Romancing a Curse
Recipe for love: Take one chef, add a veteran with a curse, mix gently with a pinch of snowstorm, add a dash of gourmet food, and some sweet snuggles.
When a blizzard leads Montana to the home of local recluse and military veteran, Rio, he discovers the man he's been fawning over is food insecure and practically homeless. He’s determined to help, even if it means bringing Rio home with him.
But Rio is more than just shy and afraid to be around people. He’s cursed. He knows Montana doesn’t see the monster inside him, but Rio is afraid of losing control.
Montana doesn’t understand why Rio’s always hungry but he doesn’t care. The fact that he loves to cook and Rio needs to eat means they are a match made in heaven, right?
Publisher: Independently Published
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 3
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Lone Wolf
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
With the excitement of the holidays over, the cold settling in on a planned month of quiet seemed to deepen the usual January chill. My grocery lists were much shorter, meal planning only taking a few hours a day, and prep was fast and easy. The manor was on winter break, as my boss Zach Frank, called it. No classes, no guests, just a few weeks of quiet after the stress of the holidays.
I had to admit that a break was nice. The handful of small holiday parties and last minute craft classes that turned into a gift exchange, had been sort of crazy. My days had become endless, dawn to dusk, cooking, planning, and even serving when the parties got too busy. The one thing I still took time for each week was taking food to the local food bank.READ MORE
Once a week, the two local groceries closest to the house loaded up my little Matrix and sent me to the food bank. It was always canned goods and processed foods, but necessary. Often, I brought bread baskets of freshly made loaves, and these past few weeks, a mix of cookies and pies. The handful of families needing the food often waited for me on Wednesdays to get first dibs. A few of the other volunteers drove stuff out to those without transportation and the elderly who didn’t drive. People didn’t like to think their quiet towns or pockets of wealth housed those with food insecurity, but I’d found that it was a reality every‐ where. Even in upstate New York, buried in a small tourist area with large plots of land. I always made sure there was enough for everyone. Those with nothing, and those with only a little.
Today one face had been absent. In fact, I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks. Rio wasn’t always at the food bank. I knew he lived in a trailer on a tiny piece of land that didn’t even have a road leading to it. He had a car, but it didn’t always work. In the nicer months he’d hike down and catch a ride. But with the heavy snow, and brutal wave of cold that had dropped over the week‐ end, maybe he hadn’t been able to come down. That worried me.
“Has anyone seen Rio?” I asked Diana as she helped unload the last of the boxes of canned goods from my car. The small crowd had already chosen their pies and cookies from my stash.
“Hey, Montana,” Jim called as he reached for the stack Diana brought to him. “Everyone has been gushing about how amazing your pies were for the holidays. How grateful they were to have them.”
I felt heat rise into my face. The compliments shouldn’t have embarrassed me. I was a trained chef. Pastries were a hobby to my cooking passion, and the holidays gave me opportunities to share my skills. The manor had even been open to the locals for a holiday dinner I’d prepared. That way everyone had a chance to have turkey, ham, and all the trimmings. We had to schedule times so we hadn’t been overcrowded, but the day had gone smoothly and the joy filled faces had made my holiday.
Sean, Zach’s fiancé, had helped create small gift baskets for everyone local filled with baked goods, small crafts like handker‐ chiefs, safety masks designed to be almost medical grade while still fun and cute, and wooden puzzle toys. I’d never met anyone more skilled at making things than Sean. He’d even helped me perfect a few recipes of some Chinese pastries and steamed buns that had become a favorite at the manor. I’d brought a couple dozen to the food bank this week and had been hoping to push a dozen or so off on Rio so I knew he was eating more than beans and ramen.
“Thank you,” I told Jim. “Have you seen Rio?”
“Not since Christmas at the manor,” Jim said.
Diana shook her head. “He hasn’t been in at all. I’ve been a bit worried. After we had that big drop in temperature, and he’s out so far... I know his car hasn’t been working for a while.”
