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Online Romance Novel -- Chapter 4
Horrified, Haley realized she was fantasizing about kissing her unwelcome guest. She’d often been accused of having a wild imagination, but this was more than wild. It was insane. She leaped from the sofa.
"Let me just put this away," she babbled. "I won’t be but a minute." She practically ran to the alcove and yanked the patchwork curtain closed. Her heart beat so loud she was afraid her handsome visitor would hear it.
Haley tried deep breathing again as she returned the first aid kit to the top of the chest.
Mentally, she scolded herself. Get control of yourself, Haley Gant! You’re a scientist. A no-nonsense woman! Not some soft-hearted female full of romantic notions. With that bit of advice ringing in her ears, she opened the curtain and stepped out.
She found him looking at her. His smile made her pulse throb in unexpected parts of her anatomy. And that thought brought an unwelcome blush to her face. With her hands clasped, she squeezed hard, hoping to camouflage their sudden tremor. What on earth was wrong with her?
"Your hand should be fine." She hoped she didn’t sound as breathless to him as she did to her own ears.
"You’re not a medical doctor too, are you?" he asked.
Haley laughed nervously. "No. Not at all."
Desperate to have something to do, she hurried to the tiny kitchen and grabbed the dish cloth, wetting it with water from a gallon plastic jug. As if it were the most important task in the world, she began wiping down the white enameled steel top of the table that served as a kitchen counter.
"Goodness, when you spend as much time as I do in isolated research stations, you have to know a good bit about everything. Especially first aid," she babbled.
"Yeah, I imagine it’s a problem getting a doctor to make a house call out here."
"I haven’t had anyone except the park ranger drop by since the snow began." Haley rubbed the old enamel top as if she were going to make it shine like new.
"Isn’t that kind of a lonely existence?"
Haley stopped her vigorous rubbing of the table. "Lonely?"
"Yeah. I mean, don’t you miss people? Family? Boyfriends?"
She blushed crimson but didn’t reply. Boyfriends? Her? She could have told him she’d never had a boyfriend because she’d been too busy trying to win her father’s love by becoming the world’s greatest botanist, but she shrank from revealing such vulnerability to a stranger. Instead, she shrugged and turned her attention to the two-burner propane hot plate, wiping it down as if her life depended on getting it to shine.
"Hey! Take it easy." He laughed. "You’re going to rub the steel from that if you keep on applying the elbow grease."
Haley laughed nervously. "You’ll have to excuse me. I’m expecting the new corporate bean counter next week. I want to make a good impression." She stepped away from the stove and ran the wet cloth over the surface of the small pine table where she ate her solitary meals.
"Corporate bean counter?" he repeated, frowning.
"Yes. You know the type. The kind of guy who sleeps with a calculator clutched in his ink-stained fingers."
"I take it you don’t like, uh, bean-counters very much."
"Those people make my life miserable. They nit-pick every expense report.” She waved her hand around the spartan cabin. “As if I’m blowing all the company money on a luxury hotel." She shrugged and folded the wet cloth over the edge of the plastic dishpan in the dry sink. "I’ve found the only way to handle them is to not file any reports until the project is over."
"Oh, really? That’s very interesting."
Haley waved away his comment and turned her attention to arranging the half-dozen metal cups in the small wall shelf above the counter. That shelf served as a cabinet for the few dishes provided with the cabin. When she had exhausted that task, she went to the larger wall shelf that held her food supplies.
"You’re not going to alphabetize that, are you?" her visitor asked.
Haley reddened and said with a huff, "Of course not. I was just trying to see if I need to make out a shopping list for my next trip to town." She’d run out of pretend domestic chores and didn’t know what to do next.
"I hate to bother you, but do you have anything hot to drink?"
She brightened. Relieved, she said, "Great idea. Why don’t I make some coffee? That’ll warm you up from the inside out. Just what you need before you leave."
"You sure sound anxious to get rid of me." He yawned, too tired to get in an argument about when he’d depart. "But coffee sounds good." He stretched his long legs out toward the fire, but didn’t bother removing the heavy black overcoat he wore. The events of the last twenty-four hours were catching up to him with a vengeance.
