We are excited to share a book installment on Wednesdays and Saturdays! Hidden Danger by Jennifer Pierce is the first in the Small Town Guardians series. Read the next chapter below!
The trip into town didn’t seem to take as long as normal. Of course, she had spent the entire ride thinking about the package that had been on the doorstep that morning. She didn’t know who had sent it or why. No, they didn’t just send it; they delivered it in person. Someone had been at the house, on the porch, while she was sleeping. Fear and anger fought for dominance within her.
Not only had they been at the house to deliver the package but, at some point, they had been in the house. They had gone through her parents’ things and had taken two of the most precious items she had left of them.
She pulled into the hardware store’s parking lot. Gary was at the customer service desk when she walked in. “Hey, Gary. How are you this morning?”
“I’m doing well, Ms. Maggie. Did you get that list of those supplies you need?”
“I do have my list, but I want to ask you about new locks and a home security system. I’ve had a little trouble at the house, and I think it’s time I changed the locks and set up a security system.” Maggie laid her purse on the counter and started digging for her supply list.
“I’m sorry to hear that. A nice girl like you shouldn’t be out there all alone. Why, you should have a man to take care of you. But that’s none of my business.
“Gary. It’s the twenty-first century. I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.”
“You’re right. Just ignore me. We do have some basic security items, door and window alarms that would probably do for a house here in town. But if I were you, I’d consider calling the security company in Prairie’s Grove. With your house so far out, you’d want something that can cover the perimeter and call for help if it were to ever go off.” He led her toward the aisle with the alarms.
She listened to him describe each product and chose an alarm for the front and back doors of the house and alarms for all the downstairs windows. She also grabbed some motion sensor lights for the front and back porches as well. She followed Gary around the store as he helped her gather the remaining items on her list.
“Let me get that business card for you, and then I’ll help you out to your car.” Gary dug around the service desk.
“Thank you, but I can manage to carry everything out.”
“Nonsense. I want to help.” He lifted the phone and looked under it before setting it back down. “Besides, they keep this place too cold. I need to warm up a bit, thin skin and all.” She chuckled. It was close to one hundred degrees outside. It was hard to imagine how anyone could be cold.
He shuffled through various baskets and drawers. “Here it is.” He handed over a small, white business card. She stuffed it in her wallet, making a mental note to call them when she returned to the house.
He grabbed her bags and waited for her to lead the way to the truck.
After Gary placed the painting supplies and security stuff in the bed of the truck, she gave him a wave and thanked him for his help.
The next stop was the grocery store to stock the cabinets. The parking lot was full. It seemed as if everyone else in town had run out of food at the same time. Parking at the end of the lot by the side alley, she hoped her previous purchases would be okay in the bed of the truck.
Once inside the store, she grabbed a shopping cart and headed to the fruits and vegetables. With the events of the past twenty-four hours, she could use some comfort food. She picked up a couple bunches of bananas so she could make her mother’s banana pudding for dessert. She also picked up some fresh tomatoes and lettuce.
Slowly making her way across the grocery store, Maggie picked up enough food for a couple of weeks. She wanted to stay out of town as much as possible. Running into Cody at the sheriff’s station yesterday and then having him at her house twice in the last twelve hours had added to the ache in her chest. If she didn’t have to come to town she wouldn’t take the chance of running into him.
He had hurt her so deeply. He’d told her he loved her and then had taken it all back before completely cutting her out of his life. What had been wrong with her? She thought she’d been a good girlfriend. She had replayed every conversation they’d had in the days preceding that night and couldn’t think of anything. She hadn’t been clingy. He’d told her many times how beautiful she was, inside and out.
After he broke things off, he wouldn’t take her calls or return her messages. Wanting an explanation, she had called him twice. After that, she’d refused to play the desperate girlfriend calling him multiple times. She’d never understood his change of heart but had worked hard to stop thinking about it. Those old wounds were not going to be opened now.
Groceries paid for, she wheeled them to the truck. She hadn’t realized how long she’d spent in the grocery store, but it must have been a while because the parking lot was nearly deserted now. As she got closer to the truck, a folded piece of paper under the windshield caught her eye. Probably a flier from one of the local churches inviting her to church or an advertisement. She loaded the groceries into the bed of the truck, taking note that all her bags from the hardware store were still accounted for.
She grabbed the paper off the windshield, put it in the passenger seat, and climbed into the truck. Sticking the key in the ignition and turning, the truck sputtered and died. This couldn’t be happening right now. It couldn’t break down now, not when she had frozen goods that needed to be put in the freezer. She tried the key again, and the truck sputtered dismally but finally turned over. Thankful that potential disaster had been averted, she reached over and picked up the paper that had been tucked under her windshield wiper.
