Once Upon A Rescue Episode 9

Revved up with arousal, Brooke barely noticed the cold. She hadn’t quite decided how far this was going to go, but definitely further. She wanted to get her hands on him, wanted his hands on her. Wanted more kissing. Definitely more kissing. She’d forgotten how much she loved kissing, and Hayden was particularly good at it.

Inside, assorted canines offered greetings. She went stall to stall, checking on the group. There’d been no fights, no fussing. The lot of them mostly just seemed happy to be out of the worst of the cold. And then she reached the vet stall. Greta was in active labor.

The priority shift was instant. Brooke slipped inside, moving slowly lest the dog decide to snap. But Greta had bigger things on her mind. Brooke was still kneeling in the straw, checking Greta over when Hayden came back.

“She doing okay?”

“Her labor’s starting. She’s doing fine, so far.” Brooke rose to her feet and joined him at the door to the stall.

His eyes searched her face. “You worried?”

“No. Just…cautious. Mostly dogs don’t need our help, but there’s that whole fact that we can’t get to any if she does.”

“I heard somebody around here was a vet tech and actually knows stuff.”

She shot him a look at the bland tone. “Ha ha. Yeah, I can handle minor stuff. But whatever happens is going to happen, so I’ll leave her to it.”

“You should get out of those wet clothes.” There was nothing salacious in his tone as he offered up a pile of towels and clothes.

With a rueful smile, she took the pile. “Not the context where I was hoping to hear those words.”

A flash of heat crossed his face. “Not right now isn’t the same as never.”

It fascinated her how he could bank the desire and shift priorities so quickly. Always putting others first. She liked that about him. It set him apart from the long string of duds that had inspired the man diet in the first place and made Hayden, by her estimation, the perfect guy to break it with.

“No, I suppose not.” She took the pile. “We should work on a collective potty break for the pack before we bother putting on dry clothes.”

“Fair point. If there’s more snow coming, now’s as good a time as any to do it.”

Is there more snow coming?”

“No idea. Would you mind if there was?”

“I can’t think of anybody I’d rather be snowbound with.”

“Back atcha, Blondie.”

It took almost half an hour to let everybody out. Without a proper fenced yard, they couldn’t risk letting anybody but Tim off leash. All the dogs wanted to sniff, several wanted to play, and Mulligan freaked out about the snow, which was up to his belly. By the time everybody was settled again, she was feeling the cold all the way in her bones and looking forward to chili and dry clothes.

Settling the dogs with chew bones, Brooke disappeared into the tack room to change. He’d brought her some of his own clothes—a henley and flannel shirt, some sweatpants. Unable to resist, she buried her nose in the soft flannel and sniffed. The shirt smelled like him, a comforting mix of sweetgrass and cedar that was probably as much detergent as man. The scent immediately calmed her.

She’d been shockingly calm in general this afternoon, since he’d strode into the rescue with the plan she’d so desperately needed. She was always less stressed when Hayden was around. He had a habit of wading in and helping out, knowing exactly what was needed. She’d seen it before today but hadn’t had occasion to really think about how much his easy assistance was truly worth. For someone like her, used to handling things all on her own, that was more than a little appealing. As if she needed more reasons to like him.

When she emerged from the tack room, she found he’d changed himself into another variation of his winter uniform of henley and flannel. His wet clothes were draped on one of the stalls to dry. She followed suit, wondering if her own clothes would be wearable by morning. While the barn had warmed considerably, she bet it was hovering right around sixty degrees. Not exactly conducive to air-drying laundry.

“The chili’s ready,” she announced.

“Perfect. I’m starved.” But it wasn’t the empty belly kind of hungry she saw on his face.

“Is everything we say going to sound suggestive now?”

“Probably. I figure it’s a symptom of makeoutus interruptus. That a problem?”

“No. Just checking to see if it was just me.”

“Definitely not just you.”

“Good to know.” It was a long night ahead. Perhaps there’d be opportunity to pick back up where they’d left off. The idea of it had her skin flushing.

“I am legitimately looking forward to that chili.”

“I should hope so since you proposed marriage. That’s a serious offer to be making without tasting it first.”

“Obviously I need to rectify the oversight.”

They grinned at each other.

In the tack room, she dragged out the sour cream and cheese, opening the tortilla chips and setting up a line of fixings on the battered old desk. They dished up the food in a couple of hand-thrown pottery bowls he’d brought from the house and ate the first serving standing around the crock pot. For the second, they relocated to the picnic blanket, where he pulled something from his pocket.

“How do you feel about cards?”

She went brows up. “Poker?” In a game of strip poker, she’d be the definite loser, winding up down to her underwear before he even lost his socks. Under some circumstances that might be okay, but it was way the hell too cold for that tonight.

His grin turned a little bashful. “Gin rummy.”

Delighted with him, she laughed. “You, Hayden Garrow, are turning out to be quite the surprise.”

He shuffled the cards and bridged them with all the expertise of a Vegas pit boss. “My Nanna was a bit of a card shark. She taught me to take no prisoners.”

“Noted. So what are the stakes?”


“What are we playing for? Just bragging rights or something more interesting?”

“I’m game for more interesting. How about kisses?”

“That seems rather mutually beneficial for stakes,” she observed, feeling a tightening low in her gut.

“Does that offend your competitive spirit?” he teased.

“Competition is overrated.”

Grinning, he began to deal.