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. If you love mystery and romance, come read the next chapter below!
Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six / Chapter Seven / Chapter Eight
The sun had set by the time they pulled into the drive. Cody stepped from his cruiser and met Maggie by the porch steps.
“Thank you,” she said.
Cody could sense unease in her quiet voice as she wearily glanced over her shoulder to the large house looming in the dark. Was he causing the unease or was it being at the house alone? He was willing to bet that it was probably a mixture of both. Emotion flashed in her eyes, but before he could tell what it was, she turned and walked to the front door.
“You’ve seen me home. As you can see, it’s all well. Have a good night, Sheriff.”
He took the steps two at a time and gently grabbed her shoulder, turning her toward him.
“Please, let me go in and have a look around. It would make me feel a lot better about leaving you here if I know that the house is secure.”
She nodded and handed him the keys. He unlocked the front door and walked into the entryway. He did a thorough search of the house, starting on the first floor and working his way up to the attic, checking the basement last. The house was clear. He made his way back to the living room where Maggie was staring out the front window into the dark night.
“Everything is clear.”
“Thank you.” She didn’t bother to turn around. His gut clenched. Not being able to go on like this, her thinking the worse of him, he had to tell her the truth now.
“Maggie, I know you don’t want to talk to me. I know that I hurt you that night. But I want you to know why.”
She still didn’t turn around.
Was she finally willing to listen? He took a deep breath, preparing himself.
“We were going to tell Jake about us later that night. But he had called earlier in the day. He wanted to have lunch and talk to me about something. I met him at Earl’s Diner, and he said that he knew you were dating someone, that he could tell by how happy you seemed. I waited for him to say he knew it was me you were dating. I hoped he’d be giving his blessing, but he didn’t. He had no idea it was me.” He took a small step toward her and reached out to touch her shoulder but let his hand drop.
“He said he was worried. You had a full ride to Texas Tech, and you’d be the first one in the family to go to college. You were going to make something of yourself. You were going to go and do great things. He was afraid that your boyfriend would weigh you down, that you would either give up on college and stay here in Whitehaven or be so focused on the boy that you wouldn’t meet your full potential. He talked about how he couldn’t think of anyone in town that would be worthy of you.” His chest constricted. He waited for her to respond. Please say something. Say it’s okay. Say you forgive me. She didn’t respond, though; she just continued standing there, absolutely still and quiet.
“All I could think about was that he was right. I wasn’t the man for you. You deserved more than some boy whose father didn’t love him enough to stick around and whose mother drank too much and found solace in the arms of any man who paid attention to her.” He didn’t want to go on. He knew his past, and he knew his future—both sad and lonely—except that one glorious year with her.
“I was never going to amount to anything. I wasn’t in college. I was working at the sawmill outside of town. If you remember correctly, I was in trouble with the sheriff that summer we started dating. Sure, I straightened out, but still, I wasn’t worthy of you.” He had realized that Jake was right and decided to do the noble thing. He would sacrifice his happiness for her.
“You deserved someone so much more than me. I thought when I told you good-bye that night, I was freeing you. I was trying to make sure you would find the man that was worthy of your love.”
She slowly turned around. Tear tracks lined her cheeks making her look as vulnerable as he felt.
“What about what I wanted? Did you stop to think about that? I knew about your past, I knew about your family, I knew about your job. None of those things mattered to me. You couldn’t see what I saw. You couldn’t see the man you were becoming. The man I loved. The man I had hoped I would spend the rest of my life with.”
The ache in his chest intensified, constricting his lungs. He had to go to her. He could never stand to see her cry. It always broke his heart and made him feel so helpless. He took slow steps toward her, allowing her the opportunity to protest. When she didn’t, he enveloped her in his arms, where she had been so many times before.
“I’m so sorry, Magpie.” He held her a moment longer, inhaling the scent of strawberry vanilla shampoo that he loved. He stepped back and kissed her gently on the forehead.
She didn’t flinch or tense. Maybe his confession was a step in the direction of healing their broken relationship. He felt lighter as hope renewed within him.
“Thank you.” Her voice was barely above a whisper.
He reached out and brushed a lock of hair from her face, letting his fingers gently brush her check.
She stepped away from him. “I’ve listened to what you had to say. Now will you listen to what I have to say?”
He nodded. He wasn’t sure where the conversation would go, or if he really wanted to hear what she had to say. He was afraid whatever it was would only break his heart further, but he owed her enough to listen.
“All these years, I thought I was the flawed one. That I wasn’t good enough for you. That you dumped me because I wasn’t what you wanted.” Tears flowed freely.
