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.
KOBY NARROWED HIS GAZE AT Nikki when she entered the house by herself. She swallowed not wanting to explain. He looked past her and opened his mouth. He was probably going to ask where his friend was, but Josh stepped inside answering the unasked question.
“I’m so sorry I lost him, man. I tried to tail him as long as I could, but he had too much of a head start. I lost him a few miles outside of downtown. A hill blocked my view until I rounded the sharp turn, and when I made to the other side, he was gone. The road split into two. I chose wrong.”
“It’s okay.” Josh squeezed his shoulder.
“Where did you guys go?” Lizzy emerged from the kitchen. “You told us to meet you here and then you didn’t come. We’ve been waiting for hours.”
Josh’s head hung low. “I know. That marshal showed up and we went with him to check out the roller rink lead.”
“And?” Koby crossed his arms and narrowed his gaze.
“And…” Josh sighed, glancing quickly in Nikki’s direction. “Ryan Danforth is dead.”
No one said anything but their wide eyes betrayed their shock.
Lizzy raised a hand to her cheek. “I see. Well, I know it’s lunch time, but I made some breakfast for everyone. So, how about we go eat and you guys can tell us all about it.”
Josh’s sister had prepared quite the spread on the kitchen table and Nikki’s grumbling stomach scolded her for waiting so long to eat.
The kittens were in the corner, lapping milk from a small glass bowl, but when they saw their human, they trotted towards her and clung to the pant leg of her jeans with their little claws. She pulled them into her lap, then piled eggs and sausage onto a plate as Josh told the others everything that had happened that morning.
While he talked, she tried to think about anything other than how she’d just confessed her feelings for him. Were the pieces of their relationship finally falling into place? If he’d been coming to see her for a year and she’d silently pined for him for just as long, was it totally out in left field to wonder if God had a part in bringing her to St. Claire? In bringing them together? And if He did bring someone as great as Josh into her life, maybe He did love her.
“I’m so sorry, Nikki.” Lizzy grabbed her hand resting on the table.
Nikki squeezed. “Thank you. He did a lot of bad things in his life. I guess it’s really not surprising that things ended this way.”
“I know. But you knew him and now… he’s gone. No matter what kind of person he was, it seems like he was trying to warn you and protect you in the end.”
Koby leaned back in his chair. “But we still don’t know what or who he was trying to protect her from.”
Josh poked at his food with his fork. “All of this has to go back to the drug deal and murder that put Ryan in jail in the first place. He was telling the truth when he said someone else was behind the attacks on Nikki. He couldn’t possibly have driven that black car while already lying dead at the rink. So, I’m thinking he was probably also telling the truth about being framed for the murder of that cop. I asked Vaughn to see what he could find out about the case from his Pittsburgh contacts, but haven’t heard back yet. Lizzy, I know your firm has dealt with the police on a bunch of cases. Do you know anyone who could get you some information?”
She nodded and got up from the table. “I’ll go make some calls.”
Koby grabbed Lizzy’s plate and placed it on top of his own. “What can you and I do?”
“The marshal told us to lie low and I think that might be a good idea. This person has killed someone now. He’s trying to tie up loose ends. To get rid of anything that could reveal his identity and I’m thinking Nikki’s the only one left who can do that.”
“But I don’t know who it is.” Nikki pinched the skin above her nose. She could feel her headache coming back.
“You have to know something that scares him. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be coming after you. Just think for a minute.” Josh turned his chair towards her. “Do you remember anyone who used to work with Ryan?”
She tapped her fingers on the table as she thought. “Sometimes, he brought people around that he said were his friends. Looking back, I’m sure he sold drugs with them or at least to them, but I don’t remember any of their names or faces. They could walk right past me and I’d never know. I’m sorry, but I’ve really tried to forget that time in my life.”
“Don’t be sorry.” Josh gave her a sympathetic smile. “I know we are asking a lot.”
Koby coughed on a sip of orange juice. “What if it isn’t about who but what? What if it’s not who she knows but what she has?” His eyes flickered to Josh then back to Nikki. “Do you have anything of Ryan’s? I know the cops think the drugs and the money were things he gave you, but we know that’s not true. But maybe he gave you something else instead?”
She shook her head. “I abandoned pretty much everything I had when I left. I didn’t want a single reminder of what I was leaving behind as I made a fresh start.”
Josh nodded as if he remembered when she’d come to town, his shoulders dropping in defeat.
“But…” Heads lifted. There was a spark in Josh’s eyes. “He did send me something.”
Koby leaned forward on his elbows. “What did he send?”
“Well… I don’t actually know.” She glanced around her kitchen struggling to remember what she had done with it. “It was a small package with Ryan’s name on the return address. It arrived a little after I moved here with a note from my old landlord written on it. I’d sent my last rent check to her from here, and she must have copied down my address, so when the package arrived for me, she sent it here. It was one of those small envelopes lined with bubble-wrap.”
“What happened to it?” Lizzy put her phone back in her pocket before sitting back down at the table. Everyone had shifted a little closer to her, listening to every word.
She twirled her hair as she thought. “I was going to throw it away but then I noticed something weird about it. It was post marked the day before Ryan got arrested. He managed to elude the police for a couple days. I have no idea where he was all that time, but he must have sent it out while he was on the run.” Why didn’t I remember this sooner? “When it finally made its way to me, I considered giving it to the police, but he’d already been convicted and I wanted to erase that part of my life. But when I went to get rid of it, I just couldn’t. I thought maybe he put something personal in it. Like an apology. I wasn’t ready to hear that then but thought that in the future…”
“Is it here?” Josh flattened his palms on the table and began rising from his chair.
