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**Each book in the series can be read as a standalone**
I come from a family of fighters. I always thought I’d follow in their shadows, becoming unstoppable in the ring. That changed the day I saved the life of a woman I loved, but could never have.
My brother hailed me as a hero, and my reward was a wheelchair.
Paralyzed, my life became an inescapable nightmare.
Until I met her.
Ash Mabie had a heart-stopping smile and a laugh that numbed the rage and resentment brewing inside of me. She showed me that even the darkest night still had stars, and it didn’t matter one bit that you had to lie in the weeds to see them.
I was a jaded asshole who fell for a girl with a knack for running away. I couldn’t even walk but I would have spent a lifetime chasing her.
Now, I’m on the ropes during the toughest battles of my life.
Fighting the shadows of our past.
Fighting to reclaim my future.
Fighting for her.
I remembered it all.
I heard the gun.
I felt the bullet.
I saw her fall.
In less than a second, my life as I knew it was over.
But, unquestionably, I would do it all over again.
“Flint!” Eliza cried from underneath me.
It wasn’t the way I had dreamed of at least a million times over the years. Her voice hadn’t broken in ecstasy. She hadn’t called my name as I’d been claiming her as my own, nor was it followed by confessions of love and declarations of forever. Instead, there was a sharp ringing in my ears and a tsunami of tears welling in her deep-blue eyes.
My heart was already pounding, but the earth-shattering pain on her face spiked my pulse even higher. I knew I had been hit, but that wasn’t what scared me.
“Are you hurt?” I rushed out.
“I’m fine,” she choked around a sob. As much as I hated to see her cry, the weight of my world disappeared with only two words.
“Are you sure?” I studied her, but she was focused on something else completely.
Peering over my shoulder, she lifted her hand off my back. Blood dripped from her fingertips to the floor.
“Oh God!” she exploded, scrambling from under me.
“I’m okay,” I tried to reassure her, but as I attempted to push up off the floor, I knew my words were in vain. I was nowhere near fine. “I’m…” I started, but the thought was stolen from my tongue. Pain overtook me, causing me to collapse face first to the ground where Eliza had just been lying.
I desperately tried to keep myself from passing out, but it was a battle I was quickly losing.
“Flint. Stay with me. Just hang on, please,” she said calmly, kneeling beside me. But as soon as she sat up, her true emotions were revealed. “Help him!” she cried. “Please, God, someone help him!”
My mind was drifting, rendering me unable to focus, but even amongst the chaos of Eliza pleading for help and security rushing into the room, I somehow homed in on the announcer’s voice on the television blaring in the background.
“I really expected more from Till Page in the ring tonight,” he said.
It was then that I was reminded of a pain far worse than any bullet could inflict.
The father of her unborn child.
He deserved her, but damn it, so did I.
My eyes never left hers as her screams drifted into silence.
I awoke to a searing pain in my back, and panic immediately flooded my thoughts.
“Eliza!” I screamed as loudly as I could, but it came out as nothing more than a gurgle.
“I’m right here.” She appeared at my side. “Oh God, Flint. Don’t do that again. You have to stay awake.” She began smoothing my hair down.
“Eliza,” I repeated when further coherent thoughts failed me. I was terrified—I knew that much. But my mind fought to catch up and answer the why. “Are…are you hurt?”
“No. I’m fine,” she assured me, leaning down and kissing my temple—a gesture I would have killed to be able to return.
Instead, I blindly reached out to the side, searching for her hand. “Stay with me.”
Firmly grasping my palm, she vowed, “I won’t leave you, Flint. I swear.”
If only she’d meant those words in the way I would have liked. However, right then, as I lay facedown, bleeding on the carpet of an upscale Vegas hotel floor with a bullet in my back, I would take it.
It wasn’t enough.
But it would have to be.
She isn’t mine.
She never was.
As she whispered soothing words into my ear, I went willingly into the darkness.
I slowly roused back to consciousness. I couldn’t quite figure out where I was or why my throat felt like I had swallowed a truckload full of burning embers. Even through my grogginess, I could feel an ache in my back. It wasn’t until I spoke that I realized how fucked I truly was.
“Ewliz.” What the hell? “Elyz.”
“Oh thank God!” Eliza cried, suddenly appearing at my side.
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.
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.
“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.
“I said, ‘Shut the fuck up,’” he seethed.
“Stop cussing,” I mumbled from behind his hand.
He looked to Eliza. “Can you press that button again? Maybe see if he’ll pass out.”
“What the hell is going on?” Till snapped from behind us, losing his cool with being in the dark.
Nothing. He’s acting like a bitch. Just doing my job as his little brother to protect his manhood… or something like that, Quarry signed then flashed Till a tight grin.
“No, I—” I started, and his hand once again landed over my mouth.
Quarry gave Eliza an impatient glare.
“He has a few more minutes before the pain pump will give him any more meds,” she answered, frazzled by my confession.
And just that small reaction to my admission hurt more than whatever the hell was happening on my back.
“Well, I’ll just keep my hand right here until it’s time,” Quarry hissed at Eliza.
“Um, I’m gonna step out and get some water,” she announced uncomfortably.
