Daren Novak and Gunny Schuler have known each other since freshmen days at the University of Washington, where they'd started a romance Daren assumed would last. But at the start of winter break, Gunny bowed to the dictates of his lifelong religion and his overbearing father and left UW never to return.
After a failed marriage, Gunny built a quiet life embracing his gay identity, and left his North Dakota home, his marriage, and his father's business for a forestry and teaching career in Oregon. Meanwhile, Daren has built up his own life around managing a unique holiday venue, the Holiday Home Hotel, and performing for the guests in drag as "Dare."
A decade has passed since they last saw each other, but now winter’s harsh weather brings them face to face—helped along by a minor goddess and powerful forest spirit. Too much hurt might lie between them now to fix things, but interfering supernatural beings are determined to force them to try.
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"Why did you come, Lelia?" the forest spirit asked, short-tempered as always. "Your time isn't here yet. The trees need to dream through their winter sleep, and if I wake them up for anything it'll be shenanigans, not some of your silly-sweet mercy."
"Spring is months away, yes, Leshy, but I have other concerns, and don't be so mean. Without my lovely springtime, your trees will dream their winter right up to the end of eternity, won't they? Besides, we're friends, aren't we?" She rolled onto her side, wanting as much contact with the cool green earth as possible and not caring a whit about the mud that would cake in her thick white fur.
Also, she knew Leshy would like the pose and she wasn't beyond taking advantage of the soft spot he harbored for her. "You look good as a bear, by the way. Consider golden fur next time you take this form, though. I love golden fur."READ MORE
"Don't change the subject." He pushed his long snout against his great, black paw, a gesture of frustration.
Of all the goddesses, Lelia could be the most exasperating—though Leshy admitted he wasn't immune to her energetic charm, and this wily-dog form she'd taken only added to her allure. He closed his eyes and let himself fall to the ground beside her. Glancing up after a satisfying squirm in what was now well-churned mud, he caught sight of the ancient red cedar that often housed his spirit in this place, an ocean and many years from the forest he sprang from, a place he'd sought out as his old forests had met with annihilation. The cedar—his 'old man' tree—was 'empty,' one might say, while he played bear, but still it seemed to send a scowl his way and say, back to business, you old fool.
"What concerns, Lelia?"
"Pay attention, hound. What 'other concerns' are you on about?"
Lelia jumped up to all fours and snarled at Leshy—in this form only a little bigger than her present shape. "I am no hound! I am a shepherd. Belgian, to be specific."
"A dog's a dog." Leshy grunted, and he was pretty sure Lelia wouldn't realize he was laughing at her.
"And soon a forest spirit is going to be a squashed bear, if he keeps it up, because this dog's a god."
"Less minor than a Leshy."
"Luck, of course. And love—"
"Love is your mother Lada's territory."
"And I'm my mother's daughter. Besides, when a human I'm fond of is miserable without love and won't do anything about it, then mercy is needed, and I'm all about mercy." She sat down, and wagged her bushy tail through the leaf mold, very satisfied with that argument.
"Is mischief involved?"
"I'm in, big sister. What do you need me to do?"
"Bring snow, Leshy. Lots and lots of it." She stopped to sniff the breeze and detected just a touch of the particular human scent she was waiting for. "Yes. Right about now, I think."COLLAPSE