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.
NIKKI TURNED AND STARED AT Josh across the truck seat. “What?” He’d been glancing over at her and grinning every few seconds for the whole drive back to town from the superstore in the next county. What was his deal?
“Nothing.” He laughed. “It’s just… you don’t need to wear the mask and goggles yet, you know?”
She pulled down the work mask covering her mouth. “I know that. I guess I’m just ready to get started. It’s nice to finally have a purpose again instead of just sitting around waiting for the next blow to come.” She raised the clear, plastic goggles.
“You don’t have to take them off.” Josh smiled. “They look pretty cute.”
Nikki looked out the window, catching sight of the blush on her face in the side mirror. She was glad Koby and Lizzy were in the other car behind them.
Andy was already waiting when the four of them pulled up to the shop.
He stood gaping at the place with his hands on his cheeks. “When you said you’d had a fire, I had no clue it was this bad. I’m so sorry.”
Nikki forced herself to look at the depressing scene. What was once a happy, bright, and booming business was now charred remains. The parts of the structure still standing looked like a black skeleton with brittle bones about to turn to ash.
“Thank you, Andy. But we’re not going to be sad about this for another second. It’s just a building and the new one will be even better.”
Josh squeezed her shoulder. “Let’s get to work.” He walked toward the scene. “Koby, where do you think we should start?”
Nikki heard a car engine and spun around, the events of this morning flashing in her mind. “Um… Josh?” He looked over his shoulder and his features went cold.
Andy’s eyes darted to Nikki. “Why is the sheriff here?”
“Oh, no.” Lizzy slapped her leg. “What does he want now?”
The man and his dog approached them.
Koby stepped in front of Lizzy just as Josh grabbed Nikki’s arm and pulled her to his side, both men instinctively shielding the women they cared about with Andy sandwiched between them. The young man hunched over, drawing a hand up to his face like he could hide his identity. Nikki reached out a hand and gave his shoulder a pat. It’s gonna be okay.
She should be scared. After all, the sheriff was Josh’s current suspect in her attempted murder. And yet, since Josh was there, she knew she was safe. Gary might be law enforcement, but there were five witnesses. Whatever the reason he was here, it couldn’t be to try to kill anyone.
“Gary.” Josh broke the silent tension. “Are you here to help us clean up?”
“No,” the sheriff said. “I’m here to confiscate the .38 Special I’m certain is on your person.”
“You want my back-up gun?” Nikki registered the shock in his voice.
Why would he want his gun?
“I do. Preliminary report on the bullet pulled from Ryan Danforth is that it came from a .38 Special and, since I happen to know you have one of those and had a motive to kill him, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take it in for testing.”
Lizzy pushed past Koby. “While your motive might work for a suspense novel, Sheriff, I’m afraid it’s going to have to stay fiction. You won’t be taking anything from my brother without a warrant.”
“Which I have right here.” The sheriff smirked as he pulled a folded white paper from the inside pocket of his jacket.
Lizzy ripped the document from his hands and read through it while Josh laughed. “You tracked down a judge on a Sunday just so you could get a warrant for my gun? You’re really trying to get this one closed fast. Right, sir?”
“I’m trying to get the truth.”
“The truth you’re manufacturing, maybe.”
The man huffed. “Am I going to have to arrest you to get that gun, son?”
“No. You want it? Here it is.” Bending over, Josh pulled the weapon from his ankle holster before handing it to his boss, butt-first.
“Josh, don’t.” Lizzy tugged on his shirt.
“It’s alright. I haven’t done anything wrong. If they want to test my gun, they can feel free.”
“Thanks for being cooperative.” The sheriff slid the revolver into an evidence bag.
“No problem.” Josh scoffed. “And unless you have something else, I’d like to get back to work.”
“We’re done… for now.” The sheriff snapped his fingers and turned towards his car, Charlie trotting behind.
Once he was out of sight, Nikki jerked him towards her. “Why would you give that to them? They’re probably trying to frame you.”
“She’s right,” His sister chimed in. “You should have put up more of a fight or pretended like the gun wasn’t here or something.”
“I wasn’t going to lie, and if I would have resisted, he would have taken me to the station which would mean I wouldn’t be here to protect you guys.” Josh held Nikki’s gaze.
“You won’t be keeping anyone safe if you go to jail for murder.” Anxiety tightened Nikki’s chest and guilt chewed away at her heart. This was all happening because of her. If this county lost a good and honest deputy—that they needed now more than ever—it would be on her.
The urge to run away was strong. Maybe she should. She’d done it before hadn’t she? She could pick up and start over just like she had when she came to St. Claire. Her shop came to her mind and she grew uncertain. Sure, it was ashes now, but she could rebuild. Her life was here. Her friends, too. Could she really just leave all that behind?
Josh palmed her shoulders, then let one hand trace the curve of her throat. “I’m not afraid.” He tipped her chin with his thumb so that she would look up at him. “I trust God to stand up for me. I trust that He is in control.”
Nikki sighed and let out an admission she’d been keeping secret for a while. “I want to trust like that, too.”
Her hero stepped closer, gently pressing his lips against her forehead. “You can,” he whispered. “You just have to try, honey.”
“I’ll try,” she whispered back. “I can’t promise that it will be easy for me or that I can ever have faith like yours. But… I will try.”
He wrapped her in a hug. Over the last few days, she’d almost died more than once and her would-be-killer was still out there waiting to strike and yet, right then, close to this man, she was safe.
