Elizabeth Stephen's - The Hunting Town Releases Today. Take a peek at chapter one here.

Peeking at Chapter One

The Hunting Town
by
Elizabeth Stephens





Drugs, cartels, the mafia. Pain, greed, and revenge. When an unexpected murder brings the Russian mob down on their heads, five brothers brought together by the foster system will have to forge a bond deeper than blood if they want to stay alive, defend their town, and protect the women they love. 

Summary

Plumeria had never thought herself a destroyer of lives, until she brought destruction onto the lives of five brothers.

Drugs, cartels, the mafia. Pain, greed, and revenge. These are what Plumeria brought with her when she took a new job tending bar in the fighting pits outside of town – fighting pits owned by the Brothers. Brought together by the foster system, Knox wouldn't have put anything before his other brothers – not even his own life – until he met Mer. But when her life is put at risk, he intervenes, dragging all of his brothers with him into her world.

Dixon wants Mer gone. She's the daughter of a Mexican drug lord who's got a partner in the Russian mob. Both are dead after his brother, Knox, saved her from a life of bondage and now both the Mexican cartel and the Russian mafia are after them all. Dixon can't afford to be distracted – least of all by Sara, a single mom who wanders into the strip joint he owns, desperate for a job – but when the Russians use her as leverage, she'll be the one Dixon has to answer to.

With new alliances built while others are broken, it will take more than a survival instinct to survive The Hunting Town: the town of mischief, mayhem, and murder.




Warnings

Grapic Violence
Strong Language


Chapter 1

Knox

Knox Echoes of pain and pleasure sear the night, and the sheer magnitude of the sound is absorbed by nothing. Not the rotting wooden walls or the packed earth under my boots in place of floorboards. The barn is overfull, bodies crammed into every inch of the light and trickling out into the darkness. 

Somewhere in between our town and the next, Clifton stumbled upon this shack. Large enough to house a hundred comfortably, we’re more than twice that by now. I stand in the center of a loose ring of men across from a guy with a shaved head and a black eye. He wears a mean snarl and snaps one curled fist into his other open hand. 

I smirk. I’ve seen him in the ring before squaring up against one of my brothers. Aiden warned me about a serious left hook, but also ran me through a list of the guy’s failings about a mile long. Thanks to him, I’m far from nervous as he takes a first step towards me. Hell, I’m downright relaxed. What are brothers for, right? 

“Total obliteration,” Dixon whispers into my ear, as if reading my thoughts. He gives my shoulder a tight squeeze and I clench my jaw to keep from wincing. 

I click my tongue against the backs of my teeth and shoot him a tight smile. “You’re the boss.” He grins and his teeth are bright white against his obsidian skin. He might be my brother, but we couldn’t look further apart. Growing up, he always made fun of me for being white. Said that blood doesn’t show up so easily on his color. 

As I move forward, the crowd goes wild. The density of the group is dangerous for them, but they never learn from it – not even after a kid got trampled and hospitalized last year. I recognize a lot of the same faces from the week before – other fighters, friends from Seventh Street bars, and the sycophants from the nearby colleges that make up the bulk of the screaming. 

Amid the cries, a chorus breaks out: “Knu-ckles, Knu-ckles, Knu-ckles.” A few weak shouts try to break through with the name of my opponent: “Sla-ter, Sla-ter…” In this room, they’re quick to fade. I’m the crowd favorite, mostly because I’m easy money if you know how to play the stakes. 

My opponent swings for my face with loose, uncalculated aim, but there’s power behind the blow. One hit might keep a guy down long enough for Slater to finish them off. Lucky for me, I’m not any guy. He swings for me again and this time, I take the hit to my stomach. Hurts like hell and I’m sure it’ll leave a bruise tomorrow, but it gets me close enough to strike at his leg. I nail his quadriceps with lightning quick jabs and pull back. The guy’s knee buckles and he looks up at me with momentary panic before I bring my fist down. Once in the cheek and he hits the soil. Both of  his hands are down, but only for two seconds. A third and the match would have been called. 

I shake my head slowly. “Should have stayed down, big guy.” He’s disoriented and tries to block, but moves too slowly. Throwing both arms up, I drive straight through them with my left hand and crush his nose. Blood sprays from it and he canters back like a log, staggering into the screaming masses behind him. They do nothing to break his fall. 

