Read Dark Mountains Online

Authors: Amanda Meredith

Tags: #Fiction, #Retail, #Romance, #Suspense, #Thrillers

Dark Mountains (10 page)

BOOK: Dark Mountains
13.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“I’m sorry, Libby,” He whispered again.
“For so many things.” Tears sprang from his eyes and Libby sighed. Her features softened and she suddenly reached out to hug him.

“I forgive you, John Paul,” Libby murmured.
“For a lot of things.” She stepped back and grabbed my hand before we walked into the building.

Chapter 17

 

 

Four hours later, we were curled up in front of the fireplace at home. I’d given Libby a healthy dose of whiskey yet she still shivered in my arms.

“She’s dead because of me,” Libby whispered, her eyes reflecting the dancing flames. I took a deep breath.

“Libby. It’s not your fault,” I answered in a steady tone.

“He killed her, Cole,
because I told her to leave him and she finally listened. And he went after her.” John Paul had shown us the crime scene photos. The room had been ransacked and the words ‘whore’ and ‘bastard’ had been written on the wall in Carol Ann’s blood. We knew Jackson had done it.

“Libby, Jackson is evil and crazy. No one knows why his mind thinks the way it does. It is not your fault.” I repeated, hugging her closer to me.

“My whole life, I always blamed her for never leaving, never fighting back. But she was trapped. Just like I was.” She shivered. “He used to make her watch when he beat me. If she cried or begged him to stop, he would hit me harder. She finally learned to sit there, not saying a thing, not moving, until he got tired of hitting me.” I felt the bile rising in my throat. I’d had no idea.

“When he’d sit down, instead of helping me, she’d go grab him his whiskey. I used to hate her for it.” She sucked in a harsh breath. “I would crawl to my bedroom, praying that he wouldn’t come after me again. I realize now that if she had been any different, it
would’ve been a lot worse. She was scared just like me.”

“Not anymore, Libby.” My voice was gruff, filled with sorrow for the life
she'd been forced to grow up in. “You never have to be afraid again.” I sat there holding her, waiting for the tears to come but they never did. I carried her up to bed late that night, praying the darkness she was feeling wouldn’t swallow her up.

 

 

I woke up at 3 am to an empty bed. I sat up as my eyes adjusted and noticed the light on in the bathroom.

“Libby?” I waited a moment to answer before I got out of bed to check on her. I was just about to knock when I heard gagging sounds. I rushed in and found her hugging the toilet bowl as she heaved into it. I quickly wet a washcloth and held back her hair while I dabbed her clammy forehead.  When she crumpled on the floor in exhaustion, I carried her back to bed and stood watch until the sun came up.

The funeral took over a week just to plan. Since her death was under investigation for murder, the coroner
didn’t release Carol Ann’s body right away. The autopsy had concluded that she had died from severe trauma to the brain, liver and kidneys. Jackson Michael’s fingerprints had been found all over the hotel room and Carol Ann’s body. She had apparently fought back before becoming unconscious; Jackson’s blood and skin cells were found beneath her fingernails.

We buried her on a rainy, fall day in the cemetery outside of town. The cold drops of rain splattered on the black umbrellas as the reverend spoke of Carol Ann’s life. He reminded the small crowd of the vibrant, happy girl she had been. He spoke of how she had worked at the ice cream shop and how quiet and loving she had been. He
didn’t speak much of Carol Ann’s life after she’d married Jackson Michaels. Of course, no one had seen much of Carol Ann after that. He only spoke of Libby and how much she looked like her mother.

After the funeral, I stood with Libby beside the casket, holding an umbrella over our heads. Libby gently laid the bluebells
I’d found that morning on the plain wooden casket. The petals quivered with each raindrop. John Paul walked up the pathway and laid a shaking hand on Libby’s shoulder. He leaned down to kiss the casket before he walked away, leaving us to stand in the rain.

Libby laid her hand on the damp wood and looked up at the dark clouds that hovered down over the mountain. She turned to walk away and I handed her the umbrella as she walked back to the truck. I stood in the rain, scanning the line of trees that surrounded the cemetery. I thought
I’d heard the faint echo of laughter but it must’ve been my imagination. All I could hear was the soft patter of rain on the ground. I made my way back to the truck where Libby was waiting. Neither of us looked back as we drove away.

Chapter 18

 

 

It was five weeks after Carol Ann’s death and Libby still hadn’t returned to work. Her producer was sympathetic and told her to take as much time as she needed. Libby was barely speaking. Though she still slept with me, we hadn’t made love since her mother’s death.

