Worth fighting for, p.17
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       Worth Fighting For, p.17

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
 
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  On the way to my car I pulled my cell phone from my purse, switching the airplane mode off. Just as I was about to put it away, a message came through from Nana.

  Please can you pick up some ground beef, tomatoes, and eggs on your way home?

  I sent back a short yep reply and climbed into the car. Closing my eyes, I gripped the steering wheel so tightly my knuckles ached.

  “I don’t want to adult anymore,” I muttered into the emptiness of the car.

  After a few deep breaths to try to calm my frazzled nerves, I twisted the key in the ignition, pumping the gas and hearing how much the engine was struggling to catch. My car had never been the most reliable at the best of times, and apparently using it so much in the last couple of weeks had taken its toll on the poor old girl. On the second try, the car started, a large plume of black smoke fluttering up past my back window that didn’t look healthy at all. I would most likely have to buy a new car soon. If I was going to be responsible for Kels, I couldn’t have an unreliable car.

  Another thing to worry about...

  I drove to the convenience store halfway between the hospital and my house and jumped out, grabbing Nana’s requested items and also choosing a chocolate bar to eat on the way home. I needed a sugar pick-me-up.

  As I was standing in line to pay, I noticed a tall, olive-skinned guy standing just outside the main exit. He was probably in his early thirties, dressed in dark jeans and a black long-sleeve tee with a leather biker’s vest over the top. He seemed to be staring straight at me. As I looked over, our eyes caught and he quickly looked away, dropping his cigarette butt on the floor and stubbing it out with a chunky black boot. There was something about his posture, something about the way he appeared to be watching me and quickly looked away that made the hair on the back of my neck prickle with unease.

  “Nine eighty-five.”

  I jumped, startled, and looked at the cashier, a young girl chewing gum loudly who was waiting with her hand extended, her expression bored. I hadn’t even realized I was at the front of the checkout. Opening my purse, I pulled out a ten and held it out to her, then quickly bagged my items. When I looked up at the door again, the guy was gone and the uneasy feeling in my tummy vanished.

  I was just being stupid.

  Shouldering my purse, I picked up my goods and used my teeth to savagely rip open my candy bar wrapper. As I walked around the back of the store and across the empty parking lot, I took large bites, not even bothering to savor it. I just needed the sugar. When I stopped next to my bug, I struggled to get my keys out, juggling the bag and my candy bar as I dug in my pocket for them.

  When something shoved me from behind, I didn’t even see it coming. My stomach and chest slammed against the side of my car; air left my lips in a grunted “oomph” as everything I was carrying slid from my arms, hitting the ground. Something hard pressed against my back, pinning me against the car.

  “What?” I cried, panic gripping my heart.

  A hand grasped a fistful of my hair, shoving my head down so all I could see was feet, concrete, the contents of my purse scattered everywhere, and the eggs that were oozing out of the bottom of the paper bag. “Keep still! If you make a sound, I’ll slit your throat,” a guy growled into my ear as his body pressed harder against mine, pinning me in place.

  My breath was coming out in quick, shallow gasps as I tried to comprehend what was happening and what the hell I should do. Self-preservation kicked in and I shoved backward, struggling and wriggling to get free. As I opened my mouth, intending to scream blue bloody murder, something cold and sharp pressed against the skin at my neck, digging in to the point of stinging, but not pain. I whimpered and squeezed my eyes shut, my struggle stopping immediately.

  I’m going to die. I’m going to die. That was all I could think, over and over.

  When a car sped into the parking lot and squealed to a stop behind me, I was roughly yanked backward, the knife nicking the skin at my throat. I gasped, immediately reaching up to grasp at the guy’s hand, attempting to pull his arm from my throat as my eyes began to water. My gaze darted left and right, looking for help, praying for someone else to be in the parking lot and to come and help me. But from what I could see, it was deserted. Because it was at the back of the shop, there was no way people could see me being attacked from the street, either.

  “Get her in the back,” another man ordered from somewhere behind me. I heard the click of a car door opening. Panic was taking over, and my heart was hammering in my ears as the guy’s arm wrapped around my middle, practically lifting me from my feet as I was half dragged toward the dark blue car that had just arrived. Knowing there was no way I could let him get me into the car, I kicked my legs out roughly, scratched with my nails, flailed my arms—anything in a bid to get free.

