“You don’t need to do that.”
“Leaving you here in this house with no heat in this storm is not an option, Jillian. I’m taking you to the ranch. Grab your shit and let’s go.” I shove my hands into my pockets and glower at her, daring her to argue.
“Why are you so bossy? Just because you bossed people around in the army doesn’t mean you can boss everyone else.”
I pinch the bridge of my nose and sigh deeply. “Jesus, you are the most infuriating, obstinate woman I’ve ever met.”
“I doubt that’s true.” She sniffs and tugs the quilt more tightly around her.
“Please,” I begin again, as patiently as I can, “pack some clothes and let me take you to the ranch. Everyone would feel better if we know you’re safe.”
She bites her lip and finally nods. “Okay.”
“Thank you,” I say in exasperation and take my tools out to the truck. Sure enough, I can’t even see the paths I shoveled earlier.
When I stomp back into the house, Jill has a duffel bag set by the door and is shoving her computer into a briefcase. She’s wearing sweats and a big, warm hoodie. She’s got her black-rimmed glasses on now. “I’m almost ready.”
“That was quick.”
“I won’t need much.” When she’s gathered all her papers and pulled on her coat, she turns and looks expectantly at me, and all the breath leaves my body.
God, she’s gorgeous.
She bites that pouty, pink lower lip, her blue eyes wide as she peers at me through her glasses. She looks vulnerable and small, and I want to scoop her up and protect her from everything.
“Are we just going to stand here and stare at each other all night? We’ll die from hypothermia.”
“Funny.” I take her bags and follow her out to my crew-cab Ford, stow her things in the backseat, and start the engine.
“Could you have bought a taller truck?” she asks as she pulls herself up into the cab. “I need a stepladder to get into this thing.”
“I don’t drive many short people around,” I reply with a smile.
“Seth is short.”
“Seth hops in without a problem.”
“I’m not a twelve-year-old boy,” she reminds me and rubs her hands together briskly to warm them up.
“No, you’re definitely not that, Jilly.”
“Damn, it’s really coming down,” she murmurs in awe. She’s right—the snow is falling faster than crews can clear it from the streets. As we drive on the highway heading out of town toward the ranch, the snow is coming down so hard and thick, my headlights bounce off the white flakes, almost blinding us.
“Oh no! Someone’s in the ditch!” Jill points to a small SUV with its hazard lights blinking, the front end in the ditch and the back tires spinning worthlessly in the snow. I slowly pull over to the shoulder, put the truck in park, and take Jill’s hand in mine, demanding her attention.
“Stay in this truck, Jill. I’m gonna pull them out.”
“I can help.”
“If I need you, I’ll let you know, but for now just stay here.”
I don’t need to worry about her out in this mess. She nods and I hop out of the truck and make my way down the brush- and snow-covered ditch to the driver’s side of the SUV. A woman is inside, frantically talking on her phone. A baby is crying in the backseat.
I knock on the window, startling her.
“I’m Zack King,” I yell through the glass. “I have a truck and chains. Just stay here, put it in neutral, and I’m going to pull you out!”
She sighs in relief and smiles as she cracks her window.
“Thank you so much!”
Pulling my gloves out of my coat pocket, I nod and climb up to the truck, then yank my tow chains out of the bed. Once I have the chains attached to both my truck and her SUV, I climb into the cab.
“What’s happening?” Jill asks.
“I’m pulling her out,” I reply, looking both ways on the highway for oncoming headlights. There are none.
As quickly as I can, I pull out onto the road, put the truck into the lowest gear possible, and pull the small SUV out of the ditch and onto the road. As soon as I see she’s out, I throw the truck in park and get out to unhook the chains and wave at the woman as she drives slowly and carefully away.
After throwing the chains back in the bed of the truck, we’re on our way to the ranch.
“You’re soaked,” Jill murmurs.
She turns up the heat and takes my right hand in hers, pulling my glove off and warming my fingers. “You’re freezing.”
I glance over in surprise as she continues to warm my hand, confused as all hell at the riot of emotions racing through me. One minute she’s stubborn and impossible and the next she’s soft and sweet.
“I’d do the other one, but it’s kind of busy right now,” she says with a grin.
“Yeah, not a good idea to drive with no hands,” I agree and chuckle. She keeps my hand in hers, resting in her lap, until finally, I gently pull it away. “Thanks. That’s better. That could have been you, you know.”
“I know.” She sighs deeply. “I need to replace my car. I drive a lot for my job, so I probably need an SUV with all-wheel drive.”
“Sooner, rather than later.”
She just nods and continues to watch the snow in the headlights. “So, are you still living with your mom and dad?”
I glance over at her, expecting to see a teasing smile on her lips, but she’s just watching me with wide, quiet eyes.
“Well, you know how it is. I could do my own laundry, but Mom makes it so extra soft and it smells good.”
“Don’t be an ass.” She laughs and smacks my biceps.
“Actually, Mom and Dad moved into the new cabin last week.”
“Oh! It’s done already?” she asks.
I nod. Mom and Dad decided this past summer that with me home and running the ranch with Josh, it was time for them to retire. But they would never leave the ranch, so Josh and I had a small single-story home built for them on the property.
“Does your mom like her new place?” Jill asks.
“Yeah. No more stairs to climb every day, less house to clean, and Dad made sure her kitchen is badass, so she’s been baking and cooking like crazy.”
“Good for them.” Jill grins. “Your parents have worked hard all their lives. I’m glad they’re going to take it easy.”