Fighting to be free, p.21
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       Fighting to Be Free, p.21

         Part #1 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
 

  heck are you throwing stones at me for?” she asked, giggling and rubbing her forehead. She leaned out the window, and I noticed that she was fully dressed, her hair brushed and pulled back into a little bun.

  Sleeping my ass, her stupid mother lied!

  I smiled apologetically. Movement from inside the house caught my eye and I looked over to see her mother walking through the kitchen toward the back door, an angry expression on her face. I turned my attention back to Ellie. “Sorry. I just wanted to talk to you,” I said quickly.

  Ellie frowned, doing that little cocking-the-head move, and I smiled at how different it was from her mother’s look. “Well, why didn’t you just knock, silly?” she asked, laughing.

  I did. “Can you come down?” I asked hopefully. She nodded and disappeared inside, sliding the window shut after her.

  “What on earth do you think you’re doing?” Ruth hissed, wrenching the back door open, glaring at me.

  I opened my mouth to answer, but Ellie’s dad walked up behind her, pushing the door farther open, smiling at me happily. “Hey, Jamie. How’s it going?”

  I smiled in return. It was actually going pretty crappy right now, but I didn’t want to say that to him. “Good, thanks, Michael. I thought you guys were heading out this morning?”

  He blew out a big breath and raked his hand through his hair. “Stupid car won’t start. Got someone coming out on Monday morning to look at it.”

  Ellie skipped up behind him, smiling broadly at me. Confusion consumed me. Why was she smiling at me like that if she was going to break up with me? She was still looking at me softly and affectionately.

  “Morning! You feeling better?” she chirped, weaving past her parents and walking to my side.

  I nodded and gulped. I couldn’t lose her; I didn’t think I would survive losing another girl from my life. She reached up, stroking my forehead with her fingertips. “Poor baby. Glad you’re feeling better,” she whispered, smiling, taking my hand.

  “I need to talk to you,” I said. My eyes flicked back to her mother. I tried not to react to the hateful look she was shooting me.

  “Okay, come on in,” Ellie replied, tugging me toward the door. As she turned in her mother’s direction Ruth’s face immediately righted itself to a polite smile, like she always put on when someone else was around. “Want a drink?” Ellie offered, heading to the fridge.

  I nodded in response, wondering why she was being so casual about this. Was the thought of breaking up with me really so unimportant that it didn’t even warrant a sad, wistful smile?

  Her parents left the room and Ellie sat down at the counter, pushing a can of soda toward me.

  “So, you okay this morning? Was Paul all right on the way home?” I asked, trying to think about how to start, or at least prompt her into saying the words I knew were coming.

  Her eyes widened before she looked down at her drink, clearly flustered. “Yeah, fine.”

  I gulped and sat down next to her, trying not to let the scent of her hair affect me. She always used the most mouthwatering vanilla-scented shampoo. “Did he walk you to the door?” I asked, watching her reactions.

  She shifted on her stool, tracing her finger on the edge of her can, avoiding my gaze. “Um … yep,” she lied, nodding, taking a swig of her drink.

  I sighed deeply, deciding to get it over with. “Miles drove you home, Ellie.”

  She gasped, her eyes shooting up to meet mine. “Don’t be angry with Paul. I didn’t give him a choice.”

  I rolled my eyes. Paul was the least of my worries right now. “Okay.”

  She frowned, turning in her seat, her knees pressing against my thigh as she leaned closer to me. “You’re angry with me for letting Miles drive me home?” Her expression was apologetic. I didn’t answer; she still hadn’t said anything about kissing him. She sighed and frowned. “I didn’t want to stay there without you, so I started walking home. A car started following me,” she explained. My muscles tensed up; I thought she was going to tell me that Tony Grier or one of his men had laid his hands on her. Gritting my teeth, I waited for her to say the words that would make me kill another person. “I got scared. I was going to call you, I had your number up and everything. But it turned out to be Miles. I didn’t want to walk home after that because I was already frightened, so I let him drive me,” she continued.

  It wasn’t Tony? “It was Miles in the car? No one … hurt you, right?” I asked, eyeing her cautiously.

