Crossroads: Book 1

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Chapter 40

Elena


Crap, my dad!

Faster than a jackrabbit, I lift a finger to my lips for Mike to be quiet. His eyes bug out, then he ducks his head below the sill.

“Yeah, dad, I’m fine,” I yell over the door.

The door opens as I sit cross-legged on the bed with the computer on my lap. My attempt at nonchalance.

Dad’s eyes narrow at me with a bit of worry laced in his growing wrinkles. “You sure, because I heard a thud in here.” He looks behind the door.

“What? Oh, yeah, I must have fallen asleep while watching the movie and fell off the bed,” I lie.

“Uh, huh.” He paces into the room then rounds the corner for my walk-in closet. He turns on the light.

“Dad,” I say with a bit of force. “I’m fine. No one is in here – I promise. I’m safe.”

Leaving the closet, he strides to my bed then kisses my forehead. “Alright. I’m sorry. Just paranoid.”

“It’s okay.” I look up at him.

His eyes glance at the window then back to me. “It’s supposed to get a bit chilly tonight; you may want to close your window. Don’t want you getting sick.” He sounds so fatherly.

“I will,” I say as he walks out. Suddenly I feel the chill of the outside air as it flows in.

Once in the hall, he reaches for the door. “Have a good night, kiddo. Love you.”

“I love you too, dad,” I respond as he shuts the door.

When the door clutches, I listen for the creaks of the floor to fall faint. I anxiously set my computer on the desk and turn on a music playlist to help drown out whatever is about to happen next.

I twirl around on the bed for the window.

“Mike? Are you still out there?” I whisper through the screen. Please still be out there.

His head pops up. “Yeah, I’m still here, babe,” he slurs and gives me a crooked smile.

I reach for the screen holders to lift them and push the screen towards Mike. He takes it, then leans the screen against the outside of the house.

“Ah, shit!” He hits his head on the window frame when he starts to push his body through. “Ouch, dammit.” Mike’s elbows hit the sides of the frame as he tries to crawl through the small gap.

Watching as he enters into my room, I see the legs of his grey sweatpants – they are a bit damp. He smells like fresh-cut grass, and his bare feet have a little dusting of dirt on them. Thankfully there’s no residue on my duvet!

“Are you alright?” I stifle a giggle while the bed dips as he wriggles his large body through the window and over the mattress. The closer he moves to the side of the bed, he loses his balance; I try to reach for him, but he tumbles off.

There’s a thud. “Fuck,” he mumbles while chuckling under his breath.

“Shh,” I stress, holding my laughter the best I can, but a snort escapes. I really can’t have my dad come back. There will be no way of explaining this. Mike chortles silently and brings his index finger up to his lips.

“Be quiet, Elena,” he whispers.

Giggling, I whisper, “Me? You’re the one who fell on the floor.”

While my intruder stumbles to his feet, he tiptoes to lean an ear to my door. The chiseled muscles on his bare back are tense. With his back to me, I notice those scars again. I frown, knowing that someone caused him a tremendous amount of pain at some point in this man’s life.

Mike turns around and tiptoes playfully to me, his body sways a bit from side to side. “You, my kitten, look incredible in those shorts -damn!” he whispers mischievously.

“You look terrible,” I lie. He could be wearing a paper bag over his head and still look incredible. I pivot my body to face him and let my feet dangle off the bed.

Mike places his hands on his hips in front of me. “Do I really look that bad?” he jokes.

I let a smile expose itself, then nod while pinching my nose to tease him. Suddenly, he’s on top of me and tickles my sides in a tight grip while I try not to laugh.

“Stop –Mike - stop!” I whisper in a grasp for breath. He releases his hold but rests his elbows on either side of my shoulders, so not all his weight is on me; he still presses me into the mattress a bit. Resting his chin on the back of his interlocked hands above my chest, he smiles at me. His body is so warm as it lays on mine -even though he’s been out in the chili air. It’s like he’s on fire, and I welcome the roaring flames.

“What?” I ask with intrigue.

“I have a couple of questions for you, Miss Cochran,” he’s playfully authoritative as he taps my nose with a finger. There’s also a hint of alcohol on his breath.

“I have questions for you too, mister,” I tease.

His brows knit together as he stares at my mouth. “Me, first.” I roll my eyes at that statement. “Hey, you went first last time.” He gives me a pointed look.

A sigh leaves me before I smile. “Fine.”

