Worth fighting for, p.26
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       Worth Fighting For, p.26

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
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  Mom’s body sagged in relief as she nodded, reaching up and patting Nana’s hand, which still rested on her shoulder. The gratitude in her eyes was easy to see, and some of the life came back into them, too. Maybe the prospect of returning home was what was making her so worried and keeping her so low.

  * * *

  After Nana’s suggestion, the air in the room shifted, became less stifling, and everyone seemed more relaxed, including my mom, who sat holding Kelsey’s hand, listening to her talk about her science project at school.

  Moving to the Poconos with my nana would cause a little issue with Jamie being an hour and a half away, but I was pretty sure we’d work something out. I wasn’t losing him again now over something as silly as having to drive to see each other for a while; after all, it wasn’t as if it was a full ocean away.

  When visiting hours were over, we said our good-byes and I noted that Mom looked like she was in a much better place than she had been for the last couple of days. “Shall we go for lunch?” Nana offered as we climbed into my car.

  I winced because I’d made lunch plans with Jamie. “Um, I can’t. I said I would meet a friend,” I replied, shooting Kelsey a look because a wide grin spread across her face when I said the word friend.

  “Oh, maybe we could still go, Kels?” Nana suggested, turning in her seat to see Kelsey, who was buckling her seat belt in the back.

  “Sure, that’d be great,” she answered. “Maybe we could go to that noodle bar and then get ice cream after?”

  “Sounds like a plan,” Nana agreed.

  My tummy rumbled at the thought of noodles, wondering what Jamie would suggest we eat for our late lunch. Then an idea struck me—I could suggest takeout to eat in his bed! A longing sigh left my lips at the mere thought as I started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. A few cars behind me, Ed pulled out too, looking bored as he followed.

  I dropped off Nana and my sister outside the noodle bar and headed for home. Jamie hadn’t called yet, so I wasn’t sure what time we were meeting. I decided that when I got home, I would send him a message telling him I was hungry. Maybe I’d send him a naughty flash down my shirt and then pick out some killer heels to wear to lunch. I wondered if he still had a slight shoe fetish. My cheeks flooded with heat just thinking about it as I smiled to myself.

  I stopped at a red light, turning on my radio and singing along with Sia about her elastic heart, bobbing my head in time with the beat as the light changed to green. I shifted into drive and rolled forward, signaling a left turn.

  If I’d been looking properly, I would have seen the white van speeding toward the deserted intersection opposite me. I would have seen him run the light. I would have seen him twist his wheel ever so slightly so that he was lined up to smash into the side of my little bug. But I wasn’t looking, I was too busy singing along with the radio, thinking about Jamie and food and my mom.

  Everything happened so quickly, I barely even had time to react or fear for my life. The van struck the passenger side of my car with such force that it knocked all the breath out of my lungs and made my teeth rattle. Metal grated against metal, tires scraped against the road, gravel flew into the air. The windshield smashed from the force of the impact, spraying glass across my face and body. My head collided with the car door, and my vision blurred.

  Pain gripped my body everywhere at once. The seat belt constricted, doing its job but forcing the air out of my lungs even further. My hands tightened on the steering wheel as the force of the collision shunted my car sideways several feet. My mind wasn’t making sense.

  There was a feeling of weightlessness; everything that had been on the floor of the car was suddenly on the roof, then the floor, then the roof again as the car rolled several times. The noise was the worst; the scraping, loud bangs, and crashes made my teeth grate and my ears ring.

  When the car finally stopped moving, it was in a ditch at the side of the road and everything was upside down. My arms were dangling, touching the roof, which was now where the ground should have been.

  I blinked a couple of times, turning my head and seeing the contents of my purse scattered over the roof of my car, mixed in with the glass and broken pieces of my beloved bug. I groaned, the pressure across my chest and waist immense. I could barely draw breath; my lungs felt like they were being crushed by the seat belt that pinned me upside down to my seat.

  Blood ran down the side of my face, tickling where it touched, dripping with a plop, plop, plop onto the ceiling of my car underneath me.

