Cover Reveal & Teaser: Twist, The Brazen Bulls MC #2

Generally, I do the cover reveal and stuff six weeks ahead of the release date for a book, but that would be next weekend, and I’ll be out of town on a day-job-related trip next weekend, so let’s do it now.

twist-pb-cover

Twist, Book 2 of The Brazen Bulls MC will release on Saturday, 1 April 2017—and no, that’s not an April Fool’s joke I’m planning. 🙂 I’ll set up the preorder around mid-March. In the meantime, I’m sharing the cover and synopsis and a teaser, and here’s the Goodreads page.

Twist is Gunner’s story. If you read Crash (and this is a series where the books don’t stand alone all that well, so it would be a good idea to read Crash before you read Twist), you might remember that Gunner has some impulse-control issues. And anger issues. And just…issues. He’s got some things he needs to work out.

Generally, I share the first chapter or the prologue of a book as a teaser, but sometimes, for various reasons, the opening of a book isn’t an ideal teaser. That’s the case here. So I’m sharing most of Chapter Three, which gives some insights into Gunner and his story, and also introduces Leah, who has a story to tell as well.

The synopsis:

Tulsa, Oklahoma 1996

Maxwell “Gunner” Wesson is the loose cannon of the Brazen Bulls MC. A loss taken when he was a boy left a hole inside him, full of chaos and noise, and only pain and destruction can quiet the tempest. Full of courage and fiercely loyal, he has the Bulls at his back, even when his outbursts threaten to damage the club.

But the club president’s patience is wearing thin. Gun’s lack of control has put the Bulls on the front lines of a brewing war, right in the heart of Tulsa.

Leah Campbell is a small-town girl, living the life her mother walked away from. She takes care of her father, the town minister, and keeps his secrets, ensuring that he keeps his place as the moral and spiritual center of their community. But Leah has secrets of her own, and she’s faltering under the weight of all the things she cannot say, and all the things she must be and do to keep the truth at bay. She’s filled the hole her mother made, but it’s left her empty.

When two such damaged souls, full of secrets and empty of hope, come together, they will either save each other or tear everything apart.

Note: explicit sex and violence.

And the teaser, from Chapter Three:

The little old lady rooted around in her beaded coin purse. Gunner reached through her open car window and tapped her shoulder.

“I don’t need a tip, Mrs. Greeley. I just need you to sign the slip.”

“You’re a good boy, Gunner. You deserve a little somethin’ extra.” She handed him a neatly folded dollar bill and snapped her little purse closed, then finally signed the credit card slip for her gas.

“Well, thank you, ma’am.” He shoved the bill in his pocket—she always tipped him one dollar, and he always told her not to—and then jumped out of the way when Mrs. Greeley put her big old Lincoln Continental into gear and pulled off. He ran up and grabbed the easel sign, advertising an oil and lube sale, out of the way before she could clip it as she turned around the pumps. She got herself out onto the street without calamity and headed off at about fifteen miles per hour.

Mrs. Greeley likely would not pass a driving test if anybody made her take one now, but at least she drove so slowly that she’d probably just bounce off anything she hit, even in that road barge.

Delaney’s Sinclair was one of the last full-service stations in Tulsa. They didn’t even have a single self-serve pump. A fairly steady traffic of full-service customers, mostly old folks from the neighborhood like Mrs. Greeley, kept the pumps, and the pump jockeys, busy enough, but being full-service wasn’t much of a money-maker. Delaney’s made its real money in service and repairs.

Gunner was one of the few Brazen Bulls patches who didn’t work the busy bays at their president’s Sinclair station. He was good with engines. Really good. But he wasn’t a certified mechanic and wasn’t ever going to be. If he could just show the certification suits what he could do and get the piece of paper that way, he’d be fine, but there were required classes and textbooks, and written tests, and he sucked at all that stuff.

Reading wasn’t really his thing. He could read, he wasn’t a drooling moron, but he was slow at it. The letters shifted around on the page, and he had trouble keeping what he read in his mind for very long.

Put something real in his hand, and he’d understand it completely in minutes. He’d take it apart and know all its workings and then put it back together with his eyes fucking shut. Ask him to read a set of instructions on the exact same thing he’d just taken apart and put back together, however, and he’d be lost. Ask him to take a written test on it, and he’d forget everything he’d ever known, including his own fucking name.

So no certification, and Delaney wanted only certified mechanics in his bays. Which made Gunner a pump jockey. Well, hell, at least he had a job on the books, keeping the Feds off his scent.

His real job was next door, at the Brazen Bulls clubhouse. He was their munitions expert, keeping their weapons and ammunition in shape, managing the inventory, and, with Apollo’s help, researching any new weapons coming on their scene, including whatever shipments they were running for the Volkov bratva. He was certified on just about every kind of small arms, both military and consumer grade, and a wide assortment of large artillery as well—because all he’d had to do for that was show his Army instructors he could handle the motherfuckers.

And he could handle the motherfuckers.

That was where he made the money he lived on: in his cut of the club business. Going ten goddamn months without that cut—while he’d paid for the repairs to the pool hall, and restitution to Terry, the owner, and the huge damn fine Delaney had levied on him for starting a brawl on Dyson turf while he’d been wearing colors—had turned his financial landscape into something out of a Mad Max movie. He’d seriously considered putting his Chevelle up for sale, and he’d had that car since he was fifteen years old. He’d restored it from a husk.

