The darker side of love...
|Posted by Madeline Sheehan on 19 December, 2018 at 13:05|
AN UNDENIABLE CHRISTMAS CAROL
Edited by Ellie McLove @ Love N Books
© Madeline Sheehan Books 2018
“Are you fuckin’ listening to me?”
Deuce glanced up to where Mick was towering over him. His vice president and closest friend stared down at him, brows raised, clearly exasperated.
“No, I’m fuckin’ not,” Deuce snapped and turned back to the video feed where he could see the entirety of the club, more specifically the main room where a party was occurring. It was the club’s annual Christmas party, and the main room had been decorated for the event. Strands of pine had been hung across the bar-top and around the pool tables, ribbon covered wreaths decorated the walls, and a nine-foot Christmas tree had been erected in the center of the room, wrapped with garland and overflowing with ornaments.
The club was celebrating more than just Christmas, though. Today was the last day Deuce would ever sit at the head of the table and lead the club in a vote. Today was the last day Deuce could call this office his. And today would be the last time the men in his club would refer to him as, Prez. Because today the gavel had been passed to his son, Cage, and Deuce was no longer President of the Hell’s Horsemen Motorcycle Club.
He was an old man now, and while he felt just fucking fine, he knew that death could come at any time. Figuring that he’d beaten the odds long enough he’d decided to stop testing fate and retire, wanting to spend whatever time he had left with Eva—the love of his sorry-ass life.
Still watching the video feed, scanning the happy faces, Deuce began drumming his fingertips atop his desk—an old slab of oak that had seen better days. In truth, it was a piece of shit. The finish had worn off nearly everywhere, and it rocked uncontrollably when there wasn’t something shoved beneath both front legs. And Cage would probably replace it with something new. Deuce’s fingers ceased tapping. Fuck that. He wouldn’t give Cage the chance to toss it—he’d be taking it home with him tonight.
“I want my desk,” he growled.
“I’ll get some guys to put it in your truck.”
“And the couch.”
“The couch? Why?”
The couch was nearly as old as Deuce was. He’d slept on it, shared drinks with friends on it, fucked countless women on it, and he was fairly certain at least two of his children had been conceived on it. So yeah, there was no way in hell he was leaving his couch behind.
“Because it’s my goddamn couch, that’s why.”
“Alright, alright,” Mick muttered. “The couch, too.”
“And that clock over there. And the sign above the door.”
“The clock and the sign—I’ll take care of it, Prez.”
“You can’t call me that anymore.”
“Yeah? Who’s gonna stop me?”
Deuce glanced up, his eyes meeting Mick’s, finding admiration shining in his friend’s dark depths. And a little sadness too.
Deuce dragged in a breath and slowly released it. “Gimme a minute, will ya?”
Nodding, Mick crossed the room, the din of celebration growing louder as he exited the office, and quieting again as the doors closed behind him.
Shrugging out of his leather cut, Deuce pulled his blade from the sheath on his belt and began removing, thread by thread, the PRESIDENT patch that had been sewn onto his cut the day Deuce had become president.
“What a sad fuckin’ day that was,” a familiar voice sneered. “Stupid little shit like you never deserved my club.”
Across the room, Reaper was seated at the head of the table, in the President’s seat. The conjured image of his father was one from Deuce’s youth, back when Reaper had been in his prime. A beast of a man, Reaper’s blond hair was thick and long, pulled into a low ponytail at the base of his skull, and he wore the denim vest he’d always favored, his PRESIDENT patch affixed above his left breast pocket.
Done removing it from his own cut, Deuce tossed the very same PRESIDENT patch onto his desk and got to work removing his ORIGINAL patch—another patch taken from Reaper. Deuce had donned it as a reminder, but it also served as a distinction between the sort of club his father had lorded over and the kind of club Deuce had turned it into.
“You’re dead,” Deuce spat. “Meanin’ you don’t get a fuckin’ opinion anymore.”
Reaper laughed. “I’m dead and you’re still shittin’ your pants at the sight of me. Didn’t even have the balls to kill me yourself.”
“If you were actually here,” Deuce said. “I’d kill you myself this time. Fuckin’ happily.”
Reaper smiled—a smile that used to send Deuce and his long-dead little brother, Casper, running for cover. “Now that’s the kind of gumption I like to hear from a man.” Reaper thumped his fist against his chest. “You think that little girl of yours has that same fire in him? ‘Cause I sure as fuck don’t.”
“Good thing no one cares what you think.”
