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The Pumpkin: A free Halloween short story from Erin Lawless!

The Making of usThe smell hit Leigha as soon as she walked in the front door; she wrinkled her nose.

“Hello?” she called, suspiciously, causing a bubble of laughter to rise up from the direction of the sitting room.  Sukie bounded into the corridor, the little witch-hat glued to her hairband wobbling, her mouth coated in shiny red lipstick.

“Happy Hallowe’eeeeeeen!” she shouted in Leigha’s face.

Johnny brought up the rear, wearing a kid’s plastic Frankenstein mask, so small it barely covered the centre of his face. “Welcome to the House of the Dead!” he boomed.

Leigha looked from one friend to the other. “Terrifying,” she intoned, dead-pan, before moving past the gruesome twosome and on into the living area.

Nicky looked up guiltily. Some effort had been made to mitigate the damage; there were plastic bags covering parts of the carpet, each sporting its own pulpy pile of fruity innards. Unfortunately, most of the bare carpet was also looking pretty stained.

Leigha sighed, throwing her bookbag down on the sofa next to Miles. “I forget; did you actually want our damage deposit back on this house when we graduate?”

“Oh Ley, it’ll come right up,” Harriet insisted, looking awkward where she sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the pumpkin wearing a pair of mesh fairy wings.

“This is harder than it looks,” Nicky added in their defence, cat-whiskers drawn on each cheek with black eyeliner. “There’s a lot of pumpkin inside a pumpkin.”

“Obviously.”

“It seems like such a waste to have just scraped it into a bin bag,” said Adam, casually costumeless on the far sofa. “Maybe we can make some sort of a pie with it, or something.”

“Says Delia Smith in the corner,” retorted Leigha; she put her hands on her hips. “Whatever. I’m not cleaning up.”

“Or we can use it to infuse vodka or something,” proffered Harriet. “We can have people over for themed pre-drinks before the Union night on Friday.”

“That sounds cool,” agreed Sukie. Leigha laughed, her grumpy mood finally ground down by the onslaught of good humour from her friends – and the thought of pumpkin cocktails.

“I’ll get some tealights from my room,” she offered.

—-

“Wow, it looks… really authentic,” Adam said, slowly.

Sukie laughed. “Authentic in the way it looks like a child has carved it, yeah.”

“What’s it actually meant to be? A cat?” asked Miles.

“No, it’s a vampire!” Nicky corrected her boyfriend crossly. “See the fangs?”

“I thought they might be cat fangs,” Mikes explained meekly.

“Maybe it’s a vampire cat?” Johnny suggested, helpfully.

“Either way, it’s a great first try,” Adam cut in.

Harriet rolled her eyes. “Oh, how patronising! Let’s just put the thing outside, clean up and watch that scary film.”

“If we put it outside then we’ll get a torrent of trick-or-treaters,” Sukie pointed out. “We’ll be up and down all bloody night.”

“So? Get into the spirit of things!” countered Johnny. “Ha! Spirit! Spirit of things!”

“Yes, we get it!” Nicky bent down to carefully pick up the pumpkin, aglow with the light of the tealight candles burning inside the hollow. “I’m going to stick it outside on the recycling bin. Just get the DVD on, okay?” She walked towards the front door gingerly, trying to keep the candles from blowing out; Miles trotted ahead to open the front door for her.

“Okay,” said Leigha, moving across to the haphazard pile of DVDs to the left of the television bench. “Let’s watch Hocus Pocus.”

“Uh, no,” scoffed Adam, holding the DVD he’d brought over from the boys’ flat. “The Amityville Horror.

“Nope. We always watch Hocus Pocus,” Harriet informed them firmly.

“Always,” agreed Leigha, clicking the DVD box open as if that was that.

“Hey now, let’s not be hasty.” Sukie reached for Adam’s DVD. “It’s the remake with Ryan Reynolds.”

Harriet and Leigha exchanged a look.

“How about we watch Amityville after we watch Hocus Pocus?” Harriet suggested.

“Sounds good to me!” agreed Johnny. “Something for everyone.”

“Well, I think that’s about four solid hours of movie.” Adam stretched to pick up his mobile. “Pizza order, anyone?”

Adam stretched the four solid hours – and entire large pizza – out of his frame. Johnny hefted himself up from the other side of the sofa, groaning.

