I hope you’re enjoying Today & Tomorrow, Nolan and Analisa’s story. As is my custom on release day, I’m going to share the first chapter of the next book in the series as a teaser.
Fire & Dark is Connor’s story. Connor is the club SAA, and Hoosier and Bibi’s only son. He’s kind of a hound, and he has a reputation for liking his girls a bit…oh, let’s call it naive. He’s not interested in romance. There’s a lot more to him, though. He prefers to protect his feelings.
The female lead of Fire & Dark is Pilar Cordero. She’s a San Bernardino County firefighter, the only woman in the department who isn’t a paramedic. She’s a bit of a badass, and she goes for what she wants.
Things in the club get a little more complicated in this story, too. Dora Vega is amassing an awful lot of power.
Fire & Dark will release in four weeks, on Saturday, 9 May. I’ll set up the preorder and reveal the cover a couple of weeks in advance of that date.
Without further ado, here’s the teaser:
Two black Range Rovers crested a hill on the horizon, and Connor Elliott stood up. He’d been sitting sidesaddle on his parked bike, feeling both bored and wary. His brothers in the Night Horde MC had been similarly waiting—sitting on their bikes, walking around the dusty field they were parked on the edge of, all of them in that strange place of indolent readiness.
It had been the kind of atmosphere that just about demanded a smoke, if you were of that persuasion—as several of the Horde, including Connor, were. But it was July in Southern California. Smoking out in the wilds was about the most dangerous thing a man could do.
“Heads up. The Queen approaches.” He felt the weight of the gun holstered under his arm. They were meeting an ally—their boss, for all intents and purposes—but he’d ridden a long enough road to know better than to let his guard down around a drug cartel, friend or foe.
By the time the Rovers pulled up alongside their parked Harleys, all the Horde on this run—Connor; Hoosier, his father and the club President; Bart, the VP; Lakota, Trick, and Jesse—were standing in a line. As the doors opened, Hoosier stepped forward, and Connor, his Sergeant at Arms, went with him. Bart, too, took a step up.
Four men in suits stepped out of the lead Rover. Three men dressed likewise stepped out of the one behind it. The driver of the second then opened the last passenger door and reached in. A shapely female leg stretched down and set a high-heeled black pump on the scruffy desert floor. The driver stepped back, seeming to lead a small, beautiful woman out of the Rover.
He wasn’t leading her, though, as all the Horde were well aware. This was Isidora Vega, known as La Zorra, queen of the Águilas cartel and de facto ruler of the Mexican drug trade.
The Horde had been working with La Zorra for a year and a half. Their reactions to the idea of a female druglord had ranged at first from skepticism to amusement. None of them was skeptical or amused now. In the time that they had known her, she had crushed one cartel into dust. She had forced a struggling but storied Colombian cartel into a subcontractor position, and she had wrangled a treaty with the entire Mexican trade that had stabilized and focused cartel power over the trade and the country itself. For years, it had been known that Mexico was essentially run by its druglords. Now that was factually true.
She had accomplished all that, bringing dozens of psychotically homicidal men to their knees at her feet, with the same will for violence that had always described the drug trade, but she had done it without the manic flair. She’d simply killed, with cold calculation, all the psychos until the men who were left were willing to think and act with logic.
A woman—a small, gorgeous woman under forty—had brought the drug trade to heel. She’d stabilized an entire fucking country. In short, she was a badass of the highest order.
So Connor always felt guarded when the Horde leaders sat down with her. Though these meetings ran like board meetings, despite their unconventional venues, Connor still expected another shoe to drop. She was a woman. Who, in not even two years, had reorganized a country. With apparently little but the force of her will. Even with the evidence of her stability, he found it hard to believe. And he had seen the evidence of her violence.
And she was guarded everywhere she went by seven men. It seemed to him that not even La Zorra herself fully trusted in the extent of her control.
But his father stepped out with his hand extended. “Dora. Good to see you.”
“Hoosier.” She smiled and shook his hand. Then she nodded to Hoosier’s right. “Bart.”