“You do, boy, or I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Cigarette smoke billowed into the room, filling the office. Damon “Preacher” Fox, former President of the Silver Demons Motorcycle Club and Deuce’s deceased father-in-law, appeared on the back of Deuce’s couch, legs crossed at his ankles, a lit cigarette dangling between his lips. Like Reaper, Preacher appeared much younger than when Deuce had last seen him, pale and frail, slowly slipping away in a hospital bed in New York City. Here Preacher was dressed head to toe in leather, his long brown hair framing a heavily bearded face. He looked fresh and young—exactly how Deuce recalled him looking back when Preacher had the whole world in his pocket and Deuce was still trying desperately to grow the fuck up and grab a piece of the pie. Now though, Deuce had the whole pie…
Preacher pulled the cigarette from his mouth. “You mean, Cage,” he said. “Cage’s got the whole pie now.”
"Well, well, well,” Reaper drawled. “If it ain’t Damon-fuckin’-Fox—another little girl who couldn’t run his daddy’s club for shit. Jesus fuckin’ Christ, boys, there ain’t no girls in sight and it’s still a goddamn pussy party in here.”
Preacher’s eyes remained on Deuce. “Why the fuck are you even entertaining this asshole? All he was ever good at was pissin’ people off—it was you who turned the Horsemen into somethin’.”
“Maybe he did turn it into somethin’,” Reaper grudgingly admitted. “But that was only because he had an old man who beat some sense into him.” Reaper’s piercing stare swung toward Deuce. “But you were too soft on your boy, and he’s gonna destroy everything I built. He ain’t got the head for it and you know it. Ain’t this the same little fuckin’ shit who was always whinin’ and cryin’ ‘bout somethin’ or nothin’? Who was snortin’ the fuckin’ revenue up his goddamn nose? Who got himself shot over mother-fuckin’ pussy?” At that, Reaper laughed as if it were the funniest thing he’d ever heard.
Deuce blew out a hard breath through his nose and reminded himself that Cage was different now. He was married, and a new father. He knew real responsibility firsthand. And he was a lot less prone to letting his heart drive his actions. That wasn’t to say that Cage had grown cold, but he’d hardened considerably. This life, if you survived it long enough, would reinforce even the softest of people. And for the last couple of years, Deuce had been closely watching Cage, gauging whether or not he was ready for the weight of the responsibility he’d be inheriting. Deuce hadn’t made this decision lightly as it was no small thing Cage was now presiding over—a criminal enterprise consisting of not just the Hell’s Horsemen Motorcycle Club, but the Silver Demons Motorcycle Club along with it. They were a national and international presence with their hands in just about everything. They were intricately tied to other clubs, mafias, numerous law enforcement agencies, and even certain legitimate organizations who liked to delve into the seedier side of life.
Flipping off Reaper, Preacher shook his head. “Don’t listen to him. Cage picked Mick as his VP, didn’t he? Picked an old man over all his friends who were begging him for it, because Mick has been sittin’ at your right for a hundred fuckin’ years and knows all the ins and outs. It was a smart move, and a move that tells me the kid already knows he’s gonna be needin’ some help.” Preacher pointed his cigarette at Deuce. “And you can’t fault him for needin’ it either. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doin’ when I took over my old man’s club, and, Deuce, neither did you.”
“Which is exactly why my club has turned into a goddamn pussy party,” Reaper added.
Slapping the ORIGINAL patch onto his desk, Deuce sent the blade in his hand barreling across the room, embedding it into the high back of the President’s chair. “My club,” he ground out, though Reaper had disappeared the moment the blade had passed through him.
Preacher leaned forward, looking suddenly older. There was some gray in his hair, and a few lines on his forehead and around his eyes. He didn’t just look older, he appeared rougher. Colder. This was the Preacher whose daughter Deuce had taken two bullets for.
“Cage will make it work, same as we did,” Preacher said. “And even if he doesn’t, it’s not your job to worry about it anymore. Go out there and congratulate your son, have a drink with your boys, and then go the fuck home with that gorgeous girl of mine, and enjoy the rest of your life. It’s that fuckin’ simple, brother.”
Preacher smiled faintly and then vanished.
Deuce sagged in his chair. Preacher was right—if he'd had any real doubts about Cage, the vote today would have never happened. Deuce would have held tight to his title until his last goddamn breath, and they would have to pry the gavel from his cold, dead fist.
Pushing out of his chair, Deuce stood and stretched, glancing around the room, pausing on each of the framed cuts hanging on the wall. Every Horseman who’d died was up there—Blue, Freebird, even Reaper had a spot on the wall. Jason “Jase” Brady’s cut had been framed as well, though the brother hadn’t died—he’d simply moved on. Kind of like Deuce was moving on—though the wall wouldn’t be getting his cut until he actually kicked it.
