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 THE ORANGE DAWN swelling in the distance and enjoyed the bird chirping that came with it. What would it be like to spend more than today looking at these rolling hills? A cardinal fluttered past him and landed on a platform birdhouse hanging on the branch of a dogwood adjacent to the porch stairs. The guest made him think on the assortment of empty feeders decorating his own porch and Josh realized how much he missed sharing a home with someone. After all, he hadn’t always been on his own.
Heather. She had loved birds, but these days, Josh didn’t get out to restock the birdseed as often as he wanted. At first, it had hurt too much to go out there and see her work, and now his patrol schedule and volunteering opportunities kept him pretty busy.
Josh had loved his wife of three years. When she had gotten sick, he’d decided not to re-enlist for another tour so that he could come home and be with her. It hadn’t been soon enough though and by the time he got back from his war, he found that she was losing hers. He’d been so mad at everything when she died two years ago. Even God. But now, he was grateful that he’d had the chance to be with a woman like her. He had a full life but he missed being one half of a whole. And that longing had started the minute Nikki Appleton had rolled into town.
Josh had stayed in his and Heather’s bungalow in the residential area near downtown after she passed. They’d bought it because it was close to the elementary school and they’d wanted to start a family. Josh hadn’t been ready to make a change, but now, even though the rooms were filled with furniture, they were, to him, empty. Retreating to one of the cushioned rocking chairs, Josh let the country’s calm wash over him. When he heard a blood-curdling scream, his body turned to ice.
He bolted out of the chair and into the house, bounding up the stairs, his gun pulled from its holster. How could someone have gotten in? He’d been vigilant in his search.
Another scream broke out.
Josh burst through Nikki’s bedroom door, his finger on the trigger.
He was ready for anything, especially a fight, but when he entered the room, he saw only Nikki thrashing on her sheets in the throes of a nightmare. At least her attacker wasn’t a flesh and blood villain. Josh holstered his gun and stepped closer to her wrought iron bed frame. Her face twisted in fear and he could see her eyes moving under her lids. Josh had to save her.
He sank down on the edge of the mattress and softly repeated her name over and over. Still, she struggled, her arms flailing about, one fist nearly catching him on the jaw. Afraid she’d crack a hand on one of her bedposts, he took hold of her wrists. “Wake up, honey. You’re okay. You just need to wake up.”
She shot straight up, letting out one final wail before she shook awake. Her eyes were wild, pupils darting all around like she didn’t know where she was.
“You’re safe.” He put a hand on her cheek and forced her to look at him. “You’re home. It was just a nightmare.”
She panted, her chest rising and sinking beneath the fabric of her twisted sweatshirt.
“Just slow down. Take a deep breath.”
She jerked her face away and smacked at his hands.
“Watch me.” Josh took hold of her shoulders and squeezed. “Take a breath with me.” He walked her through a few exhales until she stilled.
A puff of breath warmed his skin and her arms slackened. “I’m so sorry. I used to get these all the time when I lived back in Pittsburgh, but they went away after I moved here.”
He cradled her neck with his hand. “Well, you’ve had a shock. Someone hid drugs at your shop. It would be weird if you didn’t experience anxiety.”
“I know, but I probably scared you to death.”
Her skin was damp with sweat. Josh pushed away a lock of hair clinging to her forehead.
She took in a sharp breath and he wondered if she could feel the same pull he did. The one urging him to kiss her.
In the end, he let his hand drop and scooted back on the mattress. Nothing had changed since their close call in Apple’s kitchen. She was still vulnerable, he would still be taking advantage, and she still didn’t share his beliefs. She didn’t mock his faith, though, and he prayed God would use him to breach the stronghold around her heart.
She didn’t get mad at him this time when he got to his feet and withdrew to the worn wingback chair next to her sage, oval nightstand. In fact, she seemed almost relieved as she ran her hands through her tangled hair and then reached to turn on the ivory shaded bedside lamp. “Did you call me honey again?”
Josh laughed. She’d caught his slip. “Oops.”
She rolled her eyes. “I guess now that I’m awake we can get started on the case, right?”
“The case?” He snorted. “Just who is the detective now?”
She stuck out her bottom lip. “Come on. Just answer the question.”
Man, even with bedhead she’s gorgeous. “I guess so. I thought the first thing we’d do is have a chat with Andy if he’s not already at school, but are you sure you’re up for this?”
She threw back the disheveled sheets. “I’m not just going to sit back and let someone get away with this. I’m more than ready. Just let me throw on jeans and a sweater.”
Nikki had had no idea the schoolboy had to live in a place like this. The house should have its windows boarded up and a ‘condemned’ sign posted on the door. The porch roof sagged like it was ready to collapse under the weight of the shingles and the uncut grass in the yard was up to her knees. Full trash bags were piled by the door and everything seemed covered in dirt.
Nikki gasped when the scent of the garbage wafted into her face.
“You okay?” Josh knocked on the door, sending paint chips cascading down the warped wood.
