Worth fighting for, p.22
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       Worth Fighting For, p.22

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
 
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  sleep because her heart rate was all over the place again. Once she was asleep again for the night, we all headed out and piled into my car to make the short drive home.

  The visit had taken its toll on everyone. Flicking my eyes to the rearview mirror, I saw that Kelsey had her head resting against the window, her eyes vacantly staring at nothing as she twisted her hands in her lap. She hadn’t spoken a word since we left the hospital.

  When I pulled into the driveway, I saw a car roll to a stop at the curb, killing the lights. Jamie. As I climbed out of the car, I looked over to see that he’d parked more obviously outside my house this time, just at the curb at the end of the yard rather than a few houses down as the other car had. Maybe it was because I knew he was watching now, so he didn’t need to hide.

  Kelsey’s eyes flicked in that direction and a small frown lined her forehead. I held my breath, hoping she didn’t recognize my ex-boyfriend or ask questions. I really didn’t need any more drama tonight. If I was honest, all I wanted was a stiff drink. Thankfully Kels didn’t say anything; Jamie’s car only held her attention for a second or two before she headed to the front door with Nana.

  I held my hand up in a quick wave—acknowledging he was here was the polite thing to do, after all—before heading into the house.

  “I’m going to make us a late supper,” Nana said, immediately walking into the kitchen and opening the fridge. At the mention of food, my stomach growled and I suddenly remembered that I never did bring home those groceries Nana had asked for. They were probably still smeared across the store parking lot where I’d left them. Thankfully, in the excitement of everything, Nana hadn’t mentioned it. I glanced at my watch and saw it was just after eight p.m. Today had been an extremely long day.

  Kelsey and I sat in the living room, both of us pretending to watch TV so we wouldn’t have to make conversation, while Nana banged around in the kitchen. When she came in fifteen minutes later with three plates loaded with cheese-and-tomato quesadillas, my mouth watered. Eating them was a different story, though; I couldn’t concentrate and ended up just pushing most of the food around my plate while I replayed things my mom had said tonight. Eventually, I gave up trying.

  “I’m going to take a bath,” I announced, standing and carrying Nana and Kelsey’s mostly full plates to the kitchen. After scraping the contents into the garbage disposal, I slinked upstairs and headed into the bathroom. I turned on the water, tipped in some of the bath salts that were in a jar on the side of the tub, and then sat on the edge, staring into space as steam swirled around me and fogged up the mirror.

  I stripped off my clothes and sank down in the hot water, closing my eyes as it lapped around my neck and chin, the flowery scent of the bath salts tickling my nose. I lay there for a long time, the water turning lukewarm as my mind was on my mother and what her future held, and how that tied in with my own. Conversations with Toby infiltrated my thoughts, the unspoken words that had hung between us at the airport, the understanding in his eyes when he’d kissed me good-bye.

  I sighed and sat up, pushing my wet hair off my face, staring up at the ceiling. I needed to speak to him; this uncertainty was weighing on me, and I couldn’t take much more pressure without breaking. I wanted to stay here with my family, and he needed to stay with his family, which left us in an impossible situation that just caused more pain than it needed to.

  After quickly shampooing my hair and washing my body, I climbed out of the bath, wrapped myself in a big fluffy towel, and padded to my bedroom. After a quick dry and dragging a comb through my unruly red hair, I picked out my most comfortable pajamas, the ones with the sleeping panda bears on them, and then snagged one of my old high school team hoodies from the closet. As soon as I pulled it over my head, I realized it didn’t fit, but I went with it anyway, wriggling to get into it and tugging it down over my body. It was slightly too small now, especially across my tummy and breasts. I remembered a time when I was in high school that it would have flattered my toned stomach and sat perfectly on my hips. I wrinkled my nose and pondered going on a diet so I could drop the fourteen or so pounds I’d put on in the last couple of years, but then I remembered I liked chocolate cake too much and dismissed the thought. I wasn’t overweight, I just wasn’t the perfect lithe cheerleader I used to be.

  I smiled to myself and picked up my damaged phone, carefully scrolling through to find Toby’s number. It wasn’t until it started ringing that I remembered the time difference. Wincing as he answered in a croaky, sleep-filled tone, I looked at the clock. It was almost ten here, which meant it was nearly three in the morning there.

