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.
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Glazed Suspicion by Allison Pearl
NIKKI WAS SO UNBELIEVABLY TIRED of hospital rooms and this one wasn’t as nice as the one in St. Claire. But at least I’m finally warm. She ditched the hospital gown and pulled the nursing scrubs over her head. Given that they were so far out of town, her own clothes weren’t an option so the hospital had given her what they had. She found Josh waiting for her in the chair by her bed, when she came out of the bathroom.
“Hey.” She smiled, her heart fluttering at the sight of him.
“Hey.” He scanned her form with a wrinkled brow. “How are you feeling?”
“Good. Well, not good, I guess, but okay.”
He pulled the blanket back on the bed. “Here, get in. You should rest.”
It had been a long morning and so Nikki obeyed, climbing onto the mattress and letting her head fall onto the pillow.
“You really need to stop getting in trouble, you know.” He sat on her bed in the crook her bent knees made and tucked the blanket up around her shoulders.
“I know.” Nikki’s breath hit the soft cotton. “I’m ready to go back to my simple life of waking up at 3:00 a.m. to make doughnuts.”
Josh reached up and pushed a curl off her cheek. “Soon enough, honey. We’ll get this all sorted out soon enough. We’ll find the truth.”
“The truth!” Nikki bolted upright and grabbed Josh’s arms. “The package. I forgot. What time is it? We have to get to the bank?”
Josh looked down at his watch. “It’s uh… 12:15.”
“How long will it take us to get back?”
Josh put his hands on her shoulders. “I don’t think we’ll make it. It will have to wait for tomorrow.”
“No. I’m not waiting until tomorrow, Josh. I want my life back now.” Nikki twisted out of the deputy’s grasp, threw back her blankets and got up to search out her shoes.
“But we don’t even know that the package has anything important in it. Plus, we don’t even have the key. Why don’t I just call Koby and Lizzy and have them go grab it?”
“The bank won’t open it without me. Let’s call Koby now as we head back and he can meet us there.”
“Nikki… ” Josh’s serious tone implied that he was about to try and stop her.
“I’m going.” Nikki grabbed the flat hospital slip-ons that were laying by her bed. “You can’t stop me, Josh. So, you can either stay here and wait for me to come back or come along. I-I want you with me, but I’m going regardless.”
Nikki spent most of their ride back to St. Claire bouncing her knee and tapping the arm rests. She gave him one-word answers when he tried to draw her into conversation, as if she could focus on nothing else but the bank box.
His gut was spinning on some kind of game-show wheel, sick with worry one minute and then hardened with anger the next. I should have stopped her. He knew Nikki Appleton, though. If he had tried to get in her way, she could have left him behind and, with a murderer still out there waiting for a chance to strike, leaving her alone was not an option. They would go to the bank, get the package, and then she was going straight back to the hospital if he had to handcuff her bruised wrists himself.
Koby was waiting for them in Bieler’s parking lot when they finally got to town.
“You got the key?”
The sun was setting as they jogged across the street towards the bank’s steps.
Josh was ready to send up a prayer of thanks that they’d made it just in the nick of time but stopped short as the bank manager, Tom, walked out the front door and started locking up.
“No.” Nikki broke into a sprint. “Tom, wait. Please. Don’t close. I need to get in my safe deposit box.”
The older man turned, his eyes widened at her appearance. “I’m sorry, Nikki, but I’ve just closed it up.”
Her shoulders dropped.
He had to do something. “Please, Tom. It’s important.”
Men like Tom knew that men like Josh, a sheriff’s deputy and soldier, wouldn’t say that unless it really was. “Okay.” He sighed, then waved them over. “Come on. I’ll walk you back.”
A second later, the large oak doors creaked open and they slipped through. The bank looked strange with the lights off. The building had been there since the town was built over a hundred years before and the absence of electricity made Josh almost feel like they’d traveled back in time to when the pink marble tiles and elaborately carved tellers stations were new and modern instead of antique and nostalgic.
Josh looked for Tom to lead the way.
The bank manager locked the old iron lock on the door but neglected the modern dead bolts. “No point in locking the whole place down when we’re going to be leaving again in just a minute.” He motioned towards the back of the room. “This way, everyone.”
The trio followed Tom and then ducked under the detachable portion of the counter spanning the back of the room. “You’re going to have to remind me of your number, Nikki.”
Once she obliged, he pulled out a large key and unlocked the set of bars that was the first line of defense against a bank robber. The sound of the metal grinding as it opened made Josh feel like they were stepping into a prison cell.
A narrow hallway lay before them. On one side, a room with more bars for a door, although they looked a lot newer than the first set, and on the other side was a shining large circular door with thick, silver cylinders sticking out in all directions behind a wheel reminiscent of a ship’s helm. It was the vault.
“I’m going to have y’all wait in here while I get the master keys and find your match.” Tom told them.
The song of another set of bars sliding open rang out, and then Josh, Koby, and Nikki were in the box room. Tucked in a corner was a small, metal table with a few chairs. They slowly sunk down into the seats, all looking around at the small numbered plates surrounding them on all sides.
Nikki let out a nervous breath and then began wringing her hands on the table.
Josh reached out from his chair next to her, covering them with his palm. Her fingers were cold and quivering. “You okay?”
“Yeah. I just hope I didn’t drag us down here and keep Tom from going home for nothing.”
“It’s going to be okay no matter what.” He squeezed her hands.
