#WhatToReadWednesday | Gay Romance with 40+ Characters

It’s #WhatToReadWednesday time! Today, it’s As Young As You Feel Day which stems from a movie from the 1950s with the same name. It’s about a 65-year-old man who doesn’t feel old, and I have a feeling 65-year-olds of the 1950s felt older than the 65-year-olds of today. The day is to prove that age is just a number (they haven’t walked in my body in the mornings, because let me tell you, it wasn’t like that twenty years ago 😆).

To celebrate, I thought I’d give you some book recs (since my-bodied people prefer to read rather than go cartwheeling) with 40+ main characters. Now, I’m not into age-play kink of any form (a little age gap is fine) and I don’t read anything with the word Daddy unless it’s by mistake (blurbs bore me and I most often end up not reading them LOL), so it won’t be those kinds of books, only characters who are a little older than the twenty-two-year-olds you often see in stories. I’ll also say that I often write characters that are 35-45 because while I’m not into age play, I’m not into kids either, so if I read in a blurb that someone is twenty-two, I’m likely to skip that book.

Hey, I get to be as picky as I want with my reads. I’m not saying the books are bad, and each to their own and all that, but I prefer not to feel like a… 🤢 kiddie molester. And no eighteen-year-olds are not mature enough to make informed decisions. And I don’t care how much anyone argues that it’s just fictional characters, it sets the tone of what you accept in society. Aaaand now I’m gonna drop this before I go off on a tangent… more of a tangent. A rant. We’re hovering on the edge of a rant, people, so let’s take a deep breath and force ourselves to step down from the soap box.

So books with main characters over forty!

Cut & Run by Madeleine Urban & Abigail Roux

Let’s start with an obvious one, shall we? I don’t think this series is available in ebooks anymore, or not the first books, or however it is, but check your libraries if you want to read it. I’ve seen the books in my library.

Cut and runA series of murders in New York City has stymied the police and FBI alike, and they suspect the culprit is a single killer sending an indecipherable message. But when the two federal agents assigned to the investigation are taken out, the FBI takes a more personal interest in the case.

Special Agent Ty Grady is pulled out of undercover work after his case blows up in his face. He’s cocky, abrasive, and indisputably the best at what he does. But when he’s paired with Special Agent Zane Garrett, it’s hate at first sight. Garrett is the perfect image of an agent: serious, sober, and focused, which makes their partnership a classic cliche: total opposites, good cop-bad cop, the odd couple. They both know immediately that their partnership will pose more of an obstacle than the lack of evidence left by the murderer.

Practically before their special assignment starts, the murderer strikes again this time at them. Now on the run, trying to track down a man who has focused on killing his pursuers, Grady and Garrett will have to figure out how to work together before they become two more notches in the murderer’s knife.

Link to paperback on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Cut-Run-Madeleine-Urban/dp/193519223X/

Among the Living by Jordan Castillo Price

We’ll continue with another series that I assume many of you have read, at least if you’ve been reading M/M for some time. It’s great! I love Vic.

Among the LivingOnce upon a time if you told doctors you heard voices,
they’d diagnose you as schizophrenic, put you on heavy drugs,
and lock you away in a cozy state institution
to keep you from hurting yourself or others.
Nowadays they test you first to see if you’re psychic.

Victor Bayne, the psychic half of a PsyCop team, is a gay medium who’s more concerned with flying under the radar than making waves.

He hooks up with handsome Jacob Marks, a non-psychic (or “Stiff”) from an adjacent precinct at his ex-partner’s retirement party, and it seems like his dubious luck has taken a turn for the better. But then a serial killer surfaces who can change his appearance to match any witness’ idea of the world’s hottest guy.

Solving murders is a snap when you can ask the victims whodunit, but this killer’s not leaving any spirits behind.

Among the Living is book 1 of PsyCop, an ongoing M/M Urban Fantasy series featuring steamy love scenes, astonishing psychic talents, gruesome murders, and a slew of creepy otherworldly creatures.


Frog by Mary Calmes

Mary Calmes has many books with characters over 40, but I think this is my favourite 😊

FrogWeber Yates’s dreams of stardom are about to be reduced to a ranch hand’s job in Texas, and his one relationship is with a guy so far out of his league he might as well be on the moon. Or at least in San Francisco, where Weber stops to see him one last time before settling down to the humble, lonely life he figures a frog like him has coming.