Mike’s glazed orbs sweep over my face then down at my chest. “Damn, you are beautiful,” he slurs as he meets my eyes once more then leans down to give me a quick peck on the lips.

Every time he kisses me, it steals my very breath away. “That’s not a question,” I divert breathlessly.

His nose flirts with mine while we share an Eskimo kiss. “Why do you still have my clothes?” he amuses and directs his head towards my desk where his t-shirt and sweatshirt are folded neatly.

If I could facepalm myself, I would, but my arms are trapped under him. “Uh...” I stutter. “I just... kept forgetting to give them back.” I can feel my face turn pink.

“It’s fine. I was just curious; I haven’t seen you wear them at all. I’d prefer you to wear them.” He winks with exaggeration.

“Well...it’s just...” This is so embarrassing. “I prefer the clothes to smell like you...” I feel my face turn from pink to crimson. There’s a small part of me that’s afraid that if I gave the clothes back, I wouldn’t get another article of clothing from him...

He lets out a low whispered chuckle. I can feel his abdomen contract on my stomach.

“What?” I ask on defense.

He sobers his mirth. “Nothing.” He smirks at me. “That can be arranged, kitten.”

It’s truly ridiculous how this man makes me feel. I have never had anyone look at me the way he does; it’s like I’m his only desire. I can only hope that’s true...

He dislodges his fingers to place his hands on either side of my head while still resting the top half of himself on his elbows. Using a finger, he brushes a few strands of hair away from my face then lowers himself to kiss my neck. The sensation is unreal; I could get used to this. Those lips trail their way along my jawline to my mouth. The man hovers over me and gazes into my eyes.

“Why did you call out my name that night?” Mike’s question came out hesitant, with less of a slur.

I blink. I was not expecting that question. Somewhere deep inside, I knew he would ask me that sooner or later. My pulse speeds up.

With a deep inhale, I close my eyes to prepare myself.

“Hey.” Mike’s voice is deep but tender. “Don’t close your eyes. Look at me, please?”

Opening my eyes, I see Mike’s pupils are dilated. The glow from my desk lamp picks up the tiny slivers of the dark green color of his eyes. His focus is solely on me.

“I’m not sure,” I tell him. It’s almost inaudible, breathless. Still locking my sights on him, I confess, “Your name was the first to come to mind.” I take another breath as he studies me. “Declan couldn’t help me, and you’re the only other person that I knew who was supposed to be there...”

The need to pick at my nails is an irritating itch that I can’t scratch. Thanks to the weighted man on top of me, my hands are sealed against my waist.

“Elena,” he whispers with sorrow, and his eyes are glossy. “I am so sorry.”

“You don’t need to keep apologizing, Mike. It’s not your burden to bear. It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t know.” I hope he can hear the truth. I hate that he’s hanging on to this guilt.

A quiet sigh from him fans the wisps of my hair around my face, and the smell of the alcohol flows up my nose. His eyes are heavy.

“My turn,” I say, to change the subject.
“Are you drunk?”

His sights focus on my lips as he confesses, “I’m drunk off you.” He winks, and I roll my eyes with a light laugh.

“Very smooth, Casanova.”

He twirls his thumb along my neck. “Do you have any siblings?” I ask.

That smirk develops again. “Nope. My parents got it right the first time.”

I let out a soft giggle. “Do you have any plans for after high school?” My jittery fingers find themselves playing with the pocket seams of his sweatpants.

He takes a beat. “No. Just working at the shop.”

“How long have you been working there?” I ask.

Lifting himself, he moves his body to lay next to mine. I turn my head and watch him as he props an elbow up to rest his head in his hand. The other hand traces light tingly circles on my naked thigh. “Since I moved out on my own,” he answers.

“You were sixteen?” I double-check the information from our date.

“Yes,” he confirms while his finger traces my skin.

I can’t contain the storm of butterflies in my belly as they create goosebumps down the leg he’s touching. He smiles as he witnesses how my body reacts to him, though I try to tell myself it’s the slight breeze pouring in through the window.

Questions. I need to ask more questions to get my mind off of focusing only on his touch. If I don’t come up with another question fast, I’ll be nothing but putty at his mercy.

“When did you buy the house next door?”

The tracing stops; he looks at me. I swear those eyes just turned cold. “A few months ago.” He says with a hint of callousness—a complete one-eighty from his attitude when he first slinked through my window.

