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 WATCHED NIKKI WALK DOWN the sidewalk to the post office with a heavy heart. Things had changed between them. She was avoiding him again. Only speaking to him when she had to. Watching her walk away now was a blow and he couldn’t shake the regret that they didn’t have time to sort out their personal feelings.
The packed bag over her shoulder was just a prop designed to make Ryan think she planned to run away with him. But it brought back to his mind their encounter a few hours before when she had tried to run. What if he hadn’t caught her? Who knew where she would be right now. He shuddered at the thought and then shook his head, forcing himself to focus.
“You okay?” He said out loud, knowing she could hear him, then added the warning. “Don’t say anything. Just nod.”
Her head bobbed up and down.
“Remember the signal.” Josh brushed his hand over his mouth to conceal his moving lips. “If you want out or if something doesn’t seem right or if you get scared, just mention that you’re cold and we’ll get you out of there.”
Another nearly imperceptible nod.
The street was quiet. Bieler’s was open but he saw only a few people eating breakfast at the counter. It was still too early for church people. Where would Ryan hide in the daylight? Something was off. Coming here would be a risk for him. After all, Ryan was a fugitive and the courthouse and sheriff’s department was just a hop, skip, and a jump away. He could hide behind the post office until it opened, but he had no way of knowing that Nikki would show up that early.
Anxiety crawled up his spine as he watched Nikki approach the building.
“How is he watching?” Koby’s voice was scratchy in his ear.
What if… “Maybe he’s not watching you. Maybe he left you something to find. Look around and see if there is anything out of the ordinary. Maybe his plan isn’t to show up, but to leave something that would tell you where to find him.”
Trying to look casual, she started inspecting her surroundings. She checked the side of the small wooden staircase, leaning over like she dropped something. Then she made like she was inspecting the boxwoods as she searched the little garden lining the front of the building.
“What about the mailbox?” Koby’s voice broke in.
She moved to the blue box on the sidewalk. After feeling around the back, she stood in front of it, her feet coming down on the street. She opened the slot for a moment, then crouched in front and put one hand on her shoe like it had come untied while the other hand felt under the box.
“Wait, I found—”
A three-tone chime pierced Josh’s ear. “What is that?” He winced at the noise.
“It’s a phone. It was taped under the mailbox.” Nikki stood and laid her bag down at her feet as she inspected the device.
Josh saw a black car back out of a space in Bieler’s parking lot and turn toward the exit onto the street.
“It’s a text.” Nikki was still looking down at the mystery phone. “I think it’s from Ryan. It says ‘I’m at the roller rink.’ ”
The engine grew louder as the car shot out of the lot, flying towards the post office.
Nikki was still standing in the street. Right in the path of the speeding car.
A ringing sound filled the speaker. “I’m getting a call. It’s got to be him. I’m taking it.” Nikki went silent as she pulled the mic from her ear, replacing it with the phone.
“Don’t—” Josh commanded, but it was too late. Nikki was already distracted, absorbed in the call.
Abandoning his spot in the shadows, Josh took off down the sidewalk. “Get out of the way!” He yelled as he charged towards her.
She spun at the sound of his voice. Her mouth dropped open when she saw the car and the phone fell from her ear, clattering onto the asphalt.
Josh launched off his feet, praying that God would carry him and his girl to safety.
She cried out as he tackled her. Then, they were on the ground, rolling across the concrete and into the grass. In mid-rotation, Josh glanced up and saw that while the car missed his girl, the mailbox wasn’t going to be so lucky. With a loud pop, the blue box broke away from the sidewalk and flew straight up in the air.
He pushed Nikki down, shielding her with his body as he covered his head, praying it didn’t come down on them. His ear drums quaked and complained when a loud crack struck like thunder but no pain followed it.
He opened his eyes and spotted the dented and mangled mail box on the sidewalk just a few feet away. Untangling himself from Nikki, he jumped to his feet to try and glean any useful information from the car, but it was already speeding away.
Bringing his hands to his ear, he felt for his wireless mic but it was gone, probably lost somewhere on the road, in the grass, or back down the street where he’d been hiding. He pulled the phone from his front jeans pocket and checked the screen. The line to Koby was still open. His friend was calling his name.
“Koby, it’s me.”
“Are you okay? I’m coming.” His truck flew out of the church parking lot where he’d been parked.
“No. Follow that car.”
“Got it.” The line went dead. Koby’s tires squealed and he took a sharp turn in pursuit of the black sedan.
A car similar to the one that had contributed to Nikki’s accident. Hopefully, Koby would get answers. In the meantime, Josh turned to where he had left Nikki. On hands and knees, she struggled to get up and wobbled like she might fall over.
“Easy.” Josh knelt at her side. With one hand settled on her back and another on her arm, he steadied her. “Don’t try and stand. Just sit down so I can take a look at you.”
She put up a bit of a fight, feeling around for the phone, but then she rested her head on her arms. He eyed the bag Nikki had been carrying that was now flattened on the street. He shuddered. Things could be a lot worse.
“How do you feel?” Josh twisted around to make sure no one was coming from behind, and winced as the movement stretched the muscles around his already-injured shoulder. “Can you tell me if you think anything is broken?”
She panted, struggling to breathe.
“I hit you hard. I’m so sorry, but it’s going to take a minute to be able to breathe fully. Just take a minute and keep calm.” He prayed that those words were true and that her ribs hadn’t gone from bruised to broken. Just like he hoped the new pain in his shoulder wasn’t a sign of new damage. But better sore than dead.
“Who was that?” Her voice was hoarse.
