NOTE: This is a sample from my latest book, not a sample from the work I would be submitting.
The novel I would be submitting is full-length, 55k, and already completed. It is not a new release, but I would unpublish it to give you exclusivity for the box set for as long as necessary.
If you would like a writing sample from the book I would be submitting, please let me know and I would be happy to give you the link.
HAWK: LORDS OF CARNAGE MC
This is, without question, the weirdest professional gig of my life.
And as a freelance photographer who once shot a complete set of obedience school graduation pictures for a poodle and a corgi, that’s saying something.
Maybe the weirdest thing of all is that it shouldn’t be all that weird.
I mean, after all, it’s just a wedding. And not even a dog wedding. Just a normal human wedding.
But normal is the absolute last thing this is.
* * *
I got this gig the way I’ve gotten many of my jobs since I moved to Tanner Springs five months ago: chance and word of mouth. One definite advantage of living here is there aren’t a lot of professional photographers in a town this size. So when I tell people I meet what I do for a living, they’re often really excited to meet me and ask me about my services, either for themselves or for someone else.
In this case, I was at Wee Haven KinderCare doing a shoot when I met Jenna Abbott. Wee Haven had hired me to do some new publicity photos for their website and promotional materials. A lot of photographers don’t like to work with little kids, but personally, I think it’s a blast. Sure, it’s definitely more challenging than older kids and adults, but some of the best photos I’ve ever taken have been of children doing something that I’m actually trying not to get them to do. So, I’ve learned to just go with the flow, take a ton of pics, and trust in serendipity.
One of the little kids at Wee Haven I just couldn’t stop photographing was a little nugget named Mariana. She was around a year old, with long, wavy blond hair and the most beautiful sunny, heart-melting smile. Little Mariana was just learning how to walk, and it was just about the cutest thing I had ever seen. I snapped way too many pics of her toddling around unsteadily on her chubby little legs, her hair catching a stray beam of sunlight shining in through the window. She was one of the most photogenic kids I’d ever met — a fact I made sure to mention to her mother when I had her sign the release forms to use Mariana’s photos.
“Oh, gosh, thanks!” The mother, who told me her name was Jenna, blushed when I shook her hand.
“I’m serious,” I told her. “Quite honestly, Mariana could easily find work as a child model. Or even an actor.”
“Oh, wow. Thanks, but… I’m not sure I see myself as a hard-driven stage mom,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “It sounds kind of… gross, actually.”
I grinned. “I know what you mean. But I thought I should mention it, anyway. Mariana is a natural.” I pulled up some of the shots of her on the screen of my digital camera so Jenna could take a look. “See what I mean?”
Jenna’s eyebrows went up as I flipped through the images. “Those are really good. Even the candid shots are just beautifully framed and lit.” She tilted her head at me, a curious look in her eye. “Do you do weddings?”
“Of course,” I said immediately. I reached into my back pocket for one of my business cards. “There’s a whole gallery of wedding photos on my website, if you want to take a look.”
Jenna took the card without looking at it. “No need,” she shrugged with a wide smile. “Just from looking at these shots of Mariana, I can already tell you’re twice as good as any of the other photographers I’ve been considering. How much do you charge?”
I explained my rates to her, and said that since I was relatively new in town I was discounting some of my services to get my name out there and established.
“Oh, my God, that’s so reasonable,” she said, wide-eyed. “I can’t believe you’re the best photographer I’ve found and also the cheapest. Oh!” Her look changed to one of dismay. “But what if you’re not available on the day! Oh, my God, please tell me you’re free next month on the thirteenth!”
I reached into my back pocket again, this time for my phone. “I don’t think I have anything then,” I frowned, “But let me take a look.”
A quick consult with my calendar told me that I was indeed free. Relief flooded Jenna’s features. “Oh, thank God. Well, you’re not free anymore,” she said firmly. “Put me down right now. Jenna Abbott. Soon to be Watkins.”
