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Take a peek at this week’s #SaturdaySuspense editor’s choice.
Sprinkled with Sabotage by Allison Pearl
Title: Sprinkled with Sabotage
Series: Love and Danger in St. Claire Series
Author: Allison Pearl
Genre: Inspirational Romantic Suspense
Format: eBook; Paperback
Lizzy Bennet loves life as a lawyer in the city. And not just because of the miles it puts between her and her ex. However, when she’s attacked on the street just hours after learning her identity was stolen, she tries to call home for help and ends up with the last person she expects: the very same high school boyfriend who broke her heart. He says he’s there to help, but she’s not so sure, and now, all the endless questions and regrets are clouding her judgment and preventing her from seeing the dangerous saboteur closing in.
Small-town auto mechanic, Koby Knightly, is looking forward to seeing a car show in the city. But when an unexpected call from his old girlfriend disconnects suddenly, he rushes to her aid. Throwing his plans out the window, Koby makes it his mission to protect her and discover the identity of the person trying to frame her. Will he also be able to figure out what went wrong between them back in high school or will a killer get to her first?
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I trust him with my life. Just not with my heart.
Elizabeth Bennet remembered using those words to describe her relationship with Koby Knightly—if one could even call it that. But was that trust enough of a justification to dial her ex-boyfriend’s number? She looked back over her shoulder at the dark, snow-lined sidewalk. Seconds prior, she’d been certain she heard feet chasing her, but now, there was nothing. Only the sound of her high heels clicking on the uneven concrete as she hurried home from dinner. Why hadn’t she called a cab? Or even hopped on a bus?
She’d felt safe on Groves Street, eating sautéed zucchini noodles at a table pressed against the restaurant window alongside multiple partners from the corporate law firm where she worked. Rumor was they were thinking of promoting her, and she had left the restaurant thinking the water cooler gossip was true. If she played her cards right, she’d be a partner by year’s end.
And the Friday night atmosphere—complete with Christmas-light-adorned boutiques stuffed with college students and enraptured young sweethearts—had only heightened her excitement. But once she turned a corner south, leaving the shoppers and revelers behind, all the weird things happening lately came flooding back.
Only five more blocks to home. She sidestepped a trash can and quickened her pace past the dark brick mansions converted to modern rentals and parked cars crammed in the alley spaces, wishing that every shadow didn’t bring to mind the blocked numbers that called her cell only to hang up when she answered and the silent voice mails that appeared when she didn’t answer. Not to mention the mysterious collection letter that came to her office today for a PO Box that she knew nothing about. She’d thought the past-due bill had been sent by mistake. She’d been too busy to follow it up. But—worst of all—was the constant feeling that someone was watching her.
Lizzy popped up the collar of her red trench coat as a shield against the wind and pulled the knotted belt a little tighter. Maybe, she should call her brother instead. Why had her first thought been Koby, anyway? The days of being able to turn to her former sweetheart whenever she got scared were long gone. After all, walking down a dark street in Pittsburgh wasn’t the same as an old horror flick playing at the one-screen theater in her hometown of St. Claire. Not to mention she was no longer a silly girl who needed to grab on to some boy’s arm.
Her brother was a sheriff’s deputy and former soldier. If anyone needed to tell her that she was being paranoid and crazy, it should be Josh. Not some country auto mechanic that used to drive her around in high school.
She pushed open the handbag slung over her shoulder and slid her hand inside for her phone. She pulled it out and pressed down her thumb, ready to tell the device to call Josh Bennet, but…
Was that a good idea?
Now was not a good time. Her brother would certainly jump in his car and drive through the night for her, but the timing would be terrible. He was getting married next weekend. What kind of sister would she be if, right before one of the biggest days of his life, she pulled him into whatever mayhem was transpiring in her world? But she knew her brother. He’d be ticked if she didn’t at least call someone.
There it was again. That rustling sound. Pausing mid step, she tried to dampen her throbbing heart as she turned on her heel to scan the street behind her. Nothing. No people. No moving cars. No crumpled bits of trash colliding with the hard snow pushed against the curbs. Sucking in a breath, she continued toward home.
This was ridiculous. She’d feel better if she was talking to someone who knew where she was and what was going on. But who could she call for advice other than Josh?
Lizzy groaned. “Well, I’m definitely not calling Koby Knightly.”
“Calling Koby Knightly.”
She froze, staring at the lit-up screen. Her breath caught, and a wheel turned at the top of the screen. It was already dialing.