  “I’m so sorry! I forgot about the time difference,” I said quickly, perching on the edge of my bed.

  He cleared his throat and I heard bedcovers moving and rustling in the background. “S’okay, don’t worry.”

  “Sorry, Toby,” I whispered.

  “’Onestly, it’s fine, I love speaking to you so it’s all good,” he replied, his voice soft and sensual since he’d just awoken. “’Ow are ya?”

  “My mom woke up.” I smiled.

  “Bloody ’ell, that’s great news!”

  “Yeah.” I nodded, and even I heard the sad tone to my voice, so I wasn’t really that surprised that he picked up on it, too.

  “What’s wrong, then? You don’t sound like your usual cheerful self.”

  I sighed and leaned forward, resting my head on my hand and my elbow on my knee. “It was just hard, that’s all. She didn’t know about my dad, so I had to tell her and stuff.” I chewed on the inside of my mouth, trying not to picture her crushed expression again.

  “Damn, that’s rough,” he answered, his tone sympathetic. “You all right?”

  I have to be. “I’m getting there.” We would all get there together.

  “So if she’s awake that means she’ll be ’ome soon, right?” Toby asked.

  I closed my eyes. This was the start of the conversation; this was my in to telling him I wasn’t coming back. Although I knew I had to say the words, I didn’t really want to. I’d just never expected it to end this way. In fact, I hadn’t expected it to end at all. If none of this had happened, I would have lived out the rest of my life with him, content to be a mother to his two boys when they came to stay on the weekends, running the pub with him, and crawling into bed with a good man every night. Fate had other ideas, though.

  “They said she’ll be in the hospital for a few more days, and then when she’s out she’ll need extensive support to rehabilitate after the accident.” I cleared my throat and then took a deep breath. “Toby, we need to talk about something,” I started, struggling to find the words. “I...I...” Oh God, why is doing the right thing always so hard?

  He sighed deeply, his breath making static down the line. “I know what you’re going to say.”

  My breath caught. “You do?” My voice was barely above a whisper.

  He sighed again. “Yeah. I saw it in your eyes. You don’t want to leave your family. You want to stay there and not come ’ome.”

  I nodded. He had it right apart from one thing—I was home here. London had never really been my home, and neither had he. I just hadn’t wanted to admit it to myself. “I’m so sorry,” I croaked. And I was. I never wanted to hurt him, but there was no way around this. We were from opposite sides of the world.

  “It’s okay, Ellie. I understand, ’onestly I do. I’m gutted, don’t get me wrong, but I get it. I know ’ow much your family means to you, and after everything that’s ’appened, I can see why you’d need to make this decision.”

  “I never wanted to hurt you,” I said solemnly.

  “I know that, sweetheart. It’s just geography, it fucked us up. We never stood a chance, not really.” He was putting on a brave face, forcing cheer into his tone, but I could hear the underlying sadness there. He understood, but it still hurt him. “I love you. I wish things could be different, but you know, once geography speaks, everyone listens,” he joked.

&nb
sp; “I love you, too.” The words were true, I meant them with all of my heart. In a way, he’d saved me; I’d been a different person when we first met, and he’d helped me back onto my feet and supported me while I found myself again. I owed him more than I could ever repay for that. I’d always thought that was enough to base a relationship on, but now I realized that wasn’t true. “I’m going to miss you so much.” I’d miss his jokes, his infectious laugh, his errant goodness, and the whole cheeky-chappie easygoing Londoner thing he had going on.

  “We can stay in touch and stuff, talk and catch up. I don’t want to lose you altogether.” His words were heartfelt, and I could hear the sadness in his tone that he was trying to mask.

  I nodded in agreement. We’d remain friends, of that I was sure. Toby was friends with everyone, even his ex-wife, so I knew we could stay in touch. “You won’t,” I promised.

  “Good, because I’d ’ate that.” He cleared his throat. “Look, I’d better get some sleep, I ’ave an early start tomorrow. We’ll chat later in the week, yeah?”

  I knew he was just trying to end the call. Breakup calls weren’t exactly the most comfortable of conversations. “Yeah,” I agreed. “I’ll give you a call in a couple of days.”

