Fighting to be free, p.25
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       Fighting to Be Free, p.25

         Part #1 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
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  “Of course you didn’t hear it. He snuck in last night!” Ruth bit out nastily.

  Slowly, the smile fell from Michael’s face, and I knew that I should have just taken the risk of getting put back inside. I’d broken his trust, which was something that I never wanted to do. I loved that he trusted me with his daughter, was happy for us even, but right now he looked seriously pissed off.

  “Last night?” he repeated, his tone hard and accusatory.

  I smiled apologetically and nodded. “Yeah. Sorry.” I winced, waiting for his reaction. He was perfectly within his rights to throw me out of his house for taking advantage of his hospitality.

  His eyes flitted between me and Ellie, a shocked expression on his face like he was only just now realizing that we were “together.” The look clearly told me that he thought his daughter was some sweet, innocent young child in a woman’s body. “You stayed with Ellie, in her bed?” His voice was tight and controlled.

  Ellie stepped forward. “Daddy, nothing happened. I just wanted to wake up with him this morning. I asked him to come over. Stop looking at him like it’s his fault, it’s not. I practically had to beg him to stay because he didn’t want to go against your wishes.”

  He frowned, running a hand through his hair. “You shouldn’t have had him over last night, Ellie. You have to be responsible and think of Kelsey. She wanted to come in and wake you up this morning. Thank goodness I stopped her! She’s only ten. Can you imagine what she would have thought if she’d gone into your room to find Jamie in your bed?” he scolded, shaking his head in frustration.

  Ellie sighed and gave him the puppy-dog face; right then and there, the guy was done for; he stood no chance against that look. “Sorry, I didn’t think about Kels, I just wanted to have Jamie over for my birthday. I should have asked you, I’m sorry,” she pouted.

  He sighed and rolled his eyes. “Just don’t let it happen again, all right? I’m not up for this staying-over thing, not with Kelsey in the house. I don’t expect this to be repeated.”

  Ellie and I shook our heads in unison, confirming it wouldn’t.

  Ruth was watching the exchange with wide eyes and an even wider mouth. “What? That’s it? She just gets to sneak boys into her bed, and you’re not even going to punish her for it? Wow, you really are a soft touch, Michael! I didn’t know you were so spineless,” she cried, throwing her hands up in exasperation.

  Michael frowned. “It’s not like she does it all the time, and besides, it’s not boys, plural, it’s just Jamie. I don’t want it to happen again, but surely there can be a little lenience this time considering it’s her birthday,” he countered.

  “Oh, we’ll see how lenient you want to be when he knocks her up and ruins her life!” Ruth snapped, slamming her hand on the table.

  Michael’s eyes tightened at her words, and he looked up at me. I shook my head quickly. “Nothing happened, I promise. Ellie’s not getting pregnant,” I assured him, holding my hands up innocently.

  He sucked his teeth with his tongue, seeming to think about it before he relaxed. He definitely wanted to believe that his daughter was still his little baby girl. Denial was a powerful thing.

  Finally he sighed. “Just don’t do it again, all right? This was a one-time thing, a birthday thing, but I’m pretty annoyed that it happened.” He looked at Ellie. “Pumpkin, you know I like Jamie, but just … You need to respect that this is my and your mother’s house and, therefore, our rules.”

  Ellie smiled innocently, batting her eyelashes to perfection, and I practically saw him turn into putty in her hands. “Okay, Daddy. Sorry. It won’t happen again,” she promised.

  He rolled his eyes and stepped back, seeming to ignore the hard glare that was aimed in his direction by Ruth as he shoved the sleeves of his sweater up and grinned. “Who’s up for birthday pancakes?”

  Ellie squealed and clapped her hands excitedly. “Yes! Me!”

  Breakfast was beyond awkward. Ruth’s face was hard and angry the whole time, and she barely spoke except to throw some bitchy comment in my direction or answer a direct question when Michael tried to include her in the conversation. I honestly had no idea what a great guy like Michael could see in her. She was nothing like the rest of them.

