A hot dog and a hot head are on the loose in Sweet Pepper, Tennessee, and it’s up to Fire Chief Stella Griffin to collar them both...
The Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade’s newly adopted Dalmatian puppy, Hero, is missing. Stella believes he just wandered away from her cabin and got lost. But despite posters and searches by the fire brigade and spotty sightings by locals, there are no leads, and the furry fire fighter has yet to return.
Stella is already worried with a series of progressively dangerous arson fires plaguing Sweet Pepper. And oddly enough, Hero’s appearances are coinciding with the fires. Now with the help of the ghost of Sweet Pepper’s former fire chief, Stella will have to dig up some clues if she hopes to find the pup before he’s lost for good—and find the arsonist before someone loses a life.
Includes a preview of the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery, Playing with Fire
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Sweet Pepper fire chief Stella Griffin stood on the back deck of her rented cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. She was looking down at the Little Pigeon River as she drank the last can of Coke from her refrigerator. She preferred Coke to coffee in the morning, though more often than not since she’d come to Sweet Pepper, she had coffee.
It was hard to remember to keep the remote cabin well stocked. Stores were harder to get to than in her hometown of Chicago. Now when people offered coffee, or any other beverage or food, she was likely to take them up on it.
Hero, the young Dalmatian that had been adopted by the members of the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade, was jumping at red and gold leaves that fell from the oak tree that gracefully arched over the deck. It was late November. Most of the leaves were gone. It had been a good game while it lasted.
“So you’re determined to do this?”
Stella turned, the strong wind whipping her shoulder-length red hair around her face. “Yes, I am.”
The angry, questioning voice belonged to her roommate at the old cabin, former Sweet Pepper fire chief Eric Gamlyn. He stood well over six feet with a broad chest and wide shoulders. He wore blue jeans and a red Sweet Pepper T-shirt, his blond hair tied back from his face with a leather strap.
Eric had been dead for forty years. Since his death, he’d haunted the cabin that he built. He was usually a good roommate, but there were some difficult aspects of living with a ghost.
“You know how I feel about this, Stella. It’s a mistake,” he said in a loud voice that shook the cabin around them.
Hero barked at the sound. Stella believed he could hear and see Eric. The two seemed to have a special bond. Eric frequently called the puppy to the cabin from the firehouse and Hero had begun spending the night with them.
Stella was unimpressed with Eric’s bellowing. She was used to it. He liked to throw his spectral weight around when he wasn’t happy about something. She finished her Coke and went inside.
The cabin interior looked like an old hunting lodge, made of large, smooth logs that were stained a light brown color. There were three big rooms—living room, kitchen, and bedroom—with a small area off the kitchen that had a rough-hewn table and a few chairs.
There were deer antlers everywhere, used as a cup holder in the kitchen and as light fixtures throughout the cabin. The living room had a stone fireplace, a large brown leather sofa, and a matching chair. There were colorful Native American rugs on the rough, wood floors. The single bedroom contained an oversized log-framed bed, two dressers, and a side table.
Tall windows overlooked the deck and the Little Pigeon River. The Smoky Mountains rose up beyond the river, their majestic face changing with each passing hour. Stella loved the deck. She thought she could sit outside on one of the old rocking chairs and be happy there forever.
“I know you think you can handle everything, but you can’t clean out the chimney. You’ve already tried and it didn’t work. I’m going to need the extra warmth this winter, even if you won’t. I think it’s best to hire someone else to do it.”
“You know I don’t like strangers in my cabin,” he growled, following her through the glass door that led to the deck.
Stella sat in the brown leather chair with the puppy at her feet. “He’s got good references,” she assured him. “People hire others to do these things, Eric. Not everyone is an expert at everything.”
“I’m the expert on this cabin.” His blue-eyed gaze was able to see the entire structure, inside and out. He could control most things that happened there, even out to fifty feet from the cabin. He could stop bats, southern scorpions, and other pests from invading his space.
It was humans—living humans—he had a problem with. Especially Stella.
