Crossroads

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Chapter 33

Lincoln

“It’s a fire only she can start, a fire that’s so potent and dangerous, I feel like I’d cease to exist without it.”

PRESENT

For the first time in years, it feels like things are going my way, finally.

I have a job that fulfils me, I have enough money to take care of my problems, I have a therapist who helps me deal with my raging emotions…

But most important of all: I have the girl.

Well, technically. Because I know we said we’d take things slow. That we’d do it differently this time. And we have to, everything else would only hurt us in the long run.

But I’m confident we’re good for each other. And I meant what I said: I’ll prove it to her, if she can’t believe it herself. I’ll show her just how much I have changed, just how much I can take charge of a situation now.

Her eyes are wide when she opens the door to her apartment, and she studies me for a minute, eyebrows arched when she speaks, “Are both of those for me?”

She points to the two bouquets of flowers in my hands, and I just shake my head with a laugh, “No. This one is,” I hand her the larger one with sunflowers in it, a reminder that she is warm like the sun.

“This one,” I wiggle the other bouquet when she studies her own, “This one’s for your mother.”

A laugh escapes her throat, and she instantly covers her lips with her hand, shaking her head while I just look at her, wondering what the hell I’ve done wrong now. “Sorry,” she says with a giggle, “Thank you. They’re beautiful. It’s just… Man, I can’t wait to see my dad’s reaction to that.”

Something about that statement makes me nervous. Because I’ve seen her dad; I’ve seen the bull of a man he is, even more than his eldest son. I can’t deny that the man is scary as hell, and knowing that Mia is very close to him really doesn’t help matters, either.

“Well, come in. Might as well enjoy the time before you’re served your last supper,” she laughs, stepping aside to let me move.

We’re supposed to have dinner with her parents in a couple of hours, and I’m nervous as hell. It’s not just her father, it’s her entire family, really. Her mom seemed to be kind, although it was obvious that she can kick your ass if she wants to, just from the way she handled Max. Hell, even her grandmother seemed badass, though that might have just been the tattoos on her arms.

“Come on, stop thinking,” Mia laughs again, and I narrow my eyes at her while walking inside, where she takes the second bouquet from my hands before she rushes to the open kitchen.

“You want a coffee?” she asks, filling two vases with water and placing the flowers in them before turning back to me, leaning against the kitchen counter with a smile.

“Yeah, I’d love to,” I answer with a smile, somehow not knowing where to go. When Mia doesn’t say anything I steer for the armchair in the adjacent living room, taking a seat as I watch her work.

When I look around the room, I can’t help but notice that this apartment is much brighter than the other one. The furniture is still pretty subtle, grey and white are the dominant colors here, but she has paintings and pictures on the walls now, too. Most of them look somewhat absurd, a lot of colors sprayed or brushed across the canvas. Some of them look chaotic with wild and bright colors, while others give off a calm vibe.

“I painted those in therapy,” Mia interrupts my observation with a smile, placing two coffees on the table. I raise my eyebrow at her mug, wondering when she started drinking coffee, but quickly shake off the thought before I look up at her.

“You did?” I ask, being more than impressed. Those paintings look brilliant, like actually brilliant.

She smiles when she takes a seat on the couch opposite to me, “Yeah, they show my journey, I guess. They also show there was a lot more I had to talk about than I realized,” her eyes flick to the picture with all kinds of colors sprawled across the canvas.

And it’s right at this moment that I realize something: Past Mia was hot and sexy as hell. But present Mia, open and so blatantly honest, is scorching hot fire. She has changed, at least as much as I have. That fact gives me hope, hope that she will see what I’m trying to show her, that we’re extraordinary together.

“They’re beautiful,” I say, stating the obvious.

“Thank you,” she tucks some hair behind her ear before she reaches for the mug on the table, bringing it to her lips before adding, “Oh, and thank you for the flowers again. Really. That was… Attentive.”

Her smile is so genuine, so undisturbed and free, that I make a mental note to bring her flowers whenever I can. Because honestly, I’d do anything to see her smile like that all day. It’s a new smile, an elated and exhilarating one that I’m already addicted to.

“You’re welcome…” I say, my voice suddenly stuck in my throat from the sole sight of her. It’s hard to keep my distance, to not rush into things without thought. Because all I want is to feel her, to have her in my arms until the end of days.

“Okay, we need to come up with a plan,” she interrupts my thoughts, and I focus on her eyes again, trying to keep my head straight for the sake of our promise. “I’m not going to lie to my family, and I don’t want to keep things from them again. You need to be okay with that if we want to do this.”

Her voice is unwavering, her statement factual and honest. And I get it. I do. As much as I’m shit-scared of meeting her family again, I know we need to be open about things now. From the very beginning.

“We don’t have to tell them about your mental state back then. That’s your decision to make, and I won’t force that on you, but I want them to know about us. As I said, I’m sick of hiding things.”

