Worth fighting for, p.19
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       Worth Fighting For, p.19

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
 
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  unbearable, and I could feel my skin tightening and had to squint against the brightness of the flames.

  I laughed, actually enjoying myself as I plucked out the next bottle, walking backward toward the open door, knowing this one was going to be the killer blow, the one to bring the house down.

  Checking over my shoulder, seeing the last guy disappear out the door and race for the exit, I lit the bottle and threw it directly at the compressed gas bottles and all the highly flammable chemicals piled high in the corner, then turned and ran as fast as I could out of the building and into the fresh air, following the four men as they dashed across the lot and over toward the grassy knoll I’d hidden behind earlier.

  When I was halfway across the lot, an explosion from behind me threw me forward, debris and bits of the building flying through the air and landing around me, flames devouring them already.

  I landed with a thump and turned my head to see the whole place practically leveled. Flames licked up into the sky about ten feet high. A plume of black smoke rose into the air, covering the blue sky in a shroud of darkness.

  Getting my hands under me, I pushed myself up to my feet, dusting off my jeans, and looked at the burning building with a satisfied grin on my face.

  One down, and hopefully Detective Lewiston will take out the other three.

  The Salazars would be out of business, out of money, and out of places to hide. A laugh built in my throat, kind of like an evil cackle as I turned and headed for my car. The four men were standing on the grass opposite, watching me with wide eyes and slack, hanging mouths.

  I gave them a little salute as I walked. “Kid Cole out,” I joked, sending a wink in their direction. This would just form another part of my legacy, something else for people to talk about when my name was mentioned.

  My next and only thought as I climbed back into my car was Ellie.

  CHAPTER 20

  ELLIE

  AS RAY AND I stepped out of the elevator and headed for the apartment door, I couldn’t stop my mind from returning to the vengeful look on Jamie’s face. Was he going back to the parking lot to do what I’d begged him not to? What other possible thing could he have to “take care of”?

  Ray opened the door and stepped inside, giving my elbow a little tug in prompt.

  “What has Jamie gone to do?” I asked, holding my ground. He must have explained and told his friend the reason he had to stay here babysitting me; he just didn’t want me to know.

  Ray’s eyes tightened. “Just come inside. He said he’d explain everything when he’s back, so I’m staying out of it.” He tugged my arm again, and because of my weakened, shaky state, my body obliged even though my mind was still reeling.

  The door clicked shut behind me and Ray locked it, leaning forward to look through the peephole, checking for some bizarre reason even though we’d just been the only ones out there.

  I folded my arms around myself, tucking my hands under my armpits in a bid to quell their tremor. As Ray stood guard at the peephole, I turned and walked farther into the apartment, my eyes taking in everything and nothing.

  The apartment was nice—a lot better than Jamie had ever been able to afford when we were together. A large picture window stretched the length of the living room and the open-plan kitchen area, showing a beautiful city skyscape that I would bet looked incredible at dusk or at night when all the lights of the city glowed against the darkness.

  Finally, Ray pushed away from the door, his shoulders loosening marginally as he turned to me. “Right, tea with plenty of sugar. You sit,” he instructed, pointing toward the large, expensive-looking brown leather seating area all arranged around a gorgeous fireplace with the biggest TV I’d ever seen mounted above it.

  I took his advice, sitting down before I fell down, and Ray set my purse at my feet before heading to the kitchen area. I sighed and looked around, my mind whirling, wondering what this beautiful, expansive apartment really said about Jamie Cole, because I couldn’t see one ounce of his personality here. Everything was sleek, clinical, cold, with an emphasis on money—unless that was the new Jamie of today...

  Ray came in a few minutes later, setting a mug of tea on the coffee table along with a plate of cookies. “I figured you should eat something; it might help with the shock.” He eyed me worriedly as I leaned forward mechanically and picked up my cup, sipping at the tea until it was gone and then taking a cookie, nibbling on it but not tasting it. The tea really helped, and my trembling eventually subsided.

