Worth fighting for, p.9
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       Worth Fighting For, p.9

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
 

  of copper at the back of the group farthest away from me, over near the podium, caught my attention. Even in the darkened club, the color was like a beacon, calling to me, grabbing my attention and holding it.

  Oh, shit. It can’t be. There’s no way it is. She can’t be here...can she?

  My glass stopped halfway to my lips as I squinted through the crowd, willing the red-haired girl to turn toward me, even just a fraction so I could get a glimpse of her face. Was it her?

  Turn around. Please turn...

  “Well, we have built up a fairly large following,” Alberto said, dragging me back to reality.

  Dodger snorted. “A following? You make yourself sound like some sort of freaking cult.”

  I swallowed and blinked a couple of times, forcefully dragging my eyes away from the redhead girl’s back even though it took everything in me to do it. “I don’t care how big your client list is. We have our own clients, high-end ones. We don’t need to occupy ourselves with people who deal on the street. I’ve told you that before.”

  “Ah, but our overheads are far less than yours, I bet. We make twice as much profit per ounce as you,” Alberto protested. “If you were to purchase our product and pass it on to your clients, we would both profit from it.”

  “That’s because your product is cheap-ass shit. My clients wouldn’t be my clients very long if I tried to give them levamisole-cut coke,” I replied calmly. We’d had this discussion before; my answer had been the same then.

  Without my permission, my eyes drifted back in the girl’s direction. I watched the way her hair swished as she danced, the way her black jeans hugged her hips and the curve of her ass. I fidgeted in my seat, willing her to turn. And suddenly, as if she could tell I was staring at her, waiting with bated breath to see if this was the girl I’d fallen so deeply in love with, she and the tall blonde bombshell she was dancing with linked arms and did a little drunken twirl, giggling to themselves.

  Air rushed out of my lungs as my eyes landed on the girl who had stolen my heart with one innocent blush and beautiful smile. Ellie had always captivated me, even the first time I laid eyes on her, and three years later it was no different. She was stunning, so beautiful that it made my heart sing. To me, she was perfect. Everything about her was mesmerizing, from her bright red hair to her freckled nose, right down to her Converse-loving feet. The girl was still everything right in my world.

  I couldn’t take my eyes from her. I watched as she clinked glasses with her friend, who I now realized was, in fact, Stacey, and they both then downed the contents. I was unable to fight the smile as Ellie instantly winced and brought her hand to her mouth, pressing the back of it to her lips for a couple of seconds and wrinkling her nose like she always did after a shot. I’d missed that. Such a small thing, but even that made my heart ache and my balls clench.

  “Kid?” Alberto’s voice was almost a distant memory as I watched Ellie, entranced.

  Stacey glanced behind her and then turned back to Ellie, grinning and grabbing her hand, tugging her toward one of the podiums. They were just small raised stages that we sometimes had dancers in on Saturday nights, but on regular weekday nights, they were empty and girls liked to go up there for a bit of extra space to dance. Ellie was reluctant at first, shaking her head as a furious blush colored her cheeks, which I could easily make out even from the other side of the club in the dim light. I smiled. She never had liked being the center of attention. But Stacey was adamant and boosted herself up onto the four-foot podium, beckoning Ellie with a pleading expression until Ellie finally gave in and climbed up, too.

  “Kid!” The voice was louder this time, so I turned, scowling at Alberto.

  “What?” I snapped. Couldn’t he see I was fucking busy?

  He raised one bushy black eyebrow. “Is everything okay? You seem kind of distracted.” His tone was clipped; clearly he was angered that I wasn’t giving him my full attention.

  Mateo sat forward, his eyes locked on Ellie, who was now dancing on the podium, her movements shy because people were watching. “You know that girl?”

  “No,” I answered immediately, my reply coming out harsher than I’d intended. “Nice ass, that’s all,” I lied, shrugging, willing them to believe me.

  Mateo sat back in his chair, and a slow smile spread across his face, drawing attention to the white scar that ran through his bottom lip. “She has got a sweet ass,” he agreed, reaching for his drink and taking a slow sip. His sharp, keen eyes locked onto mine, twinkling with what appeared to be excitement.