“Dora.” He gave her a nod that had something of the flavor of a courtly little bow.
She turned to Hoosier’s left. “And Connor.”
“Ma’am.” He thought she was about his age, but ‘ma’am’ felt appropriate. She had certainly earned respect.
Returning her gaze to Connor’s father, Dora said, “Thank you for meeting. I know this wasn’t in our schedule. But I have some new information and possibly an opportunity, and I’d like your input.”
She turned and gestured to two of her men who had moved to the back of one of the Rovers. When one of them opened the hatch, Connor changed his stance, and his hand automatically shifted subtly toward his holster.
But the men pulled out a large, flat gizmo that, after a minute or two of setup, turned out to be a portable picnic table. When it was up, La Zorra turned to Hoosier with a smile. “Shall we sit?”
On the way back into town, they took the freeway. Traffic on the 15 came to a complete halt about ten miles out. They lane-split for the rest of the ride, passing the last remnants of what had obviously been a serious, multi-car accident with injuries. Long, wide streaks of blood stained the asphalt, and the three cars and a parcel truck being loaded onto flatbeds seemed to have been wadded up by a large, angry hand.
Two fire engines were still on the road, the firefighters packing up. As the Horde approached the scene, an ambulance pulled onto the road with its flashers on but no siren, and one lane of the freeway was opened behind it. The Horde rode by what was left of the scene in single file, slowly, with respect for what was very likely at least one dead.
At the Mariposa Avenue off-ramp, the group split off—Bart and Hoosier took the ramp, which would lead them to the clubhouse. Connor, Lakota, Trick, and Jesse went on by. They weren’t meeting on La Zorra’s new business until the next day, and the four of them were off to hold to their post-run ritual. They headed north, through Madrone and up toward San Bernardino. They were headed to The Flight Deck.
The Flight Deck was a bar laid out in an airplane hangar that had once been part of an Air Force Base. The base had closed twenty or thirty years ago, and its structures had been almost entirely dismantled or repurposed, but Troy Crowley, the owner of The Deck, had bought early and preserved the space.
What he’d made in it was something that Connor was fairly sure was unique in its way. Eight bars, a full kitchen, a huge dance floor, with live music three nights a week, a karaoke stage, massive television screens with viewing areas that were like little theaters with sofa seating, a billiards area, and two boxing rings.
Despite its vast size, the place had an almost intimate air. The lighting was low and golden, the sound was abated with excellent insulation, and the staff, barkeeps and cocktail cuties alike, knew all the regulars.
All that, though, maybe made the place unusual but not unique. What really made The Deck stand out was that it was a roughneck bar—that catered to people on both sides of the line. Cops, firefighters, bikers, farmers—you name it, they all made their way here, sometimes in droves. And the place still managed to pull in some of the club crowd, too—straight arrows taking a spin around the wild side.
Connor, who enjoyed himself a good rumble, had been in the ring often, and he’d fought more than a few Sheriff’s deputies. The club was on good terms in Madrone and with the San Bernardino County Sheriff, but he still got a kick out of putting a uniform on the mat.
They backed their bikes along the side of the building and walked in. It was too late for The Deck’s second happy hour—which was famous for its wide array of all-you-can-eat bar food—but not really late enough for the crowd to get wild. The rings were quiet. It wasn’t a live-band night, so the dance floor in the middle of the space was empty. But karaoke was happening. As the Horde walked toward the bar nearest the boxing rings, Jesse slapped Connor on the back.
“You see that?”
He had. A table full of girls, in full club regalia, all high heels and short skirts. Four of them. One of them, a bodacious bottle blonde, had a tall, glittery tiara on her head. In the center, bedazzled in bright purple sparkles, was the number ‘21.’ There were flashing lights across the top.
Lakota laughed as they sat at a table in clear sight of Birthday Barbie and her friends. “Gettin’ long in the tooth for you, brother.”
