Find links to the rest of the Brazen Bulls series here.
Today, I’m revealing the cover of the next Brazen Bulls MC book. Blaze, Book 4, is Simon’s story. If you’re caught up with the series, you know that we left things off in Book 3 (Slam), with the club in conflict with the Street Hounds, a gang that had taken over the the north side of Tulsa from Dyson, a longstanding crew with whom the Bulls had had a primarily (but not entirely) peaceful relationship. Well, in Blaze, that conflict becomes an all-out war. A whole lot happens in Blaze. Things get pretty damn intense–for the club and for their family.
But the heart of the story is Simon and Deb, Gunner’s sister. They started up a friendly “booty call” relationship a couple of years back, and they kept that to themselves. You might remember the scene at the end of Slam when Gunner notices Simon checking out her ass and wonders if there’s something going on there. Mav blows it off, but Gun was right.
Not that he’s happy about it when he finds out. Ha! No.
As often happens, there’s only so long that two good friends can bang each other’s brains out on the regular before “friends with benefits” is not all they are. Blaze begins as Simon and Deb start to figure that out–at the same time that war breaks out in Tulsa.
Blaze will go live on Saturday, 2 December 2017. I’ll set up the preorder as usual, about mid-November. In the meantime, here’s the synopsis–and, as a preview, the prologue, which takes place in 1996, two years before the present time in Blaze.
In Twist, which takes place in 1996, the Bulls ride out to Gunner and Leah’s hometown, Grant, after a deadly tornado. Gunner rides toward Leah, in town, and two of his brothers veer off and ride toward his family farm, to check on Gunner’s dad and sister. Simon is one who rides off to check on Sam and Deb Wesson.
And their relationship begins.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1998
Simon Spellman isn’t a native Oklahoman. He’s a city boy, born and raised in Chicago, but he’s lived in Tulsa, and worn a Brazen Bull on his back, for years. Tulsa is his home, and the Bulls his family—the only one he claims, and the only one he wants. As far as he’s concerned, life as a Bull is too risky, and the club too demanding, to make room for anyone else.
Especially now, while the Brazen Bulls MC stands on the brink of war, smack in the middle of their hometown.
Debra Wesson has been part of the Bulls family since her younger brother first put on a kutte. She’s known Simon for years; since a crisis threw them together a couple years back, she’s known him intimately. They are perfectly compatible, both adventurous in bed and neither interested in a relationship. They’ve enjoyed each other and kept their hookups a secret from her volatile brother and everyone else.
Until they realize that friends with benefits has become something much deeper, despite their guards against it, and they’re forced to contend with what’s real between them.
But it’s dangerous to be a Bull, or to love one, right now, as the conflict with the Street Hounds finds its flashpoint. With the enemy standing just on the other side of town, there’s no safe place to be.
When war hits home, everything that matters is in the line of fire.
Note: explicit sex and violence.
Simon and Apollo rode side by side over one of those narrow country roads that didn’t even rate a set of yellow lines down the center. Both their bikes—Apollo’s ’93 Wide Glide and Simon’s ’90 Super—had 1300-plus CC engines and drag pipes and were loud as hell, yet the world around them felt heavy and eerily quiet. It was twilight, and their headlamps swept over a landscape that seemed a step or two off normal. Nothing obvious to see, just a feeling Simon couldn’t shake.
Tornadoes had missed this area, but the storm that had brought a bevy of them had not. Maybe that was the off-ness: the usual scatter left by a hard storm seemed wrong in contrast with the destruction that had brushed by them like the touch of an angry stranger passing by.
Simon was freaked out. He’d lived in Oklahoma most of his adult life, and he’d been through a couple of actual tornadoes and more watches and warnings than he could count. But this had been a strange year for storms. He’d never known so many twisters to touch down in the same storm, and he’d never known one to hit Tulsa itself. He’d been around for only one other F5, and that one had dug a trench through miles of Oklahoma, vaporizing everything in its path.
This big daddy hadn’t hit Tulsa on the nose, either. The city had gotten tagged by a couple of smaller ones, an F0 and an F1. Damage and inconvenience, a few low-level injuries. The clubhouse had taken some damage, but nothing that couldn’t be set to rights in a weekend. Mostly blown-out windows and the like.
But out here in Osage County, God had put his hand down on the ground and swept it clear.
Simon and Apollo had veered off from their brothers, who’d headed toward the little town of Grant, which had taken the F5 straight up the ass. The early reports and images they’d seen before they’d split the clubhouse suggested that their brothers were arriving at a cataclysm. It had sounded like Grant was just about gone, and a lot of its residents had gone with it.
Gunner’s new girl was from Grant, and she’d been in town, as far as they knew, for the twister.
Gunner was from Grant, too, more or less. Simon and Apollo were on their way to check on his family’s farm, and on his family—his dad and sister. They were out of the F5’s path, just barely—Simon had heard that the thing had been more than a mile wide—but they were Gunner’s family, and practically club themselves, and Gunner couldn’t be in two places at once. Leah had been right in the heart, so Gunner was there. Apollo and Simon would take care of the rest of his family.
And, Simon hoped, the brothers with Gunner could hold him together.
They rode around a hairpin, and a low valley opened up before them. In the falling darkness, Simon could see the Wesson farm, barely making out the pretty little white farmhouse—the dusk-to-dawn light was out. All the lights were out.
That was what was so strange about the way the world looked—it was always dark in the country, but they’d passed several farms, and not a single light anywhere.
As they passed the fields, he couldn’t tell if there’d been damage. Luckily, the harvest was done, so no crops had been lost. At the bottom of the long, low hill, they turned onto the gravel drive. Simon had been here quite a few times, helping out with the sowing or the harvest when Gunner sent up a call for it, and he knew that the gravel was white quartz that sparkled in the sun. Sam Wesson kept up his place. But the big black mailbox was gone from its white post and nowhere to be seen in the dark. The post itself listed drunkenly.