  I gripped the edge of the table so tightly my fingers ached, trying not to react. I needed to remain in control, not show any emotions or how important Ellie was to me. I ran the city because people knew not to challenge me—they always had more to lose than I did. I didn’t have anything I cared about, so there was never any leverage for people to use against me. It didn’t matter to me if I lived or died, because I had nothing worth living for anyway. That loneliness made me hard, confident, overly cocky, and practically invincible. I was less afraid than people who had more to lose than I did. That couldn’t change.

  “Let’s just get on with this, shall we? I called you here to tell you to keep your drugs far away from my clubs. I think I’ve made my point clear, so this meeting is over,” I growled.

  Alberto sighed deeply, shaking his head. “Look, Kid, I apologize if one of our pushers came into your club. I don’t know who it was, but I’ll find out and they’ll be punished. We didn’t order it, so it was probably just a rogue seller wanting to make a few bucks extra by selling in a club. Can we not let this sour the relationship we already have?”

  Mateo was totally uninterested now and was tapping away on his cell phone, a wry smile on his face that I wanted to smack off for him.

  “We don’t have a relationship. I allow you to conduct your business. You’re grateful,” I answered drily. I was fighting a losing battle to keep my eyes from Ellie. My whole body was jumpy, twitching in my seat, desperate to get up and go over to her. I gripped the table tighter to keep myself in place.

  “But it can be so much more. We can help you. We have the numbers and can bring so much to your organization,” Alberto urged.

  “So much fucking butt hurt you mean,” Dodger chimed in.

  “Now, don’t be like that,” Alberto implored.

  From the corner of my eye, I saw a tall, well-built man making his way through the crowd, heading toward Ellie. He stopped at the side of her podium. My lip curled and my hands unconsciously clenched into fists. The guy was tall, well over six foot five, so his face was level with the girls’ chests as he leaned in and said something to them. Stacey laughed and shook her head; Ellie looked blatantly uncomfortable.

  Around me I could hear Dodger and Alberto talking, but I couldn’t focus, couldn’t drag my attention from the steroid-filled brick shithouse who was still leaning in and trying to get Ellie’s attention.

  My body jerked when his meaty hand reached toward her, brushing against Ellie’s hip. She twisted to the side, shaking her head, saying something to rebuff his advance as she shot him a nervous, please-go-away smile.

  The crowd around them had parted now, giving him space, looking at him a little warily, as if he was intoxicated and needed a wide berth. He said something else to Ellie and she frowned, shaking her head again. I could almost read her lips saying “no, thank you” before she turned her back on him and continued to dance with Stacey, her shoulders stiff now, her movements awkward and uncomfortable.

  The guy wasn’t giving up, though; he clearly didn’t like to take no for an answer. He laughed and shoved his hand into his pocket, pulling out a couple of dollar bills. I frowned, grinding my teeth, assuming he was going to offer to buy her a drink. Instead, he reached up and tapped her on the shoulder. When she turned, her tight smile polite but exasperated, he quickly reached forward and shoved the notes into the waistband of her jeans like she was some kind of stripper as he clapped exaggeratedly along to
the music and jeered in encouragement.

  That was when I saw red.

  All rational thought flew from my head. All I could see was his hands on her, her being disrespected, him degrading her. I sprang from my chair, sending it flying in the process, and bounded over there. Ellie was busy yanking the money from her waistband, her scowl seething, so she didn’t see me approach.

  Neither did he as he jeered encouragingly, laughing. “Oh, come on, sugar tits, show us how you dance real nice.”

  He barely finished his sentence before my fist collided with the back of his head, sending him sprawling forward onto his knees, his chest hitting the podium with a loud thunk. My hand burned from the impact, but I barely felt it as I strode forward another step, throwing my knee into his side twice, hearing the satisfying grunt of pain that left his lips. All around me was red fog; there was just me and him and my blazing anger. I wanted him to bleed, I wanted to pull my knife from my pocket and slit his throat, watching as he gurgled for breath, but some small part of me was conscious of the spectating crowd. So instead, I fisted my left hand in his hair, yanked his head back, and brought my right fist down square into his face.

