Every once in a while a story idea comes to me that I simply don’t have time to write. At the same time, that amazing story idea won’t let go of me. That’s exactly what happened while I was helping my father move out of my childhood home recently. I spent a couple of weeks in the small town I grew up in, and every day, I kept thinking about a couple of characters and a storyline that didn’t actually exist yet, all centered around my old stomping ground.

So what’s an author to do when she doesn’t have the time to flush out a story idea that’s niggling her brain? She brings in all of her amazing readers to help her come up with plot twists. Have you ever wanted to choose how a story might play out, but you didn’t actually want to do the writing or character development? Well… that’s exactly the kind of story we’re going to write together. Are you in?

Okay… let’s get to it. How is this going to work?

Each week, usually on Tuesday, I’m going to post a chapter or two of a short story — A Crimson Homecoming: a Payne’s Creek Romantic Suspense Serial. At the end of that portion of the story there will be a link to a Google form where you (the reader) will answer one question that will have a big impact on the direction the story will take the next week. On Friday, the answer with the most votes “wins.” That will be the direction the story goes. The next week (hopefully on Tuesday), I’ll post a new chapter or two, and we’ll do it all over again until it’s time to wrap up the story.

In other words, I come up with the initial concept, develop the characters and the setting, and do the writing, but you will challenge me with the direction you hope the plot will go with one click of the mouse. And (hopefully) you’ll want to share and get your friends involved and talking about the story. As we progress, the questions and choices will get harder, so you’re going to want your friends involved in the process so you can discuss it. (Share links are to the left and at the bottom of the post.)

So… How will you keep up with updates?

  1. You can stalk this blog.
  2. You can join the Sunserious Readers Facebook Group. I will post updates in there each week. This will also be a great way to discuss each new addition to the story.
  3. Or (and this is truly the best option), you can subscribe to receive a brief Email Alert anytime “A Crimson Homecoming” has been updated. (Click the link or scroll to the bottom of this post and sign up!)

If it were me, I would sign up to receive the alerts, and then I would join Sunserious Readers to discuss each portion of the story.

Okay, that’s enough talk. Let’s get started. Enjoy!


A Crimson Homecoming:

A Payne’s Creek Romantic Suspense Serial, Part I

Lil

The moment the rental car’s headlights lit up the “Welcome to Payne’s Creek” sign, my phone rang.

It was as if the people who lived here—all eight-thousand-five-hundred-and-fifty-three of them, according to the welcome sign—had a sixth sense. They knew the exact moment one of their fallen had returned to the scene of the crime—the crime of growing up and getting the hell out of your hometown, vowing to never return, but then inevitably crawling back home (far too often with their tail tucked between their legs).

I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a cell at the city jail that stayed empty, waiting for people like me who had gotten out the moment she turned eighteen and swore to never return unless it was for a short visit on the Fourth of July, Christmas Eve, or the Kaufman family reunion—all sacred holidays to my family. They’d use this cell to interrogate and brainwash someone like me into staying in Payne’s Creek for good this time.

My phone eventually stopped ringing, sending the unwanted call to voicemail, then immediately began ringing again.

With a sigh I grabbed my phone and answered on speaker. “Was there a camera at the border alerting you to the moment I arrived?” I asked Bryn, the one cousin I spoke with on a regular basis.

“What? No.” Her tone was serious. “You were supposed to text me when you landed. I like it when you are on the ground. You know I worry.” Bryn was the motherly type, which made up for the fact that I didn’t have a mother who possessed that trait.

“Sorry. A lot on my mind. My luggage didn’t make it—of course—and I had to rent a car.”

“You know, there are any number of people who would have picked you up at the airport.”

I rolled my eyes. Only a couple of people were supposed to know I was coming into town, and I wasn’t ready to face any of them. “I know, but I was going to need a car for the week anyway, so—”

“A week!”

I held the phone away from my ear to save my eardrum.

“You’re only staying for a week?”

“Calm down. A week is plenty of time to help Grammy.”

“Yeah, if every one of us pulls seven all-nighters, only stopping for pee breaks and fast food. You know Grammy isn’t going to allow us to eat McDon—”

“Bryn…” She continued on about how ridiculous I was to think I was only staying for a week. “Bryn!” I yelled louder.