Josh realized the meager results of their salvage operation were pretty grim. They’d found a couple tea cups and plates that had somehow escaped damage from both the break-in and the fire, but that was about it. Somehow, Nikki managed to keep her head up and stay positive, but Josh sensed how hard this was for her. The mask and goggles hid most of her facial expressions, but more than once he had seen tears glistening in her eyes.
Josh dropped another armful of burnt wood onto the pile he was gathering, then looked around for her, suddenly wanting to make sure she was alright. He spotted her with Andy beside the bed of Koby’s truck piled full of trash to take to the dump and started moving that direction. A few steps later, he caught on that something serious had transpired between them. The boy’s head was bowed and his arms were wrapped around his chest.
Nikki reached out a hand, holding his shoulder as she spoke into his ear.
“Everything okay?” Josh rested a hand on her back.
Nikki looked at him, pain in her eyes, and then glanced back at the teenager whose gaze was locked on the asphalt between his feet. “You need to tell him, Andy.” She put her hand on his shoulder and stooped down to find his gaze. “It will be okay. Josh will know what to do.”
Andy held himself a little tighter and shook his head.
Nikki persisted. “I know you want to protect your family, but telling the cops what happened is the best thing you can do for them. Josh can keep you safe.”
“It ain’t me I’m worried about.” Andy muttered. “I can handle him but my mom… she’s little, you know? She can’t defend herself against him. If I’m not there… I-I just ain’t saying anything unless I know she’ll be protected, too.”
Nikki turned to Josh, a pleading look in her eyes.
Ah. So, that was the problem. He stepped closer to the boy. “Andy, if your father is hurting you, I need you to trust me enough to tell me. I know it’s scary and that you want to protect your mother, but I need you to let that be my job. I promise you, I will do everything in my power to keep you both safe.”
Andy’s internal struggle was almost visible, like a cloud around his body. Josh had seen this before. Kids saw involving the police and social services as a betrayal instead of a means to help.
“Andy? You can trust Josh. I do.” Josh’s heart swelled. “Now, please… show him what I saw when you were lifting bags into the truck.”
Finally, Andy’s arms untangled themselves and he pulled up the left side of his T-shirt. What should have been pink, young skin was painted black and blue.
Josh steeled himself, not wanting to show a reaction that would hurt or embarrass the youth. “Did your daddy do that to you?”
Andy didn’t say the word. He probably just couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud, but he nodded his head instead. Yes.
“It’s going to be okay.” Josh prayed for wisdom. He was desperate to protect the woman he loved, but this boy needed him, too.
Andy shifted back and forth nervously rocking on his feet. “What happens now?”
“Now, we go talk to the sheriff.”
Despite his sister’s protests and Nikki’s ghost-white face during the ride to the department, Josh held to his convictions and faced Gary. Protecting people was his job. No matter what else was going on, he had to do this. And he had to do it alone.
“Thank goodness.” Nikki jumped up to meet him when he returned to the department waiting room an hour and a half after arriving. “I was so worried that the next time I saw you that you would be in handcuffs.”
Josh held up his arms. “Not yet.”
“What happened?” She looked past his shoulder. “Where’s Andy?”
“He went with the woman who came from social services.”
“They’re gonna take him away from his mom?”
“Only temporarily.” He cupped her cheek. “Gary is taking some men over to their house to question Bill about the abuse. Once he’s removed from the home, Andy will be allowed to go back with his mom. I feel good about how Gary is handling things. I’m not saying I don’t still suspect him in what’s happening to you, but he took Andy’s claim seriously and is going to act quickly. I believe that he wants to help the boy.”
“That’s good.” Nikki let out a breath. “But can we get out of here now before they find some way to trap us?”
“Absolutely.” Josh smiled before ushering her out with a hand on the small of her back.
They were almost back to Josh’s truck when the marshal called out to them from across the parking lot. “You guys been down in the mines?”
Josh looked at his reflection in the truck window. Black smudges were all over his face and clothes. “We were at Apple’s getting started on the cleaning. Vaughn tipped us off that everyone was done with it, but the mines would be a good place to hide.”
“Do I need to be worried about you disappearing?”
“Why would I do that?” Josh opened Nikki’s door.
“They sent your gun away to be tested against the bullet pulled from Ryan. I overheard one of the guys hanging around the office saying it’s going to come back a positive match as the murder weapon. I’m just wanting to know if you’re going to be the next fugitive I chase.”
And I wonder just who said that. “I have no reason to run. I’m not sure who murdered Ryan Danforth. I just know it wasn’t me. The last time I saw him was right before I had the pleasure of meeting you.”
“If you really are being framed, giving up the gun so easily was probably a mistake. I don’t understand why a smart guy like you couldn’t make it disappear.”
Josh snorted and rested his hand at the top of the door. “My sister said the same thing. Maybe you’re both right, but I just don’t see how lying makes me look innocent. I haven’t done anything wrong and neither has Nikki. We’re not going to pretend like we have something to hide. Let’s go, Nikki.”
She stepped between the men and climbed onto the passenger seat. Josh shut her door and then walked to the driver’s side.
“Evidence can be manipulated. People can be bribed or threatened.” Perry called out in warning as Josh got in. “You know that.”
Josh stopped and stared the marshal down. “You’re the one on the inside right now. Try and make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“I’m not a miracle worker.”
“No. But I know the One who is. I’m not the one who should fear, marshal. It’s the guilty who should be worried.”
Like what you read?
Read chapter 23 now
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