  “No one hurt me.” A confused frown creased her forehead. “Please don’t be angry with me, Jamie. I know you’re probably annoyed that I left the dance on my own after you told me not to. On top of that you’re probably pissed that I let Miles drive me. But I just didn’t want to walk home.”

  My body relaxed now that I knew she hadn’t been touched by Tony or his men. “It’s cool. I knew it would happen eventually. Maybe we could still be friends, though? I’d like that. Maybe we could hang out occasionally?”

  She frowned, her mouth dropping open in shock. “You’re going to use the Miles thing as an excuse to break up with me?” she snapped, shaking her head. “I didn’t think you were a coward, Jamie. Just man up and say what this is really about, that I’m not good enough and that you want someone prettier or nicer!”

  Dumbstruck, I almost choked on air at her words. Someone prettier than her? “Ellie, what?”

  She groaned and pushed her drink away from her, looking extremely frustrated. “I’d like for us to be friends, too. You don’t have to say it, it’s fine, I get it.”

  “You think that I’m breaking up with you?” I asked. She nodded as she swiped at her face, wiping a tear away, but she looked like she was trying not to show any emotion. “Ellie, you seriously think that I’m”—I pointed to myself to clarify what I was saying—“breaking up … with you?” I asked incredulously, pointing at her.

  Her breath seemed to catch in her throat as another tear fell down her face. “Yeah?” she replied, suddenly looking unsure.

  I need to get her booked for a CT scan quickly, because something must be seriously wrong with this girl for her to even entertain the thought that I would break up with her. I cupped her face in my hands, wiping another tear away with my thumb as I looked into her watery eyes. “I’m not breaking up with you. I thought you were ditching me,” I whispered.

  She frowned and shook her head. “No.”

  Smiling, I bent forward, kissing her lips, reveling in how perfect they felt against mine. Her arms looped around my waist, crushing her body against mine as she returned the kiss. I pulled back after a few seconds, setting my forehead against hers. Happiness was burning in my veins, my feet itching to do a happy dance in the middle of her kitchen because she wasn’t ditching my worthless ass.

  “Why would you think that I didn’t want to be with you?” I asked.

  She sighed, closing her eyes. “You’ve been distant and quiet lately. I thought maybe you were just waiting until after prom so I wouldn’t have to go on my own.”

  I stepped even closer to her. “Ellie, I’m so totally crazy about you. I’m hooked; you have me for as long as you want me,” I assured her, brushing a loose strand of her hair behind her ear.

  The corners of her mouth pulled into a smile. “Corny line.” She pressed against me, her face nuzzling into the side of my neck. I grinned and stroked her back, feeling totally and utterly happy … but then she spoke and my happiness wavered for a second. “Miles kissed me last night when he drove me home,” she whispered, her breath blowing down the side of my neck. “I didn’t kiss him back, I promise. He caught me by surprise and then I told him to leave. Seeing as we’re putting stuff out there, I thought I should tell you that.”

  I nodded, kissing the side of her head, deciding not to tell her that I already knew because her mother had told me. “Thanks for telling me.”

  She pulled back to look at me worriedly. “I didn’t kiss him back. I promise I didn’t.”

  I smiled reassuri
ngly, seeing the truth in her eyes. “I know. Don’t worry about it. But if at any point you decide that you’ve had enough of me and want to go back to him, or someone else who makes you happy, then just know that I won’t stand in your way.”

  She frowned and shook her head. “I don’t want anyone else. I’m so totally crazy about you, too,” she replied, using my words, smirking at me.

  I grinned. “Corny.”

  She laughed her tinkling little laugh and nodded. “My boyfriend is the king of corny. I guess it’s rubbing off on me a little.”

  I laughed and pressed my lips against hers, kissing her passionately, trying to convey that I loved her without actually saying the three little words. I broke the kiss just as it was getting a little too heavy for the middle of her parents’ kitchen. “Stay at my place tonight?” I asked hopefully.

  She frowned. “I thought you were out with Connor.”