"I’ll just sit here and defrost. That is, if you don’t mind?"
"I don’t mind at all. No problem." Haley grabbed the blue granite-wear percolator and poured water in it from the plastic jug. Thankful to have something to do, she took longer than necessary to prepare the pot.
The mundane task relaxed her. She found herself humming an off-key rendition of one of Shania Twain’s upbeat songs. Bemused, Haley realized the stranger had chased away her birthday blues.
After she placed the percolator on one of the burners, she said, "Say, mister?”
When she got no response, she turned and walked over to the couch. He was sound asleep. Watching him, she felt the oddest sensation. She didn’t understand why she pulled a colorful crocheted afghan from the back of the sofa and spread it over his legs instead of waking and sending him packing.
There was no harm in letting him take a short nap, she rationalized. He certainly looked as if he needed it.
Smothering a yawn, Haley glanced at her wind-up clock on the desk behind the couch and realized dawn was just a few hours away. She was officially thirty years old and had survived the indignity without a thought once the man had entered her life. The new year had begun. This man had entered her life, bringing more excitement than she’d experienced in a long time.
Musing on the unusual events since midnight, Haley settled on the other end of the short sofa and indulged her desire to scrutinize her guest. He was tall. She imagined her five feet eight inches would put the top of her head right below his chin.
Fashionably styled dark hair, what everyone called the GQ look, made her wonder how it would feel to her touch. Well-built and sexy, he was a hunk by any woman’s definition, she decided. How much had it cost Courtney to send him out to the wilds of Montana?
That was something about Courtney. She never counted the pennies. Too bad the gesture was wasted. Haley would never have the nerve to let him do some sexy, alluring strip for her. Still, she could dream.
Smiling sleepily, she yawned. She needed to close her eyes, just for a minute or two. She’d wake her sexy visitor in an hour, give him some coffee, and send her birthday present, unwrapped, so to speak, back to civilization.
* * *
Haley didn’t know if it was the smell of burned coffee or the sound of the rising wind that woke her. Maybe it was the warmth of the man she was snuggled against that set off her mental alarm. She leapt to her feet and tottered dizzily for a moment as she tried to get her bearings.
With a muttered comment on her lack of intelligence, she rushed to the stove and turned off the burner.
The smell of boiled coffee hung in the cabin. Her nose wrinkled. That was bad enough, but what really disturbed her was the sound of the storm that battered the cabin. She had let the fire die down, and the temperature must have dropped at least ten degrees. Haley shivered and rushed to stoke up the fire. Then she hurried to look out the front window.
Her worst fears were confirmed. The storm, obviously stronger than predicted, had arrived. "No. It can’t be!"
"What’s the matter?" Her guest muttered sleepily.
Haley turned. For a moment, she’d forgotten about him. Oh, no! He made matters even worse!
He shook off the red coverlet and stretched. Unwittingly, she stared at his long-limbed action. She swallowed hard. He seemed alert and refreshed after his nap. And looked unbelievably desirable. Reflexively, her hands reached up to smooth the hair that straggled from her pony tail and hung in her face.
"Are you all right?" Concern shadowed his eyes.
Haley shook her head vigorously. "No," she said starkly. "I’m not all right. And neither are you."
"You’re not making any sense, doctor. What’s wrong?"
"Everything." Gloomily, she pointed dramatically to the windows. "Just look."
He stood and walked over. Peering out, he frowned. "Where’s my car?"
"Take my word for it, it’s still out there. Somewhere."
"But I can’t see it." He cupped his hands around his eyes and pressed close to the window. His frown intensified. "In fact, I can’t see anything." He stepped over to the door and unbolted it.
"No! Don’t do that," Haley cried, but she was too late. A stinging barrage of icy snow slammed into the room. The burst of fresh air made sparks whoosh up the chimney.
With a breathless curse, he put his shoulder against the door and succeeded in closing it. "What’s happening?" His tone plainly said whatever it was, was her fault.
"I’d say we’re having our first storm of the new year. We are--." Haley broke off. She couldn’t voice the word aloud.
Snowbound. They were snowbound.
She swallowed audibly. She was snowbound. Her eyes rounded.
Snowbound. With her fantasy man.
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