Betrayed by a lover, Jamie rents an isolated cabin on Lake Huron, wanting only to be left alone. Instead, he is pulled from his solitary existence as an artist and tumbles headlong into the legend of Saint Nicolas.
As a young man, Nicolas accidentally killed a man intent on murdering three children, only to have the man's malicious spirit rise up against him. Fleeing through the centuries from the Krampus, the evil troll-like creature that dogs his steps, Nico finds refuge with the young artist who takes him into his home and bed. But Jamie has questions. Who is Nicolas, and why does the Krampus want to destroy him?
When the Krampus begins to torment and torture anyone Nico comes in contact with to punish him, Jamie's life is put in danger. And Jamie isn't sure whether he can help Nico defeat his nemesis or if he's merely a pawn in the Krampus's game.
"You weren't in our bed when I woke. I missed you." Nico played with the bottom of Jamie's shirt, and Jamie jumped when he tickled his ribs. He quickly reduced the flame on the burner to its lowest setting, then turned in Nico's arms.
He ran his fingers through Nico's tousled curls. "I wanted you to sleep. Would you like a hot chocolate?"
Nico's lips lifted with a slow grin, and he ran his gaze down Jamie's body. "There's sweeter things I'd like in my mouth," he suggested, sending a jolt of hunger through Jamie. Nico leaned and ran his tongue over Jamie's bottom lip, making him whimper.
Jamie opened his mouth to invite him in and felt Nico jump as if startled. He glanced up and found Nico's gaze riveted on the refrigerator. His heart thumped with apprehension. "What is it?"
Nico stepped around him without replying, not taking his gaze off the pictures held by small magnets to the refrigerator doors. Jamie moved up beside him.
"The doctor has children."
Jamie caught his breath at the dread in Nico's voice. "Just one. His son Andy. Nico, what's the matter?"
The thick lashes blinked, and Jamie shivered when Nico's fierce gaze met his. "Piter's seen these. In nome di Dio! I have to stop him."
Jamie watched as he strode across the room, momentarily stunned by the panic in Nico's voice. "Nico, wait," he called and trotted after him, putting a hand on his arm to stop him as he headed for the front door. Nico gave him an impatient look, but Jamie was determined. "You can't go out in the storm. Please wait until morning, at least."
"Piter won't wait. He'll hurt --"
"He wouldn't --"
Nico quickly touched his cheek, compassion sweeping his face. "No, angelo mio, he won't kill the boy. Never that. But he'll frighten him, torment the father, to get to me. Do you understand? Piter hates me for the wrong I did him years ago, will never forgive me, and will use anyone to make me suffer for it. I can't let him do that."
Jamie held Nico's hand against his cheek, not above begging, "Please, Nico, you could die if you go out there. It's so easy to get turned around in these storms. You could wander off track, fall through the snow into a crevice or something. When the sun comes up, I'll hike with you into Alpena and visit John's office. If they're not there, someone in town will know where they are."
Doubt creased Nico's face, and then his shoulders slumped in defeat. "You're right, but I abhor the delay." He let out a heavy, frustrated breath and returned to sit on the couch, burying his face in his hands.
Jamie watched him, then sighed and went back to the kitchen. The milk had boiled over the pan slightly, but is hadn't scorched and enough remained to make a mug of chocolate. He watched the cocoa and sugar dissolve, letting his mind drift while he stirred the darkening liquid. He loved Nico, but there were some hard questions he needed to ask, not sure if he could handle the answers.
When the chocolate was ready, he poured it into a mug and carried it to the living room, setting it on a small table by the couch. Unsure, he nudged Nico's arms out of the way and straddled his lap. Nico stiffened, but then put his arms around Jamie's waist with a soft cry and pushed his face against his shoulder.
"Piccolo angelo mio," he murmured, his voice thick with emotion. "I'm so afraid. What do I do, little one?"
"Hush, baby, I'm here. I won't let anything bad happen," he promised, though his heart stumbled with the thought that this strong man would ask his advice. He slipped his fingers under Nico's chin and raised his face. His lover's tears undid him, but he gathered his courage, needing to be strong. "Nico, we'll find them. You said Piter won't hurt the boy?"
"Not physically, but he can be terrifying. You've seen his beauty, but he can wear many masks, things taken right from the boy's nightmares. The Krampus can drive little Andy to madness or death, if he chooses."
"Krampus? Nico, who is Piter? What is he?"
Nico's expression turned grim. "He is my enemy."