The only recognizable thing from the aftermath of the fire that destroyed our shop was the metal frame of an old Chevy Impala I had been working on for the last couple weeks. The interior had been replaced just weeks ago, and now it had burned away, leaving nothing but rusty floorboards behind. The dash was melted and deformed and the bright blue paint that had coated the outside of the car was gone.
I kicked the bumper, which groaned and creaked before falling to the ashes of the shop floor.
“All this fucking work down the drain,” I growled as soot puffed into the air beneath my boots and the fallen bumper. Something silver glinted up at me amongst the rubble. I dropped to a crouch and discovered one of my wrenches. I tossed it end over end as I got to my feet.
Someone’s boots crunched as they approached. I looked over my shoulder to see the President of the MC, Johnny, stepping over the debris. His face was set in a stern expression that revealed no emotion. If he was as angry as I was, I couldn’t tell.
“What do you want to do about this shit?” I gestured at the remnants of our shop.
Johnny looked up at me and then surveyed the destroyed mechanic shop. This was where he and I spent most of our time, and it was how we made our livelihood. He had family to worry about, and I knew thoughts of his younger sister were probably racing through his mind.
“Nothing yet,” Johnny said, meeting my gaze. “The boys are pissed. We have to keep our heads down for a bit before any of them get any bad ideas. Got it?”
Moments later, other members of the MC joined us and began looking for anything that might have survived the blaze. There wasn’t much.
“Those Black Hearts fuckers are declaring war,” Jax muttered to my left. His light green eyes surveyed the damage and then swept up to Johnny. “What’s the plan, Ryder?”
Johnny glanced at me. I held my tongue.
“No plan. Not yet,” Johnny said sternly, fixing Jax with a hard stare. “Tell the others to keep their cocks in their pants for the time being. Our first priority is rebuilding.”
“Rebuilding will take months,” I said.
Johnny shot me a look that shut me up. He was in no mood to be questioned. I crammed my hands into my pockets and waited as Johnny dismissed Jax to go tell the others to keep their heads down.
A female voice caught my attention.
I looked to where the bay doors used to be. Ellie was approaching. She was wearing a pair of denim overalls. She had cut the legs off, and the hem sat at the top of her muscular thighs. The edges were frayed, and strands of it hung over her tanned skin as she stepped over debris. Her hair was slicked back in a long ponytail and looped through the hole in the back of her black baseball cap. She was makeup free, as per usual, and freckles speckled her nose and cheekbones. When she got close, she drew up short and looked between me and Johnny.
“Was anyone hurt?”
I shook my head.
She deflated like a balloon and pressed a hand to her chest. “Thank God. I was so worried. What the hell happened? Did someone fuck up while they were working or—”
“Black Hearts,” Johnny said.
Ellie looked at me. There were words tumbling around in her mouth, and I could see she was sorting through the best way to say them. Johnny had a temper, that much was true, but he would never direct his fury at her.
“What is it, Ellie?” I tried to encourage her to speak. There was tension in her shoulders now. She was worried. Perhaps she was more than worried.
“What does this mean?” Her voice was barely a whisper.
“It’s nothing you need to concern yourself with, Ellie.” Johnny stepped over the bumper I had kicked off the front of the Chevy. “You can take a few days off now.”
“I don’t want time off,” Ellie said defensively.
“Well, you have it. We aren’t gonna pay you to fix shitboxes when we have no shop.”
Ellie bit her bottom lip and crossed her arms over her chest. The stance made her breasts swell over her arms, and her cleavage whispered sweet nothings at me at the neckline of her white T-shirt. I imagined ripping the straps of her denim overalls from her shoulders and bending her over the charred remains of the Chevy. I wanted to feel her breasts in my hands as I fucked her from behind, staining her shirt in soot and ash as I blew my load in her pussy.
This wasn’t the first time I had thought such things of Ellie. I shook my head to chase away the vision of her ass in the air and turned to Johnny. “A word?”
Johnny followed me out the back—or out through where the back wall used to be—and I took advantage of the time alone with him without the other guys around.
“I know you said you want to lay low,” I started, “but that feels like a mistake to me. These bastards burned our place to the ground. We can’t let them off the hook thinking there aren’t consequences for making a move like that against us. We’ll look like a bunch of pussies.”
Johnny arched an eyebrow and looked past me and back at the rubble of the shop. Ellie was crouched down sifting through the debris, and some of the other guys had stepped in to help. If there was something to be salvaged, they would find it. This place was important to all of us.
“I want it to be controlled.”
“What?” I looked back at Johnny. “Controlled?”
“You and me. No one else.”
“Now. Let’s not give those pricks any extra time laughing at our misfortune.”
“I have everything we need in the trunk of my car,” I said.
Johnny was already moving forward. I followed him back out through the shop. We drew stares, but no one spoke a word. They knew better. Johnny Moretti was not the kind of man you fucked with. None of us were. He’d been through hell and back and was still recovering from a stab wound to the heart, but he was formidable as ever. I would have his back tonight, no matter what.
The eyes of the other members of the MC were on us as we passed Ellie and the Impala. She looked up, her ponytail swishing across her back. “Where are you two going?”
“Out,” Johnny said.
She stood and narrowed her eyes at me. “I thought we were lying low.”
