For Love Or MoneyBy: Virginia Vaughan
The flashing blue lights of the police car in the rearview mirror startled Amy. Where had they come from? She didn’t remember passing one as she drove. She checked her speed, then realized she had no idea what the limit was. She hadn’t seen a sign since turning off the four-lane highway several miles back.
She pulled to the shoulder and sighed. Two days of driving, eight hundred miles traveled and now, less than a half hour from her destination, she was stopped. She gripped the steering wheel as she watched the officer in the mirror exit his car and approach hers. It’s not a sign, she told herself. It’s just dumb luck and carelessness. She’d traveled so far and was tired. It was a wonder she hadn’t been pulled over sooner.
“Get out of the car now.”
The unexpected harshness of the officer’s tone jolted her. She unbuckled her seatbelt and scrambled out of the car as quickly as possible. The uniformed officer stood by his car, his hand gripped firmly on the gun at his hip and Amy felt his tension grab her from six feet away. It seemed to fade as she faced him. Relief flooded his expression and the grip on his gun relaxed but his determined stance and broad shoulders continued to demand attention.
Amy’s heart skipped a beat and she was certain her eyes were wide with fear. She’d just witnessed something. He’d obviously expected someone else, someone dangerous. She looked at his car, noticing the Yates County Sheriff’s Office notation, then at the name on his shirt. Deputy T. Mitchell had just nearly given her a heart attack.
He took several quick steps towards her car. “Who are you?”
She swallowed the knot in her throat before answering. “My name is Amy Sullivan.”
He motioned to her car. “You have Ohio plates.”
It seemed more like an accusation than a question, but Amy nodded. “I used to live in Ohio.”
He ran a hand through his sandy hair and she could see the tension draining from his face as he stepped even closer and pointed at the back seat. “What’s all this?”
Suitcases and boxes were stacked on her seat. Her entire life was boxed up back there. “My personal belongings—photographs, towels, books, things like that.”
“You said you used to live in Ohio? You’re moving?”
“I’m going to be staying with my aunt.”
“Wait, you’re moving here? To Westhaven?” He steeled his blue-gray eyes and aimed them right at her. “Why?”
“Why?” She had no idea. “I told you. My aunt lives in Westhaven.”
He seemed to mull on that for a moment then pulled out his ticket pad. “I stopped you because you exceeded the speed limit by seven miles. I’ll need to see your license and registration.”
“I was only doing forty. May I ask what the speed limit is?”
He turned those steely eyes on her again. “You were doing forty-two miles per hour to be precise. The posted limit is thirty-five.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t see a sign.”
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse. License and registration please.”
She retrieved the documents then leaned against the car as he wrote out a ticket, gripping the pen with such force that Amy wondered that it didn’t break in two. She watched his hands then found her eyes roaming up his strong arms to his broad shoulders and his clenched jaw. He was a handsome sort of fellow despite his apparent arrogance and hatred of her. What was that about anyway? Did people in Mississippi not like Ohioans? Was there some sort of rivalry between the two states that she knew nothing about?
She sighed and hung her head. What was she doing here? She’d come at the behest of an aunt she didn’t know and left behind everything familiar. As Deputy Mitchell tore off the ticket and handed it to her, she could only hope that this introduction to Westhaven, Mississippi, was not indicative of the welcome she would receive from her aunt.
“You have thirty days to pay this ticket before a warrant is issued for your arrest.” He stalked back to his car then peeled off down the road.
Amy returned to her car but didn’t start it right away. Fear began to tickle her senses, fear that she’d kept pushed back for over eight hundred miles of interstate.
God, is this a mistake?
She strained to hear His answer and felt despair when it didn’t come. She took out the letter from her aunt and read it again. The friendliness of the words gave Amy some comfort, words written with a shaky hand but a seemingly genuine sentiment. It was that sentiment that had convinced her to make this journey despite the absence of God’s response to her prayers for guidance.