“No.” He fell back down with a frown and suddenly she remembered what she’d done with it. “I have a safe deposit box at the bank where I keep important papers and stuff. I put it in there.”
“We have to go get it.” Lizzy reached for platters of food but Josh held up a hand.
“It’s Sunday. The bank’s closed.”
“But you’re a cop.” Nikki nudged his leg under the table. “Can’t you make them open it?” Because the sooner she found the package, the sooner she could reclaim her life. Hopefully.
His face was sad. “I’m a cop on vacation with strict orders to stay away from this investigation.”
Nikki scooted closer to him. “What about the marshal? He really seems to want to help us.”
Josh balled up his napkin in his fist. “He does. But I don’t think he’s going to want to drag the bank managers out on their day off for a hunch. He’s walking a thin jurisdictional line already. His fugitive has been found and he really has no other reason to be here. If he pushes things too far with Gary, he won’t be able to help us at all. Not to mention, the minute we tell him, he’s going to assume we’ve been keeping it from him. It will just have to wait until tomorrow.”
Koby stood and started stacking the plates. “A lot can happen before tomorrow, Josh. Someone is actively trying to kill her. We’re up to three attempts in three days.”
Josh pushed a thumb through the napkin in his hand. “I know. So, that means we’re all on high alert. Everyone keep your eyes open and your head in the game. We’re going to dig in here at the farm and keep a tight watch. No one goes anywhere alone. Got it?”
No one had the chance to answer before the phone mounted on the kitchen wall started to ring.
Nikki pushed herself out of her chair and pulled the receiver of her pink old-fashioned phone to her ear. “It’s Vaughn.” She held the phone out to Josh, stretched the coiled cord across the room. “He wants to talk to you.”
Why would he call me here? Josh pressed it to his ear. “What’s up, Vaughn?”
His colleague’s voice came out a little distorted through the ancient device. “How are you guys after everything this morning?”
He glanced at Nikki. There was a renewed spark in her eyes now that they had a lead that could break this case wide open. “As good we can be after finding a dead body.”
“I heard the marshals have moved in on the homicide even though they say they’re just here to assist.”
“Yeah. Their head agent, Perry, seems like a good investigator.”
“Do you guys have any leads? I can help out anyway you need.” His tone reminded Josh of his first days on the force. Always so eager to get to the bottom of things. But he decided it was best to keep things close to the vest. “I don’t think I’d call them leads yet. More like grasping at straws, but we’ll see. Have you heard anything back yet from your Pittsburgh contacts about Ryan’s case?” Curious eyes glanced at him.
“No. Soon though, I’m sure.”
The eyes fell defeated when Josh shook his head.
Vaughn cleared his throat. “Listen, I’ve got to get back to work, but I wanted to let you guys know that the city police and fire department are done with Apple’s. The arson was straight forward. Gasoline around the perimeter. There were no cans at the scene. And since the place is in ashes, we won’t find any more evidence. So, Nikki is free to start the clean-up process and get her insurance company involved.”
Finally some good news. “That’s great.” He smiled at her. “She’ll be thrilled. Thanks for letting us know.” Josh got up and walked the receiver to the wall.
He heard Nikki’s nails clicking on the table. “What will I be thrilled about?”
He flashed a smile. “Everyone’s done with your shop. You can get in now and call your insurance company.”
Nikki squealed in delight. “I wonder how long it will take for them to get someone out here?”
Lizzy jumped out of her chair and started shoving the leftovers into the fridge. “We don’t need to wait for them. We’ll get this cleaned up and then we can go buy some cleaning supplies, and get over there. Dickie’s is closed today but we can make a run out of town.”
Koby made a whining sound but when Lizzy shot him a scowl, he said, “I’m in.”
Throughout most of this, they’d only been able to react when bad things happened. Now, they had a semblance of a plan to find out who was behind Nikki’s trouble, and being able to start fixing the doughnut shop meant that they were looking to the future, even if Josh wasn’t certain what that future would be.
It had been such a relief when Nikki confessed that she’d had feelings for him all this time. To know that the attraction had not been one-sided was huge, but that didn’t mean that a relationship would come. Yes, she’d liked him for a year, but she’d still said ‘No’ and he wanted the chance to ask why. A part of him expected that her apprehension had something to do with his beliefs. Did she think he was crazy to trust in a God that loved him and wanted to communicate with him? Or did she have some other problem with his faith? And if they couldn’t agree on that, there was a slim chance their relationship would succeed. Marriage without God just didn’t make sense. Her prayer had given her hope and he longed to press for more but with the stars shining in her eyes about starting the rebuilding process, it just wasn’t the time.
After making a call to her insurance company to tell them the property had been released, they all went to put on clothes they didn’t mind getting dirty.
Nikki stopped on the stairs and turned to look at him as he stepped up behind her. “I think I’ll call Andy and see if he wants to help. That way I can at least get him some part-time work until things are up and running again.”
“Yeah.” Josh gripped the handrail. Was being out in the open a good idea?
But he couldn’t wreck her plans. He didn’t have to be unprepared, though. He’d take his thirty-eight and he and Koby would be on the lookout for anything or anyone that could be a threat.
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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