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 / Chapter Ten
Before they left the hospital, Cody assigned Deputy McKinley to watch Jake’s room. He then contacted Deputy Grainger to have him come straight to the hospital instead of the station in the morning. Cody insisted that Maggie leave his phone number, in addition to hers, with the nurse. The drive was going to take at least twenty minutes. Now was as good as time as any to ask her questions about her life.
“Maggie, think real hard, is there anyone who could possibly have a reason to target you? Even the smallest oddity could hold the key to solving this. Are there any ex-boyfriends? Agitated coworkers? Angry parents? A neighbor who is holding a grudge?” He cast a sideways glance at her. She stared out the window, wringing her hands. Maggie had always been so kind. He couldn’t imagine a reason anyone would want to hurt her.
“I’ve been thinking about this all morning. I haven’t upset anyone that I know of. I adore my coworkers and the children. There are no issues there. And there haven’t been any boyfriends, so we can cross that off.”
Was Maggie’s lack of boyfriends because of him? Could she possibly still have feelings for him? That thought gave him hope, but quickly deflated with the realization that maybe she didn’t have any boyfriends because of how much he had hurt her.
“Cody, about what happened in the hospital.” She paused. “I’m sorry. You know me, I’m not usually that emotional.”
He placed his hand over hers and gave it a gentle squeeze in an attempt to calm her fidgeting. “It’s understandable. A lot has happened, and a person can only take so much.”
Unexpectedly, she didn’t pull her hand away. That was progress, wasn’t it? He could sit all day and revel in the feeling that she had forgiven him. Maybe she was putting the past behind them, but he needed to get back to reality. He needed to find out who was targeting Maggie. He pulled his hand from hers and placed it back on the steering wheel.
“After we get your stuff and get you settled into a hotel room, I’d like to sit down and talk this through some more. Maybe you can think of something once your mind settles a little.”
He pulled the car into the drive and led the way into Maggie’s father’s house. Once he did a check of the house, Maggie went upstairs to gather her belongings.
He pulled out his cell to call in a favor while she wouldn’t overhear what he was saying.
“Lone Star Inn. How may I help you?” Mary Lee, the clerk, answered on the second ring.
“Good afternoon, Mary. This is Sheriff Smith.” He walked to the front window and looked out over the property.
“Well, hello, Sheriff. How are you this afternoon?”
“I’m doing well. And you?” He turned and looked around the living room.
“I can’t complain.”
“That’s good. I’ve called to book a couple rooms. Do you have two connecting rooms available?”
“I do. Will this be billed to the county?”
“No, ma’am. This is personal.” There had been a couple occasions where the county had had to rent rooms for various visiting professionals. “I’ll be coming in with a young lady, probably within the hour. She’s had some trouble at her house and needs a place to stay.” He looked up the stairwell.
“I’ll have them ready.”
“Thank you.” He hung up as Maggie came down the stairs with her bags.
He loaded the bags into the car, and they headed to the hotel. Fifteen minutes later, he pulled his car in to the parking lot of the Lone Star Inn.
The hotel was a small outfit. The rooms were all accessed from the parking lot. The office contained the check-in desk, kitchen, and breakfast area.
Maggie headed to the office, walked up to the service desk and rang the bell. Mary Lee came out from a small office. Mary had been working there for over thirty years. In recent years, Cody had had to come to the hotel on occasion in a professional capacity. Before that, he’d been the one who caused some ruckus, leading to the former sheriff being called.
“Yes, may I help you?” she asked Maggie, oblivious to Cody’s presence.
“Mary,” he interjected.
She looked at him and recognition dawned on her face. “Well, Sheriff Smith, I didn’t realize this was the young lady you had spoken about on the phone. Your rooms are ready. Connecting doors like you asked for.” She set the key cards on the counter.
He could feel the heat from the glare that Maggie aimed in his direction.
“Thank you, Mary. We’ll go get settled in. Tell John I said hi.”
He grabbed the cards and turned to Maggie, gesturing to the front door of the lobby. “Shall we?”
She let out a massive sigh and stomped off.
“We’re in rooms two-oh-three and two-oh-four,” he called as he chased after her. He wasn’t in a hurry for the tongue lashing she was going to inevitably unleash, but she didn’t need to be running outside without him. He caught up with her right after exiting the office. He took the lead and headed to the car.
Maggie grabbed her laptop from the front seat while he grabbed her two bags from the trunk.
“I don’t need you to take care of me. Believe it or not, I am a big girl. I can carry my own bags.” She grabbed one of the bags from his hand and huffed past him.
“I’m not taking care of you. I’m being a gentleman. I’m helping a lady to her room with her bags.”
“Yes, a room that you paid for. A room that has an adjoining door to another room you paid for.”
“Relax, will ya?” They climbed the stairs to the second-floor balcony walkway and continued to their rooms. He stepped around her to unlock the door. He was about to slide the key card in the door when she stepped in front of him. The top of her head barely reached his chin.
“You don’t have to stay. You can send out another deputy.” Her chin jutted out defiantly.
He leaned down, placing his hand on the door behind her head, and her breath hitched.
“I don’t think this person is remotely close to done. I think he or she will come after you personally. I want to keep you safe.” I need to keep you safe.
His gaze fell to her mouth. He wanted to close the distance and kiss her, to feel her soft lips on his, to make up for all the pain he caused and show her how much he loved her. She placed her hand on his chest. She filled his senses; the strawberry and vanilla was light and teasing, and the feel of her hand on his chest warmed his heart. Her hypnotizing green eyes searched his, and her lips parted just a hint. Was that an invitation? He needed to step away before he rushed into something she might not like.
He straightened and grabbed her hand from his chest, brushing a light kiss to her fingertips. “Now can we get settled in? We have time to go visit Jake if you’d like.”
She nodded, curling her hand into a fist, like she was keeping his kiss. That simple action gave him hope.
He unlocked the door and walked into the small room. A queen-size bed was positioned up against the right wall with a small nightstand next to it. A flat screen television sat atop the dresser across from the bed. On the other side of the bed was a small breakfast table with two chairs and a door that led to a simple bathroom. A door next to the dresser would lead to his room, exactly like this, except mirrored in arrangement. It wasn’t fancy, but it would work.
“I’m going to go next door and set my stuff down.”
He set his things in his room and looked around. Finding the ice bucket, he went back to Maggie’s room “I’m going to go fill this up, and then I’d like to talk some more about what’s been going on. Don’t open the door for anyone.”
While at the ice dispenser, he purchased two soda pops from the machine conveniently placed next to the ice. He entered his room, removed the plastic wrap from two cups, and filled them with ice. Taking them to Maggie’s room, he knocked on the doorframe of the open connecting door before entering.
“You still like soda, right?” He placed a cup and bottle in front of her before taking a seat at the table.
“Probably even more than I did before.” She twisted the cap off the bottle and filled her cup. When the bubbles fizzed down, she took a drink.
“I know it’s like beating a dead horse, but it’s important that we try to figure out who is doing this. Can you think of anyone, anyone at all, who could be doing this? Jake indicated a woman was to blame for his injuries.”
“I don’t know who could be doing it.” Her voice was strained.
“Are there any students who still failed after you had tutored them? Could a mom be upset with you? Are there any men who have shown an interest in you and they felt rejected? Maybe a jealous ex-girlfriend of someone you dated?”
“No, none that I can think of. All the students I can remember were able to bring their grades up. They may not have been high grades, but they were better. And, no, like I said, no boyfriends. No dates. No jealous women.”
She took another drink of her soda, and then her eyes widened. “Wait, there was one guy, Conrad Johnson. He had asked me out for dinner, and I agreed. We went out a couple times, but we didn’t seem to click, at least not the way you and I had that summer.” Maggie shrugged.
“So, you stopped seeing him? How did he take it?”
“Yeah. I told him how I felt and at first, I guess he seemed dejected. He asked a couple more times, but eventually he started dating someone else. I really don’t think he has anything to do with this. He’s married now, and his wife is expecting their first child any day now I believe.”
“That’s a place to start at least. Do you know her name? I’ll have a deputy look in to them.”
“Um, I think her first name is Stephanie. I don’t know what her maiden name was.” Maggie tried to stifle a yawn but failed.
He stood, gathering their trash. “I know you’ve had quite a couple days. I’ll let you get some rest. I’ll just be on the other side of the wall. If you need anything, all you have to do is knock.”
“Actually, I’d really like to go see Jacob.”
“We can do that.” He knew she wouldn’t really be able to rest until she was able to check on Jake again. He also hoped Jake would wake up again while they were there. The sooner they could get his statement, the sooner they could get this guy, or woman, before anything else happened. He had a feeling that the game was only beginning.
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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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