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Let It Go
by Mercy Celeste

Category: Gay Fiction/Romance
Description: 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?
eBook Publisher: Atlantic Bridge/Liquid Silver Books, 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: October 2012

eBookeBook

2 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [344 KB]
Words: 83722
Reading time: 239-334 min.


Chapter 1

Texas.

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.

Florida.

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.

Eli leaned against the cold cinderblock wall, his feet on the bench out in front of him. It was only him and Creed in the drunk tank tonight. Or today. He wasn't certain anymore what time it was. It could be next week instead of Sunday early. His stomach growled. Churned. Then growled again. He didn't know if he was hungry or needed to puke. He sure as fuck wasn't drunk anymore. And neither was Creed. Creed was quiet. He was always fucking quiet, which drove Eli nuts.

"Where'd you get such a pussy name anyway?" he shouted across the room, the sound echoing off the walls and slamming back into his head. Hung over. Shit.

"Same place you did, Eli," Creed said from his end of the bench. "A well-meaning parent."

Eli absorbed that for a moment, snorting at the absurdity of the reply. But Creed was always like that. A goddamned thorn in Eli's side. He'd been sniffing his ass in numbers for the better part of the last decade and ... he was always so damned irritating. Why didn't he say something that made sense, like he was named after his daddy or grandpa or the state motto of Texas? What the hell was the state motto of Texas? And he wouldn't look at Eli. Ever.

"And you're one to talk. Eli isn't exactly in the top ten baby names, you know." The kid gave a long drawn-out sigh. "Maybe of 1885 or something." He swallowed hard; his hand went up to press against his jaw where a bruise was spreading. "Left-handed. One day I'll remember that."

A deputy Eli didn't know chose that moment to walk up on their conversation. "Mason, Dickson," the deputy said with a snort. Why did everyone always think that was funny? Linking them together like that? Old is what it was. "Could be worse. Dickson could be spelled with an X."

"Yeah, could be so much worse." Creed stood up and stretched. There was a hole in one of his socks. Now why had Eli noticed that? "Are we free to go?"

"No go, buddy, the judge is waiting to arraign you two clowns, and then maybe if someone is willing to pony up the bond we'll talk." The deputy responded with a shake of his head and a smile on his face. Sadistic son of a bitch. Creed's shoulders slumped at the news. "Drunk and disorderly. Destruction of property. Assault. The bar owner is pressing charges. The girl you roughed up spent the night in the ER. She's pressing charges as well. Real cluster fuck last night, boys."

"What girl? I wasn't drunk," Creed protested. "I hadn't even tasted alcohol that night, last night, whenever."

"You were soaked in it. Should have had a Breathalyzer done. Now it's too late. Let's go, boys." The deputy held the cell door open and waited for them to walk out. They were allowed their shoes back for going in front of the judge.

The courtroom was on the other side of the building that held the sheriff's office. Only Creed's old man driver and some slick-looking asshole were in the small room when they arrived. The assistant district attorney walked in and sat at the opposing table and yawned. The judge arrived a few minutes later. Black robe over bare legs and flip-flops. He had a nice tan going, at least. "So, gentlemen, to what do I owe this disruption of my Sunday morning?" the right honorable Judge Dickhead said after they rose to stand at attention in front of him.

The judge was handed a folder from a stack of folders about a foot high. He studied it for a while then lowered the slim glasses he'd donned for reading. "Seems the two of you have a history of violence against each other." He sighed when the dude in the suit stepped forward. "Mr. Mason, your uncle has seen fit to send his lawyer to speak on your behalf, if you're so inclined."

"Disinclined," Eli said without looking at the suit. "Tell him to pound sand, Your Honor."

"Mr. Mason, you are aware that there are some pretty serious charges being levied against you and Mr. Dickson." He paused to wait for the ADA to chime in; the man nodded and waved, saying nothing, and the judge continued. "Maybe declining legal counsel isn't such a good idea right now."

