“This is going to be great. You and me, all alone up here in the woods.”
“Well, we won’t be completely alone.”
Brent Keating side-glanced his boyfriend, who currently had his feet propped up on the dashboard. He gave the younger man a skeptical look, arching one of his eyebrows. “Do you always have to bring me down, Henry?” he asked, though his tone was light and playful. “You just love to rain on my parade, don’t you?”
“Yes, but only because I love you,” Henry Bowers said, and he flashed his boyish grin.
Brent rolled his eyes exaggeratedly, but he winked before he went on. “As I was saying, you and me, for all intents and purposes alone up here in the woods. No bored and pestering friends to bother us, no nagging mother-in-law to—”
“Hey, be sweet,” Henry said. “Or I’ll tell her you said that.”
“Like she needs another reason to try and break us up,” Brent said, laughing. “That’s a fire you definitely don’t need to fuel.”
“Believe it or not, she does like you.”
The fresh smell of the approaching fall flowed in through the open windows of Brent’s car, mixing with the sweetly musky scent of the trees all around them. The inn they were going to was called The Mistwood, a bed and breakfast type place, and as far as Brent knew, it was fairly low-key. It was located in the middle of a forest just off the main highway, and he’d heard about it from his older brother, whose co-worker had stayed there.
Brent had promised Henry a summer vacation, but with the demands of his job, he hadn’t been able to take the time off until now. Henry had originally wanted to rent out a beach house for a week, but October on the east coast wasn’t exactly the right time for fun in the sun. Brent had promised him a week away from everything, though, and the isolated inn seemed perfect.
“God, it’s really deep in here, ain’t it?” Henry asked, his Virginia twang a little more pronounced than it normally was——he’d been napping on and off on the ride.
“When they say ‘private’ and ‘secluded’, I guess they really mean it,” Brent agreed. He’d turned onto the dirt road what felt like hours before, following its winding path through the woods. “What time is it?”
“You really should get your clock fixed,” Henry said, pulling his cell phone out. “It’s a little after noon, and I hope we don’t have to call anyone, because I have no bars. And someone forgot to bring their charger.” He looked pointedly at Brent.
“Good,” Brent said with a smirk. “That just means no one can interrupt us.”
Henry smiled and rolled his eyes before he returned his attention to the windshield. He sat up a little straighter. “Look, the trees are clearing.”
Sure enough, the patch of woods was becoming thinner and thinner. They followed the road into a clearing where the inn sat on a small hill. It was a large, two-story house that was dark brown in color and had a rickety-looking porch. It looked very old, like it was close to falling apart, and there was a sign on the porch railing that said: The Mistwood, 1978. There was no parking lot, just worn spaces in front of the inn where other cars had parked in the past.
Dead leaves littered the front yard, some of them scuttling across it with the blowing wind. While the weather outside was nice, the sky was a lifeless shade of gray. Brent almost expected ominous music to play in the background.
“Holy shit,” Henry said. “Looks like it’s straight out of a scary movie.”
“Aw, I think it’s nice. It’s… quaint,” Brent said.
“Yeah I guess so. But if I get killed by a crazy axe murderer or something, I will come back and haunt the shit out of you,” Henry told him.
“Duly noted.” Brent grinned.
It didn’t matter to him where they spent the week——even with a threat of axe murderers. All that mattered was that he was with Henry.
At twenty-five years old, Henry was unlike any man Brent had ever been with. And not just because he was beautiful——though that that was definitely a perk. He was somewhat of an all-American boy, with his dirty blond hair and dark blue eyes. Slender and fit, he could fill a pair of hip-hugging jeans like you wouldn’t believe, and he had the perfect tan from spending most of his teen years working on his uncle’s farm. There was this natural charm to his looks, too, the kind of charm that made people do double-takes when they first saw him. As if they didn’t expect him to be real.
But even with as good-looking as he was, his personality surpassed his appearance. He was calm and laid back, with a strong sense of humor. He was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, despite his sarcastic streak, and he just radiated warmth and charisma on most days. His smile was infectious and his laugh even more so.
Sometimes Brent really couldn’t believe they were together.
Their friends often referred to Henry as the sun and Brent as the moon. While Henry was cheerful and upbeat, Brent was introverted and oftentimes moody. A talent director by trade, he was six years older than Henry and a bit more serious. To some people who didn’t know him, he could come across gruff or insensitive, but really he was just self-conscious. At least until he was around Henry, who, he was convinced, brought out his best side.
Seeing the two together, most people never guessed they were actually dating. With much fairer skin and dark hair, Brent had cloudy blue-green eyes and a low brow that made him look more stern than he really was. He was only a couple inches taller than Henry, with a thicker torso and broad shoulders.
