As promised, here’s the teaser for the seventh and final book in the Signal Bend Series. There are, of course, big spoilers for Show the Fire, Book Six, here. Big spoilers. Proceed with caution.
I’m a bit ambivalent about posting this teaser today, because Badge has a pretty rough time in Book Six, and he’s not in a great place at the start of his story. So the Prologue, which I am sharing below, is rather darker than the beginnings of the other books. If you just finished Show the Fire, you might not be ready for more dark–though I’d say Leave a Trail is substantially less dark than Show the Fire, just overall.
If you’re reeling from the events of Show the Fire, I understand. Writing that book tore me up. The characters have a lot to come back from in Leave a Trail. It was critically important for me to end this series, with these characters to whom I am devoted, in a way that had integrity, that honored the characters, the town, the story itself, and readers, too. I hope I’ve done that. I tried really hard to do that (and continue to try, as I work on polishing LAT).
The prospective release date for Leave a Trail is Sunday, 6 July. That’s not firm, but I’d say it’s the latest date I’d release. If I get revisions and cover done earlier, and the scheduling/timing works out, I might release early. I’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, I will likely be posting a few more Signal Bend Shorts. I’m having a wee bit of trouble moving out of Signal Bend. I love it here.
Okay, anyway. Here’s the Prologue of Leave a Trail.
Badger was headed straight to the bar from the Keep, his blood still thudding in his ears, when he felt the unmistakable weight of Isaac’s heavy hand on his neck.
“Talk with me, Badge. My office.”
You didn’t say no to Isaac, not like this, but Badger’s head was thick and confused, noisy with anger. He turned and brought his arm up to knock Isaac off him.
“Get off me!”
He failed. Isaac’s grip only tightened, and Badger felt the fucked-up, pulling pain across his chest of skin that would not move—like he was tearing himself apart. It happened whenever he tried to make his arms go wider than his shoulders. The scar tissue that covered his chest would not give that much.
And then he was off his feet, and Isaac was slamming him into the wall. That hurt his chest, too, deeper, and he couldn’t hold back his groan at the impact.
Isaac eased off a little but didn’t release him. “You need to ratchet down, little brother. And now.”
Badger glared but said nothing. He was half Isaac’s size and strength. Maybe less than half his strength. And Isaac was his President. Plus, he was trying to study Badger’s eyes. Badger blinked and dropped his head, knowing it was a sign of defeat, but he was sick to fuck of people sizing him up, waiting for him to do something stupid and give them a reason to take his patch. He could feel them all watching him, looking for their chance. And he’d just served it up on a platter, shouting Isaac down at the table, threatening to walk out of a meeting.
“My office, Badger. You’re walking, or I’m draggin’ you. Make your choice.”
They had the attention of all the Horde, but no one was interfering. They were probably waiting for Isaac to flatten him. But Badger was glad they were keeping their distance. He’d rather taste Isaac’s fist than get rescued. Like the weak puke he was.
“Good man.” Isaac set him down, then dropped a hand on Badger’s shoulder and led him down the side hall to his office.
Once inside, Isaac closed the door and gestured to the chair next to his desk. Badger sat as directed, and Isaac pulled his desk chair up so they were facing each other when he sat. Then he started right in.
“I’m worried about you, Badge. I need you to be straight here. You need help you’re not asking for?”
“No.” He knew what Isaac meant. Somebody was always asking, laying traps, waiting for him to fuck up.
“Look at me.”
Pretty sure it was safe, and without another viable choice anyway, he leaned close and opened his eyes wide. “Fuck! I’m looking! I’m not high. I’m not a fucking junkie.”
He knew that for the lie it was. He wasn’t in denial, even as he denied it. He was totally fucked up, and he knew it. He knew he’d lost it in the Keep because he needed to get level. That was why he felt safe letting Isaac get a real close look at his eyes. He wasn’t high. He needed to be.
But they’d take his patch if they knew it. They talked a good game about being worried about him, but he knew he was a weak suck for getting hooked, and he knew how Isaac felt about weakness.
Isaac, who’d made his dead body live again just by fucking willing it, would never understand why Badger couldn’t deal. It wasn’t even the pain he felt with every fucking breath.
It was the fear.
It moved like acid in his veins. It twisted his innards into knots. It never let him up. Except for about an hour after a hit, maybe, when his blood eased and his head quieted. He knew he was crazy. It had been six months since the Perros had held them and tortured them, and he still couldn’t deal. They’d broken him. Not Show, not Len, not even Havoc, whom they’d sliced and diced—they’d all stayed strong. Only he had broken.
He was the weak link. He was a pussy. He knew they knew, and he waited for them to take his patch.
Isaac stared hard into his eyes and then sat back, his expression still unconvinced. “Okay. We are here if you need help, little brother. You find yourself in trouble, you reach out. You’re not alone. Right?”
He hated that ‘little brother’ thing. Hated it. Havoc had started it, and it hadn’t been long before they were all calling him that. He wasn’t even the most recent patch. Dom, Tommy, and Zeke had all been patched in after he’d been—and Omen and Mikey, too, rest their souls. He wasn’t even the smallest—Dom and Zeke were shorter, and Dom was skinnier. But he was the youngest, and no one missed an opportunity to remind him that they all thought he was a kid. Weak. Naïve. It fucking sucked. It sucked so bad.
What he said to Isaac, though, was, “Right. I know, boss. I’m okay.”
