Sweet Pepper, Tennessee, has the world’s hottest and sweetest peppers—as well as a ghost that cooks and a fire chief who fights crime...
SPARK OF INTEREST
Stella Griffin should be bubbling over with joy now that she’s the full-time fire chief of Sweet Pepper, except trouble is brewing on her doorstep. An angry resident has purchased her cabin, and—with a bulldozer in tow—is ready to tear it down. But as Stella worries over the fate of her home and Eric, her ghostly roommate, there’s soon an even greater cause for alarm.
A suspicious house fire in the pricey Sunset Beach community at Sweet Pepper Lake claims the life of ex-state representative Barney Falk. The nature of the death has Stella feeling out of her depth, so she teams up with the state’s arson investigator. Moving full steam ahead with the case, they must smoke out a killer before the firebug strikes again...
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J. J. Cook is a pseudonym for a married couple who writes mysteries, mostly set in the South, with a touch of paranormal and romance. In Hot Water is the third Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade novel. As J. J. Cook, they also write the Biscuit Bowl Food Truck mysteries.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Sweet Pepper Fire Chief Stella Griffin stood between a bulldozer being loaded off the back of a truck and the log cabin where she lived. Her temper was as hot as her mid-length red hair.
She’d spent more than a year living in the cabin—a perk from the town council for her service to the community. She’d always known it wasn’t meant to be permanent. The property belonged to the town. But she didn’t expect to be kicked out either.
Stella glared at councilman Bob Floyd, who’d purchased the property that day. She’d known it had been for sale, but until now, no one had wanted it.
Bob didn’t want it either. He only wanted to destroy the last remaining vestige of the first Sweet Pepper fire chief, Eric Gamlyn.
“I can’t believe the town council is sanctioning the cabin being demolished,” she said to the man she’d come to dislike. “It’s part of Sweet Pepper’s history.”
She was playing for time. They both knew it. Stella was hoping someone would show up and stop this from happening. She’d called everyone she could think of in town—from the police to local businessmen. So far they were all a no-show.
“I can do what I like.” Bob waved his deed in her face. The wind blew off the Smoky Mountains, moving his curly gray hair like an old mop on his head. “And I want this cabin down now!”
Stella had already looked at the deed. She knew she had to have some rights. Surely he had to give her time to move out.
“I have to get my things out of the cabin,” she stalled.
He laughed. “I’ll give you twenty minutes. Get out or get trampled.”
She ducked inside the old cabin and closed the door. She needed a minute to think, to come up with a plan. It wasn’t just her things and the cabin she was protecting. The actual, ghostly embodiment of the former fire chief was waiting in the kitchen.
“What’s going on?” Eric Gamlyn asked. “Can he really tear down the cabin?”
Eric was as tall as he had been in life, well over six feet. He was a big man with broad shoulders and narrow hips. His arms were strongly muscled from years of hard work. He’d built the log cabin and the original firehouse down the road. Then he’d created the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade.
That had been more than forty years ago.
His longish blond hair would forever be held back from his face with a leather thong, as it had been on the day he’d died. He wore a red Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade T-shirt and jeans.
Stella had gotten used to her ghostly roommate after moving here from Chicago to help train the new fire brigade. It hadn’t been easy. Believing in ghosts, despite her Irish father’s tales of ghostly ancestors, hadn’t been on her bucket list. Eric had made a believer out of her first and then a friend.
“I don’t know.” She picked up the phone, glad that she’d had the landline installed. She didn’t have time to run back to the main road where she’d get cell service. “I’m not running away. He may tear this place down, but it won’t be without a fight. I’ve called everyone I can think of. Bob owns the property, but there must be some loophole or law that says he can’t show up here and force me out on the same day.”
She could hear the bulldozer out front revving its engine. No doubt courtesy of Bob’s impatience to get rid of the cabin, and Eric’s ghost.
Bob, and most of the people who lived in the Sweet Pepper area, believed the cabin was haunted. They’d warned her about it when she’d first moved there. It wasn’t a legend type of thing either—they firmly believed Eric’s ghost was there.
Stella knew she’d made a mistake threatening to send Eric’s ghost to get Bob. She could see that now. She’d only wanted the short, ambitious barber to back off. He’d hired someone to burn the woods around the cabin. She wasn’t going to put up with that.
Not like she could really “send” Eric anywhere. He was trapped in the cabin that had been his home. But Bob didn’t know that. He’d been terrified by the idea.
Before the old firehouse he’d built had been destroyed, Eric had at least been able to appear there as well. Not anymore. That was what worried her. What would become of Eric if his cabin was destroyed?
