Let it Go
When alcohol and fierce tempers land two cowboys from the rodeo circuit under house arrest, it may be time to Let It Go. Can hidden secrets and a common enemy hold the key to happiness or… will they destroy them both?
Creed was the main focus of Eli’s fierce temper. For ten years the two men left a trail of destruction in their wake, with rodeo, beer, and fists all they had in common. Until a judge had enough and sentenced them to house arrest—in the same house. They’d either learn to get along or they’d kill each other.
Trapped on Eli’s rundown Florida ranch, Creed discovers Eli’s secret, one that he shares. But he didn’t count on Eli learning all of his secrets, especially the one that would shatter their newfound truce.
Scarred to his bones, Eli avoided relationships like the plague. Yet something about the quiet Creed had always pushed his buttons. Falling in love with him was never part of Eli’s plan. When it happens he’s unprepared and out of his league.
When a shared enemy comes calling Eli can only think of keeping Creed safe. He never dreamed that their lives were linked or that Creed’s former life could destroy them both. Will love be enough to save them?
Summer, ten years ago.
“His fucking name is Creed,” the boy on the brown-and-white mustang said as he slung his leg over the saddle and hopped to the ground. “What kind of fucking name is Creed?”
“Language, boy.” His uncle popped him on the back of his head. “It’s just a name, nothing to get your chaps in a bunch over.”
“He shouldn’t even be here.” The boy slapped his leg with his hat. A brown Stetson he’d worked and saved for three years to buy. “He’s just a kid.”
“And what the hell are you?” The laughter coming from the other side of the horse made his face flame. His uncle never missed a chance to bring him down.
“I’m eighteen. Old enough. This was my year. I was—”
“But you didn’t and Creed did. So what? He’s seventeen, he’s old enough too. Stop your whining, Eli, and get the saddle.”
Eli squashed his hat back on his head and reached beneath Opie and pulled the cinch. The horse’s side rippled as he dragged the heavy saddle, blanket and all, off him. “Yeah, well, next year I’m riding in the PBR.”
“Only if you figure out how to keep your ass on the drum at home. You do that and we’ll start talking real bulls.” His uncle looked up from brushing down Opie as the sorrel went by. “Good ride, Creed.”
“Thanks, Mr. Mason,” said the tall, thin boy with brilliant green eyes peering out from below a straw hat that had seen better days. He glanced over to where Eli stood glaring at him. “Good ride, Eli.”
“Whatever,” Eli said, still holding the saddle against his side. “It was just pole racing, nothing major, right.”
“Eli!” His uncle smacked the back of his head again. “Manners.”
“It’s fine, Mr. Mason, it was just pole racing. And Eli didn’t win. So I guess it just isn’t his event.” Creed flashed a set of straight white teeth and started to ride away.
“Go back to the kiddie rodeo where you belong, Creed.” Eli growled the words; the saddle that had been his father’s hit the ground in a pile of dust. His uncle waited until Creed rode away before dragging Eli behind the trailer. Eli held his head high, his eyes never leaving his uncle. Defiant to the end.
When he was alone Eli picked himself up off the ground and spit a mouthful of blood into the dirt, kicking the dust over it in disgust.
* * * *
September, present day.
Creed looked around the bar, a sinking feeling in his gut. Christ. Eli Mason. Hanging on one of the buckle bunnies over by the bar. Had to be him. He’d know that red hair anywhere. And the hot temper that went with it. “Shit,” Creed hissed between his teeth. He turned to leave but a couple of his crew had caught up with him and that idea dissolved in the goddamned Florida humidity. Fucking Florida. Why the hell had they decided this was a good place to add to the season? Hot as fuck and Eli Mason’s stomping ground. Double fuck.
“Come on, Creed, Red ain’t nothing to get your drawers in a wad over.” Sly Treadwell, his truck driver, hooked his arm around Creed’s neck, dragging him back into the bar. Sly was a big man, one of his dad’s friends who had signed on to haul Creed and the rest of the crew around the country. Though horses and tack were always safe in his careful hands, the rest of them had to make do however they could. This time Creed had ridden in the back of a rusted-out Chevy Monte Carlo circa 1985. His legs still hurt from trying to fit in the backseat with his gear.
“I’m not afraid of Eli, never have been afraid of Eli,” Creed snarled to the grizzled older man. “I just can’t afford to pay another bail or to clean up whatever gets broken when he figures out I’m here.”