Deuce circled the table and yanked his blade from the President’s chair, re-sheathing it in his belt. He began pacing the full length of his office, muttering meaningless curses to himself. Another heavy sigh fled his lungs. And another.
“Fuck it,” he finally said.
Grabbing his cut, he slipped it on and pocketed the patches on the desk. Pulling open the office doors, the room filled with loud laughter and chatter. Christmas music filled his ears as a sea of familiar faces filled his eyes.
“Dorothy made Buckeyes just for me!” Damon, Deuce’s youngest son, bolted by him holding a plate piled high with cookies. “Hey!” Deuce shouted. “What about me—where are my fuckin’ cookies?”
“We’re gonna grab that desk for you now.” Mick slapped Deuce’s shoulder as he passed, followed by two new club recruits.
“Don’t forget the couch!” Deuce reminded him.
“The couch?” Eva sidled up next to him, a mixed drink in her hand. “Where are we going to put that ratty old thing?”
“Babe,” Deuce growled softly. Taking hold of Eva’s ass, he gave it a hearty squeeze. “You look fuckin’ good.”
Her long dark hair had been wound into a messy bun on the top of her head, and she’d traded her usual t-shirt and jeans for a black dress with long sleeves and a short skirt that showed off her legs. Even more out of character was her smoky eye makeup and glossy pink lips. Yet, on her feet were a pair of dirty, dingy old Chucks with mismatched laces and Deuce smiled at the sight of them.
“Kami made me. She said dressing up for the holidays once a decade won’t kill me.” Pursing her lips into a juicy pout, Eva peered up at him through batting lashes. “You like it?”
“Do you like it enough to not bring that couch home if I ask you nicely?”
“Nope.” He gave her ass another squeeze. “Sorry, darlin’, the couch goes where I go.”
“Fine,” Eva sighed dramatically. Standing up on her tiptoes, she pressed her lips to his. “But can we please, please, please put it in the spare bedroom?”
Grabbing the back of her head, Deuce deepened their kiss. “Do you remember the first time I fucked you on that couch?” he murmured against her mouth. “Shit, bitch, how old were you—twenty-one, twenty-two?” Their gazes collided, Eva’s stormy gray eyes alit with fervor. “I wanted it hard,” she whispered, and Deuce chuckled softly. “Babe, you always fuckin’ do.”
“Gross, gross, gross,” Ivy groaned, forcefully maneuvering herself between Deuce and Eva, shoving them apart. “Could my parents not grope each other in public please?”
Deuce’s eyes narrowed as he took in his daughter’s strapless, red mini-dress. Her long blonde hair had been artfully curled and around her neck was a necklace covered in tiny Christmas tree lights. On her feet were sky-high strappy red heels that had her nearly at eye level with him.
“I’ve got a better idea, baby girl—how about you go find the missing half of your dress before you come at me with bullshit?”
Laughing, Ivy twirled away. “Whatever, Daddy. Devin likes my dress.”
“Does Devin like his face in one piece?” Deuce yelled after her.
“Stop,” Eva scolded, “We love Devin, remember?”
Deuce let out a throaty growl.“You love Devin. I only kinda like Devin when he’s not datin’ my daughter.”
Laughing, Eva shoved him. “Baby, you should go talk to Cage. He’s been staring at the office doors ever since the vote. He’s waiting for you.”
Deuce scanned the room, finding Cage at the bar, his wife, Tegen, at his side. A small crowd had gathered around them, everyone with drinks in their hands. Deuce made his way over and was immediately handed a beer. After clinking bottle-necks with Cage and a few of the boys, he took a long, refreshing swallow. And as he was drinking, his gaze snagged on something shiny.
Deuce set his beer down. “You gave her your tag,” he accused, pointing at Tegen's neck.
The Horsemen tag was a small round medallion with the Hell’s Horsemen’s insignia on the front—the words HELLS HORSEMEN encircled a Grim Reaper on a Harley, holding a scythe. On the back would be the club member’s engraved name. Every member received one upon being voted in, and Deuce had expressly forbidden them to give their tags away, under threat of punishment.
“I didn’t want it!” Tegen held her hands up and scowled at Cage. “I told you not to give it to me—I told you he’d be pissed!”
Undaunted, Cage said to Deuce, “You gave Eva yours.”
Cage shrugged and smiled. “Not anymore.”
Deuce’s lips twitched. What Cage wasn’t saying was that he was president now, not Deuce, and he could do whatever the hell he wanted to do with his tag, just as Deuce once had.
“Speakin’ of the stupid ass shit I do, here’s this.” Deuce pulled the two patches from his pocket.
