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Love Hard
Bonus Scene


What a fuck up of a night this turned out to be.

It should’ve been goddamn simple—Oscar DeLeon throws his fight in the ring, we win our bet with the Jackals, the church is ours, and everybody goes home happy.

Except that’s not what happened.

For some reason, this motherfucker double-crossed us. He won the fight with a damn KO, and we lost our bet. And now he’s learning the hard way what happens to people who betray the Black Roses.

I cross my arms over my chest, standing next to my father as the sounds of fists hitting flesh echo through the small locker room. Oscar grunts in pain as Brick lands a heavy punch on the side of his face. Brick is one of the older members of our gang, closer to my dad’s age than mine, and he got that nickname for a reason. He’s broad-shouldered and beefy, and getting punched by him is a lot like getting hit with a damn brick.

He draws his hand back to hit Oscar again, but before his fist can land, a girl runs into the room, racing right toward the men gathered around Oscar.

She doesn’t even hesitate. She just hurls herself toward the cluster of our guys and grabs Magnus by the shoulder. Surprised, he spins around to face her—and she plants her fist right in his fucking nose.

He lets out a startled grunt, twisting to avoid the knee she aims at his balls. Her dark brown hair tumbles around her shoulders, and her teeth are bared in a grimace. Magnus makes a grab for her hair, but she ducks under his arm and elbows him in the stomach.

A pained wheeze falls from his lips, and a crack fills the air as Brick lays another brutal punch on Oscar’s face. Toby hits him next, and the girl looks up, her jade green eyes going wide. She shoves her way between Toby and Brick to stand protectively in front of Oscar, her hands curled into fists and her nostrils flaring.

“Stop! Leave him the fuck alone!” she shouts. Her chest heaves, and she looks ready to fight all of the men gathered around her, consequences be damned.


I flick a glance at Rory, jerking my head in a subtle movement. He nods and steps forward, grabbing her and pinning her arms behind her back as he drags her away from the man who I’m guessing must be her father. One of Oscar’s eyes is starting to swell shut, but I can see him watching the girl with fear in his eyes as Rory drags her toward me and Levi.

“What the fuck? Let me go!” the dark-haired girl spits, thrashing in Rory’s grip hard enough that he gives up on holding her arms and just wraps her in a bear hug instead, pinning her arms to her torso.

“Well, she’s a fucking handful, isn’t she?” he asks, sounding amused as hell about it, because of course he is. I know Rory takes Black Rose business seriously, but he somehow manages to find humor in a lot of shit that I can’t.

The girl doesn’t look amused at all. In fact, his words seem to spark a whole new kind of anger in her, and she kicks backward, clearly trying to hit him someplace where it’ll hurt. A look of surprise crosses his face as he jerks to avoid taking a foot to the balls, and I almost laugh. If this night hadn’t turned into such a goddamn shit show, maybe I would.

“Let’s just get her out of here, Rory,” Levi mutters. He steps forward to give Rory a hand in restraining the wildcat, and the two of them drag her out of the room.

I scrub a hand over my face, stepping forward to stand next to my father again.

“We should get out of here,” I say quietly. “Before we have to deal with any more interruptions.”

My father nods, gesturing to Brick and Toby, who haul Oscar up and drag him out of the room. Magnum follows close behind, his gun drawn just in case Oscar tries any shit, and the remaining men fall in behind me and my dad as we head for the back door that leads to the alley behind the building.

A few of our cars are parked out there, and Brick and Toby shove Oscar into the back of one.

Dad and I climb into the car at the front, and from the tight set of his jaw, I can tell my father is pissed as fuck. I am too. This isn’t how tonight was supposed to go. The Jackals have been becoming a bigger problem lately, pushing at our boundaries to see what we’ll let them get away with, and this whole church deal was supposed to settle shit between us. The victory was supposed to cement our position as the most powerful gang in Fairview Heights, but instead, the Jackals came out on top.

Because they got to Oscar just like we did—and he chose them over us.

“Why the fuck would he do that?” I mutter as Dad starts the car and pulls out of the alley. “What could they have offered him that would make him think it was worth it to fuck us over?”

Dad shakes his head, a hard look crossing his face. “I don’t think it was an offer as much as an obligation.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s got family in the Jackals. A brother.”


Motherfucker. That’s why he betrayed us.

