My Reading List

What am I reading right now?

Love Finds You in Valentine, Nebraska by Irene Brand

Love Finds You in Miracle, Kentucky by Andrea Boeshaar


I discovered this collection of novel projects by a publisher where they supply the location and three ideas and the writers supplies a contemporary 30,000 word novel set in that location and containing those three items.

I chose these particular books because they are similar in type- contemporary Christian romances set in real locations.

I haven’t read many contemporary Christian novels or written many contemporary stories, so I am actually using them for research.

The story I chose was set in Happy Valley, Oregon- box of crayons, shelving unit, and a police officer. I was pumped. And I wrote the first 2,500 words. Did some more planning and plotting…

And discovered that as of the 18th of this month the publisher stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Bummer.

But I did come up with an interesting idea. Remember that this is an uncompleted first draft. It’s far, far from perfect. But enjoy it anyway. And if you like it or have a comment, then let me know. I’d love to hear from you… even if you tell me it stinks.

And here it is….


“Whatta we got?”
Officer Hamilton Bryant turned at the sound of the sergeant’s voice.
“Possible attempted homicide or robbery. Teen shot multiple times, no wallet. Witnesses saw a man wearing a matching shirt and hat fleeing the scene.”
“What are you doing here? Aren’t you off duty?”
Bryant nodded. “This is my church. We finished services about quarter of an hour ago.”
“Is the kid a member?”
“I don’t think so. At least I’ve never seen him before. Doesn’t mean he’s not part of the youth program or a bus kid, though.”
“Will he make it?”
“Medics think so. They’ve got him bandaged up and transporting him to the hospital now.”
“How many witnesses?”
Bryant pointed toward the small crowd milling at the front of the church. Several of the ladies had their arms wrapped around them as if cold, but Bryant suspected it was from shock and not a chill. The night air was warm in August even in Northern Oregon. “Officer Hurston and I have finished the interviews, we’re just waiting for your ok to send these poor people home.”
Sergeant Carswell nodded. “Sure. I’ll check with forensics and see what info they’ve gathered.” The sergeant moved away toward the forensic specialist picking up something off the ground with a pair of tweezers in the taped off area. Bryant shook his head, that was a job he wouldn’t want, bagging and tagging hair fibers and chewing gum and cigarettes was not his cup of tea. He preferred the human element — interviews, interrogations, profiling- a private fascination and late night hobby. He signaled to his partner Officer Lillian Hurston to release the witnesses- members of his own church family. It was hard to watch them. He was used to scenes like the one tonight, hardened more like it. His sister accused him of becoming an emotion-less robot. It wasn’t intentional, more like a subconscious method of survival. It was a tough job — one that required a level of emotional detachment. As they walked to their cars, the congregation tried to avert their eyes from the pools of blood on the black asphalt, but no matter how hard they tried it was impossible to look away. Humans have such a morbid curiosity. Officer Hurston approached. Her fingers reached up and straightened his clip-on tie.
“You’re quite handsome in your civies, you know?”
Bryant ran his sweaty palms through his thick brown hair and rubbed the back of his neck. He read the look in Lillian’s eyes. If only they weren’t partners. Precinct policy- never date your partner. He smiled at the blonde. She’d changed little since their days at the police academy in Portland. Both local residents of Happy Valley, they’d hit it off right away and had even dated a few times. Lillian was pretty, sweet, generous, and as loyal as a golden retriever. He always knew she had his back and he had hers. She had all the qualities he was looking for in a life partner, but their day job kept her off limits.
“I’ve gotta get back to the precinct and start on all this typing while it’s still fresh.”
Bryant nodded. “I’ll come with. Pretty sure my night’s ruined anyway. Don’t think I could sleep now.”
“Wanna grab some coffee on the way?”
“Sure. Need a ride?”
“Yes. I rode over with the sergeant, but he left to canvass the area looking for the perp.”
Together they walked towards a burnt sienna colored Odyssey minivan. As Bryant held open the door, Lillian eyed the sticky cup holders, stained seats, and gobs of McDonald’s cheeseburger wrappers. “What’s this?”
“My sister’s minivan.”
“Where’s your car?”
“At the shop.”
Lillian rolled her eyes and locked her seatbelt into place. “Again? Why don’t you get a new car?”
Bryant scoffed in mock annoyance. “That car’s a classic!”
“Classic is just another word for piece of junk.” His partner shook her head.
