by Sarah Libero
Lisa Owens has recently moved to the lakeside town of Winchester, Maine. When the situation at her new job becomes uncomfortable, she turns to Carrie Sawyer, owner of the local café, for support. Carrie grew up in Winchester and seems to know everything about everyone there.
Lisa soon discovers that her boss seems to have many secrets, and with Carrie’s help, begins to dig deeper into her boss’s activity. As the two women work together to expose a cover-up, their attraction to each other begins to grow.
But Carrie is certain that Lisa doesn’t feel that way about her—especially when Toni, the woman that Lisa had a major crush on back in college—enters the picture.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"There are a lot of personal elements in this story, and I really had fun writing some of the scenes, especially the ones on the lake. The setting is based on the Belgrade Lakes area in Maine, where I live, and I wanted to show readers a café like the one I love to go to on music nights in the summer.
The title is meant to convey the message that the choices we make allow us to have power over what happens in our lives. The main character found herself in a bad situation and she was able to turn the balance of power in her own favor by choosing not to go along with the intimidation she was being subjected to. She was also faced with some empowering choices in her romantic relationships that I hope readers will enjoy."
Lisa stopped abruptly in the doorway of the conference room and turned to stare in shocked surprise at the hand squeezing her ass, the fingers working their way into her crack.
“What are you doing?”
The man behind her—her boss—made no effort to avoid a slight collision. His fleshy stomach bumped against her forcefully. Taking a small step away, he raised the offending hand in front of him with a shrug and a smile. “Sorry, it was an accident.”
She felt her face flush with embarrassment. The squeeze was certainly no accident, but she wasn’t sure how to respond. This had never happened before, and she was caught off guard. She recoiled from her boss and pulled the laptop she was carrying up to her chest protectively.
“An accident?” Lisa tried to determine the best way to get away from him without causing a scene. She knew she should say something more assertive, but her mind went blank. She couldn’t think of words to express how offensive she found him. All she wanted was to get away. “I need to get started on these numbers.”
Mr. Mills glanced over her shoulder into the empty corridor before turning his eyes back to her. The smile left his face as he studied her. The client they had been meeting with earlier was long gone, and there was no one around to overhear them.
“No need to be so formal. You can call me Don.”
Lisa met his gaze and knew from the look of satisfaction on his face that he was enjoying her discomfort and wasn’t sorry in the least. She hadn’t been with the accounting firm long enough to know Donald Mills very well, but she certainly wouldn’t have anticipated her boss, a respectable married man, treating her this way.
“I need you to have those projections to me by the close of business today,” Don said, edging closer. “I’m sure you know I’m a stickler for good service. Let me know if you need my assistance with anything.”
Lisa began to back out of the room. She was repulsed by the thought of having to spend another minute alone with Don. The last thing she wanted was his assistance. She could just imagine what he might have in mind.
“Thanks. I’ll let you know if I have any questions.” Lisa hurried back to her office. Shaking her head in disbelief, she berated herself for the way she had responded. Her boss had groped her, and instead of standing up to him, she had ended up thanking him for his offer to help. She cringed at the thought of his hand on her ass.
Had she done something to make Don think she would enjoy his attention? A disgusting thought, for sure. No one else had seen it happen, and he would undoubtedly deny it was anything but an accident if he were questioned. She wanted to tell him off, or at least tell someone what had happened, but there was no one she could think of to report it to. Don was in charge, and she didn’t know her coworkers well enough to share this with them.
She needed to figure this out. Her initial shock was beginning to give way to anger as she recalled the smile on his face when he was watching her. He had a lot of nerve thinking he could touch her like that. Now that she was back in her office, she could think of a dozen things she wished she had said to him.
As infuriating as his behavior was, she didn’t want to risk losing her job, so she would keep quiet for now. She had only been with the company since moving to Maine less than a year ago, and Don was one of the founding partners. It wouldn’t be good for her career if she made a big deal over something she couldn’t prove. It was frustrating to realize there wasn’t much she could do other than try to make sure she wasn’t alone with him again. She didn’t want any future encounters with Don’s wandering hands.
