Sometimes the best matchmaker has four legs and a cold nose...
Dogs aren't the only creatures that are man's best friend! From 101 Dalmations to all the animals in Dr. Doolittle, animals have ways of bringing people together that's almost its own type of magic. Within the Kritter Tales anthology are five heartwarming stories about men and their animals, and how the mix brings about relationships that may never have been.
Mischief Makers by Ann Anderson
Princess Cocoa Puff by Jenna Hale
Puppies Love by Tracey Michael
Elephants Know Best by Lor Rose
Agent Princess Twinkle Buttons: Matchmaker by Amanda C. Stone
Mischief Makers by Ann Anderson
The door was open. Fear clenched tight in Dustin’s belly as he rushed toward his apartment door, gaze scanning the floor for any sign of Jasmine or Medusa. “Where are you?” he mumbled, pushing the door open to see Anna perched on the couch, tail swishing lazily as if it didn’t matter that her kittens were missing. If the Super found the pair they’d need to find a new home. Didn’t Anna get that? But of course she didn’t, she was a cat. What did it matter to her? He should have gotten her fixed.
“Jasmine?” There was no response in the bedroom. “Medusa?” Nothing from the bathroom. A quick look through the kitchen proved it to be empty of any mischief-making villains. “Shit.”
Dustin dropped his bag on the floor and dashed back into the hall, hoping they had at least stayed on their floor. “Jasmine. Medusa,” he hissed. Glaring at nothing in particular as he searched every corner. What if they’d managed to escape the building? This is why he should have left the poor, mewling, sopping wet cat alone when he’d found her, but no, he had to pick up Anna and bring her back to the apartment even though he knew the no-pet policy was strictly enforced at the complex he’d barely had money for. Now he could maybe move to a different place, but there was no guarantee his current job would last.
Cursing his luck and his stupidity for falling for a cat, Dustin turned to head down the other half of the hallway, and nearly collided with a tall, well-muscled body. Of course it had to be a well-muscled body. Before Dustin could begin thinking about his own slightly plump physique and the curse that was his genetics, there was a tentative “meow.” Dustin’s head snapped up and there, cradled in hands that were dark and reminded Dustin of the best chocolate, were Jasmine and Medusa.
“You two.” Dustin didn’t know what kind of sound he’d made as he strangled those simple words out, but he quickly snatched the kittens away, cuddling them close and cooing at them. “Don’t scare me like that. I nearly had a heart attack.”
He wasn’t sure if he would have said anything else, but a low, deep chuckle erased all thought and had Dustin staring up into dark brown eyes that should have been illegal the way they made him want to give up his soul.
“You know, I always thought no pets were allowed. At least, that’s been my friend’s excuse for not having a dog in his apartment.”
Dustin felt his chest seize up. “Uh…”
“Ah,” the man said. He smiled, leaning forward until Dustin got a good whiff of his cologne. It was rich, laced with a hint of cinnamon, and made Dustin’s pulse kick up a notch. “Then this will be our little secret.”
Dustin nodded, his tongue having decided it didn’t know what its function was and that the best thing for it to do was stick to the roof of his mouth. The man continued to smile until Dustin realized he was staring. He ducked his head and moved around the man, rushing to his apartment and shutting the door. He thought he heard that deep chuckle following him.
Sagging against the doorframe, Dustin let his hold on the kittens go lax, watching without really seeing as they ran to their mother, hopping onto the sofa to cuddle up. Most likely to tell all about their adventures. Hopefully their adventures wouldn’t get them in trouble. Taking a few calming breaths, Dustin moved into his apartment, collecting his bag and some of the items that had spilled out in his earlier haste. He organized everything, taking out his notes to begin working on promotional ideas. The company that hired him wasn’t much, just another face in the music industry, but they found good artists, and they didn’t try to cheat anyone. And they’d hired him to do all the little bits and pieces to help the fledgling company work.
He settled on the edge of the couch, pulling out his laptop so he could look at the local bars and cafés, maybe see if there were any colleges looking for some entertainment. He also needed to create pages on all the social media sites for the dozen bands the company had contracted so far. It hit him he should probably make a page for the company itself.
