Take Me On (Page 37)

Take Me On (Pushing the Limits #4)(37)
Author: Katie McGarry

“And the problem is?” A member of their family got jumped; retribution and justice were theirs to take.

“West…” Her gaze moves beyond my shoulder to the caged-in Octagon behind me. “Every time you walk into that cage, you’re saying you’re okay with dying, but at least you have some rules, a referee and a coach who can stop the fight if you don’t tap out. Can you imagine the bloodshed without rules, without a referee? And who says if Jax or Kaden try to tap out that Conner or Matt would let them walk away?”

I feel sucker punched. “The reason they want me in the sanctioned fight is because everyone thinks I’ll be crushed and it’ll be fun as hell to do it in public.”

Haley won’t meet my eyes and she shifts.

“Do you think they’ll crush me?” A heaviness bears down on my stomach. Haley returned for me that night and this fight is the only way I can repay that gift.

“I don’t know,” she says quietly. “This isn’t a movie or a TV show where the guy practices a few times, then takes on the world champ and wins. Matt and Conner and Jax and Kaden…they’ve trained for years and they still aren’t good enough to go pro. I’m hoping I have enough time to teach you how to defend yourself.”

An edginess claws its way into my muscles. “If you have no faith in me, then why the f**k are we here?”

Her head jerks up. “I feel awful you’re standing here in Jax and Kaden’s place. Every second of my day, I think about how to shove you out.”

“If you did figure out a way to shove me out, you’d be on your own to deal with Matt and Conner. When you’re busy taking care of and protecting everyone else, who’s protecting you?”

“I can take care of myself.”

I laugh and Haley straightens: a pissed-off, sexy warrior. Give me all you’ve got, Haley, because right now, I’m handing it back. “Every time you think you have everything under control you don’t.”

“Says Mr. Disaster. You never think anything through and end up in messes like this and the guilt is on me if anything happens to you. Tap out of this right now, West. Walk away.”

“Do you always roll over and die? Since I’ve met you, you’re either running or scheming. The one thing you never do is fight.”

“I fought for you!” she shouts. “I fought for you and it cost me. It cost my whole family!”

“You’re not fighting for me now! You admitted you’re trying to shove me away!”

“Sometimes walking away is fighting!”

“Walking away is abandonment and I don’t abandon!”

I’m breathing hard and Haley’s eyes become glassy. “I…I…don’t abandon. I don’t.”

Her lower lip trembles and I’m so pissed at myself that I ram my wrapped fist into the bag. The bag swings and, when it returns, I smack it again. The strike feels clean and it feels powerful and I crave to do it again and again.

Haley blows out a shaky stream of air and I catch the bag. Our backs are turned toward each other, but I can see her in the mirror. It would be easier on me if she cried. Tears, for some reason, cause me to tune people out, but Haley doesn’t cry. Doesn’t even blink or wipe at her eyes. She wears the look of a person who continues to breathe though their soul is dead. It’s the same expression my mother wears when she sits in the room of her deceased daughter.

My insides ache as if salt is being poured into a million internal paper cuts. Haley never asked for any of this. “I’m sorry.”

It took me years to say that statement to Dad, yet only days to say it to Haley. I wish she understood how difficult those words are for me.

“What are we fighting about?” she whispers.

“I don’t know.” But I don’t think I’m fighting her. My eyes roam over the cage and suddenly I wish it were two months from now. I wish I could enter that cage and see an opponent across from me, because then I’d know where all this anger, all this rage should be pointed.

“I don’t want you to get hurt,” she says to the floor. “I like you and because of that I’m struggling. There is no way I can prepare you to fight in two months.”

“So I don’t win.” I turn to face her, but she keeps her back to me.

“It’s not winning that concerns me. I’m terrified you won’t walk out of that cage.”

I flinch as if someone nailed me in the gut. It might have been less painful if she had. Pride screams at me to lash out at her again, but, in the mirror, her shoulders curve inward. Harsh memories surface of all those times Rachel was sick from anxiety and I never paid attention. I f**ked up with Rachel. I’ve f**ked up with my whole family.

It doesn’t matter. It changes right here. Right now. I’ve let everyone else I love down. Haley needs me and helping her protect her family is my one shot at redemption and I’ll be damned if she steals it from me.

I advance on Haley and, before she can retreat, I round on her and gently rest my hand on her face. My fingers weave into her hair and her jaw fits perfectly into my palm.

“Listen to me because I’m tired of saying it. I’m in this for good. You can’t get rid of me even if you wanted. If you shoved me out that door and locked it, if you never spoke to me at school, it doesn’t matter—I’m taking the fight in two months.”

Because I need this fight. For once, I need to know who I’m fighting against. I need to know I can do it. I need to know when I’ve been thrown away that I’m worth more.

“I’m doing this with or without your help, but I have a better chance of walking out of that cage with you on my side.”

Her eyes search my face, looking for something…a sign I’m lying, a sign I’ll take back the words. Haley licks her lips. “I can’t convince you to tap out on me?”

“No tapping out.”

Haley strains, wanting freedom, and as much as I’d like to keep her close, I drop my hand and let her go.

She circles the room, slowly…thinking. I can’t get the girl to stop overanalyzing. Finally she halts. “Okay. If this is how it’s going to be, then you need to wrap that other hand, then start jumping some rope.”

Chapter 29

Haley

My breath catches when I step out of the locker room. Waiting for me, West leans against the wall next to my grandfather’s office. His blond hair is darkened from his shower and his shirt clings to him, like he’s still a bit wet. God, he’s beautiful.