Cyrus Benning is a successful neurosurgeon, so details are never lost on him. He spotted the prince in a broken-down bull rider’s clothing from day one. But watching Weber walk out on him keeps getting harder, and he’s not sure how much more his heart can take. Now Cyrus has one last chance to prove to Weber that it’s not Weber’s job that makes him Cyrus’s perfect man, it’s Weber himself. With the help of his sister’s newly broken family, he’s ready to show Weber that the home the man’s been searching for has always been right there, with him. Cyrus might have laid down an ultimatum once, but now it’s turned into a vow-he’s never going to let Weber out of his life again.


Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan

For all my not being into kink talk (and I have to admit I don’t dare reread this because I fear I’ll dislike it) Heidi Cullinan has several books with characters over forty.

Nowhere RanchLove will grow through the cracks you leave open.

Ranch hand Roe Davis absolutely never mixes business with pleasure—until he runs into his boss, Travis Loving, at the only gay bar within two hundred miles.

Getting involved with the ranch owner is a bad idea, but Roe’s and Travis’s bedroom kinks line up against one another like a pair of custom-cut rails. As long as they’re both clear this is sex on the side, no relationship, no interfering with the job, they could make it work.

Shut out by his family years ago, Roe survived by steadfastly refusing to settle into so much as a post office box. As his affair with Travis grows into more than just sex, Roe’s past catches up with him, threatening the thin ray of happiness he’s found, reminding him it’s well past time he went on his way.

But even a loner gets lonely, and at this point, there’s nowhere left to run. The shame and sorrow of what he’s lost will stay with Roe wherever he goes—until he’s ready to let love lead him home.


Family Unit by Z.A. Maxfield

Every time I see this, I smile.

Family UnitOnce, Richard chose family obligation over romance. When new love comes knocking, will he have the courage to answer?

Richard is an artist. A liberal pacifist who is pathologically afraid of guns. Retired marine Logan is methodical and conservative. Yet the minute Logan sets eyes on Richard, his heart turns over like an old car engine and it isn’t long before his motor is revved and Richard is in the driver’s seat–even if it seems like each man is driving a different car.

Richard Hunter gave up on love to parent his grandson. The kid–Nick–has had it rough. Richard vows nothing will stop him from creating a loving and stable home. Not even a tempting, red-hot relationship with a very attractive man. However, when Richard looks into Logan’s blue eyes it’s tough to stay focused.

It’s never easy to become a family, what with a temperamental eight-year-old, disapproving outsiders, and outright extortion attempts. But when push comes to shove, both Logan and Richard are committed family men who want to make a loving home for a little boy who needs them. Together, they’re planning to form a Family Unit, and they won’t let anything stand in their way.


A Note in the Margin by Isabelle Rowan

This… it’s many, many years since I read it. I checked, and it was released in 2009, and I likely read it then. So many years, and I can’t really remember the plot, but I remember liking it.

A Note in the MarginJohn McCann, a man who judges life by the tally of an accounts ledger, has a supreme goal in life: To achieve, live, and enjoy the rarified executive lifestyle. But he’s encountered one problem: The migraines are going to continue to get worse unless you make some major changes in your lifestyle. What you need is a ‘sea change’… Perhaps buy a nice little business in the country, settle down, something easier to occupy your time…

While John knows the doctor is right, he just can’t resign from the job he’s fought so hard for. He decides the sacrifice of taking a year’s leave of absence won’t interfere too much with his plans, and so he finds himself running Margins, a cozy little bookstore, with the help of the former owner’s son, Jamie. John expects to put in his year, get his stress under control, and then get back to business.

What John doesn’t expect is how Margins and its denizens draw him in, particularly the quiet, disheveled man who takes refuge in the old leather chair in the second-hand book section. John’s plans for an unattached year of simple business crumble when he meets David and is forced to reevaluate life, love and what he really wants from both. John and David are forced to come to terms with their pasts as they struggle to determine what possible future they might build together.


Houseboat on the Nile by Tinnean

Another series. This is so much fun… if you’re into spies and stuff 😁

Houseboat on the NileQuinton Mann is CIA through and through. Mark Vincent is WBIS for life. There is no way they could end up as anything other than adversaries–and yet, Quinn takes Mark out to dinner on his birthday–the one no one is supposed to know about–and gives him one hell of a present in the restaurant’s restroom. Mark, not to be outdone, has decided to escalate this game, because it has to be a game, right? There’s no way it can be anything else.
But as the game continues, as Quinn shows up to a WBIS funeral, as a friend of Mark’s penetrates the CIA computer network to get information on Quinn, as Mark breaks into Quinn’s house and gives Quinn a very interesting encounter, both Quinn and Mark realize that this is becoming the most real thing in their lives.
Can they find a way to do their jobs and keep this surprising, intriguing connection?



