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 DIDN’T LIKE THE WAY Bill Trumple looked at Nikki. I can’t believe I left her alone.
Back up the stairs in less than a second, he came up behind her, and if the subtle way she brushed back against him was any indication, she was glad he was there. Men like Andy’s father were definitely dangerous but not to an opponent that would put up a fight. No. They picked weaker victims. Like their poor wives or their children.
“And why are you here?” Mr. Trumple demanded, even though a lot of the fire went out of his eyes. “I think a cop showin’ up would be even more proof that the boy’s in trouble.”
Nikki held up a hand. “The deputy is here because of me. My shop was vandalized today and the deputy is keeping an eye on me in case someone is trying to hurt me.”
The man’s gaze narrowed with doubt but she kept going.
“Poor guy has to follow me around while I run errands.” Her voice had a nervous edge to it. She chuckled, but it sounded forced and unnatural.
“And which one of them errands brought you here?”
“I came to offer Andy a job.”
Josh pursed his lips. Why was she lying for the kid?
“A job?” Andy wrinkled his nose.
“Yes. I was thinking that since you’re there after school most days anyway, you might want to earn some extra money cleaning up and stuff. Given the state of the place right now, I’m definitely going to need a hand.”
“Really?” Andy’s eyes twinkled.
She reached out a hand and patted his shoulder and then turned to his dad. “Only if you’re okay with it, Mr. Trumple.”
Andy’s gaze darted between Nikki and his father as he tugged at his earlobe.
The story Nikki had gotten from Andy must not have caused suspicion. Otherwise, why would she be helping him? Josh’s heartbeat quickened. She was so unselfish. So compassionate. Lord, help her accept Your compassion and love for her.
Bill grunted, then smoothed down the gray hair on his chin. “Well, I guess it’s about time the kid made himself useful. He can’t even get himself to school on time.”
Josh forced down a growl. Nikki’s play had smoothed things over but now he almost wanted to poke the bear. To show him what it was like to face someone who wasn’t afraid. He should take Nikki and go back to the car, but at the end of the day, he was a deputy and this abusive man needed to remember it.
“Where’s Mrs. Trumple, Bill?” Josh passed Nikki to take a conspicuous look into the house. A small hand hooked around the inside of his elbow and tugged him back.
“Out buyin’ milk.”
“It’s only 8:30. That’s a bit early for shopping, don’t you think?”
“The gas station’s open all night. She would’ve gone yesterday but she didn’t feel good.”
“What exactly was wrong with her?” Josh cocked his head. Maybe a few bruises she wanted to hide? “If you don’t mind my asking.”
The greasy man shrugged as if he couldn’t care less. “A stomach thing, I think. What’s it to you?”
“Nothing really. Just doing my job.”
“You’re a cop, not a doctor.” Bill snarled.
“I keep people safe.” Josh held his chin high. “From anything and anyone.”
Bill adjusted his shirt, closing it over his bared chest, and ducked his head. “Well, unless you’ve got some nausea pills, I don’t know what else you can do.”
“Maybe I’ll stop by tomorrow and see how she’s doing.”
A button popped and bounced onto the wood when Bill twisted the fabric.
Josh straightened his shoulders, daring him to make a move. “That would be okay, right?”
This was the moment. His adversary was going to stand or falter. Josh kept his stare locked on Bill’s eyes. This is why Josh went to war, why he went into law enforcement. A godly man stood up for the innocent.
“You do what you gotta do, deputy.” Bill shrugged and looked past Josh like he wasn’t even there.
No one said anything for a moment, then a hand slid down into his palm. “Let’s go, Josh. And, Andy, I’ll see you on Monday after school.” Nikki tugged him toward the car.
“It wasn’t him. Andy was dragging his drunk dad out of a diner at the time of the break-in.” Nikki let her head fall back against her seat, looking at the trees now nearly devoid of their changing leaves. “So, what now?”
“Well, since we’re close to town, we can visit Dickie’s Feed and Tool to get some stuff for your new little friends and then maybe pick up your truck from the doughnut shop since we’ll be so close.”
“Okay.” She rubbed her upper arms.
“Are you alright?” Nikki caught his glance from the corner of her eye.
