Worth fighting for, p.2
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       Worth Fighting For, p.2

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
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  Toby laughed. “Stop flirtin’ with my staff, I’ve told ya before. What ya like, ’ey?” he scolded Chuck, rolling his light green eyes playfully. Toby was a born-and-bred south Londoner—a cockney, if you preferred the term. His accent, like everyone else’s around here, was a little hard for me to understand at first; a cockney’s seeming inability to pronounce their h’s or finish a lot of words was confusing to say the least. But after almost two years in London, I was now practically immune to it. In fact, I actually quite liked it. Well, apart from the fact that half of the rhyming slang still went over my head.

  Chuck held his wrinkled hands up in defense. “Not my fault you ’ired the prettiest American barmaid in town, is it?”

  I scoffed at that. “I’m the only American barmaid in town.” This earned a laugh from everyone and so I turned to Toby. “Seeing as it’s not busy tonight, you want me to do a stock take or something? I’m bored out of my mind.” Doing inventory would keep me busy for an hour at least.

  He shrugged, still grinning, and swept a hand through his light brown hair, pushing it off his forehead. “Yeah, that’d be good. I gotta put in an order with the brewery tomorrow, so that’d save me doin’ it in the mornin’. Thanks.”

  “No problem,” I replied, already turning on my heel and heading toward the back hallway to grab the stock-take sheets.

  On the way through to the cellar, I noticed that next week’s schedule had been pinned on the bulletin board. Stopping to check my hours and day off, I frowned when I saw my name down next to the day shift on Saturday. I’d specifically told Toby I couldn’t work that day. As if on cue, Toby stepped through the curtain and reached into the box of crisps, pulling out a pack of cheese and onion.

  “Toby, why am I down to work next Saturday? I can’t work that day, I have plans,” I stated, pointing at my name in the box.

  He frowned and walked up behind me, looking over my shoulder. “Change your plans.”

  “I can’t.” I turned to face him, setting my hands on my hips. “You’ll have to change it and get someone else in instead.”

  Raising one eyebrow, Toby turned the corners of his mouth up into a playful smile, and his eyes twinkled with mischievousness. “I’ll get someone else in to cover if you have sex with me tonight.”

  I gasped, my frown deepening. “That’s sexual harassment!”

  He shrugged, grinning as he turned on his heel. “Report me, then.”

  “Maybe I will!” I called, smiling at his retreating form before turning back to the schedule sheet. Pulling out my pen, I crossed out my name and wrote his instead before heading down to the cellar to complete the stock take.

  When I heard the last order bell chime just before eleven, I scribbled down the final few numbers on my sheet, noting how many packets of salted peanuts we had, and then headed upstairs again.

  The bar was almost deserted; only six people remained. Toby had already collected most of the glasses, setting them on the bar to be washed. “That’s time, ladies and gentlemen. Drink up. Don’t you ’ave ’omes to go to?” he joked, stacking stools on top of tables so the carpet could be vacuumed in the morning.

  A few of the patrons groaned and asked for a lock-in, but the tired circles around Toby’s eyes were evident for all to see, so they didn’t push it too far.

  As the last couple left the bar, Toby locked the heavy doors behind them and turned back to me. “Get the stock take finished?”

  I nodded. “Yep. All done.”

  He yawned, stretching his arms above his head as he walked back around the side of the bar. “Thanks.”

  I pulled open the dishwasher, setting a couple of glasses inside. As I reached for another couple, hands took hold of my hips. I jumped, startled, as Toby pressed against me, his warm body covering the length of my back. “So, do we have a deal about Saturday, or do you want to work?” he whispered, his hot breath fanning across my cheek and down my neck. His hold on my hips tightened as he pressed harder against me, the crotch of his jeans rubbing against the slightly exposed skin where my top had ridden up a little.

  I gulped, and my skin broke out in goose bumps. “Seriously, this is sexual harassment to the highest degree,” I replied as my muscles tightened all over.

  “Uh-huh,” he mumbled, his lips already on my neck. “Leave the cleaning, I’ll do it in the morning.”

  Resigned, I turned to face him. His light green eyes were intense with desire as they roamed my face. “I guess I do need the day off,” I mumbled, letting my gaze drop to his mouth as his tongue slowly swept across his bottom lip.

