Worth fighting for, p.28
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       Worth Fighting For, p.28

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
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  any that I had thrown before. I watched with wide eyes as it flew through the air and sheathed itself in the side of Mateo’s neck.

  His body jerked, his hand coming up to clutch at his throat as blood gushed out around the knife. His mouth moved like he was trying to say something, and his shoulders hunched before he fell back, eyes still open, bleeding out, just like he had threatened to make Ellie do.

  Now that’s ironic, I thought, pushing myself to my feet. I wasn’t exactly pleased with the fact that I had killed him, but I didn’t regret it for a single second.

  I held up my hand, shielding my eyes from the low afternoon sun as I looked toward where Ray was camped on top of the container, sending up a quick thank-you wave. Dodger had just delivered a punch to a guy’s throat that sent him to his knees, gasping for air. Dodger’s face was still contorted with menace, determined, as he looked around at the scene, checking for more danger. My body relaxed. It was over, and we were all safe and relatively unharmed.

  “Ellie?” I called, closing my eyes and taking a couple of deep breaths. Adrenaline made my hands shake as I opened my eyes and looked in the last direction I saw her. I stepped over Ed’s body, pushing my gun back down the back of my jeans. “Ellie, where are you?”

  She peeked around one of the containers, her eyes meeting mine. I smiled, relief washing over me as I took another step toward her. She drew in a big breath and then was staggering toward me, tears rolling down her cheeks. As she reached me, she crashed against my body, holding on to me awkwardly with her still-tied hands.

  “Oh God, I’m so sorry I got you into this. Are you okay?” I asked, pulling away and holding her at arm’s length, cupping her face in my hands softly. “Shit, your face.” I winced, looking at her bloodshot eye, the bruises, the raw skin where she’d yanked the duct tape off her mouth, and dried blood coating the side of her head. “What hurts?” I asked.

  She whimpered and pushed my hands away, closing the distance between us and crying against my chest. I folded my arms around her, pressing my cheek against the top of her head. “I’m okay,” she mumbled against my shoulder. “I was so scared,” she whispered.

  “I know, little girl, I know. It’s over now, though, it’s all over,” I cooed, stroking her back. I kissed her hair, noticing the gash on the side of her head and pulling back. “Are you sure you’re okay? We’ll get you checked out at a hospital.” I looked into her watery eyes and hated that she looked so frightened and timid, like a little mouse.

  “I’m all right. I just got banged up in the crash.” She sniffed, reaching up to wipe at her face carefully.

  I nodded, letting go of her long enough to step back and see Dodger sitting against one of the containers, wincing as he picked what looked like burned material from his side. “All right, Dodge?” I called worriedly.

  He nodded and continued poking at his side. “Yeah, just got a bit too close to the car when it went up,” he answered.

  Car? That was his plan for a distraction, blowing up a car? Nice.

  “I need to sit down,” Ellie said, stepping away from me and leaning against the nearest container, sliding down until she sat on the ground. “Go see if he’s okay, he looks like the macho guy who tells you he’s fine even if his leg is falling off.” She smiled weakly and pulled her knees up to her chest, reaching up to tentatively touch the side of her head.

  I watched her for a few seconds, checking that she was really all right before crossing the clearing and heading toward Dodger.

  Behind me, a gasp sounded and then Ellie cried, “Look out!” just as Ed slammed into my side, sending us both sprawling to the ground. I gasped, struggling to get air into my lungs as he landed on top of me, his hand instantly going for my throat as his knee came up and collided with my ribs. Gritting my teeth, I gripped his shirt, rolling so I was on top of him, pulling back my arm and throwing a punch toward his face. He whipped his head to the side at the last second so my fist slammed into the ground, a knuckle popping audibly. Pain jarred across my fingers and zapped up my arm.

  I cried out, gritting my teeth against the pain, and threw a punch with my left hand instead, this one finding its target and sending Ed’s head whipping to the side. I fumbled behind my back with my bad hand, trying to get my gun, but it wasn’t there. It must have fallen out when Ed tackled me.

  I punched Ed again, this time in his side, making him wheeze out a breath.

  “Ellie, no!” Dodger shouted.

