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 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9 / Chapter 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14/Chapter 15/Chapter 16/Chapter 17/Chapter 18/Chapter 19/Chapter 20/Chapter 21/Chapter 22
There, written in red ink, were the words Eight for a Wish. Her fuzzy brain struggled to catch up. It hadn’t been Cody in the room earlier—it had been the stalker. He must have hit her with something, put the ring on her finger, and then written those four little words.
She had to get them off. Palm down, she started viciously rubbing her hand on her pants, trying to scrub the words away. Another look proved the words remained. Licking the fingers of her right hand, she used them to wipe at her palm. She turned her hand back to her pants and scrubbed some more.
Oh, God. Please, get it off. Panic set in. Her heart raced, and her breaths came faster. Her hand was never going to be clean. The words would be there to taunt her forever. Her palm burned from the friction, but she had to rid herself of those words, even if she had to bleed to do so. Before she could begin another frantic attempt, Cody’s large hand grabbed hers. She tried to pull away, but his grip was too tight.
“I have to get the words off my hand. Please, Cody.” She tried to pull again, but he wouldn’t release her. Her chest constricted, and her lungs fought hard for air. She took deep, labored gasps.
“Cody, please.” She looked at him. His gaze was intense on the road, but he cautioned a look at the review mirror, and then back to the road. He pulled her to him so that she sat nestled at his side.
“It’s okay, Maggie. Those words won’t hurt you, honey.”
She laid her head on his chest and listened to his heart, willing hers to match the beat. He released her hand and slowly caressed her arm. He whispered a prayer into her hair. Her breathing incrementally returned to normal. Cody’s warm hand continued its comforting journey up and down her arm until her heart was no longer racing in her chest.
When she could finally speak, she sat up and moved back to her side of the truck. She immediately regretted the move. No longer feeling the warmth from Cody’s body, a shiver ran up her spine.
“Thank you.” Trying to move inconspicuously, she changed positions again, settling slightly closer to him.
His concentration was still on the road, but he quickly looked at her and smiled.
She removed the ring and inspected it further. It was a sapphire princess cut surrounded by smaller glittering stones, which she assumed were either cubic zirconia or possibly even diamonds. The band was simple white gold. If it weren’t for the circumstances, the ring would have been beautiful.
She showed it to Cody. “Do you want to see it?”
His gaze never left the road. “Uh, I know what it looks like. I’ve seen it before.” His words were filled with a longing she hadn’t heard from him since she’d returned to Whitehaven.
“What do you mean you’ve seen it before? Oh, God, did it belong to Iris or Dee? Is it supposed to signify I am going to die next? Is that the wish? He wishes for my death?” She could feel another panic attack creeping up her body.
He jerked his head to face her. “No! No. It did not belong to them, and the wish isn’t for your death. There’s an inscription on the inside of the band. Go ahead and read it.”
She brought the ring closer to her face and tilted it to read the inscription.
My Magpie. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath as the memory swamped her.
She pressed her ear to the bedroom door, listening for any sound to indicate her father had gotten up. Nothing. She quietly raced to the bedroom window, raised it, and waited again for any sounds from the hallway. After a minute of silence, she gingerly climbed out the window, tiptoed to the tree by Jacob’s bedroom, and shimmied down.
The house was dark and looming in the moonlight. She’d be scared if she weren’t already trembling with excitement. She jogged to the path that would lead to the pond. Cody said he’d meet her there at midnight. She turned in circles looking around. He wasn’t there. The excitement started to die down and disappointment took its place. Maybe he couldn’t make it.
They’d been secretly seeing each other for two weeks. Their clandestine meetings were never long enough. She wanted to be with him all the time, and it had been her idea to meet tonight. She stood next to the towering trees and waited. A snap from behind made her jump.
“Maggie?” Cody’s hushed whisper calmed her fears as he emerged from the tree line.
“I was beginning to think you’d changed your mind,” she teased.
“Nothing could keep me away from you.” He slid his hand into hers. His touch started a blaze in her hand that spread throughout her body as he pulled her down the path. “I would have been waiting for you, but I have a surprise.”
“I love surprises.” She tried not to let the bubbling, girlish giggle escape. “What is it?”
“Well, if I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise.” He squeezed her hand.
“I suppose not.” They walked the rest of the path in silence, hand in hand.
The bright moonlight shone through the opening of the trees at the end of the path. On the other side was a clearing that contained a small pond fed by a flowing creek.
“Surprise.” Cody turned her to face a large blanket spread on the ground. There were two pillows positioned a couple feet apart and a small ice chest on the edge. “The Perseid meteor shower starts tonight. I thought we could try to find a shooting star.”
They walked to the blanket, and she took a seat next to one of the pillows. He sat next to her.
“What’s in the ice chest?” If it had been any other boy, she’d be afraid of what was in it. Cody was different. He’d seen firsthand the damage alcohol could do.
He reached over and produced her favorite soda. “For you, my lady.”
“Thank you, kind sir.” She took a drink.
She laid down and rested her head on the pillow, clasping her hands over her stomach. Cody moved his pillow slightly closer to hers and laid down. He wasn’t touching her, but she could feel the heat radiating from his arm inches away. She let her hand slide down to her side and searched for his. Finding it, she intertwined their fingers.
“This is nice.” She stared at the sky, waiting for a star to dash across.
“It is.” His voice was husky.
They laid in comfortable silence. Words weren’t necessary. Being together was all they needed.
“There!” He let go of her hand and pointed as a light darted across the sky.
“I see it!” The thrill of catching a glimpse of a shooting star danced in her heart.
“Now we have to make a wish. Close your eyes.”
