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A much lighter chapter after last week’s monster. And some yummy sexytimes I will never look at chocolate fondue the same way again.
Thanks to those of you leaving wonderful comments! I really appreciate all the kind words. Please keep leaving those comments—I LIVE for them!!
Copyright © 2018 by Hudson Bartholomew. All rights reserved. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Embracing the Tension – Chapter 7
They had turned off the major highway about thirty minutes earlier and were now slowly navigating their way through roads that were little more than trails covered with hard-packed snow. The drive had taken them nearly four hours, leaving the sleepy streets of Toronto before dawn and heading north on Highway 400. The sun was slow to say good morning, as the sky gradually became less dark before it started becoming brighter.
When the rest of the world finally awoke, they had stopped in some small, out-of-the-way town for breakfast. Erik had no idea where they were, but Ryan seemed to know exactly where he was going and exactly which breakfast place he wanted to eat at. The place served greasy sausages, runny eggs, and perfectly crisp toast with those little packets of butter and jam, washed down with surprising strong coffee. Simple. Unassuming.
Then back on the road. Erik was a morning person, and he wanted to know where they were going, what Rachel and Tom’s cottage was like, the names of the little towns they’d been passing. Ryan was not a morning person, and all of Erik’s questions had been met with short, pointed answers. Erik stopped asking after the first twenty minutes.
Instead, their hands had found each other over the middle console of Ryan’s car, and their thumbs had amused themselves with tracing circles on the other’s skin. The silence was comfortable, like a warm blanket wrapped around them, keeping them cozy, together and safe. And as Erik watched the busyness of the city fade into the sheared rock walls on either side of the highway and the dense forests that sat on top, he felt himself transported to another world.
That morning, even as Ryan moved as one half-asleep, they had packed the car with an easy efficiency, shifting around each other as if they’d been doing it for years—a squeeze on the hip as one passed behind the other, bags handed off with a quick kiss.
Breakfast had been easy, too. Ryan opening the door for him with a hand on his lower back to usher him inside. Their feet had hooked around each other’s ankles as they ate. If they had drawn looks from the small-town crowd, Erik hadn’t noticed. In the car, Erik found his gaze drifting toward Ryan’s profile, and every time it did, he was rewarded with a quick squeeze from Ryan’s hand and that lopsided grin.
Hunger—the word floated into Erik’s mind. Not a physical hunger; they’d just eaten. But a hunger, nevertheless, this one much deeper than physical. A hunger so deep that he’d forgotten he was hungry, and the empty gnawing was only making itself known because he had gotten a taste of what could be. The clarity with which that realization dawned on Erik was more than a little startling. He’d never felt as if his life lacked for anything; yet here he was, hungry for something he didn’t even know he wanted.
“Almost there.” Ryan squinted through the reflection of the morning sun off the snow-laden road. He had popped on sunglasses when it got too bright, but the angle of the sun, hitting the whiteness of the untainted snow and the way the road wound its way between trees too stubborn to be cut down made it difficult to judge exactly where the road ended and the forest began.
The car came to a halt, and Erik followed Ryan’s gaze as it turned to the left. “Yes, here it is.”
“Here” didn’t look like anything to Erik. It was more packed snow in the middle of naked trees. But the snowy path was just wide enough to accommodate their car as it turned slowly, taking them deeper into the forest. Then, out of nowhere the forest cleared and they found themselves in another snow-packed clearing, the other side of which was an even larger snow-laden field.
Ryan drove the car to the other side of the clearing, slipped it into park, and sighed. “We’re here.”
“And where exactly is here?”
All Erik got in response was that infuriating grin and shrug. He followed Ryan out of the car, cringing at the biting sub-freezing temperature that greeted his skin. The boots that Ryan insisted he buy crunched in the snow, and Erik was grateful for that extra pair of socks he’d pulled on that morning.
Ryan was brushing snow off what looked like a large shed; it was difficult to tell with it all covered in white. With a bit of metal clanging against metal, a door swung open, and Ryan disappeared inside. When Erik peeked his head in, he couldn’t see bahis firmaları anything but black, with bright spots dancing in his eyes.
“You’re blocking the sun,” Ryan said. “There’s no light in here, so we have to let the sun in.”
