Today & Tomorrow is the beginning of Nolan’s story. Nolan is Missouri Horde, and he doesn’t want to be anything else, but he’s been hanging out in Madrone for a while.
I’m calling this a “Side Trip” because it’s focused almost solely on Nolan and his female lead, Analisa, and there’s not much club story happening in the background. It’s also a little shorter than the main books of the series.
Because it’s a “Side Trip” and a little shorter, I’m planning to publish it a bit more quickly than I publish the main series installments. You can expect this to release in four weeks, on Saturday, 11 April. I’ll set up a preorder about a week and a half before that.
As a teaser, I’m offering the first chapter, in Nolan’s POV.
Fair warning: you might need a tissue or two for Nolan and Analisa’s story.
“It’s been almost a year, Nolan.”
“C’mon, Mom. It has not.”
“Nine months. Close enough. We missed your birthday. You missed Loki’s birthday. He’s starting first grade this week, and he’s all excited about starting ‘big-boy school’ and going all day. He wanted you to be here to take him.”
Nolan closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the wall of his dorm room. He missed his mom and little brother so much it felt like his heart had sprung a leak. “I know. I talked to him. He’s okay.”
“He’s okay the way you were okay, Nolan. Trying to be strong. Like you were. He needs you. He misses you. I miss you.” His mother sighed heavily, the sound filling his ear like static. “I just don’t understand. Are you coming home—ever?”
With his thumb, he twisted the big silver ring on his right middle finger, the one with a raised runic ‘H’—a haglaz. The symbol for chaos. For Havoc. “You know I am. There’s just…there’s things I need to do here first.”
“What? Get killed? I’m not an idiot, kiddo. I know that what’s going on there is like it used to be here. We lost Hav to that. Isaac and Len gave up their freedom to save us all from it. To make us safe. And you hunt up trouble and just dive right in? And stay? Why? Can you help me understand?”
For months, they’d been circling this topic, over and over. Every call, marking more time that he’d been away, was worse, so Nolan knew full well that there was no way to make his mother understand. It was because of Havoc, and Isaac and Len, and Show and Badger, too—because of what they’d given up, because of what Nolan had lost. He didn’t feel worthy of the kutte they all wore, or had worn, if all he did was ride around Signal Bend looking tough. He needed to put on the line what they’d put on the line—their lives, their freedom—or he was nothing but a wannabe
He’d explained it as well as he could to his mother, multiple times, but it had never been enough for her. She wanted him home, and he wasn’t ready to give her what she wanted.
But he could give her a date to set her sights on now. Hoosier had given him and Double A a choice: patch over to the SoCal charter or head back to Missouri by the end of the year. There was no way in hell he’d ever give up the rocker Havoc had worn. He was Missouri Horde. “I’ll be home for Christmas, Mom. I promise.”
His promise was received with silence.
“I just did. I promise.”
“Swear it. On Hav’s memory. Swear you’ll be home by Christmas and stay.”
He wouldn’t do that, not on his father’s memory. There were four months between this moment and Christmas, and he couldn’t be sure that he’d live through them. If Havoc’s life and death had taught Nolan anything, it was that there was never a guarantee an outlaw was coming home.
She laughed, but it was a sad, wet sound. “Yeah. You break my heart, kiddo.”
During quiet spells, when the Horde weren’t on a run or dealing with bullshit from the Dirty Rats, Nolan and Double A both often found themselves at loose ends, trying to stay busy. They both had some skill as mechanics, but there wasn’t room for them in the shop. They filled in sometimes, doing maintenance jobs, and Double A had started hanging out at Coco’s place, helping her with her kid or whatever. But Nolan was bored a lot, and he felt guilty, like he wasn’t earning his keep. He was—he’d been on every border run since they started, he’d taken fire with the rest of them, and he’d killed in the service of the SoCal charter, so his keep was earned. But on the occasional stretches of time where everything was just normal, he spent a lot of time looking for shit to do.
He’d ridden all over Southern California, until Hoosier had put the kibosh on anybody going too far off on their own—too dangerous, he’d said, with the Rats still getting sporadically scrappy and maybe trying in some half-assed way to start a war.
He was working out like a madman, putting on enough mass that his t-shirts were getting too tight.
And he’d been pestering Trick some. Trick was an inspired mechanic and designer. He built beautiful bikes, and Nolan loved to watch him work. It reminded him of working with Havoc. They were totally different in their approach—Trick was more artistic, creating bikes that looked like nothing else on the road, while Havoc had been all about the badass muscle machine. But they had the same laser-sharp attention to detail, the same felt-sense about their projects. Trick almost never spoke while he worked, while Havoc had kept up a conversation and commentary all the time. Once Nolan figured out that Trick wanted him to shut the fuck up and let him work, he could hang out and watch without getting on anybody’s nerves. He felt simultaneously content and lonely, but he was fascinated by the work. He had a thought that he’d like to get that good someday, and he thought his own artist’s eye was actually more like Trick’s. He appreciated the fantastic and unique.
Still, he knew that he was superfluous here in SoCal. Even on the border runs, even skirmishing with the Rats, the charter could have managed just fine without him or Double A. Fuck, A had been shot twice since they’d been here, so he’d been laid up half the time.
He wasn’t really needed here, and his mother and brother wanted him home. His club wanted him home, too. So why was he so sure he needed to stay?
