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Small Town Justice

By´╝ÜValerie Hansen

Small Town Justice - Valerie Hansen

ONE

The narrow dirt track leading to the deserted farm was so overgrown, so cloaked in shadows, Jamie Lynn almost missed her turn. Seeing the decrepit condition of the well-loved house broke her heart.

Parking her mini pickup, she shivered and stared. Well, what had she expected? Nobody had lived there for almost fifteen years. Not since her family had been split apart by lies and she’d been sent to live with an elderly aunt.

The little white dog beside her whimpered.

Jamie Lynn instinctively stroked his head. “Yes, this is it, Ulysses.”

He began to pant and wiggle all over. “Okay, you can come with me while I have a look around,” she told him, slipping her cell phone into her jeans pocket. “Hold still so I can get your harness unclipped.”

He continued to strain and squirm. “I’m about to give up and leave you,” she warned. “Sit. Stay.”

He sat. He did not stay long. The moment she shifted her attention to the leash lying on the floor of the pickup’s cab, he leaped over her, using her back as a springboard, and landed on the hard-packed ground like a gymnast making a competition dismount.

“Ulysses! No!”

Jamie Lynn chased him through the tall grass and weeds, ruing the fact that her clothing was summer-light shorts, a T-top and sandals.

“Ulysses,” she wheedled, trying to sound unperturbed. “Come on, baby. I’m not mad. I just don’t want to lose you.”

Ahead, she heard him yip. “Please, please don’t catch anything bigger than you are.”

She rounded the house. The roof over the back porch had partially collapsed but she spotted a flash of white fur as her dog ducked through the half-open door.

Normally, Jamie wouldn’t have considered entering someone else’s house without an invitation. However, since her research had shown that this place had long ago been seized for unpaid taxes and didn’t belong to any individual, she figured it would be okay to venture inside long enough to catch her naughty dog.

The staccato cadence of his nails led her to the stairway, where his paws had left impressions in the dust. Jamie followed. Pausing at the top of the stairs, she was overcome with nostalgia for her childhood home.

“Marf!”

Ulysses’s sharp, single bark snapped her back to the present and drew her to her former bedroom. He was circling excitedly in front of one of the tall, narrow windows as if insisting she must look.

Below, parking behind her pickup, was a larger truck with a camouflage paint job. Two men climbed out.

They were both carrying rifles. Uh-oh.

Jamie’s heart began to pound. She tried to lift the warped wooden sash and was barely able to move it.

Before she had a chance to shout hello through the narrow opening, let alone begin an apology, she overheard one of the men speaking. His gruff words made the hair on the nape of her neck prickle.

“That’s her license number. We know she got here.”

“Yeah? So where’d she disappear to?”

The first man cursed. “Probably the house. Let’s go.”

“I don’t like it. Suppose somebody sees us hanging around and makes a connection later?”

“If things turn ugly we’ll ditch her truck. Nobody will suspect she ever made it this far.”

Jamie Lynn was afraid to breathe. These men had known she was coming to Serenity. Who, of the few people she’d contacted to ask about her family history, would send thugs after her? And why?

Easing aside so she wouldn’t be spotted from below, Jamie watched one of the men making a cell phone call. While he talked, the other began stabbing at her truck’s tires. Then they started for the house and disappeared beneath the overhang of the porch roof.

She heard wood splintering. The stomping of heavy hiking boots. They’d smashed the front door. They were coming for her!

It took only seconds to dial 911 and rasp in the address and that she was in trouble. But she knew there was no chance anyone from town could reach her in time to intervene. Not unless she hid long enough for help to arrive. But where?

Voices from downstairs sent rumbling echoes throughout the empty structure. Cracking, banging, background noises indicated that the men planned to take the old house apart, piece by piece, until they found her.

What could she possibly do?

Memories of growing up in the old house carried Jamie Lynn back to childhood and the simple games of hide-and-go-seek she and her big brother had played. The downstairs maid’s closet! Their favorite hiding place was perfectly camouflaged. Only how was she going to reach it without being seen?

So terrified she could hardly draw a usable breath, she tiptoed down the hall to the antiquated bathroom, eased the door shut behind her, then whispered to her nervous dog and held him close. “Easy, boy. Shush.”

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