  After breakfast and watching Ellie open her presents from her family and friends, I headed home. I needed to get her gifts from me, and the day that I’d planned for us needed to start soon, too. We had a pretty packed day to get through.

  CHAPTER 23

  WHEN I PICKED her up an hour later, she skipped to my truck before I even had time to cut the engine. Grinning, she threw her overnight bag into the backseat. As usual, her parents didn’t know she was staying at my place; they thought that she was spending the day with me and the night with Stacey. After their reaction to me staying last night, it was more important than ever that the lie remain in place.

  “Ready to start celebrating?” I asked. My eyes wandered over her body appreciatively. She was wearing black skinny jeans that showed off her long legs and a pretty little midnight-blue silk V-neck top. It showed just enough cleavage to make my heart speed up. She was obviously dressed to impress. “I thought I told you to wear older clothes and that you might get dirty?” I mumbled, my mouth watering at the sight of her. It had been days since I’d had my way with her—something I would rectify tonight.

  She frowned down at herself. “This is kinda old. What’s wrong with it?”

  “Ellie, that’s like a designer shirt, it must have cost a fortune.” I laughed, shaking my head.

  She smiled as she played with the soft material. “It’s not designer; it didn’t cost me anything, actually,” she replied. “You like it?”

  I grinned and leaned in closer to her. “It’s beautiful, just like you.” She giggled and kissed me quickly. She didn’t have to say the word corny for me to know she was thinking it. I smiled against her lips and pulled back. “I have your present, but I’d rather give it to you later, if that’s okay?”

  She grinned, buckling up her seat belt. “Sure,” she chirped. “So, where we going?”

  “It’s a surprise.”

  When I pulled into the parking lot of the Bronx Zoo, Ellie’s eyes lit up. “We’re going to the zoo?” she asked excitedly.

  I smiled. “Kinda. You’re gonna be a zookeeper for the afternoon.”

  Her mouth dropped open in shock. She definitely wasn’t expecting that, judging by the look on her face. “Seriously?”

  I nodded. “Yep. You wanna?” Ellie loved animals; in one of her sleep rambles she’d said that she had always wanted to be a zookeeper. I was just praying that was one of the more serious unconscious conversations we’d had, as opposed to when she told me that she wanted to be the first woman to walk on the moon.

  Her eyes widened. “Hell yeah! Really? Oh my God, thank you!” The loudness of her voice echoed in the cab of my truck and made my ears ring. Without waiting for me, she sprang out of the door, jumping on the spot excitedly. “Come on, slowpoke!” she cried, waving me out of the truck. I laughed and grabbed the paperwork for her visit before climbing out and slinging my arm around her shoulder. She was beaming up at me. “I love you so much, Jamie. Oh God, thank you! This is gonna be awesome!” she squealed, gripping the front of my shirt and kissing me fiercely, giggling against my lips.

  I pulled back and grinned. “First stop, gift shop. Let’s buy you a zoo T-shirt to cover up that hot little outfit you’re wearing so it doesn’t get ruined.” Her smile widened as I led her toward the entrance.

  * * *

  The day was incredible. Ellie got a tour with one of the keepers while I trailed behind, watching her go inside some of the enclosures. She got to feed the tigers and cheetahs. She had to bathe and play ball with an elephant. The best part for me by a clear mile was watching her go into the zoo’s nursery and feed an orphaned chimp with a baby bottle. She cried the whole time. It was adorable.

  The only damper on my afternoon was a phone call from Brett
. Apparently Shaun had been arrested, and as soon as he was discharged from the hospital he’d been taken in for questioning in connection with the stolen vehicle he was driving.

  Brett instructed me not to worry, assuring me that he would take care of the situation. Although it dimmed my mood a little at the time, as soon as Ellie was back at my side again, my spirits lifted. She’d finished her tour, so we bought a sandwich and sat on the grass outside the lion enclosure. I sat there just listening to her gush about it and how this was easily the best birthday she’d ever had.

