Holiday Romance!

14-noelsfirstchristmas6x9

The best Christmas presents are those that touch the heart.

Noël White has it all. A successful advertising agency, a huge designer apartment, and enough money to live comfortably. But he’s a lonely man, and the coming holidays only show him what he’ll never have. Oliver, the man he secretly loves.

Oliver Toffey leads a simple life. Living with his little brother and working as a cleaner, he’s searching for the one guy who’d make the perfect husband. Although Oliver is mildly retarded, he doesn’t see it as a handicap on his way to happiness. When he meets a new client, Noël White, he falls head over heels for the lonely man who lives on takeout and always seems so sad.

Unceremoniously, Oliver takes charge of Noël’s apartment and his life, to show him the magic of Christmas and how much he loves Noël.

This sweet short is part of eXtasy books’ Stocking Stuffer Event! Beginning with December the 1st, there’ll be a new wonderful story each day leading to Christmas. 

Free Halloween Treat!

HalloweenHey there! Want to know how Aleks and Ruben celebrate Halloween in their remote little cabin? Great! Here’s a free snack for you, featuring both Aleks and Ruben about half a year after Ruben moved to Norway 🙂 It’s a THANK YOU to all of you who bought the book and made me a very happy bunny. You guys rock!

Enjoy! And please excuse any misspelling or other quirks. It hasn’t been edited professionally.

Happy Halloween! *hugs*


 

Pumpkins and a Dress

“I miss my pumpkin flavored latte. And I miss dressing up and going out with friends to… okay, that’s rubbish because in London I didn’t have that much friends to go out with and party all night long. And I wasn’t a party animal either, but…”

Aleksander rolled his eyes and barely refrained from groaning, too, as he listened to his boyfriend, Ruben, going on and on about Halloween. They were sitting on opposite sides of the sofa, both leaning against an armrest, and with Ruben’s feet tucked underneath Aleks’ legs. They had a cozy fire burning. The remnants of an almond pie sat on the coffee table, and Aleks took a sip of his cocoa occasionally.

It should’ve been calm and perfect. Of course, since Ruben had moved in with Aleks in spring, Aleks’ life hadn’t been even remotely calm. However, Aleks didn’t want it any different because he loved Ruben to pieces and couldn’t imagine being a day without him anymore.

Ruben had settled in nicely in Norway. He’d even found some friends at the local school where he gave art lessons for interested kids a couple of hours a week. Parents and teachers alike adored Ruben, and several had come forward and invited Ruben and Aleks to dinner at their homes.

Thanks to Ruben, gone were the times when Aleks would sit alone at his cabin, working on his next book about yet another meteorological phenomenon. Instead, they went out regularly or greeted guests at their home. It was nice, but right now Aleks could do with some cuddly time just for the two of them.

“We could always drive into town, you know?” Aleks asked and looked at his boyfriend over the edge of the book he’d been trying to read. “This is Norway, not the north pole. There is a coffee shop in town that sells drinkable coffee. You know that because you’ve been there just yesterday with another teacher. And if I remember correctly, you even tasted like pumpkin and cinnamon when I picked you up and kissed you.”

Ruben just scowled for a while, then visibly deflated. “Yeah,” he muttered.

“And we’ve been out last weekend with Meike to check out the new club her cousin just opened. You didn’t like it because the music was shitty.” Aleks grinned, closed his book and threw it onto the coffee table where it could keep the pie crumbs and empty plates company. Talking with Ruben was so much more interesting than reading anyway.

“Well, yes,” Ruben said and sounded defensive. “But that’s not—”

“What about yesterday?” After fishing for Ruben’s right foot, Aleks peeled off the knitted sock and started kneading Ruben’s fine-boned foot and little toes. “You spent the whole day at school to help the kids decorate their classrooms with Halloween stuff.”

Ruben groaned, either because of the foot rub or Aleks’ words, and curled his toes. Then he placed his still socked foot in Aleks lap. “Okay, I get it. I have an exciting life and should stop bitching. But… couldn’t we still dress up and invite some friends over to celebrate with us on Saturday? Or carve pumpkins? If we had kids, I’m sure we would carve pumpkins. It’s so much fun!”

“We are a long way from having kids, Ruben.”

“Aleksander!”

