Sweet Pepper Hero (A Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade)

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9780425279236: Sweet Pepper Hero (A Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade)

Old rivalries heat up in the fourth Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mystery from the national bestselling author of In Hot Water.

Fire chief Stella Griffin has been put in charge of judging the annual recipe contest, but Eric—her resident ghost and true culinary genius—has vanished. Before she can track down his latest haunt, she’s called in to investigate a local moonshine distillery that was set ablaze, making her realize there’s more than pies and cakes cooking in Sweet Pepper. 

As rumors of a revived whiskey war ignite, Stella turns to the town’s elders to help her find answers. The past might have some clues as to what has sparked the present fires. But when following a lead lands her in buried rubble, Stella realizes she must extinguish this case fast or she might be going down in flames.

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About the Author:

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. Together, they are the author of the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries, including In Hot Water, Playing with Fire, and That Old Flame of Mine, and the Biscuit Bowl Food Truck Mysteries, including Fat Tuesday Fricassee and Fry Another Day.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Praise for the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries

Berkley Prime Crime titles by J. J. Cook

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

The Sweet Pepper Difference

Recipes

About the Author

Chapter 1

Sweet Pepper fire chief Stella Griffin burned her hand on the cookie sheet she was removing from the oven. She shook it and stuck the injured digit in her mouth as she used the other hand to put the tray of chocolate and hot pepper cookies on the counter.

Lucille Hutchins laughed. “I can’t believe this is your cure for a burn. Let me see that.”

Stella looked at the bright red spot on her finger. “It’s nothing. Let me get these cookies on the tray to cool.”

“Never mind that.” Lucille grabbed Stella’s hand and led her to the stainless steel worktable. “It looks bad. I’ll get you some ice.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Stella smiled. “It’s your kitchen. We’ll do it your way.”

“That’s right.” Lucille’s husband, Ricky Hutchins Sr., joined them in the large kitchen of the Sweet Pepper Café. “Lucy will fix it up for you. Those cookies smell great.”

Lucille shook her bright red curls. “That’s the third time this morning that she burned herself. It’s kind of ironic, being the fire chief and all, don’t you think?”

“What I find amazing is that she asked for our help at all with these festival recipes. You’ve seen her entries in the contests before, not to mention cakes and pies that she’s brought to events. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was a rookie in the kitchen.”

Lucille and Ricky hovered over Stella as she obediently kept her burned finger in a bowl of ice. She felt more than a little out of her league with these people who had been running the café for years. They had no idea how much of a rookie she really was.

“It’s just that my kitchen at the cabin is too small to make so much food, and your kitchen is strange to me.” Stella smiled and hoped that made sense. She would’ve liked to confess exactly what had brought her to ask for Lucille’s help, but that would mean telling them about her missing ghost.

“We’re just razzing you, Stella.” Ricky Senior gave her a careful hug and a pat on the head. “We’re glad you wanted our help testing the recipes for the Sweet Pepper Festival contest.”

“That’s right.” Lucille grinned at her. “I knew when you told me that the committee wanted you to get new recipes from people that you’d end up making them before they were included in the contest. You didn’t know that, did you?”

“No.” And I wouldn’t have volunteered for the position if I’d known. Stella smiled to take away the bluntness of her reply. “But it’s okay. I really appreciate you guys helping me with this.”

The truth was that Stella didn’t cook at all. Her father had always said she’d better meet a man who loved her red hair and fiery disposition, because her cooking was never going to impress a potential boyfriend. She was good with a microwave. Even a toaster oven was okay. But when it came to mixing and baking cookies, cakes, pies, and various other scratch foods, she was a newbie.

She could hardly confess that the ghost of the former fire brigade chief, Eric Gamlyn, was responsible for every bit of food—excluding Pop-Tarts and toast—that came out of her cabin. Without him, she was lost as far as cooking was concerned.

And he’d been gone five months.

Flo, from the Sweet Pepper Bed-and-Breakfast across Main Street, bustled in with two more bags of groceries. “I think I’ve got everything we were missing.”

Stella had enlisted her help too. The more people working on the project, the less anyone would notice that she had no idea what she was doing. Flo was willing to help—and even better—she understood Stella’s dilemma. They had talked about Eric’s ghost many times.

Everyone from Sweet Pepper, Tennessee, where they grew and cherished the hottest, sweetest peppers in the world, believed that the old cabin on Firehouse Road was haunted by their first fire chief. It wasn’t a question of finding believers for Stella to talk to.

She was from Chicago, where sometimes her Irish relatives would talk about ghosts their ancestors had seen in the old country. There might be the occasional ghost walk through the cemeteries or the old gangster warehouses in the city.

But that was nothing compared to the belief people from Sweet Pepper had that their dead relatives were always hanging around. They saw ghosts almost every day and talked about them as though they were still here.

Stella lived with Eric, but she was still shy about talking to most people about him. Flo knew he was at the cabin with her. Eric’s old friend, Walt, believed in him too. Tagger was the only remaining member of the original fire brigade when Eric had been chief. He could also see and hear him.