Rattlesnake by Kim Fielding

This is a slow story, gentle almost.

RattlesnakeA drifter since his teens, Jimmy Dorsett has no home and no hope. What he does have is a duffel bag, a lot of stories, and a junker car. Then one cold desert night he picks up a hitchhiker and ends up with something more: a letter from a dying man to the son he hasn’t seen in years.

On a quest to deliver the letter, Jimmy travels to Rattlesnake, a small town nestled in the foothills of the California Sierras. The centerpiece of the town is the Rattlesnake Inn, where the bartender is handsome former cowboy Shane Little. Sparks fly, and when Jimmy’s car gives up the ghost, Shane gets him a job as handyman at the inn.

Both within the community of Rattlesnake and in Shane’s arms, Jimmy finds an unaccustomed peace. But it can’t be a lasting thing. The open road continues to call, and surely Shane—a strong, proud man with a painful past and a difficult present—deserves better than a lying vagabond who can’t stay put for long.


Dear Mona Lisa… by Claire Davis & Al Stewart

Another favourite! Everyone needs some foxes in their lives 😊

Dear Mona LisaTom; shy office clerk by day and drawer of foxes by night, wakes up one Monday knowing the most extraordinary week of his life is about to begin. In five days, a lifelong ‘secret’ will be made gloriously public—but will it mean losing the person he loves most?
Getting married… It seems only yesterday Tom changed nappies and sang nursery rhymes to a laughing baby. He relishes the demands of being a daddy. But the years tick by and times change. Long-buried secrets must come to the surface which may test even the strongest ties.
Everyone waits as Tom finds the strength to open up and set free the secrets of his heart in a celebration of family, friendship and love.


Strain by Amelia C. Gormley

I don’t have a single poly bone in my entire body, not even a tiny one, so I was mostly reading this story through half-closed eyes and wishing really, really hard Rhys only would be with Darius, but… sigh. Still, if you’re into multiple partners and now with The Last of Us being so popular and so on, check this one out!

StrainIn a world with little hope and no rules, the only thing they have to lose is themselves.

Rhys Cooper is a dead man. He’s spent years hiding from the virus that wiped out most of the human race, but an act of futile heroism has him counting down his remaining days. The timely arrival of superhuman soldiers offers some feeble hope–but only if Rhys can reconcile himself to doing what is necessary to take advantage of it.

Sergeant Darius Murrell has seen too much death and too little tenderness. His job is seeking out the infected to put them out of their misery, or sending the uninfected survivors to a safe haven where he and his fellow Juggernaut troops will never be welcomed. Rhys’s situation is different, though. Not only is there an improbable chance that Darius won’t have to put a bullet in Rhys’s head, but he has somehow managed to get under Darius’s skin.

The virus Rhys must infect himself with in order to survive is sexually transmitted, and optimizing his chance of exposure requires him to submit as often as possible to Darius–and the other soldiers. Though the boundaries of morality have shifted in this harsh new world, Darius and Rhys question whether their humanity is too high a price to pay for Rhys’s survival.


Cold by Brandon Shire

Prison romance, anyone?

ColdBook 1 of the Cold Series – A Gay Prison Romance

Prison is a brutal, heartless, and demeaning environment. No one knows this better than a man sentenced to life in prison for murder. Lem Porter is a high-profile prisoner who had a solid career ahead of him in a field he loved until he killed his brother. He has spent almost eighteen years behind bars and doesn’t have much hope left.

Anderson Passero had it all. He built a career, a name, and a relationship with a man he thought he loved. Only after he very publicly landed in prison did he realize how ignorant he’d been. He has eight months left on his sentence and he is eager to go home and put prison life behind him. He doesn’t know it yet, but he will always carry these eight months with him, and they may just help him to understand what love really means.


The Mermaid Murders by Josh Lanyon

Josh Lanyon has a lot of books with characters over forty, so if you’re into mysteries that aren’t too heavy on the romance, give her titles a go.

the mermaid murdersSpecial Agent Jason West is seconded from the FBI Art Crime Team to temporarily partner with disgraced, legendary “manhunter” Sam Kennedy when it appears that Kennedy’s most famous case, the capture and conviction of a serial killer known as The Huntsman, may actually have been a disastrous failure.

The Huntsman is still out there…and the killing has begun again.


More books to check out!