I gnawed at my lip a bit in worry as I helped them stock the shelves. “I could drive up; it’s not that far past the manor, right?” I tried to recall the gravel trail that veered into the woods, but I had only ever driven past it. Would it be lost in the snow? He was only a mile or so from the main road; though far enough that he had no actual address. I wasn’t even sure he had power, and now that I thought about it, that worried me too. We’d hit single digits in the last week, dropping overnight below zero.
“It’s a bit of a hike from the road. You won’t be able to drive close at all,” Jim said. “Trees are too thick even when there isn’t snow. He’s probably hunkered down for the winter like he usually is.”
I tried to think back to last year, but I’d been new to the area, and hadn’t started the food bank runs yet. With the manor on holiday, and my new kitchen already stocked full, it wasn’t like I had a lot to do. I had a cooler full of food for the manor in the car, but it was just stuff I’d gotten on sale or in bulk to refill basics like flour, sugar, salt, a few pounds of steak, and a giant bag of rice. Taking the time to check on Rio wouldn’t set me back at all, and if it would stop the anxiety welling up in my stomach, that would be a bonus.
Of course, the thought that he might have gotten sick crossed my mind. Our small town has been very strict about mask guidelines, especially after a visitor showed up just before Thanksgiving bringing the virus with them. After a half dozen were infected, with the entire town up in arms and contract tracing, we’d shut it down fast. But maybe Rio hadn’t been so lucky. Maybe he had visitors over the holidays we didn’t know about. Which of course made me think back to our holiday party and how many people might have been exposed. The tables had been ten feet apart, windows open for ventilation, and masks required while people weren’t eating. Everything disinfected and sanitized to death. Zach worked hard to follow health guidelines to ensure the staff was safe even while feeding the community. The gift baskets we’d given out had provided at least a week’s worth of food. And since the staff had all been tested before and after the event, I hoped no one had it.
Though since it had been several weeks since Christmas, I thought it unlikely someone wouldn’t have displayed symptoms. Maybe Rio had been the unlucky one. That thought worried me even more.
“He doesn’t come down much in the winter,” Diana agreed. “It’s why we always let him take a little extra. He stocks up for the worst few months of the year. Poor guy still comes down in the spring looking like a skeleton.”
Rio hadn’t looked like a skeleton when he’d come to the holiday feast. He looked good. Wide through the shoulder, hair a bit long and wild, but clean and bright eyed. He looked of Greek or Italian ancestry but I didn’t know for sure. He had mentioned once to Zach that he’d been in the military, and used some sort of disability pay as his income. He’d grown up in New York City, that much I knew. I had tried not to be nosy, but couldn’t help watching him. He was pretty in a rugged way, like Zach was in a bear sort of way.
I’d probably made a fool of myself flirting. Being small, pretty, and the definition of a twink, I’d sort of naturally fallen into the fem boy habits I’d picked up working in the big city. Being flirty and cute used to bring in the guys like bees to honey. Didn’t work so well out here in the middle of nowhere. And I had to admit I was lonely.
Rio always smiled and nodded, at least appearing to listen. We’d never had long conversations, especially now that the virus scared most of us away from social situations. But I did try to make him feel like he wasn’t so alone.
Watching Zach and Sean over the holidays, seeing them glow with happiness, hold hands, or sit cuddled together near one of the massive fireplaces, had made me want that for myself. Maybe I’d make a trip into the city soon. Take a few days and see if I could meet some people. Though swiping left felt really hollow right now, when what I really wanted was someone to smile at me the way Zach smiled at Sean. Like I was their world.
I still didn’t feel safe randomly hooking up with someone. Too much illness around. And didn’t that put a damper on my love life. The world at large taught us that sex was crucial. In truth it wasn’t sex so much as human interaction. The last year of stunted contact had really hammered that point home.
Rio had a nice smile. Warm and kind, though guarded, he’d always seemed very genuine. And now I was really worried. “Skeleton?” But I’d spent some time living off ramen myself before Ms. Sofia had found me. Not balanced meals by any means. “Does he even have power up there?”
“I think he has a generator,” Jim shrugged. “He doesn’t like people much. Keeps to himself. Heard someone say he has a bit of PTSD. But he’s been up here ten years or so? No one sees him in the winter. Then spring he shows up.”
“And no one worries about him all winter?”