* * *
Lisa walked up the stone steps and opened the door to the café. She paused in the entryway to listen to the song the band in the back corner was playing. The air was filled with delicious aromas from the nightly dinner specials. The light scent of garlic along with the smell of freshly baked bread reminded her how hungry she was. It was Saturday night, which meant it was music night at Harvest, the café in the small lakeside town where she had been living for the past several months.
The decision to move to Winchester, Maine, was turning out to be a good one. She liked it here in this eclectic little town next to the lake. The people she’d met were interesting and the area was beautiful. The thriving local music scene meant there was always good entertainment to be found at one of the many local pubs and cafés.
She had lived in Massachusetts for her entire life, and she had been ready to try something different after her mother had passed away. Lisa had been thinking about her mother a lot lately. She missed her mother’s presence in her life. She surely would have given her some good advice about how to handle things with Don.
She was looking forward to having dinner with a friend tonight. It would be good to get her mind off her encounter with Don. Fortunately, she had been able to finish up the client’s projections fairly quickly the previous day and had submitted them via email, so she hadn’t had to deal with Don in person. Now she was trying to forget about work.
She glanced at the upcoming musical lineup among the flyers and announcements on the bulletin board in the entryway. It would be fun to hear the different musicians, and she was planning to come by as often as she could. The restaurant was full and she noticed a few familiar faces while she waited next to the glass bakery case at the front counter for someone to seat her. She didn’t know the names of many people in town yet, but she was beginning to recognize some of them as time went by. She was hoping eventually she’d get to meet more of them. She wasn’t the most outgoing person and it took her a while to connect with people.
Now that it was late June and the summer season was starting, there were more people in town. Winchester was a popular spot for visitors, but it was far enough off the beaten path to avoid getting overly crowded. Many houses on the lake were owned by people who lived out of state for the majority of the year and came to town for the warmer months. Much to her pleasure, the café had increased their hours for the summer. She wasn’t much of a cook, and she often found it easier to come here rather than go to the trouble of cooking.
The owner of the café was a client at the accounting firm where Lisa worked. Her name was Carrie, and Lisa had met her at the office a couple weeks ago when Carrie picked up her tax returns. Lisa looked back into the open kitchen behind the counter and saw her preparing a variety of meats and vegetables on the grill. Her short, dark hair was combed back, and her brow was furrowed in concentration as she transferred food to serving plates. Carrie caught sight of her and waved. She handed her spatula to one of the other cooks and made her way over.
Wiping her hands on her crisp white apron, Carrie leaned against the counter and smiled. “Hi there. How are you?”
It struck Lisa how attractive Carrie’s face was when she smiled. Lisa had been a little apprehensive about speaking with her at the office. On previous visits to the café, she thought Carrie was quite stern and intimidating. She was several inches taller than Lisa’s five-foot four-inch height, and she looked very muscular under the T-shirts she usually wore. Lisa had found her initial impression was wrong. Carrie had actually been remarkably friendly when she spoke to her at the office. Lisa realized Carrie wasn’t harsh, she was focused and determined. It wasn’t easy to run a successful business, and Carrie took her work very seriously.
“Hi, Carrie.” Lisa smiled back at her. “It looks like you’re going to have a busy night.”
“Summer is finally here,” Carrie said. “I love it. We’ve got lots of fresh vegetables on the menu, and I think you’ll like the vegetarian special tonight.”
“I like everything you cook.” Lisa was surprised Carrie remembered she was a vegetarian. “This is my favorite restaurant, and it’s a stroke of luck for me that it happens to be right here in town.”
“Well thank you. I’m glad you like it.”
Lisa was about to reply when one of the waitresses approached her. “Would you like a table for one?”
“I’m meeting a friend,” Lisa said. “I have a reservation for two.”