Aleks sighed deeply. “I’ve never celebrated Halloween before, to be honest. My mom is German, so we always celebrated Reformation Day.” He freed Ruben’s other foot from its sock and massaged it, too. When Ruben switched from glaring daggers at him to closing his eyes and letting out a string of wholly naughty moans, Aleks’ interest in a conversation about public holidays waned. What would he have to do to lure Ruben into a round of sex in front of the fireplace? Not much, given that Ruben had turned out a little firecracker whenever they had sex. The younger man was insatiable.

“Couldn’t… couldn’t we carve a pumpkin?” Ruben asked and blinked his pretty brown doe eyes open. Damn, that eyes. “Please? Just a tiny one for the porch. We’ve grown them. Shouldn’t we benefit from them, too?”

Aleks chuckled and wriggled his fingers under Ruben’s pants leg and up, massaging his calf and enjoying the way he twitched when Aleks tickled the hollow of his knee. “You’re benefiting from my pumpkins almost every week because we’re having pumpkin pie and pumpkin soup and pumpkin—”

“Yeah, whatever. Be that way. Mr. Halloween Grump.” Sticking out his lower lip, Ruben crossed his arms in front of his slim chest and kept staring at him. God, he was too adorable for words.

Aleks placed Ruben’s sufficiently massaged legs so they bracketed his own, then lowered his voice to a sultry growl. “Crawl up here. I want you closer.”

He watched Ruben who squinted suspiciously before his eyes widened and he let out a little gasp. Then Ruben scrambled up and lay on top of Aleks not two seconds later. Aleks tangled his hands in his lover’s curls and urged him closer, then touched their lips together in a tender kiss. Ruben still tasted like sweet almond pie, and when he breathed a little sigh into their kiss, Aleks almost whimpered.

Over the past months, Aleks had found that Ruben received every kiss like a gift. He would hold his breath before their lips met, then sigh as if he hadn’t been sure he would really get a kiss. Sometimes, Aleks thought that maybe Ruben felt insecure. As if he was waiting for Aleks to come to his senses and tell him that everything had been a mistake. That wouldn’t do. Ruben was it for him, the love of his life, and Aleks was sure they would even tie the knot eventually.

“I love you,” Aleks whispered against his boyfriend’s lush lips. “I love you so damn much and I was just teasing you. Of course we can carve a pumpkin. Hell, you can carve as much as you like. Litter the whole damn porch with them. Invite our friends for a carving contest for all I care. As long as you’re happy, I’m happy, too.” He nuzzled Ruben’s temple, breathed in his masculine scent and caressed his back with light touches of his fingertips.

Ruben pulled back a bit and just stared at him open-mouthed, then he let out a bubbling laugh and whacked Aleks’ shoulder. “You ass! You were playing with me.”

“Of course. I love riling you up. It’s always making you bristly. And bristly Ruben makes me so damn hard.” He nibbled at Ruben’s bottom lip, then licked it and devoured the sweet taste of pie and Ruben mixed into one.

“Love you, too.” The way Ruben whimpered and pressed closer made it even harder to concentrate on Halloween or anything to do with it. “You’re the best,” Ruben said, sounding breathless. “Thanks for giving me permission to slaughter your poor pumpkins.” He snuck his hand between their bodies and curled his fingers around the waistband of Aleks’ sweatpants. “Now… let me thank you properly.”

###

Ruben was having a blast. Okay, so he had chunks of pumpkin in his hair and his hands were now orange. Oh, and he had icy feet, again. But all that didn’t matter when he looked at the pumpkins sitting carved and ready for their candle on the porch. He had fashioned the typical creepy faces and had even managed to give two of them sharp vampire teeth.

However, his creations looked bland compared with Aleks’. The tall man stood beside Ruben at the table they had dragged onto the porch so they wouldn’t get the house dirty and battled with his last pumpkin. Ruben had to admit, somewhat begrudgingly, that Aleks’ carving looked prettier than his own. Obviously, being an artsy person and a painter didn’t make you a good carver, too.

He looked at Aleks’ pumpkin again and whistled at the carved cat with its arched back and delicate legs and tail. How cool was that? Another pumpkin showed an owl—Olga, of course—and a third a squirrel.

“I’m jealous,” Ruben said and straightened up, groaning and putting his hands in the small of his back. “How come you’re so talented?”

Aleks shot him a grin before he returned to the cat’s eyes. “I told you my dad is a carpenter. When I was a kid and lamenting about a dumb carving contest at school, and that everyone would laugh at my sorry excuse of a pumpkin, Dad had the brilliant idea that working with wood wasn’t that different from working with pumpkins. He helped me and from then on we always had the funniest pumpkins at home. Drove mom nuts.”