And that statement again shows how much better we are this way. She’s not afraid to be upfront with me, to tell me what she needs and wants. It’s one thing we were missing back then. She was walking on eggshells around me, not that I can blame her, I basically forced her to.

“No, I’ll tell them. I think they should know and it would explain things. I’ve learned to be open about it, so that shouldn’t be an issue.”

She smiles at my words, and once again I just want to bend over to kiss her, to feel her, to see how she reacts to my touch. Because I told her yesterday, and I know it’s true; She feels the connection we have. It’s undeniable, raw, and so fucking breathtaking, I have no idea how she manages to stay away from me right now.

“There’s one more thing I need to talk to you about, and we need to talk about it now, before we see my parents. It’s…” she sighs, “It’s something I can’t really hide from you for much longer.”

And again I can’t help but widen my eyes, the longing in my heart replaced by intrigue when I look at her, seeing that this must be something serious with the way she looks at me right now. It’s almost apologetic.

“Okay… I gotta say, you’re scaring me a little,” I admit, and she just laughs while running a hand through her hair, obviously being somewhat nervous.

“Um, yeah. If you’re scared by that, I don’t know how you’re going to take what I say next,” she laughs again, but I can only watch her, trying to figure out what the hell she’s talking about.

Has she met someone else while we were apart? I mean, I couldn’t blame her, it’s her life and all. But I can’t deny that it would sting. Or did she lie about something in particular?

“Okay, I’m just gonna say this because I don’t know how else to get it out. I’m telling you this so you’re aware of my family’s background and know what you’re getting into, okay?”

I nod my head, honestly at a loss for words.

“Good. Um, well, you probably noticed that my family is not exactly poor,” she says, and I instantly nod my head.

“Yeah, it’s hard not to notice,” I answer, thinking of her expensive car and motorcycle, as well as the designer furniture in both her apartments.

“True,” she laughs, “Well, that money isn’t exactly… Clean. At least it wasn’t.”

My eyes widen at her words, and I lean back on the chair, just looking at her, trying to figure out what exactly is going on here. But before I can even ask about it, she continues, taking the question right from my brain when she says, “It means that my parents were involved in some not-so-legal activity. Focus on were. They stopped working in that kind of business when I was still a child. I guess they realized that lifestyle didn’t cooperate with the way they wanted to raise us, and so they stepped away from it. I know that some of my dad’s cousins are still involved in that business, but none of them are really close to us now.”

She just looks at me for a moment, her eyes serious but sincere, and I can’t help but study her, read her. I just try to understand, try to make my mind up.

“If that’s in the past, how does your family have so much money, still?”

There’s a smirk playing on her lips, and I wonder what exactly she finds so funny about my question, but then she answers, “Well, first of all, the money they made back then… That was enough for all of us, I assure you. And when my dad stepped away from the business, he opened up a new company, one that’s doing… Really well, to say the least.”

We study each other for a few minutes, letting the information sink in. And I see this emotion running over her features, an emotion that makes me shake off any thoughts that dare to creep in my brain.

Mia is scared. She’s actually scared.

“And that is supposed to change my mind about us, because…?”

Her eyes widen at my question, I’m guessing this is not the reaction she expected.

“Because this is a huge deal?” she asks, tilting her head, and I get the impression that she thinks I don’t understand what she just told me.

I get up from the chair and walk over to her, not really caring about the promises we made yesterday, simply because they’re out of place right now. I take a seat next to her, and she watches me with wide eyes, trying to gauge my actions.

She looks at her hand when I take it in mine, and as soon as her eyes meet mine again I can’t help myself, I cup her neck with my hand and pull her toward me, our lips colliding in an instant. We fall back on the couch, her body right on top of mine when I chase her tongue, her rapid heartbeat thundering against my chest.

“Link…” she moans a warning into the kiss and I just pull her closer, my arms circling around her back to press her against me, to feel every goddamn inch of her.

“This,” I whisper, breathlessly chasing her tongue again, “This is a huge fucking deal, Mia.” My hands cup her face, her forehead resting against mine as we steal each other’s ragged breaths, that all too familiar fire raging through me again. It’s a fire only she can start, a fire that’s so potent and dangerous, I feel like I’d cease to exist without it.

Tipping up her chin I make her look at me, those irresistible blue eyes filled with heat and desire when they meet mine. “This is the only deal that’s important to me,” I say with as much conviction as I can find. Which isn’t exactly hard, honestly, because I’m only stating the truth. “I told you, Mia. I’ll prove it to you. This, us… It’s not just good, it’s fucking exceptional. And I don’t care what your family did or didn’t do. I care about you, period.”

She studies me for a moment, those eyes glimmering with something new, something dangerous but so goddamn intriguing, I just want to devour her again.

But then she smirks, her thumb brushing over my bottom lip when she whispers, “Well, let’s see how my family will react to that, shall we?”

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