Creed, p.5
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       Creed, p.5

           Kristen Ashley


  “You ever been there?” he asked.

  “Where?” I asked back.

  “The Retreat,” he answered.

  “Partner, were you talking in your sleep thirty seconds ago?”

  “I meant as a client, not an investigator.”

  Oh yeah, I had. Rubber mattresses. Fake silk sheets. Velvet comforters. Mirrors on the ceiling. Hot tubs in every room. “Environment chambers” where you could fuck in a gentle rain, breeze or both. Swings. Love machines. Steam rooms. Twelve channels of porn. Rooms available at matinee rates.

  I’d so totally been there.

  “So we are talking about our pasts?” I asked and he was silent. “Advice,” I went on. “You feel like an adventure, call the top in the environment chamber. Seems like it’d be awesome but that water hitting your face all the time is distracting.”

  That got more silence, which worked for me because it meant he shut up.

  It stopped working for me when it went on a long time. He had a month of a possible hostile takeover of Knight’s business to catch me up on and he couldn’t do it in sign language when my eyes were on the road. This was because I couldn’t see his hands and I didn’t know sign language.

  I glanced his way again, mouth open to say something then I glanced straight ahead and shut my mouth.

  I did this because his stubbled jaw was tight and his head was turned slightly to look out the side window.

  Unhappy thoughts. Unhappy thoughts I did not give one shit about.

  “Rule,” I said quietly into the car. “You don’t wanna know, don’t ask.”

  “Deal,” he muttered immediately and that killed too.

  I knew why. For some reason, it fucked him up that I’d had experience of The Retreat. Why this would be, I did not know. He disappeared on me and he’d done it nearly sixteen freaking years ago. He couldn’t think I’d been holding out, pining for him all that time. He’d looked into me, he knew I didn’t. At first, I didn’t have a choice. Then, I did and I sure as fuck took advantage of it.

  I wasn’t going to think about that either.

  “You wanna fill me in on what you’ve learned for the last month?” I asked as I kept moving us toward The Retreat.

  “Yeah,” Creed answered. “You know Drake Nair?”

  “Yup,” I replied.

  “You know who he is to Knight?”

  “Been in Denver awhile, Creed, and almost all that time, I’ve known Knight.”

  “So you know Knight stole his stable and his club right out from under him.”

  “Yup,” I repeated.

  “And you know he’s back in town.”

  “Didn’t until last night but yeah, Knight filled Rhash and me in. Rhash already knew. He flew under my radar. Nair’s half asshole, half moron and since most people can’t think very well with their ass, even though they try, he’s not much of a threat so can’t say I pay a lot of attention to him.”

  “Asshole with money gets other people to think for him,” Creed replied as I took a turn onto Colfax.

  “This is true,” I muttered before switching gears and shoving the last bite of toast in my mouth.

  “Been watchin’, Nick hasn’t got near him. Nick doesn’t keep good company, though. He’s not doin’ blow all the time now but he doesn’t have great friends. Been too busy and, without a partner, only had so much time, couldn’t make a connection. That doesn’t mean the connection between Nick and Nair isn’t there.”

  “Right,” I said through a full mouth then finished chewing and swallowing before I asked, “Now tell me what else has kept you busy.”

  “Makin’ sure you and Rhashan Banks are clean.”

  My head whipped to the side and I stared two full seconds before I looked back at the road feeling like I’d been punched in the gut.

  I thought he’d looked into me because that was what I’d do. I had a prospective partner pinned to me, I’d know him inside and out before I got anywhere near the job.

  I didn’t think for one second Knight set him on me.

  Or Rhash.

  “Knight set you on Rhash and me?”

  “Knight said it was a waste of time. I investigated you and Rhashan. Shit like this, no stone unturned. He’s blinded by history and loyalty. He hired me because I’m not.”

  “Well, just to confirm,” my voice was barbed, “neither of us would fuck Knight. Ever.”

  “Any way that could be?” he asked and I glanced at him again before looking at the road.