Ruben snickered and rubbed the back of his hand over his forehead to brush away some stray looks. “I thought you didn’t celebrate Halloween.”

“Well, we didn’t.” He grinned and winked. “But Dad didn’t like accepting defeat to the neighbors when it came to decorating. Mom gave up arguing the point eventually, mostly so he would leave her alone, I guess.”

Raising onto his tiptoes, Ruben kissed his boyfriend’s stubbly cheek. “I should’ve know your Dad was a rascal. Just like you. When your parents visited us last time, Kristoffer tried to get me to ask your mom if the two of us could go hunting.”

Aleks scoffed and put down his knife, then cleaned his fingers on an old rag. “Why didn’t he ask her himself?”

“I wanted to know that, too.” Ruben giggled and leaned into Aleks’ side, looping his arms around his middle and looking up at him. “And he told me she was likely to say no to him, but that she would say yes to her son’s partner. Because she’s so happy that her little boy finally found someone.”

Aleks’ beautiful glacier eyes twinkling with mirth. “Unbelievable.” Then he laughed and rubbed at Ruben’s forehead with the sleeve of his pullover. “You’ve got pumpkin mush on your face.”

Ruben grinned. “Too bad it’s not chocolate. Then you could’ve licked it off.” Then he snuggled deeper into the embrace. The warm woolen pullover had kept him pleasantly warm while he’d been busy scraping mush out of the pumpkins, but now he felt the cold seep through his clothes. Aleks’ big, warm body felt awesome pressed against his.

“Wow, it looks like a battlefield out here,” a feminine voice said behind them. “I can see you two had fun.”

Turning in Aleks’ embrace, Ruben saw Meike stepping out onto the porch. “Yeah, we did. I told you that you could join us.”

“I know, but I wanted to take advantage of your Internet even more.” She blushed and Ruben smiled knowingly. Meike had met a guy when he’d been guest at the hotel in town, but of course the man had returned to Oslo. Apparently, they were still in contact and chatted regularly. When Meike’s Internet connection had died last week, she’d actually cried a bit when she told Ruben all about her flirt. Ruben, who had fallen in love while being on vacation, too, had graciously offered their Wi-Fi.

Aleks nuzzling his neck pulled him back from his musing. He giggled happily, reached up, and scratched his boyfriend’s blond stubble. Then Ruben craned his neck and kissed the underside of Aleks’ jaw.

Meike shook her head with a fond smile. “Lovebirds.”

“Yup, that we are.” Aleks kissed the side of Ruben’s neck and made him shiver. Damn man knew all of Ruben’s buttons by now.

“So, who wants hot apple cider?” Meike asked. “Given the two of you have been out here for almost two hours, I thought something hot would do you good. Oh, and I have some salmon steaks grilling right now. As a thank you for letting me chat with Mikkel.”

The mentioned of not only cider but food as well had Ruben moaning. Aleks looked just as eager to warm up and get a snack, so the three of them went inside, chucked their warm clothes and stormed the kitchen like a pack of hungry wolves. That was, Ruben and Aleks assembled a pack of hungry wolves, while Meike just returned to the cooking the fish and had them setting the table.

Once they were seated and eating the wonderful salmon with a side of potato salad, Ruben tried to find an ally in Meike concerning the Halloween party. He took a sip of his cider, hummed, then said, “Can you believe it? Aleks told me I could do whatever I want for Halloween not two days ago, and now he’s being petty about a tiny party.”

“I’m not being petty,” Aleks’ grumbled around a mouth full of food.

“You are!” Ruben watched his boyfriends, but when Aleks just shot a look at Meike, who rolled her eyes before pointedly looking at Ruben, he didn’t know what to make of it. “Stop it, you two. What’s going on?”

Sighing deeply, Aleks gave him one of those patient looks Ruben had come to recognize as the start of a stop being a brat speech. “Fine. Meike and I have been planning a Halloween party at our house for weeks now. We wanted it to be a surprise for you. But Inspector Ruben obviously cannot stop pestering me about a party.”

Ruben blinked, a bit dumbfounded now that Aleks had taken the wind out of his freshly set sails. “You… planned a surprise party for me? Aww! That’s so sweet! Now I feel like an ass for ruining it and for bitching at you.” He ignored Meike who let out a series of chortles and held her hand in front of her mouth.