“Pretty hot in the Keep today. Not the first time. But it’s not like you.”
No, because usually he was a pussy. “Just tryin’ to get my head around everything. I’m okay.”
“Yeah. Me, too. You were right in there, though. I’m glad you called me on it. Sometimes…” Isaac stopped and looked down at his hands, which gripped his legs. “Sometimes I’m so angry my heart pounds like to break my ribs. It’s hard not to have a place to put it. The heavy bag helps.” He laughed. “A good fuck helps, too.”
Badger worked out as much as he could, but he couldn’t keep up with the likes of Isaac, and Show, and Len, and Tommy. He worked so goddamn hard to build up muscle. So goddamn hard. Weight and bulk did not want to stay on his frame without daily effort. And now his chest was a ruin, so it barely fucking mattered what he did. He’d never have even what he’d managed to build up before. And what he could do—it hurt like fire to work his upper body. Even bicep curls moved his chest and strained the scars. He did it anyway. He did it until he shook with pain.
And then he went off by himself for awhile.
As for good fucks, he was on that plan, too. But a good high lasted longer.
He put a kind of a smile on his face. “Yeah. That’s a good idea. Thanks.”
For another couple of seconds, Isaac looked at him skeptically, and Badger began to wonder if this was going to be the big talk after all. But then he huffed and rolled his chair back to the kneehole of his desk. “Okay, little brother. Let’s go drink.”
He fucking hated being the little brother.
He woke with a start, drenched in sweat, his heart racing. Weasel, his border collie, was sitting at his side, whining. The horses in their stalls were agitated, too. He must have been yelling in his sleep. Again.
The nightmare broke apart as soon as he had hold of his reality again. He could never remember anything about it except pain and fear, like his heart was being pulled through his ribcage. He rubbed at the spot on the right side of his chest that was still oddly dented from when his ribs had been broken. So strange to touch his own body and only feel it in his hand. It made him feel like he wasn’t quite there.
Weasel, still whining, licked his face.
Badger laughed a little and ruffled the fur over the top of the dog’s head. “I’m okay, buddy. I’m okay.”
He slept in the barn at the B&B, because he couldn’t sleep anywhere else. If he slept at his parents’ house, they’d hear his nightmares. If he slept at the clubhouse, his brothers who lived there would hear him. Only here, on the floor of his office, propped up against a saddle and sleeping on and under horse blankets, were there no ears that would pry.
Nobody knew—his parents thought he was at the clubhouse, and vice versa. Because he was livestock manager, people at the B&B expected him to be at work early, so nobody blinked when his bike or truck was parked outside early, and nobody had seemed to notice that he was parked there late, too.
His heart still racing from the terror of his disappearing dream, Badger got up from the floor and went to his desk. It was an old desk that Lilli had picked up at an estate sale somewhere. Some of the drawers stuck, including the topmost drawer on the left-hand side. But Badger knew the secret to getting it open—and he knew the secret it contained. A small hidden compartment at the back. He opened that now and pulled out a plastic baggy of green pills. Oxy 80s.
Tasha had never given him a dose this high. But nothing else did anything anymore. She had him on Darvocet now, which might as well have been aspirin.
This bag had cost him a fucking fortune, but he didn’t have anything else to spend money on, and he needed to buy in bulk. It wasn’t like he could run down to the street corner dealer.
He took a dose out, crushed it, and sorted the resulting powder into a couple of narrow lines. Snorting was so much better—faster, more intense—than swallowing. Just as he was about to take it in, his personal cell pinged a text. He thought to ignore it, but it was lying screen-up on his desk, and Adrienne’s photo came up on his screen. He hadn’t talked to her in weeks. The last time had been a fucking disaster.
She’d texted him a few times since, but he had nothing to say. He’d exposed himself far too much the last time, and he wasn’t about to do it again.
He looked over at his phone to read the text.
Check in, it said.
He stared, then set his perma-rolled dollar bill down and picked up his phone to scroll through her messages he hadn’t returned.
Three weeks ago: Been thinking about our talk. I’m worried.
Two weeks ago: I’m here to talk or text or skype. Whenever.
One week ago: Badge? U okay? Talked to S. so I know ur breathing. Didn’t say anything, tho, promise.
Yesterday: U mad?
Five minutes ago: Check in.
Now, as he was reading through: Check in now or I tell Show.
Fuck. One wasted phone call, and she had his balls. He’d fucked everything up. He couldn’t deal. He couldn’t. His heart was still going from that fucking nightmare, and now it was tripping over what he’d told Adrienne. If she told Show…that bitch. She’d promised she wouldn’t.
Fucking bitch! Fucking lying bitch!
His head and heart were going to explode both at once. He tossed his phone on the desk and did his lines.
It was the best thing he’d ever felt. Every time, it was the best thing. A roaring rush, everything in his head going full volume all at once, his heart racing even faster, and then, like a switch, it all went away, and he was left with calm and contentment. Numbness moved up from his nose, into his brain, and through his every nerve. The nightmare was gone, the fear was gone, the pain was gone. No anger. No worry. He dropped back in his chair and smiled. Damn, that was good.
Another text pinged—Adrienne again, of course. Badger leaned forward and grabbed his phone.
Last chance. Calling Show right now. Waking him up. CHECK IN.
Smiling, he texted back. Sleeping. Middle of the night u know. Im good. U good?
After a minute, his phone rang—she was calling. He smiled at her picture filling his screen and let it ring.