Mikayla Turner reached down to search for a radio station playing music, instead of late night talk or love questions. But when she glanced at the dial, her car slid on the icy pavement and skidded off to the side of the road. Though a bit shaken, she recovered and pulled back into the lane.
The storm had hit earlier than expected, but in another twenty minutes she’d be in the heart of town at Mimi’s Bed and Breakfast. Bonnie, her best friend since their diaper days, ran the B&B along with her soon to be husband Brody, who was also a good friend, and they were eagerly awaiting her arrival at the end of the week. Mikayla wanted to surprise them by showing up early, but the slick conditions were threatening to thwart her plans.
She continued navigating up the crest of the small hill just at the town’s edge, but suddenly her tires refused to grip and she began losing control of the car. She screamed as the vehicle plowed through snow covered bushes and brush, then smacked into a tree. Her head hit hard against the steering wheel and bounced back against the seat, knocking the wind out of her.
She blinked her eyes open, unsure if she had lost consciousness for a moment and surveyed the damage. Several large branches had broken through the windshield, avoiding her somehow, but making a mess of the car. Luckily the driver’s side door opened easily and she got out carefully. Her arm ached as she moved around to the trunk to find her bags, and when she looked down at her arm, she saw blood dripping.
“Oh, fucking lovely.”
She rummaged in her bags for something to wrap it in and found a towel to loop around her lower arm. The glass must have scratched her up and she hadn’t noticed. Oh well… It would have to do. She yanked her overnight pack out of the trunk and searched for her cell phone.
Where the hell was she?
Mikayla teetered on the uneven terrain as she moved toward the road. She concentrated on putting one foot slowly but firmly in front of the other and finally maneuvered up onto the shoulder of the narrow road. Not even one bar of service appeared on her phone screen, and she realized she had no choice but to seek help on foot.
Blood continued to trickle down her arm, begging her for attention. She pressed further up the road, then breathed a sigh of relief as light streamed through the woods and outlined a large log cabin in front of her. She knew where she was.
Back in the day, the cabin had belonged to Nancy Brighton, who everyone in the town affectionately called Nana, and the building marked the outskirts of the town. She hoped whoever owned it now would be able to get her help.
She groaned suddenly as a wave of nausea passed over her and she found herself praying it was from the pain and not from something more serious.
Finally, Mikayla reached the cabin door and banged loudly on it.
It swung open after a few more knocks and she opened with an apology, “I’m so sorry to bother you, but my car went off the road, and I got hurt and the snow—”
Oh my God! I haven’t been called Mickie in years.
Her mouth fell open as the man came into focus. Sam Brighton, her former teenage crush, who probably believed her still young and naive enough to fit her old nickname. His face looked exactly the same as it had years ago, though there was a tiny sprinkle of gray in his dark brown hair at his temples. Those incredible blue eyes, the ones she used to daydream about, appeared very concerned as they roamed over her body. Of all the people she could have run into, why did it have to be him?
Before she could explain further, he looped his arm around her waist and tugged her through the door.
“What happened? What are you doing out in the middle of the night in a storm?”
Mikayla didn’t have an answer for him so she shrugged awkwardly. He must have noticed the blood because he suddenly morphed into serious medic mode.
“Let me see your arm.” Sam squeezed the tips of her fingers and looked over the makeshift bandage she’d fashioned. “Jesus, Mickie, why didn’t you call 911?”
“It’s Mikayla.” Her voice wobbled as his eyes met hers and she watched as they darkened. “I’m not little Mickie anymore.”
“No, but you’re still a smart ass.” He let out a breath, then reached forward and touched the side of her jeans. “You’re soaking wet and freezing. Come on, get these off.”
Mortified at the thought of taking them off and still feeling sick to her stomach, she simply blinked up at him wordlessly. Then she tried to move to obey, but a stronger wave of nausea hit and she gagged.
“Did you hit your head?”
Her silence seemed to prompt him to lift her into his arms and move up the hallway.
