Fighting to be free, p.24
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       Fighting to Be Free, p.24

         Part #1 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
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  “Not the … I don’t … It’s … What?” she sputtered.

  “Please don’t freak out,” I begged, even though I knew it was too late to ask that of her. The panic had already started; I could see it building like a storm on her face.

  She ran both her hands over her hair, smoothing it down unconsciously as the wind continued to whip it in all directions. Her mouth was agape; she shook her head as if struggling with her thoughts. “ ‘Don’t freak out’? Of course I’m going to freak out, for goodness’ sake; you’ve just told me that you stole twenty-five cars and that the police are looking for you. A normal person’s reaction is to freak the hell out!” she cried.

  I winced as her voice echoed in the nothingness of the night. I stepped closer to her, quickly covering her mouth with my hand. “Shush, please, shush,” I pleaded, glancing around for any signs of movement on her expensive-looking street.

  Her hand covered mine as she looked at me with wide eyes, taking deep breaths through her nose. When her rant seemed to have died down and some of the tension had left her shoulders, I removed my hand and stepped back to give her some personal space. She probably needed it after my revelations.

  “Who are you?” she asked, shaking her head, her eyes filling with tears.

  I smiled weakly, knowing that there was no chance of her wanting to be with me after this. “I’m the same guy that you’ve been hanging around with for the last three months. I’m still the same guy that holds you when you sleep, and who kisses you good night. I’m still the same guy that values you above everything else. It’s just … my past, it came back to haunt me. I didn’t have a choice, Ellie,” I replied, trying to explain everything. My knees felt a little weak, so I sat on the half wall that ran the length of the driveway.

  “Your past?” she whispered.

  I nodded and closed my eyes. “Yeah. When I was eleven I started working for a guy, doing small jobs for money, illegal jobs. Things got heavier; I started stealing cars to order.”

  She whimpered and sat down on the wall next to me, playing with her hands as I continued to explain.

  “I stopped. I was out of it. I’d given it all up before we met; I was going straight, but …” I trailed off, not knowing how to convey that I didn’t want to be this person anymore, that I wanted better for myself than this life I was sinking into.

  She swiped at her face quickly with the back of her hand. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the tears that I knew I had put there. I hated myself for making her cry; I would never forgive myself for it.

  “What happened?” she asked. “You said you didn’t have a choice.”

  I shook my head fiercely. “I didn’t have a choice. My stupid mother, she borrowed some money from some bad people and couldn’t pay it back. I had to help her out,” I explained. “But I couldn’t afford it either, it was so much money, and I didn’t have it. I had to go back to my old boss and ask him for a job or two so that I could help my mom. The people my mother borrowed from, they’re not exactly a normal lending bank. If I hadn’t done this, then they would have killed her eventually, for sure.”

  She gulped; her breathing quickened the more I spoke. “So you had to do this to get money for your mom?”

  I nodded. “I’ve just finished paying off her debt now, but Brett, my boss, he wouldn’t let me just do a couple of jobs, I had to agree to work for him for a certain amount of time. I agreed to do it for three months. I have just under two left.”

  “Three months of stealing cars?”

  “Among other things.”

  “Like what other things? What else have you been doing?” she asked, frowning.

  I took it as a good sign that she was still sitting next to me, asking questions. Wouldn’t she have run by now if she was going to? “Lots of things that I don’t want to tell you about. It’s best if you don’t know in case anything bad happens because of it.”

  She snorted at my answer. “Anything bad, like being wanted for grand theft auto?” she snapped. She groaned and put her head in her hands. “I knew you had a bad past but that you didn’t want to talk about it. I knew that something awful had happened to you, but I never suspected that you were in a damn car-stealing gang.”

  “Ellie, I’m so sorry. I—” I started, but she cut me off.

  “What do you want me to do?” she interjected.

  My mouth popped open in shock as my pulse quickened. Is she being serious right now? She’s accepting my past, just like that? “Brett said we needed to get alibis. One of my crew got in an accident tonight while we were on a boost, and the police will be asking questions about the car soon. Everything should be fine. Brett will take care of him and get him out, but just in case one of us gets linked to him, we need a backup plan that’s not connected to anything illegal. You’re the only one I have,” I replied, hating to put this pressure on her.

