Thursday, October 30, 2014

Elves and Deer by Hollis Shiloh: Review & Exclusive Excerpt!

Elves and Deer
A Christmas Tale
by Hollis Shiloh
Greer is a reindeer shifter working at a magical shipping hub up North. He has little use for or understanding of elves—such delicate, short-lived creatures—but he tries to do his best by the ones in his life. And it seems like more and more are coming into his life, confusing and frustrating him, needing help, needing rescued. 

Since Greer is always busy, it's easy to overlook the things he doesn't want to acknowledge—until a terrible danger gives him unwanted time to think…and to realize there's just one elf who means more to him than he's ever wanted to admit. 
38,000 words 
Heat level: very low 
For years, I completely forgot about that boy, until one day, almost twenty years later, he walked into the stables, his steps hard and cocky. 
The limp was still there, and I realized for the first time it wasn't from the fight. They'd fixed his face, more or less, so the old scar was covered up, but the wary hardness in his eyes was just the same. Apparently, he hadn't outgrown any of it. 
It wasn't childish attitudes given free reign; it was just him. He'd grown from a little asshole to a big one—well, big considering. 
His hair was darker now, almost pure black, and his eyes were colder yet. 
"I'm here for a job," he said, planting is hands on his hips, looking up at me. "I have references. Worked in the South and packed toys for a couple years. Three years of—" (He named the school I'd helped pay for.) "—and two years after that in the human world, at a high school there." 
I tried to tot up the numbers in my head, but however I calculated it, he came short of an actual high school diploma. I decided to ask, to be sure. "Diploma?" I asked. 
He shook his head, his mouth pursed tightly. "No. Never graduated." 
"Too busy fighting?" I asked mildly, making a note. I had been interviewing elves for positions in the stable all day, and it was getting tiring. We did need new help, but deer would've been better. 
I was all for Santa trying to take better care of the elves, but the simple truth is, deer are more muscular and stronger: far better for the sort of brutal heavy lifting and shit-shoveling a stable requires. We load boxes, we clean stalls dirtied from those of us resting in deer form, and we do a lot of things that could easily crush or squish a tender little elf. 
Jacob seemed to deflate, biting his lip, but instead of looking down this time, he looked me straight in the face. "Please hire me. I'm stronger than I look. I'll—I'll prove myself. You won't even have to pay me if I can't keep up. Just a week. Just give me a week's trial, all right? I can work for free. What do you need done? That, moved?" He pointed to a pile of dirty straw. 
He reached for a pitchfork—a deer-sized one—and almost wrenched his arm off lifting it. He bit his lip harder, a defiant look coming alive in his little face. He was, whatever you wanted to say about him, most definitely strong-willed. 
He started to attack the pile of dirty straw before I even had an answer for him. 
"Why don't you use one of those?" I asked, rising at last from behind my desk and pointing calmly towards an elf-sized fork. We'd had some proper equipment bought for them after the last little guy strained his back. 
It wasn't that I didn't like elves, it's just that I had no use for them here. When I heard the men mocking our first hired elf mercilessly behind his back, acting as though he was afraid to work instead of just smaller and not as strong, I didn't intervene. He left shortly afterwards. 
And, wouldn't you know it, that's what Santa called me on the floor for. The very sort of thing I couldn't get anyone to pay attention to those years ago in a school, with children. I was brought to task for not taking better care of the little elf who quit.  
"I think you can do better," he told me, looking at me calmly. "I'd like my elves and deer to work together, not just in the air on delivery nights." 
I nodded, my mouth tight and my jaw tighter, so tight my teeth almost cracked together. 
"I know it's a challenge, but I'm sure you can find room for a couple of my men or women in there to help out. There are always things they can do—running errands, if nothing else, and I don't want them mocked. I trust you can handle it?" 
He didn't think the elves could handle the work either, but he was still making me be the one to do this! It wasn't fair. I was all for the poorer elves having more opportunities. Just because they didn't have much magic was no reason for them not to have work. Some ended up fleeing to the human world, even though it was hard to adjust to, just because it was harder still not to have magic here if you were an elf. 
The clever ones used their hands to make toys. The less magical ones still were able to help with the big deliveries for Santa, and on down the line to the elves who salted the street, using their tiniest bit of magic to make the salt work better so people wouldn't slip and hurt themselves. 
But there were never as many jobs as needed, apparently. And now I had to pick up the slack… 
Those of us deer who didn't have much magic usually ended up working onon farms and other work that required strength but not a lot of magic. Life was easier for us, in other ways: if we decided to, we could turn our backs on civilization for months or years at a time, or even forever. We could live in our deer forms and not have anything to do with cities and roads, simply live as we chose in the wilds. Santa didn't mind this, let us go in peace whenever we wished and come back whenever we wanted to. He's an easygoing sort about most things, the Boss. 
At any rate, we tend to be a plain, calm, hardworking bunch of people. The ones who didn't want to be here had elsewhere to go. So it wasn't like there was a huge unemployment problem for deer. If anything, sometimes we were a little short. The human world welcomes us as well, though it doesn't know it. Instead of looking too small and pretty the way elves tend to do there, we look big and muscular. That's valued in many places, and there are always jobs deer can get: manual labor (even the hardest work there can be easy compared to what a full grown deer would easily do here), and security work. We don't fight, it's not in our blood, but there are plenty of other tasks than soldiering that need done. 
Personally, I was happy enough working at the stables, but I knew if I ever needed to, I could go away and live in peace in the wilderness, or move to the human world and find something to do there. I had options. And clearly, the little elf before me, so ferociously attacking the straw, didn't. 
At first I was skeptical, but when he kept working after ten minutes or so, not slackening his pace, I found myself slightly impressed.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Greer is a reindeer shifter who lives an average life, working an average job in one of Santa's many shipping stations. One day he notices a little elf being teased by a group of children and reluctantly decides to do the right thing. Even though it wasn't the easy thing to do, since elves and deer don't really mix.

Years later that same elf, Jacob, shows up at Greer's shipping hub looking for a job. At first Greer has his misgivings, but as a friendship begins to develop between the two it opens Greer's eyes to the fact that maybe elves and deer aren't as different as he originally thought.

As Greer's perspective on life changes, he begins to feel drawn to the spunky little elf that first opened his eyes, but when the unthinkable happens to Greer and his little band of elves, what almost was might never have the chance to be.

With a little bit of angst and a lot of heart ELVES AND DEER is a touching and unique look at life up north that reminds us all to always look a little deeper and keep ourselves open to love.
Hollis Shiloh writes love stories about men, also called gay romance or m/m romance, with the preferred genres of contemporary, historical, and fantasy. Hollis's stories tend towards the sweet rather than the spicy. When not writing, the author enjoys reading, retro music, and being around animals.
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