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.
“WHAT IS GOING ON?” JOSH failed to keep the anger out of his voice as he questioned his boss.
Gary only responded with a glare that put him in his place. Somehow, he managed not to say anything else by clenching his jaw, but it wasn’t easy. Gary turned his attention to Nikki. “Miss Appleton, this warrant entitles us to search your house and property.”
Miss Appleton? She’s not Nikki to him anymore. She’s the suspect.
“What are you looking for?” Nikki looked utterly destroyed. Shock and fear flashed from her face.
Josh put a hand on her shoulder. Good question. They have to tell you that.
“Any evidence of the possession or sale of illegal drugs.”
“What?” The paper quaked in her hand.
This is too much too fast. How can she process this in her current state? She wobbled, and Josh wrapped an arm around her waist. A fall wouldn’t be good for her injuries. He led her up the stairs to one of the rocking chairs on the porch but she shook him off, making a beeline through the front door. Josh rushed after her.
Inside, in the den that opened to the right, Brandon was flipping through the pages of books from a shelf while Vaughn raised the cushions on her sofa. Down the hall, he spotted Mike and Laney opening her kitchen cupboards and drawers, pulling out hand towels and canned goods while Charlie sniffed the tile. Even if they had a legal warrant, their search would feel like a violation of her well-ordered space.
Why had his boss kept this from him?
“Please, Nikki. You need to sit down.” He tugged on her arm and she swayed toward him.
“Tell them to stop going through my things.” She reached out and grabbed the fabric of his shirt.
Knowing he couldn’t do that was like a knife to his soul.
“I can’t, honey, because they have a warrant. But please just sit down and I’ll find out what’s going on.”
Her expression was vacant and Josh doubted his words even registered, but at least she let him guide her to a cushioned chair facing the sofa.
“It’s going to be okay.” Josh eased her down onto the seat.
“I think I’ll talk to you now, Deputy Bennet.” The sheriff’s voice boomed from the doorway. “Step outside a minute with me, son.”
Deputy Bennet? Am I suspect now, too?
“I’ll be right back.” Nikki’s vacant stare seemed to pass through him. He caressed her hair and then followed his boss to the porch.
“Your feelings for her are clouding your judgment.” Gary frowned at him like he was about to be written up.
“She’s not a drug dealer, sir.” He folded his hands behind his back.
“And how would you even know that? Do you know anything about her?”
“I know what’s true. She couldn’t do this.” Josh recalled how much she wanted to protect Andy. A person like that wouldn’t lead people into addiction.
“I’m not so sure about that. I’ve been looking into our little baker here and I think I’m going to shock you. Nicole Isabelle Appleton, originally from Pittsburgh, has spent time living in half a dozen cities across Pennsylvania over the last four years.”
“A lot of people move around.” Especially after growing up in foster homes, but what a beautiful middle name.
“Maybe. But it’s not where she was so much as who she was with that’s interesting.”
“And who was she with?” Can you stop dragging this out?
“Ryan Danforth, a known drug dealer with a long criminal history.”
Josh swallowed. Was this guy the cause of her nightmares?
“Seems he didn’t always play nice with others in his field and bounced back and forth from one organization to another with a break in between where he tried to run his own game.” Gary looked back through the open door like he was gauging if their conversation could be overheard.
“Everywhere he went, though, it looks like she was right by his side. The devoted girlfriend. That is until a little over a year ago when Danforth got busted for murder.” His boss lowered his voice. “It seems he murdered a uniformed cop who had interrupted a drug deal.”
Josh’s stomach churned. How had she managed to escape from a man like that?
“Initially, Danforth got away, taking the money and cocaine with him, but they caught him a few days later. He was locked up for life, but no one ever found the drugs or the cash. Then, surprise, surprise, Nikki shows up in our town with enough money to buy her shop and this farm.” Gary raised an eyebrow.
Josh admitted to himself that it didn’t look good.
“Now, I know she’s pretty, I know you’re a man of faith, son, and that you believe in people, but these are a lot of facts to ignore.”
Josh just couldn’t believe that Nikki was capable of such dishonesty. But how could he deny the evidence? If he’d discovered this information about a suspect, he’d come to the same conclusions Gary had. Especially if traces of a drug stash had been found in her shop. Maybe he didn’t know her as well as he’d thought. And hadn’t she told him that he deserved a good person, unlike herself?
The doubt crept in like a parasite. His heart said she was innocent, but what kind of cop would he be if he ignored his head? Ignored what seemed like common sense? Believing the woman who beguiled him was a risk to both his heart and his career.
But then, Josh remembered that faith was always a risk. Perhaps Nikki Appleton was worth it.