I don’t wait for his people to cart him off the pitch, but carve a path through the crowd. Dixon stays behind to collect my cash – and his – but I’ve got eyes only for one thing. “Hello sweetheart,” I say as I approach the bar. I rub my hands together and Ollie, the bartender, waves a dishrag at one of the college kids. The kid starts talking through his ass until Ollie gestures to me. Seeing me, he tumbles off of his barstool, gestures to it frantically and runs his hands back through his gelled hair so that it sticks up in every direction. 

“Aw fuck man, sorry I didn’t know that was your spot. No harm, right? No foul?” He chuckles nervously and edges back as I step close enough to really hurt him if I wanted. 

“Man?” I say, closing the gap until we’re chest to chest. 

“Sorry. I meant Knuckles. Sorry! Knox. Knox, sir.” 

The larger part of me wants to laugh at the moniker, but I manage to keep a straight face. “Scram, kid.” I cock my head and he scurries away, disappearing into a crowd of sweaty, shifting bodies that are all gearing up for the next fight. 

As I slide onto the barstool, Ollie slams a triple whiskey down in front of me and laughs. “Always the hard ass.” 

“Got a rep to protect. Can’t have some little shit talking down to me like he owns the place.” I scan the guy sitting to my left. Another college kid. It takes him about a second to vacate his seat, leaving it free for Clifton. 

Clifton pats me on the back hard enough I choke on a sip of my drink. “Fuck you,” I cough. 

“Sorry,” he says and I roll my eyes because he seems to mean it. He might have been the biggest of the brothers – along with Aiden, his twin – but he’s damn near the softest man I’ve ever met. The only biological brothers in the group, he’s a one eighty from his twin even though they’re identical in every physical aspect – same broad shoulders, pale skin, white blonde hair. They’d been separated at birth and placed in two separate foster homes. Clifton got placed with Marguerite, eventual mom to all of us. Clifton was her first and it was fifteen years before she was able to track down Aiden. By then it was too late. A pattern of systemic abuse had ruined the poor bastard. 

“Nice fighting out there today,” Clifton says, nursing the beer Ollie places in front of him. Though he may not be much of a drinker, I’m finished with my whiskey and halfway through round two while he watches me, sipping so daintily. 

I shrug. “Boring.” I slap my hand down onto the stacked crate in front of me – a makeshift counter. “Ollie, find me some real competition next time.” 

“You’ll have some next week.” He cocks his chin to the right and I follow the line of his gaze. Instantly, I harden. 

“Knox.” A Mexican guy about my height is coming towards me wearing a wife beater and a shit-eating grin. “Or should I call you Knuckles? You’ve been making a name for yourself in my absence, I see.” 

“Already out of the can and back on the hunt for blood. What’s it been, a year?” 

“Nine months,” he corrects with a confident tilt of his head, exposing stick-and-poke gang tats that I think are meant to intimidate me. 

“Congratulations. Anything under a year brings you onto this side of pathetic.” 

The man’s face flushes and he balls his hands to fists. Just under six three, he may rival me in height, but I’ve got more meat on my bones. Doesn’t much matter though. Last time we sparred, it hospitalized us both. Broken ribs, missing teeth, swollen eyelids all around. Ollie had to call a draw because Mario and I were intent on killing each other. Then the kid got locked up for possession and distribution – heroine, I think – and our rematch was postponed indefinitely. Until now. And I’m not the same kid I was back then. 

“And how long have you been locked up, Knuckles?” he sneers. 

I smirk and drain the rest of my whiskey. “Never been. Unlike you, I’m what some might call intelligent.” 

Mario steps forward but a shorter man I hadn’t seen standing behind him grabs the back of his shirt. He whispers Spanish words under his breath and twists Mario’s hand until I hear something pop. I try not to let my surprise show. 

“Alright, you’ve had your fun,” the older man seethes, “now go out there and make me some money.” He slaps the back of Mario’s head and Mario winces when the man raises his hand a second time. The older man meets my gaze listlessly before turning and following Mario into the crowd. 

“Who was that?” Clifton says. 

Ollie sweeps a dirty rag over the sticky tabletop. “Who?” 

“The guy holding Mario’s chain.” 