“It’s okay.” Aleks leaned over and kissed him sweetly. “Your little tantrums are rather endearing, love.”

“Tantrums?” he asked meekly. “Am I that bad?”

Aleks tugged him closer on the bench and curled his arm around Ruben’s waist. “Nah. Anyway, I know how you are sometimes. And I have my own quirks, too. We both knew molding our lives together would be an adventure. So far, I think we’re managing pretty darn well. Don’t you think?”

Smiling, Ruben leaned into his boyfriend’s side and soaked up his affection. “Yeah. We do. I love you. Thank you for the wonderful surprise. I even have my old Robin costume from two years ago.”

“Oh, Robin as in Robin Hood or—”

“No, Batman’s Robin. The gay version with tight shorts.”

Aleks hummed and stroked his big hand up Ruben’s leg underneath the table until he reached his package and gave it a squeeze. “Sounds hot. I have to go online later and shop for a costume. Maybe you want to help me?” He leaned in and nipped Ruben’s ear.

Meike waved her fork, probably to get their attention. “Could you maybe not start humping each other at the table? Or at least warn me this time before you start making out so I can run. Last time, I almost didn’t have enough time to get into my coat when you two where first bickering over who had won the board game and then rolling around the floor necking. I love you both, but I don’t want to know what you are doing when you are… doing it.”

It was cute how Aleks blushed. “We will behave ourselves. Promise.”

“Probably,” Ruben added. “So, let’s talk about the party.”

###

“You did what?”

“I got you a costume.” Aleks grinned from where he lay across their bed and watched Ruben looking equal parts intrigued and annoyed. “C’mon! The Robin costume is good, too. But the one I ordered for you… At least try it. For me, please? If you don’t like it, you don’t have to wear it.” And he meant it. However, he hoped Ruben would like the costume Aleks had picked.

Ruben grinned and snatched the box off the bed. He flipped the lid and peeked inside. “I wasn’t mad. I love that you thought about me when you ordered your costume. You’re a very handsome Captain Hook, by the way. I wonder what you—” Using thumb and index finger of both hands, Ruben had lifted the costume out of the box and stared at it open-mouthed. “Is that…”

“Tinkerbell? Yes.”

“Oh. My. God.” He looked shocked and Aleks started to worry if he’d somehow judged Ruben’s curious looks wrong when they had browsed the Internet for Aleks’ costume together. Then Ruben let out a squeal and jumped. Next, Aleks found himself with an armful of happy, bouncy boyfriend. “I love it!”

“Well, that’s—”

Ruben cut him off with a kiss—one that progressed from thankful and sweet to steamy and I want to rip your clothes off in a couple of seconds.

“How long before the guests arrive?” Ruben asked, already busy yanking off his clothes.

Aleks had trouble answering the more Ruben revealed of his creamy pale skin. He managed a croaked, “About an hour.” Grabbing for Ruben, he cursed when the slighter man wriggled away and jumped off the bed. “What are you doing? Came back here, you little tease.” With a curl of his index finger, Aleks grinned at his lover and tried to lure him back onto the bed.

However, Ruben snatched his costume and shook his head, making his curls bounce. “You stay put while I… put this on. Then we can have some fun.” With that he pivoted and ran into the bathroom.

Aleks groaned and punched the mattress, then laughed. The delay was his own damn fault. He should’ve known Ruben would have some kinky ideas including his new costume. And he really couldn’t say he was opposed to exploring what Ruben had in mind.

When the bathroom door opened after a couple of minutes, Aleks turned his head and almost swallowed his tongue. He had been right. Ruben looked just awesome in the short green dress. The young Brit had killer legs, prettier than most women’s.

Ruben grinned mischievously, leaning against the doorjamb. “Wanna come and play with my magic wand?”

Aleks snorted. “Aww, that was bad. Come over here.”

“Why should I?”

“So you can play with my wand.” He lowered his hand to his pants and snapped the first button, delighted when he heard Ruben’s sharp intake of breath. “Or do you want to stand there and watch me while I jerk off?”

“Huh?” Ruben licked his lips, his gaze fixed on where Aleks was busy opening his pants and fishing out his cock.

“Tinkerbell, focus.”

Ruben snapped out of it and looked up. His pupils were huge and he had that little lopsided grin, like always when they were about to get naughty. “I want you to fuck me in my costume.”

