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…
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
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 home. If Bob’s face turns any redder, he’ll explode for sure.”
“What’s that darn fool doing now?” Walt asked.
Stella watched in disbelief as the driver of the bulldozer climbed off the machine and Bob took the controls.
“Hey!” the driver yelled at Bob. “You’re not licensed to drive that machine!”
“Get down from there, Bob!” John yelled loud enough to be heard over the noise from the truck and the bulldozer.
“Leave me alone,” Bob screamed. “Get out of here. I can take care of this myself.”
“Bob is crazy, Chief,” Bert said. “I think he’s gonna drive the dozer into the cabin.”
“Somebody, besides Bob, better do something,” Walt muttered.
John moved quickly out of the way as the bright yellow bulldozer began to jerk forward again only a hundred yards or so from the cabin.
“He’s gonna do it,” Kent said. “He’s gonna ram the cabin.”
“Shoot him, John,” Walt demanded. “Take out your gun and shoot him in the leg!”
The Smittys’ cameras were flashing, like paparazzi following a famous movie star. They got as close as they dared when Bob started moving faster toward the cabin.
Stella gritted her teeth, her hands clenched in tight balls. She ran to John’s side.
“I don’t know what else I can do,” he said. “I can arrest him after it’s over, but that won’t do much good now. I called Don. He’s on his way.”
“I understand that Bob’s on the council and he owns an important business. You can’t just shoot him.”
“I’m sorry, Stella.”
They all waited for the impact of metal hitting logs. Stella scanned the front windows in the cabin but couldn’t see Eric. What would be left of him when the cabin was gone? Would he disappear for good?
The bulldozer was close to the front steps. The frenzied look on Bob’s face was frightening. Everyone stood completely still as the heavy scoop blade reached the stairs.
Then the bulldozer shuddered and shut down.
The quiet after that moment was startling. Bob tried again and again to restart the engine. It didn’t work. That gave John the opportunity to jump on the dozer and take the keys from him.
“I think that’s enough for one day, Mr. Floyd. Come on down now. We don’t want this to go any further.”
Stella let out a long breath of relief, and her pager went off. There was a fire in Sweet Pepper.
“I want that cabin torn down,” Bob yelled as John escorted him to the back of his police car. “I want that ghost laid to rest once and for all.”
“I’ll have to take care of this first,” John told Stella. “I’ll come out to the fire, if I can.”
Stella wanted to know if Eric had stopped the bulldozer. There wasn’t time to find out. She was going to have to wait until after the fire brigade had answered the call.
“Do what you have to do,” she said to John. “We can handle it.”
“Going down with us, Chief?” Kent was already behind the wheel of the Cherokee.
“Yes.” She jumped in the front seat beside him. Bert was in the back. “Let’s go.”
Most of the volunteer firefighters were already getting in their gear by the time Stella and her supporters reached the firehouse at the end of the long road from the cabin. Eric had built the cabin close to the firehouse for his convenience. The fire brigade had been his life, and ultimately, his death.
“The fire is out at Sweet Pepper Lake,” Tagger Reamis said when they got inside. He’d been on communications when the call came in.
He was a Vietnam veteran, one of the members of the original fire brigade. Tagger didn’t go out on calls, but he was pretty good at communications, now that he’d stopped drinking. “215 Half Moon Road. I think that’s old Barney Falk’s place at Sunset Beach again.”
“This better not be another speed test. I don’t care if he used to be the state rep from this area or not. Some of us have better things to do than run after him every month or so,” JC Burris said. He was a thin, wiry black man who worked at the Sweet Pepper canning plant. He used to drive a cement truck, which made him perfect for driving the engine.
Stella agreed and knew the rest of the volunteers did too. These people took time out from their daily lives to service the fire and emergency needs of their community. They were passionate about what they did, and they didn’t like being played.
Barney Falk had dragged them out to his house several times to gauge their response limits and ask ridiculous questions about what they did and how they did it. He had once been a powerful man, according to everyone else in Sweet Pepper.
To Stella he was just an annoyance.
“I’m with you.” Stella put her gear on as she ran out to the engine. She climbed up on the passenger seat and closed the door. “If this is another wild-goose chase, we’ll turn the hoses on him.”
Everyone who heard her knew she was joking, but they enjoyed the idea. Whether Barney Falk was powerful or not, the volunteers knew the chief was dedicated to a code of conduct.
The rest of the volunteers scrambled into the back of the fire engine. Stella saw Hero running down Firehouse Road from the cabin to turn out for the fire. His mother, Sylvia, barked a greeting to him, and he jumped in the back of the pumper-tanker with her. Volunteers Kimmie and David Spratt welcomed him.
The pumper-tanker followed the engine/ladder truck down the main road into Sweet Pepper. They continued their high rate of speed past dozens of small shops and the town hall. People waved when they saw them go by. Folks in Sweet Pepper and the surrounding areas, who had been left high and dry when the county pulled their fire service, loved the fire brigade. It had meant lower house insurance premiums as well as knowing their emergency needs would be met.
“Looks like they finally got around to paving the road,” Stella observed as they started up the steep slope into the Sunset Beach community. The road had been deeply rutted and sparsely graveled, making it difficult to get the two large vehicles into the area where the expensive houses were located.