  Another lie I’d told her to cover up the fact that I was going to be working tonight. Maybe I should tell her the truth; she’d been honest with me about Miles. “While we’re giving out confessions, I should probably tell you that I’m not going out with Connor tonight. I never was.” A hurt look crossed her face that I never wanted to see there again. “I have a second job that I’m starting tonight. I’m gonna be working at a bar,” I continued, omitting a little bit of the truth—she didn’t need to know it was a strip club.

  Understanding flashed across her face. “You are? How come?”

  “You’re expensive,” I joked, kissing the tip of her nose. She rolled her eyes and playfully pinched my stomach. “My rent is a little more than I thought, I just need a second job for a while, that’s all. Everything should be okay in a few weeks,” I lied.

  “Okay. But if you’re working, then how am I supposed to stay at your apartment? Are you gonna pick me up after or something?”

  I shook my head. “No. Stay while I’m not there. Treat the place like your own, eat all my food, make a mess, and let me come home to you. I’d love to come home and have you waiting there for me.”

  She grinned. Clearly she liked the idea of that, too. “Okay.”

  I tightened my arms around her, lifting her off her feet, spinning in a little circle, making her squeal and grip me tighter as she pressed her lips to mine again. When I set her down, I took her hand, nodding toward the hallway. “Let’s go fix your dad’s car,” I suggested, grinning happily.

  * * *

  I spent the afternoon at her place working on the car. Her dad was helping, leaning over the engine, watching intently, asking questions as I worked. Ellie just sat on the wall on the edge of her driveway, watching me, making cold drinks every now and again. I felt totally at ease here with both of them. Michael was a great person; he was definitely where 99 percent of Ellie’s personality came from. Even Kelsey, Ellie’s little sister, was playing on the grass, singing along to the radio and passing us tools from the box. I’d never felt so included in anything. I loved it. Ruth didn’t show her face for the whole afternoon, and I couldn’t help but be glad about it. That woman didn’t deserve a great family like this one, it was wasted on her.

  When the car was in full working order, Ellie and I went to buy a new phone for me, then went for dinner after. Once she’d filled her stomach with as much cheesecake as she could eat without hurling, we headed to my place so I could get changed and go to my new job.

  She settled herself on my sofa, flipping through the shows I had recorded for her during the week, the girlie crap that she liked to watch on weekends. When I was ready to go, I leaned against the door frame and just looked at her stretched out on the sofa in my apartment, looking completely at home. I smiled as she laughed at the movie she was watching. Mean Girls. She’d seen it probably five times in the last month, yet she still watched it over and over. It was an adorable sight.

  I knew I needed to go, so I pushed myself off the door frame and headed over to her, crouching down next to her head. “So, I’ll see you in a couple of hours. I’ll be home by midnight,” I promised. I wasn’t staying there late tonight, I was just going to show my face, get the staff organized, and then leave. I planned on doing the same thing at each of the clubs over the next few weeks, just show up occasionally and be at the end of the phone.

  She smiled and sat up, gripping the back of my head, guiding my lips to hers for a second. “See you later then,” she whispered. “Good luck at your new job.”

  I smiled and kissed her forehead. I love you was right on the tip of my tongue, but I swallowed the words. I’d never used the L-word before. I wanted to make sure it was special when I finally said it, not just randomly thrown out before I went to work. “Thanks.”

  I left before I wouldn’t be able to and drove to the club. When I got there, I stopped to talk to the guy who was working the door, telling him not to let anyone in who was already drunk, giving him instructions on what to do if there was trouble. As soon as I walked into the club, I immediately wanted to leave. The music was loud and made the floor vibrate, the air was smoky, and the place was packed with perverted men who were eyeing the half-naked girls like they were their next meal.

  During my stay, there wasn’t much trouble at all. A couple of drunken people who thought they could touch the girls—they were removed quickly. Someone couldn’t pay their tab, so the cops were called. Nothing exciting happened. Mostly I just sat at the bar, drinking a bottle of water because the smoke machine was making my throat feel like it had been raped by a hedgehog. I spoke politely to anyone who wanted to talk to me, showing my face like I was supposed to.

  The girls who wandered around didn’t interest me in the slightest. When one of them—Candice, she’d said her name was—offered me a free session out back, I declined and told her that I was hopelessly in love with the foxy little redhead who was waiting for me at home. She’d called me adorable and walked off gushing to one of the other girls about how some guys were too good to be true.