  Distracted, I turned my head to the right and saw that Ellie had picked up my gun. Her hands trembling, she pointed the barrel toward Ed, who was on the ground struggling under me.

  Ed’s fist connected with the side of my face, sending me sprawling to the right...just as the gunshot rang out. Pain ripped through my bicep, stinging, searing-hot pain. I’d never been shot before; it hurt a lot more than I’d imagined. Ellie’s cry of anguish behind me made my heart race, but I didn’t have time to think about it as Ed gained the upper hand, using my distraction as he brought his fist down, punching the bullet wound on my arm, making me scream with pain as my vision swam.

  His hand was around my throat, squeezing, as I reached up with my good arm and tried to push him off. Suddenly he stilled, his eyes widening as he looked down at me almost fearfully. His fingers released my throat and I gasped for air.

  My eyes adjusted, and I looked up to see a gun pressed against the side of Ed’s temple. I blinked, trying to make sense of it as I followed the gun up over the tied wrists, along the scratched-up arms, and over into the vengeful face of my girlfriend. Her chin trembled, but her eyes didn’t leave his face for even a second.

  I opened my mouth to tell her no, to tell her that she’d never be able to take it back, that it would haunt her, but there was no indecision on her face.

  “This is for my dad.” And then she pulled the trigger, shooting him in the head.

  CHAPTER 29

  I FLINCHED AS Ed’s blood splattered across my face. He fell at my side, his eyes open and lifeless.

  Ellie was standing stock-still, gun still outstretched, her lips parted, her eyes wide as she stared at Ed’s unmoving body and the pool of blood that was rapidly forming around his head.

  “Ellie, it’s okay,” I told her, using my elbows to push up to a sitting position.

  My hand and arm throbbed, streaks of pain zapped down my forearm as I moved, and I could feel blood trickling slowly down my arm from where Ellie had accidentally shot me. She didn’t move or register my words. I wasn’t even sure she was breathing as she continued staring at Ed. Ignoring the pain, I got to my feet and stepped to her side, slowly reaching out and setting my good hand on top of hers, guiding her to lower the gun.

  “Ellie, look at me,” I begged, wrapping my fingers around the barrel. She still didn’t react. “Ellie, please, can you look at me, little girl?” I coaxed, tugging on the gun gently.

  Her eye twitched and she let the gun go, her head slowly turning toward me but her eyes still on the dead body. “He killed my dad. He was going to kill you, too,” she mumbled, her words all jumbling into one.

  I quickly shoved the gun down the back of my jeans. “He did, and he was. You saved me. You did the right thing.”

  I wished she hadn’t done it. Not that I didn’t want him dead—of course I did—but I would rather have done it myself to save her the remorse and guilt she was bound to feel over it. I wanted to protect her from everything, and if that meant I had to get my own hands dirty, then so be it.

  With my good hand, I fumbled with the knots at her wrists, untying them and letting the cord drop to the ground. Ellie nodded, still not looking at me, so I cupped her face in my hands, being careful of her injuries and my own as I stepped directly in front of her, blocking her view of Ed’s body. “Ellie?” I whispered, bending my knees so we were on the same level.

  Her eyes finally met mine. “He killed my dad,” she whispered back. “I don’t regret it. I’d do it again.”

  “You won’t eve
r have to do anything like that again. I’m out of this all now. It’s just you and me from here on out, no more shady dealings, no more worry, no more bad guys after you. Just you and me. If you’ll have me, that is...” I trailed off, looking into her eyes, hating the pain I could see on her features.

  “Yes,” she whispered. “I love you.”

  I pressed my lips to hers, feeling the rough, cracked skin of hers brush against mine. “I love you too, so much,” I promised.

  She sniffed, her shaking hands raised, touching my arm, and her fingers came away slick with blood as her face scrunched up in mortified apology. “Are you okay? I shot you!”

  I smiled weakly, trying not to show her how much it hurt. “It’s just a graze, I’m okay,” I replied. It wasn’t too bad now that the initial pain was gone; it was just a burning ache, and my hand hurt worse than that. “You’re a terrible shot,” I joked.

  Ellie didn’t answer, just reached up and gripped the zipper of my hoodie, undoing it and hastily trying to push it off my shoulder, her face etched with worry. “Take this off, and let me look,” she insisted, trying to ease the material down over my arm but stopping when I hissed through my teeth at the pain. “Sorry, sorry,” she muttered, wincing.