She shrugged and fiddled with the cords spilling out of all the devices in the cruiser. “I don’t know. That man scared me and I couldn’t wait to get away from him.”
“That’s understandable, but I promise you weren’t in any danger. I wouldn’t have let anything happen to you. Men like Bill always back down from someone who refuses to fear them.”
“I know. I just feel guilty.” She swallowed the knot in her throat.
“I couldn’t wait to run away from the situation, even if it meant leaving Andy. But he never gets to run. He lives there. I should have done something.”
“You did do something. You gave him a job. You gave him an escape and a way to earn money and maybe get himself out of there one day.”
Nikki shook her head. “It’s not enough.” Something she knew all too well. “I-I know what it’s like to be Andy.”
“You do?” Josh leaned forward in his seat, his eyes repeatedly darting from her to the road.
Nikki massaged the back of her neck. Would she regret telling him this? “My family died in a car accident when I was little. I didn’t have any other family that I knew of, so I grew up in foster homes. A lot of them were… well… bad. You don’t know how many times when a mail carrier, or door-to-door salesman would come to one of the houses and I would wish so bad that they would take me away with them or do something—anything—to help me. Today, I could have been that mail carrier or salesman, but I ran away.”
Josh put a hand on her knee. She could feel his warmth through the denim. “I’m so sorry that happened to you. You aren’t running away. You were a hero to Andy today. And, I’ll tell you what, I’ll start doing drive-bys when I’m on patrol. I can’t stop by all the time or it will be considered harassment, but I’ll do my best to keep an eye out. And the minute Bill gives me cause, I’ll make a move.”
She laced her fingers into his and squeezed. “Really?”
“The situation bothers me, too. And if Andy tells you anything at the shop or if you see any type of injury, you call me and we’ll report it.”
“I will.” She flashed a toothy smile. If only someone like Josh had been looking out for her during all those years. Maybe she could have ended up a better person. A person of faith.
Josh ran his thumb across her knuckle. “Now that that’s settled, it’s time to talk about you ditching me back there.”
“I didn’t exactly ditch you.”
“You put me in a position I didn’t want to be in. I left you open to danger and things could’ve gone a lot worse than they did.”
She brushed his hand off her leg. “Seriously, Josh? Another scolding? You can’t just boss me around all the time, you know.” She swiveled and stared out the window.
“When it comes to your safety, yes, I can. I’m the cop here, honey.”
“Stop calling me honey.” She gritted her teeth. Every time he called her that, she grew a little closer to him. This had to stop.
“After you stop using the way I feel about you to get what you want.”
Spinning back toward him, she scoffed. “Excuse me?”
“You wanted me to wait for you by the car and I was set against it. So, you touched my arm and looked at me with that adorable look in your eyes and I did what you wanted. Do you think I didn’t know what you were doing?”
She huffed and spun back around to stare out the window as they drifted along the town center roundabout. She wanted to scream at him, but what could she say? He was right. At least partially. The self-righteous deputy let the silence continue until the pet store and he parked.
“So what, you’re not talking to me now?”
Jerking on the chrome handle, she elbowed the door open and let it slam closed behind her.
She pushed through the swinging glass doors to the cart corral, trying to ignore the sound of Josh’s clumping boots behind her. Why did he have to be so perfect? He could never understand what she’d been through. Josh probably never had to do something questionable to get what he wanted, but Nikki had learned to do what she had to do to survive.
Her sneakers squeaked on the tile as she turned down an aisle stacked with bags of litter. Wrapping her hands around the corners of a bag on a waist-high shelf, she pulled. The litter slid fast, knocking her back. A hand splayed out between her shoulder blades and rocked her back on two feet. She glanced over her shoulder at Josh and then hefted the bag into the basket. Would she always owe him? And when would he use that against her?
The wheels creaked as she elbowed past him to get to a covered litter box she spied on the endcap.
“You’re being childish.”
She cringed at his words. How hard would she have to push to make him lose his temper? It would be better if he hated her. It would be easier to walk away.
Nikki chewed on her lip as she grabbed a package of kitten kibble and steered to the checkout counter.
