Worth fighting for, p.12
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       Worth Fighting For, p.12
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         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley

  left hand and a BLT sub in my right, as per his texted request. Apparently the airplane food was less than to be desired, and he was wasting away with starvation—his words, not mine.

  He was one of the first into the baggage claim area, along with a middle-aged woman he was chatting up a storm with. His face split into a grin when he saw me.

  I bit my lip and looked him over—jeans and his blue Millwall FC shirt, worn Nike sneakers (or as he liked to call them, trainers), and a sweater tied loosely around his waist. He still wore a travel pillow looped around his neck and had a rucksack slung over one shoulder as he dragged his carry-on behind him. His hair was in disarray, one side flat where he’d most likely been asleep, and the dark circles under his eyes showed he was already feeling the jet lag.

  He said something to the woman he was with, and she looked over at me, sending me a little wave and a smile. I waved back awkwardly, my hands full so it was more of just a coffee salute. I smiled. Toby could talk to anyone; you could put him in a room with a bunch of strangers, and in no time, he’d be talking to them all like old friends and would know their life stories.

  “Hey,” I said as he stopped in front of me.

  He grinned, stepping closer and wrapping his arm around me, pulling me against his body as his lips found mine. I squeaked from shock against his lips, awkwardly holding my arms out straight, trying not to spill coffee down his back. When he let me go and broke the kiss, his tired eyes met mine. “You’re a sight for sore eyes,” he said.

  “Me or the coffee?” I joked, holding the cup out to him.

  “Mmmmm,” he groaned, taking it and swallowing a large gulp.

  A bad smell of rancid meat or something hit me, and I wrinkled my nose in distaste. “Ugh, what is that smell?” I held my nose, breathing through my mouth.

  He groaned again, this time not in appreciation of the coffee, and shook his head. “Oh, man, I smell like vom, don’t I?” He dipped his head, taking a few tentative sniffs of his shirt. “Flight was rough; I puked. A lot. Managed to get most of it in those stupid paper bags, but I’m pretty sure my Millwall shirt is gonna stink like chunder forever now.”

  I grinned wickedly. “You poor baby.”

  He nodded, his lips turning down at the corners playfully. “I know, right? I told you I wasn’t a good flyer. Me Gregory is killing me too, ’ad to buy a stupid ruddy pillow on the plane, cost a fortune. The things a guy ’as to do to please his fiancée, huh?” He sighed jokingly, reaching up and rubbing his neck—or his “Gregory Peck,” as cockney rhyming slang translated.

  “You totally took one for the team,” I replied, smiling gratefully. “I’m glad you’re here.” That wasn’t a lie. Toby always had this ability to put me at ease and brighten anybody’s mood. It was part of his sparkling, jokey personality.

  “I missed ya,” he replied, leaning down to kiss me again.

  “You, too.” I looked up at him and willed there to be some spark of passion. I hadn’t seen him for days, I should have wanted to rip his clothes off and lick him all over, but other than a small pitter-patter in my heart and gratitude that he was here, there was nothing. I guess it was hard to lust after a guy when he looked like death and smelled like vomit, though. Well, that was what I told myself anyway.

  “Come on then, let’s go home and you can shower,” I suggested, waving my hand under my nose as we headed for the exit. “We’ll have to drive with the windows open,” I added, grinning.

  He gasped, faking horror. “We can’t do that, me ’air will go all poufy,” he joked, winking at me. As we stepped out of the door, he stopped and looked around. “So this is what all the fuss is about, is it? The Big Apple.”

  I nodded. “Yep. Welcome to New York. What d’you think?”

  He looked left and right, then up at the cloudy blue sky. He drew in a big breath and then coughed dramatically. “Smells just like London.”

  I burst out laughing. For the first time in days, I actually felt like laughing. It was definitely a talent Toby had.

  CHAPTER 13

  JAMIE

  HOW IS IT you can be surrounded by people but feel so alone? It was almost tragic that I’d gotten so used to loneliness that I barely even registered it. But now that I’d seen Ellie again, touched her, kissed her—even if it was only for the briefest of seconds—all I wanted was more. Half my crew sat around me, listening to Dodger’s plans for the weekend boost we had lined up, but I barely heard a word.

  “So, we’ll need two people Saturday night to drive the cars back once Kid and I have boosted them,” Dodger said, looking around the room. “Volunteers? I know a few of you are off this weekend for the rager that is Shaun’s wedding.”

  Shaun wasn’t with our crew anymore. Once he got out of prison, he’d decided that he wanted to go straight. Well, actually, his girlfriend, who had popped out a kid while he was inside, “strongly encouraged” the decision. They were getting married this weekend. I’d been invited and would probably make an appearance at the ceremony but ditch early during the reception.

  Dodger had agreed to this boost for the weekend, forgetting that half of his reliable workers knew Shaun from years back and would want to go. Now, he was short on staff.

  “I’m in,” Chase offered. He was fairly new to my crew, young, a little hotheaded for my liking, but loyal.

  Dodger nodded, scribbling his name down on his pad before looking around for the next brave warrior.

  Ed sat forward. “I can do it. I wasn’t planning on going to the wedding anyway.” I smiled to myself at that. He hadn’t been invited in the first place. “I know I don’t usually get involved with boosting, but I can drive a car,” he offered.

  “Great,” Dodger answered, nodding in appreciation, picking up his pad again. “That’s settled, then. Kid and I will boost, Chase and Ed will bring the cars back, and Ray will handle things here and get the shipment ready and loaded.”

  I held one finger up in a wait a second gesture. “I need Ed for Saturday night. If I’m busy all night, I need someone on protection duty,” I said, shrugging when Dodger groaned in frustration. I looked over at Ed, who was frowning in my direction, clearly pissed that he was being pulled back from a job for something that he no doubt considered a menial task. Nothing menial about it, though; To me, it was the most important job I ever trusted anyone with. “I’ll pay you the same rate the boosters are getting. I just need someone there to watch and make sure the Salazars don’t go near her.”

  For the last two days I’d had people parked outside Ellie’s house around the clock, watching to make sure Mateo didn’t do anything moronic like sign his death warrant. I’d taken a few shifts, usually the evening ones, but I couldn’t do it all by myself. So far nothing bad had happened. In fact, other than yesterday, when she drove to her grandmother’s house and did an airport run to pick up the guy I hated with a burning passion because he got to touch something I so desperately wanted to be mine, she barely left the house other than to go to the hospital or the grocery store.

  I was right to be cautious, though, no matter how much these guys looked at me like I was acting crazy. Rule number one in this business: Never show anyone that you cared about anything. Never show emotion, never show vulnerability, because there were always people watching, waiting to exploit any weaknesses. There were always people like Mateo out there, wanting to gain any advantage they could get. I’d fucked up royally on Tuesday night, and now I was desperately trying to rectify the situation and ensure Ellie was safe and they weren’t going to go after her to get to me. I wasn’t sure they would, but I was covering all bases just in case.

  Dodger sighed, but his eyes showed me he understood. He knew how I felt about Ellie and what she meant to me. He and Ray had been the only two I’d really confided in about it. “Okay, so still need one volunteer...” He looked around the room slowly.

  After a tiny bit of persuasion, Enzo agreed to leave early with me. The money was too big of a draw for him while he was trying to
get that dream apartment.

  “That’s a wrap, then. You guys can all knock off for the night, ain’t nothing brewing around here that needs doing tonight,” Dodger said, waving everyone else out of the room. He turned to me once we were alone. “What about you, what are you up to? Wanna go grab some food?”

  “Sure, why not,” I replied. In my pocket, my cell phone buzzed with a new message. I pulled it out at the same time Dodger pulled his out, both of us reading the preview message. My heart leaped in my chest. There was a race organized for tonight, starting in three hours. Dodger did a little jig on the spot and pumped his fist. I drummed on the table excitedly.

  “About damn time!” The timing was perfect too, especially as I’d just managed to get my beauty of a car fixed up this week.

