After breakfast, Brooke had a shower—a glorious, steaming shower that thawed her out all the way for the first time since yesterday—and finally felt ready to face the rest of the day. Once the roads were cleared, she and Hayden piled into his truck to go check on all the animals still at the rescue. He was quiet on the drive. Brooke glanced over at him from beneath her lashes, trying to gauge his mood. She felt bad for shooting down his idea, but generous though it was, it wasn’t practical. And if this attraction ended up being the product of forced proximity rather than something real, she didn’t want the strain on either of them of working where he lived.
Brooke deflated, her pleasure in the morning waning. She didn’t want this to be just a fluke of shared space and body heat. Hayden was sweet and funny and interesting. He was a good man, which already put him leaps and bounds ahead of the last guys she’d dated. She wanted the chance to get to know him better. Wanted to pursue the chemistry between them to see where it led. She wanted to prove to herself that her judgment wasn’t permanently flawed.
The driveway of the shelter hadn’t been cleared. Hayden’s truck bumped and slid down the road, coming to a stop beside her car, which was coated in a fluffy layer of white. Nothing interrupted the winter quiet but their footsteps as they trudged through the snow toward the entrance.
“Generator’s off,” Hayden noted. “Either it ran out of propane or the power’s back on.”
“Fingers crossed for the latter.” She unlocked the door and stepped inside. The interior was blessedly warm. Lights flickered on when she flipped the switch. “Hooray for power.”
“I’ll go unhook the generator and load it up while you check on everything.”
Dumping her purse, she opened the door to the back. A chorus of opinionated meows greeted her as she stepped inside.
“Hey, y’all. Who’s hungry?”
Relieved the cats had survived the night, no wiser to the severe winter weather, she lost herself in the routine of cleaning cages, dishing out food and water and offering up a few brief cuddles to those felines who were so inclined. She kept expecting Hayden to walk in. When he hadn’t materialized by the time she finished, she went in search of him.
He was in the kennels, pacing around the outside edges.
Shoving her hands into her coat pockets, she circled around to join him. “What are you doing?”
“Thinking. You’ve got these aluminum carport covers over all the kennels. I’ve seen people make barns out of these. I think we could use the same concept to close this in and insulate it.”
“Really?” The idea of it intrigued her.
“Come on, I’ll show you.”
Taking her hand in his, he walked her through it, pointing out the steps to how the entire facility could be enclosed and weather-proofed. It would cost money—everything did—but what he proposed would cost a lot less than building something from scratch.
Fresh stirrings of hope had her turning toward him. “This is a great idea. Certainly more affordable than new construction, but we still don’t have the money.”
“You might be able to get Edison Hardware to donate some of the materials. Or maybe get a crew together to work on reclaiming some wood and other materials from condemned properties in the area. I think there’s a place up in Lawley that does that.”
“Those are certainly options worth considering. I’m no stranger to drumming up donations. But I still doubt it would cover everything.”
“You need a fundraiser.”
It was the story of running a non-profit. “I’m sure we’d need several. The ones we’ve done in the past have barely been enough to manage the expenses of running what we already have. There’s definitely never leftovers for building anything.”
“So you need to think out of your original box. What about a calendar?”
“I’ve heard of other shelters doing that kind of thing. Everybody loves cute animal pics. But I have a hard time imagining that will raise enough to cover the cost of materials, let alone labor. The ones that make that kind of money usually involve hot guys.”
“Like firefighters,” he supplied.
“Yeah.” She’d succumbed to a few of those herself from various causes she’d seen online over the years.
Hayden arched his brows, expectant. “You’ve got firefighters.”
He was a firefighter. And apparently he was volunteering himself as eye candy. The idea of it made her grin. “I appreciate your willingness to help, Hayden, but I don’t know that we’d sell out of a calendar full of you. Although I’d certainly buy one.”
Clutching a hand to his heart, he adopted a piteous expression. “You wound me, madam.” He sobered. “But no, not just me. I got a bunch of the other guys in the department to agree.”
“After our conversation over breakfast, I sent a text out to the guys about the plight of the shelter. We’ve got a bunch of animal lovers who want to help.”
Brooke stared at him, not quite believing what she was hearing. “You got an entire calendar’s worth of guys from the fire department to volunteer to pose for a sexy calendar to raise money for the shelter?”
“Well, I don’t know as I mentioned the sexy part. I figured we could pose with animals from the shelter. Maybe find homes for some of them while we’re at it.”
She’d shot down his initial attempt to solve her problem and he hadn’t given up. Instead, he’d found another way to help, one that would, quite possibly, fund the entire endeavor. Sexy guys plus cute shelter animals would equal profits. Prospectively big ones if she could get a big enough social media campaign going. Her friend Cecily ran a marketing firm. She’d be all over that. But the idea had been Hayden’s. He’d come to the rescue of her rescue…again. The fountain, it seemed, had worked overtime to grant her wish.
“You are amazing,” she told him, sliding her arms around his shoulders.
Grinning, he tugged her closer. “I aim to please.”
“Do you think they’d agree to something on the sexier side? Because sexy sells.”
“I’m reasonably sure we can talk them into it, as long as nobody is expected to lose their pants.”
She snorted. It was a reasonable enough request, but she couldn’t help messing with him, just a little. She arched a brow. “Nobody?”
His grin turned wicked. “I volunteer as tribute, as long as it’s a private viewing.”
Tipping her mouth up to his, she murmured, “I think we can work with that.”