Worth fighting for, p.3
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       Worth Fighting For, p.3

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
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  my stomach, but I was unsure why.

  “Nana?”

  “Oh, Ellie. I’m so sorry to tell you this...Your dad, he didn’t make it.” As she said the words, her voice cracked, and so did my heart, splintering off, shattering like glass into a thousand pieces. “He’s gone.”

  Gone.

  When I’d heard the news about my mom, I’d thought that was the worst that could happen. I wasn’t even close.

  Gone.

  The word was like physical pain, like a knife to the gut, twisting, tightening, slowly killing me. My lungs constricted, making it difficult to draw breath. My father, the first love of my life, the man I looked up to, the man who was my role model for all men—he’d died. Everything in me ached, my insides clenched, my heart thundered in my ears.

  Dad. Gone.

  An involuntary, guttural grunt left my lips. I blinked, my vision becoming a little blurry as tears slid silently down my cheeks. My bottom lip trembled as I struggled to find something to say. But what was there to say? My mom was fighting for her life, and the man who’d raised me, given me everything, encouraged me to be the woman I was, the one I ran to for help, my rock...gone. There were simply no words to cover that.

  I pictured my dad’s smile, the cheeky glint in his brown eyes, the conspiratorial wink he would throw me when we were ganging up on my mother. I remembered the hugs, how his large arms would wrap around me, dwarfing me and making me feel so small. Memories, all of them good, hit me at once: Christmases, birthdays, pancakes, his terrible jokes, his love for white chocolate, his laugh...

  It was too much. I couldn’t bear it.

  “Ellie?” Toby said, scooting closer to me, his hand rubbing gently at my leg. “Sweetheart, what is it?” To my ears, he sounded a million miles away, his voice slightly muffled.

  I shook my head, unsuccessfully trying to clear the fog that was settling over me.

  Gone.

  I was losing it. I could feel things slipping away, fading out. The grief was consuming me, dragging me under, drowning me.

  The phone slipped from my sweaty hand, thudding to the floor. My eyes followed it, not making sense of it, not comprehending anything that was going on around me. Memories, grief, guilt, horror, sadness—all swirled dizzyingly inside my head, tangling together, not making any sense. My vision swam as tears continued their torrential flow, running down my cheeks and neck, wetting the collar of Toby’s T-shirt I was wearing.

  And then Toby was kneeling in front of me, wrapping his arms around me, pulling me tightly against him as I sobbed, my heart broken.

  “My dad, he’s...” I pressed my face into his neck, crying harder. “And my mom, she’s in surgery, and I’m not there. I’m not there!” I wailed, losing the final part of my control.

  “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Toby whispered, pulling back, his eyes narrowed with sympathy, his face contorted in grief too, grieving right along with me for the people he’d never even met.

  “I gotta go,” I whimpered, bringing my arms up between us, pushing him away from me. “I have to be there. There’s so much to do. I have to get a flight and pack, I have to...I have...” I stood, but my legs were so weak I stumbled and Toby’s arms wrapped around me again, holding me steady.

  His eyes, alight with concern, met mine. “You ’ave to breathe, Ellie. Shh, just breathe and calm down, sweetheart.” He dipped his head, planting a kiss on my forehead. “Just breathe.”

  My eyes dropped closed as I sagged against him weakly, letting him hold me until I gained control over myself again.

  CHAPTER 4

  JAMIE

  THE GIRL’S RED hair fanned out around her face as she looked over her shoulder at me. When those distinctive grayish-blue eyes met mine, there was such an intensity there that it almost made me lose my breath. Her lips curled into a playful smile, and an unconscious smile tugged at my lips, too. The subtle freckles on her cheeks danced as she laughed quietly, stepping closer to me.

  “Kid.” Her voice was like music to my ears, so beautiful it made my heart ache. “Kid?” she repeated, placing a slender hand on my shoulder, squeezing gently.

  A slow frown replaced my smile as her choice of word sank in. She never called me that.

