Her eyes narrowed on something behind him. “What’s the ladder for?”

“To climb on the barn roof for the very best view of this valley and the rock from whence the Split Rock garnered its name.” Renner grabbed her hand and tugged her to the ladder. “You’ll love it.”

“This isn’t a trick? Get me up there and push me off?”

“Your concern would’ve been justified if I’d brought you up here right after you’d first shown up. I’da happily shoved you over the edge.” He pressed his lips to her forehead. “It’s different now, between you and me. It’s . . .” Real. He released her and squeezed through the trapdoor. The apex of the barn roof was a flat space, four feet wide, before it started to slope down both sides. There wasn’t much room to sit; their legs would dangle over the edge. “Give me your hand.”

“I’m not sure—”

“Darlin’, I promise I won’t let anything happen to you.”

She climbed up as far as she could; then he grabbed her upper arms and pulled her through the rest of the way.

Tierney clutched him tightly. “Oh God. We’re high up.”

“I thought you didn’t have a fear of heights?”

“I worked on the fiftieth floor of a Chicago high-rise. Of course I don’t have a fear of heights as long as I’m encased in glass. Can we please go back down to the ground? I won’t even bitch about getting manure on my shoes.”

“Tierney. Baby.” Renner placed his hands over her cheeks and stared into her eyes. “Breathe.”

She did.

When he was fairly certain she wouldn’t topple off from dizziness, he said, “Let’s sit down.”

“Don’t let go.”

“I won’t. Trust me?”

“Yes.”

To have this woman’s trust was no easy task; he was both humbled and overjoyed. “Do what I do.” Renner dropped to his knees. She followed suit. He swung his legs over the edge and kept hold of her the entire time.

“What do you think of the view?”

“I haven’t opened my eyes yet.”

He chuckled. “Come on. Open them beautiful browns.”

“Oh. Wow. This is impressive.”

The landscape took center stage and neither spoke.

“That extra story and a half allows you to see over the ridge to the valley below. You don’t get this view even on top of the lodge.”

“You’ve been up there?” She paused. “Of course you’ve been up there.”

Renner snorted. “You make it sound like I compete in the X-Games. I’m not exactly a daredevil.” He tried several times and several ways to dislodge her death grip on his hand but she wasn’t getting the hint. “Tierney, I need my hand back.”

“You promised you wouldn’t let go.”

“I won’t.” Renner hooked his leg over hers. “There. You can have my hand back in a second. I need to grab something outta my pocket.”

“A parachute? In case the wind comes up and we start to slide off the freakin’ roof?”

“I wouldn’t have brought you up here if there was a chance we’d become kites.” He reached in his left pocket and fished out a bottle. “It ain’t the traditional champagne, but you want some peppermint schnapps?”

“I’ve never had that.”

He tsk-tsked and uncapped the bottle, sneaking a drink. “You really have led a sheltered life.” He held it to her lips and said, “A nip will keep you warm.”

Tierney kept her eyes on his as she sipped.

“You like?”

“Mmm-hmm. It’s an interesting combination of sweet and warm.”

“Reminds me of you.” Renner kissed her. The brisk night air had cooled her lips and she tasted sweet from the peppermint. The sweetness vanished in the heat of her mouth as it moved on his, filling him with an underlying tang that wasn’t from liquor but was pure Tierney. But he got that same drunken feeling kissing her as he did from too much booze.

He loved her. Loved this woman who was so unlike anyone he’d ever known. She owned him. Heart and soul.

And she didn’t know it. When would he muster up the guts to tell her?

Maybe he’d get lucky and in a moment of passion, she’d say it first.

Her tongue darted out to lick away the last remnants of peppermint from his lips. She murmured, “So serious, cowboy. Something on your mind?”

You. I want you in my life like this every damn day. Every damn night. And I don’t know what I can offer you to convince you to stay with me.

“Renner? What’s wrong?”

“Nothin’. Bet this is a New Year’s Eve you won’t ever forget.”

“I won’t.” Tierney touched his cheek. “Not ever.”

“You don’t mind that I dragged you on top of a barn, I’m plying you with cheap booze and you’re freezing your ass off?”

“No. I’m glad it’s just you and me, checking out the view, sipping schnapps, snuggling up to stay warm.”

“It ain’t fancy appetizers, Cristal and a black tie gig at a swanky Chicago hotel.”

“No. It’s much better.” She scooted closer to rest her head on his shoulder. “Do you know how I spent last New Year’s?”

“No.”

“Neither do I.”

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