“Yeah, after you gave them hell at the town council a few times,” JC said. “Then they made the rich folks who live out here take care of it.”
“Whatever—it’s a lot better than it was the first time we came out here.”
“I wouldn’t have had any problem with it. It was Ricky Junior driving back then. He was good for a young upstart. I’ve got experience with these babies.”
Which was why Stella had asked JC to drive when Ricky Hutchins Jr. had to leave the fire brigade. She’d hated to see Ricky go. He was one of her first volunteers. He was young and a little wild, but he was the best mechanic she’d ever seen. The fire brigade still missed him.
He’d had to quit the fire brigade to help his mother at the family restaurant after his father had gone to prison. It had been a hard time for them. Everyone from Sweet Pepper had done what they could to make it easier on Ricky and his mother. There was only so much to do with a bad situation.
Both the pumper-tanker and the engine/ladder truck rolled smoothly into the heart of the lake community. There were no old-lady gingerbread houses here from a hundred years ago to give the place character, as there were in town. Everything had been built in the last ten years. The houses were new, huge, and modern—several of them worth millions of dollars.
“Doesn’t look like much to me.” JC parked the engine on the street in front of Falk’s home. “I think that old dude is bored or something. Maybe you can get an injunction against him. I left my little girl’s birthday party to be here, Chief.”
“We need to get out and take a look around.” Stella got on the radio with Tagger. “Who called in the fire?”
Before Tagger could answer, a loud explosion ripped through the house that stood three stories above the lake. The entire area shuddered. Flames and debris were everywhere. The house became an inferno in an instant.
“Get the pumper in back,” Stella yelled at Kent Norris, who was driving that vehicle. “We have to get water on the house from all sides. Tagger, call the police and get someone out here.”
“Chief?” Tagger waited for her response. “The phone call wasn’t routed through 911. I have the cell number on the computer.”
“Hold on to it. This may be arson.”
JC already had the engine pulled up to the house. He jumped out to help Kimmie and David Spratt, Royce Pope, and Allen Wise get the hose attached to the shiny new fire hydrant.
“Where do you want us, Chief?” Bert Wando asked, pry ax in hand, face mask pulled down. “I can go inside and look for Mr. Falk.”
Stella thought a lot of Bert, but she didn’t think he was ready to go into the house. He’d missed a lot of training the last few months of high school. “Not this one. This is bad. Get the thermal imager. Let’s see what’s going on in there.”
She was missing some of her most experienced volunteers. Ricky was gone. John wasn’t there. Banyin Watts was too pregnant to work. Petey Stanze had been injured in another fire.
Stella was going to have to take Allen and Kent into the house. The two men were hard workers. She needed JC and Royce’s strength and calm outside to make sure the hoses remained stable enough to fight the fire.
Bert was disappointed but didn’t disagree with her. He got the used imager the town had recently purchased and brought it to her as she directed the hoses. Kimmie and David put the hydraulic ladder up to the third floor.
“We have to get the roof vented,” Stella told them. “Allen and Kent, I need you inside. Put on your packs and let’s go.”
The fire was so hot that it had scorched the new trees and grass around the house. Debris had totaled the Mercedes that was parked in the drive. People from other houses in the neighborhood walked up to see what was going on. Drivers stopped to point and stare from their cars as the fire ripped through what was left of the structure.
Stella looked at the thermal imager. It was clear to see where the heart of the fire was located, but not if there was anyone inside. “I can’t tell if Barney Falk is in there.”
“We’re gonna look for him?” Allen asked with some trepidation in his voice. He wasn’t used to being backup for the core members who were gone.
“That’s what we have to do,” Stella said. “Are you okay with that?”
Allen frowned. “I’ll give it my best shot, Chief.”
“That’s all any of us can do.”
“We’re not looking for a living person in there, right?” Kent grabbed his pry ax.
“I don’t know,” she confided. “There’s always a chance. Watch your backs. Keep your masks on, and be careful going in. I’ll be right behind you. When I say get out, get out fast.”
Stella got her gear set up and gave last-minute instructions to everyone before she joined Kent and Allen in the inferno.
So much damage had been done to the interior of the house from the explosion and the fire that followed that it was difficult to tell what rooms they were walking through. It looked like a foyer and an office of some sort. The heat and sound of the flames made it hard to concentrate.
They wouldn’t have much time before the house came down. They were going to have to split up to search the three floors, if they had a chance of finding anyone alive. While she wanted to protect Allen and Kent, she needed each of them to walk through the flame and smoke alone.
“I’ll take the second floor.” She knew the fire was hottest there. “Kent, you take the top floor. Allen—the ground floor. Look for survivors. That’s it. Make a quick sweep of the place and get out, whether you hear from me or not. Just get back outside.”
The two men nodded, grim faced, their eyes filled with fear. They each held their pry ax in a death grip before them.
Stella ran up the burning stairs to the second floor. If she hadn’t turned away, she would have lost her nerve as she looked at them. Everyone was scared, even her. It was different back home, where she’d been a firefighter for ten years. Chief Henry had made these decisions. He’d been responsible for what happened to the men and women who worked for him.
Here in Sweet Pepper, that was her job. It was the hardest thing she’d ever done.
