Fighting to be free, p.27
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       Fighting to Be Free, p.27
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         Part #1 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley

  * * *

  The two months passed. Slowly, but they passed. It wasn’t smooth sailing by any means—there was a lot of stress, sleepless nights, and studying involved—but I finally made it through all of my exams and graduated.

  To celebrate our graduation there was a huge party at Sebastian’s house for seniors only. I hadn’t planned on going at all, but Stacey convinced me to go for a little while. Apparently this was my last duty as head cheerleader, and then I would hand the title off to Marie, my successor. I was actually pretty happy to give it away, to be honest.

  My plan had been to stay at the party for only an hour, but I’d already been there for almost two. It seemed like everybody wanted to talk to me about my trip, which started tomorrow. There were just way too many people to say good-bye to. It didn’t help that Stacey was hanging all over me, blubbering about how much she was going to miss me.

  I was flying solo tonight too; I had no boyfriend to get me through the night and keep me sane. Jamie and I were spending the night apart. If I finally managed to escape Stacey’s clutches, I was going to head home and spend some time with my family and call it an early night. But Jamie, well … Jamie was doing something more … risky.

  Last week he’d finished his agreed time with Brett, but somehow he’d been roped—or maybe forced, because he didn’t look happy about it—into doing one last job. He was going out around eleven o’clock to meet with his boss.

  Since he planned on working into the early hours of the morning, he would be seriously tired tomorrow and no doubt would sleep through the entire flight to Rome. That meant I wouldn’t be joining the mile-high club. Well, not tomorrow anyway, but there would be plenty of opportunities for that; we had lots of flights planned.

  A sloppy kiss on my cheek and a squeeze to my shoulder brought me out of my reverie. “Not fair. I hate it, I tell you,” Stacey slurred, nuzzling her face against the side of mine.

  I smiled, supporting most of her weight as she swayed unsteadily. It was only seven thirty, but due to the fact that she’d started drinking at five, she was wasted already. “I’ll email all the time, and send postcards, lots and lots of postcards,” I assured her for the hundredth time.

  She pouted. “But what am I gonna do without my bestie? You’re gonna forget all about little ol’ Stacey Gordon.” She hiccupped as she spoke, her watery blue eyes locked on mine.

  I cupped her face in my hands, looking at her sternly. “Stace, I couldn’t forget about you even if I tried,” I promised.

  She seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. While she was temporarily placated, I decided it was time to go. I’d already said good-bye to everyone and done my duty, passing the cheerleading torch to Marie. Now I wanted egg rolls and family time. “I’m going. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” I kissed her forehead before stepping back and nodding to Paul, who was watching the scene. Stacey sniffed and turned to him, immediately crying into his chest, wailing that her “bestest friend in the world” was abandoning her.

  I winced, wondering if I should take her home.

  As if answering my question, Paul motioned toward the door, smiling as he patted Stacey’s back, soothing her as if she were a hysterical child.

  I took a deep breath, taking one last glance at the people around me. Most of them were fake friends and popularity seekers; to be honest, I wasn’t going to miss this scene much at all. My high school career was over, but I was moving on to more exciting things, so there was no nostalgia at all.

  Making a swift exit through the front door before anyone else could approach me, I finally stepped out into the fresh air. A happy smile crept onto my lips. Tonight was the start of the rest of my life. I practically skipped toward my beloved Beetle.

  However, about thirty steps from freedom, someone called my name. I looked over my shoulder to see Miles. Suppressing a groan, I waved, trying to be friendly. “Can’t stop, I was due home thirty minutes ago,” I called as I continued my escape.

  “Ellie, I need to talk to you.”

  I shook my head, turning to face him but walking backward toward my car as I held my hands up in protest. I knew what this would be about, and I didn’t want to hear it. I’d had plenty of lectures from him over the last two months about the huge mistake I was making by traveling instead of attending school in the fall.

  “Gotta go. Go have a drink and enjoy your night,” I suggested. I reached the car then and jammed my key into the driver’s side, opening the door and preparing to get in.