“Congratulations, Jenna.” I tapped her name into my calendar and pressed save. “You’re in.”
* * *
The wedding day didn’t start out all that strangely. I mean, sure, Jenna warned me things might be a little “unconventional.” Apparently, the groom is the Sergeant at Arms (whatever that means) of the local motorcycle club in town, The Lords of Carnage. I have to admit, the name of the club did kind of give me some pause, even though I tried to play it cool.
“It’ll be a simple ceremony,” Jenna told me when we met at one of the coffee shops to talk over what she wanted. “The president of the club — Rock — is going to marry us. The wedding and reception are going to be outside, at one of the other guys’ farms outside of town.” She took a sip of her coffee. “Mostly, I just want a few posed shots, and then someone to be there to take photos that document the rest of the day,” she said.
Usually, when brides say they want “simple,” they don’t really mean it. Like, they mean only four bridesmaids instead of seven, or only two-hundred people instead of the original four-hundred that her mom wants. But in Jenna’s case it was clear to me she meant what she said. She showed me pictures of her dress, which was a simple but beautiful white sheath. “I don’t have bridesmaids with matchy-matchy dresses or anything like that,” she laughed. “We’re just going to have Mariana and my son Noah stand up with us. The ceremony will be pretty short, and like I said, it’s outside at Geno’s farm. There’s not going to be too much in the way of decoration. It’s just a short ceremony, and then a long party.”
“Sounds ideal,” I murmured. I’ve never been much for big ceremonies myself. What Jenna was describing sounded a lot like what I would want for my own wedding. If I ever had any plans to get married, that is. Which I definitely do not.
Jenna asked me if I’d be okay staying through the reception so I could document the whole day. I assured her I was more than fine with that.
Then she hesitated for a moment.
“So…” she said slowly. “The club can get a little… rowdy, sometimes. But they’re great guys, really, and it’s all in good fun.”
“No worries,” I grinned. “How rowdy could it be?”
How rowdy, indeed.
The address Jenna gives me to the farm is completely unfamiliar to me, so thank God for Google Maps. Unlike most weddings, where I visit the space before the ceremony and carefully choreograph the kinds of pictures they want before, during and after, Jenna didn’t feel the need for all that preparation. “We’ll get a few formal photos after the ceremony,” she told me breezily when I suggested it. “Like I said, I just want you there to document the day. It will all work out.”
Jenna, it must be said, is the single least bridezilla-y bride I have ever met.
When I arrive at the farm, there are already quite a few motorcycles and cars parked there, in the large front yard to the left side of the driveway. I pull my car off to one side, away from all the bikes, and open up the hatch. Grabbing the two bags holding my camera and other equipment, I sling the straps over one shoulder and slam the hatch shut. The farmhouse is set far back from the road, so I have a bit of a hike along the gravel driveway to get to it. But I’m used to lugging my stuff around.
As I come closer, I notice that there’s already a crowd of maybe three or four dozen people gathered. Most of the men are dressed in jeans, motorcycle boots and leather vests sporting the logo of their motorcycle club and a variety of patches. It’s like a sea of testosterone — bulging muscles, tattoos snaking up and down biceps, and hard jaws with varying degrees of facial hair. I square my shoulders and take a deep breath, forcing myself not to be intimidated. You can do this, Sam, I say to myself in my inner pep-talk voice. You’re the photographer. You’re supposed to be here.
Off to one side, I notice a man who must be the groom, judging from the way the others are circled around him. Cas, Jenna said his name is. He’s holy cow gorgeous, with dark, thick hair that falls over his forehead and a close-cropped beard. He’s standing in a group with five other men, and little Mariana’s in his arms. The juxtaposition of this tattooed giant of a man holding a tiny blond girl should be jarring, but somehow, it isn’t as weird as all that. Mariana is playing with the patches on his vest. As I watch them, Cas reaches over and carefully moves the single red rose pinned to where his boutonnière would be so she won’t pull it off or stick it in her mouth.
