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 / Chapter Eleven
Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten supper last night. True to his word, Cody had taken her to see Jacob. The nurse had said his vital signs were good. Still, he remained weak and slept deeply the entire time they visited. She didn’t want to leave him there alone, but Cody assured her that Deputy McKinley would remain outside his door throughout the night and then be relieved by Deputy Grainger. He was right; she couldn’t do anything for him. And she needed to rest. The past few days were taking their toll on her. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
Back at the hotel, after Cody had done another sweep of her room and left her for the night, she’d taken a hot shower and collapsed on the bed.
She’d woken in the morning feeling as though she’d only closed her eyes a second ago. When they checked in last night, she’d seen a sign in the lobby about their free breakfast. She made the bed, dressed in comfortable capri pants and a light cotton T-shirt, and slid the key card in her back pocket. Pausing by the adjoining door, she wondered if she should wait until Cody woke up. She decided against it. He was probably as worn out as she was. Plus, she was a big girl after all.
She opened the door to the parking lot to find Cody standing on the balcony with his arms resting on the railing, cradling a cup of coffee, and staring out into the parking lot. His hair brushed the collar of his shirt, which was a light green and fit snuggly across his broad shoulders.
“Good morning, sunshine. Going somewhere?” He turned and leaned against the railing, crossing his jean-clad legs at the ankles.
“As a matter of fact, I am. I’m headed for breakfast.”
“I’ll go with you.” He took a sip from his coffee.
“I think I can handle eating by myself.”
“Maggie, don’t forget what’s been going on. I really don’t want you going anywhere alone. It’s not safe.”
Like she had forgotten what had happened. Seriously though, what would it hurt to have breakfast?
“Let me grab my room key, and I’ll go down with you. I need to tell you about what could happen.”
Before she could argue, he disappeared through his hotel door that he had propped open. He wasn’t gone long before he stepped out and let the door shut behind him. “Shall we?” He offered his elbow like they were on their way to some fancy meal. She declined and walked ahead.
Once in the breakfast room, Maggie took in all the various breakfast foods. There were muffins, croissants, cereal, oatmeal, fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon, and more. She settled for a croissant with grape jelly, a helping of scrambled eggs, and a small bowl of fruit. Cody, on the other hand, filled his plate to the point she didn’t think it would hold anything else.
They sat, and Maggie bowed her head. Lord, thank You for Your love and saving grace. Be with Jacob and continue to heal his injuries. Be with us and keep us safe in Your protection. Be with Cody and his deputies as they search for the person behind this. Amen.
When she looked up, Cody’s head was bowed in a silent prayer of his own. She was staring when he finished, and their gazes locked. She could feel heat beginning to color her cheeks. He gave her a grin, causing his eyes to sparkle.
“Oh, I forgot something.” He went back to the breakfast bar. For what, she couldn’t imagine. She had no idea where he was going to put all the food already on his plate.
She was busy spreading jelly on her croissant when Cody placed a chocolate muffin in front of her. He pulled a candle and a box of matches from his pocket, stuck the candle in the muffin, and lit it.
He sat down and started to sing the birthday song. His baritone voice was swoon worthy. It reminded her of those old-time crooners. She’d always loved to hear him sing. Her face was on fire, and all she could do was stare at him. He remembered her birthday.
“Happy birthday, Magpie.”
“Go on. Make a wish, “
She made a show of making a wish and blowing out the candle. He laughed. It was a sound that she could never get tired of hearing.
“What did you wish for?” He winked
“Now, I can’t tell you that or else it won’t come true.” She took a sip of her drink to stifle the giggle that was rising.
Geez, what was she, a teenager? She shouldn’t be sitting here enjoying this moment with her brother laid up in the hospital and some crazy person after her. She sighed deeply and placed her cup back on the table. Picking up her fork, she stabbed a small piece of cantaloupe and popped it in her mouth. Cody ate in silence for a few minutes, then sighed heavily, sat back, and rested his hands on his thighs.
