We are excited to share a new book installment on Wednesdays and Saturdays, starting today! Hidden Danger by Jennifer Pierce is the first in the Small Town Guardians series. Read the next chapter below!
Her yell jolted Cody from his thoughts as Maggie came racing out of the house. Jumping from his car, he met her by the front door in seconds. The distinct crack of a gunshot split the crisp June night air. The sound of wood splintering and the sting of his bicep confirmed that something had hit the porch railing to his right. His heart raced, and his fight-or-flight instincts kicked in. He grabbed Maggie by the waist and pulled her through the front door, slamming it and sliding the deadbolt.
“Maggie, get down.” He waved her to the area in front of the couch and pulled his sidearm from the holster on his belt. It was a good thing he had come straight from work. He turned off the lights and knelt below the window by the front door to keep an eye out for danger. “What made you come out screaming?”
“Someone called. A creepy machine voice asked if I wanted to play a game. He knew you were in the driveway.” The fear in her voice was audible. “Someone is watching the house.”
“Okay, stay there while I call for back up.” Pulling his cell from his pocket, he hit the speed dial number for dispatch and turned his attention back to the yard.
“Dee, this is Sheriff Smith. I am at 1405 County Road 12, shots have been fired, and I’m in need of assistance. Dispatch a K9 unit as well.” He put the phone down by his side and looked at Maggie.
She was doing what he had told her, sitting in the shadows, huddling herself up against the base of the couch, mouthing silent words as she clung to the cross around her neck. If memory served correctly, that was the cross her mother had given her for her eighteenth birthday, right before she passed away. Maggie had once told him that no matter how she was feeling, she would pray and the peace of God would descend on her. She would cling to that cross in her deepest prayers. He had always admired her faith. Was she praying for their safety now?
Cody turned his attention back to the window. It was dark out. He couldn’t tell where the shot had originated, other than from behind his car. He’d wait for reinforcements and then start looking for the shooter. His immediate priority was keeping Maggie safe until his deputies arrived.
Maggie sat on the floor in ducky pajamas and matching slippers, fear and confusion emanating from her features. All he wanted to do was gather her in his arms and tell her he’d do anything to keep her safe. But he couldn’t do that now. If he let down his guard, whoever was shooting at them could get the upper hand. Besides, her reaction to him this afternoon made it perfectly clear that she would not welcome his attention.
He kept a constant lookout, scanning for any moving shadows and listening for any unusual noises that might indicate someone was encroaching on the house.
“Cody?” Maggie’s gentle voice pulled his focus from the window. She was squinting at him in the dim light. “Are you bleeding? Were you shot?” She moved to get up, but he motioned her to stay where she was.
He looked down at his arm. The constant stinging hadn’t let him forget that he had been hit by something, but he couldn’t focus on his injuries yet. There hadn’t been another shot since the first one, but he didn’t want to test the waters.
“Relax, Magpie. It’s only a scratch. I’ll live.” He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. Sirens reached his ears before the red flashing lights came into view. Finally, backup has arrived. One cruiser pulled into the drive and screeched to a halt yards from the front steps.
“Maggie, stay here while I go talk to my deputy.” Unlocking the deadbolt, he opened the door and scanned the porch. Once the area was secured, he and Maggie needed to talk.
He stepped out onto the lit porch, every muscle in his body tensed, waiting for another shot. Deputy Grainger met him at the bottom of the porch steps and then followed him to his car.
“There was a single shot from somewhere on the other side of my car. We’ll need to search the area. Dee is supposed to be sending out the K9 unit, as well. Once they’re here we can see if there’s a trail.”
As he finished updating Grainger, three more cruisers pulled in, Deputy McKinley in the lead. Deputy Peters and his K9 partner, Luna, followed, and Deputy Minton was the last. They exited their cruisers and walked toward him waiting on his instructions.
“Grainger. You, McKinley, Peters, and Luna secure the perimeter. See if Luna can get a scent of whoever was here. Minton, I heard the bullet hit the railing on the porch. Grab your evidence kit and see what you can find.”
The front door opened, and Maggie stepped out on to the porch. He jogged to her. How am I going to protect her if she isn’t going to listen?
“Maggie, what are you doing out here?” Does she not realize someone just took a shot at her? For all we know he’s still out there watching. “We haven’t finished canvassing the area. This is a crime scene. Go back inside until everything is cleared.”
“This is my father’s property, and someone is targeting me. I want to know who and why.” Maggie’s defiant eyes dared him to argue.
How he’d missed those big, beautiful, green eyes. There was a time he thought he would get to look into those eyes every day for the rest of his life. No. You did what was necessary, what was best for Maggie, no matter how much it hurt.
She looked away and waved her hand in the direction of the deputies. “Besides, now that the cavalry is here, I really don’t think anyone would be stupid enough to hang around. I’m not going to let anyone scare me away.”
Her stubborn streak was cute when they were younger, but right now she was playing with fire. He set his jaw.
“Sheriff, come take a look at this,” Deputy Minton interrupted. Cody walked the few feet to where Minton was crouched. Maggie was right on his heels, like when they were kids.