Aleks groaned a squeezed his eyes shut, then squeezed the base of his hardness to keep from spilling at the mental picture. “Come over here.”

“No, you come over here. Captain.” Leaning against the bedroom wall, Ruben pushed out his pelvis and the skirt of his dress looked suspiciously tented.

“You’re commando under your dress?”

“Well, duh.” Ruben rolled his eyes and flicked a look of ebony hair out of his face. But soon enough, the mischievous grin was back and he twirled the lock around his index finger. “Yeah, I’m commando. Wanna come over here and punish me for breaking the dress code?”

Aleks was off the bed in a second. “Gods, Ruben!”

“Tinkerbell,” he quipped and raked his hungry gaze up and down Aleks’ body.

“All right, Tinkerbell. See something you like?” Stepping closer, Aleks gave his cock a couple of strokes and loved the whimper he elicited. He was still fully clothed in his pirate outfit, with just his pants lowered a bit so his prick and balls were free.

When he stopped in front of Ruben, he caged him in by placing his hands on the wall on both sides of Ruben’s head. He leaned in and plundered Ruben’s mouth, but before he could press his lover against the wall with his heavier body, Ruben pushed against his chest. Aleks grunted a bit irritated and looked down, only to find Ruben quickly lowering to his knees in front of him.

“Oh, God, yeah.”

“Bet you like Halloween now, do you?” Ruben asked, right before he wrapped his hand around Aleks’ already leaking shaft and licked the head.

Aleks just mewled pathetically, grabbed Ruben’s hair and flexed his hips.

Ruben didn’t need any more cajoling. In fact, he drove right in and took Aleks’ cock to the hilt until his nose nestled into the blond curls. Shit, the younger man had become good at giving head. When Ruben pulled off, he sucked so hard Aleks feared he’d come embarrassingly fast and had to think about the weather for a moment to compose himself.

After enjoying Ruben’s suckling and licking for a while though, the pleasure became too much and he tugged at the Brit’s hair to get his attention. When Ruben blinked up at him with those brown eyes, his pink lips stretched around his prick, Aleks threw back his head and groaned.

“Ruben… fuck!”

Slurping obscenely, Ruben let him slip from between his lips and licked them. “The other way around, Captain. Fuck Ruben. Now.” The little pest grinned and brushed a lock out of his face. Then he stood. Ruben gave him a fleeting kiss before he turned around and placed his hands on the wall. He shot Aleks a flirty look over his shoulder. “Just take care of my dress. I don’t want cum on it.”

Aleks rested a hand between Ruben’s shoulder blades and pushed, until Ruben’s shoulders met the wall and his ass stuck out enticingly. He leaned closer and breathed in Ruben’s scent and nibbled his neck.

“Gods, you’re so hot. Stay right here.” Aleks walked over to the bed and snatched the lube and a condom off the nightstand. While he hurried back, he already sheathed himself and then squirted lube onto his fingers. He didn’t wait long to warm it up before he trailed his fingers through Ruben’s crease. The younger man didn’t seem to care, because he moaned and spread his legs a bit more.

“A-Aleks,” he stammered as Aleks slipped one finger into his ass, quickly followed by a second.

“That’s Captain for you, my little fairy.”

Ruben let out a breathless chuckle, then whimpered when Aleks nudged his sweet spot. “Stop playing around, Captain, and fuck me already! I… I want…”

“Yeah, I know. Tell me how much you like your new dress and I’ll consider it,” Aleks drawled and rubbed Ruben’s prostate.

“Aww, you’re mean!”

“Ruben.” Pulling back his fingers, Aleks left his lover empty and wanting.

“Fine! I fucking love my dress! And now give me that cock, Captain, before I steal your hook and pierce your—”

Ruben’s words died in a strangled groan when Aleks filled him in one smooth, slow thrust. Although they had done that countless times, Aleks still took his time to make sure Ruben was ready and relaxed before he started moving. So he kept still, his hands on Ruben’s hips and rubbing his skin with his thumbs. All the while he kissed and sucked on Ruben’s neck.

Eventually, the Brit started to wriggle and push back against him. It was the sign Aleks had been waiting for, and once Ruben let out a frustrated huff, he knew what the younger man wanted.

Aleks took his lover with fast and hard thrusts. It was exactly what they both needed right now if Ruben’s moans and naughty encouragements were anything to go by. Aleks just loved Ruben’s dirty talk.