“One thing at a time,” he reminded himself. First he’d pull up a blank document and write down who needed what. He’d check off as he went. Glad to have a plan of action, Dustin got started, losing himself in inputting data, jotting down passwords…
A knock at the door had him looking up, surprised to see how dark his apartment had become. Looking at the clock he nearly choked when he realized three hours had gone by. His stomach grumbled as if agreeing it was time for a break just as there was another knock and his bladder decided to make itself known. Glancing around, he was glad the kittens and their mother were MIA and went to answer the door, cringing at the thunderous look he was greeted with once his door was open.
“H-hello, Ms. Penn. How can I help you today?” He knew, deep down, they’d been discovered.
“You are to be out of this apartment by the end of the month.” She didn’t wait for him to say anything, simply turned around and walked away, leaving Dustin standing there flabbergasted. No chance to try and salvage the situation. It wasn’t like he ever let the litter box get bad, and the cats rarely made a peep.
A soft click at the end of the hall drew Dustin’s attention, and he knew, staring at the room by the stairs, it had been the busybody of that room who’d given them away.
He went back into his room, walking by the couch, amused the kittens were sitting on the floor by his cord, watching as he moved, plopping himself down on the sofa. They joined him once he was settled, purring softly as he stroked each of them, staring at his screen, not comprehending what he was looking at.
There was the chance he could find a pet-friendly apartment, but the problem was if he could afford it and if there would be any space open. He looked at the kittens, Anna joining them soon after the kittens had settled. He couldn’t give them up. Even if it had been an option—which it hadn’t since Ms. Penn wouldn’t let him talk, he couldn’t help thinking bitterly—he couldn’t. It was sad, but he’d been so lonely when he’d found Anna, and she’d settled in, filling the cold part of him with fuzzy warmth.
Dustin let out a sigh then straightened. A change like this in his life wouldn’t get him down. He’d make a game plan, figure out some kind of solution. He nodded, looking at the furry family he’d acquired, and smiled. Yeah, he’d figure something out.
Princess Cocoa Puff by Jenna Hale
The cat was a scrawny, scraggly thing, more fur than flesh and possessing a terrible yowl. It was a black and brown calico with thick, fluffy hair that seemed too short in spots, like someone had taken a bite out of the thing’s fur at odd intervals. It opened its mouth and let out another ear-piercing yowl, showing off two rows of very impressive teeth. Andrew eyed the cat from across the room, half afraid of getting bitten if he came too close.
“What is that thing?”
“It’s a cat,” Sandy said. She cradled it against her ample chest and scratched under its chin, effectively shutting off the distressed sounds the cat was making and shifting the yowl to something much more pleasant. It seemed happy with the affection, if the slow increase in volume of its guttural meows were any indication. The meowing, at least, wasn’t as discordant as the yowling.
“I can see that. Why is it here?”
Sandy grinned in the way that never meant anything good. “Because it’s your cat.” She moved forward.
Andrew’s eyes widened, and he shook his head. He tried to back away from her sudden approach, but it was too late. The cat was in his arms. He stared down at it, and it stared back at him. They both seemed equally confused. The cat then turned suddenly, wiggled out of Andrew’s arms, and jumped down to the floor. Andrew watched with rising trepidation as the cat sauntered into the kitchen. He’d closed the kitchen window, right?
“Why?” he asked, meaning many things with that one question. Why him? Why the cat? Just generally why?
He opened his mouth to protest, but Sandy cut straight through his words before they had a chance to form.
“No. None of that. You are, and we both know it. Princess Cocoa Puff will help fill the hole Douchebag left.”
“His name is Roger,” Andrew grumbled, “and I don’t need a cat.” He needed many things: post-breakup therapy, a good hug, many cups of soothing tea, but not a cat.
Though, if he was truly honest with himself, he was lonely. He’d bought this house to live in with Roger, and now that Roger was gone, it felt too empty. It was too much space just for himself, but he liked the neighborhood and didn’t want to move.
“Too bad. You have one now.”
Andrew frowned. He was running out of excuses. “Princess Cocoa Puff? Really?”
Sandy shrugged. “That was the name she came with.”
Andrew scrubbed a hand over his face. “I don’t even have anything to take care of her.” In his head, he was already starting to compile a list of supplies. He wondered how late the pet store was open.
“It’s in the car. You can help me carry it all in.”