Most of them he could scare away easily. Stella was a different matter. He’d given her some leeway since she’d come to save his beloved volunteer fire department.
Now she was taking advantage of his weakness. “He’s not even from Sweet Pepper. The least you could do is hire a local person.”
“I’m not local either, remember?” She put two slices of bread in the toaster, frowning because they were the last two slices of bread. She was running out of everything. She hated driving into Sevierville or Pigeon Forge for supplies. “He’s been here as long as I have. People speak highly of him. I think he’ll be okay.”
Stella had been acting fire chief in the small Tennessee mountain town since August when she’d come from Chicago to train the new volunteers. She was supposed to have finished with the job and been back home within three months.
Three months had stretched into four after the grizzly discovery of Eric’s remains, which had been entombed in the old firehouse. He’d been murdered, not killed in a grain silo fire as people had thought. She wanted to help look for whoever had done that to him.
She still planned to go home as soon as all the questions were answered. Eric had saved her life and had been a fellow firefighter, even though it was before she was born. He couldn’t remember how he’d died. He deserved to know what had actually happened to him.
Hero whined a little in his sleep and kicked his long legs. Stella rubbed his neck. He was probably dreaming. The puppy had been abandoned, along with his mother, and rescued by a couple in town. The fire brigade had taken Hero in after a call when they’d saved his rescuers’ home. He had been a gift to the fire department.
“You’re a different story.” Eric paced through the living area of the cabin, walking right through furniture and tables.. “We agreed that this is still my cabin.”
“It is still your cabin. You can have it back all to yourself as soon as I leave. Since it doesn’t look like that’s going to be anytime soon, we need to have the chimney cleaned. The last time you started a fire, there was smoke everywhere.”
“I can try again. Soot and creosote have built up. It’s not something lodged in it.”
“My point exactly. I don’t know how to clean a chimney, and I don’t want to learn. For whatever reason, your ‘ghostly powers’ keep you from cleaning it. Patrick will do a good job, and the fireplace will be ready for colder weather. It would look bad for the fire chief’s cabin to burn down because of carelessness.”
Eric ignored her. He pushed himself up inside the chimney again. If blasting his ghostly form through the chimney opening would have helped, the problem would be solved.
The problem was he could only accomplish one or two physical tasks at the same time. It wasn’t easy being a ghost, and holding on to a corporeal form. He couldn’t grasp the chimney broom and force it up and down within the space with enough strength. It was ridiculous!
He didn’t want to admit he couldn’t clean the chimney. It seemed like such a simple task.
He came back, defeated again. Hero jumped up and started barking at him as he emerged from the fireplace.
“If it was actually clogged with something, I could get it,” he told Stella. “The problem is the soot on the walls needs to be scrubbed out.”
“Stop whining about it,” she said. “I have to run down to the fire station for drills and drive to the grocery store for supplies. I’m putting Hero out for a while. Let him run down to the station if he wants to. I’ll bring him back with me.”
“And the chimney sweep?” Eric’s not-quite-solid muscular legs were spread apart like a defiant sea captain, his arms folded resolutely across his chest.
“I told him the door would be open when he got here. Please don’t scare him off like you did the line repairman from the electric company. We didn’t have power for days until they found someone else to come back after the storm.”
He looked into her pretty brown eyes and freckled face. His heart softened, as it always did. “I know. I’ll be careful. I wasn’t expecting the lineman. I don’t like surprises. I’m ready for this.”
Stella smiled at him as she pulled her hair back into a ponytail to keep it out of her face while she went through drills with her recruits. Her mother’s strong features gave character to her face. Her father’s Irish heritage gave her hundreds of freckles.
She’d been a firefighter for ten years, following in the footsteps of her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather—another legacy of Irish blood. That blood made her stubborn too.
Coming to Sweet Pepper to train raw recruits wouldn’t have been on her radar if she hadn’t been injured in a fire, and had a bad break up with her boyfriend. She’d gotten so much more than she’d ever imagined by coming to this small town—including new friends and the intimidating ghost who stood before her.