Because he sat in Havoc’s seat at his home table, and he didn’t feel he’d earned it. That was the thing he hadn’t been able to tell his mother. His brothers saw Havoc’s legacy when they looked at him, and Nolan didn’t feel good or strong enough to stand in his place. Not yet.
Since he’d come to SoCal, he’d taken fire and stood steady. Repeatedly. He’d fired on their enemies and hit true. But it wasn’t enough. He didn’t know what would be enough.
He was running out of time to figure that out, though.
On a quiet afternoon, Nolan was on his way over to the bike shop to see if he could help out. Coming into the Hall, he saw Connor and Jesse talking with Riley. Nolan paused. It was strange to see Riley at the clubhouse in the middle of the day, without Bart or the kids. It didn’t look like he’d be intruding, so he went over to say hi.
Connor was shaking his head, his hands up in denial. “No way, man. Yeah, I like younger girls, but that’s just twisted, what you’re asking.”
Jesse popped Connor on the arm. “Fuck, dude. You’re the one who’s twisted. We’re not asking you to bang her, ya perv. Just teach her.”
“I thought it was a crappy idea, personally,” Riley interjected. “Never mind, Jesse. Bart’ll do it.”
“Bart doesn’t have time to babysit this girl.”
At that, Connor looked downright offended. “And I do? Fuck you, Jess.”
“Yeah, I had my head up my ass. I thought you’d like the hero worship. You usually do—but if you’re not getting pussy out of it…”
“And fuck you again. I’m not that shallow. I’m just not the guy for this gig. It’s a stupid fucking idea, anyway.” Connor’s eyes shifted guiltily to Riley. “No offense, Ri, if it was your idea.”
“It wasn’t, so none taken. I agree that it’s stupid.” Riley turned and was the first to notice Nolan. “Oh, hi, Nolan.”
“Hey. Sorry to be listening in. I kinda got hooked trying to figure out what you were talking about.”
“No problem. Not a secret.” Jesse went around behind the bar and poured himself a beer from the tap. He gestured at Connor and Nolan, and they both nodded, so he poured two more—and he did a shit job of it, handing everybody glasses half full of head. Usually, there was somebody around, a girl or a Prospect, to act as bartender, server, gopher, or maid, but it was too early for the girls, all of whom had jobs. Since Peaches had been killed on St. Pat’s Day, and with Fargo recently patched in, they were down to just one Prospect, and Keanu was off on an errand for Hoosier.
“What’s goin’ on, then?”
Connor drank down most of what there was of his beer, then wiped the foam from his beard. “One of Riley’s superstar buddies thinks the Horde is his own personal Make-A-Wish charity.”
“You know, the thing that grants dying kids their final wish?”
“I know what Make-A-Wish is, asshole. I don’t know what it has to do with us.”
Riley answered. “My friend has a nineteen-year-old daughter. She was diagnosed with a kind of cancer when she was about thirteen or fourteen, I think. She went through a bunch of treatment, and it went into remission. But it’s back now and metastasized. She’s terminal. She has a bucket list, and her dad—my friend—is helping her finish it. One of the things on it is learning to ride a Harley, so he asked me for help. Jesse thought we should ask Connor to teach her. I think we should take Jesse in to see if he has a tumor.”
“I can teach her.” He’d said it without thinking about it first, but once the words were in the air, they still seemed fine.
But Riley lifted her brows in concerned surprise. “Nolan. Honey, no.”
“Why not? I’m looking for shit to do half the time. I’m closer to her age than Grandpa over there.”
“Watch it, pup,” Connor rejoined. “I’ll snap you like a twig.”
Nolan just flipped him off with a grin. Connor wasn’t that old—like thirty-five, maybe—but his penchant for barely-legals was the stuff of club legend.
Riley pulled his attention back to the conversation. She literally took his chin in her hand and turned him back to her. “She’s dying, Nolan. You’ve had enough of that in your life, don’t you think?”
He knew Riley meant well, but he was pissed off nonetheless. She didn’t know him that well. She hadn’t known Havoc hardly at all. The idea that she thought some stranger with a sad story could get anywhere in the same time zone with his feelings about Havoc or anybody else he loved—it was offensive. But he shouldered aside his aggravation and smiled. “It’s not on her bucket list that I have to fall in love with her, right? Just teach her how to ride. I think I’m man enough to handle it.”
Riley crossed her arms over her chest and studied him with a skeptical eye. She was tiny, so it was pretty funny looking. Her whole ‘mom’ vibe was funny, actually. “Promise me you’ll keep your head.”
He twisted his head back and forth. “Screwed on tight. I promise.”
She hadn’t lost that skeptical shadow. “You’re sure?”
“Riley, come on! Sure, I’m sure. Who is it, anyway? Anybody famous?”
“Analisa Winter. Donovan Winter’s daughter.”
“Jesus fucking Christ!” Donovan Winter was a blockbuster star, the above-the-title kind of star, who made everything from huge summer action flicks to talky movies they released on Christmas Day. Riley called those ‘Oscar bait.’ In fact, Nolan was pretty sure Winter had won an Oscar or two. And a pile of other awards.
He’d just offered to hang out with the dying kid of one of the most famous people Nolan could think of. And he was Riley’s friend?
Riley smiled at his shock. “Changing your mind?”
“No, not at all. It’s just that sometimes I forget you have that life, too.”
“Yeah,” she laughed. “Me, too.”
©2015 Susan Fanetti