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 GRAY, FILMY SMOKE SEEPED into the cracks around the doors from the dining room. Someone was burning the evidence and trying to kill them, too. The burning smell brought Josh back to the war zone he’d thought he left behind. Death had been there, taking with it good people, but there was no way he would let it win again today.
Nikki started coughing, bracing herself on one of the counters and holding her injured ribs. They had to get out or the smoke would kill them long before the fire they couldn’t yet see. Josh scanned the room, and when he spotted a dish towel, he grabbed it and rushed to the sink. Sticking it under the faucet, he turned the water on, letting it pour over the cloth. Cool drops ran down his arm as he turned back to Nikki and pulled her towards him.
He held it up to her mouth as he cradled her neck.
“Stay down and keep this here.” He watched closely until she nodded her understanding.
Her eyes darted every direction, too frightened to focus on one thing. Did she even hear him? Josh cupped her cheeks, guiding her gaze until she stared back at him. “I’m going to get us out of here, honey.” Please, God, help me keep the promise.
Josh’s eyes darted to the broken ventilation window. Maybe that could be their way out. Josh jumped up on the counter and drove his hand into its center. There was no way they would’ve replaced the glass. His knuckles got caught in something, slicing open his skin. What was this? Josh splayed out his fingers and discovered the broken window had been covered with a thick metal mesh. The sheriff’s department must have put it there to prevent anyone from getting in until it was repaired. What if someone needed to get out? Josh pounded on it with the heel of his palm, but it was no use. They weren’t getting out this way.
Josh jumped down and peered through the smoke. Being just too solid, the outside door was not an option for escape. Their best bet was breaking through whatever contraption barricaded the door to the dining room. Josh gave himself some distance and then charged.
The first impact didn’t do anything but send stings of pain through his upper body. Quickly, stealing himself, he gave it another go. That time the door let out a wrenching sound, but still it stayed closed.
A lethal fog had now filled the room. He’d get only one more chance. Josh backed up against the far wall and then ran, tapping into every source of strength within him, and threw himself at the door.
When he heard a sickening pop, he knew he likely had a dislocated shoulder. But it didn’t matter because he was through the doors and now lay surrounded by broken pieces.
She appeared through the haze of smoke, her face lit with a flickering orange. He reached out a hand and she helped him to his feet. Cradling his right arm over his stomach, he staggered forward leading the way to the front door. The flames were blooming all over the dining area, turning everything to ash.
Josh grabbed the handle and twisted but it didn’t turn. He inspected the lock and let out a growl. Someone had soldered it. Now, he was mad. Enraged that someone would go to such lengths to hurt a girl who never hurt anyone. “Do you really think this is going to stop me?” He’d had enough. They were getting out of here and then Josh was going to hunt down whoever was behind this madness and bring them to justice.
Picking up a broken chair like a battle ax, Josh raised it as high as his injured shoulder would allow, keeping the weight on his good side, and prepared to shatter the storefront window when bright lights blinded him. He blinked and saw headlights bobbing over the grass in the center of the roundabout. One of the park benches exploded in pieces as the car moved right towards them.
Dropping the chair, Josh grabbed Nikki, pulling her into his chest and turning to shield her with his body, knowing it might not be enough to keep her alive. The glass screamed as it broke. Josh looked back, expecting to see the vehicle bearing down on him.
The car had crashed through the window but it wasn’t coming any farther. At least those ugly words had been destroyed. The car stopped, momentarily filling up their only route of escape, but then reversed until it was resting on the sidewalk. The driver’s side door flew open, and a man he didn’t know jumped out.
Nikki gasped and tried to pull herself out of his arms, back towards the smoke, back towards the fire. There was only one person she would be that scared of.
Escaped convict, Ryan Danforth, stood outside the store front. He held out his hands and shouted. “Come on. You have to get out of there!”
Josh didn’t move. How could he?
Ryan kicked the outside of the building. “I’m not here to hurt her.” He yelled over the tearing noise of the flames being fed by the fresh air. “I just wanna help.”
Josh shouldn’t trust him. Not considering everything he knew about the man’s crimes. And yet, a small voice in his heart told him to believe. Josh had to choose. Either the fire behind them or the murderer in front of them. Nikki was still backing up into his chest, unwilling to take the hand offered her. It devastated Josh that she’d rather face a scorching death than this man before her, but her survival was all Josh could think about.
He pushed her forward. “Go!” But still she fought and then there was no more time for debate. Fire moved fast. A lot faster than they were moving.
“I’m sorry.” Josh took Nikki around the waist and threw her over his one working shoulder.
She shrieked as he made his way to the shattered window. “You’re just going to have to trust me, babe.”
He kicked out the shards still jutting like knives up from the frame of the store front window, then swung Nikki forward. It killed him to place her into someone’s arms other than his own, but now wasn’t the time for pride. Keeping the woman he loved alive was all that mattered.
The fire was raging, almost at his heels. Josh dove through the window, rolling as he hit the ground. Pain pricks sparked across his body where broken glass cut through his skin and his injured shoulder exploded with white-hot agony that he thought would make his heart stop. His eyes stopped working. He saw only red spots and then even they began to fade to black one by one. He was going to pass out.
Nikki got herself free of Ryan’s grip as soon as she was able but running away proved impossible when a coughing fit sent her to the ground. She gagged and hacked, fighting for every breath against the pain in her cracked ribs. She’d never take the sweet taste of oxygen for granted again.
Ryan appeared at her side.
“Get away from me!” Her scream came out weak and scratchy. She scrambled away on her hands and knees.
“Chill out, Nicole. I’m just trying to help you.”
All she wanted to do was get as far away as she could, but then she saw Josh’s crumpled form lying in a bed of glass. He wasn’t moving.
