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 / Chapter Twelve
After breakfast, Cody escorted Maggie back to her room to get her purse. They were going to go see Jake. He hoped Jake would wake soon so he could shed some light on who had done this to him. With any luck, they’d be able to catch the person and put him behind bars. Today was Maggie’s birthday. She deserved to be happy and enjoy this day, not worry about what some madman was going to do to her.
He’d had the idea of the birthday muffin while he was filling his plate at the breakfast bar. Miraculously, the kitchen had some candles. Maggie’s expression when he’d placed it in front of her had amused him. It had been a mixture of shock and gratitude. He’d hated to ruin it discussing the horrible reality of what was happening and the possible connection to Iris’s case.
It didn’t take Maggie long in her room, and the drive to the hospital took five minutes. He parked in the parking garage, and they took the elevator to the floor where Jake was staying. The elevator doors opened, and Cody was surprised to see that it was Deputy Minton, not Deputy Grainger, stationed at Jake’s door.
“Maggie, go on in. I’m going to talk with Deputy Minton for a moment.”
She furrowed her eyebrows, then slowly opened the hospital room door and quietly entered Jake’s room.
“I thought Deputy Grainger was on duty this morning?” Cody asked.
“He is. He called and asked me to fill in for him for a bit. He said he was on his way in, but his cruiser had a blowout.”
“Has Jake woken up?”
“No, sir. Not yet anyway. The doctor hasn’t made his rounds yet this morning.”
Cody left Minton at the door and entered the room. Maggie sat next to Jake’s bed, holding his hand, leaning close to his ear, whispering to him.
He leaned against the door, watching Maggie tenderly talk to her brother. They didn’t deserve this. Cody wanted to find whoever was doing this and put them behind bars where they belonged.
Jake started moaning, and Cody closed the distance to the bed and stood next to Maggie. Jake opened his eyes and closed them just as quickly. He wrinkled his forehead and squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them again. “Magpie?” he whispered.
“I’m right here. And Cody’s here, too.” Joy filled her face as she reached up and grabbed his hand. Her touch made his heart skip a beat.
Jake took a moment to focus on Maggie’s face, then turned to him. “Cody.”
“Hey, Jake. Nice having you awake.” Cody let go of Maggie’s hand, pulled up a chair, and sat next to the bed.
Jake looked back at Maggie. “I’m so glad you’re safe.” His voice was strained.
“I’m fine. See? Let me get the nurse and some water.” She quickly left the room in search of her quarry.
“She told me Maggie had been in an accident. She said they were afraid she wasn’t going to make it,” he whispered hoarsely as he leaned his head back against the bed and grimaced. Cody’s heart picked up pace. Jake had seen his attacker.
“Who told you that?”
“Your dispatcher. What’s her name? Donna?”
Cody’s eyes grew wide as he shook his head. Jake had to be mistaken; he must have hit his head. Dee couldn’t possibly be involved. “Dee told you Maggie had been in an accident?”
Jake nodded and opened his eyes. “There was a message on my voicemail when I came off duty.” He took a deep breath and swallowed a couple times.
“Dee said to call her. I did as soon as I could. She said Maggie had been in an accident. I told her when my plane would be arriving, and she said she’d meet me at the airport.” Jake ran his hand over his face.
“What happened when she met you at the airport?”
“We got into her car. It had the Dale County parking pass hanging from the rearview mirror. We headed to the hospital. She offered me a bottle of water from a little cooler she had. I didn’t think anything of it. The last thing I remember, before coming to in the woods, was drinking that water. She must have drugged me.” Jake brought his arm down and slammed it on the bed. The action caused a groan to escape from his lips.
“I woke up in the woods, chained to a tree. I yelled, hoping someone would hear me. I tried to get the chains off my wrists, but when that didn’t work, I tried to break them. It was no use; I couldn’t get free. I waited, hoping someone would come eventually. I was out there for two days. I guess I finally passed out because I don’t remember anything until waking up here.”
The two days prior to finding Jake had been two of the hottest days yet. It would have only been a matter of time before Jake had become dangerously dehydrated to the point of unconsciousness. Dee must have waited until he passed out before moving him to Maggie’s porch. He didn’t think Dee capable of something like this. She didn’t even know Maggie. How could she possibly be the one targeting her?
Maggie came back in the room with a cup of ice water and a nurse following on her heels.