“My bum’s asleep,” he complained. From where she was sat on the floor, Harriet swatted at his shins.

“How do you think mine feels?”

“Catch you ladies mañana,” Johnny yawned, moving out towards the front door to put his shoes on.

“We’ve got a morning critical theory lecture, don’t we?” Adam sighed, wincing at Harriet.

She laughed. “It’s at eleven.”

“Eleven is still the morning.”

“Can you guys shove these empty pizza boxes in the recycling bin as you leave?” Nicky asked, dumping the pile of cardboard into Adam’s arms without waiting for a response. Adam balanced them carefully as he stuffed his feet into his Converses.

“Bye!” both boys called as they stepped out into the autumn night.

Adam nodded towards the recycling bin in the girls’ front garden. “Open that lid up for us mate,” he asked Johnny, who obliged. Adam stuffed the pizza down on top of the bedrock of milk bottles and assorted tin cans before swinging the bin lid closed again.

They were at the garden gate before they suddenly realised; Adam and Johnny swung round in tandem, staring at back at the recycling bin.

The pumpkin was gone.

“Come on guys,” Miles tried again, walking backwards in front of them as the group made their way purposefully down the road. “It’s just a pumpkin. Besides, it’s probably just than an animal has gone off with it.”

“An animal?” Harriet repeated.

“Yeah, like a cat, or something.”

“Miles, that was a twelve pound pumpkin,” Leigha said, scathingly. “Whiskers down the road hasn’t just rolled it off.”

“Not a damn cat,” Sukie said, her mouth set in a grim line as she hunched her shoulders inside her jacket. “Cooper.”

“Cooper?” Johnny repeated, confused.

“Su’s ex-boyfriend,” Nicky explained.

Sukie scoffed. “Ex-boyfriend! We went out for like, a minute, last year. We had sex more times than we went on dates. I don’t think he counts as a boyfriend.”

“I shan’t ask what you do think counts as a boyfriend,” Adam laughed.

“So you think your ex-whatever has stolen our pumpkin?” Johnny asked.

“It’s quite likely considering what we did to him last year,” Harriet pointed out.

“Oh god. Do I even want to know?” groaned Adam.

“Well it was October-time last year when he broke up with Su,” Leigha began to explain.

“We weren’t going out!” Sukie interrupted, exasperated.

“As you can see, it didn’t end amicably,” Leigha continued, ignoring her irate housemate. “So, we, er… We gave him a Hallowe’en trick.”

“We threw toilet paper over his house,” Harriet clarified.

“God, pumpkin carving, TP-ing houses.” Adam rolled his eyes. “You girls watch too many American movies.”

“Whatever.” Sukie picked up her pace. “He lives at the end of this road. And I bet you they’ll have our pumpkin in their front garden. Wait, wait. Yes!” Sukie pointed triumphantly to where a soft orangey glow diffused from a front bay window. “Bastards!”

“Su, wait,” Nicky called, as Sukie jogged the remaining paces to Cooper’s front door and banged on it with the side of her fist. A rumpled looking guy in tartan pyjama bottoms opened the door.

“Is Cooper in?” Sukie asked, without preamble.

“Er, yeah.” The guy blinked. “Coop!” he called over his shoulder. “Some girl for you.” Uninterested, he wandered off back into the depths of the house; Sukie’s face tightened. Harriet moved closer to the house and peered at the pumpkin through the dirty window glass.

“Is that even ours?” she asked; she titled her head to see it from a different angle. “Su, I don’t think this is ours.”

Sukie turned to respond, but then her ex’s lanky frame filled the doorway, drawing her attention back.

“Hey,” he drawled. “Long time no see. You know, you’re a little old to be trick or treating. Plus you should really be wearing costumes.”

“Cut the bullshit, Coop,” Sukie said, rocking back on her heel and folding her arms across her chest, her best go at intimidating. “Just give us the pumpkin. Crap prank by the way.”

Cooper looked genuinely confused. “The pumpkin? What do you want our pumpkin for?” His face cleared in recognition. “You just want to throw it at the roof or something, don’t you, you crazy bitch. What is it with you birds and Hallowe’en?”

“I said cut the crap, gimme the pumpkin.”

“Hi Graham,” Harriet cut in, moving across from the window to take Sukie’s elbow, hoping the use of Cooper’s first name would make her seem authoritative. “Did you take the pumpkin we had outside our house?”

