Creed, p.34
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       Creed, p.34

           Kristen Ashley
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  I was ecstatic about this decision. First, she’d be close to a number of people who would have her back. Second, her family lived in a burg that was a good haul from Phoenix but it was a fuckuva lot closer than Denver.

  Douchebag Dan was not ecstatic (which made me more ecstatic). He’d quit his job to start his new life and now was struggling. He wanted his piece of the house and he was balking at child support. On the flipside of that, Knight’s piranha attorney wanted to assist him in finding a way where he could fuck himself and the man was a master at this task.

  Douchebag Dan was screwed. Knight’s attorney was already eating him alive, taking his time, making it tortuous and enjoying every second.

  So was I.

  Charlene hated it being ugly and the kids were subdued in response to their Mom trying but not exactly succeeding in hiding her heartbreak. So I hid the fact I thought it was the fucking bomb that Dan was squirming. It would be over soon, she and the kids would be with people who cared about them, she had a job, the extra income from Creed’s work and Dan would be forced to bend over and grab his ankles.

  All was right with that world.

  It was also right in mine. Chelle had immediately agreed to Creed getting the kids more when he returned to Phoenix. He’d have them every other weekend and Tuesday night through Thursday after school each week. When we went down there last weekend, it was clear the kids were thrilled with this.

  I had been right. Chelle reported to Creed that when she told Kara and Brand that she and Creed had decided they’d spend more time with their Dad, Kara thawed toward her mother. She just wanted more Creed time. Chelle giving it to her and Creed sitting them down and making it clear that was a decision he and Chelle made because he wanted to spend more time with them and Chelle wanted them to have more of their Dad made her the good guy for once.

  Further, Creed finally accepting that Chelle held some guilt for the collapse of their marriage and letting go of the burden he held meant that their relationship had also changed. They didn’t phone each other every day to have a gab but the baggage weighing on them was gone. It wasn’t hard to feel the ease that generated not only between those two but the kids sensed it too.

  What made really fucking good infinitely better was that Creed was, in his badass way, over the fucking moon about all of this. He’d see his kids more, shit was sorted with his ex and he was going to have me.

  Never, not in my life, not once, had I seen him this relaxed and happy. I knew why but that didn’t mean he didn’t tell me that he not only had it all but he seriously got off on the fact that, for the first time in sixteen years, our future was bright.

  I loved that, fucking adored that he finally had that. He was a good man. He deserved it.

  So, outside the occasional nic-fit, life was good.

  As for me, Creed being pushy as well as bossy meant that, twice a week, I was seeing a therapist. I’d had five appointments and the first three didn’t go so well because I thought it was hogwash. I felt that all I really needed was Creed and eventually I’d work through my shit and get on with life.

  At the end of my third appointment, my therapist told me he sensed I thought it was hogwash and suggested I didn’t trust him, thus he couldn’t help me and asked me if I’d like him to refer me to someone else.

  I dug his honesty and the fact that he wasn’t willing to take my money even if I was shutting him out so he’d never help me but still get paid for it.

  In other words, he broke through.

  The next two appointments weren’t great either but only because reliving that shit sucked.

  That said, there was something about unloading it on someone objective, watching the expressions on his face mirror some of the shit I felt bottled inside, not having to worry about what I said or how I reacted hurting him or affecting him like I would if I shared it with Creed or even Knight or Charlene that was such a massive relief, it was hard to express.

  What it was, was instantaneous.

  After the first appointment where I shared, I left feeling almost fucking giddy. The next, the same. My doctor warned me that when I began to dig further into what happened in order to move past it, I would have times when I would not feel giddy. Where it would be difficult, draining and even painful. I got that. It was just good to know that therapy actually worked. I was in the hands of someone who knew what he was doing and it was about me and only me, unloading a huge wad of crap and I didn’t have to drag anyone I loved into it.

