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.
BACK AT THE FARMHOUSE, JOSH rushed to wash his hands as Koby and Lizzy set out the dinner they’d picked up from the little Chinese place in town. After the long day’s work at the doughnut shop, everyone was starving and got right to it, not even bothering to get cleaned up. Every soot-smudged face started chowing down on egg rolls and lo mein.
Yet Josh sensed an edge to the meal. Like everyone was on their toes, making only a little conversation but mostly spending the time in a charged silence. They were playing the waiting game and everyone knew it. Unless another lead revealed itself, all they had was the mysterious contents of Nikki’s safe deposit box and not being able to get to it was torture. Nikki made sure they all knew the number and where the key was, but there wasn’t anything else they could do for the time being.
What if the package meant nothing to the case? And even scarier, what if it did but something—or more likely someone—kept them from getting to it? The killer had a full day to make a move.
Perry was right about the possibility of a frame-up. With the right leverage or dollar signs, a cop or one of the department’s forensic scientists could be corrupted or persuaded into fabricating evidence that would make Josh look guilty. And if he was taken away in cuffs, what would happen to Nikki? Maybe that was Gary’s plan. To get Josh out of the way so that he could permanently get Nikki out of the way.
Josh shuddered in his chair. He wouldn’t let that happen.
God, walk with me in every step and watch over Nikki.
The sound of a fork clattering against a plate drew him back to the others. Nikki leaned back in her chair and rubbed a hand on her belly.
“I’m stuffed.” She yawned. “I think I’m going to get cleaned up and then head to bed a bit early. I’m dirty and beat.”
Lizzy looked down at her own blackened fingers. “Yeah, I’d say we could all use a shower.”
“Good thing I have two bathrooms.” She gestured to the hall. “The downstairs bathroom is just out there, and the other is down the hall from my room.
“Then I think it’ll be ladies first.” Koby twirled his hand like an English gentlemen bowing to a lady. “You girls do what you need to do, and we’ll clean up dinner.”
“Let me get you a clean—” Nikki groaned. “I think most of my towels are actually down in the dryer.” She disappeared through the basement door.
Josh threw some of the empty takeout containers in the trash, and then followed her down the narrow wooden stairs, listening to water running and the hum of motor. The ancient cellar was dank and musty. Nikki was bent over, pulling laundry from the open dryer into a wicker basket.
“It’s a bit creepy down here.” Josh dodged a cob web hanging down from a wooden beam.
She spun around, clutching a towel to her chest. “Josh.” She gasped. “You scared me. I didn’t know you were here. My washer’s a relic and loud to boot.”
“Sorry. I-I didn’t mean to scare you. I just thought I’d come help.”
“Well.” She picked up the basket and walked to a long folding table next to a tub sink. “Then wash your hands and start folding.”
He did. Halfway through the basket, he paused. “I want to apologize for our conversation in the truck earlier.”
She froze in mid-fold, clearly surprised he’d brought it up. They’d both let the conversation about their mutual feelings for each other fall to the back burner because of more pressing matters, but now that they were alone, Josh had every intention of revisiting it.
“I don’t want to fight. I just want to apologize. There’s so much going on right now and we’re nowhere near out of danger yet. I should have left it alone. We should be concentrating on finding Ryan’s murderer, not on our relationship.”
Nikki raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think that we currently have a relationship”
“But we will.” He grinned. “I’m not giving up.”
She shook her head, feigning irritation. “That seems to be a trait of yours.”
“You have no idea.” The hint of a smile played across her lips. A pleasant silence fell over them as they worked.
“I just hope you know what you’re doing.” She dropped the last towel on the pile, then transferred the stack back into the basket. “Every time the subject of our attraction comes up, it turns into an argument.”
“We’re not arguing now.”
“True.” She held the full basket on one hip as she grabbed the railing. “So, let’s quit now while were ahead.”
Fifteen minutes later, Josh still had a smile on his face as he walked window to window making certain they were secure. Once he made it upstairs, Josh listened to the sound of the water running from the bathroom where Nikki was showering. Stopping outside the door, he watched as the steam crept out into the hall. He’d meant what he’d said in the basement. He wasn’t giving up on her. On them. How could she think he would let her slip away now that he knew the feelings he’d had for the last year were reciprocated?
She was certainly coming around but Josh still sensed resistance because of his faith. His future wife needed to share his faith and clearly Nikki understood that and had kept distance between them because of her reluctance to accept it. She wanted to believe but she didn’t think she was worthy of God’s love. Leaning against the wooden frame, he sighed.
God, help her understand that Your love and forgiveness aren’t earned. They’re a gift meant for everyone.
“Downstairs shower is free.” Koby bellowed from somewhere on the first floor.
He looked down and got a glimpse of his clothes, soiled by ash, dirt, and sweat. The military had taught him to take care in how he presented himself, and right now, he wasn’t up to par. He trotted down the steps to get cleaned up, noting on his way down the sound of the upstairs water shutting off.
The fresh clothes and shower did a lot to improve Josh’s mood, but they also made him sleepy, which was not a good thing, considering he planned to take the first watch while Koby caught a nap. Their plan for a round-the-clock lookout would fail if Josh didn’t have some coffee.
He’d padded to the kitchen and searched the cupboards for coffee grounds and was just dumping a scoop into the top of Nikki’s coffee maker when the kitchen phone rang. Should he answer it? Why not?
