Maybe it’s the way Fall has finally found us here in Florida or just me being sentimental but I’m feeling a little nostalgic. Right in the middle of writing a chapter for a certain sequel I find myself thinking about the Cadillac Payback crew. Though I have no intentions of writing in that world anymore I still think about those characters sometimes. Any of the few souls out there who have read the Caddy books can tell you those characters are nothing short of tragic. Any writer out there who has began a story with a dead brother can also tell you that as you build a character from the hearts and minds of those who knew him, as you get to know him, you grow to love him. So today I’ve decided to share a little glimpse of history I wrote some time around the release of Rising Tide. If you’ve read the story, you’ll recognize this as the moment Frederick joined the crew. This piece has been living in a notebook all this time. I hadn’t even typed it up until today. For some reason it feels right to share it now.
If you decide you like the tone and style of this piece, the Cadillac Payback books are still available on Amazon, for Kindle and KindleUnlimited, and also in paperback.
In what seems like a flash, there’s a chrome piece pointed in my face. It takes every ounce of my resolve not to reach for my Glock. I’ve been outdrawn by one of the rare people I don’t want to fuck with, someone on my level. The kicker is that I didn’t see him coming.
His finger is indexed so I know he’s in control of his emotions, but there’s murder in his eyes. I haven’t seen him in a long time and it’s clear that time has done little to heal the burn of getting shut down by the Feds. That’s fair. I can actually relate.
“You know it wasn’t my fault,” I say quietly, my tone flat and, with effort, not menacing.
Everyone knows it was Derrik who fucked up. That doesn’t seem to matter to Charlie just now. Again, I get it. For once I’m not here to fight. If anything is true, it’s that. I’m not stupid. The thing is neither is Maria. She had to guess this would be Charlie’s reaction to seeing me. I did.
He is someone ranked enough that he used to deal directly with Gram, someone ranked higher than I was, if not by much. Still, Charlie’s reputation as ruthless and cunning is well-earned. If I’m completely honest, he’s someone I actually respect in a world where few such people exist. Not that any of that matters in this moment. My hope here is that he’s catching the significance of the fact that I haven’t even tried to draw.
Movement to my right catches both our attention though we don’t look away from each other. In the next three seconds, Maria is standing in front of me, facing her brother. He immediately lowers his gun.
I have no doubt he recognizes the pang of fear that rises in me when she steps into his sights. I don’t quite stop my eyes from widening and, like me, he doesn’t miss anything. I see the exact same reaction in him.
He doesn’t speak at first, but his head leans to the side. I can’t see Maria’s face. I can see that she doesn’t relax her defensive stance. I shake my head a fraction to the left then right in hopes that he’ll interpret correctly that I don’t mean to start trouble.
“Que estas haciendo?” Charlie asks in a tone that rides the line between a growl and a whisper. I know by the Spanish that he’s not talking to me. The language rolls from his lips with perfect inflection. It comes less natural for me, but I do understand.
“He’s with me,” she says defiantly.
I can understand why it would never occur to her to fear him, but it’s still unsettling to hear her speak to him that way. I have to wonder if she really knows how dangerous he is.
His eyes haven’t left me. I swear the emotion in his glare slides from rage to calculation. I’m not the type for peaceful gestures, but that might be the thing that makes or breaks the tension. I lift my open hands to shoulder height and shrug slightly. His eyes narrow and, finally, he looks away from me to his sister.
“You’re hanging out with Reapers now?” he asks, his tone a mixture of incredulous and admonishing.
Her hand lands on her hip and her head cocks to the side. She says, “You know damn well he isn’t with them anymore.”
“That doesn’t change anything,” Charlie says. The lines of his arm have softened some but his gun is still in both hands.
“It changes everything, actually,” I say in a forcibly even tone.
My hands have fallen back to my sides. I lift my eyebrows the tiniest bit. I won’t walk into his territory and start shit, but I will defend myself. I have that right. Charlie’s shrewd gaze rolls back to me, searching. I’ll be damned but I do believe he’ll read my sincerity in my eyes before he’ll ever trust my words. It’s a strange thing for me, but I leave myself unguarded.
