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Online Romance Novel -- Chapter 8
Haley wanted to ask Jeff why he waited, but her mouth suddenly seemed as dry as the Sonora Desert. She wet her lips with the tip of her tongue and opened her eyes. The pupils in Jeff’s eyes, already enlarged, dilated even more. Time seemed to stand still. The sound of the storm fell away, leaving only the pounding of the blood in her veins, so hard and urgent that she suspected Jeff could hear it as well.
Slowly, Jeff’s head lowered. Haley’s eyes closed again. She lifted her face, eager for the kiss his eyes promised. When his lips touched hers, a soft sigh of delight escaped her. She gave herself to the kiss. Her hands tangled in his hair; her fingers slid through the dark strands. She pressed closer.
Her response rocked Jeff. Hunger exploded in him. Maybe it was the trusting way Haley reciprocated his embrace. Maybe it was her honesty in accepting his kiss and returning it rather than playing coy. Probably, it was simply the exceptional woman herself. She made him laugh. She challenged him intellectually. She hadn't bored him for even a nano second.
Yet, beneath her genius-level IQ was a vulnerability that made him want to protect her. In every way, she was completely unlike Melissa or any other woman he’d dated. And the way she made him feel when he touched her. He shuddered in response. He wanted to go on kissing her. Forever.
They broke apart, gasping for air. Then hungrily, his lips settled on hers again. He couldn’t get enough of her. Jeff felt like a teenaged boy who’d discovered the joys of making out.
Suddenly, another loud crash intruded, shaking the cabin, and sending them jumping apart.
Though Haley knew the huge boom was another lost tree, she felt as if it had been a warning klaxon to alert her to the emotional danger she was in. Dismayed, she stared at Jeff. What had possess her? She’d fallen for a man she could never have. That thought did more than scare her. It terrified her. Jeff Talent was way out of her league. Why was he kissing her? Plain, old Haley who was all brains and little beauty. Little sex appeal. It had to be the enforced intimacy of their situation. That was the only answer.
Being snowbound with only each other for company had forced them into a closeness that wouldn’t have occurred in other circumstances. That had to be the answer. When the storm was over, Jeff would leave. He probably wouldn't even remember kissing her. She was just a way to pass the time while he was stuck there. That was the bottom line as businessmen like him were fond of saying.
From somewhere deep inside, she rallied her defenses. Haley knew she'd get her heart broken if she didn’t take steps to protect herself. She had to put a stop to this, she hesitated. This escalating desire.
Frantically, she brainstormed strategies for keeping away from him. First, she simply couldn’t risk being alone with him. Not because of what he might do, but because of what she might do. She didn’t trust herself not to throw herself at him and demand he finish the interrupted kiss, with the hope that it would lead to something else. The something else made her giddy and colored her face bright red.
"Are you all right?" Jeff asked.
Haley stared at him, wondering at the note of concern in his voice. She didn’t want to be pleased that he sounded concerned. He was a calloused city boy from New York, she reminded herself. She was a botanist more used to research stations in the wilds. Like this one on the western slope of the Bitterroot Mountains. Neither fit into each other’s worlds. She had best remember that in case her hormones combined with her imagination to produce happily ever after fantasies.
"I’m fine. I was just thinking that it’s going to be another long, cold night. I think I should get some firewood in before it gets dark."
"Too late. It’s been dark all day," Jeff said. Though he smiled, his eyes studied her intently.
Haley turned away from his sharp gaze, not wanting him to discern her discomfort. Again, Haley wished she could be like her sister. Courtney would just grab him, kiss him, and shove him into bed.
Bed! If his kiss made her this erratic and emotional then anything beyond that would probably make her world tilt on its axis. Heck! He made the earth move just when he looked deep into her eyes.
"Yes, it’s dark now, that’s true," she babbled. "But I meant real darkness. Sunset. When the sun goes down."
"Right. I know the meaning of sunset."
The easy humor in his voice nearly undid her. For a moment, the intensity of her desire for him nearly undid her. Tears stung her eyes. She grabbed her snow boots and began pulling them on.
"Okay, if you think it’s necessary."
Haley looked up and saw Jeff getting his coat.
"Oh, no, not you. I’ll get the firewood."
"Haley, you can’t go out there alone."
"I can, and I will. You don’t have long johns or even proper gloves or boots," she said, staring pointedly at his black wingtip shoes.
Ruefully, Jeff said, "Surely my fingers and toes won’t freeze in the short time I’m outside."
"Without the right kind of gear, you wouldn’t last two minutes out there. Besides, you’re not used to this climate. Your blood’s thinner than mine, remember?" She forced a grin and walked over to a pine chest in the corner of the cabin. Lifting the lid, she said, "You get to stay inside and be my anchor." She pulled a yellow nylon rope from the chest.
