Curtis didn’t expect to meet his mate while he was face-first and naked in the snow. He supposed he hadn’t exactly met Manuel that way, since he’d been unconscious, but that was probably not the best first impression.
Manuel wasn’t sure what to do with the naked, gorgeous man, but he took him home—and Curtis ran away.
But now small gifts have started appearing on Manuel’s doorstep, and he knows they’re from Curtis. With Christmas looming so close and Manuel’s mood being so dark because of his mother’s recent death, he’s not sure what to do about it—or about Curtis. Curtis seems to be intent on gently pushing his way into Manuel’s life, though, and Manuel doesn’t exactly mind.
Curtis closed the workshop door, leaving his father behind. His father was working on the back of a chair, and he wouldn’t stop until he managed to get rid of the kink that was bugging him. Curtis, on the other hand, was done sanding the coffee table his father has asked him to make, and he was ready for lunch.
He walked from the workshop door through the backyard, the snow crunching under his feet. He shivered, wishing he’d grabbed his jacket that morning when he’d left his parents’ home. He hadn’t thought he’d need it, since the workshop was just on the other side of the back yard, but apparently, he was wrong. It was colder now than it was earlier, and that meant more snow was coming.
He stumbled through the kitchen door, shivering.
“Mind your feet, Curtis,” his mother snapped from where she was standing at the stove.
Curtis took a step back, stood on the carpet, and took off his boots. He padded toward his mom in his socks and kissed her cheek, stealing a carrot stick from the pile she had while she was distracted.
“Watch it, boy, or you won’t have lunch.”
Curtis laughed and held up his hands. “Sorry. I’m going to go wash up.”
“You do that. I don’t want you sprinkling wood dust all over my food.”
Curtis kissed her cheek again, stole another carrot stick, and danced out of the way when she tried to smack him playfully. He was still laughing when he left the kitchen, but he stopped when he saw two of his brothers standing in the entrance taking their boots off. Jack was grinning like a loon, while Andy elbowed him in the ribs. “Maybe we should move back in with Mom and Dad,” he told Jack.
“It does look like Curtis is happy to live here.”
They knew how to hit right on the sore spot, didn’t they? Curtis crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s temporary.”
“Yeah, you already told us that. You don’t look like you’re trying to find your own place, though.”
“It’s only been a few weeks.” But they’d been a balm on Curtis’ soul. He’d spent so long away from his family, visiting only sporadically, that he wasn’t looking forward to moving out yet. He understood why Jack and Andy found it funny, though. They were twenty-five and twenty-three, and they’d left home a few years back. They still lived nearby, close enough to come over for lunch when they didn’t feel like cooking, which from what Curtis had seen, was almost every day.
“A few weeks too many, eh?” Andy asked. He winked, but Curtis wasn’t amused.
He pushed past his brothers and grabbed his boots, shoving his feet into them. “Tell Mom I went for a flight at the lake.”
“Curtis, come on. We were just joking around,” Jack tried, but Curtis ignored him.
He loved his brothers, all six of them, but sometimes, he couldn’t stand them. Growing up with a bunch of boys meant all of them continuously got teased. Curtis had been used to it once, but he’d been away from home for too long. The fact that his brothers thought it funny that he was living with their parents also hurt, because they knew why he was there.
Curtis left the house, taking his coat with him this time. He was going to have to strip to shift, and he wasn’t looking forward to it, but in the meantime he’d be as warm as he could be, considering that everywhere he looked, there was snow. That was something else he wasn’t used to anymore.
He still remembered the spot where his parents took him and his brothers to shift when they were kids, so that was where he headed. There was a big tree there, and Curtis left his clothes at its base, shivering hard when his feet touched the snow on the ground. He dumped his jeans on top of the pile he’d made and rushed toward the lake, shifting before his human skin could touch the freezing water.
He soared. He’d always loved being a swan, mainly because it meant he could fly. It made him feel free, and for a moment, he could leave his troubles behind and stop thinking about them.
That never lasted long, though. Once he was in the air and the first moment of happiness was over, thoughts crowded his mind again.
He missed Danny. He’d realized he hadn’t loved Danny in a long time when Danny had broken up with him, but he missed the familiarity, the routine, coming home to someone and spending time with them. He was still trying to get used to this new life of his, but it was weird.
Knowing he wouldn’t be able to forget his problems even in flight, Curtis steered back toward the shore of the lake where he’d left his clothes. He landed a few feet away from them, still buried in his thoughts, but he noticed the prints in the snow just in time to move when the fox jumped toward him.
The fox had to be hungry. That was the only reason Curtis could think of for it to attack him when he was so much bigger, too big for the fox to deal on its own.
Yet the fox managed to hurt him.
Curtis knew it was because he’d been distracted, but that didn’t make it hurt less. The fox closed its jaw around Curtis’ wing and sank its teeth into the flesh there. Curtis bugled and swatted the fox with his other wing, hitting him in the face. The fox let go, and Curtis ran, taking flight again.