They parked their bikes at the end of the drive, and they saw the next signs of the storm: Sam’s big old pickup and Debra’s station wagon were off the drive, shifted sharply to the left as if a broom had come by and pushed them out of the way. The truck was flush against the garage, and the station wagon wasn’t square on the ground; it had been pushed so hard against the truck that one of the wheels had come up about a foot or so.
It took a lot of force to move cars that size that much.
“Shit,” Apollo muttered. “You think they’re okay?”
Simon studied the darkness in the direction of the house. He’d thought they were coming to do a quick check-in so they could assure Gunner that his dad and sister were okay. Now, he wasn’t sure. Without answering Apollo, he headed toward the house.
“DEB?” he called. “SAM?” Apollo picked up the call, and they crossed the yard, yelling.
No longer twilight, full dark had landed on the night, and Simon tried to remember the layout of the yard. He could barely see the porch, but he felt his way to it and put his foot on the first step, calling their names all the while.
“Here,” came Deb’s voice off the side of the porch. She came around the side of the house, a pale arc from a flashlight leading her way. She shined it up at them. “Hey. We were in the cellar. Dad’s hurt.”
Changing course, they met her at the corner of the porch.
“How bad?” Apollo asked.
“The cellar door hit him in the head when we were trying to get down. Knocked him out. He says he’s okay, but he was out for a couple of minutes, and his head is bleeding. Scared the crap out of me.”
She turned around right away to retrace her steps, but Simon grabbed her arm. “Hey. You okay?”
“Yeah.” Behind the flashlight, she was no more than a vague shape. Pulling herself free from his grip, she headed toward the slant doors of the cellar. “Shaken up. We heard about what happened in town.” At the open doors, standing at the top of the cellar stairs, she turned and faced him. “Is Max okay?”
Max was Gunner’s given name. “Yeah—it wasn’t too bad in Tulsa. I don’t know how he’s doing in Grant, though. Leah was there.”
“I hate that word,” her old man called up from below. “What’s wrong?”
Simon followed Deb down, and Apollo followed him. He and Apollo were both over six feet, so they bent low to make their way down.
A battery-operated Coleman lantern made a bright circle in the dark cellar. The farmhouse was more than a hundred years old, and the cellar was probably not much changed from the hole it had started out as. Dirt floor, wood slat walls, the house resting on hunky wooden support beams sunk in concrete. Heavy wooden shelving units that held the wide assortment of junk a country life accumulated. In the bright circle of lantern light, Simon could make out a few of those units. One of them was lined with Mason jars. Deb had a robust roadside produce stand in the spring and summer and canned a lot to sell in the winter.
“Max’s okay,” Apollo answered, hunched over beside Simon. “But Leah was in Grant when it happened.”
“Fuck,” Sam Wesson muttered, and Simon laughed. It sounded all kinds of wrong. Sam, sitting on a stack of aged Mason jar crates at the end of that preserves unit, holding a bandana—its fabric faded to grey and soaked with blood—to the top of his head, looked up at him. “She hurt? Max’ll…” He didn’t finish.
Simon crouched down so Sam didn’t have to crane his neck. “Don’t know. He’s there now. He’s got brothers at his back.” Nodding at Sam’s head, he asked, “What happened here?”
“It’s nothing. Debra fusses over everything.” His cheek was scraped up, too.
Debra scoffed and shoved her hands onto her hips. “Dad, you got knocked out. You need to go to the hospital.”
“I need no such thing. I barely closed my eyes.”
Blood had run in streams through the man’s white hair and striped his neck and plaid, pearl-buttoned shirt. It still looked wet. “Sam, can I take a look?”
“You a doctor all a sudden, Simon?”
“No sir, but I’ve seen my share of bloody wounds.”
That made the old man chuckle. “S’pose you have.” He took his hand away, dropping it with evident relief to his lap, and Simon took a look.
Just past the middle of his noggin was a goose egg, its center split open. “It’s pretty deep, Sam. You’re gonna need stitches to close it up. Yeah, you need the ER.”
Sam sighed and put the bandana back in place. “Fine. How’ll Max know where we are?”
Simon didn’t answer; his brain was occupied with the question of how they were going to get to Osage Regional Hospital. He and Apollo had ridden, and the Wesson vehicles were shoved up against each other in such a way that they wouldn’t be able to simply pull one out.
“I’ll ride to Grant and find him,” Apollo offered.
Simon nodded. “Wait up, though. We need to figure out how to get Deb’s wagon free.”
“What?” Deb asked. “What happened? Oh God, is there a lot of damage?”
Her voice had started up that ramp to panic that women took sometimes, and with that always came tears. Simon hated it when chicks cried. He took hold of her arm again and gave it a quick stroke. Even through the sweater she wore, he felt slim firmness, and a little bulge of bicep when she pulled free.
“Easy,” he said. “It’s not a big deal, and we didn’t see much damage. Wind just knocked ‘em around a little.”
Deciding that such questions were better answered with their own eyes, he asked, “Can you walk, Sam?”
“Course I can walk,” he barked and stood up. He wasn’t tall, so he could stand straight, but his hand was still on his head, and his knuckles nearly grazed the beams from the floor above.
“Then ‘Pollo, grab the lantern. Let’s go up and you can see for yourselves. And we’ll figure out how to get the wagon free.”
They got the wagon free when Simon drove the tractor over and they winched it. Sam’s truck was totaled, bent around the corner of the garage and sandwiched between that and Deb’s station wagon, and the wagon was pretty rumpled, but it ran. Apollo rode off toward Grant, and Simon drove Deb and Sam to the hospital.