  “Okay, but if anything changes or you need to chat before that, then ’it me up. I’m still ’ere for you if you need someone to talk to or whatever.”

  I smiled. Toby’s goodness was one of the things that I loved about him—that and his ability to make a joke out of anything, even if it was a terribly unfunny pun in the supermarket. “Thank you, and same goes for you. Say hi to the boys from me next time you see them,” I replied. Thinking about not seeing him again, his kids again, made my heart drum wildly in my chest. It hurt. But not as much as I’d expected it to.

  He disconnected the call and I lay back on my bed, knowing I’d done the right thing. I’d made the right decision for me, and it might not feel like it at the moment to Toby, but eventually he would see it was the right decision for him, too. I loved him, but I had never been in love with him, and he deserved that. He was such a good man; he deserved someone whose heart would flutter when he walked into the room wrapped only in a towel, a girl whose thighs clenched in excitement when he touched her, someone who swooned when he smiled. That girl just wasn’t me—it never had been—and for a long time I’d thought that was okay, but I’d been fooling us both. We were settling for each other, and people like Toby deserved better than to just settle.

  I was happy it was finally out in the open. Now we could each get on with our lives and I could focus on mending my family one little piece at a time. Slipping on the pink fluffy slippers that Kelsey had bought me for my eighteenth birthday, I padded out of the room and down the stairs, deciding to make some hot cocoa.

  At the bottom of the stairs, I headed to the front door, moving the curtain out of the way and peeking out. Jamie’s car was still parked there in the same spot. I frowned, wondering how long he was going to be camped outside my house, watching my every move. It was a little weird, but I could understand why he was protective.

  My thoughts drifted back to his apartment, how he’d wiped my tears away and told me he’d once planned a life for us. How he’d asked me if it was too late for us.

  I gulped, my heart swelling at the memory. My decision to stay here and not return to England had nothing to do with Jamie. It had already been subconsciously made before I’d even seen him in that club. I wanted to be close to my family; I wanted to stay in my home instead of a place I lived in with Toby. Jamie hadn’t been a factor at all...at least, not at the start—I wasn’t so sure about now.

  I shook the thoughts away as I walked into the living room, seeing Kelsey and Nana curled up on the sofa together watching TV. “Anyone want hot cocoa? I think I saw some marshmallows in the cupboard earlier,” I tempted.

  They both nodded eagerly and I stepped into the kitchen, grabbing the milk from the fridge and pouring some into a pan. As I leaned down to put it away again, I saw the leftover chicken from yesterday’s dinner. My mind immediately flicked to Jamie again. Had he gotten anything to eat? I chewed on the inside of my mouth and then pulled the chicken and mayonnaise from the fridge, setting about making him a sandwich while the milk bubbled lightly in the pan.

  When everything was done, I took the two girls’ drinks into the living room and set them on the table before heading back to get the plate of food and the cocoa I’d made for Jamie. Being as quiet as I could because I didn’t particularly want to answer any questions about my actions, I tiptoed out of the house, closing the door carefully behind me.

  As I walked across the front yard, my hair whipping everywhere in the wind, Jamie rolled down his car window. I smiled weakly and offered the plate and mug, which he took gratefully. “Thought you might be hungry. I haven’t seen you go get any food yet,” I said as he picked up the sandwich and took a huge bite, chewing quickly.

  “Starving,” he mumbled with his mouth full. “Thank you.” His eyes flashed in the darkness as I squatted down by the side of his car so I could see in better.

  “Jamie, how long are you going to be watching me for?”

  He shrugged one shoulder, setting the cup on his dashboard, where it was sure to leave a ring stain on his expensive interior. I silently scolded myself for not bringing a mat or something for him to use. “I’ll be going in a couple of hours. I have someone else coming to watch the house tonight, but I’ll be back tomorrow.”

  “That’s not what I meant.”

  He sighed deeply, half turning in his seat so we were almost face-to-face. “I don’t know. I have people trying to find the guy who put the order in for you to be grabbed, but I’m not sure how long it’ll take.” His eyes were tight with both anger and worry.

  “Oh,” I muttered. I hated the fact that I had to be babysat. I shoved my hands into the pocket of my hoodie, linking my fingers together over my stomach. “We need to talk some more about, you know, earlier.”

