Here it is! All Roads Lead to Hell is hitting bookshelves today!
Check out this amazing interview over at The Novel Approach to see some behind-the-scenes action.
Lisa: So, speaking of Simon and Connor, let’s pretend I haven’t read the books yet. If I asked you to describe both of these guys to me, what would you tell me about them?
SHN: As characters, or if you were in their world? As characters, I’d say these two are both consumed by the struggle to be better than the men they’ve seen all their lives. They both come from war-torn backgrounds, hand-to-mouth poverty, and the kind of casual violence that leads to high tolerances for poor treatment. Both are survivors, in every way.
Or you can read a fantastic review of book 1.5 in the Saint Flaherty series:
We get a rural dystopia in Buchell but an altogether different sort of urban decay amidst the efforts to rebuild Scioto City. The normalcy of the syndicates and their crimes juxtaposed with Mick’s brother and sister-in-law’s sort of suburban utopia of a life does nothing but layer the setting of the series and creates a schism of sociological and anthropological codes. Morals and the instinct for human survival have evolved into something that fit into this -verse as a sort of “every man for himself” paradigm that supports the grim existence most of these people live. Which, in turn, is what makes this series so fabulous.
Of course, there’s always the “how did this story come to be” blog post to check out, if you’re wondering what got me thinking down these lines.
Or if you just want to be sure of the order of the books (1, 2, 1.5) here’s a quick summary of what’s what.
And, what you’ve all been waiting for…
A preview chapter.
Gentle readers, I present book 1.5
Simon’s leaning against the window of the hospital nursery, tired and gray under his skin, because I bet—I know—he hasn’t slept. Still he keeps watch. After all, he and Erin are vulnerable right now. He knows it, and he’s trying to be careful, but how many hours has it been since he last closed his eyes?
I know how his mind works; that’s how I found them. Right date, right city, kept calling around to hospitals until I found a pair matching their description. If Petrowski had still been alive, they would’ve been caught.
He isn’t, though, and anyone could’ve done it but they damn well didn’t. I arrive alone, and I’m not leaving until I get what I came for.
At my footsteps, Simon startles out of his glazed look to check me over. Am I a nurse, a doctor? Another father wanting a look at my kid? Am I disaster come hunted them down?
None of the above.
His mouth drops open. “Mick?” Simon’s the same as ever, still looking like the man he isn’t yet. “What are you doing here?”
I catch him by the shoulders and pull him into a hug, then lean back to get a good look at his face. He’s got enough stubble to start a beard, and his hair is getting long, but are those the only differences six months have made?
“Came to see you.”
He kisses me on the mouth, lips so soft after so long, lingering on mine as my brain stills.
Then his head drops to my shoulder as I stand stock-still. I can feel his heartbeat against my chest through his T-shirt, smell the scent of him that hasn’t changed despite the distance: soap and sweat and the hint of something that’s only him. His breath ghosts down my neck. “I missed you.”
But then his back stiffens. Simon pulls away, looks left and right, hand over the hilt of the knife that’s clipped to his belt. Back in guard position once more because he’s not afraid of someone seeing us, no, Simon’s watching for him, and there is only one him in Simon’s world.
I knew they hadn’t heard. I knew they wouldn’t have. Scioto and Buchell are a hundred miles apart, but for all the news that travels between the two, there might as well be an ocean between them.
I want to see his face when I tell him. See if he does what I’ve been imagining. I found him; it’s my reward. “I have a present for you, Simon. Information.”
He’s looking past me, down the hallway, guarded and wary without any need. No need in the world. “Yeah?” He’s definitely not heard.
I touch his cheek, the bristles rough against my palm. Catch his eyes. “Petrowski’s dead.”
Shock flits across his face, fear. Astonishment?
I’ve wanted to say that for six long months. “The day you left town, he was shot twice. Once in the back, once in the head.”
“Dead,” Simon repeats, and retreats a step. It’s like he doesn’t know what to do with his hands, and they creep up until they tangle in his hair and pull hard to help him process what I just said.
I knew it’d hit him sideways. “Grace Farley let off the first bullet. I saw it myself. Taylor Burkes got in the final word.” Disbelief crosses Simon’s face and I shrug. “He told everyone Petrowski was trying to frame his girl Grace for killing some other guy, so I guess that’s why. It all got mixed up in the aftermath. But I saw that much happen with my own eyes.”
Simon’s still staring at me, a drop of saliva glistening at the corner of his mouth. He wipes it off with the back of his hand and sinks to the floor in a crouch, pressing his palms to his forehead like that’ll make it all better.
