Creed, p.3
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       Creed, p.3

           Kristen Ashley

  “Thanks, honey.”

  My eyes caught hers as I passed her.

  “You, me, them until the me in that equation isn’t needed anymore. Know it.”

  I watched her pull in a breath to control the tears.

  I rolled my eyes and muttered, “Such a girl,” and kept walking.

  “You are too, you know!” she shouted at my back as I sauntered across her yard toward my house.

  I lifted a hand and flicked out two fingers.

  “And by the way, you keep walking through my yard, you’re gonna wear my grass down to dirt!” she kept shouting.

  “Such a girl!” I shouted back, not bothering to turn. “Bitch, bitch, bitch.”

  “Whatever,” she yelled and I grinned.

  I hit my front door, pulled out my keys and watched as they drove away, both Leslie and Adam waving at me through their windows.

  I waved back and let myself in, so focused on Charlene and her kids, so exhausted from zero sleep, mind so consumed by what Knight shared in the meeting that I missed something I normally would never miss.

  The black Expedition parked right across the street from my house.

  I locked the door behind me and walked directly to my bedroom. When I hit the door, Gun, who was curled in a ball pressed at the bottom edge of my pillow, looked up at me.

  I was wrong earlier. I could count those I was tight with on three fingers.

  Knight, Charlene and my cat, Gunsmoke.

  She was white with a round head, kind of flat-ish ears and her fur was unbelievably thick. She looked like a big fat cat but she wasn’t. She just had a shit ton of short, thick fur. It also had a shimmer of gray at the very ends with vague gray rings on her tail. She was talkative. She was loving. She was superior. And she liked me and only me.

  Not true, she adored Adam.

  But she couldn’t bear Leslie and especially Theo. She might let them in when they weren’t so loud and manically active. Now it was just me and Adam, who was also full of exuberance and energy but not around Gun. He was quiet and gentle with Gun and she showed her appreciation.

  She watched me walk in, sit my ass on the side of the bed and pull off my boots and socks. She then scooted away when I got up, turned toward the bed, fell forward and did a face plant in it.

  And as I closed my eyes, sleep claiming me, I felt her curl up in the dent of my waist.

  I knew she was probably hungry. It was time for breakfast.

  But she was my Gun. She knew me. She had my back.

  She’d wait.

  Chapter Two

  The Cutest Boy in Town

  A cold, dark night in the hills of Kentucky, twenty-eight years earlier, Sylvie is six…

  I heard them yelling.

  “Fuck you!”

  “You wish, dirtbag! Fuck you! You piece of shit!”

  “Don’t call me a piece of shit!”

  “Don’t tell me what I can say!”

  “You eat my food, live in my house, suck my dick for diamonds, I’ll do whatever the fuck I want!”

  “I hope you have a good memory, asshole, because the last blowjob you got was the last you’ll get from me! I. Am. GONE!”

  Then I heard it, the thump and I jumped.

  I knew what that meant.

  I knew what it meant.

  I knew. I knew. I knew.

  She’d have bruises tomorrow and walk funny.

  I didn’t like it when she had bruises and walked funny.

  “Come on, Bootsie, come on,” I whispered and my doggie, a sweet, white, West Highland Terrier’s, head cocked as I waved to her on my way to the door. She didn’t want to come. She always tried to keep me in the room. She didn’t like the yelling either, I knew it. She was a dog, she couldn’t tell me but I still knew it. She also knew what would happen if we got caught. She was there and Daddy had even kicked her once when they found us.

  But I couldn’t stay. I couldn’t listen anymore. We’d only been caught a few times but we’d gone walking loads. I didn’t like getting caught but I heard the words in my head over and over again. I never forgot them. I didn’t need any more of the words.

  “NO!” I heard her screech.

  “Last blowjob I’ll get?” Daddy roared back. “We’ll see about that, bitch!”

  No more words.

  We had to go.

  “Come on,” I kept whispering and slid out the door, careful. I had to be careful. They couldn’t catch me.