I tear my eyes away from the scene, regretful that I don’t have my camera out in time to capture the moment. I take a quick scan of the crowd to see what else I can notice right off about the wedding party. There are women here, too, of course, but my attention had been captured by the men first. Now, as I glance around, I see that they’re mostly dressed in tight, revealing dresses and heels that are way too tall and spiky to be tromping around in the grass. Except for a handful of kids running around, the crowd looks more like they’re waiting to get back into a bar after a fire alarm has gone off than a wedding party. But hell, I once photographed a wedding where everyone — including the bride, the groom, and the officiant — was dressed like late-era Elvis. So who am I to judge?
I look around for Jenna, but she’s nowhere to be seen. I imagine she’s in the house getting ready. I’m just about to walk over to see if I can find her when a big, burly, barrel-chested man approaches me.
“Hey, you must be the photographer,” he grunts, nodding down toward my camera.
I smile. “Hi. I’m Sam. Samantha.” I hesitate, then hold out my hand.
Burly guy shakes it carefully, and I can tell he’s trying not to crush my fingers. “Rock,” he says simply. “I’m the one doing the marrying.”
“Oh.” I glance at his leather vest, and notice a patch on it with the word “president.”
“I’ll have one of the women let Jenna know you’re here,” he continues, gesturing to a tall brunette in impossibly high heels. “We’ll get started in a couple minutes.”
“Got it.” I set my equipment bag down and grab the lenses I’ll be needing. The brunette teeters over to Rock, who murmurs a few words to her, and then turns toward the house. I busy myself with my light meters and check that everything’s in working order. I’m just finishing up when Rock walks over to a small clearing and raises his voice.
“Okay, we’re gonna get started,” he calls. “Gather around, and make sure to make a path for the bride.”
The crowd gathers around to stand in a half-circle in front of Rock, laughing and talking as they go. Many of the men have bottles of beer in their hands, and some of the women are drinking, too. This is definitely the most laid-back wedding I’ve ever been to. I raise my camera and sneak a few quick snaps of some of the more colorful characters, sinking into my role as documenter of what will be one of the most important days of Jenna and Cas’s lives.
Off to the side of where the crowd has gathered sits a single chair. As I watch, one of the club members strides solemnly up to it, carrying an acoustic guitar. He’s strikingly handsome, with deeply tanned skin, dirty blond hair, and tattoos covering most of the skin on his thickly muscled arms. Reflexively, I pull the focus back and take a few shots of the way his body moves, and the raw, masculine beauty of him.
Then, as I continue to snap, he sits down with the guitar and begins to play.
The music is not at all what you’d expect to come from a huge, moderately dangerous-looking man. The crowd hushes as his fingers strum and pluck out a beautiful instrumental that immediately draws all eyes and ears to him.
The melody is soft and haunting. I could swear I’ve heard somewhere before, but can’t quite place it. For a moment I just stand there, captivated by its beauty, and by the quiet command of the man playing it. Then with a start, I realized I’ve stopped taking photos. Stop daydreaming, Sam. You’ve got a job to do.
Moving as unobtrusively as I can, I crouch down and begin snapping shots of the guitarist as he plays, doing my best to capture the magic of the moment. The click of the shutter is so quiet I’m the only one who can hear it, and I hold down the button and take dozens of pics in rapid succession, not wanting to miss one single moment.
Then, as I watch him from my safe, voyeuristic place behind the lens, the man glances up. His eyes, a deep, piercing hazel color, lock on the camera. On me.
A jolt of heat bursts through me, followed by a wave of embarrassment. Usually when my subjects look directly at the camera, it doesn’t feel like anything personal. I know I’m safe and unimportant behind the lens. When people look at the camera, they’re generally imagining the people who will eventually see the photo, and hoping like hell they won’t end up looking like a weirdo. But this is completely different. It feels like the guitarist’s gaze is boring right through the camera — like he’s looking right at me. Even though I know that can’t be the case. He’s just looking at the lens, like anyone else. He’s just realized he’s being photographed. That’s all there is to it.