“Oh.” Erik moved farther in and shifted off to the side. With the doorway clear for the light, Erik could see that they were standing in a large storage shed. Several canoes sat upside down in racks along the center of the shed; paddles and lifejackets hung on the far wall. Plastic and wooden sleds were propped up next to racks of weird rectangular contraptions. “What is this place?”
“Remember how I said there’s no road access to the cottage?” Ryan said. He pulled a couple of the rectangular contraptions from the wall and handed them to Erik.
“Yeah…” Erik did remember, but to be honest, he hadn’t really understood what that meant.
“So, this is how we get to the cottage.”
“What is how we get to the cottage?”
“Snowshoes.” Ryan nodded at what Erik held in his hands.
“These are snowshoes?” Erik took a second look at the aluminum frames covered by a thick but flexible plastic. In the middle were a bunch of straps, and Erik could sort of make out where his foot would go. “I thought snowshoes were made of wood and leather and looked like tennis rackets.”
Ryan burst out laughing in his low rumbly way, and the sound tickled the middle of Erik’s chest.
“You’re describing old-school snowshoes, vintage ones. I don’t think even schools use those anymore. We’re a little more high tech these days.” Ryan grabbed one of the wooden sleds and dragged it toward the door.
“So, we use snowshoes to get to the cottage?” Erik asked as he followed Ryan back out into the sun.
“Yep.” Ryan dropped the sled next to the car. “What are you doing? You’re going to freeze to death like that.”
“What?” Erik looked down at himself. He didn’t see anything wrong.
But Ryan took the snowshoes from his hands and tossed them on the ground. Then he zipped up Erik’s parka like he would for Chloe and pulled the knit hat that had been stuck in Erik’s pocket over his head. By the time Ryan had the hat adjusted to his liking, he was standing close, close enough that the fog from their breaths misted around them like their own private cloud.
Erik leaned down and captured Ryan’s lips with his own. They were warm against the coldness of the air. The hairs of Ryan’s beard were damp with condensation, and Erik licked at them, gathering the dewy drops with his tongue.
Erik decided he didn’t need a hat. All he needed were Ryan’s kisses to keep him warm. Too bad Ryan didn’t feel the same way.
“And put your gloves on.” Ryan whispered against his lips before turning to load up the sled with the boxes and bags from the car.
If Erik hadn’t caught the raspiness in Ryan’s voice or the way he sneaked a hand down to adjust himself, Erik would have thought that he was the only one affected by the kiss. As it was, he did notice how Ryan’s voice seemed to have dropped an octave and the slight shiver that ran through the other man as he walked away. With a sense of self-satisfaction, Erik pulled on the gloves he’d also been instructed to buy and helped pile the last of their gear in the sled.
Getting the snowshoes on was tricky. Erik hadn’t actually worn a pair since he was a kid and his gym class had spent the winter learning about outdoor sports. But he managed to strap them on, and Ryan even came over to check they were secure. After their heated kiss, gazing down at Ryan kneeling in front of him had Erik’s mind wandering, and he had to force himself to focus on the task at hand: trekking across a frozen, snow-covered lake without falling through the ice and dying a cold death.
“Ready?” Ryan asked. The lead ropes of the sled were attached to some sort of belt Ryan had tied around his waist. He took a few steps toward the frozen lake, and the sled followed him, leaving two neat grooves in the snow.
Erik took a couple of experimental steps, feeling suddenly like a child first learning to walk. His stepped widely to avoid snagging the snowshoes on each other, and his arms flailed out when he almost toppled over. When he managed to catch himself, he found Ryan laughing right in his face.
“What are you doing? Just walk normally.”
“I can’t!” Erik waved at the contraptions on his feet. “I’ll step on myself.”
“No, you won’t, they’re designed to accommodate an adult stride.” Ryan took a couple more steps. “See? Just walk normally, and they shouldn’t overlap.”
Erik sighed heavily, his breath fogging up the air, but he did as Ryan suggested. It was hard to consciously try walking normally. His muscles suddenly forgot how to move, and every lift of his leg felt foreign and strange. But step by step, he managed to put one foot in front of the other without stepping on himself, and by the time he reached Ryan just a few feet ahead of him, Erik felt out of breath.
“Oh, god.” He looked skeptically kaçak iddaa across the lake. Even the closest shore looked much too far away. “How long does it take to walk across this thing?”