Sam walked into a room set up like a small clinic and laid her down on one of the beds. If she remembered correctly, the cabin had been the halfway point between the major hospital and the main doctor’s office, so she guessed he had people stop by if they had something serious or were just closer to his house than either medical facility. Besides, he had been a paramedic before she left, so his skills were probably well-honed by now.
Mikayla struggled to help him get the wet garments off, but her arm protested any movement and she began furiously blinking back tears. “I don’t remember if I did.”
“Just lie back,” Sam ordered and she complied. He managed to get everything off without her further assistance, and then he quickly wrapped a blanket around her body. “It’s going to be okay.”
She nodded as he removed the blood stained towel and worked to disinfect her wound. She hissed as he brushed over it then immediately coughed back bile. “I’m going to—” The words stopped there as she popped upright and vomited. To her incredible relief he had anticipated it and thrust a basin into her free hand. When it was over, he took the basin from her.
“Look at me a minute?” He shined a penlight into each eye and quickly ran his hands over her head and down towards her neck. “I don’t feel anything but as soon as the weather clears, you should go get looked at.”
“Mm-hmm,” she agreed as he grabbed a blood pressure cuff and got a quick number. He turned back around with a thermometer and she felt her eyes go wide.
Years ago, she had been sent to her college clinic when she’d tried to get out of a day of finals, back when she was nineteen and in her junior year, and to her dismay he had been covering the clinic as a favor to the college nurse. It had been the last time Mikayla had ever tried to pull one over on Sam as he’d definitely outsmarted her that day. The memory crashed to the forefront of her mind.
She didn’t feel like taking her exams after partying hard the night before with her best friends and so she’d asked to be excused for the remainder of the day. Her professor, aware of her antics (though unknowingly to her at the time), dismissed her to the nurse’s office with a note stating that only a fever would keep her home.
After filling an empty bottle with hot water, Mickie assured herself on the way to the clinic that it would be easy to trick the long retired elementary school nurse who worked there during the week. She paused at the entrance to the clinic, gave each cheek a hard pinch, and stepped inside.
Her head spun when she saw Sam look up from the small entry desk as she entered. “You okay, Mickie?”
Seeing him casually sitting there, instead of the older woman she’d been expecting, made her stomach twist in knots. He’d been a paramedic for the past three years and she knew he could smell bullshit from a mile away. No doubt it would be nearly impossible to pull one over on his shift. But of course, running away would prove questionable as well so she had to continue.
“Oh, er, uh…” Mickie stammered as the knots wound tighter inside. “I feel sorta sick.” She handed him the note and gave him her best pout.
“Yeah?” Sam locked his gorgeous blue eyes on her as he stood, making her tingly from her head to her feet. “I thought you had exams today…”
Could he see through her ruse already, or was he genuinely concerned? She would need to be even more clever with him in the room.
He had a habit of trying to keep her in line whenever they were around each other—which she was sure was mostly due to her dead-beat father bouncing off and her mother dying, which had left her alone with her elderly grandparents. She had been only two when her mother died and she’d never known her father at all. Her grandparents were the only parents she’d had and though they’d loved her, they’d lacked the means to properly discipline her.
Sam had threatened punishments on more than one occasion, but they had only fueled her already-wild fantasies about him. She had known him her entire life and he had always watched out for her. He’d constantly threatened to use his method of discipline, a firm hand across her backside, but he’d never acted on it. Part of it had intrigued her just as much as it had scared her.
She shrugged as she tried to forget about his previous threats, but she knew that the problem with someone like Sam was that eventually he would follow through. Trying to get out of exams because she hadn’t studied would earn her a scolding at the very least.
“Yeah, a few.”
He tilted his head to the side and gave her a once over before pointing to the cot in the far corner of the room. “Go sit. I’ll be right over.”
Mickie swallowed hard and for a fleeting second wanted to tell him she suddenly felt better, but the delicious twang of authority in his voice prompted her feet to do as he said. She sank slowly into the small, uncomfortable cushion and pulled her knees to her chest. If he figured out her act, she’d be done for.
Sam approached her side to check her pulse and blood pressure. “The note from Professor Harmond said if you had a fever, I could send you home. Is that right?”
She no longer appreciated the authoritative tone of his voice but mumbled an affirmative sound.
