Basking in the long summer days, Axel hikes away from his worries through Norway’s idyllic mountain passes. He’s so at ease that he slips off his clothes and bathes in the cool lake water with no fear of being called out for his bright red hair or body full of freckles. Life is grand.
Peace and quiet doesn’t come easy for mystery writer Folke. When he stumbles across his copper-haired muse naked in a mountain oasis, plans for his future novel are long forgotten in favor of love. Nature takes a bite out of the serenity the two find, and the real world encroaches, making the happy couple wonder if they didn’t just suffer a summer fever.
(c) TT Kove
“IT DIDN’T mean anything, yeah, right. Asshole.”
Axel kept muttering to himself under his breath as he trudged through the woods, his new boots still comfortable and keeping the soles of his feet protected from the uneven ground covered in heather and pine needles.
It felt like sweat was trickling everywhere, but he didn’t care. He was alone out in the woods and planning to stay there for a while. He adjusted the heavy backpack, holding on to the straps to take some of the pressure off his shoulders.
His cap and sunglasses shielded him from the burning sun, for which he was glad. Who would have thought Norway would be having such a warm summer this year? And especially this early, mid-June, right after school let out.
Axel was done with school. He’d spent almost all his nineteen years in classrooms, and he was sick and tired of it. Tired of all the books, of all you had to learn, all the classmates and the drama. And his boring life.
So he’d taken off the day after graduation, and he wasn’t planning on going back down to civilization for a while. He was going to experience new things, preferably by himself. He didn’t need anyone else. Especially not his cheating ex-boyfriend.
Summer fever, his mother, Britt, had called it when Axel had told her about his plans the day of graduation. The sudden urge to have new experiences. And she was right. He needed something new in his life. So he was distancing himself from all that was bad. He was starting a new and better one as a new and better person.
Hiking was the first step. Maybe he’d actually get in shape, too, because he was sadly lacking in that department, even if it didn’t show on his body how he never worked out and how much junk food he ate.
No, he was just a skinny, freckled redhead whom everyone thought they could push around.
Axel did not want to be a pushover anymore. He was so done with it all. And that was why he’d spent the last three days trudging through the woods, moving farther and farther up the mountain each day.
The weather had been good so far, but Axel knew enough not to expect the sun to shine for long without rain and cold to follow. It always did. Norway could never just be warm—something always had to come and ruin the few hot days the country had each year.
Axel stopped and gazed up toward the treetops. He wasn’t able to look right at the sun, not even with his brand-new sunglasses, but the rays were really giving off heat. Axel felt like he’d never sweated so much in his life.
But he’d never enjoyed anything as much as he did this impulsive hiking trip either. And best of all, he wasn’t anywhere close to his hometown. He’d packed his car and driven for hours.
Axel had done some research online and asked his mother, and so here he was. From the road where he’d parked his car, the trees had been growing close all over the mountain, except the clearings of small, assorted cabins scattered around.
Axel thought he’d rather like to have a cabin around here—someplace only he knew about, where he could live or escape to if he did go back to his hometown. Not that he planned on going back there for a while. If he were to go anywhere, he wanted to start over someplace new.
“Oslo, perhaps,” he mused as he trudged on. “Or maybe in the country.”
Less people there. But more gossip. In the big city, one could be more anonymous.
Oh, what a dilemma. His hometown wasn’t exactly big, but it wasn’t rural either. And he’d had enough of all the bullshit there.
“Big city it is, then.”
Decision made, he laughed out loud and quickened his steps.
“WOW!” AXEL dropped his backpack to the ground and stared out over the little lake. The sun was shining down, making the still surface practically glitter.
He got down on his knees and dipped one finger into the water. It didn’t feel cold at all.
“Oh, so cool!”
He chuckled as he pulled his clothes off. A bath sounded like an excellent idea right then. When he was naked, he jumped in, and it turned out the water wasn’t as warm as it felt on the surface. It was tepid at best. But oh so good after the heat of the sun shining down on him excruciatingly for the past three days.
