios, doing actual drills so everybody would know how to shift things if (when) they hit an obstacle. The range of ways this move to patch over the Nameless MC in Eureka might go stretched from bloodless and easy (They convince the club to take the Bull, despite repeated votes against it.) to a bloodbath (They kill all the Nameless who resist. All-out war.) Every single patch knew exactly how dangerous the run could be; nobody had let anyone forget it.
And they needed the numbers. Every single Bull in both charters. They had to arrive in Eureka looking like an army.
Dex knew all that. Hell, with his elite military experience, he’d been the one drafting most of the plans. So why was he thinking about leaving half the club home?
Before Duncan could work out an answer to that puzzle, his attention snagged on something on the shoulder up ahead. A horse trailer. Complete with horse. He couldn’t see a human, but the truck attached to the trailer had its lights on, so maybe the guy was in the cab.
The trailer rocked and shook, and the horse’s skinny ass shifted around like the animal who belonged to that ass wanted out.
Duncan didn’t know much about horses. He liked them fine and had been around them a bit, and he’d ridden occasionally as a kid, when the fam had a party out at the Wesson farm. But he was not a horse guy. However, he didn’t need to be a horse guy to know that an occupied trailer on the side of the expressway at one o’clock in the morning, when the temperature was around twenty degrees, meant some kind of trouble.
From his earliest days, he’d been taught that Bulls help out on the road. Friend, stranger, even rival, it didn’t matter. You saw someone on the road in need of help, you pulled over and helped. So he pulled onto the shoulder and stopped behind the trailer.
As he climbed down from his truck and stepped onto the shoulder, he heard the horse whinnying—if the sound it was making could be called that. To Duncan’s ears it was more like screaming. The horse was also stomping and slamming against the back and side walls of the trailer.
Still no sign of a human to go with this freaked-out horse. Was the driver okay?
“Hello?” he called into the windy cold.
“Hey!” a feminine voice yelled back. “Thank you for stopping! Please don’t go anywhere, okay?”
A woman? Alone?
The voice had come from the trailer, so Duncan picked up his pace and got to the back of the trailer, which was a tailgate. Closed. How’d she get in there? Was somebody else driving?
“Okay,” he said as he hooked his hands over the gate. It was a two-horse trailer, but the other side was empty. That didn’t help the illumination situation much. The interior was an incomprehensible swirl of glare and shadow, and all he could see up front was a vague shape of the rest of the horse and a smaller vague, humanoid shape. “You need help?”
“I do. I just need to convince Smoky here that we’re okay. Please don’t leave!”
“I won’t. I stopped to help.”
“Thank you!” she said. Then she returned her attention to the horse. Duncan couldn’t hear much over the stomping and screaming, the wind, the occasional vehicle flying by, but he thought she was singing.
After a few minutes, the horse quieted. Another minute more, and the small vague humanoid shape came to the back of the trailer and into view.
Well goddamn. She was young, around his age, and she was fucking gorgeous. It didn’t matter that she wore a shapeless, shearling-lined barn coat, leather work gloves, and a dark beanie pulled low over her forehead and ears. It didn’t matter that the lighting sucked. Her face was all the view Duncan needed to know she was the most gorgeous girl he’d met in his life. Big, wide-set eyes, pouty lips over a pointed chin. Glory be.
Then she grabbed the top of the tailgate and pulled herself over to land gracefully on her feet before him, and Duncan was thoroughly smitten.
“Hi!” she said and offered her gloved hand. “I’m Phoebe.”
He closed his hand around hers. “Duncan. How can I help?”
“If I could just borrow your phone, that would be a huge help. I’ve been trying to flag somebody down for almost an hour, and you’re the first who’s stopped. I’m surprised you did. I wasn’t even flagging anybody down—Smoky had a little meltdown I had to deal with.”
Duncan glanced at the horse’s ass again. It was bony as fuck. That horse was skinny.
He looked down at the beautiful girl named Phoebe. “I was taught to help people in trouble on the road, and this looked like trouble.”
“In this case, looks don’t deceive.” She glared at the expressway, which was currently empty. “I wish more people had been taught to be helpers, but I’m grateful you were. I don’t want to ruin the rest of your night, though, so if I can just make a call to get a tow, that would be fantastic, and then you can get back to your plans.”
