Today we have the lovely A.L. Lester here to talk about her surprise release, Playing Chicken. Make sure to read to the end so you don’t miss the giveaway!
Thank you so much for having me here to day to talk about my new short story, Playing Chicken! It’s a meet-cute bit of fluff that I accidentally wrote as a distraction from Real Life ™ over the last couple of weeks. I have recently joined the UK Romance Novelist’s Association’s Welsh chapter (Cariad Chapter—cariad means love in Welsh) and we are doing a Thing next week around St Dwynwen’s Day, the 25th January. Dwynwen is sometimes talked about as ‘The Welsh St Valentine’ and I have written all about her on my own blog, so I won’t repeat that here!
Playing Chicken is not my usual style at all. I usually write longer, historical-paranormal romances and recently non-binary characters have been making more of an appearance in my stories. At the moment as my main project, I’m writing a trilogy set in my Lost in Time paranormal universe, which is going to have a fair amount of angst and baddies.
It was pure relief to write something cosy and sweet and just…kind.
The setting for the story is actually a friend’s house. They have an old gamekeeper’s cottage isolated in the middle of a Welsh forest, and you have to drive half a mile down a muddy track to get to it. It’s wonderful. I’d love to live there! So impractical in my current situation, but for Marc and Mal and Anghared the deerhound, it’s perfect.
My life is much less full of animals now than it was a decade ago. I used to run a market stall selling eggs at the farmer’s market locally, and I bred hens. At one point I had two hundred chickens. We still have a dozen to lay eggs for ourselves, but that’s it, these days. It was lovely to revisit my poultry-keeping past and write about not-Marc’s chickens. I envisage them as Buff Orpingtons, huge and fluffy. Poor Marc doesn’t quite know what to do about them, but they are very gentle-natured and I’m sure he’ll be fine!
His first aid kit was rudimentary but covered the basics. Antiseptics, dressings, butterfly strips. It should do the job. He hauled it out from under the driver’s seat, eyeing the squeezed-in boxes disfavourably. That was going to be today’s job, he supposed.
He was so taken up with his mission that he forgot there should have been a chicken in the porch until he turned back toward the house. He blinked in disbelief. She had a friend. Two friends. They were sat in a row on the back of the garden bench underneath the parlour window. As he watched, they jumped down, one by one and stood in a line, as if waiting for him. The two new ones were very clearly the same breed as Chicken Number One. Big, fluffy, orange. One had more exciting headgear than the other two and was a bit bigger, so he guessed that was a boy-chicken. Cockerel. Cock. He sniggered quietly and then stopped himself as the first chicken…he could tell it was the original one because it had a bit of black in its tail and the others didn’t…looked at him disapprovingly.
Obviously cock jokes were out. The telepathic chicken didn’t like it.
“Sorry,” he said. “I was just getting the first aid kit for Mal. I’ll stop.”
He performed a shuffling dance around them to get back indoors. “You’re like the Midwich Cuckoos,” he told them. “You are not coming into my house. Stay outside. It’s bad enough having a porch full of chicken shit.”
Mal was on his feet looking at him in alarm when he stepped through the parlour door, and the dog was standing beside him, hackles up.
“Who were you talking to?” he asked in a panicked voice. “Is someone out there?”
Marc shook his head. “Chickens,” he said. “I seem to have chickens living in the porch. It’s fine. He narrowed his eyes. “What makes you think there might be someone out there? Who hurt you?”
Mal sat down on the edge of the chair and ran his hands over his cheeks, pulling a face. The dog sat beside him and put her chin on his knee, staring up at him, and he absently began to pet her ears. Marc knelt beside him and opened the first-aid box.
“My ex’s dad,” he said, quietly, after a moment or two. We’d split up anyway. Ages ago. But he saw me in Welshpool a couple of days ago and wanted to drive the point home.’ He shivered. “I’d only gone down into town to pick up some food and bits.” He winced as Marc turned his face toward the light and began to wipe the cut against his hairline with antiseptic. “I’d left Anghared up here, else he wouldn’t have got near me.”
The dog gave a small woof as she heard her name.
“Would he, girl? Stupid man.”
“So how did you end up in my barn?” Marc said, gently fixing butterfly strips over the cut. It had come open again and was bleeding a bit, but it looked like it would be fine. “Come on, let’s look at your ribs too, while I’m at it.”
“They’re fine, honestly. Only bruised.” Mal pulled away and Marc just looked at him. Mal sighed. “All right, all right.” He began to unzip the big hoodie he was swamped in and winced again. Marc raised an eyebrow, silently asking for permission and then reached out to help when Mal nodded. There were a lot of layers to get through and it took a while to gently extract him. The cold was still coming off him in waves and he was shivering badly as he said, “I’ve been staying up in the woods. But I felt too bad to get home. Anghared found me, didn’t you girl? And we needed somewhere out of the cold. I’m freezing, still.”
He was shuddering, which was probably a good thing in retrospect, Marc thought. He hadn’t been shivering at all when he’d first come inside. Incipient hypothermia. He had a quick look and a gentle feel of the ribs. They were badly bruised but he couldn’t feel anything shifting around, so he’d call that good. Mal’s skin was icy cold under Marc’s fingers.
“Bath?” he said. “Or body-heat?”
“Ugh,” he screwed his face up. “Do I have to?”
“Yes,” said Marc firmly. “I don’t want you to die on my first day home for two and a half years. If that’s all right.”
Marc returns home from London to his isolated Welsh cottage for good, having found his ex boyfriend shagging someone else in their bed. Who’s the thin, freezing cold man with the bruised face he finds in his barn? Will the tenuous connection between them grow, or fade away?
A 9,000 word short story to mark the Welsh St Valentine’s Day, St Dwynwen’s Day, the 25th of January. With chickens.
- Tag line: A short contemporary gay romance to mark St Dwynwen’s Day – the Welsh St Valentine. With Chickens.
- Genre: Gay, romance, contemporary, meet-cute, short story
- Length: 9,000 words
- Release Date: 18 Jan 2020
- Buy: http://books2read.com/playingchicken
To celebrate the release of Playing Chicken, Ally is giving away a copy of her New York Times Book Review featured story, Taking Stock. Click here to join!
About A.L. Lester
Writer of queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense. Lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, a badly behaved dachshund, a terrifying cat and some hens. Likes gardening but doesn’t really have time or energy. Not musical. Doesn’t much like telly. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has tedious fits.
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