“I’m not sure.” Josh wiped a hand across her forehead to move her hair out of her eyes. “Could have been Ryan, I guess. After all, he’s the one who knew you would be here.”
“But he texted me where he was and then called. Or at least, I think he called. No one answered when I said hello. ”
“Maybe he was trying distract you. I honestly don’t know, but we’re going to figure it out.” He wanted to reach out and smooth the rest of her silky hair but he held back. She’d been avoiding him. He couldn’t risk causing her more pain.
“What happens now?”
“I don’t—” At the sound of another vehicle, Josh turned. A marshal’s SUV barreled around the exit of the roundabout onto their street. An inexplicable feeling of relief washed over his body. “I guess now we deal with them.”
The SUV pulled up to the curb and the front door swung open. Perry, the US marshal, stepped out. He looked furious.
Nikki glanced around Josh at the disgruntled marshal. Even if she would rather stay rolled up on the ground, it was better to face Perry while on her feet. She tried moving and found that she could in fact stand with Josh’s assistance.
Josh went to meet the marshal, shielding Nikki from his approach, but before he could offer any type of explanation, Perry held up a hand to silence him.
“What in the name of all that is ridiculous is going on here?”
“Someone tried to kill her.” Josh motioned to the crumpled mailbox that resembled Nikki’s crumpled truck. “He tried to plow into us.”
“Who?” Perry spun around, scanning the scene.
Perry huffed like this wasn’t something he wanted to deal with at the moment and turned back towards his vehicle like he considered making chase. “How long ago? Any chance of catching him?”
Before Josh could answer, his phone started ringing.
“Koby?” Josh plugged his other ear with a finger so he wouldn’t miss a word. They talked for a minute and then Josh said, “It’s alright, man. You did your best. Just go back to Nikki’s and keep an eye on Lizzy. We’ll meet you there.” He turned back to the marshal. “No chance of catching him. My guy just lost him.”
Nikki’s heart sank. Would this madness never be over?
“Alright. We’re gonna talk about a description in a minute, deputy.” Perry pointed a finger in Josh’s face. “But first, I need to fire someone.”
Perry pulled his cell out but instead of raising it to his ear, he held it out in front of them and dialed and clicked the speaker button. She had a sinking feeling in her gut. Their escape act had got someone fired.
A voice answered. “Yes, sir?”
Perry’s voice was calm. “Just checking on the status at the farmhouse.”
“All good here. All three subjects still settled indoors. Must be sleeping in.”
Nikki winced. Their plan had worked.
“Then why am I looking right at them?” Perry shouted.
The voice on the other end started stuttering.
The marshal hung up before the agent was able to get out a single word.
She looked to Josh. “Don’t be too hard on them.”
He shrugged. “I’m not like the criminals they’re used to chasing.”
“Didn’t stop me from tracking you down.” Perry slid the phone into his breast pocket. “So, you want to tell me what y’all are doing here?”
“Right after you tell me how you found us.”
The marshal tilted his head to one side and then the other. “Got a tip.”
“A tip?” From who?
“I got a text saying you were here and I thought you’d lead me to my fugitive.”
“Who else would know I was here?” She glanced at Josh.
He shook his head. “We must have been followed or maybe someone is keeping tabs on us somehow.” Josh frowned like he was trying to puzzle it out.
“Alright, Deputy Bennet.” Perry pushed back his jacket and put his hands on his hips. “I told you mine, now tell me yours. Why are you here?”
Josh was slow to respond. What did he plan to share? She knew lying was out of the question for a church-going guy like him, but maybe he’d refuse to answer all together.
Josh cleared his throat. “We thought Ryan might be here.”
Nikki swallowed her gasp. Why was Josh spilling his guts? She wondered if she should protest but decided against it. Josh knows what he’s doing.
“And why are you trying to find him? Trying to get out of local law enforcement to join the marshals?”
Josh pushed out a breath. “I want answers, and I think he’s got them.”
“What kind of answers?”
Josh scoffed. “Like who is trying to frame and kill Nikki so they can go free.”
Perry raised an eyebrow. “I thought it was the consensus that Ryan’s behind all that. Although, I’m still not sold on the framing bit. She could be just as guilty as him.”
Nikki averted her eyes, a sickening feeling sprouting in her stomach. She would never forget the pain that came when someone thought she was a criminal. When her home had been carelessly searched for planted evidence. Followed by getting stuck in an interrogation room.
Josh glanced down at her. “I’m not so sure Ryan’s the bad guy in all this.”
The marshal folded his arms. “He’s an escaped murderer, deputy. I wouldn’t exactly call him a hero. But why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind.”
Josh took a breath and then, with an arm wrapped around her waist for support, laid out their whole case for him. He left nothing out. He told him about the sabotaged brakes that could’ve only happened while the deputies were at her shop, the missing will, the strangeness of the evidence found at Nikki’s house, the missing key, where it may have been lost, and lastly Ryan’s comments the night of the fire about someone else trying to kill her.
By the time Josh was finished, Perry was frowning. “You think someone in your department is behind this.”
“Yes.” Josh let out a long breath and the wisp of a smile tugged at his lips. It must have been a relief to have someone—and US marshal no less—follow the clues and guess at Josh’s conclusion.
Perry rubbed his chin with his hands and twisted his mouth like he’d just tasted something bad. Josh’s words weren’t going down easy. “Any guess as to who?”
Josh chewed on his lip. Nikki could feel his torment at having to say the name. “At this time, since I found out he inserted himself into your hunt for Ryan, I’m leaning towards the Sheriff.”
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