He placed the back of his hand against her forehead with a frown then shook down a thermometer and popped it under her tongue. “You don’t feel warm, but we’ll see.”
“I run cold,” she grumbled around the instrument.
“Don’t talk,” he warned, then looked over as Darren, a transfer from last year, entered and shuffled his feet. The kid appeared okay but was holding one hand in the other. “Don’t move either.” Sam situated the privacy curtain around her and stepped out.
As soon as his attention became diverted, Mickie took several quick sips from the hot water bottle. The water burned her taste buds slightly but it would do the trick. Suddenly, she heard footsteps moving towards her cot, and she fumbled to get the bottle stashed behind her.
Unfortunately, as soon as Sam pulled back the curtain, she lost her grip on the bottle and it rolled down and under the cot. Then, to her horror, the thermometer also slipped from between her lips and smashed beautifully into the tiled floor. He surveyed the mess and began cleaning up the broken glass, but when he reached the bottle his eyes shot to hers.
“Is there something you want to tell me?” Sam straightened and handed her the bottle. “Now is your chance.”
She shook her head and focused on getting the cap back on the half full container.
“Okay, we’ll check it again.” He parted the curtain and she heard him rummaging around in several drawers. He poked his body through the opening and shut the curtain behind him.
Mickie prided herself with the outcome when she saw him make a single tiny gesture with his hand.
He continued the shaking motion, she shook her head vehemently like a child refusing to take medication. “Oh no! You can’t do it that way! I’m not a little kid!” she protested but saw his jaw set in determination. He had given her one opportunity to come clean and she’d blown it.
“You drank steaming hot liquid, which will throw off the numbers. This is the only way it will be accurate.” Sam took her hand in his and firmly turned her over as the fight drained away.
She tugged her pants down past her hips along with her panties. Mickie considered telling him the truth, but as his hand parted her cheeks and she cringed as a cold gel pressed against her back hole followed by the slim glass rod, she knew it didn’t matter any longer. He seated the instrument fully, then rested his fingertips on the stem. Occasionally his hand brushed the cleft of her butt, causing her to groan under her breath as wetness pooled in between her thighs.
She still wanted to go home, but his hand was dangerously close to her intimate parts, and the thought of his hand accidentally slipping—even though she knew it wouldn’t—to brush against her, drove her wild.
“I went out last night instead of studying,” she finally admitted as he twirled the thermometer and then pulled it out.
“Sheriff Johnson already told me he saw you sneak back home at four this morning.”
Mickie put all of her energy into fixing her panties and shimmying her pants back up and over her hips. Of course nothing went unnoticed in their small town!
“I really don’t feel so well…” she reiterated as she rolled into a cross-legged position and looked up as he studied the thermometer.
“Ninety-nine isn’t a fever, honey.” Sam moved through the curtain again and she could hear him washing his hands and putting things away. “Why didn’t you tell me the truth when I asked you about it?”
“Why do you care what I do anyway?” Mickie snipped back, then immediately wished she hadn’t. Something always made her want to poke at him and demand a reaction, but with him in arms’ reach, it wasn’t the smartest thing to do.
He yanked her across his lap in a split second and landed two smacks to each side of her bottom. She kicked her feet out, more embarrassed then upset, and began yelling.
“I should’ve done this to you a long time ago.” Sam rained his hand down in a flurry of blows, first against the left cheek then the right, but then he paused suddenly. Someone with squeaky sneakers had entered the room.
“Sam! Hey! We got a football player down in the locker rooms who took a bad tackle. It’s Brody.” Trevor Bennett, who coached almost all of the sports teams on campus, called out. “Hey! Are you in here?”
Mickie bit her lip as Sam righted her and set her on her feet. “I’m sorry. I’ll go back to class,” she whispered as he kept his eyes on hers. At least she knew he meant business now. All those threats had finally ended up with her over his knees.
“You’ll be more sorry,” he punctuated his soft words with a light squeeze to each cheek, “when I get through with you.” Then he sighed and rose to his feet. “Yeah, Coach. I’ll grab my bag and meet you down there.”