It wasn’t easy living with a ghost, especially one who could be contentious at times. She’d heard ghost stories from her father’s Irish family her whole life. She’d never expected to live with a specter. There was so much the old stories left out, like ghosts popping in and out of the bedroom and the bathroom. Even though she’d tried to set limits on walking through walls, Eric wasn’t good with limits.
She’d cut him some slack. He’d lived alone for forty years before she arrived. She seemed to be the only one, besides Hero, who could see and hear him. Other people reacted with panicked screams to his tricks as he floated items around the room or shook the cabin. No one had wanted to live there for a long time.
She supposed Eric also made allowances for her. After all, he liked to talk. It had to be hard for him, all those years not being heard. He also liked to cook—another story entirely.
“Do you need anything from the grocery store?” She tucked her red Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade T-shirt into her jeans.
“Maybe some cocoa powder,” he said. “I was thinking about making a chocolate-pepper soufflé.”
“Are you already working on recipes for next year’s pepper festival?”
“You can’t start too early.”
The Sweet Pepper Festival was a yearly, three-day celebration in October. It involved everything pepper, from people dressed like peppers to pepper-recipe contests, pepper-eating contests, and pepper music.
Hot peppers had put the little town on the map. Sweet Pepper worked it for all it was worth. Stella had enjoyed the festivities. She hadn’t thought she would, but she loved the town spirit during the event. People went a little overboard with costumes for her taste, otherwise it was delightful. She’d even put together a recipe for the pepper recipe contest. Stella wasn’t much of a cook— she didn’t win anything. It had still been fun.
She’d quickly found out that Eric loved to cook and had won prizes almost every year during the festival when he’d been alive. Now she was encouraging him to participate. She wondered what everyone would say if she put his name on a recipe.
Of course, the next festival was almost a year away. She didn’t know where she’d be by then.
“You’ll need eggs too,” she finally said. “Anything else?”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
We met Stella Griffin in That Old Flame of Mine, the first installment of this series, back in April. Stella accepted a temporary position in Sweet Pepper to train the local residents to be firefighters. The former fire chief had passed away and she needed to get out of Chicago and away from her cheating boyfriend. She starts to think maybe Chicago was better than one of her current roommates, a dalmatian puppy named Hero, and the ghost of Eric Gamlyn, the former fire chief. She loves Hero but living with a ghost is a major adjustment. In this novella, Hero disappears and while everyone is searching for him they also have to deal with a string of fires and burglaries. The strange thing is Hero been seen at these fires but is gone by the time Stella and the other firefighters arrive. The fires also appear to be deliberately set. So now Stella is not just looking for her lost dog but an arsonist too. Dollycas’s Thoughts Being a daughter of a Fire Chief these stories just capture my heart. This novella was just what I needed to tide me over until Playing with Fire comes out January 7. We never had a dalmatian, even though I begged for one for years. Hero is a truly special dog and has earned his name. Stella is feeling more at home in Sweet Pepper and her relationship with a certain police officer seems to be growing. I continue to be drawn to Chief Gamlyn. I tend to forget he is ghost. He reminds me a lot of my dad who I miss each and every day. These authors know how to write characters readers love and root for, characters that engage us and pull us right into the story. Time to light the fire in the fireplace and curl up with this short cozy mystery. Enjoy!!
HERO'S JOURNEY is a fantrastic addition to the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade series that started with THAT OLD FLAME OF MINE and will continue in Janurary with PLAYING WITH FIRE. Not only do we get to spend more time with Fire Chief Stella Griffin and former Chief, now ghost Eric Gamlyn and the rest of the brigade, but we get to learn more about our favorite Dalmation, Hero. A well told story with a great plot, the only this wrong with this story is that it is only a Novella! A great job by J. J. Cook/Joyce and Jim Lavene
Hero’s Journey by J.J. Cook Stella is the temporary Fire Chief in the small town of Sweet Pepper. She is training the volunteer firefighters to take over and run the station on their own. Stella’s roommate is a little cranky, but being a ghost I guess Eric is entitled. Eric was murdered and buried in the old fire station, Stella is trying to help solve the mystery of his death. Her other roommate Hero the Dalmatian from the local fire station has already earned his namesake even though he is still a puppy in training. The town of Sweet Pepper has had a series of burglaries and fires that has everyone stumped. The fire seem to be intentionally set. Then Hero is kidnapped but manages to rescues a little girl at a fire. Stella now has to find the lost dog and an arsonist too. Could Hero’s kidnapper be involved in these fires? The author J.J. Cook did a great job with this novella. I loved the quirky characters, they were lively, funny and full of personality. I give this great book 5 stars and can not wait for Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery, Playing with Fire to come out.