“It’s after one in the morning. My plans were to go home and to bed.”
“Then I don’t want to get in the way of your good night’s sleep.” She held her hand out expectantly.
Duncan didn’t reach for his phone just yet. He took a step toward the side of the road and considered the trailer and truck—a double-cab Sierra 1500. It looked like an early 2000s model, so about twenty to twenty-five years old. “Getting a tow with an occupied trailer is gonna take some effort. I’m a mechanic. I work at Brian Delaney Auto Service. I’ll take a look if you want, see if I can get it running.”
Phoebe stepped over and frowned at her truck. “I don’t mind you looking, but I think it’s a loss. There was a big, loud bang, and then the whole thing just locked up. Steering went and everything. I barely got it to the shoulder. I know a little bit about cars—not like a mechanic, but enough to have a guess. My first thought was a thrown rod.”
Duncan grunted; her description lined up with a thrown rod, sadly. “No comin’ back from that. You mind if I take a look?”
Her eyes narrowed as she stared up at him. After a moment’s examination of his face, she nodded. “Sure, let’s go up and take a look.”
She led him to the front of the truck, then backtracked to the cab, opened the passenger door, climbed in and disappeared below the windshield. Then the hood release popped.
Duncan lifted the hood all the way and used the flashlight in his phone to examine the engine. It took him about fifteen seconds to find the giant hole where a rod had shot through. Yeah, this engine was completely fucked.
When Phoebe came back, he said, “You’re right. Thrown rod. Wanna see?”
She nodded and stepped up onto the bumper to lean over and get a look.
Duncan shone the light on the hole. “You see that?” Leaning farther, Phoebe pressed her body against his. Over the familiar smells of engine, Duncan smelled something cold and earthy, and also something light and fruity. Strawberries, he thought. Maybe her shampoo, coming up from the messy braids that dangled over her shoulders.
Pulling his head out of his dick, he explained, “That hole is where the rod shot straight through the engine. Yeah, this truck is terminal.”
Phoebe hopped down. “Well, that sucks tremendously. But thank you for checking. And for stopping. If I could just borrow your phone to make a call, I won’t bother you more. My phone broke tonight.”
That made him laugh as he closed the hood. “Your phone died, too? You are having a shitty night.”
“Yes, I am. Shitty enough that I’m not ready to find the funny yet.”
“Sorry.” As he was about to offer her his phone an idea occurred to him, so he didn’t hand it over yet. “I hope you don’t think I’m Buffalo Bill, but my truck has a hitch. If you’re not headed real far, we could hitch you up to me, and I could get you and Stormy here—”
“Smoky, sorry. I could get you both home. I can call to have somebody from my shop tow the truck in, and you can deal with that later.”
Again, she squinted up at him, making no pretense that she wasn’t evaluating the fuck out of him. “I can appreciate the Silence of the Lambs reference, and if you’re not a psycho serial killer who plans to make a dress out of my skin, I’m grateful for the offer. But that’s a lot of trouble to take for a total stranger. Too much trouble. So much it feels like a red flag.”
“No, it’s a green flag. I’m not looking for anything from you at all. Like I told you—I was taught to help. But here—” he held out his phone—“if a phone call is all the help you need, go ‘head.”
He was willing to help, but he had neither the will nor the need to push his help on her. Besides, it was late and fucking cold, so if she didn’t want a rescue, he wanted to get back in his warm truck and get moving.
She took the phone from him and studied it in her hand. Then she looked up at him and studied him again, like a scientist looking through a microscope. “You’ll really hitch up and take us home? No strings attached?”
Duncan grinned. “Well, let’s set some boundaries around that. How far you goin’?”
“Down around Checotah, so about an hour.”
“Hell, that’s nothin’. Sure, I’ll get you there.”
“You sure? That means an hour back here.”
“I’m sure. Let me call the tow in, and we’ll get to work on moving the trailer.”
The plan Duncan had sketched out in his head when he’d had the idea to offer her a ride home was to back his truck up, then get the horse off the trailer and push the empty trailer backward so he could pull his F150 in front of it, and then hitch it up and load the horse again. Phoebe laughed when he suggested he could move an empty trailer on his own, insisting that it weighed about as much as a car.