“Enjoy your meal,” Carrie said with a nod, turning back to the kitchen.
Lisa followed the waitress to a table near one of the windows lining the back wall. A small glass vase in the center held a bouquet of late blooming purple lilacs. It was still light out and there was a lovely view of the lake. She looked out the window and watched the boats go by as she waited for her friend Rachel. The band was taking a break, so the music had stopped for a little while. It was a beautiful evening and the screened porch that extended along the side of the restaurant and across the back was full of diners enjoying the warm night.
The waitress returned with the beer she had ordered just as Rachel arrived. Lisa caught her eye with a wave and Rachel rushed over to join her.
“Hi, Lisa.” Rachel ran a hand through her frizzy blond hair. “Sorry I’m late. I forgot how long it takes to get all the way out here from Augusta.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Lisa said. “I haven’t been waiting long. It’s a nice night to sit and look at the lake. It’s a pretty relaxing way to wait, actually.”
Lisa had known Rachel since their college days and knew she was always late. They had been college roommates in Boston and had stayed in touch ever since. Rachel was from Maine and had returned to her hometown of Augusta to work as a physical therapist after college graduation. When Lisa had decided she wanted to move, Rachel convinced her to come to Maine. She had visited Rachel occasionally over the years and had always liked the Belgrade Lakes area where Winchester was located, so she had taken Rachel’s advice and gone north.
“How’s the family?” Lisa asked. Rachel’s husband and two teenagers kept her very busy, which meant she wasn’t often able to get away for the evening.
The waitress came over and took their orders. Lisa got the vegetarian special that Carrie had recommended, and Rachel ordered a salad and a glass of wine.
“Salad?” Lisa asked.
“I need to lose twenty pounds in the next couple weeks. We’re going to the cape and I need to fit into my bathing suit.”
“Another diet?” Lisa shook her head. For as long as she had known Rachel, she had always been worried about her weight. “I think you look great.”
“Yeah, well, I’m good at starting diets,” Rachel replied. “How’s your job going?”
Lisa thought about telling Rachel how Don had groped her. While it would have been nice to have some support from her friend, she had already decided she didn’t want to think about it tonight. No point in ruining the evening.
“It’s going all right. I was super busy all spring, but things will start slowing down now for the summer, so I should have more free time.”
The band started up again as the waitress brought Rachel’s glass of wine over and placed it on the white tablecloth in front of her. Rachel picked up her glass and took a big sip. “Ah, this is good. Any plans for all this free time?”
“Nothing major on the schedule as of yet. I think it’ll be nice to hang out by the lake this summer. I bought a couple of kayaks and I hope you and the kids come over and use them whenever you want.”
“The kids would love it, although you need some more people besides us to hang out with. Speaking of which, have you met anyone or gone out on any dates at all since you moved to Maine?”
“No.” Lisa didn’t want to go into details with Rachel, but it had been a long time since she’d met anyone. Sometimes she worried about the lack of romance in her life, but she had a busy schedule and it really didn’t bother her. “I don’t know. I don’t go anywhere other than the office, and I don’t come across many available ladies there.”
“We need to fix you up. I’m going to get on it.”
“No thanks.” Lisa shuddered. “The last time I let you do that it was a disaster. Remember? My date got drunk and then she got sick in my car.”
“Oh, I forgot about that.” Rachel winced apologetically. “Didn’t you say that you come here a lot? Have you met any people here at the café?”
“No one that I think would be interested in me. I’ve met the owner and she’s nice, but I have no idea about her personal life.”
“The tall lady back there with the dark hair?” Rachel peered over the table toward the kitchen. “Hmm, she’s kind of sexy looking.”
“Quit staring. I don’t even know if she likes women.”
“I thought lesbians were supposed to have a sense about things like that. For the record, I think you’re a good catch. You’re good-looking, in decent shape, fairly intelligent and you’re good with numbers.”
