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 WOKE WITH A START, jolting upright and triggering a fresh wave of pain in the process as he struggled to breathe. He was in a hospital bed, his right arm pulled tight against his chest by a sling, and he had a dull ache across his shoulder. Lizzy was in a chair next to him.
“How long have I been here?” The picture of the men dragging Nikki away was on a loop in his mind, playing over and over.
“A few hours.” Lizzy had traded her lawyer suit for boots, jeans, and a T-shirt, making her look like the country girl she tried to pretend she wasn’t. “It’s just after 10:00.”
“Where is she?” He pushed the blankets back.
“They’re holding her at a hotel in town. The marshals have set up a headquarters there.”
“Why are they holding her?” He froze.
“They’re playing it off like it’s for her protection, in case Ryan comes after her, but I think they suspect she knows something.”
“Why aren’t you with her? You’re her lawyer.”
His accusation earned him a glare. “I was there, but I left to come check on you. She insisted. They know they can’t ask her anything more until I get back, and she knows all she has to do is call if she wants to leave.” She patted the front pocket of her jeans where he spied the outline of her phone.
“Then you should go get her out. She’s not safe there.” He looked over his body and spotted bandages on his hands and side.
“I advised her to stay with them to keep her safe. She told me your suspicions about the sheriff’s department somehow being involved. And about the brakes, the blocked doors at the fire, and the missing key. If you’re right, the federal marshal’s custody is the safest place for her. They may have their suspicions, but surely, their presence alone will keep someone from trying to kill her… again. If she had left and gone home, who knows what would have happened. I know you care about her. I wouldn’t be here right now if I thought she was in danger. I promise, she’s fine.”
Josh sighed. Lizzy was right. It was unfair of him to assume that she wouldn’t be doing everything she could.
“You, on the other hand?” Lizzy raised an eyebrow. “Are not fine. You passed out from pain at the doughnut shop. Your shoulder was dislocated and the doctors had to stitch you up in about six places where glass sliced you open.”
“I’m fine. I just need to get out of here.” He smacked his hand on the bed.
Lizzy rolled her eyes. “I’d argue if I thought it would do any good.” She rose from her chair. “I’ll go clear it with the doctors.”
A couple minutes after Lizzy disappeared, another guest poked his head in the door. “Vaughn?” Josh was surprised to see the other deputy. How did he know Josh was at the hospital?
“Hey.” Vaughn scratched at his throat. “I came to see how you were holding up.”
“I’ve been better, but, then again, I’ve been worse.” Josh laughed. “Right now, I’m just anxious to get out of here. My sister’s out there arranging it with the doctors.”
“I get that.” Vaughn’s eyes roamed the room, stopping at the vinyl chair by the bed. He walked over and grabbed the smoky remnants that were Josh clothes. “I’d be feeling the same way. But if you’re trying to get out to see Nikki and the marshals, just know that you’re going to run into some resistance there.”
Josh swung his feet over the mattress. “How would you know that?”
Vaughn handed Josh the clothes. “I got called in with the fire department. The sheriff too. When I got to the scene, Gary was talking to a US Marshal. They brought us in to assist with their fugitive since we know the area. I don’t think he’ll be too happy if you show up at their hotel.”
Josh shuddered. He didn’t like the idea of Gary being anywhere near Nikki. Ever since Beverly mentioned that she might have forgotten her key at the sheriff’s department, he’d had a growing suspicion that someone there was involved.
It was hard to believe that he was thinking this way but, given how Gary was withholding information and seemed to be Nikki’s biggest accuser, Josh wondered if maybe he was the person behind all of this. And it absolutely made him doubt Lizzy’s assertion of her safety with the marshals.
Josh pulled the sling off his arm and grabbed his shirt. “Well, knowing that makes me want to get out of here a lot faster.”
Vaughn moved to help him slide on his shirt. “I know that the chief has been a little out of sorts on this one and acting a little strange lately, but he’s your boss, man.”
Josh groaned as he pushed his bad arm through the sleeve. “You said yourself that it looks like someone is framing her. And last night, I came upon some information that leads me to think that someone at our department got one of the keys to Nikki’s shop.”
Vaughn crinkled his brow. “What are you talking about?”
“Let’s just say, I’m not just looking at criminals anymore.”
Vaughn rubbed his chin. “Okay, but everything seems to be pointing to Ryan.”