  That would be bad.

  Bootsie followed.

  I did what I always did, being careful. Before I put on my jeans, boots and coat, I took off Bootsie’s collar. You could hear it jingling.

  They couldn’t hear it jingling.

  I closed my door and we crept through my Daddy’s big house, quiet, so quiet. I’d learned not to make a noise, where to put my feet so they’d always hit carpet even in the dark.

  We got to the backdoor and slid out, me and Bootsie.

  Quickly, as quick as we could, we crossed the backyard. I could see the stables off to the side, Daddy’s horses shut tight against the cold. The pool was covered for the winter. Snow on the ground. I always worried Bootsie would fall in the pool under that cover and not be able to get out.

  I hated winter.

  I didn’t like summers much either.

  Quiet, slow, I opened the back gate because it could creak if you didn’t do it careful-like. And I was always careful.

  I’d learned.

  I closed the gate behind us so they wouldn’t see it open. They might notice. They had before.

  Or Daddy had.

  That had been a bad night.

  So I closed the gate. Always.

  Bootsie and I moved through the snow and the trees. We did it fast. It felt good out there, the cold on my face, in my mouth, up my nose. I didn’t know why. It didn’t feel good normally, just nights like tonight.

  I liked the quiet after all that noise too. I special-liked it after I’d hear the thump.

  And I liked the cold up my nose.

  Breathing it in.

  And in.

  And in.

  Bootsie and I kept going through the woods and I wondered what would happen if we didn’t stop. Daddy hunted but he never took me. He said girls weren’t put on this earth to hunt. He said pretty little girls were put on this earth to do other things, like be pretty.

  Daddy said I was very pretty but that wasn’t something you did. That was just something you were.

  So I didn’t hunt with Daddy or fish with him or do any of the things he did with his buddies that sounded like all sorts of fun. I went to ballet classes which I hated. The teacher was mean and had a stick she’d bang against the wood floors and I didn’t like the sound and I had to wear stupid outfits.

  Daddy didn’t listen when I said I’d rather go fishing.

  Going fishing, he told me, wasn’t for pretty little girls either.

  But I liked the lake. I liked water. I liked boats.

  I liked all that a whole lot better than ballet.

  Daddy didn’t care.

  Maybe Bootsie and I could walk to the lake. Maybe we could even walk to the ocean. I’d been to the ocean once and I liked it. The sounds were good, the waves hitting the shore. I liked the sand under my feet, hard, tingly but still soft and fluffy. The sun felt better at the beach but that was because there was a breeze. It was hot and cool. I liked having both. Not hot and still. I didn’t like that.

  Bootsie and me could walk to the beach. We could walk all the way to the ocean. Just go on and on and on. Maybe we’d find someone nice who’d give us food. If it took a long time, we’d find berries. I found wild strawberries all the time when summer was new, sometimes I could even find raspberries when it was old. We’d find nice people and berries and walk to the beach. Just keep going until all we could see was water forever and ever.

  Bootsie would like the beach.

  Then again, Bootsie liked anywhere just as long as it had me.

; This was what I was thinking when my feet went out from under me. I heard and was terrified by the cry I let out and the sounds of Bootsie barking as I went down. I tried to stop, threw my arms out but I just rolled, my body banging against stuff, my coat catching on things, the sting of the snow hitting the skin of my face as I just kept going.

  I landed and it hurt because I landed against a tree.

  “Ouch,” I whispered, hearing Bootsie’s barking come toward me.

  We were far away. We’d never walked this far. I’d never noticed that ridge.

  We’d walked too far.

  Still, I worried Daddy would hear my cry and Bootsie’s barking.

  The tumble made my body feel funny. Tight but tingly. Still, I turned my head to see Bootsie jumping through the snow down the slope I’d fallen over, yapping the whole way.

  She needed to be quiet.

  Before I could say anything to her, tell her to be quiet, I felt something under my arms then I wasn’t lying in the snow anymore.