Kent quickly used the radio to report from the top floor. “Just melting piles of furniture, Chief. The windows are gone or bubbling. No sign of anyone up here.”
Stella liked and trusted Kent. Even though his inspection seemed fast, she knew he’d thoroughly checked the area.
She could hear her volunteers on the roof trying to vent the fire to allow some of the heat to escape through the roof. What went out through the roof wouldn’t blow back on them.
“Okay. Go outside.”
There was a huge hole in what was left of one of the rooms on the second floor. Whatever had caused the blast had destroyed everything around it. The rest of the floor wouldn’t last much longer.
Stella hoped Barney Falk wasn’t home when this happened. If he was, she had no doubt that they would find his body later.
As she descended what was left of the stairs, Royce called her on the radio. “Chief, we’re out of water in back. The pumper is empty. I thought maybe we could stretch a hose down to the lake and draw from it, but it’s too far. I’m sorry.”
“Not your fault,” she told him. “Get the equipment out front. See what you can do to help everyone else.”
“The police are here,” Kimmie called in. “They want to know if we have survivors. Do we need paramedics or the coroner?”
“Tell them to take care of the bystanders and call both. We don’t know yet what we’re dealing with,” Stella replied.
“Chief!” JC’s voice sounded frantic. “I think the left side of the house is coming down!”
“Get everyone out of that area. Work where it’s safe. We’ll be out soon.” Stella ended up on the ground floor with Allen.
“No sign of Mr. Falk so far, Chief,” he said.
“I don’t think we can search much longer.”
The left side of the house began falling backward, toward the outside, taking what looked like a fireplace and a whole room with it. Stella turned to run, but Allen was gone.
She called out to him on the radio and finally found him on his knees by what was left of a human being. The hole from the second floor, where the blast had gone off, appeared to have dropped the body into what was left of the kitchen.
* * *
Allen was desperately trying to give CPR to the dead victim, who had been burned beyond recognition in the fire.
He’d removed his helmet and face mask. “Chief.” He was coughing and trying to catch his breath. “I can’t get him up to carry him outside. I thought I could help him here. I can’t do that either.”
“Get your gear on now, Allen, and get out of here. You can’t help him.”
“Get out now!” she yelled at him.
He was crying as he put on his hat and mask. He ran outside and Kent got him away from the house.
Stella knew Allen had never witnessed anything like this before. They’d only had two fires with fatalities in the time she’d been there. Neither of them had been this bad. He wasn’t prepared, not that anyone could be. This was beyond anything she could have explained to them. Only their tough training got them through it. There was just a moment or two left to get the victim outside before there was nothing remaining of the house.
Kent put his mask back on and grabbed a rug from the front porch. He and Stella wrapped the rug around the victim and got him outside.
“The roof is going! The roof is going!” JC’s words exploded over the radio.
As Kent and Stella reached a safe place away from the house, JC’s prediction came true. The large red roof folded into what remained of the structure.
The sound echoed across the lake and into the heavy forest that surrounded the community. Debris and ashes flew up into the bright blue sky. The image of the fire reflected on the still waters of the lake behind the house.
“Anybody live through that, Chief Griffin?” the lead EMS tech asked.
Stella shook her head. “We have a victim. Not sure who it is. We need the coroner. I hope no one else was inside.”
Kimmie, who was a bit timid, tapped Stella lightly on the shoulder. “Chief? I think Allen needs help. I tried to get him to take some oxygen. He won’t.”
Stella turned toward Allen. He was sitting on the ground with Sylvia and Hero beside him. Hero’s training to be part of the fire brigade had included gently taking a victim’s hand in his mouth and guiding him to safety. He was trying his best to help Allen to his feet, but the stubborn volunteer was refusing.
“Allen?” Stella shouted as she walked toward him. “Get over there and get some oxygen. You’ll ruin your lungs. I don’t know how long your mask was off, but it only takes a few minutes to cause permanent breathing problems.”
Tears were running down his face from his red eyes—another issue. His eyes had been exposed to the heat and chemicals in the house. They needed to be washed out.
“I can’t, Chief,” he told her. “I keep thinking about that man in there. Do you think it was Barney Falk?”
His voice was hoarse and gritty. Stella wanted to be sympathetic to his first experience finding a fire victim, but that would have to come later. Right now, he needed treatment.
She got him to his feet. “You need help. We take care of the survivors first, right? Then we deal with everything else.”
“Right, Chief.” He coughed as though his lungs were coming out of his chest. “Thanks.”
The cleanup took hours. There was only a burned-out shell left of the house. The fire brigade had put up crime scene tape around the perimeter, and the Sweet Pepper police added caution tape for good measure.
The hot spots had already been hosed down by the time the coroner had finally arrived. Stella had sent the pumper and her crew back to the firehouse. The engine crew was getting ready to leave as well. There was nothing else they could do with the crime scene until an investigation could be launched.
“We’ve done what we could,” Stella told her volunteers. “Good job, everyone. Let’s go home.”
Two part-time Sweet Pepper police officers were assigned to stay at the site to keep anyone from getting hurt. Stella hadn’t seen John. She had to assume dealing with Bob Floyd had taken longer than he’d thought.
