|Home | Romance Novel||
Online Romance Novel -- Chapter 9
Jeff checked his watch. Only a couple of minutes had passed, but it seemed like an eternity. Mentally, he tried to calculate how long it would take her to cover the distance to the woodshed and back, with a load of wood in her arms. He glanced at his watch again. Had he payed out too much rope when she'd left? He tested the yellow nylon. No tension. Wouldn't it be getting tighter as she walked? Worried, he glanced at the sweep hand of his watch, staring at it as it crawled around the gold circle.
A crashing tree branch snapped Haley back to reality. She fought the loose snow over her head and quickly got her face exposed, dragging in a much needed breath that burned all the way to her lungs. Without pausing, she dug through the drift and scrambled her way out. Her teeth chattered uncontrollably, and she couldn't feel her hands. She knew she had to get moving, but she was terrified of falling through another drift.
Praying with every step, she finally reached the corner of the house. The rope tugged sharply against her waist.
With renewed energy, she half-ran, half-stumbled, with her arms outstretched, in the direction of the shed and ran right into it.
Though the small structure was built a foot above ground level, snow had begun to bury it. Haley dug at the mound of snow. Panting with exertion, she managed to uncover the doorway. The exertion sapped her energy even more, but finally she managed to raise the heavy leather flap covering the doorway.
Somehow she managed to load her arms with a half dozen of the split logs. Exhausted and colder than she'd ever been in her life, she left the meager shelter and lurched back into the swirling snow and ice.
Suddenly, she realized if anyone saw her stumbling across the snow, they'd probably think she was drunk. Haley giggled. She imagined she looked like a stiff-jointed, drunken robot. The more she thought about it, the funnier she found the image. She laughed so hard, she fell and almost dropped her precious load of wood. Laughing and giggling hysterically, she tried to rise without letting the wood go. Thanks to well-developed leg muscles she managed the task and stood there laughing like a maniac.
Finally, she reached the porch. Jeff opened the door and reached for her. "Get in before you're frozen."
"No," she gasped. "One ... arm load of wood ... isn't enough. Another... ten minutes."
With Jeff still protesting, she dropped the wood next to the door. His face looked grim. She was too tired to argue. She stumbled off the porch.
"Five minutes," Jeff yelled.
Haley moved as quick as she could since she had a path carved out now, but she was exhausted. The laughter had drained her. One more armload of wood. That would hold them. Until tomorrow. Surely the storm would blow itself out by then.
Retracing her steps to the wood shed, she managed to get there without falling this time. She managed to load her arms with the same amount of wood and started back.
Her feet seemed to weigh more with each plodding step. Her arms felt as wooden as the logs she carried. She was so cold. So tired. If she could just rest a moment. Just stand still and lean against the house. Just for a minute. Then she'd be able to finish carrying the wood to the porch.
What she really needed was to lay down for a minute or two. The huge snow drifts made her think of down-filled white comforters. Wouldn’t it be nice to curl up under one of them? Tiredly, Haley leaned against the side of the cabin and closed her eyes. There was a tightness around her waist that was painful, but she couldn't figure out what it was. Maybe if she just rested. She leaned against the log wall of the house. Her thoughts drifted off into nothingness.
Bemused, she stared at the graying gloom of the day and thought it was like being inside a television that wasn’t receiving a signal. So that’s why they called it snow on the TV screen, she thought. It was nearly hypnotic, she thought, watching the gray. She closed her eyes to rest them a moment.
Get up, Haley Gant!
Haley blinked. Something dark loomed over her. Her lips felt too frozen to form the question in her head. Then something, some force pulled her upright. Her sluggish brain sent the word to her lips. They formed the name but no sound came forth.
She tried to ask a question, but the wind tore the words from her lips. For a moment, she seemed to hear her father’s voice, shouting, commanding. Just like he’d done that summer at camp when she’d been in the swimming race and had nearly given up because a cramp had hit her.
"No excuses, Haley," Franklin Gant had yelled at her. "Just do it!"
Filled with that memory and encouraged by the man next to her, Haley managed to put one foot before the other and was half dragged, half carried onto the porch.
"Let go of the wood," Jeff shouted.
Haley stared dumbly at him.
"Haley! Drop the wood."
She stared. Finally her brain transferred the message to her arms. She opened them and the wood fell by the door.