“Oh no.” Her fingers fumbled for the red End Call icon, but a lock of hair blew into her face as something whooshed past her back. Lizzy whirled but saw only a darkened sidewalk. She looked for any sign of movement, but all was still frozen in place by the hardened remnants of yesterday’s snow. She exhaled, backing away. It must be the wind. Stop being crazy.
She jumped, and her eyes went back to her phone. His name was scrawled across the screen.
“Hello?” His voice sounded weak through the speaker meant to be pressed to an ear.
Should she hang up?
“Lizzy, I know it’s you. Even cell phones from down here in the sticks have caller ID, you know.”
She rolled her eyes as she trudged forward. Just great.
“Lizzy…” He said it in a singsong tone.
What could she say other than the truth?
She raised the phone to her ear. “I called you by mist—”
Again, she felt the ghostlike presence behind her. Gasping, she about-faced, dropping her hands to her sides. It was starting to flurry, and the flakes danced in the light of the moon. All else was quiet.
Lizzy dragged her free hand down her face as she groaned. Pull yourself together, girl, and get moving.
“Elizabeth.” Koby’s voice was terse with worry.
She pressed the speaker to her ear. “I’m fine. I just thought—”
A vice clamped around her wrist underneath the cradled phone. It flew from her grasp. She reached for it with her other hand, but someone grabbed that elbow.
“Let me go!” Lizzy tried to run forward, but her attacker jerked her back. Don’t let him get his arms around you. Hundreds of memories of her brother and her father flashed in her mind. They had prepared her for this. Prepared her so that when a fight came, she would win. Using her whole body and her attacker’s force against him, she threw her right elbow into his chest, hoping to hit his diaphragm. The contact sent a jolt through her body, but based on the ragged breath behind her, she’d hit her target. The hands on her loosened but didn’t release.
While the attacker struggled to get back the air she’d knocked out of his body, Lizzy dropped her gaze to the ground around her feet. After raising her knee, she dropped her foot like a hammer, sending her three-inch stiletto right onto the flat bones of his foot. Her arms fell free and she stumbled forward. After a few hobbled steps, she glanced back long enough to see a hooded stranger with a covered face.
She grabbed the top corners of the bag still hanging on her body and swung it like a bat or a folded metal chair on one of those wrestling shows. The work bag—stuffed with her laptop, makeup, wallet, and everything but the kitchen sink—was sure to pack a punch. A savage yowl came out of her mouth as she whacked her attacker in the head. Caging his head with his arms, he dropped to his knees for just a second before jumping up and dashing down the sidewalk back toward Groves Street, then making a hard left onto a snowy strip of lawn between two houses.
“Hey!” Was there anything distinguishing about him? Lizzy tried to burn his silhouette into her brain in the second before he disappeared. It was time for her to disappear as well. In case he planned to come back with friends.
Changing course, she staggered forward, but her foot landed with a weird jolt, and her bag shifted, causing her to teeter off balance. Lizzy glanced down just long enough to register that one of her heels had broken off; then, her remaining one caught the raised edge of a sidewalk slab and sent her sprawling to the ground. Her knee slammed into the concrete, and icy rocks scraped the heels of her hands as she tried to stop herself from sliding into the street.
Letting out a grunt of frustration, she smacked the ground and then yelped at the pain it caused her torn skin.
“Ugh!” What a mess. She was little more than a sitting duck, crumpled on the concrete like a sack. Scrambling on hands and knees, she scanned the ground for her cell phone. If there were any patrol cars nearby, they’d get to her faster than she would get to her apartment.
It rested against the base of the streetlight. Her fingertips, now burning from the frozen ground, curled around it. The screen was black with the glint from a web of cracks spun across the glass. “No.” She pounded the power button again and again but got no signs of life.
Home was close, but—unless he was on his way back to finish what he started—her attacker would be long gone before she got to her apartment to call the police. And what would she even tell them if they came? Besides an estimate of his height and weight, she had nothing that could identify him. Assuming it even was a him. Her attacker was certainly strong—the ache in her wrist and arms where she’d been held was proof of that—but Lizzy knew better than to underestimate women, recalling all the times people had underestimated her—including whoever she’d just fought off.
Sore, cold, and bleeding, she just wanted to go home and soak in the claw-foot tub in her bathroom. She rose and began an awkward limp home. Because of her constant twisting to make sure her attacker wasn’t back to chase her down, she nearly fell a dozen times as she covered the last couple of blocks to her building.
