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.
“I’M SO SORRY ABOUT YOUR place.” Josh kissed Nikki’s hair and rubbed circles onto her back with his free hand. His injured arm stung as she pressed against his sling, but there was no chance he was going to ask her to move. Feeling her close was better than any medication a doctor could give.
She leaned back to find his gaze. “I can’t make the image of it burning leave my brain, but I’m still here and I have insurance. It’s so good to be with you again. When you were on the ground and not moving, I thought…I thought—” A stifled cry stole her words.
Hooking the back of her neck, he pulled her to him, pressing her forehead against his lips. “Shh. Don’t think about that. We made it through.”
“That’s a sweet sentiment.” Lizzy pushed past him, breaking the intimacy of the moment. “But your trouble is not over. We need to figure out our next move.”
Josh nodded. “Our first move is to get out of here.”
“Leaving so soon?”
Nikki groaned against Josh’s chest, clearly annoyed at yet another uninvited guest. They turned and Josh recognized the red-haired marshal. “Can’t really think of any reason to stay.”
The man held out a hand. “Name’s Perry.”
Josh nodded to his sling. “My handshaking days are on hold for a bit, Perry.”
“Right.” The marshal winced. “Glad to see you on your feet again. You looked pretty banged up when I left the scene.”
Josh shrugged. “I bounce back quick. Thanks for stopping by to check in on me but, as I said, we’re just about to leave.”
“You sure that’s a good idea?” Perry raised an eyebrow.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” Lizzy pursed her lips.
“For starters, her fugitive boyfriend is out there somewhere.”
“He is not her boyfriend.” I am. I hope. “And she’ll be safe with me.”
“I could make problems for you.” Perry looked amused.
“And I could make worse problems for you, Marshal.” Lizzy pointed at him. “You claimed to bring my client here for her protection, which she can accept or refuse at will, but now it feels like you’re trying to detain her. And instead of protecting her, we just walked in on the sheriff attempting to question her without the presence of counsel. I’m sure your superiors would love a lawsuit for infringing on my client’s civil rights.”
Perry took a step back, holding up his hands. “Don’t worry, counselor. I’m not going to stop you. The sheriff wants her more than I do. It’s only because of me that he didn’t walk her out in cuffs earlier. They suspect her of some pretty serious crimes.”
Josh reached out a hand for Nikki to grab. “And she’s innocent of every single one of them.”
Perry raised his eyebrows. “I hear Ryan’s saying he’s innocent, too. Is that why you let him go?”
Josh clenched his teeth. “I didn’t let him go. Short of shooting an unarmed man in the back, I didn’t have any way of stopping him. You may have noticed my arresting arm wasn’t much use at the time. Should I have asked him nicely to handcuff himself? ”
Perry’s nostrils flared with the hint of a dry smile. “I did notice your arm. But even if I hadn’t, Miss Appleton adamantly reminded us of it when she related what happened. Regardless, some of my men think you let him go because you made some kind of deal to pay him back the money she stole from him—the same money the deputies confiscated. And all to stop him from trying to kill her.”
Where did they get their crazy theories? Certainly not from him. And Nikki’s report of the incident couldn’t and wouldn’t have come close to that level of fictional intrigue. “And what do you think?” Josh narrowed his gaze.
He didn’t get an answer at first. But after a minute, the man said, “I looked you up. Turns out I know some of the guys you served with overseas. I talked to them, and they seem to have a pretty high opinion of you.”
“And…” Perry casually stuck his hands in his pockets. “That makes me think you’re not the type of man to stop a bad guy with a bribe.”
“Am I supposed to say thank you?”
“Not at all. You want to leave? There’s the door. But try to remember when you’re out there that the marshals aren’t the enemy here.”
“I’ll do my best.” Josh kept his voice even. This conversation had gone better than he’d expected.
Once the door closed behind the marshal, Josh turned to Nikki. “Honey, I know what I said, but do you want to leave?” Maybe she was better off with the marshals even if Gary was parading around.
“Yes.” She responded like she’d been wanting to say the word for hours, and she didn’t even seem mad that he’d called her honey.