  I was up on my feet and being turned.

  This scared me so much I didn’t move, didn’t speak. Just looked at the heavy plaid shirt in front of me, knowing Daddy would find me. Knowing whoever caught me would call him. Knowing, when they did, Daddy would be mad.

  “Quiet, dog,” I heard a firm, low, boy’s voice say and my head tipped back.

  Then I didn’t move or speak for another reason.

  This was because, right in front of me, his hands still on my sides, was Tucker Creed.

  Tucker Creed.

  The cutest boy in town.

  Chapter Three

  Pretty Cat

  Present day…

  I opened my eyes and felt it.




  Someone was in the room with me and that someone was not Gun.

  I rolled quickly over the bed, angling my hips so I didn’t roll right over Gun as my hand went to the weapon still holstered on my belt at the small of my back.

  I fell over the side of the bed, getting my feet under me and coming up in a crouch immediately, hands up, arms resting on the bed, gun pointed across the room.

  I saw him and froze solid.

  No fucking way.

  No fucking way.

  Jesus, I was dreaming.

  Fuck, I had to be dreaming.

  His eyes on me, he was unarmed, his back to the wall, one knee bent, the sole of his boot also to the wall, arms crossed on his chest, he held my gaze steady, direct, intense and whispered, “Sylvie.”

  At the sound of my name coming from his lips, raw washed through me, a feeling I last felt drunk on my couch in Charlene’s arms on my birthday last year.

  A feeling I’d felt time and again before I learned how not to feel it anymore.

  A feeling that threatened to shred me now.

  A feeling that with lots of practice I buried.

  “Tucker Creed?” I asked.

  His arms came uncrossed only so he could lift his hands in the air which I was guessing was his confirmation that he was, indeed, Tucker Creed. My first love, my protector, my savior.

  My betrayer.

  He crossed his arms again and requested, “You wanna stop aiming your weapon at me?”

  Actually, no. I didn’t. I wanted to keep aiming my gun at him and I might also want to pull the trigger.

  I was not wrong last night. That was him in the Expedition.

  And I knew it was him watching me at the hotel. It was also his eyes I felt for the last month.

  I knew it.

  I fucking knew it.

  And I didn’t get it.

  Even though I preferred to aim my gun at him, I still stood. As I did I reached behind me to re-holster my gun at the same time keeping my eyes on him and asking, “What the fuck?”

  He looked to the bed then back to me before he shared, “Pretty cat.”

  I looked to the bed to see Gun sitting on her ass, tail sweeping the covers, curious eyes on Tucker Creed. It was the first time since I got her that I lamented my choice of cat over Rottweiler.

  I looked back to Creed and when I did it hit me that this fucking asshole had accepted all I had to give him, everything that was me, he took it then took off and left me to the wolves and pretty much the first thing he said to me was I had a pretty cat.

  “Are you shitting me?” I asked.

  His face changed and his mouth moved.

  “We gotta talk.”

  We had to talk?

  Sixteen years, out-of-the-blue he’s in my bedroom and he tells me I have a pretty cat and we had to talk.

  Oh yeah, he was totally fucking shitting me.

  I studied him.

  The last time I saw him he was twenty-three. Now, he was thirty-nine. One look and I saw either life had not been kind or it had been full of adventure of the dangerous variety.

  He’d always been tall, even as a little kid. Back in the day, when he was mine, or I thought he was mine, I’d loved that. He grew to be six foot one. He towered over me. He had broad shoulders, a wide chest, narrow hips, thick thighs. I loved that too. The power of his body. Growing up with him, watching him hone it and learn how to use it.

  He’d had a rough life, like I did, since he was born. So rough, we used to discuss in a way that was a joke but also wasn’t but it was a release which one of us had it rougher. We never came to a conclusion. He’d learned to take care of himself. I’d got him early so I learned he’d take care of me. Being big, learning fast, he was good at both, taking care of himself and me.

  Or, I thought that too.

  In the end, I’d been wrong.

