A simple hiking trip takes a sinister turn when Tarin is left alone and stranded. He thinks his luck has changed when he stumbles across an idyllic hamlet nestling between the forest and mountains. He also thinks he may have met the man of his dreams in the handsome and enigmatic Boyce.
However, dreams become nightmares when Tarin discovers this is no idyll. Instead it is home to a cursed community where no one is what they seem and the only reward for an innocent like him is death.
Is Tarin's attraction to Boyce as innocent as it seems? What chance can there be for love when faced by a century-old curse born of hate?
Tarin trudged wearily along the road. He was lost, and he knew it. He roundly and comprehensively cursed his boyfriend. His ex-boyfriend.
Lexis had suggested they get away for a weekend. Tarin should have known it was destined for disaster when the date fell on Halloween. They'd recently split, but Lexis had wanted to keep the friendship and go on one of the camping trips they had enjoyed so much.
"Witches and curses," Tarin muttered darkly under his breath. "Lexis will know a curse when I get my hands on him."
Their relationship had been spiralling downwards at a rapid pace. Tarin could not explain it, but he had known Lexis was not The One. They had found plenty of mutual interests, including hiking and camping, and they'd enjoyed casual lovemaking. However, Tarin had realised very quickly that it was not enough.
"I should've kept the relationship platonic and just enjoyed the camping," he sighed. "My own stupid fault." He looked around. It was starting to get dark.
He and Lexis had been booked into a motel the previous night, but Tarin had insisted on single beds and been angry Lexis had booked a double. He then paid for a room of his own and a big argument had ensued. Tarin had not even been sure the trip would go ahead.
When he'd gotten up, however, Lexis had already left, taking the hired car. Tarin indulged in another round of heartfelt cursing. Because Lexis was the designated driver, Tarin hadn't worried about his driver's licence when packing. After Lexis left he found it was not where he had thought it would be, but he would worry about it when he got home. To add insult to injury, his cellphone battery was dead.
Now he was stuck in the middle of nowhere, unable to hire a car to get to civilisation; assuming he could have found a town to hire a car in.
The motel had been helpful, indicating the nearest place he might be able to catch a local bus into one of the bigger towns that had buses into the city. Just getting home was likely to take the whole weekend.
Tarin wondered where he could pitch his tent. He didn't have much in his pack beyond dried fruit and nuts, some beef jerky, and a few bottles of water. If the trip had gone to plan, by now they should have passed through a town and stocked up on foods. The primus stove was in the car, so he couldn't have anything hot. Tarin hoped his thermal bedroll and a small fire would be warm enough.
He gave a soul-deep groan.
Ahead the road was vanishing into mist. That was all he needed.
"Cold and wet is my world," he muttered forlornly. He was surprised to find a tear slipping down his cheek. Resettling his camping gear securely on his back, he headed forward. He was not branching off into the woods in the fog.
He pulled out his flashlight as the fog closed in. It was a strange, eerie sensation. The mist felt neither cold nor wet. He was in it for several minutes before it vanished as suddenly as it descended.
He looked around. The forest had thinned totally, something he would not have expected so quickly. There were a few trees in a grouping on the left of the road and a single tree on the right. That tree inexplicably gave him the shivers. It was devoid of leaves, its bark dark and gnarled, and for all the world, it looked like an old, bent figure, with its arms reaching in supplication to the trees across the road.
Tarin started at the greeting, not having seen the figure approach. The man's voice was dark and seductive, seemingly modulated to go straight to Tarin's groin. He gave himself a mental shake. Let's not go there, he admonished himself. He was in enough trouble.
He looked at the newcomer. The man was every bit as attractive as his voice suggested. Blond hair reached to his shoulders, and he had a well-trimmed goatee. Although tall and slender, he gave the impression of power and strength. However, it was his eyes that really caught Tarin's attention, until he realised he was staring. The green gaze held a mesmerizing, almost indescribable quality, that Tarin could easily become lost in.
"Hi," Tarin said with a slightly nervous smile.
"We rarely get visitors. We're... off the beaten track, so to speak," the blond added with a smile. "My name is Anton."
Tarin swallowed. Even in the gathering dusk, the newcomer's teeth flashed white.
"I... er... I got lost, somehow," Tarin offered, unsure whether he wanted to turn and flee or accept the offer implicit in those hypnotic eyes.
"You need a place to stay then. My Master has a small guest house."
Tarin jumped nervously. He had not seen this newcomer either. However, he relaxed at the sight of a matronly woman who beamed at him.
"I guess I do at that. I'd love a bath, too, and a meal?' he added hopefully. "I have a credit card, but not my driver's licence."
"Let's worry about all of that later, dear," the woman said, hooking her arm around Tarin's elbow. "It's not often I get to have such a handsome young man on my arm." She winked at him. "It's this way."
"I'll be seeing you," the blond said.
"Sure," Tarin replied. He gave a small shudder. Somehow the words sounded more like a promise, or threat, than a farewell. Tarin gave himself a mental shake. He was getting overly spooked.
The woman's voice cut into his thoughts. "Now we don't hold much with exotic food here. It'll be a rabbit stew with some vegetables. There are some apples that I can turn into a dessert, too," she added.
"That'll be wonderful," Tarin said wholeheartedly. Hot food, a bath, and a bed for the night; paradise. Hopefully he could get the directions necessary to a town with a shuttle bus in the morning.