“Not too long.” Ryan shrugged and set off, leaving Erik to chase after him. “We’re just going across the narrowest part of the lake. Maybe twenty minutes?” He glanced sideways at Erik. “Maybe more like thirty?”
A challenge issued, a challenge accepted. Erik picked up his speed, determined to keep up with Ryan who was doing all the hard work of pulling their sled. Even then, Ryan looked like he was just taking a lazy afternoon stroll.
As they navigated down a shallow incline toward the open flat of the lake, the wind suddenly picked up, no longer blocked by the thick stands of trees around the parking lot. The icy air bit at Erik’s cheeks, and he was grateful for Ryan’s mothering. He pulled the beanie down until it slipped over his eyebrows and adjusted the collar of his parka so it hid half his face.
Their snowshoes made a rhythmic crunching sound on the pristine snow, accompanied by the lighter, wispier slide of the sled behind them. The wind howled all around, and every once in a while, Erik could hear the ice groaning beneath their feet.
“So, um… the ice is safe, right?” He really should have thought about that before they were several yards onto the lake.
“Yeah, should be fine. Might be a couple of weak spots closer to the deepest part of the lake.” Ryan waved a gloved hand off to the right. “But most of the lake is frozen over for the entire winter.”
“You don’t have to check the thickness or anything?”
Ryan shrugged. “I did.”
“You did? When?”
“Last weekend. And I called a neighbor yesterday. It’s about five to six inches; we should be fine.”
“You didn’t mention that to me.”
“No, why were you here last weekend?”
“Getting things ready.” Ryan shrugged, eyes fixed on something in the distance. “I wanted to make sure there were enough supplies at the cottage so I knew what we needed to bring today.”
Erik blinked at him. Ryan had gone to all that trouble, driving three and a half hours each way, taking up his entire weekend, just to prepare for their little getaway. Erik was struck by how sweet that was and for a second forgot he was walking in snowshoes. The wind blew unexpectedly, the aluminum frame slipped on a part of ice not covered by snow, and by the time he realized he was falling, he was already on his ass, feet sticking up in the air.
Ryan burst out laughing, but made no attempt to help him up. “Are you okay?” Was the only thing he seemed to be able to get out.
“Yeah, just great.” Erik glared at him and then tried to figure out how he was supposed to stand up with snowshoes still strapped to his feet. Getting onto all fours wouldn’t work, the snowshoes were too big and facing the wrong direction. Plant his feet flat in front of him and pushing off his ass didn’t give him enough leverage to heft his weight up. Ryan deserved another glare. “A little help, please?”
With his lopsided grin, Ryan shuffled sideways as if he had been born with snowshoes on, and strategically braced his pair against the front of Erik’s. They clasped hands and with a tug, Erik found himself standing again, hugging Ryan close.
“You even manage to fall gracefully,” Ryan said with a shake of his head, his voice tinged with laughter.
“What does that mean?” Erik asked as they held each other in the middle of a frozen lake, nothing around them but snow, ice and wind. Ryan’s normally dark beard was dusted with white, and his chocolate brown eyes danced in the light of the sun.
He looked like he was enjoying himself, loaded up with layers of clothes, dragging all their gear in a sled latched to his waist, the cold air painting his cheeks a rosy red. Erik wanted to kiss him, wanted to taste the snow on Ryan’s beard and lick at the lips turned slightly pale from the sub-zero temperature. But before he managed to lean in, Ryan slipped out of his arms.
“Come on, it’s too cold to just stand out here.”
Erik was more focused during the second half of their trek, watching for slippery ice patches and telling himself to walk normally. By the time the trees on the other side of the lake neared, he was panting hard, and the muscles on his thighs and calves were straining. Ryan still looked like he was taking a stroll.
They stopped at the foot of a set of wooden stairs, and Erik noticed that the snow had already been swept clean, save for little drifts from the blowing wind. The steps led up to what looked like a log cabin with a large patio and a steeply slanted roof.
Ryan tied the sled to a nearby tree, and positioned it against a particularly high snow bank so it wouldn’t slide away. Then he sat on the bottom step to take his snowshoes off. When he looked up, Erik was still just standing, trying to catch his breath.
The grin that Ryan gave kaçak bahis him did nothing to help him recover. But Ryan was kind enough to wave him over and help with the straps of his snowshoes. Erik couldn’t wait to get those things off his feet. Together, they hauled their cargo up the steps, and Ryan let them inside.
