Creed’s fists came down on the steering wheel over and over with enough force he’d have bruises. And if his glare didn’t set the damn piece-of-shit rental car on fire Creed didn’t know what would do it.
He popped the hood and got out of the car. Wing-tip shoes he wore crunched through the deep, uneven graveled road and the one remaining thousand-dollar suit he hadn’t sold gathered dust. He slapped his legs and suit jacket, but it didn’t really help. The wind swirled around him regardless the desire to keep his suit spotless. He should probably sell the suit. It wouldn’t be needed anyway once he lost his job. He wasn’t even going to be able to afford the dry-cleaning bill after this fuck-up.
Creed’s life had been going south, creeping toward hell and brimstone, but this just topped off his cocktail of disaster. More money he couldn’t afford to lose. And he’d lost a lot of it. A business meeting he’d planned over two months ago to bring him back in with the big boys of investments fell through at the last minute leaving him stranded in bum-fuck-no-where’s-ville. He had no clue why they’d canceled.
Creed counted on the account to get him noticed by the investment firm he works for, making him a partner instead of a drone. It was also supposed to help get his fiancé back. He remembered the surprise and numbness that had come with the confrontation. The last time he’d seen her she had been winding up to throw her engagement ring at his face. At the last second, she’d clenched her fist around it, screamed, “Fuck you, Creed Dalton! I’m keeping the ring.” She’d said she needed something to compensate for the time she’d wasted on him.
But now, stuck on this dirt road because the GPS had sent him the wrong way, Creed could see that his relationship was as dried up as the road. Busy trying to make millions he’d neglected the one person that should have been the most important to him. He ran his hand through his hair. Why had it been so easy for her to walk away? She’d said all the right things. Their sex life had been hot as hell. When he was home. Hadn’t she loved him?
But now looking back at the past few months there were other signs that something was off. The looks she’d given his best friend. The times she wasn’t with him she’d get all decked out in tight-fitting dresses, fuck me heels, with just a touch of perfume that made a guy want to dip his face right into the crease of her neck and linger. He should have known she was looking for something he wasn’t giving her. All the comments his best friend kept blasting at him. “Go home Creed take care of your woman.”, “She’s worth taking care of man.”, “Don’t let her go, man.”
Was his friend taking his place? No, Creed thought. Creed shook his head. His buddy wouldn’t do that. Would he? No. He was just looking out for him. Every indication told Creed he was the one who was the asshole.
“Idiot,” he said, thinking that his reaction to both his fiancé and his friend were all screwed up.
Did he really love Christina? Would he have let her walk away and not gone after her if he had loved her enough? He would have stopped her before she had walked out the door. But what had he done? He’d let her go, went back to work to make the millions that he’d promised himself he’d have before the age of thirty. It had taken him a bit longer than that. At thirty-five, he was multi-millionaire. At thirty-six he was almost broke.
One mistake, one bad choice in investments with his money and clients’ money, and his sure thing had turned into millions lost. No one trusted him. And with the meeting being canceled his last chance to redeem himself was like a check mark in the screw you pile by fate herself.
Creed angled his hand above his brow blocking out the oppressive heat the midday sun beat down on him. He loosened his tie. He looked up and down the road to see if any other lifeform was around that could help him out. Dust swirls danced through the barren field’s as the only sounds were the wind gusts carrying the dirt. He really was out in the middle of nowhere.
Creed opened the car and reached in for his phone to call a tow. He pushed the unlock button. The screen stayed dark. He just stared at it like he couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing. Then he squeezed the dead phone so tight he thought he might break. He clenched his jaw to keep from screaming out his frustrations. It wouldn’t do him any good.
When he was done throwing an inner temper tantrum, he secured his tablet in the trunk, took off his suit coat and lay it over his suitcase. Then he looked to the west and started walking. There had to be something over the hill, what was it, about a mile maybe. He hoped.
What the hell was he going to do now? Creed would just have to hole up in a hotel until he could get himself sorted.
Celeste needed the open road. She was desperate for the time to herself. She needed it like she needed an alternate universe. One where friends didn’t die, and she had time and money to fix the mess she was in.
She secured her helmet, got on her Harley Fatboy motorcycle and listened to the engine roar, the rumble settling in her chest replacing some of her pain.
After years of struggling and getting the experience she needed to have her own medical practice she easily slipped into her mentor’s practice and took over.
She’d gone to school in Michigan, but she knew she’d always come home to the little town she grew up in just outside of Austin, Texas.
What she didn’t realize was the mess she’d walk into. Dr. Fellows had had cancer. Celeste hit the accelerator. She took a breath, sucking it in hard. He hadn’t told her. The thought that he didn’t want to confide in anyone, to lay the burden on anyone else broke her heart. She wouldn’t cry anymore. She squeezed the handle bars harder. Her heart was feeling hollow, like nothing she’d felt before, she pressed harder into the bike and went faster. She had to forget. Just for a little while.
