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Online Romance Novel — Chapter 6
Moonlight On Snow: A Love Story
By the afternoon of the first day of
the new year, Haley and Jeff had settled into an uneasy, overly-polite
relationship. The tension between them had begun to ebb after Haley had
suggested they move the mattress from the bed to the floor in front of the
fireplace. Then she had announced that the curtained-off bedroom area was the
official bathroom for the duration of the storm.
The expression on Jeff’s face had
been priceless. There was no doubt that he was a city boy through and through.
Haley had hastily stifled her laughter. She wondered if the astronauts had
suffered the same embarrassment in figuring out bathroom privileges in the
cramped quarters of the space shuttle.
After placing the mattress between
the sofa and the hearth, she and Jeff had retreated to neutral corners. Haley
had dug out what she called her snowbound busywork, an unrecognizable crocheted
rectangle, a ball of yellow yarn, and a crochet needle. She tried her best to
ignore Jeff as he paced around the narrow confines of the cabin like a caged
Finally, when his restlessness began
to grate on her nerves, she broke the silence between them. “There’s a
basket of books in the bedroom next to the bed if you want something to read,
“Look, this formal mister and
doctor stuff is a little ridiculous under the circumstances, don’t you
think?” Jeff grinned.
“You’re right. Call me
“And I’m Jeff.”
“All right, Jeff. Why don’t you
check out my little library. Reading will make the time pass faster.”
With a grunt she interpreted as
thanks, he ducked behind the patchwork curtain.
To Jeff’s surprise, instead of
finding botanical texts or science fiction, as so many scientists read, he
discovered romance novels in the big wicker basket. Still, reading anything,
while cooped up in the cabin, was better than doing nothing. He grimaced and
began to dig through the paperbacks, reading the back cover blurb of each
before neatly stacking them on the floor next to the basket. After several
minutes, he sighed and selected one that seemed less syrupy than the others. At
least it promised a mystery in connection with the love story.
Feeling more than a little
disgruntled at being stranded in the remote cabin rather than sitting in a
window seat of a sleek plane winging his way back to civilization, he returned
to the sitting area and settled on the opposite end of the couch from Haley.
He sneaked a glance at her. She
wasn’t anything like what he’d expected. For one thing, she was a lot more
attractive with her shining mane of rich brown hair than he’d imagined. He’d
known she was a brilliant botanist, but he was surprised by her dry sense of
humor. Since he’d interrupted her solitude, she’d amused and irritated him in
equal measure, but she hadn’t bored him. At the moment, she was scowling
fiercely as she tried to pluck a knot from the rather strange yellow thing she
was making with that ball of yarn.
He’d watched his grandmother crochet
before. Gram had talked a mile a minute while her needle flew, creating
beautifully even stitches as she turned out everything from afghans to baby
caps. When Gram crocheted, she never had the fierce scowl that marred Haley’s
Haley Gant was an enigma. Though he
admired her refusal to be cowed by his authority, he still didn’t know her well
enough to trust her with the real reason he’d braved the Montana winter to seek
her out. Maybe she didn’t know anything about the European cartel, but then
again, maybe she did. The Frenchman was known for romancing secrets out of
vulnerable women scientists.
Covertly, Jeff looked Haley up and
down. A slender woman with a stubborn chin and startling gray eyes. Her eyes
were as changeable as the Montana weather, but he’d finally decided they were
definitely gray. Not gray blue or any other fanciful color, just gray. He found
them strangely appealing.
Could the Frenchman romance research
secrets from her? Haley didn’t look like anyone’s picture of vulnerability.
Still, he’d reserve judgment until he had more of the facts about her project.
And until he knew her a little better.
The rest of the day passed
uneventfully. They each pretended to be deaf when either had to duck behind the
curtain when nature called. Night fell early on the cabin. Actually, Haley
thought, laying down her yarn disaster, night didn’t fall so much as the little
daylight faded away.
She stretched and yawned loudly.
“Soory. I’m bushed after no sleep last night. I think I’ll fix us a bite
to eat then retire for the night.”
“Sounds good,” Jeff said,
laying aside the novel he’d been reading. “What can I do to help?”
Haley shrugged. “Dinner will be
canned soup and cheese toast. Not exactly the gourmet fare you’re probably used
to, but filling nevertheless.”
“Hey, give me a break. Just
because I’m not a country boy doesn’t mean I eat nine course meals every
Haley smiled. “You’re right.
Sorry. Guess I’m so bored that needling you passes for entertainment.”
“The boredom part I can
understand, though once I got into the book, the time’s actually passed pretty
“Really? So how do you like the
romance novel you’re reading?”
He stretched before replying.
“Well, I’d never have bought this book, but it’s really quite good. It’s
definitely not what I thought a romance novel would be.”
“Well said.” Haley beamed
at him. “If more men read romance novels, maybe they’d find the answer to
that age-old question.”
“You mean, what do women
want?” Jeff grinned. “Judging by what I’ve read in this book, women
want pretty much the same as men. And just as often.”
Haley blushed and decided not to
pursue the subject any farther. “Why don’t you come help with the grilled
They worked in companionable silence
to prepare the simple meal. Haley stirred the pot of soup, watching the letters
of the alphabet float around the tomato-tinged broth. It was weird having a man
in her cabin, but, to her surprise, he seemed perfectly at home as he cut
slices from the block of cheddar, laid them on whole wheat bread, and arranged
them on the old iron griddle.
“Just set the griddle next to
the fire,” Haley directed, handing him a couple of thick pot holders. “The
cheese will melt in a couple of minutes. Then transfer them to a plate and
leave the griddle sitting on the hearth.”
“I think I can figure it
out,” Jeff said.
Then to her surprise, he winked at
A shiver of excitement scooted up
Haley’s spine. She blinked in surprise and watched him saunter off with the
griddle of cheese-covered bread.
