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 SHUDDERED A LITTLE AT his own words. He knew the seriousness of his suspicions but decided to tell Perry anyway.
“That’s a pretty serious accusation.” Perry looked around, noticing people in their Sunday best walking down the sidewalk. He motioned for them to follow him to the side of the closed post office.
Josh saw the eyes of folks he knew well glancing at the mangled mailbox and then at him. “And yet I stand by it.”
The marshal shot a look toward Nikki. “You put this in his head?”
Eyes wide, she shook her head.
Josh grunted. “What do you take me for? I may not be a federal marshal, but I’m a little more than some local cop. I can work a case and when a colleague told me the cash from Nikki’s house has been wiped clean, it sent up more red flags. Gary’s been keeping details to himself since this all began. The lost key. Her escaped convict boyfriend.”
“Then you should know that sometimes the most important question is why?” Perry tapped his forehead. “Why would a veteran cop a few years from retirement want to make everyone believe your girlfriend is a drug dealer before killing her?”
The agent had him there. After all, that had been the one nagging question. The one piece that didn’t fit. “I’m not sure. I don’t have a motive at this point. It’s more a feeling I have about how he’s been acting and what I’m hearing from other guys at work.”
Josh stared him down. “A gut feeling. One that’s telling me something’s not right in my department. Maybe it’s Gary, maybe it’s someone else. I don’t know. But it all has to come back to the drugs. Even you know they are running through this state like crazy and Ryan wouldn’t tell Nikki who was after her because I—a sheriff’s deputy—was with her. What if we can’t stop the spread of product because some of our own cops aren’t really trying to? And given Danforth’s drug connections, it’s possible he knows something about all this. Answers are what we both want. And it seems like Ryan’s the one who’s got them.”
Perry’s face tilted as he chewed on his lower lip. “Then how about instead of going it alone, we try and do this together?”
“Fine.” Josh sighed. But what if he was making a mistake? Still, he didn’t have many options. He glanced at Nikki. She gave him a nod to go ahead. “Right before Nikki was almost run down, she received a text that we think was from Ryan. It said he was at the roller rink, and it’s not that far from here.”
Perry straightened the collar of the blazer he wore over blue jeans and a gray T-shirt. “Then let’s go find him.”
Josh shook his head. “If your men go in guns blazing, neither of us will find out the truth.”
“I’ll handle my men.” Perry pointed a finger at Josh’s chest. “You just remember that we’re on the same team.”
“Do my best.” Josh held out a hand to shake his agreement.
Once he grabbed the bag and the dropped phone pieces off the ground, he led Nikki to the SUV. She didn’t cringe when he put a hand on the small of her back to guide her, but she was still making a point of not looking his way. He’d take what he could get.
Five minutes later, Josh grimaced at the sight of the abandoned roller rink. The previously bright, yellow facade was now brown and the roof sagged, ready to collapse. The haunted tableau saddened him. Something he’d loved as a child had been destroyed with time.
Nikki wrapped her arms around herself, as if the derelict place gave her a chill. Josh wanted to reach out and take her hand but he could still feel the invisible wall between them. The one that he had erected the minute he kissed her.
“You okay?” Josh shifted in his seat.
She shook her head. “I don’t understand. Why the roller rink? How would Ryan even know about this place? He’s not from here. As far as I know, he’s never been to St. Claire before in his life.”
He shrugged, not knowing the answer. “This is the only lead we’ve got right now. I don’t see that we have any other choice than to follow it.”
She sighed her acceptance, but then whispered. “This just doesn’t feel right.”
His stomach turned. Truth be told, he had a bad feeling himself.
Josh looked out at the other federal vehicles and Perry stomping around barking orders. How were they going to negotiate with Ryan with this many guys surrounding the place?
Perry suddenly opened Josh’s door and motioned for them to follow. “You two are with me.”
“No way.” Josh stretched out an arm, creating a barrier between the marshal and Nikki. “She’s staying here where she’ll be safe.”
The marshal spun to face him, accusation in his eyes. “You’re the one dead set on taking this guy alive. Don’t you think our chances of doing that are better if we have his lost love to talk him down?”
“He’s right.” Josh heard the unclick of her seatbelt. “I can talk to him. I think he’ll listen to me.”