“Yes.” Dad’s jaw clenches. “I’m sure that’s why Samuel was so eager to make the bet on this particular fight. He knew he could have his man lean on Oscar and get him to go back on his deal with us.”


“So what do we do?” I ask, my mind racing even as I ask the question. “Kill him to send a message?”

It’s messy, and it’s not my preferred way of handling shit. But this shit with the Jackals needs to be nipped in the bud before it blows into an all-out war.

“No.” Dad takes a turn, pursing his lips as he checks his rearview. “I think we can use him.” He glances over at me. “Call Levi and Rory. Tell them to bring the girl back and meet us at the empty storefront on Macauley Drive. “

My brows furrow, but I do it, pressing Levi’s contact on my phone and passing on the message when he answers.

It takes us about five minutes to reach the spot where Rory, Levi, and the girl will meet us. We bought this space a while ago and haven’t done much with it yet, but it’s out of the way enough to be a good location for something like this. We just need to make sure we’re not interrupted again as we deal with Oscar.

Dad pulls up outside, and I open my door and slide out of the passenger seat as Toby and Brick muscle Oscar out of the car he was being held in. It looks like he might’ve gotten hit a few more times on the ride over, but they were careful to leave him conscious. Good. Brick loves to fuck shit up, but he’s one of our most disciplined men, so I trust him not to get carried away.

They drag Oscar into a room at the back of the store and drop him in a chair. They don’t bother tying him to it—he’s taken enough punches tonight that it’s got to have slowed him down, and he’s surrounded by a room full of armed men. This fucker isn’t going anywhere.

It doesn’t take long before Levi and Rory arrive with Oscar’s daughter. I hear them before I see them, and when I look up, I catch sight of her first. Her face is paler than I remember it from when I first saw her in the locker room not that long ago, as if some of the blood has drained from her face.

When she catches sight of her father, her entire expression shifts. I swear I can read every single emotion that passes over her face, from relief to fear to sadness to a fierce protectiveness.


She yanks against Rory’s hold, but he doesn’t let her go. With his face set in more serious lines than usual, he holds her back, keeping her from running across the room to her father.

“Mercy,” Oscar rasps, fear and pain heavy in his voice.


So that’s her name.

It suits her, weirdly. It sounds like it should be the name of a pretty blonde girl who wouldn’t lift a finger to hurt a fly, not this reckless, fearless thing who threw herself into the middle of a fight she had to know she couldn’t win.

She even landed a solid fucking punch on Magnus. He’s wiped away the blood that was leaking down his face earlier, but his nose is still swollen and bruised.

Levi and Rory stay where they are, holding Mercy in place, while Dad crosses his arms and glares down at her father.

“What the fuck was that, DeLeon? We had an agreement.” He shakes his head, anger burning in his eyes. “You had one job tonight. You promised us that you would throw the fight, and you managed to fuck that up. You broke your word to us, and I’m sure you know how that usually goes.”

Oscar’s jaw clenches, and that’s all the answer any of us need. Anyone who lives in Fairview Heights knows what happens to those who fuck with the Black Roses, and if he’s really got a brother in the Jackals, then he knows better than most what the consequences are of betraying a gang.

“I think I know why you did it,” my father continues, studying Oscar with narrowed eyes. “Although that doesn’t make me any more inclined to forgive you. But in light of everything, we’ve decided to let you live if you do something for us.”

The room falls quiet as my father finishes speaking, and he doesn’t fill the silence. He’s not the kind of man to waste words, and he’s said what he’s going to on this subject. Now it’s up to Oscar if he wants to live or die for what he did. He’s been given a second chance, which doesn’t happen often. Ironically, the very thing that made him betray us—his connection to someone in the Jackals—is the thing that could save his life right now.

“Fine,” Oscar says finally, his voice heavy. “Tell me what you want.”

“I will.” Dad nods. “And once you do what we ask, if you do what we ask, we’ll consider your debt cleared. But we’re keeping your daughter—Mercy, is it?—until you manage to fulfill your promise.”

Oscar’s eyes widen with fury, and I have to work to keep the surprise off my face. I knew Dad wanted to bring the girl back here for a reason, but I didn’t realize it was for this.

“Save it, DeLeon,” Dad barks when the man in the chair opens his mouth like he’s about to argue. “We know you’re untrustworthy now, so we need a guarantee that you’re not going to fuck things up the way you did tonight. Apparently, you need a little extra incentive not to double-cross us. So we’ll make that part easy for you. We’ll keep her as collateral.”

