Creed, p.4
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       Creed, p.4

           Kristen Ashley
 

  Knight was also concerned about a mole.

  That meant, he’d told us, he’d brought in outside talent. Someone objective. Someone not on the team.

  Someone Knight wanted me to partner with to investigate Knight’s operation and assess the danger, inside and out, and neutralize it if we found something while Rhash kept an eye on business.

  The outside talent Knight brought in was Tucker Creed.

  “Talked with Sebring after your meeting earlier,” he stated, confirming what I knew. “He told me he told you. After that, I shared with him we had history and I was gonna have a word with you ‘cause if we’re gonna work together, we need to talk about that history.”

  I stared at him, my brain moving fast.

  I did what I did for Knight Sebring because I knew how it felt, to spread your legs for someone because you were forced to take him for whatever reason forcing you to do it. I had no Knight Sebring to protect me from his bullshit, his demands, his temper. I had no Rhash or Live or Tiny to swoop in and teach him a lesson on one of the numerous occasions he did something I did not like.

  There was no denying Knight and his boys operated outside the bounds of law.

  In my mind, there was also no denying what they did was providing a needed service.

  Until I learned the hard way how to protect myself, I would have done anything for the kind of protection they provided the girls.

  Now I provided that protection. I got paid for it. I broke the law to do it. I conspired to break the law, making it safe for them to do it. And I did not give one fuck.

  This meant, if there was some asshole out there that wanted to take over Knight’s operation, I had to do what I had to do to stop it.

  Even take a partner.

  I was down with that.

  Until now.

  “We’re not working together,” I told him, moving out of the room and feeling him following me.

  “He considered assigning this to you but you’re tight with his team, might not be able to be objective but more, Sebring doesn’t want you out there on your own,” Creed said to my back.

  “He’s protective. He’ll get over it,” I said to the bathroom as I walked into it.

  I went right to my toothbrush.

  Creed stopped in the doorway and leaned a shoulder against the jamb.

  “Sebring strikes me as a man who likes things to go the way he wants ‘em to go,” Creed noted and he was not wrong.

  “I’ll have a chat with him,” I muttered to the basin as I grabbed my toothbrush and turned on the faucet.

  His voice changed, it was deep, there was roughness to it with an edge of smooth and that was also a change. It had been deep and smooth back in the day. Now that hint of rough said he smoked. It said he drank. It said he lived as jagged as his voice.

  But when it came at me just then, there was a vein of soft that brought back the raw.

  “Sylvie, we need to –”

  I turned my head to him, toothpaste in hand and cut him off to declare, “I don’t do partners.”

  “You did,” he returned immediately, his eyes watching me closely. “But he died.”

  That sent raw through me again for two reasons.

  One, because he was right. My partner died and he did it leaving a wife, a kid and one on the way. Stupid fuck enlisted. Enlisted when we were at fucking war. “Gonna do my bit,” he said. Fucking fucker got out of the Marines, set up a life where there was a possibility, not a probability, that people would shoot at him and then he went back to the probability, re-enlisting and got himself shot dead.

  The other reason was because I knew Creed had checked me out and I didn’t like that. I didn’t like him knowing anything about me. I figured, Knight hired him, he was good at what he did.

  So he knew.

  Everything.

  I turned back to the mirror and loaded up my toothbrush. “Yeah, I did. He died. Learned that lesson. Now I don’t do partners.”

  “This shit is what Knight thinks it is, the ride’s gonna be bumpy. You need someone at your back,” he replied.

  Maybe but it sure as hell would not be him.

  Before shoving the toothbrush in my mouth, my eyes went to the mirror and I returned, “Need it, I got Knight or Rhash,” then I started brushing.

  Creed appeared in the mirror behind me and my eyes went up to his in the mirror.

  “He might have a mole. As far as his team’s concerned, it’s business as usual for both of them,” he told me something Knight explained last night. “Banks nor Sebring are available to you.”

  I shrugged.

  “Sylvie, I’ve already been workin’ this job a month. I know that team better than you do.”