“Considering how long I’ve been single, I must clearly be missing any lesbian vibes.” Lisa laughed. “Still, I’m glad to hear that someone thinks I’m a good catch.”
In spite of her earlier resolve, her thoughts returned to her encounter with Don. She didn’t want to keep dwelling on it. Maybe if she told Rachel what happened, she could get a better perspective on the whole thing and stop thinking about it.
“I did have one person hit on me the other day,” Lisa said. “Unfortunately, it was my boss.”
“What?” Rachel’s eyes widened. “Are you kidding me? Don Mills?”
“It wasn’t a big deal.” Lisa downplayed the incident. “He grabbed my ass when we were walking out of a room.”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing. He said it was an accident.” Lisa shrugged. “Hopefully it won’t happen again.”
“What a pig. You don’t grab someone’s ass by mistake.” Rachel frowned. “You have to report him.”
Lisa shook her head. Rachel didn’t realize she could lose her job if she started a dispute with Don. Maybe she shouldn’t have said anything. “I think I’m just going to stay quiet and make sure he doesn’t get a chance to try anything else. I haven’t been there long, and I don’t want to stir up controversy. I’m sure I can handle it.”
“I think you should tell someone.”
“Let’s just keep it between ourselves for now, okay?”
“If you say so.”
Ready to change the subject, Lisa lifted her glass. “This beer is good, I’ll have to remember to get this again.”
Rachel stared at something over Lisa’s shoulder and lowered her voice. “Oh, how sad. The parents of a girl who was killed in a hit-and-run accident last year are sitting at a table behind you. She played basketball and field hockey against our teams, so I used to see them at my daughter’s games. Her name was Michelle Nelson and she was an awfully good kid.”
“That’s terrible. It must have happened before I moved to Winchester.”
“Yes. She was walking her dog on a street near her house here in town. A car hit her and didn’t even stop to see if she was all right. One of the neighbors found her and it was too late.”
“I don’t know how anyone could leave a person like that. Did they find whoever hit her?”
“I don’t think so.” Rachel sighed. “I can’t imagine what parents go through when something like that happens. I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to one of my kids.”
“It reminds me of the accident that happened when we were in college, when the hockey player my friend Toni was dating hit someone who was crossing the street. Then he took off and left the accident scene.”
“I remember that. I wonder whatever happened to Toni?”
“I have no idea.”
The waitress brought out their meals. The vegetables and rice in her dinner were delicious. Lisa noticed Rachel looking around at the other diners’ plates longingly after she finished her salad.
“Maybe I’ll try a piece of that yummy-looking chocolate cake I saw in the case when I came in,” Rachel said. “I’ll start my diet again tomorrow.”
Carrie woke up with the sun shining in her eyes. It had been a busy night at the café and she’d gotten home late. She needed to get up and get back over to supervise her crew for the breakfast service. They closed at two on Sundays, so she would have plenty of time to relax this afternoon.
She looked out the window through the pine trees at the sunlight sparkling on the lake as she got out of bed and stretched. She loved living here. Her family had lived in Winchester for generations, and her parents had given her this piece of land where she had her house built, right down the road from their place. She wasn’t too far from the café, and she had plenty of privacy here in the woods.
When she talked to some of the summertime residents and told them she lived next door to her parents in the same town she grew up in, they usually asked her how she liked it. Occasionally they asked if she ever wished she were doing something more exciting.
She liked living near her parents or she wouldn’t be here. Her older brother and his family lived nearby, along with several other relatives. She had gone to college at the University of Maine and had been happy to return home after graduating. Her definition of success was to be her own boss, doing a job she enjoyed with family and friends close by.
It was time to get moving or she’d be late, but her mind kept drifting back to seeing Lisa the night before. There was something about Lisa that caught her attention. Carrie had noticed how pretty she was the first time she had come into the café, but she hadn’t talked to her until she ran into her at the accounting office.
