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!
The ringing of the house phone woke Maggie from much needed sleep. She stretched and looked at the clock on the mantel—8:30 a.m. She must have finally been exhausted enough to let sleep consume her. After the mysterious caller last night, she was almost afraid to answer the phone. I’m not going to let this creep win. He will not scare me into hiding.
“Hello?” Did she really sound that shaky?
“Ms. Jones, this is Gary at Pete’s Hardware. I thought I would call and let you know the paint you ordered is in.”
Relief washed over her. She’d ordered basic white paint over the phone from home, knowing her father and his lack of upkeep would mean the whole house, inside and outside, would need painted. “Thank you, Gary. I’m going to be in town later this morning. I’ll pick it up then. I’m also going to need an exterior primer. Do you have any in stock?”
“Let me check. I’m going to put you on hold for a sec, okay?”
Tacky hold music started playing on his side of the line.
The house and surrounding area had finally been cleared, and Cody and the deputies had departed around two o’clock in the morning. After they left, a feeling of unease had enveloped her. Even though there had been a deputy stationed outside, she’d been suspicious of every sound.
She’d gone to her father’s room and found his pistol exactly where he had always kept it. Though she hadn’t shot a gun since he had taken her and Jacob to the gun range when she was fourteen, it had brought her some peace of mind.
But the biggest comfort had come from her Bible. She had begun reading in Proverbs. Chapter eighteen, verse ten resonated with her. The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe.
“Maggie? We do have some primer. I’ll put it with your exterior paint. Are you going to need any other painting supplies?”
“I’m going to have to look and see what dad has lying around. I’ll make a list and pick it all up later. Thank you so much.”
“You’re very welcome, and I’ll see you later.”
She placed the cordless phone on a charging station in the living room and headed to the kitchen for breakfast. The cabinets were pretty bare, but she remembered seeing a granola bar in one of them. She’d have to get some groceries while she was in town.
Grabbing a notebook and pen from the junk drawer in the kitchen, she took her granola bar to the table to make a list of things that needed to be added to her to-do list. The first thing on that list was the red mess.
A knock at her front door interrupted her train of thought. She set her granola bar down and walked to the living room.
Before she reached the door, there was another knock. “Margaret, it’s Amelia from church.”
Her former youth leader? That was a surprise. She hurriedly opened the door. Before Maggie had a chance to welcome Amelia, she’d grabbed her and smothered her in one of her famous bear hugs.
“This was on your porch when I pulled up.” Amelia handed Maggie a small white box
“Amelia, what on earth are you doing here?” She took the box and invited Amelia into the house.
“Jacob told me you’d be in town this month. I’m still the youth leader, and I’m teaching the youth about service. What better way to teach it than to put it into action?” Amelia gave a small shrug.
“My condolences on your father. I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to make it to the funeral. We were on a mission trip, and I didn’t even know he had passed until we returned. I really wish I could have been here for you.” She reached out and grabbed Maggie’s hand. “But I can be here for you now. Why don’t you let our youth help around with the things you need done? I see painting will be a priority.”
Maggie set the box on the coffee table and gestured for Amelia to have a seat next to her on the couch. Amelia had always been a helper. She had a servant’s spirit, as Maggie’s mother would put it. She was always the first to volunteer when work needed to be done. When her mother had died seven years ago, Amelia had baked a casserole for them every other night for a month. She’d been a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, and had wisdom beyond her years.
Maggie had missed her. After she left Whitehaven, she had kept in touch with Amelia through email but eventually that stopped. She’d gotten so busy with school and writing. She’d come home to visit her dad all the time, but she’d never left the house. Dad always had everything she needed.
“Thank you for the offer, but I don’t have the supplies yet. I’ll be heading into town later to pick them up. Plus, I don’t know if you heard, but there was an incident here last night. Kind of a creepy thing—someone was watching the house, trying to scare me. No one was hurt, it’s probably nothing more than a joke, but I’d rather the youth not be here in case there is a real threat.” Not to mention the fact that allowing a bunch of juveniles to paint could be disastrous. No. She’d do the painting, make sure it was done right. They needed the house to sell quickly.
“Oh, no! I hadn’t heard. Thank God no one was hurt.” She closed her eyes and looked heavenward. “Well, we’ll put off having the youth come, but maybe I can get some of the adults to help. Since I’m here, tell me what’s new in your world.”
“There’s not a lot to tell. I went to college, graduated, and now I work as an elementary school librarian.” Maggie turned more toward Amelia, and brought her leg up, lacing her foot under her other leg.
“Any special fellows in your life? Cody’s still single, you know.” Amelia wiggled her eyebrows.
“No. No special man. And Cody Smith is in the past. Not a mistake to be made again.”
Amelia placed her hand on Maggie’s knee. “You know, back in youth group, he’d always been a handful. Causing all kinds of ruckus and chasing the girls. Until that summer your momma died that is. He changed that summer. You two may have been able to fool everyone else, but I knew you were seeing each other. You’re the reason he changed, you know.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.” Maggie’s neck heated. She didn’t think anyone had known about their relationship.