The words “I’m watching you” were spelled out using magazine clippings. Her hands shook, and she whipped her head up, surveying the parking lot. When she didn’t see anyone, she looked at the flier again. “Join us as Whitehaven High School’s Drama Club presents Mystery Dinner Theatre ‘Stalked.’” The fear that had been vibrating up and down her spine whooshed away. It was a flier. There was nothing to be afraid of. She was just jumpy from the last twenty-four hours. She wadded up the paper and threw it in the passenger’s side floorboard. As she turned to grab her seat belt, a face appeared in the window.
She let out a squeal at Cody’s face staring back at her. She cranked the window down. “Cody, what are you doing, besides giving me a heart attack?”
“I saw the truck in the parking lot and wanted to check on you.” He was so handsome standing there, blue eyes sparkling in the sunlight. His blond hair was slightly longer than he had kept it years ago. She wanted to reach up and run her fingers through it but kept her hands clasped in her lap.
“I’m fine.” She willed her heart to slow.
“That’s good. I got the evidence turned in. They’re going to dust them for fingerprints.” He rested his arms on the truck door.
“Will I get the rings back?” Those were the only two things of her parent’s that she wanted. It symbolized so much of them and their relationship. Those rings stood for what she wanted in her own marriage.
“It may take a couple of days, but I promise you will get them back. You probably don’t want to hear this, but I still think you should stay somewhere else tonight.”
“You’re right. I don’t want to hear that. Thank you for the concern. I bought new locks and some alarms for the doors and windows. I even got motion lights. I’m going to call a security company about having a system installed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some frozen food that I need to get home.” A look she couldn’t interpret crossed his face, but he stepped back without a word. She put the truck in gear and drove out of the parking lot.
She risked a glance in the rearview mirror. Cody stood rooted in spot, watching her drive away. Her heart clenched a bit. This is what it was like to drive away from someone she loved. And she had loved him once, and maybe she still had those feelings buried deep. She wasn’t sure Cody had really loved her, though.
She had to make several trips to get everything into the house. As she was grabbing the last bag, tires on gravel alerted her to the arrival of a vehicle. A Dale County Sheriff’s cruiser pulled in. Her heart fluttered momentarily. Had Cody chased after her? Had she wanted him to?
It only lasted a moment before she reminded herself Cody didn’t want her, and she didn’t need him. She needed to get the house sold and get back to Houston.
The car stopped, and Deputy Grainger stepped out. “Good afternoon, Ms. Jones. I’m Deputy Michael Grainger, but you can call me Grainger.”
“Good afternoon. Please call me Maggie.”
“Yes, ma’am. I was pulling in to check on the property. Any problems?”
“Not that I’ve noticed. I just got back from town.”
“Would it be okay if I looked around? Just to make sure?”
“No problem. Come on in when you’re done, and I’ll get you a glass of tea.”
She carried the bags to the kitchen and started putting the groceries away until she found the jug of tea she’d purchased.
“Ma’am?” Grainger’s voice came from the doorway. “I’ve looked around outside. Mind if I come inside? You said you were gone for a spell.”
“Do you think it’s necessary?” Maybe Cody was right. Maybe she should find somewhere else to stay.
“No, ma’am. I don’t, but it might make you feel better.”
“It’s Maggie. I don’t see the harm in it. Go ahead. I’ll have your tea ready when you’re done.”
He nodded and disappeared down the hall. She filled a cup with ice and poured the tea before finishing putting the groceries up. She was laying the alarms and new locks on the island when Grainger returned.
“Just as I thought it would be, everything is fine. Would you like some help with those?” He nodded to the items on the island.
She handed him the glass of tea. “No. Thank you. I think I can manage.”
“Okay then. I’m going to head back out on patrol. One of us will pull up occasionally. We won’t get out unless we see something suspicious or you call in and ask us. I just started my shift, so it’ll be me the next twelve hours. Why don’t I give you my cell number?”
“That would be great.” The fear she’d had when he’d asked to look around had started to dissipate. Having his number helped. This way, if something else were to happen, she could call for help but still bypass Cody completely.
She pulled her phone out of her pocket and typed his number into her contacts. Then she sent him a text. His phone beeped from his pocket. “Now you’ll have my number.”
He smiled and drained his glass. “Thanks again for the tea. I’ll see myself out. Call or text if you need anything.”
“I will.” She gave him a little wave and went back to the alarms and locks on display. She was going to start by changing the lock and alarming the front door. She grabbed the boxes and tools she needed and set to work.
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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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SMALL TOWN GUARDIANS SERIES