Lisa had met someone for dinner at the café last night. Was she on a date or was the woman just a friend? Carrie didn’t know what to think and it was probably just as well. The busy season was starting, and she needed to keep her mind on getting things ready for the summer crowd.
* * *
Carrie locked the café door and leaned back with a sigh of relief. She was ready for a break. It had been a busy weekend and they had been cooking nonstop. She was closed on Mondays, which meant she had the next couple nights off. She walked back to the kitchen and did a final check. Everything was washed up and put away, and the stainless-steel counters were cleaned and shining.
“Angie, did you get everything packed up?” Carrie asked.
Angie was one of the other cooks who ran the kitchen. She had been helping Carrie pack some of their leftover breads and desserts to take to the local food bank since they were going to be closed the next day. She was very careful about serving only the freshest food at the café, but she didn’t want any leftovers to go to waste.
“It’s all set.” Angie took off her purple apron and shook out her long, brown ponytail. “I’ll drop everything off. We have to make a run into town anyway.”
“Thanks,” Carrie said. “I guess we’re ready to go. Ryan are you ready?”
“Hold on. I’m coming,” Ryan called from the back room. He walked into the kitchen and put the empty trashcan back in the corner. He and Angie rented the apartment above the café from Carrie. They had been employed by her for the past five years and they were good tenants. They kept an eye on the place for her and they both worked hard at their jobs.
“I haven’t showed you the new ink I got last week,” he said proudly. He lifted up his pant leg and showed her the back of his calf. There was a colorful picture of a red-eyed elf with fire shooting from its ears.
“You ran out of room on your arms, huh?” Carrie examined his leg. “That’s cool. A demented elf suits you.”
“It’s the avatar I was using when I met Angie online.”
“All right, let’s get going.” Angie gave Ryan a quick kiss. She turned to Carrie. “See you Tuesday morning, Carrie.”
Carrie followed them out the backdoor and locked up. She got into her Jeep and headed for home. Her parents’ house came into view as she turned down the wooded road that she lived on. She thought about stopping to say hello, but decided to come back later after she had gone for a run and caught up on a few things at home.
She pulled into her gravel driveway and smiled. Some of the flowers were starting to bloom. One nice thing about her yard was that she didn’t have any grass, so she really didn’t have much maintenance. She had some blueberry bushes and a few perennials growing here and there, but the area around her house had been left mainly in its natural state with pine trees and rocks surrounding the outer perimeter of the yard. She kept several planters with flowers for color and grew her own tomatoes and cucumbers, preferring to keep things attractive but simple.
She opened the door onto the screen porch and let herself inside, heading immediately upstairs to change into her running clothes. It had been hot and sweaty in the kitchen that morning, and she was eager to go for a run before coming back to shower. At the moment, all she wanted was to get out into the fresh air.
A few minutes later, she was back outside and ready to go. She turned on her iPod and started jogging down the gravel road. Her road branched to a network of camp roads that bordered the cove and wound their way around the eastern side of the lake. She was planning on going for a six-mile loop. The day was comfortably warm, and a light breeze kept the black flies away. It felt good to be outdoors. She could feel the tension of the day fade away as her leg muscles began to pump and she fell into a comfortable stride.
She went around a corner and saw another runner coming toward her from the other direction with a black and tan dog at her side. As she got closer, Carrie was surprised to see that it was Lisa. She slowed and took her earbuds out, hoping Lisa would stop to talk. Lisa’s face lit up when she recognized Carrie, and she came to a stop a few yards in front of her.
“Daisy come,” Lisa called out. The dog ignored her and ran to Carrie with her tail wagging, eager to meet a new friend. She sniffed Carrie’s legs for a moment before returning to her owner’s side. Lisa grabbed her collar and made her sit.
Carrie walked closer to them. “Hello there.”
“Hi.” Lisa held up a finger. “Hold on a sec while I catch my breath.”
Carrie waited quietly while Lisa pushed the short, sandy-blond hair out of her eyes and took some deep breaths. She tried not to stare at Lisa’s muscular legs and the toned arms revealed by the loose-fitting tank top she was wearing.