The funeral had nearly split Celeste in two. The pain had been too great. Watching the casket dip past the line of soil at her feet, hearing the cries of pain, the tears the town added to the earth where he would rest, remembering such a great man made her sob even harder. He had been more than just a mentor. He had been like a father to her. More than her own.
Her father had been mired in his grief and bottles and bottles of scotch, swallowed up by his failings. Or what he thought were his failings. Her father had become twisted, pulled apart and thrown away like garbage when his wife, Celeste’s Stepmother, left him. Celeste’s father had done everything he could to make his second wife happy, but it had never been enough. He’d been left a husk of the man.
When Celeste’s stepmother’s demands had gotten to be too much, Celeste would run to Dr. Fellows house and hang out with him if he was off work, which wasn’t very often. So, when he was, she would spend time with Mrs. Fellows learning as much as she could from the man. The woman had doted on Celeste like she was her grandchild, which she guessed she was since they hadn’t had any children. She learned to cook and sew, and plant flowers. The woman was wonderful, but died too soon. The loss was another layer of pain compounded onto others.
She shook her head to rid herself of the memories and went faster.
Presently, Celeste had other things to worry her.
She had to figure out where all the money had gone. Dr. Fellows’ books weren’t balancing. There were also medical supplies not accounted for in the store room.
Anxiety entrenched Celeste. What would have to happen to correct the situation? The office assistant who’d worked for Dr. Fellows for over ten years had left on vacation right after the funeral, so there was no help there. She didn’t want to go to the police before she looked at the books again. Maybe there was another place he stored supplies that he hadn’t tell her about. The practice was attached to his house. But she hadn’t gone searching for anything. Not yet. She had been distracted with planning the funeral.
Cresting over another hill in her journey, to nowhere really, Celeste thought she saw a mirage. The day’s dry heat rippled across the road making the land seem to dance, the illusion getting larger and larger. Was it a lost dog? Closer now, she gasped inside her helmet. She blinked a few times thinking it could be the tears she’d let fall making her see something that was not there. She downshifted and approached with caution. Not a dog. A man sat at the edge of a culvert. Facing away from her. A very dirty man with blood dripping from the side of his head.
With precision only a seasoned biker had, she stopped the bike in quick, efficient movements, took her helmet off and called 911. “This is Dr. Celeste Breckinridge. I’m on Route 1 just West of Old Town. A man looks like he’s fallen into the culvert, possible concussion, lacerations to the arms, back and,” she paused and looked down, “and legs. I’m going to need an ambulance. I’ve got limited supplies with me on my motorcycle.” She heard a tsk from the operator’s voice, and had to hold back a laugh. Trinity Jones was on call it seemed. A friend of Dr. Fellows, she didn’t like Celeste riding the Fat Boy.
“Alright, Celeste. We’ll get a bus out there asap.”
“Thanks, Trinity.” Celeste hung up and put her phone in the back pocket of her leather pants. She grabbed the first aid kit that she always had in her saddle bag.
Approaching the very well dressed dust-covered man, she noticed a lot of things all at once. The suit he wore looked expensive. Now though, the arm of the white dress shirt was torn open and not from the large biceps that stretched the fabric. She could see a dirt covered scratch mixed with blood. Her eyes roamed again. She slowed her steps. The back of the shirt was torn exposing more bloodied skin caked with dirt. He’d fallen into the culvert. “Shit!” She cussed softly, but not soft enough that he wouldn’t have heard her approaching. But he didn’t respond, and the cut oozing blood on his head made her worry rise even more.
“Are you okay?” She said. No response. “Sir?” That got a reaction, but not a fast one. He slowly turned his head and winced, but didn’t do anything else. Just stared at her. Kneeling next to him ignoring the gravel digging into her leathers, she put down the first aid kit and looked into his eyes. They were dilated, but they followed her hands as they opened the first aid kit and then moved toward his head. The color was a brilliant blue that matched the crystalline blue sky. “You’re going to be okay. I’m Dr. Breckinridge, the local doctor.” As she said the words, she felt a pang in her heart. Dr. Fellows was gone. But she needed to focus. As she continued getting out the supplies she needed for clean up, he still followed her movements, but he still hadn’t spoken. “Can you tell me your name?” He licked his plump lips and Celeste couldn’t help but follow the motion. She cleared her throat as he tried to speak. Nothing came out. How long had he been out here? Jesus, he was probably dehydrated too. “I’ll be right back.” She ran to her saddle bag and grabbed a bottle of water. “Here,” she said and uncapped the bottle and put it to his lips. She watched him swallow and had to swallow herself as the motion made her react in an inappropriate way. “Now can you tell me your name?”
He licked his lips, and she almost groaned from the action.
The man cleared his throat and said, “Creed.”
Creed lifted his hand to his head, but she grabbed his arm stopping him mid-motion. “Let me clean it first.” He put his arm down, but once again said nothing. She noticed that his hands were all cut up too.
