Can two broken men find love in the chill of Winter?
Leo is having a bad day. Finding his boyfriend in bed with another man was one thing, being the subject of office gossip another, but falling on his ass in the snow in front of a gorgeous man was the final straw.
Jack has existed in a solitary life of ice and bitterness after betrayal. He swore no one would ever break his heart again, gave up on love, and became something else; Jack Frost.
As Jack and Leo get closer, Jack is left torn and confused. Jack yearns for anything that reminds him of his humanity, but the truth is, he feels nothing, not warmth, not love, and he knows he might never be able to love Leo the way he deserves to be loved.
When the line between fairy tales and magic, and the real world become blurred, can love conquer everything?
“Not again.” The man gritted his teeth and pulled on the handle of his car door. The door wouldn’t budge, and the man, looking to be in his fifties and carrying a little weight, grew red in the face and wiped at his brow with the back of his gloved hand. “Denise,” he called toward the house and then walked, far more delicately than a man of his build should, down his driveway.
Winter in Maine was gloriously frosty. A layer of snow had settled on the tops of houses and cars, the trees looked magical coated in white, and it was easy to imagine them shivering in the chilly morning air. Every warm breath taken that cold morning caused a white mist to hang in the air.
Jack leaned against the lamppost on the opposite side of the street and enjoyed his new game. He didn’t know who the man was, what he did for a living, or care who Denise was to him. For Jack, the man was entertainment on yet another wintry January morning. This was the third morning in a row Jack had walked the street before sunrise, tormenting the man by freezing the door of his seventy-plus-thousand-dollar car. Another day or two and Jack would get bored with his mischief and search out new acts of trickery to see him through the day. Every day so far, the man’s reaction had been priceless and something to call on when Jack’s day needed brightening. But today Jack was left disappointed when the man made his way to the house and back unscathed.
Yesterday had been far more fun. The man had ended up flat on his back, having slipped on the ice. He had lain on the ground like some up-ended turtle, rocking around in his thick winter coat, unable to bend his limbs in such a way to get himself the right way up.
Jack grew tired of waiting for something comical to happen. “Maybe tomorrow,” Jack said in a low voice. He pushed off the streetlight, eyed the icy handprint he had left, and then carried on his way.
It was seven in the morning, barely light. The early risers heading for work were up and out in their driveways, complaining about the cold as they defrosted their cars. The sidewalk was covered in fresh snow, which glistened beneath the man-made lights and was, as yet, undisturbed by human feet, just a spattering of prints from birds and what was possibly a cat. Jack loved the cold, and he smiled as a chilling breeze circled him, carrying with it the fresh scent of the day and the crisp brown leaves that had fallen from the trees. The prickle of cold against his skin was one of his favorite feelings, like a thousand icy fingers pinching at his arms and face. God, how he loved it.
Opening the top button of his jacket, he savored the cold against his chest and gently traced his fingertips over his chilled skin. He breathed deeply, content with his icy touch and the feel of the cool air whipping up around him. What he wouldn’t give to be wrapped up in a blanket of cold. To slip inside the deliciously chilled wind and zip it up as if it were a sleeping bag made just for him.
Holding out his hand in front of him, Jack encouraged the breeze into a spiral that wrapped around his arm and caused a delightful shiver to pass through him. The air glowed the most beautiful shade of blue as it danced around Jack, and his chest ached from the knowledge this beauty was only for him—and those like him—to see. Anyone watching would think he was mad. They wouldn’t see the dance of blue and silver, nor would they hear the wind’s angelic song reverberating in the air.
Jack stroked the breeze as it snaked through his fingers, gently drawing moisture from it and into the palm of his hand. He rotated his fingers, spinning the moisture into a sphere, and then gently teased it with his icy breath until the sphere hardened. The size of a tennis ball, the sphere became a ball of ice, and Jack flicked it into the air and caught it.
“Perfect,” he said.
The ball was smooth, flawless, and transparent. He reached out his other hand and dragged his fingers over the hedge he passed. The leaves of the hedge crackled and curled in on themselves beneath his touch, which left them coated in wintry white frost. All he needed now was someone to have a little fun with. He grinned at the thought.
A dog barked, and Jack looked ahead. “Perfect,” he said again and teased the ball between his finger and thumb.
