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Authors: Maggie Toussaint

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Hot Water

BOOK: Hot Water
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Praise for Maggie Toussaint

Dedication

Acknowledgements

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

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Epilogue

Thank you for purchasing this publication of The Wild Rose Press, Inc.

Hot Water

by

Maggie Toussaint

A Mossy Bog Book

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

Hot Water

COPYRIGHT © 2013 by Maggie Toussaint

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

Contact Information: [email protected]

Cover Art by
Kim Mendoza

The Wild Rose Press, Inc.

PO Box 708

Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708

Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com

Publishing History

First Crimson Rose Edition, 2013

Print ISBN 978-1-61217-829-5

Digital ISBN 978-1-61217-830-1

A Mossy Bog Book

Published in the United States of America

Praise for Maggie Toussaint

MUDDY WATERS

A Mossy Bog Book

Finalist, Published Beacon Contest

“Maggie Toussaint does an amazing job of foreshadowing as she weaves together a tapestry of suspense, mystery, small community life, and LOVE … with superb imagery, exquisite description, and a touch of humor.”
~Camilla, Long and Short Reviews

“Great book, wonderful mystery and a red hot love story underlying it.”

~Mary Gramlich, The Reading Reviewer

“Maggie Toussaint wrote the characters with a believability that captures the hearts of readers.”

~Emily, Single Titles

HOUSE OF LIES

National Readers’ Choice Award

Best Romantic Suspense 2006

“This is the first I’ve read from Maggie Toussaint, and I have to say it won’t be the last. House of Lies has it all.”
~Fallen Angel Reviews

NO SECOND CHANCE

“A recommended read. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book totally in one sitting, but I just couldn’t put this one down.”
~Crystal, e-Harlequin.com/review

Dedication

Hot Water is dedicated to my sister Carol.

She loved the coast and her family

with a passion that would take your breath away.

She knew which rules to break

and which ones were sacrosanct.

Best of all, she was forever getting us in hot water

and enriching our lives

in ways we are only now beginning to understand.

Acknowledgements

This book would not have been possible without input from many experts in the field of law enforcement and fire protection. Lee Lofland’s Writer’s Police Academy helped me to be conversant in cop and firefighter lore. Troy Spannuth, a former arson investigator, kindly answered many questions about the life and times of an arson investigator.

For the scenes on the water, Captain Virginia Baisden fielded questions about tides and boats. She’s also taken me on a lifetime of jaunts through creeks and marshes, adding to my familiarity with these subjects.

Critique partner and mystery author Polly Iyer added invaluable sharpening to this work.

Any errors in this book are mine and mine alone, and do not reflect on these subject experts.

 

Chapter 1

Laurie Ann Dinterman made the mistake of looking at the crime scene before she was ready, and the charred footprint of the restaurant hijacked her thoughts. She shifted her gaze to her ash-spotted shoes, but her stomach continued to cartwheel.

Not the scent of roasted marshmallows in the air.

A person had died here.

A man she’d known.

She brushed a hand over her grandfather’s St. Christopher’s medal in her pants pocket and felt her resolve strengthen.

She’d worked other fatality cases.

She could handle this one.

The man beside her stumbled on a blackened timber. Laurie Ann reached out to steady the fire chief. “Careful, Uncle Buford.”

“No point in bein’ careful. Can’t hurt anything here, and God knows I shoulda been dead years ago.”

“Don’t talk like that. You’ve got lots of family that loves you.” She guided him around the building rubble to the kitchen side of the former Pirate’s Cove restaurant. The sun seemed too bright, the birds too quiet. She scanned the treeline and nearby marsh for threats but nothing seemed amiss.

“Love.” He spat out the word as if it tasted bad. “Stupidest thing I ever did was fall in love. Now I feel like half of me is gone.”

He stopped, dragged off his red ball cap, and rubbed the top of his shiny dome. God bless him. He missed Aunt Vannie more each day. One morning he was going to wake up dead so he could be with her again.

“Tell me about the fire,” she prompted. “About Mr. Brown.”

He clucked his tongue and replaced his cap. “All James Brown had going for him was the famous name. He spent his life going from bottle to bottle, from handout to handout. He was a sorry, no-account drunk.”

That was hardly breaking news. She’d rousted the drifter from businesses all over Mossy Bog. “I meant where you found him in the fire.”

“Over there.” He waved toward the concrete steps leading toward an expanse of blue sky. “We found his body beside the back door. A hunk of wall fell on him and preserved his torso and right arm. Recognized him by that old watch he always wore. Wasn’t much left of the rest of him. Oops. Sorry. I didn’t mean to be crude.”

“Don’t worry. Cops deal with crude every day.”

His brown eyes narrowed. “You ought to quit all this police foolishness, settle down and have a passel of kids. That’d keep you good and busy.”

