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/Chapter 17
The ringing phone was somewhere to his right. He threw his hand in the direction of the sound and felt around haplessly on the nightstand. He opened his eyes and focused on the sliver of light indicating the incoming call. After swiping the screen, he put the phone to his ear. “Sheriff Smith here.” His greeting was met by silence. “Hello? Who is it?”
There was a shuffling noise on the other end and stifled a sob. He pulled the phone away from his ear, squinting against the bright light and checked the caller ID.
Why was she calling him in the middle of the night, or morning actually? She wouldn’t be calling him unless it was important. “What’s wrong?”
“Cody.” He could hear her ragged breathing. “Dee didn’t kill herself.”
His tired brain stumbled over her words. “The coroner thinks it’s a suicide. We won’t know for sure until after the autopsy, but I hope you’re not worrying over this. Maggie, it was—”
“No, listen to me, Cody. Dee didn’t kill herself, someone else did. And they filmed it.”
“What? How do—?”
“Someone broke into the house and put it in the DVD player.” She was starting to gasp for air. “They could still be here.”
He jumped out of bed and pulled on a shirt and his tennis shoes. It was a good thing he had been too tired to undress completely before he fell asleep. “I’m on my way. Stay on the line with me, okay?”
He grabbed his keys and gun holster before tearing out the front door.
“Y-yes.” She hiccupped.
“Where are you? Are you somewhere safe?”
“I’ve locked myself in my room, and I shoved a chair under the door knob.”
He slung the truck door open, jumped in, started the engine, and gunned it out of the drive. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.” The drive would normally take twenty-five minutes but with it being this early in the morning there wouldn’t be any traffic, and he had no intention of following the speed limit. In the meantime, he needed to make sure she was absolutely safe. “Do you hear anything to let you know the intruder might still be there?”
The silence on her end of the line seemed to go on forever.
“I’m here, I don’t hear anything.”
“Good, do you still have your father’s gun?
“I want you to get it and keep it by you. If anyone forces their way through that door, you shoot, okay?”
He heard shuffling on her side of the line as he assumed she was getting the gun. His foot stomped the accelerator, pushing the odometer higher. He needed to get to Maggie before someone else did.
God, keep her safe. I don’t know what I will do if I lose her.
He needed to alert his deputies, but he was in a rental that didn’t have a police radio. He couldn’t bring himself to hang up on her to sever the connection. He would keep her on the line, that way he would know if something happened. He could hear her murmuring prayers, and he prayed along with her.
The trip to Maggie’s house was agonizing. He took the turn on her drive so fast that the rear tires skidded, causing the rear end to kick sideways. He let off the accelerator before he lost control. Once the car straightened, he gunned it again and raced up her drive. He skidded to a stop in front of the porch steps.
“Maggie, I’m here. I’m going to hang up. Do not open that door until you hear my voice on the other side.”
“Okay,” she squeaked.
He threw his cell phone in the seat, pulled his gun from the holster, and charged up the porch steps. He tried the front door, but it was locked. He took a step back and did a couple well-placed kicks, shattering the old wood door frame, setting off the alarm and allowing him access.
He slowly entered the living room and looked around. Dee’s face was frozen on the television screen. He cleared the rest of the room and then quickly cleared the downstairs, too. He took the stairs one at a time and cleared each bedroom before coming to the room he knew was Maggie’s. He slid the safety in place and tucked his gun in its holster.
He knocked on the door. “Maggie, it’s Cody. You can open up now.”
Her footsteps quickly crossed the room and the chair scraped across the floor as she removed it from the doorknob. She flung the door open and threw her arms around him. She squeezed like she would never let go. He buried his face into her tangled hair as he clutched her to his chest. Pulling back slightly, he looked at her and whispered, “Thank God, you’re safe.”
Tendrils of hair covered her face. He smoothed them away so he could stare into her beautiful eyes. He rested his hand on her cheek and before he could stop himself, he lowered his head and gently brought his lips to hers.
Her lips were as soft as he remembered. As he started to pull away, she threaded her hand through his hair and pulled him back to her. The passion with which she kissed him awoke the feelings that had laid dormant since that night long ago.
He let his hand fall from her face and slide down her arm, wrapping behind her and pulling her closer. She slowly slid her hand down his cheek and rested it on his chest, leaving a trail of fire in its wake. Could she feel his heart racing? Slowly, the kiss ended, and he rested his forehead against hers. She closed her eyes, and her breath came in small gasps.
He wanted to stay like this forever, but this was not the time or place. Right now, he needed to concentrate on keeping her safe. He stepped back, immediately missing her presence.
He rubbed the tension from the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, Magpie, we need to go. But uh, first, can we turn off the alarm?”
“Oh. Yeah.” Her bright eyes dulled, and she walked passed him and down the stairs. He followed. She quickly disarmed the alarm and ran back up to her room. He thought he saw a tear slide down her cheek as she blew past him.
He grabbed the cordless phone and called the incident in. She reappeared at the top of the stairs, a small overnight bag in one hand and a dejected expression on her face.
“Come on, honey. Let’s get out of here.”
She descended the stairs. “Where are we going to go now? Where are we going to hide while we wait for the next line of the stupid nursery rhyme?”
“Magpie, I know that you’re frustrated and scared. I don’t blame you but—”
“You don’t know what I am feeling right now.”
“You’re right. I don’t, but I can assume. I’ve got my best deputies working on this.”
He took her hand and led her to the front door, using their connected hands to direct her behind him. They walked quickly to his truck.