  “So, should I give you your gift now?” I offered.

  Her eyebrows rose. “This isn’t my gift?” she asked, waving her hand around at the zoo.

  I laughed and shook my head, pulling out the palm-sized gift box from my pocket. “No. This is your present.” Well, part of it anyway.

  She gulped as I held the box out to her. “Jamie, I don’t need you to spend your money on me.”

  “I’ll remember that for next year, when I’m broke again,” I joked, waving the little box at her. “Come on, take it. And if you don’t like it, then we’ll change it, all right?”

  She chewed on her lip as she looked at me gratefully, her hand hesitating for a couple of seconds before she ripped off the silver gift wrap and lifted the lid of the box to reveal what was inside. Almost immediately her eyes filled with tears as her free hand covered her mouth. “Oh, Jamie, it’s …” She shook her head, and I started to panic that she didn’t like it.

  “You can exchange it,” I offered.

  She made a little whimper. “Exchange it, are you crazy? It’s beautiful. Thank you so much, this must have cost you a fortune,” she whispered, tracing her finger along the line of the silver Pandora bracelet I’d bought her. Ellie liked silver, she never wore anything gold.

  “You sure?” I searched her eyes for signs that she was lying and trying to spare my feelings. “I don’t mind if you want to—” Her mouth pressed against mine, stopping my insecure ramble.

  She broke the kiss, her eyes still glazed over with what I was hoping were happy tears. “Put it on for me?” she asked, holding out the box. I smiled and took the bracelet from its pillow, clasping it around her slender wrist. The bracelet was one of those ones with the beads that you collected and added on to it. Hers had only four beads so far, one of them inlaid with a little diamond. I planned on collecting them for her and filling it up as the years passed. “Oh, Jamie, I love it, thank you,” she gushed.

  “Welcome.” I grinned.

  After the zoo, we headed back to my place, losing ourselves in each other’s bodies for a couple of hours before showering and getting ready to go to her favorite restaurant.

  Before going to the restaurant I’d booked, I drove a fair way out of the city and stopped next to a deserted field.

  “What are we doing here?” she asked, looking at the nothingness around us.

  “Last gift.” I pulled an envelope from the glove compartment and held it out to her. She frowned and took it, opening it with that curious-puppy expression on her face.

  I watched her as she read it over. “I don’t understand, what is this?” she asked.

  “I had a star named after you. I wanted to get you something you could keep, and I remember you once told me that you liked stargazing when you were a kid, so …” I frowned. “It’s actually pretty lame,” I added, wincing and now wishing I hadn’t done it. I really was turning into one of those romantic saps that the boys all ribbed on at the warehouse.

  She gasped, looking down at the sheet again. “Are you kidding me? Jamie, oh God, I love this! I can’t believe you remembered …” She looked up at me in awe and it suddenly didn’t feel so lame anymore. “I seriously have my own star?”

  I nodded, prying my phone out of my pocket. “Want to see it?”

  She turned to me with wide, excited, tear-filled eyes. “Heck yeah!”

  “Come on then, I’ll find it for you.” I pushed myself out of the truck, grabbing the spare jacket that I’d brought for her so that she wouldn’t get cold. She climbed out too, and walked to the front of the truck, looking up at the clear night sky. I slipped the jacket around her shoulders before gripping her waist and lifting her quickly, setting her on the hood of my truck before climbing up, settling myself behind her, and pulling her close to my chest. I fiddled with my phone, finding the star map app that I’d downloaded for tonight, then pointed it in the general direction of her star.

  It took a few minutes to find it, but finally we had it. Ellie was raving and gushing about how incredible it was and how it was the most thoughtful and special gift she’d ever received.

  We just cuddled on the hood of my truck, looking at the constellations for a while before talk turned to her school and the fact that she only had just over two months left of her senior year. Coincidently, she would finish high school a week after my last day of working for Brett.