“Oh, Magpie.” He stepped forward to offer comfort, but she waved him off.
“Let me finish. I loath to admit it, but I allowed that night to affect me in such a great way. I lost faith in myself.”
He grimaced as her words stabbed his chest. That hadn’t been his intent.
“I had never let what anyone thought about me define me before. But it was different with you. I can’t explain why. Maybe it was how our relationship had started. I had been drowning in despair after my mother’s death, and you were there to help me see the light again. You had thrown me a life preserver. You showed me that there were still so many great things.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and stared off to the right. “You reminded me of some verses in Ecclesiastes 3. To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.” Her hand found its way to the cross that hung at the hollow of her throat. “A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to gain, and a time to lose.”
She looked him in the eyes, holding his gaze. He knew the verse and knew what was coming next. Guilt roiled in his stomach.
“A time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”
“I remember that. I drew you a picture of our favorite spot at the creek and wrote the first verse in calligraphy for you to keep as a reminder.”
“I placed it in my Bible for safe keeping. After you ended things, I moped around in self-pity for a while. When it was time to leave for college, I hoped you would at least come say good-bye. But you didn’t. My first few weeks of college were rough, but one night while I was reading my Bible I came across that picture and remembered. There was a time for everything. The time for love with you had come and gone, and I would start a new time. But first I would need to let go. And I did. Or I thought I had until I came back to Whitehaven.”
He didn’t know if he should be grateful that she hadn’t let go. Her pain only intensified his, but there was a small glimmer of hope for him in her words.
“I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I know now that I should have talked with you first and not just dumped you. Hindsight is twenty-twenty. If I could take it back I would.” He never imagined that his actions that night would have such a profound effect on her life.
“I wouldn’t want you to.”
He stared at her, knitting his eyebrows, shocked at her words. She admitted he’d caused her great pain, but she wouldn’t want it taken back? Why would anyone welcome pain? He was sure he would prefer to live without it.
“Everything that I’ve gone through, every pain and joy that I’ve felt, all of my experiences have made me the person I am today.” She closed the distance between them and grabbed his hand. “I forgive you.”
A huge weight was instantly lifted from his chest. He was free for the first time in a long time. “You do?”
“Yes. Colossians 3:13 says, ‘Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.’ Now. If you don’t mind. I’d like to be alone.”
“Thank you.” He bent over and lightly kissed her cheek before stepping back. “I still don’t think you need to be alone out here. Especially after today.”
“I know how you feel, but I’ve taken every precaution to make sure I’m safe. The security company will be here tomorrow, and I’ll be getting a state of the art alarm system. Besides, you being here isn’t going to deter whoever is doing this. Remember they took a shot at both of us?”
“Yes, but at least I could slow them down a bit.”
“I’m fine. There’s no need for you to sleep in your car in the drive tonight. Thanks for that, by the way.”
He smiled wryly. She could read his thoughts. “Well, I’ll leave the house, but I’m going to hang around outside for a bit.”
She sighed before leading him to the door. “Good night.”
He took the flashlight from his utility belt and clicked it on. He circled the house and garage, searching for any signs that someone had been there. Not finding any, he turned his attention to the forest line. He walked the perimeter, shining his light into the woods.
After he finished, he returned to his cruiser and climbed in. He sat there staring at the large, white house. Maggie had forgiven him. Incredibly, she seemed able to appreciate that the struggles she’d endured had gotten her to who and where she was now. The more he thought about it, the more he was able to apply that thinking to his life. Everything he had gone through, good and bad, had cumulatively developed the man he was today. If he hadn’t grown up with an absentee father and drunken mother, he might not have been attracted to the stability of Jake’s family and may never have met Maggie. And he may have not have gone into law enforcement, if he had not had such an example of how not to live.
Letting her go had hurt both of them. He hoped that he could eventually get over her and fall in love again. But, if he were honest, he still loved Maggie and didn’t know if there would ever be a time he didn’t.
Now that she had forgiven him, was there a possibility that they could rekindle what they once had? He hoped so, but first he had to catch whoever was after her.
He put the cruiser in reverse and backed up, turned around, and exited the driveway. He breathed a heavy sigh. Finally explaining his actions and getting the opportunity to apologize to Maggie had been freeing. But her confession of the negative impact his actions had had on her life grieved him deeply. He’d wanted to protect her, but by assuming that he knew best, he’d taken away her chance to decide for herself. That trust and respect, the ability to discuss things openly, should have been part of their relationship. He would take her words to heart and learn from them, making him a better person in the future.
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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