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!
Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five
Cody stirred the vegetables on the stovetop as his thoughts bounced back and forth between Iris’s case and Maggie’s. In both situations the stalker used notes, but Maggie’s stalker started off with threats whereas Iris’s had almost seemed like a secret admirer. He didn’t know if they were related or not. If they were, he’d have to consider pulling Grainger off the case. He was one of the department’s best deputies, but his sister’s case and subsequent death were fresh for the department and even more so for Grainger.
Then there was Maggie. She’d seemed more receptive to him at the grocery store. Her words had remained just as distant, but something in her expression had softened when she’d first recognized him. He knew it had only been a couple hours since he’d seen her, but it didn’t stop him from wanting to see her again.
Now she was alone out there at the Jones’ house. Maybe he should call to check on her. He doubted she would stay on the phone long. He could drive over there, but what would he say? I was just in the neighborhood… twenty minutes outside of town. That would probably go over about as well as a phone call, but he had to know she was okay. If he could get her on the phone for a few minutes and hear her voice, he could ease his worry.
He stirred the vegetables once more and dug his cell phone out of his pocket. He dialed the home number and waited while it rang. Five rings and it went to the answering machine.
“Maggie, this is—”
“Hello, are you there? I’m here. Sorry, I left the phone in another room.” She panted, like she’d been running.
“I was calling to check on you.”
“Thank you, Sheriff. I’m fine at this moment. I got the locks changed and all of the alarms installed.”
He was glad to hear that she was taking steps to protect herself, even if they weren’t the steps he wanted her to take.
“The security company will be coming to set up a more sophisticated system in a couple of days. I’ve also noticed a cruiser pull up into the drive occasionally. I met Deputy Grainger when he came to check on me. Thank you for that.” Her breathing slowed to normal. She was cordial, but it was still obvious that she hadn’t been kidding when she told him that he was the Sheriff and she would be treating him as such.
“That’s good. Deputy Grainger is one of my best deputies.” Knowing that Grainger had made contact with her and was taking his job seriously helped ease the worry.
“Did you need anything else?”
“Magpie, don’t do this.”
“Don’t call me Magpie. And This? This is something you created six years ago. This is your fault. This is me protecting my already shattered heart. You said you loved me. You were the silver lining in the dark clouds that invaded my life that summer. Then out of nowhere you ended it. So, no, I don’t want to talk to you. Now, if you have no official business, I’m going to hang up. I have lots of work to do.” Her voice quaked as she spoke.
Her words weren’t angry, but full of hurt, and it tore at his heart.
“I’m sorry Maggie. I didn’t mean to hurt you like that. It—”
“Okay. We checked the beanbag, toolbox, key, and box for fingerprints. There weren’t any. A deputy will continue to check your property occasionally. If anything weird happens, or if you need someone, please call it in, okay?”
“Thank you. I will call if I need anything. Goodnight.”
With that, she hung up. He stood there staring at the screen of his cell phone. He’d really messed things up back then. He had loved her, but after the conversation with Jake that night, he knew he would be holding her back.
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. The fire alarm went off. He hadn’t stirred the vegetables and now they were burning in the pan. It was just as well. The hurt in her voice had chased away his appetite. He turned the burner off and set the pan on the stovetop.
Some day he would sit Maggie down and explain to her. It wouldn’t be anytime soon, though. He needed to keep his full attention on the present situation.
He went to his home office and grabbed the laptop. Taking it to the kitchen, he turned it on and let it boot up while he made himself a glass of iced tea. He needed to figure out who was terrorizing Maggie. Someone obviously wanted to scare her away, but why? Maggie hadn’t seemed to think that the motivation was a personal vendetta. From her account, she lived a quiet life. Maybe it had something to do with her father’s property. Mr. Jones had owned several hundred acres on the outskirts of town near the border to Mexico. Cody supposed that terrorizing Maggie could possibly make her want to stay away from the area, or even convince Jake that they should sell the land.
He dismissed that idea as quickly as it had come to him. Mr. Jones hadn’t reported any problems to him or Maggie for that matter. The smashed mailbox and vandalized house didn’t necessarily mean anything, but coupled with the message on the answering machine and the rings, it pointed to someone with a personal grudge against Maggie. It was more like Iris’s case.
Whitehaven was a quiet town. It had its share of drunks, juvenile delinquents, and vandals but no serious criminals. Iris’s case was the most serious one they’d had in Whitehaven in as long as he could remember. He had been a deputy with the Sheriff’s department for four years prior to being elected Sheriff. Not only had Iris been Grainger’s sister, but she’d been an emergency dispatcher, so Cody had been fairly well acquainted with her. It had made her case all the more upsetting.
Her stalker had started with seemingly nonthreatening gifts. She had received several anonymous flower deliveries and candies. She had chalked it up to either a secret admirer or the family member of someone she had helped when they’d called 911. But the gifts had turned more sinister—black roses and even a dead rat. Not long after that, she’d been physically attacked.
Were they dealing with a serial stalker? If so, he couldn’t limit his search to Whitehaven and Dale County. He’d have to expand his search parameters. He pulled up his email to instruct Deputy Grainger to start searching for any similar incidents in the surrounding counties and possibly branch out to the whole state.
The notes Maggie received had a familiar ring to them. After sending the email, he pulled up the internet browser and typed in “one for sorrow.” There was a plethora of results ranging from music to books, but an old nursery rhyme caught his eye. It not only contained “one for sorrow” but also “two for joy.” That’s why it was so familiar, he had probably heard some version of the rhyme growing up.
How could this be connected to Maggie? He clicked a link, and his pulse kicked up a notch. The nursery rhyme was about the Magpie bird. Magpie. It was no secret that he and Jake called Maggie Magpie. No one else ever called her that. This was definitely personal.
He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Jake’s cell number. It was a long shot that Jake would even have his personal cell phone with him. The call went straight to voicemail.
“Jake. This is Cody. Give me a call as soon as you can.” He would try the security company Jake worked for in the morning.
Knowing Maggie wasn’t just a victim picked at random, Cody felt compelled to make sure she was safe. She didn’t answer the home phone and when he tried her cell phone, it went straight to voicemail. Unease crept up. He couldn’t sit and do nothing. He closed the laptop, grabbed his keys, and locked up the house. He was going to go see Maggie. Perhaps with this new information, she’d consider finding another place to stay.
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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