A Men of Gilead Novel
Clay and Daniel fell in love as enlisted men during Desert Shield, but Don’t Ask Don’t Tell meant they had to keep it secret. After Clay’s convoy was ambushed, PTSD changed him, and their relationship ended in a horrible fight on Christmas Eve.
Twenty-five years later, they’ve reconnected on Facebook, and Clay finds out Daniel will be alone on Christmas Eve. Impulsively, he sets out for Daniel’s hometown of Gilead, Ohio—where Daniel is now the mayor—to surprise him with a visit. But a blizzard strikes and Clay wrecks his car. All hope of seeing Daniel is lost—until a mysterious old man named Nick offers Clay a ride.
The weight of past wounds and the scars of war might make their reunion awkward, but Clay is willing to take the risk to win back his lost love. Despite a lifetime of disappointing holidays, Clay hopes that this soldier is finally coming home for Christmas.
- 2 Read lists
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 46-65
Protagonist 2 Age: 46-65
Tropes: Coming Home, Reunited and it Feels So Good, Second Chances, Unrequited Love, Hurt / Comfort
Word Count: 24000
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
“This is where you get off, soldier,” Nick announced.
Clearing his throat when the truck stopped, Clay offered, “Listen, Nick, I don’t know how to repay—”
Nick raised a hand. “No need. Just go in and make up with your friend.”
Clay studied the cabin, hunkered in between tall pines on one side and a barn on the other, bundled up against the elements. Smoke spiraled from the stone chimney, quickly captured in the storm and whisked away. Golden light spilled from the large windows and onto the white snow. Even through the storm, Clay could make out the colorful twinkling of a Christmas tree inside.
I don’t know if I can do this.
He looked at Nick. “Are you sure you shouldn’t come in? I don’t think Daniel would mind. The roads are getting dangerous.” It was ballsy to invite a stranger into Daniel’s house, but basic human decency wouldn’t allow Nick to go back out into the storm, right?READ MORE
“No, no,” Nick assured him. “I’ve done this a time or two. I got it all under control.”
Clay nodded but didn’t move.
“Go on,” Nick encouraged. “I have more gifts to deliver tonight than just you.”
Chest aching, Clay let out a weary sigh and zipped his jacket. Then he shook Nick’s hand, engulfing it in both of his own. “Thank you again. And please be safe out there.”
Nick gave a rumbling, deep-belly laugh. “Oh, ho-ho! I’ll be fine. Don’t you worry.”
Hesitating for another moment, Clay said farewell, then climbed from the truck and shut the door. He waved goodbye and hunched into the weather. Leaving fresh tracks, he hurried toward Daniel’s porch. The wind swallowed the sounds of the truck engine, and when he glanced over his shoulder, Nick had already disappeared into the storm.
Godspeed, friend, he thought, grateful for his guardian angel tonight.
He hoped that same good fortune would stay with Nick on his route.
Clay stared at the ominous green door—Daniel’s favorite color. With a fortifying breath, he pushed the doorbell. When he didn’t hear anything, he knocked on the door with a fist. On the other side, a dog barked.
His heart gave a pang at the sound. His white German Shepard Lola had died too young, only seven. Damn, I miss her.
Clay raised his hand to knock again, but the rumble of a man’s voice followed by the switch of a deadbolt stopped him. His heart skipped. This is it.
The door opened.
“Clay?” Hazel eyes met Clay’s, wide with shock.
At least he recognizes me. That’s a start. Shoving his hands into his jacket pockets, Clay offered, “Merry Christmas, Daniel.”
“Wh-what?” Daniel shook his head. “Get in here,” he declared, opening the door and ushering him inside.
Clay didn’t hesitate to enter, sighing when warmth and the scent of cookies, smoke, and pine surrounded him.
The scents of home….
Daniel shut the door, blocking out the howling storm. “What the hell are you doing here, Fisher?”
A dopey yellow lab pushed between Daniel and Clay, then promptly shoved his nose straight up Clay’s crotch.
“Well, hello to you too.” Clay laughed, stepping back. He held out a hand to protect himself from more inappropriate sniffing.
“Get down, George,” Daniel scolded the excited dog as he took hold of his collar. “Sit,” he commanded, and though George obeyed, he was scooting and squirming in his seat. White around the muzzle, the old dog was still playful at heart.
Standing in the foyer, Clay took a good look around Daniel’s home.
Straight out of a Christmas story.
A perfectly decorated spruce littered in gold ribbons and a mismatch of ornaments twinkled beside a stone fireplace that cut straight through the giant A-frame wall of windows, and up to the tall, trussed wooden ceiling. A real fire crackled below three stockings—Dad, Jared, and George—adding a pleasant hint of smokiness to the room. Clay could all but imagine Santa whisking down the chimney and filling the stockings with fruit and baseball cards.
He smiled at one of his few good holiday memories. His parents had always given him oranges and baseball cards, though Clay wasn’t really a fan of either. But they’d done it out of the only love Clay had known as a child.
