Edisto Heat

Edisto Heat

C. Hope Clark

May 2022 $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-61026-177-7

The Edisto Island Mysteries, Book 8

Our PriceUS$17.95
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Fire steals her breath and took her husband years ago, but Edisto Beach Police Chief Callie Morgan will have to face the flames again when an arsonist stalks the beach. One fire could be carelessness, but three? Trouble is, the all-too-easy suspect may be an intellectually disabled young man who idolizes her in particular and law enforcement in general.

With the town unsettled by the fires and a string of breaking-and-entering crimes, they're screaming for closure. They want someone's head on a spike, and Callie must fight against time and popular opinion to unearth the real arsonist, who is clearly willing to kill.

Her island is angry, scared, and looking to her for answers. If she doesn't find them, Callie will be forced to pay a price.


"Ms. Clark delivers a riveting ride, with her irrepressible characters set squarely in the driver's seat."
—Dish Magazine on Echoes of Edisto

"Page-turning…[and] edge-of-your-seat action… Prepare to be absorbed by Clark's crisp writing and compelling storytelling. This is one you don't want to miss! " —Carolyn Haines, USA Today bestselling author on Dying on Edisto

Hope Clark's books have been honored as winners of the Epic Award, Silver Falcion Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award

"Entertaining and compelling start of a new series. "—Anna Maria Giacomasso, NetGalley Reviewer on Murdered in Craven

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Chapter 1

SHE WALKED IN her front door, and the air-conditioning penetrated her sticky uniform, sending a quick shiver up her back. Edisto Beach Police Chief Callie Morgan wondered if she should shed right there in her entry hall to avoid contaminating the house. Every second counted before the odor turned into a stench that would invade every inch of her home.

Stiff and robotlike, she locked the front door and dropped her keys in the bowl on the credenza. Swallowing, she tried hard not to breathe through her nose. The warm beer, cheese, and shrimp mixture had dried in some spots but wedged thick in seams, buttonholes, and collar. She couldn’t identify a good place to drop the nasty clothes without contem­plating how to sterilize where she did. The uniform and all its accou­terment didn’t shed quickly, so gingerly she moved off the rug, not want­ing to leave a presence, and made her way across the wooden floor to her bedroom.

Her weapon went on the nightstand. Clean, thank God. The utility belt appeared unscathed except for small spots near the buckle. Still, she laid it on the floor until she could wipe it down properly. Off came the badge, mic, etc. Leaving shoes on the bathroom tile, she stepped fully clothed into the hot shower, way too hot for a July day, but son of a bis­cuit, cold water wouldn’t cut this crud.

Callie received the call from Marie at two in the afternoon, taking her to Point Street, not on the oceanfront but across the road from it. The ocean met St. Helena Sound at that part of the town, and the water held less ferocity. One would think the calmer surf would lead to tamer tenants, but eighteen people had crammed into a house designed for twelve, which, per the brochure, already meant people sleeping on pull-out sofas and day beds on the porch. Clearly, the party had turned semi-orgy, people half-clothed due to sex and sunburn.

Few could remember details of what set them off, but the full-on sun had driven everyone to double their booze. A husband taste-tested his sister-in-law, sending a few of them over the edge, including the scorned, screaming, red-faced wife who had become the barf culprit.

The impromptu spew across the police chief quieted the entire crew. Chagrinned and fearful of lockup, they’d apologized, laid trash bags in her patrol car, and promised on assorted grandmotherly graves and firstborns’ lives that Edisto Beach PD would never need to visit again.

Which meant Callie took one for the team. The results beat arrest­ing someone or writing tickets. Tourists were golden to the community, and better they leave beholden to Edisto than resentful.

She’d taken the time to light a candle she kept on the bathroom counter, to semi-mask the odorous task, and had muted her phone for calls and set it on the toilet tank, speaker facing the shower door, and turned on some Neil Diamond, her go-to relaxation music. The shuffled playlist hit "Sweet Caroline,” a rather worn-out song of his, in her opinion, but a singsong moment couldn’t hurt. Her two officers on duty, Thomas Gage and Cobb LaRoache, vowed to cover the beach the rest of the day. So, on she sang.