“Well, good morning, Mr. Jones,” the nurse said brightly as she walked over to his bedside to assess his vitals.
This would be the perfect opportunity for Cody to excuse himself and have someone go pick up Dee. It was her day off, so she wouldn’t be at the office.
Deputy Minton was still standing outside the door. Cody walked down the hall to find a private place to talk. He didn’t want to have this conversation in front of Minton, in case Jake was mistaken. He pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed Deputy Grainger.
“Yes, Sheriff,” Grainger answered on the second ring.
“Minton said you had a tire problem?”
“Yeah, I did. It’s all changed, and I’m on my way to the hospital now.”
“I have something else for you. Jacob Jones woke up. He says Dee is the one responsible for his injuries.”
“Dee? You’re kidding, right?” Grainger sounded as surprised as Cody.
“I’m afraid not. I need you to go pick up Dee and bring her in. I’m going to stay here and see if I can get anything else from Jake. Do not question her. Call me once you have her in custody, and I’ll meet you at the station.”
Cody ended the call and put his phone in his pocket. Could this be his fault? Was Dee trying to hurt him because he hadn’t wanted to start a relationship with her last year? Surely not. He’d heard her and Angie, the third shift dispatcher, talking last week about her new boyfriend. She hadn’t said his name, but she seemed genuinely happy. He went back to the hospital room, hoping to get more details from Jake.
“Cody, Jacob says Dee is the one who did this to him. Is that true?” Maggie asked with wide eyes.
“I’ve got Grainger going to pick her up now. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
“I’ve never met Dee. Well, not until I saw her the other day. I can’t even begin to imagine what the woman would have against me.”
“I know.” He moved closer to the bed. “Jake, can you describe the woman who picked you up? I know you said she told you her name was Dee, but what did she look like?”
Jake closed his eyes as if he were checking a memory bank. “She was about a foot shorter than me. I’d say one hundred twenty pounds. Brown, shoulder-length hair and brown eyes.”
“That sounds like Dee.” He pulled his phone from his pocket and scrolled through some photos. He stopped on a photo of a kindergarten class that had come to visit the station. Several deputies outlined the group. Dee was mixed in with them. He turned the phone to Jake. “Do you see her here?”
Jake squinted and studied the picture. “That’s her.” He pointed to the woman to the left of Deputy Minton. Dee. He put the phone back in his pocket.
“Do you remember which way she drove out of the airport?”
“She drove…” Jake closed his eyes, and as the silence stretched, his breath started to even out.
“Cody, he’s exhausted. Maybe we should let him rest,” Maggie whispered so as not to wake Jake.
They spent a few more minutes sitting there quietly before leaving. He hated to leave without more details, but Jake needed his rest. Cody lead the way to the elevators. The elevator dinged their destination as his phone rang. “Sheriff Smith.”
“Sheriff, Dee’s not at her house.”
“I was afraid of that. Stay there and see if she comes back. I don’t want to put an all-points bulletin out over the radios just yet. It’ll let her know that we’re on to her.”
“I agree. I’ll sit here and grab her when she comes home.”
“Good.” He disconnected the call, got in the car, and started it. He rested his hands on the steering wheel and leaned his head against the headrest. After a moment, he shifted his body so he was facing her. “Maggie, I’m sorry about this. If Dee is responsible…” He paused, laying his hand on the console. “I had no idea.” Anguish filled him as thoughts swirled in head. Why would she do this?
Maggie put her hand on his, stopping his fingers from drumming and pulling him from his thoughts. “How could you know? I’d never met her until that day in your office.”
He turned his hand over and intertwined their fingers. Their hands fit together perfectly. The old feelings were starting to bubble to the surface. First, he’d kissed her fingertips at the hotel, then he’d kissed her palm at breakfast, and now he was holding her hand. He wanted nothing more than to go back to the way they once were.
“You wouldn’t have met Dee. She moved to town about two years ago.”
“Why would she target me?
“All I can think is she might be targeting you because of me. Before I was Sheriff, she’d shown interest in me, beyond that of a coworker. I told her I wasn’t interested in a relationship at the time. She asked for at least a shot. I agreed. We went out a couple of times, but I had no interest in extending our relationship. She was disappointed at first, even avoided me for a few weeks, but she eventually moved on. It’s hard to believe though. I never would have thought she was bitter or resentful, much less violent.”
