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 / Chapter Thirteen / Chapter Fourteen
After lying on the uncomfortable bed for what felt like hours, Maggie finally drifted to sleep, but it wasn’t restful. She kept drifting in and out of consciousness.
Finally, after the second nightmare and a trip to the bathroom, she admitted defeat. She was wide awake. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t go back to sleep. Rolling over, she looked at the clock on the night stand—6:15 a.m. She wasn’t going to be going back to sleep anytime soon. Swinging her legs off the bed, she planted them firmly on the carpet and stretched her arms over her head, working the kinks from her back.
When she stood, she saw her reflection in the mirror hanging on the wall. A pale face with dark circles under her eyes, hair sticking up in all sorts of directions—the woman staring back at her was a stranger.
She rubbed the sleep from her eyes as she walked to the bathroom. After splashing cold water from the bathroom faucet on her face, she ran her wet hands over her hair trying to tame any flyaways as she gathered the unruly mess into a somewhat contained bun. She ran her tongue over her teeth and felt a thick coat of fuzz. Okay, she was mentally exaggerating, but she wished the hotel provided complimentary toothbrushes and toothpaste.
She walked to the adjoining door. It was no longer closed, but slightly cracked. He must have checked on her during the night. She stuck her ear to the door, listening for any noise. Silence. He must still be sleeping.
“You can come in.” His voice startled her. She must not have been as quiet as she thought.
She pushed the door open. She didn’t know what she expected, but it wasn’t to see Cody sitting at the little breakfast table with an open Bible in front of him.
He hadn’t looked up, so she took a moment to take in his relaxed features. The tension that had been radiating off him for the past couple of days was absent. His blond hair swept just above his eyebrows, masking the scar he had gotten from one of his and Jacob’s rough games of basketball. The circles under his eyes were slightly darker than hers. His face was beyond the five o’clock shadow stage and well on its way to a beard.
It suited him. He was no longer the fresh-faced teenager she’d fallen in love with. He was a rugged man full of strength and determination. One who would do anything to protect the woman he loved. Did he love her?
“It’s rude to stare,” his husky voice interrupted her appraisal.
“Uh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you.” She glanced at her feet, knowing her pale skin once again betrayed her embarrassment at being caught all but ogling him. “I couldn’t sleep.”
He shifted in his chair and ran his hand through his hair then turned his compassionate eyes to her. She held his gaze, noticing something hidden in his eyes. She couldn’t quite figure out what it was, but before she could study them any longer, he cleared his throat and looked away. When he looked back at her, whatever had been hidden there was gone.
“Grainger called. A deputy was stationed outside of Dee’s house last night while he looked around the area for her car. She never showed up. I’ve had them issue an APB on her. The substance in the bed was definitely blood. From the basic field test we can do, we know it’s not human blood.”
The news that Dee was still out there knotted in her stomach. Cody must have sensed her discomfort because he gestured for her to have a seat next to him at the table.
“I picked this Bible up off the night stand. I’ve heard it said that do not fear or fear not is in the Bible three hundred sixty-five times, one for each day of the year. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I do know that Proverbs 18:10 says that The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are safe. I know right now is rough, Maggie. I know you’ve got to be afraid. But you can call on the Lord. He can give you peace and comfort in this time.”
He took her hand and looked her in the eyes. “Can we pray?”
She nodded, unable to speak. He had quoted the exact scripture she had run across days ago while she was staying at her father’s house.
He closed his eyes and bowed his head. “Lord, thank You for Your love and Your saving grace. Lord I pray that You will help us find Dee and put an end to her sick game. I pray that You will be with Maggie, Lord. I pray that You will wrap Your loving arms around her and give her the peace and comfort only You can. I pray that she will rely on You, that she’ll know that You are here. Amen.”
“Lord, thank You for sending Cody back into my life. I pray that You will be with Cody and his deputies as they search for Dee, Lord. Give them wisdom and keep a hedge of protection around them. Amen,” Maggie added.
They sat silently at the table, studying each other. Still holding her hand, he used his free hand to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Moving his hand to her cheek, he stared intently into her eyes. Searching them. Giving her a chance to protest.