I feel like there are a zillion more books I should mention, but I’m unsure if the character is forty or like thirty-eight LOL. And if I was to include all my stories with characters over forty, you’d drown in them, so three on each name? I’ll do three on each name 😁


Conri is king, but someone is trying to take him down. Nick, a blood witch, who is in Conri’s territory refuses to see him, and that puts him on the top of Conri’s list of suspects. When he goes to confront Nick, things don’t turn out the way he’d planned. Nick is his destined mate, but he doesn’t want anything to do with Conri. Conri needs Nick, but can he convince him to fight by his side?



Adrian Green’s next-door neighbor isn’t really a dragon, but he does snarl an awful lot. Lorcan’s apartment is empty, but luckily, Adrian doesn’t mind filling his lair with gems fit for a dragon. But Lorcan doesn’t seem to want anything, and sneaking in presents isn’t easy. What if the way to a dragon’s heart isn’t lined with treasures?



Four years ago, Dimitri Petrov had his leg blown off by a landmine while in military service. Suffering from PTSD, he doesn’t do crowds, people, dates, or dinners. But when Elian Hubert enters the dating agency where Dimitri works in a whirlwind of pink shirts, flapping hands, and outrageous flirting, looking for a Valentine date, Dimitri thinks maybe he can do him a favor.



Kace Channing has been best friends with Luke Holland for thirty-five years. He can’t imagine his world without him. When Luke shows up on Kace’s doorstep, asking for a place to stay, Kace says yes. But he isn’t prepared for the kiss that follows. Then Luke tells him he’s buying a cabin in the woods, he says they need it, the two of them. But won’t kisses and cabins ruin their friendship?



Charlie Wilkins had everything he wanted — a husband, a daughter, a house that was his home. He still has his husband, but William has forgotten who he is. He still has his daughter, but she’s grown now. All Charlie wants is to spend the rest of his days with William by his side, till death do them part. But William is in a nursing home. What was he to do when he no longer could take care of him?


Pine Tree Mary

When Detective Quinn Manning saves a young man from one of Fagerdal’s drug lords, his view of reality is altered forever. Hush is a hulder, a pine tree Mary. His people live in the forest and feed off the energy from passing humans. When Manning’s partner disappears, he seeks Hush’s help. While working together, their connection grows, but can a human have a future with a creature of the forest?


Guest Post | Taking Flight by A.L. Lester

A Free Queer Celtic Myth. Resurrection Cauldron Not Included.

Taking Flight is one of my Celtic Myth collection of short stories/novellas and is free from 7th to 9th March. Thanks so much for letting me pop in and tell your readers all about it!

Taking flight

Taking Flight is drawn over a story from the Mabinogion, a book of Welsh folk tales. It’s about Brânwen, sister of King Brân of Wales. Her brother marries her off to Matholwch, King of Ireland, but the marriage goes bad, because Bran and Branwen’s half-brother Efnysien is angry that he wasn’t consulted about the wedding and cuts off all King Matholwch’s horses’ eyelids during the wedding feast as revenge. Just your average nightmare party guest.

The marriage goes ahead despite this; but once they are back in Ireland the disapproval of his people becomes too much and Matholwch banishes Brânwen to the kitchens where she is beaten daily by the butcher. She tames a starling and sends it with a message to her brother for help. He comes to rescue her with an army and there are various battles and unsuccessful negotiations and Efnysien turns up again making trouble by throwing Brânwen’s son into a fire but then bravely destroying a resurrection cauldron and killing some warriors hiding in flour bags to redeem himself. It’s one of those stories where everybody dies… Brânwen kills herself and Brân is killed in battle but his head keeps giving his seven remaining warriors good advice until they bury it at the Tower of London.

It’s all a bit gruesome, but I knew I wanted to write about the starling part of the story and make the bird in to a person. To begin with I was trying to hitch him up with Brân, but then I realised that it would be a better story if it centered around the Brânwen character, who is very much an object to be moved around in the original legend and is very much not so in my own version.

I’ve also cut out the child-murder, the horse-disfigurement, the battles and the resurrection cauldron. Sorry.

Branwyn’s grave is supposed to be at Llanddeusant on the Isle of Anglesey and the discovery of a high-status Bronze Age mound there is a possible root of the legend. Welsh folk stories were passed down orally for centuries before being written in the Mabinogion in the thirteenth century.

Taking Flight

Gwyn is trying to balance his business aims with his desire to leave the Kings of Ireland hotel. He honestly thought Mal knew he was trans before they hooked up. It takes a blow to the face in front of all the kitchen staff before he reaches his own personal line in the sand and leaves with the help of Darren. Could the delicate pull of attraction between them grow into something stronger?