  We spoke about colleges and where she was going to attend. She already had her acceptance letters, and the time was approaching where she’d have to make her decision. But Ellie didn’t seem too happy about the thought of college at all; she’d told me several times that she had nothing specific in mind for a career and that she didn’t even really want to go to college. She’d just applied because that’s what people always expected of her.

  “So there’s actually nothing that you want to do? If you could do absolutely anything, what would it be?” I asked. Everyone had a dream, didn’t they?

  She shifted sheepishly, shaking her head. “There’s nothing.”

  I frowned. She was lying to me. “That’s not true, Ellie. What is it you want to do?”

  “You’ll laugh and say it’s stupid,” she protested.

  I sighed. Clearly she didn’t know me as well as she thought she did if she thought I would be anything other than supportive. “I won’t, I promise,” I assured her.

  Closing her eyes, she seemed to gather her courage before finally speaking. “I want to have my own label.”

  Label? “Huh? What kind of label?”

  “A clothing line,” she explained.

  I raised one eyebrow at that. “Really? Have you ever designed anything before?” I asked. She nodded sheepishly in response. “Something I’ve seen?” I pressed.

  She nodded again, clearly uncomfortable with this conversation. “Yeah, I designed and made that dress that I wore to my prom.”

  My mouth dropped open at her words. “Holy fuck, really?” I was shocked. That dress was incredible; I had been sure it was an expensive little number.

  “Yep,” she replied, looking like she was bracing herself for something bad.

  “Wow, shit, that dress was amazing, Ellie. I had no idea you were so talented!” I gushed excitedly.

  A smile crept onto her face; her shoulders seemed to relax a little. “Seriously, you liked it?”

  I nodded eagerly. “Liked it? I did more than like it, I loved it. Damn, that dress was beautiful; I can’t believe you made that.”

  She blushed furiously. “I made that shirt that I wore today, too,” she admitted quietly, as if she was ashamed of it or something.

  “The blue one? Wow, that was incredible too, Ellie. You should definitely go to design school or something,” I encouraged her.

  A frown lined her forehead. “I just do it in my free time for a hobby. I don’t really show people my designs.”

  Is she crazy? If I had a real talent like that, I would be showing it off to everyone! “Why not?”

  She shrugged, scrunching her nose. “I don’t know. The only people I’ve ever spoken to about going into fashion are Miles and Stacey.”

  “And what did they say about it? That you should be going to design school and not wasting your talent by hiding it away?” I guessed.

  She nodded weakly, playing with her fingers. “Stacey did.”

  “And Miles?” I prompted.

  She sighed, shrugging, looking even more uncomfortable as she squirmed on the spot
. “He didn’t think much of the idea. He didn’t like my designs, said most of them were trashy and classless. He said I’d be wasting my time studying fashion and that I should just keep it as a hobby,” she finished.

  Trashy and classless? The prick had clearly knocked her confidence with that remark. “Ellie, for fuck’s sake, the guy was a jerk, a controlling asshole who probably didn’t want you to make anything of yourself because then you might leave him for someone better!”

  She smiled at that. “Someone better, like you?”

  I couldn’t help but laugh. “Someone much better than me. Someone who could give you the world.”

  She smiled and pointed up at the sky. “Who needs the world when I have my own star?”

  “Now who’s corny?” I joked. She pressed her lips to mine, kissing me fiercely. When she pulled away we were both a little breathless. “Just think about it for me, okay? I’d love for you to do something that makes you happy. I’ll always support you, no matter what it is, and you need to know that.”

  She sighed wistfully, looking at me like I was the sweetest guy in the world. “I’d settle for just traveling around for a while. I’ve always wanted to see the world. Paris, Rome, Egypt, England …” She sighed again and snuggled against my chest, pulling my arms tighter around her.

  Traveling? I’m definitely up for traveling if she’s serious. “Really? You want to travel?”

 
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