They were right, but Josh wanted to come up with an argument for her to stay. She won’t listen to it, though. Her mind is made up. He didn’t like that she was going in, but he’d always liked that stubborn streak. He turned to her. “Then stay close.”
She averted her eyes. “I will.”
“Let’s get moving.” The marshal pulled his pistol from its holster and started towards the building, ordering his men to keep the perimeter secure.
Josh followed suit, retrieving his thirty-eight from his ankle holster and turning off the safety.
Perry frowned at the sight of the gun. “I don’t want you firing that unless I’m dead and you don’t have any other choice. You are not here in an official capacity, and I’m the lead in this investigation.”
“Got it.” Josh secured his weapon between his hands, his finger off the trigger.
They approached the old wooden doors. The paint on them had all but disappeared, leaving only a speck of white here and there. There was no need to force them open or disengage some kind of lock because they were pushed in and splintered. The damage looked recent.
Nikki sucked in a quick breath, realizing—as he did—that the chances of that text being a wild goose chase were getting slimmer. Someone was here. Or at least, they had been.
Perry produced a flashlight and illuminated their way through the shadows. There was no electricity inside the rink but the sun shining through the dirt covered windows provided enough light to see. The once-new wooden skating floor was uneven and bumpy with large rotted spots and everything was covered with dust and spider webs.
“Ryan Danforth.” Perry’s booming voice echoed off the derelict walls. “I am United States Marshal Perry Cole. The building is surrounded with armed men. I promise you there is no escape. Come out from where you are hiding and we can talk. There’s no reason for this situation to end with bullets.”
At a scurrying noise nearby, Perry and Josh turned, ready for action. Nikki stepped close to him, brushing up against his back. Perry’s flashlight caught a grouping of little eyes and then, with the scampering of little feet, the rats disappeared into their holes.
“Ugh.” Nikki groaned. “I hate rats.”
Josh scanned the room. “It’s pretty open in here. Not a lot of places to hide. Let’s check out the back rooms and behind the counter.”
The closer they got to the offices, the more depressing the place became. Cubbies still held old roller skates, but many missed a mate or had been knocked on their sides.
Perry was the first to round the end of the counter where the rink attendant would have once stood. His shoulders dropped and he lowered his gun. “Well… shoot.”
Josh’s heart sank.
“What?” Nikki poked him in the back. “You didn’t find anything?”
“No.” Josh crouched to holster his gun. “I suspect he found something.” And it wasn’t anything she needed to see.
Nikki pulled him back to face her, her brows pinched together, but then his meaning dawned and she covered her mouth with her hands.
Nikki heard Josh call out to her not to go any closer but his voice was muffled by the ringing in her ears. She pushed past him, yanking her arm out of his grasp as she rounded the corner of the counter.
The body came into view and a shriek escaped her lips. She was lightheaded and acid roiled in her stomach, threatening to project from her mouth. The tears were instantaneous and inexplicable. Why am I reacting this way? He’d never been kind to her. He’d controlled her and hurt her, and yet seeing Ryan lying on the floor was a sucker punch in the gut. Especially after he’d pulled her from the fire last night.
Someone had to help him. Acting on instinct, she launched herself at her ex, but an arm hooked around her waist and jerked her back.
“You can’t do anything for him.” Josh murmured in her ear as his other arm held her arms against her chest. “He’s already gone, honey.”
“But. But…” She fought against the embrace. Then realized that the dark spot around Ryan wasn’t rotted wood but rather a large pool of blood. With a matching spot on his shirt. A bullet hole. She cried out, then surrendered to Josh’s hold.
He turned her to face him and pulled her into his chest. She buried her face in his shirt as she sobbed.
Behind her, Perry muttered. “Guess I’ll call a coroner.”
Half an hour later, Nikki still quivered from her seat in the SUV as she watched through the open door as the gurney was wheeled out of the roller rink and into the back of a dark van.
Josh now stood apart from her, talking to Perry. She couldn’t hear what they were saying and she didn’t really want to. All she wanted to do was forget what she’d seen. Forget that someone was dead. One of the marshals had given her a blanket and now she pulled it tighter around her shoulders, trying to quell a chill.
How can Josh be so calm right now? The one person who could’ve told them who was behind all the attempts on her life was gone. She still couldn’t wrap her mind around it. While her life was so much better apart from Ryan, she couldn’t help but feel sadness at his loss. After all, not every minute of their time together had been horrible, and it was those rare moments that brought tears to her eyes.
