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.
THE LIGHT IN HER ROOM was dim when Nikki woke up. Through her white lace curtains, she saw daylight. How long have I been asleep? Throwing off the blankets, she sat up, then had to lay back down from a sudden dizzy spell and a sharp pain in her sides. Too fast. I forgot I’m broken. The next attempt went much better and she got to her feet.
The house was quiet. Was she there alone? Josh had said he was going to stay, but she wouldn’t blame him if he left. Not after everything he found out about her yesterday. His constant faith in her was humbling, but she didn’t deserve it.
She groaned as she pulled a T-shirt over her head and then slid on some sweat pants. Tucking her feet into her faux fur slippers, she shuffled into the hall where she suddenly caught the fragrance of bacon. She glanced down the stairs but didn’t see anyone. But ghosts didn’t fry bacon. She crept down the stairs and found Josh in the kitchen
He didn’t notice her at first, so she took a minute to watch him standing in front of her stove. Instead of his uniform, he wore a pair of faded jeans low on his hips and a soft looking T-shirt that hugged the lines of his back as he turned the bacon in the skillet. He was humming something and his voice was low and sweet.
She could get used to waking up to this picture. “It smells good in here.”
“Good morning.” He spun around with a flat spatula in his hand, then smiled. “How do you feel?”
“A bit sore. Have you been up all night?” He couldn’t keep going like this.
“I grabbed a few hours on the couch.” He looked over at the wall where her cat clock hung, its tail swinging with the time. “Looks like you’re behind on your next dose of medicine. Have a seat, and I’ll get you some breakfast and the prescription bottle. Where’s your syrup?”
She pointed. “The cupboard above you to the right.” She looked around the room. “Where is Elizabeth?”
He gestured to the ceiling. “In your spare bedroom, down for the count. She had to drive through the night and passed out as soon as she got back.”
Nikki rubbed her arms. She was inconveniencing everyone. “That was so nice of her. I don’t have a lot of money, but I promise I will pay her everything I can.”
“Don’t worry about that right now. You need to eat and I need to get your medication.”
Nikki made her way to a chair and braced herself on the table as she eased down into the seat. “The food I’ll take. The pills… I don’t think so.”
The deputy gave her a warning glance. “Nikki…”
“They make me groggy and I can’t afford to feel that way right now. Not with everything that’s going on.”
“I’m here, though. I can look after you.” He flipped a bubbling pancake on her cast iron griddle.
“And how are you supposed to find out who framed me if you’re stuck babysitting me while I drool on my pillow?”
He pressed his fingers into his cheek. Doing both things at once wasn’t going to happen.
“Fine. But at least take some over-the-counter stuff.”
“I will. I promise. I have some in the upstairs bathroom.”
He set the syrup bottle and a plate with pancakes and bacon in front of her. Her stomach growled and she snatched a piece of bacon first. “So, what do we do now?”
“Well, since I’m not on the case, I’m not supposed to do anything.” His back was to her as he filled another plate.
“Oh.” Was she on her own then?
He sat down next to her with a grin. “But… they can’t really tell me what to do on my personal time, can they?”
“I do have a sort of plan.” Josh motioned with his fork. “I don’t really want to bring you along, but leaving you alone with Ryan out there is out of the question.”
“I’ll be okay. What’s the plan?” The mention of her ex sent a shiver up her back, but she forced a smile.
“I want to talk to your two employees, and also find out if the sheriff’s department learned anything else from their search.”
“How do you expect to get that information? It’s not like they’re just going to tell you.” She shoved a bite of syrup-dripping pancake in her mouth.
“Some of them might. And I think I know who to start with.”
“Eat up. You’ll see.”
More interested in her food than conversation, Nikki did just that, moaning as she savored every bite. Once she cleared her plate, she retired to her room and pulled on a light sweater and jeans that buttoned a little too tight across her full belly. She ran a comb through her bed-head and returned downstairs.
Twenty minutes or so later, Josh parked his truck on a street of small cottages in a gated community just outside of downtown.
“Where are we?” Nikki leaned forward to see where Josh’s turned head pointed.
Josh switched off the ignition. “He’ll be getting home from the graveyard shift soon and I want to talk to him. I watched him during your interrogation, and he didn’t like how Gary talked to you.”
“I didn’t like it, either.” All the fear, worry, and unrelenting shame came rushing back. I hadn’t done anything wrong and yet in their eyes, I was another lying criminal.
Josh turned to her and reached across the truck, rubbing her shoulder with his strong hand. His knack for sensing when she was troubled was uncanny. “I promise you, it wasn’t fun for me, either. Watching Gary act like that….” He shook his head. “I just wanted to come in there and carry you away.”
“I’m glad you didn’t. You’re already in a tough situation at your job because of me. I don’t need anything else weighing on my conscience.”
“You need to stop blaming yourself for your past, Nik. It’s not your fault Ryan was a bad guy.”
“I did have suspicions, though. That he was doing something he didn’t want anyone to know about. I should’ve done something. How many people could I have kept from getting drugs from him?”
Josh opened his mouth to speak but then closed it. If he was about to say something about God to encourage her, part of her wanted to hear it. Wanted to hear about faith and belief and all the other things he held dear that were so new to her. But before he could, a cell phone rang in his pocket.
He glanced at the number. “I need to take this. It’s the garage where I took your truck.”
“Sure.” How much would it cost to fix this time?