  I wasn’t sure how much time had passed—long enough for me to drink my whole mug of hot tea. When Ray’s phone rang, he looked down at it and then back to me before stepping into the inner hallway and answering it.

  When he walked back into the living room and sat down, his posture was rigid and tight. He leaned forward and snagged a cookie, munching on it, not meeting my eyes.

  “Was that Jamie?” I asked.

  Ray shook his head.

  I huffed angrily, my temper rising again now. “How long is he going to be?” I asked. “How long is he expecting me to sit here and wait for him? I want to go home! Why can’t you just tell me what’s going on? Do you know who those guys were? Is Jamie going to be in trouble or something for that? I mean, they had guns and...” It was all too much. Now that my shaking had stopped and my mind seemed to be going back to normal, rational thought kicked in, and so did my anger. I needed answers.

  Ray sighed deeply and finally looked up at me. “Ellie, you can’t go home right now. Please just wait for Kid to come back and explain. I’m not going to get involved, so please stop asking me.”

  I scowled angrily, but he just shrugged one shoulder and gave a little shake of his head, so I knew he wasn’t giving in anytime soon. I huffed angrily. “Fine. Can I use the bathroom?” I asked, needing to do something other than sit and wait and stew.

  Ray nodded and motioned his chin toward the only other door in the apartment. “It’s through the bedroom and on the left.”

  Bedroom. My stomach gave a little quiver thinking about the place where Jamie slept. But then something else occurred to me. Jamie would have had other girls in his bed.

  As soon as that thought entered my head, something very unwelcome took root in my stomach. I refused to acknowledge it as jealousy, but as I stepped into the room and closed the door behind me, my eyes searched out signs of a girlfriend—throw pillows, girls’ clothing, makeup, anything.

  I was more than a little relieved to see that this room was just as cold and clinical as the living room, with one exception. There were a few photo frames on his bedside table and dresser.

  Without my permission, my legs carried me over there as I picked up the one next to his bed: his sister Sophie. The same photo I had fixed for him after it had been ripped. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I looked at it. She really was a gorgeous little thing.

  Heading to the dresser, I looked at the next one: Jamie holding a baby girl wearing a white christening gown. He looked much the same as he did now, a little more unkempt than he had when I knew him before. He was smiling, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. The last photo on the dresser was of a group of people. Jamie was still holding the baby, but Ray and two women were in this one. My hand reached for it, then stilled as my gaze settled on the younger of the two women.

  Her face was familiar.

  It hit me all at once. Natalie.

  But it couldn’t be, could it? How would Natalie know Jamie? I’d met her in Rome; it couldn’t be that much of a small world, could it?

  My mind whirled as I picked up the photo, inspecting it more closely. But yes, it was definitely her. Natalie Rowson. My traveling companion. Her hair was shorter, chopped into a cute pixie cut now. She was smiling down at the little girl in Jamie’s arms.

  Wait, was Jamie now dating Natalie? Was that...their child?

  My stomach clenched, fiercer this time, churning like fire.

  Natalie and I had kept in touch after she came b
ack home and I decided to stay in England. We weren’t really close anymore, but we sometimes chatted via Facebook Messenger and liked each other’s tweets and statuses, things like that. I’d seen no mention of her dating anyone, let alone Jamie. Surely that would be something she would mention, brag about even? And surely she would have recognized his name—I’d cried over him enough, hadn’t I? We toasted to his demise enough times for her to know his name and realize he was the guy who’d shattered me, wouldn’t she? Yet here she was, right here in the photo and standing next to him with a proud smile on her face.

  My throat seemed to close up as I tightened my grip on the silver photo frame and turned, heading out to the living room again. Ray looked up as I thrust the photo toward his face.

  “Who is that?” I pointed to the pixie-cut girl, trying to keep my voice level, still praying I’d made a mistake. If I hadn’t, then none of this made sense. There was no reason for her to be in this photo, no possible reason I could think of, anyway.

  Ray smiled as he looked at it. “That’s Nat, my sister-in-law.”