  Now, he was still tall but he was broader, wider, he’d bulked out and not a little bit. He wasn’t a behemoth but one look at him, simply his size would make some men ill-at-ease and most would leave a wide berth.

  But there was more.

  His skin was tanned, leathery, creases fanned from the sides of his eyes worn there not through smiling. There were more at the sides of his mouth, along his forehead.

  He had a scar that scored through his upper lip, mid right side. He had another one that slashed over his cheekbone, up his temple and disappeared into his hair but you could see it didn’t end there. This was because his brown hair was white in a thin stripe along the side of his head leading from the scar at his temple and stopping where his skull curved to the back. It wasn’t gray with age. In fact, he had no gray in his hair even at his age. Someone had got him good with a knife, meant harm and got interrupted in their endeavor of attempting to kill him.

  No, life had not been kind to Tucker Creed.

  I didn’t know what to think of this. The only thought that came to mind was good.

  He had on a plaid shirt in light blues, grays and greens mixed with white over a white t-shirt, faded jeans and light brown boots that had an almost yellowish tinge to the suede. His clothes were clean, they hung on him well but they were not new or fashionable. He bought them for the purposes of covering his body, comfort and nothing else.

  His hair was a mess and I felt a sting looking at it because it always was a mess, even back in the day. He rarely got it cut, it hung well past his collar and was always flopping in his eyes. That was no different now, except it wasn’t flopping in his eyes. Though I knew, if he bent his neck forward even a fraction of an inch, it would.

  Although he wore the years that passed from top to toe, his eyes had not changed. Sky blue, bright, the color so stark in his tan, rugged face that it seemed to glimmer.

  Eyes I saw in my dreams, even now, if I admitted it to myself.

  Eyes I saw in my head on the rare occasion I let my mind wander and it went there, to the glory days tarnished with betrayal.

  Eyes that I remembered trusting as he looked down at me and moved inside me. The first man I took and when I did I was sure he’d be the last.

  He was not.

  Not by a long shot.

  “Were they going for the eye?” I asked, di
pping my head toward his, my eyes on the scar on his cheekbone and I noted his entire body gave a weird jolt.

  Then he answered, “Brain but their path was through the eye.”

  My gaze moved from his scar to his. “You jerked.”

  “I like my brain as it is.”

  “Good call,” I noted.

  He began to push from the wall. “Sylvie –”

  Oh no. I didn’t know why he was here. What I did know was that we were not going to do this.

  The time to do this was sixteen years ago.

  The time we would never fucking do this was now.

  I began to move around the bed. “Got a cat to feed, a shower to take and shit to do. What I don’t got is time to talk.”

  Especially not with you, I finished but only in my head.

  “Sebring’s meeting is at two and before that, we gotta talk.”



  I stopped dead and looked at him. “What?”

  I asked the question even though I knew the answer.

  Last night, Knight had told Rhash and me he’d heard rumblings of trouble. A takeover.

  The work I did for Knight was rarely trouble. It was legwork, checks on clients and girls. Providing security, presence, escorting girls to and from appointments. Sometimes stuff went down in his club and he needed a team to take care of. Shit happened and did, if someone was stupid enough to try it or thought they could pay or bully the girls into keeping their mouths shut after they’d misused them. But usually work for Knight was a mundane payday.

  The meeting that included the boys had mostly been Knight wanting to know how the shit with Serena got so fucked. Live had reported he’d done the routine and didn’t cut corners. Knight had interrogated the rest of the team about all new clients and their background checks.

  After that, he’d dismissed everyone but Rhash and me and shared that he had a gut feeling Serena was the beginning. He’d had someone come to him on the hush-hush saying they were hearing something was brewing. An old nemesis was back in town, Knight had fucked him over years ago and he was setting up to fuck back. Knight’s brother was also back in town and although he seemed to be towing the family line, they’d had issues and Nick, Knight’s brother, used to work for Knight. He knew the operation and Knight wouldn’t put it past him to sell information.

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