“I’ll need a report from you on this, Chief Griffin,” coroner Judd Streeter remarked as he walked by. He was a round, gray-haired man who seemed more likely to play Santa in a department store than to examine dead bodies. “Sooner rather than later.”
“I’ll have it on your desk tomorrow.” Stella was exhausted and didn’t stop to talk. She climbed up into the front seat of the engine. Hero shot in before she could sit down. He claimed his rightful seat between Stella and JC.
“That was a bear,” JC said as he drove back toward the firehouse. “You think Allen will be okay?”
“I hope so,” she replied. “You never know until something happens that you can’t get over.”
“You ever have a time like that?”
She nodded. “I had to take a few days. I was lucky. I had my father, grandfather, and assorted uncles who’d all experienced the same thing. When you come from a family of firefighters, you know the ins and outs.”
“I suppose so.”
“We’ll have to be Allen’s family on this. Only people who do the job really understand. We have to stick together.”
He agreed. They didn’t speak again as they returned to the firehouse, where the pumper crew had finished putting away their gear and cleaning the truck. They’d already refilled their water tank from the big cistern behind the firehouse.
No one left the firehouse even though they’d finished their responsibilities. Some stayed to take a shower. Others had something to eat and drink, or talked to Tagger.
Stella knew they were waiting for words of wisdom and comfort from her. She remembered doing the same thing with Chief Henry back home.
Bad things happened. She wished it could be as easy as that. She didn’t think of herself as wise or profound. She just did her job.
Being chief required more. She’d signed the contract. She had to find some words of comfort for what her volunteers had gone through.
Sylvia and Hero were running around the firehouse, barking and carrying on. Everyone was watching their antics and laughing. Stella laughed at them too as she went into the kitchen area.
As soon as they saw her, Kimmie and David, their light brown hair almost meshing, pulled the two dogs close and kept them quiet. All the laughter and talking abruptly stopped. The volunteers stared at her, waiting for what she had to say that would help make sense of what they’d been through.
Allen had breathed in some oxygen and had his eyes rinsed—he still looked rough. He got to his feet and apologized to the whole crew. “I don’t know what happened back there. I just lost it.”
“There’s nothing to apologize for,” Stella said. “Most of you haven’t been in the position of finding a victim yet. I can tell you now—it never gets easier. It’s part of our job, but no one needs to apologize for falling apart. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t.”
Allen was usually the one who kept everyone’s spirits up with his funny jokes about his life as a barber in Sweet Pepper. Now he bowed his head and asked permission to say a prayer for the person they’d taken out of the burning house.
Stella was good with that. It was the best way to end her speech about finding victims. They’d each have a turn at that, the hardest part of their job, if they stayed with the fire brigade. It was inevitable.
When Allen was done with his prayer, Tagger asked, “Do you think it was Barney Falk?”
She hated to speculate. “I don’t know for sure. We won’t know until we have word from the coroner. The body was close to the blast and badly burned.”
“I think it was old Barney.” Allen’s voice was quiet with despair. “You know, he did a lot of good things for this town when he was our state rep. He brought in jobs and found money to do upgrades at the pepper factory.”
“He paved a lot of roads and helped get us started in the tourist business too,” Tagger added. “He was a good man. He’ll be missed.”
“Let’s make sure our ID of the body doesn’t go beyond this room,” Stella warned them. “I don’t want to see a headline in the paper tomorrow about firefighters saying it was Barney Falk that died. Everyone understand?”
They all agreed.
“What was that explosion, Chief?” David asked. “Was it something already in the house that went off from the fire, or was it a bomb?”
“I don’t know,” Stella admitted. “We won’t know until the investigation is complete.”
The group began to break up. Tagger was going off his communications shift, and Allen was scheduled to stay in his place.
“Are you sure you’re up for it?” Stella asked Allen.
“I’m as good here as I would be at home watching TV,” Allen replied. “Thanks, Chief.”
She let him stay. “I want to remind everyone that the town bought those dress uniforms for us to wear at Chief Eric Gamlyn’s memorial tomorrow at noon. I hope you can all attend. It’s part of being a firefighter. We honor the ones we lose.”
Everyone agreed to try to be at the cemetery the next day when a new statue, dedicated to Eric, was being unveiled. The mayor was going to say a few words, and the town council would be there. She’d received a reminder text about it on her phone while they’d been fighting the fire.
It was good, she thought, opening the door to the Cherokee and waiting for Hero to jump in. She hoped it would allow everyone to see Eric more as a man and less as a folk hero. Not that she had anything against all the crazy stories about him. He’d saved her life. He was a hero in her books.
But she thought they should respect that he gave his life for the town too. He really was only a man, but he’d given everything he had to make Sweet Pepper a better place.
Stella drove up Firehouse Road, wondering again if Eric had stopped the bulldozer, and if everything was going to work out to save the cabin. Bob was certainly within his legal rights to tear down the cabin. She wanted to make sure all avenues to prevent that had been explored before she gave up.
For tonight, it was just nice to go home. She may have grown up in Chicago, but Sweet Pepper had her heart now.
It had only been a fluke that had brought her here. She’d been injured and had a falling-out with her boyfriend. The ad she’d seen in the station newsletter in Chicago, asking for an experienced firefighter to train the new fire brigade, had seemed like the perfect opportunity to get away for a few months.