  She nodded, picking up a stone and rolling it around in her hands as I spoke. “So you want me to say I was with you tonight?”

  I nodded silently, having no words.

  “My parents were with me tonight. They went to bed just after ten. I could say that I snuck you in after they went to bed so that you could wake up with me on my birthday. They’ll see you in the morning too which will strengthen the story. Is that good enough?” she asked.

  “Ellie, why would you do that? You’re going to get in trouble with your parents in the morning when they see me. Why would you do that for me?”

  She stood, dropping the stone at her bare feet, turning to face me. Her eyes locked onto mine, and I felt the hair on the back of my neck prickle because of the intensity of the look she gave me.

  “Because I love you, Jamie,” she replied simply.

  Air rushed out of my lungs in one large burst. Until then, I hadn’t even realized that I was holding my breath. She loved me. Ellie Pearce was in love with me. I had never heard sweeter words in my life.

  I forced myself to stand even though my legs felt weak. She didn’t move as I stepped closer to her, so close that I could feel her breath as it blew across my chin. Her eyes didn’t leave mine for a second.

  One of my hands cupped the side of her face as I just marveled over her perfection. I needed to say it back quickly before she thought that I didn’t feel the same. This wasn’t how I’d pictured this moment happening at all. I’d planned on telling her that I loved her on her eighteenth birthday. I guess, technically, it was her birthday right now anyway—but I had planned to make it romantic and special, complete with picnic, cheesy music, and flowers.

  Standing with her in that second, though, with her beautiful gray eyes burning into mine and my hoodie wrapped around her body, I realized that we didn’t need music and flowers or candles and expensive food, all we needed was us.

  “I love you, too,” I whispered, bending slightly so I could lose myself in her gaze.

  A beautiful smile stretched across her face as her arms looped around my waist. I didn’t move, not wanting to ruin the moment. I wanted to live in this perfect moment forever. The sound of her soft laughter brought me out of my happy daze.

  “Usually now’s the part where the guy kisses the girl,” she teased, squeezing my waist in a prompt. “I thought you were the king of corny stuff.”

  Chuckling, I stepped closer to her, pressing my body against hers. “I guess I’m not as corny as you always make me out to be,” I joked. “I love you, Ellie.” I repeated the words for good measure and then bent my head and captured her lips in a kiss that showed her exactly how true those words were.

  By the time I pulled back we were both a little breathless. “Let’s get inside then.” She nodded over her shoulder toward the house.

  “You sure? You don’t have to do this. I hate that I’ve asked you to. You deserve better than this.”

  She smiled and trailed one hand up my body, setting it against my chest, hovering above my heart, which was still hammering wildly from the confession that she’d made.

  “Jamie, I k
now you. I know who you are, in here.” She tapped on my chest with one finger. “If you tell me that you only went back into this stuff to help out your mom, then I believe you. You said you wanted to go straight; well, in two months, when your agreement is up with this Brett guy, you’ll be able to. I wouldn’t love you any less for this. Your past is the past. Hopefully, after this, it’ll stay there, and you’ll get a second chance. Everyone deserves a second chance,” she replied. “Besides, who else would put up with my sleep-talking that you claim happens?” she asked sarcastically.

  I laughed and kissed her again, clamping her against me tightly. The heavens must have been smiling down on me after all. “I love your sleep-talking.”

  She pulled away from me, taking my hand. “Come on, let’s go to bed,” she suggested. “And, by the way, my mother is going to hate you even more when she finds out that you snuck in last night.” She nodded knowingly.

  I groaned. Her mother was going to throw a fit tomorrow when she saw me, but I guess it needed to be done because people would need to think I stayed the night for the alibi to hold. I pulled Ellie to me, bending and sweeping her into my arms so that she wouldn’t hurt her feet again on the gravel driveway. She smiled up at me and pressed her lips to mine as I carried her into the house, wondering just how I’d gotten so damn lucky.

