Jagdschmuck. To my American ears, that word sounds like an awful insult. Can’t you just hear it? “Ugh, she’s such a Jagdschmuck!” But the word in German describes the long tradition of setting small hunting trophies such as the teeth, antler, or tusk of certain legally hunted animals into jewelry which is then worn by the hunter or her/his loved ones as a talisman for good luck.
Oftentimes the Jagdschmuck is a necklace but it is also often a ring. They can be very elaborate or very clean. They are often decorated with symbols of the woods, oak leaves and acorns being the most common.
In my latest book Smoky Mountain Dreams, one hero, Christopher, a failed country music singer who performs at a country music theme park called Smoky Mountain Dreams and liberally inspired by Dollywood, relates a story to our other hero, bisexual and angst-ridden jeweler Jesse, about a ring his grandmother wore all the time. The ring was given to her by her husband after he returned from World War II. The story is taken my own life. My grandfather did exactly what Christopher’s grandfather did–dropped a band of gold by a jeweler’s and asked for something nice for his girl–and brought the ring home for my grandmother. She wore it until my mother married and then my mother wore it until it was lost.
Featuring two deer teeth set in acorns and leaves, it was a piece that caught a lot of attention and was my absolute favorite of her rings when I was a child. I dreamed of wearing it myself one day and I still can’t talk too much about the fact that it’s gone without getting choked up. It was a very special heirloom to me and so I decided to honor it in fiction.
I’m very excited to bring you a scene excerpt from Smoky Mountain Dreams today. This book is set in the Smokies of East Tennessee, an area near and dear to my heart. I must admit that this book has been such a journey for me. I credit my friend Alice Springs for telling me this past spring that I’d let this book sleep for too long. She said, “I’ve never read a gay romance like Smoky Mountain Dreams! You have to finish it!”
And so I did.
I hope y’all love it half as much as she does and did from the beginning!
In this scene near the beginning of the book, Christopher and Jesse have just met for the first time and their attraction sparks. We’re starting mid-scene, just before Christopher begins to tell the story of the locket.
After giving up on his career as a country singer in Nashville, Christopher Ryder is happy enough performing at the Smoky Mountain Dreams theme park in Tennessee. But while his beloved Gran loves him the way he is, Christopher feels painfully invisible to everyone else. Even when he’s center stage he aches for someone to see the real him.
Bisexual Jesse Birch has no room in his life for dating. Raising two kids and fighting with family after a tragic accident took his children’s mother, he doesn’t want more than an occasional hook-up. He sure as hell doesn’t want to fall hard for his favorite local singer, but when Christopher walks into his jewelry studio, Jesse hears a new song in his heart.
Excerpt: “So,” Jesse went on, folding his hands on the table as he bent forward. “In your voicemail you mentioned this was a special piece you wanted done. For your grandmother, I believe?”
Christopher cleared his throat. “Yes. Though I have to admit, after seeing your work, I’m a little embarrassed by the idea I had in mind. I’m afraid it’s a waste of your talent. It might not be worth your time.”
“Grandmothers are always worth my time. I love grandmothers.” Jesse laughed a little.
Christopher noticed Jesse’s fingers laced together prettily. He admired their length and form, and in a flash he wondered how they might feel on his body. And then his attention turned to the soft, beating pulse at the base of Jesse’s throat, and he imagined whatit might feel like against his tongue.
“So tell me about the locket?” Jesse asked. “Do I need to give you the nervous bridegroom treatment?”
“Well, bridegrooms are always anxious to please their bride. Sometimes I have to give them a little extrareassurance.”
Christopher’s breath came in and out quickly. “I’m sorry?”
“Let me tell you what I always tell them. I’ll just replace bride with grandmother.” He winked and Christopher swallowed hard. “Let me reassure you, your grandmother’s happiness is what’s important to me. I care more about that than about making some piece to flatter my ego.”
“I hope that helps?”
Christopher felt a rush from head to toe, and he wondered if he looked sweaty. “I’ve never done this before.” He waved a hand around to encompass the store in its entirety. “Sorry. I just want it to be perfect. The locket, I mean. For my grandmother.”
“Of course you do. And it’ll be great. I promise. Let’s see…” Jesse consulted the notes. “You mentioned you wanted a gold locket for her. And you want it to hold four photos. One of each of her grandkids, I’m guessing?”
“Right,” Christopher said.
“And on the back there’s a quote you wanted engraved.”
“Yes.” He hadn’t left it on the machine because he’d been a little embarrassed to say it out loud back when he’d thought Jesse Birch was an old man. Now that he was here looking at Jesse’s thick eyelashes and sexy mouth, he found it even harder. “It’s a song. She used to sing it to me. Well, she sang it to all of us.”
Christopher remembered vividly the way it felt to be five years old, tucked up against his grandmother’s side as she rocked him, singing quietly in his ear until he was warm and sleepy and safe.
“But when she sang it, it felt like it was just for you?” Jesse asked quietly.
“Yeah. How did you know?”