Andrew sighed but gave up the battle. He knew he was going to lose the moment Sandy had walked in with the pet carrier. He must seem like he was in a really bad slump if Sandy thought he needed a cat—of all things—to cheer him up.
He supposed it could be worse. After all, how bad could having a cat be?
Puppies Love by Tracey Michael
“Dante. You look fine. We’re going to be late,” Leo called. He sounded like he was standing at the bottom of the stairs.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Dante said as he appeared at the top of the stairs. Looking down, he could see Leo checking his watch, probably for the twelfth time. Dante walked down to stand beside his date for the evening. “You didn’t tell me where we were going.”
“I didn’t, did I?” Leo smirked and walked away, out the front door.
Dante stared after him, brow pulling down into a frown. If he hadn’t been a mature adult, he might have stomped in frustration. Some days he wanted to throttle Leo. Dante both loved and hated surprises; Leo knew that and tortured him every chance he got. One day, Dante fully expected to die of curiosity.
When he heard the truck start up, he broke from his musings and hurried outside. “We needed a date night,” Dante said.
“Yeah. It’s been a while. I’m sorry about that,” Leo said.
Dante watched the scenery fly by as they drove down the country road. It was the beginning of summer and everything was full of life after the harsh winter they’d had. “Leo! Look out!” Dante shoved against the dash in front of him as Leo slammed on the breaks.
“What the hell…?” He leaned forward to squint out the front window, and then pushed the button on the dashboard to turn on the four-way flashers.
Dante and Leo climbed out of the pickup truck at the same time. They looked at each other before slowly approaching the momma and her puppies so the men wouldn’t spook them. They looked to be golden retrievers. The mom was attempting to keep the three little escape artists from climbing over the edge of the box someone left them in. A fourth puppy was standing in the middle of the road barking at its brothers and sisters, as if saying, “This way to freedom!”
Leo scooped up the ornery fur ball and returned it to the box. Momma licked his hand before dropping back on her haunches and huffed out a breath.
Fury boiled inside Dante as he watched. “I hate people.” He looked around but didn’t see anything to indicate where the dislocated family had come from. “We can't leave them here.”
“What are you proposing, Baby?” Leo bent over and picked up the box. He carried it to the bed of the truck with Dante and the older dog following.
“Nothing, really. Well. It’s not like we don't have the room...”
Leo chuckled and set the box securely against the head of the truck bed. “Uh-huh. Grab my water bottle from the cab. Better get yours, too. Who knows how long they've been abandoned.”
Dante did as he was told. He was concerned for the dogs, too. He uncapped the first bottle and poured it in a trickle for the retriever to lap up.
“We’ll take them home and call the vet,” Leo said.
They got the dogs watered as best as they could then helped the mother up into the bed with her puppies. Leo and Dante climbed back into the truck and turned it toward home. The drive didn't take long, fifteen minutes at the most.
“I’m sorry about dinner,” Dante said.
“Why are you sorry? I’m pretty sure you didn’t abandon them,” Leo said with a quick glance over at him.
“I know but we’ve been looking forward to this all week.”
“You can make it up to me later.”
Dante snorted. “Taking me out to dinner was you making up to me for the mud on my nice clean kitchen floor.”
“Oh. Well, then, we’re even. Great!” Leo smirked as he drove down the lane to the barn.
Dante crossed his arms and muttered, “I suppose we are.”
“What’s that? I didn’t hear you,” Leo said.
“Nothing. I said ‘here we are’.”
Elephants Know Best by Lor Rose
“Can you believe it?” Ethan asked while he sprayed the water high for Skyler.
Corbin whistled, a dreamy sound, and his dark blue eyes focused on something far away. “It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
“They’ll be here tomorrow.”
“I know!” Corbin nearly shouted. The light returned to his face. He was smiling at Ethan and all Ethan wanted to do was kiss him. “It still doesn’t seem real.” Corbin lifted the heavy brush and began scrubbing Skyler.
Skyler shook her head, a happy gesture for her, and swung her front leg back and forth. “Like that, old girl?” Ethan asked. He wasn’t sure if she could understand him but at times he thought she and her stable mates could.
Skyler’s long trunk extended through the large bars of her enclosure towards him, and the tip played with the brim of his hat. Ethan chuckled and moved the spraying water to her mouth. Skyler took the end of the hose and drank deep.