“I know.” She smiled a secret smile that lit up her face in a way he’d never seen before. “I really do know that things will be okay, no matter what. A couple days ago, I wouldn’t have said that, but something happened to me when Bill kidnapped me. I knew that there was a chance I could die, but I never felt alone or abandoned. Never. It was like all of a sudden I understood the faith you have. I understood how you can believe. Because even in that horrible place, with that horrible man, I believed. I talked to God and I know He heard me and that’s all because of you, Josh. My life has changed forever because of you.”
Josh didn’t know what to say so he just squeezed her hands and then moved close enough that he could cup her cheek. He was afraid to talk. Afraid to breathe and wake up from this dream. Could this be true? Had Nikki really accepted God’s love?
“That’s why I wanted to rush down here. I’m not scared anymore. I just want to find out who is doing this so that we can stop them and so I can get busy starting my new life. My new life with you… I-if you want that, too, that is.”
Josh didn’t say yes. He did something better. He hooked his hand around her neck and pulled her towards him, pressing his lips against hers. After pulling away, he whispered, “I don’t want anything more.”
She smiled and tears gathered on her cheeks, but just as he went to kiss her again, Koby cleared his throat. “Um… should I, like, wait outside?”
Nikki and Josh erupted in laughter and Nikki shook her head. “No, Koby. I promise I’m done now.”
The mechanic flashed her a wide smile. “Seriously, though. I’m really happy you guys are finally on the same page.”
“Me, too.” Josh chuckled.
Tom came into the room and gave them a quizzical look. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah.” Josh could feel himself grinning like a fool. “This lady here just agreed to be my girlfriend is all.”
“Ah.” Tom grinned. “Well, it’s about time, I’d say. I think the whole town’s been wondering when you two were gonna get moving already.”
A blush spread across Nikki’s face. “Were we that obvious all this time?” She held a hand to her red cheek.
“Yes, dear. But I’ve got a wife waiting for me at home who’s probably getting peeved that I’m letting dinner get cold. So, let’s get this box open.”
“Right away.” Nikki nodded, jumping up from her chair. “And again, thank you so much for doing this, Tom.”
Both Nikki and the bank manager produced their keys and got to work. A minute later, a long and wide beige metal box was laid on the table. They held their breath as Nikki opened the lid.
Nikki pulled out a couple of manila envelopes that were filled with papers and then, there at the very bottom of the box, he saw it.
The package looked worn. The writing on it had faded with time to the point of almost being unreadable. Nikki raised it, clutching it firmly in her arms. She looked at Josh for a moment and then sucked in a breath before tearing it open.
A cell phone popped out from the bubble wrapped lining and clattered onto the table.
“A cell phone?” Koby snorted. “What could be on a cell phone?”
“I don’t know.” Pictures? Videos? A contact list that a drug task force would kill for? “Turn it on.”
Her thumb found the protruding button on the top of the left side and pressed, but the screen stayed black. “It’s dead.”
“It probably just needs to be charged. It’s been in that package for over a year.” Josh knocked his knuckle on the table. “We’re just going to have to go find a charger.”
“Wait a second.” Tom reached for the phone. “Can I see it?”
Nikki handed it over.
“This is the same brand as mine. I think I have a charger in my desk.”
“Could we borrow it?” Nikki asked, her hands squeezing into fists.
“Just give me a moment to get it.”
It seemed like an eternity, but really it was only seconds before the bank manager reappeared with a long black cord dangling from his clenched hand like a tail. Nikki pushed the prongs into the outlet embedded in the wall right beside the table.
As Nikki plugged in the phone, a nervous tremor quaked across Josh’s chest. How was this tiny device—small enough to fit in his palm—going to change their lives? If the phone turned out to be nothing, then they were right back where they’d started. Back to dodging this looming cloud of danger and having no idea why it chased them.
Josh looked at Nikki and saw the toll of the weekend’s crazy events written all over her from the cruel navy stitches above her eyebrows to the bandages on her hands where the glass had cut her as she’d freed herself from Bill’s cabin. He shuddered at the thought of her in that cold, dark place, alone and scared.
Then, the screen of the cell flickered to life.
God, let this be something. Guide us on the right path. The path to truth.
“What now?” Her hands were shaking.
“Maybe check the call history?” Koby tapped on the table.
Nikki touched a few icons and the picture changed to a list of random numbers all with Pennsylvania area codes.
“There are so many of them. And none have names. They’re just numbers.”
“Perry can probably run the numbers, but it will be a while before we get any results.”
“There has to be something more to this.” Nikki said to herself. “If Ryan wanted me to call someone, he would have given me some kind of clue.”
“Maybe the phone has a message for you on it or something.” Tom had obviously been drawn in by the strangeness of the situation.
“He could have written something.” Nikki closed the call list and returned to the home screen, then tapped a lined-paper icon that was certainly the note-taking app. “Nothing.” She sighed, even though everyone craning over her shoulder could already see that not one typed message had been saved.
“Wait a minute.” Josh nudged her side as an idea struck. “There’s more than one way to leave a message. Check the voicemails.”
Her eyes lit up and she started tapping.
When he spotted one solitary recording stored in the Saved Messages section, electricity coursed through Josh’s veins and, like the others, he squeezed a little closer, desperate not to miss a word.
Nikki took a long, shaking breath and then pressed Play.
The next thing he heard was Ryan Danforth speaking to them from beyond the grave.
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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