Home Fires

Home Fires

Home Fire Book CoverBook #2 of The James Bay Novel Series

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When a family health crisis draws corporate attorney Rose Gallagher away from the city and back to her hometown, a handsome fireman by the name of Mike Gallagher (no relation) sparks a fire in her heart that threatens to burn up all those well laid plans. Mike seems determined to keep this pretty litigator in his arms and home where he thinks she belongs – as well as keep her from snooping into his ongoing arson investigation. But Rose is equally determined not to give up on her dreams of big city success. And she’s not about to give up trying to solve who’s responsible for the series of arsons plaguing her hometown. Especially since Mike’s investigation centers around her dear old friend, the Judge.

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Reviews

“I laughed, I cried and I couldn’t put it down until the book was completed.” (Amazon Reader Review)

“What a fantastic book. Very well written…I can’t wait to read more books by this author in the future. Highly recommended.” – Geeky Girl Reviews

“A love story and mystery all rolled into one that kept me guessing until the very end.” (Amazon Reader Review)

 

Excerpt

Rose sank into the cozy window seat halfway between upstairs and down, resting her head against the wall. The house was quiet, save for the grandfather clock in the downstairs hallway ticking away the minutes. Fading sunlight filtered through the rose-mullioned window above her seat, casting a rainbow hue on the faded carpet runner. This little crannied nook with its bird’s-eye view of the happenings in the house and neighborhood had been one of her favorite spots as a child.

Outside the window she could see the tree she and Jeff had climbed as children. They’d considered it their tree, though its roots were planted firmly on her family’s side of the property line. It had been their private summertime childhood retreat, a cozy haven of shady green leaves offering shelter as the two of them explored the world of Popsicles and comic books. The tree was the one place they were safe from their parents: Jeff from the Judge’s eagle eyes and Rose from her parents’ benevolent gaze. She and Jeff had grown up together in the shelter of their tree, the only thing separating their two houses.

Now she was home again… and Jeff had been dead so many years she’d nearly forgotten the sound of his laughter.

Rose curled up tighter in the soft cushions and pushed away thoughts of Jeff. He was dead and buried, just like any feelings she’d ever had for this town. The rumor mill surrounding his death had killed any sentimental longing she’d mistakenly felt for her hometown. James Bay wasn’t home anymore. It was simply the place where she had grown up. Bad enough that her mother still lived here. Strategic planning was in order. Winters in northern Michigan could be harsh and unforgiving. Florida sounded nice. And what was the harm in trying? Her mother might prove receptive. At the very least, it would give them something to talk about for the next six weeks.

Her eyes drifted shut. She’d forgotten how comfortable the window seat could be. How long had it been since she’d indulged herself and spent some time in this favorite little spot? So long ago, she couldn’t remember. She sank back farther in the welcoming niche, allowing herself the rare luxury of relaxing. Such a long day, but everything had worked out. The surgery had been successful. Maybe now things would finally begin to settle down…

And maybe someone would turn off that noise. Was it coming from outside? The screeching sound was like a shrieking alarm protruding on her daydreams. Hopefully it would stop soon. Rose sighed and snuggled deeper.

The faint smell of smoke roused her to her feet.

Smoke?

That sound from below was the smoke alarm.

Fire!

Rose flew down the stairs and into the kitchen. Smoke filled the room, acrid and pungent, tearing her eyes and sucking the breath from her lungs. Every hair on her head felt as if it was standing on end. She threw an arm over her nose, fighting against the stench. Her eyes widened as she caught sight of the scorched tea kettle forgotten on the stove.

A hazy childhood memory of another smoke-filled room threatened… a hot summer night with the smell of cotton candy and the stink of smoke mingling in the air.

I can’t see! I can’t see! Daddy, where are you?

She snapped off the burner, but it took every ounce of courage she had to make a grab for the kettle. The heat was intense as her fingers connected with the black handle. She gave it a hard yank but the kettle wouldn’t budge. It was melted to the coils of the electric stove.

Rose snatched the cordless phone from its cradle and stumbled out the door. She took deep grateful gulps of fresh air as she made the call to 911.

The fire department was only three blocks away, but the wait seemed interminable before the welcome sound of a wailing siren was finally heard. Rose watched from the front lawn of their corner lot as the first yellow fire truck approached. It filled the side street near the driveway. A fireman clad in full turnout gear slid from the truck and ran for the back porch. Smoke seeped from the kitchen window as a second fire truck roared in behind the first. Thank God she’d gotten out in time. Stupid, stupid, stupid, leaving the burner on under the kettle and walking away, sinking into sleep. The wail of the smoke detector had prevented a needless tragedy.