Cooper looked confused again. “Why would I do that?”

“You know…” Harriet sighed when it became clear by Cooper’s blank face that he didn’t. “As revenge? For last year?”

“If I wanted revenge for last year, you’d have woken up with ten tins’ worth of baked beans shoved through your letter box,” Cooper said, bluntly. “Stealing a pumpkin feels a bit Year Seven, don’t you think? Besides…” He brushed his hair back from his forehead like he was bored. “I don’t even remember where you guys live.”

“As if,” Sukie scoffed.

“Look, can I just have a closer look?” Harriet asked. “Then we know for sure.”

Cooper shrugged lazily. “Whatever.” He turned back into the house to fetch the pumpkin in question; Harriet tightened her grip on Sukie’s elbow when she felt the girl tense to charge her way into the house herself. Sukie scowled at her; Harriet shook her head. The pumpkin disappeared from the front window.

“Here,” Cooper said a moment later, holding out the contentious squash. “See? It can’t be yours. My housemate and his girlfriend carved it this morning.”

“Sukie,” sighed Leigha. “This is quite clearly a cat pumpkin.”

“I told you ours looked like a bloody cat!” called Miles.

Sukie was uncharacteristically silent. Harriet let go of her elbow with a sigh.

“Thanks Graham. Sorry for the… inconvenience,” she said, politely.

“Whatever,” Cooper said, hooking the pumpkin casually onto his hip. “Always a pleasure, Sukie,” he said sarcastically, kicking his front door closed with his foot before she could reply.

Sukie exploded.

“He could still have it, you know! It could be in another room. That one could have been a decoy!”

“Su!” Leigha came into the front garden to bodily pull her friend back out onto the pavement. “I think we’re all actually past caring.”

“Yeah, and if he does have it,” Johnny raised his eyebrow, “to be fair, you girls did TP his house.”

“Oh, it was like ten rolls, max,” Sukie grumbled, allowing herself to be piloted towards home.

“Right then,” Adam said, as the group reached the cross-roads between the girls’ home and the boys’. “Always a pleasure!” He smirked as he repeated Cooper’s words. Sukie just rolled her eyes and stomped off towards the house.

“Goodnight!” Johnny called, as he and Adam took the left.

“So much for a quiet Tuesday night in, early to bed,” Adam laughed as they walked down the midnight high street.

“Never a quiet moment now we know those girls,” Johnny agreed. “Hey.” He stopped moving. “Look.”

Adam followed Johnny’s pointing finger to the shadows of a shop front, squinting at the movement there until his eyes adjusted to the change in light. A large black cat turned to stare at them, eyes wide and white reflecting the street lights. Sensing their interest, it arched its back and hissed low and long, guarding its quarry – a large, slightly battered, slightly chewed pumpkin, the design of the carving impossible to make out at this distance.

Adam and Johnny exchanged a look.

Get more extra content in The Making of Us, a free teaser for Erin’s novel The Best Thing I Never Had

Your Dark Desires: Why Paranormal Readers Seek Unconventional Love

Is your boo an otherworldly creature? Is he, well, clinically dead? Hardly.  Yet paranormal readers embrace the monstrous side of humanity when it comes to romance novels.   How does the paranormal genre play upon our darkest desires, and why do we seek unconventional love between the pages? Today we have Madeline Iva, one of the Lady Smut authors, talking about why paranormal romance readers seek unconventional love.

Paranormal Romance power play is hot!

During a romance panel called “Unconventional Love” at Fall For the Book in Fairfax, VA, New York Times bestselling author Laura Kaye says embracing paranormal is all about power.

The heroines of her fantasy romances go up against mighty Gods and slay them with nothing but tender feelings.  Her readers enjoys a vicarious feeling of victory when the heroine triumphs in taming the alpha male.

Your Wounded Monster Needs You

Jeaniene Frost once said “If he’s been killing people for five hundred years as Vlad the Destroyer was, well, he’s got issues.”

Readers enjoy paranormal romances when big, male monsters—all tall, dark, and bloodsucking—often need the love of a good woman to overcome their self-loathing and psychological hurt.

Those readers who identify with healing, or mothering instincts, get a thrill as the heroine takes her monster from vulnerable wreck to healthy hottie.  These readers enjoy not only a sense of power in this kind of romantic interaction, but also the skill and competence of the heroine.