"Are you sure this is necessary? That wind sounds pretty fierce." Jeff frowned, his brow wrinkled with worry, surprising Haley.
"Trust me," she said, with false bravado. "I’m the expert on wilderness survival. If we ever find ourselves stranded in the Big Apple, then you get to be my guide. Here, I’m the boss. Believe me, if the blizzard continues, it’ll be darker than you can believe tonight. And colder."
"It can’t get much colder. I can already see my breath."
"Oh, you’d be surprised how much colder it can get. I just hope the park ranger comes around real soon after the storm is over, or we’re going to have a long cold walk down this mountain."
"Maybe your truck will start."
"Yeah, if a pine as big as Godzilla doesn’t fall on it."
"What about my rental car? It might start."
Haley laughed. "You’re not serious? It would be an absolute miracle if that little tin can you drove up here started. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. For now, we need to get some firewood while we still can."
"Okay. Let’s get this unpleasantness over with," Jeff said.
"You really do hate this cold weather, don’t you?" Haley asked, pulling on another sweater, her green parka, and then a black ski mask.
"You look ready to knock over a bank," Jeff quipped.
"Maybe if I don't get another research grant, I might have to do that." She got her insulated gloves and laid them on the back of the couch then she tied the rope securely around her middle.
"Okay, your turn." As she secured the other end of the nylon rope around Jeff’s waist, she couldn't help but notice there wasn’t an ounce of fat on his tall frame.
"You know, I was born on the hottest day of summer," Jeff said. "My idea of heaven is a sandy beach in some tropical paradise. Maybe I could show you the pleasures of coconut-scented suntan oil when you’ve had enough of Montana."
His off-hand suggestion startled Haley. Did he mean it? Or was he just making small talk? She didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t used to playing the flirtatious games men and women indulged in so she answered honestly, "I might like that."
She definitely liked the mental picture of him and her, lying on golden sand, while he kneeled over her and lovingly massaged scented oil onto her skin. The fantasy made her feel light-headed, not the way she needed to feel prior to going out into a blizzard.
Haley picked up the coiled length. "When I’m ready to come in, I’ll tug on the rope. All you have to do is stand just inside the door with it cracked only enough to allow the rope to move easily. That way I won't lose my way." She pulled a pair of goggles over her eyes.
"Okay, Gretel. That's even better than breadcrumbs." His smile changed to a frown. "You be careful out there." Jeff pulled the hood of her parka up, drawing it tight around her face, and fastened the clamp on the drawstring.
His closeness made her breathless. Maybe the cold outside would shock her back to her senses. "Thanks," she whispered.
"No problem. Ready?"
Haley nodded. "Ten minutes should be enough time to get a few armloads of wood. I’ll pile it by the door."
"Okay, but I’m hauling you in when time’s up regardless of how much wood you’ve stacked."
Despite her stance as an expert, Haley had never ventured out into a blizzard before. She had to admit she was a little scared. But she had the gear for this, and Jeff didn't. She took a deep breath. "Okay. Let’s do it."
Jeff opened the door, and Haley stepped out as quickly as she could though it was more like a waddle as bundled in layers as she was. The door closed behind her, leaving her alone in a blinding universe of wind and snow.
The ski mask helped, but icy needles still found their way to her skin. The air seemed to freeze as she breathed in. It was so cold her lungs hurt. For a moment, she marveled at the frozen landscape before her. In the waning light, it looked like an alien frozen planet.
Snowdrifts, level with the porch floor, alarmed her. She hoped they were frozen because if she stepped into one and dropped, she'd be buried. She moved as quickly as she could to the end of the porch and gingerly stepped onto a drift. Navigating around them would be impossible. Luckily, the tops had iced over so they were more like moguls on a ski run than banks of powder to impede her progress.
The cold was numbing. The wind-blown snow was more like knife blades than snowflakes. Wind buffeted her, knocking her down as she rounded the corner of the cabin. She landed on her bottom but struggled to her feet as quickly as she could. Haley wiggled her fingers and was disconcerted by the fact that she couldn’t feel them. This was a lot harder than she’d thought it would be. How long had she been gone? Ten seconds? Or ten minutes?
Haley stumbled along to the woodshed, using the side of the cabin as an anchor. The shed was directly opposite the back corner of the cabin so she should be able to find it easily which was a good thing considering the light was fading fast. Damn. She should have attempted this earlier in the day.
Carefully, she inched along, breathing shallowly and testing the next drift before stepping on it. Her progress was painstakingly slow and arduous. She paused to catch her breath, berating herself for not transferring more wood from the shed to the porch in the days prior to the storm. But she’d been too busy feeling alone and sorry for herself.
Her next step broke through the top of a frozen snowdrift. Haley plummeted. Snow and chunks of ice rained down, covering her in a frozen shroud. Smothering her. Fear uncoiled inside her.
Haley gasped for air and found none.
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