“We?” I asked, turning to face her. I took a step closer, taking up some of her space. She retreated a step. Then, her eyes hardened, and she never looked away from me. “What ‘we’?”
She lifted her chin. The muscles of her jaw flexed.
I didn’t want to hear whatever it was she was about to say.
I held up my hand and shook my head. “Forget it. You have work to do here. Salvage what you can. We’re going to need it.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but I was already turning away from her. Her fingers caught the sleeve of my shirt, and she hurried around in front of me, looking up at me with those sharp blue eyes of hers. “Johnny shouldn’t be doing anything … physical,” she said after finding the right word. “He was stabbed just two weeks ago. You need to be careful. I don’t think you guys should—”
“I don’t care what you think we should or shouldn’t do. You have a job to do here. Focus your energy on that, not on me and Johnny. Got it?”
The anger in her eyes had me thinking she might fight me on this one. But she didn’t. She looked at her feet, blew out an exasperated breath, and then turned back to the Impala. “Just be careful, okay?”
I ignored her request and followed Johnny out to my car. Careful wasn’t a word that properly applied to what Johnny and I were about to do.
We pulled up in front of the dilapidated, single-story house around the time families would be tucking children into their beds. The front porch was bare of furniture but full of discarded beer cans. The lawn was mostly dirt with patches of brown grass. The house itself used to be yellow but had turned brown with moss and mold and years of disregard.
This was a Black Hearts clubhouse.
I parked the car across the street and tightened my grip on the steering wheel. “How many of those fuckers do you think are in there?”
“Hopefully, enough to make it a party,” Johnny grated beside me.
I felt my cheeks stretch into a grin I couldn’t control. “You ready, bitch?”
“Of course, I am,” Johnny Moretti said.
We both got out of the car and walked to the trunk. I popped it open, reached inside, and tossed a baseball bat to Johnny. His knuckles turned white as he gripped it tightly in his right hand. I grabbed one for myself and then reached for two black ski masks. I left the trunk open—we wouldn’t be gone long. Then, we marched across the street while pulling the masks down over our faces. Subtlety was for bitches.
We crossed the front yard, hopped up the four steps to the porch, and then exchanged a look. Johnny and I had been doing this shit for ages. He and I worked well together. Each of us always knew where the other would be, and when we lost complete control and gave into the rage, we could count on one another to reel it back in.
We were brothers.
I let out a furious shout and kicked the door in.
Johnny rushed in ahead of me with the baseball bat high over his shoulder. He was knocking shit off tables before I even made it inside.
The first room was the living room. It smelled of tobacco, booze, and weed, and there were white lines of powder on a piece of plywood resting across two milk crates—a classy coffee table. The couches were dark brown from years of use, and they hosted three men who were fucked out of their minds.
They were so out of it, they hadn’t even gotten to their feet by the time I made it into the house behind Johnny.
When they realized what was happening, they all let out furious yells and charged us.
Fighting men who were drunk and high was never a good time. They never felt a thing when you hit them, so you had to make sure you hit them hard enough to knock them out or at least knock them down.
Which was never usually a problem for Johnny and me.
The biggest man in the room went for Johnny. I resisted the urge to help my friend and trusted he could handle himself as another one of the Black Hearts launched himself over the back of the sofa and charged me.
The man was tall, taller than me by a good couple inches, and I wasn’t considered short at my height of six foot three. He was bellowing with rage and screaming a stream of profanities at me as he dropped his head to come in low and take out my center of gravity.
It would have been a smart move if I didn’t have a baseball bat.
I slammed my weapon over his back, and the man fell in a heap at my feet. He groaned in agony and writhed around as I stepped over him, ignoring his fingers as he grabbed at my pant legs.
I was moving in on guy number two, who was trying to get to Johnny as my friend used his elbows and fists on the guy in front of him. Johnny had always preferred to feel the toll of a fight with his own body. The baseball bat would be used only if completely necessary.
I, however, saw it for what it was, a tool to inflict more pain than my body could.
My baseball bat swung into the side of the third man’s knee. He howled in pain and dropped to all fours. I used my knee to his jaw to knock him out cold.
At the same time, Johnny took down his man with a furious blow to the side of the head with his fist. Johnny turned back to me, shaking out his hand, and looked at the two I had brought down.
The one still conscious was still rolling around on his back while spitting curses at us.
“You fucking goofs,” he slurred, high as a kite. “You don’t know what you’ve just gone and did. We’re Black Hearts, you fucks. Black Hearts!” His voice rose in pitch as he screamed those last words at us.
I dropped to a crouch in front of him and extended the baseball bat out to rest it under his chin. I forced his head up so that he was looking down the length of the bat and into my eyes. “We know exactly who you are, you piece of shit.”
The man swallowed, and the bat rolled against his Adam’s apple. I grabbed the edge of my mask under my jaw and pulled it off. The Black Hearts member’s eyes widened.
“You tell your boss that Axel Cooper is coming for him.”
The man nodded furiously.
Johnny shifted behind me. “He doesn’t get off that easy, Coop.”
I grinned. “You bet your ass he doesn’t.”
The man tried to shuffle backward. Fear passed over his face as I got to my feet and wound back with the bat. Anger roiled in my gut, and Johnny egged me on. These bastards had burned down my shop. My home. My livelihood.
Time to send a message of our own.
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