The cottage had an open layout with the front door opening directly into a living room furnished with a big futon, a couple of armchairs, and plenty of blankets. The kitchen was toward the back, appliances and sink lined up against the back wall and a solid, rustic-looking dining table separating the eating area from the living room.
There were two doorways that opened off of the left wall: one held a set of stairs that led to a loft overlooking the first floor; the other looked like it opened into a bedroom. In the middle of the cottage was a large, black wood stove with an equally black pipe extending up to and disappearing into the ceiling.
It was freezing inside. No wind, true, but still freezing.
“Oh, my god, there’s no heat?”
Ryan looked like he was trying really hard not to burst out in laughter. He managed a very controlled, “Nope. And no water, either.”
While Erik was still wrapping his mind around the idea of a cottage with no heat and no water, Ryan had taken his boots off and was circling the room, drawing back curtains and letting in the sun. The cottage immediately looked a hundred times brighter, the blankets in the living room popped with color, and the patterned rugs covering the floor came to life. Then Ryan knelt in front of the wood stove, opened the front cover and checked inside. He must have prepped it last weekend because all he did was stick in a barbecue lighter and Erik could immediately see the orange-yellow light of a baby fire starting to burn.
“Come on.” Ryan waved at him. “Take your boots off. Our bags can go there.” He pointed to a corner next to the futon. “And some of the foodstuff can go out back.”
Erik obliged, a little shell-shocked at the prospect of winter camping and a little tickled at the idea of being so isolated from the rest of the world with no one else for company other than Ryan. Sure, Ryan had explained it all to him when they first discussed the idea, but Erik hadn’t realized just how isolated they were going to be: no one else around for miles, no internet, no cell phones. Erik didn’t need any of that; the only person he wanted to talk to would be right here with him.
“I thought you said there’s no water.” Erik dragged the big cooler full of food to the kitchen and eyed the sink, fully equipped with a faucet.
“Not in the winter.” Ryan studied the breaker panel next to the back door. “We shut it off because the pipes would burst.”
“So, what do we do for water?”
“There’s a hole in the ice for lake water.” Ryan explained as he reached for the closest light switch and gave it an experimental flip. The light on the back porch flickered to life.
“Is that safe?”
“What? The water?” Ryan shrugged. “I’ve never had a problem with it.”
Erik sighed, apparently heavily enough to catch Ryan’s notice.
“What?” His lips tilted into a grin, and his eyes narrowed as he approached. Erik found himself backed up against the wall with Ryan pressing in close, chest against chest and a good ten layers of clothing between them.
“Is this too ‘roughing it’ for you?” Ryan’s voice had dropped, and the gravel tone raked across Erik’s nerves, warming him from the inside. “Maybe I forgot to mention one benefit of no central heating.”
“What’s that?” Erik’s voice was as breathy as Ryan’s was raspy.
“The fire in the stove usually dies out in the middle of night.”
Erik frowned. “That doesn’t seem like a benefit.”
“So, we’ll have to find other ways to keep each other warm.” Ryan whispered this against Erik’s lips, not really kissing, just breathing into each other.
Images of how they could keep each other warm, wrapped up in blankets, bodies entwined, flashed through Erik’s mind, and he suddenly felt overheated in his heavy parka. He acted on his earlier desire to kiss Ryan, capturing the full lower lip between his teeth, trailing his tongue across the soft flesh. When Ryan kissed him back, Erik moaned around the tongue shoved into his mouth.
Fuck the middle of the night. Erik wanted to practice generating heat now. His hands sneaked under Ryan’s unzipped parka, trying to find their way past too many layers of clothing to reach naked skin. But their mission was thwarted when Ryan grasped his wrists and gently extracted them from his clothes. A disappointed protest rose from Erik’s throat, but Ryan smiled against his lips.
“Soon, but we need to get set up before the sun sets and it gets too cold outside.”
Erik rolled his eyes and sighed. He knew Ryan was right, but that didn’t mean his cock was happy about it.
Ryan sorted through the cooler, pulling out ingredients to make sandwiches for lunch and other items that could be kept unrefrigerated. Everything else went back inside the cooler, and Erik was instructed to stick the whole thing on the back porch. Together they made lunch while Erik asked about the cottage and the surrounding area.
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