So many parts of our lives revolve around animals, in some way or another. And it’s no different in romance. And I’m going to say right out that I enjoy the use of animal companions. There’s something very comforting in reading about the care of animals, of how the characters and animals bond. And how those critters move plots and romance through those bonds…and a lot of humor and attitude.
Here’s a few recs of tales (haha, get it?) that really made me sit up and notice. Please note, there’s no particular order here. Paired the list to six from like ten.
The menagerie from The Wallflower Wager is a must. A foul-mouthed parrot, recovering otter, is-she-isn’t-she goat, and more help Lady Penelope find her inner peace. And hey, the Carebears taught us that sharing is caring. That means stewardship of animals, too! As Gabe, a man looking to flip a house for a tidy profit, faces Penny’s absolute goodness…well, how can he resist? (I didn’t either, Gabe.)
Wager does a great job of showcasing how animals can be more than just one thing to a person. As Penny describes her need to help the misfits, the reader is able to see what each one really represents to the story. Plus, Tessa Dare really shows how nurturing instincts doesn’t revolve about motherhood. Nurturing happens based on love. Super important since the Girl Meets Duke series is all about finding your own space in unusual circumstances. Best scene: three men and a goat. Hand’s down. (Content Warnings: sexual child abuse.)
In that same vein, Dance With Me at Midnight also features a menagerie. Eloise, like Penny, is soft-hearted and has a love of helping animals in need. Based on a Cinderella plot, her stepfather threatens to get rid of her animals if she doesn’t impress the Earl of Marlton into a marriage proposal. As with all things, plans go awry and her twin stepbrothers are cruel beyond measure.
Charles, the Duke, is also pulled into moving from house party wife-hunting to stewardship as he sees the abusive behaviors. Eloise’s love of the strays and unwanted animals sparks something. And how precise Charles must find the beauty in the high stakes chaos. Samantha Holt does a fantastic job of showing how each animal means something to Eloise as she grieves her mother. You can listen to the episode, too. (Content warnings: physical and emotional abuse.)
And it turns out sometimes rogue wildlife makes the best familiar anyway. Bandit in Lucifer’s Daughter is an absolute gem. Ruby Morningstar hasn’t had it easy. Being abandoned, left to fend for herself, and starting a career from scratch. Bandit is as much as family as Ruby’s best friend Moira. But more than that, Bandit has absolutely no issue forcing people to leave Ruby alone. Both professionally and privately.
There’s a particular scene with one guy that’ll never be the same. Don’t go randomly picking fights with people. That’s all I’ll say. Kel Carpenter’s reverse harem with the Four Horsemen is absolutely second to Bandit. Just saying. I haven’t seen a lot of pet raccoons in romance. Shifters of all kinds, but rarely aggressive trash pandas. (Content Warnings: sexual assault/nonconsensual scenes, violence/gore.)
Speaking of unusual books, there’s Fluff and Puff from Linda Wisdom’s 50 Ways to Hex Your Lover. This rec is a little older since it came out in 2008. Jazz, a witch kicked out of the council along with a few friends, makes her own fun under the radar. Of course…how do you hide Fluff and Puff, a pair of bunny slippers enchanted into wearable pets.
Best part? There’s a scene where Jazz explains the slippers are discussing if humans taste like chicken. Dark humor with a shot of early 2000s paranormal romance. Love the book in general, but Fluff and Puff are such fun animal companions for Jazz. It’s been over a decade and I still love and respect the bunnies. (Note: I’d be screwed in real life since bunnies loathe my existence. Paws up at all.)
But not all animal companions need to be over the bombastically over the top, right?
Fred is the whole reason I thought of this list, to be honest. Fred, for the uninitiated, is the star of Jennifer Crusie’s Anyone But You. Alex, the hero, need not even apply. Nina Askew is a recently divorced woman who celebrates leaving a bad marriage by getting a dog. Nina expects to get a bouncy, cuddly puppy. Instead she ends up with a depressed, overweight basset hound who has zero interest in peppy steps. Or walks. Or moving.
Fred is a really important part of the romance. He helps Nina accept the idea of a younger, attractive veterinarian as a potential love interest because she’s already outside a very defined comfort zone. Fred and Nina’s journeys work together and reading the bonding moments are fantastic. It’s been roughly 15 years and I still remember.
And then there’s Miss Thing from Christina C. Jones. Miss Thing is everything that Jac doesn’t want in life complications. Jac has enough going on life: finding a new place to live, dealing with legal issues after maybe knocking a car into dentsville, going to school, and owning a business. It’s a lot for the 24-year-old. So of course Miss Thing shows up, pitifully, on the fire escape and Jac can’t say no.
Miss Thing shows claws and teeth when needed, but there’s a very real feeling of her belonging to Jac. I also love the fact she was named after Whitley Gilbert. My 80s heart was full reading I Think I Might Love You in general. There was a definite A Different World vibe in some of the scenes. Like Crusie, the love story here involves a vet, but it’s more of a contentious relationship when ties that bind are discovered and commented upon. It really drives the Miss Thing feel, too. There’s a hilarious bedroom scene that I won’t explain because it must be read.
Okay, y’all. That’s all the more humorous animal companion recs I have. So tell me: what animal companions did I miss? Comment below or on the #RomBkLove Twitter hashtag. I’m so grateful that Ana Coqui does this every year. I find so many great recs during every round. You can find more information on the inclusive project on her website.