  I heard the new guy hiss, “Oh, fuck. Is that...?” And suddenly, the man who was holding me loosened his grip around my waist, his hand dropping away from my throat, and I was bumped roughly back to my feet. I fell forward, sprawling face-first onto the ground and scratching my hands and knees in the process. Something was pressing down on my legs, pinning me heavily.

  I gulped for air and whipped my head around to see what had happened, at the same time preparing myself to wriggle free, get up, and run as fast as I could toward the street.

  What I saw took a couple of seconds to comprehend. The guy holding me, whom I now recognized as the same man who had been watching me outside the store, was slumped heavily across the lower half of my legs. His eyes were closed and his body slack. Blood trickled slowly from the back of his head down around his ear and across his cheek.

  My eyes caught a movement three feet away. When I realized what it was, my panic marginally subsided. Jamie. I recognized him immediately even though he was wearing a red cap. I would know him anywhere. He stood there, his posture relaxed as he held a baseball bat in one hand, twirling it around like the players do when they’re showing off. His attention wasn’t on me, though; his eyes were locked on the second guy, the one who’d arrived in the car.

  “You totally fucked up,” Jamie spat, stepping toward the other man, raising the bat at the same time.

  The other guy shook his head quickly, his hands going up in an I surrender gesture, but Jamie either didn’t care or didn’t see because he swung the bat anyway. A sickening thud of wood hitting flesh and bone caused me to flinch as the bat collided with the side of the guy’s knee. A scream of pain cut the air as he immediately slumped to the ground, one hand going behind his back, fumbling for something as his other arm came up to shield his face. I saw Jamie bring the bat down again, this time smashing into the guy’s arm at full force, eliciting another scream of agony.

  I wriggled free of the unconscious guy and pushed up to my feet. What I hadn’t banked on was that my legs would be so uncooperative. I stumbled forward again, hitting the side of my car and managing to keep myself upright as I turned back to see that the second guy was now lying on his side, his arm at an odd, horrifying angle that made bile rise in my throat. His good hand was still fumbling behind his back. My heart raced as I watched the scene, morbidly transfixed.

  The guy pulled his good arm free, a black handgun gripped in his fist, and whipped it around so quickly it was almost a blur as he pointed it at Jamie.

  “Look out!” I screamed. But of course, Jamie was already prepared and aimed a swift kick at the guy’s outstretched hand, knocking it sideways before he had a chance to pull the trigger.

  When the man righted himself and went to aim the gun again, Jamie raised his foot, bringing it down on top of the guy’s wrist in a hard stomp, pinning it in place as he leaned down and quickly plucked the weapon from the other man’s hand. Jamie’s back was to me now, but I could tell by his posture that he was furious; his shoulders were stiff, his muscles taut as he raised the gun and smashed the side of it straight into the man’s face, his nose instantly gushing blood as his body stilled.

  Jamie didn’t turn back to me; inste
ad, he crouched down, tugging at the man’s sleeve, pulling it up to expose a tattooed forearm. I heard a sharp intake of breath from Jamie’s direction. “Motherfucker,” he muttered quietly before standing and pushing the gun into the back of his pants.

  I looked down, seeing the two unconscious men, the blood, their broken bodies lying there next to a puddle of smashed eggs, and my vision started to cloud at the edges. I leaned back heavily against the car, hearing the rush of blood in my ears as my hands began to tingle.

  My whole body was heavy as Jamie walked toward me, stooping to pick up the large silver knife that had been held at my throat. He pushed that into the waistband of his pants, too. My knees wobbled and I tried to take deep breaths. I could feel unconsciousness pulling at me. I knew it was because I was hyperventilating, but I could do nothing about it, I was in a total meltdown state.

  “Ellie, it’s okay,” Jamie whispered, dropping the bloodstained bat at my feet with a loud clatter. He stepped closer to me as his hands cupped my face, tilting my head up, dragging my attention from the broken bodies and forcing it onto him instead. His brown eyes were soft and concerned as they met mine. “It’s okay, little girl. Shh. I got you. Everything’s okay now,” he cooed, moving closer and wrapping one arm around me, holding me up as my legs gave out and I began to fall. My head slumped forward, my forehead against his neck. My eyes fluttered closed. His smell surrounded me in an invisible cloak of protection, the scent so recognizable it was as if I’d never been away from it; that, coupled with his whispered words, slowly brought my breathing under control, and my heartbeat calmed to a fast gallop instead of a sprint.