By the time they were ready to go, Sam was not steady. He took the back seat and leaned his head back. He went quiet, but Simon checked the rearview mirror and could see his chest rising, deep and steady, and he was still holding a bandana—a fresh one, from the glove box of his truck—on his head.
Deb sat in front, chewing on her thumbnail and swiveling her head back and forth, checking on her father.
“I can see him in the rearview, Deb. I’ll let you know if he looks like trouble. You’re gonna give yourself whiplash.”
“Just restin’ my eyes,” came a tired, scratchy voice from behind them.
They rode quietly for a while. Osage Regional Hospital wasn’t all that close; they had more than a half-hour ride. Simon thought about turning on the radio to fill the empty air but decided that was insensitive, considering. Besides, he had no idea what kind of music Deb liked. He’d hate to switch it on and find his ears assaulted by Celine Dion or some shit.
“That door came slamming down, and he dropped down the steps and just lay there. Jesus, Simon. A tornado already took half our family. How much more does God want?”
And there were the tears. Dammit. Not knowing what else to do, but wanting the waterworks to stop just as quickly as possible, Simon reached over and took hold of the hand she hadn’t been chewing on. “Hey, hey. Everybody’s okay. Your dad just needs his head sewn up. Gun’s fine. You’re fine. The farm is fine.”
Simon didn’t know much about Gunner’s family history. He knew that their mother was dead, of course. And maybe there’d been a brother, too? He wasn’t sure. It sounded like that was the case, though. He hadn’t known that they’d been killed in a tornado, but that sounded like the case as well.
That was a hard thing. No wonder Deb was freaked out now. No wonder Gunner was crazy always.
She kept crying. Shit. So Simon held her hand and kept his eyes on the road and tried to pretend that she wasn’t. After a very long minute, she took a deep, shaking breath and got herself together. She squeezed his hand and pulled free, opening the glove box and rooting out a little packet of tissues. In the glow from the glove box light before she slammed it closed, Simon caught a dull metallic flash: she had a little snub-nose revolver in there.
“Sorry.” She muttered the word into her tissue, then honked her nose clear. Simon couldn’t help but grin. He was used to chicks preening around him, every little move made for an audience. Sure, the conditions on this night were hardly favorable for flirting, but now that he thought of it, he didn’t think Debra Wesson had ever behaved like she’d noticed that he, or any Bull, for that matter, was a man. Or that she herself was hot.
Because she was. Quite hot, in fact. Skinny, and not much in the chest department, but a very nice face. And all that wild black hair? That was something else.
He blinked all that out of his head as the bright lights of the hospital rose up ahead. “Don’t worry about it,” he finally replied to her apology. “It’s a rough night. ‘Course you’re emotional.”
“Yeah,” she sighed and twisted her neck to check on her father again. “Dad, we’re here.”
Silence from the back seat.
“Daddy?” Panic leapt back into her voice.
“Okay, Debra. I’m okay. Take a breath.”
She did, and then wiped her cheeks again with the sodden tissue.
Simon pulled through the ambulance lane and parked in a no-parking zone. He helped Sam—who took the help with a bad attitude, despite his shaky balance—into the ER, then ran out and parked the wagon in the patient lot. The lot was nearly full, and he had to park way in the back.
It was going to be a long night.
The sun was up when he pulled back into the Wesson driveway, with only Deb as a passenger. Sam had eleven stitches and a concussion, and they were keeping him for a night or two, concerned about his loss of consciousness. Leah was in the hospital, too, hurt pretty badly. Gunner was doing okay with the stress of that, but the Bulls planned to do a rotation to make sure he wasn’t on his own until Leah was out of the woods. They spent a lot of time babysitting that guy.
Leah’s father had died in the storm. A lot of people in Grant had been killed or hurt; Simon hadn’t heard an official count yet, but a rumor going around the hospital said that it was several dozen dead and more than that injured. Grant itself had been killed. Most of the town was nothing but splinters.
In the bright sun of a fall morning, the damage to the Wesson farm was obvious—and not that bad. Some fencing down, some broken windows, a few smaller pieces of equipment overturned. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed with enough muscle, and insurance would cover anything big. Considering what had happened a few miles off, lucky was not a strong enough word for what they were.
“Thanks for the ride,” Deb said as she put her hand on the door.
Simon laughed. “It’s your car, hon.” He nodded toward the front. “Had to come back for my bike anyway.”
“Ah, right.” She smiled. It was the first one he’d seen since he’d gotten caught in her flashlight beam the night before. She had great dimples. “Well, then, just thanks. You were a huge help.”
“No problem. Gun’s family is my family.” He opened the driver’s door as she opened the passenger side, and the sound of angry chickens about knocked them back.
“Shit, the animals,” Deb groaned. “I locked them in before the storm and didn’t give them another thought. Idiot!”
Like he was agreeing with her self-assessment, a rooster crowed.
“Shit!” she said again. “Dandy gets so mean when they’re closed up too long. And after last night, they’ll all be agitated.”
“I’m still here, Deb. I’ll help.”
“Yeah? Thank you.” Her eyes sparkled. Oh God no, was she going to cry again?
Hoping to hold them off, he grinned. “No problem. But if I get attacked by an angry rooster, you supply the Band-Aids.”
“Deal.” She gave him a dimpled grin back, the clouds of tears clearing from her eyes, and they headed to the coop.
They turned the chickens loose. Deb didn’t want to turn the horses out to pasture until she could ride the fence lines, so they released them into the paddock.
Simon helped Deb clean up the coop and stalls, and they went into the house, where he helped her put boards on the broken windows and clean up the mess. Then she made him lunch—a couple of big turkey and cheese sandwiches on homemade white bread, with a mountain of potato chips. And beer. Good eats.
By the time she walked him to the boarded-up front door, though, Simon was absolutely fucking exhausted, and Deb looked not much brighter.