  That pissed me off enough to pull the brush out, spit out foam then catch his eyes in the mirror again. “No fucking way. You may think you do and they may have secrets they haven’t shared but no amount of digging you could do in a month tells you more than what I know working side by side with those guys for years. You’ve lived the life, Creed, it’s written all over you. You know that. You had something on one of them, Knight would already have that intel. So you don’t have shit.” After delivering that, I shoved the brush back in and kept at my teeth.

  “You’re right,” he confirmed. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t something to get.”

  I shrugged again.

  “You know what hangs in the balance,” he stated and I held his eyes.

  I knew but he told me anyway.

  “Scenario one, Knight keeps business open and another girl gets it worse than Serena last night. He keeps it open, that shit escalates and girls get hurt. Scenario two, he shuts it down. Okay for him but if he can’t neutralize the threat in a timely manner that means, first, he’s gotta let boys go. He doesn’t need a team that big when there’s no girls to look after. Second, the girls are fucked. They got no jobs, they got no money then they look for alternate ways to get paid without a man or a five foot two powerhouse at their back. You know Sebring. He won’t put them in danger. He’ll shut down. That club turns over a mint, he’ll survive. Those girls won’t.”

  I stopped brushing, spit, rinsed and looked back to his eyes in the mirror as I shoved my brush in the holder. “So I’ll find the mole, if there is one, and I’ll track down the trouble and put it out of commission. You’ve been looking into me, Creed. You know what I’m capable of. This assignment is not outside my skill level.”

  “Two working together is safer and shuts this shit down faster than one,” he shot back.

  Unfortunately, this was true.

  “Then I know a couple guys who I can work with,” I returned. “They’re local. They can hit the ground running. I’ll talk with Knight about them.”

  “Again, I’ve had the job a month. I don’t have to hit the ground running, Sylvie. Right now, it’s you who’s catching up.”

  Fuck.

  Fuck!

  Exactly how was this happening?

  Exactly how in the fuck was I standing in my bathroom, brushing my teeth, Tucker Fucking Creed at my back after I hadn’t seen him for sixteen fucking years, talking to me about partnering on a job with him and not groveling or writhing in pain after I kicked his ass?

  I knew how.

  Because that was then but that was over and this was now.

  This was now.

  That was over.

  “Fine,” I agreed and watched a weird flare in his eyes but I ignored that, turned to face him and kept talking. “Got shit to do. We’ll meet with Knight, after, you’ll catch me up.”

  “No, now we gotta get shit outta the way so, as we work, it doesn’t get in the way.”

  “No shit to get out of the way,” I replied and moved out from in front of him and deeper into the bathroom.

  This got me another eye flare which wasn’t weird. It was annoyed.

  “Sylvie –”

  I shook my head. “I don’t just work for Knight, you know. I got things I gotta get done. It’s late. I don
t have a lot of time. You wanna help out, you can feed Gun on your way out.”

  “I ride along on your shit, we talk before the meeting which means after we can get down to it.”

  This was, for anyone other than Tucker Creed, an excellent suggestion.

  Since it was Tucker Creed, I shook my head. “Not gonna happen. I work alone.” He opened his mouth to speak so I finished quickly, “Except for this gig for Knight, I work alone.”

  He didn’t move.

  I did, to put my hands to the hem of my shirt and I did this as I asked, “You not moving, does that mean you aren’t gonna help out and feed my cat?”

  “I know,” he whispered and for the first time in a long time I had to hold back a flinch.

  But I managed it and kept the mask in place.

  “No shit?” I asked.

  “We need to talk, Sylvie.” He leaned forward an inch. “He told me –”

  Oh no.

  Fuck no.

  I whipped my shirt off and tossed it aside. Creed stopped speaking abruptly and his eyes dropped to my torso as my hands moved to my belt.

  “Learn this about me, partner, and I suggest you do it now,” I told him. “I do not go back. Eyes ahead. Feet moving forward. I don’t ever fucking go back. I don’t talk about it. I don’t think about it.” I undid the button on my jeans and pulled the zip down. “You were in my life a long time ago. I’ve lived two full lifetimes since then, each entirely different. I like the one I’m in now. I’m not going back to the ones before. I didn’t like them as much.”