“I believe you now.” Mickie brushed away a tear then blinked back more as he caught her chin in his hand and titled it upwards.
“I don’t want to hear about you coming home so late again. Am I clear?” Sam planted a kiss on the top of her head as she nodded, then let go. “We’ll finish this conversation later.”
Sam set the thermometer back down. Something about the sight of it had caused Mickie to pale considerably—which he thought hard to do given the circumstances. Suddenly, a phantom of a memory drifted through his head. A long time ago she had tried to fake a fever and he had outsmarted her with a rectal thermometer. If she were there for any other reason than the accident, he’d have laughed and assured her this one worked just fine in her mouth.
“It’s okay—I’ll grab a number later. Your arm is more important. You need stitches, honey.”
Her eyes filled with tears at the mention of stitches. “I’ve never had them. Will they hurt bad?”
“I’ll numb the area first. You’ll feel some pulling after that, but it shouldn’t hurt.” He rustled through the supplies and quickly gathered the needed materials to suture the cut. “You need a tetanus booster too.”
“You have that here?” she asked incredulously.
“You’d be surprised at what I’ve got here.” Sam shrugged. “In the summer, since the creek is so close, I give ‘em out when someone gets a fishing hook through their hand. It’s convenient and saves the Doc time for other things.”
What Mickie probably didn’t remember was that after he got his paramedic license, he’d been deployed overseas and trained to be a combat medic. It gave him an advantage in emergency situations and put him in a good place to intercept mid-way between the town and local hospital.
She nodded, satisfied with his answer. “Bonnie thinks I’m getting in on Friday morning.” Mikayla changed the topic, then shut her eyes tight as he injected the anesthetic around the wound.
“With this storm you’ll probably be trapped here until then, so you’ll be right on time,” he joked as he focused on pulling the thread through the needle, then glanced up. He saw her grimace and hated that he had to make her so uncomfortable.
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.” She blinked her eyes open and shifted to look at him. “Aren’t you married?”
Sam bit his tongue to avoid saying something he shouldn’t. “Not so much. Crystal and I divorced seven years ago.”
His ex-wife had cheated on him, numerous times and stupidly—with people in town, as if he wouldn’t find out. He had taken her over his knee the first time and she’d sworn her love was his, until finally, after a long session with a wooden paddle, he’d gotten the truth out of her. She had been fooling around on him since their wedding night.
Sam had dated on and off since then, but no one long term. It figured that the one he thought about the most since then had popped up on his doorstep in the middle of the night. Sam had always felt protective of Mickie, especially given her lack of discipline, but as he sat there patching her up, he realized it was more than that.
He’d never considered a real relationship with her until he’d found an envelope with a letter on his doorstep one night before she’d left. It had been torn to pieces, but they were big enough for him to put back together. Mickie had written paragraphs explaining her emotions and feelings in great detail. He didn’t know why the letter was there or when it had been delivered, only that someone hadn’t wanted him to read it.
Mickie had wanted him to give her a chance but hadn’t been able to make the words work when around him. She had even explained that after the first time he punished her with a spanking, something he had threatened often, she’d thought of ways to get his attention to earn another.
Sam moved up the length of the cut slowly but steadily as he pulled himself out of his memories. He wanted to ask Mickie if she’d been taking care of herself and what she’d been up to, but the idea of pulling her across his lap for being so reckless later, after she felt better, caused him to keep quiet. If he mentioned it now, he figured she would either brat more to make the spanking happen sooner, or run for the hills.
“I’m so sorry,” Mikayla finally replied, though the furrow in her brow made it seem like she wanted to say something else. “Are you dating anybody? I’m, uh, not being forward. I just would hate to hear about some random chick being locked up with my boyfriend, you know?”
“No, Mickie, I’m not,” Sam stated firmly, unable to think of why his relationship status mattered to her unless she’d been thinking of him even after she’d left town. “Are you?”
She shook her head, then coughed back a groan. “Ugh. My stomach feels like it’s trying to escape my body.”
“I don’t want to give you pain meds because of your head, but I have something to calm your stomach if you need it.”
“Is it a shot?”
“Unless you’d rather have a suppository?”