But those eyes… they’re just… mesmerizing. Dazedly, I lower the lens for a second. His gaze doesn’t move at all. With a shock, I realize he really is looking at me.
I almost drop the camera, and start forward to stop it from hitting the ground. When I glance back up, I catch just the faintest shadow of a smile on his face. Then, almost like I imagined the whole thing, he looks back down at the guitar and continues to play.
My heart starts to hammer in my chest as I shakily raise the camera again and half-stumble to my feet. Part of it is the adrenaline rush from almost breaking my best camera. But most of it is from being caught so unaware — and somehow, feeling so exposed — by a simple look.
I take a deep breath and will myself to concentrate. This is the most important part of the wedding, and I owe it to Jenna not to screw it up. Pushing away my embarrassment, I move into position to photograph the groom’s and bride’s entrance.
I’m just in time to start shooting as Cas starts to walk down the makeshift aisle created by the parting of the crowd. Little Mariana is still on his hip, dressed in a tiny pink flowered sundress. Walking next to Cas, tiny hand engulfed in his larger one, is a little boy who must be their son Noah. The image is just priceless — I couldn’t have done better if I’d posed them myself. I snap a few shots of the three of them from off to one side, switch lenses, then take a few steps forward and snap a few more. Mariana sees me and waves enthusiastically. The crowd looks over at me and laughs. I blush and wave back, then disappear behind the camera again. I try my best to be invisible when I’m working weddings.
Cas continues down the aisle, and a couple of the men slap him on the shoulder as he walks by. When he gets to Rock, the two of them shake hands. Cas leans down and says something to Noah.
“She’s coming!” cries a female voice from the back.
Then, almost as one person, the crowd turns to face the house, where the bride has appeared.
Jenna walks through the crowd, her face radiant. She’s paired her sheath dress with simple white flats. Her hair falls loose around her shoulders, with just a few tiny flowers arranged artfully toward the crown of her head. I’m snapping photos like a madwoman, not wanting to miss a single second. When she gets to the end and joins her little family, there’s a look of such sweet, pure love between Cas and Jenna that a big lump of emotion rises in my throat. A wave of sadness hits me like my own personal tidal wave, but I force it aside. I don’t have time to be letting this wedding get me thinking about the past. I’m a professional, and today is all about Jenna and Cas.
The hand that isn’t holding Mariana take’s Jenna’s. She gives her groom a brilliant, dazzling smile. Then the four of them turn together to face Rock.
The ceremony itself is short and simple, like Jenna said it would be. Rock does a gruff but effective job of officiating. Jenna and Cas wrote their own vows, and as they both promise to love and cherish each other, I take advantage of the moment to get close-ups of both of them staring into the eyes of the person they are vowing to spend the rest of their lives with.
Honestly, as weird as this has been so far, it’s also one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever been to.
At the end of the ceremony, Cas turns to another man behind him and hands Mariana off. He takes both Jenna’s hands in his, and Rock’s voice booms out over the crowd.
“Ghost Watkins, you may now kiss your bride.”
My brow crinkles in confusion at the name Rock calls him, but I don’t have time to wonder about it, because Cas is leaning forward. He pulls Jenna into his arms, tilting her head back toward his, and the kiss they exchange is so full of passion and love that I half-laugh, half-sob as I capture the moment.
For a couple of seconds, there’s an almost reverent silence.
Then, a raucous cheer erupts from the crowd.
“HELL YES!” someone yells over the others. “Let’s get this party started!”
Twenty minutes into the reception, I’m already taking bets with myself on how long the hot photographer is gonna last before she freaks out and runs away.
As soon as the wedding ends, I head into Geno’s house to put away my guitar, before one of the men gets drunk and disorderly and does something stupid like use it for batting practice. It’s not a very expensive guitar, but it has a lot of sentimental value. It’s the only thing I have left of my older brother, who died when I was seventeen.