“Like I said, we need to talk about where this situation could wind up. I keep thinking that the person stalking you could be related to the first case I worked as sheriff. Iris, one of our dispatchers, started receiving flower deliveries with little poems written on the cards. She chalked it up to a secret admirer. Then one day she received a single flower and a box.”
He took a deep breath before continuing. “Inside the box was a threatening note. No more sweet words. After that first note, she’d find more notes. Sometimes under her windshield, taped to her door, sent to her email, she even received texts. One day she opened her refrigerator and found a note taped to her milk jug. She did the smart thing and had all of her locks changed and called a security company to install a security system.”
Cody paused, taking a drink from his orange juice. Poor Iris. Maggie could understand a portion of what she must have felt. While their cases weren’t identical, they were certainly too similar to be a coincidence. She ate another piece of cantaloupe.
“The next morning, she woke up to find roadkill had been thrown on her porch. More gruesome deliveries arrived. Her brother, Deputy Grainger, moved in with her. He thought she would be safer if he stayed with her. She was never alone. She’d become a prisoner.”
He fidgeted with his fork, moving some of his food around on the plate. “We watched her withdraw from the world, from her friends. She’d been a happy outgoing person, but her stalker changed that. I worked every angle on that case. There were no clues, no forensic evidence, no suspects. I had nothing. I felt so helpless.”
She didn’t like that he blamed himself. Reaching across the table, she grabbed his hand, “Cody, you said you’ll be with me all the time. I’ll be safe.”
He placed his other hand over hers. “See, that’s the thing. Iris’s story doesn’t end there. One day while Grainger was in the shower, there was a knock on the door. Iris looked out the peephole and saw that it was a postal service worker with a package. She thought it would safe to open the door.”
He stared over her shoulder for a brief moment. “When Grainger got out of the shower, Iris was gone, and the front door was wide open. We found her an hour a later, unconscious on a bench at the city park. She was alive, but she had been drugged. Thankfully, she hadn’t been assaulted, but she did have a mark to show how close her stalker had gotten. He had used some sort of branding iron and burned a mark into her collar bone.”
The cantaloupe she had eaten turned to lead in her stomach. He gently squeezed her fingers. “That’s why I want you to be vigilant. Anything can happen. Even when you think protection is close. I couldn’t protect Iris. I couldn’t even find the person responsible. Knowing that she eventually ended her life because I couldn’t do my job right is even worse. If something happened to you—” He swallowed hard and looked away. His Adam’s apple bobbed, and he blinked several times before looking back to her, “I don’t know what I would do.”
Overcome with compassion for the man sitting across from her, Maggie reached over the table with her free hand and used her fingertips to turn his face to her. She cupped his chin between her forefinger and thumb. “You, Cody, are not responsible for what Iris did. You remember that. She made that decision. Just because you couldn’t find the person responsible for tormenting that poor woman does not mean you are not a good sheriff. If you treat all your cases like you have mine, then you’re the best sheriff Dale County could ask for. I promise I’ll be careful, and I’ll make sure not to take off without you.”
He reached up, took her hand in his, and placed a gentle kiss on her palm. His soft lips sent butterflies fluttering through her.
“Thank you for that.” He let go and took a drink. “I thought we could go see Jake. Maybe he’ll be awake.”
“I’d like to see him. Something I don’t understand is Jacob is a trained soldier and a security expert. How could someone get the jump on him?” She’d thought about that when she couldn’t sleep this morning. She took a bite of her croissant.
Cody was quiet, the look on his face told her he was thinking. “I’ve thought of that myself. Either they sabotaged him, or it was someone he knew. Unfortunately, we won’t have an answer until he wakes up.” He returned to his breakfast with gusto. Like her, he hadn’t eaten last night. He looked as famished as she was.
She decided to save her chocolate muffin for last, and they ate the remainder of their breakfasts in relative silence. When she was finished, she peeled the wrapper from her muffin, and using a butter knife, she cut it in half. She scooted half to Cody.
He looked up at her. “It’s your birthday. Eat up.”
“What’s the point of having birthday cake if you can’t share it?”
“It’s not exactly cake.”
“The principle still applies.”
He smiled at her before popping a piece of muffin in his mouth.
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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