He turned the key and the engine rumbled. He checked the left side mirror and pulled out onto the quiet street. “Call me sentimental. It was once my grandfather’s car.”
“Definitely mental.” Lillian whispered under her breath. In a normal voice she said, “Sentimental over a piece of metal.”
“Wow. That was almost poetic.” Bryant grinned and glanced at his partner.
Lillian laughed. “Poetic justice every time it breaks down on you. I know what you make. You can afford a new car.”
Bryant flipped his left blinker and slid into the center turn lane. When the traffic was clear, he pulled across and into the parking lot of their favorite coffee stop. At the drive-thru window, he ordered two coffees, one with cream and sugar, one black– both caffeinated. They might need it tonight. He knew he would.
The rest of the way to the precinct, the two sipped their hot coffee in silence. Bryant parked in the nearly vacant lot. The station itself was lit up like a Christmas tree, florescent lights beamed through bullet-proof windows. Bryant opened the front door for Lillian and then followed her into the air-conditioned lobby. A large glass partition blocked a reception counter and empty swivel chair. The  cold-natured receptionist, Joy Knoll, had long gone home for the evening, but her white sweater still draped over the back of the chair. The two officers crossed the tile floor and Brant swiped his badge to gain access to the detective area, where they stashed their keys and personal effects, before heading into the report writing room. They spent the next two hours typing up the witness interviews and comparing notes about the case.
“Anything useful?” Bryant asked.
Lillian shook her head. “The only notes about the shooter is a white male, matching shirt and hat, and left the scene on foot. Unless he never does laundry, I doubt we’ll spot him wearing the same combination. Was there any bullet casings?”
Bryant looked over his notes. “Forensics recovered the brass, pretty standard though.”
“Hopefully, we’ll know more when forensics gets a hold of the bullets, maybe they can trace the weapon.”
“Still have to identify the victim and alert the next of kin. Nobody at the church recognized the kid.”
Lillian leaned back in her chair and rubbed her tired eyes. “Poor kid.”
“Maybe. Still don’t know why he was shot.”
“Of course.” She sighed. “Anyway, how did the National Night out go?” Once a year, Happy Valley broke out in neighborhood block parties and the local police stopped by as many as possible. Lights whirling. Sirens Blaring. It helped strengthen the bond between law officers and civilians. A much needed bond in these present times.
“Great. The kids love sitting in the cars and McGruff was there.”
“I wish I could have been there. But I think my sister would have never forgiven me if I’d skipped out on her wedding.”
Bryant laughed. Lillian’s eyes twinkled. He sighed and turned to look at the clock on the wall. “It’s getting late. Do you need a ride home?”
Lillian shook her head. “Not yet. I still have some other business to take care of.”
Bryant raised his eyebrow. “Anything I can help with?”
“No, not really. It’s personal.” But she shifted her eyes, Bryant knew that meant she was hiding something. It was a bad idea to keep secrets from your partner. Each member of the team had to stay in tiptop mental shape at all times. Secrets caused distrust and you couldn’t distrust the one who held your life in their hands. He considered pushing for an answer, but the look on her face convinced him to let it go– for now.  He changed the subject.
“Did Sergeant Carswell mention that thing on Saturday?”
Lillian took a sip of her coffee and stuck out her tongue. “Yuck. It’s cold.” Bryant smiled. “Yeah, he mentioned it. What time are you getting there?”
“Probably 9:30 to start setting up.”
“Ok. Sounds good. I’ll meet you there.”
Bryant left the room and went back to his desk. He retrieved his wallet, keys, and weapon from the drawer. He dropped the gun back in the holster on his hip and went outside to his sister’s minivan. The night sky was filled with twinkling stars and chirping crickets. Bryant started the engine and drove home to his apartment. He was pretty sure there was still leftover pizza in the fridge.


Bryant heard the phone ring while he was in the shower. He turned off the stream of water and stepped out into the steamy bathroom. He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist before running out. He smiled when he saw the caller ID. He swiped his finger across the screen and put it to his ear. “Morning, Becky.”
“Morning, Hambone.”
Bryant chuckled. 27 years old and a cop and his sister still couldn’t come up with a more dignified nickname. “Sup?”
“Whatcha doing during your lunch break?”
“Ha ha. So, I’m going to that bookstore behind the middle school later, can you join me?”
“What’s up?”
“Nothing. I just want to catch up with my baby brother.” Right. Sure she did.
“Okay. I can be there about 12:30.”
“Works for me. See you then.”
Becky hung up and Bryant set down the phone. He returned to the bathroom and finished getting ready for work.