She leaned on the edge of the open door. “Thank you so much, Simon. I honestly don’t know how I’d’ve gotten through the night and day without you.”
“Don’t mention it, hon. Glad I could help. Like I said, Gun’s family is my family.” On the compulsion of some mysterious force, he brushed his fingertip down her nose. Cute nose. Straight and delicate. “You should get some rest.”
She looked up at him. Her eyes were pretty, too. This close, eyes he’d always thought of as simply ‘light’ turned out to be grey and green and brown. Hazel, he thought the color was called. Rimmed with long black lashes.
“Yeah,” she breathed, and the sound was…something had changed. “You should, too.”
Simon’s cock stirred. The air between them suddenly crackled like a storm front, and he was no longer thinking about how tired he was. That compulsion still had hold of him, and before he could consider what he was doing, his hand went around her neck, under all that hair, and he bent down and kissed her.
She let go of the door and wrapped her arms around him, kissing him back at once, her tongue shooting forward and finding his, twisting and lapping together. He went for her sweater, shoving his hand under it, pushing it up, finding her tits. They were covered in soft cotton, and so little. His hand took all of one and had space left over, but her nipple was like a rock against his palm, and that was beautiful. He shunted the cotton to the side and gave that hard nub a pinch.
Deb leapt back, out of his arms. “Shit,” she gasped.
“Yeah.” His breathing wasn’t any steadier.
They just stood there, panting, and stared at each other.
He needed to go. Under the heading ‘Reasons Fucking Debra Wesson Is a Bad Idea’ were at least a dozen entries, starting with ‘Gunner’s Sister.’ But he didn’t move.
Neither did she. They stared, and the air crackled.
“I don’t want to be with anybody. Not seriously,” she finally said. “I don’t need the bullshit.”
“Me either.” Get out, get out, get out. His feet wouldn’t move.
She pushed her hair back, trying and failing to tame it behind her ears. She made that move a lot—and he realized, for the first time, that he’d noticed that before.
“Max can’t know.”
Gunner wouldn’t celebrate the idea of his sister with a Bull, that was certainly true. Not even for a one-er. Maybe particularly not for a one-er. “No, he cannot.” Shit, were they doing this? It hadn’t been on his radar at all. Had it? His cock strained at his fly. “Deb…”
She charged forward and closed the distance she’d made, and Simon stopped talking. When she twisted her fingers in his hair and bit down on his lip, he quit thinking. He picked her up and carried her up the stairs, where he assumed her bedroom was.
© 2017 Susan Fanetti
As promised, I (re)published Somewhere, this time in my own name, and it’s live now on Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, and B&N. If you haven’t yet heard about the circumstances of the book’s previous life, you can find the story here.
This is a little bit different from my usual vibe, but I hope you like it.
On Saturday, 7 October, 4 weeks from today, I’ll (re)release Somewhere, Book One of The Sawtooth Stories. By now, you probably know the story of the original publication of this book, but if you don’t, you can read about it here.
I won’t do a preorder for this one, but I’m going to do a few teasers in the next month, in addition to sharing Chapter One with you here as a preview.
Somewhere is a contemporary, small-town, western romance. I really love Jasper Ridge, Idaho, the town I created as the locus of this world. It reminds me a little of Signal Bend–without the meth and drug cartels, lol. I also love the Cahill family, who are the heart of Jasper Ridge. The younger Cahill son is the male lead of Somewhere.
But first, you meet the female lead. So, without further ado, here’s the synopsis and Chapter One of Somewhere.
After a cataclysmic tragedy leaves her alone in the world, Gabriela Kincaid climbs into her father’s ancient pickup and strikes off on her own, turning her back on everything she knows. No destination in mind, moving toward nothing but distance.
Fate chooses her destination, and she finds herself in Jasper Ridge, Idaho, a small town in the shadow of the Sawtooth Range. With nowhere else to get to, and no way to get anywhere else, she decides to make her home there.
Heath Cahill is fighting the demons of his own horrific past. A son of the most important rancher in Jasper Ridge, he’s tethered to the town, so he’s made his escape inward, turning his back on any new chances for a happy life.
But he sees something in the eyes of the young woman who walks into the town saloon: a guarded pain he recognizes as like his own. He tries to resist the pull he feels, but with a nudge from Fate, friends, and family, Heath opens his heart again.
Together, they find love and hope for happiness. First, though, they must face a past that neither has escaped.
She’d been in courtrooms countless times during the past two-plus years, and in this one almost daily for weeks, but every time she sat down in the gallery, she felt the same sense of ill discomfort.
Nothing good happened in a room like this. Even if justice was served, whatever that meant, that justice was only offered because something terrible had happened.
It was an awful room, a room where awful things were relived and happened all over again, and where the only kind of hope that could breathe was a black hope for someone else’s pain.
That black hope was the only thing she knew how to feel anymore. It radiated from her scars and wrapped around her organs. It leaned on her thoughts every day and on her dreams each night.
But today would be the last day she’d have to sit on this hard seat and square her shoulders against the room’s ill air. Tomorrow, perhaps, she’d be able to shrug herself free of the past.
One more day in this room.
The first time she’d sat down in a room like this, she’d been too terrified of what loomed ahead of her to really notice the room itself, or the people in it—besides the one who sat at the table on the left, facing the bench. Him, she always noticed. He seemed to fill that chair even when he wasn’t in the room.
In all the days since the first day, in the many long lulls between horrors, she’d had ample time to memorize this room—the walls, the seats, the tables, the seal on the wall behind the bench. This courtroom in the District Court in Santa Fe, New Mexico looked much like the courtrooms they showed on television. And yet it lacked the imposing substance of those make-believe rooms, even though, in this one, real cases were tried, and real people’s lives hung in the balance.
It was just a room. Empty, it was nearly featureless. One might even mistake it for innocuous.