Daniel’s cabin was one giant great room, with a comfy-looking green couch and two chairs circling the fireplace and tall windows. A loft above the U-shaped kitchen had a rustic wooden railing to match the staircase, and just off the kitchen were several doors leading to private areas of the home. The log walls had no hangings, the view outside all the artwork needed. Simple Shaker furniture completed a minimal but masculine look.
Feeling like a tool for gawking, Clay knelt down, his knee popping. “You’re a friendly guy aren’t you, George?” He gave him a good scratch behind the ear, and George happily licked his face. Clay missed having a dog. They were always so happy to see you when you came home.
Hopefully Daniel is half as glad to see me as his dog.
Still ruffling up the dog’s floppy ears, Clay risked a peek upward.
Twenty-five years had changed Daniel. His thick, sandy-blond hair had grayed at the temples, and his eyebrows were a little unruly. Weather and a tan had aged his skin, laugh lines marking his eyes and cheeks. He’d gained weight too, no longer having that lean soldier’s body Clay had spent hours exploring.
Nervously, Clay looked down at George, still petting him.
When he glanced up again, a funny thing happened. Though he hadn’t seen Daniel in ages, it only took a moment for Clay to register his age, and then it was gone. In a blink, Daniel was once more the man Clay had known and never forgot. The same hazel eyes with long lashes stared back at Clay. That cowlick still curled his hairline. Yes, his face was a little rounder, his body a little softer, but he was the same.
Clay’s beautiful, perfect, wonderful Danny.
But he’s not yours anymore.
Awkward yet oh-so-familiar being on his knees in front of Daniel, Clay gave the dog one more pat, then pushed himself to his feet. Daniel stared at him, and Clay hoped Daniel liked how the years had treated him.
Clay sure liked what he saw.
He shoved his hands in his pockets again and flashed a grin, hoping to appear casual and calm—two things he was not. “Probably surprised to see me.”
Still staring, Daniel nodded.
Forcing himself not to stare awkwardly at his feet, Clay didn’t want to appear nervous. “I felt bad when you told me your son was gone for Christmas. I didn’t have anywhere to be. And since we’re only three hours apart, I thought I’d drive out and surprise you.” He gestured toward the door. “I didn’t expect snowpocalypse to strike.”
Daniel frowned. “Didn’t you check the forecast?”
Still so pragmatic and logical. He chuckled. “No, I didn’t check it, Danny.”
Daniel flinched at the nickname he’d hated when they were younger, but he didn’t frown. Daniel never allowed anyone to call him Danny, so naturally Clay had done it all the time.
Their eyes met, and Clay swore they both recalled all the times Clay had whispered, “Oh, Danny, please…” while they’d writhed, naked and lost to passion.
Clearing his throat, Daniel turned away and walked into his kitchen. The cabinets and floors were all warm, golden oak, the fixtures brushed nickel. White granite counters broke up all the wood, and recessed lights on a dry-walled ceiling made the space bright. “You’re here,” he said. “Might as well take your jacket off and make yourself at home. I was making cookies.”
Clay’s heart leapt with delight. When was the last time you had homemade Christmas cookies?
He didn’t exactly offer you any.
Wordlessly, Clay took off his jacket, feeling like an intruder.
He looked around again. The four-foot-tall carving of a black bear with a trout by the door surprised him—but it felt so very Daniel. With the open ceiling and those big windows, he’d bet this place was a bitch to heat, though. The only thing out of place in the tidy cabin was the wrapping paper and dog toys littering the floor by the tree.
Of course Daniel bought his dog Christmas presents.
Clay studied Daniel while he moved about the kitchen as if on edge—expected when someone from the past just showed up in the middle of a blizzard. And Clay hadn’t even explained he didn’t have a car or a phone yet. The only things he had were his pajamas and three pairs of underwear in his pocket.
Shit! He still had on the pajamas over his clothing.
“Um, I probably look pretty strange,” Clay said, indicating the plaid bottoms. “I totaled my car a few miles down your road. I was in the car for a while, trying to decide if I should walk back to Gilead or not. Figured I’d layer to keep warm.”
Best to leave out wearing underwear as a hat.
Daniel’s brows shot up. “Did you walk here?”
“No, this nice old guy gave me a lift.”
“You always were a lucky son of a bitch.”
Clay chuckled again, some of his tension easing. In that instant, he could almost imagine that not a moment had passed since they’d been apart. Then their eyes met and an entire lifetime passed between them, leaving behind a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon.
The last Christmas they’d been together played out in Clay’s mind like a lousy ending to a good movie.
They’d checked into a motel outside of Fort Benning. They’d fucked first and fought last. Clay was getting out of the service, and Daniel was stubbornly staying in. Their fight had been nasty, ending when Clay gave Daniel an ultimatum that changed their lives forever.
Three years of commitment and real love, over in the blink of an eye.
They hadn’t even opened presents.
Not for the first time, Clay wondered what Daniel had gotten him. They’d put their gifts in stockings—Clay’s idea—but he’d left them both behind. The Swiss Army knife he got Daniel hadn’t been very original, but creativity had never been Clay’s strong suit. Had Daniel even opened it?
He cleared his throat, not wanting to dwell on it.
