Worth fighting for, p.20
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       Worth Fighting For, p.20

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
 
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  deserve to feel like my heart had been ripped out? Did I deserve to cry myself to sleep for a year? Did I deserve to always feel like something was missing inside me, even now?

  Anger, burning like lava, coursed through my veins. “Wasn’t that my decision to make?” I shouted, yanking my hand from his and getting to my feet, needing some personal space. He’d hurt me so badly and my hand was itching to ball into a fist and smash into his face, just so I could cause him a fraction of that pain in return. “This was just like when you kept your past from me and didn’t tell me about your sister. Yet again you took the decision away from me, thinking you were doing what was best. You were wrong again, Jamie! I went through hell because of that phone call. It took me ages to get over you and what you said to me!”

  Maybe I still wasn’t over it—it sure felt like I wasn’t. The pain was still there; looking at him, I could feel it washing over me. And now to know I hadn’t even had to go through it—I was so livid I could barely stand still. For three years I’d believed this was all my fault, that me doubting him over whether he’d killed his sister, Sophie, was what made him realize he didn’t want to be with me, and now I found out it wasn’t anything I did or didn’t do. I wasn’t even sure how to come to terms with this new piece of information.

  He stood too, holding his hands up in a calm down gesture. “I’m sorry. I really thought I was doing what was best for you.”

  “Well, you weren’t!” I screamed, throwing my purse onto the sofa roughly just for some sort of release. I pointed an accusing finger at him. “You didn’t want to fight for our relationship, that’s what it was. You were afraid to ask me to wait. What happened? Was I not worth fighting for?” My voice broke, my breath hitching with sobs.

  A look crossed his face, a fierce determination flashing in his eyes as he stepped forward, cupping my cheeks, our bodies brushing gently where he was so close, causing my heart to jackhammer in my chest. His thumbs brushed across my cheeks softly, wiping away my tears as they fell. “You’re worth dying for,” he whispered, his eyes soft and tender as they met mine.

  A lump formed in my throat. That kind of sweet, corny line from his lips used to make me swoon, and if I was honest with myself, it still kind of did.

  His words hung in the air as we looked at each other, inches apart, his hands cupping my face. So many unspoken thoughts and feelings transmitted between us as I stared into his eyes, losing myself there as my body’s urges slipped back to the past, longing for him to lean that little bit farther in, to place those soft lips against mine and claim my mouth in a scorching-hot kiss that set my body alight.

  “So you did want to come with me?” I asked, my mind finally wrapping around what had happened.

  He nodded quickly. “More than anything.”

  I sighed. “You hurt me so much.” Somehow those words didn’t even cover the grief and loss I’d suffered.

  “I know, and I’m so sorry for that. If I could take it back...” He trailed off, tearing his eyes away from mine and staring down at the floor.

  “Would you?”

  One of his shoulders lifted in a small shrug. “I don’t know. The selfish part of me says yes straightaway. The part of me that loved you so deeply it was painful, the part of me that still would die for you in an instant, wants to go back in time and tell you the truth, beg you to wait so we could make the life we wanted when I was released. But the reasonable, caring part of me that wants the best for you would probably still make the same call. I don’t deserve you, Ellie. I never did. Even if I had a thousand years to repent for all the shit I’ve done, I still wouldn’t deserve you.” He looked up at me, his eyes showing his sincerity.

  And God help me, just like that, I swooned internally. “That was so corny,” I said. I couldn’t help myself.

  “I still got it then, huh?” He grinned, the beautiful smile that I always used to think was reserved only for me, and that dimple appeared on his cheek. And oh, how I’d missed that dimple. My finger twitched, longing to reach out and trace my finger over it, but I resisted. Despite everything, I smiled and rolled my eyes.

  Knowing I needed to get control of myself and stop letting him turn me into a giddy little schoolgirl, I stepped back, and his hands dropped down to his sides. His eyes never left mine, stripping my defenses, melting my anger and hurt into a puddle at his feet. I wanted to stay mad at him, to blame him for hurting me so much when he should have let me make the decision myself as to what I wanted to do.

