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.
SLOW DOWN, NIKKI.
Her brake lights flashed and Josh breathed a sigh of relief. It had been difficult enough seeing her wipe her eyes as if she were crying, but the fact she’d been driving while so upset was his fault. He shouldn’t have been so hard on her earlier. Why was he pushing things? She clearly wanted him to keep his distance and yet he couldn’t seem to give her space. It was time to take a step back. To let God work without his interference.
Nikki’s brake lights flashed again as her truck swerved off center and then back. His heart nearly stopped at the glimpse of her panic-stricken eyes in her rearview mirror. She’s not slowing down and is going to lose control.
He had to act. Veering to the left, he looked around her truck to see what lay ahead, praying for a clear road. It wasn’t. They approached a four-way stop at one of the few railway crossings traversed by the coal trains. Thankfully, the signal light was currently off and the gate was up but a line of cars was moving through the intersection. They’d be expecting her to stop and wait her turn.
With a flip of a switch, his sirens blared. Drivers had to stop for emergency vehicles. Except, that didn’t always happen the way it was supposed to. More than once, he’d almost been in a car accident when distracted drivers failed to follow the law. No. He had to get in front of her and make a way through.
Josh jerked on his steering wheel and pulled up beside her. A second long glance as he flew past revealed her petrified face.
Josh turned back to the road. This is it. With a firm palm on his horn, he added to the clamor. Please, God, let them stay put.
The shadows of heads turned his way, seeing his approach. What would they do? Their time was up.
The waiting cars stayed frozen in their spots as Josh flew by. His eyes went to his rearview mirror to see if Nikki would also get through unscathed.
For a second, things seemed like they would be okay, but then a black sedan that had been waiting in the line pulled off onto the side of the road. And, for some unknown reason, drove around the stopped cars in front.
Just as Nikki’s truck reached the middle of the intersection, the sedan surged forward.
Josh slammed on his brakes, praying for a miracle.
It was going to be close. Didn’t the driver see her? Josh braced for the crashing sound of metal on metal. But right before the front bumper made contact, Nikki made a hard turn to the right. Things might have been okay if the surrounding land was flat, but when her tires caught the lip of asphalt, she went down into a ditch. The old truck hit the ground with an eardrum-shattering boom that flipped the vehicle on its side.
Josh pulled a one-hundred-and-eighty degree turn and raced back to the wreck, snatching his radio to call an ambulance.
He jumped out of his vehicle, not even bothering to close the car door behind him as he ran. “Nikki!”
The only movement as he approached was the spinning of the driver-side tires sticking up into the air and the only sound was a sputter from the engine as it died. The smell of gas filled the air and Josh watched it leak down in a little stream at the bottom of the ditch.
“Nikki!” He swept his gaze over the exposed undercarriage.
He rocked the truck a bit. It was wedged tight in the ditch. Good. It wouldn’t roll. He grabbed the side panel and a with foot on the exhaust pipe, he launched himself upward until he could peer down through the closed window to where Nikki hung limply—lifeless—anchored only by her seatbelt. He gasped at the glimpse of blood through the strands of hair covering her face.
Getting her out was the priority. The seat belt dug into her waist, probably cutting off her circulation. He pulled on the door handle and jabbed his arm into the gap like a crow bar. Grunting, he heaved the door skyward and then fell over the opening so his body could stop it from closing. This was taking too long. If she wasn’t breathing, he needed to start CPR right now.
“Nikki?” He positioned himself above her. “Honey, can you hear me?”
Reaching out a hand, he touched her shoulder, not moving up any farther in case she had a neck injury.
“I need you to wake up.” He looked for the belt disappearing into her skin.
At last, she stirred at his touch and a tortured moan escaped from her lips.
“Nikki! Look at me, Nikki!”
Slowly, her head turned, and he spotted her eyes through the blood and locks of hair stuck to her face. “J-Josh.” Her eyes fluttered closed.
She’s alive. Thank You, God.
“I need you to reach out your hands.” He couldn’t be sure she heard him.
Her eyes popped open, and she sucked in breath. She jerked and wiggled, gasping at the steering wheel. “Help me. Josh, help me. It hurts.”
“I know, honey, but don’t struggle. If the belt breaks, you’ll fall. I just need you to look at me. Look at me!” The truck shook, settling into the dirt and causing the heavy door to pinch his body. Twisting, he gave the door a hard shove, flinging it back.
His sharp tone shocked her into obedience and she faced him, eyes wide and full of fear.
But this wasn’t the moment for politeness. “Reach out and hold on to me.”
She did, hooking her arms around his shoulders.
“Do not let go. Understand?”
“Yes.” She whimpered.