Cage’s eyes rounded, his mouth falling open. “No way,” he said quickly, rapidly shaking his head. “Dad, they’re yours, they should stay on your—”
Deuce slapped them against Cage’s chest, forcing him to take them. Then he grasped Cage’s cheek and looked into his son's eyes. “Shut up and take ‘em. It’s tradition now—just don’t go shanking me in the showers later.” As laughter bubbled up from the surrounding men, Tegen looked on in disgust.
“You’re all really damaged people, you know that?”
“Tegen,” Deuce said, pointing at his still scowling daughter-in-law. “Stop runnin’ your mouth and go sew that shit on your man’s cut.”
“Sew?” Tegen exclaimed. “I don’t know how to fucking sew! Cage, you didn’t tell me I’d have to sew!”
Grinning, Deuce walked off amid howling laughter from the boys. Passing by a pool table where his daughter, Danny, and her husband, Ripper, were playing a game of 8-ball, he paused to ruffle Danny’s ponytail, then slap the ass end of Ripper’s pool cue, costing him his turn.
“Fuck!” Ripper sent his cue flying across the room. “What the fuck, Prez!”
“You can’t call me that anymore, asshole,” Deuce replied, half-turning around as he walked on.
“You could always call him Dad, instead,” Danny coyly suggested.
“No, he fuckin’ can’t!” Deuce bellowed, at the same time as Ripper yelled, “Fuck, no!”
Deuce turned the corner down the dimly-lit hall that led to the back of the club where he was greeted by the smell of marijuana smoke—Bucket’s signature hybrid blend. He was pulling Bucket’s partially open door shut when another door flung open. Kami blew into the hallway, her blonde hair sticking in every direction, and in the process of tugging her dress down.
“What are you looking at?” she demanded, brushing by Deuce. The strong scent of her perfume lingered around him, making his nose itch.
“A pair of knobby ass knees, and too many goddamn sequins,” he called after her.
Kami huffed. “It’s an Oscar de la Renta.”
“Yeah? Does Oscar know you’ve been gettin’ nailed in his dress?”
“Fuck you very much, Douche!”
Peering inside the room Kami had exited, Deuce found Cox lying on his bed, spread eagle, buck naked, and smoking a cigarette. His former Road Chief gave him a mock salute. “What up, Prez?”
“Your wife is fuckin’ you again?”
“All I did was get her a Christmas present and then she rode me like she stole me.” Cox grinned lazily. “I’m guessin’ she liked it.”
Unable to fathom Kami liking anything enough to forgive Cox’s countless indiscretions, Deuce asked, “What the fuck did you get her?”
Cox shrugged. “Fuck if I know. I had the boys pick it out.”
Shaking his head, Deuce pulled Cox’s door closed and continued on. He took his time, his boots pounding a slow-moving rhythm that echoed up and down the long corridor.
Passing Cage’s room, Deuce briefly touched the door.
“You’re a shit father, you know that?” Cage yelled. “You’re a shit person too! Yet you get handed every-fuckin’-thing, none of it deserved!”
Moving on, he glanced at Ripper’s door.
“What the fuck!” ZZ raged. “You’re fuckin’ dead, asshole! You hear me, Ripper? You’re fuckin’ dead!”
“You don’t understand,” Danny whispered. “I love him.”
Approaching another door, Deuce paused and closed his eyes.
“I know I’m fucked-up,” Eva shouted. “I know I’ve been fucked-up for a long time. I know I don’t know the first thing about a normal relationship because fucked-up is all I’ve ever known, but I have been trying so hard to make us work! I also know that I am sick of your bullshit! You made me promises, and I left my entire life for you! And you bring me to the middle of nowhere and dump me in a house with your kids and expect me to be your old lady when you knew, you fucking knew, that was the last thing I wanted. So I let you treat me like a piece of fucking furniture who’d be right where you left me every time you decided to grace me with your presence because I promised you I wouldn’t run. But I can’t do it anymore!”
So much had happened within these walls—there wasn’t one square inch of this club that something life-changing hadn’t occurred. Relationships had begun and ended. Tears had been shed, blood had been spilled. Struggle filled every corner, perseverance too. Bravery. Brotherhood. Pain. Fear. Lust. Love. It was all here, soaked into the walls, the floorboards, the very beams that kept this building standing. And Deuce was hoping like hell it would still be standing long after he was gone.
“Look at you, Deuce, gettin’ all sentimental and shit in your old age.”
Deuce didn’t have to open his eyes to know who was speaking to him—it was a voice he’d never forgotten, couldn’t forget no matter how hard he’d tried.