  His nose gushed with blood on the first strike, the skin above his cheekbone split on the second, his hands came up to weakly defend himself on the third, and his lip burst open on the fourth. Anger made my blood boil. I drew in ragged breaths as I threw my bloodied fist into his face a fifth time. His body had gone limp now, wobbling on his knees as his arms dropped to his sides and his eyes fell vacant. I untwisted my hand from his hair, and his body slid to the ground with a dull thud, blood running from his face and dripping onto the hardwood floor I’d had installed only a couple of months ago.

  All around me, people had stopped moving. Shocked faces looked on, watching the scene with morbid interest. The rage was subsiding a little as I glared down at the guy’s battered, unconscious body. A shiver of unease ran up my spine as I looked past the blood on his face. I recognized him: one of the men who had come here with the Salazars. My gaze flicked to his bare forearm for confirmation, and sure enough, there was his crew ink: the snake wrapped around a dagger with the letter S carved into the hilt of it.

  My eyes darted to the table I’d vacated. Dodger was standing, his expression wary as he looked over at me; Alberto was on his feet too, eyes wide and shocked, but Mateo—Mateo was watching the scene before him with his arms folded across his chest and a shit-eating grin plastered on his smug face.

  That was when it hit me. Mateo had been on his cell phone, obviously telling this guy to come and harass Ellie to see if he could get a rise out of me. He hadn’t believed me when I said I didn’t know her. Mateo had orchestrated this whole thing, and I had played right into his hands.

  I’d fucked up. Badly.

  I turned back to Ellie, noting she was still on the podium, her body now perfectly still as she stared down at me, her face ashen, her mouth agape. She looked as though she’d seen a ghost.

  “Get down. Now!” I barked.

  She gulped, her eyes locked onto mine. “Jamie?” she whispered.

  CHAPTER 10

  ELLIE

  BLOOD, FISTS FLYING, grunts of pain, shrieks from people around me as the guy who seconds before had pushed money into the waist of my jeans and called me a puta, which I was pretty sure was Spanish for “whore,” slumped to the ground, unconscious.

  Stacey’s fingers bit into my arm, trying to tug me backward, closer to her, but my body was fused to the spot as my eyes took in every detail about him. And it definitely was him, even though I’d doubted myself for a couple of heartbeats. But no, I’d recognize that face anywhere, despite the fact that his beautiful features were still twisted with rage, like some sort of wrathful avenging angel come to save me in my hour of need.

  He was breathing rapidly, staring down at the guy he’d just beaten with such contempt it practically rippled from his body. Then his head snapped up, and he turned to face me.

  The second my eyes met his I forgot how to breathe.

  Jamie Cole.

  In that moment, everything else seemed to stop. I no longer heard the music that had been thrumming around us; all I could see was him and those eyes, the ones I’d stared into for hours on end, the ones I knew every fleck of color in, that rich chocolate brown that drew me in and melted my heart all those years ago. My lips parted, my throat suddenly tight as I let my gaze wander quickly over him.

  His hair was different from the last time I saw him; it was kind of messy, curling out around his ears and the nape of his neck as if it needed a trim. He had scruff on his jaw. Fading bruises were visible on his cheek and the side of his neck. A three-inch scar sliced just above his eyebrow—another to add to his extensive collection. My finger twitched; even after all this time, after all the hurt he’d caused me, I still wanted to reach out and touch that scar, to trace my finger across it and ask him how it happened.

  But the thing that was most apparent as I looked at him was that he’d changed.

  This man standing before me in his white-collared shirt and black dress pants, with his knuckles dripping someone else’s blood onto the hardwood floor, wasn’t the boy I once knew. Something had altered him, hardened him, ruined him.

  His posture was stiff, imposing, aggressive, furious even. An unconscious man lay at his feet, beaten and broken, and I didn’t see one inch of regret on Jamie’s face. I’d never seen him like that. The darkness swirling in his eyes made my stomach clench.

  “Get down. Now!” he growled.