His appearance was neater than Henry’s some might say, his hair usually swept up out of his face and styled. At the moment, he wore crisp dark jeans and a long-sleeved T with a V-neck. Not like Henry’s low, torn jeans and red plaid shirt that only had two of the buttons done in the middle, exposing a lot of his chest and stomach. The kind of outfit only he could get away with.
Despite the fact that he was only thirty-one, many people’s first impression of Brent was that he was much too old for Henry. They usually thought he was too mature for the blond.
“Do you want to cancel?” Brent asked as he was backing the car into one of the makeshift spots, all joking aside. “We could find something else to do for the week, something you want to do.”
Henry turned to him, seeming surprised by the question. “No, of course not. I’m excited for this B—just happy to be here with you.” He smiled.
“Me too,” Brent said. He leaned in and gave Henry a chaste kiss. “Now, let’s check in and get our stuff unpacked. The sooner we’re done, the sooner we can have fun.”
“Fun, huh?” Henry asked, his eyebrows rising.
“You’ll just have to wait and see.”
They kissed again before splitting to get out of the car.
Brent led the way up onto the porch, each step creaking under their feet. He couldn’t hide the smile on his face even if he had wanted to—he had a feeling that this week was going to be different than anything they’d ever done. He felt like it would bring them so much closer than they already were, and he was beyond excited.
He glanced over his shoulder at Henry. “Come on, admit it. This place is kind of pretty.”
“Sure. In an Alfred Hitchcock kind of way.”
Brent threw an arm around Henry’s shoulders, pulling the blond to him as he grabbed for the door with his other hand. They stepped into a dimly lit foyer to be met with the sound of ambient music, which came from probably the oldest stereo in existence.
The stereo sat on an old wooden desk that was littered with papers and books—one of which was open and appeared to be a guestbook. Brent glanced casually over it to see that most of the entries were glowing reviews, which only made him feel more eager to get their week started.
Beyond the desk was a hallway that opened up into a kitchen on the other end. Directly to the right of the makeshift office was a close door, and to the left was a wide archway with beaded hangings. This led into a sitting room where Brent could see ancient-looking sofas and wall-length bookshelves. He leaned in further to see an attractive fireplace, the hearth glowing as if it’d recently been put out.
There was a slight eeriness to it all, but there was also something very homey about the inn so far. He couldn’t wait to see their room.
Suddenly, there were footsteps. A woman appeared at the end of the hallway, and after a slight pause, she started towards them. She was small and thin—frail-looking, even—with wild red hair that fell over her shoulders in frizzy waves. Her face was attractive but severe-looking, and as she reached them, Brent caught a strong whiff of incense. It suited her.
“You must be Brent.” Her voice was smoky and she had an accent of sorts—Louisiana maybe? It hadn’t been as noticeable on the phone.
“Yeah—we spoke on the phone,” he said, extending a hand. “Brent Keating.”
Her hand was delicate but her grasp firm as she shook. “I’m Valerie Beauregard. This is my inn.”
She shook Henry’s hand next, and he offered up his best smile as he introduced himself. Many people mistook his calm exterior for shyness, but he had the utmost confidence when meeting new people.
“How long have you had this place?” Brent asked curiously as Ms. Beauregard moved behind the desk.
“What’s the sign say outside?” she asked.
“Seventy-eight,” Henry answered.
“There you go.”
“Excuse me for asking. I just didn’t think you were old enough to have owned it for so long,” Brent said. Maybe he was cheesing it up a bit, but could you blame him? He was in a great mood.
She gave a wheezy laugh, looking to Henry. “He always such a charmer?” Her accent was a little thicker when she said her Rs.
“Twenty-four-seven.” He smiled at Brent.
She scribbled something down on a memo pad, and then began rifling through the top drawer of the desk. “Since you two are gonna be the only ones here for the week, I’ve gone and given y’all the master suite—it has its own private bath and a fireplace. Let me give you the grand tour.”
“Why are we the only ones here for a week?” Henry asked.
“Slow season,” Ms. Beauregard answered. “We’re quite busy in the spring and early summer, but soon as it starts gettin’ colder, nobody really wants to stay here.”
“Shame,” Brent said.
She nodded in agreement, and then pointed at the door to the right. “This here’s my room,” she told them. “If you ever need anything—anything at all—don’t be afraid of knockin’. Don’t matter to me what time of day it is.”
She showed them the sitting room first, which Henry had looked around in with quite a lot of interest—he was big into books. Then they were taken down the hall, past two separate doors on either wall and into the spacious kitchen, which had checkered linoleum floors and navy granite countertops. There was an island counter with three barstools, and across the room was a worn table with seating for six. There were large windows along the back wall, plus a backdoor that was mostly glass, all of which let in a lot of natural light.
Next they went back to the hallway. Ms. Beauregard named one of the doors as the downstairs bathroom—opening it a little so they could get a peek—and then she threw open the second door to reveal a narrow staircase. When they reached the top, it split off in two directions. She gestured left, though she led them to the right.