Book bingo

If you’d like another free Celtic Myth short story, AWing and a Prayer (3.500 words) is free when you join my newsletter. The other stories are all just over ten thousand words, which makes them long for a short story and short for a novella. ‘Novellette’ sounds like they should be about Victorian maidens though, and they’re not! They are all based on at least a seed of some sort of myth from the wild edges of Europe; Ireland, Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Man, our Celtic west. There are a lot of saint’s stories to pick from and tales that were probably passed down orally before writing was common. There are currently five stories that are all in KU and usually priced at $1.99.

Short Queer romances

About A. L. Lester

AllyWriter of queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense, mostly. Lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, a terrifying cat, some poultry. Likes gardening but doesn’t really have time or energy. Not musical. Doesn’t much like telly. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has tedious fits.

Facebook Group : Mastodon : Twitter : Newsletter (free story) : Website : Link-tree for everywhere else

Guest Post | Batshit Bassel by Holly Day

Hiya! I’m here as Holly today. A few days ago, Batshit Bassel was released 🥳 It’s a rather short story, 75 pages, about Bassel who’s a psychic. He’s not like ordinary psychics, though. 

He has no control over his powers, and therefore he can’t do what other psychics do – predict things and save the world and things like that. What he can do, and does very well, is serve soups and talk to people. 

Bassel is convinced he can change the world in more subtle ways than through miracles. To give someone a warm bowl of love on a bad day and a chair to sit on can save lives. And it’s what Bassel does.

Sadly, the place he’s picked for his food cart comes with a downside. It’s next to a nightclub run by shifters, and some of the people working there aren’t pleased to see Bassel.

Thor owns the nightclub, and he doesn’t have a problem with Bassel. Quite the opposite, actually. 

A couple of months ago, his sister passed away, and Thor became the guardian of his nephew, an eight-year-old boy named Dag. Thor knows nothing about taking care of a child, and he doesn’t know what to do. So when Dag starts spending time with Bassel, Thor is grateful. And it gives him a reason to spend time with Bassel too.

Below you can read the first chapter.

Batshit Bassel

batshitbasselSome people perform miracles, others serve soup.  

Bassel Uxium will never save the world. He doesn’t have the skill. He’s the product of his parents’ sin, a psychic with no control over his powers. But he can serve soup, and soup works wonders in its own way. He isn’t bitter about it. Some people create miracles, others give a frozen soul a warm bowl of love.  

Thor Espen’s life changed in a heartbeat. A few months ago, his sister died, and he became the guardian of his nephew. His life isn’t fit for a child. He’s the owner of a nightclub, and his schedule doesn’t leave room for a cub. When his nephew starts spending time with the weird soup guy with the food cart outside his club, he allows it.  

Bassel aches for the little boy who is cloaked in grief and tries to ease his sorrows with soup, one bowl at a time. He aches for Thor too, but in a different way. Thor should focus on work, but he can’t get Bassel out of his head. Can a bear shifter and a defective psychic have something together, or will the budding relationship turn to ashes, along with Bassel’s predictions of a fire? 

Buy links: 

Paranormal Gay Romance: 20,177 words 

JMS Books :: Amazon :: books2read.com/BatshitBassel

Chapter 1

Bassel Uxium handed over soup in a Styrofoam bowl to the woman in front of him and smiled as a sense of satisfaction filled him—hers. He rode the emotion for the short second it lingered in his chest. Often the emotions washing over him were negative, so he cherished the good ones.

His parents had sinned, and he was the product. Malfunctioning. Weird. Batshit.

He’d stopped being angry a long time ago. Anger didn’t serve him, and he was here, was he not? He had his soup stand, and he’d found the perfect spot where he would make the most impact, and where people treated him fairly.

Here many unhappy humans passed by, but Bassel could, and would, give them a warm bowl of love. Soup was therapeutic, and people might not know it, but it helped balance them. It gave them a hot meal, nutrition, and liquid. Doing what he did, he could sneak soup into people’s lives and help ease their suffering without them knowing he was defective.

Witches and psychics paired up with shifters. There was a connection, a mate bond or whatever. According to the tales, you knew the instant you met someone you could pair up with, and the bond would be there for the rest of your lives when you did.

Bassel didn’t think there was anyone for him since he wasn’t like other witches or psychics. His mother was a precog, and his father an empath. They never should have touched each other, much less produced offspring, and his mother should have known. It was her skill, after all, knowing.

The result? Sometimes Bassel experienced things about to happen. Sometimes he lived in people’s emotions, but it was never under his control. He couldn’t look at a person or touch a person and tap into their emotions. If it happened, it happened. Like with the woman now walking down the street. She was cold and hungry, and she’d purchased a bowl of hearty chicken soup. Satisfaction made sense.

