Let It Snow

The weather outside is frightful, but this Minnesota Northwoods cabin is getting pretty hot.

Stylist Frankie Blackburn never meant to get lost in Logan, Minnesota, but his malfunctioning GPS felt otherwise, and a record-breaking snowfall ensures he won’t be heading back to Minneapolis anytime soon. Being rescued by three sexy lumberjacks is fine as a fantasy, but in reality the biggest of the bears is awfully cranky and seems ready to gobble Frankie right up.

 

Marcus Gardner wasn’t always a lumberjack—once a high-powered Minneapolis lawyer, he’s come home to Logan to lick his wounds, not play with a sassy city twink who might as well have stepped directly out of his past. But as the northwinds blow and guards come down, Frankie and Marcus find they have a lot more in common than they don’t. Could the man who won’t live in the country and the man who won’t go back to the city truly find a home together? Because the longer it snows, the deeper they fall in love, and all they want for Christmas is each other.

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Excerpt

Somehow, despite a brand-new GPS and strict oral directions from his father, Frankie Blackburn had managed to get himself lost. Because there was no way, despite what the GPS insisted, the left turn down yet another winding, tree-lined road would get him back to Minneapolis. The fact that he’d gotten himself lost in the middle of nowhere as a blizzard swelled around him was simply icing on the cake.

Squinting, Frankie fussed with the view screen, but in deference to the now-steady veil of snow coming down he looked away from the road as little as possible. The snow had been his first clue something was wrong. He’d checked the radar before leaving his parents’ house in Duluth. While they were due to get six to twelve inches by morning, half an hour’s drive south should have taken Frankie out of the trouble rather than deeper in. As the ground around him already sported well over three inches and was gaining additional snow cover fast, clearly he’d done something wrong.

 

Way to go, Frankie. He tightened his grip on the steering wheel and tried to ignore the fear clawing at his stomach. It was moments like this he could see the attraction of smoking, because if nothing else, it would force him to take deep breaths. Josh, one of his roommates, used to smoke. He’d always said the buzz was fantastic, that it made his mind expand and calmed him right down no matter how stressed out he got. Frankie could totally go with some mind expansion and calm right now.

Of course, he didn’t dare take his hands off the wheel, so how he would manage a cigarette without crashing the car or burning himself, he didn’t know.

 

What Frankie really needed was to stop the car, make some phone calls and ask for directions. The trouble was he couldn’t find anywhere decent to pull over. A while back there had been a roadside bar, but it all but screamed, Hey, gay boy, get over here and let us rough you up a bit, so Frankie decided to opt for safer ground. Except this was northern Minnesota, the backwoods of the backwoods, and a safe haven for a guy like Frankie was even more ephemeral than Santa Claus. Nobody had ever looked at Frankie and thought anything but that he was gay. A few times in high school he’d wondered if he were gay by suggestion, but then he’d had his first taste of cock and knew tits and pussy were never going to be his thing, so he simply appreciated the heads-up.

 

Since it hadn’t been a very pleasant heads-up, and since he’d done his coming of age in one of Minnesota’s southern small towns, he knew better than to try his luck in this place. Whatever this town was, it was officially Not For Frankie. Proceed with caution.

 

The problem was civilization of any kind up here was hard to come by. It had been fifteen minutes since the roadside bar, and all Frankie had passed since then had been four unplowed driveways. At this point all he wanted to do was turn around or call his mom and freak out, but, again, he didn’t want anything to distract him from the road because it was starting to get bad. Turning around assumed he knew how to go back the same way he’d come—he could just as easily end up in a different part of the backwoods.

There wasn’t anything for it. He had to stop somewhere. When he finally approached what looked like the fringes of a town, he made his way down Main Street until he saw the faint, faded glow of a sign that read Logan Café.

 

Frankie didn’t bother to scope it for redneck warning signals. He pulled straight into the parking lot in the back and killed the engine.

 

Huddled over the GPS view screen a few seconds later, he started to swear. He didn’t understand where the map said it was taking him to, just that his final destination landed him east of International Falls. No wonder it seemed like he was driving into the back end of nowhere. The back end of nowhere was a booming metropolis compared to his current location. He was in the only town for fifteen miles in all directions, hell and gone from any kind of interstate or even a decent highway. Frankie didn’t need radar to tell him he’d driven into the heart of one mother of a blizzard instead of toward the comforting lanes of I-35.

 

Calling his parents was a given now, but first he thought he should use the bathroom, splash some water on his face and get some honest-to-God human directions from one of the patrons inside.

The Logan Café was narrow, long, and old, clearly not just modeled from the days of diners but a direct descendant. The restaurant itself wasn’t that big, but it had plenty of seating, from the booths around the edges to the tables in the middle and the long counter in front of the beverage station and the window into the kitchen. The decor was mostly industrial white, though faded to a sad cream with age, especially on the linoleum floor. Some color could be found in the green vinyl cushions of the chairs, stools, and booth seats, but this too was worn, patched with duct tape in more than one instance. The menu was listed in block plastic lettering on black signboards above the kitchen window, but both the board and the letters were aged as well, the letters yellowed and the black sign ghosted with the faint impressions of menus past.

