Jasmine Hart is tired of living in a small town. She's tired of the rumors about a "treasure" being hidden in her house and the locals who keep breaking into look for it. And she's especially tired of not getting laid.
Wil Turner was roped into being the chief of the fire department in Viola, Alabama when he decided to stay on after the death of his grandparents. He's had his eye on the town librarian for a while and when he gets the chance to get to know her a little better on Christmas Eve... he isn't about to turn it down.
Jasmine Hart awoke with a start. The thump came again, and she forced herself to push back her covers and pull on her robe. She shoved her feet into Tweety Bird house shoes and stomped off to investigate. It occurred to her that she should probably be on the phone calling for help, but the fact was that this was the fourth time in as many months that some jackass had pulled her from her bed because he or she wanted to snoop around her grandmama’s house.
Just how much patience was she supposed to have? She stopped in the hall to dig a baseball bat out of the linen closet and slammed the door. That was all the warning the nosy cretin was going to get. At the doorway of the living room, she tucked the bat between her legs and clapped her hands to turn on the lights. Her grandmama’s fascination with clap-on lights had been cute when she hadn’t lived in the house.
The front door was secure, and nobody was halfway in the window. With a frown, she looked around and jumped only slightly when a dull thud followed by a moan emerged from the fireplace. “Oh for the love of sweet baby Jesus.” She stomped over to the fireplace and stopped. “Is someone in there?”
“Bobby Youngblood?” She bent down, stuck her head in, and hazarded a glance up the chimney. “Are you trying to win a Darwin Award or something?”
“Help me! I’m stuck.”
“Do you think I should call the fire department or Channel 4? I would hate for Lulu McBride to miss an opportunity to point out to all of Viola, Alabama yet again that you’re the stupidest man this side of the Mississippi.”
“Jasmine, come on. This hurts.”
“And well it should. I can’t believe you tried to wiggle down the fireplace. You may be the narrowest man in four counties, but everyone knows that getting down a chimney is impossible! I swear to God above, if you’re wearing a Santa suit, I’m going to beat you with my ball bat until your mama shows up to collect you.”
“Oh come on, you ain’t gonna call my mama, are ya?”
“You bet your ass I am. In fact, I’m going to call her first.” Jasmine tossed her ball bat on the couch as she went in search of her phone. She found it and dialed Mary Jean Youngblood’s number from memory. “Hi, Mary Jean, I know it’s late, but I’m afraid you’ll have to come over here and collect Bobby again. Well, he can’t come to the phone…seeing how he’s stuck in the chimney. I’m going to call the fire department after we hang up.” She pursed her lips and listened in silence as Mary Jean Youngblood whined about her child’s predicament. “I’ll be sure to tell him.”
“What’d she say?”
“That you shouldn’t worry, because she’d be right over to help you.”
“That’s nice.” Bobby sighed. “Don’t you think so?”
“She should’ve apologized for giving birth to you,” Jasmine snapped then dialed 911. She waited patiently while it rang and sighed when the call was answered. “Morning, Peggy, it’s Jasmine Hart.”
“Who is it this time?”
“Bobby Youngblood. Peggy, this fool boy is stuck in my chimney.” She shook her head while Peggy had a good hee-haw at Bobby’s expense. “Can you send the fire department over?”
* * * * *
Wil O’Connor had come to Viola, Alabama to take care of his ailing grandparents. His decision to stay after they passed on had surprised him. Still, he’d been in the small town for almost three years and felt at home. He pulled his truck in behind the fire truck and turned off the ignition.
It was the first time they’d been called out to Jasmine Hart’s house since she’d moved in. He knew that she’d had a series of break-in attempts, but as he’d lain in his bed listening to Peggy, the 911 dispatcher, giggle her way through the report, he knew he had to come out and see for himself.
Wil shook his head as he stopped in front of a neat and orderly two-story house and watched as two of his men scrambled up the ladder. “Is he really stuck in there?”
Jimmy Wilbanks aimed his flashlight into the chimney and chuckled. “Yeah, he sure is.”
“Where is Ms. Hart?”
“Inside with Bobby’s mama.”
Wil sighed and walked to the front porch. The language coming from inside was something else. For a moment, he stopped to listen to Jasmine Hart reinvent the fine art of cursing. Then he walked to the front door and knocked.
Jasmine, town librarian and the star of Wil’s every sexual fantasy since he’d set eyes on her, opened the door and glared at him. She stood just under 5’5” and had a mass of jet black hair that she wore on top of her head in a messy bun that made him want to take it down. Sharp, green eyes met his, and her normally pouty little mouth was pressed into a line of displeasure.
“Can you fix it so this can’t happen again?”
“That depends. We may have to knock half of the chimney down to get him out.”
Her mouth dropped open then snapped shut audibly. “If you have to break open my chimney, I want him arrested.”
“Now, Jasmine, does it have to go that far? My sweet Bobby is just curious.”
“Your sweet Bobby could cost me thousands of dollars, Mary Jean,” Jasmine snapped. “There is no money in this house, there is no ghost in this house, and I swear to God above, the next fool that breaks in here will get an ass full of buckshot.”
She stomped from the living room, leaving him with a stunned and silent Mary Jean. Wil tucked his hands into the front pockets of his jeans and glanced briefly toward the fireplace. He figured if they managed to get him out without breaking the chimney open that he could put a heavy grate over the top of the chimney.
“Mary Jean, why don’t you go outside and talk to the paramedics about Bobby’s medical history. They might have a few questions.” He waited until she closed the front door before he went in search of Jasmine. He found her sitting on the side of her bed. “We’ll know in a few minutes if we’ll have to knock out the chimney.”
Jasmine looked up and frowned. “Yeah.”
“How many times has he tried to get in your house?”
“Two.” She sighed. “I can’t really press charges against him.”
“You should.” Wil glanced around her bedroom and wondered if he’d ever get there in an unofficial capacity. “How else are you going to stop the break-ins?”
“What do I have to do to convince the people in this town that my grandmother didn’t leave a fortune hidden in this house?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t they know if I had a fortune I wouldn’t be here? As if I’d stay in this one-jackass town if I had a choice!” Jasmine stood from the bed and waved her hand around her bedroom.
“Then why don’t you sell this place and leave?” He leaned against the doorframe of the bedroom and waited for her to respond.
“Because I can’t sell it. I’ve tried. The people who would have the money to spend on it won’t because they think it’s haunted. The people who can’t afford to purchase it would rather find inventive ways to break into it to search for money that’s not here!” She dropped her gaze to her slippers and sighed. “I regret coming home when I did, and that makes me feel horrible.”
“Your grandmama was a born manipulator. She wanted you here, entrenched during the last years of her life, because she couldn’t get any of her children to feel guilty enough. And you, darling girl, fell for it. Hattie Hart was the meanest woman in this town, bar none. She was hateful and didn’t have a kind word for anyone including you.” Wil shrugged. “Since she was so damn mean, people figure you had to have stuck around for something other than family loyalty.”
“That fool Bobby could have gotten himself killed.” Jasmine looked toward him then. “Maybe I should get a dog from the animal shelter.”
“A dog isn’t going to resolve this issue.”
“Seems like you need a man around here.”