This morning, the brothers set up everything necessary for an epic party in the field behind Geno’s house. At the club level, the preparations for this day have been going on for weeks. This is one of our brothers who’s getting married, after all. And not just any brother, either. Ghost is our Sergeant at Arms — the man who keeps our club in order. Normally he’d be the one making sure things didn’t get dangerously out of hand today, but as the groom he’s officially off the clock, so all bets are off.
The whole point of today is to make goddamn sure that Ghost and Jenna start off their married life with a blowout that will be the stuff of club legend.
Our VP Angel, Ghost’s best buddy and Jenna’s brother, has had enough booze and food brought in for as long as the Lords can keep this party going. A bunch of long tables are set up in the middle of the field, probably by the prospects early this morning. A couple of the tables are laden with main and side dishes and desserts, courtesy of the old ladies and club girls, who make it a point of pride to feed their men well. Our enormous custom-made grill has been hauled here from the clubhouse, ready to be filled with steak and chicken for the men and women, and hamburgers and hot dogs for the kids. Off to the side, our smoker is emitting the fucking delicious smell of barbecue, expertly manned by Tank.
When I come back out of Geno’s place, the huge sound system that Striker and Tweak set up is already blasting classic rock at a volume that’s almost hard to believe. If Geno had anyone living close by, we’d be at risk of getting the cops called out here. But as it is, he’s so far out of town there’s no one anywhere near close enough to be bothered by us. Geno does not like neighbors. Or people in general, really.
The older kids have rounded up the younger kids to take them inside for their own party, a massive sleepover in Geno’s basement. His man cave features a seventy-five inch flat screen TV, a game system, a popcorn machine, and more movies than any one man could watch in a lifetime. The kids will hang out and eventually crash there, leaving the adults to get on with their own craziness. Already, a bunch of the brothers have started to party in earnest. There’s a few groups trading shots of whiskey over at one table. Some others are gathered over by the smoker trading stories and laughing their asses off. More than one has decided to skip the formalities and go straight for the pussy.
I’ve been watching the hot photographer since even before the wedding ceremony started. She is definitely not the kind of chick you usually see hanging around an MC. Not that our club girls and old ladies aren’t hot. Shit, our women could compete with any women from any MC I’ve seen in terms of looks. But the photographer stands out among all of them, in more ways than one. For one thing, she’s dressed differently, in a no-nonsense black button-down blouse and black pants. It’s clear from her clothes she’s trying not to be noticed, and I guess that makes sense. After all, I suppose it’s tough to take pictures of people acting naturally when they’re aware that you’re watching them with a camera pointed at their every move.
The thing is, though, even with the inconspicuous clothes she’s wearing, there’s no way in hell this girl could ever be invisible. She’s fucking gorgeous: long, straight, glossy chocolate-brown hair, a tiny waist that rounds out into full, luscious curves, and big, dark, doe-like eyes. It doesn’t look like she’s wearing any makeup, but Jesus, she doesn’t need to. Her skin is absolutely perfect, her mouth full and pouty. As I watch her move unobtrusively around the crowd and snap pictures of Jenna, Ghost, and the others, her brow furrows in concentration and somehow it makes her even more beautiful. When she bites her lip while staring down at the screen of her camera, I want to bite it for her.
In my experience, people who’ve never been around the club before tend to be pretty fucking intimidated by us. And probably with good damn reason. So I watch in surprise and amusement over the next hour or so as this chick seems to barely acknowledge that any of the shit happening around her is anything but completely normal.
She takes tons of pictures of Ghost and Jenna, dutifully averting the lens whenever their kissing and groping starts to turn X-rated.
She moves in close to capture a shot of Beast — who’s got to be almost two feet taller than her and weighs close to three times as much — as he downs half a bottle of bourbon in one go to win a bet with Gunner.