  I groaned, trying to lift my arms, but they were heavy and uncoordinated as I floundered awkwardly, attempting to reach the buckle of my seat belt so I could free myself. Maybe then I’d be able to breathe. But my fingers fumbled fruitlessly at the buckle.

  I smelled gasoline, acrid and burning my throat as I panted, trying to fill my lungs. I have to get out of here!

  “Help,” I croaked, blinking as everything seemed to gray out and then come back into focus again. I tried my legs, noticing they worked although the dashboard seemed to be pressed against my knees, which would make freeing myself hard, even if I could get my belt off. “Help,” I tried again, my voice barely above a whisper.

  I turned my head, ignoring the sharp twinge in my neck, and could see a pair of feet heading toward the vehicle. They weren’t rushing, just walking steadily toward me, the black boots worn and heavy looking. I blinked again, my eyelids getting heavier each time they closed. I could hear scraping on the driver’s door, a crunching of something being pried open. I licked my lips, tasting blood there. I was blacking out, I could feel it coming. As the door finally cracked open, a man leaned in, dropping the crowbar he’d held and reaching behind him, pulling out a large silver knife. As he reached toward my seat belt with it, beginning to hack me free, I opened my mouth to thank him, but nothing came out. The last thing I saw just before I passed out was the large spider tattoo on the side of my savior’s neck.

  CHAPTER 26

  JAMIE

  AS THE DOOR to Ellie’s house clicked closed behind me, I pumped the air with my fist in triumph. I had never expected she would take me back; I’d never felt I deserved the first chance, let alone the second one she was giving me, so hadn’t expected to wake up next to her glorious body and beautiful smile this morning. I was walking on a cloud as I headed to the side of the sedan and bent down to lean in and talk to Ed.

  “What’s up, buddy?” I greeted him, grinning.

  He raised one eyebrow quizzically. “Are you drunk?”

  I laughed and ran a hand through my hair. “No, just woke up on the right side of the bed this morning.” Right bed, more like. “I gotta go. I’ll be back just after lunch to take over.”

  He nodded, his eyes flicking back to the house. “Yeah, I heard.”

  “I’ll give you a call later,” I said, already turning for my car, not waiting for an answer. I couldn’t keep the smug grin off my face as I slid into my seat and started the engine. Before pulling away, I sent a quick message to Ray and Dodger, asking them both to meet me at the warehouse ASAP. I wasn’t really looking forward to telling them the news that I was abandoning ship, but they were good friends; I hoped they’d understand.

  When I pulled up at the warehouse, it was after ten and no one was around. After opening up and turning all the lights and the little space heater on because the place was like a freezer inside, I decided to spend some time working on my car. I was too wired to do anything else, and couldn’t set the ball rolling on any legal business transfer papers until I’d spoken to the boys about it. I knew they’d be a while yet. Ray had replied to my message saying that he was at his eldest daughter’s soccer practice, so he wouldn’t be in until after eleven. Dodger would be in later than that; he hadn’t replied, but he was a night owl and late sleeper. His day didn’t begin until after lunch.

  So that was how I spent the next two hours, elbow deep in my Subaru, giving her a fine tune-up. Not that it really mattered. I
wouldn’t be racing again. I’d promised Ellie I would leave this life, and that meant all elements of it. Now that she was back, I didn’t need to risk my life racing when I would rather curl up around her and watch a movie. That trumped everything, even the adrenaline high I got from fast cars and boosting. Ellie was all I needed.

  Ray came in first, gushing about his little girl and what a mean left foot she had and how she was a natural on the soccer field. Dodger arrived a few minutes after, still rubbing his eyes and yawning just after eleven thirty.

  “Morning,” I greeted him cheerfully.

  Dodger just grunted his response and headed straight for the coffeepot, making a fresh batch and pouring himself a large black coffee. When he was done, he turned to me and his eyes narrowed. “I hope this is important. I just left a ballet dancer in my bed. Most flexible legs I’ve ever seen.”

  I smiled and wiped my hands on a rag as I nodded toward the stairs. “Let’s go upstairs. I need to talk to you guys,” I said.

