Every bit of air in the cab seemed to vanish.

Tierney was suffocating in her own overheating skin. She fumbled with the door handle. Between the height of Renner’s truck cab and the steep incline of the shoulder, she slid gracelessly into the ditch. Snow went down her pants and scraped her palms. She scrambled to her feet and climbed up by the back end of the truck.

Of course Renner was there, grabbing her upper arms and getting right in her face. “Why did you bail out like that?”

“Let me go.”

“Like hell. Where were you goin’?”

“To get some air. I can’t breathe.” She kept her face pointed at the ground and twisted out of his hold. “Just let me breathe.”

He let her be. But he didn’t leave her.

Tierney wrapped her arms around herself, concentrating on dragging fresh air into her lungs. The icy wind whipped her hair around her face and she welcomed the sting that cooled the burning in her cheeks. She kept her eyes closed and simply breathed.

When she started to shiver, Renner was behind her, tugging her in his coat. He murmured, “Better?” against the whistling wind.

She nodded.

“You ready to get in the truck?”

She shook her head.

“Okay. We’ll just... stay like this. For as long as you want.”

She lifted her chin to look at the sky. Too much reflection from the snow didn’t allow for the night to be pitch black. The stars were silver spatters in a swath of indigo stretching as far as the eye could see. No light. No sound except for the wind. This land was breathtaking in its austerity. Humbling in its magnitude. She loved it here. Even if Renner rejected her, she couldn’t return to the life she’d led in Chicago.

Her legs were feeling the effects of the cold. Renner’s probably were too, but he hadn’t moved or complained. She turned her head into his chest and said, “I’m sorry.”

“For what? For saying you love me?”

Her heart raced.

“Are you sorry you love me, Tierney?”

She wiggled until he released her and she spun around to look him in the eye. “No. I’m not sorry I love you.”

“Then are you sorry you told me that you love me?”

Why was he pushing her? “I don’t know.”

“I’m not sorry you told me.” He attempted to push her hair out of her face—a losing battle against the never-ending wind. “It just caught me by surprise. But I should’ve known.”

“Known that I love you?”

“No, known that you wouldn’t play games. That you’d tell me how you felt about me as soon as you figured it out.”

Renner smiled so softly, so wistfully her breath stalled. She feared he was about to tell her that as much as he liked her, he didn’t feel the same way.

“You’re very straightforward. That’s what I love most about you.”

A beat passed and then she blurted, “Wait. You love me?”

“Yep. And darlin’, you’re a lot braver than me, because I’ve known how I felt about you for a while and didn’t have the guts to tell you.”

“Define a while.”

“Since before Christmas.”

They stared at one another.

She said, “Now what?”

“First, this.” Renner pressed his cold lips to hers and held them there. “And then this.” Their lips moved against each other’s. Warmed each other’s. Although they kissed for a good long time, the kiss never caught fire. It stayed easy. Sweet. Tender. Loving. Perfect.

Then he rubbed his cold nose into her warm neck and she shrieked. “Omigod, that’s cold!”

“Now can we get in the damn truck and go home? I’m freezin’ my ass off.” Renner took her hand and helped her in the driver’s side. As soon as she put her coat on he reached for her hand again. And he didn’t let go once on the drive to the Split Rock.

They crested the hill leading to the main lodge and noticed the lights were on. And a Land Cruiser was parked in the front.

He frowned and pulled in behind it. “We weren’t supposed to get guests until tomorrow, right?”

“Right.”

“Let’s see what’s going on before we unload the luggage.”

Tierney’s feeling of unease increased with every footstep. Renner held the door open and they both froze upon seeing the man sitting by a roaring fire, drinking out of a brandy snifter and conversing with Janie.

Hands shaking, she took off her coat and crossed the room. “Hello, Father. What are you doing here?”

“Enjoying the ambiance and the delightful company of Miss Fitzhugh.” Gene Pratt stood and held his hand out to Renner. “Good to see you again, Jackson.”

“You also, Pratt.”

If Renner or Janie was surprised by the lack of affection between father and daughter, neither showed it. Tierney went straight for the bar. She grabbed two bottles of beer, popped the caps, and handed one to Renner.

Her father frowned.

Janie said, “I was just telling Mr. Pratt how lucky it was, Tierney, that Renner was able to give you a ride back from your trip to Denver.”

“What were you doing in Denver, Tierney?” her father asked. “Janie was a little vague.”

Now she felt guilty keeping Janie in the dark about their relationship. Tierney didn’t want to make the woman look incompetent, but not at the expense of maintaining a lie to her father about her relationship with Renner.

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