  “Don’t wanna know, partner, don’t ask,” I said quietly and felt his eyes on me.

  “This shit, I need to know. He’s deep with his woman. You two got history I haven’t learned, affects everything, including us working together. You two hook up?”

  “No,” I replied.

  “Ever?” he asked.

  “No,” I repeated.

  “Wanted it?” he pushed. “Either one of you.”

  “Yeah, absolutely. We discussed it, found we weren’t compatible but that was years ago, one night we both had too much to drink. The other part of that incompatibility is that, you fuck up what we got with sex, it’ll never be the same and what we got is worth never fucking up. You with me?”

  “Yeah,” he muttered.

  “Then I’ll make sure you’re totally with me. I’m tight with Anya too. We’re solid. She has no reason to know Knight and I even discussed that shit, even one night when we were getting hammered and letting it all hang out. She doesn’t need that thought in her head. He’s not deep with her, Creed, she’s his life. Their daughter is his life. His family is the most precious thing to him, a man who’s got everything so he’s also got a lot to choose from and his two girls are his choice. Do not fuck that and do not put me in the position where I’m even a little responsible for fucking that.”

  “She the jealous type?” he asked.

  “Don’t know and seriously do not want to find out. There’s even the barest possibility of losing that, Knight will lose me. I got two people who mean something to me, Creed, and he’s one of them. You take half of my world away from me, for sixteen years, you were a memory for me and that’s what I’ll make you for your kids too, except you’ll never stroll back into their bedrooms while they’re sleeping. You still with me?”

  He was silent a beat before, “Two people in your life who mean something to you?”


  “That’s it?”



  “He’s not the other one. We’re tight but not that tight.” He was silent again and this lasted more than a beat so I prompted, “Did you get me?”

  “I got you, Sylvie,” he answered quietly.

  I flipped the left turn signal on, slowed, stopped, waiting for my opening and pulled into the parking lot of The Retreat. I found my spot and reversed expertly in it. I switched off the ignition then I reached behind Creed’s seat to grab my camera. I rested it on my thigh, grabbed my coffee, threw back a slug, returned it then yanked out my cell, found the number and hit go.

  It rang twice in my ear before I heard, “You’re killin’ me.”

  I grinned into the phone as I stared at the building. “C’mon, buddy, what would you do without my incentives?”

  “They find out I’m giving you info, they’ll find other places for their rendezvous.”

  “There are no other places in Denver who rent for an afternoon and have rubber mattresses, Clyde,” I reminded him then continued. “Looking for a guy, five ten, salt and pepper, glasses, paunch, suit, drives a Chevy mini-van.”

  “No mini-van,” Clyde stated.

  “He been in before?”

  “Fuck,” Clyde muttered.

  He had.

  “Wednesday’s his day, yeah?” I asked.

  “Fuck,” Clyde muttered.

  “Crisp bill, Clyde.”

  “They usually get here around one.”

  I looked at my watch. Five minutes.

sp; “Right,” I said into the phone. “I’ll be in the office with your money after they check in and get to their room.”

  “Fuck. You’re killin’ me.” Clyde was still muttering.

  “They ever quit coming?” I asked.

  He didn’t answer my question because they didn’t. They always kept coming in more ways than one.

  Instead, he said, “See you in ten minutes.”

  I grinned again and flipped my phone shut.

  “Clyde the day clerk?” Creed asked as I shoved my phone back in my back pocket, grabbed my coffee and the camera. I took a sip of it as I switched the camera on.

  “Yup,” I answered as I shoved the coffee back between my thighs then I looked to him. “So, the last month, Drake Nair on radar but nothing, Nick Sebring on radar but nothing and you ascertained that Rhash and I would never fuck Knight. You get anything else?”

  “Lively did the full check on your girl’s client last night,” he replied. “I followed him through it even though he didn’t know it. When you hit that house last night, I was as surprised to see the for sale sign in the yard as you were.”

  This was good to know.

