It’s release day!!! 🥳 This story was a long time coming. Already in Holly’s first year, I was eyeing Squirrel Appreciation Day and thought I should write a story for it, but I went with Kiss a Ginger Day instead. Who doesn’t love a ginger??
Then last year, I was thinking a lot about what I wanted to do with my life. The company I was working for struggled through the pandemic and never really recovered. I was at a point where I was making about the same amount of money from my writing as I was from the few hours I got at work, and I had one of those ‘I don’t ever want to work again’ periods. So I wrote a story for Make Your Dreams Come True Day.
But now, lovely people. The third time’s a charm because, this year, we’re doing Squirrel Appreciation Day for our January story. Squirrel Circus is a story about Jyran who is a squirrel shifter, and do you know why there hardly are any squirrel shifters left? Yes, that’s right. People are making squirrel sandwiches – Barbecued Smoked Squirrel Sandwiches 😳
And the reason I went with Barbecued Smoked Squirrel Sandwiches is that there is a recipe. Do you want a recipe? As a vegetarian and the one who gave Jyran life, I’m inclined not to give it to you, but just to prove that I’m not making this up. Here you go. Help yourselves!
But squirrel sandwiches aren’t the only reason there are so few of them left. There are also wolf shifters who tend to eat them, so it’s really a shame Jyran’s mate is a wolf shifter. A tragedy.
Below you can read the first chapter which is longer than my chapters usually are, but it’s because there is a few-years-long time gap before the next chapter starts. You’ll get the squirrel sandwiches, and you’ll see that Gideon, the wolf shifter who is Jyran’s mate, is an arse.
Can you forgive being rejected by your mate?
For as long as Jyran Pechman can remember, he’s dreamed about finding his soulmate. As a child, he lost his family, and he’s been moving around ever since. He hates it, and he wants nothing more than to have a home. A mate. A place to belong.
Gideon Everett might have dreamed about the day he’d find his mate, but his mate was never an unorganized, nut-hoarding squirrel shifter in those dreams. Wolves eat squirrels, so when Jyran walks into Gideon’s bar, he throws him out and tells him he wants nothing to do with him. He has a reputation to think about, and he will not be known as the wolf who mated a squirrel.
Being rejected hurts more than Jyran ever imagined, and he swears never to set foot in Gideon’s bar again. After the initial shock, Gideon is almost sure he made the right decision. Almost. What if he made the wrong decision? Now when he knows his mate is out there, can he live on as if they’ve never met, or does he have to … ugh … apologize?
Paranormal Gay Romance: 36,035 words
Gideon Everett flicked the light switch for the twentieth time and snarled. Stomping in behind the bar, he grabbed his phone off the counter. Adara Queen was to perform in a couple of hours, and the patrons would skin him alive if he couldn’t get the electricity on before then.
It wasn’t a fuse, and it wasn’t the entire building, but it was the serving area, the kitchen, and, of course, the stage. Since it wasn’t a real blackout, he suspected a wire had been damaged somewhere.
He looked up at the crisscross of wires. The metal beams created a maze against the dark ceiling. He didn’t know shit about the electricity in this place. He could do simple things. He wasn’t a complete imbecile, but this… He needed a professional for this, but despite having called several electricians, no one had been willing to help on short notice.
Scrolling on the phone yet again, he tried to find the number of someone local, someone he might be able to persuade. Best if they were a shifter, so he could growl at them, but he couldn’t tell from the listings who were turning furry and who wasn’t.
“What’s got your panties in a wad?”
Fucking vampires. Gideon tried to hide his surprise as Adara Queen leaned against the bar. She hadn’t been Queen when they’d been in school. But Adara Anderson didn’t have the same ring to it.
“Adara.” He nodded in greeting. If they hadn’t known each other from childhood, she never would’ve played here tonight. She filled big arenas these days. Though tonight was meant to be a small affair, only her and her guitar, not the entire band. For fun, she’d said.