  “Ellie, can you just stop for a minute?” Miles asked, frowning as I continued to try to escape.

  I sighed and turned to face him, already expecting this to be something along the lines of a last-ditch attempt to get me back with him. He knew I was going away tomorrow with Jamie, so this was probably the last big push to put a stop to that. “What is it, Miles?” I threw my purse into the car.

  He stopped in front of me, his eyes searching mine. “I know you’re gonna think I’m making this up in an effort to get you to stay,” he started. Bull’s-eye! I put my hands on my hips, waiting. “Well, I’m not, honestly. I’m just telling you this because it needs to be said. I’m actually not allowed to tell you; my dad made me promise because, technically, I’m breaking some sort of law right now.”

  “Huh?”

  He blew out a big breath and ran a hand through his hair, leaning against my car. “Your boyfriend isn’t as great as you think he is. In fact, you don’t even know him at all.”

  This conversation was starting to make me feel a little nervous. I didn’t know Jamie at all? What on earth did that mean? “Miles, just spit it out, you’re making no sense!”

  He nodded. “I’ve been helping my dad a lot at the law office recently. Last week, he needed me to research a couple of things for a high-profile client of his,” he explained.

  “Okay,” I mumbled, waiting for him to continue.

  “At first I wondered what was so special about this case. It was just a grand theft auto, nothing major. But my dad seems to be working so hard on it, putting much more effort in than normal.”

  I gulped, slowly understanding what this was about. Shaun. Miles’s dad is Brett’s hotshot lawyer for Shaun?

  “So I start helping with the case, right? It turns out that the cops are trying to pin a load of other stuff on this guy, too. They’re trying to link him to other known criminals and turn up other illegal things that he’s into, arrest more people and stuff. My dad has a friend inside the police department who told him all about this case they’re trying to build,” he said, looking at me intently, as if checking whether I was following what he was saying.

  Was I following? I still didn’t understand why he was telling me all this. “Miles, this is a great story and all, but …” I shrugged, looking at my watch obviously.

  He nodded. “I’m getting to the point,” he confirmed. “Yesterday I stumbled upon a stack of files my dad had in his office. I’m not sure he was supposed to have them because they looked like police surveillance stuff to me.” He reached into his pocket, pulling out a couple of folded-up sheets of paper. “Inside one of the files was all sorts of information about my dad’s client, him meeting up with known criminals and things like that. They have photos, times, dates, all that stuff. One of the guys in the photo, well, it was Jamie.” He held out the pieces of paper to me, keeping one back to himself.

  My heart clenched with worry, but I knew I needed to play dumb. I couldn’t let Miles know that I knew Jamie was stealing cars and working for this Brett guy. “My Jamie? Don’t be so stupid!” I retorted, willing my voice to come out strong and not show the total panic that was brewing inside me.

  Miles nodded. “Yeah. I’m pretty sure it’s him; it says his name, too. Jamie Cole. Look at the photo, it’s him, right?” He motioned to the paper he was still holding out to me.

  I gulped and took it, opening it up. Immediately I was confronted by a black-and-white photo of Jamie laughing with three other guys.

 
Miles pointed to the younger one. “That’s my dad’s client, the car thief. And that’s Jamie with him, right?”

  I nodded, unsure what I should say that wouldn’t incriminate Jamie further.

  “Ellie, he’s not who you think he is. There was lots of information about him in the file my dad had. Jamie’s not a good guy,” he whispered, producing another piece of paper from his pocket.

  I opened my mouth to defend Jamie and rebut that statement, but Miles cut me off before I could protest.

  “He’s been to jail, Ellie. I looked it up. I have his rap sheet here,” he said, unfolding it slowly.

  I recoiled. Jail? What the hell, no way! “No,” I muttered, shaking my head fiercely. Jamie would have told me if he had. Sure, he had secrets and his past was bad, but he would have told me something serious like that, definitely!

  Miles nodded, frowning. “Yeah, Ellie. He … He killed someone. He was let out of juvie a few months ago, around the time you two met, actually.”