“Oh, honey. That boy was head over heels for you. Even after you left. He moped around like a sad puppy. He’s been single ever since.”
If Amelia was right, why had he broken up with her? If he’d really loved her, why would he cause so much pain?
The phone rang, saving her from having the conversation about how her relationship ended. She grabbed the phone from its cradle. “Hello.”
“Maggie. Good thing I caught you.” Gary’s voice echoed over the line. “I know I told you this morning that we had some exterior primer, but I didn’t realize it was on hold.”
Maggie put her hand over the receiver. “It’s Gary from the hardware store. I’ll be just a minute.”
“No worries. I need to be going anyway. I’ll see myself out.” Amelia reached across the couch and gave her a hug before leaving.
“That’s all right, Gary. Can we order some?”
“That we can, but it will be a couple days before we can get it in. The order for this week’s first truck has already been sent in.”
“That’s fine. I’m in no hurry.” In reality, she was. She didn’t want to have to keep staring at the words scrawled across her house, but she also didn’t have the time to drive to neighboring towns to see if they had what she needed.
“I’m going to make that list of supplies and still come get them and the paint today though.”
“I’ll see you later then.”
She hung up the phone and walked to the kitchen to make an inventory of her painting supplies. She started singing her favorite hymn, “Victory in Jesus,” while she dug through the kitchen supply closet. She started with her favorite verse, the one about angels singing and the old redemption story.
She stacked the supplies she could find on an old paint tray, and she turned to put them on the island when a man standing in her doorway startled her. She yelped, dropping the tray and scattering everything across the floor.
“Sorry to startle you. I was about to knock on the door when Amelia opened it. She said you were on the phone. I knocked and called your name, but you didn’t answer. Now I know why.”
The cadence of her heart started to slow when she recognized Cody. How long had he been standing there staring at her? She took a moment to take in his handsome figure leaning against the doorframe, his hands in his jeans’ pockets. Memories of them together in that same kitchen years ago slowly crept into her mind.
“What can I help you with today, Sheriff?” She bent over to pick up the mess. Cody stepped into the kitchen and bent over to help. His presence filled the room. Her breath hitched as if there wasn’t enough air. They piled everything onto the tray she had been holding. As he took the tray from her, his hand rested on hers. Warmth radiated up her arm, threatening to go straight to her heart, but she snatched her hand away, not daring to feel anything more. He set the tray on the counter and she turned away quickly, unwilling to look at him. Buying time, she walked to the sink and washed her hands. She dried her hands on a kitchen towel before turning her attention to the tray on the counter. Studiously ignoring him, she started laying things out to take inventory before her trip into town.
“I came back for some follow-up questions about last night’s incident.” He stood next to her and helped her organize the painting supplies. His close proximity was all she could focus on.
“I already know about the mailbox and the paint incidents that led up to last night. Can you think of anything that had happened prior to those? Even anything months ago? Maybe your dad had mentioned weird things going on around the property?”
“I can’t think of anything out of the ordinary. He talked about the usual problems, you know, wild animals getting into the trash, the neighbor’s dog finding his way to the house. Dad would have to call Mrs. Brown to come get him.” She retreated to the kitchen table to retrieve her notebook and pen, diligently making her list to avoid looking at Cody. She would need to get a couple more rollers and some masking tape.
His cologne wafted toward her. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. He still wore the same brand. In that instant, she remembered every embrace, resting her head on his chest, breathing in that wonderful scent that was always concentrated there. He’d once confessed to intentionally spraying it there after she’d told him how much she loved it.
She needed more space between them to clear her head. She walked into the living room, leaving Cody in the kitchen. The white box on the coffee table caught her eye. She’d forgotten about it.
“What about before you came back to Whitehaven? Did anything suspicious happen to you? Have you been threatened before?” Cody called from the kitchen.
She wasn’t going to be able to avoid him as long as he had questions about last night. Reluctantly, she took the box back to the kitchen and laid it on the island. The quicker she answered his questions the sooner he’d leave. He’d made himself comfortable at the kitchen table while she’d been in the living room.
“No, nothing. I live a quiet life. I’m an elementary school librarian.”
“A librarian? I thought you moved off to college in pursuit of a writing career?”
“Well, things change. When I’m not working at the school, I tutor at the Boys and Girls Club and outreach center during the week. When I have free time, I write.”
Maggie gave the box a frown. She wasn’t expecting any deliveries here in Whitehaven. It was about time for her monthly book order to come in. Perhaps her neighbor had been nice enough to somehow forward them. This wasn’t the typical box they came in, though, and she hadn’t thought the mail delivered out here. Her father had had a post office box for as long as she could remember. The mailbox had been more of a way to mark their drive than to actually collect the mail.
She retrieved some scissors from the utensil drawer and cut the tape holding the lid in place. She laid the scissors to the side and removed the lid. Inside the box, cradled in white tissue paper lay a black jewelry box. She opened the box, and the hair on the back of her neck prickled as nausea roiled in her stomach.
No. It can’t be.
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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.
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