"Yes sir, I am aware. I'm also aware that I have a law degree and am perfectly capable of saying guilty by reason of insanity without my uncle's interference. I was drunk. I threw the first punch. I don't remember hitting some chick but if they said I did then I probably did, not intentional, I assure you, and I'm good for any damages to the bar." Eli didn't like hauling out the big guns. Yes, he had a law degree. No, he didn't want the damned thing. He never tried to pass the bar exam. He had no interest in being a suit or dealing with people like himself.

"And you, Mr. Dickson, would you like legal counsel or are you ready to plead guilty for wasting my time?" The judge looked over the rim of yet another folder at the two of them standing side by side. Eli could hear the steam building in Creed's head. It wasn't often the kid lost his temper, and as far as Eli knew he was the only one capable of getting Creed pissed enough to lash out. Yeah, this was about to get fun.

"Just plead guilty, man, and we can go on our merry little way," Eli whispered, trying not to look like he was talking out the side of his mouth while he talked out of the side of his mouth.

"I'm not guilty, you asshole. I was minding my own business when you came up and started shit. You always come up and start shit. I wasn't drunk. I never even threw a punch. I didn't hit anyone and I didn't break anything. That was all you. And quite frankly, I'm tired of even knowing you, so pardon me if I--"

The gavel pounding the desk cut off the rest of Creed's tirade.

"We can add contempt of court to the charges." The judge took his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Mr. Mason, based on your reputation as a hell-raiser in these parts and your lack of giving a shit about the damage you cause and because you've pled guilty to the charges, with the exception of contempt, which I'm pretending you did to expedite things, I'm sentencing you to six months and restitution of all damages as well as medical for the young woman. And a handwritten, preferably in blood, letter of apology to all injured parties. Time to be served under house arrest on your property outside town."

"But, Tom, I'm scheduled to ride in the Texas State--" Eli nearly bit his tongue when the gavel came down.

"Seven months. And if you so much as cross the road to check your mail I will have you arrested and held in county lockup for the remainder of your time. Do you understand me, Eli?" The judge wagged the gavel at Eli. He then turned his attention to the taller man beside Eli and sighed. "Well, Mr. Dickson, you seem to have found yourself in a predicament. By pleading not guilty, which I assume that's what your outburst a little while ago meant, and with no one here to corroborate your story--Mr. Treadwell is biased testimony as he was also a part of this brawl and should be standing here as well." The judge held up his hand and the noise Eli heard behind them subsided immediately. "Why he isn't is beyond me. But he isn't. Mr. Dickson, I have no choice but to send this to a jury trial for the assault charges. And since you're a rodeo bum who'll be in Texas this time tomorrow if I let you go, I have no choice but to set your bail at a hundred thousand dollars. Bailiff, remove these fine gentlemen to--"

"I'll pay it," Eli found himself shouting as the bailiff came around to cuff him again for the trip back to county lockup.

"You'll pay what, Mr. Mason? I'm confused." The judge stopped short of pounding his gavel, holding it suspended as if he'd forgotten what he was about to do. Surprise registered on his face as he looked between them as if they'd somehow conspired to get on his last nerve.

"I'll pay Creed's bail. Since it was my fault he's in here in the first place. If he'd plead guilty it wouldn't be so bad since I was the one who hit the girl--"

"The girl claims Mr. Dickson is the one who pushed her into your fist. So you're both charged with assault." This from the ADA who yawned afterward. "She's pretty bruised up and mad as hell."

"I don't even remember a girl being anywhere around, Your Honor. Sorry to speak out of turn, but I don't remember a girl being injured at all. And I wasn't drunk." Creed's voice was strong and sure. He never missed a thing. And Eli had to agree; he didn't remember a girl between them either, but he was on his fourth--or was it his fifth?--beer by the time he spotted Creed on the other side of the bar with that asshole Jimmy Marquess' arm over his shoulder. Laughing like they were the best of friends.

"Witnesses say you reeked of beer and were stumbling around like a drunken sailor," the judge pointed out, his gavel hovering in the air.

"Yessir, that's probably true, from Eli's mean left hook, he fights dirty. He always fights dirty." Creed turned his purple-and-blue-splotched face for the judge to see.

