Disembodied screams woke him. Before he hardly recognized what he was doing, he found himself in the doorway of his sister’s bedroom.
“Hush!” Tabetha hissed at him as she wrapped her arms around her friend who whimpered like a kicked puppy. Zoe’s eyes were wide open, but unfocused.
“What’s wrong?” he asked hoarsely, the young woman’s distress making his heart pound inside his chest. He practically vibrated with the need to hold her, to gather her close to his body and shield her from whatever terrorized her dreams. And then he’d give her greater pleasure than she’d ever known.
“She has nightmares,” Tabetha answered and rocked Zoe back and forth, murmuring childish nonsense to her in a soft, sing-song voice.
“She won’t talk about it. They’ve have been less frequent these past several months, but I suppose recent stress stirred up whatever lurks in her memories.” She sighed. “Sometimes she cries out his name, but I’m never sure if he’s her tormentor or rescuer.”
“What can I do?” Lars asked, wondering who “he” was.
“Go back to bed, Lars. She’ll be fine for the rest of the night.”
“I’ll sit here for a while longer.”
Tabetha shook her head and said wearily, “She’s not yours, Lars.”
“She will be.”
“Oh, God, not you, too,” she groaned.
“Please tell me you don’t believe Dad’s ‘pow’ theory of love at first sight.”
“I didn’t until today,” Lars admitted sheepishly. He reached over and ruffled his sister’s hair. “You’ll find your true love.”
“I’m not looking for him, that’s for sure. I have things I want to do with my life before settling down with a husband and popping out babies.” She looked at her friend, now sleeping peacefully. “I think she has plans, too, that don’t involve marriage and children.”
“Plans can be changed.”
“Oh, you’re such an obstinate man,” she grumbled and threw a decorative pillow at him. He caught it.
“Go back to your room and go to sleep. And keep your hands and dick to yourself.”
Lars tossed the pillow back and reluctantly rose from the trundle bed. He cast one last concerned glance at his sister’s roommate and returned to his own room, making a mental note to investigate her background. If she wouldn’t tell him, then he’d find out what haunted her through other channels.
Hogtied Book Tour
Melanie wanted to stomp her foot like a child, but she heard and saw the truth in what he said.
“Tell them I’m your girlfriend if you want, but I’m living here.”
The biker gave her a small smile and shook his head. “Ain’t gonna work that way, sugar. They need to see you with me.”
“But I don’t want—”
“Do you want to see your father and sister hurt and your livestock killed?”
She blanched. “Surely, you don’t think they’d do that?”
“You hurt their pride, girl. Men like that—”
“You mean men like you,” she accused.
He continued speaking as though she hadn’t interrupted. “—won’t take that lying down.”
“That greasy fool killed my sister’s prized steer,” she insisted. “We’re the ones insulted, not them.”
He pulled a thick envelope from his back pocket and handed it to Melanie’s father. “Sir, here’s the money for the steer. Prez of Satan’s Dogs ain’t entirely unreasonable.”
That last sentence was a lie. The president of Satan’s Dogs refused to part with so much as a dollar in recompense for the steer Lowball killed. Hammer’s bank account absorbed the expense. His honor demanded it.
The old man took the envelope from his hand, but didn’t open it. His faded blue eyes flickered over the tattoo on the biker’s upper arm. Something flickered in his gaze. He gave a curt nod and murmured, “Semper fi.”
Hammer nodded, knowing that the old man accept- ed his word and counted upon his honor as a fellow Marine and veteran. He repeated the acknowledgement, “Semper fi.”
Melanie groaned and her knees weakened. “Oh, God, Daddy, you’re not going to trust him just because he used to be a Marine?”
“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” her father muttered, the words almost lost beneath the sound of impatient neighs coming from the barn.
Truthfully, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent social lockdown hasn't affected my daily life much at all. What it has affected is my business.
Many have posted on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other places that the national quarantine's enforced inactivity can be put to creative use. Learn a new craft or work on a new project. Perhaps you have a story simmering in the back of your mind that you always meant to write, but never had the time or inclination to start. Now's the time, folks! If you have rough draft, take this time to self-edit and refine the content and find an editor. (I'm available!) If you've thought of starting a blog, you'll never have a better chance. If the idea of writing gives you the willies--but you know you have a great idea--then look into hiring a ghostwriter. (I'm available!)
Or maybe, just maybe, occupy your time by reading a book or six. Buy them. The overwhelming majority of authors do not earn a living wage from royalties, so they appreciate every sale.
The lockdown will result in many businesses shuttering forever, especially small businesses that can't afford to pay their employees when they're not selling enough (or at all) to cover expenses. The effect will ripple with unemployment figures soaring and the unemployed turning to the government for help. The Great Recession from 2007 - 2009 will feel like a mere blip on the historical timeline of world economics.
People who have never had the opportunity to work from home now have the opportunity to try it out and determine whether it suits them. Those who lose their jobs may join the gig economy, starting up small businesses of their own. Others may decide to retire early. Businesses that survive the oncoming recession--perhaps even depression--may find themselves fishing in an even more shallow labor pool than before. The gig economy will explode, becoming a brutal environment that chews up and spits out freelancers like an asphalt milling machine.
It won't be pretty.
I knew the lockdown would have a negative effect on my finances and it has. Already hard to come by, gigs have grown even more scarce. Worse, take a look at the major freelance platforms (Fiverr, Upwork, Guru) to see that cheap buyers are demanding even higher word counts on tighter deadlines for a lot less than the already insultingly paltry fees offered.
It's enough to make any freelancer weep.
What really makes me despair is the number of vendors who accept these terrible projects with their low, low fees. They--and the opportunistic thieves who offer such projects--undercut and undervalue the services we freelancers provide.
I can't complain too much, though, as my husband is one of those employed by an "essential service." He's still working. If it weren't for him, we'd be in a world of hurt.
So, with the "extra" time I have resulting from an abrupt and huge slow-down of work, I obviously have more time to work on the latest manuscript. And I have. I expect to finish the draft within another week or two, at which time it will be turned over to my editor, so she can work her magic on it.
I have created some possible covers for the new book.