If not for getting fed at the clubhouse, and Mo and Delaney’s house, and occasionally at his dad’s place outside of Grant, Gunner would have been living on ramen and tap water by the time Delaney had declared him square a couple months back.

If not for the kutte on his back, his landlord would probably have kicked him by then, too. But now he was square with club, his crib, and his chow again, and he still had his Chevy and his Harley. He just didn’t have room for much else yet.

Since that rave a couple weekends ago, he’d been really thinking about talking to his old man about renting out their barn. If they went in fifty-fifty, Gunner could get healthy. His father would fucking hate it all—the kids and cars and drugs and music—but if the money was decent, he might think about it, at least.

That rave had been fucking awesome. He’d been jacking off to his hazy memory of that little sparkle fairy ever since—way more than he’d been thinking about Willa, which was a nice, safe change. He wished he’d taken the time to really see her, but all he remembered was blonde and glowing. Like Tinker Bell. And slick and tight. Holy hell, she’d been a hot little number. She’d felt just perfect in his arms. He’d felt…he didn’t know. Like he’d found where he fit, maybe. But that was stupid.

Anyway, she’d made an impression, despite his dim recollection of her looks.

Behind him, the roar of hard wheels on pavement rose up, and he turned to see a group of neighborhood boys rolling their skateboards onto the station lot.

“Hey! No! You know better!” Gunner barked, flicking his hand, and the boys rolled back to the sidewalk. The kids liked to swing through, do turns around the pumps, and then roll on out. One of these times, Delaney was going to meet them with his shotgun. He insisted that it was a safety concern, but whatever the reason, his attitude about kids on the station lot could best be described as ‘crotchety.’

Gunner liked the kids. They were harmless, and he liked the hero worship. They lurked around the edges of the clubhouse and the station, trying to get a contact high of biker cool. Wally, in fact, one of their current prospects, had once been one of the skater boys.

Arrayed in plastic chairs along the front of the building, the usual suspects, a herd of retired old farts from the neighborhood who spent their days right there, bitching at each other about politics, talking about their days in The War, and trying to school a bunch of mechanics about cars, grumbled after the kids.

“You tell ‘em Gun,” Mr. Jones hacked in his three-packs-unfiltered rasp. “Buncha baby thugs.”

Offering the old coots an amiable shrug, he went back into the station.

Gunner opened the register and stuffed Mrs. Greeley’s charge slip under the till. An Oldsmobile pulled up at one of the pumps, and the driveway bell chimed over Gunner’s head. At the same time, the phone rang.

“Wally! Pump two!” Gunner shouted, and the prospect stopped stocking belts in the near bay and ran out.

Gunner picked up the phone. “Delaney’s Sinclair, this is Gunner.”

“Hey, Max. It’s Deb.”

He hipped the register closed. “Hey, sis. What’s up?”

“When are you done today? You have club stuff?”

“Nooo…” he answered, wondering what he was letting himself in for. “Off at two.” He’d opened the station this morning. Though he went to bed drunk or baked or otherwise altered most nights, he actually liked the early-morning shifts. He didn’t need, or want, a lot of sleep, and he liked the quiet of a drowsy dawn, before the day had had a chance to go to shit.

“You want to come for supper? I’m frying up the last of Dad’s bass and walleye from his trip. And coleslaw and beans.”

“Cornbread?” His stomach rumbled at the thought, and he looked over at the greasy bag of McDonald’s fries he’d been chomping on since Becker had done the lunch run a couple of hours earlier.

She laughed. “Sure.”

“What’s my tax for this wonderful feast?”

“Well, I could use some help. Dad wants to take some stuff in for the church donation run. They’re collecting for Berry Creek—you know, the twister that took out most of the town?”

Depending on the map you were looking at, either the entire state of Oklahoma formed the heart of Tornado Alley, or the western half of the state was its heart and the rest was its soul. Either way, Oklahomans knew wind like Alaskans knew cold. Dozens of tornadoes whipped through the state every single year. Sometimes they’d blow by and do little more than shake up a few windows, and other times, they’d erase whole towns and the people in them right off all the maps.

And sometimes they tore families right in half. Gunner stomped on the dark thoughts that started swirling around the base of his skull.

Berry Creek was a town smack in the middle of the state, in the heart no matter what map, so it was destined to get erased eventually. May 1996 had been its fated time, apparently. The Bulls’ old ladies had put together a collection, too: clothes, household goods, furniture, everything. Everybody in the neighborhood had chipped in —and not many people who lived around the clubhouse had much to spare. The women had done a big Wal-Mart run for toiletries and crap like that, too. The club was riding it out there on the weekend.

He should’ve asked if Deb and Dad had stuff for the Bulls run, he should have expected that they’d be chipping in, but it hadn’t occurred to him at all. He was shit about things like that. Oh well. They had it wrapped up, seemed like.

“I can’t get much in the Chevy, Deb.” He’d long ago taken the back seat out and customized the trunk for his NOS tank—and for his most excellent speakers.

“No, we can take the truck. I just need your muscles to carry stuff. I don’t want Dad doing it. His back’s been bugging him, though he won’t admit it. He’s doing that thing where he shakes out his leg, when he thinks nobody’s looking.”

Their dad had sciatica, and it got pretty bad, but he still worked every day on the farm. He had a couple paid hands, and Gunner came in and helped, too, at the beginning and end of each season, but Sam Wesson would be sitting in his own tractor every day until the day he died, even if he had to get tied in to keep his seat.