"So good! So good! So good!” Her eyes closed to ignore what flushed off her and down the drain past her clothes puddled in the bottom of the shower. Sterilized and scalded, she toned down the temperature to something more tepid.

There. Better.

"Sweet Caroline” slowed to "Hello Again.” The romantic ballad washed over her as intimately as the rose suds covering her head to toe. She rested hands on the wall, sank into her thoughts, and let the water rinse the back of her neck and upper back, taking her to the last time she stood in the shower this lathered up.

She hadn’t been alone.

A smile crept in.

She still caught herself coming to grips with thoughts of him, espe­cially when he wasn’t there, because when he was there, all rationality went out the window. Baby steps, he’d told her in the beginning. Nothing they did had permanence inscribed on them.

But Callie dated one man at a time, and she dated nobody without some reflection about a potential future. Nothing conscious, really. She couldn’t help the straight and narrow of the logic in her. To be honest, she guessed Mark felt the same. He dated no one else. He was awfully good at understanding what she needed to hear, though, and their times together had proven so effortless that she welcomed the uncomplicated nature of their relationship.

Thank goodness her day was through. She might find her way to El Marko’s for dinner, the Mexican restaurant her fella owned and ran. Nobody seemed to notice he wore Hawaiian shirts and came from Cajun heritage.

She shut off the water. As her neighbor and yoga friend Sophie Bianchi taught her, whose advice Callie ever pretended to ignore, she sucked in a breath to her navel to relax... and immediately regretted it, catching a whiff of the day’s activities, now scented by a lavender candle.

She squeezed the water out of her hair, then paused. What happened to the music?

Opening the shower door, she reached for the towel on the counter and stepped out— "What—?”

Water. All over the floor. Outside the shower.

Immediately, she looked back into the stall, like she’d missed something, the message not quite sticking in her brain as to what was going on. Water off, drain worked, her clothes still trickled from their wadded pile. However, on the outside, an inch covered the entire bathroom floor.

Listening hard, she tried to sense the location. High-stepping through the water, then realizing the silliness of doing so, she opened the cabinets. All dry inside. For now but not for long. A sheen of moisture coated the room.

A Palmetto bug floated past, coming from the toilet direction. Guess she hadn’t cleaned back there in a while.

Still naked, she threw the useless towel on the counter and followed the movement and the faint noise of a soft flow. There! Her phone lay underwater, behind the toilet, below an open pipe.

Are you kidding me?

In some incredible alignment of physics, Callie’s phone had vibrated off the toilet, down the back, shearing off the turn-off valve en route to what Callie prayed wasn’t its final grave. She lifted the phone, shook it, hoping to breathe life into the black screen. No such luck.

Then it hit her. With the valve gone, there was no way to stop the water! At least not inside the house.

Splashing, Callie grabbed a face cloth and attempted to plug the pipe. The raw edge slit the pad of her index finger, but she continued to force the terry cloth. The diverted sprays re-wet her head to toe, dowsed the sheetrock, and coated the glass wall of her shower. She spat, running a hand over her face. Screw this!

She spun and rummaged through her makeup drawer. Nothing shaped right to be a plug.

The speed in which she wasted time increased the odds that the catastrophe would reach her bedroom carpet, so she ran out, snaring bathrobe off a hook, and headed to the back door. The master shutoff was inside the meter box near the road... outside.

Hair dripping, bare-footed, and robe gripped around her, the tie left somewhere in her closet, she took two-step jumps down her two dozen stairs to ground level then scurried to the edge of her back property line on Jungle Shores Road. Brushing debris off the surface, she jammed a finger into the box’s opening to pry it open. Of course it would not budge.


Callie didn’t even bother looking up. "Can’t talk now, Soph.” The lid shouldn’t be this stuck.

Sophie reached her, in a kerfuffle and overly eager to be heard. "But it’s important. I tried calling you—”

Callie gave a one-handed yank, still clutching her robe. What the hell was wrong with this box? "Help me,”she pleaded. "I’ve got water gushing everywhere inside!”