A large German shepherd was standing several yards in front of him. The dog was on a leash, and on the other end of that leash was the dog’s owner, a petite woman dressed head to toe in pink with matching accessories. She was talking on her cell phone and looked to be in her forties, dressed in winter clothing, each item seemingly edged in white fur.
Too old to be playing at Barbie, Jack decided.
He blew on the ball of ice and watched as frosty patterns formed across its surface. He admired what could only be described as art. Spirals and symmetrical branches merged together in raised icy paths, very much like patterns etched into Christmas tree ornaments. It was all about the details for Jack. If he was going to do something, then it should be perfect and beautiful.
Content with his creation, he pulled back his arm and bowled the ball toward the dog. The sphere rolled along the sidewalk, leaving only a small line in the snow as it seemed to weightlessly skim its surface. Jack watched and waited, merely encouraging the sphere along its chosen path.
As if it had a mind of its own, the sphere steered to the left, and as it neared the dog, the ball skipped off the sidewalk and into the street. The dog barked loudly, pulling at its leash as it sought to chase the ball of ice. The woman struggled to hold the large German shepherd and stumbled forward as the dog darted after the ball and into the road. She performed some poorly crafted acrobatics routine as she desperately held onto her dog. But the dog’s desire to chase the ball was greater than any strength she might have had to hold onto him. It was as if she weighed nothing as she was dragged forward by her pet and into the road. Cursing, she eventually gave in as she tripped up the opposite curb. With a yelp, she let go of the leash and landed on her face in the snow-covered grass of a neighbor’s lawn.
Jack laughed as the woman lifted her head. White covered her cheeks and forehead, and she rolled over to sit on the frozen ground. Her mouth curled down with a pathetic whimper, and she slapped the ground in a halfhearted tantrum.
“Caesar,” she called after the dog.
The German shepherd pricked up its large ears and glanced back at his owner. The dog’s tongue hung out the right side of its mouth, all wet and shiny as it panted excitedly. White puffs of the dog’s warm breath filled the air around the animal’s head, and choosing to ignore the woman, the dog ran off down the street.
“Caesar!” She lowered her head and brushed the snow from her coat.
Had she seen him? Jack wondered. Jack didn’t know whether she had or hadn’t, and though he claimed to not care, there was always a pang of disappointment in his chest, a need to be noticed.
Turning away, he walked down the street. He didn’t look back or stop to help her. He never did. It was not in his nature to worry about the misfortunes of humans. They were just something to pass his time.
A short way down the street, Jack spotted the escaped German shepherd sitting on the sidewalk, seemingly waiting for him. The animal held in its mouth the ball of ice, though the ice was already melting from the dog’s breath. As Jack got closer, the dog placed the ball on the grass and sat upright. Jack smiled and held out his hand, running his fingers over the dog’s coat. He frowned as he stroked the soft fur. Though he knew there should be something more, he felt nothing but the cold.
“Get away from me,” he said to the dog. “I’m no good for you.”
The dog simply looked up at him through large amber eyes.
“Go on. Get.”
Jack narrowed his gaze and looked down at his hands. The prickle of ice played in his palms. He could show the dumb animal exactly what he was capable of.
The dog licked his hand, and Jack tempered his desire to strike out. The dog, clearly oblivious to Jack’s nature and wanting nothing more than to have him throw the ball again, just sat and stared up at him.
“Okay,” Jack said softly.
The dog nudged at his hand.
“I said, okay.”
Jack bent down to pick up the ball of ice. He wrapped his hand around the slippery lump and squeezed. It only took a second and the sphere was solid again, a frosty layer coating its surface once more. He looked over his shoulder in the direction of the German shepherd’s home. The dog had done him no wrong, and as much as he liked to mess with the lives of the humans in the town, he never meant them any real harm.
“Go home,” he said and threw the ball back up the street.
Happily, the dog bounded off, its leash trailing on the ground as it chased the ball. Jack worried his lower lip and waited until the dog was out of sight. Hopefully, the animal would be reunited with his owner.
Cramming his hands in his jacket pockets, Jack looked at the ground, and with the toe of his boot, he drew a circle in the snow. Adding eyes and a smile, Jack admired his masterpiece for a moment. It wasn’t quite right. He crouched and held his hand over the simple drawing. Slowly, he pulled back his hand. The soft flakes quivered. He teased the snow, rearranging the picture, then straightened up. The image’s smile was gone, replaced with a frown.
“Hello, Jack,” he said to the drawn face.