“What?”

“Breathe. I’m here. We’ll negotiate the length of my stay later.”

“Oh. Okay. Good. Where are you headed now?”

“I’m gonna stay with Grammy tonight. She insisted.” I barely had the words out when I heard a loud bang, similar to a gunshot, and felt the lurch of my rental. “What the—”

“Lil? What was that? You okay?”

My car pulled to one side. “Yeah. I just blew a tire.” What else was going to go wrong tonight? I pulled over to the side of the road, came to a stop, and turned on my hazard lights.

“I’m gonna call someone,” Bryn said. “Where, exactly, are you?”

Before I could answer, flashing red and blue lights lit up my car from behind.

“No need. Help just arrived.”

“What do you mean?”

I strained my neck to look around. “It appears that the local police is here to save the day. I’ll call you back.”

“Wait!” Bryn called out. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

I took Bryn off of speaker and climbed out of the car as a tall man strode toward me. His cruiser’s bright lights prevented me from seeing his face, but by the way his T-shirt hugged his chest and was tucked into a pair of khakis, he was both fit and off duty. He rested his right hand at his hip, which I assumed was more out of habit and not because he was about to draw a sidearm. I lifted my hand to block his blinding headlights.

“Lil? Are you there?” Bryn asked.

“Yeah, I’m here.”

“Look… about the police—”

The man walking toward me came into full view. He stepped in front of the headlights, and that was when I saw his face clearly. “I’m going to have to call you back, Bryn.” I hung up and lowered my arm.

“Hi, Lil.”

I swallowed. Hard. Cooper Adams was the first man I ever loved. He was also the first and only man to ever break my heart. Soon after, I vowed to never speak to him again. Yet, here he was despite the fact that I thought he was off in Washington DC being an FBI agent and saving the world.

Looking at him produced a very strange and violent bodily response. I glanced to my right, looking for a place to throw up… just in case.

“Lil?”

I looked back at him. Focused on his dark brown eyes. Damn it, Lil, say something. “Cooper,” I managed, swallowing the nausea. I looked around him at the police car. “What are you doing here?”

“Well, I saw you pull over to the side of the road. Thought you might need help.”

“Not what I meant. What are you doing here? In Payne’s Creek?”

“That’s a long story, but the short version is I’m a Payne’s Creek police officer.” He nodded to the rental. “What’s the problem?”

“What?”

“You have your hazards on? You’re stopped on the side of a dark road? You’re obviously having car trouble.”

I followed his gaze toward the car.

“Oh. Yeah.” I gave my head a shake. “Sorry. It’s just—” I cut myself off. I was struggling to think straight. “It’s a rental. I blew a tire.”

He walked past me. Examined the shredded tire. Then, without bothering to ask, he walked to the driver-side door, opened it, and popped the trunk. “Why did you get a rental?” he asked as he pulled my carry-on suitcase out and began digging for the spare tire.

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“There are a number of people who would have been happy to have picked you up at the airport?”

I angled my head. “Are you on that list?”

He straightened and turned to me. “If you had called me, sure, I would have been happy to have picked you up.”

I smiled, then. Crossed my arms. “What’s the verdict? With the car?” I nodded toward the trunk.

“There’s no spare in the trunk. I’ll call Barry and have you towed.” He spoke as if I knew exactly who Barry was. I hadn’t lived in Payne’s Creek since I was eighteen. And seeing as I was about to turn thirty, a lot had changed in nearly twelve years. “You’ll have to call the rental company tomorrow. For now, I’ll give you a lift to wherever you’re headed.”

“Oh, no. You don’t need to do that. I’ll call—”

“You scared to be alone with me, Lily Pad?” He was already heading back toward his squad car with my suitcase.

I winced. Just hearing him call me that threatened to pull me to a place in our past that I had no intention of going. “Don’t call me that,” I said under my breath, but I didn’t think he heard me. I jogged to catch up to him. “Don’t be ridiculous. Why would I be scared?”

“Oh, I can think of a few reasons,” he said, opening his door. “Get in. I promise it will be nearly painless.”

“You can’t possibly promise that.”

◊◊◊◊◊

We rode in silence for more than five minutes. Finally, while staring out my window, I asked, “How long have you been back in town?”

“Six months.”