Sophie fisted her nails, freshly done in a coral red each and every morning, and held balled hands against her chest. "Don’t you have a tool or something?”

To hell with this. Callie straddled the box, her robe askew in front, the satin material clinging in the back. She slid two fingers of each hand into the slot and wrenched. The top flew off. She fell onto her butt in the grass, her front exposed.

"Oh my God!” Sophie yelled, dancing back ten feet.

Callie scrabbled her robe together, threw the lid down, and leaped up for the valve, only to retreat hastily from the edge.

A snake sat inside, coiled and none too happy at the disturbance.

"Is it poisonous?” Sophie squealed.

"Honestly, I do not care,” Callie said, totally frosted at the day. She headed across the street to where landscapers sodded a refurbished marsh home. Or had been, rather. They’d long quit working to watch the show.

"Hey, you.” Callie motioned, feet muddying up in the silt road, trying to recover herself. "Any of you carry a handgun?”

Three sets of eyes widened white against suntanned faces. They shook stunned heads, no longer humored at the crazy woman.

"Hand me one of your shovels, then.”

One of them did, holding it outstretched, keeping distance between them. She returned to the box. The snake remained poised, judging.

"Let it escape,” Sophie said. "It can’t help that you’re pissed. His eyes are round, not slitted. He’s not poisonous.”

At any moment, water would come tumbling down her steps, and in that instant Callie vowed that this nasty son-of-a-bitch creature, slitted eyes or not, wasn’t going to cost her five figures of damage. She stood on Sophie’s side of the box and slapped the ground next to the box with the shovel. The snake recoiled and stood his ground.

"Get out!” She lifted the shovel, struggling with how to aim the tool at the snake without doing what had already been done in her bathroom, shearing off the valve. She popped the ground again beside the box. The snake tightened further, owning its turf.

Laughing, the landscapers had ventured roadside. One of them whistled. Another spoke Spanish. Apparently, they hadn’t been around Edisto long enough to know who they were whistling at, but in an instant of rationalization, Callie decided this not the moment to tout the badge.

"Callie,” Sophie whispered. "Close your robe.”

Callie looked down. The silk had parted, clinging at her nipples where the material hung wide enough to show her other assets. She dropped the shovel and groped for the tie that wasn’t there.

Seeing its opportunity, the snake made a dash toward the marsh... and toward the men.

Officer Thomas Gage rolled up in his cruiser and stopped, window down. "Why aren’t you answering your...?” He did a double take at Callie’s half-nude dilemma. "Um... why aren’t you answering your phone, chief?”He opened his door and got out. "What’s going on?”

Sophie yelled, "Snake! Under your car!”

Thomas leaped knees high, hand on his weapon. "Where? Where?”

Laughter erupted from the other side of the cruiser. One of the landscapers came around, hand held high. Three feet of reptile hung down, curling around his arm. "Here is your monster!” The three men guffawed. "Flash us some more, lady!”

Thomas turned on him. "She’s the chief of police, dude. Take your snake and get gone.”

Callie could rue Thomas’s exposé of her later. She reached into the meter box, turned the valve, and bolted back to the stairs. Thomas ran behind her, Sophie behind him.

At the bedroom door, Callie apprehensively scanned for damage. The water had stopped. Her bedroom carpet, however, squished under her feet. She heaved a long, disappointed sigh.

"Chief?” Thomas reached her. "You’re bleeding. That snake didn’t bite you, did he?”

"No.” She was surprised he hadn’t, though, at the way this day’s events spun out. Thomas disappeared toward the kitchen.

She didn’t feel the cut, but it bled with vigor. Blood smeared her soggy robe, wet silt spotted up the sagging hem. She crunched the finger up in a handful of the ruined robe to avoid it dripping onto the carpet, then wondered why bother." I have no words for this,” she said, blowing out hard. Then she remembered Sophie. "So what is your emergency exactly?”

"They were looking for you and worried you weren’t answering. I called and you wouldn’t answer. So I came to get you.”