  I gulped, trying to swallow around the lump in my throat. “Jamie?” My voice barely worked and it came out as more of a whisper, but he heard. His jaw twitched again; he shifted his stance slightly, but his eyes never left mine.

  My body was numb, my brain struggling to catch up. He was here. I was face-to-face with the boy I’d cried myself to sleep over for months on end. Seeing him now, so unexpectedly, I had all of those feelings come crashing back at once, swallowing me up and spitting me back out again. Crushing me, throwing me right back into that sea of hurt that I’d struggled to drag myself out of.

  This man in front of me was the reason I hadn’t come back home. I never wanted this meeting to take place, I never wanted to look into those eyes again because then I’d have to find the strength to be without him all over again, and I wasn’t sure I could do it twice.

  “Get down now!” he repeated, his tone sharp and commanding.

  My eyes began to sting with tears and I fought them as memories of us and our good times surrounded me like a smack in the face. I’d loved this boy unconditionally; I’d loved everything about him, even the bad parts that I didn’t understand. He had me, body and soul, and he threw us away because of a stupid mistake. My heart squeezed painfully in my chest.

  His posture was tense as he flicked a quick glance over his shoulder. “Ellie, get down from there, will you? Jesus fucking Christ, will you just do as I say?” he demanded, thrusting his hand toward me so he could help me down from the podium Stacey had made me climb.

  But as I stared down at him, my feelings suddenly changed. My shock at seeing him suddenly morphed into intense anger. He’s just beaten a guy to a pulp even though I was handling it perfectly fine on my own, and now he has the audacity to make demands of me...after what he did to me?

  My hands clenched into fists, and I opened my mouth to say some of the witty things I’d concocted over the years, comebacks I should have said to him on the phone that day instead of begging him to give me another chance, but before I could speak, he stepped forward and grabbed me, pulling me to him effortlessly. And then I was tipping upside down, my body draped over his shoulder, my ass in the air as his arm wrapped around my thighs, holding me in place as my face bumped against the small of his back.

  I squealed from the shock, blood instantly rushing to my head, and all I could see were shoes and the injured guy who lay on the floor. I gasped, feeling my face glow with embarrassed heat.


  “Hey!” Stacey shouted from the podium.

  The surrounding crowds of feet parted as Jamie turned, walking through them with me draped over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, my body bumping against him with each step he took.

  Anger rippled inside me with a ferocity I wasn’t even aware I still possessed. “Put me the hell down, asshole!” I screamed, wriggling, kicking my legs and banging my fists against his back. “Get off me! Jamie Cole, put me the fuck down right now!” I demanded, grasping at anything I could, digging my nails into his back in a bid to get his attention.

  He’d made it less than ten steps when one of my flailing legs connected with something, possibly the side of his face, and he stopped walking. I took that as my opportunity and wriggled harder, pushing against his back, futilely trying to get myself upright again so I could shimmy down.

  “Take your hands off me!” I pinched the skin at his side, still bucking like a horse trying to get free.

  “Ugh, fine! Fucking calm down!” He bent his knees, tugging on my legs so I shifted on his shoulder. His grip on me loosened as my feet touched the floor. I gripped his shoulders, using them for leverage as I pushed myself upright, taking a second to adjust to being back the right way up. His hands were still on my hips, holding me steady as he straightened, standing full height, looking down at me with hardened features and blazing eyes.

  He’s pissed right now, seriously pissed.

  I pulled back my shoulders, shoving his hands off me and taking a step back to get some personal space. My head was all over the place as I absentmindedly attempted to fix my hair, which was sure to be an absolute mess after that ruckus.

  I glared at him. I was pissed, too. “Seriously, what’s wrong with you? You just storm over and start fighting in the middle of a club like a freaking delinquent, and then you have the audacity to touch me? You don’t get to touch me, not anymore. You have no right!” My words came out harsher than I’d even intended. Years of hurt pooled into them, making them acidic and bitchy.

  “Ellie,” he said, his eyebrows pulling together in concentration. His lips moved, but nothing else came out as he huffed out a breath and raked a hand through his hair. The soft
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