The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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To Hell With Playing It Safe

Present Day

Ivan woke up with a groan, wincing at the stiff feeling that had formed in his neck. Opening his eyes, he took in the familiar area of the lab’s lounge around him. Running his hand over his face, he glanced over to where Elinor was sleeping soundly on the couch only to bolt up suddenly at the sight of it empty, Wells’s journal sitting in her place. He glanced around the lounge area, eyes wandering over the kitchen in the distance for any signs from her. Frowning, Ivan pushed himself up from the chair and quickly wandered off.

A sense of panic washed over him as he wondered if she had managed to make her escape from the lab. Perhaps she had gotten fed up with her insane lifestyle and decided to make a run for it, somewhere that no one would ever find her. This fear was starting to eat at him until he finally caught sight of her standing just outside his bedroom door.

Relief washed over Ivan at the sight of Elinor, a small smile playing at the corner of his lips when he had noticed that she was wearing a large Atari t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. It wasn’t like her usual unique looks but needless to say, she looked just as pretty in this as any other outfit she wore.

He picked up his pace to meet her, only to slow down when her eyes made contact with his, her arms crossing tightly over her chest as she sucked in a shaky breath. He wanted to embrace her or at the very least, reassure her that everything was going to be fine – but after the atom bomb that was just dropped onto her yesterday, he had a suspicion from her harsh glare that she was going to be as cold as ice towards him.

She frowned slightly at the sight of Ivan, her thoughts racing with the words Layla had spoken to her just a short half an hour ago. Layla encouraged her to embrace what little she had left because there was no guarantee she’d have it tomorrow. Not too long ago, she was just an ordinary person – as ordinary as a young entrepreneur could ever be. She was the owner of a successful, thriving bookstore, an active member in the community she adored. She didn’t have many friends or family members in this community but every customer that ever walked through that door and made an effort to support her business. They were her friends. They were all she needed. Her life was perfect, neat, and safe.

That was until she had the rug pulled out from underneath her.

In another timeline, this Elinor existed – but that was all history. As far as she was concerned, neither her, her town, or her bookstore ever existed.

All because some evil, twisted organization named Whittaker went back in time and killed H.G. Wells – a man, her father, who held the key to her entire future, over a damn piece of knowledge. She would have festered over these thoughts longer had it not been for the sound of Ivan’s voice interrupting.

“El?” he spoke softly, making sure to keep his distance as he glanced over her carefully.

He decided that his best approach would be to tread carefully, so as to not ruffle anymore feathers. Her arms were crossed tightly across her chest as she took in every detail on his face.

Elinor absolutely despised the way his eyebrows were knit together in concern, the way his soft eyes delicately took in every stiff movement, every little closed off action as she tried more and more to distance herself from him.

Ivan’s lips pressed into a tight line, catching on to the message that she was trying to send without muttering a word...

Leave me the hell alone.”

He should have heeded this warning but something kept him from moving on. Instead of opening his mouth and speaking another word, Ivan found himself standing before her with the same stiff posture.

Something about this action made her tense body and her blue eyes spark with something he was all too familiar with.

“You can’t take a damn hint, can you?” she mumbled, unfolding her arms.

He met her response with a simple shrug, his eyes innocently keeping locked with hers. This only seemed to further encourage her to speak out, which was exactly what he was going for.

At some point, she’d have to blurt out what was on her mind or what was bothering her. He had no clue what he had done to piss the woman off, so he wasn’t entirely sure why she was acting this way.

“You’re such a-” she clamped her mouth shut, shaking her head. Elinor decided that the best course of action at this moment was to remove herself from the situation.

Without finishing her sentence, she barged through the door that was behind her, attempting to slam it shut in Ivan’s face – but much to her dismay, his foot caught it just in time.

“Get out,” she grumbled, an edge to her voice as she looked down at her feet. “I want to be alone.”

“Well then, I guess you better find someplace else to be alone because last I checked... you’re in my room.”

