We are excited to share the next installment of Glazed Suspicion by Allison Pearl, the first book in the Love and Danger in St. Claire series. Follow along with us each week for new chapters!
If you’re just joining us for this book, we recommend you start with chapter 1.
JOSH WATCHED WITH DISMAY AS the cruiser door slammed shut while he was in mid-sentence. Nikki stomped away from him down the path leading to her little farmhouse.
The option of giving her space passed through his mind, but he quickly dismissed it, jumping out of his seat to chase her down. After all, he couldn’t leave her here. He had orders to stay with her. And even if he didn’t, this house was very isolated and she was all alone. If the vandalism was a personal attack, then she wasn’t safe out here. A little bit of rage wasn’t enough to scare him away.
“Come back here.” He jogged around the hood of the cruiser. Had he made a mistake telling her?
“Why?” She hissed over her shoulder as she stormed up the porch steps. “Are you going to arrest me if I don’t?”
“No one is going to arrest you.” He groaned as she fumbled for her house keys while holding the basket of kittens.
“Why not? You think I did it. You think I’m some kind of drug dealer or that I was the one who destroyed my place. I’m like your number one suspect.”
Not his suspect, but Gary had suspicions.
“I want you to stay on her for a couple hours before you clock out.” Gary rested his hands atop his bulging belly. “We’ll count it as overtime.”
“Right.” Josh nodded. “She could be in danger. This looks like a lot more than an attempted robbery or the retrieval of a drug stash. Someone wanted to destroy the place.”
“That’s not the only reason I want you to keep an eye on her.”
“What other reason could there be?”
His commander hesitated a minute. “You said she was here when you arrived on the scene, right?”
“Yeah. But she always gets here early.”
“That emergency caller implied the robbery was ongoing and your response time was good and yet the only person when you got here was her?”
Josh took a step back. “Gary, you don’t actually think she had something to do with this, do you?”
“I’d be a fool if I didn’t at least consider it. The caller was a woman. A woman who didn’t identify herself. How do we know she didn’t call it in herself?”
“There’s no way she did this. This shop is her life.” A life he hoped to one day share.
Gary shrugged. “Maybe she didn’t do the actual damage, but she may know something.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because drugs were being stored here. In her place. The place you say she cares so much about. Do you honestly think that she didn’t know drugs were being hidden in its very walls?”
Josh gritted his teeth. “There was no drywall dust on the floor and the edges of that square had been wiped smooth. Someone could have broken in, cut the hole, stashed the drugs, and covered their tracks.”
Gary raised an eyebrow. “Now, Josh. I know you like her. Everyone does. But she’s only been in town for a year and we don’t really know where she was before that. Truth be told, we don’t know much about her at all. Let’s see what we find out when we trace that 911 call.”
Josh opened his mouth to protest but Gary raised a hand. “We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t explore every avenue here.”
“What about the kid who threatened her or the other employees with keys?”
“I will be sure to question every one of them, but in the meantime, you’re going to keep an eye out for anything or anyone suspicious.”
Right now, he watched Nikki as she continued to fumble with her keys. Why was Gary so quick to blame her? Was Josh so blinded by his feelings that he was missing things?
Nikki’s keys jumped between her shaking fingers as she tried to single out the right one. She’d put the basket down in order to use both hands.
“Would you just let me help you with that?” Josh reached for the keys.
“No.” Nikki jerked her fist into her chest. “If I can trash my own business and hide drugs, I can certainly get into my own house.”
When she finally got her door unlocked, she reached down and grabbed the basket and stepped across the threshold but spun around when Josh placed his hand on the small of her back. “You are not coming inside.” She tried to shut the door.
Josh put a hand on the smooth wood and forced it back open. “C’mon, Nikki. Just let me stay with you for a couple hours.”
“So you can investigate me? I don’t think so.”
“I didn’t have to tell you my orders. I want to find out the truth as much as you do. I’m not going to investigate you.”
“Really? One minute you’re in my house and then maybe the next minute I’m in handcuffs.”
“As cute as that mental picture is, my cuffs will be staying on my belt.” He smirked and reached past her to flip the light switch he knew was next to the door frame from back when his church group had helped her move in. A small town baker couldn’t have afforded movers and the church had been happy to help out.
“Maybe I should call a lawyer.” The soft light brought to life the dark wooden planks covered with a floral runner that led to the narrow stair case up to the second floor. Nikki placed the kittens on the floor inside the door.
“Do you need a lawyer?” He lowered his gaze and stared down at her.
“No. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Then there’s no reason not to let me in. No tricks. I just want to keep you safe.”
“And who’s going to keep me safe from you?”
