Fighting Shadows (On the Ropes #2)(2) by Aly Martinez

Breathing a sigh of relief, I tried to pry my eyes open, needing nothing more than a glimpse of her dark blues. They held no superpowers, but I still believed they could heal me with a single glance. Hell, just knowing she was there with me worked miracles.

I tried to fight, but I couldn’t seem to convince my eyelids that light wasn’t the source of all evil.

“Shh. It’s okay. Just relax,” she whispered, reading my struggle. “Are you hurting? Do you need more pain medicine?”

“Nup. Juz you,” I said drunkenly.

“What’s wrong with him? Why can’t he talk?” Quarry whimpered from somewhere nearby.

I’d never forget how he sounded in that moment. His voice shook like that of the frightened child he never got to be. He might have only been thirteen, but he hadn’t been a boy in a long time. Just like Till and me, he’d been forced to grow up too soon. Hearing the inflection of fear in his voice cleared my groggy mind.

“Em good, Q,” I slurred on a laugh, even though nothing was remotely humorous about the situation.

I was lying facedown on a hospital bed, drugged out of my fucking mind, and pining over my brother’s pregnant wife. The same woman who was the closest thing to a real mother I’d ever known. The levels of fucked-up could not even be described.

On second thought, maybe laughing really was the right response.

My brother, Till, was quite possibly the best man I had ever met. He was only six years older than I was, but as far as I was concerned, he had always been a father to me. Lord knows that the man’s DNA I carried was not. My mother was a work of art, but my father was in a category all of his own. Clay Page was the reason I was lying in that bed and recovering from a bullet in the back, the reason Till had almost lost his wife and unborn daughter, and the reason Quarry had almost been kidnapped.

All I had left in life were my brothers, and in turn, I had Eliza.

If I could have been half the man Till was, I would’ve been better than ninety-nine percent of the male population walking the planet. God, I wanted to be as selfless as he was. But I wasn’t even close. Instead, over the years, I’d become increasingly jealous of his life and the way Eliza loved him. Sure, they had their fair share of problems, but they always weathered the storm together, never wavering in their devotion to each other. Only a year earlier, my older brother had suddenly lost his hearing—something that would have easily sent a lesser woman running for the hills. But not Eliza. She gave him unconditional love, and it stung so fucking much to watch her give it to him.

The older I became, the more I found myself consumed by guilt and anger. Guilt because no two people had ever deserved each other more. And anger because, despite knowing that, I wanted to shove my brother out of the picture completely. I wanted to own Eliza Reynolds Page in every possible way, but especially in the way where she never left me and loved me forever.

I wanted the comfort and security only she could offer me.

“Eliza?” I called as I went back to battle against my eyelids and was finally victorious. I was greeted by the sight of Till holding her tight, his arms folded around her swollen stomach.

“Hey, bud,” he cooed, visible relief washing over his face.

But I didn’t have eyes for him. Eliza stood in his arms with tears flowing in a steady stream down her cheeks.

My lips twitched in the most unlikely of smiles.

She always cries.

“You ’kay?” I mumbled.

“I am. Thanks to you.” She took a step forward, joining our hands.

I laughed, using our linked knuckles to rub her belly. “How’s ma baby?”

“What’d he say?” Till asked.

Eliza removed her hands from mine long enough to translate for him through sign language.

I attempted to roll over so I could have the use of my hands to communicate with him, but I was stilled by the sudden shouts.

“No!” they yelled as I tried to push up on the bed.

“You can’t move . . . I, um, I mean you shouldn’t move.” Eliza squatted down in front of me.

I lifted a hand to wipe her tears away. Her eyes were red and puffy, but as she brushed my short hair off my forehead, she’d never looked more beautiful. Her fingertips trailed over my skin, soothing my aches from the outside in.

“Let’s get you some more pain medicine.” She grabbed a red button off the corner of my bed and pressed it repeatedly.

I wasn’t in any real pain, but within seconds, my entire body relaxed even further.

She remained squatting in front of me, and her tears began to dry while she whispered soothing words I couldn’t quite make out among the myriad of beeping monitors. It didn’t matter what she was saying though.

She was there.

With me.

For me.

My vision was blurry, but time stood still as I stared into her eyes and slurred the words I had absolutely no business saying.

I had been harboring them for years. But no matter how I tried, no amount of time made them right.

“I love you, Eliza. Soooooo. Fuuucking. Mush.”

Even drugged out of my mind, I knew that my admission was going to do more harm than good, but that didn’t slow the words—or the pain.

Maybe, if I just told her how I felt, I could let it go. Move on to a day when I wasn’t teased by the unattainable. It was a grand idea, but fruition was a different story.

She replied, “I love you too,” but I knew she didn’t understand.

In that second though, I needed her to understand. It wasn’t a choice.

For her.

Or me.

“No. I loooove you.” I exaggerated the word but not the truth.

“Shh,” she whispered, resting her hand on my cheek. “I love you too, Flint. We all do. Just go to sleep.”

We all do.

They wouldn’t after I was done. I was sober enough to realize that.

“No. Lizen to me. I . . . love you. Like Till loves you. Like . . . I-want-to-have-sex-with-you love you. Really. Gud. Sex.” I laughed.

“Oh fuck,” Quarry groaned.

“And marry you, and . . .” I stopped to lick my dry lips before spewing the ultimate slap to my brother’s deaf ears. “That should be my baby, not his.”

“Oh fuck,” Quarry repeated.

“Uhh . . . um . . .” Eliza stuttered, looking up at Till, who was standing only a few feet away.

“What? What’d he say?” Till asked, stepping forward.

“I said I’m in love with your wife!” I yelled for some unexplainable reason.

Well, maybe only unexplainable to them; I understood my frustrations completely.

Till needed the chance to hate me. He had given me everything in life and provided for me even when he’d had to sacrifice himself. I owed him the truth about the way I felt about his wife. Regardless that it proved what a dirt bag I truly was.

I lifted my one free hand in the air and began to sign out the letters, but Quarry stepped between Eliza and me and forced my hand against the bed.

“Yep. That’s enough. Go to sleep, asshole.”

“He needs ta know. Tell him fur me.”

Quarry lifted his hands and signed to Till without words. He said he loves us all, and then he got all weepy and called Eliza mommy. I’m just trying to keep him from embarrassing himself. That’s all.

“Dat’s bullshit,” I replied when he finished.

“We love you too, Flint. Get some rest,” Till said, folding his arms across his chest, not buying into Quarry’s explanation.

“No! I said, ‘I love her.’ Eliza.” I began to point in her direction, but Quarry once again slapped my hand down.

Turning his back on Till, he leaned into my face. “Shut your goddamn mouth. I’m trying to help you here.”

“I love her,” I repeated for the umpteenth time.

Eliza wedged her way back to my side. “No, you don’t. You’re just drugged up right now, Flint.”

“Bullshit,” I declared adamantly.

Drugs didn’t cause the way I felt any more than they could fix it. I’d have been a junkie long ago if there were something that could’ve quelled the burning in my chest every time I saw her with Till.

“This isn’t somethin’ new, Eliza. I think about you when—” I’d started to spill all of my embarrassing secrets when Quarry’s hand slammed over my mouth.

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