Josh tapped the screen to answer. “Hello?”
Nikki scrutinized him as he listened to the muffled voice on the other end. His brow drew in with confusion, and by the time he asked if they were sure, his jaw looked tight enough to break.
Whatever he’d just heard wasn’t good.
“I understand. Thanks for getting back to me so soon, man.” He tossed the phone on the seat between them and growled.
“What is it?” Nikki hugged her arms tight around her waist.
His chest rose as he took in a long breath. “Nikki—” He spun around at the sound of an engine. A red SUV parked in front of the house across the street.
Vaughn had just come home.
Josh pulled the door handle. “We’ll talk about it later. Let’s go.”
Nikki made her way out of the vehicle, holding her ribs as she stepped down to the ground.
“You okay?” Josh hurried to help her.
“I’m fine. You don’t need to wait for me.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Vaughn watched them from his porch as they approached, no doubt alerted to their presence when they shut the truck doors. “What do you think you’re doing? I don’t need to tell you, of all people, that you shouldn’t be here.” He frowned.
Josh stopped her at the bottom of the porch steps. “I need information. I need to know what you guys learned from the cash at Nikki’s house and if they found anything else.”
He scoffed. “You want me to give you our case against the suspect while standing right in front of her?”
Nikki averted her eyes, crossing her arms over her chest. Vaughn was right. They had no right to be asking this of him. She felt so responsible for everyone around her. Josh’s sister had driven through the night to come help her, Josh was in danger of losing his job, and now even Vaughn was getting pulled into her trouble. She had to stop the fallout.
“He’s right, Josh. We can’t ask him to do this. Let’s just go.” She tugged on his arm.
He glanced over his shoulder at her but then quickly turned back, focusing back on the other officer. “Do you really think that she could do these things?”
Vaughn let his shoulders drop. “No.” He shook his head. “But that doesn’t really matter. You are a soldier and a cop. You know that people can surprise you.”
“Yeah. But sometimes, they surprise you in a good way. I know that something weird is going on here. Someone is doing this to her.” He stomped up the steps to the porch.
Nikki tensed with the rise of Josh’s emotion. This could turn into a fight that he’d regret. Scurrying up the stairs to stand between the men, she placed a hand on Josh’s pounding heart. “This isn’t his fault. Please, let’s just go.”
“I’m not okay with someone thinking you are a criminal.” He gritted his teeth.
“I never said I thought she was a criminal.”
“Well, you’re sure not seeing her as a victim.” Josh stuck a finger in Vaughn’s face.
“What proof do you have the she is a victim?” Vaughn knocked his hand away.
“How about someone trying to kill her.”
“What?” Nikki grabbed Josh’s shirt collar and jerked him down to her level.
He met her gaze. “Your car accident wasn’t an accident. My guy at the garage just confirmed it. Your brakes didn’t fail because they’re old. They failed because someone tried to kill you.”
The drums were back, pounding between her ears. She was light-headed. She swayed and felt Josh’s arms wrap around her.
Behind her, Vaughn’s voice sounded apologetic. “She needs to sit down. Bring her over here.”
Josh led her to a cushioned wicker chair on the porch, then knelt in front of her, cradling her cheeks in his palms. “You’re okay.” he promised. “It’s just the shock, mixed with all the pain you’re in from the accident.”
“I’ll get her something to drink.” Vaughn pulled his keys from his pocket and turned to the door.
“Thanks,” Josh called to him as he disappeared inside.
A minute later, Vaughn held a tall glass in front of her. Nikki took it and let the cool water slide down her throat as she got her bearings. “Who would try to kill me? Do you think it was Ryan?” How could he have found me?
“I don’t know.” Josh squeezed her shoulders. “That’s why I’m here, trying to get any lead I can.”
Vaughn sighed. “We didn’t find anything at her farm except the money.”
Josh got to his feet and raised a hand to his colleague. “Alright. Thanks for telling me.”
Vaughn shook his head to stop him. “I’m not done yet. Charlie hit on the cash indicating it had been around drugs but the bills didn’t have any prints on them. And there weren’t any on the box either.”
Josh took a step back and leaned against the rail.
Nikki glanced at Josh. “What does that mean?”
“If you were hiding it, your prints should be on it.”
“I already told everyone it wasn’t mine. Are they thinking I wiped every single bill as a way to cover it up?” That didn’t seem all that effective.
Vaughn put his hands in his pockets. “That could be what the sheriff thinks. But if you were trying to remove all trace of yourself, why hide it in your own house?”
Josh’s eyes widened. “Someone is trying to frame her. They wanted to plant the evidence but couldn’t get their own prints off without wiping off everyone else’s.”
“That’s what I was thinking.” Vaughn nodded. “And whoever did it knew his prints were in the system. Otherwise, why bother wiping them off?”
“Ryan.” Nikki gasped. “He’s a criminal. Surely, his prints would be in the system.”
Josh rubbed his hip. Nikki was pretty sure that was where his gun usually hung. “They sure would be.”
“Then can’t we just tell the sheriff about my truck so he’ll see that someone is doing this to me?”
Vaughn shook his head. “I don’t know. He’s going at this full force. He’s taken over the case. Insists that everything is run through him. I don’t know that he’ll believe you.”
“Then what do we do?” Nikki jumped to her feet.
“We keep doing what we’re doing. Gary isn’t the only one who can solve a case.”
Like what you read?
Read chapter 10 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