It’s guest post time again! I’m glad to say that Nell Iris is back to share a little about her latest story, They Met in the Woods. Welcome, Nell!
Thank you for having me on your blog, yet again, Ofelia, for letting me come here and talk about my third and final Meet Cute Chronicles book, They Met in the Woods. You’re most generous *blows you lots of cyber kisses*
I recently learned a new word. Cottagecore. Wikipedia defines it as “an Internet fashion aesthetic” that “celebrates an idealized rural life” and “values traditional skills and crafts such as foraging, baking, and pottery” and “an escape from many forms of stress and trauma.” Cottagecore developed throughout the 2010s and gained further traction when Covid hit.
Yeah, I’ve seen all the sourdough baking, I just didn’t know there was a word for it.
I’ve also written the stories and never knew there was a name for it. As I look back on my backlist, I’ve written many books on this theme; Find His Way Home (my second ever published story) was the first of many, and They Met in the Woods is the latest installment of my unintended cottagecore “series.”
The MCs, Måns and Viggo, meet when Måns gets lost in the forest. Måns’ cell battery dies on him and with it the chance of finding his way out of the forest with the help of the map app he’d downloaded for the occasion. Luckily, the sound of Viggo chopping wood reaches him. He follows it and finds Viggo.
Viggo owns a little cabin in the forest (not a scary horror-movie kind, but a cottagecore-y kind). He calls it his safe haven and he spends as much time he can there. Fixing up the cabin, cooking hearty stews in cast-iron pots, picking wild-growing herbs that he dries and uses for tea. Viggo is a veritable cottagecore hero, complete with a lumberjack beard and a mohawk. Måns is instantly interested. Very interested.
Måns himself recently moved away from the Big City to the countryside because he wanted to connect with nature. When he gets lost in the forest, he’s spent half a day foraging for wild mushrooms, and Viggo’s cabin and the lifestyle it represents is one of the many things Måns likes about him.
And when Viggo serves him homemade lemon balm tea, Måns is a goner…
I let him go and make my way to the couch, sinking into the soft cushions, resting my head against the back while stretching out my legs so my feet will be closer to the fire. A content sigh slips out, and I close my eyes.
The quiet but comforting sounds of the cabin—the fire making loud pops, china clinking against china in the kitchen, and the lid on the cast-iron pot being lifted and then put back—wash away a lot of the stress from this crazy work week. My muscles loosen and melt into the couch, my mind goes pleasantly blank, and all that exists is this little corner of the world. The fire. Viggo.
Padding footsteps approach, followed by a gentle touch on my shoulder, and a hushed “Måns?” and I open my eyes.
The sight of him, this rough type complete with a mohawk, holding a delicate-looking teacup decorated with tiny flowers and gold makes me smile. “That smells delicious, whatever it is,” I say as he rounds the couch and sits next to me, offering me the cup.
With careful hands I accept it and lift it to my nose, inhaling deeply. “Lemon? Or…mint?”
“It’s lemon balm. It grows wild around the cabin, so I harvest it and dry the leaves for tea. It reduces the stress hormone in our bodies so I thought it might do you good after the week you’ve had.”
The care and thoughtfulness melt me into a puddle, and I will drink every drop of this tea even if it’s the most vile-tasting concoction on this earth.
Fortunately, it’s not. The first sip reveals a mild, fresh flavor, and maybe—probably—it’s because Viggo told me about its properties, but I can almost feel the subtle flavor invigorate me and wash away the stress. “This is great! You make your own tea?”
He shrugs. “Just a few varieties. I use plants growing around here. The old lady who sold me the cabin made me promise not to rip out the lemon balm even though it’s threatening to take over the clearing entirely. She told me she used to make tea for her husband when he was still alive. How it always helped him de-stress after long days of hard physical labor. He had recently passed away, and she was too old and frail to keep the cabin. The poor dear cried when she signed the papers and there was no way I could rip out the lemon balm after that. I decided to try making tea for myself. I used to bring her some of the dried leaves, too, until she passed away. She was always so happy when I came to see her. Asked about her beloved cabin. Rejoiced in the pictures I showed her of the renovations.”
I don’t take my eyes off him the entire time he tells the story. His eyes turn soft and a gentle smile plays on his lips, telling me he cared for the old lady. His kindness toward her after she lost her husband and her cabin must have meant the world to her. The thought of a lonely woman crying because she had to sell her paradise on earth, the thought of him honoring her wishes and even bringing her memories from this place…I avert my eyes and take another drink of the tea, hiding the slight tremble of my lips his story caused.
When my shaky emotions are back under control, I look at him again. “You’re a good man.” My voice isn’t the steadiest, but at least it’s not wobbly.
“I try.” It’s not false modesty, I can tell. He actually thinks he can do better—can’t we all?—but as far as I’m concerned he’s pretty perfect. But he doesn’t seem like a guy who’d like to be convinced of his greatness, so I let it go.
“Did she tell you how to make other teas, too?”
“No. But I ended up liking it, so I ordered a book online about it.” He reaches for the side table and grabs a book I’d noticed but not paid much attention to, and hands it to me. I set the cup on the table so I can look through it.
It’s a beautiful book with gorgeous illustrations, and important information about herbs and plants growing in the area, and their uses. Each plant has a folklore section and a section detailing modern scientific knowledge. It’s fascinating. “What other teas have you made?” I ask as I return the book.
“Pine needle. Rosehips. Mint, of course, because it’s growing even faster than lemon balm, at least in my neck of the woods.”
I empty the cup and lean back on the couch with a smile. After hesitating for a few heartbeats, I shuffle closer to him and when my shoulder nudges his, he wraps his arm around me. I cuddle into his body.
“You a cuddler?” he asks and rests his cheek on the top of my head.
“I don’t know. But homemade tea and a crackling fire calls for closeness, don’t you agree?”
Måns Elemander had A Plan. A researched and well-thought-out one, devised to help him avoid getting lost while foraging for mushrooms in an unfamiliar forest. But his cell phone battery didn’t get the memo, died unexpectedly, and thwarted The Plan, leaving Måns with a basket full of mushrooms, but no idea where to go. Until the sounds of someone chopping wood reaches him.
Måns follows the sound and finds a quaint cabin…and its owner, Viggo Moberg. Viggo is kind, understanding of the situation, and willing to help. He’s also smoking hot and their connection is instant, threatening to ignite and burn down the woods. Will the sparks burn fast and fizzle out, or will the attraction grow roots, just like the trees in the forest?
M/M Contemporary / 17388 words
JMS Books :: Universal Buy Link
Nell Iris is a romantic at heart who believes everyone deserves a happy ending. She’s a bonafide bookworm (learned to read long before she started school), wouldn’t dream of going anywhere without something to read (not even the ladies room), loves music (and singing along at the top of her voice but she’s no Celine Dion), and is a real Star Trek nerd (Make it so). She loves words, bullet journals, poetry, wine, coffee-flavored kisses, and fika (a Swedish cultural thing involving coffee and pastry!)
Nell believes passionately in equality for all regardless of race, gender or sexuality, and wants to make the world a better, less hateful, place.
Nell is a bisexual Swedish woman married to the love of her life, a proud mama of a grown daughter, and is approaching 50 faster than she’d like. She lives in the south of Sweden where she spends her days thinking up stories about people falling in love. After dreaming about being a writer for most of her life, she finally was in a place where she could pursue her dream and released her first book in 2017.
Nell Iris writes gay romance, prefers sweet over angsty, short over long, and quirky characters over alpha males.
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