She wouldn’t. She wanted him to kiss her. Her heart fluttered, and tingles rippled down her spine at the thought. He leaned closer, slowly. She parted her lips and closed her eyes, giving him permission. His lips gently brushed hers, igniting the old flame she thought had blown out.
Just as he leaned forward to deepen the kiss, his phone rang, ruining the moment. She pulled her face from his hand, stood, and started pacing next to the bed. She told herself she was glad for the interruption. Sure, in the moment and maybe even right now, she wanted him to kiss her, but she knew she was only going to get hurt again. It was best that nothing happened.
“Hello?” He answered the phone, and his face brightened at whoever was on the other end. “Jake, man, you sound much better. How are you feeling?”
When he said Jacob’s name, she quit pacing. She was anxious to talk to Jacob, but it wouldn’t be very nice to rip the phone from Cody’s hand.
“Yeah, she’s right here. It’s good to hear you’re feeling better. Here’s Maggie.” He handed the phone to her.
“Hey, big brother.” She sat back down at the table
“How’s my favorite little sister?” It was good to hear Jacob’s voice.
“I’m your only little sister. I’m fine. How are you feeling?”
“I’m better now that I know where you are. I was worried when you didn’t answer your phone or return my messages. I was afraid something happened.”
“I left my cell phone at the other hotel. Along with my purse and all of my clothes.”
“I see. More trouble?”
“Not really.” She grimaced as she lied to him. She hated it, but he didn’t need to worry about her. He had problems of his own to deal with.
“Don’t lie to me, Magpie. If it weren’t bad, Cody wouldn’t have whisked you away without your stuff.”
“You’re right. Dee left a note, um, hinting at death.” Her voice broke on the last word. Cody took her hand in his, holding it tightly. She smiled sadly.
Jacob groaned and there was rustling. “What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to get out of the bed. Where are you guys? I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“No. Jacob, you get back in that bed. Cody is here. He’s not going to let anything happen to me. I promise I will stick by his side.”
Another groan. “Fine. I love you. Can I talk to Cody again?”
“I love you, too. Here’s Cody.” She passed him the phone.
Cody let go of her hand and took the phone. “Jake.”
She couldn’t hear Jacob’s side of the conversation, but Cody’s face hardened. “I will. I’ll be sure to check in. Take care of yourself.” He disconnected the call and placed the phone on the table.
“What’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing. He just threatened me with bodily harm if anything happened to you. I won’t go in to detail. It was quite morbid.” He smiled and winked.
“That’s my big brother for you.” She stood.
“He’s a good one. I know you didn’t get to grab your stuff last night. There’s a small general store about a mile down the road. We can pick up some of the necessities. I don’t know about you, but my teeth feel like sandpaper.”
“And how do you suppose I pay for the necessities? With my good looks?”
“Your good looks could buy a lot with me.”
She gaped at him, at a loss for words.
His face turned red. He stood and walked to the hotel door, trying to hide his embarrassment. “Seriously, I’ll buy what you need, and you can pay me back when we get your purse. The first thing you should consider purchasing is a different pair of pants. While I love the ducks, some people may think you’re a quack.”
“You are so funny.” Sarcasm oozed from that statement. “Okay, but you will give me the receipts so I can keep track of how much I owe you.”
He held the door open for her, letting it close behind them. She noticed Cody positioned himself between her and the open walkway. She was protected on both sides, yet a sense of dread washed over her. She couldn’t say why. Maybe it was because Cody was putting himself between her and any danger that could be lurking out there. They descended the stairs and exited the stairwell. Cody slowed and scanned the parking lot. He acted as though he suspected something was off. She followed his gaze. Satisfied, he gave her a nudge forward while he surveyed the building behind them one last time. She moved with a purpose, reached the car quickly, and opened the passenger’s side door.
Her stomach roiled, and dizziness overwhelmed her at the sight of the person sitting in the passenger’s seat. She slammed the door in horror and took two shaky steps backward before turning away from the car.
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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