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Excerpt: Winter Games
Hey, if you haven’t heard, the Winter Games audiobook is out! We’re doing a Q&A with the narrator, Sam Wells, on my Picarto channel on Sunday, August 20 at 5p Pacific Time. There’ll be a Q&A, and we’ll give away codes for free copies of the audiobook!
To celebrate the release, here’s the beginning of Winter Games:
Sierra Snowpaw checked in to the Lonnegan Ski Resort on February 28th, 2012, with all his worldly possessions in a large hiker's backpack and small computer bag. He did not have a job, nor a plan, and as of midnight the following night, the room in one of the elegant, fiery red lodge buildings would be the closest thing he had to a home.
“Business or pleasure?” the pine marten at the desk asked as he took Sierra’s credit card.
The snow leopard looked down. “Sure,” he said. It probably didn’t matter that he wasn’t going to be able to afford this stay, because without an address, it would take the credit card company a good couple months to track him down. Given a good couple months, Sierra could straighten out—well, nearly anything.
“There’s a corporate retreat here,” the pine marten said. “Sonoma Systems. Are you with them?”
The marten’s name tag read “Bret,” and he had a nice, slender face with kind eyes that looked up at Sierra, whiskers twitching. “Oh. No. Just here alone.” Sierra smiled down. “Pleasure, I guess.”
“Excellent.” Bret tapped some keys on his terminal. “You’ll be over in the Elm Lodge. Let me just get your room keys. Do you need equipment rentals?”
“Yeah.” Sierra leaned forward, resting his elbows on the counter. Bret had no rings on his fingers, a silver ear stud in both ears. He wore the uniform of the resort, but his scent was individual: his natural musk enhanced with…Sierra breathed in. Bobbi Jean’s ‘Temptation for Males,’ that was it. It had a nice sweet aroma that was popular with gay guys, who also liked that they could call it “BJ Temptation.” It had been a while since he’d gone looking for a short-term hookup, but of course that was just another kind of story to tell someone. The question was more, did he want to try?
Well, why not? He certainly wasn’t going to have anything else to do tonight, and if the past fifteen years were any indication, he wouldn’t have anything to do the other three or four nights, either. He’d followed stronger clues to deader ends.
He sized up Bret: young, single, probably very open to flirting from hotel guests, especially if they were well-off and cute. Sierra knew he could fake the former and act the latter. “I just decided to come down here at the last minute. Do you have any recommendations for some trouble I could get into?”
Bret hesitated, and then a smile curved up his lips, though he didn’t look at Sierra. “Let me get you a ten percent off coupon at the rental store on the property. How well do you ski?”
“Used to quite well.” Sierra lifted his eyes to the rustic logs framing the desk, the pictures of athletic arctic wolves and hares in dramatic skiing poses against the white snow and green pines of Mount Gondorf. “Haven’t been in about five years. Five? Yeah.”
“Where’s the last place you went?” The printer on his desk spit out three coupons. Bret collected them efficiently and folded them into a stack.
“Chartrier-sur-Neige,” Sierra said. The stories were always easiest when they were mostly true.
Bret whistled. “Fancy. Well, our slopes here are as good as any over there, if not better. Just cause there aren’t many people here don’t mean it isn’t top-rate.” He grinned. “I can’t promise the same about the food unless you stick to the resort restaurant. It’s just there across the lobby.” He pointed behind Sierra. “Um, what else. You just missed the big music festival over in White Springs. ‘Alternative’ music.” He wrinkled his nose and then leaned forward, taking a chance. “I hate calling them that. You know?”
Sierra smiled back. “Defining them in terms of what they’re not, not what they are.” He knew the argument, also knew that defining a genre as “alternative” appealed to people who wanted to be something different. That was the story they were telling. And Bret, because he liked alternative music but not the name, wanted to be different—but not too different.
“Exactly!” Bret’s smile widened.
“Remember Valhalla?” Sierra said, and the pine marten nodded. “I got to meet them once.”
“Wow. I liked them. Too bad about Joey Stone. Did you talk to him?”
Sierra’s tail twitched as he nodded. “Just, like, ‘hello.’ But it was exciting,” he said.
“I bet.” Bret dropped the coupons on the counter and tapped the small pile. “These are coupons for the rental at the ski area. Ten percent off skis and boots, ten percent off any purchase you make there, that’s good for all four days of your stay, and then this one gets you a free lift ticket when you buy two days.”
Sierra put his large paw over the coupons. “Thanks.” He looked down at the pine marten, who let his paw linger next to Sierra’s for just a moment longer than needed.
“Not a problem, sir. And here’s your room key.” Next to the coupons, he slid a plastic card with a photo of a skier against a bright blue sky, and a folded map. “I found a room in the Aspen Lodge. It’s a newer lodge, and this room has a nice balcony that looks out onto the mountain.”
“Thank you. That sounds really lovely.” Sierra slid his paw over to cover the room key as well. It held a small amount of warmth from Bret’s paw. The pine marten was still looking at him attentively, waiting for the hook he knew Sierra was going to drop his way.
Sierra paused and then said, “You’ve been really helpful. Is there some way I could repay you?”
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