  His eyes shot back to mine and his lips whispered, “Sylvie –”

  It was my turn to lean in an inch. “Deal breaker. You’re all fired up to discuss that shit, this is done. I’ll tell Knight to find you another partner. He’ll understand. We’re tight. He’ll give me that and not one thing will change between us. You keep your mouth shut about that shit, eyes forward, feet moving ahead, mind on the job, we’ll be fine.”

  His gaze moved over my face and it took its time.

  Then he said quietly, “You’re serious.”

  “Serious as shit,” I replied immediately then pulled down my jeans.

  I stepped out of them and straightened, hands to my panties.

  “You gonna hang while I shower?” I asked on a tilt of my head.

  His eyes were locked to mine. “I’m ride-along with you,” he declared.

  “Man, I work alone.”

  “Not anymore.”

  I took my fingers out of the waistband of my panties and planted my hands on my hips. “Deal is, Knight’s job and only Knight’s job.”

  “Deal is, we’re partners. We learn to work together so we don’t get dead workin’ together. That means we take every opportunity to work together. Sebring’s footin’ the bill and you got yourself extra hands, eyes and brains on your other jobs that have shit to do with him. Honest to God, you gonna turn your back on that?”

  “Yes,” I returned instantly.

  “Then that tells me that hard shell with sharp edges you grew isn’t about life but about protecting yourself,” he shot back. “Which means you won’t let me in because of the shit we share. That means it’s between us. And that means, we need to take each other’s back, with that shit between us, we’re fucked. And that… partner, means, if that shit’s between us, you aren’t lookin’ forward. That’s bullshit. You got your eyes trained way the fuck back.”

  Fucking fuck, fuck, fuck.

  I held his gaze.

  Then I told him, “Full can. Wet food. Cat bowls in the cupboard by the stove. She likes a clean one every day. And, by the way, I get out of the shower, before we hit the road, toast would be good. Don’t skimp on the butter and ignore the grape jelly. The kids eat that. I like orange marmalade and don’t skimp on that either.”

  His head jerked to the side. “The kids?”

  “Don’t fuck with me, partner, you know exactly who I’m talking about.”

  “Adam, Leslie and Theo. Neighbor’s kids,” he stated immediately. “Then there’s Josh and Dora, your dead partner’s kids.”

  Oh yeah. He’d looked into me but he was still fishing.

  I didn’t know what to make of that so I didn’t make anything of it.

  “You get more visitors than the Pope,” he remarked.

  Yeah, he’d looked into me.

  My eyes went down to see Gun slink into the room, rubbing her fluffy side against Creed’s jeans-covered ankle.

  Damn cat. Figured. She only liked me and Adam and now, apparently, Creed. She didn’t give the side-rub to anyone she didn’t like.

  Shit.

  I got rid of this asshole, me and my cat were having a chat.

  I looked back up at Creed.

  “Cat’s hungry,” I reminded him then I put my hands in my panties and yanked them down.

  By the time I straightened, Creed was gone and I just caught Gun’s hind end rounding the door.

  I didn’t bother closing the bathroom door to take my shower. He’d seen it before. It’d been years but he’d seen it. So had a number of other men.

  Anyway, if he had a mind to my privacy, he’d keep well away and I needed that right about then.

  Before I stepped in, I shouted, “Don’t forget the coffee! Strong!”

  “Strong!” Tucker Fucking Creed shouted back.

  Tucker Fucking Creed making coffee in my kitchen.

  Jesus.

  I got in the shower and kept it buried where it should be. No tequila. No bourbon. Nothing would work it out.

  The job would get done then we would be done.

  Then he would be gone and I would move on.

  Again.

  * * * * *

  We stood in my front yard, me in a tight, ribbed, grass green tank, low rider jeans, wide brown belt, gun at the back and brown cowboy boots with a piece of toast in one hand, a travel mug of coffee in the other, Creed carrying another one of my mugs.