She closed her eyes. What could she wish for? She had everything she wanted. At least, things she could have. Wishing on a star wasn’t going to bring her mother back. She’d wish for more moments like this. She was free and content, and she was certain the boy next to her could be thanked for that.
She opened her eyes to find he had rolled on to his side, his head propped on his hand, watching her.
“My Magpie.” His voice was as soft as the look on his face. He leaned down and tenderly kissed her. His soft lips sent chills through her while setting her on fire at the same time. Her stomach quaked as he deepened the kiss.
The ring slipped from her hand and fell to her lap, snapping her from her memories. This ring had been meant for her. She was completely certain. Not today, and not from a stalker, but six years ago from Cody. She was speechless. She didn’t know what to think much less what to say.
“Cody. What does this mean?”
The muscles along his strong jaw twitched. He didn’t say anything, didn’t even look at her. He kept staring straight ahead, watching the road. What about this ring made him go silent? Why did he have it? Even if he had planned on giving it to her years ago, why hadn’t he gotten rid of it after he sent her away? Maybe he had been completely honest when he said he broke up with her because he thought that was what was best for her. He hadn’t been playing with her heart back then.
“It means that this isn’t about just you.”
“I’m not sure I understand. I was the one knocked out, this ring placed on my finger, and those awful words written on my hand. Who else is it about?”
“That ring you have in your hands was locked safely away in my bedroom.”
“Why do you have this ring? This is… from before, right?” She needed to know the story behind the ring and behind the inscription. His terse nod was barely visible. “Why do you still have it?”
His jaw tensed and started moving back and forth. He was grinding his teeth. His Adam’s apple bobbed.
She wanted to hear him say it. His grip tightened on the steering wheel, and he let out a sigh. “That night, the one when I told you good-bye… I’d had that in my pocket all day. I was going to give it to you after we told Jake and your dad about us. It was going to be my promise to you. My promise to love you until we were old and gray.”
Everything clicked into place. “That was your wish that night we saw the falling star.”
He nodded. “I had My Magpie engraved on it.”
“Why? You knew how much I hated that name.”
“I know. To you, Magpie was a silly nickname we gave you about an annoying, loud, little bird. But that wasn’t the meaning to me. I, uh, had to do a particularly boring history project before I graduated. Did you know the people of the Manchu Dynasty believed that the Magpie brought good luck? Well, that’s what you were to me. You were my good luck.”
She looked down at the ring and ran a finger around the circle of clear stones that haloed the sapphires. I would have said yes. “Eight for a wish is for both of us. I don’t understand.”
“Someone has been in my house. They know enough about our past to understand what that ring means, what you mean to me. The attack today also means that he’s not sticking to a schedule, so we can’t know when he’ll strike next.”
“Where are we going to go now? This person obviously knows enough about us to know of any places that we could hide. They somehow know small, intimate details about both of us. How could they know that? Cody, did you tell anyone about the ring?”
He shook his head. “There were a few people around town that knew we were dating. The jewelry store where I bought the ring and the florist where I had bought your birthday flowers. In a particularly nasty fight with my mother, I let it slip that I was seeing you, but she had been drunk as usual and didn’t remember the fight the next morning. We need to disappear.” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “Do you have your cell phone?”
She started at his sudden question. She fished her phone from her pocket and tried to hand it to him, but he shook his head.
“I think whoever is behind this might be using our phones to track our whereabouts. I want you to call your brother, briefly tell him what’s going on. Tell him I’m taking you somewhere safe and we’ll be in touch. And then turn your phone off and take the battery out.”
She followed his instructions without argument. She dialed Jacob as Cody pulled his cell phone from his pocket. He called Grainger while she called Jacob. When she ended the call, she removed the battery from her phone. Cody had her do the same with his.
“There’s a campground that straddles the county line. It’s not just a campground. They offer cabins for rent. I think that may be the best place to go. We have to assume that any place that has a connection to either one of us has the potential to be dangerous.”
“Just take me somewhere safe.” Pain pounded in her temples. She wanted this nightmare to be over. He slowed and pulled into the parking lot of a truck stop, right before the Dale County border.
“How’s your head?” he asked, turning to face her.
“It hurts, but I’ll make it.”
“Why don’t we go in and get some medicine for the pain?”
She nodded and got out of the truck. He followed her into the truck stop.
“I need to use the bathroom.” She followed the sign pointing the way to the restrooms, Cody right on her heels. “You don’t have to go with me.”
“I’m not letting you out of my sight. I’ve done that once today and look what happened.”
She stopped, spinning around and pinning him with her wide eyes. “Excuse me?”
“Well, not for long any way.” His cheeks were red with embarrassment. He grinned as he grabbed her shoulders, spinning her back around and giving her a small shove toward the restrooms.
He was leaning against the wall by the restroom door when she exited five minutes later.
“It took some scrubbing, but I finally got those words off my hand.” She was absentmindedly rubbing at the palm of her hand even though it was clean.
They walked down the sundry aisle and picked up a bottle of pain reliever.
“I need to get a drink; I can’t take pills without it.”
“We should probably get a few drinks and snacks to hold us over until we can do proper shopping for the cabin.”
She pulled her debit card from her purse and started to hand it to the cashier. It was a good thing she had left her purse in the truck when they had stopped at her father’s house.
“No debit cards. We don’t want to leave an electronic trail. I’ve got some cash.” He pulled his wallet from his pocket and paid cash for their items. They walked out of the truck stop.
There was something flapping in the wind under the windshield wiper. She hated when people distributed fliers like that, but she hated it even more when people threw them on the ground. He pulled the flier from the windshield and turned it over.
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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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