Bonus Scene: Focused, a bonus Liam scene for Ruthless Traitor
Congratulations on hitting 1000 reviews on Ruthless Traitor. I am so blown away by all of you loving the Vandals, truly. The hold these characters have on me is enormous. I love visiting their world, every dark and twisted moment. Okay, maybe not every one. Right, so, today’s bonus scene is a little look beyond the scope we’ve already visited to look back at where they’ve been and how they got to where they are.
“Keep that left up.” As if to prove his point, Jerry’s fist grazed my chin. I was already moving away from him, but he was relentless in his assault. He hammered on my guard, switching up his blows, but I kept retreating. It wasn’t until he tried to corner me in the ring that he saw his mistake. By then it was already too late.
Every movement had been a calculation on my part. I wanted him to pursue, I wanted him to feint, jab, and punch. I’d kept my guard up, but weak. I withdrew as though I was the one who needed a break. Every single choice since I ducked into the ring with my black eye and bruised ribs had been designed to get him into this position.
Ruthless in his training, Jerry didn’t disappoint. When Dad approached him about teaching me, he’d promised that he wouldn’t hold back. As much as Dad disapproved of bloodsports, he’d respected my request.
Which put me here, in this basic gym that smelled of sweat, work, and probably tears. I fucking loved this place. Jerry didn’t just teach boxing or martial arts. He understood several different fighting forms.
What he trained me in, was using all of them to my advantage. The feint with his left knee before he snapped out with his right leg was the moment of truth. I flowed around his motion, caught the leg twisted, struck with my weaker left toward his midsection—not to hit, but to grip—before lifting his leg up and flipping his whole body.
I didn’t let go, the grapple required a close hold and we went over together. The scissor grip of my legs around him as controlled his right arm with a twist kept him pinned. Yes, he had a free arm, but he didn’t have the leverage he’d need to get free before I broke his arm.
Panting, I stared at him as Jerry stared back. Neither of us gave an inch. The one thing he’d drilled into me over the last year had been—you don’t decide when to release the opponent just because you think you’ve won. They have to accept that defeat before, or you just handed them the advantage.
He didn’t relax, even when I shifted my grip on his arm to apply more pressure. Then a slow smile spread across his face and he tapped the floor. But it was just a tap and there was no surrender in his expression.
Another thirty seconds past before his smile became a genuine grin. “Yield, you strong little shit. I yield.”
I released him immediately and rolled up to my feet, ignoring the burning in my chest and the pull of muscles along my back. He clasped the hand I offered him and let me pull him to his feet.
“That was excellent,” he complimented me, as he gripped my shoulder. I didn’t wince. Even if the heavy-handed contact sent a vibration over my aching ribs. “You have been listening, more you’ve been plotting. I like the fact you laid a trap and let me walk right into it. Excellent job, don’t think it’ll happen twice. Now that I know you’re thinking, we’re going to up this training.”
Now I let myself grin as he let me go and moved off. It wasn’t until he ducked out of the ring that I frowned. “We’re done?”
“Unless you want to explain the ribs and the shiner,” he said with a pointed look.
I folded my arms. Not particularly.
“Then yes, we’re done. I told your dad I would train you and I will. I promised you that you’d know everything you needed before we were done. We’ll be mixing it up next week. Come in ready to get your ass kicked, but if the ribs are still bothering you—text me and we’ll skip.”
I’d protest but Jerry wasn’t kidding. He might be thirty years older and a good friend to my parents, but he didn’t go easy on me and I didn’t want him to at all.
Not when I’d learned a hell of a lot. I’d always been a good fighter.
When we were done, I was going to be goddamn unstoppable. “Thanks man.”
“See you next week,” he called. He didn’t have to remind me about my ribs, but I caught him stretching and flexing the arm I’d locked. I grinned. It was usually the other way around. I’d just grabbed my bag when my watch alarm buzzed.
Fuck. It was later than I thought. We hadn’t finished as early as I thought. I showered in the gym, and changed. The driver pulled up at the curb just as I stepped out. I tucked my sunglasses into place and smoothed down my tie before sliding into the back seat.
“Should I take the scenic route, sir?” Tom asked over his shoulder with the barest hint of a smile. “If we get there on time, you might shock your mother and ruin your reputation for always running late.”
“Ha ha.” Not that he was wrong. “It’s good to be unpredictable.”
Tom had been my driver for the last three years. In a few months, he’d get a break because I’d have my own license. I already knew how to drive. I literally just waited out the clock on our birthday.
I pulled out my phone to check for messages as Tom drove us to the restaurant. Mom and Dad always invited me to a late lunch, early dinner after my training sessions because I’d already be in the city. Afterwards, Tom would take me back to school.
Most of the time I was late.
The suit and tie would hide everything but the shiner. But it was hardly the first time I came to dinner with a black eye. It wouldn’t be the last either. All too soon, Tom pulled up at Formaggio’s, the Italian restaurant that was Mom’s favorite.
“See you in a couple of hours. You want manicotti or ravioli?”
“Ravioli,” Tom said with a grin. “Definitely the ravioli and some of those little Parmesan bread bits.”
“You got it.” I left my training bag in the car as I slid out. The valet nodded to the doorman who let me into the restaurant. I tugged my sunglasses off as soon as i was in.
“Mr. O’Connell,” Linda the hostess greeted me with a warm smile. She had a grandmother’s demeanor and always smelled like baked bread and sugar cookies. “Liam, your mother is here, it’s your father who is late today.”
“Always has to be one of us,” I told her. “I can get to the table.” I waved her off from escorting me as I tucked my phone into the inner jacket pocket where I’d feel it if it vibrated and headed across the family restaurant to the private booths. We practically owned one since Mom ate here at least once a week.
“Liam!” Surprise and delight filtered through her tone as I reached the table. “You’re on time!”
“I heard Dad was going to be late and didn’t want to leave a beautiful woman like you unescorted.”
“Oh for the love of God,” she muttered, swatting my arm as I braced a hand on the back of the booth to dip my head and press a kiss to her cheek. “You men. Both of you. As if I constantly have to beat off the suitors with a stick.”
“You don’t have to, Mom,” I promised. “We’ll happily take care of it for you.”
A man would have to be blind to not see how Mom looked at Dad and while this was a fun joke, because it never failed to make her blush or smile, I was dead serious.
I’d happily beat the shit out of anyone that looked at her the wrong way. Mom had changed my life. She loved me, she loved my mirror, and she’d always made room for him even if he didn’t want to be there full time.
They were family in all the right ways.
As I took a seat, a waiter appeared with my water and a glass of soda. I didn’t have to order, they always knew what I wanted.
“I suppose if I ask about the shiner, you’re just going to grin and say I should see the other guy?”
“I could,” I offered. “Or we could skip that conversation and you can tell me how your week is going. I know you and Dad were talking about heading over to Paris for fashion week, is that still on?”
“Liam, you couldn’t care less about fashion week.”
“But you love it,” I said. “You care a lot and that means I care about you being happy.”
Her laughter was a reward all its own. “You and your father, kissed by all that Irish charm.”
Sometimes. Or maybe I was just serious. I liked it when Mom was happy. She took the offer and filled me in on their travel plans. While I wasn’t big on fashion or retail, I soaked up every bit of information. Some day, I would take over the business so they could just do the things they loved.
They carved out a place in their world for me and I’d damn well take it and then make sure the world left them alone to do as they wished. I had a plan and they were a big part of it.
My parents. My mirror. My brothers.
The whole damn world would have to go through me to get any of them.
It was why I trained. It was why I studied. It was why I stayed focused.