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/Chapter 15/Chapter 16
Deputy Minton hadn’t only dropped Maggie off at the house, he had done a walk through before he left. He said that Dee may be dead and the threat gone but, that didn’t mean she hadn’t left any surprises. After he’d left, she took a long, hot shower, washing away the grime from the past few days, literally at least. Figuratively, it was going to take a lot longer for her to feel clean.
She dug her phone out of her purse, hoping to call and check on Jacob. As her recent luck would have it, her battery was dead. She connected it to the charger and used the house phone.
“Hey, Jacob. How are you feeling?” She sat on the couch, drawing her knees up.
“I’m going crazy. I can’t wait to get out of this hospital.”
She laughed. Jacob had never liked being cooped up. “Any idea when you’ll get to go home?”
“Actually, yes. They are working on the discharge paperwork now.”
“That’s great. I’ll come get you.” It would give her something to do besides sit in the big, old house by herself.
“No. You need to stay with Cody. I’ll find a ride home.”
“It’s okay now. We found Dee’s body this morning. I’m safe.” She slid her shoes on.
“We? What do you mean we?” His voice rose an octave.
She filled him in on everything that had happened since their last phone call.
“That’s good. Well, not that she’s dead but that you’re safe.”
“Yes, it is. Now, I can actually breathe. And I can focus on the house. Except tonight, I’m going to come pick you up and give you a ride home.”
“Sounds good to me.”
She hung up, gathered her things, drove to the hospital, and waited for his release. After he’d signed all the discharge paperwork, she drove them to his house, where he lay on the couch, protesting. Self-sufficiency was apparently a family trait and being cared for made Jacob ornery. “I’m not helpless, you know.”
“No, but it’s the least I can do. If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have been hurt.”
Before he had a chance to argue, the doorbell rang, and she jumped up to answered it. She paid the deliveryman and took the pizza to the living room, setting it on the coffee table in front of Jacob. She’d ordered pizza when she had gotten him home because she didn’t want him cooking and truthfully, she didn’t feel like cooking, either. She brought him a plate and he sat up to eat. She busied herself by taking care of his laundry and making sure he had everything he needed. Keeping busy was her way of avoiding going back to her father’s house.
Sure, Dee was dead, and Maggie could go on with her life. She didn’t have to be afraid of what sick trick would come next or if she would get hurt. But going on with her life meant going through her father’s things and all the memories they would conjure. It also meant leaving Whitehaven… and Cody.
Looking around the house, she still saw touches of her sister-in-law throughout the home. For the millionth time, she wondered how Jacob had gotten through each day after Caroline’s car accident. Her gruff, macho brother had been head-over-heels in love with his sweet wife, and her death had devastated him. She got the impression that he worked too much and kept to himself, and he’d never been one to talk about his feelings. But he’d figured out a way to continue on.
Their little family seemed plagued by loss, and now she and Jacob were both alone. Something had changed in him though—over the past three months, every time they ended a phone conversation, he’d told her that he loved her. It was almost as if he had decided that he didn’t want to leave the important things unsaid. She thought again of Cody. How different would their lives have been if they had the chance to go back and really say what was in their hearts. There was no changing the past, but what would it mean for them now if they just said what they felt? If she told him how she felt? Something soft hit the side of her head, jarring her back to reality.
“What’s going on in that little brain of yours?” Jacob teased as he threw another pillow at her. Before it could hit her, she caught it and squeezed it to her chest.
“I know these are called throw pillows, but it’s not so you can throw them at people.” She hugged it and then as quickly as she could, she launched it at his head, hoping to catch him off guard. He dodged it at the last second and it sailed behind the couch.
“You throw like a girl.” He laughed. “Seriously, Mags, you don’t have to stay here and coddle me. I know you blame yourself for what happened, but it is not your fault.”
He stood and grimaced as he straightened. Guilt overwhelmed her as he slowly started walking toward the end of the couch. Is it time for his medicine?
She jumped up and met him at the end of the couch before he could turn and go down the hall to the kitchen. “What do you need? I can get it for you.”