The lake was deeper than anticipated too, but that was good as well. Axel flipped over onto his back and just lay there, floating and staring dreamily up at the cloudless sky. Being in the water made him miss his boat.
Today would’ve been a perfect day to take it out to sea, to enjoy the solitude and the breeze and the waves. He also enjoyed his piano, but playing that would require staying at home, and the boat definitely came out on top since with that he had the possibility of getting away for a bit.
He lay like that for a long while, but eventually the tepid water started getting to him, and he swam toward the rock he’d jumped from.
He was climbing up the rock when a motion at the corner of his eye had his head swiveling around.
A tall, slender bloke with wide shoulders and slim hips stood at the edge of the forest, looking straight at Axel. He had thick, wavy brown hair. His skin seemed smooth, except for the darker shadow of stubble halfway up his cheeks and over his jaw and chin. He looked to be either in his late twenties or early thirties.
And then it hit Axel. Axel was standing there, naked, and the sight of the handsome man had his cock filling, hardening. Axel made to scamper up toward his clothes, but he lost his footing and with a shout fell back into the water.
He flailed with his arms for a few moments before he managed to grab hold of the rock again. But before he could hoist himself up, a strong tan arm came into his line of sight. Axel slowly tilted his head up and stared at the stranger, who was bent over and had a tiny wry grin on his lips.
“Come on, let me help you, Freckles.”
Axel blinked at the familiar-yet-not words. He put his hand in the stranger’s and let the man pull him up out of the water.
Axel hurried to get his clothes on, which was difficult considering he was soaking wet, but he did not want to be standing naked in front of the handsome stranger.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” the man spoke up.
Axel turned around as he buttoned up the last buttons on his shirt.
“You’re Danish” was what plopped out of his mouth as he recognized the language. It was so like Norwegian, yet not. Danes usually sounded like they had a potato stuck down their throat, which was why it could be difficult to understand at times even though the two languages were basically the same, but this man’s voice was deep, flowing, and so very arousing.
The man still had that small wry smile quirking one corner of his lips as he studied Axel. “You’re soaking wet. Why don’t you come back to my cabin and dry up before you continue on?”
Axel’s immediate response was to say no, remembering what his mother had told him in his childhood: never talk to strangers, never go with strangers. But this man didn’t seem like a kidnapper or serial killer, and he was so handsome. And Axel was wet. It would be nice to be inside while his clothes dried.
“O-okay,” he agreed, nodding jerkily.
“Great.” The man smiled properly, then turned and led the way along a small path heading away into the trees.
Axel hoisted his rucksack up on his shoulders and followed the man silently, all the while wringing his hands nervously. “I’m Axel,” he introduced himself.
“Hi, Axel.” The Dane turned around to smile at him once more. “I’m Folke.”
Axel found his own lips quirking up at the brilliant smile aimed at him, and he fell just a little bit further in lust with the man.
They rounded a bend in the path and then a small brown-painted cabin with a green roof stood ahead of them, looking cozy and inviting.
“You live here?” Axel gawked. He’d never seen such a beautiful cabin in his life. Not that he’d seen many cabins, period.
“I do.” Folke walked up the three steps to the porch and crossed it to the door. “Welcome to my little refuge from the world.”
Axel entered the cabin and looked around with wide eyes. The cabin was spotless. No mess, nothing out of place. The decoration was flawless. Every piece of furniture was in dark mahogany and accentuated with black. “Wow. This looks great!”
“I’m glad you like it.” Folke brushed past him, and Axel felt goose bumps pop up on his arms at the brief contact. “Bathroom’s in there. Take a shower or a bath, whatever you like. I’ll get you some clothes to wear.”
Folke disappeared into what Axel supposed was his bedroom, and Axel went into the bathroom he’d been pointed toward. It was white tiled, with a sink, toilet, a tub, and a shower. The essentials of a bathroom.
The tub looked the most inviting, though, and Axel went over and turned the taps. Lukewarm water cascaded into the tub, and Axel twisted the hot tap some more until the water was nice and warm. Then he stepped back and stripped out of his wet clothing as the tub filled.