  We stood like that for a minute or so before a groan from the ground made Jamie pull back. His face changed in an instant. No longer soft and concerned, now it was fury personified. I’d never seen anyone so murderously angry—his eyes tightened, his lip pulled into a sneer. Looking around him, I saw that the guy who had grabbed me was waking up. He was clearly groggy as he blinked rapidly, struggling to get to all fours.

  As soon as Jamie’s body left mine, I was instantly cold and felt a shiver run up my spine. His fists clenched so tightly his knuckles whitened. The man didn’t even see the first blow coming. Jamie aimed a swift kick into the man’s stomach, sending him rolling onto his back and causing a guttural cry of pain to leave his lips.

  What followed next was like something from a movie. I’d never seen such violence in real life and I never wanted to again. Jamie straddled the guy’s chest, throwing punch after punch into his face, his head jerking with each blow. Blood spurted from cuts and welts, his eyes swelled to the point of closure, instant bruises covered his face, and his movements stopped as his body went limp.

  “Jamie?” I shook my head, unable to look away. “Jamie, stop,” I pleaded, my voice barely above a whisper. Setting my hands on my car behind me, I pushed myself upright, praying my legs would support me. “Jamie?”

  As if he’d heard me, he ceased his savage assault and stood. I huffed a sigh of relief that quickly got stuck in my throat as he gripped the gun in his pants and pulled it out, aiming at the now-unconscious man’s face. I whimpered and staggered forward, my hand closing around his shoulder, pulling with what little strength I could muster. “No!” I cried desperately. “Jamie, no, don’t. Please don’t.” I knew his past—I knew he’d killed before, he’d told me that he’d lost control when his sister was killed—but that was entirely different. I could see he was in control of himself; this would just be cold-blooded, revenge-fueled murder, and I couldn’t condone that.

  When he turned back to me, his eyes were murderous, his face set. He wanted to kill this man, probably kill them both. He’d changed so much from the boy I knew—so, so much. It hurt to see it. “Ellie, I have to. I have to make you safe.” His eyes tightened, and I could see the anguish there, the desperate need.

  I shook my head and stepped closer to him, my eyes locked on his. “Don’t, Jamie. This isn’t you, this can’t be you,” I whimpered.

  His jaw tightened, and he looked back at the man on the ground, a vile hate plastered on his features.

  I swallowed, unsure if I was fighting a losing battle. “I’m safe now,” I assured him, reaching out and setting my hand on his cheek, pulling his gaze back to mine. “I’m fine. See?” I begged him with my eyes, silently pleaded with him not to take away the good that I’d always seen in his heart, that I still saw in him even though it was hidden by a cloud of rage.

  He closed his eyes and nodded, his hand dropping to his side, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I stepped closer to him, wrapping my heavy, uncoordinated arms around his waist and pressing myself against him.

  His arms folded around me, holding me tightly as his lips pressed against the side of my head. “I was almost too late. I don’t know what I would have done. I don’t know...” he muttered into my hair, his arms tightening around me almost desperately.

  “I’m fine,” I repeated, knowing he needed comforting, too.

  We stood like that for a good minute, me clinging to him like he was a life raft on choppy waters, before he pulled back and held me at arm’s length. “We should go. My car is just there,” he said, nodding his head toward the black BMW I’d been driven home in after I saw him at his club.

  I nodded, dumbly following as he led me forward. He stopped by my car and bent to collect my purse from the ground, hastily shoving things back inside it. When he had everything, we started for his car again, his arm firmly looped around my waist because I was so unsteady on my shaky legs. He opened the passenger door, helping me inside and setting my purse at my feet.

  “What about my car?” I croaked, leaning my head back against the headrest and closing my eyes for a few seconds as his hands took mine, inspecting the grazes I was sure to have there from falling.

  “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.” He let go of my hands abruptly, and I cracked my eyes open to see him opening the glove box and then reaching behind him to get the gun and knife, depositing them in there and closing the compartment again swiftly.