  The pressure on my shoulder intensified, even shaking me a little, which cut through the fog, and it suddenly hit me that I was dreaming. She wasn’t here. Squeezing my eyes shut tightly, I tried to hold on to the dream, to hold on to her, but it was no use. The dream was slowly fading, slipping away, and disappearing in a fog of confusion. Sounds from around me were starting to register now: the chink of glass, paper being crumpled up, and a steady thrum of music somewhere off in the distance.

  I groaned loudly, shrugging off the hand that roused me. My cheek rubbed against something hard and unforgiving. That was when I registered the ache in my head that intensified with each tiny movement.

  “Oh, he lives,” a sarcastic voice stated from behind me. Without needing to look, I already knew it was Dodger, one of my closest friends and my lieutenant.

  I frowned, slowly raising my head, lazily blinking my stinging eyes. I lifted a hand and swatted away a Post-it note that was stuck to my cheek, wincing as I moved because every single one of my muscles was stiff.

  “Fuck off, Dodge,” I grunted.

  The pungent smell of alcohol was unmistakable. My office slowly came into focus, and I groaned again at the sight before me. It looked like a frat house after a weekend-long party that had gotten out of hand.

  Moving caused an unpleasant lump of vomit to rise in my throat. I choked it back down, turning to look at Dodger, squinting because that seemed to marginally dull my self-induced headache. He didn’t look amused as he bent and picked up a half-empty bottle of the good brandy I kept in stock for important clients. Frowning disapprovingly, he screwed the bottle top back on and headed toward the cabinet where I usually kept it.

  “This place looks like it’s been ransacked,” he muttered. “And you look like death,” he added, scowling down at the cluttered sideboard before picking the trash can up from the floor and sweeping five or six empty beer bottles into it. The clink and clatter of the bottles caused a searing pain to lance through my head. I pressed the heels of my hands to my temples and closed my eyes, willing myself not to hurl.

  I feel like death. “Thanks.”

  “What the hell is that?” Dodger’s tone was clipped as he motioned with the neck of one of the bottles toward the desk that I’d made my impromptu bed for the night.

  I glanced down, seeing a suspicious white powder dusted over my desk. My tongue felt too big for my mouth as I licked my furry-feeling teeth, wincing at the putrid taste of stale, morning-after alcohol. I shook my head to clear it. Was that a drug-induced fogginess that clung to my vision? Maybe. I couldn’t tell.

  I frowned, thinking back to last night. Then it hit me. I’d been fighting. I’d gotten wasted here, then went to the fight club, and Ray’d had to come get me and take me home. But I hadn’t been able to sleep, so I’d taken a cab back here instead, hoping to find more booze. Judging by the bottles littered around, I’d definitely found it.

  Dodger sighed deeply and shook his head, silently picking up another bottle, tossing it carelessly into the now-full trash can. Clumsily, I reached out toward the white granules, catching a few on the pad of my finger and popping them into my mouth. The taste caused another retch, but I managed, with extraordinary effort, to hold it back again.

  “Salt,” I muttered. “I must have been drinking tequila.” I was more than a little relieved to learn that it wasn’t cocaine. I pushed my rolling chair back and stretched my legs in front of me. My whole body ached.

  The tension seemed to leave Dodger’s shoulders at my words. “Good, because the police are coming here today. You know this, Kid.”

  I nodded. I did know they were coming, courtesy of the detective I’d had on my payroll for the last year and a half. Not that I needed a heads-up for this visit. The club was one o
f my few legal businesses. They would find nothing here to cause suspicion or tie me to any of my other, less legitimate business ventures, but the notice was appreciated.

  It hadn’t always been like this. I hadn’t always been like this. There had been a time when I’d tried my hardest so that I would never end up as what I was now—a dirty, despicable, drug-dealing, car-stealing scumbag who cared about nothing other than where the next opportunity would take him. Back then, when I was Jamie Cole, a person trying to make something of himself, I would never have gotten so blind drunk that I smashed up my office and fell asleep not knowing if it was salt or drugs that speckled my table. Back then, I had hope; now, not so much.