  I could understand why he had done it, though. Jamie was selfless. He’d also never seen the good inside himself or felt he deserved anything good in life. Not wanting to ask me to wait for him all stemmed from his horrible childhood and not feeling worthy of love or affection. He’d already said it himself—he thought he wasn’t good enough for me. He was wrong, oh so wrong. I thought I’d convinced him he was worthy of loving and being loved in return, but clearly I hadn’t or he wouldn’t have taken it upon himself to make that decision for me.

  “I still don’t understand why those guys tried to grab me, though. Who are they to you?” I asked.

  He sighed and sat down, patting the seat next to him. “It’s kind of a long story. You want to sit?”

  I sighed and perched on the edge of the cushion, keeping enough distance between us that I could keep my concentration firmly on what he was saying and not have flashes of us writhing together while hot and sweaty.

  He cleared his throat, looking down at his hands as though he didn’t want to look at me. “I was in jail for a year and a half, and at first I had every intention of finding you and telling you the truth once I was out; I held on to that for a long time before I finally accepted that things would never work out how I wanted. But as time went on and I was in there day after day with all those people, I realized that you were just better off without me. You were away traveling, living your life, and I had no right to come in and be a part of all that again. By the time I got out, I figured I had nothing left to be good for. You were gone, Sophie was gone, and I had no qualifications and nothing going for me other than my reputation. I guess when I was released I just used what I knew best. Brett had left me some money in his will, so that helped, and my reputation made people want to take a risk on me. Over the last year and a half I’ve built my organization to be one of the biggest of its type in New York. The Salazars are one of my rivals. They were at the club last week when we had our...exchange.” He chewed over the word, struggling to find the best one. “I guess they saw you as a way of getting to me.”

  My mouth had gone dry. Jamie was now leading his own crew, even though he’d fought so hard to leave all of that behind him? I hadn’t expected that to come out of his mouth at all. I knew he had changed, that was easy enough to see. But to abandon everything he’d said to me and immerse himself in a life he claimed he hated? I hadn’t realized he’d changed quite that much.

  He looked up at me, his eyes pleading with me to understand. I could also see regret and shame, like he was embarrassed to be admitting it to me. “These people, the Salazar brothers and their organization, they’ve got no morals. They don’t care who they hurt to get what they want.”

  “And you’re different?” I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.

  A frown lined his forehead as he nodded. “Yeah. I mean, most of my work tends not to be violent. There are times when I have to do things I don’t want to, but we’re nothing like them. Our main priority has always been the cars.”

  I shook my head in disbelief. “This can’t be the real you, Jamie. You can’t have changed that much in a couple of years.”

  He smiled boyishly. “I love it when you call me Jamie. No one calls me that anymore.” He sighed sadly. “In a way, Jamie went into prison, but Kid Cole came out. This is who I am now.” He gave a resigned shrug, but his eyes betrayed him. I could see the sadness there, the longing for something different that he was trying so hard to hide—even from himself.

  “I don’t belie
ve that, I see it in your eyes. There’s good in you. You’re a good person, you always have been. It’s just that circumstances have always been against you,” I protested. “Before, you had a reason to fight against what people thought of you; I think you’ve just lost your way. It’s easier to conform and be what’s expected than to change, I know that. My whole life through high school, I was trying to be someone I wasn’t just because it was what was expected of me. Then I met you and I realized I could be the person I wanted to be, screw expectation or reputation, I could do whatever I wanted.”

  His frown deepened. “And what exactly did you want that was so against what people expected?”

  I shrugged one shoulder. “You.”

  Silence followed as his eyebrows rose in surprise.

  “I fought for you. I fought against people who believed I was better suited to the school jock. I fought against my mother, who told me over and over you weren’t good enough for me. I fought so hard for you because I saw the good in your heart. I still do, even if you don’t. You should have fought for me, too. Things could have been so different. I loved you; I would have understood, and I would have waited for you to get out. We could have made a life together, Jamie.” That hurt to say because it was so true. I would have waited until the end of the world for him, and then we could have had our happily-ever-after.