He’d just lowered himself into the deliciously warm water when the door opened and Folke walked in. He stopped at the sight of Axel in the tub and blinked.
Axel felt like he should cover himself, but he was frozen in place with those eyes staring straight at him. Right at his naked freckled torso. Axel could feel his cheeks burning and knew he had to be beet red.
“I brought you some of my clothes.” Folke laid the folded clothes on the toilet seat. “They’ll be big on you, but at least they’re clean and dry. These all your dirty clothes?” He bent down and scooped up the clothes Axel had discarded on the bathroom floor.
“Yes, I’m sorry I left them like that, I just really wanted to get in the water,” Axel murmured in apology.
“No big deal. I’ll just throw them in the washing machine.”
Folke made to turn, but his gaze lingered on Axel’s submerged body a moment longer, before he exited the bathroom with Axel’s clothes in his arms.
Axel raised his hands in front of his chest self-consciously as the door clicked closed. Not that it mattered much, his arms were as freckled as the rest of him, and Folke wasn’t there to look at him anymore anyway.
His stomach felt heavy. People had always looked down on him, and some even bullied him because of his freckles. He’d only ever had one boyfriend—and he had never been particularly nice. And now this kind man, whom Axel found himself very attracted to, seemed to not like his freckled self as well.
He sighed heavily, his good mood gone, and sank down in the tub until he was completely submerged.
FOLKE AVERTED his eyes yet again. He’d been doing that a lot today. And no matter how many times he averted them, they always found a way back to the redhead currently sitting across from him at the table, eating a quickly dished up dinner.
To think that this morning he was completely alone in his little cabin, surrounded by forest. And now a young man—a kid, really, he couldn’t be much older than eighteen—was sitting there across from him. He was such a handsome young man too, and Folke didn’t know what to do.
He wasn’t supposed to be around people, wasn’t supposed to be attracted to someone. Especially not someone still in their teens. Late teens—but just the same, still in his teens. But Axel was just so damn adorable. When Folke had walked out onto the shore of the lake and seen the naked, freckled redhead pull himself up, he’d been mesmerized. Axel had been so beautiful, with water cascading down his naked body and his red hair plastered to his forehead, his lips parted slightly, and the muscles in his toned body flexing as he’d pulled up onto the rock.
“How old are you?” Folke found himself asking suddenly.
Axel froze with the fork halfway to his mouth. He slowly glanced up at Folke, then away as he lowered his hand. “Nineteen. Soon to be twenty, though.”
“How soon?” Folke couldn’t help but prod.
“In two months,” Axel said, then quickly stuffed the fork into his mouth and started chewing once he’d removed it. He seemed very nervous. “Um, how old are you?”
So Freckles really was a kid. Ten years his junior. That was a lot, wasn’t it? Especially when Axel was so young. If Folke had been forty and Axel thirty, then maybe it wouldn’t feel so weird. Then the kid would have had plenty of life experience, and Folke wouldn’t feel like a pervert for lusting over a teenager.
“Food taste good?” Folke asked, wanting to change the subject.
Axel’s gaze flicked up, then down again once he caught Folke staring. “Mm-hm.” He nodded his approval.
It was only a simple meal of pasta and minced meat with tomato sauce, nothing fancy, but it was a good, substantial dinner.
Axel swallowed his mouthful, then looked up at Folke. “Thank you so much,” he mumbled, his cheeks slightly flushed, “for letting me stay here with you for the day. For washing my clothes and lending me yours and making me dinner.”
“It’s nothing to thank me for.” Folke smiled softly, finding that he liked how easily Freckles blushed at everything, and finding it fascinating how it lit up his fair skin. “It’s what any decent person would do.”
Not that Folke was that decent, not with the thoughts he’d been having since first seeing Axel. But then again, he was pretty sure Axel had been checking him out as well.
Folke really needed to get his thoughts on something else, something not related to how good-looking he found Axel. “So, Freckles, what’re you doing out in the woods all alone?”
Axel’s face burned red now, and he hurriedly ducked his head to hide it. “Just hiking. Wanted to get away, be by myself for a bit,” he murmured.