“There’s a hall tree, and a mat for your boots,” Daniel said, pointing at Clay’s feet. “So the snow doesn’t ruin the floor.”
When Clay saw the puddle around his boots, he hastily pulled them off and set them on the mat. Then he hung his jacket up. Shivering, he reached for the waistband of his pajama bottoms and slipped them off. The T-shirt came off next, and he placed the clothing on a barstool across from Daniel.
Once properly dressed, he ran his fingers over his snow-damp hair. Hoping he looked a little better now, he offered, “Do you have something I can clean up this puddle with?”
Daniel tossed a roll of paper towels like a football, and Clay caught it, memories of all the “touch” football they’d played hitting him right in the feels. While he wiped up the mess, George came over for more attention. Clay found that itchy spot on his back all dogs had, right above his hips and gave George a good scratch. George thumped his leg in encouragement.
“You keep doing that and he won’t leave you alone,” Daniel said, watching them.
“I won’t mind.” Clay flashed him a smile. “You know I love dogs.”
Their eyes met again, and when Daniel’s smile faded and he turned away, Once he cleaned the mess and scratched George some more, Clay didn’t know what to say. Daniel was an intelligent man, a borderline genius in some things. He knew if Clay didn’t have a car in this blizzard, then Clay wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Way to go, Fisher. Your surprise visit is an overnighter.
“So… what brings you here?” Daniel used a levered spoon to scoop cookie dough onto a sheet pan. The spoon reminded Clay of the ones they used in the mess hall to serve perfect balls of mashed potatoes. “You just decided to come visit?”
“You know I’ve always wanted to experience one of those magical Gilead Christmases you used to talk about,” Clay joked.
Daniel shot him a look, and instantly Clay regretted his choice of words as memories came back to him, sharp and vivid.
“You’ll never invite me to your magical fucking Gilead Christmas, Danny,” I growled. “Wouldn’t want everyone to know you’re a fag.”
“Fuck you, Clay!”
“Fuck you! You’re nothing but a coward!”
Clearing his throat, Clay tried again, wondering if Daniel was remembering the same thing. “I should’ve messaged you, but….”
He couldn’t finish his thought as he suddenly felt eighteen and nervous, like the first time he’d laid eyes on then Specialist Daniel Millhouse. Clay’s desire for the older, more mature man—all of twenty to Clay’s eighteen years—had consumed him. That hair, that perfect ass, and his commanding, oh-so-serious demeanor. Clay just wanted to hear him laugh, to loosen him up, but Daniel had made him so nervous it took him weeks to even strike up a conversation.
That same giddy nervousness fluttered in his stomach now, coupled with a heavy sense of regret and loss, leaving Clay off-kilter. He joined Daniel in the kitchen and took a seat on a barstool across from him. The rug bordered with cute black bears on the kitchen floor surprised him. Daniel used to hide his playful side.
Time changes us all.
“You didn’t message me because you thought I’d say no,” Daniel surmised, not glancing up from his task. He had several cookie sheets out, two jars of sprinkles, and a bowl of white frosting, all of it placed as neatly as if he were on a cooking show.
Well, not everything changed. Daniel was still as tidy as a new recruit.
Though nervous, Clay was not that shy eighteen-year-old boy anymore. Both terrified and exhilarated to be here, he played it cool but honest. “Yeah, I guess I did.”
“I don’t think I would’ve said no,” Daniel said after a contemplative moment.
More tension melted like the snow in his hair. “Oh.”COLLAPSE
Clay almost ends up snowed in on the road to tiny town where his friend and old lover Daniel lives. Years ago they parted on bad terms but Clay is now in the better place in his life and hopes for another chance with the man he still loves. They have both changed during the years they spent apart. Once, their relationship didn’t survive pressure they were under. Since then, Clay has struggled in life but ultimately succeed in forging a better life for himself. He is determined not to let the best thinkg that ever happened to him slip from his hands again not when there is smallest chance to win Daniel back.
His determination is obvious from the first chapter: I honestly expected a slower beginning. Clay completely won me over. Even in almost hopeless situation, in totaled car and in the middle of deserted road under threat of blizzard he makes plans. Luckily for Clay, a man called Nick drives by and picks him up. Now the only challenge he faces is meeting Daniel again.
The story unfolds smoothly, drawing readers in. Clay’s emotions are all over the place and it is a clear and convincing portrayal. He is very easy to like.
His and Daniels’ interactions are curious mix of their old closeness and wary acceptance. They have a tentative truce. Daniel is calmer and his reactions are more measured. After Clay’s emotionally charged view Daniel’s outlook is smoother, flatter, but no less intense.
As they try to reconnect, they do the same thing people do on Christmas: make cookies and listen to Christmas songs. The choice is so in tune with dialogue I could practically hear music in the background.
While there is no denying sexual tension between them, it’s not overwhelming the story.
In a way, this is story of redemption.
“We weren’t supposed to be together back then.”
Clay said to Danny with brutal honesty.
It’s like they needed to come apart so they could grow back together. There is enough sorrow and hope in this story to melt your heart.
From beginning to end, it is a beautiful description of a dream finally coming true and moreover, coming home for Christmas.