by Sarah Libero
“Please let her be all right”“I haven’t even had a chance to tell her how much I love her!”
Devoted wife and mother Emily Stratton has spent her life suppressing the knowledge that she is attracted to women. A systems analyst with the Maine State Police, Emily’s life is turned upside down when her husband is killed in what appears to be a tragic accident.
Calm and self-controlled Detective Kay DeLorme has always loved women, but never really been in love. Kay and her partner in the Major Crimes Unit are tracking down a vicious sociopath linked to a notorious drug gang and they need Emily’s info-tech expertise.
Emily and Kay are both startled by the instantaneous attraction they feel toward one another, but neither is quite sure how to handle it. As their friendship grows and the case heats up, so does their passion. But the decisions they’ll make and the risks they’ll take will soon engender consequences that neither of them could imagine.
Consequences is a stunning romantic thriller by debut author Sarah Libero.
Snow crunched beneath her tires as Emily drove down the gravel road. She went slowly, searching for the camp along the dark roadside. She was confident that she was on the right road but she wasn’t sure how far down the camp would be. She began to worry that the snow might have hidden the sign and she had missed it. Deciding to keep going a little further, she drove on, continuing to search for the camp’s sign among the thick growth of pine trees lining the way.
Headlights appeared behind her as a truck approached and then passed her. It was the first vehicle she had seen in a while. She wished she could have asked the driver if they knew where the Miller’s camp was. It had sounded pretty simple when she had gotten the directions from her boyfriend, Tom, earlier that day. Emily was home in Maine for a few weeks during Christmas break from college in Boston and she was excited about seeing Tom. They had been dating for a couple months. She wasn’t ready for anything serious, but they always had a lot of fun together. He had driven up from Massachusetts the previous day, and she was planning to meet up with him and a few of his friends that night. They were going to head over to Sugarloaf Mountain to hit the ski trails in the morning. A storm had hit the day before, so there was plenty of fresh December snow. The ski conditions were supposed to be great. All the snow was making the back roads more slippery and treacherous than she had expected. There weren’t many houses on the road and she hadn’t seen one for a few miles.
As she drove around a corner, Emily saw that the truck that had passed her had pulled to the side of the road and was sitting there with its lights on. The driver had pulled alongside a mailbox and although she couldn’t see what he was doing she thought he might be checking for mail. She decided to stop and ask for directions. There weren’t many people living around here; he might know the Millers. She really wanted to find out how much farther it could be or if she had passed the driveway by mistake. She pulled over a short distance in front of the truck. She turned off the engine, leaving the keys in the ignition, and got out of her car to walk back toward the truck. As she did, she noticed that the man driving the truck was alone and had rolled down his window.
She called out, “Hi there, I was hoping you could tell me how far I am from the Miller’s camp?”
The man was difficult to see in the dark with the truck’s headlights shining in her eyes. Emily shielded her eyes with her hand as she walked toward the driver’s side of the truck. She stopped near his door, becoming aware of how quiet it was and how very alone they were. She couldn’t tell if there was a mailbox after all and she hadn’t seen any driveways nearby, now that she thought about it. This was an odd place for someone to pull over.
“Sure,” he answered, “their place is about a half a mile down on the left.”
“Okay, thanks, have a good night,” she said and turned back to her car. Suddenly, she heard the truck door open and footsteps pounding on the snow-covered gravel behind her. Time slowed down. Before she had a chance to turn around, something hard struck the back of her head, knocking her forward onto the side of the road behind her car. She struck her knee, ripping her pants, and collapsed. Her senses went into high alert while she lay motionless. She could feel blood trickling from her scalp but, strangely, felt no pain. Adrenaline coursed through her body. Emily fought back her panic and tried to lie still with her eyes closed.
The man nudged her with his boot. She felt another sharp blow to the back of her head, but still felt no pain. Then he lifted her feet and dragged her on her stomach back to the ditch next to his truck. The night was absolutely still. The only sound was the man’s heavy panting as he stopped and dropped her feet. He flipped her over, unbuttoned her pants and pulled down the zipper. He slipped his hand into her pants and underwear. Emily fought to keep her eyes closed and breathe slowly so that he would think she was unconscious. He slipped his hand out of her pants and spoke in a low growl, “If you move, you are dead.”
He stood as if waiting to see if she moved before walking back toward his truck. Emily knew that she had just this one chance to get away. While he was lifting something from his truck, she leapt to her feet and ran with blind terror toward her car.
