Jason has one rule when it comes to holidays—work his shift behind the bar and then find a willing body to distract himself with. One night is long enough to satisfy his needs and still walk away with his heart intact. It has worked out fine for most of his adult life, but this Easter, he’s trying something new. He’s leaving the city to visit his friend, Aiden, who recently moved in with his boyfriend in the middle of nowhere, but one unfortunate incident leaves Jason without a place to sleep.
Tom doesn’t do relationships, he rarely does hook-ups and never too close to home. Living on his own without attachments is far easier than having the whole town knowing about him. As the holiday approaches, his lonely house grows even quieter than normal—at least until his friend, Tristan, dumps an arrogant bartender in his lap.
As soon as Jason lays eyes on the gruff lumberjack whose home he’ll be sharing, he knows who’ll warm his bed for the weekend and help chase away any pending holiday gloom. Too bad Tom doesn’t want to get with the programme. As much as he wants to let Jason close, he won’t risk outing himself for a weekend fling. Will Jason trust Tom not to break his heart if he stays longer than a couple of days, and will Tom value their relationship higher than the town gossip?
Tom took off his helmet and ear protection and wiped his forehead. His back ached, his shoulders were sore, and he wanted nothing more than to go home for the day. One more tree.
He looked around, noting which trees were marked for culling. He’d do one more and then call Tristan to say he was done for the day.
The voice rang through the woods, and Tom whirled around. “Hello?” He squinted between the tree trunks to see if there was anyone there—of course there’s someone there, trees don’t shout—but he couldn’t see anyone yet.
Branches rustled, twigs groaned, and then there was a creak and a snap, followed by a stream of curses. A guy tumbled out between the spindly trunks—Tom made a mental note to weed some of them out, they were standing awfully close—and fell to the ground before his feet with a thud.
“Well, hi there. Enjoying a nice stroll in the woods?” Tom couldn’t help but chuckle as he looked at the guy. He was about Tom’s age, maybe a little younger—definitely prettier. Tom had never seen him before, and judging by the perfectly styled hair and trendy clothes, the guy didn’t belong in their town.
“Have you seen a little dog?”
Cerulean blue eyes met his, and Tom read both fear and desperation there. His stomach clenched as he took in the guy’s features: a fashionable stubble, long dark eyelashes, and a refined nose. His skin held a warm tone matching his honey-coloured hair. Tom quickly looked away. He didn’t ogle guys, not this close to home.
“Nope, haven’t seen anyone all day.”
“Oh… Do you know how I can get back to the road?”
Tom put the chainsaw down and held out his hand to help the man up.
He slowly climbed to his feet. There were dark patches on the knees of his thin jeans from where he’d landed in the snow. Tom winced when a cold finger brushed against the inside of his wrist.
“Which road do you want to get back to?” They were almost as far from the main road as they were from the road leading into town, not to mention all the tiny little roads that snaked their way through the forest.
“Erm…the one leading into town?”
Tom peered up at the sky; the sun would be setting soon. With a sigh, he started packing his things. The trees would have to wait. “My car is on the other side.” He pointed to the pine trees behind him and put the scabbard on the chainsaw blade.
“There’s a road?” The guy stared at the trees as if he would be able to see it now when he knew it was there.
“Yes, a small one.”
Tom jumped as the guy’s voice echoed over the silent land. “Who are you calling?”
“My dog. He ran away.”
You’ll find Once in a Forest here: