The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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Unprepared

Present Day


Ivan had almost forgotten what it was like to be able to lose himself, to forget about reality for a period of time, in the warmth of someone else. He could honestly barely remember what it felt like to be so captivated by the presence of another woman, let alone so caught up in one.

Elinor slept soundly in his arms, wrapped up in her blanket as she curled up against him with her head laying on his chest. His eyes carefully took in her peaceful expression, the way her eyes fluttered softly during her deep sleep, to how her lips parted so that she could breathe faintly. He loved the way the wisps of her hair fell naturally around her face, encouraging him to gingerly tuck the strands behind her ear as he gazed at her thoughtfully as a memory crossed his mind. His wife, Aubrey, used to enjoy it when he would play with her hair.

He frowned slightly at the memory of his wife, his hand resting behind Elinor’s head as he cradled her. He swore to himself that he would never give into anyone after what happened, and he made that clear from the day he asked Aubrey to be in his life. Aubrey, however, made him promise that if anything were to ever happen to her, that he wouldn’t keep himself from finding solace in someone again. He was determined to do the exact opposite of what he had promised, hellbent on being alone so that he wouldn’t have to go through the heartache of losing someone again. Then Elinor Elsner happened and she caught him off guard. He couldn’t wrap his mind around how he had managed to end up so fortunate.

Delicately kissing the top of her head and taking in the soft scent of her hair, he gently stroked her back with his fingers, enjoying the softness of her skin. Elinor stirred slightly at the gentle sensation, her eyes gently fluttering open as she let out a soft moan. Her head tilted up so that she could lock eyes with his, the sight of her blue eyes curiously wandering over his face brought a smile to his face.

Her stomach fluttered slightly the moment he smiled at her, her eyes gazing intensely into his bright pair of green eyes. She was trying to make sense as to why he was staring at her deeply, her lips parting in surprise as she remembered the soft, heated way they gave into their desires.

Her face flushing red, she let out a small groan as she pulled her blanket tightly around her, nuzzling her face into the warmth of Ivan’s neck. She squeezed her eyes shut as the memories from earlier flooded her mind, her heart pounding with excitement. She couldn’t believe that she had actually allowed herself to take Layla’s advice on not wasting time.

Ivan chuckled softly at her reaction, taking pleasure in the way she shivered at the sensation of his fingers along her back. “What’s wrong?” he asked quietly, resting his chin on her head. He had a feeling he already knew what was weighing on her mind, judging by the redness of her face he imagined that she was remembering their moments of intimacy from earlier this morning.

She let out a gentle huff, slightly bothered but also enjoying the way he seemed to be relishing her shy nature. Removing her face from his neck slightly so that she could speak, she sighed softly. “I’m just thinking,” she mumbled quietly, resting her head on his chest so that she could take in the sound of his heart beating.

“Ah.” He nodded, trailing his finger lightly up her back, smiling softly at the feeling of her relaxing into him. “Anything specific on your mind?”

She pursed her lips, thinking deeply for a moment before speaking. “I’m just trying to wrap my mind around some things,” she admitted, her fingers running over his chest lightly.

“What kind of things?” he inquired, glancing down at her. He couldn’t help but smile at the way she was trying to return the favor of his gentle strokes along her back, the trail her gentle fingers left along his chest helping him to relax.

Her expression had grown slightly bemused, her eyebrows knitting together as she stopped her fingers from roaming for a short period.. “Things like… you, me, us,” she acknowledged, encouraging her hand to just rest soundly against his chest.

“I like the sound of there being an us,” he assured her, watching as her expression darkened slightly. The sight of her bright eyes shifting so suddenly left him feeling slightly alarmed but he decided not to say anything about it. He figured it would be best to let her open up about it.

Releasing a heavy sigh, she encouraged her fingers to trace little hearts along his chest. She figured he probably found it amusing but what he didn’t realize was that this was one of her usual nervous ticks, signifying that she was seconds away from tears filling her eyes. “I’m trying to understand how after everything that has happened, you still seem to want me around,” she explained, shrugging her shoulders as she began blinking rapidly. “I guess after losing everything, I’m just terrified I’m going to lose you, too.”

Ivan pressed his lips tightly together, his other hand reaching out to gently caress her cheek as he tilted her head to look up at him. Staring longingly into her soft, searching eyes, he had hoped that his unwavering gaze would be enough to melt away any doubts that she might have. Taking in the way the serious, dark gaze of her eyes shifted into a soft, longing observance, the way her lips parted slightly, her eyes flicking slowly between his eyes and his lips, he pretty much gathered that his plan had worked.

“If you think I’m just going to walk away because your life has gotten a little more difficult, then I’m afraid I’ve done a terrible job at showing you what type of man I really am. I would never abandon you. Especially in your time of need, El,” he assured her, his thumb lightly stroking her cheek.

She shook her head slightly, tearing her gaze from his eyes. “No, I would never think that,” she promised him, sighing. “I just mean that after Whittaker has stolen everything from me, I fear that they’ll take you away from me, too.”