  He nodded, setting his plate on the dash next to his mug. “Now? We could go get a coffee,” he offered, his voice ridiculously eager. I tried to ignore the flutter in my tummy. I secretly loved that he wanted to spend more time with me.

  I looked down at my pink fluffy slippers, pajamas, and too-small hoodie and raised one eyebrow. “I’m not dressed.” I shrugged.

  The corners of his mouth quirked into a smile as his eyes raked down me so slowly that I felt heat creep across my cheeks from the intimate inspection. “I don’t care. I think you look beautiful.”

  I had to smile at that. Corny. I sighed and shook my head, my body overcome with tiredness. “Not tonight, all right? I’m exhausted.” I looked back at the house, lifting a hand and trying to tuck some of my still-damp, flyaway hair behind my ear. The chilly wind whipped it right back out again. “I should go in. Good night, Jamie.” I turned toward the house, not waiting for a reply as I stalked off.

  “Ellie?”

  I’d only gotten a few steps before he called me back. I stopped, turning to see him climbing out of the car, his long, toned body looking sleek and gorgeous as he strode toward me. He didn’t speak as his arms folded around me, engulfing me in a hug and holding me tightly against him. My breath came out in one long, deep sigh as I melted against him, my eyes fluttering closed as I wrapped my arms around his waist. We were so close I could feel his heart beating against my chest, and a feeling of safety washed over me as his smell filled my lungs.

  I tucked my face into the side of his neck, my nose brushing against the skin there, eliciting a soft moan from his lips. His fingers dug into my back gently, clutching me closer as I just reveled in how wonderful it felt to be in his arms again, how right it felt. It was like, in that moment, I was finally home.

  His face pressed against the side of my head, his lips grazing against my scalp, causing cells within me that I thought long dead to awaken and tingle. The desire that pooled in my belly bumped from embers to a slow delicious burn that tightened
my skin and made my mouth water. I wanted to be closer; I wanted to melt into him and stay like that forever, my problems a distant memory.

  He pulled back slowly, his arms still around me. I could see the desire in his eyes, his need maybe as great as my own. I smiled gratefully. I’d desperately needed that hug and I hadn’t even known it.

  With herculean effort, because I wanted to stand there in his arms forever, I stepped back, putting some space between our bodies. “Good night, Jamie.”

  The dimple appeared, his smile reaching his eyes as his arms dropped to his sides. “Good night, little girl.” His voice was husky and thick with desire that made my womb clench, the pet name from years ago just adding to the smoldering hotness of the moment.

  I grinned, hoping the darkness would mask my burning cheeks so he wouldn’t know how much I still loved that nickname. Turning, I headed toward the house and thought that for the first time in two weeks, I might actually be able to sleep.

  CHAPTER 23

  AS I WAS slipping my sneakers and coat on at the front door, I reached out and peeked out through the curtain, seeing the same blue Astra parked at the end of my drive with the young blond guy sitting behind the wheel, looking bored. My heart sank, as it had the last three times I’d looked out to see it wasn’t Jamie sitting there watching the house. He’d been gone this morning, replaced by this guy I hadn’t seen before. The disappointment that Jamie wasn’t the one outside hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about him since last night when he’d hugged me on the grass just ten feet from where I was standing now. I’d fallen into a peaceful sleep, thinking about how nice it felt to be wrapped in his arms again, how incredible he smelled, and how that dimple in his cheek when he smiled made my heart ache.

  Sighing, I called a good-bye to my nana and stepped out the door, walking to my car, ignoring the guy who was also starting his car, ready to follow me to my destination—the hospital.

  We’d been trying to stagger visits to my mother so that she had someone at each visiting time. Nana had gone this morning while Kelsey was at school, I was going this afternoon, and tonight we’d most likely all go together.

  When I arrived, Mom was sitting up in bed, her TV turned down low, but she wasn’t really watching it, just staring off into space absentmindedly. Nana had told me she was a little better today, that she wasn’t drifting in and out of sleep like she had been yesterday and that she hadn’t cried as much. This was the first time I’d seen her since I’d had to tell her my father was gone.

  “Hi, Mom,” I greeted her, walking in and setting the grapes Nana had sent on her little table.

 
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