The tip of her trunk came into focus and a pang of sorrow clutched Ethan’s heart. It didn’t matter he’d been taking care of her for almost twenty years, it still hurt. A large strip, nearly a foot-and-a-half long and two inches wide, beginning at the tip, was missing from Skyler’s trunk. The unnatural missing flesh wasn’t from a birth defect. That Ethan could bear a little easier. It was human cruelty that disfigured this gorgeous girl.
She had been the private pet of a family but had always managed to escape when she was a calf. Fed up with her always trampling their garden, her owners had her disfigured in an attempt to keep her contained. Her trunk became horribly infected. As a result, when she arrived at The Sanctuary she was completely emaciated and nearly dead. Ethan’s father had worked tirelessly to get her healthy again and Ethan had helped.
The memory of how she arrived still haunted him.
A gentle touch to his cheek snapped Ethan from his daze. The disfigured end of Skyler’s trunk petted him again and Ethan smiled. “Hey, pretty girl.” A long low rumble shook the ground. Ethan wondered if she knew what he was thinking about.
She probably did.
He pet the flat shovel-like section of her trunk. Neither he nor his father had known if she would survive with such a disfigurement. Skyler had surprised them both and learned to use what she had. His dad built her a special apparatus to drink from. It was a simple spout long enough to reach her mouth with a paddle on the ground for her to push. She’d learned how to use it quickly but eating had proved a different story. She had learned moving her trunk meant pain from the infection.
Ethan and his father were about to teach her to use her trunk again when….
He was with his girls trying to change Hollie’s boot by himself. Skyler and Marie were there as well. It went against the rules for all three to be in the bathing area at once but Ethan and his dad had always neglected the rules.
He’d fallen on his ass, landing in a puddle, trying to get the damned boot off. Hollie had only been there a year but it was like she’d always been there. She just fit like a missing piece of the puzzle.
His fists clenched and he sighed staring at that damn boot. It needed to come off because he had to change the bandage underneath or her wound would be extra sore and tender and that wasn’t fair to her. Where was his dad? He was supposed to be back from the field run hours ago. He had wanted to go, too, but the girls needed one of them.
“Ethan?” His mother’s voice pulled his attention. Ethan blinked several times to make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. His mother never came to the elephant barn. She was deathly afraid of them and preferred her daycare run from home. Personally he couldn’t understand how she could handle a half-dozen screaming children. He’d rather deal with a pissed-off elephant any day.
“Sweetheart, come here.” There was something in her voice that urged him forward, completely ignoring his wet ass.
He came through the bars, frowning. “Mom?”
She took his hands with tears in her eyes. Tremors shook her. The last time he saw her like this his nana had passed away. Fear cut him to his core. “Mom…?” It couldn’t be… “Is Grammy alright?”
His mom sniffed. “Grammy is as healthy as a horse.” She stuttered to a stop in a shaky breath. “Ethan…” She stopped and looked away. To Ethan it seemed she was gathering her courage for something.
He waited, heart pounding, energy thumping through his veins but she didn’t say anything. One of the girls blew a heavy breath drawing his attention. “Mom, I have to change Hollie’s bandage before Dad gets back.”
The mention of his dad spurred his mother forward. She nearly fell but he caught her. Their gazes locked. A deep fresh pain down to her soul clouded her eyes. Ethan swallowed and shook his head no. “Mom… No…”
Agent Princess Twinkle Buttons: Matchmaker by Amanda C. Stone
Guy Fox watched the hot little number sashay down the path. It could only be called “sashay,” the way those hips swung and the hand not holding the pink sparkling leash was out to the side, swaying in time. Was that a purse, too? It was hard to tell if the pink sparkle was part of the man's shirt, the leash, or separate.
Guy kept up his stretches as the stranger walked some kind of rodent-style pet and talked. He didn’t see anyone else, so maybe the man was talking to the pet. Guy loved that this swishy man felt comfortable enough in his own skin to talk to his pet out in the open for all to see.