Her chin dimpled as it trembled and Josh wondered if she’s been hurt before. But how could she ever think that he’d want to do anything that could harm her? “You know how I feel about you. You’ll never need protection from me.”
“There’s more than one type of danger, Josh. And I think I’ve been trying to protect myself from you since the day we met.” Her cheeks shone red and her eyes softened.
Josh took a bold step forward, backing her up against the door frame. He watched her pulse quicken on her throat and her pupils dilate. She made no move to step away from his presence.
Running a finger along the line of her jaw, he lifted her chin to look deeper into her eyes. “You’re going to have to open your heart to someone eventually, honey. If not to me, then at least to something greater.”
“Is this when you tell me about God again?” she whispered.
Josh shook his head. “I don’t need to. When you want to know Him, He’ll show Himself to you.”
Her breath hitched.
“Now, are you going to let me inside or am I going to have to set up camp on the porch?”
She didn’t answer but stepped aside to let him pass.
A couple minutes later, Nikki set a steaming cup of tea in front of him at the round, pedestal-based, white dining table.
“You should really go upstairs and get some rest.” She hadn’t even sat down yet.
“I will.” She leaned back against the butcher block counter and took a sip from her own drink. “But first, I need to make these guys a bed.” She leaned down and patted the head of one of the kittens scampering around her feet. “Plus, I’ve made a decision.”
“Have you now.” Josh traced the outline of a humming bird on his cup. “And what would that be?”
“I’ve decided to let you interrogate me.”
“But I don’t want to interrogate you.” He raised an eyebrow.
“Too bad. The sooner I’m eliminated as a suspect, the sooner the deputies can focus on someone else. So, I give you permission to investigate me.”
“Thank you?” He leaned back in his seat.
“But, there’s a catch.” She pulled out the chair next to him and sat down.
“Why am I not surprised?”
“You can investigate me, but you also have to investigate other people.” She took another sip, her wide eyes peering at him over the brim of her cup.
“Gary is handling that.”
“I want you to do it. And I want to come with you.”
Josh chewed on his lip like he was trying to hide a grin. He seemed to be amused by her determination to look for leads and maybe even a little impressed.
“Investigating isn’t the order I was given.” He scooted back in his chair.
“But watching me is, right?” She scooted closer.
He nodded, fidgeting a little in his chair, looking uncomfortable with the task he’d been given. He really seemed to care about her and being forced to view her as the culprit could not be an easy change.
He tugged at his collar, and her heart fluttered as she remembered how that same finger had run across her skin. The heat had radiated off his chiseled bulk when they’d stood so close. Little sparks of electricity had run all the way down to her toes. She could smell his cologne on the jacket still wrapped around her and wanted nothing more than to be in his arms again. Hurriedly, she pushed the image away, hoping her face didn’t show signs of a blush.
“Then I’ll investigate and you’ll have no choice but to tag along.”
Josh narrowed his gaze. “You aren’t a police officer. You’re not allowed to investigate anyone.”
Nikki crossed her arms. “There’s no law against talking to people. And that’s all I’m going to do. If we happen to find out something that helps put an end to all this, then I guess we’re just lucky.”
The deputy gripped his mug a little harder. Hopefully, it wouldn’t shatter in his giant palms. He grimaced, then opened his mouth to speak.
Nikki sensed the coming protest and cut him off. “You can’t stop me. I know my rights. The sheriff may have told you to watch me, but you can only be here—in my house and on my property—as long as I allow it. I’m not under arrest. If I ask you to leave, you’ll have to go.”
Josh flinched. “Do you want me to go?”
“No.” She averted her eyes. “But I’ll do this on my own if I have to. I’m not afraid.”
He let out a sigh. “Maybe you should be. It’s not that I don’t want to find out what happened, too. I do. But what you want to do could be dangerous. Someone didn’t just hide drugs in your shop. They staged a robbery to make you look like the suspect. A stranger wouldn’t do this. Someone you know would.”
Nikki shuddered, then wrapped her arms around her body to hold back a chill. She knew only one person that would stoop to that level but it couldn’t possibly have been him. She was scared. There was no doubt about that. Her shop was the start of this wonderful life she’d created. Back in Pittsburgh, her life had been a mess. The man she trusted had used and mistreated her and then she’d made one bad decision after another. But now, for the first time in years, she had a normal life. Taking care of herself. Doing her best to be a good person. And now someone was trying to take all of that away.
Seized by a sudden surge of courage, she raised her head a little higher. “That doesn’t matter. I’m determined to see this through and if things turn scary… Well, you’ll just have to do what you said you’d do.”
“And what is that?”
Josh straightened in his chair, his muscled shoulders pressing against the fabric of his uniform. “I will.”