I would still wake up early in the morning and find Libby in the bathroom heaving into the toilet. She picked at her food, barely eating anything and her once curvy body was becoming exceedingly thin. She would wrap herself in a thick quilt and sit on the balcony, staring out at the lake.

I’d taken and passed my deputy exam but had asked John Paul to postpone my starting date. I couldn’t imagine leaving Libby alone all day when she was so lost in her grief.

It was the beginning of October and I was out back chopping firewood. I could see Libby on the deck, starting out at the lake.
I’d started chopping firewood every day while she sat there. Winter came early in the mountains and could be harsh, knocking out the power for weeks at a time. There were enough fireplaces in the house to keep warm if it came down to that and I wanted to be prepared.

I set my axe against the shed and wiped the sweat off my forehead. I saw Libby heading back in the house and decided it was time to talk to her.
I’d thought I had a pretty good understanding of grief and pain but what Libby was experiencing was beyond anything I’d seen. She was in such a dark place that no light could break in. I knew all about being trapped in the dark and Libby had been there for me. Now it was my turn.

I found Libby in the bathroom. After holding her hair again, I carried her to bed, grimacing at how little she weighed. I lay down next to her, pulling the covers over her chilled skin.

“Libby, I think we need to get you to a doctor,” I whispered as she stared at the wall. “You’ve been throwing up for weeks. You won’t eat, you won’t talk to me.” She shuddered beneath the covers. “You’ve lost so much weight, baby. I’m really worried.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she whispered, her voice cracking with emotion.

“Libby you’ve been through too much. It’s hard to pull away from so many horrible things,” I reached over and urged her to roll towards me. Her face was pale and tears were flowing freely from her eyes. “I think your body is just confused. Everything that’s happened is too hard. Your mind doesn’t know how to handle it so it went into shock. You’re blocking everything and everyone out and living in limbo but you can’t see what you’re doing to yourself.” She curled her small body into mine, burrowing her cold skin against me. “I can even have Emma Lou take you. You can go shopping or get your nails done after. You know, girl stuff.” The corner of Libby’s lip twitched and I knew I was getting to her. “I love you so much Libby. I don’t want to lose you.”

“Alright, Cole,” she murmured sleepily. “I’ll go to the doctor.” I hugged her close, satisfied that she would actually go. I kissed her forehead, noticing she had fallen asleep. I held her until I felt my eyes begin to droop and giving in, followed her into sleep.

The next week, Emma Lou picked Libby up for a visit to the doctor and a ‘girl’s day’ as Emma Lou described it. They were driving to the doctor in Middlesboro and were planning on doing some shopping afterwards. The past week, Libby had seemed to be slowly coming out of her shell of grief. Though I still found her getting sick most mornings, she was more animated. We’d even made love the night before.

As they drove away, I checked my watch.
They’d probably be gone until four or five. It was plenty of time to get my shopping done. I had my own plans for helping Libby get through her grief.

I drove to
Roda, a slightly bigger town just across the Virginia state line. I pulled into Carson’s meat shop just after noon.

“Everything ready, Hank?” I asked the burly man behind the counter. Hank and I had known each other since we were in diapers. Both our mothers had been members of the Daughters of the South Sewing Group.
We'd been forced to tag along to meetings so we spent our time playing cowboys and Indians while our mothers sewed. Emma Lou was usually more than happy to play our damsel in distress.

Hank’s father had owned the butcher shop in
Roda and Hank had taken over the business after Hank Sr. had retired after a minor heart attack. We’d kept in touch over the years and Hank had sent hand-cut steaks to the base in Afghanistan every Fourth of July I’d been deployed. He continued sending steaks to the base even after I’d returned home.

“Sure is, Cole! Came in fresh this morning,” he reached behind the counter and pulled out the paper wrapped package. “Two sirloin steaks, dry rubbed and aged to perfection.” He reached back down and lifted a Styrofoam cooler to the counter. Lifting an eyebrow, I leaned in to peek inside. “Two Maine lobsters, shipped straight from the coast,” Hank explained before whistling. “Damn, Cole,” he chuckled.
“Pretty fancy. Do you even know how to cook lobster?” My face paled at the question. I hadn’t even thought about it. But how hard could it be?

“Tonight is going to be perfect,” I told him and he raised an eyebrow at me.

“You’re popping the question!” he exclaimed with a hoot. I chuckled and nodded. “Well, let me see the ring!”

“I don’t have it yet,” I retorted, getting my wallet out to pay.

“Oh man, don’t tell me you’re going to propose without a damn ring?”

“Hell no, Hank,” I grumbled with a smile. “I’m picking it up next.”

