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Maple Notch, Vermont
Marabelle Lamont had never expected March to end the way it had after it started with such hope. If she didn't know better, she might think nature was playing some kind of early April Fools' prank.
The dark road ahead of her and the cup of coffee in her free hand reminded Marabelle of her present reality. The waitress at the restaurant in Burlington had gladly let her keep the cup. Marabelle had hated counting out change for the bill.
Dad had anticipated better days ahead when he bought the Victoria coupe two weeks ago. But using the car already sprinkled too many crumbs on the path she needed to hide. Pulling out a hundred-dollar bill would cement the memory. Only the changing letters of the town names gave any clue that she was making progress on her wild flight to Canada.
The hotel nestled next to the restaurant had tempted Marabelle—no, not Marabelle; she needed to use her birth name, boring old Mary Anne—to stop for a few hours. But registering for a room would require sensitive information, like identification and her signature. Awkward questions would be asked, such as why was a woman all alone asking for a hotel room when it was only a couple of hours past dawn?
As it was, she gained a few valuable tidbits of information while she forced herself to thoroughly chew each bite at the restaurant, as if she had all the time in the world. The breakfast was glorious—two slices of bacon served with fried eggs and pancakes covered with the marvelous syrup that made Vermont so famous. Most important, Marabelle learned she was near her goal of slipping over the border into Canada a few miles past St. Albans. Only one town lay between her and freedom: Maple Notch, Vermont.
Marabelle—Mary Anne—checked her appearance in the rearview mirror. Still pretty jazzy, even if she looked as pale and romantic as one of Valentino's sweethearts on the silver screen. She had tied a scarf over her bleached bob and worn her one remaining older dress since she had replaced most of her wardrobe with fancier clothing. She hoped that an ordinary Mary Anne wouldn't stand out, even if she was a young woman heading north to destinations unknown. If only the new car her father had bought her wouldn't garner attention but she feared it did in this rural setting.
She set off once more, heading for Canada. To her right, in the increasing morning light, a bubbling stream winked between the trees. It was too bad she couldn't take the time to linger and enjoy the beauty around her.
She wished she could shed her identity as easily as she'd left the city. To do that she'd have to empty her suitcase of everything she owned. She wouldn't mind that, but with the border ahead, she'd need her documentation, so she couldn't lose herself so blithely. The farther she drove, the less traffic she saw. She hadn't passed a single car since her last stop. With God's favor, maybe she wouldn't until she had crossed the border.
This drive would be lovely in different circumstances. The beauty of the forest thrilled her, with the delicate greens of maples, oaks and birch, and the slightly darker green of new pine needles crowded against the bluish haze of spruce. Up ahead, tucked among the spring colors, she spotted a patch of red. Not a red maple tree, but one of the romantic covered bridges she had heard about.
The road swerved to the right and to the left, and then the entrance popped in front of her, much closer than she expected. Too late she saw the speed limit sign. Ten miles an hour? She was doing at least thirty. She hit the brakes as she entered the dark tunnel. Her front wheels gripped rickety boards and the bridge walls closed in on her car, like a clamshell on a hapless minnow.
The car skidded on the wooden decking, and she wrenched the wheel back to the center.
Wallace Tuttle tapped on his brakes for form's sake as he approached the old bridge. The drive from Grandpa Tuttle's farm to town provided welcome thinking time. With oncoming traffic so rare, he could practically drive it blindfolded. Tuttles had been going this way since before the Revolutionary War.
Nothing else moved along the road, but he always checked. He glanced at the shadowy entrance to the bridge and didn't spot any movement there, either. The bridge accommodated only a single lane of traffic but that rarely caused problems.
Seconds after he steered the truck into the darkened passage, a blue car barreled straight at him. He braked, the truck skidded and metal crashed into metal at the center of the bridge, bringing both vehicles to a halt.
His breathing stopped, then started again. He tapped one foot on the floor, then the other. Both legs were working. Loosening his grip on the steering wheel, he checked his chest, legs and arms. They appeared sore and bruised, but nothing was broken. Praise the Lord.
He stared toward the other vehicle, now diagonal across the twilit bridge. Squinting, he spotted a head slumped over the steering wheel. That car had been racing toward him at twice the speed of his vehicle. It was purely foolish to race onto a dark bridge without checking for oncoming traffic first. The other driver hadn't even turned on the headlights.
His truck door screeched as he opened it, and he stepped cautiously across the boards strewn with broken glass. His right knee caved a little, and he stumbled a bit, reaching for the nearest wall for support. This high-rolling stranger—it had to be a stranger, since no one in Maple Notch owned such a fancy car—would cost him time and money. The only other bridge over the Bumblebee River lay miles to the north.
He approached the other car with care. It was a marvel, the kind that screamed the sort of lifestyle that went with the driver's white-blond hair. Maybe she had drunk some of the illegal whiskey rumored to make its way through Chittenden County before taking the wheel.
She stirred, straightening slim shoulders and revealing a blood-streaked arm. Wide blue eyes opened for a second, grabbing his spirit with a soundless cry of fear and pain.
"Daddy." With that single word, she slumped against the door.