Fighting to be free, p.30
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       Fighting to Be Free, p.30

         Part #1 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley

  “Walk of shame?” I teased.

  He jumped, turning and looking at me over his shoulder with a shocked expression. “Sorry, did I wake you? I was trying to be quiet,” he apologized.

  I smiled and shrugged, rolling onto my side and putting my hand under my head. His sofa wasn’t exactly comfortable, especially now that I was on it alone. “S’okay. Where you sneaking off to anyway?” I asked, raking my eyes over his chest before he covered up his hotness with the stupid T-shirt. Clothes really should be outlawed where Jamie was concerned.

  He smiled and knelt down next to the sofa. “I have to go do this job. I’ll be back before morning, though. Why don’t you go get some sleep in the bed and I’ll try not to wake you when I get in,” he suggested, bending and pressing a soft kiss to my forehead.

  “I thought you didn’t have to be there until eleven,” I countered, pouting because I could spend another couple of hours with him if he didn’t leave early.

  He smiled, tapping the tip of my nose with one finger. “I don’t, sleepyhead, but it’s almost ten thirty now.”

  Ten thirty? Shit! I should have been home hours ago! I gasped, throwing off the blanket and jumping up, almost knocking him on his butt, I moved so quickly. “I’m so late! My mom’s gonna kill me!” I cried, panicking as I looked around for where we’d tossed my clothes.

  “I take it you’re not staying here then,” he said, laughing quietly, stooping to pick up my panties, and then swinging them around one finger with a smirk on his face. I went to grab them so I could hurry and get home, but he moved them out of my reach and grinned wickedly as he pushed them into his pocket. “I’m taking those with me, so you’ll have to go without. It’ll make you think of me, and it’ll definitely make me think of you,” he teased.

  I gasped and felt heat flood my face because that was a little kinky. “You’re a pervert,” I scolded, laughing as I wriggled my way into my skinny jeans.

  He shrugged unashamedly, holding out my shirt to me. “What time were you supposed to be home?”

  I winced. “Seven.”

  He hissed through his teeth, cringing. “Ouch. She’s gonna chew your ear off. You sure you don’t want to stay here?”

  I sighed. I would actually love to stay here—I loved waking up with Jamie wrapped around me—but I couldn’t. “I can’t. I have to finish packing and spend some time with my family before tomorrow.”

  He nodded in agreement.

  Smiling, I wrapped my arms around him, craning my neck to look up at him as his arms wrapped around me, too. His eyes locked on mine, and I suddenly remembered how hurt he’d looked when I assumed he’d killed his sister. “Jamie, I’m sorry I jumped to the wrong conclusion about Sophie. I shouldn’t have even considered the possibility that you would hurt her. I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking straight,” I apologized.

  He frowned, a muscle in his jaw twitching. “I wish you hadn’t thought that of me, that hurt a lot.” His hand traced up my back and cupped the back of my neck gently.

  I nodded, wishing I could rewind time so that I hadn’t hurt him with my ludicrous assumptions. “I know. I’m sorry.”

  “Don’t worry about it.” He dipped his head, kissing me softly for a second. “So, I’ll pick you up tomorrow at twelve,” he stated, obviously wanting to change the subject.

  I smiled, excitement building inside me because there was just one more night. I felt like I was a kid again; I’d been counting down the days since we booked our trip. “So we’re really going?” I checked.

  He grinned and kissed my forehead. “First stop Rome,” he agreed. I couldn’t help the little squeal that escaped my lips, and he chuckled as he pushed me away from him gently. “Get out of my place, little girl. I have work to do.”

  Taking my purse from his outstretched hand, I stepped closer and smiled as he bent and kissed my lips softly, just once. The kiss was so sweet and tender that it made me wish it would never end—but, unfortunately, everything had to end at some point.

  I took a deep breath as I turned and walked out the door, trying not to look back because it would make it harder for me to leave for the night if I saw him standing there again. Come tomorrow night, I wouldn’t ever have to say good-bye to him for the night again. That thought made my heart squeeze in my chest and a goofy smile stretch across my face as I headed to my car.