“That a boy,” Hank laughed, slapping me on the shoulder. “I always knew you and Libby’d end up together. Ever since first grade I knew it.”

“Me too, Hank.
Me too,” He handed me my change and I gave another hesitant look at the lobsters squirming in the cooler.

“Don’t you worry about them,” Hank explained. “The seaweed in the bottom keeps them moist and if you leave the lid off they’ll be fine for at least 24 hours.”

“They don’t have to wait that long,” I muttered, making Hank laugh again. “Libby’s gone shopping with Emma Lou so I’ve got til five to get everything ready.”

“Plenty of time,” Hank assured me. “So how is Emma Lou? I saw her a few weeks ago with that exterminator guy from Middlesboro.” I chuckled at that. Emma Lou tried out a new boyfriend literally every week.

“Yeah, well, you know Emma Lou.” I answered as Hank blushed uncomfortably. “She got rid of him after one date. I’ll tell you, Hank. One of these days the right guy’s going to come along and it’ll hit her so hard she won’t know what to do.” Hank nodded.

“Well you better get going,” Hank handed me the bag and cooler. “And don’t burn the steaks!”

“I won’t!” I laughed before walking out the door.

Looking at my watch again, I counted how many hours I had left.
I’d made a number of stops for flowers and champagne and at my last stop, the storeowner herself met me as I was paying.

“We don’t get many customers that have their own designs,” she mused as she handed me the small black box. “But I must say
, this is one of the most beautiful rings I’ve seen.” I flipped open the lid and smiled. She was definitely right. I thanked her and slid the box into my jacket pocket. Tonight was going to be perfect.

Chapter 19

 

 

I’d had to call Momma and beg for help. One of the lobsters had pinched my finger hard enough to make it bleed and I’d already caught an oven mitt on fire. After finding out what was going on, Momma was more than happy to help.

“Took you long enough to ask her, Colton Andrews!” She blubbered through a tissue.

“Aww, Momma,” I whined as she hugged me. “Libby’ll be home in an hour!”

“Don’t you worry, son,” she chuckled, drying her eyes. “Your Momma is going to show you how it’s done.”

She helped me put the lobsters in the pot of boiling water, showed me how to properly bake potatoes and started the steaks in the broiler. Then she found candles I didn’t even know I had and set them on the table. I got an unwanted, but apparently needed, lesson on setting the table with less than twenty minutes to spare.

“Pull everything out in fifteen minutes and put
it in on the plates just like I showed you. Don’t open the champagne until you’re ready to eat and have a wonderful night,” she told me before kissing my forehead.

“Thanks, Momma.” I smiled and waved her off as she pulled out of the driveway before jogging upstairs to change.

 

 

I heard Emma Lou’s car pull up exactly twenty minutes later. I went outside to help carry bags. Libby had never been big on shopping but she was with Emma Lou so I knew there would be a ton of bags.

“Have a good time, girls?” I asked, winking at Libby.

“Oh, Cole, give me a break!” Emma Lou answered as she popped the trunk. “We went shopping and got a mani/pedi. How could we not have fun?”

“Just checking,” I chuckled. “Thanks, Emma Lou.”

“No problem, bro,” she answered as she put on some more lipstick. “I gotta get going, got me a hot date tonight.” I held back a laugh.

“Yeah?
With who?” I finally asked. Emma Lou’s face crunched up. I laughed then, since it appeared she’d forgotten who it was, and actually had to think about it before she answered.

“Johnny
Mapelton,” she stuttered after a minute.

“The pizza delivery guy?”
I asked before bursting out laughing again. Emma Lou’s face turned red. “You’ve got the hot date part right. You’ll probably have to sit on pizza boxes while he delivers!” I choked out, laughing so hard I had to hold my side. Libby elbowed me when I started hiccupping.

“Have a great time, Emma Lou,” Libby told her. “Thanks for today.”

“You’re welcome, Libby,” I chuckled when she emphasized Libby’s name. “And kiss my ass, Cole.” I started laughing again as she got in her car and peeled out of the driveway. Libby gave me a stern look as we walked up the steps.

“That wasn’t very nice,” she scolded.

“She’s my baby sister,” I answered in defense. “I can’t help it.” Libby was shaking her head but grinned as we walked inside.

“It smells great in here,” she murmured as she kicked off her shoes near the door.

“I take it your appetite is back?”

“I’m starving!” She answered, giving me a hug. I hesitated for a moment before wrapping my arms around her. I figured the doctor would give her some medication but I
didn’t think anything worked this fast.

