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 16 | Chapter 18 >>
“I STILL DON’T LIKE THIS.” Josh complained from one end of Koby’s couch.
His best friend plopped down next to him. The girls had already gone to bed, sharing the larger of the two bedrooms in the apartment. “I know, man. If it was Liz we were going to toss into the fire, I’d feel the same way.”
“You know, if you like my sister that much, you should just tell her.”
“Trust me. Those are words she doesn’t want to hear.”
“If you say so.” But he knew what Koby meant. The woman I love doesn’t want to hear about it, either. “Nikki has no idea what she could be getting herself into.”
After Lizzy’s revelation about the missing will, Nikki made it clear that she wanted to go ahead with Koby’s plan to use her as bait no matter what Josh said to dissuade her.
“Maybe not.” Koby put his feet up on the old wooden trunk that served as a coffee table. “But she made a good point. Now that we know a cop is dirty, we have to find Ryan. If the sheriff is involved, he’s only working with the marshals to stay close to the action. How much you want to bet that his plan isn’t to help the feds catch Ryan, but to find a way to kill him before he talks?”
“I understand that—”
Koby held up a hand. “And if the guy dies, you will have no proof of Nikki’s innocence once the sheriff’s department trumps up something to charge her with… which they seem set on doing. You want to save her and I get that. But it seems like finding her ex is the best way to do that.”
Josh’s head dropped to his chest. “I know. But she has stitches in her forehead, bruises on her body, and smoke-filled lungs. What if she gets hurt worse? What if she gets killed?”
“She won’t. We’ll be there.”
“I couldn’t stop Heather from dying.”
“Then don’t trust in yourself.” Koby offered a sympathetic frown. “Trust God.”
He’s right. “You’re right. I will… I do.”
“Good.” Koby reached out and punched his arm. “Now get some rest.”
Josh groaned and clutched his shoulder.
“Oops.” Koby’s eyes widened.
Josh waved him off.
“You sure you don’t want the other bedroom?”
“No. I’ll be good here on the couch.” He wanted to be near the entrance in case they had any uninvited guests.
After Josh heard Koby’s door shut, he laid back on the pillow and rested his good arm over his face to think about the next day’s plan. A plan that had quickly come together after Lizzy’s startling revelation.
“We don’t have any idea where to look for Ryan anyway. Throwing Nikki out onto the street isn’t going to do anything but leave her as a sitting duck for the sheriff,” he’d said.
“Um…” Nikki bit her bottom lip. “I-I know where to find him.”
“You do?” Lizzy frowned.
Nikki turned to Josh. “Back at the fire, right before Ryan drove off. He said ‘Go to the place I always told you to.’”
Josh waved a hand. “I was in and out a few times. What did he mean?”
Nikki turned to include the others. “Back in Pittsburgh, Ryan always said that if he had to disappear, I could find him at the local post office since it was the one thing every town in America had.” She glanced at Josh. “The St. Claire Post Office is just across the circle from my shop.”
Within minutes Koby had designed the plan. Nikki would drive to the destination alone while Koby and Josh kept her in their line of sight from a distance. The three of them would be in constant communication with ear mics, wirelessly connected to Josh’s burner phones. Nikki would also pocket a voice recorder that Lizzy had on hand for depositions so that anything Ryan told her would be on record and could be used later as evidence.
Josh let out a breath, squeezing together the skin on his forehead. He didn’t feel good about this. Any of this. But it was the best plan they had.
The outcome was in God’s hands. Without speaking, he started to pray but stopped when he heard the soft whoosh of an opening door. He tensed but didn’t move, listening for more information. As a former soldier, he could tell without looking that the sound came from down the hall. The bedrooms. Cracking his eyes open under his forearm, he saw a figure inch through the room. The frame was small. Is it Lizzy?
The visitor slowed down even more when she trespassed behind the couch where Josh feigned sleep. Then, she made her escape through the door down to the shop. As if he wouldn’t follow her.
Sadness churned in his belly when he discovered Nikki rummaging through the small desk in Koby’s little office. Her bag was slung across her back. She was up to something after all, but whatever her motive for sneaking out, he guessed it wasn’t malicious.
Josh flipped on the lights. “Looking for something?”
She whirled around with a guilty face, then dropped the bag to the floor as she fell against the edge of the desk in a kind of defeat. “Yeah.” She pulled back the dark hood of her sweatshirt. “Some car keys so that I can go.”
“Where are you going?”
“To the post office to wait for Ryan.” Her eyes were locked on the floor.
Pain spread across his chest. Did that man still have a hold on her? “Planning to run away with him?”
“No, Josh.” She pressed on her temples. “I was going to find out what he knows.”
It was like she saw the train coming and was about to jump on the tracks anyway. Didn’t she know what that would do to him? He took a step toward her. “And you just couldn’t wait a few hours for us to follow you? So you wouldn’t be alone?” His voice cracked.
Nikki folded her arms over her chest. “No. I just couldn’t let anyone else risk their lives for me. You were just in the hospital. Your sister had to leave her job in the city and is being forced to spend time with a man that she clearly has a complicated relationship with. And your best friend has to put us all up in his apartment. Look at what I’ve done.”
Josh raised his hands and his voice. “That’s what people do when they care, Nikki. They care about me.” And I care about you.
“That doesn’t explain why you’re helping me.” Her voice rose, too. “You’ve pulled me out of a wrecked car and a burning building and even left your job. I don’t get it. We can’t even get through the day without fighting about something, but you’re still here. I’m nothing like a girl you should be with and sometimes, I think I drive you crazy. So, why are you doing all this? I don’t get it.”