She gasped and her whole body tensed. “Koby? What are you doing here?”
He stood in front of the glass doors to her apartment building. After pulling his hands out of the pockets of a pair of faded jeans, he started toward her, his eyes wide and his jaw hanging open. “What happened to you?”
She blinked, and he stopped before her, his hands cupping her face. If she answered his question, she did so without thinking. She’d had so much practice resisting this pull, but suddenly—bruised and scared—she was powerless. Her heart pounded and her face was on fire.
He hadn’t held her like that since…
She pushed his arms apart and shook her head free of his touch. “What are you doing in Pittsburgh?”
His gaze fell down her body—no doubt taking in her icy coat and bleeding knee—as he took a step back. “I-I’ve been here since yesterday.”
But he hated the city. What would make him leave his shop in St. Claire and come here? Her stomach churned with a sudden wave of unease. A rage-filled memory long past but not forgotten flashed into her mind. But Koby would never hurt her, right?
* * * *
“Why are you here?”
Koby couldn’t believe what he saw in her eyes above her bloodstained cheek. Was that accusation? Maybe, he shouldn’t have touched her, but it wasn’t like he’d planned it. She was hurt. It was an instinct. One he was normally good at ignoring.
“I’m restoring an old hot rod for Dickie Green. I sent pieces of the body up here to be painted, and they’re done. So, I came to pick them up.” A thick strawberry-blond lock of hair on her cheek begged to be twirled around his finger. He stuck his hands back in his pockets, part of him wishing he could tie them down.
Lizzy’s shoulders relaxed.
“Since I was coming up anyway, I decided to go to the car show at the convention center tomorrow. I’m staying the weekend at that inn a few blocks away that your brother recommended.” He tilted his head the opposite direction from which she came. “When your call dropped like that and then went straight to voice mail when I called back, I… I don’t know. I just wanted to make sure you were okay and ran over here.”
He pulled his right hand out of his pocket and gestured toward the carved stone building. “The doorman couldn’t reach you when he buzzed your place, and he wouldn’t let me wait inside.”
“But how did you know that I was coming here?”
When she patted her loosely pinned-up hair as if trying to gauge its current state, he saw blood and dirt-brushed scrapes on her palms. “I didn’t. But where else was I supposed to go?”
Lizzy put a hand on her hip but then pulled it away like it’d hurt her wounds. “How do you know where I live? I never gave you my address.”
Was she serious? “Your brother is my best friend, and I see your parents all the time. Is it that unreasonable that I would know your address?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think that explains—”
“I know your address, okay?” He jerked on the hem of his coat. “It’s not like I can just forget I know it. I was going to call 911, but for all I knew, you were fine, and who knows how long it would’ve taken them to respond? And so, I came here. What’s the big deal? It’s not like this is the first time I’ve…” He pressed his lips together, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck.
He heard the familiar sound of her heel tapping the ground.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve considered coming here.”
“Oh.” She wrapped her arms around her chest, but all doubt seemed to be gone from her eyes, replaced with a subtle blush on her pale skin.
“Now that the interrogation is over, you want to tell me why you look like you got run over by a truck?” Koby tried to keep his voice light, but he was shaken. Blood was on her face, hands, and leg, and she’d been limping when he’d spotted her.
Lizzy bit her bottom lip and then glanced over her shoulder down the sidewalk to her right. Koby could almost see the wheels turning in his ever-calculating ex-girlfriend’s brain. Lizzy may have grown up to be a lawyer, but even as a teenager, she didn’t respond to a question without a mental rundown of her answer.
Tugging her chin with two fingers, he turned her gaze back to his. “And don’t lie.”
Rolling her eyes, she batted his hand away. “I wasn’t going to lie. But do we really need to get into this out here? I’m freezing and sore, and I just want to go home.”
Koby let his hand fall to his side. “Fine, but I’m coming with you. I’m not leaving until you tell me what happened.”
“Whatever.” She brushed past him, her shoulder bumping his as she walked toward the building.
Here we go again. She takes off in a huff, and I chase her down. Gritting his teeth, he turned and followed.
The bulky doorman’s jaw dropped when Lizzy’s one remaining heel clicked onto the pristine marble floors. “Ms. Bennet? What happened to you? Should I call the police?”
The doorman lifted the black handset of a desk phone and pointed at Koby. “He came in looking for you. Said he was worried. Like he knew something had happened to you.”
