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Online Romance Novel -- Chapter 3
Haley backed toward the open door, keeping her eyes on the man. Wow, she couldn’t help but think. Courtney sure knew how to pick ‘em.
It was as if her sister had tapped into Haley’s brain and had then gone out and found the perfect man for Haley. Where had her sister found him? He was exactly the kind of guy Haley had fantasized about earlier. He’d look perfectly at ease with a glass of champagne in his hand and a beautiful woman on his arm, she decided as she stepped back inside her little cabin. She gripped the doorknob hard as he brushed past her and stumbled inside.
A soft sigh of regret escaped Haley. In the real world, a woman like her would never have a chance with a man like him. Having Courtney send her this guy as a birthday present was as close as she would ever get to her fantasy.
She closed the door behind him. With her foot, she pushed the rolled up towels back against the bottom edge of the door to block the cold drafts that sneaked under.
"Ahhh, heat," her unexpected guest moaned and rushed toward the stone hearth.
Haley watched as he jerked off black leather gloves that appeared better-suited for driving an expensive sports car than for trekking through a Montana night. From his gloves to his wingtip shoes, he was a city slicker for sure, but, oh, was he appealing!
Just look at him. Tall, tanned, and more attractive than any man has a right to be. Haley sniffed gently, trying not to be obvious in her attempt to get a good whiff of his musky aftershave. Everything about him made her pulse accelerate. Her hands shook nearly as much as the strong hands he held out to the fire.
Her gaze sharpened. She gasped. His poor hands. Besides being red from the cold, the knuckles of his right hand were skinned badly. Bruising was already evident around the injury.
Her sympathy effectively banished her bemusement. That hand had to hurt. "Your hand looks bad. I’ve got a first aid kit. Let me get it." She rushed to the small alcove that served as a bedroom, glad to have a few minutes away from his disturbing presence so she could collect her thoughts.
A patchwork curtain with round rings suspended from an iron rod fixed to the ceiling could be pulled to close off the sleeping alcove from the main room of the cabin. Haley had never drawn the curtain before. Now she did.
Exhaling loudly in relief, she pressed her hand to her racing heart and sank onto the bed. The old springs creaked. Haley winced and her cheeks flamed at the uncharacteristic erotic thought that popped into her scholarly head. She pressed her cold palms against her hot cheeks, trying to subdue the heat that seemed to have taken possession of her as soon as Courtney’s stripper had stepped out of the cold and into her cabin.
* * *
Jeff gazed around the cabin. Wow! Pretty spartan accommodations. The interior had exposed logs and was nothing more than one large room with a curtained alcove at one end, a small kitchen at the other, and the so-called living room in the center. The cabin, originally built by the Forestry Service back in the fifties, had been used for various environmental projects through the years but didn’t appear to have been upgraded in any way. EnviroMed held a one year lease on it just for Gant.
Jeff was surprised she hadn’t complained loudly and often about the place. Every woman he knew would have turned up her nose at staying a night here much less a year. He’d have to do something about this.
Gant was gone for so long that he began to wonder if she’d sneaked out a back door hidden behind the curtain. "Dr. Gant? Are you coming back out?"
Haley started. His voice seemed overly loud in her quiet cabin. "Yes. Just a minute. I couldn’t remember where I put the first aid kit," she lied, grabbing the metal box from its place next to her few toiletries on top of the chest of drawers. She took another deep breath to steady her rioting nerves and shoved the curtain back.
With quick strides, Haley crossed to the small blue sofa in front of the fireplace and sat. "Come here so I can take care of your hand."
Without a word, he sank onto the sofa next to her.
She grasped his hand. Her pulse leaped. She made a big show of tilting it and peered at it from every angle. "How’d you do this?"
"Changing a tire. The jack slipped."
"You mean you had a flat?"
"Hey, you really are a genius.”
His tone of voice was so dry and amused that she took no offense. "Very funny," she said mildly. "I hope that flat happened before you hit the logging road."
"Don’t hope too hard," he said dryly, flexing his hand.