Slipping, scrambling madly, she flung the door open. She felt a flash of relief when she saw the keys in the ignition. Slamming the door shut with one hand, she turned the engine over with the other. Her mind was blank with fear as she flung the car into drive. Her terror nearly overwhelmed her as she pinned the accelerator to the floor. The car fishtailed in the snow and almost slid into the ditch. Praying that she would get away, she looked into the rearview mirror and saw the man jump into his truck. Knowing he was going to come after her, she frantically tried to keep the car on the road and find a house. Too panicked to watch both the man and the road, she tried to concentrate on driving. She managed to go a short distance around a corner before sliding into a ditch. A few hundred yards ahead, she saw a driveway among the snow-covered trees.
She had no idea if the man was still coming after her or not. She floored the accelerator, but it only sank the car deeper into the snowy ditch. She was an open target if she stayed with the car. Emily flung the door open and ran wildly toward the driveway, bracing herself for the truck’s approach.
She glanced over her shoulder, the dark forest night was all she could see. Emily ran as fast as her injured leg would allow, too panicked to notice any pain that could slow her down. She ran up the gravel driveway and saw a light shining from the windows of a rustic log home nestled in the woods ahead. Still hearing no signs of pursuit, she reached the front door and pounded with both hands. “Please, let me in!”
A porch light came on and the door opened.
Emily gasped with relief at the sight of the man and woman who opened the door and stared at her in surprise. “What happened, were you in an accident?” he asked.
Emily shook her head. Still terrified, she wasn’t sure what to say.
“Please, come in,” the man said, waving her in. “My name is John and this is my wife, Anne.”
“I’m Emily.” She stayed on the porch. Emily looked at the couple nervously, realizing that she didn’t have much choice but to trust that they would help her. The man was neatly dressed in a plaid flannel shirt and jeans. He and his wife appeared to be in their thirties.
Anne, a petite brunette, was wearing glasses and a bathrobe. She reached toward Emily to try to guide her into the house, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Emily shrank back and tried to explain what happened. “I’m okay, I just got away from someone who tried to attack me down the street when I stopped to ask for directions. My car went into the ditch near the bottom of your driveway.”
“What?” Anne asked in a shocked voice. “This happened just now on the road? Someone tried to hurt you?”
John glanced at his wife. “Let’s go in and sit on the couch where it’s more comfortable.”
Emily stepped into the house and John closed the door behind her. She followed Anne into the adjoining living room. A fire blazed in the woodstove. The room was warm and welcoming.
“Do you want to sit down?” John asked. “We need to call the state police.”
“No. I don’t want to call the police. I’m fine. I-I just need to get my car out of the ditch so I can leave.” Emily briefly considered turning back toward the door, but realized she had no way to get anywhere.
The thought of explaining what happened filled her with fear and she tried to control her rising panic. Stopping and asking a stranger for directions at night on a deserted road had been a really stupid thing to do. She was ashamed that she had allowed this to happen. There was no way she was going to tell anyone about the man getting into her pants.
Emily saw Anne exchange a worried look with John and she knew they were both trying not to stare at her. Her clothes were torn and bloody and she was a mess. Blood had seeped down from her scalp through her shoulder-length blond hair and onto her jacket. She had buttoned her pants back up before she walked in and was hoping John and Anne hadn’t noticed. Her pant legs were shredded, exposing deep gashes on her knees. The sleeves of her ski jacket were torn and dirty from the gravel road. Her hands were bleeding and shaking.
“We have two daughters sleeping upstairs,” John said gently. “I wouldn’t want anything like this to happen to them. If the police could help us find who did this to you, we can make sure he doesn’t do it to anyone else.”
Further ashamed that she had reacted so selfishly, Emily nodded and sank down into the chair. To her embarrassment, she continued to shake uncontrollably. Anne walked into the kitchen and brought back a glass of water. “Here take a drink and try to relax. You’re safe now.”
Anne and John went into the next room to call the state police while Emily sat silently waiting and wondering what she should do next. Tom had been expecting her by now and was probably worried. John and Anne came back into the living room and sat down on the couch across from her.
“I was supposed to be going to a camp on this road owned by the Millers, do you know them?” Emily asked.
“Yes, I know where that is,” John said. “It’s about two miles down on the right. It will take a little while for the police to get out here. They have a big area to cover so it could be an hour before they arrive. Do you want me to go to the Miller’s place and find the people you were supposed to be meeting?”