Amy put away the letter and decided to go before she changed her mind. She was close, too close to chicken out now. She took a deep breath then turned the key. Her heart sank when the engine failed to turn over. She jerked at the steering wheel in frustration. It’s not a sign. It’s not a sign. It was just a really old car.
She turned the key again and, this time, the engine sputtered several times before finally turning over. She put it in gear and drove, still uncertain as to the wisdom of making this trip even as she neared the end of it.
Tate Mitchell parked his squad car a few miles down from where he’d pulled over Amy Sullivan. He waited and watched until her car passed by heading towards town. The memory of seeing those Ohio plates still rattled him. They’d stopped him dead in his tracks worrying and wondering if he was about to come face to face with Maureen Blanchard again. That Amy Sullivan didn’t know how lucky she was. Tate was sure, if it had been Maureen, he might have shot her on the spot.
He should have known better. Maureen would not have been caught dead driving around in a car as old and raggedy as Amy Sullivan’s. She liked them fast and flashy, not rusty with smoke billowing from the tailpipe. He should have written her up for that too. Anyone who dared to enter his county with Ohio plates deserved everything they got.
He leaned back in his seat and rubbed his face. He was beginning to feel the letdown of his earlier adrenaline rush. He was crashing fast, yet he knew from experience that he would be fine in a few moments. He would just sit for a while and watch the road. He turned off his radar. The speeders were in luck this afternoon.
Sensibility seemed to catch up to him too. Rationality reminded him that not everyone from Ohio was as bad as Maureen. It was a big state after all. And Amy Sullivan’s license had shown she was from Akron, not Cincinnati. But how many people from Ohio came to Mississippi? It couldn’t be many. Even fewer would pass through his small town. Within driving distance of casinos, major universities, and birthplaces of major celebrities like Elvis and Oprah, Westhaven was nestled in the foothills of the Mississippi Delta, an hour and a half from the capitol city and a good two hours from Memphis. Anyone who traveled here would have to be consciously looking for the town to find it. It was not an area easily stumbled across and Tate preferred it that way. Yet, in the past two years, two strange women had traveled from Ohio to Westhaven. That had to be more than a coincidence.
He remembered Amy Sullivan’s excuse about not seeing the speed limit sign. How many times had he heard that? Kudzu had worked its way around the signpost and overgrown limbs obscured the view. It was a blatant speed trap but he didn’t care. The town had to make money some way and he figured this was better than all the touristy stuff the city council was trying to push on them. Besides, the locals all knew the limit and those unfortunate enough not to know soon found out the hard way. Tate showed little mercy when it came to speeders. Few people had ever talked their way out of a ticket with him. And an out-of-towner talking her way out of a ticket? That would never happen. Not as long as he was on patrol.
Amy Sullivan hadn’t been in town for ten minutes and she already had three strikes against her—she was a stranger, she hailed from the same state as a known con artist, and she’d risked lives by speeding. He shook his head and pushed away thoughts of her.
Even a pair of pretty, green eyes and a smile warm enough to melt the polar ice caps couldn’t change the facts. That girl was trouble. If she was staying in Westhaven, then Tate would have to keep a close eye on her.
After her icy encounter with the local law enforcement, Amy was regretting her decision to come. She nearly turned the car around and headed back to Akron three times as she navigated the curvy roads. She didn’t like the unwelcomed feeling she’d received not only from the police officer but from the townspeople she’d encountered when she’d stopped to ask directions to her aunt’s house. What would she do if her aunt greeted her in the same way?
A knot formed in her stomach as she spotted the entrance to her aunt’s home. She couldn’t have missed the house—it was the only one she’d seen for miles. The road itself had seemed to be abandoned and, when Amy pulled into the driveway, she wondered the same thing about this house. It sat big and large, surrounded by wooded areas. The front lawn was overgrown with weeds and bushes and the driveway showed spurts of grass through the cracks in the concrete.
Amy parked, wondering if she’d misread the directions she’d been given. There were no cars in the driveway and most of the front windows appeared boarded up. The front porch held no furniture except an old swing hung on a chain. She pulled out her directions, rereading them, certain that she had followed them correctly.