She wouldn’t mind settling down and having kids, but her prospects were slim. Between her five-eleven height, her shiny badge, and her crack marksmanship, every man in town gave her a wide berth. At twenty-eight, she wasn’t getting any younger.

She pushed her personal thoughts aside. “Getting back to the fire. Did it start in the kitchen?”

“Don’t know. Never seen something that went up so quickly in all my years of firefighting. My guess is an accelerant made it burn faster. Gasoline, maybe. But it doesn’t matter what I think. State arson investigator arrives tomorrow.” He shot her an odd look. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Laurie Ann, but how are you involved in a potential homicide? The Pirate’s Cove isn’t in the city. Where is the sheriff’s investigator?”

Heat seared her cheeks. Her lack of credentials was hopefully temporary. Uncovering information about this case would put her in good standing with the sheriff’s department. Her future was riding on how well she interacted with this arson expert.

“Rusty’s tied up in court and Otis is working a drug sting operation,” she said. “They’re shorthanded, and frankly, James Brown is a low priority to our top guns. I was the first respondent on the scene because of another case I was working nearby, so they appointed me the police liaison for the state guy. I appreciate you coming out here today and bringing me up to speed.”

“This here’s a waste.” He kicked the ground, and ashes mushroomed into the air. “The restaurant drew tourists to the county. Folks always talked about the Pirate’s Cove. Busloads of ’em came out to poke around the place even when it was all boarded up. For generations this little peninsula was a haven for smugglers. The restaurant put a pretty face on it.”

The fire had been out for two days, but the air felt as if she were breathing thick smoke instead of fresh air. Had James Brown known he was going to die in the fire? Why couldn’t he get out of the building? He’d been so close to the exit. Was his death a suicide?

She needed more details about the fire. She’d eaten in this restaurant many times as a child so she knew the layout. The bathrooms were to her left, the hostess station directly in front of her, and the prime seats by the river were off to her right. “I hope the new owners had insurance.”

“Me, too. I hope they rebuild. You wouldn’t believe the stories Gran used to tell about this place. Why, I remember one time—”

Uh-oh. “Let’s save the story for another time, please, Uncle Buford. Anything else you can tell me about the fire?”

“Sure. A North Carolina boater cruising the Intracoastal Waterway made the 911 call. Saw the flames. Southside Fire Department got out here within fifteen minutes. Too late to do more than watch the place burn. Northside arrived about fifteen minutes later. Southside hosed the structure, for all the good that did, and Northside wet down the trees and lawn to keep the fire from spreading. Forestry stood by to trench around the place, but we didn’t need ʼem. We didn’t find Brown until the fire was out, early yesterday morning.”

A large trailer park was less than a mile away. A wildfire would have wiped out those families. “The county was lucky y’all contained the blaze. Did you notice if anyone stood out in the crowd?”

He snorted. “About half the county showed up. Cars were full of lookyloos. I made that puffed-up investigator move the cars and the people. It was too dangerous having a crowd so close to a blaze. Ole Rusty Rawson didn’t much like me telling him what to do. Too bad.”

He wheezed out a laugh. “They made me the chief because I wrecked too many fire trucks. Plus, I’d been here longer’n anybody else. Figured this was the best way to keep me out of trouble. And you know what? They were right. I’ve been a darned good fire chief. Now this one comes along and ruins my record. We haven’t had a complete engulfment like this since we got the ISO ratings lowered for the county. We’re that good.”

For all of his bluster and down-home ways, her uncle took his role of fire chief seriously. “No one is blaming the fire department for this. Between the old timbers, the fire’s head start, and the possible use of an accelerant, you were working against a stacked deck.”

“I’d like to stack the deck of the guy that did this.”

She studied him. Did his arsonist kill her victim? “You think it was a guy?”

“Most arsonists are male. Most of them are white, too.”

“I did not know that.”

“Stick with me, gal, and I’ll teach you everything you wanted to know about the fire and then some. Maybe you’ll decide to hang out with the firefighters instead of those hack cops the city hired.”

Loyalty stiffened her spine, starched her voice. “They’re not hacks. Some of them are rough around the edges, but not many people will come here for the wages we pay. We’re lucky to have enough staff to fill the shifts.”

“That’s another thing. I don’t like you working shifts. I told your dad that was wrong.”

“Yeah? What did Dad say?”

“He said to mind my own business. That you could take care of yourself.”

“I can. I’m not a little girl anymore.”

Uncle Buford shook his head. “I still say it ain’t right. You should be doing something that isn’t so dangerous.”

Her uncle seemed to forget that crime didn’t discriminate on the basis of occupations. Hotel clerks, bank tellers, even retail associates ran into bad guys on a regular basis. Laurie Ann knew, because they called her to catch the crooks.

BOOK: Hot Water
2.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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