"Well, my phone drowned,” Callie said, pointing through the doorway at the bathroom counter.

Thomas reappeared, Callie’s kitchen first aid kit at the ready. He’d been to her house enough times to remember. "I tried calling, too. So did Marie.”

"I’m sure you did.” She held out her digit, letting the junior officer feel useful bandaging her up while she held her garment shut. He’d already seen enough of her... hoped he would keep it to himself. "What’s the problem?”

"A car ran into the Island Ice Shack,” he said, doing a way neater job at the bandaging than she expected. "Moved it four feet back from its foundation.”

"Well, how about that?” she said.

Sophie looked questioning at Thomas who raised a brow back in warning to remain quiet. Two years had been long enough for him to read his chief.

Any other day, Callie’d rush to the accident. They were a six-person police force, expected at all the major incidents. The Island Ice Shack sat right where everyone had to pass, in front of Bi-Lo’s parking lot and right off Highway 174. The small, almost portable shed was practically iconic. "And they asked for me?”

Thomas nodded, trepidation creeping into his expression. "Everyone. Then we got worried, and they sent me, and so I left LaRoache alone handling things especially after we called Sophie, and she couldn’t get you—”

"Okay, okay. Let me put some clothes on.” Guess a call to her insurance agent would have to wait.

As she sponged her way across carpet to the closet and dresser, she struggled with the fact her body image had been seared into young Thomas’s mind. Shaking off the thought, she grabbed clothes and found dry shoes not on the floor. That’s when she spotted her utility belt where she’d let it fall. So much for the radio. Thomas followed her stare and went over to lift it up. "Let me work on this tonight for you, Chief.”

Well, at least she had her badge and her gun. Her license and keys. "Thanks, Thomas.”

"I’ll work on your phone, too,” he added. "Might be salvageable.”

"I’ll mop all this up,” Sophie added.

Callie walked around them to her guest room. "Soph, I don’t own enough towels to mop this up. What I could really use is—”

"A place to stay,” she added. "My home is open. You already have the key. I’ll stay and work on this mess. You got any extra blankets and quilts you don’t care about anymore?”

Callie was going to say she needed a phone. While the gesture was sweet, Callie wasn’t sure bunking with her buddy at Hatha Heaven would work, but that could be addressed later.

Callie changed into jeans and hooked her paddle holster and badge on a plain nylon belt. No radio now with the belt wet, and she didn’t have time to go by the station for the walkie or back-up work phone. She headed the lone mile up to the entrance of town, finding roadblocks a stone’s throw from the accident. Took her a fewwhoop-whoops to get through the gawkers, but she found a place in the grocery store parking lot.

The Ice Shack sat super wonky off its base, a small Hyundai nosed into its side. She spotted the business owner. He seemed okay. She soon identified the driver, his cheeks rosy from more than the sun. Nobody mad, nobody hurt, but confusion still reigned thanks to the steady stream of rubberneckers expanding the crowd. Being late afternoon, cars full of day-trippers struggled to leave the beach. They weren’t sure how, however, because Monty Bartow stood in the middle of the road attempting to direct traffic. "Hey, Chief,” he shouted over heads.

Callie thought she spotted his baby-blue moped in front of the Bi-Lo. She smiled wanly and took in the accident situation. Thomas had not yet arrived, and LaRoache had his hands full with the incident report, so Callie waded through the sea of people, not an easy task at five foot two and lacking her uniform.

Monty, however, had donned his best dress. A button-up shirt from a past temporary job as a stocker in a hardware store and cargo pants to match the Edisto PD. The cargos presented much better than the striped pants he used to wear, the ones from the Colleton County jail where he’d done a short stint about ten years ago for shoplifting. The badge hanging on a chain around his neck came from Amazon, way too authentic for Callie’s liking, and someone, some time ago, had given him a name tag for over his pocket that read Officer Monty. Again, not her choice. There was humoring the man, then there was feeding an obsession that interfered with real policing... regardless of how sincere the man was.

