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/Chapter 23/Chapter 24/Chapter 25/Chapter 26/Chapter 27
Searing pain tore through Cody’s thigh, crumpling him to the floor. He rolled around, waiting on the next shot and the inevitable pain. Instead, Grainger stood in the doorway, gun aimed at his chest.
If Grainger shot him now, Maggie wouldn’t have a chance. He had to do everything in his power to stay alive and give her time to get away. He stood, gritting his teeth through the pain and lunged at Grainger. He slammed his shoulder into Grainger’s abdomen, sending them both barreling to the floor with a thud. Cody landed on top and scrambled to straddle him, delivering a swift punch to his jaw.
He glanced at the window to make sure Maggie had run and wasn’t standing there watching their scuffle. He had a millisecond of relief before blinding pain emerged from the back of his head. The gun. Grainger had used it to pistol whip him. Cody’s adrenaline spiked as he turned back to Grainger. He grabbed Grainger’s wrist and shoved it to the side. Not a moment too soon, either. A deafening blast erupted, causing his ears to ring. Grainger bucked and rolled Cody on to his back so that Grainger was now on top. He delivered a brutal blow. Pain shot up Cody’s face and connected to the pain pounding the back of his head.
Grainger couldn’t win. Maggie hadn’t had enough time to get a good head start.
Wasting no time, Grainger stood and aimed the gun at his head. “Give it up. I know what you’re doing.” Kneeling, he placed the barrel of the gun against the wound in Cody’s leg and applied pressure.
Stars dancing in his eyes, Cody held back the howl of pain waiting to escape. He wasn’t going to give Grainger the satisfaction.
“You’re trying to waste time to give your little girlfriend a head start.” He lifted the gun and placed the barrel against Cody’s other leg. “Get up or I’ll give you a matching wound.”
Cody knew that having a bullet wound in one leg disadvantaged him, a second wound would render him useless. He did as he was told, standing and putting his weight on his good leg.
Using his gun, Grainger gestured to the room they had just left. “Get back in there.”
Cody had to think of something. He couldn’t be locked in that room and allow Grainger to go after Maggie. His gaze darted around the room, looking for something he could use to his advantage.
“Don’t get any bright ideas, Sheriff. Maggie is safe. For now.” He snickered as he gave Cody a shove through the door. “We’re out in the middle of nowhere. I have plenty of time to deal with you and then hunt her down before she can find help.”
Cody turned to face the man that had been terrorizing Maggie. He was baffled at how such a good deputy could have turned so evil.
Grainger pushed him down onto the bed and leaned against the door frame, keeping the gun aimed at him. “It’s your fault. I did all of this because of you. It’s your fault Iris is dead.”
“How is it my fault? She killed herself. I did not give her those pills.”
“It is your fault!” Spittle spewed from Grainger’s mouth as he stood straighter, eyes ablaze.
“You didn’t find the guy who was terrorizing her. Did you know that she was scared to open her front door every morning? Afraid of whatever note or present he would leave for her. And then after the attack, she wouldn’t leave the house. I’d hear her cry every morning in the bathroom as she looked in the mirror and saw the branding that she was left with. I sat and watched her suffer silently.”
The fire in his eyes morphed to agony. “She was a shell of the woman I knew and loved. And it was all because you were incompetent at your job.”
Cody remembered every interview he had done with Iris after she would receive the “gifts” left by some stranger. With each report, she grew less anxious and panicked. “I did everything I could, and you know that.”
“No! No, you didn’t.” He punched Cody’s face again. Pain sliced through his lip, and a metallic taste filled his mouth. He fought back the urge to rush him again. As long as Grainger had the gun, he had the upper hand.
“You were there for everything. You know I did.”
“You should have caught the guy. If you had done your job, she would still be here. The day she died, I promised myself I’d let you see how it felt to watch someone you love suffer. I knew Maggie would be back in town to wrap up her father’s house. Her father’s death was perfect timing.”
Guilt gnawed at Cody. Iris’s case still bothered him. He had done everything to catch her stalker, but they couldn’t get a lead on the guy. “I’m sorry, Grainger. I really am, but why?”
“How did it feel watching her suffer?” A sadistic grin filled Grainger’s face. “Seeing fear make itself at home in her eyes. Knowing there was nothing you could do to make it go away. No words that would ease her anxiety.”
“If you knew this, knew the feeling and knew what Iris felt, why would you inflict that on someone else?”
“To punish everyone responsible for her death.” Grainger waived the gun wildly.
“Dee? Was she responsible?”
“She was easy to manipulate.” He shrugged. “I only had to pay a little extra attention to her. Tell her what a fool you were to let her go and how lucky I was that you let her go.”
“You were her new boyfriend? You toyed with her heart and emotions to punish me, and then you killed her in cold blood.” Fury boiled to the surface. Cody needed to control his emotions. The wrong move now could be catastrophic for him and Maggie.