Coming to Sweet Pepper had definitely taken her mind off her problems—and added several more she hadn’t expected. But for good or bad, she was now the fire chief. Sweet Pepper was her home, and she planned to keep living in Eric’s cabin.
Stella parked the Cherokee outside the cabin next to her Harley. The large truck, and the bulldozer it had brought, were gone. She hoped it was a good sign.
The porch light was on. Eric always turned it on when she left. It was the first of many clues that had led her to believe that something strange was going on when she’d first come here. She’d thought it was a prank at first, not willing to believe people were right about the cabin being haunted.
The door was open, and the smell of something wonderful cooking wafted into the evening air.
Hero ran in, almost knocking her down to get inside first. He barked and jumped at Eric, as he always did.
“You’re hungry, aren’t you?” Eric asked the puppy who twirled around and kept barking. “That’s what I thought.”
It was still amazing to Stella that not only did she live with a forty-year-old ghost, he could cook. She had to buy groceries every week. On the bright side, it saved her from eating junk food all the time.
“Whatever that is smells really good.” She shut the door. “I’m starving.”
“Help yourself,” Eric said as he fed Hero. “It’s rice with almonds, vegetables, and peppers.”
“Of course. Doesn’t everything have peppers in it?”
Eric sort of hovered in the small area around the rough-hewn wood table where Stella ate and kept her laptop. The cabin wasn’t large, though it had a small second story that was used for storage.
It still 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 large stone fireplace.
She’d managed to get rid of most of the deer antlers that had been everywhere when she’d arrived. They’d been used as cup holders in the kitchen and as lamps on the tables Eric had made.
Now there was only the ceiling light fixture in the living room, made from huge antlers. Eric really loved that piece, willing to compromise on her other changes if he could keep it.
The living room had a large brown leather sofa and matching chair with colorful Native American rugs and prints. The single bedroom had an oversized log bed in it with two dressers and a side table.
Tall windows overlooked the porch in back, the Little Pigeon River running by hundreds of yards below. The Smoky Mountains rose up beyond the river, their majestic face changing with each passing hour.
Stella loved sitting on the porch. The town had even put in a hot tub for her.
“What happened with the fire?” he asked.
“We had a victim. It was probably Barney Falk.”
“That’s what I was afraid of when I heard the address.” Eric monitored police and fire calls. “He was a good man. He did a lot for this area. He was too filled with his power and ego at the end, but he did a good job for a long time.”
Stella complimented the rice. It was delicious. Too bad ghosts didn’t eat. “He was one of the old guard, according to my grandfather. He said Barney was more dangerous than anyone else in Sweet Pepper.”
“Ben Carson should know. He’s as dangerous as Barney. Maybe a little worse.”
One of the many surprises waiting for Stella in Sweet Pepper had been finding out that her mother’s family was from that area. Her mother, Barbara Griffin, had never told anyone that she was a pepper heiress from Tennessee—at least not until Stella had already arrived there.
Stella had gone in blind. Her mother had called it not prejudicing her opinion against her millionaire grandfather. Ben Carson owned a significant part of the town, and all of the Sweet Pepper canning factory operations. He lived on a large estate a few miles away. Stella had found out quickly that almost everyone feared him—some actively hated him.
“Do you think someone got angry enough to kill Barney?” Eric asked.
She told him about the blast at Barney’s house. “It may have been a bomb.”
“I think it’s possible,” Eric said. “I hope you can figure out who’s responsible. No matter what Barney did, he shouldn’t have died that way.”
“I know. I’m a little nervous about doing the investigation on this. I’m not really qualified. I could put what I know about bombs in my pocket. There’s bound to be fallout from this. He was an important man in the state.”
“You’ll be fine,” he reassured her. “There’s no one else. You’ll have to do the best you can. You could check with Ben first and make sure he isn’t responsible.”
“I don’t know why you and John are so against him. He’s been as good to this town as Barney Falk! He set up the canning operation, which employs most of the people here. He started building the vineyard. I haven’t seen him do anything but work for the town since I’ve been here.”
“Maybe it’s because he knows you’re watching him.”
This wasn’t a topic they could agree on. Stella knew that. Sometimes it enraged her, and she got into the old argument again anyway. But not tonight.
“Your memorial is tomorrow,” she reminded him, changing the subject.
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t attend.”
“I’ll take pictures for you. There should be a good turnout.”
“Thanks. At least since you’ve been here, I know what’s going on outside the cabin. Before that, well, let’s just say CNN doesn’t have much information about Sweet Pepper.”
Stella put her plate and glass in the sink and sat in the comfortable brown leather chair near the fireplace, slinging one leg over the arm. “Did you stop the bulldozer?”
“No. I didn’t have to. After everyone left, the driver was looking at it. It was out of fuel. He was cursing his partner, so I guess that’s what happened.”
“It was a close call. Do you think you could’ve stopped it before it took out the cabin?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not sure how strong my ‘ghostly powers,’ as you call them, are. I’ve never put them to the test. I hope I don’t have to. Did you hear anything from the police about Bob?”
“No. John never made it to the fire. I don’t know what happened.”
“Is there anything that can be done about it?”