And she doesn’t bat an eye when Tweak passes out first, and a few of the brothers decide to tie ropes around his bike and haul it up into a tree for him to find when he wakes up.
I’m staring in open admiration at her when Thorn comes up behind me, his eyes following my gaze.
“She’s a ride, isn’t she?” he says, his Irish brogue deepening as it always does when he’s been drinking.
“That she is,” I agree, chuckling appreciatively. “I’ve been thinking about riding her ever since she stepped foot onto the farm.”
Which is true. My dick’s been standing at half-attention for a while now, wondering if he’s gonna be called into duty. I should leave the girl alone, though. She’s just trying to do her job. And Jenna might be pissed if I scare away her wedding photographer.
Just then, Melanie, Rachel, and Tammy, three of the club girls, come over to where Thorn and I are standing. All three of them have progressed to the drunk and giggly phase.
“You’ve been ignoring us!” pouts Tammy, batting her heavily mascara’ed eyes first at Thorn, then me. She leans forward toward Thorn, but then stumbles on her high heels and falls clumsily against his chest.
“You’ve already had a bit of a craic, haven’t ye?” Thorn laughs, setting Tammy to rights.
“What?” she asks, confusion twisting her pretty face. “I have not!”
Thorn snorts. “No matter, love. English is optional for what we’re about to do.” Before Tammy knows what’s happening, Thorn’s picked her up and swung her over his shoulder. She squeals in mock-protest, but pleasure is obvious in her voice.
“Careful not to shake her too hard,” I call out with a laugh as he carries her off. “She’s likely to spring a leak.”
“So noted,” he calls back.
Melanie and Rachel sidle up next to me expectantly. They look like twins, even down to what they’re wearing. Both of them have a full cascade of almost white-blond hair — though Rachel’s definitely isn’t natural. I know from experience how good they are in bed, and that they really get off on giving a man a show together before moving on to the main event.
“So,” Melanie purrs, running a long, lacquered nail down my chest. “You wanna come help us find someplace private? We’re bored, and Rach was just saying how fun you are.”
I’m not in the habit of turning down a little fun, especially not in the form of a threesome. But just as I’m opening my mouth to answer, I happen to glance over toward the tables of food. The hot photographer is standing there, camera raised, but she’s not looking at the tables. She’s looking at me.
Our eyes lock. She freezes, like a small animal caught in a hunter’s rifle sight. For a second, neither one of us looks away. It’s a repeat of earlier, when I caught her taking my picture playing guitar at the beginning of the wedding.
Then her eyes shift, taking in the girls as they hang on me. A slight look of disgust flashes across her features, and she looks quickly away, her lip curling a bit. Her whole demeanor stiffens, and she crouches down and goes back to her work, positioning the camera so as to take in the spread of food and some of the people laughing and eating in the background.
I don’t know why I care. It’s not like I’m all surprised that a nice little white-bread girl would be shocked or disgusted by what people in the club get up to. Outlaw MCs exist precisely because people like her look down at people like us.
But somehow, it kind of chaps my ass. She’s been completely professional and hasn’t batted an eye about anything all afternoon, and she then chooses me to have a fucking problem with.
For the next minute or so, she ignores me so completely that I almost fall for it. I almost mistake her act for indifference. But just as I’m about to leave with Melanie and Rachel and find us a private spot to fuck, I catch the photographer just barely turning her head toward us, and I realize she’s sneaking a glance to see if I’m still there.
Then it hits me. Whatever she feels about me, it’s sure as shit not indifference.
I should leave her alone, I tell myself for the dozenth time. Let her survive her brush with the wild side unscathed, and go back to photographing little kids’ birthday parties or whatever she does most of the time.
But damned if I don’t want to hear what her voice sounds like, and watch her bite that lip from close up. I want to see her skin flush as she pretends she hasn’t been watching my every move.
It can’t hurt anything to just go talk to her.
So, ignoring my better judgment and my better nature, I tell Melanie and Rachel I’ll take a rain check, and head over to say hello.