Sadness crossed over Grainger’s features. “No, she started having second thoughts. I couldn’t let her mess it up. Her death was perfect for six, don’t you think?” And just like that, the sadness was gone.
“What about the person that was really responsible? Doesn’t he deserve this more than me or Maggie?” Not that Cody wanted Grainger to take the law into his own hands, but Grainger’s sense of justice was skewed.
“Oh, him? You don’t have to worry about that guy. I caught him visiting Iris’s grave one day, admiring his handiwork. I’ve already taken care of him. He won’t be bothering anyone else.” He turned his attention to Cody’s injured leg. “Do something with that leg. You’re getting blood everywhere.”
Cody looked at his thigh. There was a small stream of blood oozing from the wound, which meant the bullet had missed hitting a major blood vessel. He reached over and grabbed a shred of the mattress cloth he had torn earlier and tied it around his leg, applying pressure to the wound. Movement beyond the basement door caught his eye.
He could make out a small figure lurking in the shadows. The figure drew closer to the door and stepped out of the shadow. Maggie. What is she doing? She should be a mile away by now. His heart raced as he tried to think of a way to keep Grainger from seeing her.
“Who was it?” Cody asked to distract Grainger.
“Doesn’t matter now. He won’t be hurting anyone else.” He waved the gun in a blasé manner.
“Did he say why he did it?” Cody knew what Grainger’s reasoning was, but maybe finding out the original stalker’s reasoning could help now. Anything to keep him talking.
“She rebuffed his attempts to ask her out. Said he was going to make her his, one way or another.” Rage flared in his expression before a cold calm replaced it.
“You know, I think I’ll go hunting. Go find me a little Magpie, bring it home, and pluck its wings. Let you watch. But first I need to make sure you can’t get away.” Grainger smiled, but before he could take a step in Cody’s direction, Maggie hit him over the head with something, sending him to his knees. His gun flew from his hand and skidded across the room. Cody jumped from the bed and dove for the gun as Grainger tried to crawl for it.
They reached the gun at the same time. Panic propelled Cody forward. He couldn’t let Grainger get the gun back. He swatted the gun away from Grainger, who sat up and threw a punch, catching Cody in the eye, sending him to his back.
Grainger straddled him and closed his hands around Cody’s throat. He used his hands to beat at Grainger’s arms, but he only squeezed tighter. Desperation caused him to act out of instinct, clawing at Grainger’s hands. Cody needed to think smart if he was going to save himself and Maggie. His lungs begged for air, and his vision dimmed.
Cody maneuvered his arms under Grainger’s and was bringing them up to break his grip when Grainger roared and let go. He stood and charged at Maggie. She had something in her hands. He heard the click and saw the barbs and wires discharge from the Taser she’d taken from Grainger’s belt.
Cody’s mouth went dry as Grainger grabbed her by the throat and lifted her off the ground. Either the probes had missed, or Grainger’s adrenaline made the Taser ineffective. Her fingers clawed his hands as they continued to squeeze, and she tried in vain to kick herself free from him.
Cody jumped to his feet, ignoring the pain that radiated from his leg and head. He had to save Maggie. Slipping an arm around Grainger’s throat, he brought his other arm up to press on his arm, adding pressure to the windpipe. Cody’s body tensed as Maggie stood there rubbing her neck.
“Run, Maggie!” he growled at her as he pulled Grainger back to the room where they had been held.
Grainger struggled against Cody but couldn’t free himself. In one swift movement, Grainger slammed his fist back against the gunshot wound in Cody’s thigh. Cody howled in pain and lost his grip on Grainger, giving him enough slack to pull himself free. He turned and threw a punch, connecting with Cody’s jaw, and delivered a kick to his stomach, sending him tumbling into the room.
Cody watched in terror as Grainger raced down the hall after Maggie. He stood and took a step in the direction Grainger had run, but putting his weight on his injured leg sent him to his knees. Lord, help me get to Maggie.
He put his hand on the floor to give himself some leverage to stand again when he felt Grainger’s gun with his fingertips. He picked it up and stuck it in his waistband before standing and hobbling out of the room. He didn’t dare put his full weight on his crippled leg. He couldn’t afford the time another fall would take. Each agonizing step toward the stairs had him wondering if he would make it in time.
He climbed the stairs as fast as his leg would let him. As he crossed the threshold of the basement door, he heard shrill screams coming from outside. He increased his pace, dragging his leg through the living room and out the open front door just as Maggie had described.
Maggie lay on the ground and Grainger straddled her, pinning her cuffed hands to her stomach. She kicked her legs and bucked her torso, trying to throw him off her but it was no use. Grainger landed a punch to her jaw and Maggie screamed in pain.
Cody saw red, and the pain in his leg receded as he reached for the gun in his waistband. He couldn’t risk shooting Grainger with Maggie in the line of fire though. “Grainger! Stop right there.”