“Yes. I just had no idea this is what Andy comes home to everyday. It’s no wonder he hangs out at my shop until close.”
Josh squeezed his hands into fists. “Things have been a bit rough at home, I think. We’ve responded to a few domestic calls here. I’ve never seen anything myself but I get the feeling Andy’s dad is kind of hard on him.”
“I know it’s easy to feel that way but we still have to see if he knows anything. I’d understand if you want to go back to the car.”
Nikki made herself straighten up. “I’m fine. I need to do this.”
Andy answered the door. His eyes narrowed at her and then went wide when he saw Josh at her side.
“D-Deputy?” His eyes darted back into his house.
“Hi, Andy. Are your parents home?” Josh leaned towards the gap in the door like he was trying to see for himself.
“Dad’s asleep. Mom’s out at the store.”
“Could you go wake your dad up? I need to ask you a few questions and I’d like him to be here when I do.”
Andy swallowed. “Do we have to wake him? He’ll get mad. Can’t you just tell me what you want to know? I have to get to school. I’ve missed the bus as it is and it’s a long walk.”
Josh shook his head and opened his mouth to answer.
Nikki cut him off. “You don’t need to wake him. We’ll just talk right here.”
A hand wrapped around her elbow and the deputy pulled her to his side. “I can’t question him without a parent.” His hot breath tickled her ear.
“Then I’ll ask the questions.” She stepped forward. “We’ll just be two people having a conversation that you happen to hear.”
She got a huff in response but her mind was set. Given what Josh had said about his dad, she wasn’t going to get that man involved unless she had good reason to think Andy was guilty.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Josh staring daggers but she pressed on. “Andy, my shop was broken into and vandalized around 3:30 this morning. Someone broke in and wrecked the place and I want to know if you had anything to do with that.”
Andy shuddered. “Why would you think I had anything to do with something like that?”
“Because of what happened last week.” She narrowed her eyes and stared him down.
Andy shifted on his feet and his chin dropped to his chest. “I know what I done and said then was wrong. I just lost control when you told me I couldn’t come back. I love hanging out at your place after school.”
Nikki bit her lip to keep from smiling. “Can’t you understand why I said that, though? You guys were mean and you scared Jed.”
Andy crossed his arms, eyes locked on the rickety boards of the porch. “I hate when I get like that. Like him,” he mumbled. Nikki knew he was talking about his father. “It’s like I just lose it. Listen, I was wrong. I know that. But I swear I didn’t do it.”
Nikki couldn’t help but believe him but she knew that explanation wouldn’t be good enough for Josh and so she pushed further. “Can you tell me where you were at 3:30?”
“Er… I promise I wasn’t at your place but I-I can’t tell you where I was.” His eyes flicked to Josh. “I wasn’t doing nothing wrong. I just don’t think I can tell you right now.”
What if he can’t tell me in front of Josh? “What if I have the deputy step away? Would you tell me then?” Andy glanced between them and nodded.
“I’m not going anywhere.” Josh snorted.
She shot him a glare. “I’ll be fine. Can you just wait by the car for a few minutes?”
He might as well have been a brick wall. Demanding wasn’t going to get her anywhere. She drew in a slow breath and reached out her hand, running it down the tense muscles of his arm until her fingers interlocked with his. “Please, Josh?”
His shoulders fell. “You have two minutes.” He stormed off to the patrol car.
“Okay, Andy. Now tell me where you were.”
His words came quickly. “Dad was out drinking last night and ended up passed out at that twenty-four-hour diner on Ridgewood Street. Frank, the cook, called to tell me. Mom couldn’t go get him because she wasn’t feeling good and so I took the truck and picked him up. I didn’t want to say that in front of Deputy Bennet though because I don’t got a license.”
The young man’s face blurred as tears threatened to spill down her cheeks. Who was looking out for Andy while he was looking out for the man he was so scared of? “I see.”
“Just what in the heck is going on here?” A deep and scratchy voice bellowed from inside the house, followed by the appearance of a man looking more like a bear than a man despite his dirty jeans and unbuttoned flannel shirt.
Andy’s limbs went rigid. “Nothing. I’m just talking to the doughnut lady.”
The man grunted. “And why would a pretty lady like her come to see you, boy?”
“Her shop. It was… ”
Andy’s dad’s face reddened, and he stepped so close to his son that Andy was thrown off balance and had to step to the side. “What’d you do?”
“Nothing, I swear.” Andy flinched from a blow that hadn’t yet come.
Nikki flashed back to her childhood spent in bad foster homes. She moved forward, putting a hand between the man and the boy. No one had protected her. She wasn’t going to fail to protect him. “He’s telling the truth.”
The man’s lips curled into a snarl and his bloodshot eyes jumped out at her. “Then why are you here?”
“She’s with me.” Josh’s strong and commanding voice covered her like a shield.
She wasn’t alone anymore.
Like what you read?
Read chapter 5 now
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