“The other three rooms, plus a second bathroom,” she explained. “And here, the master.” She stopped in front of the only door in this tiny hall, unlocking it with the key she’d grabbed from her desk. She tossed the key to Brent, pushed open the door, and then stepped aside for them to enter.
As he shoved the key into the pocket of his jeans, Brent guided Henry in before him, then followed.
The room was huge and very inviting. To the far right was a fireplace, its mantle decorated with small sculptures. There were a few chairs and end tables scattered before it, with a bookshelf against the wall. Like the shelves downstairs, this one was jam-packed with books—only the titles here were more mainstream and modern.
The king-sized sleigh bed was in the middle of the room, its headboard against the wall right between the two large windows. To the left was a plain dresser with a mirror attached, and on either side of it was a door. One was closed: the closet, and the other was open: the bathroom. The paintings that decorated the walls depicted your classic mountain-strewn and ocean view landscapes, but they didn’t seem out of place.
“Think this room is bigger than my apartment.” Brent was definitely impressed.
“A lot cleaner too,” Henry said.
“I don’t have many rules now,” Ms. Beauregard said. “I only want you two to have a good stay—maybe recommend the inn to your friends. I’ll be gettin’ you a list later, full of the meals I plan to cook during the week. Just in case you don’t like somethin’. Or if y’all have allergies.”
“We’re pretty much good with anything,” Henry told her.
“You should see what this guy eats,” Brent said. “But anyway, thank you, Ms. Beauregard. Your inn is lovely.”
“I do pride myself on it,” she said. “I’ll start lunch, let you two get your things up here and unpacked. Tomato soup with rice okay?”
“Wonderful,” Brent said.
She smiled and turned to leave. Then she hesitated. “Oh, and about the rules….”
“You said there were none,” Brent said with a smirk.
“I have one,” she said. She’d suddenly grown serious. “These woods can get dangerous at night. I’d prefer it if you didn’t wander out after dark.”
“What’s out there?” Henry asked.
“The creatures of the night, of course.” She said the words with such seriousness—nothing but sincerity in her tone. And then she disappeared from the room.
Henry raised his eyebrows at Brent and moved forward to peer out into the hallway. Brent was grinning as he pulled the room key out of his pocket. He dropped it onto one of the end tables in front of the fireplace, turning back just as Henry shut the door quietly.
“Creatures of the night?” he asked, tone low. “She’s a quack.”
“She’s a character.” Brent shrugged. “It’s refreshing.”
“It’s weird,” Henry said. “I feel like I’m stuck in a bad monster movie.”
Brent chuckled and reached for the younger man. “Don’t worry. I’ll protect you.”
Henry flashed him a brilliant grin, showing off only the one dimple he had, and he purposely evaded Brent’s outstretched arms. “Not very reassuring, B,” he said.
He went to one of the two windows, and Brent followed. Henry’s gaze was on the line of dark trees before them, split only by the tiny dirty road, but Brent’s eyes drifted down to where his car was parked—they had a perfect view of it. He couldn’t believe that they were really on a vacation together. Their first, despite all the years they’d been together.
With a sigh, he wrapped his arms around Henry’s middle, pulling the blond against his chest. He buried his face in Henry’s neck, kissing him. The smell of Irish Spring soap filled Brent’s nostrils, and he breathed in deeply through his nose as his lips moved against Henry’s skin. He felt rather than heard the sigh that left Henry, and he smiled to himself.
“I’m so happy to be here with you,” Henry said for the second time.
“I know,” Brent said.
Henry turned his face towards Brent and their lips met. He reached up and brushed his hand over Brent’s cheek, making Brent grin into the kiss. Grabbing Henry’s hips, he spun him around and pushed his back up against the window.
“Oh no,” Henry said on a laugh.
“Oh yes.” Brent pushed his body against Henry’s, squeezing his hips loosely.
Still smiling, Henry let his head fall back some, baring the smooth skin of his neck. Once more, Brent attacked it with hungry kisses. He grazed his teeth along the column of Henry’s neck, loving the small shudder that moved through him.
Henry ran his hands up Brent’s back, and he tangled his fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck. He tugged on it slightly, and reluctantly, Brent lifted his head. “We need to get our stuff,” Henry said, though his dark blue eyes were dancing with amusement.
“That can wait,” Brent said. He smirked as he started to undo the few buttons that Henry had done up on his shirt. “There’s always time.”
“Not now.” Henry slipped out of Brent’s grasp, sliding around him. He gave Brent’s cheek a playful peck on his way past.
Brent turned and watched Henry make his way towards the door. He turned back and winked at Brent.
“Cocktease,” Brent said.
“We’ll see.” Henry disappeared.
Brent put his hands on his hips, smiling at the place where Henry had been. An eerie old inn and a crazy innkeeper? This week was certainly going to be interesting.