His hand shifted from using his thumb to gradually stroke her cheek, to cupping her face tenderly as he encouraged her to lock eyes with him. “You’re not going to lose me. You have my word.”

She relaxed into his hand, her eyes wandering over his face. He seemed sincere with his words, his gentle gaze pretty much confirming that he meant every single word. She thought over the time they had spent together today, locked in the secrecy of his room and in the fervent embrace of each other. He had done countless things to assure her that she could trust him, and she was willing to allow herself to believe him enough to give into him again.

Instead of responding with words, she leaned in closer to his face, deciding to prove that she trusted him with actions instead of words, letting herself get caught up in his scent as she welcomed the gentle embrace of his warmth.

Ivan kissed her ardently, wrapping his arms around her gently as he pulled her closer to him.

She sighed softly against him, parting her lips slightly and allowing him to drink in the firmness of her kisses, the gentle way her body responded to his desire to be closer to her. She was encouraging him to take the plunge with her again, to be lost for just another spell before they had to face the reality of what was outside the bedroom door. She could tell that he was slowly warming up to the idea, rolling her over so that she was laying in the coziness of his pillows and beneath the warmth of his gentle gaze. He had caught her lips in another passionate kiss, ready to lose himself again with her beneath the secrecy of their blankets when the sudden sound of Ivan’s door swinging open broke the two apart.

Gasping softly, Elinor broke away from Ivan quickly as Ivan fell back to laying at Elinor’s side, making sure that their bodies were covered beneath the safety of their blanket. The two glanced towards the doorway, Ivan groaning and Elinor’s face flushing red at the sight of Brackston standing there, his mouth hanging open and his eyes wide with shock.

“Dammit,” Ivan thought to himself, clenching his jaw slightly. “Of all the people…”

Oh my sweet baby Yoda,” Brackston mumbled, interrupting Ivan’s thoughts. Running his hands over his eyes, Brackston tried to block his view from what he had just walked in on, willing himself to erase the thought from his memories. “Why does this shit keep happening to me?”

“Maybe if you tried knocking,” Ivan suggested, an annoyed huff escaping his lips. “This stuff wouldn’t happen so often.”

Elinor had pulled her blanket up to her nose, her eyes peering over the edge of the blanket. Ivan seemed irritated with this inconvenience but Elinor felt absolutely mortified. A part of her silently wished that she could disappear at this moment.

“Or maybe since you two are actually going at it, you should try using the sock on the door idea for what’s actually meant for,” Brackston pointed out, shaking his head in disbelief. “You know, instead of using it as a cover to sneak out…”

“Do you need something?” Ivan asked gruffly, giving Brackston a dark glare. The longer the man stood in the doorway, the more Elinor slipped underneath the safety of her blanket. He was worried that he’d never be able to coax her out from under there at this rate.

Brackston slowly backed into the hallway, shaking his head as he grabbed onto the door handle. “Nope, nothing of importance. Layla just wanted me to check and see if you guys were up to playing a board game but seeing as you’re already playing a different type of game-”

“Brackston…” Ivan growled, frightening the pilot with his stern, gravelly voice.

“Hint taken,” Brackston replied, his eyes wide as he quickly pulled the door shut.

Elinor let out a pitiful groan from underneath the blanket as soon as she had heard the door shut, causing Ivan to stare amused. Her head poking out from underneath the safety of her blanket, she gazed at his playful expression. “Am I allowed to kick his ass now?” she asked seriously, her eyes lit up with an irritable glint.

Chuckling softly, Ivan shook his head as he pulled her back into his arms, his lips lingering close to hers. “Maybe later, after we finish what we’ve started,” he suggested softly, enjoying the sight of a smile crossing her face just seconds before he caught her lips in another deep, passionate kiss.

<>

Over the next couple of weeks, things started to fall into a steady rhythm inside the lab. Elinor quickly learned the layout of where things were, including a secret stash of snacks Ivan had hidden for his own selfish indulgence but he was willing to share his stash with her. She thought that she was going to end up stuck sleeping on the couch in the lounge area for the rest of her time here but she was grateful that Ivan had encouraged Agent Simone to bring an additional cot for her. Ivan was going to work on helping her set up one of her own rooms just down the hall from his but with very little persuasion, she was able to get him to agree with the idea of just sharing his room.

Things with the rest of the team members were surprisingly going well, the transition of accepting Elinor as one of their own now came much easier to the group than she had anticipated it to. Even Lula, who she remembered being slightly closed off from her before was starting to warm up to her. Carter was the only one who still seemed standoffish but she just gathered it was due to the fact that he was a soldier and his mission was to protect his team. With her around, she was pretty much a threat to everything he was sworn to defend.

Elinor was slowly growing content with the safe, warm lifestyle of life inside the lab. There were still moments she missed everything from her old life, to the point that she would find herself tearing up at times, or even waking up in the middle of the night from violent nightmares.

As time went on, she slowly felt herself falling dangerously close into another slump, one that was weighing on her heavily for some reason. The last couple of days had been tense in the lab, and especially tense for her. Everyone was struggling with being in the confines of the lab. From what she could tell, the time travelers had gotten used to being in mission mode. Whittaker being this quiet for this long was something of an oddity around here, one that caused discomfort and uncertainty to linger in the air.