  “So Live isn’t falling down on the job,” I surmised.

  “That’s still up for debate. I just know none of the team has deposited anything unusual in their accounts. They’ve also not purchased anything unusual, high ticket items or even medium range toys. Half-assed tails, they aren’t off the beaten path or normal routines. Phone records show nothin’ either. So if there’s a mole, he’s playin’ it smart and that means we dig deep.”

  “There’s no mole,” I told him firmly.

  “We still gotta look, Sylvie,” he returned, his eyes holding mine.

  “Yeah, and that sucks for me because these are my boys. If they ever find out I did this shit, I’m a rat. They’ll get over it, the loyalty they have to Knight but it’ll take a while and I may never have their trust like I’ve got it now.”

  “But you’ll do that for Knight.”

  I nodded. “I’ll do it for Knight.”

  He kept his eyes locked with mine as he said softly, “And the girls.”

  I nodded again and didn’t speak softly when I agreed, “And the girls.”

  He didn’t look away and he didn’t speak for long moments. I knew what he was thinking as he looked at me.

  He knew why I’d risk a rap sheet for those girls.

  Then he spoke.

  “New deal.”

  I rolled my eyes and when I stopped rolling them, I stated, “Jesus, partner, I can’t keep up.”

  He didn’t reply to my comment.

  Instead, he said, “I work the team. You work Nick and Nair.”

  I didn’t suck in breath but I held it because that was cool. Way cool.

  Creed kept talking. “We stay tight, meet often, talk often, debrief and you need me, I’m there. I need you, you come when I call. But I look into the boys. That way, you’re not a rat. If they find out you worked this, they’ll find out you didn’t work them. Even if I turn up nothin’, I’ll undoubtedly turn up somethin’. Everyone has secrets. I uncover them and they don’t pertain to this investigation, you’re none the wiser. They haven’t shared with you, when this is over, they’ll know you don’t know. They can trust you got nothin’ on them. They can trust you didn’t turn traitor. Keeps you solid with the team.”

  Yeah, that was cool and that was huge because it stated firmly he was cool. He got it. He got the team. He got the importance of the team. And he got me.

  “Deal,” I whispered.

  His eyes moved over my face then over my shoulder and he muttered, “Mini-van.”

  I looked over my shoulder and watched the mini-van drive into the lot and past my car. It parked two spots down. My target got out the driver’s side door as a Nissan sedan drove in and passed my ‘Vette to park just beyond the mini-van. My target waited for his piece and, thinking quickly, I moved my travel mug to the floor.

  When they began walking toward reception, they’d have to walk in front of my car.

  This meant they might see us and wonder why we were sitting in the car and not going at it on a rubber mattress covered in fake silk sheets, all this accessible only feet away.

  Therefore, my hand shot out tagging Creed around the neck. I angled across the emergency brake, pulling him sharply to me and crushed my mouth to his.

  One second elapsed before two strong arms curled around me, tightened and hauled me across the brake, twisting me so my back was to his hard thighs and Creed hunched over me, his mouth pressing hard against mine. One of my arms angled across his back, the fingers of my other hand drove into his hair and curled, fisting the thick softness in my hand.

  Ten more seconds elapsed and my heart was thundering in my chest so hard I could feel it in my throat when his head came up.

  I forced myself to recover quickly and quip, “Way to sell it, partner.”

  He grinned down at me, my heart squeezed at seeing it so damned close and he replied on a murmur, “Gonna do it, go big.”

  “We share that motto,” I informed him.

  “Good to know,” he returned.

  “I gotta position. Got photos to take,” I reminded him seeing as he wasn’t letting me go.

  “New plan. You go in and pay off Clyde. I’ll take the camera, get in the room and get your client enough evidence to nail his balls to the wall. When I’m done, I’ll meet you at reception.”

  “I’m all for nailing a lying, cheating asshole’s balls to the wall but usually shots of them entering the room work.”

  “Shots of him entering something else would work better.”

  I couldn’t argue with that.