  Upstairs in my office, I sat on the black leather sofa and waited for them to sit, too. As I opened my mouth to speak, Dodger piped up first. “I know you’re going to want updates, but there’s not much to tell. Nothing’s happened since last night. Lewiston says Alberto isn’t getting out anytime soon.”

  Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for me, Alberto had been at the Salazars’ cocaine laboratory on Thursday when Detective Lewiston and ten of his trusty officers had conducted simultaneous raids on the Salazars’ businesses. They’d taken down most of their crew too and impounded all their shit. They had enough evidence to send them down for a very long time. The elder Salazar brother would spend most of his life in jail, from what I’d heard. But that still left the problem of the younger brother, the one whose heart I wanted on a plate.

  “No word on Mateo?” We’d had the feelers out, people looking for him everywhere, but no one had seen or heard from him since Thursday after I’d spoken to him on the phone and told him to run.

  Dodger shook his head, taking another sip of his coffee. “Nothing. He’s gone.”

  I frowned angrily. “Keep looking. I need to know Ellie’s safe.”

  Dodger leaned forward, setting his mug on the table, his eyes on me. “She is safe. Mateo wouldn’t dare come back now. He’s lost everything; his brother is in jail, and we all know Alberto was the brains behind their particular organization. Most of Mateo’s crew are banged up, he’s lost everything. What would he possibly gain from coming back? He knows you’re after him, he’s not going to be stupid enough to try anything with her again. He wouldn’t dare.”

  I scowled down at the table, watching the steam rise from the mug in a swirl. Dodger thought he was right, and maybe he was, but in the back of my mind I couldn’t shake the fear that Mateo was just biding his time. Men who had nothing to lose were the ones you needed to worry about because they were the most dangerous. I’d never be able to rest easy until I knew Ellie was 100 percent safe, and that meant I needed to find that fucker and kill him.

  “Just keep looking,” I instructed. “I know I might be being overprotective, but I want a tail on Ellie until he’s found.”

  Ray nodded quickly, his eyes sympathetic. He knew more than anyone how much I loved this girl; he’d seen the lengths I went to after I was arrested, and it was his family member I sent on an all-expenses-paid trip to cheer my girl up. He’d also been the one who had found the private investigator to keep me informed about her while she was in England with Toby. He knew she was everything to me; maybe he was imagining himself in my position, how he would feel if it were his wife in danger. Dodger didn’t quite get it because he’d never had a serious girlfriend before, just the occasional fling that he dropped when they lost his interest.

  Dodger yawned loudly, putting his hand up to cover his mouth. “Is that what you woke me up for? I was awake half the night, only saw your message by chance when I got up to piss, otherwise I’d still be in bed with the ballerina right now,” he grumbled.

  I shook my head, leaning back in my chair, hoping they wouldn’t be too pissed off with me. “No, that wasn’t it. I wanted to tell you guys first...Ellie and I got back together last night.” I grinned proudly, my heart squeezing as I said the words.

  Ray’s mouth popped open in shock and then stretched into a wide grin; Dodger fist-pumped the air and then held out his hand to slap me a high five. “That’s great, bro! Does this mean you’re gonna stop walking around with a face like a slapped ass?”

  I laughed and shrugged one shoulder, returning his high five before shaking Ray’s hand in a very grown-up gesture. His eyes shined with happiness as he grinned at me. “I’m so happy for you, Kid. You deserve good things, and I know how much you care about her and how much it tore you both up when you split.”

  A pang of regret sparked in my stomach. I should have been honest with her at the start; things would have been so different and we wouldn’t have wasted the last couple of years trying to pretend we were happy.

  “Thanks, guys, I couldn’t be happier. But it does mean making a few changes.” They were both looking at me expectantly. “I’ll be leaving the organization.”

  Dodger burst out laughing, shaking his head in disbelief. “That was a good one,” he chortled. But Ray’s eyes tightened as he sat back in his chair, his posture now stiff. He understood. I sat quietly, waiting for Dodger to catch on to the fact that I was being serious. Slowly, his laughter died out and he looked from me to Ray and back again.

  “Ah, shit. This isn’t a joke?” he asked, his forehead creasing in a frown.