Jesse stared at him, his gaze lowering down to Christopher’s mouth, and then slowly coming back up to his eyes again. Christopher’s blood zipped through his groin, and he bit his cheek in a sudden fear that he might begin to get hard if Jesse kept looking at him like that.
“I’ve felt like that before. Listening to someone sing.”Jesse jerked his head down and picked up a pen. “The quote?”
Christopher cleared his throat, but even sothe line from “You Are My Sunshine”came out in a whisper.
Jesse glanced at him, raw heat flashing across his face, and then he turned his attention back to his notes. Christopher watched Jesse write the words down in a square, small script different from the loops of the notes from the message he’d left.
“It’s cheesy, I know,” Christopher said, wanting to sweep his embarrassment and arousal away with an apology of sorts.
Jesse sang the first few lines of the song in a soft, pleasant baritone. His eyes glittered when he broke off and asked, “Will you sing it? For a fan?”
Is there a hidden camera? Christopher’s palms went damp. “I don’t…”
“Never mind.I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
“No, no, of course not. I mean, I do it for a living—”
“I’m willing to pay.” Jesse’s mouth wobbled suspiciously like he was going to laugh.
“Are you teasing me?”
“A little, but not about being a fan. Don’t worry about it.” Jesse looked back at his paper and Christopher wished he’d just done it because now he felt like he’d not only disappointed Jesse, but somehow failed a test. “The locket. You mentioned that you didn’t have any particular ideas for the front design. Were you thinking of something with gemstones, or gold filigree? Maybe braiding?”
Christopher linked his fingers together and willed his blood to stop rushing so hard. “I really have no idea. Something pretty, but not too dainty. She’s a strong woman, and I want it to reflect that.”
“Do you know if she likes any gems in particular? Or has any favorite jewelry of her own?”
“No…well, yes. She wears a ring my grandfather brought back from Germany after the war. And that’s about it.”
“Tell me about it.”
“It’s gold. It has tiny oak leaves that’ve been pinned on one by one. They hold two baby deer teeth in place. A lot of people think they’re shiny moonstones or something if you don’t know, but nope, they’re deer teeth.”
“Deer teeth,” Jesse murmured, making notes.
“My grandfather left a gold band with a German jeweler and said he’d be passing back through in a few months if he survived, and could the guy please make something beautiful for his girl back home.”
Jesse looked up, focusing intently on Christopher.
“And when he went back, the guy had made him this ring. It had deer teeth in it.”
“For luck,” Jesse said. “It’s called Jagdschmuck. Hunting jewelry. It’s an old German legend that setting the teeth—or tusk, bone, or hair—of an animal a hunter had killed into a piece of jewelry would bring him luck on his next hunt. Interesting symbolism given the war and your grandfather being a soldier.”
“You think he was passing on his hunting luck to my grandfather?”
Jesse shrugged. “Maybe. Or maybe he just thought your grandfather wouldn’t come back, and he’d made the ring for himself.”
“It’s a decidedly feminine piece,” Christopher said, thinking back to the unique ring he’d always seen on his grandmother’s hand.
“Then maybe he was wishing your grandmother luck on snaring her wild beast of a soldier upon his return.”
Christopher chuckled, his heart tripping a little at the way Jesse’s thick lashes lay against his cheeks as he smiled down at his notes. “I suppose we’ll never know.”
“Each piece has a secret story. But the piece will never tell,” Jesse said, his head down still as he wrote. “I think I have an idea for the front, but I need some time with it. Can we meet again on…” He consulted a calendar on his desk. “Wednesday? I’ll have a sketch for you.”
“I could only meet in the evening,” Christopher said. “I’m scheduled for performances all day.”
“That’s fine. How about six o’clock?”
“Okay, but sometimes I have to take on last minute shows at night. It depends on…things.”
“Let me guess, it depends on if Lash is sober enough to get on the stage, but drunk enough to put on a show,” Jesse said. “Don’t look surprised. I’ve known Lash since I was a kid. He was drinking even back then.”
“Oh. So you’re from around here?”
Somehow he’d just assumed that Jesse was from somewhere else. He didn’t have a strong accent, and he had such good taste, and so much skill. It seemed impossible to Christopher that Jesse could really be from Tennessee, too.
Well, ain’t you just a little self-hatin’ hick? Gran scolded in his mind. You’re Appalachian, boy. Be proud of it because you ain’t nevergonna be nothing else.
Jesse spread his arms wide, encompassing the room, the town, and the mountains in his next words. “Gatlinburg.Born and bred. Wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
“Absolutely. Okay, let’s plan on Wednesday evening. Just call me if there’s a problem, and we’ll figure something out. I’m excited to work with you, Christopher.”
Jesse licked his lips. They were shiny and perfect, and Christopher could imagine too clearly the slick slide of them against his own. A coil of want gripped him, and he was struck dumb, unable to reply or even look away.
Jesse’s tongue darted out again, and his eyes slid down to Christopher’s mouth. Then he cleared his throat. “I’ll walk you out.”
THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED