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 / Chapter Nine
She’d managed to doze on and off for a couple hours, but now she lay in bed listening to the orchestra of crickets and other night creatures. No sense in tossing and turning. She decided she might as well get up and get some work done.
She slid her feet into her duck slippers and shuffled to the bathroom, where she flipped on the bathroom light, covering her eyes from the blinding brightness. Her father’s insistence that they have fluorescent lights in the small white bathroom made her giggle.
The bathroom was a good place to start, so she swung open the medicine cabinet and took in the medicines that lined the shelves. They ranged from pain relievers to antacid to a prescription of antibiotics. She grabbed that one first. Prescribed in January of 2014.
“Geez, dad, that’s only four years old.” She tossed it in the trashcan, along with several others, including the antacid whose expiration date was last year. “That’s not too bad.” It was amazing he lived as long as he had with all this expired medicine.
She grabbed a washcloth from the linen closet and retrieved the bleach cleaner from its home under the sink. After cleaning the shelves, she moved to the cabinet top. A familiar bottle caught her eye. She picked it up and unscrewed the lid, breathing deeply. Warmth filled her chest as nostalgia swamped her. Every memory of hugging her father and smelling his cologne collided in her mind.
“Definitely keeping this.” She put the lid on and took it to her room. She spent the next hour sorting and cleaning. She had a pile of things to donate and gobs of things for the trash man. Her father never threw anything away.
Time for a break. She padded down the stairs, intent on going to the kitchen to get a soda pop. Some people had to have coffee first thing in the morning. Not Maggie. She needed an ice-cold soda pop. As her foot hit the bottom stair, a low moan cut through the quiet. It sounded like it came from the front porch. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end. Someone or something was here.
Perhaps it was a wild animal. That had happened on occasion—an injured raccoon or a laboring feral cat would hide under the porch and make all kinds of noises. She tiptoed to the front window to catch a glimpse of whatever it was, but she didn’t see anything. Maybe her imagination was getting the better of her. She turned to go to the kitchen and heard it again. She dashed to the couch and grabbed the cordless phone from the cradle on the end table. She dialed Cody’s number.
“Hey, Maggie. How are—”
“There’s a moaning noise coming from my porch.” She didn’t give him time to finish what he was saying. “I didn’t see anything. I thought maybe I had imagined it, but I heard it again.” She could hear rustling in the background.
“Maggie, do not go outside. Go upstairs and get your father’s gun. I’m on my way. I was already on your side of town, so I’ll be there soon. Stay on the phone with me, okay?” His cheerful voice disappeared and was replaced by the professional tone she noticed he used when he was working.
She whipped her head to the front door where the voice had come from. Goose bumps sprang up on her arms. The voice was vaguely familiar.
“Cody, I heard my name.” The panic welling up inside of her was ready to burst.
“Magpie, I am on my way. Do as I said and go upstairs, please.”
“Maggie.” The voice. It was Jacob’s voice calling to her from the other side of the door. Her anxiety quickly deflated.
That was just like him. Trying to scare her. She remembered the time that he and Cody had lured her out the front door and she’d almost stepped on a dead snake they had placed there to scare her.
“Cody, it’s Jacob, it’s his voice. Oh, I am going to kill him!” She stomped to the front door and disabled the alarm before yanking it open.
A blood curdling scream ripped from her throat, and the phone fell from her hand. She bent down in front of her brother’s crumpled body. His hair was wild, and his clothes were torn and bloodied. Scratches and bruises riddled his exposed skin. She felt his neck for a pulse, it was there but shallow.
“Maggie!” Cody yelled from the phone. “Maggie. Answer me!”
She picked up the phone and tamped down the rising panic. “Cody, it’s Jacob! He’s hurt. He’s bleeding. I need help!” Her heart raced, and her voice rose with each word.
“Maggie, I need you to calm down, okay? Can you take a deep breath for me?” He was in full cop mode now, trying to keep her calm. She wouldn’t be any help to Jacob if she hyperventilated and passed out. She took a deep breath. And then another.
“Please, hurry,” she whimpered.
“I am almost there. Can you tell me if he’s breathing?”
She stared at Jacob’s chest, seeing it rise and fall. “Yes, he’s breathing.”
“Do not hang up. I am going to set the phone down so I can radio for an ambulance and backup. I’ll be right back.”
She listened to him giving directions to his dispatcher. She didn’t know what to do for Jacob, so she took his hand. He was covered in scratches and dried blood, but she couldn’t see any open wounds. Lord please be with Jacob. Let help get here soon. Keep him alive and heal his wounds. Amen.