 

The way everyone turned to look at Frankie as he jangled the bell above the door made him feel like he was in a spaghetti western. Every single face in the room was white, which when he’d grown up in Saint

Peter hadn’t been unusual, but after the cornucopia of ethnicity that was metro Minneapolis, the lack of contrasting skin tone was the first thing Frankie noticed. The age range ran the gamut from old men and women to a few teenagers, but every one of them eyed Frankie as if he had just escaped from the zoo.

Cautioning himself not to court drama, Frankie ignored the stares and focused on shaking the snow from his body and his shoes as best he could before heading to the restroom. It was as grim and aged as everything else, the urinal and sink drains both sporting rusted stains in the porcelain, something that had creeped Frankie out ever since he’d been a kid. After hurrying through washing his hands, he returned to the main restaurant area and made himself smile at the matronly woman behind the counter. Patty, her name tag declared. Sitting in front of her, Frankie attempted to look less freaked out than he actually was.

 

“How can I help you?” she asked, her tone seeming to imply he sure needed a lot of it.

 

“Hi.” Frankie did his best to keep his smile in place and free from strain. “I’m a bit lost. I’m trying to get to I-35.”

 

Patty’s eyebrows reached up into her tightly permed hair, which was teased into a careful nest of flat, box-dyed auburn in front of her diner cap. “Honey, you’re hell and gone from Duluth.”

 

Don’t panic. Frankie pressed his hands against the countertop to keep them from shaking. “I know. My GPS malfunctioned, or I entered my destination wrong, and now I’m way, way off course. Do you have a map or something I could look at?” Remembering his manners, he added, “And if you have a mug of hot tea and a quick chicken or turkey sandwich, mustard, no mayo, that’d be great.”

 

Frankie felt her size him up, her gaze raking him, taking in his carefully styled hair, his fussy, modish clothing, his bright red Columbia ski coat that would never see a lift chair but sure looked fashionable—he watched her make a judgment about him, and he had to say, it likely wasn’t far off. He waited for her disdain and hoped she’d still give him a map along with it.

 

Disdain didn’t come, though she did shake her head and put an empty cup in front of him. “Map’s in the back. I’ll get it for you while you wait for your order. Better make it to go, though. This storm isn’t going to mess around. Cherie’s knee is acting up something fierce, and she says we’re in for days and days of snow, by her reckoning.”

 

“Thank you,” Frankie replied, and tried not to panic.

 

The waitress put a Lipton tea bag in his cup and poured hot water from a pot over the top of it as she spoke. “You from the Cities then?”

 

“Yes, though my parents live in Duluth. They just moved there from Saint Peter.”

 

The woman’s face brightened. “Say. That’s just south of the Cities, right? Has a college? I think Lacey Peterson went there a few years back.”

 

“Gustavus Adolphus. My dad was a professor there, though he just took a position at the University of Minnesota at Duluth.”

 

“Pretty place, Duluth.” The woman wiped the counter in front of Frankie. “I was all set to get some of my Christmas shopping done there this weekend, but Cherie called in sick with the knee, and here I am.”

 

“Miller Hill was really busy.” Frankie remembered his trek to the mall escorting his mother the day before all too well. “You might be glad you waited.”

 

The woman smiled at Frankie. “Maybe so.” She nodded back to the kitchen. “I’ll see to your map and put your order in.”

 

Well, that hadn’t gone so badly. Frankie sipped his tea, focusing on the fact that he wasn’t driving in the wrong direction anymore and would soon have a map. He also pretended this wasn’t the worst cup of tea he’d ever had in his life, tasting like stale coffee and soap.

 

There weren’t many other customers in the café, but they all seemed to keep an eye on Frankie. The elderly couple at a nearby table didn’t bother him half as much as the trio of bulky, bearded men in deerstalkers in the booth near the bathrooms. They looked like they might have literally just come off a lumberjack gig, wearing industrial overalls, heavy plaid shirts and clunky steel-toed boots. The three bears, Frankie thought, trying to make light of the situation. It worked better than it had a right to, mostly because, yeah, were these guys gay, they’d be bears all right. They were even three variations on the theme: one was sandy-haired and slight, curling hair sticking out from beneath his cap, his beard subtler, suitable to a baby bear. The one who sat next to him had carrot-red hair and a guffaw of a laugh that went with his stocky body. Across from them, though, was definitely Papa Bear, a man who was big, dark, and cranky.

 

Outside of a few suspicious glances, the three bears didn’t pay Frankie any particular kind of mind. Even so, he didn’t see any profit in hanging around and giving them a reason to get bored and decide to poke at the skinny guy from the city.

