Sally Pitts’ new novel is the second in her Hamilton Harbor Legacy trilogy.

PANAMA CITY — Sally Jo Pitts applies her history as a teacher and investigator to her work as an author. In her new novel, “Stumbling Upon Romance,” she returns to the scene of the romance that fueled her earlier book — Hamilton Harbor.


The quaint town might seem familiar to those who know historic Panama City. The downtown area is waking up as revived businesses, new friendships and budding romances come together in the salty air. But old mysteries are being rekindled as well, amid a legacy of faith and hope for the future.


“It’s been fun. It’s like exploring a whole new side of me,” Pitts said on a recent morning over coffee at Amavida in St. Andrews, adding that rejuvenation and the search for new purpose is a theme of her stories. “I believe that God has a purpose for everyone. Getting in tune with that and finding it, that’s your legacy.”


The story follows accident-prone dog groomer, Claudia Stewart, a newcomer who hopes to shed the black cloud that dogs her. She and her giant schnauzer client knock handyman Pete Cullen off his feet and leave him dangling from an overhead beam.


“I always wanted to write,” Pitts said. “I wrote short stories when I was a little kid. I loved the Alfred Hitchcock stories for their twist endings, and I loved to read Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. Once I retired, I decided to try writing again. ... I have a swirl of story ideas in my head. I feel compelled to shape them into fiction that will inspire, entertain and encourage others.”


Pitts grew up in Ocala and moved with her husband, LaVelle Pitts, to Bay County for the first time in the 1970s. At one point, she thought she would major in English education, but life choices took her in a different direction, including being a home economics teacher and guidance counselor.


LaVelle Pitts served as Bay County’s sheriff from 1981 to 89. After Sally Jo Pitts retired from education, she became an investigator with the detective agency LaVelle opened when he left office. LaVelle Pitts died in July at the age of 84; they had been married for 48 years.


“Stumbling Upon Romance” is not a sequel to the previous Hamilton Harbor novel, “And Then Blooms Love,” published in August 2018. It was the story of florist Emme Meadows, hired to provide flowers for the marriage of her old flame, plantation manager Clifton Davenport. However, Pitts said characters do cross over from tale to tale, lending greater depth to readers who follow the series.


“I write what I like to read — faith-based stories of romance with an unusual twist,” Pitts said of the initial novel in the series, adding that the result is a tale both women and men will enjoy. “It’s a Christian book. It’s kind of my focus to create a good, fresh, wholesome and fun story.”


A prequel short story, “The Winter Solstice Bride,” is also available at Amazon.com for 99 cents.


For more information about Pitts, visit her website, SallyJoPitts.com, which also includes favorite recipes, an inspirational blog and much more.