“I’m going to reach down and release your belt, and then I’ll pull you out. Okay?”
“God, please help us.” Josh slipped his arms around her waist and then pushed the release button. Nikki’s body dropped like an anchor but he held strong, warring against gravity to lift her out. The freed belt hooked around her throat and she gasped in his ear. Groaning in pain, he shifted all of her weight to one arm so he could reach up and untangle her. He cringed as her body scraped against metal as he struggled to find footholds. The gas smell was worse. His boot found a firm edge and he dragged Nikki close to him. Whatever his foot had planted on snapped like a branch and Josh fell back into the dirt, holding Nikki against his chest.
Josh cradled her in his arms and rose to his feet. They had to get far away in case the leaking fuel ignited. When he judged that he’d put enough distance between them and the truck, he dropped to his knees and laid her down in the soft grass.
The sound of approaching sirens reached his ears. He turned and saw some townsfolk on their phones. They too must have called for an ambulance. He looked for the black sedan but it was gone.
Kneeling down, he touched her cheek, “You’re going to be alright, honey.”
Nikki’s eyes were closed and he wondered if she had fallen back into unconsciousness again, but then her lips moved. “I told you to stop calling me honey.”
Josh’s relief came out as a long, loud sigh and he smiled.
She’s going to be alright.
Over and over again, Nikki’s mind tried to force her body awake but it rebelled, trapping her in an unpleasant dream. They were dragging her away from the house. She’d loved being there but they told her she couldn’t stay. They threw her worn clothes in a black garbage bag and told her she had to leave. She feared that she would never stop crying.
When light finally seeped through her opening eyelids, she saw three things: a dim lamp, a white hospital blanket, and Josh Bennet reclined in a chair next to her bed, his eyes squeezed closed.
“Are you asleep?” Her voice came out in a dry croak.
“No.” He quickly moved to her side, sat down on the edge of her mattress, and studied her.
“Your eyes were closed.” His stubble was now almost a full beard and dark bags were under his gray eyes.
“I know. But I wasn’t sleeping. Not now anyway. I caught a nap earlier.”
How much sleep has he lost because of me? She remembered a plea that had been whispered in her ear. “Were you praying?”
“Did it work?” She licked her cracked lip.
“You’re awake, aren’t you?” The hint of a smile tugged at his lips.
That may be true but she certainly didn’t feel good. She blinked away the fog in her brain and took stock of her injuries. A dull ache encompassed her middle, and when she shifted her head to look, a stab of nauseating pain pierced her skull.
“But am I okay?”
Josh took her hand, brushing his lips against her palm.
The action caught her by surprise and yet was familiar at the same time. As if he’d done it a hundred times before. Like he was made to do it.
“You’re going to be. I’m sure it doesn’t feel like it, but you’re in pretty good shape. You’ve got some stitches in your forehead from a laceration. And you’re going to be sore for a while because your ribs are bruised from the seatbelt, but your concussion wasn’t severe. The doctors assured me you’ll be back to normal in a week or so.”
“I guess my body is just one more thing of mine that’s broken.” She raised her fingers to her face, exploring. She found the rough feel of the thread weaved into her skin above her brow.
“I hit my head on the steering wheel.” Images of the accident came rushing back. The screaming siren. The screech of tires. The sensation of flying through the air.
Josh nodded. “That’s what I figured.”
But, before that… Something teased the fringes of her memory. Why had she been speeding into the intersection in the first place? She jolted straight up in her bed.
“Whoa. Lie back down and rest.” Josh ran his hand down her arm.
“No.” She gripped his arms, her fingernails digging into his skin. “My truck! There were no brakes. I tried to stop and the pedal just went to the floor. It wouldn’t stop.”
“I know.” Josh grasped her elbows to hold her steady. “But you’re okay, now. Everything’s okay.”
She wasn’t budging. “Did I hurt anyone?” An image flashed in her mind. She saw a man in a ball cap. He was looking down toward his radio like he didn’t see her.
“No.” He rubbed circles into her skin with his thumb. “You were the only one who got hurt and you’re going make your injuries worse if you don’t calm down and lie back.”
Her head was spinning and her muscles screamed in pain. “Okay.” She sighed, relaxing back onto her pillows. “But what about my truck?”
Josh shrugged. “It didn’t fare so well. It’s pretty messed up.”
“Great.” She remembered the cracked windshield she’d opened her eyes to and then thought of the shattered dishes in her shop. What would she ruin next?
“I had it towed to a friend’s auto shop. I want to know why the brakes failed.”
“It was pretty ancient.” More than once she’d had to get a ride from farmer Mason when the thing failed to start or left her stranded on the side of the road.