Sometimes it was his mother’s precog genes shining through. He could look at a person and see what would happen to them or he could get a feeling. That was when it got tricky. He didn’t know if the feeling was current or future, and if it belonged in the future, there was no guarantee it would happen. Things changed all the time.

Worst of all was when it affected his other senses. He’d smell something about to come later but was unable to sort out if it was the present or future or feel the rain on his skin on a sunny day and not knowing if it meant rain was coming soon or a day from now.

Every day was like walking through a minefield of sensory triggers he couldn’t sort, and sometimes he was unsure of which timeline he was living on, but he’d learn to cope. For the most part.

“Batshit Bassel.”

Bassel struggled to hold on to his pleasant mood as the hyena laughed at him before heading toward Come Inside. He didn’t know if he was a hyena, but he laughed like one every time he was near Bassel.

It was the one downside to this spot. Once Bassel had accepted his fate of never being bonded to a shifter, never being accepted by a witch, and never finding a home with a psychic, he’d set out to make the world a better place. And this sidewalk, right here by the old brick buildings remaining from the industrial era, was where he connected with most lost souls.

A witch or psychic bonded to a shifter was a force to be reckoned with. They could achieve great things, borrowing power from each other. Shifters were strong and agile, fierce and protective. Psychics could see the future and help prevent crimes and catastrophes, predict the economy, and make smart business decisions.

Bassel could serve soup.

He didn’t turn his nose up at it. There were people doing big, amazing things, and there were people who affected the world in a more subtle way. His mission was a subdued approach, a gentle push in the direction of a better day and hopefully a better life—for his customers.

There were many lost souls, scarred souls, lonely souls who needed a bowl of soup. He’d never perform miracles, but he could give people something warm to eat and listen to their problems. He loved doing it. It was fulfilling knowing he’d touched a person’s spirit and made them feel better. He wouldn’t complain if it hadn’t been for the hyena, who most likely wasn’t a hyena.

Though he could be.

Come Inside was a nightclub run by shifters. One night a week they had a drag queen show, and there were small rainbow-colored unicorn sculptures in the windows, so he believed it was a friendly place. For others. Shifters would never welcome him inside since he was faulty, but real witches and psychics, humans, and shifters were accepted as they were.

Longing hit hard, sadly, his own. What would it be like to belong somewhere? To be welcomed with open arms? Missed if you didn’t show? Bassel had no idea.

He pulled in a deep breath and stirred his soups. He always made two different kinds—one with meat and one vegetarian. Today’s options were chicken soup and Moroccan Harira.

Soups spoke to him. Nothing said love like a hot bowl of soup.

Lost in his head, he first didn’t notice the boy nearing him with slow steps. He’d seen him before. Grief clung to him like a wafting cloak, and it broke Bassel’s heart. The boy couldn’t be more than eight years old, if that.

“Hello.” Bassel spoke in a slow, soothing voice as if speaking to a wounded animal. He was. The boy was a shifter and while grief didn’t bleed as a cut would, it was a wound in the soul.

The boy nodded before glancing at Come Inside’s door. Bassel turned to look too but couldn’t see anyone watching them.

“Would you like some soup?”

The boy startled and looked a little afraid, as if Bassel had tried to lure him away with candy.

“I… eh… don’t have any money.”

Bassel shrugged. “Of course not. You’re a child.”

The boy glared at him, and Bassel turned the words over in his head. Were they insulting?

“When you have a job, you can pay me back. Now, do you want chicken soup or chickpea soup?”

The boy scrunched his nose at the mention of chickpeas. “Chicken.”

With a smile, Bassel filled a bowl. “I’m thinking about adding a hotplate or maybe one of those pans to have over an open fire. I could make skillet flatbread to go with the soup. I think people would appreciate it, and if I went with the open fire option, it would help warm people in the winter.” Spring was around the corner, but he was still frozen to the bone every day when he came home, no matter how many layers of clothes he put on. “Or maybe there are portable pizza ovens. Wouldn’t that be cool?”

The boy stared at him as if he was insane—he was.

“Come sit.” He grabbed the folding chair he had standing next to the food cart with one hand while balancing the bowl of chicken soup in the other.

Hesitating for a moment, the boy then slowly neared the chair.

As he sat, Bassel handed him the Styrofoam bowl and a spoon. “Did you have a good day at school?” Bassel assumed he went to school.

