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Online Romance Novel -- Chapter 10
Silence awoke Haley sometime before dawn. The storm had died. The wind had abated. No icy pellets bombarded the windows. She listened to Jeff’s breathing and smiled. He slept on undisturbed. She'd never forget her night with Jeff. They’d talked until well after midnight. He’d told her how his dedication to work had ruined one relationship after another. She’d told him of how she’d dedicated her life to her research but that she had always longed for more than that.
He’d told her about his parents and about his life growing up with three brothers and a sister. She’d told him, haltingly, of her lonely childhood spent with a father left bitter by his wife’s betrayal.
On and on they’d talked, sharing intimacies. They'd shared everything except sex. She'd been willing. More than willing, but Jeff was the one who called a halt. Finally, she'd fallen asleep in his arms.
Why hadn't they made love? She lay on her side with Jeff spooned to her back and savored his warmth, his closeness and wished it could always be this way. Was it possible to fall in love in a few days time?
Lying curled next to Jeff, she felt a contentment she’d never found anywhere. Not in her work. Not in her other relationships. Jeff’s arms were her refuge. She felt at home. A lump filled her throat painfully. If only she knew how Jeff felt about her. With no storm to imprison them, would he demand her findings about her research and then leave? She felt insecurity sink its claws into her.
A shaft of silvery moonlight peeked through the front windows. Moonlight on snow was a sight worth losing a little sleep. She started to wake Jeff so he could see the simple, elegant beauty that drew her back here time after time. She lay her hand on his cheek, intending to wake him. Just that simple touch made her shiver.
When he turned his face into her palm and kissed her hand, she forgot all about the natural beauty she’d wanted to show him. As he pulled her back into his arms, she prayed that there was something real between them. Something special. She only hoped they had enough time together for him to feel it too.
When she awoke again, bright sunlight streamed through the windows.
"Well, good morning, sleepyhead."
Haley moaned and pulled the covers over her head.
"Uh uh. We’ll have none of that lollygagging in bed."
Then the covers were ripped away.
"Jeff!" Briefly, they engaged in a tug of war for the blanket, but he won.
"All right, all right. I’m up." Haley yawned and stretched.
"And about time too, Dr. Gant. We need to go over your project analysis. Time’s awasting and life’s awaiting."
Haley’s heart turned over at his business-like tone. All her fears intensified. It took forever for her to dress because her hands shook. When she appeared from behind the curtained alcove, Jeff sat at the table with two cups of steaming coffee waiting.
Feeling awkward and uncertain, Haley took her seat at the table and waited.
"Now, before we get started, I want to tell you why I arrived here early," Jeff began.
Haley frowned and cocked her head to the side. "Listen. Do you hear that?"
Jeff frowned. "I don’t hear anything."
"Someone's coming." Regret washed over Kaley. She’d lost her opportunity to be alone with Jeff.
"Hey! I do hear something." Jeff jumped up and rushed to the door.
Haley followed in time to see a Snow Cat chug into the clearing and ease up to park near the end of the porch. "It’s the park ranger, but I don’t know the other guy."
"That’s Etienne Roget."
Haley could tell by his tone of voice that Roget was not one of Jeff's friends. "Who's Etienne Roget?"
"I guess you could call him an industrial spy. I’d heard he was after you and your project. Looks like I was right."
Realization dawned on Haley. "I see. So that’s why you’re here early. Afraid I’d tell him about the project I’m working on?"
Jeff flushed. "Not exactly. You hadn’t filed any reports, and I didn’t know if I could trust you. I mean I didn't know you. Then. But I did know how Roget works. You wouldn’t have been the first woman who revealed her secrets to that French Don Juan." He shrugged. "I felt it was in the best interests of the company that I check on you."
"You mean check up on me!" Anger burned through Haley's uncertainties. What a fool she’d been! She felt mortified by every kiss they’d exchanged. He’d been playing her until he got that final report on her project. He wanted to ensure her research went to his company instead of being sold under the table to a higher bidder. Not only did he think she had no scruples about her work, he obviously thought she had none where her personal life was concerned either. Why hadn't he made love to her? Bitterly, she decided he hadn't wanted to go to that trouble when a few kisses and pillow talk would take care of her.
"I’d say you know a little about romancing women too."
Jeff turned and leveled an indignant look at her. "What exactly is that supposed to mean?"
"I think you know very well what it means. You’ve been cozying up to me since you arrived. Kissing me! Complimenting me! Acting as if I had enchanted you."
"I want you. I’ve made no secret of that."
"Ha! You don’t want anything except to protect the interests of EnviroMed. How dare you think I’d sell out when I’ve been hired by your company. At least I have scruples."
Jeff's brows snapped together in a scowl. "And I don’t? Is that what you’re saying?"
"Hey, if the shoe fits!" Haley’s voice rose. "And how dare you try to romance me to protect your lousy company’s interests."
"That’s a rotten thing to say!" Jeff grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her close.
"Let go of me." Haley jerked from his arms. After thirty years of leading a sane, orderly life, she’d fallen head over heels in love with a rotten, manipulative Romeo. Oh, had she been ripe for the picking!
"You can take your silly gloves and your New York overcoat and your dress-for-success wingtip shoes and go back to the city where you belong."
"You honestly believe that nonsense you're babbling? You don't believe me?"
"Why should I? Give me one good reason?"
Jeff stared at her, tempted to give her the reason she asked for. But if she believed he’d shared his soul with her just to keep her loyal to his company, then she’d never believe he’d fallen in love with her.
Loud barking split the tension between them. Haley and Jeff turned as one to gape at their unwelcome foreign visitor who wrestled with an ungainly black bundle.
"What the–?" Jeff broke off.
Haley saw the Frenchman struggling to lift a huge black Labrador retriever from the cab of the Snow Cat. He sat the dog down, and the animal made a beeline for Haley. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry as she stared at the clumsy puppy bounding through the snow,
Somehow, she knew that her big surprise birthday present from Courtney had finally arrived.
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