“Yes, thank you,” Emily answered quietly. “I’m supposed to be meeting my boyfriend. His name is Tom Stratton. I drove up tonight from Orleans.”
“Okay, I’ll go find him. I don’t want to try to move your car until the police get a chance to look at it,” John said.
Emily had an alarming thought. “Wait. What if the man comes here looking for me?”
“She’s right John; you probably better stay here with us,” Anne said.
Two state police cruisers pulled into the driveway an hour later, their headlights shining into the house. John went out to greet them while Anne and Emily stayed in the house. He came back inside a few minutes later, followed by a state trooper.
“I’m going to go check on your car with the officers,” John said to Emily. “They want to take a look around and then we’re going to get the car out of the ditch. This officer is going to stay with you and ask you some questions.”
Emily nodded and John went back outside, leaving Emily and Anne in the living room with the trooper. Anne headed for the kitchen. “I’m going to make some coffee.”
Emily sat back down and quietly described to the man sitting in the chair across from her what had happened. She answered his questions about the sequence of events, giving as many details as she could remember, leaving out only the part about how the attacker had touched her.
“I would recommend that you let us take you to the hospital in Farmington to get checked over. You sustained some pretty serious cuts and bruises and you may have a concussion.”
“No, I don’t want to go to the hospital,” Emily said. “I’m fine, I just need to wash up.”
“I have to ask you, did any sexual assault take place?” the trooper asked.
“No. I got away and I’m fine.” She started to cry. The shame she was feeling about getting attacked was compounded by the fact that she was crying in front of strangers. Her self-confidence had deserted her and she wished she could disappear.
The trooper shrugged and stood up. “Well, we won’t make you go, but I think it would be a good idea.”
Emily shook her head and stared at the floor. She didn’t want to talk or face any more questions. She just wanted this night to be over.
A knock sounded at the door and Emily looked up apprehensively. She watched from the living room as Anne walked to the door and looked through the window to see who was outside.
Anne opened the door. “Hello, officers. Please come in.”
Emily felt some of her tension dissolve when Tom walked in, accompanied by two state troopers. He greeted Anne, “Hello, I’m Emily’s boyfriend, Tom Stratton. Is she here? Is she all right?”
“She’s in the living room,” Anne said. “Go on in.”
Tom rushed through the doorway and over to where Emily was sitting. His curly brown hair was disheveled and tears glistened in his eyes. “Emily, I am so sorry. I didn’t know what happened. When you were late, I went to look for you and found your car with the state police inspecting it.”
Emily stood up and Tom wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. Relief flooded over her. Finally, someone she knew and trusted.
“Please, let’s just go,” she murmured to him.
Emily awoke with a splitting headache. The winter sun shone brightly through the window in the small bedroom of the cabin. She looked over at Tom sleeping soundly next to her. She wondered if she would ever sleep soundly again. Every time she closed her eyes, all she could hear was the sound of footsteps in the snow, running up behind her. Shaking off the thought, she slid her feet to the floor. She had an aching pain in her knee and it hurt to straighten her leg. Tom mumbled in his sleep and rolled over.
Memories of the previous night came rushing back and she tried to put them out of her head. She could hear Tom’s friends moving around in the kitchen below. She wasn’t sure if she should go home or if she should just keep busy and try to forget about the whole incident. She didn’t want to face any of the people downstairs and have to talk about what happened. Maybe she and Tom could head over to the mountain and that would help her keep her mind off things. She felt a wave of gratitude that Tom was there. She didn’t want to be alone.
* * *
The wind blew fiercely as Tom and Emily skied past the chairlift and came to a stop at the bottom of the slope outside the lodge. Emily released her boots from their bindings and stepped out of her skis.
“Sorry I couldn’t ski very well, my leg is hurting a little,” Emily said, turning to Tom. “I think I’ll just hang out in the lodge for now.”
In reality, her knee was throbbing, but she didn’t want to let Tom know. He had asked her that morning if she would rather not ski today, but Emily had convinced him that she really wanted to.
“Don’t worry about it,” Tom said. “Why don’t we head back to the camp and relax?”
“Are you sure you don’t want to ski a little longer?” Emily asked. “I can wait here.”
“I’m ready to go. It’s too windy today. I also don’t want to leave you alone.”
Emily wanted to argue but she really didn’t want to be alone. She nodded and they lapsed into an awkward silence. She knew that Tom was feeling responsible for what had happened to her and wanted to do something to make her feel better. He had told her the night before that he felt like he was to blame for her getting attacked and that he should have met her somewhere easier to find and brought her to the camp instead of giving her directions. She had tried to tell him that was ridiculous. He had no way of knowing that some random stranger would come after her in the middle of nowhere. Besides, she never should have stopped in the first place.