Josh knew Vaughn was probably right, but he just couldn’t shake the feeling that the danger lay closer to home. Plus, it was Ryan who had saved them a few hours ago.
Vaughn kept talking. “And speaking of Ryan, I have to ask you something. Based on the story I overheard from the marshals, Ryan fled the scene when they arrived and you were holding a gun. He’s a murderer on the run from the cops. I’m not trying to be judgmental, but if you had a gun, why didn’t you shoot him?”
Josh tilted his head and lifted an eyebrow. Yeah, Ryan was a terrible person, and a criminal, but that didn’t change the law. “He wasn’t armed, and he had just saved us from burning to death. You know I couldn’t just shoot him like that.”
Vaughn folded his arms. “I get that. I saw the storefront window he crashed through. But what if you only think he saved you? What if he was the one that locked you in there?”
Josh pulled on his jeans. “And then let us out? Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know.” Vaughn shrugged. “I just know—and so should you—that criminals can’t be trusted. But hopefully, they find him soon and we can get this all cleared up.”
“Do the marshals have any leads on that?” Josh stood to his feet and scanned the floor for his shoes.
“Not a one.” Vaughn pushed out a breath. “They came close a couple times last night, but he’s smart and quick and so, for the moment, he’s gone.”
Josh pulled his dirty sneakers from under the chair and then sank down onto the seat. What had he done? Or more accurately, what had he not done? He could’ve stopped Ryan last night. He could’ve maybe put an end to all this mess. He could’ve put him back behind bars—made sure there was one less threat to Nikki loose in the world—but he hadn’t. Josh remembered Ryan promising to see her again and shuddered.
Vaughn rested a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, let’s not worry about that now. I’m sure the marshals will pick up the trail again soon. Oh, yeah—” Vaughn snapped his fingers like he had just remembered something. “I almost forgot.”
He reached around, pulling something from under the back of his shirt. When he brought his hand forward, Josh’s confiscated snub-nose thirty-eight was in his palm.
Josh fixed his gaze on his colleague. “How did you get my gun?”
“I, uh… worked some magic with the marshals.” Vaughn smiled.
Josh took the pistol into his hand, warming the cool metal with his body heat. He was happy to have it back. Happy to feel that he could keep Nikki a little safer once he reached her side again. If only he could figure out what was bugging him about this evening. Something Ryan had said…
“I guess I better get going then.” Vaughn headed towards the door.
He’s sure in a hurry. Why did Vaughn care so much that Ryan was captured? “Hey, wait.” Josh held out a hand.
“You worked as a detective up in Pittsburgh before coming down to St. Claire, didn’t you?”
Vaughn swallowed. “Yeah.”
“Could you do me a favor? I was a little groggy from pain, but Ryan said something about how he’d been framed for a murder there. I know he’s probably full of it, but do you still have anyone up there in the police department that could look over the case and let us know if anything seemed weird?”
Vaughn rocked on his feet. Did he know more than he was letting on?
“Sure.” He nodded and then pushed his way into the hall. As soon as he was gone, Josh reached for the bedside phone.
Nikki turned the heat on the thermostat up as far as it would go, but still, she shivered within the blanket she’d wrapped herself in before collapsing in the little chair of her hotel room. She hated being here. She hated all the marshals’ questions and being led around like a child. And she hated knowing they were waiting just outside her door. They hadn’t given her a moment’s peace since they had pulled her away from Josh lying helpless on the ground. And—oh, yeah—my shop is gone.
Rubbing her face, Nikki tried to push the image of the burning ruins from her mind. She had insurance so she could rebuild, but what would she do in the meantime? And what about Andy? Had the job she’d promised him just gone up in smoke, too?
Her hands were clammy even though she was freezing, and when she accidentally bumped the stitches in her forehead, it sent a sharp stab of pain from one ear to the other.
She groaned, then scanned the room until spotting the bottle on the night stand. Elizabeth had gotten some ibuprofen from the front desk. Nikki wasn’t sure exactly what Josh’s sister thought of her but, in Nikki’s mind, the lawyer was her hero. Nikki didn’t even know how she’d found her, but Elizabeth had showed up just after the marshals had driven her to the only place a person visiting St. Claire could stay: the quaint little inn just on the edge of town.
