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Online Romance Novel -- Chapter 7
By the dawn of the second day, snow still fell. The drifts outside now reached porch height. Occasionally, the cabin seemed to shiver beneath the onslaught, but the old log house had withstood many a storm for more decades than Haley’s age so she wasn’t concerned that it might blow apart.
Throughout the long morning the wind never abated, keeping the temperature uncomfortably low in the cabin. Haley watched the dwindling supply of firewood with concern. If she hadn’t been moping around with the birthday blues, she’d have replenished the stack on the porch when she’d first heard about the approaching storm. As it was, she and Jeff had transferred the last of the logs from the porch to the hearth after breakfast.
Before dark, someone was going to have to go to the woodshed for more. Since Jeff didn’t have the kind of clothing to go out into the storm, that someone was going to have to be her. She shivered, not looking forward to a head-on confrontation with Mother Nature.
After a lunch of canned stew and more cheese toast, washed down by fresh hot coffee, Haley settled on the couch with her crochet. A frustrated hour later, she tossed the yellow mess aside, too bored and too inept at the domestic art to continue.
Jeff glanced up from the romance novel he was reading. He was on his third book since discovering her cache of sexy novels. He eyed the yellow mass of thread next to her. "If you don’t mind my asking, what’s that going to be?"
Haley shrugged. "Beats me. All I know how to do is chain stitch and then single or double crochet into each chain." She poked the long, rather lumpy, yellow rectangle. "I’m not especially domestic," she confessed, looking up in time to see his lips twitch.
"Yes, the, uh, coffee gave me my first clue. Maybe you could call it a blizzard scarf? Or sew a few of those rectangles together, and it could be a blanket."
"Thanks for the suggestion," she said dryly. "I guess my dad’s right. I don’t have a feminine bone in my body. He always said I was cut out to be a great botanist so I shouldn’t waste my time trying to be something I’m not."
With a pinched smile, she added, "Guess I was standing behind the door when God gave out feminine virtues and womanly wiles."
Jeff heard the pain behind her joke. He knew Haley’s father Franklin Gant. He’d met the man a few years ago at a conference. From her revealing conversation last night and her comments now, he had little doubt as to what her life had been like, being raised by the terse, no-nonsense Gant. He pictured her as a little unsmiling, serious-faced girl. Had there been anyone in her life to give her a hug when she'd needed one and to let her have fun just being a kid?
An odd need to comfort her welled within him. "I have to disagree with you, Haley. The ability to make something recognizable out of a ball of yarn isn’t what makes a woman feminine. Being a great botanist and being a woman aren’t mutually exclusive. As far as womanly wiles?” He shifted uncomfortably as he remembered last night in her bed when she'd rolled against him in her sleep. She'd been warm and soft in all the right places. Beads of sweat had popped out on his forehead as he'd worked to resist the temptation to stroke the soft curves spooned against him.
Jeff felt uncomfortably warm again. He cleared his throat. “Let’s just say you have enough to make me think about things I shouldn’t dwell on when I’m snowbound here with you."
When Haley stared at him, he flushed and started mentally reciting the Periodic Table of Elements again. That was what had got him through last night until he'd dozed off again. But as she looked at him, her gaze soft and seductive, which he knew she didn't realize, he found himself unable to remember the fifth element. It was B. What did B stand for? Brainless maybe?
* * *
Haley felt the surprising pressure of tears. She turned away quickly. She’d been flattered before by men, but no man had ever touched her heart with his words. Jeff’s quiet words reached deep inside her and warmed her soul. When she'd gazed into his eyes, she'd felt breathless. Just looking at him did that to her. She felt odd. Kind of tingly. She'd turned away because something deep inside her seemed to heat and swell in response to his knowing hot, searching gaze.
Blushing, her eyes dropped to the tangled crochet. Nervous, she picked it up. Her fingers plucked at one of the many knots. "Yes, well, thank you." Her voice trailed off. The intimacy of their situation struck her with renewed force. Suddenly all she wanted was for him to hold her. To kiss her.
Startled by the force of that need, Haley stood abruptly. She needed to put some distance between her and Jeff.