  By the time I got home my smile had faded because I’d already seen that I had eight missed calls and four text messages, all from my mom asking where I was and if I was okay. I was in some serious trouble. I gulped as I turned off my beloved car and looked up at the house. The downstairs lights were all still on, so I knew my parents were waiting up for me.

  I winced as I got out of the car and headed into the house. My mom had obviously heard my car pull up because she was standing in the hallway with her arms folded and an angry look on her face—or maybe she’d just been standing there for three and a half hours waiting to bitch me out; I wouldn’t put that past her, to be honest.

  I smiled sheepishly. “Hi. Sorry I’m late.”

  She raised one accusing eyebrow. “Your excuse?”

  I knew I couldn’t mention Jamie. She already had enough reservations about us going away together, and she’d be even more annoyed if she thought he’d made me late. “I really did mean to be on time, I wanted to spend time with you guys and have our last dinner together, but there were so many people to say good-bye to and I just lost track of time. I’m really sorry, Mom.”

  “Your dinner’s ruined,” she stated haughtily.

  I nodded, trying to ignore how the smell of the takeout made my stomach ache with hunger. “I figured that. Sorry.”

  She sighed deeply, her shoulders loosening as her arms unfolded. “I guess I can see if I can salvage anything from it. Maybe the noodles will heat up nicely,” she suggested, offering me a small smile.

  I grinned. “Yeah? That’d be great, thanks,” I chirped. I had no idea what had changed to make her so laid back lately; maybe it was the fact that I wouldn’t see her for six months. Whatever it was, I was grateful for the change.

  As she rolled her eyes and headed into the kitchen, I peeked into the living room to see my dad sitting on the sofa, watching TV. Kelsey was nowhere in sight, but because of the late hour, she was most likely already in bed. “Hey,” I said, walking over and plopping down next to my dad.

  “You’re in trouble,” he whispered, leaning in and flicking his eyes to the hallway. “Mom’s maaaaad,” he added, drawing out the word for dramatic effect, chuckling quietly.

  I cringed and nodded. “Yeah, I know. Sorry.”

  He smiled and shifted in his seat so I could settle myself against him while my mom banged around in the kitchen. “Have a good night, pumpkin?”

  I didn’t really know what to say to that. Parts of my night had been fantastic, but some of it had been a nightmare that I would probably relive once I was in bed alone. “Yeah, I guess.”

  My mom came in then, carrying a plate that had steam swirling up from it. The smell made my mouth water. “Not sure what it’ll taste like reheated, but you should have come home on time if you wanted it to taste good,” she stated, shrugging.

  “Thanks, Mom.” I smiled gratefully, already loading my fork with egg fried rice and kung pao chicken. She smiled back tentatively, and I started shoveling in my food like it was my last meal.

  I hung out with my parents for a little over half an hour, making small talk about the party and stuff. No one mentioned tomorrow because every time I talked about going away, my mom would go quiet and look in the other direction. I had the distinct impression that she was going to miss me a lot more than I’d first thought she would.

  “I guess I’d better go finish packing,” I muttered when I couldn’t leave it any later. I had everything sorted into piles, but I hadn’t even started putting anything into a suitcase yet.

  My mom frowned and nodded at the same time. “Want me to help? You know you’re not too good at packing.

  I smiled at that. I actually sucked at packing and could never manage to fit everything in that I wanted. I was praying that Jamie was better than me because he’d have to sort out my luggage for me in each new place we went to. “Thanks, that’d be great.”

  I smiled and stood, noticing how my dad winked at my mom and squeezed her hand supportively. She followed me up the stairs and into my room, looking distastefully at the mess that was all over the place. Well, it wasn’t really a mess, but my drawers were emptied, and everything I wanted to take was in piles covering the carpet. I smiled sheepishly and pulled out the empty suitcase, setting it on my bed.

  “You haven’t even started? Ellison, you shouldn’t have left this until now!” she scolded, immediately picking up my clothes and stacking them on the bed.

  “I guess I was waiting for you to offer your awesome packing skills,” I teased, trying to connect with her again. I’d been making a real effort lately, and so had she. It was nice that we’d started to bond; it was just such a shame that it took my leaving to get us to be more than just housemates.

