Today I will be sharing Chapter One of my clean, cozy-mystery romance, A Firefighter Hero for Her. This began as a school project and blossomed into a full novel! If you love sweet southern romances, read on…
The small town of Ponybridge, Louisiana, was a traditional and old-fashioned American town. It was nestled between sparkling lakes and flourishing woods, only an hour away from the big city of New Orleans. It was a place where country boys and girls liked to hunt, where cows blocking the dirt roads were a common occurrence, and where everyone went to church on Sundays.
Ponybridge was a quaint, quiet town…
Except for this night.
At midnight on a balmy Wednesday, the kitchen of a double-wide mobile home ignited in flames. The fire licked its way up the walls, sticking to the ceiling, chewing and charring everything it touched. The fire spread quickly, making its way through the entire home.
While the fire burned, only a few miles away, Bonnie Hart lay asleep in her cozy bed. She lived alone, but her bed was far from empty—fluffy pillows surrounded her. Bonnie rolled over and hugged one of them to her chest.
Her phone buzzed on the bedside table, disturbing her sleep.
Bonnie sat up in bed and yawned. She swiped her dirty-blonde bangs from her face. She reached out and grabbed her phone, and squinted her eyes at the bright screen. It was a little after midnight, and her best friend, Linda Smith, was calling.
“Hello? Linda?” Bonnie said into the phone. “Is everything alright?”
“No, it’s not alright,” Linda’s voice came through the phone in sobs. “My house is burning down!”
Although people usually run away from fires, when Bonnie Hart heard her best friend’s house was burning down, she hopped out of bed, threw on a robe, and ran to her car.
She drove the three-mile drive over the speed limit, her little Honda Accord rattling over the waves of the dirt road. Bonnie left a trail of dust—and possibly some car parts—behind as she carefully steered around a corner without losing speed.
As she made the turn, she could see the fire illuminating the pine trees in the distance. Billowing black clouds reached up to the sky, covering the stars.
The smell of scorching wafted into Bonnie’s car, making her heartbeat—and her car—speed up.
Bonnie reached the house and slammed on her brakes, her bumper just inches from her best friend’s mailbox. She jumped out of the car, leaving the door wide open behind her. She made her way past police cars and hurried to where her best friend stood in her yard.
Her friend Linda turned, and as Bonnie reached her, they became wrapped in a tight hug.
“Oh, my goodness… Are you okay?” Bonnie said breathlessly into Linda’s hair. Worried tears stung her eyes. Her best friend smelled of strawberry shampoo… and smoke.
“I’m alright,” Linda mumbled. Linda, who was always loud and outspoken, the life of the party… Linda, whose red hair was as fiery as her attitude, was frightened and quiet, her voice but a soft whimper.
Bonnie Hart looked up over her friend’s shoulder and gasped. Linda’s home was engulfed in flames. The girls broke their embrace and watched helplessly as the fire spread and grew, crackling and popping as it devoured the home. It illuminated their faces. The heat reached their bodies like a hot bonfire.
Firefighters sprayed water from two different directions and moved forward, trying desperately to control the flames that had already consumed most of the home. Greyish clouds of smoke pumped up from the gaping hole that used to be the roof.
“It’s going to be okay,” Bonnie whispered to Linda. She wiped the sweat from her friend’s brow with her fingertips. “It’s going to be okay.”
Linda nodded and looked down at the ground, because she couldn’t stand to see her home burn down any longer. She took a deep breath, one that was choppy and racked with sobs. When she looked back up, her jaw tensed tightly, moving the freckles around her cheeks.
“Oh, great,” Linda mumbled under her breath.
Bonnie looked up and followed her friend’s gaze.
“Easy, tiger…” she warned when she saw him approaching.
Coming their way was Deputy Sheriff Charles McCoy. He was silhouetted by the fire, his bow-legged gait unmistakable, even in the dimness of the night. He was a short, stocky man in his forties, the no-nonsense Deputy of Ponybridge, Louisiana. His brown uniform flashed red and yellow with the lights of a nearby fire truck.
“Howdy, ladies,” Deputy Charles greeted with a tip of his cowboy hat. The shirt of his uniform was askew, as he had missed a button or two from hastily throwing on his uniform when he was awakened in the middle of the night.
“Charles,” Bonnie greeted when Linda failed to respond. “What happened here? Is this fire connected to all the others?”
Deputy Charles gave a chuckle. This rankled Linda, and Bonnie found the gesture highly inappropriate—given the current circumstances.
“There’s no reason to believe that,” Deputy Charles said airily.
Linda suddenly rose to all her height. “There’s been a fire every week this month,” Linda protested loudly, no longer frightened and hushed. “How can it not be related?”