“You don’t get it?” Josh drove his fingers into his scalp and pulled at his hair. “Fine. You want to know why I’m doing this?”
“Yes.” She chopped at the air with her fists. “I want to know.”
“I’ll show you.” In two steps, he crossed the small cubicle and pulled her into his chest. Cupping her face, he let his lips crash into hers.
She melded into him, no longer holding herself but holding him. He let the kiss go deeper, pushing his fingers into her hair as she clutched the back of his shirt with her small fists.
For an instant, his mind went back to that moment in the bakery when her eyes and her mouth had silently communicated that she’d wanted to do this very thing. Refusing to give her what she wanted had been like telling part of himself not to live. A thousand times since then, he’d wondered what it would have been like to surrender, and right now, in this moment, he found that it was better than he ever imagined.
The sound of footsteps on the apartment stairs fractured the intimacy of the moment, and he reluctantly put distance between them.
A moment later, Koby and Lizzy appeared in the doorway. “You guys okay?” Lizzy rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “We heard yelling.”
“We’re fine.” They couldn’t have known for sure what had been happening, but Nikki’s face was flushed and she was breathless. What was she thinking?
“Yeah,” Nikki echoed. “I’m going back to sleep.” With that, she fled the office with her bag, leaving him alone to sort out the thoughts now swirling in his mind.
Lizzy turned to him, brow furrowed. But what could he tell her? He was spinning. Totally out of control. Had he just made a terrible mistake? Did his rashness just drive her away?
“I’m going back to bed, too.” He pushed past his smirking friend and frowning sister.
Sleep was the one thing Nikki Appleton needed, and the one thing she just couldn’t do. She feigned sleep when Lizzy reentered the room, not wanting to talk about what had happened. She couldn’t flip over to look at the digital alarm clock she remembered sitting on a dresser next to her bed, but she judged she only had a couple hours to sleep. Would she get even a few winks with thoughts of Josh rattling in her brain?
She couldn’t wait to see his face again but dreaded it all the same. Every second of that intimate moment would hold the title of the best feeling she’d ever had, but it had just ruined everything. Before his kiss, she could’ve walked away. Once the dust settled and her would-be-killer was removed from the picture, she could have gone back to her ordinary life and Josh could have gone back to being the cute cop who came in every morning for a coffee and a doughnut.
But not now. Not after that. Together, their lips had shattered the possibility of a platonic, comfortable friendship. He wasn’t her boyfriend now. Wasn’t her anything. But they were definitely something. Something… serious.
Maybe she was overreacting. Maybe he hadn’t even liked it. After all, Josh had been in love before. In real love. Maybe their kiss had been a disappointment. Maybe it hadn’t been anything like what he’d had with his wife. Maybe that was the best outcome she could hope for. If he was the one to end things, then she wouldn’t have to. But then again, maybe she didn’t have to end things. What if I can find a way to have a relationship with God, like he does? Shame crept up her spine at the memory of how many bad decisions she’d made in her life. Why would God ever want a relationship with me?
She couldn’t wrestle this through now. Nikki rolled onto her back and finally drifted off to sleep with tangled dreams of their sweet kiss.
A light knock at the door startled her awake. “Girls?” Josh’s voice came softly before the handle turned and the door opened.
Nikki made quick work of running her hands through her tousled hair as she sat up. “Is everything alright?” Her heart pounded as she dared to look into his eyes. Was he planning on having the let’s-just-be-friends conversation with her later today?
“Yeah.” In the dim light from the hall, his steady gaze didn’t reveal his feelings, almost as if his guard was up. “We just need to get moving soon.”
“What time is it?” Lizzy complained from under the blanket.
Lizzy put her pillow over her face and groaned into the stuffing.
Josh walked over and pulled it away. “I know it’s early, but we don’t know how things are going to go down today. The post office may be closed, but Bieler’s and the church are right across the street. I don’t want folks arriving at the early service to get pulled into something dangerous.”
“But you don’t even know that he’ll be there.” Lizzy pushed herself up to a sitting position.
“He’ll be there.” Josh glanced at Nikki. “If he told you to go there, then chances are he’s already watching the place somehow.”
“Fine.” Lizzy stretched the one syllable of the word into eight. “We’ll be out in a second.”
Once Josh shut the door, Nikki swung her feet out of bed and rummaged in her bag for a clean pair of jeans. A few minutes later, she smoothed her tangled hair into a ponytail. “Hey, Lizzy?”
“Do you…” She pressed her knuckles against her lips. “Do you believe in God the way that Josh does?”
Her lawyer paused in buttoning up a flannel shirt and looked at her like it was a more difficult question than she had realized. “Faith has always been a lot easier for Josh than it has been for me but, yes. Yes, I do.”
Nikki drew in a deep breath. “I can understand how God could love Josh. How could he not? He’s a cop. He was a soldier. I mean, just look at everything he’s done for me without even thinking about it. But how can God love other people? Other people who are not so good.”
Lizzy narrowed her eyes, as if she’d had an epiphany. “Is that what’s keeping you from my brother? You don’t think you can share his faith?”
“I just don’t see how I can fit into something like that.”
“Do you want to fit into it?”
“I-I don’t know.” Yes.
Lizzy sat down on the edge of the mattress as she tied her tennis shoes. “I can’t tell you what to decide about God. You have to make that choice on your own, but if what’s holding you back is doubt that God can love you, then you have no need to worry. God is love.”
Nikki was about to ask another question but Koby’s booming voice filled the house. “Put your makeup brushes down and let’s go already.”
Lizzy rolled her eyes and yelled back. “We’re coming!”
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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