These were the people Stella trusted. It still seemed too weird for her to discuss Eric with anyone else. She was the fire chief. There was a certain decorum that went with the job. She didn’t want people to think she was crazy.

“Those new cookies smell yummy.” Flo unpacked her bags. “Have you tried my recipe for chicken soup with peppers yet? I think it might win a blue ribbon this year in the contest.”

Flo had won many blue ribbons in the Sweet Pepper Festival recipe contest down through the years. She displayed them all proudly in her parlor at the bed-and-breakfast. She always had a new idea in mind for the next contest. It was people like Flo who kept the festival going.

“We’re not to soups yet,” Lucille told her. “We’re trying to keep the foods in the same order as the contest. Cookies, cakes, and pies. Soups, stews, and main dishes. Desserts that don’t fit into a category. We’re still working on cookies, cakes, and pies. Stella did a great job getting new recipes.”

Flo patted Stella’s shoulder. “Live and learn. I’ll bet you won’t make that mistake again.”

“That’s for sure.” Stella got to her feet and put the bowl of ice in the sink. “I’m fine now. Let’s move on to the next recipe.”

“Now hold on a minute,” Ricky said. “There’s the tasting aspect of trying these recipes.”

Lucille giggled. “That’s the part Ricky likes best.”

Flo picked up a warm cookie. “Who doesn’t? You have to try one, Stella. Our opinions don’t have to be logged into the recipe contest book, but yours does.”

Stella got out the notebook she’d been given, and turned to the page with the chocolate and pepper cookies. “They baked well. I checked that spot. They have a good appearance.”

“And they taste mighty fine.” Ricky smacked his lips after chewing one. “They remind me of Susan Everson’s cookies that she made way back when.”

“A little.” Lucille ate her cookie as she considered the taste. “These cookies have chocolate morsels in them as well as chocolate in the dough. I think that’s what makes them different.”

“And spicy too.” Flo waved her hand in front of her mouth. “Almost too much for me, but I’ve been getting more sensitive to hot peppers as I’ve gotten older. They’re probably fine. What do you think, Stella?”

“They’re chocolate—what’s not to like?”

They all laughed. Stella wrote that she liked the taste of the cookies in the recipe book. From this stage, the recipe committee would whittle down the numbers of recipes to the top ten or so. The taste-testing would continue with the next committee. Eventually, the winners would be chosen, and their recipes would be on display at the Sweet Pepper Festival in the fall.

“Are you sure we can’t skip around?” Flo asked. “I like the look of this whiskey and hot pepper cake. Raisins and nuts too. Sounds like hot pepper fruitcake. Is this your recipe, Stella?”

“No. I’m not submitting this year since I’m judging this part of the contest. It seemed like a conflict of interest.”

“Conflict of interest?” Lucille laughed. “It happens every year. There aren’t that many of us to go around. We’re bound to judge some of our own stuff. The town’s not that big.”

“I didn’t know.” Stella smiled. “That’s the last of the cookies. Let’s try the next recipe.”

Lucille and Ricky excused themselves to talk to someone who wanted to use their party room for an anniversary dinner. It was Sunday—very little was open in Sweet Pepper—including the café. But it was the perfect opportunity to make recipes for the contest.

Flo put her arm around Stella when Lucille and Ricky were gone. “Any news on Eric?”

“No. Not yet. Nothing in weeks, really. How do you look for a missing ghost? It’s not like I can have Chief Rogers put out an APB on him. I don’t think there’s an alert for missing ghosts.”

“Cheer up. You’re gonna find him. You know he didn’t leave on his own. He’ll find some way to get back. Or you’ll figure out who took him.”

“Whoever has his badge has control of him,” she reminded her. “It was someone who knew what he or she was doing. I was glad Hero was okay after he was drugged. I hoped the herbs they’d used on him might lead us to Eric, but no such luck.”

“Have you checked with the local farmers’ markets and herb supply stores?”

“That’s the first thing Walt thought of. Nothing. The herb that was used wasn’t even available at those places. I found a place in Sevierville that stocked it, but the man said he hadn’t sold any in months.”

Flo’s frown marred her smooth, carefully made-up forehead. “Maybe he’s lying. I hate there’s no one who can help on a professional level. I know we can’t call the police.”

“But Walt knows police procedure since he was acting chief for so many years.” Stella sighed. “There’s just no trail to follow. We’re stuck until we come up with a new angle.”

“If I think of anything, I’ll be sure to tell you,” Flo offered. “What about asking Madam Emery to do a séance? Maybe she could talk to him and ask where he is.”

Madam Emery was the local tarot and palm reader who also did horoscopes and helped the living communicate with the dead. Eric and Stella had a disastrous run-in with her before he went missing.

Stella had thought of her as a suspect right away but couldn’t find anything that would lay Eric’s disappearance at the woman’s feet. If Madam Emery had Eric, and was keeping him prisoner, Stella couldn’t prove it.

“I don’t know. I thought Eric would find some way back to let me know where he was. I’ve looked for him every day, Flo. Maybe he doesn’t want to come back.”

“Now that’s talking crazy talk!”

