Claire sat up, rubbing sleep from her eyes and looked at the clock on the dash. 2:47. So she hadn’t been out all that long.A vague memory of being slung over the redhead’s shoulder explained how she had gotten from the store to the truck.Scanning the parking lot, she was relieved to see the black SUV nowhere in sight. Whoever the women were, and no matter the trouble they were in, she had to concentrate on her own problems. Jerry was due to open up his brand new cafe, courtesy of her hard earned money, in less than 4 hours. Prep people would probably be getting there even sooner.
She thought back over what she had told Jerry during their late night talks. How had she been so gullible? Thinking he had simply wanted to be supportive of her dream, she had poured out all her plans. Showing him her project book, with lists of equipment she would need, and recipes she would prepare, she had missed the predatory gleam in his eye. No, not missed, ignored. No more lying to herself. She had told that little voice in the back of her mind to shut up, preferring to believe he was with her because he loved her, instead of the truth. He had seen an easy mark, and had the patience to put in the time to not only gain her trust, but let her get everything lined up, so all he had to do was connect the dots.All because she hated sleeping in that big bed all alone.
The contents of the truck didn’t match up with her carefully thought out lists though. She had wanted a simple little diner, with blue plate specials and fresh pies and cakes. Nothing fancy. Cooking was her one talent, but she was no gourmet chef. Jerry and his new girlfriend had deviated from her plans, stocking the pantry with odd food items, and adding a bar. They must have spent every penny on inventory, judging from the high end liquors she had carefully packed. Even if she hadn’t stolen everything, they would have been out of business in a week, with no money left for operating costs.
Fully awake, Claire realized her headache was still gone. Whatever Emily had done, it had a lasting effect. With any luck. it would not come back anytime soon. Going over her options, she struggled to keep the despair at bay. It was inevitable that she would be caught, sooner rather than later. Running from the law, and staying out of their grasp was not a skill she possessed. When she had hatched the plan to steal everything, she had been so consumed by anger that what happened after was not a consideration. Now, faced with the consequences of her actions, she had no idea what to do next.
She could continue to run. The only living relative she knew of lived in Vermont. Dahlia had come to her parents funeral, listened to the reading of the will, and left promptly when she did not receive anything of substance. Her parents had not been wealthy, and their bad health had eaten up the little savings they had accrued. Adopting Claire late in life, she had sometimes wondered if their only reason was to ensure they had someone to take care of them when they grew infirm. But living with them had been a thousand times better than the foster home she had been in before, and if affection had been scarce, at least there had been no abuse. Thinking of Emily, she knew how lucky she had been to escape that particular horror.
Pulling the GPS from the glove compartment, she typed in an address and was dismayed to see it was almost two thousand miles. Driving that far would take every penny she had left for fuel, and she had no idea of the reception she would receive once she arrived. Dahlia might call the police as soon as she learned of the mess she was in, or simply turn her away. In a spurt of optimism, she had the idea of offering to go into business with Dahlia, and turn the big house she lived in into a bed and breakfast.Claire knew she was grasping at straws, but anything was better than the idea of going back with her tail tucked between her legs.
Had she ever told Jerry about Dahlia? Did it matter? She needed somewhere to go, and her cousin was her only hope. Decision made, Claire fueled up and headed towards Vermont.