“Eliza, wait,” I tried to shout, but Quarry wasn’t lying about not removing his hand. “Get off me.” I weakly swatted it away.
Glancing back at Till, he lifted a finger in the air to signal one second. Then he turned back to me. “Shut up. Shut up. Shut. Up. You’re in love with her, fine. Now, shut up.”
“Not until he knows,” I replied.
“Go to sleep, Flint. If you still want to make this mistake when you wake up, I’ll sign it out to him myself.” He urged me with a hard stare.
I was tired. Sleep didn’t exactly sound like torture. I’d been sitting on my feelings for Eliza since I was twelve. What was one more night?
“I would take her from him,” I declared as my lids began to droop.
Quarry busted out laughing. “Then, when you wake up, I’ll sign out your warning. Oh, look! Time’s up.” He grabbed the red button and gave it a push.
I moaned as the glorious burn of the medication hit my vein.
“Thank God,” he breathed as I drifted off to sleep.
When I awoke some hours later, my determination to tell Till had fortunately disappeared.
Unfortunately, so had my desire for Eliza to know.
But the truth was out.
As the embarrassment set in, I tried to convince myself that maybe it was for the best that she knew how I felt.
It was a hell of a lot worse.
“Where the fuck have you been?” a man’s voice growled as soon as I entered the conference room.
My eyes flashed to his for only a single second before I recognized them. The door had barely clicked behind me but I already wanted nothing more than to bolt. My heart raced and my mouth dried.
I had to get out of there.
“Um…” I stalled, giving myself time to formulate a plan.
“Sit. Down,” he ordered, pushing out the chair next to him, but there was no way I was getting that close.
“I’m good,” I said, taking a step backwards toward the door.
“Don’t even think about it,” he snapped. “I swear to God, if you so much as open that door…” His words may have trailed off, but the threat was clearly stated.
I swallowed hard, and slowly walked to the chair farthest away from him, perching on the very edge—waiting for just the right moment to escape.
He looked down at the name badge around my neck and quirked an eyebrow.
“You can call me Tori if it’s easier.” I tried to fake a smile, but it only seemed to infuriate him. He took several calming breaths, which did nothing to dampen the blaze brewing in his angry eyes.
“I’ve been looking for you, Ash.” He snarled my name.
“Oh, yeah? Well, mystery solved. Here I am.” I pushed back to my feet, but was halted when his fist pounded against the table. I jumped as my whole body flinched from the surprise.
When the room fell silent, I slowly looked back up to find him staring at me with a murderous glare. Even sitting down I could tell he was huge, and as he held my gaze, the tense muscles in his neck and shoulders strained against the cotton of his grey Henley. He blinked at me for several seconds before finding his voice again.
“You live in a homeless shelter,” he stated definitively, as if the words told a story all of their own.
And maybe they did.
“I work at a homeless shelter,” I quickly corrected.
Only he corrected me just as fast. “In exchange for a permanent place to live…In. A. Homeless. Shelter.” He enunciated every single syllable.
I looked away, because it was the truth.
A truth that I hated.
But the God’s honest truth nonetheless.
Tears welled in my eyes and I battled to keep them at bay.
My life was hard, but him being there made it infinitely harder. If I could just escape that room, I could disappear again. It wasn’t ideal, but neither was him showing up.
“I want you to leave.” I lied with all the false courage I could muster.
“I can’t do that. You stole something of mine.”
“Look, I don’t have your book anymore.”
A knowing smirk lifted one side of his mouth. “Liar,” he whispered, reaching into the chair beside him, revealing the tattered book and ceremoniously dropping it on the table.
My eyes went wide, and without a conscious thought, I dove across the table after it.
That was mine.
Not even he could have it.
Just as quickly as the book appeared, he snatched it away and grabbed my wrist.
I slid off the table and tried to pull my arm from his grasp. It was a worthless attempt though because even if he had suddenly released me, his blue eyes held me frozen in place.
“Three fucking years,” he seethed.
“I had to,” I squeaked out as the tears streamed down my cheeks.
“Three. Fucking. Years, Ash. You took something that belonged to me.” He released my arm and pushed to his feet.
My mouth fell open and a loud gasp escaped as he took two impossible steps forward.
Pinning me against the wall with his hard body, he lifted a hand to my throat and glided it up until his thumb stroked over my bottom lip. Using my chin, he turned my head, and dragged his nose up my neck, stopping at my ear.
Sucking in a deep breath, he released it on a gravelly demand. “And I want her back.”
My breath hitched.
I’d waited years to hear those words.
If only I could have trusted them.
Haven’t read this series yet? Meet Flint Quarry, Till & Eliza
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/1Lhhn62
About the Author:
Born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, Aly Martinez is a stay-at-home mom to four crazy kids under the age of five, including a set of twins. Currently living in South Carolina, she passes what little free time she has reading anything and everything she can get her hands on, preferably with a glass of wine at her side.
After some encouragement from her friends, Aly decided to add “Author” to her ever-growing list of job titles. Five books later, she shows no signs of slowing. So grab a glass of Chardonnay, or a bottle if you’re hanging out with Aly, and join her aboard the crazy train she calls life.
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