 

Patty reappeared with his map and his sandwich, and what little appetite Frankie might have been able to muster died when Patty illustrated via Rand McNally just how far Logan, Minnesota was from where Frankie was supposed to be. He felt stupid for not figuring it out sooner, but he’d thought that was the whole point of following a GPS, trusting the directions it gave. His dad had explained it to him, and Frankie had tried to program it correctly.

 

“They’re talking about closing roads just north of here.” Patty frowned, but the expression seemed more about concern than dismissal. “You’d best be careful.”

 

“If I can just get back to Duluth, I’ll stay at my parents’ place until it blows over. They ought to get the interstate open pretty quickly, I’d think.”

Patty nodded. “They’re supposed to get the least of it too, down in Duluth, and everything south of there should be fine. Of course, now there’s some storm pushing across western Iowa. If that swings north and the two meet up, things could get nasty fast.”

 

Frankie’s stomach hurt thinking about that. “I should call my boss and tell him I won’t be in tomorrow, and my mom to tell her to expect me.”

 

“Call your mom quick and save the boss for Duluth.” Patty nodded at the window. “It’s really coming down now.”

 

It certainly was. Frankie left a ten on the counter and gathered his sandwich, but Patty pushed the map toward him.

 

“Take it. And here.” She scrawled a number on the top of the legend. “That’s the café’s phone number. You get lost or stuck, you give a holler. I’ll be here all night. Heading for Highway 53 is your best bet—though if you get nervous, swing over to Eveleth. They have a Super 8.”

 

Riding out a days-long blizzard in a small-town hotel seemed worse than facing the drive back to Duluth, but Frankie nodded. “Thank you. I really appreciate it.”

 

“I just hope you have a blanket in that tiny little car of yours.” Patty frowned at the parking lot where Frankie’s green Festiva quietly drowned in flakes.

 

“I do, and a gallon of water, warm clothes, a scraper, and even a shovel,” Frankie assured her. “I may come from southern Minnesota, but it’s still Minnesota.”

 

Patty nodded in approval and waved him on. “You get going then. Call me when you get wherever you land just so as I don’t dream about your dead body in a ditch somewhere.”

Her concern for him was touching, and this time Frankie’s smile was all genuine. “I will,” he promised and took up the map. “Thanks.”

 

“Get on then,” Patty said, her shooing motions getting urgent.

 

Sparing just a quick glance at the three bears to catch Papa Bear glaring at him, Frankie headed out into the storm. It took him five minutes to unbury the car, and while the engine heated, he picked at his sandwich as he studied the GPS. The food was a lot better than the tea, though eating was mostly just something to do while he girded his loins for his adventure. According to the map, he had to go back the way he came, take the first right at a major intersection ten miles south, and use the county road to go back over to the highway. That would take him straight back to Duluth and the warm comfort of his parents’ spare bedroom. Yes, his boss would be upset at his missing work, but better to have Robbie upset than to die in a ditch.

 

Giving up on his sandwich, he dug his phone out of his pocket and dialed his parents.

 

“Are you home already?” his mother asked. “How fast did you drive?”

 

“Actually, I’m not even close to home. I took a wrong turn, and I’m in Logan.”

 

“What? Why? Where’s Logan?”

 

“About an hour north of Duluth. I screwed up the GPS, and before I realized how badly I was lost, here I was.”

 

“Oh, honey.”

 

The weariness in her voice made Frankie’s gut twist. “Sorry, Mom.”

 

The phone muffled as Melinda put her hand over the receiver. “It’s Frankie. He’s lost an hour north of Duluth.” A pause, then, “What? What?” She unmuffled the phone, and when she spoke to Frankie next, her tone made her panic clear. “Sweetheart, your dad says there’s a terrible storm up there. Terrible.”

 

“Yeah, I kind of figured that one out.” Frankie glanced out the window at the snow, which seemed to be coming faster and faster. “Mom, I better go if I’m going to have any chance of making it back to your place tonight.”

 

“Sweetheart, no. Find a hotel and ride this out. I want you safe.”

 

“I don’t want to be stuck up here in Podunk, Minnesota. Oh my God, you should have seen these three crazy lumberjacks in the café where I stopped for directions. Anyway, there isn’t a hotel close to here as far as I can tell, unless I go west.”

 

“Franklin Nelson Blackburn, you get lost trying to find the bathroom in the middle of the night. I won’t have you driving in the snow.”

 

“Look, Mom, I gotta get going. I’ll call you once I get on the highway, okay?”

 

“Oh my God. Let me put your father on.”

 

“No. I’m hanging up. Please call the guys for me and let them know I’ll be staying with you.”

 

“Frankie,” she demanded, but he didn’t hear the rest because he’d hung up. For good measure, he turned the phone all the way off.

 

No way was he getting stranded here. No. Way.

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