“Did you fall in the culvert?” He obviously had, but she wanted to get him talking. She looked over his legs, his very muscled legs, which she was totally ignoring, and saw the rocks at the bottom of the culvert, the dry environment and sharp objects giving more clues to the evidence that Creed had fallen into the culvert. She rinsed the blood away with a saline bottle catching the excess with a swab of cotton so it wouldn’t go in his eyes. When she wiped across the laceration on his head with alcohol, he hissed and then groaned.
She looked down at his large hands. Very large hands. They were also cut up. “Can you tell me if you’re hurt anywhere else?”
“I’m fine,” he spoke finally and tried to get up. “My meeting.” She ignored whatever nonsense he was spouting because he did not get up on two feet. He nearly buckled to the ground when he put weight on his left leg, but Celeste caught him just before he would have gone over again and sat him down. She noticed his knee, now that he was sitting again, had swelled up like a grapefruit.
She looked over her shoulder when she heard sirens in the distance. Thank God.
“Where were you headed?”
“A meeting,” he said again.
“Well, it doesn’t look like you’ll be making that meeting.”
He blinked a couple of times. She looked at his eyes and lost herself for a couple of seconds which she didn’t have time for but was drawn in anyway.
When his arm started to lift, she froze. His scratched-up fingers tangled with a loose piece of hair that had come out of her braid. He put it behind her ear, and she couldn’t help but suck in a breath when his finger lingered on her cheek.
“You have pretty hair, all brown and chestnut mixed.” he said, the words almost like they were floating across her skin. The words gave her goosebumps even as the heat pressed down on her skin. Holy cow this guy was potent. And he wasn’t even at 100%. His hair was darker than hers, almost black, and almost touching his shoulders. A frown stretched his lips down and accentuated the stern but strong line of the bridge of his nose which only highlighted the strong brow that formed his chiseled face. He was damn gorgeous. Gah! She needed to stop thinking about him and get back to getting him to the hospital.
His frown went even longer, and out of the blue, he said, “That’s alright.
“What’s alright?” she asked confused.
“The meeting was canceled,” he said and then looked away from her.
“What do you do?”
“Investment Banking with an occasional foray into Forensic Accounting.” That had her perking up. He could help her with the mess doc left her. But no, he was from out of town. He wouldn’t be able to stay. But she was curious to see what he might say about it. And what had brought this man to her small town in the middle of nowhere? She didn’t believe in fate because fate usually kicked her in the ass if she granted it too much attention. Just as she was about to ask another question about his job the ambulance had come to a stop alongside her bike.
“Doc, what do we got?”
“Hey Jeremy,” she said, and then gave him a rundown of what she thought was wrong while they worked to get him on the gurney. Which wasn’t easy being that Jeremy was only about two inches shorter than her five foot six and Melanie who was Jeremy’s partner, was as petite as you could get. It probably looked more like a circus than professional medical staff because when Creed stood at his full height, he was more like a giant compared to the three of them. And every time they moved Creed he groaned or hissed at them. And his vocabulary of swear words was inventive. She couldn’t help but laugh a couple of times which caused Creed to glare, which only caused her to laugh more.
“Sorry,” she said finally getting him to a sitting position on the gurney. “I’m not being very professional, am I?”
“Sure, you’re a doctor and not a biker chick?” He flicked his eyes toward her bike and smiled, which caused her heart rate to skyrocket, her hands to get clammy and the other parts she tried to ignore.
“Well, I am right now.” She smiled back, but then she remembered why she had been riding in the first place and her smile disappeared. Melanie and Jeremy glanced over at her knowingly. She looked away right onto Creed whose focus was startling. She didn’t like the attention. It unnerved her, but it turned her on, too. He would have been a nice distraction, but he was sure to go back where he came from.
They stared at each other until Jeremy cleared his throat.
“Alright,” she said with a sigh. Let’s get you to the hospital.
“I don’t need the hospital,” Creed grumbled.
“Not your call.” Celeste chimed in as Melanie got Creed to lay down. Not easily.
“But…” Celeste cut him off.
“Nope. You’re going. You could have a concussion and I don’t have the equipment at my office to get an MRI done. Plus, I’m worried about that knee of yours.”
“Can someone get my things out of my rental car?” He flicked his fingers down the road and practically snarled. “If the damned car hadn’t decided to quit I wouldn’t be in this situation, so leave it. The rental place can deal with it.”
“Fine, but we can’t wait any longer.” She nodded to Melanie and Jeremy and they put him in the back. “I’ll have the sheriff get someone on that. Meet you at the hospital, Mel.” She nodded and rounded to the front and got in the ambulance. Jeremy, stayed in the back and nodded and went to shut the doors, but before he could, Creed yelled, “What’s your name?”
“Celeste,” She said.
“Nice to meet you, Celeste.” His head went to the gurney, and Jeremy shut the doors while smiling and shaking his head. The smile that pulled at Celeste’s mouth was the first genuine smile she’d had in days, and it stayed with her for the rest of it as she walked into the hospital and found Creed.