Elinor lifted her head as her mouth hung open, ready to retort – but upon taking in the sight of a room with very few books, some mens clothes, and other belongings… It became painfully clear that Layla had strategically left her alone outside this door on purpose.

“Clever girl,” Elinor thought, gritting her teeth slightly.

She backed away from the door as she let out a frustrated laugh, covering the fact that there were tears forming in her eyes as she ran her hand through her hair.

“I don’t understand, why are you so hellbent on being in my life?” she asked firmly, glancing at where he stood in the doorway. “Why did you feel it was so important to travel back to 1931 to save me?”

He made sure to push his way into his room before responding to her. Once the door was shut, he found himself facing her and her question. This response – well. Needless to say, it surprised the hell out of Ivan. He was trying to coax the woman into a healing conversation, one that would encourage her to open up about what was bothering her. He never anticipated that the thing eating at her wouldn’t be time travel, her lineage, or even the fact that her life was seemingly in shambles.

He wasn’t expecting the thing bothering her at this moment to be him.

When Ivan failed to respond, Elinor took his quiet demeanor and serious expression as him encouraging her to elaborate – when in reality he was trying to process what she said. She decided that he needed some help with spelling out everything he was responsible for.

“Let’s think about it this way,” she began, a firmness to her tone. “If you had not come into my life, there would be so, so many things that are wrong now that would be fixed.”

No one ever takes into account how words can be just as painful and as powerful as physical altercations. Elinor’s words had enough of an impact to almost feel as if he was punched in the gut, knocking the wind out of him.

“Excuse me?” Ivan finally managed to find his voice, though this outburst caused his voice to tumble out in a surprised whisper.

Elinor was unaware of the hurt in his voice as she threw her hands up. It felt as if she were explaining a simple problem to a young child. He was really starting to get under her skin.

“Think about it, Ivan! If you had not come into my life, it wouldn’t be in ruins right now. Hell, I’d still have my hometown to return to, my bookstore, maybe even my family-”

Ivan heard it all. It was enough to make it clear that not only was she pissed – but there was something else at the surface, encouraging her to lash out like this.

“You think I wanted all of this?” he began, his voice eerily stern. She picked up on something in his tone, the way he struggled to speak at a higher volume. Beneath the quietness laid a hint of brokenness – he felt hurt.

She still couldn’t bring herself to look him in the eyes but that didn’t stop him from continuing on with what needed to be said.

“You really think I wanted to barge into some life, prepared to make the difficult call? We knew the risk going in... Your life was at stake. Whittaker would stop at nothing. If we, if I... had not come into your life, you would have been as good as dead by now.”

He was done hiding that fact from her, the fact that she was too ignorant or scared to face. Without him acting on his impulses, his damn desire to get to know more about this person that was captivating and plaguing his thoughts – he wouldn’t have made the effort to meet with her on a regular basis. One could argue that he was purely doing it for the sake of the mission but deep down he knew the truth.

He thought for sure his response must have stirred something up in the woman, for Elinor remained silent for a brief moment. Finally, after giving it some deep thought, she blinked. He noticed that this blink was her attempt to hold back tears that were forming but they escaped and gave her away.

“I never asked for this,” her voice broke finally, encouraging her tears to fall freely.

Ivan – hell, did he ever feel the heaviness of her words. He also never asked to be a victim of being accused of an incident that wasn’t his fault, for his family to be casualties of the terrible accident. This was just the reality of life – no one ever asks for the heartbreaking, soul-crushing outcome.

“Asked for what?” he questioned her, taking in the devastation that remained with her eyes.

Everything that broke out in the last few moments was far from anger – what lashed out was fear. Rightfully so, Elinor had much to fear and everything she could have lost, she already did. All that she had left to cling onto was her life.

There was no other hope.

It was like watching a dam burst – a wave of every emotion, every fear, every doubt-filled thought came crashing down and out of Elinor’s trembling lips.