  “Let me do it,” I said, pushing her shaking hands away and tugging the sleeve off completely, being more careful of my broken, swollen fingers as I dropped the sweatshirt to the ground.

  All eyes fell on my arm and the ragged three-inch tear across my bicep, just below my shoulder. I was right, it was mostly just a graze—the bullet had torn through my flesh but hadn’t actually penetrated. I was lucky. It was still bleeding profusely, though.

  Ellie whimpered as she looked at it, her eyes brimming with tears. “I’m so sorry. I was aiming for him, and then you moved and...”

  Dodger stepped to my side, peering down at it and grinning. “Ah, come on, don’t beat yourself up about that. It’s barely a nick, he’s just being a pussy,” he teased, clearly trying to lighten the mood because Ellie was beginning to freak out and her whole body started to tremble. “Few stitches and he’ll be right as rain.” Dodger reached down and snagged my hoodie, pulling out a knife and roughly hacking off the sleeve before leaning in and attempting to tie it around my wound.

  I gritted my teeth against the pain and reached out with my good hand to Ellie, touching her face, tracing the line of the bruise she had on her cheek.

  “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” she said, turning her cheek and pressing a soft kiss against my palm.

  “Ellie, I’m fine, I promise.” I wrapped my arm around her, pulling her against my body, ignoring the pain it caused. She lost the battle against her tears, nestling her face against my shoulder and crying desperately, her body racking with sobs.

  I held her tightly, looking over at Dodger and seeing his sympathetic expression as he watched Ellie. “You okay, Dodge?” I asked, my eyes dropping down to his side. Now that he was closer I could see scorched, raw skin on his side that looked to be blistering and must be painful.

  He waved a dismissive hand. “It’s all right. I’ll get checked out later, rub some shit on it, it’ll be good.”

  Ray was climbing down from the container, shoving his rifle in the duffel bag as he walked to my side.

  “What are we going to do about this?” Dodger asked, looking at the six dead bodies that lay around the clearing.

  Ray stepped forward. “I’ll take care of it. You two go and take her to see a doctor. I’ll call you once it’s sorted out.”

  “Thanks, Ray.” He really was a great friend. I was lucky to have him. I was lucky to have them both. I pulled back a little and peeked down at Ellie. “Can you walk?”

  She sniffed and nodded, clinging to me as she continued to cry against my shoulder. As we made the slow walk back to the car, Ellie glanced back at the dead bodies, her face paling as her fingers dug into my side and her eyes widened in horror, as if she was only just realizing what she’d done.

  “Don’t look,” I advised her, dragging her attention back to me. She nodded, allowing me to guide her along to where I’d parked, passing remnants of a burned-out car that Dodger had used as his distraction. Its shell was still alight; pillows of smoke filled the air, making it uncomfortable to breathe until we were past it and outside the dock gates, heading to my car.

  I tossed Dodger my keys, and he opened the door, tipping the seat forward so both Ellie and I could get in the back. Ellie slid in first, her whole body shaking, her tears endless. I climbed in next to her, wrapping my arm around her protectively and pulling her close against my side. My mind was whirling, wondering how I was going to help her get over this. Shooting Ed would scar her; it was something that would never leave her. There would be a lot of ramifications from this day, but I would help her through.

  “Which hospital?” Dodge asked from the front as he started the car. “There’ll be a lot of questions. If they see you’ve been shot, they’ll call the cops,” he said, turning in his seat and nodding toward my arm.

  I pursed my lips, thinking. “Go to Marlon’s drop-in clinic,” I instructed. Marlon was Brett’s brother-in-law and was still on our payroll. We got special treatment for the crew if it was ever needed.

  Dodger nodded, turning in his seat and pulling out of the docks. Ellie’s tears had dried up now, but she still clung to me, her face pressed against the side of my neck. I pulled back slightly so I could look at her. “Ellie, we can’t say anything about what happened here today. You understand?” I asked, watching her carefully.

  She sniffed, her eyes meeting mine. “But we have to tell the cops, I mean...we killed people, we have to tell them.”