He grabbed her in a hug and squeezed until she was sure she was going to break in half. “Thank God you are okay. I’m so thankful Cody was around to keep you safe.”
“Yes. Cody. My hero.” Her voice was flat. He actually was her hero, but she didn’t want to talk about him, especially with Jacob.
“What’s that about?”
She pulled away and wrapped her arms around her midsection. “Nothing. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Fine.” He pushed past her, circling behind the couch.
“Jacob Anthony Jones, you sit right back down. Whatever you need, I can get it for you.”
He bent over, picked up the errant pillow, and tossed it at her again.
“Number one, your teacher voice doesn’t work with me. Number two, I need to use the bathroom, and I don’t think that’s something you want to help with. And number three, we’re talking when I get back.” He ambled to the bathroom.
She grabbed a slice of pizza and bit into it. She didn’t want to talk to Jacob about what was going on. He didn’t need to worry about her; he needed to focus on getting better. Plus, she just really didn’t want to talk with him about Cody.
Jacob came back into the room and lowered himself on the couch. “Tell me what’s going on. Is it the stalker situation or something else? Do Cody and I need to kick some butt?”
She laughed at the image of Cody trying to beat himself up. “No. There’s no need to beat anyone up. Dee is gone, so I don’t have to worry about that craziness anymore. It’s just… being back home is hard. Being back in Whitehaven is bringing up old memories and being around Cody, well, that’s another story.”
“Come sit.” He patted the couch next to him. As soon as she sat down, he pulled her into the crook of his arm and gave her a noogie. She squealed and batted at him, careful not to actually hit him. She pulled herself out of his hold, grabbed a throw pillow, and scooted over, out of his reach. She leaned her back against the arm of the couch and brought her knees to her chest, placing the pillow on top and resting her chin on it.
“I know it’s hard, especially being at the house. I’m sure you see mom and dad everywhere. I know I do when I’m there. You could stay here if you’d like.”
Grief crawled from her chest and escaped through the tears that fell from her eyes. “It’s more than that. I need to be at the house and working on it.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“Not really. It might make me feel better, though.”
He turned his body to her, resting his arm against the back of the couch.
“You remember the summer before I left for college?”
“Well, I was seeing someone, and he dumped me a week before I left. I was pretty wrecked over it. Being back is not only bringing up memories of mom and dad but of him, too.”
“I knew it. I told Cody I thought you were seeing someone. I just couldn’t figure out who it was. It’s been six years, but I can still kick his butt for hurting you. Just give me a name.”
She shook her head and gave him a weak smile. “What is it with you and kicking butts?”
“There’s no need for any bodily harm. He’s apologized. Those old memories are bringing up old feelings. I think he wants to try again… Part of me wants to, too.” She gazed around Jacob’s living room, looking at the pictures on the mantle. His graduation. Caroline on their wedding day. Jacob and Cody as teenagers.
“Why don’t you give it a try?”
“What?” She looked at him quizzically.
“If he wants to try and you want to try, then why not try?”
“I don’t want to try and get hurt again.” She looked back at the picture of Caroline. She looked so happy. Maggie wanted a happiness like that.
“I can understand. Close your eyes.”
“Why?” She frowned.
“Just do it.”
“Fine.” She closed her eyes and waited for him to punch her or pull her hair like he used to do when they were kids.
“Picture the man you dated.”
“Okay.” She pictured Cody. First, she saw him as the young teenager she dated. Then she envisioned the man he was today.
“You see him?” Jacob’s voice was a tad quieter than before.
“Yes.” She nodded.
“Okay. How do you feel?”
“I feel foolish.”
This time, he did punch her, softly on the arm. “Come on. When you see him standing there, what do you feel? What do you remember?”
What did she feel when she pictured him? Warmth started in her chest and spread throughout her body. The feelings she had for Cody washed over her. She felt loved. Cherished. Happy. “I feel like I’m home.”
“Okay. So, isn’t it worth trying to get back there? It may not happen, but if you don’t try you won’t know. You can’t not do something because you’re afraid to get hurt.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Okay. Here’s a better explanation. If I were suddenly transported back to the day I met Caroline and I had the knowledge of what our future would hold, I wouldn’t change a thing. Loving her and being loved by her was one of the greatest things I’ve ever experienced. Losing her was… unbearable, but it could never hurt enough to erase what we had. Love is so much stronger than that pain.”