“I never asked to be exposed to this lifestyle. To time travel? To watch a member of my family die before my eyes? To see my entire home wiped off the map?”

Licking her lips, she ran a hand through her hair – focusing her gaze on the ceiling as she threw out more things on her list. “I never asked to be sent forward in a damn time machine, to figure out why I never fit in anywhere that I went! I never wanted to find out that my entire life was a lie, that my real parents were murdered in cold blood.”

As the more things left her lips, the more she lost control of what she was saying. Through it all, Ivan stood quietly and soaked it all in. None of it really surprised him until her last set of words left her lips.

“And you know what? Out of all the insanity, the thing I really never asked for was to end up being so damn attached to you that I have to fear losing you!” she spat out, unaware of how loud her voice was.

She watched as Ivan’s face went from soft and listening to slightly surprised and blank. The kind of surprised look that included his eyes growing wide as his jaw hung slightly.

It felt like she was back in her bookstore, staring at him the first time they ever met. She opened her mouth to question him on why he was staring at her when the realization of what exactly she just said came to her.

“Shit,” she thought to herself, her hands shooting up to her face.

Elinor stumbled on her words, her face flushing red as she nervously took a step back from him.

“No, No... I’m sorry, I did not.. I didn’t mean...” It almost looked as if she were going to burst into tears again, only this time from pure embarrassment instead of anger.

He knew he needed to snap back into reality and calm her down.

“El?” Ivan piped up, trying to catch the attention of the flustered woman.

When she didn’t respond, he approached her carefully and spoke softly. “El? Please look at me.”

She was one step away from pacing the room – had it not been for the feeling of his hands lightly grasping her arms, encouraging her to finally face him she probably would have.

Ivan had every intention of reciprocating her words, of making it clear that he felt the same. For ages now, they danced around the issue – the moments of closeness, in both proximity and in expressing the truth. They both knew what was there, how they felt, and how they wanted to express it. The last time he did express it, Whittaker had stolen her away from him before he had the chance to show her.

Now the opportunity was presenting itself again and he would be damned to let it pass by them again.

However, words were failing him. His mind was unable to communicate with his lips, encouraging them to say something. He couldn’t think properly staring into those eyes. There was something beautiful about the way her eyes exposed everything.

Hurt, fear, and sadness were evident – as clear as the beautiful blue orbs that stared back at his own. Beyond the blue, was the rarity – that hint of green that he had grown fond of looking for. Her eyes were a peculiar mix and beyond all the brokenness was something that no one ever got close enough to see.

Strength, bravery – everything this young woman preached that she was not but that she was too blind to see.

It only took a moment for him to realize that his silence was losing Elinor, that she was about to leave the safety of his grasp, and the thought frightened him.

He was letting the moment pass them again, so he did the only thing his mind could think of doing.

He closed the gap that stood between them, the crater that kept them apart for too damn long. His own fear of letting him fall back in with someone and her fear of trusting someone forced a gap that never allowed them to even consider anything more.

The vulnerability of the moment gave them another opportunity for something neither one of them thought would ever be possible again as his lips met hers in a swift, gentle movement. The sensation of her soft lips against his brought back memories of the way he kissed her the first time, the way their first moment of truly connecting had left an impressionable spark.

Elinor was surprised at his rash decision – it all happened so fast, she barely had a chance to register what exactly she was getting herself into before she found herself relaxing in the way his hands held onto her arms. Being this close allowed her to take in the familiar, musky scent of a man who never lacked the ability to always keep her on her toes.

He was constantly saving her – from the moment he helped her through her panic attack, to saving her from an untimely death at the hands of Whittaker, to where she was now. His kiss was a reminder that she had not lost everything – there was a future ahead of her with opportunities to pursue anything she desired.

At this moment, her only desire was what had been before her all this time – as she found herself melting into his kiss, ready to lose herself in his embrace, and to give into everything she had been fighting from the moment they found themselves becoming acquainted.