  I was almost out of this life once. Three years ago, I was a mere few hours from casting off my past and flying into the sunset with the girl of my dreams. But one night had changed all of that. One night had ripped my world apart. Oh, how different my life could have been.

  The night before my girlfriend, Ellie, and I were due to give up everything and tour the world together, I had one last job to do for my old boss, Brett Reyes. Just one last job and then I was out for good. It sounded so simple. It wasn’t. Things took a turn for the worse just hours before I was due to pick Ellie up and go to the airport. Police raided the meeting place, resulting in a shootout, and every fucker from Brett’s organization and the rival Lazlo organization we were there to meet was either killed or arrested.

  Somewhat unfortunately for me, I’d been arrested rather than killed. In a lot of ways, it would have been better if I hadn’t made it; at least then I wouldn’t have had to call Ellie and crush her dreams. My death would have spared me the gut-wrenching agony of having to lie to her and break her heart so she wouldn’t know that her boyfriend was being sent back to jail like the scumbag he really was. Ellie deserved better than to be a convict’s girlfriend, visiting once every couple of weeks, carrying that stigma around with her while she waited for me to be released. So I’d done what I felt was right. I’d set her free.

  Losing the only thing you care about can change a person irrevocably.

  Thanks to my lawyer, Arthur Barrington, instead of spending the remainder of my youth behind bars, I served just under a year and a half.

  I was astounded to get out and discover that Brett Reyes, having no children of his own, had named me his sole beneficiary, making me director and CEO of three companies that amounted to a multimillion-dollar enterprise. The club that I was currently fighting my hangover in the back room of, the security company I’d headed before being sent down, and his shipping and haulage company were all left to me, as per his wishes.

  I could have gone straight and run those companies to the best of my ability, really made something of myself. But after giving up Ellie, I had nothing left to be “good” for. So when one of Brett’s old contacts approached me about an opportunity, I grasped it with both hands and never looked back. I was much better at being bad, and it was what everyone expected of me anyway, so why not embrace the darkness? So, for the last year and a half, since my release from prison, I’d immersed myself in the life I once fought so hard to get out of, and I excelled in it. “Go big or go home”—that was my motto now. And I definitely went big.

  “What time is it?” I grunted, pushing myself to my feet, gripping the arms of my chair when the world slanted to the left. I’d definitely overdone the booze last night.

  Dodger glanced down at his watch. “Just after ten.”

  I blinked a couple of times and nodded, trying to right my head. The tip I’d received said that the police would be making an appearance during lunchtime. Meaning I had a couple of hours to fix my office and make it look like a whirlwind hadn’t blown through it last night while I was drunk.

  Dodger put down the trash can and turned to face me, his eyes showing his concern. “Ray told me about Ellie’s parents. You want to talk about it?”

  I frowned and shook my head sharply. “No.”

  He recoiled slightly but nodded anyway. “If you change your mind, you know I’m here for you.”

  I didn’t bother to reply. I hadn’t wanted to talk about it before, so why would I start now? I reached for my phone, picking it up from my desk and brushing off the salt that dusted the screen.

  Opening it up, I saw four missed calls and one new voice message, all from Ed. Jabbing at the voice mail button, I rubbed my forehead, waiting for the message to start.

  “Kid, I have that info that you asked for. Call me back.”

  I frowned. Information I asked for? My brain whirled, trying to piece it together. I couldn’t remember asking him for anything—unless I’d done it last night while intoxicated. Ed was my go-to guy for the jobs I didn’t have time to do myself. It made sense that I’d ask him to do something, but what it was I had no clue.

  As Dodger walked out of my office, carrying a full trash can, I dialed Ed’s number, hearing him answer on the second ring. “Kid, hey, you got my message, finally.”

  “Yeah, what’s going on? What info are you talking about?”