“That’s all the greeting I get?” She had her hurt look down pat.
He heaved a sigh, rounded the bar, and engulfed her in a hug. He didn’t mean to, but he sniffed her hair. There was something there, a scent he wanted more of, but it was hidden underneath the scent of hair products and detergent.
Vampires didn’t have a smell of their own, which was why most shifters were uncomfortable around them. Predatory shifters relied more on their nose than their eyes, and vampires were scent voids. Who knew how non-predatory shifters worked? They were the universe’s biggest mistake.
As he let go of her, the scent wafted toward him again, and without thinking, he bent down and sniffed at her collarbone and down toward her cleavage.
“Hey!” She shoved him with more strength than necessary, and he took an involuntary step backward. “Last I checked, you weren’t interested in tits. Mine or anyone else’s.”
“No.” He shook his head as if in a daze. “It’s the scent.”
She raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “The scent?”
“You smell of…” What did she smell of? Something that made him want to rub against her, lick her—and he did not lick women. He wanted to taste, to touch, to keep it for himself. He shook his head again, trying to rid it of the haze.
“I smell?” Her voice filled the room, and she sniffed at her armpit.
“No! Or… there is a scent on you.” He narrowed his eyes. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“One in particular?” She looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. “No.”
“But you spent the night with someone.” Though she didn’t smell of sex. “Or… you’re living with someone?”
“Oh.” She grinned. “Could it be Jyran? I hugged him before I left.”
A hug. Could it be something as simple as a hug? “Who’s Jyran?”
“A friend. He’s been traveling with me for… eh, it’s years now. We’re sharing a house now when we’re not on the road.”
Gideon nodded. It could explain the scent, but it didn’t explain his reaction to it.
“Why is it so dark?” She looked around, effectively changing the subject.
“Something wrong with the electricity. I’ve called every electrician I can find, but no luck.” He rubbed his neck. The bar was his pride and joy, but after he’d paid his staff and paid the bills, there wasn’t much left. Having Adara perform, even if it was only a small thing, would bring in some much-needed cash. He did not want to cancel.
She frowned. “Any idea what’s wrong?”
He shook his head. “I suspect the rats have been nibbling at the cables.” He gestured at the metal beams in the ceiling.
“You have rats?” She twisted her face in distaste. “I believed you big, bad shifters would scare them off.”
Gideon grunted. He didn’t think cat shifters had any rat problems, but they were wolves here. Maybe he should hire a cat. There was no love between the species, but he could respect a cat.
“Want me to ask Jyran to have a look?”
“He’s a cat?” He didn’t smell like a cat, though Gideon suspected the scent was mixed up with everything else on Adara.
“No.” The way she said it had Gideon narrowing his eyes.
“What is he?”
“If I call Jyran, you have to promise not to harm him in any way.”
Unease curled in his gut. “What. Is. He?” Gideon was a strong wolf. There were few things he feared. A bear maybe. Though he didn’t fear bears. They were moody bastards, but they didn’t want to eat him. Tigers and lions, but they were rare. He’d never met a tiger shifter, and the lions he’d come across, he could count on one hand.
She glared. “Squirrel.”
Gideon stared at her for several seconds, then he laughed. “What?”
“He’s a squirrel shifter.” Her eyes flashed with anger, and he did his best to tone down his laugh.
“A squirrel shifter? Are there any left? I thought they were extinct.”
“There are a few, but they tend to stay away from the supernatural community.” She raised her eyebrows in a way only cartoons should be able to do, with one higher than the other and yet crooked somehow.
“But you’ve adopted one?” He snickered. A few decades ago, both shifters and humans had killed as many squirrels as they could, both the shifters and the normal kind. Invasive rats.
She watched him for so long, she killed his joy.
“You’re serious?” He made an effort to keep his face blank. “You’ve befriended a squirrel? And you didn’t stop there. He’s living with you?” He shook his head. She lived with a fucking rat. “Aren’t you afraid he’s going to eat your nuts?”
