Julie snuggled up against Gunnar’s chest. The heat from his arms wrapped around her and their legs pretzeled together had her warmed all the way to her marrow. The benefits of her sled—with her sleeping bag—plunging into the Arctic Ocean, settled her against a solid chest that rose and fell in a peaceful rhythm. Maybe she should have cut her sled loose miles before.
Two days had passed since they’d set up camp. Forty-eight hours of the wind and snow thrashing against the flimsy, orange fabric of the tent. It had made talking hard. But then again, it’d made snuggling close and kissing that much easier.
She held her breath, twisting her head to hear better. Aside from Gunnar’s steady heartbeat thumping in her ear and his entrancing inhales and exhales, she didn’t hear a thing. Had the storm finally passed? If so, could she convince Gunnar to make the final push?
She knew the dangers, especially with her bundled up in a sled bag, unable to move. However, she also knew she didn’t want to give up. She’d started this expedition out of anxiousness—desperate to not only honor her father’s memory but to keep the kennel going. But along the tough trail, she’d found that mushing was just as much her passion as it had been her father’s.
She may have started the journey north because of her family’s legacy, but she would finish for herself.
Now, she just needed to convince the reticent warrior holding her tight to come with her.
Leaning a little more away, she stared at his relaxed face. She ran her fingers along his collarbone, following his olive skin to the hair curling against his neck. It’d grown longer in the month they’d been on the trail. He looked a bit wild with his beard and hair grown out.
She loved it, the unrestrained side of him.
Twirling the soft curl through her fingers, she grinned as he pulled her closer with a low hum. Sparks built in her chest like those fireworks her dad used to buy that would snap and sparkle small, only to crescendo to a showering fountain of color. While they hadn’t gone beyond kissing, it surprised her the tent hadn’t exploded into ten-foot flames from the heat his touch generated in her.
He nuzzled against her neck, his beard tickling her skin. A part of her ignited and thrummed to life, the part she’d worried the cancer had killed. The sensation overwhelmed her, bringing her fully awake from the hibernation she’d been stuck in since her treatments.
Maybe if she would’ve gotten out more, had actually attempted to date after the cancer, she would have figured that out earlier. Not likely. Not when all the promises for her future, all her love, had been forever tied to Gunnar Rebel.
She couldn’t let him distract her now that the storm had passed. Her hands no longer burned from pain. Well, mostly. The swelling on her forehead had subsided and now just sported a nasty bruise, and her back muscles didn’t protest every time she moved. She was beat up, sure, but she wasn’t immobile.
The last two days, she’d watched the GPS. They’d been continually floating closer to the Pole, like God Himself wanted them to make it. She wouldn’t waste that advantage. How would she convince her overprotective boyfriend to go along with it?
Is that what he was? It seemed such a juvenile word for how she felt about Gunnar. Maybe not juvenile, more lacking.
Love of her life?
Yet, they hadn’t even talked about what would happen after the expedition finished. Her home was between Glenallen and Valdez while his was in Seward, some seven hours away. Fifteen years she’d helped her father build their facility to a top-notch training center. Could she leave it all for a chance at life with Gunnar?
“Mmm.” He kissed behind her ear and along her jaw like he liked, causing her skin to tighten and the comfort of the sleeping bag to get too hot. “Morning, honey.”
His hand spread wide against her back as he kissed her softly. The expanse of his palm left her feeling protected, like he’d shield her from any harm. The way he nipped her bottom lip, shooting electricity to her fingers and turning them to sparklers, then gentled his kiss with tender words, left her with a sense of being cherished. Both feelings reenforced his promise he’d made to her all those years ago.
Maybe it hadn’t been broken?
Maybe they both had to find themselves in their trials for the promise to be kept?
“I can’t believe you’re here in my arms.” He pushed his hand up her back and into her hair, making every strand ache and tingle. “I’ve dreamed of holding you like this every time I’ve closed my eyes since I left.”
Even though his kiss was deep and full of restrained desire, he held her loosely, like he gave her the option to leave. She ran her hand around his side, his muscles jumping beneath her touch, and held him flush against her. No matter what, she would not let him go. Whether they pushed on to the Pole—whether she left her home for his—she wasn’t letting this man out of her life again.
He buried his face into her neck, his breath hot against her skin. “I keep thinking I’m going to wake up back in my lonely cabin and this would have all been a crazy dream.”
“It’s not. We’re here together.” She pushed her fingers through his hair and kissed the top of his head. “I’m here with you… forever if you want.” She took a deep breath, anticipation pressuring up like a shaken soda. “I promise.”
The two words were only a whisper, but his fingers froze their soft massage on her back. He pulled back, hope and heat burning in his eyes. His Adam’s apple bobbed.