“No.” Oscar looks sick. He took his beating like a man earlier, but now he looks panicked and fearful. “No! She’s not—”

Before he can finish, Mercy takes a half-step forward, straining against Rory’s hold on her.

“Yes,” she says, and her voice is shaky but determined. “Okay. I’ll do it. I’ll go with you.”

“Mercy, no!” Oscar shakes his head, and I tense when I notice his hands curl into fists. If this fucker tries to fight us right now, he’ll get a bullet through his forehead, and I hope he’s smart enough to know that. For some reason, I really don’t want to kill this man in front of his daughter. “This was my mistake,” he says, his voice cracking. “I fucked up. You shouldn’t have to—”

“Dad, it’s okay.”

There’s something in Mercy’s tone that catches my attention. The shakiness I heard in her voice earlier is gone. Her voice is calm and clear, and when I look over at her, I see that she’s staring at her father intently, holding his gaze like she’s trying to calm a wild animal.

She doesn’t want him to die, and she knows as well as everyone else in this room that if he fights back, he will die.

So she’s taking this into her own hands. She’s making the decision for him.

She’ll come with us, and he’ll live.

Who the fuck is this girl?

I’ve never met anyone quite like her, and I find myself watching her face, trying to catch all of the micro-expressions that pass over her features as she gazes at her father.

“I’d listen to your daughter, DeLeon,” Dad says, and my attention snaps back to him and Oscar as he steps forward, letting a threatening smile curl his lips. “She sounds a lot smarter than you. She might just save your life.”

Oscar stares up at my father with pure hatred in his eyes, then flicks a glance at his daughter. Self-loathing and pain pass over his face, and then he lets out a breath, his shoulders slumping.

“Fine,” he mutters, his voice hoarse. “But let me have a minute with her. Please.”

Dad considers for half a second, then shoots Rory a look, nodding. Rory releases the girl, and she rushes forward as her father stands gingerly from the chair, limping toward her. Dad and I step away to stand with my two best friends, waiting for Oscar to say his goodbyes.

“She’ll stay with you,” Dad murmurs, and his words don’t surprise me in the slightest. As soon as I learned what he was planning on using Mercy for, I figured it would be up to me, Levi, and Rory to keep her under our watch. If Oscar can really give us insider information on the Jackals, that makes him valuable as hell, and that means Mercy is valuable too.

I nod once, trying to keep my expression blank. I don’t want my father to think I’m not up to the job, but I don’t like this.

Something about this girl puts me on edge. I don’t like the way her expressions are so easy to read, or how much I want to read them. It’s a liability to get emotionally involved in shit like this, but somehow, she’s gotten under my skin. And she hasn’t even moved into our goddamn house yet.

“Fuck, Mercy,” Oscar murmurs, barely loud enough for me to hear from where I’m standing. “I’m so sorry. I never meant for you to get dragged into this. Be careful. Please. I know you’re smart and quick, but—”

“It’s okay.” She cuts him off again, reassuring him just like she did before. “I’ll be fine. Just worry about you. Do whatever they want you to and get them off your back, okay?”

“I love you,” he says, pulling her into a tight hug. She hugs him back, clinging to him like he’s her goddamn lifeline in the middle of an ocean, and I clench my jaw.

Don’t get emotionally invested. Just fucking don’t.

I jerk my head at Levi. I don’t know if my father was planning on letting this tearful goodbye drag on any longer, but I’m done listening to it. It’ll be better for everyone if we make this clean.

Levi nods and steps forward, and Rory and I are right there with him, the three of us a united front as always. “All right, let’s go. We need to move,” he tells her.

Rory doesn’t grab Mercy this time, but he doesn’t need to. She doesn’t resist or struggle as we lead her outside to the car. I can see fear and anger burning in her eyes, but she does a good job of keeping those expressions from showing overtly on her face. I can tell that she’s trying to play along with this, at least for now.

“You know…” Rory, never one to be serious for too long, flashes a lopsided grin as he opens the car door for Mercy. She slides into the backseat, and he glances between me and Levi. “She’s pretty impressive. Not just anyone could dive into a fight like that and come out of it in one piece. She didn’t even hesitate. Pretty fucking badass, if you ask me.”

Levi huffs a laugh. “Maybe you should be careful before she takes out all her badassness on you. You wanna drive, Sloan?”