Elizabeth had made it clear that no one was going to ask Nikki any questions without her being present and that Nikki had every right to leave the minute she decided she wanted too. When Nikki heard that, she’d wanted to get in the lawyer’s little sports car and chase the sunrise out of town, but Elizabeth advised her against it. “You have to remember that—if my brother’s right—someone is trying to kill you. You may not like them, but the marshals will keep you safe even if they think you’re hiding something. They’re not going to risk anything happening to you. And no one in the sheriff’s department will make a move if the marshals are guarding you.”
If my brother’s right… Nikki sighed remembering her words. It was clear that Elizabeth didn’t trust her and that everything she was doing to help was only the extension of her love for her brother.
Nikki couldn’t believe how much Elizabeth loved her brother. She had left her job and driven all the way down to spend the night helping someone she suspected might be a criminal. No one has ever loved me that much.
It pricked a little that her lawyer doubted her, but could she really blame her? Nikki knew she looked guilty, and it made sense for them to think that she was hiding something. And, while she knew nothing about the drugs or the money, she did have a way to find Ryan. But what if Ryan was telling the truth about someone close to her trying to kill her? If she sent the marshals his way, would she ever find out who?
She gingerly got out of her chair and grabbed her pills. In the bathroom, she threw a couple of the reddish circles in her mouth, and then making a cup with her hand under the faucet, she washed them down, nearly choking when three sharp knocks sounded at her door.
Nikki’s heart leapt. It was probably just the agents stationed outside, but what if it was Josh? Elizabeth had left for the hospital a while ago to check on Josh and, before she’d left, she told Nikki that her brother would probably demand to be released as soon as his eyes were open. She knew he really needed to rest after everything he’d done for her, but that didn’t change how much better she’d feel once he was back by her side.
Shaking the water off her hands, she hustled to her door and swung it open.
It wasn’t Josh. It was the Sheriff. And Charlie. Nikki’s heart jumped in her chest.
The German shepherd didn’t wait for an invitation, but just pushed his way past her legs into the interior of the room.
“You’ll have to excuse him. No manners.” The sheriff’s words sounded like an apology, and yet the man followed the dog’s lead and made his way in as well, not giving Nikki a second to object. She glanced out in the hall. The marshals stood a few doors away, one of them on their phone while the other took notes. Should she call for help? It wasn’t like they would do anything. Chances were they knew he was here. They had no reason to doubt his honesty and, as far she could tell, they were letting him help out with their investigation.
Anxiety fluttered in her chest. Why was he here? What did he want from her? She left the door to her room open.
“What are you doing here?” She stepped forward, but still kept a clear path to the door.
“Just wanted to have a chat.” He sat down in her blanket-draped chair, fixing his eyes on her.
“I-I don’t want to talk to you without my lawyer.”
Charlie came up beside her and nudged the fingers hanging at her side. She flinched. She’d never felt anything but safe around the hound, but dogs listened to their humans when it came down to it. What would his big, sharp teeth feel like if he was given the order to attack?
“Well then, I guess if you don’t want to talk, you’re just going to have to listen.”
Nikki clenched her teeth at his harsh tone. “To what? A threat?”
“If that’s the case, it looks like I got here right in time.”
The familiar voice sent a wave of pleasure and peace over Nikki.
She turned to find him standing in the doorway. He was dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans now smudged black and torn in places. Even with his injured shoulder cradled in a sling, he was still ominous and imposing.
Elizabeth peeked around his bulk. “Sheriff, Sheriff, Sheriff.” She scolded, letting some of her country accent bleed into her words. “You aren’t trying to interrogate my client without me, are you?”
“Just checking that she was alright.” Nikki turned in time to see the sheriff shake his head.
“She is.” Josh brushed against her side. “And I can take over from here. As it happens, we’re about to leave.”
“This is an interesting vacation you’re having.” The sheriff smirked. “From what I hear, you’ve been spending it at crime scenes that are off limits to civilians.”
Josh’s jaw clenched. “If you want to take some kind of disciplinary action, sir, that’s your prerogative.”
“Not just yet I don’t think.” The older man made his way to the door, stopping nose to nose with Josh. “But, mark my words, there is something funny going on around here, and I suspect it’s now found its way into my own department.”
“Funny.” Josh raised his chin. “I was thinking the same thing.”
“The truth always comes out in the end.” Gary pointed a finger in his face.
Josh leaned in even closer. “I intend to see that it does.”
The deputy’s superior narrowed his gaze like he was considering something and then exited, snapping at Charlie to follow.
Nikki let out a breath like she’d been holding it for a thousand years, and then threw herself at Josh’s chest.
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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