“Maggie, are you still there?” Cody’s voice was back on the line.
“Please, hurry.” Her voice sounded fragile.
“I’m turning on the drive now. I’m almost there. EMS is on their way.”
The sirens were faint but grew louder. Cody’s cruiser flew into the drive, sending dirt and gravel everywhere. He killed the sirens and tore from the car. He raced up the steps and knelt by her side, his attention fully on Jacob.
Bending over Jacob’s lifeless body, Cody appeared to be listening for breaths. “Jake, it’s Cody. Buddy, can you hear me?”
When he didn’t respond, Maggie stifled a sob. Lord, please let him be okay.
Cody had reached to feel the beat of Jacob’s pulse when he grabbed Cody’s arm.
“Don’t let her get Maggie.” Jacob spoke hoarsely, never opening his eyes.
She reached out and touched Jacob’s arm. “I’m right here.” Her voice was equally as hoarse.
“Who? Don’t let who get Maggie?” Cody prodded.
“Don’t let her get Maggie.” Jacob’s hand released Cody’s wrist and fell lifelessly to the porch. Cody reached to feel for a pulse.
Maggie gasped. “Jacob!”
Cody leaned back on his haunches. “Jake obviously couldn’t have made it here by himself, so someone had to have dropped him off. That someone could still be here watching.” His gaze roamed every inch of the property visible from the porch. Without taking his eyes off his surroundings, he spoke. “Maggie, go inside.”
“But, I can’t.” She couldn’t leave Jacob laying on the porch.
“Don’t argue. Go inside. Now. Leave the door open so I can carry Jake in.” The tone of his voice didn’t leave room for argument.
Maggie did as she was told. Cody reached down, placed his forearms under Jacob’s armpits, and lifted his upper body off the ground. He dragged Jacob into the house, never turning his back on the forest. Once they were in the house, Maggie shut and locked the door.
“I’m going to go get a wet washcloth.” The tremble that was in her voice when she first found Jacob was gone. She was almost to the kitchen sink when Cody’s booted footfalls echoed behind her, and then he grabbed her shoulder, stopping her from going any further. “What’s wrong? Is Jacob—?” Emotion clogged her throat, and she couldn’t even finish the sentence.
He rubbed his hands up and down her arms, trying to comfort her. “No, he’s still breathing. I want you to stay away from all the windows. Jake was clutching a note. Four for a boy.”
Maggie’s knees gave out, and she started to sink to the ground. She never hit the floor. Instead, she was scooped up and cradled to Cody’s chest. He carried her to the couch, laid her down, and placed a throw blanket over her. She knew what he was doing, and she knew she needed to do something to help Jacob, but her body and mind were frozen. She couldn’t move or speak.
“Maggie, you’re in shock. I need to check on Jake, but I want you to stay here okay?” He stepped out of her line of sight.
The wail of sirens broke into the fog she was in. Thoughts whirled in her head. She couldn’t lose her brother, too. He was all she had left. It wasn’t long until paramedics were at Jacob’s side. This was all her fault. Nausea rose up, and she took off for the hall bathroom. After flushing the toilet, she splashed cold water on her face.
“Maggie?” Cody knocked on the door. “Are you okay?”
Her stomach no longer ached, but her heart continued to do so. “Yes,” she lied when she opened the door.
He pulled her close and walked her down the hall. “They’re loading Jake into the ambulance. Go with them. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
She finally got control of her body as Jacob was loaded onto a stretcher. She nodded to Cody, climbed up beside her brother, and rode in the ambulance to the hospital.
* * * *
She was tired of looking at the sterile white walls and equally ugly tile floors. The machine next to Jacob’s bed beeped with each beat of his heart. It had been two hours since the ambulance had taken them away, and Cody still hadn’t shown up. She couldn’t explain why she needed him so much. She had called him out of fear. Cody, her protector, her comforter. Those were the things he had been before he had broken up with her.
She’d been in Whitehaven for three days, and she was already relying on him. She didn’t want to. She didn’t want to get hurt again. Yes, he’d explained why he’d dumped her, and he was sincere in his belief that he thought he was doing what was best for her at the time. He even seemed like he wanted to rekindle their relationship. But she wasn’t sure if she was ready for that. Plus, she lived over a hundred miles away. Could a long-distance relationship really work? What are you thinking? Your brother is laying in a hospital bed fighting for his life and you’re thinking about love.
She looked over at Jacob’s unconscious body. “What happened to you?”
