The Holiday Home Hotel
by Lou Sylvre Genre: M/M Supernatural Romance
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.
Being a wild man but keeping it secret was like walking a tightrope without a balance bar. The danger filled Gunny with quiet but insistent exhilaration.
By the time Halloween rolled around, conservative, respectable, reserved Gunner Schiller from North Dakota had gained a reputation as a partier. He’d even had sex with women on two occasions at parties. He didn’t really remember much about that. The memory lapse might have been about booze, but truthfully he hadn’t been all that drunk either time, so he thought it was mostly because the act itself hadn’t been as memorable as he’d expected. The idea of sex excited him, but honestly, the women’s bodies and efforts just didn’t. Oh well, he’d thought after the second try, you live and learn.
Halloween night was to be one big mobile party. Gunny had bowed to popular opinion and decided he wouldn’t be any more damned to hell than he already was if he dressed up, so he decided to go all out and be Satan for an evening. Tall, lithe, Daren would go as Cher, wearing a close copy of one of her signature racy outfits. Gunny was all for that idea, and he told himself that was because he’d heard music-major Daren sing Cher songs at Karaoke, and he did it beautifully—the costume just made sense.
They were joined by a pair of their more raucous acquaintances—Johnny Langdon dressed as the Lord of the Hunt, and his brother Benny, who refused to dress up at all with the exception of donning suspenders and pretending to smoke a stogie all night. Together they started the evening at a Karaoke bar within walking distance from their home base. They ordered drinks with their fake ID and maybe the costumes helped them get away with it. But it was early in the evening, and Daren’s first turn at the mike came up before he or Gunny—who still tried to pace himself in an effort to reduce guilt over the sin of drunkenness—hadn’t had more than a sip. Oddly, Daren seemed more self-conscious singing “Love is the Groove” than Gunny remembered him being the last time he’d done the Karaoke thing. Looking like Cher—and Gunny had to admit Daren, in many ways, pulled that off quite well—evidently made him self-conscious about singing like her. Although, honestly, Daren didn’t sing like Cher. He sang like Daren, his voice tenor but enriched with overtones from all the registers, his style strong like Cher’s but, to Gunny’s inexpert but attentive ear, perhaps differently nuanced.
Gunny hadn’t really known a lot about Cher until he’d started rooming with Daren, who called the pop goddess his patron saint. In his new, wild-with-reservations life, Cher’s music seemed to fit right in with the parties and booze and pot, all of which swirled around a central core of Daren. Gunny knew Daren was at the heart of his changes, the centrifuge that had sent everything whirling, and that was okay. He figured he’d give himself a year to spin to the outside, and then settle back down—no doubt without Daren in his life. Meanwhile he gave himself over.
That Halloween night, when Daren came off the Karaoke stage after “Love is the Groove” looking down and maybe even embarrassed, Gunny had been mystified by his own need to comfort him. He’d been schooled all his life to think a man’s emotions were his own problem, and he had no reason to believe—or sense—that Daren wouldn’t be just fine once he manned-up. But he’d finished a hard drink by then, and that might have been why he even noticed Daren might need comfort. Not knowing the best way to go about such a not-so-macho thing, he ordered shots all around and challenged Daren to keep up with him.
Daren didn’t try to do that, but he did drink, and he did loosen up, and by the time his second turn for Karaoke came up, he was a lot more relaxed. Relaxed enough—or drunk enough—to trip on the top step of the stage. He recovered with a giggle, though and stood at the mic, gazing out at the audience with sultry eyes before launching into “Taxi Taxi.” Daren’s performance seemed loose and tight in all the right places and it mesmerized Gunny.
As he walked back to the table where his friends sat waiting, with applause for his performance echoing in his ears, Daren felt power coursing through his veins. He was high on it as he’d never been before, and the feeling so far surpassed the booze that Gunny had tried to get him drunk on that he didn’t even want to sit back down. He needed to move.
“Let’s go,” he said, looking at Jimmy but oh-so-aware of Gunny’s hungry look. Daren didn’t know what that look really meant, but he liked it, and he thought he might have just made a discovery about himself that had been a long time coming.