“Then it’s about time you got off your ass and started winning the big prizes again,” Sly said, still holding him in a headlock. “You’ve been back for six months. Shit or get off the pot, son.”
“Or sell that buckle. I bet that thing is worth a few thousand now. And he just wears it like it’s nothing.” Jimmy Marquess, the bull rider they’d hooked up with for this season—who was winning and paying for gas—pounded him on the back. “Of course if I’d won a National Finals buckle, I’d wear the damn thing around my neck like a rap star.”
Creed let the comment roll off with a shrug. Jimmy had made that same remark more than once. Jimmy was on his way to the World Championship next month. There was no competing with that. Bull riders were crazy as hell as far as he could tell, Jimmy no exception. Creed never could figure out why someone would want to get on the back of something with horns. Even sawed-off horns and a flak jacket couldn’t stop one of them from killing you dead if they hit you just right. No thanks; he’d stick to horses. Plus it kept him out of direct competition with Eli now that he’d crossed over to the dark side.
“You’re a good man, Creed. Let’s get you drunk and laid and we’ll get the hell out of here in the morning.” Jimmy laughed hard when Creed didn’t rise to the bait. He draped his arm over Creed’s shoulder and laughed harder when Creed turned red. “Your buddy Red has a few too many bunnies. What say we go take a couple off him?”
“Hell, fucking no, I don’t want his sloppy-ass seconds.” Creed found a spot at the end of the bar farthest away from Eli. He kept his eyes down as the last thing he wanted was to attract Eli’s attention. He didn’t want to end up on the floor with a mouthful of blood tonight.
“Ten years, Creed.” Sly stepped up beside him with a beer in each hand. He set one in front of Creed. “Don’t you think it’s time to bury the hatchet with Red?”
“Only if it’s in his head.” Creed just wanted to get the hell out, go back to the motel, and crash for a few hours before they started the long drive back to Texas for the next event. “I have no idea why there’s a hatchet that needs burying. You know that, Sly. He’s been like that since the first time we competed. I am just sick of it. I’m sick of this rivalry that doesn’t exist. I’m sick of the whole thing. Sometimes I just want to stay in one place for more than a week. Someplace that doesn’t have Eli in it.”
“Then quit, boy,” Sly said without looking at Creed. “Your heart isn’t in this life anymore. I can see that much. Hell, I don’t think it ever was. Your daddy is gone, son. You don’t have to keep chasing his dream.”
“I don’t know how to be anything else. Horses. That’s all I know.” Creed took his beer and, turning, he rested his elbows on the bar. He didn’t drink. He hurt all over from the bronc that busted his ass that afternoon. He’d stayed out for too long, he was rusty, and he was in the hole. If he didn’t finish in the money soon he’d have to sell his buckle. With gold over a thousand an ounce, he’d clear enough to last a few months. A few months of cheap motels and dollar-menu meals. But that’s what he had now, so what did it matter.
“Well, lookie what the cat dragged in.” He knew that voice. Deep, rich baritone with a light accent laced with sarcasm and meanness. He didn’t need to look up but he did. “How you doing, Creed? Busting any broncs lately?”
“Red,” Creed said, watching Eli’s cheeks turn a mottled shade of the color at the mention of the hated nickname. It wasn’t his hair that earned him the name. His hair was more of a strawberry color, straight and thick and sort of pretty for a guy. No, it was his temper, and that it showed on his face. “I can’t complain.” He leaned back, making sure the buckle flashed in the dim bar lights. Making sure Eli saw it. Making sure Eli knew exactly which buckle he wore. The look in his rival’s eyes said he’d succeeded. And that’s why Creed would never sell the buckle. Because he’d beat Eli out by a tenth of a second to win the damned thing.
“Eli, it was a good ride today, son, good ride,” Sly said, turning to face Eli shoulder to shoulder with Creed. His voice soft, even, always placating when it came to Eli’s face. Behind Eli’s back he’d give him shit, but to his face, well, Sly earned his name for a reason. Creed just hadn’t figured out what that reason was yet. “Second, and in the money. Always good when the bulls are as tough as Old Dominion.”
“I’m not your son, old man.” Eli stepped up, pointing one long finger at Sly, his lips drawn back in a grimace. Creed waited for Sly to say something to cut the tension. Tension that only existed in Eli Mason’s tightly strung body. Sly didn’t say a word. He just smiled.
And Creed ended up on the floor with blood in his mouth. Too bad that wasn’t the only place he ended up.