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.
<< Chapter 15 | Chapter 17 >>
Glazed Suspicion by Allison Pearl
JOSH MOVED SIDEWAYS, KEEPING HIS hands out to help the girls over the tree roots and bushes, trying to step as quietly as possible. The movement killed his shoulder but he’d suck it up. He’d left his sling at the farm. I need both my arms tonight.
Lizzy tugged him toward her. “Do you think they saw us leave the house?”
“No,” Josh whispered. “But if you keep talking, they’ll find us before we even get off the property.”
Lizzy didn’t reply and Josh didn’t need the sun to come out to know that she was glaring at him. His sister had been acting nervous and fidgety before they snuck out of Nikki’s back door. He hoped it was because she was worried about the marshals and not about seeing Koby again. That was a variable he didn’t need. His sister and his best friend’s relationship had always been volatile, and the last thing he needed was them screaming at each other while he was trying to catch a fugitive, stop a killer, and reveal the identity of a dirty cop.
All to save the woman he loved. Although, as far as Nikki was concerned, he’d be happy to take screaming over the silent treatment she’d given him since their conversation in the truck. He’d tried to capture her gaze when she and Lizzy had come downstairs with her packed bag, but she’d avoided him. He’d give anything to have those blue oceans pointing at him once again, even in anger.
Lizzy let out a puff of breath. He sensed she was ready for this hike to be over. They had been at it for about twenty minutes but there was no other way. They had to be out of earshot. Josh looked ahead and tried to figure how long it would take to get to the rendezvous point at this pace.
After about five more minute of slinking through forest, Josh heard the soft babbling of the creek and knew they were there. He helped the girls over the water and then whistled low, making a noise that would sound like an animal to anyone else except the one person who would know better. Josh stopped, holding out a hand to keep the girls from going forward. Holding his breath, he listened and, after a couple of seconds of nothing, a copycat of his own call was returned.
“He’s here. Let’s go.” His muscles relaxed and he raised his voice to its normal volume.
They progressed forward a bit when a dark figure seemed to appear from nowhere. Someone gasped behind him in fear. “It’s okay. It’s just—”
“Well, hey there, folks.” Koby Knightly’s twangy voice carried in the slight breeze. “Anybody need a ride?”
Josh grinned in spite of himself. “You have no idea, man. Where are the vehicles?”
“Just ahead where the ground’s flatter.”
“Good thinking.” Josh turned to Nikki’s outline just visible in the moonlight. “This is Koby, but this isn’t really the place for any more introduction than that. Let’s keep moving.”
The group traversed about another half mile, following Koby’s lead until they came to a dirt path. Koby flipped on a flashlight and illuminated the trail that continued to wind through the woods. Parked on it were two four-wheelers.
“You have to be kidding me.” Lizzy groaned. “We’re leaving on those.”
Koby’s answer was to climb on one, then glance back with a grin. “Don’t act like this is your first time, Liz. This trail leads directly to the back of my auto shop. We’ll get out of here and won’t even have to use a main road. We’ll be invisible.” He patted the seat behind him. “Hop on, Liz. I’m sure you remember how it’s done.”
His sister’s hands went to her hips and her jaw dropped. Great. Here comes the screaming.
“I’ll ride with you if you don’t mind.” Nikki spoke up.
Why the offer? To avoid riding with her arms wrapped around his waist? Or did she also sense a fight coming? In the end, it was best not to object.
Koby hesitated a moment, but then nodded. “Lady’s choice.”
Nikki didn’t wait for Josh’s permission, but shifted her bag farther behind her back and climbed on the ATV, settling in behind his best friend since Sunday school.
Jealousy flared at the sight of the woman he loved holding onto another man, but Josh swallowed it down as Koby’s engine roared to life. At this distance though, it would sound like nothing more than a gentle hum to the marshals stationed at Nikki’s house. If they heard it at all.
“Come on.” Lizzy put a hand on his healthy shoulder. “Let’s go.”
He nodded, and less than a minute later, they followed Koby down the trail.
Josh kept the other four-wheeler’s tires in view as they rumbled through the woods over and down hills. He tried to block out the pain reverberating up his arm. He should’ve had Lizzy drive but he had already asked too much of her. She was absolutely silent behind him. Maybe getting Koby involved was a bad idea. The last thing he wanted was to cause his sister pain, but whoever he brought into the investigation could end up having both his sister and Nikki’s lives in their hands. Regardless of what had happened between Koby and Lizzy in the past, he knew his best friend would always care about her. But still…
Josh swiveled to speak over his shoulder. “I’m sorry I had to get him involved with this.”
“I’m a big girl. It was a long time ago.” She squeezed his waist a little tighter.
“It’s just that I know him. He’ll protect you guys if I can’t. You may not trust him—”
“I do trust him. I trust him with my life. Just not my heart.”
Nikki blinked away the wind-caused tears as they shot out of the tree line and Koby’s auto shop came into view. Nikki was surprised at how charming it looked. Garages were usually boxy and lacked feminine charm, but somehow, this one seemed both homey and honest. There were four large doors for cars and trucks to enter, but the roof on the building was slanted and shingled and Nikki was certain it covered a second story. It was dark out but there were a couple lampposts glowing from the two corners of the structure, allowing the glimpse of cobalt siding and white trim. One of the doors opened as she and her driver approached. Koby must have triggered it somehow. Maybe with one of those openers people usually clipped to the visor in their car.