After all the lies she’d heard in her life, Nikki wasn’t the sort to believe in a lot of things, but she believed that.
His words hung there between them for an emotion-filled moment and then Josh softened. “But first, you need to get some rest.”
“I’m really okay—”
“I’m not budging on this, honey. You’re going to go upstairs to bed for a few hours and then—and only then—we’ll get started on solving this thing.”
Nikki rolled her eyes. “Fine. But stop calling me ‘honey.’”
“Deal.” He winked like “honey” wasn’t the only nickname he could come up with.
She scooped up the kittens. “I’ll just get these guys set up in one of the bathrooms and then I’ll go to bed.”
“You seem in love with them already.” Josh grinned.
“I am.” It could get lonely here. She’d purchased her farmhouse and parcel of land from a much bigger farm that they’d once been a part of. She could go see the horses, cows, and chickens, at her neighbor’s anytime she wanted, but it would be nice to have some furry friends of her own.
She prepared her new pets a little bed in the downstairs bathroom and then started up the old, creaking stairs but turned back with surprise when she heard another set of feet behind her. “Um… where are you going?”
“With you.” Josh tilted his head.
“You most certainly are not.”
His brow crinkled and he opened and shut his mouth. Then his eyes widened and he let out a chuckle. “Don’t worry, Nikki. My intentions are honorable. I just want to check your room before you go to sleep.”
Once they were in her bedroom, Nikki flipped on the lights and grabbed some comfy clothes before going to the bathroom down the hall. How was she just supposed to go to sleep after a morning like this? Her heart hadn’t yet slowed to a normal pace. Maybe she could just lie down for a couple hours and pretend to make him happy.
After pulling on a baggy sweatshirt and shorts, she padded back and found Josh at her window, holding the edge of the curtain as he watched for the first sign of morning light.
For a second, she imagined walking up behind him and hugging him. Her palms twitched, yearning to feel the comfort his nearness gave her. Swallowing back the need, she cleared her throat to alert him of her presence. “Hey.” Her pulse quickened as his eyes darted up and down, taking her in. “Well, deputy, am I safe to get some sleep?”
“Absolutely. I kicked the monsters out of the closet and pulled the goblin from under your bed.” He puffed out his chest.
“Good to know.” She laughed. “You know… you can get some rest, too, if you want. There are two spare rooms up here and even the couch downstairs in the den. It was here when I bought the place but it’s surprisingly comfy.” She knew that firsthand from all the times she’d collapsed on it after coming home from working all day, not able to make it up the stairs before passing out.
“I’m sure it is but I’ll be okay. I’m not crazy about how isolated you are out here. I don’t want to let my guard down.” Again, he pulled away the curtain and looked out at the fields.
“But you’ve been up all night. And besides, we’re not that alone. The main farmhouse is less than a mile away. I know Mason Frenly is older, but he’d be here in a second if I needed him. He’s been checking in on me now and then since I bought the house from him.”
“A mile is a long way in a crisis.” Josh’s eyes darkened, then seemed to look past her into the distance. “Sometimes… fifty feet is an eternity away.”
“Are you talking from personal experience?”
“Yeah.” His eyes dropped to the floor.
“From the war?” She squeezed her hands together. He’d never actually told her he’d been a soldier but she’d heard about it from the townsfolk.
“Yeah,” he whispered. “One time, a buddy and I were pinned down by a sniper. Our Humvee was just a small sprint away but that’s nothing for a rifle round. And so… we spent two days crouched behind a small rock wall until our unit showed up to help.”
She moved toward him, taking hold of the hand hanging at his side. “I can’t even imagine what that was like. To see salvation right in front of you, knowing you can’t have it.”
He squeezed her fingers. “God’s salvation is right there for the taking, too. He got me through that terror and He’ll get you through this too.”
If only that were true. “It’s so easy for you to believe.”
“It’s much harder not to.”
Closing her eyes, she dreamed of a world where she could trust in a loving God that loved her, too, and let peace fall across her shoulders like a blanket. Her lips opened wide with a yawn.
“Alright, Nikki Appleton, time for bed.” Josh pulled her toward the mattress so that she could climb on.
A second later, her head was on her pillow and her eyes fluttered closed. She had never felt so safe.
Like what you read?
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And don’t miss SPRINKLED WITH SABOTAGE, the latest book by Allison Pearl
About Allison Pearl
Allison Pearl is a small-town girl who’s lived just about everywhere. She loves books,tea, chocolate, and watching old movies with her husband and black lab, Sal. To keep in touch and get updates on new releases follow her Facebook page ‘Books by Pearl’ at http://www.facebook.com/allisonnicolepearl/ or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonPearl5 andInstagram at @allisonnicolepearl