“Let me help you with your skis.” Tom bent down to pick them up.
“Tom, I’m fine.” Emily reached for her skis. She winced in pain as she bent her knee.
“None of this would have happened if you hadn’t come to meet me.”
“Stop,” Emily said. “Let’s just try to forget it.”
She was glad to be leaving the slopes. She really didn’t want to be around a lot of people who she didn’t know. It didn’t sound like the police had any real hope of finding the man who attacked her. Emily couldn’t give them a good description of the truck he was driving or what he looked like. All they had found at the scene were tire tracks and a little bit of blood in the snow. For all she knew, the man could be here at the mountain today. She felt sick at the thought.
They carried their skis to Tom’s car and loaded up their gear. Emily was quiet on the short ride back to the camp. As they drove past the spot where she had stopped the night before, she turned on the radio and tried to think about anything else. They pulled into the driveway of the Miller’s camp where Emily’s car sat with a flat tire.
After the state police had examined it the night before, they had been kind enough to get the car out of the ditch and John had driven it over to the Miller’s for her. She was very grateful for all of John and Anne’s help. They had been remarkably kind and she’d have to find a way to thank them someday.
Tom drove up the winding driveway past Emily’s car and she spotted a red pickup truck parked near the camp.
“Oh no, it’s my parents,” she said. “What are they doing here? They’ve never even met you. This is not good. They must have found out what happened.”
As they pulled to a stop, Jane and Ed Parker came bursting out of the front door of the cabin. Her mother ran up to them. “Are you all right? Where were you, and what in the world is going on?”
Emily’s father fixed a furious glare on Tom.
“Mom and Dad, this is Tom,” Emily said. “I’m all right, really. I didn’t call because there isn’t a phone here. I didn’t want to call you last night when I was with the police and tell you what happened because I didn’t want you to worry. I was going to wait until I got home.”
“You didn’t want us to worry? We’ve been sick with worry. The story has been on the news and everyone has been calling,” Emily’s mother said. “We’ve been in shock; we didn’t even know how to find you up here. Luckily you had left me the address for this place.”
Jane put her arms around Emily and hugged her tightly. “Never mind any of that, the most important thing is that you are all right. You’re coming home with us, and you can tell us all about what happened later.”
“We need to change this tire. I’ll drive your car back,” said her father.
“I’ll help sir,” Tom said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that it had gone flat.”
“Come on in and I’ll get my stuff,” Emily said. “I’m really sorry.”
Emily and her mother walked to the cabin as the men turned toward the car to change the tire.
Emily was relieved to be headed home and away from Sugarloaf. She stared out the window and tried to describe what happened to her mother. Guilt and shame washed over her again as she thought about how stupid she had been to stop and ask a stranger for directions on a dark, deserted road. She almost deserved to have something bad happen for showing such poor judgment, and it could have been much worse if she hadn’t gotten away.
She turned to her mother. “Mom, I really am sorry that I didn’t call you. I wanted to come home but I also thought that I should stay and try to forget about it. I didn’t know that you would hear about it and get upset.”
Jane glanced over at her daughter as they drove down the snowy roads. “I understand, sweetheart, but we were so worried. The story was on the news last night and then again this morning. The report said that Emily Parker of Orleans, Maine, was attacked up at Sugarloaf. Your father and I were going out of our minds and we came here to get you as soon as we heard.”
Emily sat in shocked silence. Why would they say her name on the news? Now the man who attacked her would be able to find out her name and where she lived. What if he tried to come after her? She wished she could go straight back to Boston where he wouldn’t be able to find her. If she stayed home she wasn’t going to be safe.
Emily returned to Boston a couple weeks later. She was happy to be back for the last semester of her senior year at college. At home in Maine, everyone had treated her differently and she couldn’t wait to get away. She wanted to put the whole incident at Sugarloaf behind her. The problem was, she couldn’t get it out of her mind. She didn’t want to talk about it with anyone because she was ashamed and embarrassed about letting herself get into such a situation. The memory of being touched by the man who attacked her that night continued to fill her with disgust. Her confidence was rocked and she didn’t know what to do about it.
Tom had called her every day and she found herself relying on his support. Now that they were both back in town, he made a point to come by and see her whenever he got a chance. Emily had never planned to get involved in a serious relationship, but Tom’s comforting presence was growing more important to her as the weeks passed.