  Nat. It is her! And wait, did he just say sister-in-law? What. The. Hell?

  I sucked in a sharp breath at his words. Ray’s sister-in-law. So Jamie knew her? Had he known her when I met her or after? He and Ray had been friends a long time. Wouldn’t he have met her before? And I’d just so happened to run into her at a market in Rome? There was no way it was a coincidence. My brain struggled to catch up as thoughts rushed over me at once.

  Judging by the widening of Ray’s eyes and the throbbing muscle in his jaw, he regretted answering so casually. He stood, taking the photo from me and setting it facedown on the coffee table. “Look, I’m not saying anything about that either, so don’t bother asking. That’s something else you’ll have to ask Kid about. Just don’t be too hard on him when you do, all right?”

  “Just answer me one thing before you clam up,” I bargained. “Are they dating? Is that their baby?” I pointed to the back of the photo, holding my breath. Please say no. Please say no.

  Ray smiled almost sadly. “No, they’re not dating. That’s my youngest daughter. Kid is her godfather.”

  “Then why—” I started, but he cut me off.

  “You really have no idea, do you?” He shook his head before straightening his shoulders. “I’m not saying anything more. Speak to him about it when he comes.” His tone was final as his eyes locked onto mine.

  They were the last words we spoke about it. No matter how many times I tried to ask, he shot me down every time, leaving me in confused, stunned silence, my brain a mess, my thoughts all over the place; my worry about what Jamie was doing and if he was in trouble was front and center. The one comforting thought...Jamie and Natalie weren’t dating. That wasn’t his baby. I hated that I cared about that information so much.

  Well over an hour of silence had passed when a knock at the door made Ray spring to his feet and rush to answer it. I swiveled on my seat, seeing Ray leaning in and checking the peephole before quickly yanking open the door. Jamie stepped into the apartment, his eyes darting to me. I noted a small margin of relief flicker across his features before he turned back to Ray. They had another quiet conversation and then Ray nodded and left the apartment, closing the door behind him, leaving us in silence.

  Jamie stepped into the room, raking one dirty, grime-covered hand through his hair, pushing it back into place. “Hey. Sorry I took so long.” He sat down on the opposite end of the sofa from me, turning to face me, his eyes narrowed in concern as they scanned over me slowly. “You okay?”

  The heavy scent of smoke lingered around him, assaulting my senses and making me wrinkle my nose in distaste; when I detected another smell coming off him, my anger spiraled. Alcohol: He reeked of it, like he’d bathed in the stuff. “Have you been to a bar while I’ve been sitting here on my ass waiting?” I snapped disbelievingly.

  He recoiled visibly, a frown lining his forehead. “What? No!”

  “Oh, come on, I can smell the alcohol on you!” I cried, getting to my feet and snatching up my purse from the floor. “I can’t believe I was naive enough to sit here and be concerned about you while you were off bloody drinking!” I snapped, well aware that I’d just used an English term. “I want to go home. Now. Will you take me or should I call a cab?”

  Jamie jumped to his feet and shook his head, his hand reaching for mine as I unzipped my purse, meaning to find my cell phone. “I wasn’t drinking, I swear. Ellie, please, will you just hear me out?”

  I ground my teeth, looking up and seeing that his eyes were doing that begging thing that I’d always been a sucker for.

  I snatched my hand from his grip and stepped back. “Fine.”

  He sat on the edge of the sofa, looking up at me with pleading eyes. “The guys who attacked you earlier, they work for the two Salazar brothers. They have a sort of gang here; they’re not good people. The Salazars sent those guys after you.”

  I frowned, trying to take it in, but it didn’t make sense. “Why would they care about me, though?”

  “Because I care about you,” he answered quickly.

  I scoffed and shook my head adamantly, folding my arms over my chest defensively. “No, you don’t. You never did.”

  He groaned and put his head in his hands. “Ellie, please don’t think that. Don’t ever think that I don’t care.”