At noon, he swung by a fast food place and grabbed something to eat and then drove across town to the bookstore where his sister, Becky Thorne planned to meet him. Becky was the principal at the Christian school at one of the local churches. The schools budget was small, so to help compensate, Becky went to the Happy Valley Books, where teachers could pick up used materials for bargain basement prices. He parked the minivan and went inside. The store smelled like Clorox and books. He walked up and down the shelving units until she spied his sister rifling though boxes. He snuck up behind her and grabbed her around the waist. Becky shrieked and jumped off the ground. “Don’t do that!”
“Good to see you too, sis.”
Becky shook her head. “Hey Hambone. When can I have my minivan back?”
“Hopefully by the end of the week.”
“No, the end of next week.”
Becky groaned. “Hamilton.”
“I know. I know. Sorry about the inconvenience.”
His sister turned back to the boxes and continued picking up different books and looking through them. She began piling them in Bryant’s arms. “Here, hold these.” After a few moments she asked, “Have you heard anything more about the kid last night?”
Bryant shook his head. “Only that he’s going to make it. CSI has the bullets now, so maybe we can get lucky. Do you recognize him?”
Becky nodded. “Yeah. He was a student at my school a couple years back. He’d already been expelled from the other schools in the area. We were his last hope. He dropped out as soon as he was able and I haven’t heard from him since. I guess he fell into a bad lot.”
Becky laid a few more books on the growing stack. Bryant shifted the weight to his other arm. “By the way, thanks for taking the kids to that movie in the park last Thursday.”
“Any time.”
“They really enjoyed it and David and I enjoyed the time alone.”
“No sweat. I enjoyed it too. They’re good kids.”
“Speaking of kids…” Here is comes.
“At Ben’s taekwondo class on Tuesday, I met this young mother, Lisa McKinney. Her son is just starting kindergarten this year and they’re new to town. So I thought–”
“You know what? I’ve asked you to stop trying to hook me up.”
“But Hamilton, she’s a nice lady. I just think if you give her a chance.”
“I’m sure she is, but you know how I feel.”
“I’m just looking out for my baby brother. I want you to find someone and settle down.”
“I can’t do that, Becky.” Bryant turned away and set the heavy pile of books on an empty shelf. He pulled at his collared shirt and clip-on tie. The bookstore grew warmer by the minute.
“Because of the shootings.” His sister’s voice grew quiet. She’d hit the nail right on the head. Officers were being killed all over the country. What kind of future could he give a wife? His job had always been a dangerous one, but now more than ever. He was committed to his career, no question about it, but it seemed so wrong to involve a wife into this kind of uncertainty. It wouldn’t be fair. He was prepared to spend his life as a bachelor. It was for the best. “Hamilton. You can’t let fear stop you from living your life.”
“I’m not. I just don’t want to ruin someone else’s.”


Saturday morning, Bryant woke before his alarm clock. As he drove to the Farmer’s Market at the park, he rolled down the windows so he could breath in the smell of the overnight rain. The grass was still wet and puddles spotted the parking lot, but the sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky. He unloaded his supplies from the back of the van, boxes of McGruff coloring books and honorary deputy pins.
“Mountains Out.”
Bryant looked up to see Officer Hurston walking toward him carrying two Venti coffees. “Yeah. Going to be a beautiful day.” She handed him one of the cups. He took a long sip of the steaming joe. “Ready for this?”
“Sure, I think it’ll be fun.”
The two officers drank their coffee and watched the other vendors arrive and set up their displays. The Farmer’s market always had such a variety to offer from organic vegetables to home raised honey, homemade soaps and crafts. At 10:00, the officers and the Taekwondo Grandmaster began a self-defense demonstration for a crowd of about 50 kids and their parents. Bryant passed out the coloring books and pins and they both posed for photos and groupies. By noon, Bryant was ready for the break. His stomach growled. “Want something to eat?” He asked Lillian.
“No, thank you. I have some errands to run. I’ll be back this afternoon.”
“Oh, ok.” Lillian hurried to her car without so much as a glance back. Bryant tried to bury the uneasy feeling in his stomach. Lunch. He needed some food. He wandered through the venders in search of something to eat. He took a sniff and smiled at the scent that filled his nose. He was in luck- a troop of boys scouts dished up hot dogs and chips raising money for their big jamboree. Bryant bought two dogs and threw some extra into the donation jar. “Thanks, Officer.” said the boy scout. He saluted and stood to attention. Bryant grinned and saluted back.


What happens next?

Well, if you actually read this far- maybe I’ll tell you.


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