  “It’s too late now, I suppose?” he asked, his hopeful eyes boring into mine.

  I wasn’t expecting that response, and my body automatically recoiled from shock. “I...I’m...” I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to say to finish that sentence.

  “Engaged. I know. And he’s a good man,” he finished my sentence for me, and then a fierce determination crossed his face. “But do you love him like you loved me?”

  Did I? No. I knew it, deep down; I had never loved another like I loved Jamie, and I most likely never would. “No.” I felt like I was betraying Toby by saying the word out loud.

  Jamie, ever the gentleman, didn’t gloat over my admission. I saw a smile twitch at the corner of his mouth, but he hid it as quickly as it had come and then changed the subject. “I bought you a ring once. I was going to propose. I’d asked your dad and everything, but then...” He frowned. “Then shit happened.”

  I couldn’t mask my shocked expression; my mouth dropped open with an audible pop as my eyes widened. “What?” My father had never revealed this piece of information. I’d gone off, heartbroken, and he’d never told me that Jamie had spoken to him about taking the next step. “What did my dad say?” Somehow that was important. Having just lost him, I needed to know his opinion—would he have given Jamie and me his blessing?

  Jamie smiled sadly. “He said as long as I kept making you smile, then yes, but he made me promise to wait a few years before I took you down the aisle.”

  My emotions overcame me again and I burst into tears, covering my face with my hands. And then Jamie was there again, wrapping his strong arms around me, crushing me against his body as his face pressed into my hair, his breath fanning down my neck. I cried harder, clinging to him, grieving for the loss of us as a couple and for my dad.

  “Would you have said yes?” Jamie asked, stroking my back soothingly as my body shook and hitched with sobs.

  I nodded awkwardly against his shoulder, my fingers digging into his back, clutching him closer. I definitely would have said yes, I would have practically snatched the ring from his hand and screamed the word yes. I would have been proud to wear his ring on my finger.

  His body sagged against mine, and he let out a long, slow breath as he bent his head and pressed a soft kiss to the base of my shoulder. My whole body prickled with need and my heart stuttered as lust ignited within me. I gulped and closed my eyes, enjoying the sensations building within me at an alarming rate.

  I didn’t move, afraid of what would happen if I did. Maybe he would pull away and apologize, or maybe he wouldn’t pull away at all, maybe he would clutch me closer and the flames of passion would burn us both to the ground. I wasn’t sure which I wanted more.

  “Why do you smell like smoke?” I asked after a minute or so, when I’d managed to calm my body and my tears. The smell clinging to his clothes made my throat itch a little.

  “Uh...I went to see the Salazar crew,” he answered, his tone sheepish.

  I pulled back quickly, wiping my nose with the back of my hand. “What? What does that mean?”

  He shrugged, reaching up to scratch at the back of his neck as he looked away from me. “I couldn’t let them get away with touching you.”

  “So you did what exactly?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to know.

  He stood, brushing down his shirt, and shrugged. “Do you want a drink or something? Maybe something to eat? I still can’t cook, but I try sometimes.” He turned and walked off toward the kitchen, leaving me sitting there in stunned silence. He’d flat-out refused to answer my question. What exactly was I supposed to take from that?

  I stood too, turning to see him leaning into his fridge, his back to me. “Jamie, what did you do?” I repeated hesitantly.

  His back stiffened, but he didn’t turn to face me. “Less than I wanted to do.”

  I could see I wasn’t going to win this one. He wasn’t going to answer, no matter how much I pushed. My frustrated gaze fell onto the table and the upturned photo, and suddenly different questions formed in my head.

  “Jamie, who is Natalie to you?” I asked, watching as his hand stopped midway through reaching into the bag of bread.

  “What?” He cleared his throat awkwardly. “I don’t know any Natalie.” He turned back to me then, his eyes wary and guarded.

  “More lies,” I muttered, frowning. I reached down for the photo, holding it up, watching as resignation flitted over his features.

  He sighed deeply, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck. Silence hung in the air, almost palpable, until he finally spoke, “She’s Ray’s sister-in-law. I didn’t want you traveling alone. I couldn’t be there and I knew you were upset, so...” He swallowed. “I paid for Nat’s trip so she could keep you company and try to cheer you up a little.”

