It’s snowed at least another six inches since Seth and I came over for dinner a few hours ago. It’ll be a busy morning on the ranch, plowing the snow and checking the livestock.
The road to town has recently been plowed. My four-wheel drive handles the weather with ease, and I’m soon pulling up to Jill’s small house.
Now that her brother, Ty, has moved in with Lauren, the thought of Jill living here alone makes me uneasy, and for good reason.
Not that I have a damn say in the matter.
Her amazing blue eyes would flash in indignation at me and she’d have no problem reminding me that she’s a grown-ass woman who can take care of herself. She’s adorable when she’s pissed.
I park behind her small Honda, taking note of the way it’s parked diagonally in the driveway, and trek through the snow to her front door.
Her walkway needs to be cleared, so instead of knocking, I grab her shovel and quickly clear her sidewalk, along with a path to her car door.
At the rate this snow is falling, it’ll need to be done again when I leave.
I brush as much of the snow off my shoulders as I can and knock on her door.
“I’m so happy to see you!” she exclaims as she flings the door open. She’s bundled up in a worn, brightly colored quilt, her long chestnut hair pulled up into some sort of knot on her head, and those killer eyes of hers widen when she sees it’s me and not Josh.
I smile slowly as I take her in: those small, strong hands clenching the quilt, her slender form hidden beneath about six inches of fabric from neck to feet.
Yet she’s the prettiest thing God’s ever put on this earth.
I step inside and pull my beanie off, set my tools by my feet, and resist the urge to pull her against me and kiss her senseless.
“Zack. I thought Josh was coming.” She shuts the door behind me and doesn’t meet my eyes as she walks to the back of the house, which is where I assume the furnace is.
“I had him stay with Cara and Seth,” I reply, and leave it at that. “How long has it been this cold in here?” I can see my breath, for God’s sake.
“I don’t know. It was like this when I got home. It was warm when I left, though, so it must’ve happened sometime during the day.”
She gestures toward a natural-gas furnace in the utility room off the kitchen. I brush past her, gritting my teeth at the zing of awareness that comes from just the brief touch of my arm on her shoulder.
I can think of better ways to warm Jillian up than fixing her furnace.
I’d rather haul her into that bedroom, pull her under the blankets, cover her tiny body with mine, and sink inside her. Hear those whimpers and moans she makes when she’s turned on, and hear my name screamed from her mouth when I make her see stars.
Jesus, King, get a grip.
Maybe I should have let Josh come in to town.
I wipe my hand over my mouth and squat next to the furnace.
“What’s wrong with it?” Jill asks from behind me, hovering over my shoulder.
“I just opened the thing up, Jill.”
She bounces from one foot to the other and braces her hand on my shoulder to lean over and watch what I’m doing.
“Must you hover over me like that?”
“I want to see,” she replies stubbornly.
“You’re blocking my light,” I grumble. If she keeps touching me, I won’t be responsible for my actions.
She suddenly shoves a flashlight in my face.
“Point it down here,” I direct her and resign myself to sporting a hard-on while Jill “helps” me fix the furnace.
“Is the pilot light out?” she asks.
“Yeah, but I’m not sure why.” I’m not a mechanic—hell, neither is Josh—but I’m pretty handy. I tinker around but can’t find anything obviously wrong; nor can I get the pilot light lit, no matter what I try. “Damn,” I mutter.
“I think your thermocouple needs to be replaced.”
“Oh.” She pats her hips where pockets would be and looks around. “I don’t have a thermonuclear thingamabob on me right now.”
“You have no idea what I’m talking about,” I say with a laugh.
“You would be right.”
“It means that it can’t be fixed tonight.”
Her shoulders sag in defeat, and I have to fight the desire to pull her into my arms and reassure her that it’s all going to be okay.
“Go ahead and pack a bag,” I murmur.
“Where am I going?” she asks with a frown.
“Jill, it’s about fifty degrees in here. You can’t stay here all night.”
“I’m sure I can borrow an electric heater from someone,” she replies.
“You’ll be safer in a hotel. Just pack a bag and I’ll follow you over there.”
She shakes her head and looks like she’s on the verge of tears, sending panic through me.
“I don’t think my car will make it to the hotel,” she replies softly.
“I never had studded tires put on it.” She shrugs with frustration. “I didn’t have time, and then this storm hit. It took me almost an hour to make my way off the mountain this afternoon, then Max hit me at the bottom, and I slid most of my way home from there.”
My heart stills at the mention of someone running into her. “Who hit you?”
“Max Hull is in town, and he took the corner too fast and clipped my back fender. It’s a tiny dent. Ty can pull it out.”
“I don’t give a fuck about your car, Jilly. Are you okay?” Without thinking, I wrap my arms around her and hug her tight, her arms trapped between us. I can feel her trembling, and whether it’s from the cold or being in my arms, I’m not sure. I press my lips to her head and breathe in her fresh lilac scent. I rub my hands up and down the quilt covering her back, trying to soothe her.
“I’m fine. He barely hit me.” She pulls away all too soon, and I’m left feeling . . . empty.
“We’ve been telling you for the last two months to replace those tires,” I remind her.
“Yeah, well, now you can say ‘I told you so.’ ” She rolls her eyes and marches away from me, grabbing her phone from off the couch.
“Who are you calling?”
“I’m going to see if I can borrow an electric heater.”
“Just pack the bag, Jill. I’ll take you to the ranch.”