When she’d sat down on this day, the room had been nearly empty. She liked to arrive as early as allowed, because she’d discovered that people noticed her less often when she was already seated. They paid attention to those who came in after them, not those who’d arrived before, and she didn’t want to be noticed. She’d had enough of notice in this room.
Today, she knew, she wouldn’t be able to avoid it. It might have been better to stay home and watch the news, or wait for a phone call. But she wanted to hear the words when they were spoken.
So she sat in the back row and watched the lawyers at their seemingly bland prep work, and watched the people file in, the looky-loos and reporters, and waited to hear the words.
By the time the defendant was brought in from a side door, wearing the one Men’s Wearhouse suit he owned—black—the one good dress shirt—white—the one silk tie—yellow—the one pair of dress shoes—black—and the ankle and wrist shackles—silver—the courtroom had filled to capacity, and the deputies had closed the doors. There was a rumble of rumor and gossip as the shackled man was led to his chair and the bailiff locked his bonds to the table. Even over that excited hum, she could hear the metallic jingle of the chains.
Between the heads of the spectators filling the distance between them, she saw him turn and scan the room. He always did that, every day. Normally, she did what she could to be sure he couldn’t pick her out of the crowd, and normally she was successful.
Today, though, she didn’t try. When he found her, their eyes locked, and for the first time in weeks, perhaps months, they really saw each other.
He smiled. She didn’t.
And then the bailiff called everyone to rise, and the defendant turned away.
The judge entered, and everyone sat again, and she stared at the back of the man in the Men’s Wearhouse suit. Normally, she didn’t bother to pay attention until the lawyers began to talk; she had the beginning part of each trial day memorized.
But today was different. The main part of the trial was over. A guilty verdict had been rendered. Evidence in the sentencing phase had been presented. Today, they had all gathered to hear the sentence imposed.
So once the bailiff had finished calling the case, the judge—a tiny woman with a grey bob and a white lace collar—said immediately, “The defendant will rise.”
And in the back row, it was all she could do to keep her seat.
The defendant rose, his shackles jingling. She noticed that he’d gotten a fresh haircut over the weekend. His iron-grey hair was military short, and the skin above his collar was baby smooth.
“Mr. Kincaid,” the little judge began, in her husky, two-packs-a-day voice, “You have been found guilty of three counts of capital murder, and one count of attempted murder. Evidence has been presented in this sentencing phase, and I am ready to rule. Before I do, is there anything you would like to say to the court?”
The defendant turned and scanned the gallery again, but his lawyer nudged him, and he returned his attention to the judge. “No, ma’am—uh, Your Honor.”
“Very well. Stuart Donald Kincaid, for the capital murders of Edgar Sandoval, Gloria Sandoval, and Maria Sandoval Kincaid, I sentence you to three life sentences without any possibility of parole, to be served consecutively. For the attempted murder of Gabriela Kincaid, I sentence you to eighteen years, to be served consecutively, following the capital sentences. You shall return immediately to the custody of the State of New Mexico to serve your sentence.”
The judge slammed the gavel, and the gallery erupted in chatter. Some people applauded.
From the back row, she could see that reporters were texting the verdict to their editors, or tweeting it, or whatever, and getting ready to find their interviews. She stood, intent upon leaving the room, and the building, as quickly as she could. If she hurried, maybe she could disappear before anyone thought to look.
She paused to watch as the defendant was led back to the door from which he’d been led in only a few minutes before. He struggled against the push of the deputies and turned to scan the room again.
Their eyes met. “Gabby!” he yelled. “Gabby! Baby, I love you! Please!”
Heads began to swivel her way.
Gabriela Kincaid turned away from her father and ran for the courthouse door.
Mrs. Brant was old and hard of hearing. She hated her hearing aids and only wore them when she was away from home. At home, she compensated for her failing ears with volume—the television, the radio, the ringer on her telephone, all at maximum. When the windows were open, Gabby could hear everything Rush Limbaugh or Fox News had to say over at her neighbor’s house. Not to mention most of her side of her phone conversations.
On this afternoon, as she sat on the front porch with a bottle of Corona, she could hear the local news. Now that the story was no longer “breaking,” the reporters had had a few hours to put together an in-depth report, telling the story of the night her father had lost his mind.
No, that was too kind a way to say it. He had not lost his mind. He had been, he continued to be, perfectly sane. He had been drunk and angry. He had often been drunk and angry, but on that night, he had also had a commercial kitchen’s worth of weapons at his disposal.
How strange to hear strangers speak so knowledgeably, so matter-of-factly, about her own life. No one could know what it had been like, what it still was like. Only she. And, she supposed, her father.
Gabby closed her eyes and tried to drown out the calmly interested tones of the reporter describing the scene on that night more than two years earlier. Her father, barricaded in the kitchen of her grandparents’ cantina, holding his wounded daughter hostage, a carving knife to her throat, sitting in the spattered and pooling blood of his wife and in-laws.
She didn’t need a stranger to draw a picture for her. She could still feel the bite of the blade into her neck, could still feel the blood pulsing from her side, growing sticky as it spread over her skin and cooled. She could still feel the desperation as her breath became blood and began to drown her.
When she closed her eyes, she could see her mother’s body, drenched in red, her eyes open, one hand out as if reaching for her. She could see her grandfather, burned by frying oil, his head caved in. She could see her grandmother lying in a nearly perfect halo of her blood. She had been the first to die, her throat slit before anyone had known there was trouble.
The brave girl fought for her family and was nearly killed herself. By her own father.
Gabby chuckled bleakly at the sensationalized truth of the reporter’s words. She had fought, she supposed that was true, but ineffectively. She’d loved her father. Even in the ugliness of her parents’ separation, even as his anger grew and flared, she’d remembered her daddy and loved him. She hadn’t believed him capable of such things, and she’d sought to find him behind those chaotic, killing eyes and bring him back.