“How’d you get so smart?”
“Wisdom comes with age.” He assumed an exaggeratedly enlightened expression, reached over and took the pillow from under her chin, then smacked her with it. He smiled. “Now, who’s the lucky guy?”
She tried to steal the pillow but was unsuccessful. “Uh, no. That’s for me to know. I need to get back to the house. I have a lot to think about.” She gave Jacob a hug. “Thanks, big brother. Call me if you need anything.”
“I’m not an invalid, but I will call. The offer still stands, you’re welcome to stay here.”
She slipped her feet into her shoes and hooked her purse on her shoulder. “No. I tend to clean while I think. Maybe I’ll get the house done tonight.”
She shut the door behind her and headed to the truck.
* * * *
A noise had seeped into Maggie’s dream, stirring her awake. She didn’t know what it was or where it had come from, but she didn’t hear anything now. The clock on her nightstand read 2:57 a.m. She closed her eyes and willed herself to go back to sleep. It had only been an hour since she went to bed, but her brain wouldn’t allow it. She thought about everything that still needed to be done. Part of her wanted to hire an auctioneer and sell it all off. Jacob had already claimed what he wanted of their parent’s belongings, and he didn’t want anything else. What was the point in boxing it all up and letting it gather dust?
Another noise drifted into her bedroom, sounding like it came from downstairs. Sitting up, she slipped her feet into her duck slippers and padded down the hallway to the stairs. The house was so old it was probably a shutter flapping in the wind.
As she neared the bottom of the stairs, she saw a soft glow coming from the living room. Didn’t I turn off all the lights before going to bed? She had been so tired after coming home and packing and cleaning the kitchen and Jacob’s old room.
She descended the last step and turned to the living room, coming to an abrupt halt. Dee’s face stared back at her from the television screen.
She froze at the base of the stairs, staring at a video of Dee sitting in what appeared to be a car. She needed to call for help. No, she needed to run, but her feet were glued to the floor. Dee’s voice played over the speakers.
“Oooh, the sheriff’s car is comfy. We can just take some pictures to let them know how much we’re enjoying it.” Dee was laughing, looking at someone off camera. “I’ll text them to her and remind her that we can find her anywhere.”
Dee lifted a phone, took a few of the view from out the car windshield, then started taking photos of herself. She took a few smiling photos and then a photo blowing kisses to the camera. “I love it. They’re up there sleeping. They don’t even know we’re down here. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces.” She giggled, vicious delight in her eyes. Her expression turned adoring as she said, “I love you,” and blew a kiss to whoever was off camera.
“Hey, stop, what is that?” Panic laced her voice. “What are you doing?” She started to get out of the car, but a gloved hand pushed her back in and then another gloved hand entered the frame and pushed a needle into Dee’s neck.
“What was in that? You didn’t say anything…” Dee’s words slurred, and her eyes drooped. After a moment, her head rolled back to the headrest. The gloved hand placed two fingers on her neck, checking for a pulse. He turned her head toward the door and opened her eyes so she would be staring at whoever opened the door. A small piece of paper was placed in front of the camera. Seven for a Secret Never to be Told. Then the gloved hand covered the camera that must have been positioned on the dashboard.
Maggie couldn’t move, her body was paralyzed with fear. Dee hadn’t killed herself. Someone had murdered her. There was a second person. And they are in the house!
She turned and ran up the stairs, but her feet wouldn’t cooperate. She tripped, banging her shin on the edge of one of the stairs, sending shooting pain down her leg. She stood and continued clumsily climbing the stairs. She ran to her bedroom, shut the door, and moved a chair to position the back under the doorknob. Hopefully that would be enough to keep her intruder out. She ran to the nightstand and grabbed her cell phone from where she had left it charging.
She dialed Cody’s number, her fingers shaking so badly she had to dial twice before she got it right.
Pick up. Please pick up.
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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