“I haven’t had a chance to run much lately,” Lisa panted. “Don’t laugh. I’m sure that my face is as red as a tomato.”
Carrie tried to keep a straight face. Lisa’s face was actually alarmingly red. “Do you live near here?”
“I live about two miles away, down East Ridge Road. How about you?”
“I live down Sawyer Road, about a mile from here,” Carrie answered. “Can I pet Daisy?”
“Sure, she loves people.” Lisa loosened her grip on the dog’s collar. Daisy jumped forward to greet Carrie as she knelt down to pet her.
“She’s beautiful.” Carrie stroked Daisy’s soft fur and looked up at Lisa. “What kind of dog is she?”
“She’s a Gordon Setter mix. I got her at the shelter when I moved here. I still can’t believe someone would have taken her there. She’s the best dog ever.”
Lisa knelt down next to Carrie and started rubbing Daisy’s chin. “You’re a good girl, aren’t you, Daisy? You’re my furry little girl.”
Carrie became acutely aware of how close they were as Lisa’s arm brushed against hers. Her heart rate was already elevated from the run, and it started to increase when she glanced at Lisa, who was looking really good. Her hair was curled with perspiration and her skin was flushed and glowing. Carrie realized she probably still smelled like the grill. She stood up and stepped back quickly.
“So, how far were you planning to run?” Carrie asked, trying to think of something to say to cover her sudden discomfort.
“I think I’ve gone a couple miles and I might turn around soon.” Lisa looked back down the road. “I usually like to go around four miles or so.”
Carrie wanted to spend a little more time with her. “Do you mind if I run with you on your way back?”
“I’d love the company. I’ll probably slow you down, though.”
“I’m not in any rush.”
Lisa stood up and they started to jog side by side down the gravel road. Daisy ran a few yards ahead of them, turning back every few minutes to keep a close eye on Lisa. A few clouds were drifting in, keeping the temperature cool for their run.
“Isn’t your last name Sawyer?” Lisa asked. “And you live on Sawyer Road?”
“My family’s lived here for a long time. My parents put in the road when they got married and built their house. They gave me and my brother each a piece of land along the road for our own houses.”
“That’s so nice. Do your parents still live here?”
“They do. Right next door to me, in fact.” Carrie waited to hear the usual questions about why she would want to live so close to them.
“I think so.” Carrie smiled.
They went up a long, steep hill, and Carrie noticed Lisa had stopped talking. They both focused on their pace until they made it to the top. Lisa turned to Carrie. “I hate that hill. I always figure if I can make it up something like that without stopping, then I can handle whatever else the day throws at me.”
Carrie nodded. “That’s a good attitude. Where did you live before you came to Winchester?”
“I used to live in Massachusetts.”
“What made you decide to move here?”
“My parents have both passed away and there was nothing holding me there anymore. I guess I was ready for a change. My friend Rachel lives in Augusta. I don’t know if you saw her, but she’s the one that I met at the café for dinner last night. Anyway, I’ve always liked this area and she talked me into coming here.”
Carrie had seen Lisa’s friend last night. So, Lisa had moved here to be near Rachel. It was a good thing she had found that out before she asked Lisa on a date. They reached the turnoff to Lisa’s road and continued along their route.
Lisa slowed and came to a stop a short time later when they reached the end of a driveway next to a small house with weathered gray shingles. She put her hands on her knees and bent over, taking some deep breaths while Daisy ran down the driveway toward the lake.
“Thanks for keeping me and Daisy company,” Lisa said.
“My pleasure.” Carrie turned to head back to the main road. “Well, I hope I see you at Harvest again soon. Bye.”
Carrie glanced back over her shoulder as she began to jog and saw Lisa give her a friendly wave. What was it about Lisa that made Carrie keep thinking of her? She shook her head and kept running. There was no point in dwelling on it, because Lisa wasn’t available.