  “I’m so gonna kick your ass tonight.” Dodger grinned, slipping his cell back into his pocket. “I’ll give you a little wave from the winner’s podium, all right?” He winked at me and turned for the door. “Better go gas up my baby.”

  “So we’re not doing food?” I called to his back, laughing.

  * * *

  The place was set, a sleepy town on the North Fork of Long Island. It was almost midnight when I followed behind Dodger’s red Ford Shelby GT500 as we made our way slowly, and as inconspicuously as possible, to the designated starting area.

  Excitement built in my chest and my palms itched with eagerness during the hour or so it took us to drive to the destination. This couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Racing brought me an inner peace. The power of the car, the speed—all of it accumulated into one huge adrenaline rush that I reveled in. After the distractions of late, I needed something like this to take my mind off everything else so I could just live in the moment, even if it was only for a fifteen-minute race.

  Dodger slowed at the end of the road and a guy with a two-way radio bent down to talk to him. I saw the glowing light of a cell phone being shown, and then he was waved forward. I crept along, my cell phone already open, showing the race invitation text I received. The guy glanced at the invite then waved me on, too.

  I drove slowly, seeing the brightly colored and heavily souped-up cars lining the edge of the road and the spectators milling around, cooing over the cars and their drivers. I pulled into the available space next to Dodger and popped the hood of my car. These things always started with spectators and other racers surveying the cars’ engines, clucking over the modifications they’d had done.

  I climbed out, already smelling that the air was thick with the scent of gas. Dodger met me by the side of my car, and we walked through the crowd, checking out the contenders parked along the edge of the road. I spotted a few who raced in most of these competitions and a few newbies.

  I groaned at two cars that stood out from the rest because of their exaggerated paint jobs and the overly large spoilers mounted on the backs of them. Two Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions, one custom painted orange with a lime-green lightning bolt on the side, the other lime green with an orange lightning bolt. They belonged to identical twin brothers, Regan and Harley. Most people called them the Kamikaze Twins, not because they were reckless, but because they were fearless. They were my biggest competition. Alongside Dodger and myself, one or the other of the Kamikaze Twins won almost every race they entered. Their driving was smart, slick, and effortless. The pair of them were big on the karting circuit, and I’d heard they even tore up the other big street-racing scenes in Los Angeles and Miami, too. I liked them, though, despite the fact that they were cocky little shits who caused me to lose a race on occasion. They were good guys and always offered a handshake after.

  Dodger pointed at the two cars. “I’m gonna kick their asses, too,” he bragged confidently.

  I chuckled and we made our way over to where the group of drivers were all huddled together at the end of the row of cars. The contenders who raced here were from all walks of life; street racing wasn’t limited to the bad boy or the guy from the wrong side of the tracks. One guy who frequented the scene was a top-end lawyer; another was a low-paid schoolteacher. They could be anyone on the street during the day, just someone who indulged in a fast-paced hobby in the evenings. That was one of the things I liked about it; everyone was simply here because they were passionate about cars and speed.

  Someone sidled up next to me. “What’s up, bro?”

  I turned to see who’d spoken and came face-to-face with one of the twins, though I had no idea which one it was. To me, there was no difference between them except for the hair—both were blond and wore it about the same length, but one liked to spike it up and the other swept it to the side.

  “Hey, um...Harley?” I guessed.

  He shook his head and grinned. “Regan,” he corrected. His brother, who had come up beside him, held his fist out for a bump, which I delivered.

  “One day he’ll guess right,” Dodger chimed in, leaning over and knocking their fists, too.

  “Probably not,” I replied.

  The twins shrugged in unison, their grins equal in size. “So you came, then. To be honest, we were kind of hoping your car was still toast and you wouldn’t show up tonight,” Regan said, his eyes twinkling with mirth. “Oh well, more prize money in the pot for when I win.”

  I opened my mouth to answer, but a loud throat clearing to our left halted me. A guy in a fluorescent high-vis vest with a half-smoked cigarette between his lips stood there with a black canvas bag. “Entry fee,” he grunted, dropping ash down onto his protruding stomach and wiping it off absentmindedly with the back of one hand.