As usual, getting laughed at made him even more stubborn about it.
How heavy could an empty trailer be? As much as a car? Come on. It wasn’t one of those fancy deals with air conditioning and rooms in front for gear, and it wasn’t like he meant to pick the thing up; he simply needed to lift the coupler a little, then push and pull it—on wheels—ten feet or so.
As it turned out, a horse trailer might actually weigh as much as a small car. However, Duncan was strong, especially when he had cred on the line, and he only had to move it a few feet, so he got it done. It had helped that he had a gravity buff: they were on a slight incline, headed downward in the correct direction; once he’d got it moving, the hard part had been getting it to stop before it crashed into his truck.
He was going to ache for a few days, but he got the fucker hitched up and was rewarded with a look of total shock and a little awe on Phoebe’s pretty face.
“Told ya,” he said with a grin.
Phoebe grinned back. “Okay. I’m impressed.”
Smoky thought getting back into that trailer was a spectacularly horrible idea, and he thought Duncan was possibly Satan himself, so Phoebe had to coax him back in on her own. While she did, talking quietly to the horse, she explained that she ran a large-animal rescue called Ragamuffin Ranch, and that she’d just rescued Smoky from a bad neglect situation, and she suspected abuse as well.
“The guy I rescued him from was a real piece of work. Horses aren’t very smart, but they are self-protective. I think he’s learned that men are dangerous.”
“That really sucks,” Duncan said, standing on the shoulder, out of the horse’s sightline. “I hate people sometimes.”
“Same,” she cooed, stroking Smoky’s nose as she urged him to take one more step onto the ramp. “But then there are strangers who stop and offer to give themselves a hernia and also drive us two hours out of their way, so I don’t hate everybody all the time.”
Well, that felt pretty good. Before Duncan could think of a good way to reply, he saw the wrecker coming and hurried toward it, meaning to wave it over before it got too close and freaked the horse out all over again.
Mason Spellman, the club’s new prospect (and also Simon’s kid and Sam’s brother), saw Duncan and understood what he was being asked to do. He pulled over and stopped well behind the trailer. Duncan walked over as the driver’s door opened.
Mason jumped down, looking like a guy who’d been pulled from sleep to do a crappy job in the cold. He was the only prospect at the moment, and he lived on his folks’ farm, out in the boonies west of Tulsa, so he’d taken to staying at the clubhouse most nights, just to be closer if and when he got a call like the one he’d gotten tonight.
“Hey, Dunc.” Mason shoved his hands in his jeans as a blast of cold wind hit them.
“Hey, Mace.” Duncan almost apologized for dragging him out here, but patches did not apologize to prospects for giving them work. “The Sierra up there threw a rod. It’s not a repair, just getting it off the road until she can figure out what to do with the corpse.”
“Okay. So should I take it to the station, then?”
“Yeah. Just drop it at the back of the lot. I’ll be in tomorrow, and I’ll deal with it then.”
“Is this a paid job?”
“No.” When Mason’s face took on a fretful scrunch, Duncan added, “I’ll text my dad and let him know. You won’t get heat for not writing up a ticket.”
Relief rolled visibly through Mason’s body. He’d been a prospect for only a couple months, but he already understood how the role stung. “Okay, that’s good. Thanks.”
Once Phoebe got Smoky into the trailer, she went back to the Sierra and packed up her personal shit. Then Duncan and Mason got the dead truck hooked to the wrecker, and Mason headed off to the next ramp, so he could turn back to the city.
As Duncan climbed in behind the wheel of his truck to finally get off this damn shoulder, Phoebe reached over and clutched his arm. “Hey. Thank you for this. Really, thank you. After an hour of watching people drive right by me, trying not to panic about how I’d ever get out of here with Smoky, you stopped and gave me so much more help than I hoped for. You are officially a knight in shining armor.”
Feeling that praise like it had actual warmth, Duncan smiled and attempted a dumb courtly flourish. “At your service, milady.”
Phoebe laughed and sat back. “Okay, don’t let it go to your head there, buddy.”
©2023 Susan Fanetti