I never meant to get tangled up with Maria. I actually tried to avoid it, but once her sights were on me, I didn’t stand a chance. The truth I don’t like to admit is that I enjoy being around her in a way I can’t say for anyone else I’ve ever met. Now that I know that feeling, I don’t want to lose it. The only way not to is to find some shade of acceptance from her brother. He won’t tolerate my presence otherwise, and if he believes I’m enough of a threat, I’ll be left with little options. Get the fuck out of town, let him kill me, or kill him first. I don’t much like any of those choices.
“For someone like you to have no loyalties is more dangerous and suspicious than you being a product of the Jester,” Charlie says.
Someone like me. Yeah, he’s not the only one who one-hundred percent earned his reputation. I don’t miss that low blow of him throwing in my past, but I refuse to be provoked. I could be wrong, but I believe he’s testing me. I guess I should expect as much, but it’s still unusual to talk to another man who isn’t intimidated by me. I know he’s older and, admittedly, more experienced. I’ve scared the shit out of those types before. Not Charlie. He’s unshakable.
The only way I’ll ever be on the other side of his gun is if I’m completely real. So I say, “Loyalties can change. Dead men can’t. I lost a crew because of him.”
Maria half-turns to look at me. Instinct…and desire…say to meet her eyes. Training says not to break the connection with her brother, who is still closely watching me. Emotion flickers in his eyes, something I want to call pain, but it doesn’t come through in his expression and he buries it quickly. Have my words found a mark beyond his emotional armor? I’m not the only one who lost a crew.
Fucking finally he holsters his pistol. The gesture reclaims Maria’s attention and, in my periphery, I see her shoulders relax. That tiny reaction is enough to tell me that she wasn’t sure if Charlie could be convinced that I’m not a rat.
He reaches one long arm forward. When his fingers hook around Maria’s upper arm and he pushes her out of the way, I expect her to resist. She doesn’t. She opens her mouth like she’s going to speak, but he steps forward into my space and her mouth closes without a word.
My body goes rigid, a reaction I can’t quell with any amount of resolve. He’s taller than I am, enough that I have to look up to maintain eye contact. Other than that, I don’t move. I’m afraid if I do instinct will have me undoing what progress I’ve made by taking a swing. I understand he needs to assert his dominance in the situation, I’m just not used to restraining myself when it comes to fighting. He’s close enough that I can smell cigarette smoke on him.
“So you think you want to fuck with my sister?” he asks. His voice is low, a quiet assurance of the violence that lies beneath the surface.
It’s my turn for my eyes to narrow. He’s trying to rile me. I’m determined that it’s not going to work. I say, “I’ve never had any friends.”
I hear her breath catch, but there’s no way in hell I’ll look away now. For a moment suspended in time, we’re both utterly still. Then he steps back and looks from me to Maria. I’m silently seething, still afraid to move.
They don’t say anything. They just stare at each other. I can tell from the dynamic between them that they don’t need words. Maria is not the brazen woman she was with him just minutes ago, but she doesn’t exactly back down from him either. My brain wants me to look at her, but something compels me to keep watching him.
There’s a warning that comes across loud and clear in everything about him – his tensed-up stance, the tightness in his jaw, the way he slightly flexes the fingers of his gun hand. I believe he has decided to trust her in regards to me, but without a word he’s letting her know that if she’s wrong about me, there’ll be hell to pay that he won’t necessarily be able to protect her from. He’s right.
The anger at his ballsy confrontation fades quicker than I expect. My thoughts reel at that single realization. He’s doing what he should as a leader. He’s watching out for his sister, but also the rest of his people and his grandmother’s operation. It’s his job to screen the people who get close to the heart of his territory and he’s damn well justified in not trusting me.
I expected trouble when he realized I was with her. I sure didn’t think I’d find someone so relatable in him. I sure as hell didn’t think he would validate the vague respect I regarded him with from afar. When he turns away and joins Isaiah, who’s looking at Charlie like he can’t believe what he’s seeing either, the breath I’ve been holding goes with him.
When I finally slide my eyes sideways toward Maria, she’s not looking at me. She’s watching Charlie quietly talking with his crew. I know without a doubt that he’s her world. I could never compete with that and I don’t even want to. There’s a feeling between them that I don’t really understand. Love.
Beneath his steel exterior, Charlie cares about his people. It’s almost enough to turn me out the door. I could never fit in with people like this. Then Maria meets my gaze because, damn it, I’m still looking at her, and she smirks like she won something. She has to know better, but I can’t read past the mask of confidence. She’s good. She learned everything from him.