Nikki tried to distract herself from the sorrow by staring at Josh. His face held no emotion. Seeing him in full cop mode made her feel just a bit safer.
Suddenly, Josh turned to her, almost as if sensing her gaze. His eyes flitted over her blanket and teary face, then with a sympathetic smile he held up a hand to stop Perry mid-sentence and moved toward her with purpose. She grabbed the door frame with one hand and slid out of the vehicle, anticipating his arrival. As she watched him approach, she was taken back to the bakery kitchen, reaching out to him but this time she didn’t want his kiss, she just wanted him. Close by and at her side. Always.
The deputy closed the gap and hugged her to him. “You okay?” His lips brushed her ear.
“No.” She half laughed, half cried as she melted into the strength of his embrace. “How are you so unfazed?”
“Sadly, I’ve had practice at this.”
“What are we going to do? Ryan was going to tell us who is trying to kill me.”
Josh leaned back to look down at her. “We’re going to find out who killed him, and my bet is that will be the same person making your life miserable.”
Nikki wanted to ask him how they were going to do that when he groaned. “This is just what we need.”
“What?” She pulled away to see the sheriff’s cruiser had just arrived on the scene. “Oh.” She tucked the blanket tighter around her.
The sheriff stepped out of the car with Charlie, the German shepherd, at his heels.
Josh put an arm around her shoulders.
Perry must have also seen the arrival because he jogged up beside them.
“What happened here?” Gary’s tone betrayed the fact that he already knew exactly what had happened.
Josh’s body tensed. “Why don’t you tell me? But I’m thinking maybe we should check your alibi first.”
“I’m not sure what you’re implying, Deputy Bennet, and I certainly don’t know why you are at this crime scene. Unless you’re about to be under arrest.” He glanced toward the coroner’s van.
“Are you kidding me, Gary?”
“Calm down, everyone.” Perry stepped between the two men.
Nikki breathed a sigh of relief, knowing the marshal could keep things from getting out of hand. She reached a hand across Josh’s chest and nudged him back.
Perry faced the sheriff. “The deputy is here at my invitation. I brought him in to assist.”
The sheriff sneered. “Now I know we don’t get you federal boys down here all that often, but if I remember right, the polite thing to do is consult with the county sheriff before commandeering his men even if they are on vacation.”
“Then the mistake was mine and not Josh’s.” Perry bowed his head.
The sheriff puffed out his chest. “Then I guess it’s also your mistake to take over a murder investigation in my jurisdiction.”
Perry stepped to the side as Charlie pushed his way through to get a look at the action. “I can promise you, Sheriff, that I’m operating well within my duty. It is the role of the marshals to support all county sheriff’s departments and that is what I’m doing. I’ve requested that the body be transferred to your county coroner at the hospital, and in a few minutes, we will be sending the bullet we found by the body to our Philadelphia office so they can run the ballistics. I assure you, this is your investigation. I’m only here to help.”
Gary grunted in response. “Then I guess I’ll have a look around.”
“Feel free.” Perry waved a hand toward the rink.
When the sheriff was gone, the marshal turned to Josh. “I’m going to have one of my guys drive my SUV and take you back to the post office to get your vehicle. I think it’s a good idea for you two to lie low.”
“You’re going to let him run the investigation?” Josh gestured to the sheriff.
“I’m going to let him think he’s running it. I need you to trust me. I’ve heard everything you’ve said and I believe you in spite of the fact that you two should be my top two suspects.” Nikki cringed as he nodded towards her. “Don’t make me regret my faith in you.”
Faith. Nikki was starting to warm up to the word. She’d always seen the word as a lie or, at best, a mistake. Faith led to disappointment. But now, it seemed to be growing inside of her. Maybe God could love her. Maybe He did love her. If she could just believe that with all her heart, she’d hold on to Him and Josh for the rest of her life.
Josh pulled her closer. “I could say the same thing to you, but I get your point. We’ll go. But can you at least promise to keep me in the loop?”
Perry’s lips pressed into a line. “I’ll do my best. Now get out of here.”
“Do you believe him?” Nikki asked Josh when they got into the SUV.
“At this point, I think I have to.”
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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