As Trick went to the bar to place their first order—always two pitchers of Shock Top Belgian White and a bottle of Jack—Connor turned to Lakota and grinned. “Twenty-one is still in the easy zone, brother. I’m telling you, you are missing out.”
Lakota shook his head. “Nothin’ easier than club pussy.”
“Yeah, man. But club girls are used up. They’re sweet and good at it, sure, but they’ve seen it all. They’ve done it all. Young pussy is just so…eager. And teachable.”
“Teachable’s my problem with it,” Jesse interjected. “I don’t want to teach anybody sex ed. I just want to get my rocks off.”
Trick came back, and Connor poured out four glasses of beer. Handing one to Jesse, he said, “You, sir, are the perv. Not me. I’m doing a public service, showing sweet young things what sex oughta be.” He drank from his own glass and wiped foam from his beard. “And virgin pussy? Fuck, man, there is nothing tighter in the world. Rare enough to find a legal chick still holding her v-card, but if she’s where I am, it’s because she’s looking to turn it in. It’s not like I’m scoping out high schools.”
Trick tossed back a shot and poured another. “Yeah, you’re an asshole, Conman. Spin it any way you want, it all comes up asshole.”
Unoffended, Connor flipped him off. Yeah, he preferred girls in the eighteen-to-twenty-two range, for all the reasons he’d said. They were young and firm, they were eager, and they did what they were told. The ones he pushed up on were dazzled by his leather and ink and deliciously willing. Moreover, they were various. They were like a fancy restaurant where the chef prepared whatever was fresh that day. The roster of club girls was like a fast-food menu. Quick, easy, and never changed.
Flipping him off right back, Trick grinned and took his second shot. “Are we going to talk about this new job La Zorra wants on our plate?”
“Absolutely not.” Connor’s answer was firm. He didn’t like offshoots to talk club business. They were only four, and there were thirteen men who sat at the Horde table. Talking out of the Keep would only lead to fractured loyalties.
But Trick pushed the point. “Not to work out our opinions, Connor. But I have questions.”
He shook his head. As SAA, he had rank over the others, so nobody else chimed in. “Not outside the Keep.”
The new job was a hit. La Zorra wanted the Horde to take somebody out of her way. But that somebody was the Los Angeles County District Attorney. High profile and risky as shit. It was their distance from L.A. that had her convinced they were right for the job.
His father, Bart, and Sherlock were sitting down tonight and putting together the intel they could. La Zorra had ostensibly given them an option not to take the job. But if they were going to decline, then they’d better have a damn good reason and a viable alternative. They had a stable relationship with her, and she had been nothing but reasonable in all the time they’d been working together. But Connor had seen what she was capable of—what she was willing to do.
None of that needed to be said until it could be said at the table, so Connor knew that the best course was to let the geeks do their thing while everybody else rolled on as usual—hence, sitting here at The Deck.
Trick stared at him, and he stared back. Then the party girls squealed about something, and the little touch of tension broke as all the Horde looked their way.
Connor smirked. The girls were going through the karaoke book. That meant that they’d been celebrating a while and had their inhibitions down. He got up. “Time to send the lovelies a birthday round. I’ll send it from all of us—my gift to you, my brothers.”
Birthday Barbie’s name was Madison. They were always named Madison these days. Or Hailey. The early Aughts had obviously been big years to name a girl Madison or Hailey. Or Caitlyn. Connor figured he’d fucked a round dozen each of those names.
Tonight’s Madison was sitting on his lap, sharing shots with him, putting the glass to his mouth and then taking it away to finish it herself. Okay, this part about catching the young ones got a little annoying. The things they thought were cute really just were not.
But his hand was up her microscopic little skirt, her wisp of a thong was out of his way, and she was hairless and soaking wet.
Her friends—there was a Hailey in the group—were arrayed similarly with his brothers, who all seemed to be coming around to his way of thinking.
Except for Trick. Poor Trick had gotten stuck with the Ugly Friend.
Based on Connor’s observation, there was one in every group of girls. One girl who was a little less noticeable than her friends. Her hair was a little less styled, her makeup a little less layered. Sometimes she had glasses. Sometimes she was heavier. Usually, she was fine looking, except in comparison.