“I’m going to find a lawyer. I noticed Hugh Morton is next door to the town hall. I was thinking about asking him.”
“You know he’s the town attorney, right?” Eric hovered toward the laptop she’d left sitting open on the table. “He went to school with Bob, Mayor Wando, and Nay Albert. They’re all still chummy.”
“Did you go to school with them too?”
“Part of the time. I left home before I finished high school.” He’d already started looking in the area Yellow Pages online for a lawyer. He’d become well acquainted with the Internet.
“No way! You didn’t finish high school? What happened?”
“My father died, and I had to get a job to support my family. I was the oldest son. That’s what I was supposed to do.”
“I guess it doesn’t matter. You’re famous anyway.”
“It was a different time, Stella. A lot of young people around here dropped out to go to work. Very few went to college. I was lucky—I left Sweet Pepper. That was an education in itself.”
“Yeah, that’s right. You worked as a lumberjack up north, didn’t you? That’s what your legends say, anyway.”
“I went up to Canada and did some work as a lumberjack. I also did some gold mining, and worked as a brakeman on a train. I learned to do a little of everything before I came back here. I was glad for it.”
“So you’re self-taught. You were a good fire chief, besides building the cabin and the firehouse and starting the fire brigade. What made you decide to start the first fire brigade?”
He looked at her over the top of the laptop screen. “Are you saying a few words on my behalf tomorrow? You’re usually not all that interested in my past.”
What People are Saying About This
“A master at cliffhangers.”—Lesa’s Book Critiques
Praise for Playing with Fire
“Enough twists and turns in the plot to keep readers guessing until the end.”—Debbie’s Book Bag
“[This] series is fast-paced, and as exciting as a July Fourth fireworks show!”—MyShelf.com
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In Hot Water is one Hot read! In Hot Water by J.J. Cook The Third Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery Stella Griffin, the new fire chief, has finally decided to stay in Sweet Pepper, Tennessee, leaving Chicago behind. Her volunteer crew is becoming a family, but going through some growing pains. Stella has fully accepted Eric's presence-but others are afraid of it-especially councilman Bob Floyd who is determined to get rid of Eric. As In Hot Water opens Bob has just brought the property where Stella lives, in the log cabin that Eric built, and a place to which Eric is tied. Not only has be bought it, he rented a bulldozer to tear down her home-without giving her any notice. Will Bob destroy Stella's home, and Eric? In addition to worrying about Eric and her home, Stella has more professional worries. A fire has claimed the life of a prominent citizen and she joins forces with a state arson investigator to investigate. But someone doesn't want them to discover the truth and will take drastic steps to stop them. Stella certainly does get into hot water in this latest installment of the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery series. Since coming to Sweet Pepper, Tennessee Stella Griffin has had to deal with the good ol' boys club. Now she also has to deal with a councilman who's on the brink of madness, kidnapping, intimidation, possible corruption, as well as several potential suitors and the gossip that comes with living in a small town. In Hot Water is an adrenaline filled ride from start to finish. As soon as Stella faces one dilemma she lands herself in another predicament. Yet J.J. Cook keeps a directed focus and never allows the book to become melodramatic. There may be a ghost involved, but the action is reality based and justifiable. The dangers Stella encounters are a necessary evil to drive the plot, as well as aid in character development, for the characters have grown, both within themselves as well as their relationships with others. Recipes and tips about peppers included!
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I keep trying to figure out how this storyline will end, but it is highly entertaining and fun to read.
a wonderful cozy mystery about the food truck world. beautifully written as only these two writers can
This one was very hard wait for it to come out. I, my sister and my parents follow this series. JJ Cook put lots of new parts into it for the characters and story to grow. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Read in 1 day! My parents did as well, as I had to send it to them right away.
I bought this book based on its high ratings; do not waste your time. Stiff amatuerish writing. Flat characters. Boringly predictable. This writer has a long way to go in the development of writing skills.
This book was on fire! J. J. Cook aka husband and wife writing team Joyce & Jim Lavene, are born authors. Their writing is face paced, fun, adventurous, and just plain wonderful. I am a big fan of the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery series. Each title is better than the one before, as is proven with IN HOT WATER. The action started on page one and never slowed down. Even the last sentence left me breathless! This book picks up exactly where PLAYING WITH FIRE left off. Fire Chief Stella Griffin defending her cabin, and the ghost* of former Fire Chief Eric Gamblyn, from a bulldozer. From there it’s straight into fighting a huge fire and the discovery of a body. All of this in the first two chapters and before page twenty! And then the mystery is on. There were so many twists and turns, so much action, that IN HOT WATER left me breathless. I greedily turned each page and was never disappointed with what I found. The depth in which each character has grown since the first book, THAT OLD FLAME OF MINE, has added a real richness to the series. I eagerly look forward to the next installment. If you haven’t read the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade series, I strongly suggest you pick up all three titles (plus the eBook short story, HERO”S JOURNEY), and treat yourself to some of the best reading you can find. You’ll also enjoy the mouthwatering recipes included! * Thinking to yourself, I don’t like ghosts in my books? Do not let that stop you from reading this wonderful series. You will quickly forget that Eric is a ghost, and indeed will look forward to the scenes that include him.