  I recoiled, my anger peaking. “That’s what you basically said to me that night, Jamie! You remember the night I’m talking about? The one when you cheated on me, then called me up and broke my fucking heart the day we were supposed to be starting our future together?” I roared, pointing an accusing finger at him as three years’ worth of hurt and bitterness leaked into my words.

  His eyes closed and his shoulders sagged. “I lied,” he whispered.

  “What?” Confusion washed over me. “Lied about what?”

  “Everything.” His eyes opened, locking on mine. He reached out, taking my hand in one of his rough, calloused ones and tugging gently, guiding me to sit down next to him. “I didn’t cheat on you; I never would have. You were my world, Ellie.”

  “You were my world.” Exactly how I’d felt about him. His words made my stomach clench and my scalp prickle. My mouth had gone dry. “I don’t...wh-what?” I stuttered.

  He sighed, a muscle in his jaw throbbing as he clenched and unclenched his teeth. “I wasn’t honest with you, and I hate myself for that, but I still believe I did it for the right reasons.” He scooted closer to me, so close that his knee pressed against mine, his thumb stroking over the back of my hand, which he hadn’t released from earlier. I hadn’t even noticed. “That night...I had one more job to do for Brett, you remember?”

  I nodded, dumbstruck.

  “It was a meeting with some drug dealers from another state, the Lazlos. The meeting was basically negotiating terms and talking about how the two organizations could help each other. It turned out the police had been surveying the Lazlos for some time. They heard everything that was said and then they raided the joint. There was a huge firefight, and some people were killed. Brett was killed.” The sadness in his tone when he said that last bit was evident. “And everyone else was arrested.” He looked up at me, his expression forlorn.

  “You were arrested?” I muttered, my brain working overtime now.

  “Yeah. I had a gun on me at the time, just for a show of force for the meeting. I didn’t use it or anything. They charged me with possession of a firearm. My lawyer managed to get me off practically everything else they could have charged me with, but I was still going to do time for it, plus the time I had remaining on my previous sentence when I was let off for good behavior.”

  I shook my head. “Are you lying to me now, Jamie? I can’t even tell with you anymore.”

  He sighed and his eyes pleaded with me to listen. “I’m not lying! I’m telling you the truth now. Call my lawyer if you don’t believe me. It’s Miles’s father, Arthur Barrington. Check with the prison board
or something, or just fucking Google it. The Lazlo raid made headline news; it mentions in there about Brett being killed in the gunfight. Google it. Here.” He pulled out his cell phone, offering it to me.

  I didn’t take the phone. His eyes were telling me everything I needed to know. I could see the honesty there. When I’d said earlier I couldn’t tell if he was lying, that wasn’t the truth. I had always been able to read him.

  His confession made so much sense. I’d never been quite able to understand why he’d broken up with me.

  I’d always struggled to accept the fact that he’d cheated; Jamie wasn’t that type of guy. I’d always felt there was more to it, but had never been able to figure out what. Hearing these words from his lips now, everything clicked into place and finally made sense.

  My brain was whirling, trying to connect the dots, scratching out everything I’d believed for the last three years. Jamie had been arrested. Jamie had lied to me. Jamie hadn’t cheated on me. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this? You were in jail, and you decided to use your phone call to break my heart instead of just being honest?”

  His eyes met mine. “No. I decided to use my one phone call to set you free.”

  “I don’t understand,” I whispered. “Why did you do that? Why did you lie to me? You hurt me so badly.” My tears had started now, tumbling down my cheeks and wetting my sweatshirt.

  Jamie groaned, his grip on my hand tightening to the point of it being uncomfortable. “I was going down for at least a year, Ellie. It was inevitable, a done deal. I loved you so much, more than anything, and I didn’t want you to have to go through waiting for me. You deserved better than me, you always did.”

  Everything had been a lie. All the pain I’d felt, the grief, the crushing heartbreak because the man I loved had betrayed me came rushing back to me at once. And all of it could have been avoided. He’d put me through that heartbreak because he didn’t want me to have to wait for him, because I deserved better? Did I
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