  CHAPTER 22

  WRIGGLING. SHE WAS wriggling against me, her body brushing against mine in ways that made the male part of me jump for joy. I smiled and pressed my face into her hair, breathing in the vanilla scent that made my skin prickle. Tightening my arms around her, I tried to keep her still so I could go back to sleep … but she was squirming, trying to get away.

  “Jamie, I need to pee!” she whined.

  I laughed and released my death grip, rolling onto my back and untangling our legs. My eyes cracked open just in time to see her spring from the bed and hotfoot it out of the room. I was still tired, so I settled back against her pillows, deciding on more sleep.

  A minute later her bedroom door opened and she padded across the room. The bed dipped and then suddenly a heavy weight plopped onto my stomach, making me let out a soft groan because I wasn’t expecting it. She giggled, resting her hands on my chest.

  Forcing my stinging eyes open, I looked up at the girl who made my whole body ache. She was straddling me, sitting on my stomach, smiling down at me. Her red hair hung loose around her face, tangles and snarls everywhere, her bangs flicking out the way she hated. In the sunlight that was streaming in through her window, she looked beautiful.

  “You need to wake up, sleepyhead. I’m hungry,” she chirped. “Besides, it’s time you gave me my birthday present.”

  FUUUUUUUUCK! Her present! “Oh shit, Ellie, I left it at my place. I didn’t know I was going to be coming over. I’m sorry.”

  She rolled her eyes and bent forward, pressing her chest against mine, her face hovering close enough that I could taste her minty breath as it blew across my lips. She’d obviously taken the opportunity to brush her teeth while she was in the bathroom.

  “Not that present, silly. This one,” she whispered. Her mouth claimed mine in a soft kiss that took my breath away. I kissed her back immediately, running my hand up her back and twisting it into her hair as the kiss deepened. She moaned into my mouth, so I rolled her underneath me and broke the kiss, tracing my nose up the side of hers.

  “Happy birthday, little girl.”

  She grinned and nodded, looping her arms around my neck. “Yep, it totally is.”

  I laughed at her happy expression. “So, I get you for the whole day, and the night, that’s what we agreed, right?” I asked, taking a quick glance at the alarm clock. It was almost half past ten; we’d already wasted most of the morning.

  “Right,” she agreed.

  I sighed contentedly, just looking at her face. I didn’t need anything else in the world other than for that smile to always stay stretched across her full lips. “I love you, Ellie.” I loved finally saying those words.

  She closed her eyes and snuggled closer to me, her finger tracing one of the scars on my chest. “Love you, too.” We made out for a couple of minutes before she pulled back and sighed. “Maybe we should go and get that parent bit out of the way now?”

  I groaned and nodded, reluctantly releasing her from my embrace. She kissed my lips softly before pushing herself out of the bed and picking up my hoodie, which she’d thrown on the chair when we came to bed last night. As she put it on and zipped it up, I climbed out of the bed too, stretching before pulling on my jeans and T-shirt.

  “Um … Jamie?”

  I turned, concerned by the tightness to her tone. I realized what had caused it as soon as I looked in her direction. In her hands was my envelope from the boost last night. It wasn’t sealed, so you could easily see the bundled cash inside it. She was staring down at it with wide eyes.

  “Uh, yeah,” I mumbled, rubbing the back of my neck nervously.

  She gulped. “That’s not real money, is it? I mean, it looks like real money, but …” She shook her head and looked up at me with the cutest little bewildered expression I’d ever seen.

  “It’s real,” I confirmed. “Doing what I did last night pays really well.” At my words she drew in a ragged breath, nodding absentmindedly as she held the envelope out to me. I sighed deeply. “Don’t freak out,” I pleaded.

  She smiled weakly. “I’m not. It’s just … that’s a lot of money. I’ve never seen so much cash.”