Stella Griffin has been transferred from Chicago and reassigned as the temporary Fire Chief for Sweet Pepper, Tennessee, to organize and train the voluntary fire department staff. The events in this novella take place shortly after "That Old Flame of Mine," the first book in the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Series. Living with Stella in her mountain cabin is the new fire department mascot in training, an adorable dalmatian puppy named Hero. In this short novella (76 pages), Hero goes missing, but while Stella desperately hopes to find the lost puppy, she also needs to devote her attention to a suspected case of arson, one which may be tied to a series of burglaries plaguing the community. Did I mention that Stella also has a roommate, former Sweet Pepper fire chief Eric Gamlyn, who is helping her find Hero and solve the arson case. Of course, Eric has some limitations since he has been dead these past forty years. If you enjoy cozy mysteries with just a touch of the paranormal, be sure to check out the Sweet Pepper series. This novella offers just a brief taste of the series, but with enough interesting characters and plot to leave you wanting more. Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Love these bookd
Sweet Pepper fire chief Stella Griffin has her hands full trying to find a murderer. Now Hero, the Dalmatian puppy who was adopted by the fire brigade, disappeared. Who could have taken him? Was it connect with the mysterious arson fires? I enjoyed this fast paced and enjoyable novella. Stella is a feisty woman who can deal with any problem. After all she lives with a ghost. The secondary characters are interesting and add to this suspenseful story. The setting is beautiful and rugged and provides the perfect setting for trouble. The author did a great job. I especially liked Stella. She's an original. She rides a Harley and won't be bullied by the Police Chief who tries to make her job difficult. Hero's Journey is a nice addition to the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade series. I received a copy in exchange for an honest and unscripted review.
I stared at the twilight sky, watching the first crystalline stars appear. Where the sun was setting, the clouds were painted a burnt umber, the sky itself a swirl of red and blue. <p> As my eyes wandered, so did my thoughts. My emerald orbs caught on a sprinkle of dainty white dots high in space; they traced the exterior of the close galaxy, making me think of the rusting and broken ship lying oh so close to me in the barn. <p> How I longed to be mobile again, free to frolic with the swirling stardust and planets. Instead, I was locked away, unknown to the universe. <p> Once, I had known every star and every body of matter; now, all I knew was the arid, dusty red soil of this trap, living off of the sparse puddles and scraggly vegitation. <p> I swallowed, bringing myself back to the present. I jerked my eyes off the heavens above, focusing at my task at hand. <p> I turned the chipped shard of iron over in my palm before setting it against the hard ground. <p> Bringing the large rock held in my other hand over my head, I contemplated my decision in a split-second dilemma. <p> Resolve flooded my sense, bringing my hand heavily down on the makeshift chisel. <p> The sharp clang made me flinch, but I repeated the action multiple times, until a crack appeared in the surface of which I was working. <p> Holding my breath excitedly, I dropped the tools and began scrabbling at the fissure with my bare hands, tearing my skin in multiple places. The pain meant nothing to me, though. <p> The crack began to expand steadily, revealing a gaping entrance to a secret underworld. My mind devoid of a plan, I sat down at the edge of the hole and inched forward, turning over to where my legs dangled over the edge. <p> The ground groaned like a dying animal, but my ears were deaf to the warnings. With a rumbling snap, the soil on which I was relying crumbled, taking me and a slab of stone tumblin into the abyss below.
light fluff, good breakfast read
It was a enjoyable short story.