Haley shuddered. Her respect for his persistence in getting there rose several degrees. "You have had quite a night. Why that’s got to be nearly a thirty-degree slope." She opened the kit and removed gauze, adhesive tape, and iodine.
"Nothing nearly about it. It’s thirty degrees or my name’s not–," He bounced off the sofa as if it were a trampoline. "Whoa! Wait just a minute, doc!"
Haley frowned up at him. "What’s the matter?"
"That’s iodine." He shook his head and backed toward the fireplace. "No way are you pouring that on these raw knuckles."
"Why not? What’s wrong with it?"
"That stuff burns like fire!"
Haley rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "It may sting a little," she agreed, "but you need some antiseptic on those scrapes, and this is all I’ve got. Don’t be so childish," she scolded. “My dad used this on me all the time when I was a kid.”
"Hey, I like being childish." He smiled at her. Haley blinked. It was as if the sun had suddenly emerged from behind a cloud.
"Dr. Gant. Haley, if I may?" At her nod, he continued, "I think it’s safe to say any self-respecting bacteria in this state is hibernating for the winter."
When Haley realized he was trying to charm her out of using the iodine, she couldn’t help but grin widely. "Don’t be ridiculous. You might know dancing, but you don’t know anything about microbes. They never hibernate."
"Dancing? What’s that got to do with anything?"
"No offense intended. I’m not making any judgments about your choice of occupation. Now be still and let me tend that hand."
"My choice of occupation?" he echoed.
He seemed genuinely puzzled so Haley took advantage of his scattered focus. She reached out and grabbed his hand, intending to pull him down to the couch, but his fingers curled around hers. Something seemed to rush through her. Startled at the intensity of feeling, she looked up. Their eyes locked. His dark eyes gazed back at her with unabashed interest. Slowly, he settled onto the sofa next to her.
Haley forgot what they’d been talking about. Still holding his hand, she laid it across her knees, too conscious now of his closeness. Carefully, she sprinkled iodine on a gauze square. Her hands shook. She risked a glance at him from the corner of her eye. He didn’t seem to notice anything unusual.
Gently, she cleaned the wound, stroking softly along the length of each tanned finger. When he gasped, she paused and looked into his eyes. "Sorry. Did I hurt you?"
"No," Jeff murmured. She hadn’t hurt him, but her touch unsettled him in unexpected ways. Suddenly, he could smell the subtle scent she wore. It teased his senses and made him feel restless and something he didn’t want to dwell on..
"That’s a nice perfume you’re wearing," he murmured.
She turned and stared deeply into his eyes. "It’s just soap," she said. She sounded as breathless as he suddenly felt.
In the soft lamplight, he couldn’t determine if her eyes were blue or gray. For some strange reason, knowing what color they were seemed very important.
A log shifted and fell in the fireplace, startling him. A minute passed, sixty seconds suspended in time in which his senses heightened. He swore he could hear the drum beat of his blood through his veins. It seemed to grow louder and stronger as he became intensely aware of the smell of simple soap on her skin.
Jeff noticed how creamy, perfect, and soft her skin looked. Was it as silky as it looked? Her hands were gentle on his. The sweep of long dark lashes against the ivory perfection of her cheek fascinated him. She looked up. Her eyes opened wide then quickly her gaze dropped to his hand. A soft blush colored her face. Had she practiced that or was it innocently provocative?
"There," she said, carefully taping a folded gauze pad across his knuckles.
Jeff realized he’d been staring so intently at her face that he hadn’t realized she’d finished doctoring his hand. He flexed his fingers. "You did a good job."
"And it didn’t hurt, did it?" she asked gently, smiling up into his eyes. "At least not much."
When he grinned his agreement, Haley noticed how the right side of his mouth lifted a little higher than the left. Enchanted by his crooked smile, Haley gazed at his lips. He had a truly exceptional mouth, she decided. Full, sensuous lips complemented the hard planes of his face rather than detracting from his virile good looks. Haley stared dreamily at his lips. She leaned toward him just a fraction.
What would his mouth feel like pressed against hers?
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