  I couldn’t breathe.

  Killed someone.

  Jamie had killed someone? Did Miles seriously just say that?

  “No,” I muttered again, trying not to let myself even entertain that thought. He was wrong. My Jamie couldn’t kill anyone; he was too adorable and sweet.

  Miles held out the last piece of paper to me. “Yeah,” he stated. “I don’t have any details, but it says he was sentenced to five years in juvenile detention for murder. He was only fourteen.”

  Murder. The word made my blood go cold.

  I snatched the sheet out of his hands, not believing him, but the words were clearly printed there. Jamie’s name, date of birth, known affiliates, dates of his sentence. He was released from juvie just under a week before I met him and is currently on parole for the remainder of his sentence.

  Suddenly it felt like a fog had been lifted off me and I could suddenly hear words that Jamie had spoken to me all those months ago. “That’s my little sister, Sophie. She died. She was murdered, four years ago.”

  “Oh God.” My eyes filled with tears as the reality of it all sank in. Jamie had murdered his little sister when he was fourteen?

  “You okay? You look a bit pale. Want to sit down?” Miles offered, taking hold of my elbow and guiding me to sit back into my car.

  My heartbeat was so loud that it almost deafened me as I pictured the little girl from the ruined photo, the one with the lovely smile. She had been murdered … by her brother? My boyfriend?

  There had to be some mistake, there had to be some explanation for it. Maybe it was an accident but he was charged with murder? I needed to see him. I needed to look him in the eye and ask him. I needed him to tell me that the person who I’d fallen hopelessly in love with wasn’t in fact an act, that the Jamie Cole who had stolen my heart actually existed and wasn’t just some illusion.

  Had I really let myself fall in love with a murderer?

  CHAPTER 25

  THE DRIVE TO Jamie’s apartment seemed to take forever. Questions were forming in my head, so many questions. And anger, a lot of anger, was settling in the pit of my stomach because the guy I was in love with hadn’t told me any of this. I’d asked him to be honest with me, and he’d told me about the cars. He’d also told me he did other stuff for this Brett guy, but he wouldn’t tell me what. I knew it was bad, though; I knew he hated doing it; I knew that he didn’t sleep properly on the nights when his knuckles were bruised. But I never pushed the subject because he didn’t want me involved. Murder was different. And this was his past; he’d lied to me by keeping this from me, allowing me to fall in love with a person who didn’t actually exist!

  When I pulled up outside, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go in. What if he told me it was true? What if he had murdered his little sister? How was I supposed to feel about him then? Would I look at him differently? Would I no longer want his hand to take mine because subconsciously I’d be thinking about the fact that that hand belonged to a convicted murderer?

  I groaned in frustration. The anger was still there, but sadness was taking over as the dominant emotion in my body. I loved him so much—maybe too much. What was I going to do?

  After taking a few deep breaths, I forced myself out of the car. His truck was parked in his allocated space, so I knew he’d be here. He’d told me he wasn’t starting his “job” until eleven, so I had time to speak to him before that.

  Zombielike, my legs carried me up the two flights of stairs, and I stopped outside his door. My whole body felt cold. I didn’t want to know, but I had to. Why did Miles have to tell me? I had been perfectly happy not knowing this little piece of earth-shattering information, but now my life was threatening to fall to pieces around me.

  “Please let this be a mistake,” I whispered as I knocked on the door. As I waited, I imagined all sorts of scenarios, accidents that could have resulted in her dying and him being wrongfully charged with her death. After a few seconds, the door swung open and there stood the love of my life.

  “Hey!” he greeted me, his expression shocked.

  The sound of his voice made my stomach ache; the tone was so rich and welcoming. His voice alone made me swoon. I dragged my eyes over his handsome face, biting my lip so that I didn’t just burst into tears. A smile was stretched across his face, his eyes soft and tender as he looked back at me.

  “What are you doing here?” he asked, grinning, reaching for my hand.