Eyes flicking open, he found Frankie Deluva leaning back against the door to the bedroom that had once belonged to Deuce. The room had since been gutted, stripped of any sort of reminder of the madness that had gone on inside it. It was home to storage now—folding chairs and tables, and brown boxes stacked to the ceiling.
Spinning a small blade between his fingers, Frankie looked as he had the day Deuce had almost killed him—a long, ratty beard, his dark hair pulled up into a bun, spiderweb tattoos and thick, ropey scars covering his neck, opaque eyes gleaming with a fuck of a lot of crazy.
Frankie tapped the tip of the knife on the door behind him. “Good times, right?”
A muscle in Deuce’s jaw began to tick. “Only for you.”
Just like Frankie, Deuce had done some seriously messed up shit, most of it absolutely unforgivable. Even so, there was at least one small difference between them—Deuce had almost never enjoyed himself. Some things you did because you had to, whether it be for a show of power or because it simply needed to be done. Frankie, that sick motherfucker, hadn’t just enjoyed his kills, he’d relished torturing them first. In fact, Frankie had just plain loved torture—emotional and physical. Killing hadn’t always been his endgame.
Frankie took a step forward, his eyes glittering maniacally. “Me and you ain’t so different. You know how I know?” Frankie leaned in and whispered, “I saw it in your eyes, Deuce—you watchin’ me with my girl. You would’ve liked killin’ me. You would’ve taken your time.”
Deuce’s nostrils flared. “My girl.”
Frankie straightened and flashed a vicious grin. “Our girl,” he amended and began twirling his blade again.
“Good grief, you’ve got a lot of fuckin’ ghosts!” Blue materialized suddenly, swatting wildly at Frankie’s quickly fading image. “You got Reaper, Preacher, and mother-fuckin’ crazy-pants here. Hell, you’ve even got me! You’re the goddamn Pied Piper of ghosts!”
Deuce only stared, drinking in the welcome sight of his departed friend, with his long white hair and a matching beard, looking just as wrinkled and grizzled as he had the last time Deuce had laid eyes on him. Moving down the hall, Blue beckoned Deuce to follow.
“What do I always tell ya, Deuce? Ya gotta bury that shit, set that shit on fire—”
Deuce’s eyes went skyward. “Yeah, yeah—I heard you the first hundred times, old man.”
“Old man?” Blue snorted. “Well if that ain’t the asshole callin’ the toilet shitty.”
“You always think you know everything,” Deuce muttered.
Blue glanced back, a wide smile stretched across his age-spotted face. “Have you learned nothin’ by now? I do know everything!”
As they passed the kitchen, the smell of freshly baked cookies filling the hall, Dorothy could be heard puttering around inside, humming while she cooked. Blue inhaled deeply. “Tell me that sweet girl is finally family.”
Mm-hmm,” Blue said, nodding to himself. “I always said that one was a keeper. Glad to know you idiots had the sense to finally fuckin’ keep her.”
Entering the main room, the party still in full swing, Blue shuffled slowly through the crowd, eventually making his way to his seat at the bar—a seat that had remained empty since the day he’d died in it. Deuce took the seat beside Blue, and two shot glasses appeared on the bar-top.
“Tequila for you, Prez,” Tap said, pouring. “And tequila for the old man, may he ride in peace.” Then Tap brought the bottle to his mouth and started chugging. “And the rest for me,” he said, wiping his mouth with his shirt sleeve.
“You’re a shitty bartender,” Deuce told him, to which Tap responded with a smirk and another chug on the bottle.
“Always a greedy fucker, that one,” Blue said, shaking his head. “Always takin’ shit that don’t belong to him.”
“Says the man who used to horde all the booze.”
“Yeah, well, a man’s gotta have somethin’ to live for, don’t he? Speakin’ of which…you did pretty damn good in that department.”
Deuce followed Blue’s gaze to where Eva stood arm in arm with Kami. Both women were laughing, Kami with her head thrown back, and Eva with her hand clutching her stomach, doubled-over. His Horsemen tag had fallen free from beneath the neck of her dress and for a moment Deuce was content to watch it swing.
“Good to know you’ve been keepin’ yer head outta yer ass, like I told ya to,” Blue continued.
“Good to know you’re still a mouthy old shit, still sticking his nose where it don’t belong.”
“Mm-hmm, that’s me.” Blue held up his shot glass. Raising his, Deuce tapped his glass to Blue’s.
“Merry Christmas, Prez,” Blue said.
Deuce threw back his shot then placed his glass down on the bar beside Blue’s untouched glass, still brimming with tequila. He looked to the empty chair beside him and sighed.
“Merry Christmas, old man.”