When her grandmother had fallen, and her father had gone for her mother, Gabby had lunged between them and tried to hold him off. The wound in her side had happened in the scuffle. The blade had sunk into her lung, and she’d fallen, desperate for breath, choking on blood, watching as her father fought her grandfather, threw hot oil in his face, and then beat him with a skillet until his head no longer looked like a head.
Gabby’s mother was dead because she hadn’t run when she’d had the chance. She’d tried to bring Gabby with her. Her father had pulled her mother off of her and stabbed and stabbed and stabbed.
And then, as police sirens and lights flashed, he’d gathered Gabby up and put the bloody knife to her throat.
The last thing she remembered before she’d passed out—she’d thought she’d been dying—was him whispering, “You weren’t supposed to be here. Why are you here? Why are you here?”
Ms. Kincaid had no comment for reporters today, but when the trial began, she sat down with our own…
Unable to take it anymore, Gabby drank down the rest of her beer and went back inside to close up all the windows. Better stale air than refreshed pain.
The next morning, Gabby stood in the living room with her third cup of coffee. She stared out the window at the news van. Just one, but it wasn’t yet six o’clock in the morning. There would be more. They hadn’t been happy with her headlong no comment the day before. She’d turned off the ringer on the landline phone last night, because there was no one in the world she wanted to talk to, and the only people who’d been calling had been reporters. So at least the house was quiet.
She took another sip of coffee and stared through the sheers at that blue van with the bright logo on its side and the satellite dish on its roof.
The mug she held was a cheap dollar-store thing with a generic pink rose glazed on one side, and the cheery pink words I Love My Mom! on the other. Gabby had given it to her mother when she was in grade school. She could remember using her allowance that Christmas at the dollar store, trying with the little bit of money she had saved to find something good for all the people she loved.
Everywhere around her was memory of a life she no longer had. She still lived in the house she’d lived in all her life; she hadn’t even changed bedrooms. Everything about the house was as it had always been, except that she was alone in it.
When she’d gotten out of the hospital, her whole family dead except the man who’d killed them, she’d had nowhere else to go, and she simply hadn’t cared enough about anything to dredge up the will to change the situation. At the hospital, she’d told the cab driver her address, and when he’d brought her there, she’d walked up onto the only porch she’d known, into the only front door she’d known, and had begun the motions of the life she’d had.
Her parents’ landlord was a decent guy, and he’d let her keep renting. She’d been the beneficiary of her grandparents’ life insurance, and, although after the funerals and her medical bills it hadn’t exactly been a huge amount of money, she’d been able to live on it. Not for much longer, though.
She’d had friends, but they’d been part of the life she’d lost, and they hadn’t known how to be with her in this new, numb place, so she’d let them fade away. It hadn’t taken long.
She’d dropped out of school—she’d only been going to community college anyway and hadn’t figured out why yet—and she’d hunkered down to the one thing she’d yet cared about. She’d devoted her days to her father’s trial.
And now that was over.
And she had no life.
But she was surrounded by the life she’d had—her parents’ furniture, her mother’s crucifix and generic painting of Jesus hanging on the wall near the kitchen door, the braided rugs her Nana had made, the neatly aligned, cheaply framed eight-by-ten school photos chronicling her advancement through public school, kindergarten to high school graduation.
The bed in the room that had been her parents’, and then only her mother’s, still made by her mother on the last day of her life, the purple chenille tucked neatly under the pillows, the vibrant throw pillows arranged just so.
Her own room, last decorated by a nineteen-year-old whose life had known no greater stress than her parents’ separation. She still slept in that room every night, but she couldn’t remember the last time she’d really noticed anything in it.
Gabby stared down at the cup in her hand, at that cheap pink rose, and knew with a flash of clarity that she could not spend another day in this non-life, walking like a ghost through her own past.
A sound beyond the window caught her ear, and she looked up to see another news van pull in behind the first.
Enough. There was nothing for her in Santa Fe now but broken history.
It was time to go. It didn’t matter where—just somewhere. A new place. A new life.
Looking around the room again, Gabby understood that there was truly nothing for her, not even in this house.
One thing. There was one thing she wanted.
And one thing she would take because it seemed fitting that she should.
An hour later, she propped an envelope addressed to the landlord against the cookie jar on the kitchen counter, set her house key in front of it, and dug a ring of keys out of the junk drawer. She picked up her old duffel bag, packed with nothing but a few changes of clothes, and walked out the back door, locking the knob behind her. She crossed the small yard to the garage and heaved up the overhead door.
Her father’s 1970 Chevy pickup sat quietly. He loved that truck like a child. In the last months of her life, her mother had tried and tried to get him to take it away, but he’d procrastinated and refused and delayed. Gabby had known then that he believed that if the truck stayed, he might have a chance to come back home to stay as well.
She climbed up into the lifted truck and pushed her duffel to the passenger side. Before she turned the ignition, she picked up her mother’s gold crucifix from her chest and pressed her lips to it.
Gabby wasn’t particularly religious, especially not these days, but her mother had been devout. She’d worn this crucifix every day. She’d been wearing it on that last day; Gabby had had to clean old blood from around the body of Christ before she’d put it on.
It was the one thing Gabby wanted from the house as a memory to keep close.
She wanted the truck because it felt right to get away from her father in the thing he loved best. To take that from him as well.
She tucked the cross back under her t-shirt and turned the ignition. The truck had sat for more than two years; by all rights the battery should have been dead, but it caught, and the engine tried to turn over. Tried. For a few minutes, Gabby thought it wouldn’t start. As she tried without success to prime the old engine and nurse it to life, she began to feel deep panic, as if this big beast of a Chevy were her only chance for salvation.