I shrug. It’s not really a question, since I almost always drive when it’s the three of us. I climb in behind the wheel, and Levi takes the front passenger seat. I crank the ignition and pull out of the nearly empty lot, heading toward Oscar’s place.

The car is quiet for a while until Rory breaks the silence.

“So,” he asks, his tone conversational as he turns to Mercy. “How’d you learn to fight like that?”

“None of your business,” she shoots back, and the hard edge to her voice lets me know that—no matter what reassurances she gave her dad—she’s not planning on making this easy for us.

Rory, unfazed as always, chuckles. “Prefer to stay mysterious, huh? That’s okay. I like a mystery, and I bet I can figure you out.”

He’s flirting with her. I’ve heard him hit on plenty of girls before, and I know the tone his voice slips into when he’s actually interested in someone. It’s the same tone he’s got right now, and for some reason, that irritates me.

It’s because she’s a job, I tell myself. Because we need to keep our focus around her, and we can’t afford to get distracted.

She doesn’t respond to his words, staring sullenly out the window as the car falls into silence again. I glance at her in the rearview once, when she doesn’t know anyone is looking at her. There’s a pensive look on her face, and the light of passing street lamps plays over her features in a way that makes her look almost otherworldly. She’s fucking gorgeous.

Bruised, but not broken.

Afraid, but still fighting.

Wrenching my gaze away, I focus on the road again, not letting myself look back at her until we reach Oscar’s place. She doesn’t speak up or object as we pull up out front, so I take that as confirmation of my assumption—that this is where she lives too. Or at least, where she lived up until tonight.

We all get out of the car and head to the front door, and Mercy unlocks it. I step inside immediately after her, just so she doesn’t get any ideas about being left alone in the house. I’m not giving her a chance to grab a weapon or some shit like that. Not that I think she’ll fight back with her dad’s life on the line, but after watching her deck Magnus in the face, there’s not a lot I wouldn’t put past her.

“Pack up,” I say shortly, keeping my voice hard. She needs to know this isn’t a fucking game, and I don’t want her to know she’s gotten under my skin. “Clothes, whatever else you need. You’re not coming back here until it’s all said and done.”

Her lips press into an angry line, but she turns on her hell and heads to a closet, grabbing down a worn looking suitcase. She heads into the bedroom, and I follow her in there too. Levi and Rory come with us, although Levi hangs back by the door as if he doesn’t want to invade her privacy too much.

Rory roams around the room, poking around a bit, and I do too. Partly, I want to make it clear to this girl who’s in charge here, and partly, I’m just… curious.

“Do you mind?” she asks after a moment, her tone venomous.

Rory looks up with a grin. “Not at all.”

I roll my eyes, suppressing a snort as Mercy turns back to her packing, moving even more quickly as if she can’t wait to get us out of her space. Out of her life.

Sorry, princess. That’s not going to happen for a quite a while.

She steps into the bathroom to grab more stuff, and I don’t follow her inside, although I watch through the open door to make sure she only throws toiletries in her bag. Then we all troop out of the house.

But as we start to head back to the car, her footsteps slow.

“What's the hold up?" Rory asks, following her gaze as she glances toward the garage.

"I want to ride my motorcycle to wherever you plan to keep me,” she says, a stubborn edge to her voice.

"No.” The word falls from my lips without a second thought. "Not happening."

"What? Why not?"

"You think we're that stupid?" I narrow my eyes at her, staring her down. I may be intrigued by this girl, but part of the reason I’m intrigued is because I can tell she’s a fucking fighter. And the last thing you do when dealing with a fighter is let your guard down.

"What am I gonna do, run off?" she shoots back, her gorgeous green eyes flashing. “Flee across the border to Mexico? You've got my dad by the balls for whatever reason. I'm not going to abandon him."

I can hear the truth in her words. She loves her father, that much is clear.

For a half second, I feel myself wavering. I feel myself actually considering it—wanting to give her this one little thing, this one little taste of freedom before she gets locked away, held captive as collateral for a debt her father owes.

But I don’t.

Instead, I just shake my head, not looking back at her as I keep walking toward the car with Levi and Rory behind me.

"We'll send someone to pick it up and bring it to the house later," Levi says, and I clench my jaw.

I can tell she’s already gotten under his skin too.

She’s gotten under Rory’s.

She’s gotten under mine.

And that’s going to be a fucking problem.

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