“That’s a really nice house to be able to afford it by yourself,” I mention. He huffs and slides his elbow out from under him to lay back on the bed. Bringing his hand up, he pushes the palm into his forehead.

Me and my questions, I can be so nosy sometimes. I hate that about myself; it’s just... he’s eighteen, right? How can an eighteen-year-old afford a house like that? Not to mention also to pay all the bills that go with it...

“I saved up for a long time, Elena,” his voice is grim.

“But--” I begin.

“Enough questions,” Mike snaps. “My head is killing me.” He groans into his arm.

Feeling awful for pushing him too far, I sit upon my knees to face him. “I’m sorry. Do you have a migraine?” I ask.

He nods his head with his eyes closed. “It’s just a constant pounding headache.”

“I can help with that,” I offer.

A single eye opens with an arch of a dark brow.

I tell him to scoot down, so there’s room for me to sit at the top of the bed. He follows my instructions. Helping him lift his head to rest it on my lap, I begin to massage his head, temples, and eyebrows.

His dark thick hair is soft and tickles my bare legs. With the way his mouth falls open a bit, I can tell he is relaxed.

“Oh, this feels so good,” he moans.

“Is it helping?” I hope it is. I hate seeing him in any kind of pain.

Mike nods his head under my hands.

“Where did you learn how to do this?” he asks me.

I draw in a breath. “My mother was a teacher and massage therapist. I learned it all from her.”

His eyes open. “What happened to her?” he asks under his breath.

Kneading my fingers into the nape of his neck, I spill, “Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma took her life after three years of fighting.”

Those green irises are still gazing at me while I work the back of his neck and his scalp. “I’m so sorry, Elena...How old were you?” he finally speaks.

“Twelve,” I tell him.

Those dark emeralds hide behind the lids for a moment before they stare back at me once more. The owner of the dark sea green abysses state with tenderness, “You must really miss her.”

I barely whisper back. “I do.”

Mike reaches up to stroke a strand of my hair. He tucks it behind my ear from practically being a curtain around my face while looking down at him. “You are so beautiful.” The statement rolls off his tongue with a velvety touch; his hand drops to land on his chest near his tattoo and scar.

My heart skips a beat at his compliment. I try to hide my woozy reaction by rolling my eyes. “You’re drunk,” I remind him with a smile and rub his eyebrows.

With his eyes closed, he flashes those dimples. “No, babe. I’m not that drunk.” I let out a half-hearted giggle.

“Mike?”

A faint “Yeah” comes out of his mouth.

“If you don’t mind...I do have one more question,” I mention in hopes that he’ll let me ask. There are so many questions for him; one of them is to see if he’s my boyfriend now...but I’m not sure if I should ask that yet. Besides, the mystery of the scars on his body, which is dominating my curiosity more than our possible title at the moment.

He opens his eyes to look up at me. His pupils are enlarged again; maybe it’s because there’s not much light in here. I pull my hair off to one shoulder while I wait for his answer.

“Alright,” he finally replies.

I tread carefully. “How did you get those scars on your back? Your chest?”

We stare into each other’s eyes for a moment while I gently knead his temples. He grabs my wrist to stop me, then sits up on the bed, letting his feet touch the floor. Mike rakes a hand through his hair before he answers me.

“Elena, I’m not sure you really want to know.” Those heavy eyes turn to me.

I scooch closer to him and wrap my arms around his large frame then rest my head on his shoulder.

“Someone hurt you really bad, huh?” I ask on a whisper and kiss his shoulder.

I reach down for his hand on his lap to caress the scarred knuckles. He stares at my door while I study him. This poor man is like an onion; there are so many layers...

He crosses his other hand to squeeze my forearm gently, then says, “I should get going.” There’s hardly any emotion in his words.

With weighted instant regret, I pull myself away from him. “I’m sorry if I crossed a line,” I apologize as he gathers his clothes from my desk then climbs out the window.

Mike motions for me to meet him there, so I do. He reaches for my neck to pull my head through the gap then kisses me on the lips with soft pressure.

“You didn’t, babe. I just don’t want to talk about it right now. Thank you for helping my migraine.”

“Yeah,” I mumble.

As he places the screen back up, he tells me to have a goodnight. I shut my window and lock it while he walks away. After plugging my computer in on my desk, I snuggle up with my pillows as Mike treads through my thoughts.

Will he ever let me in?

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