He grasped her hand, gestured to Lizzy with a tilt of his head, and led the way outside. The sooner they were away from the marshals, and his sister, the sooner he could have her in his arms again. Maybe it was because they’d finally been reunited after being ripped away from each other, or maybe it was an aftereffect of escaping the fire, but his skin vibrated with the desire to be closer to her.
Then again, he should keep his hands and words to himself, because nothing had really changed since the moment she’d tried to kiss him Friday morning. Standing in the wreckage of her kitchen, he’d fought against his desire since she was vulnerable and—considering that things had gone from bad to worse—there was no reason to suspect her mind was any clearer now. Especially since she doubted God’s love and forgiveness in her life. Determined not to allow anything to happen that she might regret, Josh pressed down his need and kept his focus on getting them on the road.
After helping Nikki into his truck and shutting her door, he turned to Lizzy. “Did you talk to him?”
She glanced away from his gaze. “Yeah.”
Josh patted his cell phone in his pocket. He’d thought it was lost along with his wallet when he didn’t find them in his jeans, but the nurses had given them to him upon his release. “Think it’ll work?”
Lizzy ran her fingers down the side of her neck. “He knows what he’s doing.”
She’s right. “I want you to floor it on your way there. Not that you don’t always. I’m going to take it slow. Make sure they don’t lose me. When you get to Nikki’s, text me if you see any cars.”
He patted his sister on the shoulder and got behind the wheel.
Once they left downtown behind them, he tried to focus on the rearview mirror, but his gaze kept flickering across to the beautiful woman just a few feet away.
Maybe she doesn’t even feel it anyway. Maybe this desire is one-sided.
“Josh?” Nikki turned to him.
“What?” He frowned at her.
“Can you hold me?”
Josh swallowed. I guess she does feel it. He tried to figure out the right thing to do and decided that refusing to comfort someone in need wasn’t it.
“Always.” His voice cracked with emotion and he pushed the middle console up into the slot between the seats, revealing the small rectangular cushion that served as a third seat. The leather squeaked as she sidled up next to him. Pushing in the plastic latch on his sling, he let it fall off his shoulder.
She stopped. “Is this going to hurt you?”
“Worth it.” He smiled as he wrapped his arm around her.
Laying her head on his chest, she let out a long, shaky breath. “Thanks for coming back for me.” Her breath warmed his neck.
“Well, you did tell me to come find you. How could I refuse an order like that?”
“I was so worried. You were on the ground, not moving, and there was blood all over you. I was afraid you’d never get back up and so I prayed for you. It was the only time I’ve ever talked to God out loud.”
“How did it feel?” He held his breath. She had called out to God because of him?
“Different than I thought it would. I didn’t feel silly or embarrassed or like I was talking to air. After I said the words, I still didn’t know if you would wake up, but I did know somehow that my prayer didn’t go unheard.” Her voice sounded different. Awe-filled.
“Think you’ll do it again?” Josh licked his lips to stop a smile.
“Do you plan on getting hurt again?”
Josh laughed. “If you stay safe, so will I.”
As Josh’s truck got closer to the tree-lined driveway of her little farmhouse, Nikki snuggled closer to his chest, dreaming of the fireplace in her den. “I can’t tell you how ready I am to be home. I just want to put a couple logs in the fireplace and pass out.”
She felt Josh tense next to her and knew something was wrong. “What?” She shifted to give him space.
“You’re not going home.”
“What?” She stared up at him.
“I mean, you are. We’re just not staying.” He grabbed the rearview mirror tilting it down.
“Look in the mirror, but don’t be obvious about it.”
She twisted in her seat, acting like she needed to stretch her muscles, and had a look at the line of headlights behind them. What was she looking for?
“Do you see the lights with the blueish tint about three cars back?”
“They’ve been with us since we left the hotel.”
She gasped, her fists clenching against the seat. “Do you think it’s Ryan?”
“No.” He rested a hand on her back. “I don’t think it’s Gary, either.”
“Then who is it?” She pushed down on the cushions.
“I’m betting the marshals are trying to keep tabs on us, hoping we’ll lead them to Ryan.”
“So, what are we going to do?” Maybe we should have stayed at the hotel. What if getting me out in the open is just what someone wanted? What if they run us off the road? Would Josh’s truck get wrecked, too?
“We’re going to lose them. I made some arrangements before I left the hospital.”