And the neighborhood gossips were already at it, fast and furious. Rose took in the gathering crowd of curious onlookers drawn by the sirens and lure of possible danger. News traveled fast in this town. Even her mother, stuck in her hospital bed, probably would know the full scoop within the hour. Rose cringed at the thought of the maternal recriminations sure to follow.

Somewhere in the crowd a dog barked, whining and straining against his owner’s leash. The animal’s yelp brought a rush of fear surging through Rose’s heart. Bozo! Her mother’s aging Red Persian was strictly an indoor cat and still inside, trapped. Anxiously she scanned the second and third stories of their hundred-year-old house. Who knew where that damn cat could be hiding? No access through the kitchen. She gave the front porch a wary eye. There’d be less smoke—hopefully no smoke—if she went in that way. She had to try. Her mother would be frantic if anything happened to her precious Bozo. Rose swallowed down a cold taste of fear and started toward the front steps.

“Whoa!” A strong arm yanked her away from the house. The rumble of a deep male voice held her captive. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Rose looked up into familiar blue eyes. Dressed in full turnout gear of dirty yellow fire coat and pants with big black scuffed boots on his feet, he looked more like a battle-scarred veteran than the conquering hero. His eyes were like magnets, pulling her in, holding her close. For a moment she forgot her purpose. Why had she been headed into the house?

“My mother’s cat.” Sanity returned, quickly as it had departed. “He’s inside the house.”

“You stay where you are. We’ll find the cat.” Turning, he headed for the back porch and took the steps two at a time. He yanked open the kitchen door. Smoke rolled out the entrance as he disappeared inside.

“Cecilia Rose? What’s going on?” The Judge stomped across the side lawn, still in his black suit. “What happened?”

What had happened? Rose cringed at the memory of the screeching alarm and her hasty exit out the back door. She shuddered in the Judge’s arms as thoughts of the smoke-filled kitchen clouded her mind. Smoke was a swirling monster, worse than any flames. She hated smoke—blinding, choking, suffocating. No wonder she’d panicked and forgotten Bozo.

The fireman reappeared moments later on the back porch. His hands, clad in thick gloves, held the charred remains of the tea kettle melted fast to the element.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to replace this,” he said as he clomped down the steps. “It’s not much good to you now.”

“I was boiling some water.” She cringed. The truth sounded lame. “I wanted a cup of tea. Then I sat down and… I guess I fell asleep.”

“Better get yourself a whistling tea kettle. It’s better than hearing a smoke alarm.” His stern warning was curt but his eyes were framed by wrinkles of well-grooved laugh lines.

Was he making fun of her? Rose felt the blush climbing her cheeks. But if he was teasing, she had only herself to blame. Her forgetfulness had given him license to do exactly that.

She flashed him a quick smile. “Thank you for coming to my rescue again. I can’t believe I did something so stupid.” Better that she said it first, leveled at herself, than to have him thinking it, silently or aloud.

“About the cat…” His eyes were intense as he looked at her.

Oh, God, Bozo was dead. She swallowed down a rush of panic. How would she explain his unfortunate demise to her mother?

I was too scared to think. I ran from the smoke.

“I did my best, but I couldn’t catch him. That cat wants nothing to do with me. He’s running all over the house meowing something fierce—I think he’s telling me to get lost.”

Rose gave a weak, shaky laugh. Bozo was safe. Thanks to the fireman, they had all survived.

The Judge’s arm tightened around her shoulders. “You’ll stay next door with me tonight, my dear. Give the house a chance to air out.”

“What about Bozo?” Rose hesitated. The Judge had a long-running feud with their cat.

“He’ll be all right. The fire’s out and we opened up the kitchen windows,” the fireman said. “You should go through the house and open the rest of the windows. Things will be aired out by morning.”

A quick pressure on her arm caught Rose’s attention. “Stay right where you are, my dear,” the Judge said. “I’m going back to my house to change, but I’ll be back in a few minutes. Then I intend to take the two of us out to dinner.”

“Call if you have any more problems,” the fireman said as the Judge disappeared across the lush green lawn. “You have my number.”

Rose frowned. She didn’t remember exchanging phone numbers with him. “I think you’re mistaken. I don’t know how to reach you.”

“Sure you do.” He pulled off the scuffed white helmet and ran a hand through his hair, eyes sparkling bright. “911.”

“Wait,” she called out to the tall, receding figure as he headed for the fire truck. “In case I do call, who do I ask for? I don’t even know your name.”

“The name’s Mike,” he said. He stashed his gear in the truck and opened the driver’s door. “Michael John Gallagher.”

 

HOME FIRES Available NOW

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