Her arms found their way around his neck, pulling her closer and furthering what he started – what she longed for. She barely had a chance to flourish in the proximity of his lips upon hers, when she felt them parting from hers. She was welcoming him to further this moment with her but the feeling of disappointment washed over as she felt him pull away from her.

She opened her eyes slowly, fearing it all had been a dream but to her relief, and to her confusion, she locked eyes with Ivan, who looked about as guilty as hell.

She had to push past her own dizziness, confusion, and disappointment to fully understand what this look of guilt meant.

“That was wrong of me,” he mumbled the truth, unable to meet her eyes anymore.

She was still dazed from the impression of his lips still tingling on hers – but a sudden jolt of pain filled her chest, washing that feeling away. If there was something wrong with that kiss, hell – she could hardly imagine what it being right would feel like.

“I’m sorry?” she blinked, a hint of surprise in her tone.

She was now worried that maybe she misread his intentions – maybe he never felt anything for her truly and this kiss was the only way he could think to shut her up. She couldn’t bring herself to believe she had been played again.

Focusing on her tone and looking up to see her broken expression, he shook his head, raising his hand to stop her from thinking anymore.

“Don’t take my actions the wrong way, I know I should have asked – it’s just that it was wrong of me to kiss you without permission.”

It took every ounce of control she had to keep her eyes from growing wide when the realization of what he was trying to say had finally hit her. Knowing that she was a victim of previous abuse, he was worried about her feelings in all of this. Another man used his words as a weapon to leave her heart and soul bruised, beaten, afraid. Simple actions such as touch, close proximity, even a simple glance from another man made her nervous.

Any other circumstance with any other person kissing her would have resulted in her pushing the man off of her, earning him a swift fist to the jaw. However, she noticed pretty early on that things were different with Ivan – and for the first time in a long time, she allowed herself to get caught up in the moment.

To get caught up in him again.

Her hands were shaking slightly, she wasn’t for sure if it was from nerves or excitement. Maybe she was overwhelmed that there was actually someone out there with a decent enough heart to take into consideration asking her about something that would normally be simple, such as a kiss.

Perhaps her hands were actually shaking at the thought of what she was about to do.

She lifted her arms to slide them around his neck, the action encouraging him to look at her face again as she gave him a warm smile.

“If you would like to try again, maybe we can fix what was so wrong about that first kiss,” she bit down on her lower lip, chuckling slightly. “Erm… I guess technically that was our third or fourth kiss, seeing as we’ve done this before,” she lowered her voice, leaning in towards him.

She wasn’t for sure if her offer would be enough to make him feel comfortable enough to try again so soon. He looked hesitantly between her eyes and her lips before finally making his decision.

His arms welcomed her small frame into the safety of his embrace, his hands bringing her as close to him as possible as he caught her lips in another kiss.

This kiss, unlike the first, took her breath away. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she was the one who was encouraging it or more accurately, encouraging him, that it was okay. Maybe it had everything to do with the way that with each kiss or gentle embrace from his hands trailing up her back, he was trying to be careful and considerate of her.

Once his hands found their way to her hair and the sensation of his kiss slowly, hungrily deepened, she let out a gentle moan that only encouraged him further. She could feel him guiding her to the edge of a very, very dangerous cliff. He was begging her with every tender kiss and with every gentle embrace to fall over the edge with him, to give into something that she had never even dared to before.

She wasn’t certain when she had given him the invitation to take this further but somewhere along the way, the two had found their way to his bed, where they had tumbled into it together only to continue with the same amount of fervent, deep passion with every kiss as before.

With every article of clothing that was shed, she could feel every single doubt, fear, and uncertainty of her past and future disappear under the warmth of his lips, leaving a blazing trail along her skin, his embrace welcoming her, encouraging her to become one with him. She could feel her woes melting with every deep, passionate kiss, with every opportunity he took to use his voice to whisper in her ear – her heart giving in to him as her mind came to one final decision as she fell completely over the edge.

To hell with playing it safe.

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