“Oh him? He’s uhh…Mario’s dad.” Ollie twitches as he reaches into the large metal cooler underneath the bar for a beer. He cracks it and takes a sip. 

“Damn.” I laugh. “Papa’s come to shadow him?” 

Ollie leans across the crate between us and drops his tone to a whisper. “By papa I hope you mean Padre.” 

“No shit?” I turn, hoping to catch another glimpse of the infamous Padre, leader of the Mexican mafia around these parts. Not a particularly terrifying bunch, they’re still a big deal for a small town and can afford to swing their weight around a little. But hell, in a small town so can we. The Brothers is what they call us. 

Ollie says, “You guys want to go up top to watch? Mario’s fight’s about to start. I’ll send the new girl up with y’all’s drinks.” 

Beer sprays from Clifton’s lips and I bark out a laugh. 

“You’re kidding.” “You hired a woman?” Clifton lowers his pitch and glances around. “Are you insane?” 

“Girl can take care of herself, I’ll give her that. Plus, she’s reliable, good with the money, and every other guy in here is sweet on her.” 

“Dixon give you the go ahead?” The moment I get an affirmative, I ask my second, more important, question. “She pretty?” 

Ollie’s lips curl away from his teeth and he ruffles his lanky brown hair. “Uhh yeah. Pretty.” He swallows the word as he speaks, so that it comes out of his mouth sounding like some mutilated bird squawking deep in his stomach. 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” 

I swear, but when Ollie turns away from me it’s to conceal a brilliant blush. “Just get the hell upstairs. Fight’s starting.” 

He presses a button beneath the bar, lodged in one of the crates, and a bell sounds. Screams erupt and I hear the first smack of a fist against skin already. I curse under my breath and head for the stairs, throwing Ollie a frustrated glance before trudging up onto the platform. Clifton’s close on my ass and Dixon and Charlie are waiting for us at a table overlooking the fight. Aiden sits slightly apart from our other two brothers even closer to the banister. He likes watching the carnage even more than I do. I pause by his arm and though I want to give him a clap on the shoulder, I remember who I’m dealing with. I drop my hand and I don’t speak to him at all, noticing how fixed on the fight he is. 

“What’s the winnings?” I say to Dixon as I collapse into the wicker chair to his right. Every chair in the damn joint is different and most are falling apart. Next to beer and bandages, chairs are low on our list of priorities for the joint. Still, it’s not like we’d have trouble affording it. Dixon hands me a stack of cash. Mostly fifties. Even so, feels a bit light. 

Dixon doesn’t look up from the bills spread on the table in front of him. He’s busy organizing them into bricks of varying amounts. “Little more than twenty five hundred for you,” he says with a shrug. I whistle. “Nobody worth their salt would bet against you when you’re up against Slater. It’ll be more next week against Mario.” 

Irritated, I open my mouth to say something clever when a glass of bourbon drops onto the table in front of Dixon. My brothers all fall silent and even Aiden looks up. By the time my gaze has followed the caramel colored hand up the slender wrist to the woman’s face, she’s already been talking for ten seconds. 

“Name’s Mer. I’m the new bargirl around this place. I don’t take shit and if one of you hits on me so help me dios mio,” she crosses her fingers over her full tits and meets the gaze of each one of my brothers bluntly. Not many have the stones for that and adrenaline hits me like a body shot when it’s my turn, but the moment’s over quickly. “I will piss in all y’all’s drinks. Now I got three triple whiskeys and two beers. That’ll be twenty bucks even.”  

“Eighteen for the same order at the bar,” Dixon challenges with one eyebrow cocked. 

She kicks out a hip and narrows heavy black eyelashes over a blisteringly brutal gaze. “For eighteen you can go get your drinks yourself.” 

“Fuck,” Charlie says, laughing hard. I cover my mouth with my hand, but Clifton and I both crack. Nobody ever talks to Dixon like that. Nobody. 

Dixon grins and leans back in his chair – a rocking chair missing an arm. “Where’d you come from Mer?” 

“Don’t see how that’s any of your business.” 

“It is my business.” 

“Why?” 

“This is my business.” He pauses long enough for confusion to play out across her face – the widening of her eyes, the twitch of her mouth, her fingers moving up to sweep through her hair. 

“Well then, boss man, I guess you’re shit out of luck. I didn’t come to make small talk. I came to serve drinks. Now that’ll be twenty bucks even.” 