“You only love me for my muscles.”

“Not true. I also love you for…nope. You’re right. Just your muscles.”

“Skank.”

“Loser. See you around three?”

“Yeah, I’ll be there.”

“Great. Bring beer.”

“Hey!” But she’d hung up.

~oOo~

The Wesson family farm wasn’t much, just a few fields of wheat, corn, and sunflowers in rotation, plus Deb’s big vegetable garden and her couple dozen chickens, which kept her little roadside stand going through the summer. The big companies weren’t exactly fretting over the competition, but it had kept the family warm and full for generations. Some years were warmer and fuller than others, but they’d made it through them all.

It wasn’t much to look at, either, nearly indistinguishable from every other family farm for hundreds of miles. Unless it was your home. Then, it was beautiful and unique.

When Gunner rode down the driveway, he lifted a hand to his father, who was out in the wheat, doing a soil test. His father returned the wave and went immediately back to his work. He wouldn’t be back in until it was time to wash up for supper.

Gunner pulled his Fat Boy up between his father’s truck and his sister’s station wagon, the back of which was full of some weird thing. Once he was off his bike, he peered in through the side windows and tried to make it out. A bunch of wood. Some kind of contraption. No telling what bizarre thing Deb was up to. She was always on some new project.

He was fascinated, though, and he stared through the dusty window, trying to see how all the pieces would fit together—it was definitely in pieces as it was.

“It’s a loom.” His sister’s reflection came up beside his own in the wagon window.

“A loom? What’s that?”

She rocked her hip into his leg. “For weaving, dope. I got it at an auction for cheap. It’s broken, but I bet you could fix it.”

“Do you know how to weave?”

“I will when I have a loom to learn on.”

He’d thought often that his big sister had been born about ten years too late. She would have made a great hippie. She was artistic and mellow and a little bit weird—and fearless.

“What’re you gonna make?” he asked her reflection, which shrugged.

“I don’t know. Rugs, maybe? Whatever I can. I was thinking maybe you could bring it inside when we get back from the church.”

He laughed. “I’ve been had. You got a whole honey-do list for me. There’d better be pie, too.”

“Strawberry. And ice cream. Did you remember beer?”

He stood straight and nodded at his bike, where a twelve-pack of Coors Light, their father’s brand, was bungeed to the bitch seat.

His older sister beamed at him and then went and freed the beer. “We better get this in the fridge and get started. I got all the boxes and bags sealed up and ready to go.”

“I’ll bring the loom in first, if you want.”

A weird little look passed over Deb’s face and then was gone, pushed away by one of her sweet smiles. “No, no. No time. They stop taking donations in at four. We should get hoppin’.”

Gunner took the pack of Coors from her. “Okay, I’m all yours.”

~oOo~

Heartland Baptist Church was in the actual town limits of Grant, a few blocks off the town square. The parking lot was crowded with people offloading donations, and other people taking them in, logging them, and going through the boxes and sorting out what was brought in. Men were loading furniture onto pickups, and Gunner thought he’d ask if he could help, once he got their own shit handed off.

While Gunner put down the tailgate and dragged off the first box, Deb went over to talk to the Reverend, who greeted her warmly. She and their dad still went to church most Sundays. Gunner hadn’t gone, except for a couple of Christmas services he’d been guilted into, since he’d joined the Army.

He’d gone in the Army, too, for a while. The best way to get through Basic was to keep your faith. You got Sunday mornings off if you went to chapel. If you didn’t, you did KP.

Everybody had religion in Basic Training.

But they were wrong about there being no atheists in foxholes. Some people became atheists in foxholes.

Or sitting behind the gun in a helicopter door.

Especially if they’d already been really fucking confused.

The big box said CLOTHES in his sister’s spiky letters, so he carried it over to a table mounded with clothes. A girl with a long blonde ponytail was picking up items of clothing and describing them to an older woman, who was writing everything down in a spiral notebook. The girl had a nice bod, and Gunner always noticed nice bods, so he let his eyes roam a little.

She wore a white pair of those pants that stopped just below the knees and a little flowered shirt that absolutely screamed ‘good Baptist girl.’ Buttoned all the way up to her neck. Those tits, though, couldn’t be camouflaged by some buttons and ruffles.

Kind of a shame to put a figure like that on a good girl. If there was a God, he had a fucked-up sense of humor.

He put the edge of his box on a clear spot of the table and said, “I guess these are for you.”

She looked up. Oh, she had a cute face, too. Not gorgeous like a model, but nice. Pretty blue eyes. Really great mouth, with pouty lips. The kind of lips a guy would want to see on him. And feel on him.

A sense memory wafted through his head: the taste of bubblegum. His cock got a little tingle.

Then that mouth dropped open. Her eyes were wide, too; she was a picture of dumbfounded shock. Delaney’s wife, Mo, had a word she used that Gunner had always liked: gobsmacked. This girl seemed like someone had come over and smacked her gob.

Gunner looked to see if something weird was going on behind him. Nope. He turned back. “You okay?”

She didn’t seem inclined to answer. Then his sister called, “Max!” and he turned toward her voice.

“Yeah?”

“They want the blankets and bedding over here. They’re finishing up a load. Can you get that box?”

“Yeah. One sec.” He turned back to the girl, who had, at least, closed her mouth.

“You’re Max,” she said. “Max Wesson.”