"Guess it’s time to clear the door again." She’d assigned Jeff the task of opening the door every few hours, just to make sure they could get it open. Door hinges could lock tighter than welded iron in a blizzard, making it impossible to use the door should they need to get out because of an emergency. Like a fire in the cabin.
"You’re the boss. Though I don’t know if freezing to death in the unsheltered wilderness is preferable to burning to death if the cabin catches fire," Jeff joked grimly, standing and pulling on his gloves and his coat.
Haley watched as he pulled one of her crochet squares down over his ears and knotted it beneath his chin. He looked faintly ridiculous, but oddly enough it didn't make him look less attractive. "You don’t have to bundle up like that just to crack the door a few inches."
"Hey, give me a break. My blood’s thinner than yours. I grew up in a civilized place like Houston, Texas, not some research station in a frozen outback like you." He grinned and turned the knob, bracing his weight against the door to keep the wind from forcing it wide open.
"Opens fine," he gasped. Winter cold slipped through the narrow gap, disturbing the cabin’s warmth. Haley shivered as he slammed the door quickly.
"How much longer do you think the storm will blow?" he asked.
"It shouldn’t last more than another day." Suddenly, she didn’t want the storm to end. When it blew itself out, then what? Upset, she went to the stove and pretended to check the level of coffee in the pot. With studied nonchalance, she said, "I guess you’ll be leaving after the storm, won’t you?"
"Another day of this, and I’ll be ready for a padded cell." Jeff made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a groan. "Why, oh why didn’t I just go to Mexico instead of here?"
Haley didn’t know why, but she was awfully glad he’d rejected Mexico for Montana. "I don’t know," she teased. "Why didn’t you?"
Jeff shrugged. "My girlfriend and I split up. Somehow, it didn’t seem as much fun to go alone. So I thought I’d check on your research with pinedrops."
Haley felt foolish. She should have known he had a girlfriend. Somehow, she just knew his girlfriend knew all about being feminine and womanly. Despite his off-hand compliment to her. But he’d said they’d broken up. Her spirits lifted. So she was an ex-girlfriend. She smiled, feeling foolish and hopeful at the same time.
"It’s not really pinedrops," she corrected. So he was single and unattached. In fact, he was the most appealing man she’d ever met. And he was was snowbound with her. If she were more like her flirtatious, sexy sister, Jeff Talent would be whispering sweet nothings into her ear by now. A sigh escaped Haley.
"I know. I know. Don’t get upset. I really did read your proposal. It’s something similar to pinedrops." Jeff grinned disarmingly. "I read it, I promise you. I just don’t remember the Chippewa name for the plant. You haven’t told me anything about your research yet. I know we called a truce, but couldn’t you tell me if you’ve reached any conclusions?"
Haley didn’t want to discuss her research into the flower she’d hoped would be a natural pain reliever. Hearing that his company had wasted a few hundred thousand dollars on research that led nowhere would probably end the sense of companionship that had sprung up between them.
"So tell me, Haley, have you--?" A creaking, groaning sound outside interrupted Jeff. He asked in a hushed voice, "What was that?"
"Oh, no!" Haley looked up at the ceiling, praying that whatever tree was falling wouldn’t hit their roof. The deafening crash, when it came a minute later, shook the whole cabin. With a frightened yelp, she jumped into Jeff’s arms. Her arms encircled his neck, and she clung to him as if there were no tomorrow.
Then silence fell. Gradually, Haley became aware that Jeff was stroking her, soothing her.
"You’re trembling," he said softly. "Are you all right?"
Haley nodded, not wanting to move from his arms. Not now. Not ever.
Jeff tilted her chin up and looked into her eyes. "What was that?"
Every nerve ending in her body went on red alert. His eyes appeared nearly black. The intensity of his gaze made her tingle where her body touched his.
"A falling tree,” she whispered. “Or a big branch. From the ice. Or wind. Happens a lot. In storms."
When his gaze dipped to her mouth, she fell silent. She waited, her lips tingling. Every cell and nerve ending in her body waited. Waited for him to close the distance between his lips and her lips. Waited for the smouldering heat inside her to burst into flame. Her eyelids were heavy. Slowly, they slid shut. What was Jeff waiting for?
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