  He stepped back, holding out his hand to me as a grin split his face. Setting the last glass on the bar, I slipped my hand into his, allowing him to pull me through the curtain, along the hallway, and up the stairs that led to the residential quarters. As I walked, I kicked off one shoe and then the other, letting them rest where they dropped, watching as he did the same.

  When we made it to the top of the stairs, his restraint vanished and his passion surfaced in full force.

  He pulled me to him, wrapping his arms around me tightly as his lips crashed onto mine. His hands were everywhere as we stumbled backward toward the bedroom, his mouth barely leaving mine for more than a second at a time. My shirt was removed in a flash as his fingers worked deftly on the button of my jeans. When the backs of my knees hit the side of the bed, we tumbled down onto it, a tangle of limbs and heated breaths. I giggled as he landed on top of me, almost crushing me before he righted himself and covered my body with his.

  He grinned and pulled back slightly as I tugged his T-shirt off over his head. His eyes burned with want and need as he slowly eased my jeans down, his fingers tickling the skin on my outer thighs. “What you doing Saturday, anyway?” he whispered, leaning down and planting soft kisses at the base of my throat, his five-o’clock shadow scratching at my skin in a delicious way.

  I tipped my head back, my hands running up his naked back and digging into his shoulders as my body thrummed with pleasure. “Going to a wedding show with your mother,” I answered breathily.

  He laughed and pulled back, his lopsided grin causing one to slip onto my own face. “Seriously? Why do you keep letting her drag you to these things?” he asked, rolling his eyes.

  I shrugged, wriggling underneath the weight of his body. “She’s so excited about the wedding. I keep telling her that we’re having a long engagement, but...you know what she’s like. I think she’s hoping that I’ll see a dress or a cake or a balloon arrangement that will blow me away and make me want to finally set a date.”

  His face turned serious for a second. “You know what would make her leave you alone, don’t you?”

  “Us breaking up?” I suggested, giggling as he dug one finger into my ribs in reprimand.

  “Or we could just set a date...”

  I sighed deeply, my sexy mood beginning to deflate. “Can we not talk about this now? I thought we were getting our freak on...” To really ram the point home, I raked my nails gently down his back before firmly gripping his ass and pulling him down tighter onto me.

  Men are too easy. Mention sex, offer sex, even slightly hint about sex and they are putty in your hands. My fiancé was no different.

  Unfortunately for me, the whole sex distraction was over before I even had a chance to get going. It wasn’t that Toby was an inconsiderate lover—he could actually be great when he took the time; unfortunately for me, tonight he was tired, which meant no foreplay, no sweet words or time to get the home fires burning before the climax. Nope, he went straight to the endgame, and soon he was spent and slumped down on top of me, breathing heavily. Of course, I’d sensed he was close, so I’d done what most women do during sex: I’d faked a bit to spare his ego. Only a little bit, though—it wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy the intimacy with him, I just didn’t get the full “happy ending” this time around.

  When he planted a kiss on my cheek and rolled off me with a satiated grin on his face, I chuckled.

&nbs
p; “Well, that was definitely worth giving you the day off,” he mumbled, his eyes already half closing as he pulled me closer to him, his tired arm lazily slung across my belly. “And just ignore my mother. I’ll speak to her again.”

  I snuggled into him, nestling my head into the crook of his neck. “Okay, thank you.”

  “Anything for you,” he replied. His breathing started to even out and deepen, readying for sleep.

  “Don’t get too comfortable, I need to go clean up,” I said, wriggling out of his embrace. He groaned but let me go. I smiled down at him, bending to plant a small kiss on the tip of his nose.

  He grinned, his eyes still closed. “Hurry up and go to the bathroom before you drip everywhere. No one likes to sleep on a wet patch.”

  “Toby!” I cried, chuckling. “That’s not the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard after sex.”

  He shrugged unashamedly. “Oh, come on, real romance is never actually how it’s portrayed in those dirty novels you read,” he teased, winking at me.

  “Evidently,” I replied sarcastically, rolling my eyes.