Just as tears threatened to overtop her eyes, the engine caught and coughed, then roared to life. Gabby goosed the gas pedal until the truck settled into a fairly smooth idle. Then she put it into Reverse and backed down the long, narrow driveway.
She waved at the news teams as she shifted to Drive and left Santa Fe in her rearview mirror.
She had no idea where she was headed; she’d never in her life been farther from Santa Fe than Albuquerque—which was where she headed first, because in her mind, you couldn’t get anywhere from Santa Fe unless you started at Albuquerque. Once in that city, though, the farthest reaches of what she knew, she had to pull over and think for a minute.
All she had to do was figure out which direction to point the truck.
South felt backward. She supposed she had family in Mexico—she knew she did—but she’d never met any of them, and she barely spoke any Spanish. Besides, she wanted to own her memories of her mother and grandparents, and she could only do that if no one else shared them.
West was more of the same and then California, basically, and all she knew about California was what movies and television said about it. Fake and bright and loud. Not even a chance to see the ocean could draw her through that.
East, from all she knew of it, was just crowded. People everywhere.
So she went north. Maybe she’d end up in Canada. Maybe she’d go so far as Alaska. She didn’t know, but the thought of going somewhere green and lush, getting away from the desert scrub of the southwest, made her feel calm.
So she went north, and she decided she’d know where she was supposed to stop when she got there.
© 2016 Susan Fanetti
Autumn is my favorite season! It’s still hot as hell here in Northern California, but I’m looking forward to cooler temperatures and maybe some rain! (That’s all the autumn–or winter–we really get here, but after a summer chock full of 100+ degree days, it’ll do.)
I’ve got a few updates to share with you.
First the biggest news! At the beginning of the summer, I wrote my first story in a totally new genre. It’s a “soft science fiction” story (meaning that it’s light on science-y explanations and heavy on character development) set after an apocalypse, and it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written. But it’s one of my best pieces, too, I think. I mentioned it a few posts back. It’s got a love story at its heart, but it’s not a romance. Its themes and focus are bigger than the leads’ relationship (also, there’s no explicit sex). Anyway, I had planned to release it at the beginning of the year, but that plan changed when I signed a contract with Evolved Publishing. The book I wrote this summer, Aurora Terminus, is now the first installment of the SUNSTORM series, which will be published by Evolved. Aurora Terminus is coming Spring 2018.
Since it’s a different genre than my other work, I’ve started a sorta-pseudonym. Just a different variation of my name: S.E. Fanetti. I’ve set up FB, Twitter, and blog accounts in that name. I plan to keep both connected and share some content between my Susan Fanetti and S.E. Fanetti accounts, but I’ll keep the romance-specific stuff and the SFF-specific stuff mainly separate, probably.
The second update is that THE NORTHWOMEN SAGAS is now off KU and available on multiple platforms. If you’ve wanted to read my Viking stories about warrior women and the men who love them, but you use other platforms than Amazon for your books, now God’s Eye, Heart’s Ease, Soul’s Fire, and Father’s Sun are available at Kobo, iBooks, and B&N. And, of course, the series is still available for purchase on Amazon.
Update #3: In a few weeks, on 29-30 September, I’ll be in St. Louis for Penned Con 2017. St. Louis is my hometown, and this will be my first signing. I’m excited and nervous! I’m closing the preorder form at the end of the day (5 September–today) so I can be sure to get my books ordered and shipped in time. I hope to meet you in St. Louis!
Finally, my October release is coming up in just about a month, on 7 October. That will be Somewhere, a re-release of a book I published last year under a pseudonym and then promptly deleted. You can read more about that strange journey of mine here. This will be a quiet release, without a preorder, but starting this coming weekend, I’ll share a teaser or two. I really like the story, and I’m republishing it because I want to write more in that world. I hope you like it, too. It is definitely romance. Probably my romanciest romance novel to date, and the first time I feel like I can actually guarantee HEAs for the whole series.
One last note, for those who read through this and got panicky when there was no mention of bikers: there is one more Brazen Bulls book coming in 2017–Book 4 will be my December release (more on that in a few weeks). Book 5 is written and waiting for editing. I’m finishing up the first draft of Book 6 now, and I’m 95% sure that the whole series will be 8 books long, plus a planned prequel. So new Bulls will be coming at you at least through 2018.
Okay! I think that’s all my news. I hope you’re safe and well, wherever you are. xo
Here at the middle of 2017, I thought I’d give you an update on my publishing plans through the balance of the year, and a sketch of my plans beyond that. In order to do so, I have to tell you a little story, one that’s pretty embarrassing in some respects. I hope you’ll bear with me for a few minutes.
The story starts back in the spring of 2016. It was a typical California spring day, by which I mean postcard pretty—cloudless blue sky, light breeze, the works. I was driving to work, the windows open in my car and a Pandora station playing on the stereo. Lovely. A song came on I’d never heard before; the tune caught my attention, and so did the words. About two stanzas in, my muse (that would be Lola, if you didn’t know) hit me on the back of the head with the inspiration stick. I suddenly had this image in my head, full color and Dolby sound: a young woman behind the wheel, her arm resting on the door through the open window, her hair blowing in the breeze. She was driving away from her life, no looking back.
Just that, like a flash, and not such an unusual image in itself. But it hit me hard. So hard that it knocked the song that had inspired it straight out of my head—I have no recollection whatsoever of the title, the singer, the tune, or any of the words.
I couldn’t get that single image out of my head for the whole day. That night, I dreamt about the young woman. I saw why she was leaving her life, and it became an idea for a story. I got up and opened a new file, meaning only to take a few notes and get it out of my head, because I had other writing plans on deck, and this idea didn’t fit my plans. I was just finishing the first draft of Miracle at the time, and I intended to start the third Northwomen book next (I hadn’t had the idea for the Brazen Bulls series yet).