“Don’t call the police, Darrin. He was overreacting.” Lizzy held an arm out in front of him like that would make him disappear.
Darrin raised an eyebrow, phone still pressed to his ear.
Koby stepped up until her arm bumped his chest. “Listen, man. I say call them—”
“I’m fine. I promise you,” Lizzy said. “I just fell and broke my phone.”
The doorman tapped the outside of the handset with his pointer finger for a moment but then released it. “If you say so, ma’am. But if you need anything at all, you call down here.” He shot her an awkward smile and a wink.
You’re not her type, muscle man.
“You got it.” Lizzy pulled her arm away and loosened the belt of her coat before turning toward the gold-plated elevator.
As she punched the call button, Koby watched her reflection on the doors as she unbuttoned her long red coat. The mud-and-ice-covered jacket fell open, revealing a sparkly black dress that stopped at her knees. Koby swallowed the bitter taste of jealousy. Where had she been dressed like that?
When she raised her head, she caught him staring and sucked in her breath. He held her gaze until the doors opened and the golden images of themselves disappeared.
Koby entered first, barring the door from closing with an arm while Lizzy took off her heels. Barefoot, she pressed the button for the fifth floor and leaned back against the wall.
“You didn’t just fall.” As a kid, he’d heard his mom give that excuse enough times to know when it was a lie.
She wouldn’t look at him. “I said we could talk about it inside my apartment.”
“You’re the boss.” What else was new? Koby slid his hands into his pockets. “You seem to have a fan, though.”
Lizzy’s face scrunched up. “What are you talking about?”
Koby nodded to the elevator doors as they passed another floor. “Darrin, the doorman.”
She relaxed. “Oh.”
“Who did you think I was talking about?”
She sucked in a breath, but a dinging bell kept her from answering. The car shook to a stop, and the doors popped open. Koby followed as she padded down the hall to a dark oak door with an ornate gold knocker stamped with the number 517. Koby squashed a sudden thrill at the thought of them being alone. She was letting him in only because she was bleeding and tired.
She pulled out a dangling mess of keys, slid one in the lock, and then paused.
Or maybe, she wouldn’t let him in at all.
Seeming to make up her mind, she pushed open the door. Koby followed her over the threshold, and as she punched buttons on a home alarm panel, he took a moment to take in the room. A chevron pattern of long black tiles covered a large open-concept space filled with modern white furniture and a black spiral staircase that was tucked into the far corner. The whole view was a stark contrast to the little apartment he lived in above his shop.
Lizzy tossed her keys into a glass bowl on a buffet table pressed against the wall in the entryway and dropped her heels onto the floor as she let her purse slip from her shoulder. “You can hang your coat up here.” She nodded to a coatrack by the table as she leaned over and opened the bag. She pulled out some torn-open mail and dropped the stack next to the bowl before sloughing off her coat and tossing it onto a hook.
A blinking red button on an answering machine shone through the corner of one of the envelopes. “Looks like someone left you a message.”
She squinted at the little white box. “Huh. No one ever calls me on that line. Everyone calls my cell.”
Koby shrugged out of his jacket, then hung it next to hers. “Probably just a telemarketer. Do you have a first aid kit I can get?”
She looked at her red-tinted hands almost like she’d forgotten she was hurt. “Um… yeah. It’s underneath the kitchen sink.”
Koby started toward the kitchen area on the right side of the room. “I’ll get it while you listen.” He walked around the polished cement counter across from the sink and pulled open the bottom cabinet as the answering machine beeped to life.
Was that static? The message sounded odd. After grabbing the red pouch from behind some dish detergent, Koby turned toward Lizzy and rested a hand on the counter. Another moment of the strange noise made it clearer. Not static. It was someone breathing. The exhales were loud and ominous. The message wasn’t a pocket dial filled with muffled background noise. Someone had left that message on purpose.
The breathing lasted another moment. “I know who you are. I know what you’ve done,” a distorted voice said.
Lizzy’s shoulders stiffened, and her hands balled into fists at her sides. Growling, she slapped the button on the machine and then picked it up and tore the power cord out of the back before slamming it back down on the table.
Koby gritted his teeth. The call hadn’t surprised her. Someone was leaving threatening messages on her phone. Was it the same guy who hurt her? What the heck was going on?
She turned to face him, her chest rising and falling as she seethed.
“Lizzy, tell me what is going on.”
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Sprinkled with Sabotage