In an enchanted French chateau, Florian edges toward madness. Cursed by his jealous twin to a slow, disfiguring death, his only hope is true love’s kiss. But even if he could find a girl to love him, he could never love her back.
Meanwhile, in the Marseilles slums, Ren works tirelessly to keep his family from starvation—and to avoid the drugs, gangs, and prostitution his childhood friends have succumbed to.
When one of his late father’s ships turns up, cargo intact, it seems Ren’s family's fortunes are improving. Instead, a double-dealing agent and a stolen rose land Ren in Florian’s chateau as his prisoner.
Bitterly at odds, the boys at first seem doomed. As time passes, though, they learn that love wears many faces, words have many meanings, and even curses aren’t set in stone. But can they break the one consuming Florian before it destroys them both?
14+ due to adult situations
Ren glared at his retreating back. The dog followed her master for a few steps and then stopped, turned her soft, questioning eyes back to Ren and waved her tail a couple of times.
Well, at least one of them isn’t an asshole, Ren thought.
When the Master realized that neither his dog nor Ren were following him, he turned around with an exasperated grunt. “You’re too old to sulk like a child.”
“And you’re old enough to say ‘please’,” Ren shot back.
The Master laughed incredulously. “You’re a demanding one!”
“Says the guy who kidnapped my mother because of a rose.”
The Master uttered something in between a sigh and a growl. Then with an exaggerated bow, he said, “Very well. Will you please do me the honor of accompanying me to the dining room, monsieur?”
He spoke with a pointed irony that made Ren want to refuse, but that really would have been sulky and childish. So he said, “You’re the Master. I can’t say no, can I?”
The Master let out an exasperated sigh, whistled to his dog, and then turned and began walking again.
This time, Ren followed, trying to keep track of the twists and turns they took to reach the dining room. By the time they arrived, he was fairly confident he could retrace his steps if need be.
The heavy door opened in front of them, and the Master strode inside without pause.
Ren, though, stopped short at the sight of the room. At lunch time the room had seemed ostentatious, but that had been nothing to the picture it currently presented. The linen runner on the table was gone, replaced by a blue brocade cloth that fell all the way to the floor. Gleaming silver candelabra full of indigo tapers sat on every possible surface, lighting the room almost as brightly as electric lamps would have. The table, as Ren had come to expect, was covered with dishes, this time surrounding a huge roast leg of something that had a cloven hoof. At one end of the table, two places had been set across from one another, with cobalt-rimmed plates, heavy silverware, and several cut-crystal goblets each.
The Master took one of the places and indicated to Ren to take the other as the dog retreated under the table.
Reluctantly, Ren sat, watching the man as he uncovered dishes. Most of them looked heavy, smothered in sauce, but then he lifted the lid on a tureen, and Ren was hit with another familiar smell. It was a bowl of mussels, cooked like they were in all of the cafés along the Marseilles docks, complete with a side dish of frites.
“Are you sure you aren’t hungry?” the Master asked Ren.
“If I had been, that would have been the end of it,” he said, nodding to the bowl of mussels.
The Master stilled for a moment, staring at him. “Is this not one of your favorite dishes?”
“Yes!” Ren snapped back. “And do you have any idea how creepy that is? Who’s making all of this stuff? And how do they know what I’m going to like, when I’ve barely been here a single day?”
The Master regarded him for a few moments, and then he picked up a carving knife and cut slices from the roast, piling them on his plate. It was only when he’d filled the rest with some of the side dishes that he answered. “The cook’s name is Cerise, and please don’t blame her for unnerving you. For so long, she’s had so little to do. She has … a kind of a gift, for discerning which foods someone will prefer. She only wants to make you happy.”
Ren dragged a hand through his hair. “Do you realize what you’re saying?”
“More or less.” The Master answered calmly, pouring himself a glass of wine from a crystal decanter and then offering it to Ren.
Ren shook his head—he had no desire to lose any kind of control in this place.
The Master shrugged and sipped from his glass. Then he cut into the meat and took a bite.
Ren could just make out his chin beneath the cowl, his jaw working as he chewed and swallowed. The skin looked oddly smooth for an older man, and very pale, but that was the most he could see.
“Food will hardly make you happy,” he said, “when you do not want to be here at all. But again, that is not Cerise’s fault. Your refusal to accept the only comfort she can offer will hurt her, and for what?”
Ren sighed and pulled the bowl of frites toward him. He picked one up and nibbled it while watching the Master eat. The man carefully kept his cowl in place all the time. At last, Ren asked, “Why do you cover your face? I mean, you live with a bunch of tree/human hybrids who seem to have known you for a long time. They must not care about whatever you’re hiding. So don’t do it for my sake—I mean, I’m not some girl you’re trying to impress.”
The Master stopped eating and regarded Ren for a long moment, his stillness that of a startled deer as it deliberated whether or not to run. “You don’t know what you’re asking,” he said at last, his voice very low.
“I know exactly what I’m asking,” Ren snapped. “If I have to stay here with you till the end of time or whatever, I might as well know what you look like.”
The man was still and silent for another long count. Then, without a word, he pulled the cowl back and let it drop around his shoulders.
Ren froze, stunned—because of all the things he’d imagined the Master might have to hide, youth and beauty had never been among them.