“Won’t they just start following us again when we leave my house?”
“Not if they think we haven’t left.”
Nikki huffed. And here I thought I was going to get a break? She scooted back over to her seat.
“What?” Josh’s arm hung in the air like he was hoping she’d come back.
“Were you ever going to tell me about this plan of yours?”
“I just did.” He groaned as he lowered his arm.
“When it was too late for me to give any input. For goodness sakes, someone has been following us since we left the inn and you never even thought to tell me I’m in danger.”
“You aren’t in danger.” Josh’s voice was thick and firm. “I just didn’t want to scare you.”
“It’s a bit late for that, Josh. I am scared. I’ve been scared since you showed up at my shop Friday morning to tell me there was a burglar in my shop. I’m scared of Ryan. I’m scared of the sheriff. I’m scared that a bad guy’s going to pop out around every corner. I don’t want to be scared that you’re hiding things from me.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
Josh didn’t say anything. She turned to him and saw his jaw harden before he turned his eyes to the road. Her gut clenched. Was she overreacting? He’d done so much for her since the break-in, but this wasn’t the first time he’d kept her out of the loop.
“The only reason you told me about my truck being sabotaged was because you wanted Vaughn to help. If not for that, would I ever have known someone was trying to kill me?” She clamped a hand to her mouth.
No. That wasn’t the reason she’d just lashed out at him. She rubbed her forehead and then wanted to kick herself for igniting the pain from her stitches yet again. She was normally such an even-keeled, calm person, but around Josh, she seemed to go from one extreme to the next. Crazy happy to crazy mad to crazy something else.
The headlights bounced as Josh drove up her driveway, darting up and down on the front of her house. She didn’t want to leave things like this. “You’re not going to say anything?”
Josh sighed. “You’re not mad only because I kept something from you and you’re not scared just because we’re being followed.”
I’m not? “Then why am I scared?”
“This situation is scary, but I’m pretty sure you’re also scared for the same reason I’m scared.”
“And why’s that?”
“The way you feel about me.”
A rock lifted from her chest. He’s not mad. Her breath hitched. “How do you know what I feel about you?”
He looked over at her, his eyes dark and burning. “Because I’m a man. I know what this feels like. I know what… what love feels like.”
Nikki gasped. Love? Was he right? But a girl like her couldn’t find love. She tried to speak, but only bumbling noises and stutters came out.
“Relax.” Josh laughed as he pulled to a stop behind Lizzy’s car. “I’m not going to ask you to admit anything. I just want you to know things like this are always scary, but that doesn’t mean you push people away by picking a fight. I’m scared, too, Nik, but I’m not going anywhere.”
He nodded, eyes glancing at the mirror like he was checking for lights following them in. “I know what it feels like to lose someone and I’m scared I’m going to lose you, too. I’ve had to admit to myself that you could get hurt. I’ll never stop fighting to prevent that, but bad things do happen. No one knows that better than me. And even if I win and you’re safe once again, I may still lose you.”
He turned to her, his eyes drifted down to her lips and back up again. “I’ve never hidden my feelings for you, but your answer to a relationship, and to what I believe about God, has always been ‘No.’ Has that changed?”
Nikki’s face flushed as a wave of heat climbed up her neck. Josh needed an answer. Deserved an answer but, just as she opened her mouth to speak, her throat went dry and fear stole her voice.
The truth was that she didn’t have an answer. Did she have feelings for him? Absolutely. Did she maybe even love him? Yes. But that didn’t change who they were. Josh was a strong, caring man of God, and Nikki wasn’t sure what she believed in. His beliefs were a big part of his life and she accepted that choosing him meant choosing his faith. And while Nikki could choose a loving creator who answered prayers like the one she’d prayed for Josh, she still didn’t think He would ever choose her.
The truck engine idled and Josh sat beside her, staring at her, waiting for something—anything—to happen, but all she could manage was a strained silence.
She opened her mouth to speak, but how could she explain this to him? Her mouth closed. What have I done?
“Don’t worry about it.” Josh’s head fell back against the seat. He’d said she didn’t have to admit anything, and yet, her silence had obviously hurt him. His jaw looked tight and, when he spoke, his voice was distant. “Let’s go inside.”
Josh got out, leaving her alone with all the words she should have said.
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