Eli snickered. "Not my fault you have a glass jaw." Oh hell, he was going to get more time in lockdown, but this was so damned funny. Big damn Creed Dickson could not take a punch. Sometimes he could land one. Just sometimes. When Eli made him mad enough to throw the first blow.

"Change of plans, boys." The judge leaned back in his chair, holding his gavel in both hands. His smile was slow and--oh shit, this was not going to be good--evil. His eyes shimmered with--evil. "I'm releasing Mr. Dickson into your care, Mr. Mason, to await trial. If the charges against him are dropped--and the ADA will seriously discourage either party from dropping those charges--then he can hightail it back to Texas to meet up with his people. Until that time, well, what better punishment than to lock the two of you up together? You'll kill each other or figure out how to get along. Either way, a win for the taxpayers."

"But ... no," Eli managed to choke out the words. "Come on, Tom, you can't do that. It's not fair."

"I'm saving you a hundred grand, Eli, and giving you a ranch hand. He'll earn his keep while he's at your place. As I understand it, Mr. Dickson is pretty good with horses. And you've neglected yours these past years chasing bulls. Deputy, fit these gentlemen with some ankle jewelry and get 'em out of my building." The gavel fell heavy on the desk, and the judge rose from the bench tugging his robe off. "You cost me my first round of golf one last time, Eli. Don't make me come out there and kick your ass. I will. And Mr. Dickson." He looked sadly at Creed. "Sorry, son. I hope this works out in your favor."

The deputy who escorted them in came and escorted them out. Without the cuffs this time. Creed was silent all the way back to lockup. His head seemed in a perpetual state of bent; his chin damned near touched his chest. "Goddamn," Eli said to no one in particular. He hated seeing the kid looking like his horse broke a leg. It used to be fun to rag on Creed fucking Dickson. Now, not so much, and Eli couldn't figure out what had changed in the last few years.

An hour or so later the two of them were processed out. Creed had his precious gold buckle back along with his wallet, and that's all the kid seemed to have on him. No phone or cash. No other jewelry, ring, or even a watch. Speaking of jewelry, the ankle strap monitoring device dug into his boot, which pressed the leather back into his leg. "This thing is too tight. I'll sue if my foot rots off."

"You do that, Eli; the judge will expect nothing less." The deputy smiled. This deputy he knew very well. He hated his black little heart, Randy with his Boy Scout do-gooder attitude. Figured he'd become a cop. Eli couldn't help sneering at him. "Stay out of the pool, Eli, it won't stand up to the chlorine, and if it stops working I'll assume you killed it and come and bring you in. You're allowed a trip into town once a week, most likely on Sunday, or with prior notice to the judge for anything unforeseen like a doctor visit. So if you need anything, you might want to think about it now before we head out."

"I need to get my gear and make arrangements for my horses," Creed said from his chair, his sullen streak finally at an end. "I need to find Sly and I don't know ... say good-bye I guess."

"Mr. Treadwell is in the lobby." The deputy was kinder to the kid now, Eli noticed. And as usual the special treatment rankled. Creed Dickson rankled. Everything about him rankled. Everything from his threadbare shirt to his beat-up old straw hat and worn-out boots. He had long, tanned hands and bright green eyes that looked at him as if Eli wasn't fit to be in his shadow. Just a rodeo bum was all Creed Dickson was. All he'd ever be. Just a cowboy chasing broncs until one of them killed him. Eli looked at him, really looked at him for the first time in years.

He was startled by what he saw. Fine lines fanned out from his eyes. His sun-streaked brown hair lay shaggy past his collar, his jaw was sharp, his nose too, his face long and lean like his body. He wasn't a kid. Not anymore. There was too much life behind his eyes. Too much bringing him down. Creed saw him staring; their gazes locked for a long minute, in which Eli forgot how to breathe. Definitely not a kid. A full-grown man. And Eli was a fool.

"Oh, Jesus, just fuck me now," he said to nobody in particular. His stomach chose that moment to do this strange churning thing, and the beer and Doritos he'd had for dinner seriously threatened to come back up. Fast. The cool green eyes narrowed as Eli said the words and he had to clutch his stomach. "John. Now. Gonna hurl."


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