  He turned his attention back to me, taking my seat belt and pulling it across me, clipping it into place before he leaned out of the car and closed my door. As he sauntered around to the other side of the car, I could hear muffled talking but couldn’t focus on it. When he climbed into the driver’s side, he pulled his cell away from his ear, disconnecting the call and dropping it into the middle cup holder on his car. I didn’t even have the energy to ask him who he’d called.

  When his engine roared to life and he started rolling out of the parking lot, I glanced back at the bodies. “What about them?” I croaked. Shouldn’t we call an ambulance or something?

  “Do you really care?” he replied tartly, his eyes flicking to the rearview mirror, his jaw tightening at the sight of the bodies.

  Did I really care? “No,” I answered honestly, shaking my head.

  “Exactly.”

  As he drove, the streets blurred through the window, my mind unfocused. I glanced down at my tingling hands. They were visibly shaking. I clenched my fists a couple of times, trying to stop them, but couldn’t. Giving up, I pushed them under my thighs to hide them from view.

  As the minutes passed in silence, my mind kept wandering back to what had just occurred. Those men had attempted to push me into their car. I tried not to think about what might have happened to me if Jamie hadn’t turned up. He’d saved me. He’d beaten the ever-loving shit out of them.

  Turning toward him, I saw his bloody knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel, how the muscles in his forearms were tight, his biceps bulging with stress, his whole posture alert. Fury rolled off him in waves. I gulped, thinking about the murderous intent I’d seen swirling in his eyes.

  If I hadn’t grabbed his arm and asked him to stop, would he have killed those guys? Would he have actually pulled the trigger? His eyes told me he would have. I’d never seen him like that; it had been kind of terrifying to witness the storm of murder
in his eyes. I knew I should be scared, I should be questioning why I let him put me into his car after what I’d just witnessed, but I’d never been scared of Jamie. He would never hurt me. I’d glimpsed the damaged, broken soul inside him. I knew his demons, and I also knew that there was no malice in his heart.

  Well, at least that’s what I thought of the Jamie I used to know. This new man sitting in the car with me was different. There was an out-of-control, hard edge to him, some shift in his personality that had hardened itself and become desensitized to violence. I’d known he’d done violent things when he worked for Brett. I’d seen him sporting knuckles like that before, cleaned them for him even, but he had always been sorry about it. I’d seen the regret within him and how he would get quiet and distant sometimes, a look of mortification on his face. Now there was no sorrow or remorse, only blazing anger. What had happened to the boy I’d loved; where had he gone?

  “Hey, you okay?”

  I jumped, my mind jerking back to the present as I turned to look at Jamie. His concerned eyes met mine as he pushed a stray lock of hair behind my ear, his fingers brushing against my cheek gently and lingering there for a split second. Heat crept over my face, burning in a pleasurable way, my skin tingling where he’d touched me.

  It took me a few moments to realize he’d half turned in his seat and that the car had stopped. Frowning, I looked around at our surroundings. An underground parking lot.

  “Where are we?” I asked, my voice croaky because of my dry throat.

  “Um...this is my new place,” he replied, his hand dropping back into his lap. This version of Jamie was more like the one I knew—the one I met at first, before we got comfortable with each other; the nervous, shy guy who didn’t feel that he deserved to be treated nicely. It hurt my heart to see he still felt that way.

  “Oh,” I answered, but then grew confused. “Why would you bring me here? Why didn’t you just take me home?” And why was that thought only just now occurring to me?!

  Another car entered the parking lot then, pulling up alongside Jamie’s. “Good, he’s here,” Jamie muttered as a lone figure got out of the car. Jamie didn’t answer my question, just exited the car and closed his door, talking to the new guy.

  Instinct told me I wanted to hear this conversation, so I fumbled with my seat belt with shaky hands, finally prying it open after a couple of attempts, and climbed out, turning to look over at the two men. When the newcomer’s face came into view, my frown deepened. I knew this guy, we’d met a few times before. Ray. The one who had come to the airport in Jamie’s absence and forced me to see reality.

  “Jamie?” I muttered, leaning on the car door heavily because my knees were weak and I felt a little unsteady. I knew I was probably in shock. I’d read about it but had never experienced it before.

  He said something else to Ray as he twisted a key from his key ring and handed it to him, then turned to me with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Ellie, do you remember Ray?” he asked.

 
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