Dollycas’s Thoughts I have to start out by saying that Joyce and Jim Lavene are some of my absolute favorite storytellers but they did it again!! This story ends with another cliffhanger!! That last page was a killer!! Oh my stars!! Okay well let’s talk about In Hot Water. Stella has decided to make Sweet Pepper her home but her actual home, Chief Eric Gamlyn’s cabin, has been purchased out from under her and the new owner plans to demolish the place. What will happen to Eric’s ghost if his home disappears? The bulldozer has been temporarily stopped but Stella has her hands full with a house fire that looks like arson and the ex-politician owner that was killed. The investigation goes awry and Stella finds herself “in hot water” as she tries to catch the killer before it’s too late. These characters are fantastic. Eric reminds me so much of my dad, who was also a fire chief. I would have loved to follow in his footsteps but that just wasn’t meant to be. Eric’s and Stella’s relationship is complicated and the biggest obstacle is that he is a ghost. They have grown quite dependent on each other. I think it is so funny that he loves to cook but he can’t eat. Circumstances in the story create a huge change for Eric and it adds a whole new dimension to their relationship. In addition to the two main characters there are several supporting characters and as the arson investigation starts and halts abruptly Stella starts to wonder who in the town she can actually trust. The fire brigade gets some new members too. I was thrilled to see another female, Nancy Bradford join the team. There are also a few members returning after leaving for family reasons and that causes a little dust up within the brigade as the people that filled in have grown comfortable with their assignments. All these little subplots fire up the story as the main plot becomes the combustible backdraft leading to the extrication of the arsonist/killer. Each A Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery tops the last one. I can’t wait to don my virtual turnout gear and jump on the truck for the next fire and whatever else Stella gets herself into. All I can tell you is that that cliffhanger has me burning hot to get my hands on the installment.
The third book in the recent JJ Cook series is one of the best reads I've had lately. Stella and Eric have been getting along famously, but when one of the town council threatens to demolish the cabin they have to figure out what would happen to Eric if he succeeded. Drugs, rescue and of course fires keep Stella and Eric busy, but not too busy to get in a little arson investigating at the home of a former state representitive and learn that the fire brigade needs a fire boat to serve the homes along the water. I can't wait to see what happens in the next installment of this JJ Cook series. Can you?
As always, I can not wait to read a new book by J. J. Cook. I am never disappointed. In Hot Water is the third book in the series, The Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries. Stella Griffin is the fire chief in Sweet Pepper, Tennessee. Along with her volunteer crew she tackles any crisis that comes along in her town. Human, John, Walt, and non human, Hero and Eric, characters make the story lively and the twist and turns of the story make for a delightful read. This book is full of fun, adding the right amount of tension and mystery it keeps you on the edge of your seat right until the very last word. The twist at the end of this book surely left me wanting more! On a scale of 5 being the top, I'd give this book a six.
Well, Stella Griffin and Eric Gamlyn are at it again with the latest in The Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Series by J.J. Cook. I loved this book even more than the prior ones. The story begins with a bulldozer sitting in front of Stella's house, getting ready to demolish it. And why you ask? Because it's been said that if you get rid of the place where a ghost haunts, then they won't bother you anymore. Well, Eric, being the stand up ghost that he is, can't let that happen. As it turns out, fate steps in and the house is safe. For now anyway. And it gets better from there. There's a fire where a leading citizen is killed and Stella is part of the arson investigation team and she thinks she has found some illegal drugs in the debris from the house. Then, Stella gets caught up in planning next year's Sweet Pepper Festival and her job on the committee is to find pepper recipes that haven't been entered before. And Eric finds he's able to tag along with Stella where ever she goes. Imagine having a ghost standing next to you and talking to you and not being able to talk back to him, especially since you've been living in his house and talking to him all the time. There are some tense moments but you have to read the book to find out what they are and who they happen to! I had a very hard time putting the book down. It's a book you won't be able to put down till the last page and the surprise ending. And while you're at it, buy the 2 prior books, That Old Flame of Mine and Playing with Fire. A hot and blazing addition to this smoking series. Enjoy.
Fire Chief Stella Griffin is just starting to settle into her new position in Sweet Pepper, Tennessee. She’s excited and happy until a local resident purchases her cabin and is ready to tear it down. The cabin belonged to the original Sweet Pepper Fire Chief Eric Gamlyn and he still maintains his residence there, even though he’s been dead for a very long time. Stella didn’t think she believed in ghosts until she met Eric and now has a ghost for a roommate. Stella fears for Eric’s existence if the cabin is torn down. However, that’s exactly why Bob Floyd wants to tear it down, he fears the cabin is haunted. As Stella fights for her new home, a fire breaks out in the expensive part of town. Former state representative, Barney Falk, is found dead and arson is feared. Stella is assigned the job of investigating the fire and is joined in the search by a state arson investigator. Suspicions mount as it’s looking more and more like murder everyday. It’s not long before Stella finds her own life on the line. I have anxiously been awaiting for the release of this book. I adore this series. It’s action-packed, filled with drama, adventure, a dash of romance and a little bit of magic. This series has it all. Each book is written to perfection and this one is no exception. I devoured this one. I stayed up late into the night as I couldn’t sleep without knowing what was happening to Stella and her friends. It’s a fast-paced book with endearing characters. Readers will truly care what happens to the people of Sweet Pepper. The book even includes sweet pepper recipes, although I haven’t tried any. The author sneakily leaves us with a huge cliffhanger at the end and now I’m counting the minutes until the next book in this wonderful series. I just wish there was a way for Stella and ghost Eric to get together :) FTC Disclosure: The author/publisher provided me with a copy of this book to review for this blog tour. This did not influence my thoughts and opinions in any way. All opinions expressed are my own.