“So everything went good at the doctor?” I asked, kissing her cheek.

“It went great.” She smiled, her eyes dancing.

“See? I told you it would be alright.” I smiled back, glad to see that she was feeling so much better. “Let’s eat.” I took her hand and led her to the dining room. There were candles glowing everywhere and a fire crackling in the hearth. The table was set and the food was steaming.

“Oh, Cole, it’s beautiful!” Libby cried as I pulled out a chair for her. I made a mental note to send my mother a dozen roses for being the smartest woman in the world. “You had all this planned, didn’t you?” I smiled and reached for the champagne. “No!” Libby shouted, almost making me drop the bottle. “I mean, no thanks. The doctor doesn’t think I should have alcohol for a while,” she explained. I grimaced. She’d been sick to her stomach for weeks and horribly depressed. Of course, the last thing she needed was champagne.

“I’ll get us some milk then.” I smiled, taking the champagne to the kitchen. I brought two glasses of milk back with me and sat across from Libby. She laughed nervously as I began to cut my steak.

“What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing,” she giggled. “It’s just so beautiful; I don’t want to ruin it.”

“It’s okay, honey. I want you to enjoy it.”

When we were finished eating I slipped into the living room. When I came back, Etta James was singing At Last through the speakers.

“Would you like to dance?” Libby nodded shyly and took my hand. I twirled her around the candles as we danced to the music. Libby sighed and laid her head on my chest. The song ended and I led Libby outside to the deck. I had a fire going in the outdoor fireplace as we sat down on the quilt. The stars sparkled across the sky as the full moon cast a hazy light on the rippling water. Libby turned to look at the lake and when she glanced at me, she smiled.

I had been waiting for my entire life this moment. I ran my hand down her back and kissed her slowly. As I pulled away, I slipped the ring on her finger. She glanced down and gasped before pulling her hand up to look at it. The large sapphire was the color of a fresh bluebell. It
was circled in intricate patterns by tiny, round diamonds. It fit perfectly.

“Elizabeth Christine Michaels,” I whispered. “I have loved you from the moment we met. Will you marry me?”

“Oh, Cole,” she smiled and kissed me. “Yes!”

 

 

We made love beside the fire, wrapped in a quilt with a cool breeze rippling across the water. We lay close together, our bodies exhausted and content. She snuggled closer to me.

“Cole?” She whispered, stroking a hand across my chest.

“Hmm?”
I mumbled, too satiated to form words.

“That’s the first time you’ve ever called me Elizabeth,” I chuckled in response.

“Cole?”

“Hmm?”

“Did you want me to tell you what the doctor said?” She asked while she combed her fingers through my hair.

“Um hmm,” I nodded, drowsily.

“Cole,” Libby chuckled and gave my hair a gentle tug.

“Hmm?”

“I’m pregnant.”

“Um, hmm.”
I mumbled before what she had just said filtered through my foggy brain. The crickets stopped singing. The breeze suddenly died. The moon seemed overly bright.

“What?” I managed, though the air had suddenly left my lungs.

“We’re going to have a baby, Cole. I’m about two months along.” She murmured.

“Two months,” I repeated.

“Everything is fine. It’ll be sometime in May.”

“May,” I echoed.
“A baby?” I asked, my voice squeaking out of me.

“Our baby, Cole,” she murmured. “Are you happy?”

“A baby!” I jumped up, completely naked, hauling her with me. “A baby!” I knelt down and kissed her belly, noticing the small bump between her hips. How had I not noticed? “Oh, Libby, I love you so much! A baby!” I finally realized we were spinning around the deck buck-naked and quickly carried her inside.

“We’re going to have a baby,” I whispered, laying her down on our bed. I kissed her lips and worked my way down her body, kissing her belly again. “We’re going to be a family, Lib.
You’re going to be my wife and we’re going to have a son! Or a daughter!” I laughed, coming back up to take her mouth again.

“Make love to me, Cole,” She whispered, reaching up to stroke my cheek. I took her mouth again before slipping inside her.

When she was sleeping in my arms, I gently lay my head on her belly and thought of the miracle growing inside her. I’ve never been so happy. But somewhere in my mind, I couldn’t forget that a murderer was still out there. There had been no phone calls, no eerie signs but I knew, without a doubt that he was watching us.

The next evening, we had my family over for dinner. We were going to break the news about the baby to them now since it would only be a few more months until Libby was showing. Mom
ma and Emma Lou had been staring at me without a word since they’d gotten there.

“What?” I cut up some lemons for the tea as they stared me down.

“Well, did you?” Momma asked.

“Did I what?”