“That’s what they named me, yeah.” Suddenly, his brain cleared up, and he recognized her. She was the Reverend’s daughter. Leanne or something like that. She’d been a little girl with bows in her hair the last time he’d been a regular around here. “You’re Lee…” he bailed, not sure if Leanne was right.

“Leah.” Her voice cracked. When she held out her hand, it was shaking. It shook harder when he took it and gave it a squeeze.

Was she freaked out by his ink? That happened sometimes. Sometimes people stared at him like he was the headliner in a circus sideshow. He didn’t have all that much. Rad had twice the ink he had. But his arms were pretty well sleeved, and his hands were covered.

Maybe that was it.

“Leah, right. You grew up good.” He gave her a little grin and took his tattooed hand away. “Anyway, here’s a box of clothes, according to the label, and I got to go be my sister’s errand boy. Nice to see ya.”

She nodded, still looking like she’d seen a ghost or a monster or something. That girl obviously needed to get out more. The Rev probably kept her locked up in a tower with her Bible all day and night. Considering her bod built for sin, he probably had her sealed into a chastity belt, too.

He went back to the truck and jumped into the bed, looking for the box marked BLANKETS AND LINENS, which, he remembered from loading the truck, was the box from their father’s fucking thirty-inch RCA.

Debra did not understand about efficient packing. Bigger wasn’t always better, but she did not get that. Pack a big enough box, and even blankets got heavy. Not to mention awkward. He pushed the big dumb thing to the tailgate, jumped down, and heaved it onto his back.

As he passed the clothes table, Leah was just opening the box he’d left. Her fugue state seemed to have passed, thank fuck.

Gunner dropped the television box of bedding off at the table where his sister was now working, and he turned right around and headed back to the truck for more.

A flash of white caught his eye, for no particular reason, and he looked that way—to Leah and the box he’d left. She’d opened it and was pulling things out, describing them to the woman with the notebook.

The white was a shirt she was holding up. Not just a shirt. A St. Louis Cardinals jersey. Small, for a little boy. Across the back, where the player’s name would go, in red satin letters, was the name MARTIN.

He stopped and stared. Somebody brushed against him, like he’d stopped short on them and they had to cut around not to run into him, but he barely noticed. He watched Leah as she set the little jersey aside and pulled out another one just like it. Again, she held it up. On the back was the name MAXWELL.

“What the fuck?” Gunner muttered. “What the fuck?” He went for the table. “What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck?”

Reaching the table, he snatched his old jersey out of Leah’s hands—she was gobsmacked again, but fuck her—and grabbed his brother’s from the pile of people’s fucking discards. Their discards. Their giveaways. “WHAT THE FUCK? WHAT THE FUCK?”

He grabbed hold of the box and yanked it forward. It toppled off the table and spilled onto the parking lot.

The box was full to the brim with Martin’s clothes. And his clothes. All the stupid outfits their mom had dressed them in, him in blue and Martin in green. Were all those boxes marked CLOTHES his brother’s? All those boxes he’d lugged to the truck with a goddamn smile on his face? Was Deb throwing Martin the fuck away?

“FUCK! FUCK! FUCK YOU!” He swept everything up and shoved it all back in the box.

“Max! Max, calm down! Honey, it’s okay!” Hands grabbed at his arm, and he swung, wanting to be free of them. He felt his hand connect, and he heard people yell, but he didn’t fucking care. He stood up and carried the box back to the truck, and he slammed the tailgate shut. It didn’t latch, it bounced in his hands, and he slammed it again and again until it caught.

Then, roaring in rage, he punched the tailgate over and over, until his hand hurt enough for the pain to be heard.

Calming slightly, he looked back and saw a crowd of people staring at him. The Reverend had his arm around Deb. Her mouth was bleeding. That was what he’d connected with: his sister’s face.

Just at that moment, he didn’t give a fuck.

He got into the truck and drove away.

~oOo~

He went back to the farm, where he returned all of his brother’s belongings to the room they’d shared from the day of their birth until Martin and their mother had died.

He’d meant to put everything in its place, but he couldn’t. The room was empty; Deb had cleaned it out completely. Their father, too; there was no way this had gone down without his approval.

Gunner stood there, feeling the fury swirl and the chaos clamor. He flexed his hand, which he was pretty sure was broken, until the shifting bones hurt enough that he didn’t think he’d lose his shit again.

When he went back out, a car was pulling away, and Deb and their father stood near the garage. He walked right by them both, got onto his bike, and got the fuck away.

If they tried to do anything like that ever again, he’d burn the whole motherfucking place to the ground.

© 2017 Susan Fanetti

 

Soul’s Fire: Preorder Now Available

souls-fire-cover-1-resized-light-grey

Soul’s Fire, the third installment of The Northwomen Sagas, is available on Amazon for preorder, in anticipation of a 4 February release.

You can find the prologue here. If you haven’t yet read about my Viking women and the men who love them, you can find the first installment, God’s Eye, and the second, Heart’s Ease, on Amazon. The digital editions of this series are currently exclusive to Amazon and available on KU. Paperbacks are also available.

Later this year, after the series is complete (there will be a fourth and final book), I’ll take the whole series off KU and offer it for sale on other platforms.

I hope you enjoy Astrid’s story!

xoxo
s–

Standing at the Threshold…

Buh-bye, 2016. Don’t let the door hit you on the ass, you abusive jerk.

Oh hi, 2017. You can come in, but wipe your feet. And please be kind.

image-happy-new-year-2017

On this first day of 2017, I thought I’d post a little bit about my plans for the year—at least as I know them at this point, barring any personal calamities or global apocalypses.