  “Nope, those books just like to mislead women and portray an unrealistic version of what relationships are like. It’s an impossible comparison we men have to deal with every day. Sadly, we can’t live up to it.” He shook his head in mock sorrow. “In real life, an intimate relationship is when the man farts and then ’olds his girlfriend under the covers while screaming, ‘Dutch oven!’ They never write about that.”

  I gasped, picking up my pillow and swinging it at his face. “If you ever do that to me again, I swear to God...”

  Despite the unpleasant memories that surfaced at his words, I burst out laughing. This was a talent that Toby had—the ability to make me laugh. It was that ability that had drawn me to him in the first place. We’d met two years ago, and he’d offered me some part-time bar work while I was seeing London. He was the first person to truly make me laugh and forget, even if it was only for a moment or two, the pain that was crushing me from the inside out. We’d started out as friends, but however unplanned, our connection had grown into something more. Over time, he’d healed me, made me open up and trust again. He’d quite literally laughed his way into my heart. We’d been together for a year and a half now, and engaged for six months.

  Our relationship was straightforward, uncomplicated, and based on mutual respect. He didn’t necessarily set my world on fire with one scorching look or one of his smiles, but he loved me, and I loved him. He was a good man. Dependable, trustworthy, and safe—everything I craved so badly. Toby would never break what was left of my heart, that I was sure of. Quite simply, I adored him for how he’d healed me and made me see the lighter side of life again. For me, that was everything.

  He reached out and snagged my wrists, tugging me gently toward him as he raised his head, planting a soft kiss on my still-laughing lips. “Go clean up if you’re going,” he said, releasing my wrists. “Oh, and tie your ’air up, will ya? If we’re gonna spoon, I don’t wanna be coughing up fur balls all day tomorrow.” He winked at me as I eased out of bed. I threw a smile over my shoulder, picking up his discarded T-shirt and slipping it over my head. My smile was a genuine one as I padded barefoot out of the room and down the hall to the bathroom.

  After cleaning up, removing my makeup, and brushing my teeth, I slipped out of the bathroom. Before heading back into our bedroom, I made a quick detour into the room next door, easing the door open as quietly as possible. I crept over to the bunk beds, going up on tiptoes to look in the top bunk, and smiled.

  Empty. Just as I’d suspected it would be.

  I bent to peer into the bottom bunk. Curled up in the single bed, Toby’s two boys from his previous marriage slept peacefully, the book they had been reading propped open on the bed, the flashlight they had been reading by still illuminated, although the beam was now dim. I smiled and picked up the flashlight—or torch, as they liked to call it here in England—switching it off and making a mental note to buy new batteries for the next time they came to stay. Christian and Sam were still in that “cute” stage; at seven and five respectively, they still found reading a book by flashlight to be an adventure. They were great kids.

  I planted a soft kiss on each of their foreheads, easing the covers up over them and deciding to leave Christian where he was rather than attempt to move him into the top bunk without waking him. Their soft breathing made me smile as I crept out of the room and closed the door behind me, heading into my own bedroom.

  “Kids are sound asleep. Chris is in the bottom bunk again. They’re—” I stopped talking abruptly when I noticed Toby, flat on his back, one arm folded under his head as he snored lightly.

  I rolled my eyes and smiled. So much for spooning...

  Snagging a hair tie from the dressing table, I scraped my hair back into a low ponytail before flicking off the light and walking across the room in pitch-blackness, hands out, feeling for the edge of the bed. Climbing in, I scooted up close to Toby and snuggled against him, laying my arm across his chest. In his sleep, he rolled to his side, his heavy arm wrapping around me and holding me against him securely. I smiled contentedly against his chest and fell asleep almost instantly.

  What felt like mere minutes later, I was rudely dragged from my slumber by the shrill sound of a phone ringing off to the left. I groaned and rolled over, trying to force my stinging eyes open, blinking as I tried to focus on the numbers of the alarm clock.