  I gulped, unsure what I should say. My eyes searched his face as his fingers linked through mine and he stepped a little closer to me. Could this beautiful, thoughtful, adorable boy standing in front of me really be a killer? Was it even possible?

  A sob rose in my throat and I opened my mouth to speak, but no words came out.

  “Ellie, you okay?” He cocked his head to the side, regarding me worriedly. “I thought we weren’t seeing each other tonight.” He tugged on my hand, making me step into his familiar apartment.

  I had no words, so the only thing I could do was reach into my pocket and pull out the crumpled piece of paper that Miles had given me. Jamie’s “rap sheet,” as he’d called it. I held it out to him, and he frowned, looking confused as he took it from my hand and straightened it out so he could read it.

  I watched his face as he scanned it. His eyes twitched, his jaw tightened, his shoulders seemed to stiffen. He blew out a big breath and his eyes flicked up to meet mine. I was praying for some emotion to cross his face, any emotion: anger, shock, disbelief, just something to disprove the words on that piece of paper. But what I saw instead broke my heart even more. I saw guilt, plain and simple. His sad brown eyes said it all—the truth was printed on that sheet.

  “Ellie, where … where did you get this?” His normally smooth and silky voice was tight with stress and emotion.

  “Miles,” I croaked.

  “Miles … What? How?”

  I sniffed, wiping the tear that escaped even though I was trying to hold it back. Was he seriously not going to tell me? Was he stalling for time so that he could come up with a lie? “Shaun’s lawyer is Arthur Barrington, Miles’s dad. Miles has been helping with his case. He told me that the police are trying to link Shaun to other crimes and criminals,” I muttered. I needed to sit down; my legs were becoming weak as we stood there assessing each other.

  Jamie nodded, his face hard and emotionless as he closed the door, shutting us both in the apartment. “Miles’s dad? Well, that sucks,” he grumbled, balling up the paper again and throwing the crumpled ball onto the end table. “I already knew about the association thing, Brett told me.”

  I looked at him incredulously, waiting.

  His eyes met mine, and he gulped loudly. “I should have told you,” he mumbled.

  A humorless laugh escaped me. “Really, ya think?” I snapped. He grimaced, stepping closer to me and stretching out his hand toward me, his expression pleading. Instinct and anger made me slap his hand away just before he touched my cheek. “Don’t touch me,” I growled.

 
His hand immediately dropped down to his side again as he looked at me so remorsefully, so softly, that it made my heart ache. “Ellie, please, I love you,” he whispered.

  His words were painful. Emotion was washing over me as my eyes stung with tears that I refused to let fall. “You went to jail for murder?” I questioned, my voice barely above a whisper.

  He nodded slowly, his eyes locked on my face as he raised his hands innocently. He was doing everything so slowly, almost like I was a frightened animal and he was trying not to scare me off. “I didn’t want to tell you. I didn’t want you to look at me the way you are right now. I didn’t want you to know that side of me. That’s not the person I want to be.”

  My chin wobbled as he stepped closer to me. Too close. So close that I could feel the heat coming from his body. I couldn’t let him that close to me, I couldn’t concentrate when Jamie was in such close proximity, so I stepped back and shook my head. I was fighting a losing battle to hold on to my anger as it was, and I didn’t need him stepping into my personal space and getting behind the barriers I was trying so hard to keep up. His shoulders slumped as he hung his head almost shamefully. He looked so defeated that it broke my heart.

  “I had a right to know. That’s not something you can keep from someone. You should have told me!” I cried angrily.

  Again he nodded. “I know, but I didn’t want to lose you. Then, as time went on, it became more like I couldn’t lose you. It got harder and harder to tell you, then it was impossible because I’d left it too long,” he explained, still looking at the floor.

  “Jamie, you killed someone! You didn’t even tell me. You let me fall in love with you knowing that the person I was falling for didn’t exist!” I accused. He shuffled on his feet, his eyes firmly fixed on the floor, and I hated that he wouldn’t look at me. “Oh, just give up the lost-little-boy look, for Christ’s sake, that’s not helping your case, so man the fuck up and look at me!” I
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