Every muscle in his body was on alert. He was watching their surroundings as they walked. He opened the door for Maggie and closed it behind her after she climbed in. Walking around to the driver’s side he climbed in, started the truck, and took off, not bothering to buckle his seatbelt until the truck was in motion.
He glanced at her as they barreled down the road. She sat in the passenger’s seat of his truck, tracing her lips with her fingers. Did they still tingle like his?
“Tell me about the video.”
She told him about the noise waking her up and then the walk downstairs to find the video playing on her television screen. “After he felt for a pulse, he turned her head to stare at the door. He purposely opened her eyes, too, like he knew I’d be the one to open the door. Then a piece of paper was held up that read Seven for a Secret Never to be Told.” She punched her leg with her fist. “What have I done? Who is doing this to me and why? Lord, I don’t understand.”
He reached over and grabbed her hand. “I don’t know the answer to those questions. But I do know I will not stop looking for him.”
She yanked her hand from his, throwing her hands in the air in exasperation. “Yeah, but do you actually think you’ll ever find him? He doesn’t leave evidence. Every time I hide, he finds me. It feels hopeless. I just want this to be over. I want to pack up my dad’s stuff, and I want to go home and never think about Whitehaven again.”
He put his hand back on the steering wheel. Her words stung. Did she really want to leave or was she just frustrated with her situation? The way she’d kissed him… ^Pit had been like she was trying to pack the last six years into one kiss. All he could rationally discuss was the threat.
“I pray that I do find him, and fast. First Iris and now you. Two seemingly different women. It really seems like he has picked his targets at random, but there’s got to be a connection.”
Maggie didn’t know Iris. The Grainger family had moved to town after she had already left for college. She’d had no connection with this town since she left, except when she came home to visit her father, which was why he couldn’t figure out who was after her.
Cody slowed the truck and flipped on the turn signal, pulling into the Dale County Sheriff’s parking lot.
“Dee’s death is now officially a homicide. There are things I need to do now that can’t wait for later. There’s a small room where you can rest. Then we can go to my house where you can get proper sleep.” She started to protest, but he interrupted her with a raised hand. “I know you don’t want to stay with me, but at this point we don’t have a choice.”
“Okay.” She followed him into the station. He led her down a hallway to a sparsely furnished office. An old, rickety cot was pushed up against the wall on the right. Directly across from it was a small desk and chair.
“We call this the crash room. We use it when there’s an emergency situation and all hands are on deck. It’s mostly used during a missing persons case, which we haven’t had in a long time. Deputies can come in here and catch a few winks after an arduous search. I’ve slept on it myself a time or two. It’s not the most comfortable bed in the world, but it will do.”
“I’m not sure I’m going to be able to sleep but I’ll stay in here and out of your way.”
“We’ve got a break room with a couple vending machines and some outdated magazines, or you can sit in my office while I work.”
“I don’t want to be in the way. I’ll sit in the break room.”
“Okay, right this way.”
After getting Maggie settled in the break room, he called Deputy Bennet to check on the progress of securing Maggie’s house. Then he called Deputy Minton to do a complete work up of the scene. While all deputies had basic crime scene gear in their patrol vehicles, Minton was the official crime scene investigator. He had several hours of training every year with outside agencies, and he was always taking classes or reading the newest forensic discoveries. Now that their stalking and suicide case was now a murder investigation, Minton would be the only deputy to work any related crime scenes.
The time on the computer showed a quarter to five. It was still too early to call the pharmacy about the disposal of Iris’s prescriptions. At this point, he wasn’t even sure that was what killed Dee. Maggie said the video clearly showed Dee being stabbed with a syringe. It would still be a while before the toxicology report came back. He made a note to call the medical examiner to see if there had been any evidence that might lead them to a certain class of drugs.
With nothing left for him to do at the moment, Cody turned off the desk lamp and went to find Maggie. She was exactly where he had left her, sitting at the table. She was busy writing on what appeared to be a paper towel she’d pulled from the dispenser. As he stepped closer, he noticed several other scribbled-on paper towels.
“You know you could have asked for some paper?”
She jumped at the sound of his voice. “I didn’t want to bother anyone. Have a seat.”
He pulled a chair over and sat close enough to read what she was writing.
“What is this?”
“I’ve been thinking long and hard about all of this. But first, I want to apologize. What I said earlier was out of line. It’s not your fault at all. I was just lashing out.” She dipped her chin, avoiding his eyes.
“It’s okay. I forgive you.” He raised her chin. “This is an extremely stressful situation for you. Now, about the notes?” He nodded at the paper towel.
“Right.” She nodded, returning her attention to her notes. “I am absolutely positive I have never seen Dee before I met her here. If I’ve never met her, then whoever she is, uh, was working with has to be the one that has the connection with me. Up until Dee’s death, everything had been focused on me.”
She handed him the stack of paper towels. The one on top had one for sorrow written across the top and details about the incident listed underneath it. Each additional paper towel represented the other lines of the nursery rhyme.
He was impressed with her organizational skills and the clarity with which she had documented every incident with excruciating detail. He looked at each individual paper towel.
Not only did she list the line and its corresponding act, but she also jotted down what she thought the line could mean.
One for sorrow.
Bean bag shot at Cody and me.
One shot. Sorrow—distress.
Two for joy.
Mom and dad’s rings stolen.
Two—two rings. Joy—marriage/weddings are joyous occasions.
A large yawn erupted from Maggie, distorting her facial features. She needed to get some rest.
“You did a good job. It’s too early for me to start making some of the phone calls that I need to make, so why don’t we go to my house? That way you can get some rest and I can go over these notes.”
When the argument he was expecting didn’t occur, he stood and gathered Maggie’s notes, tucking them in his pocket so he could examine them later.
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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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