“Josh.” She croaked, trying to get to her feet and failing. Tripping and stumbling, she made her way to his side. Pushing on his shoulder, she said his name again. The pain had to be enough to wake him. “Josh, wake up.”
A hand wrapped around her arm. “Come on. Forget about him. Let’s go.”
“No!” She shook free. “I’m not leaving him.” She rolled Josh’s body into her lap and turned his head so she could see his face. “Please, God, let him wake up. Please, bring him back.” It was the first time she’d ever prayed out loud and when Josh suddenly moaned, she knew it definitely wouldn’t be her last. “Thank you, God. Thank you,” she whispered over and over again as she watched his chest start to rise and fall once again.
Ryan’s hand was back pulling on her arm. “I’m not kidding, Nikki. We have to go.”
“Why?” She turned on him with a ferocity that made him take a step back. “So you can finally kill me and finish the job you started when you sabotaged my truck?”
Ryan lurched backwards like he’d been hit. “I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here to save you.”
“You are a liar and a murderer. I don’t believe anything you say.”
“I never killed anyone.” He clenched his fists.
“You went to jail for killing a cop.” Nikki looked about for someone, anyone. She caught a glimpse of Josh’s truck and tried to remember where he had put the keys. Were they in his pocket?
“I went to jail because someone set me up.”
Nikki patted down Josh’s jeans, feeling for the keys. “You’re lying. The police told me everything.”
Ryan sighed. “Most of what they told you was true. I used to deal drugs, but I didn’t kill anyone. I’ve never killed anyone, but I know who is trying to kill you. You need to come with me before they get you.”
“Who?” Nikki clutched Josh harder. “If that’s true, tell me, but I’m not going anywhere.”
“Listen to me, Nicole. I’ll drag you if I have to.”
“No, you won’t.” A weak, low voice interrupted them.
It was Josh. He was awake and pointing a shaking gun right at Ryan. “She. Stays. Here.”
“She needs to come with me.” The command had left Ryan’s voice, and he raised his hands. “You can’t keep her safe.”
“I’ll do a better job than you.” Nikki helped him roll onto his knees and caught sight of an empty holster on his ankle.
She steeled herself for the coming argument because the Ryan she knew wasn’t going to back down. But neither would Josh. Her ex took a step forward but then took three frantic ones backward. Nikki heard distant sirens and saw flashes of red and blue competing with the glow of the hot fire behind her.
“Looks like you’re going back to prison.” Josh pushed her behind his back.
Ryan took a step toward his vehicle. “Only if you shoot me. Is that what you’re going to do?”
Josh teetered forward, and she grabbed him around the waist to keep him from falling forward. “If you didn’t start this fire, then that means you helped us. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still coming for you, but I’m not going to shoot an unarmed man.”
“Then it’s a good thing I don’t have a gun.” Ryan smirked as he moved toward the car he’d just driven through her shop window. “I’m not giving up, though. This is far from over. He’s trying to kill you, Nicole. Be careful.”
“Who is trying to kill me?”
Ryan opened the car door. “I can’t tell you right now. Your boyfriend may be in on it for all I know. I’ll tell you next time. Come and find me. Go to the place I always told you. See you soon.”
Not if she could help it. Even if she did know where he was thinking of.
Ryan sped away just as four black SUVs with bright police lights spun around the town center towards them. Two continued in pursuit of Ryan, but the others stopped in the street. Men in suits came pouring from the doors. Who were these people? Nikki had expected the sheriff’s department, the city police, or the fire department but these men were none of the above.
They charged towards her. One man with red hair that looked like it was glowing in the firelight raised a pistol at Josh. “Put the gun down!”
Josh did not obey. “I’m a county sheriff’s deputy. Identify yourself first.”
“US Marshals.” The man took one hand off his weapon to pull out an ID from his inside jacket pocket. He tossed the badge towards them, and when it landed by her, Nikki handed it to Josh for inspection. Nikki saw a shiny metal badge and glossy picture. Josh let the gun fall onto the street like an anvil.
“You need to come with me.” The red-haired marshal turned to his companions. “Take them to the cars.”
When two of the officers tried to lift Nikki to her feet, their hands invading the space under her arms, Josh clamped a hand around her arm. “Get your hands off her! Where do you think you’re taking her?”
“She’s coming in for questioning.” The red-haired marshal picked up his badge.
Another agent stepped up to the pile and jerked Josh back. He cried out in agony and the comfort of his touch fell away.
“Stop it! You’re hurting him.” Nikki cried as she was raised to her feet. “Can’t you see that he’s injured?” She turned her attention to the red-haired one giving the orders. “I’ll go anywhere you want, I promise. But he needs a doctor.”
A shadow of concern passed over the freckled and pale skin of his face. He shook his head, but then pulled a radio off of his belt. “We need an ambulance here at the girlfriend’s shop.”
“I’m not Ryan’s girlfriend.” Nikki bristled as she was pushed forward by her escorts in the direction of one of the dark vehicles. She kept her gaze on Josh. Would they really get him medical help?
“Nikki!” Josh cried out. “You don’t have to go with them. You’ve done nothing wrong.” He’d told her that last night, too, and she hadn’t listened. Then it was because she was mad. Now, she just wanted to get him help. Any consequence was worth it.
He was arguing with the agents gathered around him, trying to get to his feet, but then crumpling in pain in a way that broke Nikki’s heart.
“Stop it, Josh.” They were pulling her backwards toward one of the cars. “You need a doctor. It’s going to be okay. Just go get better. I know you’ll find me. Just do what they say, okay?”
She never got to hear his answer. She was pushed into the back seat and the car door closed, blocking out all sound. All she could do was watch. Watch the man she was falling in love with writhe in pain before the tragic backdrop of her shop burning to the ground.
Like what you read?
Read chapter 13 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