  But I could argue something else. “Man, you’re a mountain. No way you’re gonna get in one of those rooms and not be seen.”

  “Trust me.”

  It was the wrong thing to say. Absolutely, one hundred percent. He knew it and I knew it. We both knew the other knew it because both our bodies tensed so tight, I could feel with the slightest movement my tendons would snap and I sensed the same with him.

  Still, I buried it. We had to work together. We had to partner up. Which meant I had to trust him.

  This sucked but it was my experience that a lot of shit in life sucked. This was just the most recent.

  So I forced myself to relax and said, “Right. Meet you in reception.”

  He lifted up, taking me with him and twisting me in my seat. I retrieved the camera that fell to the floor at my feet as well as my travel mug. I handed him the camera and avoided his eyes trying not to look like I was avoiding his eyes.

  He angled out his side.

  I angled out mine.

  He moved right.

  I moved left toward reception.

  Clyde rolled his eyes when I entered.

  “Please, a hundred dollars for a two minute phone call?” I asked as I walked toward the reception desk. “I am not a pain in your ass.”

  “No, you’re killin’ me,” he returned.

  “No, I’m sending your kids to college,” I retorted, pulling out my money clip and handing him the bill.

  He snatched it out of my hand and it disappeared in a blink.

  Bullshit moaning weasel.

  My eyes went to the TV sitting angled toward him at the end of the reception desk. I leaned into my forearms on the desk and checked it out.

  “Classic porn,” I muttered. “Odd choice.”

  “Seen all the others, like, a gazillion times,” Clyde muttered back and I grinned.

  I had no doubt.

  “We havin’ a party?” Clyde asked because I usually paid him off then took off and I looked from the porn to him.

  He was balding and not liking it, thus growing a line of hair way too long in order to do the comb-over, a tactic that men should abandon. I didn’t know when they’d get that bald was beautiful all you had to do was have the balls to carry it off.

  Clyde clearly didn’t have those
kinds of balls. Then again, he was slender, narrow-shouldered, had an unfortunately shaped nose with a hook at the end and a bump on the ridge and squirrelly eyes. Thus, just physically, there were a myriad of reasons he lacked confidence. Not physically, he was a whiner, not a good trait in anyone, man or woman.

  It was my experience anyone could work anything. A man or woman could be what convention said was ugly or overweight and if they held their shoulders straight, looked you in the eye and had a ready, genuine smile, that shit melted away. The light shone from within and if you had the balls to shine it, all anyone would see was beauty.

  Alas, people did not get this and Clyde was one of those people.

  “Waiting for my partner,” I answered and his brows shot up.

  “You got a partner?” he asked.

  “Yup,” I replied.

  “Since when?”

  “Since a couple of hours ago.”

  “I give it a week,” he muttered, his eyes sliding back to the TV.

  I hoped it would last a day. I worried it would last a month.

  I moved to a chair, sat my ass in it, lifted my boots up to rest crossed at the ankles on the coffee table scattered with Retreat brochures and settled in. I killed time by calling Serena to make sure she was okay (she was, kind of). Calling Knight and leaving a message that I’d connected with Creed and we were on the job. And last, calling Live to check in to make certain he wasn’t beating himself up too much. The last call lasted a while because he was beating himself up too much and it took some time and an arsenal of my teasing to get him to feel better.

  I’d barely flipped the phone shut on Live when I heard a tap on the window and I looked there to see Creed outside, crooking a finger at me.

  “The summons,” I said to Clyde. “Gotta go.”

  “Don’t come back now, ya hear?” Clyde returned and it was my turn to roll my eyes since he was full of it. Sure, if his bosses found out he was doing what he was doing, he was shit out of luck and a job. He was also a survivor so his bosses would never learn and he averaged a hundred extra dollars a week for doing nothing so he’d keep doing it. Unfortunately, he’d also keep bitching about it.

  I didn’t bother with a wave or retort as I walked out and stopped on the sidewalk next to Creed.

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