He faced Gary. “I’m sure that she will have a perfectly legitimate explanation for any suspicions you may have.”
Before he could answer, Laney appeared in the doorway. “I think we found something, sheriff.” Laney gave Josh a half smile like she knew this was hard on him.
Josh followed his boss into the house. Across the room, Nikki sat sideways with one arm wrapped tightly around her ribcage as she watched Vaughn search the contents of an antique bureau behind her couch.
“Where are my kittens?” Her voice cracked. “You guys have all the doors open. They could have wandered off.”
“They’re okay.” Vaughn turned to her, looking sad and a little ashamed. “They’re still in the bathroom.”
At least one of his colleagues seemed bothered by what was happening here.
“Thank you.” She turned when she heard the steps in the hall.
Josh gave her a reassuring smile as he followed Gary into the kitchen.
“It’s over here.” Laney motioned to an open cabinet under the sink.
Mike was crouched down in front, pulling out plastic tubs of cleaning supplies. “We found it tucked back here.” He pointed to the back.
Josh and Gary bent down to get a better view. Over the other man’s shoulder, Josh saw that a shoe box filled with cash had been wedged into the back corner.
His heart sank. This didn’t look good.
“What’s going on?” Nikki’s voice was weak behind him.
He turned to find her leaned against the doorjamb, her brow wrinkled and her nose scrunched up.
“What can you tell me about this?” Gary motioned to the cabinet.
“About what? My cleaning stuff?” Nikki padded forward and peered in the cabinet. Wide eyes and a shocked expression indicated the moment she saw the box. “I’ve never seen that in my life.” She rubbed her hand over her forehead and winced when her fingers hit the stitches. “I didn’t put that there. I have no idea where it came from.”
“Even if she did…” Josh stepped to her side. “It’s not illegal to keep cash in your house.”
“But I don’t know what it is.” She turned to face him, focusing her anger on him for some reason. “I don’t know where it came from, and I don’t know why it’s there.”
The sheriff ignored them both. “Miss Appleton, I’d like you to come down to the station and answer a few questions.”
Josh lifted her chin to catch her gaze. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to, especially not without a lawyer.”
“I don’t need a lawyer.” Nikki turned her head away. “You can take me wherever you want and ask me whatever you want, because I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Nikki—” Josh raised a hand, but she pushed it away.
“No, Josh. I didn’t do anything. I don’t know what is going on, but I’m innocent of whatever they think I did.”
“Then you can come with me. Vaughn and Laney, you’re with me. Josh, I think it’d be best if you head home and get some sleep. I’m pretty sure you have a shift coming up.” Gary flipped his hand at the Whitaker brothers. “You two, get this place cleaned up and double time it back to the station.” He motioned for Laney to escort Nikki. “Let’s move.”
Nikki looked back at Josh as they led her away, and it took every ounce of his strength not to charge after her and carry her away. They were treating her like a criminal.
Josh stalked down the hall, stopping when the screen door slammed in his face. Fists clenched, he watched them put her in the back of a patrol car and drive away. He had to do something. Pulling his cell phone out of his pocket, he dialed his sister.
After a few rings, Lizzy answered. “Hello?”
“Hey. It’s Josh. Listen, I have someone that needs a lawyer.”
Was Josh watching her from the other side of the two-way glass? She hoped so. The interrogation room where they’d left her was cold and still smelled like sweat from whoever was in here before. Her head pounded and her muscles were stiff. Did I make a mistake? Maybe I should have asked for a lawyer. She’d just been so mad. Everyone who had invaded her home seemed to think she was a criminal and she’d lost her temper. But now, she worried she’d let her anger get the best of her.
Even worse, she couldn’t forget the look in Josh’s eyes when he turned to her after finding the money hidden in her kitchen. The swirling doubt and confusion were why she had turned down his suggestion of a lawyer and let them take her away. She couldn’t take him thinking she needed one.
She stretched her arm across the table and rested her head, but then sat up straight at the appearance of the sheriff and Vaughn. She knew the younger deputy from the shop and he always seemed so nice. After looking out for her kittens, part of her was glad he was here for the interrogation.
“Okay, Miss Appleton, I want to talk about Ryan Danforth.” The sheriff stayed standing but leaned against the glass like he was blocking her view.
“Why?” She fought the urge to gag. Would Ryan’s sins follow her forever?
“You and he have quite a history, don’t you?” The sheriff stroked his chin.
“I guess so, but as you said, it’s history.” Vaughn’s eyes glanced down to her sweater as he sat in one of the folding chairs across the table and she instinctively covered the blood stains from her accident with her palm. She had been so excited to go home, get cleaned up, and collapse in her bed. How did she end up here?