  “You can have it if you want. Buy yourself something with it? A new car, maybe, so I can stop spending my weekends fixing up your decrepit old one?” I suggested, laughing. I didn’t need the money at all; I already had almost forty thousand dollars sitting in the bank from the last few weeks. “I owe you anyway, for the alibi,” I added as an afterthought. She deserved that for helping me out last night.

  Her forehead creased with a scowl as she closed the distance between us and slapped the envelope against my chest. “You think I want to be paid for that?” she snapped. “I don’t want your money. I just want you safe and not in trouble. Money’s not important, you are!” Her eyes flashed with passion as she spoke, showing me the truth of her words.

  I didn’t have an answer for that, so I just wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her to me roughly, making her squeal. Smiling, I dipped my head and kissed her passionately. I had no words to describe how that little speech had made me feel inside. She was just too incredible for me, but I selfishly hoped she never realized it.

  She pulled away from me and grinned, taking my hand and tugging me toward her bedroom door, obviously eager for her birthday breakfast, which she said was always her dad’s famous deep-stacked pancakes. As we stepped out, I shoved the envelope into my jeans pocket. Ellie stopped almost immediately, making me walk into her back when I wasn’t paying attention.

  Looking up to see what the problem was, I spotted it immediately. The problem was just walking out of the family bathroom across the hallway. Ruth seemed to be frozen, half out of the door, her eyes wide as she looked at the pair of us exiting Ellie’s room. Suddenly her posture changed, her shoulders pulled back, and her expression turned from disbelief to anger in a heartbeat.

  “What on earth is this?” she snapped. Her voice was tight and accusatory as her death glare turned on Ellie.

  Ellie’s grip tightened on my hand, almost crushing the bones in my fingers. “Um … I asked Jamie to stay over last night so that I could wake up with him on my birthday,” she lied.

  Ruth’s eyes flicked to me, a disgusted expression on her face. “He stayed here … all night?” she pressed, her eyes wide.

  Ellie nodded, and I hated myself for putting her in this position. I needed to say something, something that would make this better. “Nothing happened, I swear,” I assured her. That was the truth; we’d done no more than cuddle and sleep last night.

  Ruth made a little whimpering sound as she closed her eyes, recoiling as if she’d just encountered so
mething horrific. “I should hope not!” she barked, shaking her head fiercely.

  I gulped, not knowing how to make this situation better. Ellie spoke first. “Sorry. I knew that if I asked you you’d say no, and I really just wanted to wake up in bed with my boyfriend to make my birthday more special. It is my eighteenth.”

  Ruth snorted at the word boyfriend. “Of course I would say no! You can’t have boys over in your bed, especially not that boy,” she hissed, nodding her head at me distastefully.

  Ellie’s back stiffened. “ ‘That boy’?” she repeated sarcastically. “Are you kidding me right now, Mom? Jamie’s not just some random guy, he’s incredible, and if you can’t see that then that’s your problem, not mine,” she retorted. “I’m not having this ‘he’s not good enough for you’ conversation again. You have no idea what you’re talking about as far as he’s concerned. You’ve never even tried to give him a chance; you’re just being judgmental, as always. We’re going to get breakfast!” She stepped away from me and tugged on my hand while her mom just stood there with wide eyes and her hands clenched into fists, looking like she wanted to skin both of us alive.

  Oh shit. Damn, my girlfriend is feisty! I loved that she would defend me like that, even after what I’d told her in the early hours of the morning.

  I followed her down the stairs with Ruth silently marching along behind us. I hated myself for causing this friction, especially since it was Ellie’s birthday. I’d wanted to make this day special, not cause a family argument. Her eighteenth was probably going to be memorable for a different reason than what I’d intended.

  As we stepped into the kitchen, I smiled weakly at Michael when he looked up from his newspaper with a huge grin on his face. “Ah, the birthday girl’s finally up!” he greeted Ellie.

  She laughed and nodded. “Yep! Do I get pancakes this morning?”

  Michael bobbed his head in confirmation, his eyes settling on me. “Morning, Jamie. Didn’t hear you come in,” he said, pushing himself up from the chair and walking over, pulling Ellie into a hug.

 
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