“That’s not funny,” Mikayla snipped, but her eyes looked scared rather than irritated.
“I’m not joking.” Sam tugged the last thread through and knotted it. He took care to apply antibiotic ointment, then bandaged the area. “Seriously. If your stomach is that queasy—”
“A shot then,” she interrupted before he could offer further explanation. “Please,” Mikayla added as he moved toward the back of the room.
He found the tetanus vaccine and ransacked the cabinet for an anti-nausea medication. He plucked the vial, syringes, and needles from their locations and prepped each one. “I’ll find something for you to wear once your stomach calms down.”
“I changed my mind…” She eyed the items in his hands and began tearing up again.
Sam wiped the alcohol pad horizontally across her arm. “Tetanus is deadly. This one isn’t optional.” He administered it quickly and without warning, then covered the spot with a Band-Aid. He knew she wouldn’t like where the other one targeted, but it would immediately relieve the symptom.
“I’m sorry I just barged in here…”
“It’s fine, don’t think about it.” He tugged the blanket up and rolled her slightly to the side to pinpoint the large muscle in her ass, then repeated the same action with the alcohol pad. “Big pinch, big sting. Just breathe.”
“Sam…” She wiggled her butt as if trying to distract him for a moment, but he used his free hand to press on her lower back lightly to keep her in place.
Sam inserted the needle quickly but took care to push the fluid slowly. Once all the liquid was in, he withdrew it and helped her back up.
“It’s done. I’ll be right back.” He patted her shoulder. “Oh, there’s a bathroom in the hall if you need it.” He rushed out before she could reply and tried to shake off the memories invading his mind.
Not too long after finding out about Mickie’s true feelings, his girlfriend at the time, Crystal, had told him she was pregnant. Being the honorable man, he’d married Crystal quickly, but she had a miscarriage less than two months in. It turned out she had trouble carrying children because of untreated infections—more than likely because of her bed-hopping—but he had done his best to support her and their relationship. After the whirlwind of events, he’d let Mickie slip to the back of his mind. Until now.
“Damn it.” Sam smacked his hand into his bedroom door to open it, wishing he had a punching bag to release some of his agitation. He should have contacted Mickie, especially after she lost her Gran a few years back.
The wake and funeral had been brief and she had barely stayed in town, no more than two or three days if he recalled. But Crystal had hung onto him the way a cheap cologne sticks to your body, and he’d missed the opportunity to reconnect with her. Crystal and he had gotten embroiled in a confrontation over Crystal’s reaction to the younger woman’s return, and the memories came back to him as if it had all happened yesterday.
“Listen, this isn’t a social event. Mickie is going through a lot right now—” Sam started but Crystal, as usual, interrupted him.
“She’s just some snotty, ‘I’m too good for our town’ hussy!” Crystal snapped as she pulled her black pantyhose up her legs and smoothed them out.
“What?” Sam clenched his jaw as she looked up at him, unapologetic. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Oh please! Like you don’t know she pined over you for years?” She gave a half snort, half laugh then slipped her tiny black dress over her head. “She actually thought you two had a chance.” She turned away from him and nudged him to help with her zipper.
“You’re not making sense. This has nothing to do with—”
“Yes, it fucking does!” Crystal whirled around with her hands up in the air and nearly whipped him in the face with her long blond ponytail. “She thinks just ‘cause her granny is gone that everyone is going to welcome back the prodigal daughter with open arms?”
“Are you jealous of Mickie?” Sam placed his hands firmly on her shoulders. “I’ve never seen you like this.”
“Bonnie, her little bestie, got drunk the other night and spilled some serious shit.”
“Enough of your attitude. We’ve got to go. Whatever Bonnie told you is in the past.” Sam tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear. “Mickie isn’t interested in some old guy anyway.”
Crystal swatted his hand away. “I think you’d be quite surprised what that little troublemaker—” She yelped as his free hand came down across the back of her dress and she turned and shot daggers at him.
“I said no more. We’re there to support her and we will. Am I clear?”
“If you aren’t?”
“Then when we get back I can show you what I mean with the paddle,” he threatened, but she brushed him off with a huff.