  My eyes widened. I hadn’t expected that answer. That possibility hadn’t even entered my head when I was turning over scenarios while I waited for him to return from wherever he went earlier. “You what?” I gasped.

  His eyes tightened, his posture tense. “I wanted to look out for you, even if I couldn’t be there with you. I couldn’t just cut all ties. I needed to know you were okay,” he explained.

  I wasn’t sure how to respond. In a way, knowing that he had still been looking out for me, still protecting me, even from prison, kind of took a little of the hurt away. Jamie always was overprotective, but this was extreme even for him. The gesture made my heart ache, but it also made me a little angry.

  “I can’t believe this,” I said quietly. “I was traveling with her for almost a year. She never said a thing to me about you. I thought she was my friend.” Now I understood how she seemed to have a never-ending supply of cash—it was Jamie’s dirty gang money that he’d worked so hard for. Finding this out about her was like a punch in the gut. I’d opened up to her about the breakup and all the time she was playing me for a free trip?

  Jamie shook his head and walked back to me, reaching out and taking my hand, squeezing softly. “She is your friend. She just lied about how you met, that’s all. Everything else about your relationship is real. Don’t be mad at her for it, Ellie. She helped you through a tough time, she was there for you.”

  True. I don’t know what I would have done without her.

  He bent so we were at the same level, his eyes latching onto mine, the beautiful shade of them catching me off guard and making my heart stutter. “She helped me through a tough time, too,” he continued. “She gave me updates on how you were.” He smiled sadly. “If it weren’t for those, I’m not sure I would have made it, to be honest. I was miserable and just as heartbroken as you were.” Reaching out, he snag
ged a lock of my hair, pushing it behind my ear, his fingers tracing the sensitive skin at the side of my neck, causing goose bumps to break out on my body.

  I opened my mouth, unsure what I even wanted to say. I wanted to thank him for looking out for me, I wanted to scold him for invading my privacy, I wanted to step closer and press myself against him, I wanted to slap him in the face. I didn’t know what I wanted.

  I decided to go for honesty.

  “When I saw the photo in your room, I thought that maybe she was your girlfriend,” I said, hating that my voice shook a little on the word girlfriend.

  One side of his mouth rose into a sad smile. “She’s not my girlfriend. There’s been no one since you.”

  My mouth popped open in shock. “No one?” That couldn’t be true. Three years I’d been gone, and it wasn’t as if a guy like him would be short of offers!

  Before he could answer, my cell phone began to ring, saving him from more probing questions. We both looked down at my purse, and I debated leaving it so we could get everything out in the open once and for all, but then figured it was probably my nana wondering where I was because I should have been back hours ago with the food she’d asked for.

  I pulled away and picked up my purse, shoving my hand in and fishing out my cell. I groaned when I saw several large cracks covering my screen. The phone itself was thankfully functional, though, because it was still illuminated and vibrating in my hand and I could just make out that it said a private number was calling. I pressed the Answer button, being careful not to cut my finger, and put it to my ear.

  “Hello?” I answered.

  “Oh, good afternoon, is this Ellison Pearce?” a lady asked, her voice curt but polite.

  I frowned, wondering who it was. “It is.”

  “Hello, Ellison. This is Nurse Partridge from the ICU ward that your mother is on.”

  My heart stopped, my mouth going dry as I imagined the worst. “Is everything okay?” I croaked.

  “Actually, I’m calling with some good news. Your mother just woke up,” she replied cheerfully.

  I gasped in shock. “Really? Oh my God,” I murmured, my hand coming up to cover my throat. I couldn’t contain my grin. “Is she okay?”

  “She’s doing well, her pressures are all steady and she’s breathing on her own. She’s even taken a drink. She’s drifted back to sleep now, but that’s expected. She’ll probably sleep on and off for the next day or so,” the nurse explained. “I know you’ve already been in this morning, but I thought I’d give you a call in case you wanted to come back to see her.”

 
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