“Yeah, maybe.” There was something in his voice. He can’t possibly think that someone sabotaged it, can he? She pushed the thought away. She couldn’t deal with that right now.
“How long have I been here?”
“Most of the day.”
Really? Then why did it seem like she’d been driving five minutes ago? She looked to a window on the wall by her bed. She saw darkness through the gaps in the blinds. “All day?”
Josh nodded. “They gave you some pain medication soon after we came in and so you’ve been asleep for most of it.”
His words triggered a vague picture of being examined by a figure in hospital scrubs. It was coming back to her now. The questions she’d been asked. The tests they’d administered. “What about my shop? What about the kittens?” They were probably starving by now. She tried to sit up again, but a hand on her shoulder kept her still.
“Everything is fine. The sheriff’s department has left, but you can’t go back yet. They’ve got it secured in case they still need to get in. And the kittens are fine. While you were sleeping, I took the pet stuff you got them and set it up in your downstairs bathroom. I set up the litter box but thought they should stay in there for now in case of accidents.”
Nikki let out a breath of relief. “When can I go home?”
Josh’s head tilted. “They talked about having you stay the night after you fell asleep, but now that you’re awake, I’ll see what I can do.” He gave her arm a squeeze, stood, and then walked to the door.
“Yeah.” He turned back with a raised eyebrow.
“Thank you.” His kindness awed her and tears filled her eyes.
“Anytime.” He grinned.
After what Nikki suspected was some hard convincing on Josh’s part, the doctor agreed to let her go home with a long list of instructions and a bottle of pain medication.
The hospital insisted she get pushed out to Josh’s cruiser in a wheel chair. She glanced at Josh as the nurse helped her into the seat. He was grinning.
“Shut up.” The nurse rolled her forward.
“I didn’t say anything.” He walked beside the wheel.
“You didn’t have to.”
She hated every second of the ride. She hated being a burden. Yes, there was a stabbing pain every time she moved her head and her muscles screamed at her when she moved, but she hated having to depend on people. It put her in their debt.
When they got outside, Josh helped her into his patrol car. As much as she wanted to pretend differently, Nikki loved the feel of Josh’s arms around her waist as he guided her into her seat. And, if the way his breathing quickened when he was up against her was any indication, he liked it, too.
When he reached across her to help with the seat belt, his musky, salt-tinged scent sent a shudder through her body. She tried to tell herself that it was just the pain killers making her loopy but the medications weren’t that strong. Would she ever not feel this pull? This desire?
A few minutes later, they were cruising over the hills towards her house, the headlights piercing the night.
Josh cleared his throat. “Ready to be home?”
“Yes.” She groaned. “I hate hospitals.” Too many times had she sat silent in front of ER doctors while one of her foster parents lied and said she tripped down the stairs or got hurt attacking one of the other children.
“Me, too.” Josh ran a hand through his hair.
“Because of your wife?” She’d heard the whispers about Heather’s battle with cancer.
“Yeah. We spent a lot of time there at the end.”
“I’m so sorry. People in town still talk about her and I hear them. Everyone loved her.”
“She was easy to love. She was really wonderful.” He swallowed hard.
Yeah. She was everything I’m not. “You deserve someone like that. A good person.”
He turned her way with a quizzical expression. “I don’t deserve anything. I didn’t love my wife just because she was nice and sweet. I loved her because she was the woman for me in God’s plan.”
Nikki couldn’t wrap her mind around that kind of faith. “If that’s true, then was it also in His plan for you to lose her?”
“His plan was for me to know her and I’m grateful for that, even if it was only for a little while.” He sighed as he slowed to turn onto her bumpy gravel driveway.
“My life doesn’t seem to have gone according to anyone’s plan.” She winced as she leaned her head back against the seat.
Josh crossed the distance between them and squeezed her knee. “You’re here with me. In my book, the plan’s working just fine.”
A smile started to bloom on her face, then she blinked as unexpected lights flashed in her eyes.
Her farm came into view. It was swarming with uniformed cops.
“What’s going on?” She glanced back at a grim-faced Josh. He opened his mouth to speak but then stopped as if he couldn’t bring himself to tell her.
Josh slowed to a stop and she bolted from the car, fighting the nausea and pain that flared up at her sudden movement.
Spotting the sheriff on her porch, she yelled up the stairs. “What’s happening?”
The portly officer stepped down to meet her and shoved some type of document into her hands. It looked legal and serious. “What is this?”
“It’s a warrant to search the premises.” He frowned at her like she wasn’t supposed to be there.
They made Josh watch me because they think I’m guilty. Did he know this was going to happen? Was he supposed to keep me at the hospital?
She turned to the deputy and held out the crumpled paper in her fingers. “Is this part of God’s plan?”
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