“Alright. I’ll go make nice and sing Amazing Grace, and be like her new bestie.” Crystal batted her light green eyes and smiled up at him before planting a kiss on his cheek. “I’ll play nice, baby.”
Sam yanked open a drawer, pushed away the memory, and pulled out a pair of sweats and a tee-shirt. The confrontation had happened the same night she had confessed to cheating, and within six months they were divorced, but she still lived nearby and found numerous reasons to cross paths with him.
Crystal had begged him recently to hold her accountable for her actions like he used to, but he’d declined. She had a bad habit of manipulating him to do what she wanted until Sam caught on. No, she needed to find someone else to keep her in line. He pushed away his thoughts as he made his way back to Mickie.
“Hey, I found some clothes for you. Do you need help getting them on?”
Mickie blushed but bunched the blanket up and off her legs. “Yes, please. I managed to clean myself up a little but my arm is so sore.” She shifted her body to allow him access as her long auburn hair cascaded over her shoulders. He had forgotten how pretty it looked in the right light, with shades of cinnamon and blond sprinkled throughout.
Sam swallowed and thought about dark cold things to avoid an inappropriate reaction, but he found himself growing hard anyway as he got the pants up to her knees then moved them higher. She made a little squeak when one of his fingers accidentally tickled her thigh and he hurriedly tied a loop in the string to tighten them.
The shirt was next and he watched as she let the blanket fall away from her shoulders. He had a very hard time focusing on just her face, but he managed to guide her arms through each hole without jostling the injured one. He smoothed the shirt down as she suddenly moved and his hands brushed completely across her breasts and nipples.
Sam dropped his hands to his sides, ready to apologize, but Mickie suddenly wrapped her legs around him to pull him closer and kissed him squarely on the mouth.
“Mikayla,” she corrected and licked a long line down his neck and back up. She returned to his lips and suckled on the bottom one before darting her tongue in and out of his mouth.
He kissed her back as his head spun. What the hell had come over her? “Uh-uh,” Sam stated firmly after he broke their kiss. “Not now.”
She seemed to misunderstand him because a look of rage flickered across her features and she slammed her feet to the floor. “Fine. I’m tired anyway.”
“Look, just go lie on the couch. I’ll wake you up in two hours in case you have a concussion. It’s better to play it safe.”
“Whatever.” She pursed her lips at him and rolled her eyes.
It seemed typical bratty behavior leftover from her much younger days, but he let her off the hook this time. She seemed to have a lot on her mind and he would have plenty of time to correct her attitude tomorrow if need be.
“Don’t push me, sweetheart. You’re stuck here until they clear the roads. I’d hate for you to stand up the whole time.”
“Fucking try it,” she stated firmly. “I’m not a little girl anymore.” She shot him a look, then left the room, no doubt to do what he had told her to. Damn, her eyes sure tempted him to give her hell right now.
He followed her out to the living room and handed her another blanket as she settled into the cushions. Tears suddenly began pouring down over her cheeks, but she said nothing as he helped wrap it around her.
“Are you still in pain?”
She shook her head and looked up slowly. “I’m sorry… It’s just that I might have totaled my car, and my best friend’s wedding is in three days, and I can’t stand being back in this town right now!”
“You can’t stand this town, or you can’t stand being here with me?” Sam brushed away her tears with the pads of his thumbs. Her gorgeous chocolate brown eyes sparkled as he did so, and he gazed lovingly into them.
“I couldn’t stand being stuck here without you,” she admitted, then bit her lip as he tilted her chin up. “Are you going to kiss me now?”
“No, but I enjoyed your kisses.” He set an alarm on his watch and got comfortable on the couch. Mikayla wiggled herself up to rest her head on his thighs and he laced his fingers in her hand. “Go to sleep. We can talk later.”
“Thank you for helping me tonight.”
Mikayla settled against Sam, thankful he had answered the door when she’d arrived, and she felt deeply grateful to be curled up on his body. His hand rubbed her back and she sighed. It would be really hard to forget this moment. Here in his arms, an overwhelming sense of protection surrounded her—as if nothing bad could get her here. Mikayla pressed her lips briefly against his jeans.