“You were his girlfriend for quite a few years, right? Not to mention you’ve got your own history.”
Nikki sighed. “My parents died when I was little and, since I had no other family that I knew of, I was placed in foster care. Some of the homes were beyond awful, but when I told the adults at school and even my social worker, no one believed me. So, I would run away a lot. Then, when I turned eighteen and aged out of the system, I met Ryan at the pizza parlor where I worked part-time.” She swallowed, hating the sound of her story out loud. “He seemed smart and he had money, and when he offered me a place to stay… I guess I thought he was safe.”
“But he wasn’t safe, was he?” Vaughn folded his hands on the table.
“I’m thinking you already know that answer.” She forced away memories she wanted to forget.
The sheriff grabbed the back on the one remaining chair. The legs scraped against the linoleum floor. “So, tell me, what am I supposed to think when I find evidence of hidden drugs and stacks of cash at the only locations owned by the former girlfriend of a known drug dealer.”
Nikki slapped her hand on the table. “I didn’t know he was a drug dealer until he got arrested.”
“All those years and you didn’t know? Come on.” The sheriff rolled his eyes.
“It’s true.” She pointed a shaking finger at the sheriff. “I-I had suspicions because we moved so much and because he was so secretive about what he did, but I never once saw him do anything illegal.”
“If you had suspicions, why didn’t you leave him?” Vaughn’s voice was much softer and his tone was curious rather than menacing.
She rubbed her hands on her jeans. “I wanted to. I did. I just didn’t think I could. Ryan was mean and controlling. He wouldn’t let me have friends or even have a job so that I could have my own money. I had no way of supporting myself. No education. Nothing. I just didn’t think I had any other options.”
“Until he got arrested.” The sheriff smirked but there was no humor in his eyes.
Nikki’s throat tightened and her voice dropped to a whisper. “Yes. I know it sounds terrible, but when Ryan went to prison, it was like I’d been set free.”
“It doesn’t sound that terrible at all.” Vaughn put a hand on her arm, but jerked it away when the sheriff shot him a stern look.
“If you had no job and no money, tell me how you were able to buy the building you turned into your shop.” The sheriff crossed his arms over his belly.
“What?” She’d had money after all, just not from Ryan.
“Where did you get the money?” He leaned forward, crossing into her personal space.
“Why does that matter?” Was Ryan going to ruin that gift too?
“Well… like I said earlier, all my life I thought I had no family left, but around the time Ryan got arrested, I got a letter from an attorney. It turned out I had an elderly aunt. I guess she knew about me all along but had a lot of health problems over the years that had kept her from making contact or taking custody of me.” Nikki swallowed a knot in her throat. If only she had taken her in. How different would things have been now? “Anyway, she had passed away and left me some money. That is what I bought my shop with.” And now that was ruined too.
“That’s pretty convenient.” The sheriff tilted his head towards her.
He snorted. “Right after your boyfriend gets put away for a drug deal gone bad. A deal where a bunch of money and drugs mysteriously vanished. Suddenly, a surprise relative shows up and gives you money? Am I really supposed to believe that?”
“It’s the truth.” She could prove it. She had documents locked away. “I promise it’s true. But even if it wasn’t, why would any of that make me destroy my shop?”
“I don’t think you did destroy your shop. At least, not alone.”
Nikki buried her hands in her hair. She winced as her fingers grazed her stitches yet again. “Then why am I here? Why are you doing this to me?”
The sheriff leaned back in his seat. “Were you aware that four days ago Ryan escaped from custody during a prison transport?”
Nikki gasped and her body went rigid. “He’s out? But he’ll come after me. Please, you have to do something. If he finds me, he’ll hurt me.” He warned me to never leave him. She jumped to her feet. She had to get out of here. But where would she go? She had nothing left.
“I think maybe he’s already here.” The sheriff’s voice grew louder. “I think you took the money to start your new life and hid the drugs in the walls of your shop. Then he tracks you down and so you give him the drugs and then stage a break-in. Do you know where he is? Are you hiding him?”
Nikki couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her mind blurred. A drum beat behind her ribs. She couldn’t focus. She couldn’t think.
“Start telling me the truth.” The sheriff pounded his fist onto the table.
Nikki opened her mouth to scream that all she’d been doing was telling the truth when a beautiful giant burst into the room wearing a perfectly tailored blazer over a pencil skirt and sky-high black heels.
“I think drama class is over, boys.” The woman’s strawberry blonde hair hung in loose curls that she flipped over her shoulder. “You won’t be asking my client another thing.”
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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