Great Series! This is a great series! This is the third book in the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Series by J.J. Cook. This book can be read as a standalone, but once you read it, you will want to read the others so you might as well read them from the beginning. Stella is now the full time fire chief of the Sweet Pepper fire brigade and should be excited. The problem is the town just sold the cabin she is living in. The new owner wants to tear down the cabin because he is afraid of Stella’s roommate Eric, who happens to be a ghost. Eric has been dead for many years and loves living with Stella, he actually does all of the cooking since she is a terrible cook. Eric and Stella need to find a way to save the cabin or else Eric will disappear forever. Stella also has another problem to solve; someone has murdered Barney Falk in a house fire. This book kept my attention from the first page until the last page, and I didn’t want to put it down until I finished reading it. This series is awesome, and I can’t wait to read the next book. A Review copy was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. The free book held no determination on my personal review.
This is the third book in the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery series. Stella Griffin has finally decided to take on the full time position of Sweet Pepper fire chief but during her last trip home to Chicago, her cabin was sold to councilman Bob Floyd, who is now insisting on bulldozing the property. Why? Because with rumors of the cabin being haunted by former fire chief, Eric Gamlyn, Bob was afraid of the ghost after Stella threatened to have Eric get him. Bob is convinced that the only way to get rid of the ghost is to destroy the cabin that Eric built and lived in before he died. She is temporarily able to stop him with the help of her friends but she needs to find a permanent solution or her ghostly roommate may be lost forever. And in the midst of all this excitement, the fire brigade is called out to a suspicious house fire that results in the death of ex-state representative, Barney Falk. Stella works with the arson investigator to try to determine the cause of this fire and death, but someone doesn't want the investigation to move forward. And soon it becomes a case of whom can she trust in the town! I enjoy this series and the assorted characters in the fire brigade and the town of Sweet Pepper. I liked the increased presence of Eric in this story and found the asides that Eric contributes to conversations...unheard by all but Stella...amusing. There was lots of action, mystery and a few plot twists in this story to keep you guessing to the end. And of course the author has thrown in a cliff hanger at the end to entice you to look forward to the next adventure in Sweet Pepper. Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
In Hot Water is an amazing read!! It's the third book in Joyce and Jim Lavene's Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade series and it is hot, hot, HOT!! The story starts out with Stella fighting to save the cabin and ends with one heck of a twist! You will keep guessing as to whodunnit through the whole book. Out of the many wonderful characters in the story, Walt and Eric are my two favorite ones with Stella coming in third. I can't wait for the next installment of this series to come out!! Another well written mystery that once you start you just won't be able to put down.
In Hot Water, the third book in the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mystery series by J.J. Cook, is a fantastic read. Stella Griffin is now the full time fire chief in Sweet Pepper but her troubles are only beginning. She’s in danger of losing the home she shares with Eric, the former Sweet Pepper Fire Chief. Eric is a ghost who was murdered years before and “lives” in and is tied to the cabin he built. Second, a suspicious house fire and death leads to kidnappings, beatings and serious threats. During her investigation, Stella is surprised to realize that when she carries Eric’s badge around with her, he can leave the cabin and go where she goes. That certainly makes for some interesting and humorous situations for her. As the story reaches it’s climatic conclusion, an incredible cliffhanger will leave you wanting more…..
Even more action packed than the fist two episodes! The excerpt gives you an idea but the story leaves you on tenterhooks for the next episode of The Sweet Pink Pepper Fire Brigade! I can't say any more without giving away too much. Rest assured, you will not be disappointed with "In Hot Water".
Every one gets better! Just when I think they couldn't write a better book, they prove me wrong. Sweet Pepper, Tennessee, how I long to be able to live in a small, friendly town. The 3rd book in the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade series, is well worth your time. If by now you haven't fallen in love with Stella and the rest of the residents (that includes Captain Eric also), I feel very sorry for you. I have trouble waiting to discover what is around the next turn in the road. Bulldozers, dirty politics, fires, an arson investigation, and a disappearance are enough to keep me entertained. But J & J, I'm sorry to say that I am having withdrawal symptoms all ready. Thanks to both of you for keeping your fans happy, well except maybe 3 or 4 and me, but I'll try to wait it out. FTC Full Disclosure - A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.
Stella is a hard-working, strong willed woman who is the Chief of the fire brigade of Sweet Pepper, TN. She is assisting with the investigation of a fire that she is sure was no accident. Suddenly her life is in danger and receives violent threats. This is a fast passed story that keeps you guessing and does a great job of pulling it all together in a satisfying way. I have been a fan of this series since the first book and I always look forward to a new one. But, after reading this third book in the series I can’t wait to see what happens next and I must pre-order the next one to be sure I don’t miss any time in finding out the answers to the question left hanging.