“I miss him.” Stella smiled sadly. “I guess that sounds crazy too, huh?”

Flo hugged her again. “Not at all. You two are so well suited to each other. It’s just too bad you didn’t come around while he was still alive.” She giggled. “Of course you weren’t born yet.”

“I guess. Thanks for listening anyway.” Stella looked up as Ricky and Lucille came back into the kitchen, blinking tears of frustration and unhappiness from her brown eyes. “Okay. I think lemon pepper cookies are next.”

They started mixing the dough according to the recipe that had been submitted.

Stella hadn’t told Flo how empty her life had been without Eric. She’d become so accustomed to having him at the cabin all the time. It was like her best friend was gone.

She’d made plenty of new friends after moving here from Chicago to take the position of fire chief, but none of them knew her or understood her as Eric did. They had so much in common and thought so much alike. He could be bossy and grumpy at times, but so could she. And they’d just begun to explore taking him out of the cabin using his badge as an invisible tether.

Someone had used that against them.

They’d just started putting the dough for the lemon pepper cookies on a tray when Sweet Pepper police chief Don Rogers stopped in.

“Walt told me I’d find you here, Stella. Could I get a minute of your time?”

Stella wiped her hands on her apron. “Sure, Don. What’s up?”

The fifty-something man with graying blond hair in a crew cut darted his glance at the other people in the kitchen. “I need to speak with you alone, if you don’t mind.”

Lucille smiled. “Go and talk to him. I’ll get the first batch in.”

Ricky went to shake hands with Don. “Good to see you, buddy. Got an emergency, huh?”

“Yeah. You could say that,” Don responded, giving nothing away.

“Thanks,” Stella said to Lucille. “I’ll be right back.”

She walked with Don into the unlit café dining area. “I know it’s not an emergency since my radio didn’t go off.”

“Not an emergency for you, but we’ve had a bad morning. Skeet Richardson is in the hospital. I think I might need your help.”

Chapter 2

“What happened?” she asked. “How is he?”

Officer Skeet Richardson was one of the full-time Sweet Pepper police officers. He was a decent man who had been helpful to her many times since she’d moved there. He was also a volunteer firefighter. That meant she felt responsible for him.

“Every year the ATF leans on us to go around and dismantle all the illegal whiskey stills we can find in the area. Usually it’s not a big deal—we pretty much know where to find them since the same bootleggers have operated them since before I was born.”

“Really? I had no idea there were illegal whiskey stills anymore.”

He laughed. “Yeah. They’re as much a part of the mountains as the peppers. Most of the time there aren’t more than a few, but the longer I let it go, the number increases. There are probably twenty or thirty good-sized operations out there right now.”

Stella pushed a long strand of fiery red hair from her face. She’d worn it up that day to avoid any contact with the food. “And Skeet was hurt dismantling a still?”

“Actually Skeet was hurt when the still blew up in our faces. Jerry Jones, the man who ran the still, was killed. He was fourth or fifth generation.”

“Oh my God! That’s terrible. How badly was Skeet injured?”

“He wasn’t as close as he could’ve been,” Don said. “Another minute and he would’ve been at the morgue with Jerry Jones.”

She noticed the scratches and burn marks on the side of his face. “You were close too, huh? What can I do?”

He touched one of the scratches on his cheek. “I think we might need a firefighter with us this year. The still was in Jerry’s basement. It’s been there—except for a short time every year when we’ve dismantled it—for fifty years. His daddy made hooch too.”

She put her hands in the pockets of her jeans. “I didn’t get a call on that fire.” She didn’t want to put too fine a point on it after the tragedy, but the fire brigade should have been notified.

“We were at the scene and contained it with fire extinguishers. No need to roust you after the fact, Stella. But from now on, I w...

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Book Description Berkley Books, United States, 2016. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Old rivalries heat up in the fourth Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mystery from the national bestselling author of In Hot Water. Fire chief Stella Griffin has been put in charge of judging the annual recipe contest, but Eric her resident ghost and true culinary genius has vanished. Before she can track down his latest haunt, she s called in to investigate a local moonshine distillery that was set ablaze, making her realize there s more than pies and cakes cooking in Sweet Pepper. As rumors of a revived whiskey war ignite, Stella turns to the town s elders to help her find answers. The past might have some clues as to what has sparked the present fires. But when following a lead lands her in buried rubble, Stella realizes she must extinguish this case fast or she might be going down in flames. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780425279236

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Book Description Berkley Books, United States, 2016. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Old rivalries heat up in the fourth Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mystery from the national bestselling author of In Hot Water. Fire chief Stella Griffin has been put in charge of judging the annual recipe contest, but Eric her resident ghost and true culinary genius has vanished. Before she can track down his latest haunt, she s called in to investigate a local moonshine distillery that was set ablaze, making her realize there s more than pies and cakes cooking in Sweet Pepper. As rumors of a revived whiskey war ignite, Stella turns to the town s elders to help her find answers. The past might have some clues as to what has sparked the present fires. But when following a lead lands her in buried rubble, Stella realizes she must extinguish this case fast or she might be going down in flames. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780425279236

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