Chapter TWENTY EIGHT
Ellerie follows me as I push myself up from the floor and make my way to the living room.. My muscles ache and there's a heaviness in my chest I can't shake.. The flashbacks.. The nightmares..
They mix and mingle with the present..
I see Dahlia, bleeding out, the light in her eyes fading.. And by the time I reach her.. She's dead.. Except it isn't Dahlia.. It's Ellerie..
"What do you mean, it's me, Jax?-- Jackson, look at me!" Her harsh tone stops me in my tracks.. She's not taking any shit tonight..
I don't blame her.. But after what I just did.. My reflexes getting the better of me like that.. She should be way more pissed.. And the fact that she isn't angry, and instead seems far more concerned, kind of makes me hate myself even more..
"Goddamn it Ellerie.. Stop pushing at this.."
She crosses to stand in front of me, folding her arms, a challenge in her eye.. The oversized grey t-shirt that hangs from her shoulders making her look ridiculously tiny.. She is so perfect.. She's the light I need to keep me from falling into darkness.. And she doesn't even realise it.. What's more she's something else.. Fragile.. Delicate.. Even though I know she most certainly doesn't appear it..
At least not on the outside..
And she would definitely never admit it.. But deep down inside.. I know she is.. I think that's why she has never really let me in.. Neither of us did..
"I won't Ford.. You know I won't.. Tell me what that was?" She pleads..
I try to side step her, but she lifts a hand to my chest and the contact sets of a chain reaction igniting my nerves, her eyes pleading.. She's not going to let me get out of this.. "Please, baby.."
I heave a sigh, her honeyed tone playing havoc with my senses.. I want to give her everything, but I don't know how to explain it.. How to make her see what I see.. "When you watch someone you love, - really love - die.. It sets an all too real benchmark for the future.. Do you understand?"
She shakes her head.. Narrowing her eyes curiously .. I try again.. "Ellerie.. My nightmares.. They used to be about watching her die.. Over and over again.. But I haven't had one of those in years.. Then you came along.. And you--Fuck--you refuse to let anyone protect you.. You refuse to let me do anything to keep you safe.."
She straightens up, her arms wrapping around herself defensively.. "I don't do that.."
She doesn't sound entirely convinced of her own argument.. So I take the opportunity..
"You have this drive to show everyone that you don't need anything from them.. Like you think you need to prove something, to me.. West.. Iris..even fucking Paxton.. But, baby, you don't.."
She frowns, pointing a dainty finger at me.. She bounces on the balls of her feet, an agitated energy zipping around her.. "Are you actually defending Hunter Paxton right now.. You were the one who warned me about him.. You told me he was a trigger happy asshole.. I was the one who was too stupid to listen.."
I run a hand back through my hair, blowing out a breath, wondering if I'm fucking insane for defending the guy.. "You need to cut the guy some slack here, Sunshine.."
I can see her frustration climbing.. I know I should stop.. But maybe the idea of her hating me would make this whole thing easier..
Maybe then she would be able to see how little what I - or anyone - thinks about her matters... All I want is for her to think better of herself..
"Excuse me? I told him to stand down.. And he didn--"
I don't let her finish.. Confessing the truth about what really happened earlier tonight.. "Neither of us did.. Sunshine, I was halfway to your position when Paxton took his shot.. And if I had gotten there first, I can't say I wouldn't have don't the same.."
She takes a step back, shaking her head and mumbling under her breath to herself.. "Oh my god.. Why am I so stupid?.." She turns to me, in her eyes I see hurt.. Betrayal.. Because she can't see how valuable she is..
I want to reach out and hold her, run my fingers through her hair and kiss away the scowl has set across her soft pink lips.. Even when she's mad she's still the most beautiful thing I've ever seen..
But I don't dare, because I'm pretty sure she'd break my arm right now if I tried..
"Answer me this Ford.. Would you have done the same if instead of me it had been West.. Would you have trusted him to handle himself? .. Or would you have gone against his orders too?" She waves an exasperated hand in my direction..
I cross my arms now.. She isn't getting it..
Of course I would..
In fact, I have gone against Wests orders in the past.. Many times.
"Yes. I would have made the same call.."
She gives me a long scrutinising stare before she turns and storms back to the bedroom.. Calling out stubbornly over her shoulder.. "I don't believe you.."
Whether she wants to believe me or not it's the truth.. I stand there, my mind racing to catch up, unsure whether to follow her or give her space..
She makes the decision for me.. Appearing in the doorway, hopping on one foot as she pulls on her boots she glares at me.. "Fuck this, I'm going home.. And tomorrow I'm going to find Charles.. By myself.."
I can barely contain a grin at the sight of her.. Her wild loose auburn waves, combat boots, bare legs and my oversized shirt..
She looks like every military man's fantasy..
I want her.. In every sense of the word.. In every way..
"Dressed like that?" I arch an eyebrow as she looks down..
She huffs, giving me an incredulous look before crossing to the kitchen counter and plucking the keys to my Mustang from the granite countertop... "Yes. Dressed like this.. And I'm taking your car.." She spins around stomping toward the door..
I can't believe how stubborn she is..
Or how hot I find the fact that she is.. I don't know what that says about me..
"Ellerie.." She stops.. I steal my nerves and steady my breath.. I don't want her to go, but if she's going to leave.. I want her to leave knowing the truth.. "I love you.."
My pulse thuds in my ears like a drum and my throat is suddenly parched.. Her breath hitches..
But she doesn't speak, she just watches me for a second, her eyes searching mine longingly, before she turns and walks out the door..