  “You called me late last night, asked me to find out about that girl, the one with the dead parents. You don’t remember?”

  I groaned. So in my intoxicated state I’d called him and asked him to stalk Ellie. Perfect. “Yeah, I remember,” I lied.

  “Right. You wanted to know if she was coming back. Well, I asked a guy we have in London to keep his eye on her. She left for the airport there early this morning. He watched her check in for a nine a.m. flight to New York. According to the flight number he gave me, she’s due to land at JFK in a couple of hours.”

  My chest tightened. I’d expected her return stateside, but not so soon. I’d barely had a chance to prepare myself for it.

  “What time will she land?” I croaked.

  “Twelve twenty-five.”

  I nodded, my headache growing. “Okay, thanks.”

  “Kid, one more thing,” he said, just as I was about to disconnect the call. “She checked in by herself. Her fiancé went to the airport with her, but she got on the flight alone.”

  Alone? She was fucking alone? Toby had let her fly, grieving and emotional, alone? Motherfucker! My teeth gritted, anger churning in my stomach. I hung up on Ed and shook my head, trying to clear some of the murderous thoughts. How could he let her make the trip by herself? She’d just lost her father, her mother was in critical condition—he should have been by her side the whole time, wiping away her tears, supporting her. What a fucking cocksucker!

  I’d never exactly been fond of Toby Wallis—he had my girl, after all—but I’d respected the guy because he loved her; he’d made her smile again, gave her everything she needed. That much I’d found out easily enough when I got out of prison. The undercover surveillance in the form of Ray’s sister-in-law had stopped once the girls parted ways when Ellie decided not to return home with Natalie after a year of traveling together, but I’d put other measures in place after that. A private detective, hired to check in on her and report back to me periodically.

  By the time I’d left prison, the private detective had provided evidence that Ellie was happy, that she’d recently moved on, that this Toby Steal-Yo-Girl Wallis was actually good for her. Background checks on him revealed he was a decent guy with no criminal record, a thirty-three-year old divorcé with two kids, and a hard worker. Toby was the sole reason I hadn’t booked the first available flight and gone to her, confessing everything and begging for her to forgive me. But now the fucking prick was letting her fly alone? Maybe he wasn’t as decent as I first thought.

  * * *

  Two hours later, I stood in JFK’s international arrivals terminal. I hadn’t been able to help myself. Dodger could deal with the police raid on his own. I wasn’t sure what my plan was. All I wanted was to see her, hold her, and drive her safely to wherever she wanted to go—probably the hospital, as that’s where the rest of her family would most likely be.

  I stood to the side, away from the crowd, leaning against the
wall of a Starbucks, watching, waiting, my hands twitching with both excitement and sheer terror.

  Ellie’s plane had arrived safely, so right now she was probably making her way through customs or baggage claim.

  When a collective jostling and fidgeting of the waiting relatives and loved ones started, I straightened, holding my breath, and looked eagerly in the direction they were all smiling in. Small groups of people wandered out, pushing their luggage carts, grinning, waving, squealing excitedly as they spotted their friends and families.

  I waited, my heart in my throat, and then there she was.

  The air rushed out of my lungs in one big gust at the sight of her dragging her suitcase behind her.

  Ellie didn’t smile; in fact, her lips were pressed firmly in a straight line as she looked around, stopping off to one side to tap away on her cell phone. Her copper-colored hair fell around her face in messy, untamed tangles. It was shorter than it had been the last time I saw her, now cut just above the shoulders. My eyes dragged over her while a familiar ache, a longing settled over me. She’d put on a little weight since I last saw her, her hips and legs a little thicker, her cheeks slightly fuller, her tummy no longer flat as it had been when she was a cheerleader, but the changes suited her perfectly. She looked as beautiful as the day I met her and still took my breath away.

  When she looked up and scanned the room, searching for something or someone, I noticed the dark circles under her eyes and pain filled my chest. She looked exhausted, both physically and emotionally.

 
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