They came to a stop next to a row of tall, rolling tool chests. When the engine died, Nikki pushed herself off the vehicle with a groan. Her thighs and hips ached a little from the unexpectedly bumpy ride. It had been her first time on an ATV and she actually hoped that next time she had an encounter with one, she might get to be behind the handle bars.
Letting her bag drop to the ground, she rolled her neck and stretched the kinks out of her arms as Josh and Lizzy pulled in behind them. Nikki turned to avoid looking at Josh and instead caught sight of her truck. She gasped, a hand flying to her mouth. One whole side was smashed in like a dented soup can.
She registered that Koby must have been the friend Josh had inspect it and moved closer.
“You okay?” Josh’s voice came from behind her.
“I just can’t believe I was in there.”
“When it happened, I couldn’t believe it either. It was rough watching you get hit the dirt and roll into the ditch knowing there was nothing I could do to stop it. You were barely moving when I pulled you out. It’s a miracle you weren’t hurt worse.”
She turned to face him, then shocked herself by wrapping her arms around his neck. “Thank you for saving me.” She quickly let him go, walking away so that he wouldn’t see the tears forming in her eyes as she retrieved her bag.
“I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I’m hungry. I worked up an appetite getting these things moved out into the woods one at a time. I threw some chili in the slow cooker upstairs this morning and it should still be warm. I suggest we head upstairs, eat, and then get some rest before the sun comes up.”
Koby closed the garage door and led the group to a narrow staircase next to an open office with papers scattered over the desk. Their climb ended in a sparsely decorated apartment. A tantalizing smell drew them to the small table in the kitchen area. Nikki clutched her stomach as it grumbled. Dropping her bag on the floor, she accepted a bowl of chili and a dinner roll. She hadn’t eaten since lunch at Bieler’s and was ravenous. It was nice to have someone else doing the cooking but she missed burying her hands in dough and creating elaborate glazed drizzles that tasted as sweet as they looked.
Lizzy’s spoon scraped the bottom of her empty bowl. “When do you think they’ll notice we’re gone?”
Josh glanced down at his watch. “Well, it’s 3:00 now so I’d guess in about two and a half hours. But I doubt they’ll be able to figure out where we’ve gone.”
“How hard do you think they’ll look?” Koby flicked a bread crumb off the table.
“Hard to say, but I don’t think they’ll waste too many resources on us. They have a fugitive on the loose out there after all. I’m not taking any chances, though, so everyone keep your eyes open.”
“What’s the plan?” Nikki set her bowl down on what looked like a handmade wooden table. “I mean, why are we doing all this? Why did we come here?”
The answer she got was the ringing of a cell phone.
Lizzy jumped. “I think that’s me.” She patted down her jacket and jeans until she found the device, then answered with a soft “Hello,” before leaving the room.
Nikki watched a longing look pass over Koby’s face as Lizzy left. Things might be done between those two, but they obviously weren’t over. He turned back to Josh. “Won’t the marshals just track her phone and find us here?”
“I keep a stash of burners in my truck. I gave her one before we got to the hotel.”
Burner phones? “You keep burner phones in your truck?”
Josh grabbed the back of his neck. “After I dropped my phone in my coffee for the third time, while on patrol, I decided to have a back-up plan.”
Koby chuckled. “He’s like a boy scout. Always prepared.”
Josh rolled his eyes. “Anyway, my plan centers on Ryan. I think finding him is the first step.”
Nikki wrung her hands together. “Why? I thought you believed a cop is behind all this.”
“I do. But finding Ryan is a win-win. If he’s the one trying to frame and kill you, presumably so the case dies with you, then catching him means stopping his plan. But if he was telling you the truth last night, he can tell us who’s behind it all.
She started tapping her leg. “He’s a great liar. You can’t trust him.”
Josh grimaced as he rubbed his sore shoulder. “I’m not going to trust him. I’m going to use him. Well, provided we can sniff him out.”
“Well… I can think of one sure-fire way.” Koby held up his pointer finger.
“And what’s that?” Josh wrinkled his nose.
“You want a fish, you put a worm on the hook. The way I see it, we’ve got our own bait right here.” The mechanic motioned to Nikki.
“Not a chance.” Josh growled. “I’m not dangling her out there like a prize. She could get hurt or killed.”
“Maybe Koby’s right.” Nikki leaned her elbows on the table. “If finding him will make this all end faster, then I think we should do all we can.”
“It’s not happening. End of story. I’m not leaving you exposed when Ryan may be the one behind all this.” His hand slashed down like he was a martial artist splitting a board.
“I’m not so sure he is.” Lizzy’s voice broke up the argument.
Nikki swiveled to face her. “Why not?”
“That was one of my people in the city. I tracked down the will Nikki said her aunt made at the probate court where it would’ve been filed. There was a record of it in the system, but when she tried to locate the hard copy, it was gone.”
Gone? Nikki gasped.
“Meaning, we have absolutely no proof that your aunt left you any money.” Lizzy frowned at her, then turned to her brother. “An incarcerated criminal couldn’t steal from a government office… but a cop could.”
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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