The boy nodded and looked away as an ache spread in Bassel’s chest—the boy’s. He had no idea what had triggered the crushing wave of grief washing over him, but something had.

“Oh, sweetheart. Eat your soup. Everything gets better with soup.” He was quiet for a few seconds before asking, “What’s your name?”

“Dag Espen.”

“Oh, you’re a bear?” Espen meant bear, right?

Dag nodded and blew on a spoonful of soup before putting it into his mouth. Warmth spread in Bassel’s soul—all his own. He loved feeding people.

Dag didn’t speak but ate another spoonful and then another.

“What did you get for lunch at school today?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t go to the cafeteria.”

Bassel waited for his emphatic skill to give him any clues on how to proceed with the conversation, but of course, he didn’t get any insight into Dag’s emotions. Never when he wanted them or needed guidance. “Because you brought your own lunch?”

Dag avoided eye contact and ate another spoonful.

Dammit. This was a poor neighborhood. It was one of the reasons Bassel had chosen it as his place. Here he could make a difference. And while he needed people to pay for their soup or he’d go bankrupt in a week flat, he gave away several bowls every day. It was the right thing to do.

“How far away is your school?”

Dag pointed at one of the large industrial buildings with his spoon. “It’s two blocks over.”

Ah, Bassel knew the one. “Is your lunch break long enough for you to get here and make it back in time for your next lesson?”

Dag looked at him for a long moment. There was longing in his eyes, and Bassel bit his tongue not to offer to bring soup to his school. Lunch was when he sold the most soup. If he left the food cart in the middle of the day, he’d lose customers.

“I can make it here, but I have no money.”

Bassel smiled. He didn’t know who Dag’s parents were, and he wouldn’t go searching. If they couldn’t afford to give him money to go to the school cafeteria, and they couldn’t afford to pack him lunch, then Bassel would make sure he got a bowl of soup. Who knew? It might be the only cooked meal the boy got all day.

“Great! Which is your favorite kind of soup?”

Wide eyes met his, then they filled with tears struggling not to trickle over. “Mom used to make tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches.”

“Oh…” Bassel noted the used to but didn’t want to ask what the past tense meant. “Then we’re back to the bread problem. We should find a solution. I like the open fire idea, but do you think the surrounding businesses would object?” He twirled his finger around, indicating the buildings around them. They were mostly offices, but there was the bar and one woo-woo shop. Woo-woo shop wasn’t the accepted term, but Bassel had gone there to introduce himself, certain he’d be sneered at by a witch or psychic, but it was a plump, gray-haired human woman running it. He’d been pleasantly surprised even though it meant the crystals and protective spells she sold were fake.

* * * *

The next day, Thor Espen growled as he walked through the empty bar. It was still early, and his staff hadn’t arrived yet. Normally, he slept this time of day, but since Karla had died a couple of months ago, he now had to get up and make sure the cub got to school.

Kids weren’t anything he’d ever wanted. They did not fit his lifestyle, but he couldn’t allow his nephew to disappear into foster care. He’d promised Karla to take care of him. The problem was, Thor knew nothing about children. He set the alarm every morning to wake Dag and made sure he ate breakfast before he went to school. Then he hardly saw the boy all day. By the time he got back from school, the bar had opened, and while there weren’t many customers until the after-work crowd, everyone was busy with preparations.

He pulled out a chair from one of the tables and sat, cradling his head in his hands. He was so tired. Yawning, he allowed his elbows to slide over the table before folding his arms and resting his cheek on top of them. He couldn’t go on like this. Two months without proper sleep made him prickly, and yesterday he’d dropped a bottle while working the bar. It could happen to anyone, but Thor hadn’t dropped a bottle in a decade or two. Sleep deprivation made him uncoordinated.

He needed a nanny. Did people still have nannies?

The thought left a bitter taste in his mouth. He’d promised Karla to take care of Dag, to raise him as if he was his own. Thor was the only family he had since the no-good witch Karla had bound herself to went and got himself blown up in some huge magical experiment. Part of him was glad it had happened when Dag only was a few months old. No kid should lose both their parents before they turned eight, so it was good he didn’t remember his father. Or would it have been better for him to have the memory?

Thor didn’t know, and it didn’t matter. These were the cards they’d been dealt. It was unfair, and Thor wanted to object. He wanted to file a complaint to the universe or whoever it was deciding who lived and who died, but no one was willing to listen. Bears didn’t get sick, and yet Karla had faded away right in front of him.