  Toby sat up. “Fuck’s sake! It’s four in the morning, who the bloody ’ell is that?” he grumbled, reaching to pick up the landline phone, which continued its earsplitting assault. “What?” he barked into the phone. I moaned and closed my eyes as he flicked on the bedside lamp. “Oh, sorry. No, she’s right ’ere. Is everything okay? Oh, shit. Yeah, I’ll just get ’er, ’old on.” His hand touched my shoulder, shaking me gently, but the distinct change in his tone had already jolted me wide awake. His tone had me fearing the worst and knowing somehow that whatever this phone call was about, it wasn’t good news. “Ellie, it’s your grandmother, she says there’s been an accident.”

  CHAPTER 3

  THERE’S BEEN AN ACCIDENT.

  Accident. The word turned over and over in my head as I reached for the phone. I drew in a ragged breath, my heart squeezing in my chest. My stomach clenched and my mouth was instantly dry as I pressed the phone to my ear, my hand wrapped around it so tightly that my knuckles ached.

  Please. Please don’t be bad.

  But I already knew my mental begging was futile. You don’t call people up at four a.m. just to tell someone you stubbed your toe or broke your arm. This was bad; I somehow felt it deep down in my gut.

  I looked over at Toby for reassurance, but instead his expression made it worse. The sympathetic eyes and firm set to his mouth made my heart race in my chest. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Toby placed his hand on my knee, squeezing gently. I cleared my throat awkwardly and then tried again.

  “Hello?” My voice was almost a whisper.

  The caller sniffed. “Ellie, oh darling.” Even though it was husky and filled with emotion, I recognized her voice instantly—my paternal grandmother, Nana Betty.

  My eyes prickled already. “Nana, what’s happened, is everything okay?”

  “No, it’s...oh, Ellie, I don’t even know how to say this.”

  I swallowed around the lump in my throat, my lungs beginning to ache from holding my breath, trying to steel myself against whatever she was going to say. My imagination was running wild, my panic setting in, wondering what type of accident had happened, who had been injured, how bad it was.

  “Nana, please. What?!” I begged, desperation leaking into my voice.

  “There was a car accident. Your parents...”

  I gasped in a quick breath. “Oh my God, are they okay?” My free hand balled into a fist that I pressed against my chest, as if trying to slow my hammering heart. I could feel Toby staring at me, attempting to work out what
was going on, his grip still firm on my knee.

  “Your mom, she’s badly injured, Ellie. She has a fractured skull and internal bleeding, and something called a hematoma. They’ve taken her into surgery to try to repair some of the damage.”

  I groaned, the sound filled with pain. I swallowed, my eyes falling closed. “Surgery?” The word felt like acid on my tongue, burning my throat on the way out. “She’ll be okay, though, right?” I clenched my jaw, waiting for her reassuring words, words that would calm the storm of emotion building inside me at an alarming rate. Panic was taking over, my hands beginning to shake.

  “We won’t know more until she’s out. They’re doing everything they can for her, but she’s very badly off right now.” Nana’s answer didn’t offer the reassurance I was hoping for.

  “I...I...” My brain didn’t seem to be working. My heart hurt. The pain in my chest was overwhelming. My mom was in surgery; she was fighting for her life with a fractured skull. My lip trembled as my eyes prickled with tears. I couldn’t lose her. I simply couldn’t. “Nana, is she going to—?” I stopped abruptly, unable to say the last word. It was too final; I couldn’t bear it. My voice didn’t even sound like mine, the words barely intelligible, but she somehow understood what I was asking.

  “I just don’t know, honey.” No sugar coating it, just brutal honesty that felt like a kick to the gut.

  I wished with every bone in my body that I were there at the hospital, waiting for her to come out of surgery. My dad and sister would need me; we should all be together supporting each other. The fact that I wasn’t there for them made an extraordinary amount of guilt mingle with the grief inside me.

  “How are Dad and Kels coping?” I croaked.

  “Kelsey is fine. She was at my house at the time, she was planning on staying with me for the weekend. Your parents had just dropped her off and were heading home when...” She stopped and cleared her croaky throat, sniffing loudly. “She’s here with me at the hospital now, I’ve just slipped out to call you.”

  I nodded, more than a little relieved that Kelsey hadn’t been in the car at the time, too. “Okay. Where’s Dad, why didn’t he call me himself?”

  My words were met with nothing but silence. It stretched on and on to the point of being uncomfortable. Impending horror built in
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