Last year, I set out with a resolution to work on getting better doing the stuff in this author gig that I’m really not good at—specifically, promotion and use of social media. I set a goal for myself of one “author” post per week, with varied content and a focus on promoting my books.

carlijnq-poster-a3-hahahano

That resolution didn’t even make it to the end of January. I suck at that stuff for a reason—I’m not comfortable asking readers to do anything that they wouldn’t do without my prompting, so I rarely even mention reviews, and I’m too introverted and have too much anxiety to post a lot of chatty updates. I have a very hard time posting unless I have actual news to share. Trying to push myself on this point wasn’t great for my mental health.

Ask me a question, and I’ll come up with a voluble, opinionated, detailed answer (as the FANetties have experienced), possibly with footnotes and charts. But to just randomly throw myself out into the vast aether… I get crushed under the weight of my own insignificance before I can click “post.”

Besides, “chatty” is probably not an adjective people who know me would use to describe me—and this includes my family.

introverts

BUT: I like making pretty pictures, and I’m getting better at Photoshop, so this past year I started doing more promo/teaser posts. I’m gonna call that a win and scrape Resolution 2016 off the bottom of the fail barrel.

bottom-of-the-barrel

This year’s resolution, if you want to call it that, is to stop worrying about what I’m not doing or what I’m doing “wrong” and just keep writing what I want to write because it keeps me sane to write it, publishing my work for the small and mighty band of readers who’ve found me on their own and like what I do, and using my author social media to let them (you) know what’s coming up.

…So basically I’ve resolved to do all the stuff I like and none of the stuff I don’t. I might have gotten the spirit of this whole “resolution” thing wrong, lol. Or maybe I got it really right. Maybe I should also make a resolution to eat cake every morning for breakfast! That’ll perk up the year!

cake

Anyway…on to the reason for this post. Here’s what coming up in 2017.

Overall:

At the moment, I have three manuscripts that are completed and in varying stages of revision/editing, and I’m making progress on my current project, so I feel confident about sharing some light specifics about those.

I’m going to finish out The Northwomen Sagas in 2017. That’s two more books: Soul’s Fire, coming out in about a month, and Father’s Sun, which I’m planning to release in June. I know most of you are here for my bikers, but I love writing these Vikings, and I’ll be sad to end the series.

shieldmaiden

(Little trivia snack for ya: You know how Isaac and a lot of the people of Signal Bend have Scandinavian heritage, and the Horde keep Viking customs as part of their club rituals? There’s a direct ancestral line from the Horde back to my Vikings.)

Don’t worry, though. There are more bikers to come. The Brazen Bulls MC series is just beginning, so there’s a lot more story to tell in Tulsa. I’m not sure how many books that series will ultimately be, but I do know that it’ll be at least four, since I’ve finished the first draft of the third and know who will lead the fourth. This being an MC series and all, there are plenty of characters who might drive the story forward for a while—but that’s no guarantee that all the Bulls will get books of their own, of course. Like Signal Bend and SoCal, the Bulls books aren’t standalones. The series has a story arc of its own, and when that arc ends, so too will the series.

(It’ll probably be more than four books, because I don’t see how I’d wrap up the series arc by the end of Book 4. That arc is just starting to become a strong feature of the books. My estimate for the series is seven-ish books.)

At any rate, especially now that I’m releasing books every two months instead of every six weeks, I expect the Bulls to be ongoing through 2017 and probably into 2018.

So…the schedule for 2017 (releases and events), so far:

  • 4 February: Soul’s Fire, The Northwomen Sagas Book 3 (Astrid’s story)—this one is edited and formatted and ready to go, so that’s a firm date. Find the cover and prologue here.
  • 1 April: Twist, The Brazen Bulls MC # 2 (Gunner’s story)—this one is done, too, just ripening for a final edit, so also a solid date. (No foolin’!)
  • 3 June: Father’s Sun, The Northwomen Saga Book 4 (Solveig’s story)—I’m currently writing this one, the series conclusion, so this is a planned but tentative date.
  • 5 August: Brazen Bulls # 3 (I’ll tell you the title and whose story this is after Gun’s book comes out)—I don’t usually write out of order with my publishing plans, but Lola got her teeth in this one, so it jumped the line. I recently finished the first draft. It’s possible that BB3 might come out in June instead of Father’s Sun, if I hit any snags writing FS.
  • 29-30 September: My first signing! Penned Con 2017 in St. Louis, MO. STL is my hometown, so I’m super excited about this. 🙂
  • October: Brazen Bulls # 4 (not started yet, so this is very tentative)
  • December: Brazen Bulls # 5 (not started, so very tentative)

There’s some other stuff on the fire, too, but nothing that’s cooked enough for me to share at this point.

Okay, so there’s a look forward at my 2017. I hope your year is peaceful, safe, and happy.

xo
s—

 

Cover Reveal & Teaser: Soul’s Fire, The Northwomen Sagas #3

Hi all!

Today, I’m revealing the cover and synopsis for Soul’s Fire, the third installment of The Northwomen Sagas, and sharing the prologue as a teaser.

sf-pb-cover

 Soul’s Fire is Astrid’s story. It opens about five years after the epilogue of Heart’s Ease. I did my best to make Heart’s Ease stand alone from God’s Eye, but that was tricky, considering their overlapping timelines. Soul’s Fire, on the other hand, should stand alone quite easily, though of course there are nuances that can only be appreciated if you’ve read the whole series.