  Knowing that Ellie was at my place waiting for me, that I was going to get to hold her in my arms tonight, made the time pass more quickly and kept the smile on my face all night long. When midnight came, I left and sped home, eager to see her.

  As I stepped into my apartment, the first thing I noticed was that the title screen for Mean Girls was playing over and over. I frowned, wondering why she hadn’t turned it off. I saw why as soon as I got closer—she was asleep. She was curled up on the sofa, snuggled in my hoodie. A moronic grin stretched across my face as I locked the doors, turned off the TV, and then slipped my arms under her body, lifting her up carefully.

  She groaned in her sleep, her face snuggling into the side of my neck as I held her against me tightly, trying not to wake her as I walked toward my bedroom. “So, which do you like better, Jamie, Tom or Jerry?” she asked tiredly.

  I grinned, knowing she was still sleeping. “Gotta be the mouse, he always outsmarts the cat in the end.”

  Her arms looped around my neck. “Mice are cute, but I wouldn’t want one living in my place. They poop on stuff,” she replied.

  I laughed quietly and settled her carefully on the bed, smiling when she immediately snuggled into the sheets. Kicking off my shoes, I climbed in bed with her, wrapping her tightly in my arms, listening to her ramble some more about mouse poo and why it couldn’t possibly be confused with raisins. My girl was seriously crazy at times, but I loved her more than anything.

  CHAPTER 20

  IT HAD BEEN a month since the dance. A whole perfect month of being with Ellie. The month hadn’t been perfect workwise, though. Things had been getting more … involved recently. I’d been doing more of the things that I’d hated doing when I was younger. I was essentially one of Brett’s hired thugs and had to hand out more than my fair share of beatings to people who were taking liberties or trying to muscle in on Brett’s turf. The strip club stuff was getting easier; I didn’t need to go there too much because there wasn’t that much trouble. I’d had to sort out a few problems with peop
le who used to run the security firm before Brett took it over; they weren’t too happy that they’d lost the contract, but they were over that now. Also, there was a dealer issue that I dealt with pretty quickly. One of the girls had trouble with an ex-boyfriend who wouldn’t leave her alone. All in all, it had gone pretty smoothly. People knew that I was there, so lately there was no trouble at all.

  Thankfully, somehow I’d managed to keep my job at the junkyard too, though that meant I was getting by on about five hours’ sleep a night because I’d be out doing boosts about three times a week and then other stuff on the nights off. I was exhausted, which made me irritable and snappy.

  The only good thing about working so much, as far as I could see, was that I earned a bucketload of cash. Word had spread quickly that I was back with Brett, and deals were rolling in and orders piling up quickly. I was earning, on average, about $18,000 a week. Last week I had gained immense pleasure in taking a wad of cash and throwing it down on Tony Grier’s desk in full payment of my mother’s debt.

  Even Shaun and I had been getting along better since our little indiscretion with the knife after Ellie’s prom. We were on friendly enough terms. He worked security in one of the strip clubs for me.

  I’d even managed to set myself up with a bank account, which I’d never had before. There was less than two months left and then I’d be able to say good-bye to this life forever. Maybe then I could start being the man Ellie thought I was.

  I sat in Brett’s chair, swiveling it back and forth, desperately trying to keep my eyes open as I focused on his ceiling. Tonight was a big deal, a huge boost, and it was certainly going to be a long one. There would be ten guys out with me, and we were stealing a total of twenty-five cars. On paper, it sounded impossible, but in reality, ten of those cars were in one place—a warehouse just outside the city. We were killing two birds with one stone tonight. The owner of the Jaguar garage whose warehouse it was wanted to pull an insurance job, so we were stealing his cars, and then Brett had lined up a buyer for all of them, meaning we’d get double payment. The other fifteen cars, however, were scattered around all over the place, so I knew I’d be here until the early hours of the morning. That was going to be a pain, considering I had places to be tomorrow. It would be Ellie’s eighteenth birthday, and I refused to let a little tiredness ruin the day that I had planned for her.

 
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