It all seemed to be weighing on Ivan the most, for it made his interactions with Carter all the more interesting. Elinor picked up very early on that there was bad blood between the two, she wished she understood why. Ivan wasn’t ready to talk about it with her yet and she wasn’t about to press Carter for answers. As far as she knew, Ivan’s distress was a result of Carter’s distrust in her.

Tired of facing it all, Elinor focused on losing herself in one of the books she had managed to pack in her backpack. She was laying on the couch in the lounge area, trying to ignore the discomfort from all the tension weighing on her body. She felt exhausted, rest and sound sleep being a thing of the past. For whatever reason, her nightmares were growing more vivid and more sinister the more time went on. The last two nights had been especially rough, to the point she would wake Ivan up with her tears. She tried to push those thoughts aside, forcing herself to focus on the words on the page but she was hardly registering what she was reading. She was too locked up on the concern that something seemed to be wrong with her.

Elinor would have fought with her thoughts for a couple moments longer had it not been for the sound of sirens echoing through the quiet lab, causing her to jump slightly as she dropped her book, losing her spot. Her eyebrows furrowed together at the sight of Brackston and Layla taking off in the direction of the control room, where she had learned that the time machine spent his time.

Elinor was amused to find out one day that Layla had given the time machine a gender, an identity, and a name. She often referred to the time machine as Philip, saying that he was as sarcastic and as cocky as both Brackston and herself. Most of her conversations regarding the time machine had been lighthearted and fun but as she wandered slowly into the control room, she had a feeling that the next few moments were going to be nothing like that.

“Arnis, Germany. September 28, 1924,” Layla stated, swiveling her chair around to face the rest of the team members making their way into the room.

Elinor barely registered that Ivan had sauntered up to her until she felt his arm wrap around her shoulder. Even as she leaned into him, she felt distracted by the date Layla had thrown out. She couldn’t help but feel that there was something familiar about it.

All eyes fell to Lula as the historian pondered the date for a couple of moments. After a few seconds in silence, Lula shrugged her shoulders as she shook her head.

Agent Simone had made it into the room just before Lula shook her head, her lips pressing tightly together. It didn’t make the agent feel comfortable that they were walking into a mission with very little facts, especially with Whittaker going as far as they have been lately. “Brackston, Ivan, Lula and Carter… Be careful,” Agent Simone stated, her eyebrows furrowing at Lula and Carter’s pale expressions. “What’s wrong?”

Lula carefully hugged herself around her waist as Carter rubbed his hand over the back of his neck sheepishly.

Elinor tilted her head slightly, eyes wandering over the two awkwardly avoiding eye contact with the other members. She was about to whisper to Ivan about it but Lula opening her mouth distracted her.

“I can’t time travel,” Lula mumbled, her brown eyes flicking up nervously, looking to Carter for comfort.

“Why not?” Brackston piped up, eyebrows knitting together.

Lula drew her lower lip in between her teeth, her hands shaking slightly. “Because I’m pregnant,” she replied, her voice barely audible.

Elinor was surprised by how quickly the room had grown silent, to the point that she could hear the soft humming of the strange noises in the lab around her. Elinor had wondered why she had never noticed anything different about Lula but she figured it must have been pretty early in the pregnancy, and it didn’t help that she was constantly wearing oversized shirts. Elinor focused on everyone around her, noting that there was a different expression on their faces, all of which were somewhat amusing.

Brackston was staring at Layla, his lips parted and his eyebrows raised with surprise. Layla met his gaze with an equally as surprised look on her face.

She was about to glance up at Ivan to get a read on his expression but her eyes fell on Agent Simone, who looked both bothered and unsurprised by this news. “How far along?” the agent asked, glancing carefully at Lula.

Lula swallowed hard, her hands nervously wringing together. “About five weeks,” she admitted.

Agent Simone nodded slowly, giving the historian a small smile. “Thank you for being honest. This definitely makes things interesting but I’m afraid we’ll have to talk about that later,” Agent Simone stated, turning her gaze to where Brackston and Layla sat. “Layla, you’ll be assisting the team on this mission. Be careful,”

Elinor barely had a chance to read Layla’s expression before Ivan turned Elinor to face him, his hands resting on her arms. She glanced up softly into his eyes, enjoying the simple way he smiled at her.

“Try not to do anything too rash while I’m gone, okay?” he encouraged, watching as she nodded her head slowly.

“Only if you promise to be careful,” she whispered softly.

He nodded in response, giving her a small smile as he leaned forward to press a gentle kiss to her lips before making his way to the time machine.

She watched silently as the hatch to the time machine closed, the ship disappearing a few short moments later, filling the room with a rush of wind.

Elinor released a heavy sigh that she wasn’t aware that she had been holding in, her hands nervously wrapping around her waist as she tried to hold back the wave of nerves that were upsetting her stomach. She couldn’t help but feel that there was not only something familiar about the date that they were traveling to, but that they were about to walk into something they were completely unprepared for.

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