“I don’t have or need any nuts. And I took for granted you’d appreciate a guy who liked nuts, my bad.”
He gave her a wicked grin. “I do. But I don’t do rats.”
“Coming from a dog.” Her words were dripping with disgust, and he huffed.
“Seriously, Adara. You have a squirrel living with you. Aren’t you afraid?”
“Of Jyran?” The disbelief had him chuckling again.
“No, of course not. Who’s afraid of a squirrel?” They were prey. Small and powerless. “I meant of someone coming to your place to kill him. You could be hurt in the crossfire.”
If looks could kill, Gideon had been in a bloody puddle on the floor.
“Why would anyone want to kill Jyran?”
“Because he’s a rat. Or maybe they’re in the mood for some…” What was the recipe he’d seen the other week? “Barbecued Smoked Squirrel Sandwich. It’s easier to come and grab him at your place than go hunting for a real one.”
“A real? First off, few know he’s a squirrel shifter. You couldn’t tell from his scent, and you have a good nose. Second, if anyone would dare come near him, I’ll kill them.”
“You’re his bodyguard?” Gideon shouldn’t snicker, but he pictured a furry little guy hiding behind Adara whenever they were outside.
“I’m his friend. Fuck, when did you turn into an asshole?”
Gideon straightened. He’d always been an asshole, but he could tell Adara was angry for real. This squirrel guy meant something to her. “I won’t hurt him, but if he gnaws through any of my wires, he’ll have to pay for the damage.”
“Squirrel. Cute, fluffy, climbs trees, collects nuts and seeds, nesting. Oh, God, the nesting.” She threw her hands in the air, but it was done in a fond way. “If I have to pick up another freaking pillow from the floor, I might drench it in blood.” She shrugged. “Though he tones down the cushion obsession while we’re on the road. And he never, on the road or not, eats wires.”
“A rat is a rat. I don’t care if his tail is fluffy or not.” Though now he was curious. What did a squirrel shifter look like in human form? He was a wolf. He was big and tall, fast and strong. Most humans gave him a wide berth, though some suicidal fuckers tried to provoke him. When on a hunt, he was patient and could chase his prey for miles. In human form, he might be a little testy, the feeling of being trapped in his skin, of not being able to use his strengths as they were meant to be used sometimes annoyed him, and he was known to snarl at more than one patron.
But what was a squirrel like? Unorganized. Running in circles. Big front teeth. Stupid. They had to be stupid, considering the size of their brain.
“If I call him, you have to promise to behave.”
Gideon gave her his most innocent look. “I always behave.”
“Not a word about squirrel sandwiches, of squirrel hunts, or rats, or hunting season, nut-licking or dick size.”
“Dick size?” Interesting.
She glared. “He’s a small animal. It doesn’t mean he’s small in human form.”
Gideon widened his eyes. “He’s a big guy?” His mind painted him as a small, femmy man. Though why he would be femmy, Gideon didn’t know. Because squirrels, for all their rat similarities, were cute?
“No, but… proportional.”
If he hadn’t known better, he’d have called attention to the light flush climbing Adara’s cheeks.
* * * *
Jyran Pechman tugged at his suit jacket, then he fiddled with his tie, only to move on to straighten his vest. The dark blue fabric normally made him feel better, but he was jittery today. He hated going into shifter bars, but at least they weren’t open for business yet.
Adara needed him.
An old friend of hers owned the fur bar, and she wanted to play there. Jyran couldn’t understand why. She drew audiences of thousands upon thousands. Why play in a seedy shifter bar?
It was her choice. He didn’t care what she did. He loved her, but he didn’t care about music, and traveling wasn’t his thing. All he wanted was a safe place, somewhere to call home, somewhere he could rest. Adara was the closest he’d ever come to safety, so he clung to her, but he held no love for the life of a musician.
