that old flameby J.J. Cook

I never expected to be fire chief. As a generational member of a fire fighting family, we all know it’s enough that we serve. My station house in Chicago is crowded with plenty of firefighters with ambitions. I wasn’t one of them.

Circumstances change. My boyfriend and I had . . . well, let’s call it an argument that involved me finding him in bed with a good friend and my fist contacting his face when he got up to tell me that it meant nothing.

That, and an injury that was keeping me out of work, made me hop on my Dad’s old Harley and head down to Sweet Pepper, Tennessee. I saw an ad that the small town in the Smoky Mountains was looking for a temporary fire chief who could train their new volunteer fire brigade.

I got more than I bargained for, believe me.

The ad didn’t say that the old fire house was falling down and that the fire engine hadn’t been started in thirty or so years. Tagger, the only volunteer who knows anything about firefighting, hasn’t done the work since before I was born.

Other recruits include Banyin, a local librarian, and Petey, a 90-pound waitress. Kent is a truck driver and Rickey’s grandfather taught him to outrun federal agents looking for his moonshine still. Bert Wando is the Sweet Pepper Cougars’ star quarterback, and the mayor’s son.

There’s also Officer John Trump, one of Sweet Pepper’s finest. He’s an interesting recruit with emergency experience and a really cute dimple in his chin. I think he likes me a little, you know, romantically, but I’m kind of wary right now.

Wait! I’m forgetting the best part! The cabin Sweet Pepper officials gave me to live in is haunted. That’s right. And not by one of my Irish aunt’s ghosts from 200 years ago either.

I’ve been living with the ghost of the last Sweet Pepper Fire Chief, Eric Gamlyn. He’s something of a folk hero around here. From what they tell me about him, he’s a combination Paul Bunyan and Thor. He started the first Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade forty years ago. It folded after he died.

It’s creepy, I’m telling you. You don’t know where he’s going to be next or what he’s going to do. Maybe the worst part is that people keep saying they’re surprised I’ve lasted this long. Usually Eric the ghost drives everyone away. It seems he likes me, maybe because I’m bringing back his fire brigade. He’s hard on computers and other electrical devices, but I think we’re coming to an understanding.

I wasn’t supposed to actually fight fires here, but it’s happened. I lost a good friend I’d made here to a fire. I had to determine it was arson – no local arson investigator either!
I’m determined not to leave Sweet Pepper until I figure out what happened to her.

I know I’ll only be here a short time. I have to make it work for me. I’m also focused on making this little group the best volunteer fire brigade in Tennessee.

Despite all the wonderful hospitality the people have shown me, my home is back in Chicago. I’ll take back some great memories of this three months living in these beautiful mountains, learning to love biscuits, and helping out with the Sweet Pepper Festival. I even ate some chocolate-covered hot peppers and candied some Tennessee Teardrop peppers.

Well, I didn’t candy those peppers by myself. Eric the ghost helped me, and then he saved my life.

Thanks to Penguin, I have one (1) copy of THAT OLD FLAME OF MINE to give away. Leave a comment to be included in the giveaway. Contest ends April 4; US entries only per publisher’s request.

You can read more about Stella in That Old Flame of Mine, the first book in the new “Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade” mystery series.

Meet the author
J.J Cook is a pseudonym for a married couple that writes award-winning, bestselling mystery fiction. They have written and published more than 60 novels for Harlequin, Berkley, Amazon and Gallery Books along with hundreds of non-fiction articles for national and regional publications. They live in rural North Carolina with their family. Visit them at or on Facebook.

Books are available at retail and online booksellers.

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