Feeling the weight of her gaze, Hayden turned his head to meet those pretty, evergreen eyes. “You’re not?”
Brooke shook her head, her gaze dropping to his mouth before slowly coming back up to his eyes. As a sign, that was a pretty damned hard one to misread. He searched her face anyway, waiting for the spell to break or awkwardness to descend. When she didn’t move, only waited, he decided he’d never been so grateful for snow in his life.
“Me either,” he whispered.
The air went thick with anticipation.
With the same level of caution he’d use to approach a wary dog, he closed the distance between them, keeping his eyes on hers. A breath away from her lips, he paused, letting the tension build and roll along his skin like a wave. Brooke lifted a hand to his chest. He could barely feel the press of it through the puffy vest, but he certainly noticed when her fingers gripped the fabric and yanked him forward that final inch. He was smiling when her lips closed over his.
Her mouth was warm, a contrast to the pulse of cold from the window beside them. On a sigh, she swayed into him, turning the bare brush of lips into something deeper. Needing no further invitation, Hayden wrapped an arm around her, drawing her in and lifting a hand to her nape to finger the edge of her short cap of hair. The silk of it teased his fingers. Her hands slid up his chest, fumbling until she found the zipper to his thermal vest. She lowered it, the sound penetrating the roaring in his ears to kick his pulse into high gear. Did she feel it pounding when she slid her arms around his waist beneath the vest, drawing them chest to chest, warmth to warmth? Her own pulse beat a steady thud against his palm. He stroked a thumb over that point of heat until he felt his control and good intentions begin to fray. Only then did he ease back.
Brooke dropped back to her feet and ran her tongue over her lips. The gesture had half the blood draining from his head.
“Sweet,” she murmured.
“You taste like Oreos.”
That had him chuckling. “Double dessert before dinner. That works for me.”
One corner of her mouth lifted in a lop-sided smile. “I’ve been thinking about that all afternoon.”
“I’ve been thinking about it since junior high.”
Surprise had her tipping her head back. “What?”
Damn. He hadn’t meant to say that out loud. Well, he was in it now. “I had a terrible crush on you back then.”
“The girl who had her own daily bake sale to fund her cause of the month. Always something animal-related.”
Brooke blinked. “Wow. That makes me feel terrible I don’t remember you.”
“Believe me, it’s better that way. You were out of my league back then.”
“It was junior high in a small town. There was no league.”
“Keep telling yourself that.” Because she tempted him to fall into another kiss and well beyond, Hayden made himself take a step back. He wanted more than a quick roll in the proverbial—or, given their location, quite literal—hay with Brooke. “The chili will take a while longer, right?”
“It’s one of those things that gets better the longer it cooks.”
He jerked his head toward the door. “The snow’s slowed down. There’s no telling how long it will actually last in the morning. You wanna go play?”
Her grin spread wide. “Hell yeah.”
They checked on the dogs one last time and made a run to the house for some extra layers, but fifteen minutes later, they began scooping and packing snow.
“With all this, we’ll be able to make a snow village!” Brooke declared.
“It’ll be a damn sight better than the pitiful snowman I managed my last winter here. He was only two feet tall.”
“Two feet’s good for a Mississippi snowman. Most of mine were only a foot. I have a pictorial chronicle of all the Bobs.”
Her self-deprecatory laugh was dampened by the snow. “Every snowman I have ever built has been named Bob. I have no idea why. It’s just a thing I started when I was a kid.”
“And what number Bob are we on today?” Hayden asked.
She paused in the midst of enlarging the base. “I think this would be Bob the Tenth.”
“That’s a lot of Bobs for a Southern gal.”
“My grandparents live in West Virginia. We go up there for Christmas every other year, so I usually get the chance to play in real snow. When I was in first grade, I made a snowball and put it in a big mason jar to bring back for show and tell since nobody really knew what snow looked like down here.”
He laughed. “And did your prize survive the trip home?”
She feigned a devastated expression. “Sadly, no. I lost out on cementing my coolness for yet another year.”
“You’re still cool in my book.” Scooping up snow on the fly, Hayden balled and flung it in her direction. The snowball went splat against her red coat, eliciting a squeak of surprise.
“Snowman building is the neutral zone!”
“All’s fair in snow and war,” he declared.
Instantly, she bent to retaliate. A face full of snow was a frigid reminder that she’d played softball as a kid. She still had a hell of an arm. Her giggle lit the air as he wiped snow from his face.
“Okay then. It’s on.”
They played like children, pelting each other with snowballs and dodging in and around the barnyard until he finally snagged her when she shoved a snowball straight down the back of his shirt.
“You’re going to pay for that!” He dragged her down with him, rolling until she was pressed beneath him, breath heaving, cheeks rosy, and eyes snapping with mischief. There was nothing to do but kiss her.
Her response was immediate. She arched up to him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and opening her mouth beneath his for a string of hot, playful kisses that had him wishing for a bed and far fewer layers. Brooke shared the sentiment, her frozen fingers snaking beneath his shirt to splay against his back.
Hayden let out a pitifully unmanly yelp at the touch. “Holy crap, woman, your hands are freezing.”
“That’s what happens when you make out in a snowbank.”
Laughing, he dropped his brow to hers. “How about we take this inside where it’s warmer?”
“I support this plan.”
With one, last, fleeting kiss, Hayden tugged her up, only now noticing his wet jeans and hers. They’d need fresh clothes and towels. At the risk of breaking the mood, he stopped at the door. “In the name of avoiding hypothermia, I’m gonna run into the house to grab some dry clothes for us both, okay?”
“I’ll check on the dogs.” She skimmed a hand over his cheek. “Hurry back.”