“Most of us are too busy to get up that way,” Diana admitted. The manor was almost thirty minutes north, and with Rio’s tiny plot of land being past that, it made sense. In the snow it would be even harder. The roads were always well plowed, but since he wasn’t on a dedicated road, it was unlikely he’d be anything more than snowed in most of the winter. Crap.
“I’ll stop up,” I said making a commitment right that minute that I would not let that man spend months in the miserable cold all alone. “Can I load up a box for him?” What were some of the things he normally picked?
“Sure,” Jim said. “Take whatever you need.”
I went through the pantry, choosing things that could stretch meals, canned chicken, green beans, stuffing, and even got a few fresh items including a sack of potatoes and some bananas. I loaded it all into paper bags, got directions from Jim and headed back up, dialing Zach from the car on the way.
“I wanted to let you know where I’m going,” I told my boss. “In case I’m not back till late or something. It sounds like it’s a bit of a walk.”
“There’s a storm coming,” Zach said, sounding worried. “Ten inches of snow predicted. This far north you know it’s more likely we’ll get over a foot.”
“I’ve got my coat and stuff,” I said. “It’s not far. Just seven or so miles from the manor.”
“Call if there’s trouble. I’ve put the plow on my truck and can tow a car out of a ditch if necessary.”
“I will,” I promised and hung up. My plan was to send him the coordinates as soon as I arrived. I accidentally drove by the outlet twice before finding a small break in the snow. It almost looked like someone had partially shoveled the edge of the road where the trail began. I pulled off, parking out of the way, and sent a text off to Zach. I only had one bar on my phone, so hopefully it went through. Jim hadn’t been kidding about the trail. It was literally nothing more than a thin hiking trail etching through the trees. I couldn’t see anything but a dark overlay of woods.
When I opened the back of the car I cursed, realizing that I had no real way to carry pounds of food to a cabin that was a mile or so away through the snow. I stared at the cooler. It was a giant thing with wheels and a handle. That would have to do. I pulled out the cooler, which only had five pounds of bacon and a pack of steaks in it, loaded it with as much as I could, then stacked what I was able to on top before locking up the car. There was more he could have, but I’d have to make another trip back.
I tugged on the thick winter coat I almost never wore, a hat, and some gloves, then pulled the cooler to the trail. The wheels were almost useless. The snow on the path was shoveled, but not sturdy enough to roll on, so it was like pulling a lead weight. It wasn’t until I hit a dozen or so yards into the trees that the cooler seemed to find ice and begin to slide.
There were tracks along the edge of the trail. I examined them as I walked. Rabbit I thought, since they were small and sort of looked like a dick dragging through the snow. It made me laugh a little. A wild dick running through the woods, a meme I’d seen a few times but could actually fit it to factual life. City boy like me wouldn’t normally know much about wildlife, but Zach had arranged for a local hunter to come in and give mini tours of the woods, and how to identify critters. I admit I took it because the forest surrounding the manor was endless and very intimidating. I’d had lots of nightmares since starting the job about being snatched by mountain lions or bears. The hunter assured us that both were rare even in the manor’s huge stretch of woods. He’d given us a little e-guide of footprints to keep saved on our phone. Birds, squirrels, and rabbits were easy. The bigger stuff we were to avoid if we saw a hint of a handful of things. The class had helped ease some worries, but I kept my eyes peeled.
After several yards there were a scattering of bigger tracks. Okay well, they were huge. I paused to look at them, holding my hand beside one to make sure I was seeing what I was seeing. Yeah, bigger than my hand. Wolf, maybe? Nature queen I was not. But it looked sort of like a dog print. Big ass dog, or wolf. Should I go back?
I looked around, wary of the woods now, though the tracks disappeared into the trees heading away from the trail. No sign of movement. Hopefully that wolf was napping somewhere far away after its little rabbit chase.
Turning back to the supplies, I tugged it and we rolled along for a while, me just following the trail and hoping it would lead me somewhere. The cold was more intense out here. Wind not as strong as the trees acted as a good break, but the temperature almost seemed to drop. I tugged my jacket up and hat down, leaving little more than my eyes clear. Could eyes freeze? They sort of felt like it.