With the start of classes, she had tried to get her life back into a routine. Things might never go back to the way they had been, but Emily refused to let the events from that night continue to get the better of her. She had always been proud of her independence and it bothered her that now she was frightened to be alone at night. She knew on a rational level that she was safe. Even so, she didn’t like being alone. She was reluctant to admit it, but she was relieved that one of her roommates was usually around in the apartment when she got back from class.
Their apartment was in a busy neighborhood near Fenway Park and it was only a short walk to classes. Emily had found that she couldn’t stand to have anyone walking behind her. She stepped to the side and let people pass so that she could keep a distance between herself and anyone approaching from behind. This proved difficult when walking through crowded corridors between classes, so she got into the habit of waiting till the halls were less crowded, which meant she was often late to class.
On a cold Friday afternoon in February, Emily climbed the stairs to her third floor apartment after her last class of the week and opened the door. “Anyone home?” she called.
“Hi, how’s it going?” Her roommate Jess looked up from her seat on the couch. “How was class?”
“It was okay,” Emily said. “I’m glad it’s Friday. What’re you up to?”
Jess brushed her curly red hair back from her eyes. “I have a date tonight. We’re going to hit that new club on Boylston Street. Why don’t you come with us? We’re meeting a bunch of people.”
“No thanks, I don’t think I’m going to go out. I have too much to do.”
Walking through the dark streets and going to a crowded bar full of strangers didn’t sound appealing at all. Emily had met Jess, a pretty, outgoing girl from the West coast, during their freshman year and they had become good friends. Emily often tagged along with Jess and her friends. They always had fun meeting people and dancing in the clubs. Jess made no secret of her lesbian lifestyle, and Emily admired her for standing up for herself. Lately though, Emily just wanted to stay at home and avoid people. Tom would probably stop by later and keep her company, so she wouldn’t be alone.
“You sure? I miss going out with you,” Jess said, with a worried look at her friend. “I had some people I wanted you to meet. We can have a few drinks and I can make fun of your dancing,” she teased.
“I bet,” Emily answered with a laugh. “You know I have a boyfriend so stop trying to fix me up.”
“Tom is great, I really like him. It’s just, I know you met some girls last semester that really liked you and I think you liked them, too. I worry that Tom might not be the right one for you.”
Emily shrugged and didn’t answer. She thought about one of Jess’s friends she’d met the last time she went out with her before Christmas break. Kerri had been really interesting to talk to, and Emily had found herself thinking about her for a while after they met. She wanted to forget about all that though. She had nothing to offer to anyone at the moment and she needed to get herself back on track. She couldn’t even walk after dark without getting scared, for crying out loud. Who would want to get involved with someone like her? Not to mention that her parents would never understand if she started dating women—that would not go over well.
She shouldn’t be thinking about that anyway. She was really lucky to have Tom. He was smart, sweet, and good-looking, and he made her feel safe and loved.
“Thanks, but I’m really not feeling that great tonight. I should stay in and study. I’ve got a ton of homework. Tom is probably going come over to hang out with me.”
* * *
Six months later, Emily stood in the doorway of the apartment and took one last look around. All of her things had been packed up and loaded into the moving van that was waiting outside. She thought back on the past few months and how much her life had changed. She and Jess had graduated and were ready to start their lives. She’d had some of the best times of her life here in Boston. She’d made some great friends along the way, like Jess, and she had fallen in love with Tom. Maybe they should have taken things a little slower, but she was full of hope for their future together. They were going to be married in a few weeks, at the end of the summer, and had a big wedding and reception planned with all of their friends and family. Her parents had ended up loving Tom once they got to know him and had welcomed him into their lives.
It had been pretty surprising and a little difficult at first when she found out she was pregnant, but she and Tom both felt that getting married would be for the best for both of them. Emily had never been one to look forward to a big wedding. She had never really given much thought to getting married. Her future plans had been more focused on what type of job she might want to get. Now it looked like she would put that on hold for a while and work in the office for Tom’s family’s company. Tom was going to work for his father for the time being. He planned to have his own business someday.
With the wedding date fast approaching, Emily had let her mother take over most of the arrangements because she knew her mother enjoyed it. Emily would have just as soon eloped and not been involved in the whole spectacle, but it meant so much to her mother that Emily went along with it all. She didn’t want to let her parents down. There would be plenty of time to figure it all out. She knew that Tom loved her and he would keep her safe.