“Those were small fires, Linda,” Deputy Charles replied, furrowing his brows. “A patch of grass, a bit of woods, a shed. Probably just a kid getting in a bit o’ trouble. And here?” Deputy Charles glanced back at Linda’s fiery home, then back at her. “Well, here the fire started in the kitchen. And you’ve started some kitchen fires before, if I recall.”
Linda’s mouth dropped open.
Bonnie braced herself.
“That was three years ago!” Linda argued, referring to the fire she had accidentally started when she began working at The Sunny Side Up Café—the same café where both Linda and Bonnie still worked at.
It had been a small fire, and contained within minutes. But at that time, Deputy Charles had just been dumped by Linda. He didn’t take too kindly to her breaking up with him to marry another man. Each year that Deputy Charles told the story, the fire had somehow gotten bigger.
“Well, it’s too soon to know, anyway,” Deputy Charles said, waving his hand as if shooing away a fly. “We’ll know more when our new fire investigator arrives tomorrow.”
“So, you don’t know who set my house on fire? Because I certainly didn’t!” Linda’s voice became raw with her yelling. Tears began to glisten her reddening face. “I didn’t set this fire, not on accident, and certainly not on purpose! I could have died!”
“Linda, please…” Bonnie said carefully and rubbed her friend’s back, trying to calm her down. But when Linda became that animated, it was no use. Nothing could calm her back down. So, Bonnie turned to Deputy Charles instead. “What should we do until then, Charles?”
Deputy Charles laughed.
“Well, for starters, keep that one,” he jabbed his index finger towards Linda’s face, “out of the kitchen.” Laughing some more at his own joke, Deputy Charles walked back towards the action.
“I just… I just… I just hate him!” Linda hissed through clenched teeth.
“No, don’t say that. You don’t hate him,” Bonnie said, as she’d said many times before. Deputy Charles sure knew how to get a rise out of Linda. “He doesn’t know what he’s saying. Just ignore him, will you?” Bonnie insisted.
Linda turned and looked at Bonnie with big, tear-filled eyes.
“Bonnie, I did not set this fire. Not even by accident. I was nowhere near the kitchen! I was in bed, sleeping, when the fire alarm went off. You believe me, right?”
“I do. I believe you,” Bonnie said, and she meant it. She draped her arm over her friend’s shoulders and turned her away from her smoldering home. There was no need for Linda to keep staring at her home and all her belongings burning away in the flames.
Bonnie took a deep breath. She was glad to see that Linda was okay. It had been a close one.
“You can stay with me, at my place, as long as you need to,” Bonnie said to her. “And don’t worry, come tomorrow, the new fire investigator will find out what’s going on with these fires.”
Before somebody gets killed, she added solemnly in her mind.
Meanwhile, in the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fire investigator Brandon Wells was awakened by the sound of his vibrating phone. He opened his eyes with a sense of disorientation that had become quite familiar to him. It was the sense of waking up in a hotel far away from his home in Tennessee.
Brandon Wells reached to the bedside table for his phone and flipped it open. “Hello?” he croaked in a sleepy voice. He ran his hand over his face and sat up in bed. The red time on the hotel clock said 3:01am.
“Hold on, you’re talking too fast,” Brandon said into the phone. He clicked on the lamp by his bedside, which made his Maine coon cat glare at him with one eye from the foot of the bed. How the cat could give him a dirty look with just one eye, he’d never know.
“I understand,” Brandon said to the person on the other line. “I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
He snapped the phone shut with a heavy sigh and set it back on the night stand. Brandon never liked these sorts of calls. Being a fire investigator was rough enough—getting to the scene of the accident afterthe fact. After something burned down. After people had lost everything.
After fatalities were counted.
It left him with a heavy, helpless feeling that pooled in his chest.
But worse than getting there after the fact, he hated the calls when the fires were still active, when some sick person was still playing dangerous games, toying with people’s lives in this way. Those were the worst.
“Looks like it’s time to go,” Brandon said to his enormous cat, ruffling his white fur. The cat had been with Brandon long enough to know what waking up at 3am meant, but not long enough to care. The cat stretched and turned the other way. But Brandon was already packing his bags, fighting that feeling of worry that bubbled up in him when he got these calls. He knew there was a stopwatch somewhere in the arsonist’s mind, and Brandon was working against that clock. He knew that the faster he got to Ponybridge, the faster he could solve the crime… and the less people were likely to die.
Happy reading and thanks for all your support!
I wish you all the best in your writing goals for 2021 and beyond! 💖
Take care and write on,
🌸 🌜🌸 🌜🌸 🌜🌸 🌜🌸 🌜🌸 🌜🌸 🌜