With a deep breath, he pushed the door to The Howling Moon—creative name. He snorted. He hated wolves. He hated bears, cats, and all the other predators too, but most of all, he hated wolves. They lived in packs, which meant he didn’t only have to escape one enemy, he had to outsmart a bunch of them.
If they were in a forest, it was fine. As long as he stayed alert, he could always stay safe in the trees, but in a bar? Wolves in human form. He gritted his teeth.
Adara had promised he’d be safe. If she was wrong, he’d haunt her for the rest of her life. He’d make it his life mission—death mission?—to lure spiders into her bed. She hated spiders.
His heart beat harder than he wanted to acknowledge as he pushed the door open. Fuck. The dark made him freeze. He had crappy night vision, another thing to his disadvantage. Most shifters saw well in the dark. Adara had no problem navigating in the dark. Vampires had excellent sight no matter what lighting they were in, which was annoying since she never turned on any lamps.
The scent. He pulled in a breath. It smelled of wolves, of other shifters too, but there was mostly wolves. But that wasn’t what had fire licking at his core. A shuddering breath left him. He had to get closer, had to find the source. Mate. Could it be his mate?
Joy and need fought for room in his chest. Home. He’d found his home, his future. Safety. The word swished through his mind like a promise. His muscles wanted to unclench. Finally. Finally, he’d be able to have a place where he belonged, where he would be cherished and loved.
He rushed forward and ran straight into a table. “Crap.”
He jumped a little too far and crashed into a chair, which he assumed stood by the table next to the one he’d run into.
Adara was there somewhere on the other side of the sea of darkness.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” The growly voice had the hairs all over his body stand on edge. There he was. Jyran’s mate. Jyran’s hope. Jyran’s home.
“Get the rat out of here. I don’t want him anywhere near me.” Then something slammed—a door?
“Jyran?” Adara sounded confused, but Jyran couldn’t focus on her right now. He was too busy dying. Rat? His mate had called him a rat.
He’d come around. He had to. Finding his mate had been Jyran’s only hope. It was part of why he went around the world with Adara. Staying hidden in a small town wouldn’t increase his chances of ever finding his other half.
Jyran forced air into his lungs. Maybe they’d exploded? It hurt to breathe, and it wasn’t until cool air caressed wet skin, he realized he was crying. Annoyed, he wiped his cheeks.
They’d find a way to make this work. No use in crying when his mate was still alive. There was still hope. It was shock. He’d most likely pictured himself with a wolf mate. He’d come around.
Maybe he was into women? Jyran scrunched his nose. He didn’t think the universe would be so cruel. Mates were the perfect match. They complimented each other in every way. He stared out into the darkness. It had to mean sexually too, didn’t it? He’d always assumed so, but he had never been around a mated couple. He stayed away from shifters since most of them wanted to kill him, and he’d left his family shortly after he’d turned twelve. The painful longing and sense of abandonment had nearly crushed him, but it was the way of the squirrels, and yet it hadn’t helped.
Since then, he’d tried hard not to be like other squirrels.
He tugged at his suit jacket again—neat, clean, and organized. He knew where he had his things. He tried hard not to hide them, but when he was stressed, it happened, he hid food away only to then go get it and hide it somewhere else. He repeated it over and over until he couldn’t remember where he’d hidden it.
He jumped. He’d forgotten Adara was there. He’d been too focused on dying. It had to be why his life flashed before his eyes. There hadn’t been much life, so the flashing didn’t go on for long.
“What the fuck is going on?” She was angry now. “Why did Gideon run off like a scalded cat? Do you know each other?”
Jyran shook his head. Gideon. His mate’s name was Gideon.
She touched his arm, and he jumped up on the table with a bark.
“Jyran! What the hell are you doing? Come down from there before you fall.”
He scowled in her direction. He hadn’t meant to jump, but he hadn’t been prepared for her touch. Vampires moved too damn fast, and they didn’t make a sound.