* * *
Late that night, footsteps woke
Haley. She blinked and sat up, disturbing the cocoon of blankets on the
mattress. The air in the cabin had a more pronounced chill than earlier in the
Jeff paced back and forth in the
small space behind the couch. He rubbed his arms with every step. Haley sighed.
She’d known he should take the mattress next to the hearth, but he wouldn’t
hear of it. She wore long johns. She suspected Jeff hadn’t had the forethought
to wear thermal underwear beneath his business suit.
At bedtime, he’d vehemently insisted
she take the mattress. He said he’d sack out on the small couch. Though she’d
protested that she was better able to withstand the night on the couch, he’d
scowled as if she’d questioned his manhood. Then he’d removed his shoes and
bedded down in his starched white shirt and trousers. Now, she noticed, he wore
his overcoat and shoes.
“What’s wrong?” she asked,
blinking sleepily, and knowing perfectly well what was wrong.
“It’s freezing in here.”
Jeff punctuated his words with slaps up and down his arms as if to keep the
circulation going. He stomped his feet too.
Haley really did feel guilty now.
She’d been sleeping like a baby tucked up in a warm crib as she lay on the
mattress, right next to the hearth, the warmest spot in the cabin. Wryly, she
said, “Let me guess. You didn’t take the time to purchase thermal
“I didn’t know I’d be camping
out in Siberia. I expected to be on my way back to New York by now.”
Haley rolled her eyes. She dared not
use the kerosene heater. That would be lit only if they couldn’t get out and
get firewood from the shed. “Okay. Throw another log on the fire and take
off your shoes and coat.”
“Why? So they can turn
instantly to ice?”
“No, because you don’t wear
shoes and an overcoat to bed.” She turned back the cover and scooted over
closer to the couch, leaving the half of the bed near the fireplace vacant.
“Come on. Climb in. I wouldn’t want to be accused of homicide by winter
Jeff didn’t hesitate. He shucked his
shoes and coat in record time and practically dived beneath the thermal
“Thank you,” he said
“Just two rules.” Haley
arranged the blankets over her to her liking. “One, no snoring. Two, stay
on your side of the bed.” She eyed him with as much seriousness as she
could manage given the situation.
“I promise you your virtue is
safe with me,” Jeff said with a grin as he scooted to the far edge of the
mattress and closest to the hearth.
“Somehow I have a feeling I’m a
distant second compared to the warmed stones of that hearth.” Haley
After a moment, Jeff sighed deeply,
obviously content in his new sleeping arrangement. Haley grinned. Last night,
if anyone had told her she’d be sharing her bed with her fantasy dream man
tonight, she’d have laughed out loud.
“Did you ever read that poem
Cremation of Sam McGee?” Jeff asked suddenly.
“By Robert Service?” Haley
countered with a giggle.
“I see you know the poem,”
Jeff replied dryly. “Well, I swear I know just how relieved old Sam felt
when he got torched.” Chuckling, he added, “A little cremation would
feel pretty good right about now.”
His wry comment surprised a laugh
from Haley. Despite what he considered hardship, he hadn’t lost his sense of
humor. She turned on her side, facing him. She felt remarkably contented at the
moment. Warm, relaxed, and cozy. Not at all the way she usually felt around
attractive men like Jeff.
“What made you interested in
folk remedies, Haley?” he suddenly asked. “And, why Montana
wildflowers? Why not some nice warm state like Florida? Surely they have wildflowers?”
“There’s much truth in folk
remedies. Maybe some poultice used by the native peoples of this continent
might be the next revolution in antibiotics or antivirals.”
“I know it’d sure make EnviroMed dance for joy.”
“As for Montana’s wildflowers,
that’s easy. They have colors that shout, ‘Look at me.’ In the spring when they
start popping out, it’s almost like a miracle. Besides, I spent a lot of my
formative years in this state. If you’ve read my file, you know who my father
is. He did several research projects on Montana’s native grasses. I was usually
his unofficial research assistant.”
Haley warmed to her subject.
“You’d be amazed at how many wildflower varieties there are here. Montana
has about twenty-five hundred kinds of flowering plants. They grow everywhere.
High in the mountains under winter snow, in woods, or in the prairies. The
native peoples used them to dye clothes, to heal their sick, and to eat.
Berries of the kinnikinnick when cooked pop just like popcorn. Juice from the
toadflax relieves the itchiness of mosquito bites.”
In a soft voice, she told how the
native people had taught Lewis and Clark to eat the root of the bitterroot, the
state flower of Montana.
Jeff wondered if Haley knew how sexy
her voice was when she was relaxed and drowsy and warm. He liked the sound and
asked questions just to keep her talking.
“Does the sound of that wind
ever get to you when you’re alone here?” he suddenly asked.
“Not really. I guess I’m used
to it. Does it bother you?”
“A little, though I imagine if
I stayed here long enough, it would be so much background noise, like the sound of traffic in the city.”
As the night aged and the wind
howled, Haley and Jeff continued talking, first about their respective careers,
then about their lives.
Haley heard the note of wistfulness
in his voice when he talked about the workaholic existence he’d led, moving
from one corporation to another with little time for friends or relationships.
Jeff listened while Haley described
life with stern Franklin Gant as a single parent. He heard the longing for
family as she talked about her childhood split between battling parents. He
drifted to sleep
as he listened to the quiet murmur of her voice.
After a few minutes, Haley heard Jeff’s breathing
shift to a deeper, heavier rhythm. The quiet crackle of the fire lulled her.
Heat radiated from his body. As she was falling asleep, Haley felt
unaccountably disappointed that her virtue was safe, just as her handsome
houseguest, lying mere inches away, had promised.
What would it take to change that situation?
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