Dixon’s smile falls and I can tell that the girl is coming dangerously close to the limit. His limit. Standing, I pull a twenty out of my pocket and hold it towards her. She watches it shrewdly, but her lips still part and she sucks in a small breath when she finally looks at my face. Really looks. Wonder what the hell she’s thinking. 

“I’ll be back in a bit to check up on you fellas,” she says rapidly and with an evidently southern lilt. She reaches out to take the cash and as her fingers graze the crumpled edge of the green, I release the bill and snatch her wrist, holding her with an easy pressure which I harden when she fights against it. Her eyebrows draw together and she opens her mouth, likely to retaliate, but I speak first. 

“You can talk to me like that, but not Dixon,” I say, keeping my voice calm but the threat implicit. “Never Dixon.” 

Her gaze widens again in a way that I’m unable to interpret, though I try. It’s not quite fear, it’s not quite anger, but idles somewhere in between. And Jesus Christ on her, the expression is riveting. Pretty – that’s what I’d asked Ollie, wasn’t it? Pretty doesn’t even touch this woman. She is pure fire and I’m humbled by her sudden, inexplicable docility. She passes that glance to Dixon beside me and a carmine hue touches the tops of her cheeks, running over the bridge of her nose. She’s not wearing any makeup. 

“Whatever,” she grunts, tugging to free her arm. I don’t release it. Her gaze flashes to Dixon. “Sorry.” Her pitch is deep and honest enough for me to believe it. Smart girl. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Dixon nod. She nods back and pulls again against my grip, which I’m slow to release. Her skin is satin and smooth, layered over taut, lean muscle. I watch the way the muscles in her thighs flex and soften as she bounds down the stairs and I wonder if she isn’t moving so quickly to get away from us. Hell, I don’t blame her. 

“Damn,” Charlie says, breaking the silence hanging between us. “Just damn.” I look around and vaguely realize I’m still standing, straining my optic nerve as I try to see through the wooden floorboards of the home team’s patio to follow her. “I think that might be the hottest chick I’ve ever seen.” 

“You say that about anyone with a snatch,” I mutter, slumping back into my seat and turning my attention towards the fight. With purpose. Because I’m searching for her purposefully. 

I’m surprised when I find her a few seconds later, emerging at the other side of the barn on a set of steps identical to the ones we just climbed. It leads to the private area roped off for the visiting team’s fighters. Slater is seated amidst a group of young guys that quiets the moment Mer plops their drinks down with the same gracelessness she showed us. She’s a terrible fucking waitress, and absolutely perfect for the barn. 

I smile to myself, resting my elbows on my knees as I watch her lips move without being able to hear anything over the thrashing of the crowd below. Mario’s taunting his victim now and it sickens me. Any man who steps into the ring deserves a clean fight, a clean break. No need to resort to barbarism. Then again…my gaze pans over to Aiden who’s watching the blood sport with a blank expression that’s as close to happy as he ever gets. Barbarism is Aiden’s MO. 

Mer turns to head for the stairs, but one of Slater’s minions steps in front of her and another closes in on her from behind. It’s the latter moron that slaps her ass hard enough, her body entirely lifts off of the ground. She pitches forward at the same time that warm whiskey shoots down my throat and turns to fire in my stomach. Like the hammering in my chest, that fire has nothing to do with the liquor’s potency. 

The urge to fly across the room over the tops of so many heads grips me and I wonder how fast I could get there. How many bones would I have to break? The scratchy splinters of my chair bite into my skin like little teeth and I hear Dixon say my name twice before I finally have the strength to tear my gaze away from the scene and look at him. 

“You okay, brother?” Dixon says. 

I shake my head once. “Slater’s fuckers are giving the new girl a hard time,” I growl. Fuckers are closing in on her and though I could blow through them in a minute and a half, they’re bigger than she is and she’s delicate and feminine and outnumbered. 

“Oh geeze.” Clifton stands, and I stand with him. At the same time one asshole’s hand lights down on her shoulder. As if I needed more of an invitation. “I’ll go give Ollie a heads up.” 

“Don’t bother Ollie.” The words rip out of me in a breath and the hatred that I feel simmering through every one of my nerve endings reminds me of that very first time I got into a fight when I was a kid. The very first time everything had gone to red. 