“You’re close to the edge.”
Must be a sturdy table then or it would’ve tipped.
“Jyr.” Her voice softened. “What’s going on?”
“Has he gone?”
There was a rustling sound, but Jyran couldn’t tell if she nodded or shook her head. “He won’t hurt you. He promised.”
Too late. Jyran was pretty sure his heart was missing pieces. Maybe they were floating around in his bloodstream and would put him out of his misery soon.
“He’s my mate.”
Jyran nodded, since his voice gave up on him. Maybe it was part of dying.
“Aww, that’s great. You’d make a perfect couple. He’s an ass, and you’re a sweetheart.”
Frowning, Jyran slid his foot out to feel for the edge of the table. “He’s an ass?” He didn’t want an ass for a mate. Jyran had been convinced once he found his mate, life would be good. He’d be safe. His mate would protect him. They’d have a home. A home he could fill with their things and food. And he could have other storages for food… and things. And—damn, he was such a squirrel. Normal people didn’t hoard food.
“Big, bullheaded oaf. Growling and snarling all the time.”
Jyran nodded as new tears burned his eyes.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Small but strong hands grabbed him and lifted him off the table and into her arms. Her strength always astonished him. She was medium everything. Medium height, neither slim nor overweight, and while he found her the most beautiful woman he’d ever met, it was his love for her making it so. She was average, at least judging by the current beauty ideals.
“I’m gonna talk to him.”
Jyran shook his head. “He ran away.”
“Yes, but he’s stupid. I’ll inform him of how stupid he is. Wait here.”
Part of Jyran wanted to run home and hide, but everyone was allowed to freak out when they met their mate. Most dreamed of it their entire lives—or he had at least—but maybe Gideon was a fiercely independent wolf and feared the connection between them.
“Why don’t you shift and climb up while I talk to him?”
Jyran raised his eyebrows. “Climb where?”
“Oh, yeah… There is a power outage. Or not an outage, but some wire or something has been gnawed off. Gideon’s theory. I don’t have a clue what’s wrong. This part of the bar is without power, and the stage is too. Gideon has called several electricians, but no one’s been able to come, and you’re my magical guy who makes all my problems disappear.” She shrugged.
He wasn’t magical, and she had other guys for electricity problems, but he had filled in as a light technician several times on tours if someone was sick or needed time off.
“Could you climb up and check the cables, see if you can find the broken one?”
Jyran nodded. “Can you make sure the power is off, so I don’t get electrocuted up there? And I need you to shine a light.”
“Okay. Get furry, and I’ll go talk to Gideon and shut off the power.”
She moved away, and Jyran shook out of his suit jacket and unbuttoned his vest. His tie followed next, and then his shirt. He hesitated when he reached for his belt. Shifters were normally fine with nudity, but he would not be naked the first time he was introduced to his mate.
* * * *
“You fucking asshole.” Adara strode into the kitchen, her eyes shooting daggers. “You promised not to hurt him.”
Gideon wanted to growl, to snarl, to attack. “I didn’t.”
“He’s out there lost and heartbroken. If that’s not hurting, I don’t know what is. I can almost taste his pain.”
What the hell? “You brought him here. I didn’t know he’d… I’m not going out there.” He would not have a squirrel mate. He was strong, he was respected, he was… perhaps not successful, but he provided for himself. If he mated a squirrel, he’d be the laughingstock of the shifter world. He’d be a target since people wanted to kill squirrels, and his stupid instincts would push him to protect. Nope, he wasn’t having it.
“Have him leave.”
“Are you serious? He’s your mate, your only mate.”
He’d rather be without a mate than mate a squirrel. He’d lived without a mate all his life. He could continue to do so until he died. He took a lover whenever he was in the mood. Owning a bar made sure he never lacked offers, and now, when he didn’t have to be on the lookout for his mate, he could indulge as he saw fit. “I don’t want him.”