Soul’s Fire will be released on Saturday, 4 February 2017. As usual, the preorder will be live a couple of weeks before then.

Meanwhile, here’s the Goodreads page.

Before I share the synopsis and teaser, and I want to wish you all a safe and happy New Year’s Eve!

xoxo
s–

Here’s the synopsis:

Astrid has been a warrior since the day she was old enough to make the choice to live and die with an axe in her hand. She is strong and stoic, powerful and brave, and she has the life she desires, free of complications and distractions.

She is a shieldmaiden, and that is all she wishes to be.

She has been the strong right hand of her jarl since the day they and their allies overthrew the cruel Jarl Åke. Jarl Leif is mighty and honorable, and with Astrid’s help, he has brought great prosperity to their people. Every summer, the raiders sail into new lands, traveling farther and farther, claiming treasure to enrich their people. They meet little resistance from the rulers or the people of these strange worlds.

Until they land in a country whose king has learned the lessons of his neighbors and meets the raiders with a cunning and brutality that matches their own. In that clash, and after it, Astrid’s shieldmaiden’s strength and will is put to the harshest tests.

Leofric is the second son of a king. Without the expectations or attention imposed on his older brother, he is free to live more or less as he chooses. But he is a seasoned warrior and not half so dissolute as his reputation suggests. When his father and brother seek to salve their rage by torturing a captive barbarian woman, Leofric sees their action for the evil it is and does all he can to save her, and then to heal her.

To love her had not been part of his plan.

The captive is strong and stoic, powerful and brave. She is a marvel unlike any woman he’s ever known. But if she is to live, she must learn the ways of his world. If she is to thrive, she must cast aside what she was and become something new. Leofric would give her all that he has and more, but there is one thing he cannot offer.

His world has no word for shieldmaiden.

Note: Explicit sex and violence. Dark themes.

And here’s the teaser:

PROLOGUE:
SHIELDMAIDEN

Astrid kicked on her mother’s door. The move jostled the girl in her arms, and she moaned.

“Mother! Are you there!”

From behind the slatted wood, she heard, “Usch! I’m here! Why all the yelling and pounding, just open the—”

The door swung open, and Geitland’s healer—her mother, called Birte—stood there, her face flushed and her hair stuck in wet sweeps over her forehead. She had been at the fire, probably boiling some new potion.

“Öhm!” she exclaimed upon seeing the girl Astrid held. She moved her substantial body out of the way, and Astrid pushed through, carrying the girl to the cot in the main room of her mother’s house. When she laid her down, the girl moaned and clutched her side, where blood soaked her tunic.

Birte dried her hands and pushed Astrid out of the way. “Another? You push these girls too hard, daughter. If you are not careful, one will die from your training soon.”

“If they would die in training, then they are not fit for battle.”

After she turned eyes full of weary displeasure on her daughter, Birte bent to the girl and plucked at her tunic. “Let me see, child.” She lifted the coarsely woven fabric and showed a wide, deep wound. She had been slashed with a true sword, sharpened for battle.

Astrid had been training shieldmaidens for years, and she knew her work. There was little to be learned batting sticks at one another. She taught her charges the way she had been taught: with sharpened weapons. They learned because their lives depended on it.

Her mother knew that, and also knew that Astrid’s shieldmaidens had brought great honor on themselves and on her. But it was true that this year, there had been more injuries. Astrid blamed the crop of new fighters, who were softer than any she’d known before. In the past, young women had come to her with some fighting skill already. All boys, and many girls, in their world were taught to defend themselves as soon as they could wield a weapon.

But in the past few years, with Geitland basking in great prosperity, people had grown soft. They had only raided once each of the past three summers. Each raid had brought so much treasure that everyone had more than they needed, and the appetite for the fight had dwindled as warriors grew rich and drunk and made their women fat with their children.

If not for the sneak attack during the winter from an inland clan, which had shaken all of Geitland up and awakened their bloodlust as well as depleted some stores, Astrid doubted the people of Geitland would have had the interest to raid at all this summer.

But they did. In fact, Leif, Geitland’s great jarl, and Vali, the jarl of Karlsa, Leif’s good friend, and his northernmost ally, planned to raid again together this summer, in a daring journey to the other side of the fertile land they had plundered so fruitfully for the past four summers.

Anglia.

For this new, bold raid, a long voyage in new water, to new land, her shieldmaidens could not have any softness in them. They would need all their wits, all their strength. They would need to turn their hearts and bodies to stone and iron.

As Astrid had, long ago.

She watched as her mother pressed her fingers along the girl’s wound. When the girl whimpered, Birte shushed her, her voice and breath both crooning softly. These soft touches and sounds were not the kind of mothering Astrid had grown up with, and she felt a pluck of irritation at the bleeding girl.

Then her mother pushed a finger into the wound, and the girl screamed.

Astrid scowled at the sound.

Her mother sucked the blood from her finger. “You are fortunate, child. There is no greater damage than this slice. I will close it, and you will heal.” She turned back to Astrid and waved her hand toward the door. “Schas, daughter! I have no need of you. You have done enough, I think.”

Dismissed, Astrid left without another word and headed for the great hall. She had no more need to be there than her mother had need of her. The girl was of no more interest to her. She would make no shieldmaiden.

A true shieldmaiden closed her mouth against her pain.

~oOo~

Winter had crept away, and the afternoon bore the warm promise of dawning summer. The door and windows of the great hall had been thrown open. The night would likely freeze again, the sun was still young and its warmth did not last long, but for now they could enjoy the air and light.

As Astrid came to the main doors, a trio of young goatlings trotted out on their stiff legs, bleating. Right behind them, laughing as he tried to catch one, was Magni, Leif’s son, born of his second wife, Olga. He had five years, and he had grown wilder with each of them. He was a goodhearted boy, and robust, but he was undisciplined.

Astrid had never borne a child, and she cared not to do so. She had never had a husband or a man promised to her, and she cared not about that, either. When she wanted a man, she had one. When she was done with him, she went away from him.

She wanted no man to seed her. A shieldmaiden who mated and bore children was a shieldmaiden no longer. A mother was bound to the hearth, to tend to the needs of others during her years of greatest strength. Such was not the life for Astrid.

Her lack of experience about children or parenting did not stop her from judging the parents she knew, however. She kept her mouth closed, but she judged nonetheless.

Leif and Olga, in her estimation, were soft. Olga’s mothering was sweet songs and gentle kisses. Leif’s fathering was play and laughter. Having five years, Magni was old enough to begin to be taught the ways of their world, which was a harsh place of long winter and cold iron and steel.

Instead, he was being shown a world of love and warmth and joy. Without hard training to forge his will, he would make no good jarl to sit in his father’s place one day.

Astrid doubted that Leif would ever be challenged for his seat; he was revered as jarl, he had earned the seat in battle, and he would hold it until his death. But he was not immortal, and his son—if Magni were not challenged even before he could claim his father’s seat, Astrid believed he would be challenged shortly thereafter. And he would be killed.

Unless he found his stone and iron before that day.

She watched the boy dive for a goatling, his blonde hair flying. He missed, landing in the dusty dirt with a gleeful shout, then jumped up and ran again. All around him, people at work made way for the jarl’s son, his only living child.

Leif had put in the ground six children, his first wife, and the unborn son she’d carried. Olga had thought herself unable to bear Leif a child, until she’d borne their son. Perhaps there was good cause in that for the way Magni was indulged. Good cause, perhaps, but not good sense.

Astrid shook her head and went into the hall to discuss with Leif their upcoming travel to Karlsa, where they would make their plans for this great raid.

~oOo~

Vali, Jarl of Karlsa, strode down the pier to Leif, and the two men clasped arms and then embraced warmly. Though Leif was a large man among their people, Vali stood taller and wider. He was the largest man Astrid had ever known. His size and power, his ferocity and skill in battle, and his endurance had made him a renowned warrior. His steady hand, keen mind, and warm heart had made him, like Leif, an esteemed leader.

Vali’s wife, Brenna, known as the God’s-Eye, who had once been a legendary shieldmaiden, stood behind her husband, their three children around her. When Vali and Leif had made their greeting, Leif moved on to Brenna, wrapping his arms around her. She released the hand of Ylva, her youngest, so that she could hold him. At the same time, Vali embraced Olga, who, with Magni, had joined them on this brief journey north.

Then the women embraced and cooed over their children. Brenna and Vali’s oldest, a girl, Solveig, had more than six years. Håkon, their son, was only half a year younger than Magni, so had near five years. The three of them greeted each other like old friends and ran off toward town, their parents calling after them warnings to be careful, as if every eye in the town would not be mindful of the jarls’ children.

Brenna and Vali’s youngest, Ylva, still bore the round cheeks and wispy locks of infancy and could not have had more than three years. With wide, still eyes, she studied the adults as they spoke together. Vali swept his youngest girl into his arms, and she tucked her fair head under his dark beard.

Still in the ship, Astrid watched all that friendship and family with an evaluative eye. There was no denying the greatness of either man, or of Brenna. But the men were building on their legend, adding tales to their story. Brenna had given over to breeding and had not raided for many years, since they had traveled for the last time to Estland. There, they had met Olga, Leif’s wife. And there, Vali had wed the great God’s-Eye and turned a shieldmaiden into a broodmare.

She did not understand the impulse. The children were well-made and good-featured, yes, and she supposed there was the drive to leave one’s blood behind after death. But she had admired the God’s-Eye as a great warrior, and here she stood, in a hangerock fastened with bejeweled brooches, smiling up at the man who had sheathed her sword when he’d sheathed himself in her.

At the intimate image that accompanied that impatient thought, Astrid scanned the people of Karlsa who stood along the shore, watching the welcoming of the Jarl of Geitland. She did not see the face she wanted. When she joined Leif in Karlsa, she coupled with Jaan, with whom she’d often coupled in Estland as well. He was good company, well built, and a fine rut. Usually, he was at the shore for the welcome, but on this day he was not.

She found herself disappointed. No matter; she was sure he would show himself.

Vali handed his daughter to Leif, then turned and smiled at Astrid. “Will you stand there glowering, my friend, or will you join us?”

He held his large hand out as if he meant to help her onto the pier. She gave him the smile he sought, and she joined her friends, but she did not take his hand.

~oOo~

“Again, you would have us be farmers? Was not our failure in Estland lesson enough?” Astrid slapped her hand on the hide before them, covered with thin lines and small pictures. A ‘map,’ it was. She was still skeptical of them. It seemed to her that to use such a thing for navigation was to trust someone they did not know to create an image of a place they had not seen.

The sun and the stars. The wind. Her own eyes. Her own feet. These were things she could trust to show her the way.