I looked at him. “Six months?” Cooper had been back in Payne’s Creek for six months, and no one had bothered to tell me? I texted or spoke with Bryn every single day. I talked to Grammy at least once a week. I angled my head. There was a story there, hidden behind those dark, shadowed blue eyes of his.

“I take it by your reaction that no one told you I had moved home. And you believe they should have. Interesting.”

“Why is that interesting?”

“I’m curious myself. Seeing as how upset you are, I’d venture to guess that they knew you’d have a reaction. I find it interesting that you care so much about my whereabouts.”

“Upset? I’m not upset. Why would I care where you live?”

He stopped the car in the middle of the road—right there in the middle of the country road. I turned around and looked behind us, then faced forward again. Beyond the illumination of the headlights in front of us and the taillights behind us lay nothing but darkness. “What are you doing? Why have you stopped?”

“Why do you care that I’m back in Payne’s Creek?”

“I don’t. Now, can we please go?”

He stared at me for one, two, three beats before he spoke again, letting the question go for now. “Fine. But you never told me where you wanted me to take you.”

“To Grammy’s.”

He began driving again. “She’ll be happy to see you. I heard she sold the old place. You here to help her move?”

“Something like that.” I didn’t want to tell him the full reason I had come to visit. It was none of his business.

“You still making children’s books?”

“Yes, I am. Why the interrogation?” His questions were starting to hit a sore subject.

He lifted both hands from the steering wheel. “Just making conversation.”

He turned down the country lane that would take us to Grammy’s, and for some reason, I couldn’t stop myself from asking him a question—one I didn’t deserve the answer to after how I’d just spoken to him. “I thought you were some hot shot FBI agent. What happened?”

He smiled. “I’m not allowed to ask you questions, but you can?”

“Fair point.” I returned to staring out the window. This was the longest trip to Grammy’s ever. “It’s just that I’d heard you were great at your job and had already received several promotions.”

“You seem to know a lot about me. I mean… for someone who walked out on our relationship.”

walked out? That’s funny. You and I seem to remember things quite differently.”

“And how do you remember it, exactly?” He pulled into the long driveway, lined with mature pine trees, leading up to Grammy’s house.

This conversation was ridiculous. Just like old times, we were arguing about the past, and about something that should definitely stay in the past. I was about to say exactly that when I noticed flashing red and blue lights near the house. Cooper and I traded concerned looks. “What’s going on?”

No matter the stupid conflict-filled conversation we’d been having, it was never a good sign to drive up to the house you were visiting and see police lights.

Cooper pulled up beside one of two cars from the sheriff’s office. We both got out and ran to the group of people huddled outside Grammy’s two-car garage. The sheriff and a deputy were speaking with Grammy and my cousin, Drew. An additional officer was running police “Do Not Cross” tape.

“Hey, Cooper,” the Sheriff said. “This isn’t your jurisdiction.”

I immediately sensed animosity between them.

“Sheriff Daniels,” he said as a hello. “Just giving Lil, here, a lift. What’s going on?”

“Well, since you’re here, maybe another set of eyes wouldn’t hurt.”

Grammy turned. “Lil,” she said, drowning out whatever Sheriff Daniels told Cooper. “You’re here.” She hugged me and led me away from the men.

I stopped and placed a hand on her arm. “What happened? Is anyone hurt?”

Drew crossed his arms and rocked back on his heels. “It’s not like she isn’t going to see it.” Drew wasn’t one to sugar coat anything, and he actually got irritated when members of our family kept things from the girls in the family simply because they were “too sensitive” to hear bad news.

“See what?” I asked. “Someone tell me what’s going on.”

Sheriff Daniels, his deputy, and Cooper walked past the double set of garage doors toward the back of the house. Drew, Grammy, and I followed. We made our way along a sidewalk toward a back patio, careful to stay outside the perimeter set by the police tape. To our left, somewhere in the darkness, would be the swimming pool. With overnight lows still occasionally dipping toward freezing this early in spring, the pool hadn’t yet opened for the season.

“I’m sure it’s just some kids playing a prank,” Grammy said beside me.

“It’s a sick prank, if that’s the case,” Drew added. “I dabbled in my share of mischief when I was younger. Damn if I ever would’ve dreamt up something this bad.”