“Your lips are dangerously close to my—”
“Mm-hmm?” She snaked her fingers out of his and ran them down over his crotch to boldly trace the head of his cock.
“Mickie…” he threatened, but trailed off when she ran her tongue along his inner thigh. She wet the denim with her mouth and continued upwards until she reached his hardness now bulging against the tight fabric. With a wicked grin, she tugged his zipper down.
Sam clasped his hand over hers. “We shouldn’t do this right now.”
She pulled her hand back as if he had burned her.
“Please, don’t misunderstand me. I’m just worried about your head.”
“I’m more worried about yours.”
“I’d really, really like for you to keep going, but not tonight.” He reached out for her. “Come lie back down on me. We have plenty of time.”
“I’m embarrassed,” she admitted as she stared at his hand. What was the real reason he’d broken their kiss and now refused a blow job? Mikayla fixed his zipper but did not accept his hand, so he reached around her waist and pulled her completely on top of him.
“Just relax and rest, okay?” His arms looped around her and he kissed her forehead. “Everything is going to work out.”
Mikayla nodded into his chest, once again happy to be against him as she tried to sort out the emotions stirred up inside. “Sam—”
“I love you, but if you don’t settle down—”
“Sorry!” She hooked her hands behind his neck. “Sorry, I’m done, I swear!” He’d just told her he loved her and honestly, that was enough to get her to ease the commotion in her brain. She had known he cared, he’d said as much throughout the years, but he’d never said it so clearly. Though there were many different forms of love. Which did he mean?
“Okay, I know I said I’d stop, but what do you mean? You love me like I’m an annoying but endearing little sister? Or you love me like—”
“Stop.” Sam shifted until he could see her eyes. “I’ve always loved you. Even when you were a little bundle of ribbons and lace. But the whole town did. You probably don’t remember but your mother went out of her way to make everyone feel special. My parents used to invite the two of you over all the time.”
“So you were a teenager stuck babysitting a toddler?”
“I wasn’t stuck doing anything. I’ve always been about, doing things for others. It’s kind of my thing.”
“Yeah, I know. I cried when you got deployed.” Mikayla sighed. “I knew you might not come back.”
“You remember that?” Sam sat up completely. “I was only eighteen when I left.” He shifted her so that she faced him.
Why was he sounding so surprised? Her much younger self hadn’t understood why he was leaving, but someone had told her the risk of him not returning. It had scared her and when he had come back, she had been the first one in line to hug him. He’d always been special to her. She needed to know what he remembered about her mother though, and she refocused on his point.
“Can you please go back to the story about my mom? I don’t remember her at all.”
“She used to help Nana at her bakery on the weekends. I don’t know if your grandparents told you, but she also started going to college when you turned two. She wanted to make a better life for you.”
“Where was my dad?” she asked, though she wasn’t sure if she really wanted the answer. Sam had mentioned the two of them coming over a lot, but the man whom she didn’t even have a photo of had not been brought up at all.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart, but he took off before you even introduced yourself to the world.”
The news hit her hard. Why hadn’t her grandparents told her? They’d never mentioned him at all, now that she thought back on it. Her grandfather was the only father she’d ever had, and this added information made her miss him even more.
“Okay. Then did bio-dad come back for her funeral?”
Sam clenched his jaw and released it, as if unsure how to reply. “No, honey, he didn’t.”
She leaned her head against his chest, not wanting him to see her tears. “I can’t believe he just walked out and left! And my poor mom!”
“You’re so lucky you had a whole town watching out for you. Besides, someone like that doesn’t deserve to be in your life.”
“I’m really lucky I had you.” Mikayla wiped the tears off her cheeks and looked up. “I’ve loved you for a really long time.”
He smiled sadly and cupped her chin. “That just makes me really lucky.” Sam laid them back on the couch, mindful of her injured arm, and draped his arms over her. “Let’s get some rest now.”
She nodded into his chest, satisfied with his answers but upset over the revelation of the way her father had acted. Why hadn’t she realized how long Sam had been caring for her? What else had he done for her over the years?