Vali leveled sharp blue eyes at Astrid. “Estland did not fail because we could not farm. Estland failed because we were betrayed. By the jarl you’d sworn fealty to.”

“Leif and your wife had sworn to him as well.” She should not have brought up Estland. Vali always harkened back to Åke when that time was raised in disagreement. But he wanted to carve a settlement from this new raid, and that was folly. Astrid tried another tack. “To the point: none among us is a farmer. We were not farmers in Estland. Why would we settle land we do not know?”

“We do know it. We have explored well inland and taken great mountains of treasure from these kingdoms of Anglia. We know it is lush and green.” Vali leaned back. “You are right. I have no wish to be a farmer. My duty is here, in Karlsa. My home.” He reached over and took his wife’s hand. “Our home. But there are those among us who would seek to make a life in that greener, warmer place. Raiders who are farmers, and would rather sow the earth with seed than with blood.”

Then they were not raiders, not truly. No matter their skill with a blade.

Astrid turned to Leif. “And you? You think this is wise?”

“I think that we should see what we see in this new place. With each raid, resistance has grown, and the battles have been harder won. So we move to the west, where they might not expect us. If we can take the land we need, we should take it. We take all that we can claim. Why would we not take the land as well?”

“Because we are not people of that place. It is not our home.” The words churned from Astrid’s mouth, through teeth clenched in frustration. Their last attempt at settling had been a terrible disaster, one she meant never to see repeated.

“It shall be, when we make it so.”

Brenna had spoken those words, and Astrid turned her frustration on the God’s-Eye, “We?”

The woman who had been a great shieldmaiden turned a look on Astrid that would have made a softer soul quake, full of fire and fury. The God’s-Eye stare. Brenna’s strange right eye might well have held the power of the Allfather, and Astrid gave it the respect it was due. She could not hold Brenna’s gaze.

“Yes, we. I shall raid with my husband, my friends, and my people.”

The God’s-Eye would be a shieldmaiden once more? Was she fit, after so many years with a child at her teat?

It wasn’t a question Astrid would ask. If she was not fit, then she would die in battle, and that was none of Astrid’s concern.

As long as Vali wasn’t weakened by his concern for his woman.

Astrid could meet Vali’s eyes, so she did, though she was faced with a furrowed brow as he agreed with his wife. “Brenna’s mother will tend to the children, and Bjarke”—he nodded at the man beside Leif—“will hold Karlsa in our absence. His woman is bringing forth their child soon, so he will not be with us.”

“Ah!” Leif exclaimed and slapped Bjarke on the back, changing the mood of the room at once. “That is good news, friend.”

Bjarke grinned. “I am sorry to miss this raid, but I am honored to have your trust to lead in your stead, Vali.”

And again, Astrid was surrounded by people celebrating the thought of a coming child, with no concern that they had lost a strong warrior to that endeavor.

~oOo~

That night, in Karlsa’s great hall, which was far less great than Geitland’s, the people of Karlsa feted Leif and Olga and the rest of their guests. After a few horns of mead, Astrid began looking in earnest for Jaan. She was restless and irritated, and she wanted to expend some of that energy.

Wandering through the hall, pushing away drunken hands that sought the same thing she did, Astrid pulled up short as Solveig, Magni, and Håkon ran across her path, holding hands like a chain and giggling.

She tried to remember if she had ever played as these children always seemed to. If she had, her mind could not recall it. She had been raised in a house that had been always full of the ill. She had been raised to be quiet, to be helpful, or to be sent away. And when she was sent away, it had been to her father, a cart maker. With him, she’d learned hard, physical work, and to be stoic in any discomfort.

Her parents had tended her well, kept her fed, clothed, shod, and warm. Though they had been disappointed to have had only one child and a girl at that, she supposed her father had loved her in his way, and she knew her mother did in her way.

But no, she did not think she had ever run giggling through the hall.

The mead had made her thoughts maudlin. She needed a good rut. But Jaan was not in the hall, and there were no other men of as much interest as he would be.

She went outside, into the bright light of a nearly full moon. The night was warm enough that her breath didn’t plume from her mouth. This summer might be long. That was good; this year, she hoped for more than one raid. Her joints felt stiff with idleness.

She took a long, deep breath and let it out, blowing it toward the heavens.

“Astrid.”

She wheeled and saw Jaan in the shadows along the side of the building. With a smile of pleasure anticipated, she went toward him. “Jaan. It has been a long while.”

“A long while, yes. You look well.”

He’d taken a step back as she’d neared. Surprised, her battle senses tingling lightly at the suggestion that all was not right, she stopped. “As do you. You have been keeping yourself from me today. With purpose, I think.” Understanding had dawned as she’d spoken, while he lingered in the shadows, holding himself off.

“I am wed.”

She laughed. Of course. Why not he, as with all others in her life. “Then glad tidings. I wish you and your beloved many fat babies. Good night, Jaan.”

Feeling a sour turmoil in her belly that she didn’t understand, Astrid turned and took a step toward the hall. She would find one of the men with the grasping hands and mount him. One ride was as good as another.

That wasn’t true, of course. But it would be true tonight. With enough mead, it would be true.

“Astrid, hold.”

She stopped but didn’t turn back.

“I’m sorry to tell you in this way.”

“It matters not, Jaan. I hope you are happy.”

“I am.”

There was nothing more to be said, so Astrid left him in his shadow and went back to find a horn of mead and a man to mount.

© 2016 Susan Fanetti