Part of the problem was that Eric and Bob hadn’t exactly been friends before Eric died. The other part was that the cabin was on valuable land that fronted the Little Pigeon River. Thousands of people came to go rafting and tubing every summer now that Sweet Pepper had become a tourist stop in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Stella had planned to buy the place herself after this year’s three-day Sweet Pepper Festival was over. Nothing went on while the festival was in progress—as it was now. It took over the small town. Bob must have heard something about that and decided to put a stop to her plans. Nothing was a secret here for long.
It had been a hard decision for her to leave her life in Chicago behind and stay here as the permanent fire chief. She wasn’t going to start by losing the cabin she’d come to love, and Eric.
“What’s that?” He nudged the blue ribbon she’d put on the table. “Did we win something in the recipe contest?”
“Not that it’s important right now, but yes, we won first place in the festival for the candied, stuffed pepper recipe yesterday,” she told him.
He’d done most of the cooking in that effort. She was a toast and Pop-Tarts girl. Eric loved to cook. It was weird watching bowls and pots whizzing through the air as he worked.
“Really?” He looked surprised. Sometimes he became stronger, more visible—more human in appearance. Most of the time, he was a little see-through and tended to float above the hardwood floor. But he’d been real enough to save her life when the old firehouse had been destroyed.
“Didn’t you think we’d win?” She couldn’t believe they were even talking about this when they were both about to be evicted.
“Not really. I never won while I was alive.”
It was her turn to be surprised. “I can’t believe it. And after all the ladies in town thought you were so hot. I assumed they’d let you win just to spend time with you.”
“My charms with the female population of Sweet Pepper have been greatly exaggerated,” he quipped. “You might’ve guessed that since I was still alone when I died.”
“Or I might’ve picked up on that from all the other greatly exaggerated stories about you. According to local legend, you single-handedly felled all the trees needed to build this cabin and the old firehouse in one day. You climbed mountains in single leaps. I think there was even a story about you changing the course of the river by wading into it.”
He laughed. Despite the fact that he was a ghost, Stella could make out laugh lines around his bright blue eyes. He had a hearty laugh too. He could scare the birds off the roof sometimes.
“Chief Griffin!” Bob Floyd yelled at the cabin. “I’m only giving you another five minutes.”
Stella looked out the window. Bob was careful not to get too close. None of her friends had arrived. No police officers had shown up either. Where was everyone? Were they afraid to deal with Bob?
“Don’t worry about it,” Eric advised. “Like I said before, if the cabin goes, I’ll wander the woods. It’s okay. Maybe you should get your stuff out. I don’t think he’s bluffing with that big bulldozer. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“No. I’m not taking anything out and running away. There have to be eviction laws here, even if he owns the property. I must have ninety days or something. Where is John, for God’s sake? He should be here by now.”
Officer John Trump was one of Sweet Pepper’s finest. He was also a member of the fire brigade. He and Stella had an on-again, off-again romantic relationship, although recently it had been more off than on. But no matter what, he’d always helped her when she needed it.
She needed it now.
The sounds of the bulldozer and the large truck that had brought it were almost deafening in the usual quiet of the woods on the mountaintop. It was part of why Stella loved the spot. There were crickets, and bats that swooped down on the wide deck in the back of the cabin. On quiet nights, she could even hear the river murmuring as it went by.
“I’m sorry,” she said to Eric. “I should’ve taken care of this right away when I got back from Chicago. I knew I was going to stay in Sweet Pepper. I should’ve secured my position before Bob had a chance to do this.”
Stella had gone home to Chicago after training the fire brigade, but it had only been to get her things. She’d known she was staying before she went back.
“Spoken like a fire chief.”
“Why aren’t you upset? I’ve seen you more upset over the outcome of a game of Jeopardy on TV. Can’t you do something ghostly?”
“You know my perimeter only extends about fifty feet from the cabin.” He shrugged. “Maybe once they move in here closer I can do something. Right now, all I can do is stand here and talk to you. What do you think we should make for the next Sweet Pepper Festival now that this one is all but over?”
“That’s a year away. I think we need to fix this problem first.”
Stella heard barking and knew Hero, one of the fire brigade’s Dalmatians, was outside. He was a large puppy with long legs and a sweet disposition. They were training him, and his mother, Sylvia, to be rescue dogs.
Maybe he could use his cute face and sweet nature to divert Bob and his wrecking machine. She wished it were that easy. Bob didn’t seem to be the kind of man who’d care about the puppy, one way or another.
The sound of a police siren also got her attention. Maybe John was here too. She hoped he had good news about Bob’s claim on the property.
“Looks like one of your white knights is here to save you.” Eric nodded toward the window in the kitchen that faced out from the front of the cabin.
It was John. He was followed by two members of the fire brigade in the Jeep Cherokee the town had bought for the group. Former Sweet Pepper police chief Walt Fenway was there too.
“Don’t worry.” Stella opened the door. “I won’t let anything happen to this place.”
As she went out, Hero ran into the cabin. He and Eric had a special relationship. Hero seemed to be able to see and hear Eric. He spent most of his time at the cabin.