“Don’t play dumb with me, son,” she scolded, shaking a finger at me.

“Yeah, don’t play dumb,” Emma
Lou echoed. “Momma told me what you were planning last night.” Libby walked up behind me and kissed my cheek.

“I’ll take care of this,” she murmured before walking over to the table where they sat. Libby
didn’t say a word but held out her left hand. The sunlight caught her ring, reflecting a thousand lights across the room. The next thing I knew, there were three screaming women jumping up and down in the kitchen. Dad had come running in from the living room and stared at the women who were hugging, crying and still squealing in the middle of the kitchen.

“What the hell is going on?” He hollered at me over the noise.

“Oh, Tim! Cole and Libby are getting married!” Momma shouted, holding up Libby’s hand. Dad just shook his head and chuckled.

“Come on, Dad. Let’s go have a beer,” I suggested, holding a bottle out to him and nodding towards the door. We left the women in the kitchen for the relative quiet of the back deck. Dad leaned against the railing, taking a sip of his beer.

“Congratulations, son,” he chuckled as he slapped me on the back.

“Thanks, Dad,” I answered, grinning like an idiot.

“She’s a great girl, Cole. You’ve got your house, your land and a good woman. Pretty soon you’ll have the Sheriff’s job.”

“Well, deputy first,” I answered. “Still have some training to get in.”

“You’ll be the first Andrew’s in a couple hundred years that doesn’t mine,” Dad commented after finishing his beer.

“You okay with that?” I whispered.

“Hell yes,” he answered with a grin. “Couldn’t be prouder, son.” He reached over and grabbed me into a hug. “We’d better go check on the girls,” he suggested after slapping my back again. “They’ll have you up to your eyeballs in wedding crap before you know it.”

We walked back to the kitchen where, thankfully, the screaming had subsided. Momma and Emma Lou were gushing about perfect wedding dates and Libby looked up at me, her eyes begging for help.

“Don’t worry about any of that,” I interrupted. “We’re getting married at Christmas.”

“Christmas!”
Emma Lou cried. “That’s only two months away. That’s not enough time to plan!”

“Well,” I continued, ignoring my sister. “We want make sure we’re married well before the baby comes.”

“But two months is pretty short notice for…” Momma trailed off, her face paling. Emma Lou had stopped chattering and was sitting there with her mouth hanging open. Dad was chuckling and went to stand by Momma. “Before the baby comes?” Momma repeated my words, putting a hand on her chest.

Emma Lou was the first to recover. She started hollering again and ran over to hug Libby, then me. Momma was crying now, coming to hug me too. Dad only chuckled, slapping me on the back again.

“Oh, Tim,” she murmured between tears. “We’re going to be grandparents!”  I smiled as I watched my family happily absorbing the news. I went to Libby, wrapped my arms around her, and knew everything was going to be fine.

 

 

Two weeks later, I took Libby to the obstetrician in Middlesboro. She was roughly twelve weeks and was going in for her first sonogram. Libby was sitting on the exam table in a gown; her socked feet swinging off the end of the table. Dr. Crawford knocked before stepping into the room.

“Morning, Libby, Cole.” He murmured, sitting down next to the table. “How are you feeling, Libby?”

“Well the nausea is gone,” she answered with a smile. “I’m starving all the time! I feel a little
crampy, but nothing too painful.”

“Any swelling?”

“My feet a little,” she answered. “I didn’t think I’d feel this big yet.”

“Well every woman and baby is different,” Dr. Crawford assured her. “But let’s take a look and see.” He helped Libby lay back and lifted the gown off her belly. He squirted the blue jelly onto Libby’s slightly rounded belly. She hissed and chuckled a little.

“It’s cold,” she murmured as the doctor put the wand on her skin and moved it around.

“Let’s see who we have here.” He moved the wand as the images on the screen blurred. He pushed a button when the wand was over a small flashing object and a rapid thumping sound filled the room. “Here’s the heartbeat,” The doctor said, pointing to the screen with his free hand. The dark blotch on the screen was moving very quickly. I squeezed Libby’s hand when I noticed she had started to cry. I was fighting back tears myself.

“Okay,” Dr. Crawford continued to move the wand slightly, the thumping noise becoming louder and more awkward, like two drums pounding at the same time. “Here’s the other heartbeat.” I was confused for all of ten seconds.

BOOK: Dark Mountains
13.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Judgment by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
Only by Helenkay Dimon
Left With the Dead by Stephen Knight
The Life of Objects by Susanna Moore
Running on Empty by Franklin W. Dixon
The Virgin Master by Jordan Brewer