He followed Minton’s gaze to a small cloth square lying on the porch not far from the front door. Cody pulled his multipurpose tool from his pocket, squatted down in front of the object, and used the plier tool to move it. It was a beanbag. Written in small block letters were the words one for sorrow. Their shooter hadn’t been shooting to kill. He was trying to scare Maggie. The note gave him an alarming sense of déjà vu, sending his thoughts back to the first case he’d worked after being elected sheriff.
“One for sorrow. That’s what the caller said.” Maggie’s soft voice echoed from behind him.
“It looks like it ricocheted off the porch column, splintering a portion of it, and landed here,” Deputy Minton informed them, pointing out the trajectory the beanbag had taken.
So, the splintered wood was what had hit him as he had grabbed Maggie. “Bag it. Maybe we can get something useful off it,” he directed toward Minton, then turned to Maggie. “We need to talk.” He placed his hand on her forearm and led her to the front door.
She abruptly pulled her arm from his grasp. “Yes, Sheriff, I suppose we do.” She turned on the lights and headed to the kitchen, leaving him standing in the living room.
“You can still call me Cody. You didn’t have a problem doing so about thirty minutes ago.” He leaned against the kitchen island.
“First and foremost, please tell me those are not the same duck slippers Jake bought you for Christmas when you were fifteen.” He tried to lighten the mood. She was already dealing with the loss of her father. She didn’t need this craziness piled on top of it.
Her face blushed. Was she surprised that he would remember those slippers? “No, they are not. Now onto official business or you may leave.”
“Can you tell me what happened up until you came out on the porch hollering?”
“You had called me. After I hung up, I gathered my stuff for a bath. The phone rang again. I assumed it was you, so I ignored it.” She reached into the cabinet, pulled out a thermos and filled it with fresh coffee from the maker. She must have started a pot after he’d gone out to investigate.
“After my bath, I came down and saw that I had two messages, so I checked them. I was walking away when the phone rang again. You know the rest.” She grabbed several coffee cups from the shelf and set them in front of Cody. He placed his hand over hers. Her hand was as soft as he remembered.
“Magpie, listen.” He softened his voice.
She yanked her hand from his, “Cody, please don’t. I can’t do this.” Tears pooled in her eyes. “Here’s some coffee and cups. Take them to your men.” She turned and quickly walked from the kitchen.
Picking up the thermos and tray of cups, he went back out to his officers. There was work to do now. Maybe a couple more days would calm her emotions.
As he walked out the front door, one of the deputies signaled to him. Hoping they had a lead and could wrap this up quickly, he set the cups and thermos on the hood of one of the squad cars. “Ms. Jones was gracious enough to provide coffee. Tell me what you found.”
Deputies Grainger and McKinley ambled up. Deputy Grainger was the first to speak. “We searched the area to the north until we got to the road. We couldn’t find anything. There wasn’t a car parked on the road as we came in, so I doubt our shooter escaped that way. We circled around and searched the woods surrounding the house. There’s a small creek about a quarter of the mile to the south. Luna seemed to pick up a small trail there but then got confused and kept running us in circles.”
“So, other than the bean bag, and the broken wood on the porch, we don’t have any evidence?” Except the ache in my arm. “Whoever this guy is, he’s good, and he knows the area. Okay, do one more sweep of the woods, and I’ll make sure the outside of the house is secure.”
He walked the outside perimeter with a flashlight, inspecting every visible inch. All the windows were intact, and there was no evidence of anyone being around the windows or the back door. He checked the detached garage, and it was secure as well. He slowly climbed the porch steps with Deputy McKinley right behind him and knocked on the door. Maggie’s exhausted voice invited him in. She lay cuddled on the couch with a book. Her auburn hair was disheveled, and her eyes were tired.
“Maggie, we canvassed the area and couldn’t find anything or anyone. I want a deputy to check all the interior doors and windows of the house as a precaution. Would that be okay?”
She nodded her consent. He turned and nodded to Deputy McKinley.
“Has anything else weird or unusual happened since you’ve been back in Whitehaven?”
He listened as she told him about the damaged mailbox and the vandalism. He couldn’t figure out who would want to target her in any way, much less a motive for doing so. He made a mental note to call the security agency and see if they could reach Jake. He didn’t want Maggie alone and, knowing her, she would refuse any help he tried to offer.
Deputy McKinley joined them in the living room. “The house is secure, sir. All windows and exterior doors are locked.”
Cody nodded at McKinley, who returned the nod before exiting the house.
“Magpie, what happened tonight is an indication that someone doesn’t want you here. I don’t think it would be wise for you to stay here alone until we can find out who did this. Please consider staying somewhere else until we do.”
She stood with an air of frustration, tossing the covers and book to the side. “You and your deputies have been here for hours, and you just said the area was secure. It’s late, and there’s no sense in me trying to get a hotel at this time. I think I’ll be fine.”
“If that’s what you want. I’ll have a deputy stationed outside for the rest of the night. If you need anything else, anything at all, please call the office. I understand you don’t want to have anything to do with me but don’t let your stubborn streak put you in harm’s way.” He walked out the door, and she closed it behind him. He didn’t move until she secured the deadbolt.
Can’t wait to read more? Buy it today!
About Jennifer Pierce
Jennifer Pierce currently lives in Arkansas with her husband and two children. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and River Valley Writers, where she serves as secretary.
WHERE TO FIND JENNIFER PIERCE
SMALL TOWN GUARDIANS SERIES