  My mug in Creed’s long-fingered, veined hand with the stark, pale nicks of scars around his knuckles. Strong hands. Capable hands. Experienced hands.

  Christ.

  “Uh… no,” I told him. “I drive. You ride.”

  “No offense, Sylvie, but you drive like a lunatic and the interior of your car was made for people like you, small who like to make a lot of noise. I’m not folding into that death trap. I drive. You ride.”

  I stared at him. “That is not gonna happen.”

  “Yeah, it is.”

  “No, it isn’t.”

  “Not me that’s got shit to do,” he reminded me.

  Fuck!

  “Seein’ as you’re part Grandpa, I’ll check my foot,” I allowed.

  “And you’ll stop at stop signs.”

  I shrugged. “Sure.”

  “That would be, come to a complete halt.”

  Fuck!

  “God granted me peripheral vision, Creed. I can see someone coming. I’ll slow and roll through like normal. You’ll be fine.”

  “Jesus, Sylvie, the slow and roll doesn’t work. A stop sign is put up for a reason.”

  I cocked my head to the side and narrowed my eyes. “When did you get a stick planted up your ass?”

  He cocked his head to the side and regarded me closely. “We talkin’ about our pasts now?”

  Fuck, fuck, fuck!

  “Okay, I’ll stop at stop signs,” I gave in.

  “And you won’t turn on red if there’s a sign that says you can’t turn on red,” he kept pushing.

  He so totally followed me.

  Often.

  Shit.

  My stare turned to a glare, I bit off a huge chunk of buttery, marmalade coated toast and said sharply through it, “Fine.”

  “Speed limit, as in, you’ll go the.”

  I chewed, swallowed and asked through slitted eyes, “Jesus, are you a Grandpa?”

  “Daughter’s twelve, son’s ten so no, not yet, thank fuck.”

  I didn’t even blink. It cost me but I didn
t even blink.

  Fuck, he had kids.

  Fuck, that killed.

  “Ten miles over,” I offered.

  “Five miles,” he countered.

  “Seven.”

  He grinned and I didn’t blink again but that killed too. With me, he used to grin a lot, smile a lot, laugh a lot. Even so, each one was precious. He’d been beautiful. All of those transformed his features so he was magnificent.

  Age and scars hadn’t changed that. Not even a little bit. He still had great, even, strong white teeth. Fantastic lips. Strong, expressive features.

  Magnificent.

  “Deal,” he grunted and moved to my girl.

  I moved to her too and juggled my breakfast (even though it was past noon) in order to get in. With the coffee between my thighs and the toast between my teeth, I started her up and pulled out maybe a hair faster than was needed.

  That said, that was how I usually pulled out.

  “Jesus,” Creed muttered.

  I bit back a smile, changed gears, shot forward on a screech of tires then took a bite out of my toast and drove one handed.

  “Right, catch me up,” I ordered.

  “You first,” he replied.

  I glanced to the side.

  Shit, Tucker Creed was sitting beside me in my car.

  Shit!

  I buried that and asked, “Me first, what?”

  “You first. I’m ride-along, maybe it would be good to know what I’m ridin’ into.”

  “Hit The Retreat. Check in at the office. If there’s time, check in on Serena. After that, Knight,” I told him.

  “You still on The Retreat job?” he asked, exposing just how much he’d looked into me which meant just how often he’d followed me.

  I’d never tagged a tail.

  Damn.

  “Man, I’m always on The Retreat job,” I informed him. “Every third asshole who cheats on his wife takes his bitch to The Retreat. My ass is in the parking lot there so often, management suggested they paint my name in a parking spot so it’ll be reserved.”

  “Not good for business, a PI’s name in a parking spot,” Creed muttered.

  “That’s why I declined. That’s me, looking out for the local adult resort.”

  I heard his chuckle and it was different than I remembered too. Not just deep and smooth, the rough was in it. It made it sexier. A lot fucking sexier.

 
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