He closed his eyes, trying to fight the memories wanting to surface of her in a hospital bed. Who had taken care of the boy while she’d been in the hospital? Thor should ask someone. His breaths grew deeper and his muscles slowly unclenched. Maybe whoever it was could look after him again.


Thor flew to his feet, his hands changing to bear paws as he swiped the air. Ed, his chef, stood at a good distance. “Oh, hi.”

“The kid is chatting to Batshit Bassel.” Ed scrunched his face as if he’d smelled rotten fish.

“Who?” Thor tried to clear his head. Fuck, he’d fallen asleep. The kid—as in Dag?—was talking to who? Did it matter who he talked to?

“The soup freak outside.”

Thor willed his paws back to human hands before rubbing his face. “Who?”

“The guy outside, the one with the food cart.” Ed widened his eyes while making a face, telling Thor he’d better get his brain cells to wake up because this was important.

“Is he a pedophile?”

“No! Or I don’t know, maybe.” Ed shrugged but didn’t look satisfied with Thor’s reaction.

“If he isn’t a threat to Dag, why can’t he talk to him?”

Ed huffed. “You’re his dad now. You need to be a role model. You can’t let him make friends with freaks.”

Thor took a moment to breathe. Maybe he wasn’t awake enough yet to understand the conversation. He didn’t know the soup guy, had never spoken to him, and didn’t know what he looked like. Average height, on the slim side, but he couldn’t say what color his hair was and he wouldn’t have recognized him if he’d met him on the street.

He arrived there around ten in the morning and left around three, from what he’d heard from the staff. He’d been in to introduce himself when he’d first started selling his soups several months ago, but Thor had been in the office at the time so it had been Ed, Adam, and Jenny who’d talked to him, and he’d never gone out there to chat to him.

“And he’s a freak?” Thor didn’t like the term. As the owner of a queer club, he’d been called many things, and most often for no other reason than bigotry.

Ed shook his head. “He’s an abomination.”

Thor straightened his back. Abomination? He’d been called that too, and few things infuriated him more. “Is he?”

“He’s not right! His mom had him with one of her own. He’s inbred.” Distaste colored the words, and a responding revulsion wrapped around Thor. But it couldn’t be true. If a woman got pregnant with a family member, surely she’d have the fetus removed? Nausea climbed his throat, and he forced his brain to stop painting pictures. If it was true, it wasn’t the soup guy’s fault, and forbidding Dag to speak to him because of sins his parents had committed didn’t sit right with him.

“Is he… disabled?” What were the signs of inbreeding?

Shrugging, Ed walked farther into the room. “He isn’t right.”

“Isn’t right how? If he can run a business, it can’t be too bad.” Maybe a food cart didn’t demand the same brain capacity as running a bar, but there was still a lot to be done, invoices, bookkeeping, and so on.

“He isn’t right.” Ed didn’t change his words, he only spoke louder, which made Thor frown. Seconds went by, then Ed huffed again. There was a lot more huffing and shrugging than Ed normally indulged in.

“He has no skill. His mom was a precog and his dad was an empath. It isn’t right. Now he’s here, selling soup on our doorstep, and he’s as useless as a human.”

Not inbred, but two psychics reproducing. Ed was correct. It wasn’t right, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as Thor had envisioned. You couldn’t bond with the same breed as yourself, and having offspring was extremely unusual, both because it most often didn’t take and because no one wanted a child with someone they weren’t bonded to.

“He didn’t inherit any skill?” So he was like a human. They didn’t shun humans. Many of their patrons were human. Jenny was human. He wouldn’t sleep with one, but he didn’t dislike them on sight.

“He’s creepy as fuck. Go out there and talk to him. You’ll feel the wrongness from a mile away.”

“Creepy?” Would Dag talk to him if he were creepy? “What time is it?” Shouldn’t Dag be in school? He hadn’t slept for that long, had he?

“Noon. I have the dentist at three, so I thought I’d come in early and prepare and then come back after the appointment.”

Thor nodded. As Ed spoke, he remembered him saying something about it. Shit, he’d never forgotten his staff’s changed work hours a couple of months ago. “What’s Dag doing home at noon?”

Fear gripped his heart. Had something happened to him? With a growl, he stomped toward the door.

About Holly day 

According to Holly Day, no day should go by uncelebrated and all of them deserve a story. If she’ll have the time to write them remains to be seen. She lives in rural Sweden with a husband, four children, more pets than most, and wouldn’t last a day without coffee.  

Holly gets up at the crack of dawn most days of the week to write gay romance stories. She believes in equality in fiction and in real life. Diversity matters. Representation matters. Visibility matters. We can change the world one story at the time.  

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