He lifted the receiver. “Nikki’s phone.”
“Josh?” The recognizable voice of his boss spoke on the other end.
“It’s Gary and I’m actually glad I’m catching you there.”
Josh gripped the phone a little tighter. “And why’s that? Are you planning to come out here and arrest us both?”
“I don’t arrest people until I know they’re guilty.”
“Ugh.” Gary growled. “Can you stop giving me hassle for a minute and just listen, son? There’s somethin’ you need to know.”
“What?” He walked the coffee pot over to the sink and filled it with water.
“After you left the station, Vaughn and I went to the Trumple’s to question Bill.”
“Good. Did he admit to the abuse?”
“He didn’t have to. When we got there, he was beating his wife so bad she was nearly unconscious. He fled the minute I knocked down the door. Vaughn pursued him into the woods. I would have gone with him, but I had to stay with Janeen. I was afraid she was going to stop breathing and I couldn’t leave her.” His voice cracked.
“Of course you couldn’t. Is she alright?” Josh tightened his grip on the receiver.
“She’s got a few broken bones, but the doctors at the hospital think she’ll be okay.”
“And Vaughn? Did he catch Bill?”
“Well… he tackled him at one point and got one cuff on him, but then Bill overpowered him. You know how big of a guy he is.”
Josh remembered their face-off on Friday. “I know. I’m sure you guys will get him soon enough. Is there anything I can do to help? Is that why you called?”
“No. I’m calling because Bill was yelling some things as he ran out of the house.”
“What kind of things?”
“He mentioned Nikki. He seemed to think she was the reason we were there. I don’t know how it’s possible but… I think someone told him she reported him.” Josh’s stomach did summersaults. It wasn’t like Bill would need a college degree to figure that out on his own. “I don’t know if that means anything or not, but I think she should keep an eye out until we pick him up. I have most everyone out looking for him and I’m sending a patrol car your way now with someone to guard her, but you should watch yourself in case Bill does something stupid.”
Josh tensed. He wasn’t thrilled about anyone from the sheriff’s department being that close to Nikki, but what he’d just heard sounded like the truth. “Thank you for calling, Gary. I’ll keep a look out.”
After hanging up, he went in search of the others to give them the news. He found Koby and Lizzy in the den.
“Can’t you just pick one?” Lizzy threw one of the sofa pillows at Koby as he surfed the channels.
“Where’s Nikki? Did she go to bed already?”
Lizzy glanced up at him. “She said she was taking the trash out first.”
A rock dropped in Josh’s stomach.
Koby sat up suddenly. “She went outside?”
Lizzy glanced between them and the blood drained from her face. “She said it was just for a second.”
Josh sprinted through the house, flying through the back door to where Nikki kept her garbage cans, prepared to throw her over his shoulder if he had to in order to get her back inside.
Except she wasn’t there. Outside all he found was a black trash bag split open, its contents scattered on the grass.
Mud coated Nikki’s bare feet where he’d dragged her through the woods behind her house. It was drying now in the heat of the car trunk. She never saw him coming. Her scalp still stung from the way her hair had tangled in his fist, and her cheeks ached from the harsh grip of his hand over her mouth that had muted and muffled her screams.
No one inside would have been able to hear her, especially above the sound of the television and the shower. She’d fought the whole way to his car, but it was useless. Bill Trumple was so much bigger than her that she didn’t stand a chance.
He’d shoved her into the trunk of an old rusty car and slammed the lid shut before driving away. Inside the trunk was stifling and smelled like motor oil and anti-freeze. She had to get out. Using both her fists and her feet, she kicked and pounded on the latch trying to break it open. Jumping out of a moving car wasn’t something she looked forward to, but what other choice did she have?
Except no matter how hard she hit, the only thing that got damaged was her. Her hands were already swelling and bleeding from scratching against the metal, but she kept on fighting, screaming now in case anyone outside the car could hear her.
Bill slammed on the brakes and she was propelled forward to collide with the hanging hinges of the trunk lid. A warm trickle down her throbbing forehead meant she’d just split open the stitches from her car accident a few days ago.
Nikki heard the sound of the driver’s-side door wrenching open and then stomping feet on gravel. The successive bangs on the outside of the trunk sent her ears ringing and then Bill yelled, “You shut up in there! Ain’t no one can hear you out here.”
After more stomping, the car took off with a start that made her stomach do flips. Feeling around in the darkness, she searched for anything that could be used as a weapon, but the space was empty. Hopelessness consumed her and she started to weep.
Where was he taking her? Was this how she would die? Not by the killer stalking her but by this violent and unstable man? She wondered why he was doing this to her but then figured that it must have something to do with Andy. Had he found out about her taking him to the sheriff’s department with Josh?
Despair crept closer, telling her to give up but she pushed it away. I did the right thing. I got that boy away from his abusive father. No matter what was about to happen, she’d never regret urging Andy to tell Josh of his nightmare at home.
Thinking about Josh made things all the worse. What if she never saw him again? What if she never got to tell him that she loved him?
No. I’m not giving up yet. Then, she prayed. Prayed like she never had before. Prayed that God would give her strength and wisdom. Prayed for God to come into her life and help her survive this moment. She knew the car would eventually stop and that death was waiting for her but she also believed—for the first time—that God was bigger than fear and death and everything bad in the world. She could live. With God, she could somehow get through this.
Like what you read?
Read chapter 24 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