Or maybe several discoveries, all because he liked that look. A lot. He liked knowing he’d affected Gunny by his drag Karaoke—by his look and his voice and his walk, all of which were different from, but somehow part of, everyday Daren. He liked that it made him want to get up next to Gunny and move, and he loved the feeling—the certainty—that Gunny would want that too. And that particular desire was all about sex.
I’m gay, he thought.
He laughed a little because how the hell had he not known that? Although… maybe he had. And then, biting his full, red-painted bottom lip and wiggling his ass a bit just for the joy of it, he thought it again. I’m fucking gay…
And that’s fabulous!
The rest of the festivities that night went by in a blur. Daren sang at a couple of parties, played a racy board game, and yes, drank too much, all the while getting close to Gunny whenever he could. He never got quite so drunk that he wasn’t in control, but perhaps, he admitted, he was a little past the point of good sense, because he knew Gunny was basically an innocent—or at least a naïve soul. Gunny was drunker than was strictly healthy, and right then Daren had some power over him. For a while, he enjoyed playing him like a fish on the line.
But when they’d left the last party, said goodbye to Ronnie and Jimmy outside their residence hall, and walked halfway back to their dorm in a steady, cool rain, Daren sobered and he didn’t feel like toying with Gunny anymore. He wondered for a moment if Gunny really did want him, but then he realized wondering that was a little dishonest. He could see Gunny’s desire, feel it. He could damn well smell it. But then he asked himself a more honest question. Would Gunny want him with his clothes off the same way he did when he was in drag?
Because if the answer was no, then Daren didn’t want to want Gunny.
Lou Sylvre loves romance with all its ups and downs, and she likes to conjure it into books. The sweethearts on her pages are men who end up loving each other, and sometimes saving each other from unspeakable danger. It’s all pretty crazy and very sexy. As if you'd want to know more, she’ll happily tell you that she is a proudly bisexual woman, a mother, grandmother, lover of languages, and cat-herder. She works closely with lead cat and writing assistant, the (male) Queen of Budapest, Boudreau St. Clair. She is the author of the six well-loved books of the Vasquez and James Series and holiday favorites, Falling Snow on SnowandThe Holiday Home Hotel. She teamed up with Kiwi author Anne Barwell to write Sunset at Pencarrow, an adventurous tale of New Zealand romance.
Lou Sylvre’s divine canine inspiration for The Holiday Home Hotel
Hi readers, and thanks to the host for having me on the blog!
I usually dodge questions about inspiration and the muse, because… well, I just don’t know! Inspiration, for me, is a hard thing to pin down. But I’ve several times been asked about where I got the idea for The Holiday Home Hotel, so I decided to take a stab at it, and lo and behold, I think I have the answer. Or at least part of it.
I started to write The Holiday Home Hotel for a certain submissions call, based on the concept of the hotel—a place with special places and ways to celebrate the winter holiday that feels like home to each patron, and yet to mingle with and learn about others. A place that would feel like home—or better than home during a season that can be a lonely, cold one for many. A place where solitary souls could come and be warm among company, where couples can celebrate love during the holidays, where families can be together and away from the stress of holidays where they live.
I’d recently (separately) imagined a character who performed in drag, Daren, and he’d begun “talking” to me about this story. As I started to write, Gunny appeared as his love interest and (truly) opposite. I love to include animals in my stories, and once Daren moved out to the Cascade foothills, he (naturally) had a dog he shared his home with. She was a white Belgian shepherd, as furry as they come, and her name was Lelia—after a minor Slavic goddess associated with luck and spring, and through her mother Lada with, you guessed it, love. As I think about it now, I wonder if it wasn’t the wise look in the eyes of just such a dog in an image I’d found that made me think that maybe she wasn’t just ‘named after’ Lelia, maybe she was Lelia, full of goddess magic and grace, and she’d just happened to have found a special liking for Daren. Honestly, I tried to let that idea go, because it didn’t fit with the call I was hoping to submit the story for. But that’s the story that wanted to be out, and so I wrote the magic in, and happily the story found a home with Mischief Corner Books, for the Escape from the Holidays Collection. So, inspiration for the story? Various! Inspiration for the magic that, in my view, made the story, a goddess and a Belgian shepherd. ?
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