Trick himself could probably be considered something of an Ugly Friend, in fact. As far as Connor could tell, he was a good-looking guy. But he had a look that wasn’t really up the alley for girls like the Barbies—long blond dreads, a long, wiry beard, and some pretty weird ink all the way to his fingers. Barbies wanted bikers, not freaks.
The funny thing was that Trick was probably the least freaky of the four of them. He had a college degree. He read thick books about philosophy and shit and liked to talk about what he read. He was a fucking vegetarian.
Scratch that—as bikers went, Trick Stavros was a total freak.
Trick was talking to Madison’s Ugly Friend, and they looked like they were having an actual conversation. Jesse and Hailey were making out. The other Barbie, whose name had escaped Connor, was combing her fingers through Lakota’s long hair. And Madison the Birthday Barbie was squirming on Connor’s lap. Turning into a pretty good night, all in all.
Madison finished another shot and then let out an impressive belch. She threw her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide, and mumbled, “Bathroom!” Then she was off his lap and reeling gracelessly toward the restrooms.
Lakota and Jesse’s Barbies ignored their friend’s drunken dash toward the johns, but Trick’s conversation partner got up and followed her back.
Fuck. Missed the window. He liked young girls; indeed he did. He liked them perky and naïve, eager and flexible. But he did not fuck a girl, at any age, who wasn’t damn sure what she was up to.
Connor poured himself a beer and sat back with a sigh, scanning the rest of the bar. A big group of cubicle-dwellers was on the karaoke machine, and a portly dude with glasses was massacring some kind of chick-bait ballad. Connor didn’t think the chicks would be biting.
As it was occurring to him that the pickings were slim here on this midweek night, and he’d end up back at the clubhouse with a club girl after all, a big group of guys walked by. He made them quick as firefighters; he’d seen a couple of them here before. His interest was a bit more than casual, because he’d faced the guy up front in the ring not long back. Connor didn’t lose often, but that guy had pulled some real MMA bullshit and about broke his leg.
He wanted a rematch. Not tonight, but soon. So he watched while Mortal Kombat and his buddies walked by. When they pushed tables together, Connor saw that there were two women in the group, too. He hadn’t realized that there were chick firefighters anywhere local. But they were probably paramedics, actually. He couldn’t see a chick bashing in the door of a burning house.
One of them caught his eye—or his ear, more like. She had a bawdy, husky laugh, and when he sought out its source, he was looking a fucking gorgeous firefighter. Long, wildly wavy dark hair and a raunchy smile. Not really his type, but nice to look at nonetheless. He wondered if chick firefighters were held to the kind of fitness standards the dudes were. That could be interesting.
But Madison had come back from the restroom and was trying to get back on his lap. She smelled like puke and Altoids. He reached over and pulled a chair from the nearest table and sat her there. Then he kissed her cheek. Time to let her down gently. “Tell you what, beautiful,” he said at her ear. “I think we’ll do this another time.”
She blinked blearily at him. “What?”
Her Ugly Friend leaned in. “He means you’re sloppy drunk and it’s time to go home, Maddie. C’mon.”
But Birthday Barbie didn’t like that idea. “Wait, what? You don’t want me?” Her mouth had some trouble forming the words but not the outrage.
Connor put on a soothing smile. Young girls were insecure, no matter how pretty they were. So he lied smoothly, “I want you, puss. Just another time, when you’re on your feet better.”
Her speech was suddenly perfectly clear. “You’re rejecting me? On my birthday? Oh, fuck you, Grandpa.” With that, she stood up and flounced off unstably, her Ugly Friend right with her, the others eventually getting up and encircling her.
Connor watched her go, bemused. Grandpa? What the fuck? He was thirty-six years old. Grandpa? He turned and found his brothers staring at him. As soon as he met Lakota’s eyes, they all collapsed into a communal fit of hilarity that he most certainly did not share.
©2015 Susan Fanetti