“There are things that have happened, details that she wouldn’t know anything about unless you told her. Was I your dinner conversation? Did you go on dates and tell them about poor, pitiful Maggie?” She crossed her arms over her chest.
“Come on, Maggie. It’s not like that at all. I never talked about you. Not to Dee, or to any other dates for that matter. I don’t know how she knew those things, but I think if Jake said she’s the one that drugged him, then she is.”
“So, what do we do now?”
He put the car in reverse. “We don’t do anything. When Dee decides to go home, Grainger will bring her in, and then I’ll get to the bottom of this. In the meantime, I will stick close to you and make sure you’re safe.”
She seemed to finally be accepting his comfort and protection, which would make his job easier. But she was much more than just a job to him. They’d had a romantic history together and had known each other even longer than that, and he wanted to get all of that back.
“Cody, it’s really not necessary. You don’t have to personally babysit me. What about Deputy Grainger or one of your other deputies?”
“I’m not leaving you alone, so get used to my presence.” He was pretty sure she was trying to put some distance between them, but he wasn’t going to leave her with anyone else until this was over.
“Don’t you have some important sheriffing to do?” She was trying to find an escape.
“This is important sheriffing. Is that even a word?” He raised his eyebrows.
“It is now.” She sighed. “Cody, I’ve got so much that needs to be done at the house. Can we go back there?”
“I know this is not what you had planned and it’s putting you behind schedule, but it’s really best you lie low, until we have Dee in custody.”
“I can’t sit cooped up in a hotel. I feel like a prisoner, and I haven’t done anything wrong. I know you told me about Iris and how her case turned out, but I’m not Iris. Could we at least run to Jacob’s and get some of his clothes and toiletries?”
“Sure. I don’t see the harm in getting some of Jake’s things and taking them to him… Maggie, I know this is a miserable situation. I know you hate being cooped up and threatened, and I get that spending so much time with me doesn’t exactly make it easier. But, you’ve got to realize, if Dee is the perpetrator, we’re talking about someone who has law enforcement training. I don’t want you taking any chances. So, restricting your activities will make it easier to keep you safe.”
* * * *
They collected some of the necessities for Jake and spent the afternoon visiting with him in the hospital. When the doctor came in, he’d spoken optimistically of the possibility of Jake being released the next day. Cody hoped that was true, both for Jake, and because it was plain that Maggie was drowning in guilt and concern over Jake’s hospitalization. The ride back to their hotel was silent. Maggie sat in the passenger’s seat, forehead against the window. Cody pulled into the parking lot and killed the engine as his cell phone rang. “Grainger, tell me you got Dee in custody.”
“No such luck. She hasn’t come back yet. I was thinking maybe I could drive around town and look for her car.”
“It couldn’t hurt. If she’s figured out we know, she’s not gonna come home, especially if she recognizes a deputy’s car staking out her place.”
“I’ll drive around. I’ll call if I find her.”
“Call for back up if you need to, then call me.”
“Ten-four.” Grainger disconnected the call.
Cody turned to Maggie. “Let’s go inside.”
They climbed the stairs to their floor. Pulling the key card from her back pocket, she stuck it in the slot. Before she could pull it out, he wrapped his hand around hers.
“Maggie, let me go first.”
Wearily, she pulled the key card out and let Cody enter the room first. He stepped over the threshold. Walking through the room, he looked in the closet, bathroom and even peeked under the bed. He wasn’t going to take a chance. Satisfied her room was safe, he opened the adjoining door and disappeared into his room, checking it.
Maggie sat at the table, head resting on her folded arms. When he returned, he reached out and squeezed her shoulder. His attempt to offer support backfired, though. She jolted straight up.
She felt so close to tears, his affectionate gesture almost broke her. The fear and worry had made her brittle—emotionally vulnerable. If she wasn’t careful, she would throw herself into his arms, her heart his for the taking. She had to keep her distance.
“I know this week has been rough, Magpie. Definitely not your best birthday, but I promise after this is all over, I will make it up to you with lots of balloons and a giant cake.”
“Honestly, I’d rather just forget this whole summer.” She stood and walked to her overnight bag, pulling out clothes.
“What can I do to help? You didn’t have any dinner. How about I order us something?”
“I’m not hungry.” She walked past him and stopped at the bathroom door. “I’m going to take a shower, and then I’m going to go to bed… G’night.”
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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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