Brooding Bad Boys

Other readers might enjoy paranormal romances because they love bad boys – and let’s face it, five hundred year old Vlad is bad with a capital “B”.

Flying Your Freak Flag

Finally, there’s a lot of pressure on women to conform at the job and at home.  The paranormal hero is transgressive, he doesn’t behave like everyone else, knowing not from normality.  This break from the rules is refreshing to many readers.

While certain readers enjoy a break from the ordinary, others—like me—are just weird.  I came from a home so unconventional that now normal feels strange to me.  I always enjoy paranormal romances because they were made for anyone who likes colouring outside the lines.

THE LADY SMUT BOOK OF DARK DESIRES

Our anthology coming out this fall with Harper Impulse is full of unconventional men. From Gods to ‘goblins’ we have
·      A vampire who comes through your computer.
·      Two mysterious, seductive goblin men in masks
·      A super-human being that offers one woman untold fame—and unbound madness
·      A hot and uninhibited biologist who travels with his own padded restraints.

Sound good? If you like edgy, exciting erotic romance follow your own dark desires and pre-order our anthology HERE.

COVER REVEAL! AJ Nuest’s The Golden Key Legacy

Taking us back to the realm of Caedmon and Rowena, AJ Nuest has created a breathtaking follow up to The Golden Key Chronicles and we are very excited to be able to share all four new covers with you!

With the first book, A Furious Muse, published next month, and a new story released every month after that, we can’t wait for you to be able to get stuck in to this amazing new series. What do you think of the covers?

A Furious Muse

The Sacrifice

A Wizard Rises

A Time for Reckoning

Waiting for the next Outlander? Don’t miss this enthralling fantasy romance! All four books are available to pre-order now, starting with A Furious Muse, out 27th November!

My Vampire Confession

In the spirit of Halloween, today we have Liz Everley, one of the Lady Smut authors, on the blog talking about vampires and why we love these dangerous creatures so very much…

I confess: Sometimes I think about vampires way too much.

The popularity of vampires leads me to think about “exquisite” pain— this longing that some people feel to have their necks pierced by a sexy vampire. They know it will hurt, but have an uncontrollable desire for it anyway, probably because of this incredible lust emanating from the vampire. They think that initial bite will hurt just enough to feel very, very, maybe even orgasmically, good.

For the record, I am not one of those people. Which might be why they fascinate me.

My favorite vampire was always “Lestat” in the Anne Rice books. It’s the first time I ever thought of a vampire as sexy. Before that, I was scared to death of them as a child. Seriously. That’s the ONE “Halloween” creature that would scare me. I lay awake some nights and worried about vampires. Were they dead or alive? Could you escape them if one were to follow you home? Once, my mother found fresh garlic tucked under my pillow. You know why.

So, I have a love-hate relationship with vampires. In my heart, I adore them. But I think they’ve been overdone the past few years and so I’ve tried to stay away from writing a vampire story. I gave in because the story and the characters beckoned strongly and so I wrote BRENNA BANG’S IMMORTAL LONGINGS for THE LADY SMUT BOOK OF DARK DESIRES.

It’s an ever so slightly tongue and cheek take on the vampire-romance genre—the female lead is a famous author who has penned a highly successful vampire series. Readers glimpse into the writer’s life, as Brenna types up her next erotic romance at the computer keyboard. I know the thoughts that may go through an erotic romance writer’s head as she’s writing—this was not too far of a stretch.

As far as the vampire part of the story, as mentioned, I’ve given vampires a great deal of thought—maybe more than the average person. It’s hard to say. But I don’t think the vampire of today would have the luxury of being a recluse in a mansion somewhere. We live in a high-tech information culture. I think today’s vamps would be highly tech savvy and know how to use technology with their special powers. And so that is what my Xander does. Instead of shape shifting into a bat, for example, or disappearing into thin air, he uses cable modems and wireless technology to travel. Yes. Right through the computer screen—or the smart phone.

This is not too difficult to imagine, right? If you were going to write a vampire story, what would your vamps be like? What skills or magic would they possess? I’d love to know. Of course, my Xander has a few other “gifts”…not quite of the technology kind. Wink.

Lady Smut Dark Desires Cover

The Lady Smut’s Book of Dark Desires is published on 6th November and is already available for pre-order HERE.

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