“Dead.” His voice cracks. He’s not even seventeen yet, is he?
“We burned the body.”
In the room next to us, the newborns sleep. Eight little bassinets filled with eight tiny bodies. No idea which one Erin’s kid might be. Well, probably not the dark brown ones, but of the other three white kids, which one has Petrowski’s eyes?
It doesn’t matter. The baby’s safe, Erin’s sound somewhere as well, bound to be, and now it’s time to deal with the guard.
“When’s the last time you slept?” I ask Simon. It’s past midnight.
He gulps, a deep breath of fresh air. “Yesterday morning. I been—”
“Standing guard, I get it. There’s a motel across the street. Come on.”
Simon wavers. Sleep deprivation’s messing with his judgment. “I gotta stay, to keep guarding, just in case…”
I snap my fingers in front of his eyes to make him jump. “You’re in no condition. I said, come on.”
It’s an order, and Simon can follow those, if nothing else. He shakes his head, but when I take his hand and squeeze his fingers, he seems to accept that everything’s okay now.
I lead him to the hotel across from the hospital. Five minutes later, we’re checked in and I’m guiding Simon up the stairs with a hand on his back as too much fear and too little sleep catch up to him.
The room looks clean, if worn. There’s a bathroom right off the door, and I push Simon into it. “Shower first, then you can get shut-eye.”
While he’s busy, I text the guys I’ve had combing every hospital, every clinic, every back-alley midwife’s place in this whole city because I knew if I was gonna find him, it’d be now, and I was right. Mission accomplished, they can resume their regular work.
I told myself I was coming up here to make sure Simon was okay, lied to my brain until I almost believed it. But it’s never been true for a moment.
I came here because the minute I realized he’d really fled that stadium and left forever, I knew I’d made a mistake in turning down his offer to go with him. And now, I’m here to change that. Somehow.
I have no idea how.
Simon leaves the bathroom wearing his ratty old clothes, hands deep in his pockets and eyes uncertain. I’m ninety-eight percent sure he’s never been in a hotel, but he knows what they’re for. He kissed me in the hallway of the hospital, and now he’s wary of what happens next.
Aren’t we both. I gesture to the bed from my chair by the window and look away as he takes off his jeans. Like I’ve never seen Simon shirtless before, right, but I get it, really. He’s the one who kissed me, but that could’ve just been relief. I’m not going to push him.
From between the sheets, Simon glances at me, scoots over, and turns his back. A teenage invitation if ever there was one.
I turn off the lights and climb in on the other side. Usually I sleep naked, but not tonight. I’m not sure either of us could deal with that tonight.
In the dark, Simon turns to face me, the mattress dipping. His finger strokes down my forehead and caresses my eyelids, only to stop and linger on my lips.
I catch his hand, run my fingers over and between his. I forgot to check earlier, but now I need to know whether a piece of Simon or Connor Hall remained when the lights came back on after the last fight.
“It was Connor’s that got cut off,” Simon murmurs, “if it’s fingers you’re wondering about. Did it turn up?”
“Yeah, found it on the floor. Buried it.” With Art, in that grave in the park where no one but me has ever visited. “So, Connor did leave town with you two then.”
I wait while Simon shifts the words around in his head. “Yeah.”
“Where is he now?”
More shifting, physically this time as he turns to face the ceiling. “He left.”
I should end the conversation here. Go to sleep, wake up in the morning and figure out how much the world has turned when we’ve both had some rest.
Calloused fingers rest against my cheek, a thumb runs over my lips. “Is he really dead?” Simon whispers to the darkness.
There will only ever be one he: Petrowski. I close my eyes. “Yes. I swear.”
Simon doesn’t reply, doesn’t move. Have I relieved his fears or confirmed the evils within his own soul?
“I prayed to my saint that he’d never find us.” I wait for whatever’s coming, whatever confession. “Ain’t prayed since my mom died, but I asked him to make sure we was hid good enough.”
No, you didn’t, love, don’t lie to me. You didn’t pray he’d not find you; you wished Petrowski dead. Willed your own father to up and die, would’ve done the deed yourself had you thought you could survive the attempt, what a thing, and we both know it.
Then again, so would I. The minute he was dead and you were gone with no way of being found, I realized the only reason I hadn’t gone with you was because I believed he’d never die.
Simon turns away altogether. Annoyed? Ashamed?
No, just exhausted. His chest rises, arms relax to his sides. Asleep already, and after the day he’s had it’s no wonder. How much weight has been lifted from his shoulders in the last half hour?
I curl myself around his sleeping form and close my eyes to listen to him snoring through his dreams.
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