But those “notes” became a first chapter. And then I couldn’t stop. I wrote the whole book in a flurry of inspiration more intense than I’d felt since Signal Bend. More than 100,000 words in less than four weeks. I write fast, but I’d never written that fast, especially not during the semester.
Then I had this story, and I liked it a lot. I shared it with my betas, and they all liked it, too. But they also agreed that it wasn’t much like anything else I’d written.
It was, for one thing, a lot less violent than most of my work, and it didn’t have the potential for violence that all my other work contains. There are some pretty dark events—I mean, come on, it’s still me—but that stuff is more backgroundy than usual for me, and the focus is very much on the couple.
I’m not good at picking labels, but it is possibly my only traditional contemporary romance.
By the time I was done, other characters had “popped,” catching my interest, and I thought that it could be a series—in fact, I already knew the couple of the second book—and for the first time I felt like I could guarantee an ironclad HEA for every couple throughout a series—a guarantee I never make. The world of this out-of-the-blue book is just safer than my bikers, or my Vikings, or even the Paganos, with their Mafia connections.
Also, it’s a western, which is not my usual bag—although, honestly, that “western” angle isn’t all that different from Signal Bend. It’s a small-town story in which the small town pops as a character itself, and the townspeople are vivid secondary characters. But it is a sweeter, safer story, and a calmer, safer world, than is my tendency.
I didn’t know what to do with it. Would my readers like this kind of story from me? I had no idea.
So I stuck it in a folder and put it aside. I picked up my plans where I’d dropped them, and wrote the books I’d had in the queue. But my little town in Idaho kept waving at me, wondering when I was coming back.
Finally, I decided I would put it out under a pen name. Hey, I thought, this will be a good time to try to do things “right.” I still didn’t do the hiring of PR thing, but within the bounds of DIY, I at least did things in the right order this time.
I picked a name from my own family history, several generations back—a colorful great-great aunt who is family legend—and opened all the right social media accounts in that name. I started posting in them. Under that name, I sent out some queries to bloggers asking if they’d like an ARC (something I never do).
I published it last September.
And promptly and wholeheartedly freaked the fuck out. Guess what? Somebody like me, who struggles so much with social anxiety that she agonizes for fifteen minutes about whether to use a fucking exclamation point on an FB post, DEFINITELY SHOULD NOT try to manage two different author personas.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I had a breakdown over the whole enterprise—before the book had even gotten noticed. I can’t imagine what my poor brain would have done if that book had had a Move the Sun-type release. After about two weeks, I unpublished the book, deleted all the social media accounts, deleted my private Pinterest inspiration board for that world (*sobs*), and vowed to forget the whole sorry experience.
Which I did, more or less. The memory poked at me occasionally, and I was sad about the swift demise of a book I’d loved writing and liked as a story, but I was all NOPE NOPE NOPE about jumping back into that mental morass.
Then, a couple of months ago, Lola began whispering in my ear about that second book idea, and she hasn’t stopped. The more I want to write that second book, the more my meltdown with the first torments me.
I feel deeply sheepish about this. I know lots of writers have multiple pen names and lots of those writers keep them unconnected from each other. It’s not putting a book out under a pseudonym that’s got me blushing. It’s my little private drama and spectacular wimping out that’s driving me up a wall.
But clearly, I’m not going to be able to maintain a pseudonym.
So okay. I’m going to put it out again this fall, this time in my own name. To limit confusion for the people who bought it the first time, I’m not planning to change the title or cover or anything except my name, and I’ll add an author’s note of explanation. That will be my October release. I won’t do a preorder for it; I’ll just drop it on the first Saturday of October.
I don’t know whether you’ll like it, but I do. In fact, I just did a fresh edit (I didn’t change much, except to cut way back on the use of a pet name that sort of got away from me the first time), and I was reminded how much I really do love this world and the family that anchors it—and I was strongly motivated to get up over myself and put it back out in the world.
This post is me jumping off the point of no return for that plan. And really hoping there aren’t jagged rocks down below.
The book is called Somewhere. The family name I used for a pseudonym is Jenny Gavin. The town I built is Jasper Ridge, Idaho, nestled in the shadow of the Sawtooth Mountains. The Cahill family is its heart. It’s a contemporary, western, small-town romance. If a series does develop, it will be the Sawtooth Mountains Stories.
And the female lead is a young woman who drives away from a life that has died.
With that in mind, an update about my firm publishing plans for the balance of the year, and my tentative plans beyond that:
2017 releases (firm):
2018 plans (sketches):
First, re: the Bulls—Book 5 is my current work in progress, and I’m about 50K words in now. At this point, I’m planning to keep to the schedule I’ve got going, where I release a new Bulls book every 4 months. So Book 5 would come out next April, with Books 6 and 7 following later in the year. Based on the sketches of ideas I’ve got so far, I think this series will be 8 books long, with a 9th book on the tail end (a prequel story about Delaney and Mo, set during Vietnam). That all depends on countless factors, predictable and otherwise, but that’s the plan at this time.
As for other books and series, I love patterns and structure, and I like the pattern of a “different” book releasing between each Bulls book. Like the Northwomen, and Somewhere—books that go in different directions. I’ve got a whole pile of ideas outside the Bulls. I’ve got a post-apocalyptic story written now that isn’t a romance (there’s a love story, because I ship EVERYTHING, but it’s not the focus, and there’s no sex), and I have a range of ideas for romance stories and series, including a Pagano Brothers series (which would be a true mafia romance series), an MMA series, hopefully more Sawtooth stories, and several ideas that will be standalones. Like a Victorian romance with an English suffragette as the female lead. Really want to write that!
Anyway, the Brazen Bulls series is the spine of my plans for the next couple of years, and around that, I will chase whatever ideas catch my fancy.
Like when Lola hits me upside the head and upends all my plans.