Fighting Shadows (On the Ropes #2)(6) by Aly Martinez

I, however, felt like a caged animal.

“Okay,” Till said, surprised. “Where do you want to go?” He crossed his arms over his chest and studied me carefully.

Any place where you aren’t fucking the woman I’m in love with.

“College,” I answered instead. “I’m feeling better, and I’m already a full semester behind. I’m ready to start.”

Eliza smiled tightly, shifting six-month-old baby Blakely to her other hip. “You can live here and go to college. It’s only a fifteen-minute commute.”

Fuck. That.

“They have wheelchair-accessible dorms,” I told her without making eye contact.

Yeah. And a yearlong wait list.

“I’m not sure that’s the best idea, Flint. I’m all for you starting school, but we just hired that new physical therapist.” Till lifted his eyebrows and tossed me a teasing, one-sided smirk. “I thought you liked Miranda?”

Oh, he knew I liked her, all right. He’d caught me fucking her a few weeks earlier. But what he didn’t know was that she was a hard-core gold digger who had taken one look around that house and all but dropped to her knees the second I’d rolled into the room. She didn’t want me though. She wanted the money she assumed lined my pockets. Those weekly physical therapy sessions were usually only beneficial to my cock. Till had essentially hired me a hooker with a college degree.

However, I was such a miserable bastard that, knowing my brother, he wouldn’t have given a single damn that his money was being spent getting me off. Although I bet he would have cared if he knew that, not two minutes after he’d walked into the room and found Miranda riding my cock, I’d been forced to call her Eliza in order to come. Some things never changed.

Whoever said that time heals all wounds was an ignorant asshole. In my experience, time made everything worse. While I had been making great strides in my recovery, I was still stuck with useless legs and a suffocating obsession for my brother’s wife. Visiting Eliza in the hospital the day Blakely was born had almost killed me. So, after that, I’d checked out from the whole family thing. The day Till had received his cochlear implant, which allowed him to hear again for the first time in over two years, I’d refused to go. I’d told my brother that I was in pain, and he’d quickly dropped the subject. Eliza knew I’d lied, and I knew that it’d broken her heart. Till deserved to have his hearing back, but I hadn’t been able to sit there and watch him have it all.

Every day that had passed, I’d become more and more bitter toward him.

It wasn’t fair.

It wasn’t right.

Yet I wanted to make him pay for every single strand of happiness he’d worked his ass off to get.

Somehow, in my warped mind, I’d learned to hate the only person who’d ever given a damn about me. And it wasn’t all about Eliza, either. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what it was about. I just knew that Till Page had a life I would have killed for, but because of one fucking bullet, it was a life I would never even be allowed to fight for.

Living with them made it that much worse, too. It was exhausting. Every time I exited the sanctuary of my room, I was forced to paint on a fake-ass smile and pretend that I didn’t want to punch Till in his throat each time I so much as ran into him while making a fucking sandwich in the kitchen.

His kitchen.

I needed my own goddamned kitchen. And, while I was at it, my own woman.

My cock worked; I at least had that on my side. But women didn’t exactly get off on the idea of being with half a man. Fuck ’em though, because there was only one woman I really wanted, and with her, I had far bigger barriers than my wheelchair—a six-foot-two, two-hundred-and-fifty-pound barrier, to be exact.

For everyone’s sake, I needed to move out, but as I stared at Till’s concerned eyes from across the room, I knew he needed me to stay. Responsibility will do that to people. And that was exactly what I had become.

“Flint, just stay here a little while longer. You can do the college thing, but I think it’s safest if you lived here with us,” Till said.

“No!” I yelled. “You can’t fucking stop me!” I propelled my wheelchair forward, stopping inches in front of him. Only months ago, I was a full two inches taller than he was, but right then, I stared up like the pleading child he apparently thought I still was. “I’m leaving. I’m not asking permission. I’m just letting you know.”

He leveled me with an angry glare, which I fearlessly returned. I had lost so much weight since I’d stopped working out at On The Ropes that he was at least fifty pounds heavier than I was, but he was no match for me in the anger department. I had more of that than Till could ever dream of mustering.

“I’m nineteen. You. Can. Not. Stop. Me,” I gritted out through my teeth.

“Flint, stop,” Eliza pleaded from beside him.

I never dragged my eyes away from my brother, but I was positive there were tears streaming down her face. I couldn’t care anymore though. That was Till’s job. Not mine.

Not. Mine.

“You’re right.” Till began rolling his bottom lip between his index finger and his thumb. It was his nervous habit and also the sign that I’d won. “College will be good. When do you move in?” He wrapped his arm around Eliza’s shoulders and kissed the top of her head.

Yep. There it is.

Looking away from their embrace, I replied, “Tonight.”

“What?” Eliza gasped.

“I’m gonna stay with a friend for a couple of nights. Then I’ll see if Slate can come over and help me move my stuff.”

“Flint, what the hell is going on here? College, I get. What’s the sudden rush to leave?” Till asked.

And before I could stop them, my eyes jumped to Eliza. Just as quickly, I flashed them away in an attempt to cover my accidental confession, but before I had the chance, her shoulders fell. She might not have been mine, but the way her chin quivered as she looked down at the ground absolutely belonged to me. And I hated myself for it.

“Nothing. I’m just sick of sitting at home all the time.”

He tilted his head to the side, not completely convinced. “When do classes start?”

“Monday,” I guessed. Fuck if I knew when classes started, but I was willing to tell him whatever bullshit it took to get me out of there ASAP.

“And you’re sure about this?” he asked.

“Positive.”

Sighing, he grabbed the back of his neck. “Okay, but if you change your mind, you can come back anytime. Let me get you a check. Prepay for the first full year of tuition and your room. Put the rest away for books. I’ll set you up on a monthly stipend for food and shit.” He released Eliza and started to walk from the room.

“Are you insane? I’m not taking your money!”

He stopped in his tracks and spun to face me. “Excuse me?”

“There is no way I’m taking your money.”

“Yes, you fucking are!”

“That’s your money. Not mine. Use it to take care of your wife and daughter. I can figure out college on my own.”

“You’re absolutely right. It is my money, and I busted my ass to earn it so I could take care of my family. You are my family,” he bit out.

“Unfortunately, that’s true,” I mumbled.

It was childish and a lie, but they were the only words I could think of to hurt him. However, since he was standing across the room, Eliza was the only one who heard them.

“Flint!” she scolded, wiping her tears away and squaring her shoulders.

Fuck. I knew that look, and it didn’t bode well for me at all.

“Till, take Blakely and go get that check. I’m gonna help Flint pack a few things.” She smiled sweetly, and it quite honestly scared the piss out of me.

Till must have recognized the look too, because as he took the baby from her arms, he bit his lip to conceal a laugh.

Not even a second after he walked from the room, Eliza started in on me.

“Are you done?” She crossed her arms over her chest.

“Yep.” Unwilling to listen to her lecture, I spun myself away. But before I could get turned all the way around, she lifted her foot and slammed down on the brake of my wheelchair, thrusting me forward from the sudden halt.

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