She remembered Cody stopping her before she’d made it to the kitchen sink. He’d said Jacob had been clutching a note. A note from her stalker. God, please be with Jacob. Lord, heal his body. Bring him back to me. I can’t lose him, too. Please.
There was a light knock on the door. Cody stood in the doorway, looking like he’d aged ten years since she’d seen him this morning. She couldn’t help herself. She jumped from the chair and ran to him. He wrapped his arms around her, and she buried her face in his chest. The floodgates opened, and sobs racked her body. He didn’t try to calm her like most people would. He held her and let her cry.
She wasn’t sure how long he’d stood there and let her cry. She took several breaths, allowing her heart to slow before stepping back, instantly missing the warmth of his embrace. She swiped her hands across her eyes, drying her tears.
“Did you find anything?” She didn’t look him in the eyes. She was sure they’d be full of compassion and that would cause another round of waterworks.
“Just like all the other incidents, we got nothing. We have no fingerprints, no trace evidence, nothing to go on. I’m beginning to think our guy has law enforcement experience or is a real CSI buff. But Jake called his assailant a she, so we could be looking for a woman. How is Jake?”
Slowly walking back to the chair she had vacated, she started to fill Cody in on Jacob’s condition. “The doctor cleaned all of his wounds. He said most of them were superficial, like he had gotten them running through the woods. He does have some bruising around his wrists, as if he was shackled. His clothes were covered in dirt and sticks. The doctor said he would be saving them for you. He is severely dehydrated and suffering from exhaustion. He thinks Jacob has probably been in the wilderness for a few days. But he should make a full recovery.”
Taking Jacob’s limp hand in hers, she closed her eyes. Why Lord? Why is this person doing this? Why is he hurting the ones I love?
“Maggie, the security company came to install your new alarm system while we were processing the scene. I couldn’t let them, since it was an active crime scene. You can’t go back to that house. Not now. Not since this person has proven how dangerous he or she can be.”
“I know. I’ll consider a hotel here in town.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea, either. If this woman can get to your brother, a trained soldier and security expert, don’t you think she can find out what hotel you’re staying at?”
Where was she supposed to go? She didn’t have anywhere else to stay. Cassie wouldn’t hesitate to let her stay, but inviting her in would also be inviting more danger. She couldn’t do that. “Where do you suggest then?”
“You could come stay at my house.”
“That’s not going to happen. It wouldn’t be proper.”
He was silent for a moment. He looked at his feet and sheepishly said, “We could make up a room for you at the sheriff’s station.”
“I do not think so. It’s bad enough that this person has hurt people I love and sent me from my home. I will not let her turn me into a prisoner.” Defiance coursed through her.
Jacob moaned, and her attention turned to him.
“Maggie,” his rough voice whispered from the hospital bed.
“Shh, I’m here. Everything’s all right.” Tears filled her eyes as his hand tightened around hers.
“I… I…” Jacob tried to speak, but it seemed too difficult for him.
She gently squeezed his hand. “I’m right here. You’re going to be all right. Just relax.”
Cody took a tentative step toward Jacob’s hospital bed.
“Cody’s here, too.” She gestured for Cody to come closer.
Jacob turned his head to Cody. “Keep her safe.”
Jacob’s eyes closed for a moment. She thought he had lost consciousness again, but then he opened his eyes. “Don’t let her get Maggie.”
Cody took Jacob’s other hand in his. “I’m going to take care of her, as much as she’ll let me anyway. But I need your help. Who is going to hurt her?”
Jacob’s arm slackened, and Cody set his hand back on the bed gently. Clearly, he wouldn’t be answering Cody’s question anytime soon.
Maggie continued to hold Jacob’s hand. Cody pulled up a chair on the other side of Jacob’s bed, intent to sit and hold vigil with her.
The adrenaline slowly left her body, giving way to exhaustion. She laid her head on the edge of the bed and listened to Jacob’s steady breathing. She was going to rest her eyes, just for a minute.
A tap on her shoulder startled her from sleep. She sat up, heart racing wildly. Cody was standing next to her. “Maggie, we should really go and get your stuff and get you squared away in a hotel. We can come back and check on Jake after we’ve gotten you settled. Okay?”
As much as she didn’t want to leave, she knew Cody was right. She didn’t have the truck since she had ridden in the ambulance with Jacob. She didn’t have her purse, either, which contained her debit cards and identification, and she was going to need those to get a hotel room. It’s a good thing she hadn’t had a lot of time to unpack her travel bags. She didn’t have anyone else to call, so with much trepidation, she agreed to let Cody take her to the house.
Before she left, she said another prayer over Jacob and gently kissed him on the forehead.
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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