“You don’t want him? You haven’t met him.”
“His scent is all over the place, and I want it gone as soon as possible.” He flashed her sharp teeth. One second, she was in the doorway, the next she was in his face. “Do not threaten me, Gideon Everett, or you’ve poured your last beer. Are we clear?”
Shit. He took a step back. “Get him out of here.”
He needed him away so he could air the place out before anyone else arrived. He couldn’t let them scent him. The thought had him pull up a mental stop. They wouldn’t care about his scent. They most likely wouldn’t notice it or recognize it for what it was. Squirrels were rare. All non-predatory shifters were rare. He swallowed hard. His body was shaking and heat skidded over his skin. Maybe he was coming down with a fever. It would be a bad night to get sick.
“You want me to ask your mate to leave?”
“He’s not my mate. We’re not mated.” Sex. They needed to have sex to solidify the bond. A shiver shot through him, need leaving him aching, but he pushed it away. He’d pick up someone in the crowd tonight. A quick fuck in the storeroom would cure this insanity.
“He’s your mate, and you know it. I never took you for a coward.”
“I’m not a coward. I’m not fucking a rat, okay? Now, get him to leave.”
Adara hissed but whirled around and stomped out of the dark kitchen.
Gideon bent forward and rested his elbows on the counter. How long he stood there, he didn’t know. A long time. A squirrel. Nope. Not doing it. No way in hell. Disgusting critters. Someone would kill him soon, and then Gideon wouldn’t have to worry. This feeling would go away, he hoped. What happened when your mate died if you weren’t fully mated? Would he still feel the loss?
It wouldn’t be a loss, it would be a ticket to freedom.
He might have dreamed about a mate, about someone to be there all the time, someone who knew him better than his pack mates did, but not a rat. He was better off as he was than tying himself to a rodent. Pests.
Gideon straightened his back. No one had to know.
Adara wouldn’t tell, would she?
No one would ever know his destined mate was a squirrel. He ate squirrels. He had eaten many squirrels through the years when in wolf form.
His stomach threatened to turn, but he did his best to shake it off. It was the natural order. Wolves ate squirrels if they happened upon them.
There was a hum, and a second later the light came on. Ha! Maybe it had been a blackout after all.
He headed for the door and walked out behind the bar. The seating area was bathed in light. By one of the tables stood a man with his back to Gideon. He gritted his teeth.
Jyran hadn’t left.
He was sticking his belt through the hoops of his slacks. He reached for his shirt. He was smaller than Gideon, but the pink and glitter he’d pictured in his mind weren’t there. Muscles played underneath milky smooth skin as he put his arm through the sleeve of his shirt and then the skin was hidden from his view. Jyran flicked the collar and reached for a tie. He wore a fucking tie?
“So we’re good to go, yeah?” Adara stepped into his line of sight and blocked his view of Jyran. She was angry, angrier than he’d ever seen her, but her voice was neutral.
“I guess.” Gideon did his best to focus on her and not notice the shaking hand reaching for the dark blue vest on the table—a fucking vest. The guy wore a three-piece suit. Gideon would’ve noticed if he’d looked at him when he’d entered, but he hadn’t. His scent had reached him, and he’d been furious at his body for reacting to a rat.
He filled his lungs with air. The sooner Jyran left, the better.
“There were three damaged cables. Jyran twined them together, but you’ll have to have them replaced. Rats or mice, so maybe put out some traps before the Health Department comes to check on you.” Her words were clipped, and Gideon gritted his teeth.
He wouldn’t apologize. It was his life. He wouldn’t be pushed into a mating he didn’t want. He might be willing to do a lot to get her to play in his bar whenever she was in town, but he wouldn’t fuck her friends. If she demanded it, then there would be no more gigs.
“I’ll be in the office if you need me.” He turned and walked away without another look at Jyran. He had yet to see his face, but it was better if he didn’t.