Recently dumped (again) for being cold, Guy gladly accepts his publisher friend’s request to go to a remote hut in wintry Nunavut to find out whether aspiring novelist Cam Campbell is a plagiarist. By agreeing also to help the eccentric ecologist survey wildlife for a month, Guy buys time to assess Cam’s innocence and hear stories about Cam’s late father–Guy’s favorite fantasy writer and the man whose book Cam is accused of stealing.
Guy’s investigation is soon biased by his attraction to Cam and the growing concern about Cam’s odd behavior. At times, Cam dissociates and is icier than Guy could ever be, yet he’s the only one who’s ever recognized, at a glance, the emotions burning beneath Guy’s surface. Guy knows he’s the best person to help Cam abandon the dangerous wilds outside and address those in Cam’s head, but he also knows that he’ll lose the chance if he comes clean about his ulterior motives for getting close to Cam. How can he convince Cam to come in from the cold… and why are they both really out there anyway?
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|Publisher:||NineStar Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.98(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.48(d)|
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AT LEAST HE wasn't nervous about meeting the kid anymore. He'd stopped feeling anything at all besides dread and the wheels of the suitcase he'd slung over his shoulder bruising his numb ass with every stumble. Finally, Guy glimpsed smoke wisping from a rustic pipe chimney a hundred yards farther than the thousand miles he'd already come. His brogues, so iced over they looked like glass slippers, skidded on the porch's wooden boards. The leather-gloved hand he threw forward to balance himself rattled the doorframe with a thudding knock, sending ice shards showering behind him from the rafters overhead.
"Hell-lo?" he croaked. "Cam-meron C —"
The alluring burst of firelight that greeted him as the door opened was immediately extinguished by someone squeezing the swollen wood shut behind themselves as they stepped forth. Guy was suddenly too surprised to be awestruck over meeting Alessandro De Carli's son at last. He was glad his frozen eyelids couldn't blink, because the guy — the specter, presumably Cameron Campbell — might disappear if he did. For a second, he wondered if he'd knocked on the wrong gingerbread house door, only there was no other shelter for fifty miles.
Cameron Campbell was known to be even more reclusive than his late father, but he wasn't actually supposed to be mythic. The tiny guy blocking the door with sturdy, unlaced boots looked like a wood nymph. Eyes as blue as distant stars stared at him unabashedly. Maybe the reason no journalists had ever snapped pictures of the kid, and why he had no online presence, was because he couldn't be caught on film.
"Incredible." Cameron must have read Guy's mind, and he pressed rosebud lips together in exasperation. "Are you alone? Did you hitch here? There's no corpse in a cab parked on the highway I need to go rescue? Insane."
Guy respectively nodded and shook his head, hoping the well-earned insult was aimed at the driver on his way west who'd dropped him at the side of a barely used road, far from the highway. Guy had considered himself lucky to thumb a ride at all out of the tiny settlement of Ipasila, built around a gas station, which was the closest town to Campbell and two hours' drive from the Hudson Bay hamlet of Arviat in southern Nunavut. In hindsight, the man had been almost as reckless as Guy himself had been for not driving him straight to the police. Instead, Guy had been let out of the relative safety of a truck armed with nothing more than the GPS tracker Guy had brought with him and prayed was accurate.
"C-Cameron ..." Not Cameron, Guy revised. A Cameron was a strapping guy — like a Brad or a David — or a blonde woman. This pixie prince was either a Cam or a question mark. His eyes looked magnified behind the lenses of large glasses, the arms of which must have burned cold against his temples because Cam removed them — only for his naked eyes to be comically large. It was still possible he wasn't even De Carli's son, since he looked nothing like him. Wrote nothing like him either, which was why Guy was here. "You're C-Campbell, right? De Carli's s-son?"
It was Campbell's turn to draw back in surprise. "Are you from a newspaper?"
"Am I s-selling subscriptions?" Traipsing from cabin to cabin after dark? "D-does it matter? Let me in." Heat from indoors infused the porch floorboards and bled into Guy's damp soles, announcing itself as pain in his brittle toes.
"I don't do interviews about my father." Cam reached inside the hood of his puffy coat, just a shade lighter than his luminous, creamy skin, to pull a long coil of black hair forward. It hung like gossamer over the gray scarf around his shoulders.
He'd let down his hair, so now Guy could enter, right? "Do I l-look like a journalist?"
"Nah, you look too honest."
Guy's brows were too frozen to frown at the sarcasm. He knew damn well he had a poker face. That was the problem; now that he was literally incapable of moving his face he probably looked normal, not dangerously hypothermic.
"I'm with your p-publisher."
"You're from Ames? In that case, first, tell Claire she should be fired and charged with attempted murder for sending you. Secondly, and for the hundredth time, I canceled the submission for Close to Home. I didn't mean to send it to you guys in the first place. Third, stop hounding me about it."
"Fourth, f-fuck off," Guy anticipated his next order. "I c- can't. And I'm from F-Fairbanks Press."
"Ha! Are you guys even still publishing me?" Cam swept his bangs behind an ear, which was slightly pointed at its tip.
Of course, it is." You're the one who n-never answers emails."