One glance around the park showed no one was giving the man funny looks or acted as if they would be rude to him. Guy may not know the man, but he wasn’t going to let someone stop the bright look on his face as he enjoyed a stroll with his pet. Looking back at the stranger, Guy watched the light brown hair flop in and out of his face as he walked. From his distance, he couldn’t tell the color of the man’s eyes, but his face was beautiful with the smile that seemed to never end. Though the bright pink sparkle shirt that seemed to match the leash was something Guy would never wear himself, the other man carried it off like the shirt was made just for him. Guy knew nothing about clothes and fashion beyond his own mall store brand sizes, so the shirt very well could have been custom made.
With one last glance to see a nice bubble butt attached to the package, Guy stuck his earbuds in and started his workout mix. He set off on a steady pace so he didn’t tire himself out. He just wanted to run today to get rid of some of the stress. Most people would think he had a low-stress job being a personal trainer. But it was more than just spotting some guy at the weights and yelling at women to do one more rep. He took the time to get to know the person and figure out what kind of diet and exercise would work best for their fitness goals. Some people still only saw the dumb buff dude he looked like on the outside, but he couldn’t change that.
As he jogged along the tree-lined path, he wondered if he’d see the guy walking his rodent-like pet again. And what kind of animal was that anyway? The guy was kind of cute. So was the animal, but Guy had never had a pet. What did he know? Maybe he’d have to get up the courage to talk to him at some point.
Max took one last look at himself in the mirror in his car visor and then got out. He hoped to see Buff Dude again today when he took Princess Twinkle Buttons for her daily walk. He could take her for a walk at home, but once he saw the eye candy available at the park, it wasn’t much of a choice. Now that he’d seen Buff Dude a few times on his walks, he wanted to try and talk to him to see if he had a personality to go along with the hot body.
He turned around and got his beloved prairie dog out of her travel cage and slipped the lead onto her harness. Max cradled her to his light pink, button-down shirt as he got out of the car and didn’t put her down until the car was locked and they were on the grass.
Princess Twinkle Buttons took a minute to sniff around and then they set off on their usual path.
Max kept an eye out for Buff Dude the entire time. He made sure Prin did her business while they were there. He didn’t want to have to go out again until right before bed.
About the time Max was ready to give up and head back to his car, he saw Buff Dude doing some stretches. He was all sweaty, probably from finishing his workout.
“Come on, Prin. Let’s go see if Buff Dude is willing to have a little chat. Don’t you just think he’s dreamy?”
Max kept up the conversation with his pet all the way across the field to where Buff Dude was lost in his stretches. He hoped that he could strike up a conversation with the man, but he also didn’t want to make the guy uncomfortable. Being comfortable with himself was something that took Max years to achieve. Most thought he came on really strong at first, before people got a chance to know him. However, he was so much more than his swishy exterior.
Buff Dude looked up as Max got close. He froze momentarily then smiled at Max as he stood from his stretches. Oh, man, that smile made his handsome face more attractive, if that were even possible. Max stopped right in front of him and smiled.
“Hey, I noticed you jogging the past few times I’ve been here. Do you live close by?” Wow. Could he have been more forward and nosy?
Buff Dude just continued to smile and held out his hand. “Hey, I’ve seen you around, too. My name is Guy. Yes, that really is my name.”
Max took Guy’s hand and shook it. Poor man must have gotten teased as a kid with a name like that. He could relate. “Nice to meet you. My name is Maximilian Cranston. Yes, I know it’s long and pretentious, so just call me Max.”
“Sounds like we both have issues with our names.”
Max shivered. He hated his name. So many jokes growing up about it, which said something since he went to boarding schools filled with boys with pretentious names. He felt tugging on his hand and looked down. Realizing that he’d held onto Guy’s hand the entire time, he let go immediately. Max looked back up at Guy, an apology on his lips, but he noticed Guy didn’t mind.
“Do you come here every day?” Guy asked.
“Just about. If the weather is bad, I take Prin on a short walk in the neighborhood. But she likes to get out and explore nature.”
“I feel kind of silly asking this, but what kind of animal is she?” Guy looked down at Max's beloved pet as if he could puzzle it out himself.
“Don’t feel bad, she’s not your typical pet.” Max bent down and scooped her up in his arms.
“Guy, meet Princess Twinkle Buttons, my prairie dog.” He held her up like the prize she was.
Guy’s lip twitched a bit, but he didn’t outright laugh. For that, Max was grateful. He knew he was over the top, and people laughed at him sometimes. He’d hoped Guy was different. So far, so good.