"Monty?” she called, pushing through the last line of tourists to reach him standing all braced and firm on the road’s center line. "We appreciate what you’ve done.” She redirected one car, then another. "But I need you to step aside and let me take over.”

"Got this, Chief. They could not find you.”

His voice was deep but not as thick as one might envision a thirty-year-old man with mental deficits from birth. One had to hold a conversation with the attractive young man for a minute or two to recognize his fifth-grade mentality. He used to trot to and from the beach, hunting ways to help on Edisto Beach which kept him fairly fit, but some good Samaritan donated the used moped a year ago after seeing him walking in ninety-five-degree heat. Now he was everywhere.

Monty lived with his mother, Minnie, a tax preparer who did mostly short forms for people across the island and operated out of their small home back up an inlet road. At sixteen she gave birth to Monty, the father unspoken of, and the story varied about Monty’s limitations and their origins. Rumors tinkered with who her own father was, as well, her mother never having married either. Minnie claimed he died young, shortly after her parents’ intense, brief romance, though nobody from the island could ever put a name to him. Monty’s grandmother saw him into this world then died from cancer. It had been Minnie and Monty Bartow for twenty-nine years, with the exception of the short time he went to jail. Edisto Island sort of took care of the boy/man here and there.

"But I’m here now,” Callie said, touching his elbow. "Let me do my job before I get in trouble.”

Monty didn’t hug, and he particularly didn’t like being told what to do, but he could take directions from women way better than he could from men since he’d never lived in a home with the latter. Callie had learned to manage him with a fairly deft hand.

He gave her a sideways glance. "But I like helping. You go do some­thing more important.”

She moved between him and the outgoing traffic to distract him while waving one confused family around. "Brice LeGrand and the rest of town council will think I’m slacking off. I don’t need them mad at me. You can help keep people out of the street, though.”

He puffed up. "I don’t want to.”

God, not here. Not now. "An officer follows orders, Monty.”

A horn honked, then another. Some days Monty was six years old, other times twenty. Right now she read him about thirteen and obstinate. That’s when she played the Chief card, calling on his deep- seeded dream of being a cop.

"We have a situation, sir. Please, do as you are ordered.”

Monty hesitated. "Yes, ma’am.” Then he dragged himself over to­ward the crowd, out of the road.


She studied the crowd, hunting for the familiar voice.

"Over here by the Ice Shack.”

She spotted Thomas pushing through.

"We have a fire on Dock Site Road,” he said, almost to her. "Where do you want me?”

A fire. Her heart flipped then assumed a skipped beat rhythm. "How bad?”

"No idea,” he said, holding out a palm for a car to stop, letting another by.

He was six foot and fully uniformed. Admittedly, he would make quicker time of this traffic uproar than her petite civilian-clad self.

"Do this,” she said. "I’ll head to the fire. What’s the address?”

"Brice LeGrand’s place,” he said.

She froze. "Seriously?”

Sheepishly, he winced. "Sorry, Chief.”

Brice was head of town council and the man she’d saved from jail six months ago, not that he felt beholden nor considered it a favor. In her two-year tenure, Callie had become a heroine around Edisto to some, but to Brice and his ilk, that only made her a bigger target. He’d dropkick her out of the job in a heartbeat.

But fire. Jesus. She didn’t do fire. She had nightmares about fire.

Fire had consumed her husband. Fire had consumed her life with the Boston PD. Fire had left the eight-inch scar on her right forearm.

And while it took confronting her husband’s killer to make sense of her phobia, it was a phobia, nonetheless. Lesser than before, but still.

Only very few on Edisto knew it.

She turned back to Thomas. "Watch Monty.”

"Where’d he go?”

She gazed around for the wannabe, but he was gone, his moped not in its normal place against the Bi-Lo ice machine. Probably went off to pout.

She wedged through people to her cruiser and headed out. Two miles to Brice’s place. Two miles to get a grip on what would meet her as she rounded the turn on Lybrand Street.

She rubbed the long ropey scar on her forearm.

Two miles to do breathing exercises and convince herself she could handle fire. Most Edistonians had seen her scar. Few of them could say how she got it.

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