With a heavy sigh, he dragged his foot across the image, wiping the sidewalk clear. If only it was that easy to wipe away the morose feeling from inside him.
He rubbed a hand over his face and took a deep breath. There was a smile on his lips as he looked ahead at the elderly gentleman making his way toward him.
“Too cruel?” he asked himself.
Maybe. Jack smiled. Or maybe not. He wiggled his fingers and felt the cold air surge between them. This was who he was—the bringer of mishaps, ice, and mischief, and of the frost on the window panes.
He was Jack Frost.
“This… this isn’t what you think.”
Leo Marsh stared at his boyfriend in disbelief. Not what I think? How was catching the cheating bastard with his dick in another man’s mouth anything but what he thought?
“This, here. There’s no explanation you can give me that makes this okay.”
“Baby, listen to me,” Mac Donovan said as he pushed the other man away and got to his feet. He quickly pulled up his pants. “This is nothing. This is a mistake. This is—”
“Over,” Leo finished. “You asshole. You’re a fucking liar.” Leo had never hit anyone in his life, but right then, he wanted to slam his clenched fist into his lying asshole of a boyfriend’s face, break his perfect nose, dislocate his manly square jaw.
Leo had done Mac a favor. He’d been in the office since six a.m. organizing paperwork and displays for a presentation Mac was supposed to be giving to the company directors tomorrow. He’d wanted nothing more than to help when Mac had called in sick. Mac was supposed to be home, suffering and pathetic, taken to his bed. That’s what he’d claimed when he had phoned at one in the morning. Had this other man already been with him when he called? Some little piece of ass Mac had picked up in a bar for a sleepover?
“It’s so over.” What the hell had he been thinking? For some reason Leo believed bringing his sick boyfriend an early lunch was a sweet, romantic gesture. Finding Mac with his pants around his ankles and some shirtless man nuzzling his crotch wasn’t on Leo’s to-do list for the day.
“No, no. Don’t say that.” Mac was on his feet and at Leo’s side before Leo’s brain could engage enough for him to plan an escape. “I love you. You and only you.”
Leo looked at the young man who had stayed kneeling beside the bed. He could have been Leo’s double—short wavy blond hair, the same straight nose and high cheekbones. The only difference between them seemed to be ten years or so in age. Was this some trade-in scheme? Had he really just been cheated on with a younger version of himself? Fuck, he suddenly felt more like fifty than his actual thirty.
Leo met the young man’s eyes. The man remained unmoved by Mac’s declaration of love for Leo. So, this kid was just a fuck. A morning screw while Leo was at the office. Was that supposed to make him feel better about this whole messed-up situation?
“You said never again,” Leo reminded him. Yes, Mac had done this before. Twice, in fact, that he knew of.
“I know. I know. I’m weak. You know that and how hard I fight these feelings because I love you.” He had his hands on Leo’s chest and ran them upward to squeeze his shoulders. “But maybe, maybe it’s time to stop fighting. Maybe this time we could both… You know?” He looked at the young man and directed the next part at him. “I mean, you would be up for that, right? The three of us?”
The young man pursed his lips as he shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”
Mac cupped Leo’s face and held him fast, forcing Leo to look at him. His hazel eyes darkened and he looked serious. “See. It’d be good for us. Maybe it’s what we need.”
Leo closed his eyes. So, he wasn’t enough for Mac anymore? Had he ever been? “No.” He wasn’t going to have sex with some stranger. How the hell would that fix anything?
“Please.” Mac kissed him, but the kiss left Leo cold.
Leo stared at Mac’s mouth. How he used to long for Mac’s kisses and his touch. He was everything Leo had ever wanted, and foolishly he’d thought Mac felt the same about him. Now all he felt was repulsion.
“What’s his name?” Leo asked. Why he wanted to know, he wasn’t sure. He just felt like he should ask.
Mac opened his mouth but said nothing.
“You don’t even know his name?”
“Sure I do. It’s…” He looked at the other man, who was on his feet and getting dressed.
“Chris,” the young man said and pulled on his T-shirt. “Look, if this isn’t happening, then I have somewhere to be.”
“It is,” Mac insisted and held up his hand to stop Chris from leaving. He looked at Leo. “It is.”
Leo shook his head. “No, it isn’t.” He focused on Chris. “You should leave now.”
Chris nodded and gathered his things. This time Mac didn’t stop him and simply glanced at him as he passed them on the way to the door.