  I shook my head. “No, sorry.” I cleared my throat, looking at them both apologetically. “I want to make a life with her, and that means leaving all this behind.” I waved a hand around the office in example.

  “You going to quit boosting, too?” Ray asked.

  “I’ll be leaving everything. Ellie deserves me to be the guy she thinks I am, the guy I was when we were together the first time. I want that, too,” I explained. “I’ll have lawyers draw up the papers to have the haulage firm and the security contracts transferred into your names, split equally. I’m going to sell one of the downtown clubs so I can get some capital, and I’m going to keep Red’s because, you know, I named it after her and stuff. Other than that, you guys can have the other clubs, too. You two can do what you want with the businesses: sell them, break them down, whatever.” It was my parting gift, a multimillion-dollar enterprise that had been left to me and that I was now passing on to good hands.

  Dodger held up a hand. “Wait, wait, wait. Why are you giving it to us? You could sell everything, buy a giant yacht, and sail your girl around the world or something. I don’t understand.”

  I shrugged. I’d thought about it, but I just didn’t need all of that, and I was pretty sure Ellie wouldn’t be comfortable using that money knowing where it came from. I would sell one of the clubs for sure. Ellie’s mother’s medical bills would be piling up, and I wanted to be in a position to take care of those for her and relieve that stress on the family. I’d keep Red’s because it had sentimental value to me—and of course I’d need some form of income. But I didn’t need the lavish lifestyle I had now.

  All I ever needed was Ellie.

  We both deserved a fresh start and clean break. We’d never build a great future if we were always riding off the past.

  “I just want to start again, on my own terms,” I explained.

  Dodger’s lips pursed as he thought about what I’d said, but Ray got it. He nodded and sighed deeply. “So you’re serious? What are you going to do with yourself?” he inquired.

  I shrugged and felt the weight of responsibility lift off my shoulders. I could do anything I wanted. “Not sure. Maybe I’ll start my own garage or something. Fix cars instead of stealing them, for a change. I always wanted to be a mechanic when I was younger.” The possibilities were endless, and I had the rest of my life to figure it out with Ellie by my side. I’d never meant to slip into this life
in the first place, but now here was my opportunity to get out of it all, and I was grabbing that opportunity with both hands and running with it.

  “But won’t you miss it? The thrill, the excitement?” Dodger asked, his voice skeptical.

  I shook my head, grinning moronically. “I won’t have time to miss it. I’ll be too busy worshipping Ellie.” Starting this afternoon!

  Dodger’s lip twitched with a smile. “You are so whipped.”

  I shrugged, unashamed. “When you meet the one for you, everything will make sense,” I told him and smiled over at Ray, who nodded in agreement. He’d found his one a long time ago. “Ellie’s my everything. It’s all a new adventure and I can’t wait,” I added. “So now you two need to work out where you want to take the organization in the future. It’s yours now.” I sat back and interlaced my fingers behind my head, perfectly at ease as they looked at each other before the discussions started.

  They were still deep in conversation two cups of coffee later, when Ellie’s number flashed up on my phone. “Hey, little girl.”

  There was a muffled crackling on the line, then she spoke. “Jamie?” Her voice sounded off; the way she said my name, almost as a plea, made my spine straighten. A sharp yelp of pain from her made my whole body go cold. “Help me,” she begged.

  Those two words were like a knife to my heart. My stomach bottomed out.

  “Ellie?” My voice was almost a whisper, and then another voice was on the phone, one I recognized, the Spanish twang to it making my teeth snap shut with an audible click as rage engulfed me.

  “If you want her, come and get her. I’m at the docks next to where I used to own a thriving fucking business before you fucked everything up. You have exactly half an hour before I slit her throat and let her bleed out,” Mateo Salazar instructed.

  My body jerked; my hand gripped the phone so tightly I was surprised I hadn’t crushed it. My mind was whirling. The docks. I knew the place he was talking about, and it was at least a forty-minute drive away. “It’ll take me longer to get there!”

  “Better drive fast then, hot shot,” he snapped. “Come alone. If I see anyone but you, she dies. If you’re even one minute late, she dies. If you tell anyone, she dies.”

  CHAPTER 27

 
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