Grainger stopped and whirled around, sitting Maggie up and positioning her between him and Cody, using her body as a shield. He stood her up and started taking steps backward toward the wooded area. Maggie had blood streaming from a cut on her cheek, and her face was pale with fear. She had twigs stuck in her hair, and dirt covered her clothes, indicating she had put up a fight.
“Let her go!” Cody took slow steps in their direction, keeping the gun aimed at them, finger patiently waiting next to the trigger, waiting for a clear shot.
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Let her go, Grainger. You let her go and you can walk away.”
“I’m not an idiot. I’ve had negotiating training too, don’t forget that,” Grainger yelled as he continued to take slow, steady steps toward the woods. Cody knew if they made it in to the woods there would be no hope he could catch them. His leg was on fire, and he was starting to feel the effects of blood loss. He needed to end this now.
“Grainger, I’m not talking to you as an officer of the law. I’m talking to you as a man trying to save the woman he loves. You can disappear into the woods, and we won’t follow. I promise you.”
“I don’t believe you. If I keep her, I still have leverage.” Grainger spoke from behind Maggie, not looking around her, never giving Cody a kill shot.
Maggie opened her eyes wide as if she had an idea, drawing his attention to her. Her eyes traveled meaningfully down to the ground on her right as she wiggled her right hand and subtly bent her elbow like she intended to elbow him, and then her eyes darted to the left.
He understood what her plan was and gave her a small nod. Using the fingers on her right hand, she counted down from three. When she got to one, she raised her cuffed hands and brought her right elbow back down, jabbing it into Grainger’s stomach and dove to the left.
Cody took the shot, hitting Grainger in the right arm, sending him to the ground. Cody hurriedly limped over to where Grainger lay, clutching his wound and hollering profanities. He aimed the gun at Grainger. “Roll over onto your stomach.”
“Are you crazy? You shot me. I could be bleeding out,” he said through gritted teeth.
“You’re not going to die from that wound. Now roll over or I’ll give you a matching wound in the other shoulder.”
Reluctantly, Grainger rolled over onto his stomach.
“Maggie, get the handcuffs from his belt and cuff him” She grabbed the cuffs from his belt and cuffed Grainger’s hands behind his back. Without lowering the gun, he nudged Grainger with the toe of his boot. “Slowly get up.”
Grainger rolled onto his right side and pushed himself into a seated position, then slowly got to his feet.
“Maggie, the handcuff key is on the key ring he keeps clipped to the loop on the right side of his belt.”
Maggie unhooked the keys from Grainger’s belt.
“It’s the smallest key on the ring. If you’ll find it, I’ll unlock the cuffs. Grainger, walk to the house and have seat on the couch.”
Grainger reluctantly shuffled across the lawn and up the porch steps. Cody followed behind, taking it easy on his leg.
Maggie walked up beside him and wedged herself under his arm, offering her body as a crutch. Together, they climbed the porch steps behind Grainger.
Cody unlocked the cuffs from Maggie’s wrists and turned to Grainger. “Where are we?”
“I invoke my Miranda rights.”
“Come on, Grainger! We’ve both got bullet wounds. Tell us where we are so we can get paramedics here.”
He remained silent, staring at the open photo album on the coffee table. Cody knew he wouldn’t be saying anything else to them.
“There’s a phone on the kitchen wall. I’ll go call 911. They’ll be able to find us that way.” Maggie walked out of the room.
Cody sat in a chair, watching Grainger. He couldn’t understand what had driven him to such extremes.
“They’ll be here as soon as possible,” Maggie announced as she emerged from the kitchen. She sat on the arm of the chair, handing Cody several hand towels. She stuck her hand out. “Give me the gun.”
He made the trade with her. After making sure the pressure dressing was secure on his leg, Cody hobbled to Grainger and slid a towel under his arm. He applied a neatly folded hand towel to Grainger’s wound and tied it in place firmly.
Other than a quick inhale of breath, Grainger didn’t react at all. He sat there, a defeated look on his face, his posture sagging.
Sirens filled the air minutes later. Cody opened the front door and went outside to meet the first responders. Maggie followed. He took a seat on the porch step, and she joined him.
“Not that I’m not grateful but what were you thinking coming back here?”
“Cody, how could you think I’d leave you? When I heard the gun go off and saw you drop from sight, my heart shattered. I couldn’t escape and leave you here to die. So, I ran to the front of the house and quietly sneaked inside. Since Grainger had brought me up to the living room earlier, I knew how to get to the basement. Before he knocked me out, I was able to get the door unlocked, and he didn’t relock it. I grabbed a pan off the stove as I passed through the kitchen. I stood at the top of the stairs and watched him push you back into the room.”
“Maggie, you could have been killed.” He pulled her into his tight embrace.
“But trapped down there, you definitely would have been killed. I love you, and I can’t imagine my life without you.” She pushed herself away so she could look in his eyes.
His reply was interrupted by an EMT. “Sheriff Smith, we need to get you to a hospital to get that leg looked at.”
They were never alone after that. He wasn’t able to tell her he felt the same way.
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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