As soon as the door shut, Leo freed himself from Mac’s hold and put some distance between them.
“Is this the first time?”
“Here with him?”
Mac nodded. “Of course. He came onto me. I’m weak.”
Leo closed his eyes. He didn’t know why he asked, maybe out of some twisted way to punish himself further for being such a fool, but he did. “How many others?” He opened his eyes and stared into Mac’s. Mac’s eyes clouded with guilt. Leo had really hoped he’d been wrong, that Mac would say this was one little slip.
“Did you use protection?” he asked. He was angry as hell and wanted Mac out of his sight. But he needed to know.
Leo took a deep breath. He needed to get out of there.
“We can talk about this.”
Talk? He wouldn’t give Mac a chance to worm his way out of it this time. The silver-tongued asshole didn’t deserve another chance.
“I’m done. We’re over.” He made to leave, but Mac had him by the arm.
“You don’t mean that.”
“I do.” Leo wished he sounded stronger, but he was tired. He hadn’t gone back to bed after Mac had called that morning, too busy worrying about getting everything right and in place for the meeting tomorrow, in place for Mac. “I’m sick of putting up with your crap.”
Mac gripped his arm more tightly. “Please.”
Leo dared to look up into Mac’s eyes. He had always adored the color of Mac’s eyes, a warm toffee flecked with emerald green. There was always such passion and heat in the way Mac looked at him, and before, one glance from Mac would cause Leo to melt. He held Mac’s gaze. He felt nothing now.
“What do you want me to say? Anything. I’ll do anything.”
Leo stayed silent. He’d invested three years of his life into their relationship. But enough was enough. Mac wasn’t ever going to change. It had finally come down to this moment, and Leo needed to make the decision that was right for him. No more second chances. Not this time.
“Move in with me,” Mac said quickly.
“What?” Had the kid literally fucked Mac’s brains out?
Mac released Leo’s arm and took both his hands in his. “It’s what you wanted, right? The two of us? Living together?” He leaned forward for a kiss, but Leo turned his head, Mac’s lips making contact with his cheek. He continued, “You can move in here.”
Once upon a time, Leo would have done anything to hear Mac say those words. How he had longed for them to be more than a toothbrush and a few toiletries in each other’s bathroom. They had been close once. Mac had even gotten him a key made, but then Mac had blown it, just like he had now, and it was like a reset had been hit on their relationship. He never would have expected it, but Leo was actually glad Mac had kept him at a distance. At least this way, Leo could walk away.
Shaking his head, Leo snatched his hands back. “No. I’m not doing this.” So many times Mac had talked his way back into Leo’s heart, and Leo into his bed. But not this time. This wasn’t Mac confirming Leo’s suspicions and the office gossip about what Mac had done behind his back. This time he had seen it with his own eyes. He’d seen the other man. He’d seen the lies and the cheating. They were done.
He took his keys from his jacket pocket. Never had the pile of metal felt so damn heavy. Looking into Mac’s eyes, he turned the keys over in his hand.
“Don’t,” Mac said.
If only Mac had been able to keep it in his pants. Leo had been happy in his little oblivious world. In his mind, he had been enough for Mac and they had been enough for each other. But he deserved better than this.
“I love you.”
“If you really loved me, this wouldn’t be happening. We wouldn’t be standing here having this conversation.” He separated the key to Mac’s apartment from the rest. Was he strong enough to go through with this? He looked at Mac. I deserve better than you. Pressing his mouth in a line, he freed the key from the keychain and held it out to Mac.
“Keep it,” Mac said.
Leo looked between the key and Mac. If he stayed, then what? How long would it be before Mac cheated on him again? He had to stick by his decision. For his own sake.
“I don’t want it.” As Mac wouldn’t take the key, Leo bent over and placed it on the floor. He let his fingers linger for a moment before he straightened up.
Mac rested his hands on his hips and eyed the key. “You’re giving up on us?”
“There is no more us, Mac.” He stepped forward and studied Mac’s face. God how he’d loved the man. Mac had been his Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome. Where had they gone wrong? “It wasn’t me that gave up.” He kissed Mac on the cheek. “Goodbye,” he said, then turned on his heel and walked away.
“Leo, wait,” Mac called after him. “Leo. You know you need me, right? You’ll be back.” He paused. “Leo!”