  Not to mention, I had not had a single dream since I decided to trust my psychologist which, in and of itself, was worth the money.

  So all was good in Creed and Sylvie Land. My house was sold. My shit was going to be sold. Charlene and the kids were going to be in a good place. Most of my jobs were sorted and Charlene had billed so those files could be closed. Creed’s shit was sorted. And, after tonight when hopefully we’d tie the bow on Hawk’s job, I figured I had about a week of crap to deal with then I was in my girl and driving down to Phoenix to finally, fucking, fucking finally begin my life with Creed.

  I couldn’t wait.

  So I wanted this done.

  Now.

  I lifted the martini glass I’d asked the bartender to fill with cranberry juice, took a sip, put it down and murmured into my microphone, “This dress sucks.”

  “Shut it, Sylvie,” Hawk ordered in my ear.

  I didn’t shut it.

  I muttered, “And I’m sitting down and these shoes still hurt.”

  “Quit bitchin’,” Hawk replied.

  “I didn’t sign up for this crap,” I told him which was a lie. It was anything goes with my jobs and this wasn’t the first time I tricked myself out. Usually it was to be a honey trap though I didn’t take that role all the way, ever.

  This time, it was different.

  “You’re gettin’ paid, babe, and I bought the fuckin’ dress and shoes you get to keep. Stop moaning,” Hawk returned.

  Like I would ever wear this dress again.

  The shoes… that was a different story.

  I didn’t tell Hawk that.

  “I hope you read the fine print in my contract that says if I have to show cleavage and wear shoes with a heel over three inches, my rate doubles,” I shot back.

  “Baby,” another voice came into my ear and this was my man’s, “shut the fuck up, concentrate and don’t sit there muttering into your tits makin’ it look like you’re waitin’ to fuck over some asshole. He sees you doin’ that shit, these guys we’re hunting will take you out and tonight is not my night to lose you.”

  That made me shut up and my eyes slid down the bar to take in the reflection of Creed sitting alone across the restaurant in a semi-circular booth with a martini glass in front of him too. He had his hand resting on the table next to the glass and the liquid was so high, I knew he hadn’t brought that glass to his lips.

  I was not surprised. Even undercover, he wasn’t a vodka man. He was all about beer and tequila.

  Like me.

  His eyes were aimed at the room, not me and, since I didn’t have anything better to do, I felt it safe to study him in the mirror.

  An excellent way to pass the time.

  He was in a suit and I’d never seen him in a suit, not even back in the day.

  Needless to say, he rocked it.

  Hawk didn’t buy that suit for him, it was Creed’s. It was also made for him as in, literally. And, earlier that night, when I touched the lightweight wool fabric, it was so plush and fabulous, I wanted to rip off my clothes, rip off his jacket, wrap it around me and roll around in it naked.

  Alas, this option wasn’t open to me. Still, I told Creed and I did this with intent. As suspected, when I imparted this information on him, Creed’s eyes flashed and then they promised I’d get that opportunity, just later.

  Another reason I wanted this job done.

  He also had on a tailored shirt, opened at the collar, in a color that matched his eyes. This brought into stark rel
ief not only his tanned face and the strong, muscled line of his throat but also his rugged, scarred features. It too was made for him and fit so well, it hugged his abs, ribs, chest and shoulders in a way that, if it breathed, I’d be jealous.

  He had his gun in one side of his shoulder holster, my gun in the other, a .22 in an ankle holster and a knife in his other boot.

  In other words, he was seriously strapped and that was good since he was the man who had my back.

  After telling me off, I heard him say to Hawk even as I watched him through the mirror and saw his lips did not move, “Do you have any visual at all?”

  “Negative,” Hawk answered.

  Creed and I were inside. I was the contact. Creed my backup, who would eventually follow me, hopefully undetected, to where the “deal” would go down.