"Internet's intermittent out here. And there's nothing wrong with that manuscript that isn't Fairbanks' fault." Cam pursed his lips, which were tinging blue before Guy's eyes, and nuzzled his chin into his scarf. Guy was torn between thinking it served him right to be cold and wanting to offer his firstborn as passage to the gatekeeper who halted Guy's shuffle forward by holding up a gloved palm. "Uh-uh, no way. You ought to know the drill, New Yorker. You are, aren't you?"
Guy was as native a New Yorker as anyone who'd moved there in adulthood and would never live elsewhere. A load of the population was in the same burned boat as him, so yes, he could claim to be from New York, but that was irrelevant while the heat fleeing his eyes stung.
"So the same rules apply here as there," Cam continued, as though this were a holiday home in Connecticut. "You know, I met a hiker from Texas here who'd never even seen snow before, but he knew enough about it to come in September, not March. Why do you think I can't get any volunteers to assist me at the moment?"
Because not only did this waif conduct questionable wildlife research in the middle of nowhere while purportedly editing a novel, but he also lived at the end of a spur trail a mile west of an icy road to nowhere.
Cam stamped his feet, blowing into hands he cupped over his mouth. "Come on."
What did the little sylph want? For Guy to roll a seven? Produce a magic key?
"For God's sake, guy, you need to strip!" Cam finally twisted the door handle behind him, spilling back into an amber glow. Guy tumbled in after, out of the deadly night air.
Instantly, his coat became the warmest bath Guy had ever had the pleasure of sinking into. Flames in the hearth curled into come-hither licks Guy's jellied legs couldn't obey. There was enough ecstasy to be had where he wilted against the closed door. The sensation wrenched him from numb to overwhelmed in a blink, and thrust him the closest to an imminent powerful orgasm he'd been since ... he didn't want to know.
Cam busied himself over at a kitchen counter, ignoring Guy, who stood, shaking in the doorway, suddenly struggling with a boner that had sprung from pure physical shock, surprising and mortifying him. He had to admit he could see how post-hypothermia blood rushing around could cause such a phenomenon, but man, did it have to? Thankfully, melting into a hunch helped hide it when Cam reappeared in front of him wearing only a few layers of sweaters and brandishing two steaming mugs of coffee.
Its intoxicating aroma further confused his senses by going straight to Guy's cock. Now, there's a new kink. He failed to convince himself his hand quivering was an aftereffect of the cold, not the sight of the now gloveless, pale hand offering a chipped mug with the handle out for Guy to grab. Cam raised an eyebrow at Guy's taking it with his left hand.
"Oh, you're a lefty?"
"I guess," Guy said, distracted by just how fine Cam's fingers were ... and how Cam's palm was apparently immune to the hot ceramic he held courtesy of calluses, frostbite, or immortality. "Looks nice...."
"Not too strong?" Cam asked, a smile curling the corners of his mouth.
"N-no such thing." Guy slurped half the treacly concoction before gasping, "Thanks."
"Sit." Cam nodded to a couch piled high with blankets resembling a laundry pile. There was nowhere to sit except on top of them. "And I wasn't kidding before. You need to strip, like, five minutes ago. Show me some skin."
"And a business card."
Shit. Guy had no such thing — he should have made Huw make him a mock-up one before coming. If Cam was astute enough to ask questions like that, it might be hard to deceive him as planned. Plausible excuses whirled in his mind, but were as hard to grasp as the snowflakes he ruffled loose from his hair, stalling for time. He was surprised they hadn't melted, since his scalp was beginning to burn. ...
"Of course, I'd prefer skin first. And so would you," Cam said.
"I'm here to work," Guy retorted, reinforcing the lie to himself.
"How do you know De Carli was my father?"
Guy blinked. "Isn't he?"
"My pen name's Cameron Stewart. I know my real name's on the contract I signed with you guys, but that's Cameron Campbell."
"That's De Carli's son's name."
"It's also as common as mud. How do you know I'm him?"
"Because ..." Heat surged through Guy's veins, and flashes from the fireplace in his periphery blinded him. Flames shot up his spine, turning his thoughts to smoke. His erection stirred as he willed it to subside. Instead, his heartbeat faded, which was a lot more alarming. "Because ..."
Struggling to balance his tilting mug on the surging, damp footwell he slumped down upon, Guy bit at his glove to peel it from his roasting hand. It dangled from his lip, and he batted it away to better claw at his collar, trying to escape its stranglehold. Sweat made it slippery in his shaking hands, and he panted more feverishly than he had while staggering outside, where everything was white — as white as everything was turning now.
"Hey, stay with me, guy." Cam rose from his slouch against the back of the sofa, surrounded by a blizzard of stars that swarmed Guy's vision. He was warmth personified, the most enchanting thing in the dreamscape Guy had navigated to get here, and he was still miraculous, even now that everything had become a nightmare. His own sharp intake of breath echoed from afar as Cam lunged toward him through the static.
"I hoped you were him," spilled in a murmur from Guy without his control. Strangely, Cam seemed to slip farther away the closer he got, as Guy sensed himself falling. It looked like he wouldn't manage to save De Carli's son after all. Well, he thought as all light vanished, at least he'd managed to meet him. And he got to die in the arms of a beyond- beautiful man.
No, forget that, his consciousness broke through. De Carli's son was stunning, strange, and fascinatingly all the way out here. Never mind the fact Guy couldn't write, he was going to live and find out what made Cam tick if it was the last thing he did.
Alone? Where's Nick — Oh. Guy remembered Nick was a country away, if not a dimension, and probably in someone else's bed by now. They'd split up a month before. In consolation and maybe correlation, Guy's mind was working just fine after its flare-out at the hut's front door. He remembered catching planes and a ride from a middle-of-nowhere Canadian town to the barren fringe of Canadian nowhere, and then staggering through a frozen hell until his life depended on the very person he'd come to rescue.
Guy had been foolishly glad he hadn't printed out the manuscript that Fairbanks's owner and director, Huw, emailed him. He recalled reading it at home and thinking all it was fit for was kindling, which was all he had wished for earlier in the snow. The memory of his being cold was hardest of all to get a hold on, possibly because it was traumatic, but probably also because right then he was strangely warm. Hot bath warm. Shared bed warm. Afterglow warm ... Because ... I'm naked?
The assumption he was safe fell away, along with the musty blanket covering his chest as he jolted up in bed in a tiny dark room. He was naked and trapped at the mercy of a supernaturally pretty being in the next room, the son of a ghost, who was himself too much of a vivid apparition and just plain too short to have carried Guy in here. He must have been dragged — and drugged? What was in that coffee to make him overheat like that? And why the hell was he naked?
A dim golden glow from beneath the bed spilled across the wooden floor. Guy hung his head over the side of the thin mattress, half expecting fireflies or a chatty French candelabra or anything else fairy- tale-like. Luckily, there were no monsters — instead a cast-iron pan containing a handful of charcoals sat atop a steel tripod beneath the bed's metal slats. He had to admit its heating properties were a lot more efficient than a hot water bottle and more romantic, too, lending a candlelit glow to the room. Exposed beams overhead made him feel like Pinocchio inside a ribbed belly, and the marbled grays seen through a small window looked like a paused scene on a black-and-white TV.
He crept off the bed, folding the blankets so they were nowhere near the charcoal bowl, and padded on bare feet to the window. Shards of a thermometer glinted on the outside sill, having shattered from the cold. They displayed a temperature locked perpetually high, mocking his earlier trial by tundra.
His breath clouded in the wan light as he layered on clothing from his suitcase, which was propped by the room's door. A knitted red woolen sweater was folded on a rickety chair. He unfolded it to see a garish Christmas pattern emblazoned on its front, which he wasn't sure was meant to be ironically ugly or not. Since De Carli's son had already no doubt seen his cock at attention, which Nick had called the only warm part of Guy, he figured he shouldn't be vain, but he really didn't want to wear it, and really hated knowing better than to reject it. He couldn't help Cam if he collapsed from hypothermia again.
There's a reason I'm asking you and no one else. Huw's voice rang in his near-frostbitten ears. Besides the fact you'll fit right in in the Arctic. You're 'castratingly cold,' after all, according to Nick's Facebook.
Even after fourteen years' friendship, dating back to when De Carli's books began to ruin Guy for all other fiction, Guy's former college roommate, Huw, remained oblivious to all but superficially expressed emotions, so Guy had grunted to make his displeasure known. "I'm not cold."
"You're a bunny wrapped in an enigma, but me and Campbell need your judgmental stare. Well, he might like the bunny part, too."
"Campbell and I," Guy had corrected.
"Great, keep that up, editor." Huw had scratched the air, making quotes around the last word. "Anyway, Campbell's probably a Popsicle himself out there, so defrost him with all your actual warmth because I need his book okayed. How often do you get a sure thing in publishing? Never, that's how often, unless you've got, like, George R. R. Martin's kid's debut."
"He's De Carli's son." Guy had hated the comparison. De Carli was better.
Fairbanks had spent eight months wrangling Cam's debut, only to be served an injunction, lodged by his older sister, who claimed the manuscript was stolen from their father's estate. Huw had only ever communicated with Cam online, and not thought to connect his common real name with the uncommon phenomenon who had been De Carli. No one had. The publishing grapevine hadn't heard anything since Cam had been institutionalized for suicidal intent for a month after De Carli's fatal heart attack two years earlier, then disappeared upon release. Remembering that, Huw figured family bickering over probate wasn't something to spring on him from afar, especially when the injunction was suppression ordered, making its claim more than a little suspicious.
After eagerly — then less eagerly — skimming Cam's book, Guy had vouched it wasn't an authentic De Carli. If the kid had desecrated a stolen draft to pass it off as his own work, he'd done too good a job. Unfortunately, Guy's fanboy opinion wouldn't make great testimony, and even he conceded the manuscript bore some similarity with De Carli's, which could be due to their shared tastes or family history ... but maybe not. Huw had convinced him to go covertly to uncover proof in the form of drafts, and judge Cam's authenticity, too.
Excerpted from "Get Up"
Copyright © 2017 Reece Pine.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
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