  She smiled weakly as she picked up more stuff. “I guess you’re lucky I offered then.”

  I grinned and sat down on the bed, deciding to let her do it all because she was a bit of a control freak anyway and I’d only end up doing it wrong if I tried to help. She smiled sadly to herself as she refolded all of my clothes, setting them in the case carefully along with all the hair stuff and makeup that I was taking. She took so much care with it all, lovingly placing everything in there, seeming to coo over each item of clothing. When I passed her my photo of us all from a family vacation last year, she smiled at me strangely.

  “You’re taking this with you?”

  I nodded. “Of course, can’t go forgetting what you look like, can I?” I joked.

  She chewed on her lip as she looked at the photo. “You know, I loved this vacation. You taught Kelsey to dive. I was so proud of her for learning to do it, and I was so proud of you for being able to teach her so well,” she said quietly, tracing her thumb over the picture carefully.

  My breath caught in my throat at her words. She’d just said that she was proud of me. I’d never heard anything like that come out of her mouth before. She was always so prim and proper, not one for affection or declarations of love. It sounded so strange now, and I wasn’t sure I’d heard her right.

  “Kels is a quick learner,” I choked out around the lump that was rapidly forming in my throat.

  “And she had an excellent teacher,” my mom added, smiling down at me nervously. She looked away quickly, putting the photo inside a T-shirt so that it wouldn’t get damaged or creased by anything during the flight. “So, are you excited?” she asked.

  I grinned. Excited didn’t quite cover everything I felt about this trip. “Yeah, I don’t think I’m gonna sleep tonight.”

  “Me either.” She looked at me then with teary eyes, but she was fighting the emotion as best she could; she obviously didn’t want to show me she was upset. “I’m going to miss you, Ellison. But I know you’ll have a great time with Jamie. He’s … well, he’s good for you. I know I’ve been down on him a lot in the past, and that’s my problem, not yours. But I want you to know that I … I like him. I like how he treats you and how happy you look and how you light up when you’re around him,” she admitted, nodding. A single tear fell down her face as she spoke and she quickly swiped it away as if she was ashamed of it.

  The lump in my throat expanded as I tried to think of something to say to that, but no words were coming to me, so instead I reached out and placed my hand over hers on top of the shirt that she was putting in the case. I squeezed her hand softly. She looked down at our hands, seeming almost confused, before she moved hers slightly and squeezed my fingers back. It was nice. Probably the nicest moment I’d ever had with my mother.

  It was over quickly, and she cleared her throat, moving her hand away, obviously uncomfortable with the intimacy. It didn’t matter to me that the moment lasted for a mere few seconds. It was already ingrained in my memory, and nothing would make me forget that.

  “You’re really taking these shorts, Ellison? Look at the state of them,” she scoffed, holding up a pair of worn-out denim shorts that I’d loved to death. “No daughter of mine is walking around in shorts with a grass stain on the rear of them.”

  I grinned. We were back to normal.

  As I watched her toss them in the trash in a stunning three-point throw that would have made my dad and Jamie cheer in congratulations, I realized that I was actually going to miss her.



  I BREATHED A little sigh of relief and watched Ellie’s back as she walked out of my apartment. What had transpired in the last two hours had been terrifying. I felt so vulnerable after reliving my past again. That was the first time I’d ever let any of that stuff out; no one knew most of it, not even my mother. I’d never wanted to talk about it before, I’d always suppressed it, pushed it down and tried to bury it, but right now, after telling all of that to her, I kind of felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

  Ellie was probably the last person who I wanted to know my deepest, darkest secrets, but now that she knew, it was almost like it had brought us closer. The acceptance, the understanding, the support and unconditional love from her just blew my mind. The strength of Ellie’s character was something that left me in awe of her. My love for her was terrifying; she literally was the most important thing in the world to me. The only wish I had was that my little sister were alive to meet her, because I know she would have idolized her, too.

  When the door closed, leaving me on my own again, I realized that I was going to have to hurry if I didn’t want to be late. I headed into my bedroom, zipping up my suitcase, which I’d had packed for almost two weeks. I smiled as I lifted it off the bed and put it by the door so I could grab it easily tomorrow when I had to go pick her up for the airport.

  All I’d left unpacked in my apartment was the stuff that had been here when I moved in and a change of clothes for tomorrow. The most important things were sitting on my nightstand. My passport was one of the two “must not forget” items. Ellie had the tickets because she liked to coo over them before she went to sleep, so I didn’t have to worry about forgetting those. The other essential item I picked up and rolled around in the palms of my hands: the little black ring box containing the engagement ring that I’d purchased recently. I smiled to myself. It was going to be a complete surprise for her. I’d already slyly asked her father’s permission, and thankfully he’d agreed on the condition that we had a fairly long engagement. So, as soon as I found a nice little romantic spot in Rome, I was getting down on one knee. Hopefully she’d say yes. After what had just transpired between us, I was pretty confident that she wouldn’t turn me down.

  Just for good measure, I checked it for the hundredth time. Opening the box, I looked down at the ring that I’d spent hours choosing. The princess-cut diamond caught the light as I moved it, and I couldn’t help but smile as I imagined it glistening like that on her finger instead of in the box. Perfection.

  Snapping the box closed, I winced when I realized that she could have seen it earlier and ruined the surprise. I’d just casually suggested that she sleep in here, and the whole time the ring was sitting on the nightstand, plain as day. What an idiot!

  Instead of putting it back, I pushed the box into my pocket. I liked to carry it around with me; it made me smile every time I bent over or crouched down and the little box dug into my leg—it made me think of her.

  I forced myself to stop thinking about her now, though; I seriously needed to get to the warehouse before they all started calling me and panicking, thinking I was going to be late. After grabbing my wallet and jacket, I practically ran out of the apartment and down to my truck.

  The fifteen-minute drive seemed to pass in a blur, and before I knew it I pulled up at the warehouse. I didn’t want to be working
tonight at all. Technically, I should have finished with Brett last week, but the thing I hadn’t realized when I’d promised I would go traveling with Ellie—I actually wasn’t allowed. I was still on parole. Terms and conditions of my parole meant I couldn’t leave the country for another six months. It was something I hadn’t even considered when I’d made the suggestion we go fulfill Ellie’s traveling dream. Luckily for me, though, Brett had contacts everywhere and had agreed to pull some strings for me with the parole officer—monetary bribes no doubt—but in return I had to commit to this last job before I was allowed to quit for good. Just this last job and then I was free of it all, he’d said. Apparently he had no one else who worked like me, no one he could trust not to screw this up, and he needed his strongest team with him.

  Tonight wasn’t a boost like I’d told Ellie it was, tonight was something different, and not in a good way.

  My hand closed around the door handle and shoved the door of my truck open just as Brett walked out of the warehouse, looking in my direction with a stern expression on his face. I flicked my eyes to the clock on my dashboard. It was one minute past eleven. Technically, I was late.

  “About fucking time. Come on, Kid, where have you been?” he snapped.

  I smiled sheepishly. I didn’t think “screwing the life out of my girl” would be very graciously received. “Packing,” I lied, shrugging. “I’m here now. Are we going?”

  He nodded and most of his guys walked out of the warehouse behind him. I frowned; it appeared we were going in heavy tonight. Brett obviously didn’t want to take any risks. Ray waved in acknowledgment but stayed inside. He didn’t come to anything like this, he was just a mechanic, not too involved in anything that wasn’t car related. I envied him in that respect. The ten or so guys who’d come out started heading to their respective cars in the lot.

  “Kid, you’re with me,” Brett called as I started walking toward Shaun’s car.

  I sighed but nodded, heading over to his Bentley instead. “Hey, Ed,” I greeted the driver. He nodded in response, looking a little nervous. This type of thing, a meeting with a brand-new client, was always a little nerve-racking because you never knew how it was going to go down—hence Brett bringing along all of his heavies.

  As I slid into the back of the car with Brett, he smiled at me and ran a hand through his hair. “You have a piece?” he asked suddenly as the car pulled out.

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