Fighting Solitude (On the Ropes #3)(8) by Aly Martinez

In a desperate attempt to settle a gambling debt, my father, Clay Page, crawled out of the woodwork for the first time in years in order to convince Till to throw the fight. His bookie, Frankie, had other ideas. He showed up at our room with a gun and kidnapped Eliza.

I’d fought, but in the end, I was left bleeding and unconscious on the floor as he dragged her from the room.

That was the first time I felt the paralyzing anguish of failing a woman I loved.

I should have been the first line of defense in protecting what was ours. Eliza might have been married to only Till, but she belonged to all of us. I failed my entire family that day.

I could have prevented it all if only I’d been stronger.

Tougher.

Patient.

Careful.

Smarter.

In other words, not Quarry Page.

And I had to live with that knowledge while the police searched for Eliza, not knowing if she was alive or dead.

Flint got to be the hero that day, and his reward was a bullet he took in the back to protect Eliza and her unborn daughter.

It gutted me.

I should have been man enough to do that the moment Frankie had stormed in, waving a gun around. I hadn’t though. After everything they had given me—sacrificed for me—I’d failed them all.

An insurmountable guilt devoured me the day the doctors told us that Flint might never walk again. I would have rather sat in a wheelchair for my entire life than watch the painful reality crumble my brother’s face, knowing that it was all my fault.

It broke me in ways that could never be healed.

I wasn’t a man.

And, for that reason alone, I lost it in the middle of Flint’s hospital room with Eliza, Till, Erica, and Slate all watching on.

“Hey, Q,” Flint called from his bed.

I didn’t turn to face him as I answered, “Yeah.”

“You crying over there?”

I deserved that for what I had done. And especially for what I hadn’t done—protect them.

“Fuck you,” I barked at my reflection in the window.

“Hey, you can’t be a man and a baby. Either cuss or cry.”

He was right. And it was exactly why I was crying like the little bitch I really was.

“Leave him alone,” Erica urged.

There was nothing to leave alone though. I’d earned that when I’d allowed an armed man to take Eliza—the only mother I’d ever known. Till would have burned the entire world down before allowing anyone to ever lay a finger on her. And Flint… Well, he’d more than shown the lengths to which he would go to make her safe.

And I’d proved exactly how worthless I truly was.

In an exaggerated baby voice, Flint mocked, “Q, you want me to ask the nurse if she has a lollipop?”

I couldn’t take it anymore.

Pushing to my feet, I stormed past his bed, mumbling, “I hate you.”

I didn’t hate him at all though.

I hated myself.

After sprinting from the room, I came face-to-face with a hall full of familiar faces and one pair of innocent, brown eyes I could feel even before they came into view.

“Quarry, wait!” Liv yelled, chasing after me as I rushed down the hall, desperately seeking an escape from my entire fucking life.

When I was sure I’d lost her, I quickly ducked into a supply closet and flipped the lights off.

This is not happening. None of it.

After sucking in a deep breath, I held it until my chest began to burn. Tears continued to roll down my cheeks, and I didn’t even bother wiping them away.

The handle of the door twisted, and light from the hall filled the small space. I didn’t need to turn to know who it was.

“Go away, Liv.”

The door shut almost immediately. My body sagged in relief as the darkness once again cloaked the room.

“Son of a bitch!” I shouted as two arms folded around my waist from behind. “Get out!” I roared as her body came flush with my back.

“No,” she murmured, resting her head between my shoulder blades.

“Leave me the hell alone. I don’t want you here!”

“I don’t care if you want me here or not. If it happens to you, it happens to me too, remember?”

But it hadn’t happened to her; it’d happened to me. And nothing she could say or do would change that. It didn’t matter one bit that I instantly felt better from knowing she was there. Not even Liv could fix this.

“Leave me alone. It’s dark and quiet in here. God knows I can’t deal with you freaking the fuck out right now.”

“I’ll be fine. I’m safe with you, Quarry.”

That one sentence was the absolute worst thing she could have possibly said. It lit me on fire, because not only had I convinced her of that bullshit over the years, but I’d even convinced myself.

It was the biggest lie I had ever told.

“I can’t protect you!” I roared, roughly removing her arms from around my hips. Spinning to face her, I continued to yell. “I can’t fucking protect anyone! Not you. Not Eliza. Not Flint. Not even my fucking self.”

“Then I’ll protect you,” she whispered.

And that damn warmth Liv seemed to magically transfer spread over me. My dependency on those brief moments of comfort was another one of my weaknesses. No more. Never again.

I grabbed her shoulders and shook her roughly. “I can’t keep you safe. Look around us. It’s still dark. And, in a minute, it’s going to be really fucking quiet. You have to get over your shit before I have the chance to fail you too.”

She attempted to once again close her arms around my waist, but I stepped out of her reach.

“Stop saying that. You didn’t fail anyone,” she said.

And that was the exact moment I lost her.

Rage and self-loathing boiled in my veins. She was so fucking wrong. And the sooner she realized it, the safer she would be.

Stomping past her, I did the unforgivable.

I showed Liv James exactly how unsafe she was with me.

After yanking the closet door open, I stepped out. I caught a glimpse of fear in her wide eyes just before I secured my spot in Hell by slamming the door behind me.

“Quarry!” she shrieked, frantically rattling the handle.

But I refused to release it.

She needed to know.

“Quarry!” Her fists beat on the wood as I sank to the ground, blocking the door with my body.

She had to understand that the world was a scary place, where people you love got kidnapped, shot, and paralyzed. The silence was the easy part.

“Quarry, please!” Utter panic colored her voice, but I didn’t budge.

The vibrations of her tiny, pounding fists slashed my soul, ensuring that I’d wear the scars of that moment for the rest of my life. And maybe even a lifetime after that.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I’m so fucking sorry.”

“Quarry!” she cried, her voice cracking as she broke into loud sobs.

She needed to know that the silence wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to her—trusting me was.

“Daddy!” she screamed, giving up on me altogether—just as she should have.

But it wrecked me all the same.

After pushing to my feet, I released the door. It flew open, but I didn’t dare look at her. I couldn’t. I no longer had that right.

She should have punched me. No. She should have beaten the absolute shit out of me.

I would have let her. I’d have stood there until I was black and blue if it would have made her feel better.

Instead, all I got was the squeak of her shoes on the tile as she sprinted away.

It was the single best decision she had ever made—regardless of how it gutted me.

Standing completely alone in that hall, I anxiously awaited the moment when Leo or Slate would come after me. I’d done the deed; I wanted to pay the price. They never showed up though. There were no laps to be run. No hard lesson from her angry father. Till didn’t even ground me when we got home. I wasn’t actually sure Liv had told anyone.

But the punishment I received was more devastating than I was prepared for—even if it was exactly what I deserved.

It was three long years before I saw Liv James again.

I USED EVERY POSSIBLE EXCUSE to avoid Indianapolis, On The Ropes, and, more specifically, a pair of hazel eyes that had broken my heart. My parents were extremely suspicious as to why I broke into tears any time the Page brothers came up in conversation, but I never told them what had happened that day at the hospital. As much as I liked getting Quarry into minor trouble, I knew that this would have been major in my father’s eyes, mainly because it was major in mine too.

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