  I cupped her damaged face in my hands. “No,” I said firmly. “They were drug dealers, really bad guys, and into a lot of bad shit. Whatever happened to them today was the result of their job. You understand me? We were never there. We were both in a car accident; that’s how we got injured.” My tone was firm, final. There was no telling the truth in this situation. Ellie blinked; I could see the confusion and indecision in her eyes. “You want to go to jail for the rest of your life for killing that scumbag?” I asked.

  She shook her head weakly, her eyebrows pinching together. “No,” she whispered.

  “Then you do as I say. I’ll take care of everything. I’ll make all of this go away. I’ll take care of you always, you just need to do what I say. Okay?” Please be okay with it, please. “Can you do that for me, little girl?”

  She was quiet for a few seconds, and then she nodded and my heart rejoiced as I pressed my lips to hers, kissing her softly, incredibly grateful that we were both alive and that I got to take care of her for the rest of my life.

  * * *

  Two days later, everything seemed to have blown over very nicely. Ellie had told me where they had first grabbed her, so we had someone go pick up her car from the ditch. The police had been in touch about it, but we’d told them that Ellie and I were in the car when her tire had burst and she’d lost control, rolling into the ditch. We then made up a story about how we’d both gotten out and hitchhiked to a clinic for treatment. Medical records there supported our story that our injuries were sustained in the crash and not from anything else. We were home free. It had been Detective Lewiston who had taken our statements; he’d filled in some blanks and in return received a nice fat envelope of cash.

  We hadn’t even been questioned about the six bodies found at the docks on the same day as our crash. With the several kilos of cocaine and money found at the scene—thanks to Ray—and the Salazar reputation for dealing, police had chalked it up to some sort of drug deal gone wrong. News reports concurred, saying that there were no witnesses and no suspects, but added that the neighborhood was now safer with both Salazar brothers off the streets. I wholeheartedly agreed.

  Ellie had done everything I told her to; she hadn’t spoken to anyone about what had happened at the docks and had backed up my burst tire/car crash story. She struggled a little at fi
rst, asking me if we were doing the right thing by not coming forward, but I’d just reminded her of what type of people they were and that they had been willing to kill her and her parents just to get to me. That had soon set her mind straight and she hadn’t asked again. She didn’t regret killing Ed; she was adamant she didn’t.

  In the two days that had passed, a lot had happened. I’d met Ellie’s grandmother, for one thing. I liked her a lot; she was a kindhearted woman with a great sense of humor. And she loved Ellie and Kelsey with all her heart, so that made me like her even more. Plus, she let me stay with Ellie at night so I could hold her while she slept and whimpered in her sleep, calling my name and her father’s before she would jerk awake in a cold sweat. Each time I would kiss her softly and reassure her it was over and that I was there for her. Each time she would smile gratefully and snuggle up against my chest and go right back into a restless sleep.

  One day Ellie would forget the horrors she saw and sleep peacefully again. I’d help her through it.

  The other thing that happened was that I’d come face-to-face with Ellie’s mother again after three years. I’d gone with Ellie yesterday to the hospital to visit. In truth, I’d forgotten how scary Ruth was. She was a little off with me at first, probably because I was standing in front of her with bruises on my face and my broken hand all strapped up. I’m sure I looked every inch the asshole who chased her daughter out of the country. But when Ellie had smiled at me, her eyes shining as she proudly held my hand, some of the tension had seemed to leave Ruth’s shoulders. She’d made a real effort to speak to me during the visit, and I even gained a couple of smiles from her by the time we left.

  Ellie and I knew it would take a while to win her over completely, but that she was accepting of our relationship and just wanted Ellie to be happy again. I’d win her over eventually; I had all the time in the world for that.

  “Have we got everything?” Ellie asked absentmindedly, peering into the trunk of the car I’d arranged for her, seeing as hers was wrecked. The trunk was packed full of suitcases, boxes, and trash bags full of clothes.

  Stacey snorted as she walked back toward the house to grab another bag. “You can’t possibly have forgotten anything. Pretty sure I see a kitchen sink in there,” she teased, pointing at my car, which was also crammed full of Pearce family belongings.

  Ellie grinned and blew out a big breath before turning to me. “It would be easier if I knew how long we were packing for,” she said, resting her hands on her hips.

 
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