Leo didn’t stop until he reached the bottom of the stairwell. He glanced upward over his shoulder and listened. To his relief, he didn’t see or hear anything or anyone. If Mac had followed him out of the apartment, he wasn’t sure what he’d have done. His heart and head were all over the place. Three years. Three fucking years he’d just walked away from. Where had they gone wrong? Deflated, he sat on the bottom step. Was it him? Was he unlovable?
This was all Mac’s fault. Leo needed to remember that. So maybe he wouldn’t win any prizes for being the perfect boyfriend, because who the hell was perfect, but he had never lied to or cheated on Mac. Hell, if anything, he could be accused of trying too hard. With a sigh, he gazed out the apartment building’s doors. Through the glass he could see it was snowing again. Shivering, he rubbed at his chest. He felt like there was a block of ice clamped on either side of his heart, painfully squeezing the organ. Could someone die from a broken heart? Pressing his palm flat, he felt the gentle thump of his heartbeat.
Not completely broken.
The pulse beneath his hand reminded him there were worse things that could have happened to him today, not many, considering how he felt right now, but there were certainly some. A door opened and closed above him, and he heard voices on the stairs. The voices were female, and Leo guessed they belonged to Mac’s neighbors, a mother and daughter who lived across the hall.
He eyed the entrance. He couldn’t sit here all day, despite the sudden urge to curl into a ball and be damned with everything. He was only supposed to be on his lunch break, and he’d already spent a good amount of time thoughtfully selecting his ex-lover the perfect sandwich and standing in line for his salted caramel mocha. Ex-lover. That sounded pretty damn final.
I should have taken back the damn sandwich.
He blew out a heavy breath and got to his feet. He’d save the self-pity for the evening and have a full-on Bridget-Jones moment with a tub of ice cream and a breakup playlist. He straightened his tie. Not really his style. More likely popcorn and horror movies. As much as he’d love to see Mac chopped up into little pieces right now, it was never going to happen.
I’d never get away with it. He sniffed a laugh. Watching Freddy or Jason hack up a few people might help a bit, he figured. He sighed. He needed to get a grip, get back to the office, and hope to God nobody asked him how Mac was doing.
Fastening the button on his suit jacket, Leo prepared himself for the rush of cold. He pushed open the door to the block and stepped outside. Fresh air swirled around him, and he took a moment to appreciate how invigorating the sensation was. Breathing deeply, he stood tall. Despite the solid feeling still lingering inside his chest, he felt somewhat comforted by the chilled world before him. He rubbed at his chest and took the three steps down to the sidewalk. There he stopped as a cold shiver worked its way up his spine toward his collar and beneath his hairline. It was a strange feeling, but one he welcomed. For some reason, it felt right.
People walked past him, wrapped in their warm coats, hats, gloves, and scarves as they hurried through the snow. A gust of wind caused the white flakes to twist and turn, and Leo narrowed his eyes as a flash of blue spiraled in front of him. Rubbing his eyes, he dismissed the spark of color. He was tired, but he still had lots to do back at the office. If he could, he’d have ditched the presentation in favor of something else, but as it was, not only was the presentation important to Mac, Leo’s future at Harding’s Toys also rested on it.
He glanced up and down the sidewalk and settled his gaze on a man walking toward him. The man stood out from the other people on the street. He didn’t rush like the people around him, who looked as if they were running from the cold in search of a hiding place. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it. He wore a short coat open over a pale blue shirt and dark jeans. His skin was fair, even more so set against his dark hair, and softened by the trimmed growth across his jaw. Something familiar leapt in Leo’s chest, but he was sure he had never seen the man before. He watched as blue spirals seemed to dance around the man, then their eyes met ever so briefly.
Clearly, Leo was imagining things, because the icy cold that had gripped his heart since leaving Mac’s apartment made way for sparks of heat. This didn’t happen to him, not like this. Sure he’d ogled plenty of handsome men, some had been downright fuckable, but never had a reaction been so strong to a simple stranger on the street. He was well and truly in lust.
A smile curled the man’s full mouth, and he looked over his shoulder. Leo’s attention was drawn beyond the man as someone seemingly slipped in the snow. The man’s smile widened as a second person fell on their ass behind him, then a third. Others stopped to help the fallen people, but all the man did was simply glance at Leo as he passed him. Intrigued, Leo stepped out. What happened next was a blur as his feet slipped from under him and he fell forward. His head hit the ground and all he remembered thinking was how shitty his day was turning out.