  Each of us pulled out the five-hundred-dollar entry fee, silently dropping the money into the bag.

  “Now check out the route and then get your cars into place so we can get this started,” Rodriguez told the drivers. Everyone moved forward to look at the large map where a big red oddly shaped ring had been hastily sketched. A list of street names and our randomly drawn starting positions were handwritten down the side.

  Dodger and I took a slow walk back to our cars, letting the crowd around them disperse as spectators made their way to the starting point.

  “You ready for this?” Dodger asked as I unhooked the hood of my car and let it fall shut and click into place.

  “Yeah, she’s running great now. I owe Ray big time for sourcing that part for me,” I replied, lovingly smoothing my hand across the paint job.

  “That’s not what I meant,” Dodger said, folding his arms across his chest. “You’ve been a little distracted lately. I just want to make sure your head is in the game tonight. You can’t race if you’re thinking about other things, that’s how accidents happen and people die.”

  This was about Ellie. Didn’t see that coming. Was I ready for this? Yes. Hell yes. I needed it. Once I was out there my brain would automatically focus on the task at hand instead of constantly worrying and thinking about her. At least, that was the plan anyway.

  “I’m fine.” I reached out and patted him on the shoulder gently. “But thanks for worrying about me, you’ll make someone a good bitch one day.”

  He rolled his eyes before stepping to his car door and grinning over at me. “Let’s do this.”

  I grinned too, sliding into my molded leather seat and reaching down to turn the ignition. My car roared to life, the engine loud and predatory as I twisted the key, breathing life into her. I sighed contentedly, tracing my hands on the steering wheel, the growl of the engine enough to make my scalp prickle with excitement. The thrill of knowing that within a few minutes I’d be bursting along at speeds of over one hundred mph made a tingle zip down my spine.

  Checking that the street behind me was clear, I left my parking space and headed to the makeshift starting grid, where the other drivers were idling.

  I replayed the route in my head, envisioning the turns, the roads, how sharp the corners were. Adrenaline was pulsing through my bloodstream as my foot hovered over the gas pedal, my eyes locked on Rodriguez as he walked ten feet past the starting line and raised a
n air horn.

  I held my breath, my jaw clenched in concentration, my foot twitching in readiness. And then the shrill sound of the horn blasted through the air and my body reacted in an instant. I dropped the car into gear and floored it. Tires screeched, engines roared, and clouds of white smoke and dust blasted up from the back of every car as we all shot forward almost in unison, the force of it shoving us back in our seats.

  By the time I’d made it to the end of the short road, I was already pushing eighty mph. My eyes remained locked on the road ahead, watching the orange Mitsubishi and the BMW M3 jostle for position as I skidded around the first turn, my tires scrabbling for traction in a delicious way that gripped my stomach in excitement.

  As the streets whizzed by in a blur and I pushed it faster and faster, I felt some of the tension of the last few days start to diminish. Each quick gear change took back a little bit of the control that I’d felt slipping away from me since Ellie had returned.

  The streets were deserted. I grinned as the car in front of me braked too soon going into a corner, which allowed me to breeze past him. I was now in second place behind the orange kamikaze. Flicking a quick glance at my mirror, I saw Dodger behind me, overtaking the same car I had seconds before; he was pushing and grappling with the green kamikaze to hold his third-place position. It always came down like this, we four all fighting it out to see who would take the top spot this time.

  I gritted my teeth in concentration, twisting my wheel and shooting onto the other side of the road, attempting to get more room to make my move for first. My speedometer showed 121 mph. Orange kamikaze sped up, shooting a quick grin over at me as we zoomed down the road in a flurry of noise, smoke, and fumes that the residents of this street would wake and complain about at any second.

  I pulled back onto the right side of the road, now level with the orange kamikaze as Dodger tried fruitlessly to find a way through behind me. I grinned, tightening my grip on the wheel as we approached the next corner at full speed. Leaving it until the last possible second, I braked and turned my wheel, feeling my back tires lose purchase on the road for a split second before I turned into the skid and caught it. The hair on my arms prickled, my
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