“Yes!” he hissed. “Fuck me harder, Captain! Give it to me… wanna feel you.”

Aleks lost it. He placed both his hands on top of Ruben’s smaller ones and effectively trapped him. Then he quickened his pace, fucking Ruben with abandon, until his lover let out a constant stream of moans and whimpers.

“I… I can’t… touch me! Please, Aleks!”

He grunted and released the spot of flesh he’d been sucking on at Ruben’s nape and marveled at the hickey. “You’ll come from just my cock stretching you. No touching.”

Ruben cursed and pushed back his ass. At the same time, the little brat tightened his muscles around Aleks’ shaft as if trying to force the orgasm out of him. It worked pretty darn well, too, because Aleks thought he saw stars for a second. Ruben’s hot body rippling around him felt just too good.

“Aleks, c’mon!” Ruben mewled, his head falling back.

Aleks looped one arm around his lover to steady them. Then, because he wasn’t a cruel bastard and was so damn close to coming himself, he stroked his index finger up and down Ruben’s newly acquired Jacob’s ladder. That boy and his kink for piercings. Aleks had almost lost his mind when Ruben had fucked him the first time after healing properly.

The barely-there touch to his cock was enough for Ruben to push him over the edge. He tensed and yelled, shooting pearly white splatters against the wall. Not that Aleks cared all that much about the vandalism, because Ruben’s ass tightened around him to the point of pain as the younger man rode his orgasm. Aleks grunted and bit the point where Ruben’s neck met his shoulder and came with an intensity that took his breath away.

It was always like that with Ruben. No matter what they did, Aleks always was left a breathless, panting, happy pile of goo.

And usually he needed a nap after sex. Today though, their friends would arrive soon and that meant cleaning up and getting ready to socialize. Why had he planned that damn party again? Oh, right. Because Ruben loved socializing and inviting people. And since Ruben loved it, Aleks loved it, too, because it made Aleks’ man happy.

“Captain, that was epic,” Ruben muttered and sagged against him. “Happy Halloween.”

“Happy Halloween to you, too.”

Giggling, Ruben craned his neck and they kissed sloppily. “I thought you’d use the opportunity of Halloween and scare me to death with your shotgun again.”

Aleks snorted. “What do you take me for? I know that’s how we met, but I’d never scare you with my shotgun nowadays.”

“Oh?” Ruben grinned. “Let me guess. You’d use the hatchet.”

“Nope,” he whispered against his boyfriend’s ear. “Hatches are so last season. I have a fancy hook now, love.”

END

Sneak Peek! :D

marshmallowsandthesnow300Yay! Only ten more days till the release of Marshmallows and the Snow, the first book in the Sweet Snacks series!

To celebrate this special occasion, I’ll offer a sneak peak into the first chapter. Enjoy 🙂

And if the sneak peak made you curious about Ruben’s adventure, mark the 15th August in your calendar. The book will go online on the eXtasy website first, and on Amazon a week later.

Sneak Peek into Chapter One:

Just as Ruben was looking for a cozy place in the snow to curl into a ball, a big as fuck and scary owl flapped its huge wings and made those creepy owl-noises. Ruben fell backward and landed on his ass, his heart beat so fast he thought he’d suffer a heart attack. When he let his gaze travel up the tree, the owl peered at him with its bright, yellow eyes. It had this annoyed look going on. Like Ruben was invading its beauty sleep or something.

“Oh, shut up, birdy! I’m the one in deep shit. You’re sitting up there on your branch with your feathery ass still dry, probably digesting your latest snack, while it is poor little me whose feet and balls are freezing off down here. So quit with the bitching.”

The owl’s narrowed gaze sent an unpleasant feeling through Ruben’s body. Uh-oh. Its assessing stare probably meant it was trying to find the best spots to gnaw on as soon as the cold had finished him.

“Sorry, I honestly didn’t mean to piss you off. As a matter of fact, I admire owls. You’re… big and scary and beautiful. And kinda deadly, you know.” Ruben sighed and failed to huddle deeper into his jacket. “Ignore me, okay? Me talking to an annoyed owl means I’ve lost my marbles because of the cold and the fucking dead-end situation I’m currently in. Could you maybe promise to wait with eating me till I’m dead? I guess that beak of yours hurts like a bitch and I think I really deserve a calm death.” Ruben shivered hard. The owl seemed interested enough in the conversation, so he kept on talking.