“You’re not helping,” Grammy chastised.

The three officers stopped when we reached the back patio. Cooper turned to me suddenly and grabbed my arms in a protective manner, stopping me from going forward. He quickly loosened his grip and backed away. “Sorry,” he said as if just realizing it wasn’t his job to protect me. It might have been his job once upon a time, but not now.

“What is it?” I studied his eyes. When he didn’t answer, I pushed past him. My hand flew to my mouth when I saw what he had been trying to block me from. The French doors leading from Grammy’s house to the back patio were covered in a layer of red, trailing into a pool at the stoop of the porch.

“Is that blood?” I asked as the metallic stench reached my nose.

“Yes,” Drew said.

“It’s definitely blood,” Sheriff Daniels confirmed.

“I was trying to fix Grammy’s oven,” Drew said. “She was doing the dishes. When we both heard a loud bang on the back door.”

“It was that same sound I hear when birds try to fly through the glass—you know, just after I’ve cleaned the windows.” Grammy spoke as if nothing could shake her. I wasn’t sure if that was for my benefit, or if nothing really could shake her.

“I ran to the door to check it out and saw what I could only assume was blood. By the time I grabbed Grammy’s shot gun and got out another door, the fields behind the house were silent. I didn’t see or hear any cars.” Drew’s account of the situation sounded rehearsed—as if he’d repeated it to the officers so much that he had it memorized.

“What would cause this much blood?” I asked. Not a bird, that was for certain. I scanned the patio and the surrounding area, looking for some kind of animal or something. Splatters continued across the brick on the house, ran down the windows of the doors, staining the wood frame.

“Not sure. We won’t know until we’ve done an analysis. A forensic team is on their way out. They’ll search the area for anything that might have…” Sheriff Daniels’ voice trailed off.

“Died?” I finished for him.

“Yes.” He glanced uncomfortably at Cooper, looking for some sort of help, maybe. “It might be best if you take Ms. Kaufman somewhere else to sleep tonight.”

“Now, you hear me, Stoker Daniels,” Grammy said. “I will not be run out of my own home. You get your officers and detectives out here and do what you need to do. But I will be staying inside my own home and my own bed.”

Cooper shifted on his feet, and I sensed him moving closer to me.

“I’ll stay out here with them,” Drew said.

“That would be fine,” Grammy said. “I’m going to go fix up a guest room for you.” She looked at the sheriff. “Your men can take care of business, and you will let me know as soon as you know who or what did this to my house.”

Drew pulled something from his pocket—a business card—and handed it to Sheriff Daniels. “Call me if you find anything. I’ll keep my phone on.” He turned and followed Grammy.

I stared at the large volume of blood that had made a mess of Grammy’s beautiful flower pots and anything within a certain radius of the doors. “Thank you for the ride,” I said to Cooper. “Can I get my suitcase out of your car?”

“I’ll be right back,” Cooper told Sheriff Daniels. A silent message passed between them. The sheriff nodded.

Cooper followed me back to his cruiser. “Are you sure you and your Grammy wouldn’t be better off staying with Bryn? Or one of your other cousins?”

“Drew’s here. You heard Grammy. And I’m not completely helpless.” I’d lived in New York City long enough to have a good sense of how to protect myself.

“I wasn’t suggesting…” He placed a hand on the door to his squad car, preventing me from opening it. “Look. I get that there’s strain between us. And don’t think for a second that I’ve forgotten where our conversation was going earlier. We’ll pick that up again later. But—”

“But what, Cooper? You gonna stand there and tell me you’re worried about me? Please.” I rolled my eyes. “You haven’t been concerned about me in years.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Lil. I get that you’re angry about something, but there is definitely something unresolved between us, and I plan to make sure we find out what. He removed his palm from the door. “It’s late. We’ll finish this conversation in the light of day after the police have caught whoever did that to your grandmother’s back door.” He opened the back door of his squad car. After grabbing my suitcase and setting it beside me, he cupped a hand to my cheek, much like he had all those years ago when we were together, and said, “Welcome home, Lil.”


What happens next? You decide. Click this link and cast your vote by Friday. (UPDATE: The voting for Part I is closed. You can jump straight to Part II by CLICKING HERE.)

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See you next Tuesday!

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