A minute later, she stood by the cruiser’s trunk, tapping her foot.
Josh tapped a finger on the trunk lid. “Do you want me to open that or something?”
She rolled her eyes, but he just grinned. Didn’t he get how screwed up she was? Couldn’t he yell or snap at her? She deserved it.
He stepped close to her when he slid his key into the lock and his scent filled her with warmth despite a determination to stay aloof. Why does he have such an effect on me? Not objecting but trying not to look grateful, she watched him load her purchases, scolding herself for noticing his looks as he leaned over the open hatch.
When she tried to open the passenger door, she found it also locked and knew he’d done it on purpose. Without a word, she waited as he opened it for her. He poured on the sweetness as he motioned for her to get in, once again standing close enough for her to feel his heat. She moved to take her seat, but a hand wrapped around her arm. Josh turned her to him. Nikki took a step back only to be stopped by the car.
“Hey.” His breath brushed against her face. “Don’t do this. I don’t want things to be this way.”
“You accused me of manipulating you.” She wiped away a stubborn tear with the back of her hand.
His focus narrowed on her like she was a puzzle he couldn’t figure out and yet really needed to solve. “Didn’t you, though?”
She twirled a lock of hair around her finger and stared at the cracked asphalt. He was right. But just not as right as he thought. Her throat spasmed and she swallowed hard. “I…I knew my touch would affect you. I admit that. But you’re acting like it doesn’t affect me, too.”
“Does it?” He tugged at his bottom lip like he was trying to keep it from curling into a smile.
“You know that it does. But you were right to stop things this morning. I-I can’t be with you. I’m not the right kind of girl.”
“Then who is?”
“Someone who hasn’t made the mistakes that I have. Someone who’s… better.”
He moved, his face lowering to hers, but she turned and got in the car. A moment of uncertain silence passed before he closed the door.
Their quick and silent ride over to the bakery sent her nerves rattling.
Why had she admitted to an attraction she could never act on? Josh deserved someone who hadn’t made so many bad decisions. She’d heard about his former wife from the people in town. The junior high sweethearts had grown up together and gotten married right out of college. Heather sounded perfect and pure. Everything Nikki wasn’t.
Not to mention, loving Josh meant loving God, and while she thought she could do that, she had no clue why God would ever love her. She was doing her best to live right since she’d arrived in St. Claire, but all her efforts couldn’t erase her past. He’s just better off without me. It’s cruel to let him know how I feel when things can never work out.
Her mind was made up. From now on, she would control her mouth and keep distance between them.
Nikki clutched the neck of her sweater as Josh finally slowed in front of her shop window. It looked awful. Her eyes were drawn to the caution tape strung across the entrance and she spotted Brandon still inside. Apple’s Fritters was a part of her and men were walking all over it.
“Did you want to go inside or anything?” Josh turned down the alley and pulled up to her parked truck.
“No.” She fished in her purse for her keys. “I just want to get out of here. I hate seeing it like this.”
“I know.” If only she could plug her ears to the compassion in his voice.
Locating her keys, she got out, needing to get as far away from Josh and her shop as she could. But he didn’t let her, jumping out to open the truck door so she could slide behind the wheel.
“You have to stop doing this.” She stared down at the dash. Why couldn’t he just let her go?
“Being nice.” She drug her finger along the steering wheel.
He pushed her hair behind her ear. “You don’t deserve anything less.”
“You don’t know what I deserve.”
“Then tell me.” He held the door open and leaned an arm against the frame. “Tell me what you’re so scared of. Why you’re pushing me away.”
For a second, she wanted to. Wanted to bury her face in his chest and pour out the rest of her sad and unfortunate life story but… I just can’t do that to him. “I-I can’t. I just want to go home.”
“I’ll be right behind you.” Josh pushed the door closed and walked away.
She started the engine and backed out of her spot.
The white gazebo standing on the leaf-covered ground at the center of the roundabout blurred as stubborn tears filled her eyes. She pressed down on the gas, desperate to get on the winding country roads that would take her home. When her tires squealed around a sharp turn, she looked down at her climbing speedometer. What am I doing? Slow down!
But when she stepped on the brake, the pedal fell to the floor.
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