“Somewhere I read freezing to death feels like falling asleep.” He huffed. “This statement proves that you can never trust so-called experts. Whoever wrote that has probably never been in a freezing-to-death situation. Because I’ll tell you, I don’t feel remotely sleepy and calm.”

The owl shu-huued. Ruben, sure that its reply was meant as an agreement, smiled. “Good owl. See? Now we understand each other.” It flapped its huge, elegant wings again, turning its head to the right. Huh. Maybe it’d sensed another snack under the snow? Ruben hoped not. After their nice conversation, he was fairly sure it wouldn’t attack him and pick out his eyes. He enjoyed its company and talking to it beat arguing with Toby. Big time. Ruben scowled up at it.

“Don’t even think of leaving me. It’s not nice to abandon a dying man,” he admonished. Fortunately, the owl remained on its branch however, kept staring straight into the same direction. It was a bit unnerving. Was something dangerous waiting for him between the trees? Something with sharp teeth and claws that would love to eat Ruben?

He shivered harder, lowering his voice to a hushed whisper. “What is it? Do you see something? You could give me a hint, you know?”

Crap. Maybe this was the right time to learn the art of tree climbing. The branches were low enough. The sole question was if Ruben had enough strength left in his frozen hands to, indeed, climb. And he remembered reading that bears were able to climb. Climbing would merely help him in case it was a wolf lurking somewhere. Given the frozen, numb state of his body, he’d probably fall down and onto his scrawny ass. No, thanks.

Suddenly, the owl spread its wings again and took off, sailing a short distance before coming to rest on the next branch. Ruben cursed, following it with his gaze.

Without rational reason, Ruben’s body followed it, too. Maybe it was instinct. Maybe it was the cold fogging his brain. But they continued this little game five more times. When Ruben considered giving up and calling himself officially crazy, he saw it.

A cabin. Ruben sobbed, part of relief, part of exhaustion. He didn’t see any light in the windows but Ruben didn’t care. In fact, it’d be better if the cabin were unoccupied. He didn’t want to deal with anybody in his current state—namely rumpled, frozen, and heartbroken. Collecting the last of his strength, which wasn’t that much, he gave his feathery companion a thankful nod and scrambled toward the cabin.

He desperately needed to change out of those wet clothes and find something warm to wrap around himself before he caught pneumonia. With its chimney and the wood, chopped and neatly stacked along one outer wall, the cabin looked promising.

Ruben grabbed the handrail with numb fingers, dragging himself up the four necessary steps, and probed the handle. When Ruben pushed at the unexpectedly well maintained and unlocked door, it gave way immediately. He literally fell through the door and onto the hardwood floor with a loud thud. Ouch!

Tears sprang to Ruben’s eyes when his numb and hurting body made contact with the floor. A soft carpet probably would’ve been too much to ask for he supposed. Or a sexy, muscular lumberjack catching him in his strong arms. Ruben groaned at his stupidity, rolled onto his back and merely laid there for a minute. He was so damn tired and cold. Debating with himself if it was okay if he enjoyed a short nap, he looked at the ceiling and listened to the quiet of the cabin.

Only, for an abandoned, empty cabin, it wasn’t quiet. Ruben caught a faint noise, like a floorboard squeaking under a boot and the rustling of clothes. Shit! Wasn’t the cabin as unoccupied as Ruben had thought? And if somebody was at the cabin, why was he lurking in the dark and what would this stranger do to Ruben? Had he made himself guilty by entering the cabin? This was an emergency, after all. So far, every Norwegian he’d encountered had been very nice. Hopefully, the owner of the cabin would allow Ruben to stay for a while and warm up again. If it was the owner of the cabin making those sounds and not a crazy axe murderer.

Ruben heaved to his stomach, and everything but graceful, pushed to his feet. Then he crept farther into the cabin. His breathing was ragged and he shivered from the melting snow dripping from his hair down his neck and back.

Had he been blond, Ruben would’ve felt like the dumb girl in one of those silly horror movies. All that was missing was an even dumber, Hello? Is anybody here?, before the crazy murderer came around the corner, axe raised and a cruel smile on his scarred face.

Turned out there was no axe murderer with a scarred face. Instead, Ruben encountered a very tall, very blond, and very glowering Norwegian in a knitted pullover who pointed his shotgun right at Ruben’s chest. And that was the moment when Ruben, quite spectacularly, fainted.