Content with the quiet isolation of their lake house, Snowden and Rowan Hadley survive on summer jobs and winter hunting, unable to move on since their parents died. Their peace is shattered by a strange, human-acclimated bear who insists on following Rowan like a giant hunting dog and again by the discovery of a naked, surly stranger in the snow.
Both bear and man lead the Hadley brothers into a strange, surreal world where sorcery and RPG software intertwine. Curses and magical traps lie in wait around every turn. Rowan and Snowden will need to adjust their view of how the world works, and quickly, if they want to live through rescuing their enchanted princes.
- 4 To Be Read lists
- 4 Read lists
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 3 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Fairy Tales Revisited
Word Count: 41778
Languages Available: English
A hard gust threw dry leaves against the kitchen window, their pale, tattered lobes scratching questing fingers against the glass.
Rowan shivered at the unwelcome image. Bad enough a storm was moving in, but his brother had gone out into the wind to secure the back gate. He’s taking a godawful long time…
The back door slammed open. Snowden stood there panting, as if he had raced for the house.
“Snow?” Rowan went to him, trying to peer around him into the dark. “What is it?”
He only glimpsed eddies of snowflakes whipping around the yard before Snowden set his shoulder to the door and shoved it shut. He shook his head, chest still heaving. “Don’t.”
“Don’t what? Don’t go out there?”
Snowden nodded as he slid the deadbolt home. “Tracks. Back gate.”
He brought his brother a chair and made him sit so he could help him off with his snow-caked boots. “They were…someone’s tracks?”READ MORE
Trying to get information out of Snow was hard most times, but when he was upset, it bordered on impossible. Rowan understood his twin better than anyone else could, though, and he remained patient. “Animal tracks, then. Something big.”
“Bear,” Snowden muttered.
“You’re sure it wasn’t just a big dog?” Snow lifted dark eyes to glare at him. “Okay. Not a dog. But we haven’t had bears around here in forever.”
Snowden shrugged, a gesture that clearly meant, Fine, don’t believe me.
“I’m not saying there wasn’t one. Just surprised. Guess the weather’s been bad west of here. Poor bear.”
A snort indicated that Snowden’s sympathies weren’t with the bear.
“Must be hard, though.” Rowan put the soaked boots on the mat by the door and hung Snowden’s fleece-lined jacket on its hook. “Trying to find food to get through the winter…”
He trailed off, the statement a little too close to home. Snowden’s calloused hand closed on his arm with a little shake.
“I know. We’ll be fine. Of course we will.” He shook off the momentary gloom. “We’re safe in here while poor Mr. Bear’s outside in the storm. And I made soup from the rest of the rabbit. We can have some tonight. Freeze the rest. We’re good for a long while. There’ll be a break in the weather soon and we’ll get into town for supplies.”
Neither one of them mentioned that one usually needed money for that sort of thing. At least if the shopper wanted to do more than just look. We’ll figure something out.
In the summer, they had the honey to sell from their mother’s apiary and the berries from the huge, tangled patches of blueberry and raspberry bushes on the island. They took seasonal jobs as river guides, too, as long as the weather held. The first winter hadn’t been so bad, since a small life insurance policy had come through. But things always came up. Between repairs for the truck and the generator, an unexpected tax bill, and Rowan getting pneumonia, the money was long gone.
Their parents had put a sizeable chunk of money aside—investments, annuities, and so on—but several relatives had come forward to contest the will. Their inheritance languished in probate.
He ladled out the soup into his mother’s blue stoneware bowls, trying not to think of how she had always laughed when he told her they matched her eyes. God, I miss them both.
They ate at the kitchen table in companionable silence. No matter what else they did during the day, they had always eaten dinner together, as a family. It was a tradition they sorely needed now, the comfort of each other’s presence in the evenings.
“Bear, huh?” Rowan finally broke the silence. “Probably won’t stay too long. Not much for a bear to eat here on the island in the winter.”
“Honey,” Snowden muttered darkly.
“Yeah, he probably smelled it. But he can’t get through the enclosure to the hive boxes. He’ll give up and go away. I mean, it’s just a black bear.”
Snowden shifted, staring at his soup.
“What? Oh, come on. It has to be a black bear. We don’t have any other kind. Not like we live in Alaska with the Kodiaks.”
He would just have to go out in the morning and look for himself. Not that he disbelieved Snowden. His brother wasn’t in the habit of exaggerating. But if it was an unusually large black bear, or something bigger that had wandered down from Canada, he might have to call animal control.
That they might be trapped in the house, with him unable to hunt, was a sobering thought.
“Satellite’s probably not going to pick up much.”
“Wanna play some Fae Mongrels after dinner?”
Snowden’s grin said You bet your ass I do loud and clear. As a rule, they didn’t have extra money for games, and evenings passed with TV or reading. But Fae Mongrels had been a gift from a neighbor across the lake, in gratitude for help with her raccoon problem. They had tried to be noble and refuse, but the new game from Thaumaturgy Inc. had proved too much of a temptation.
The wind whined in the gutters as they settled on the sofa.
“You want to start new characters?”
With a little frown, Snowden shook his head.
“But I thought the wings were bugging you?” An RPG with real depth and variety, the game swiftly taught the unwary player that every advantage came with liabilities and every action had consequences. Building characters became half the fun, so the player could find out how a spiked tail might affect balance, or how wings might become disastrous during ground battles. No two journeys the same boasted the back of the box, and if that couldn’t be literally true, there were enough variations built in to make it effectively true.
Snowden kept his wings on his mountain sprelf and Rowan stayed with his clawed, shapeshifting lycanoni. The evening passed in near silence, the characters speaking for them onscreen as they battled a horde of ogre bats and reached a seedy border town.
Another angry gust rattled the windows and Rowan couldn’t help thinking of the poor bear out in the storm.COLLAPSE