I head towards the stairs but as two men close in on her, I’m thrown. She reaches up to the hand on her shoulder and forces it away from her skin by the pinky. The man screams as she breaks it. The second guy barring her path raises a fist that could impale her, but Mer kicks the guy in the stomach and as he folds over, she kicks him again in the face. He topples backwards down the stairs, but she doesn’t watch to admire her work. Instead, she turns back to face the first guy and drives her fist across his cheek again and again until his whole face is bloodied. 

“Ho-ly-shit,” Charlie says, and I turn to see that all my brothers are on their feet. All but Aiden. His face is passive and nonplussed. 

Some of the spectators watching the current fight are distracted by the commotion and when Mer steps over the writhing body at the base of the steps, a group of them cheer. Ignoring them, she heads to the bar and as the next fight takes the ring, she revisits our table. “You boys need anything else?” she asks, making a face as she glances from my steel-toed shit kickers to my face. Probably wondering why I’m still standing. I’d have thought it obvious: I’m standing because I’m floored by her. 

“Another round,” I say, though the words don’t come easily. I want to ask her something else. 

She nods once and turns, but my feet are moving before I can control them. I catch her on the stairs and slip my hand around her upper arm though, the moment I so much as touch her, she rips away from me and puts another few stairs between us. I have to look almost straight down to see her face as she tilts it up. Staggered as we are then, the top of her head comes up to my belly button. 

“Don’t,” she says and her cheeks redden. “You can’t just go around grabbing people…” 

“Are you okay?” I let her anger go unacknowledged for now. “Those guys give you any trouble I’m happy to handle them.” 

She runs her fingers back through her hair, pushing it over her shoulder so that it falls in thick raven waves down to her lower back. She’s got a thin layer of bangs that cut across her forehead and sweeps them to the side now, albeit unsuccessfully. “Okay?” Her voice doesn’t waver, though her glossy brown gaze dodges mine. 

“Slater’s friends.” 

“Those guys?” She rolls her eyes. “They’re college kids. Harmless.” 

I smirk, though anger or something like it tickles the base of my spine and I’m reminded again of the red. The Red. “Tough guy, huh?” 

“Who? Them?” 

“No. You.” 

Her mouth. Her full, blood red, fucking mouth. It manages to be sexy even when it’s this severe. “I don’t need you looking out for me. I can handle myself.” 

“Fuck me for asking.” My fists tighten around the railing. 

She pivots from me, though I’d meant to turn away first, but damn if she isn’t the kind of woman that holds your attention and doesn’t let go. Like a noose. “Thanks but I’ll pass on the offer,” she sneers. Over her shoulder, she adds, “Oh. And if I did ever want help, you can be damn sure that you’re the last person I’d ask.” 

There it is again. My new friend. Or perhaps my constant companion, resurfaced. Just a pinprick this time, but it’s still dangerously scarlet. The Red. “Jesus fucking Christ, you’re a real piece of work, aren’t you?” 

“You have no idea.” 

She makes it to the base of the stairs, ass filling out those frayed jean shorts in a way that makes my gut throb. Not my gut. My cock. I rearrange it quickly in my jeans, hoping that the black material hides the stretching. She comes to serve us anymore drinks I’m going to end the night with a lethal case of blue balls. “Can I ask why I’m somehow not good enough to help you wail on some assholes, or did you not see my fight earlier?” Damn. Am I feeling wounded or what? 

“That’s why,” she says blandly, as if she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about me or anyone. “Next week you’re fighting my brother.” 

Shock hits me. Padre’s daughter. Mario’s sister. 

“Well fuck.”


Order Your Copy at These Locations


About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Stephens is an author of romance, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. While she has been writing since the age of 11, the Population series constitute her first published works. Aside from her writing career, she is also a communications consultant for public and private sector clients across Africa. She currently works for the United Nations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but has previously lived and/or worked in Tunisia, Ghana, South Africa, Lebanon, Egypt, Indonesia, Senegal, Morocco, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, France and the US. Her hobbies include ceramics, drawing, watching horror movies, and being lazy - aside from the obvious: traveling and writing.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Book Tour: Rise of the Nephilim - Excerpt

Book Blitz: Christmas at the Lake by Charlotte Blake

Peeking at Chapter One - Deep as a Tomb, By Dorothy Windsor