  Hawk and his boys were outside. Hawk on the prowl with his main man, Jorge, and another of his crew, Mo. He also had men in a surveillance van and eyes on the street, the back alley, the entrance of a nearby parking garage and the men’s bathroom.

  I suspected (accurately) that Hawk was even more ready than me for this to go down. I suspected this because Creed and I had come in on the tail end of a job Hawk had been working for five months.

  Apparently, some socialite in LA thought of her Mexican nanny as part of the family. She learned that her nanny’s sister, who had made a connection in Mexico to try to gain entry into the USA, had disappeared in the middle of attempting to seal this deal. Understandably, the nanny was beside herself and the socialite pulled Hawk in.

  He investigated and found this happened often over the border to Mexican nationals so desperate to leave or to join loved ones that they didn’t check out the folks they handed their cash over to and thus they lost their money and their freedom.

  Hawk wasted no time and got a lock on the slavery ring and the sister and it was sheer luck she was in Denver, Hawk’s home turf.

  Extracting her safely was another matter which took frustrating amounts of time because it also took extreme amounts of preparation and finesse.

  The part, or one of them, that made this job delicate was that, considering these folks were trafficking humans in the US of A, local cops had aligned with a federal task force to take down the entire ring which was operating multi-state. On the other hand, Hawk only had one mission, to recover the sister. So the task force wanted Hawk to back off. Hawk wanted to get the sister back to her family. There had been some butting of heads but Hawk Delgado was the kind of man who didn’t back down.

  So he didn’t.

  Enter me, posing as a madam of sorts on the buy for new talent. It had taken weeks and lots of work to build my false reputation as a viable buyer. Now that was done, I was to meet the contact tonight and he would take me to where they held their stock of available humans. I would confirm the girl was there, make the deal and skedaddle then Hawk and the boys would swoop in and recover the girl.

  Easy.

  I hoped.

  “Visual. Front. Street. Mercedes parking three cars down from door,” Mo grunted into his microphone.

  “Go time,” Hawk growled.

  I sucked in a breath then lifted my glass to take a sip. My eyes slid back down the bar to the mirror where I could see Creed. His eyes were on me, intent, burning into my back.

  He jerked up his chin.

  I tipped my lips up slightly.

  His eyes went to the door.

  I put my glass to the bar and discreetly plucked the bud out of my ear, reached in my cleavage and grabbed my microphone, ripping it and the tape off and away.

  I set them beside me on the bar and instantly, a waitress Hawk primed slid by, hand out. She covered the apparatus, walked behind me and it was gone.

  I put my fingers to the slim, gold watch at my wrist, flipped a tiny switch on the side and the microphone engaged. Hawk had given me that watch. It had a microphone and GPS.

  They’d pat me down, definitely. I had to go in unwired, no communications but I had Creed as a tail and the watch Hawk gave me. They could hear what was happening with me and they would know where I was at all times. I could not hear what they were up to nor know where they were.

  I impatiently started to tap the toe of the foot hanging from my crossed leg and studied the watch.

  Two minutes later, I heard, “Collette?”

  My head turned and my eyes hit the man who acted as a middle man to sell humans.

  Motherfucker.

  I buried my sneer, smiled a small smile and extended my hand.

  It was go time.

  * * * * *

  The minute I hit the warehouse, I knew I was fucked.

  This was because I was meeting the principals and amongst them was Nick Fucking Sebring.

  Shit, shit, fuck.

  His eyes came to me and they widened momentarily as I braced, mentally preparing to run and about to scan the environs for a makeshift weapon or cover I could use until I could get my lips to my watch and alert Creed and Hawk to the situation.

  But as I thought this, I saw his face go blank. He didn’t call attention to me and stared at me like he’d never met me before when he had, numerous times. I’d been working for Knight for years and Nick used to work for him too so our paths had crossed.

  Fuck, how had Creed and I not clocked this?

  Fuck, fuck.

  Creed said Nick didn’t keep good company but seriously, these were nasty motherfuckers and we’d been all over his ass, Creed for over a month.