“Did I say something wrong?” Folke frowned as he got up and put his empty plate in the sink. He didn’t look at Axel, not wanting to embarrass him further by staring. “Whatever I did, I didn’t mean to.”
“Yeah, right,” he barely heard Axel mutter under his breath.
“Hey.” Folke walked over to him and put two fingers under his chin, forcing Axel’s face up so he could look into his eyes. “What’s the matter? Please tell me. Was it a sore subject I got into with that question?”
Axel stared at him a moment, and then he shook his head. “It’s just what you called me.”
Folke blinked. “Freckles?”
Axel wrenched his chin out of Folke’s grip and averted his eyes. “People have always made fun of me because of my freckles,” he admitted in a quiet voice. “Everyone always have to comment or use stupid nicknames.”
“I’m not making fun of you.” Folke felt himself fuming inside. Why did people always have to pick on someone who looked a little different than what was deemed “normal”? Why did people have to be so bloody cruel? “I call you Freckles because I like the way you look. I didn’t think. If you don’t like it, I won’t—”
Axel had raised his head, and his green eyes were wide. “You like the way I look?” he repeated, saying it hesitantly and making it sound like a question. He blushed too, which told Folke he liked the compliment.
“I do.” Folke raised his hand and let it tangle in Axel’s red hair, almost unconsciously. “I really do.”
And he was suddenly bending down, and Axel’s slightly parted lips were getting closer, and then Folke was pressing their lips together.
A sound, something between a gasp and a whimper, escaped Freckles, but then his hands came up to grip at Folke’s, which had cupped Axel’s face in his palms, and Freckles was kissing him back. It was soft, hesitant, only lips brushing and sliding together gently, but blood was rushing through Folke’s body to pool in his groin, hardening his dick until it pressed almost painfully against the zipper of his jeans.
His reaction to Axel shouldn’t surprise him considering how long it had been since he’d been with a man, but it did. Yes, he knew he’d been attracted to Freckles, but the intense reaction he was having… Jesus, it was consuming him.
He let go of Axel’s face and instead wrapped his arms around his waist, pulling him up on his feet as he delved his tongue inside his mouth. Freckles’s hand was now clenching his shirt, stretching the fabric taut over Folke’s shoulders.
Axel felt so good against him, his hard heat pressing against Folke’s front, and his erection pressing against his thigh. “Oh, shit,” Folke groaned between kisses. “You feel so good.”
“So do you,” Axel whispered in reply.
And just like that, by hearing that young voice, Folke’s bubble burst. He was kissing a nineteen-year-old boy. And he was so horny for him he was about to burst. And the kid was only nineteen. Ten years separated them—ten bloody years.
He pulled away, stepping back to the counter, leaving space between them. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.” Folke scrubbed a hand over his face.
Axel stood there for a moment, his breathing a little heavier than normal, then his cheeks flushed at Folke’s words, and he bowed his head. “I’ve overstayed my welcome. I’m leaving now. Th-thanks for putting up with me.”
And he brushed past Folke.
“No, Axel, wait—”
Folke didn’t want him to storm out like that, but it was too late. Axel had already put on his hiking boots, hoisted his pack on his back, and exited the cottage without even so much as tying his shoes.
“Ah, shit.” Folke ran his hand over his face again, in frustration this time.
He hadn’t just done something highly inappropriate with a nineteen-year-old—he had embarrassed Axel afterwards by pulling away and apologizing. He should’ve done it more gently, tried to explain. And now it was too late.
Or maybe not.
Folke stepped into his own shoes and went outside. Axel was nowhere in sight as he’d disappeared into the trees somewhere. Folke didn’t hear any sounds, either, and had no way of telling which way Axel had gone.
Too late, then. He sighed and turned to enter the cabin again. A sound brought him up short and he whirled around. What had that sound been? And where had it come from? He looked around, but all was silent again.
Folke felt a bad feeling settle in his stomach. That hadn’t been an animal. Not something normal. Which meant it had to be Freckles. But what had happened and where had it come from? Folke had no clue. The forest was thick all around him.
Shit, shit, shit.