Stella ignored Bob and his bulldozer. She ran to John, who was getting out of his police car. Kent Norris and the mayor’s son, Bert Wando, were already out of the Jeep Cherokee.
“John! Did you listen to the message I left you? Is there something we can do to stop this?” Stella asked.
“Legally, he can evict a tenant from this property,” John said. “But he has to give you ninety days.”
John was one of the fire brigade’s most valuable members. He had ten years on the police force and was good in emergency situations. His dark brown eyes were steady and serious in his good-looking, square-jawed face.
Stella liked the tiny dimple in his cheek when he smiled. It reflected his sense of humor. She enjoyed John’s company, even though they frequently argued over what seemed to be petty things. Some of those arguments had slowed down their budding romance.
“Can you tell him?” she asked. “Bob has seriously lost it over this.”
“I can do more than that. Excuse me, Chief.” John sauntered over to where Bob was staring at the old cabin.
Kent and Bert joined Stella quickly. She noticed Walt was getting around a little better after a recent injury, but still limping.
“What the hell is going on now?” Walt demanded with his usual fierceness. “Can’t a man get any rest?”
Walt was barely five feet tall with a heavy pelt of yellow-white hair that looked like it hadn’t seen a comb in years. He was nearing seventy but was still a tough character.
He’d been friends with Eric when the old fire chief was still alive. He liked to visit and talk with Eric, though he couldn’t hear or see him. Walt relied on Stella to translate what Eric had to say.
“Thanks for coming,” Stella said. “How are you doing? I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“I knew I should run for police chief again,” Walt grunted. “You and Eric are like family to me. If that jackass tries to tear down your home, I’ll give him a whack in the head with my cane!”
Walt swung his cane to show her what he meant. Stella caught his arm before he could fall.
“Can he really tear down the cabin?” Bert Wando had recently graduated from high school and started at the community college in Sevierville, the nearest large town to Sweet Pepper.
He’d been with the present fire brigade since it had started, when he was still the star quarterback for the Sweet Pepper High School Cougars. He’d hoped to go on to a big college with an important football program, but his grades weren’t good enough. His skill with a football was heroic for Sweet Pepper, yet no scouts had offered for him.
Bert had taken it in stride with a maturity that had impressed Stella. He reminded her a lot of the Dalmatian puppy—leggy and sweet, cute and good-natured.
“I don’t know yet,” Stella admitted. “Bob says he can. John says no.”
Kent Norris was a forty-something over-the-road trucker who drove the fire brigade’s pumper-tanker. He was trying to get rid of the stomach he’d built up from his wife’s good cooking, without much luck. “They’re hashing it out over there. That means there’s a gray area.”
“Or John is too scared of Bob to put his foot down,” Walt said. “Where’s Don Rogers? He should be up here at a time like this.”
Don Rogers was the Sweet Pepper police chief, and not exactly Stella’s biggest fan. He’d been angry since she’d first came, not expecting a woman, or someone from outside the community, to take the position.
“You know we don’t get along so well,” Stella said. “He might’ve put Bob up to doing this to get rid of me.”
“That shouldn’t matter,” Walt told her. “He swore an oath of office, same as I did, to enforce the law. He should be here.”
“It looks like you’ve got more company, Chief.” Kent glanced at the older Volkswagen Beetle that had chugged up the mountain road. “The Smittys are here.”
The Smittys were Pat and John Smith who ran the Sweet Pepper Gazette, the only newspaper in town. They got out of their car, both of them with cameras, to find out what was going on. As usual, they were dressed the same—tan trench coats, sneakers, and jeans. They were both about the same height and weight and had gray hair.
Stella was glad to see them. She hadn’t thought of calling them, but it was good to have them there. Whatever Bob chose to do would be recorded and read by a lot of people in town. He might think twice before he did anything completely stupid. He might want to run for reelection again.
“So, what have we got going on up here now?” John squinted at the old cabin. “Somebody gave us a call about the situation. Care to elaborate, Chief Griffin?”
Stella gave them the whole story, from her point of view. The Smittys, both in their mid-fifties, took pictures and nodded. The Smittys absorbed what she had to say and then walked over to where John was still arguing with Bob.
“I think John might have the upper hand now,” Kent observed. “He’s sending the bulldozer driver back ...
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Buchbeschreibung Berkley, 2015. Taschenbuch. Buchzustand: Sehr gut. 304 Seiten Sehr gepflegtes Gebraucht-/Antiquariatsexemplar. Zustand unter Berücksichtigung des Alters sehr gut. Tagesaktueller, sicherer und weltweiter Versand. Wir liefern grundsätzlich mit beiliegender Rechnung. 1067469.01 Sprache: Englisch Gewicht in Gramm: 141. Artikel-Nr. 514639