  Seriously. How had we not clocked this?

  “I take it you’re Collette?” one of the other dudes said to me on his approach.

  I took a step back, surveying him, cold shoulder. There was no rule saying I had to be a friendly flesh peddler. I also did a quick head count. With the middle man, the leader of the gang who was approaching and Nick, there were three other men.

  Too many.

  Fuck.

  When I didn’t offer mine, he dropped his hand, my mind scrambled for some code to tell Creed and Hawk there was a possibility I’d be made and my eyes went to Nick.

  “How many people need to be here for us to make this deal?” I asked, giving Creed and Hawk the information that the bad guys were fully staffed.

  “That gentleman is a new recruit, he’s in training,” the dude answered and my eyes cut to him.

  “If you were using this transaction for training purposes, I should have been informed.”

  “From the background check we did on you, you’re aware we’re exceedingly cautious. We’ve done an equally exhaustive check on him. You have nothing to be concerned about,” he replied.

  “I’m exceedingly cautious as well and I don’t like surprises,” I fired back.

  He inclined his head. “That’s understandable. Would you like to terminate now?”

  Shit, shit, fuck.

  If I didn’t see those girls, Hawk’s entire operation was a bust or he had to follow through, maybe not get his girl but definitely get a lot of shit from the Feds and possibly fuck their operation.

  I decided to call his bluff, held his eyes, lifted my chin slightly in an affirmative and replied, “Thank you for your time.”

  I turned, again lifted my chin to the middle man and began to make my departure, hoping like all fuck they needed a buyer and bad. I didn’t know the market for human trafficking. It could be a buyer’s market. If my luck was bad, it could be a seller’s.

  “Collette,” he called.

  Thank God.

  I turned and leveled my eyes on him.

  “Would you be more comfortable if Mr. Cardinal wasn’t here?” he asked, indicating Nick.

  Mr. Cardinal?

  What the fuck?

  “Or,” the man went on, “would you be more comfortable, considering we’re aware that Mr. Cardinal is a confidential informant for the FBI, that we dispatch him in your presence rather than after our deal is done as we’d planned to do?”

  Terrific.

  My eyes moved to N
ick who had gone pale, which probably partially had to do with his obviously having been made but mostly it had to do with the man standing behind him with a gun held to the back of his head.

  Shit.

  Shit.

  Fuck!

  God, please, please, God, let Creed and Hawk have heard that in the microphone.

  “I’m not fond of mess,” I told the man.

  He inclined his head again. “Then we’ll take him away while we see to business.”

  To that, hurriedly but trying not to sound hurried, I stated, “I’m also not fond of something happening I can’t see nor being involved even remotely in felonies that have nothing to do with me. I have a business. I’m seeing to business. We conduct our business, we’re done. I don’t want to be dragged into your mess. When I’m not here, do what you wish. That’s your business but I’ll ask you to put a hold on it while we complete our transaction.”

  He inclined his head yet again and that was beginning to grate on my nerves but I couldn’t concentrate on that.

  I had to buy Nick time and I had to hope that first, Hawk, Creed and the boys were adjusting the operation not only to recover the girl but to extract Nick. And second, that Nick was somehow wired so whoever he was working with knew he was in jeopardy because he sure as fuck needed the cavalry.

  “So you’d like him to witness the transaction?” the man asked and I arched my brows.

  “I’d like to stop talking about your problems, complete the transaction and be on my way,” I answered.

  “As you wish,” he muttered and his whole gentlemanly act when selling humans made my gut clench which was no good since it was already in knots because this shit was fucked. There were more of them than I expected, I had no weapon and I had no way to communicate to Nick that I would have his back.

  Instead, I gave him a blank look as I followed the head honcho speaker of the group deeper into the warehouse.

  “It’s surprising you’d come here alone, Collette,” the man remarked as we walked and I felt the others following us.

 
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