It seemed like an eternity later when Jeff shoved her through the cabin door. She fell onto the hardwood floor. Jeff sank down next to her. She felt encased in ice. When she tried to speak, to thank him, her teeth chattered so badly, the words made no sense yet Jeff seemed to understand.
"You're welcome," he muttered as he fumbled with the knots in the rope, freeing each of them from the yellow nylon loops.
Haley was too tired to help him. Some expert she’d turned out to be. Once out of the blizzard and into shelter, she realized with horror that she'd been a hair's breadth away from hypothermia. How long had she been out there, motionless, with her brain starting to shut down? Thank God Jeff hadn't waited to reel her in like a frozen trout.
Haley shuddered. Then the shakes set in. She felt frozen to her very core.
"You all right?" Jeff asked, tugging her to a sitting position, rubbing her arms and legs.
"J--just f--feeling incred–credibly f--foolish," she managed to gasp. "So c--cold. You?"
"Just peachy," he said as he pulled his gloves off and shucked his wingtip shoes. He rubbed his feet which looked fairly bloodless at the moment but which rapidly pinkened. Then he shoved her hood back, whipped off the goggles, the cap, and the ski mask.
Haley took a deep shuddering breath. She shook so hard with the chills that it was agonizing.
"Got to get you warm," Jeff muttered, removing her gloves and her coat before she could blink. An untidy mound of dripping, discarded clothing formed next to them as he divested himself of his coat. "Let’s move over to the fire," he said, pulling her upright.
Compared to the outside, the cabin with its sixteen inch log walls seemed as warm as if it had central heating. Haley allowed herself to be pushed and prodded toward the source of heat. The few steps to the mattress in front of the hearth seemed like a 10K run, she thought, collapsing on it.
Jeff removed her outer clothing, leaving her in the unflattering thermal underwear then he stripped down to a tee shirt and briefs. He tented the blankets over them both as they faced the fire. Then he began rubbing her arms again, then her legs, infusing her with his own warmth. Still she shook like a leaf in the storm.
He lay down and pulled her close, wrapping the blankets carefully around them. He shared his body heat with her, and Haley didn’t even squeak a protest. After several minutes, her body relaxed a bit. The quaking subsided to shivering and after a while that faded.
Haley felt at home in his arms. She could tell by his body’s reaction that he didn’t feel nearly as relaxed as she. Drowsiness crept over her. Exhausted, she could hardly keep her eyes open. "You’re pretty good at shucking clothes and getting a girl in bed," she whispered.
Jeff chuckled. "I owe it all to Jennifer Como and the backseat of my dad’s Chevy."
Surprised, Haley laughed. "You’re terrible." Then suddenly, her laughter changed to a sob as the enormity of what had almost happened hit her.
"Shhh. I've got you." Jeff held her even tighter. "Go ahead and cry. It's all right." He craned his head to see her better. Tears ran down her reddened cheeks. Her nose was red and running. Yet, to him, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
The surge of adrenalin had ebbed, but he still felt the shock of fear that had filled him when he’d tugged on the rope and got no response. He hadn’t hesitated before plunging into the storm. When he’d seen Haley sitting next to the cabin, with her arms full of wood, he’d thought she’d frozen. She seemed as motionless as a marble statue. His heart had turned over with fear.
"Oh, Haley," he whispered, his hands restless on her back as he sought to reassure himself that she was safe. "I thought I’d lost you," he whispered fiercely. Just holding her wasn’t enough to vanquish the fear he’d felt. He blazed a kiss across her lips.
Haley gasped. His unexpected passion ignited some primeval emotion inside herself. He seemed to know exactly what she needed to chase away the stark fear that had held her in thrall.
Clumsily, she cupped his face with both her hands and kissed him back. "Please," she whispered, moving against him.
It was as if they were one in thought and emotion. Jeff rained kisses onto her face. Haley felt the most delicious warmth curl through her, filling her senses with an excitement that left no room for cold and fear.
Guided by emotions she’d scarcely felt before, she welcomed his passion and responded whole-heartedly to it. Glad to be alive. Glad to be in his arms. Glad for this one night with him.
"Ah, Haley," Jeff breathed against her lips. "What am I going to do with you?"
Copyright © 2009-2013 Romantic4Ever.com and Joan Reeves.
All rights reserved.