There was one thing I knew for sure when I arrived in Hocking Hills.
I was determined to find my birth mother.
But then two things happened that I didn’t see coming: I didn’t expect to fall for a guy who thought I was too young for him and I didn’t expect that someone would want to kill me.
Targeted Age Group:: Young Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wrote three books before writing Hocking Hills. I would have to say what inspired me to write this book was the vacations I took there which is located in southern Ohio. The book is purely fictional, but I loved the small rural town feel of Hocking Hills.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters come to me over time. I get the idea of the story first. Then it could take a few weeks for me to visualize the main character of my story. Once I feel as if I know my character well enough, the other characters seem to fall into place.
“Will this be all?” The woman with the kind, oblivious eyes asked as she reached for the quart of oil I placed on the counter.
“Uh, no,” I said trying not to look anxious. “I put thirty on four.”
She lifted the chained pair of glasses from around her neck and onto her face before pressing buttons on the cash register. “Okay, that will be $34.20.”
My heart skipped a beat as I pulled the card from the inside of my front pocket and swiped it through the scanner. I gnawed the inside of my lip as I waited, eyeing the dots that repeatedly flashed across the screen. The tips of my fingers tingled and my palms grew sweaty. Each second felt like minutes.
“You have such a beautiful hair color,” she said filling the silence. “Is it natural?”
“Um-hm,” I murmured, shifting my stance as I tightened the crossed sleeves of the light jacket that was wrapped around my waist.
“It’s been going slow today,” she smiled at me saying it more as an apology.
I gave her a weak smile in return as I fidgeted, glancing at the above mirrors to see if there was another employee lurking amongst the shelves inside the compact gas station.
She then turned away to write in an open binder. Her back was still facing the register when I first saw the word denied come across the screen. But before she could even notice I snatched the quart of oil and then quickly walked out of the gas station.
I took off in my Honda and drove out of the lot regretting what I’d done.
“Shit. Stupid,” I hissed to myself shoving the card in the front pocket of my backpack while checking the review mirror as I continued flooring the gas pedal.
My thumb tapped franticly against the steering wheel as I looked for the next turn off I could make. Staying on the same road of the gas station wasn’t a good idea. It didn’t help that I was driving in a rural area because there was nothing but trees along the sides of the road.
And then, of course, the inevitable happened.
I’d only driven about another three miles before I heard a ticking sound come from beneath the hood of the car. I had no other choice but to pull over when the ‘check oil’ light appeared again on the dashboard.
Once I popped the hood and figured out where the oil was supposed to go I spilled a good amount from pouring it too fast. I just hoped it was enough. The last thing I needed was my engine to die out. I barely had enough money left to pay for a place to stay.
But then things just went from bad to worse. I was in such a hurry to continue on driving I released the ignition too soon it didn’t turn over and start.
“Dammit!” I slammed a fist onto the steering wheel, knowing I accidently triggered the theft system. I turned the key in the ignition one more time even though I knew it probably wouldn’t start.
And it didn’t.
I clicked the key in the position to override it, and then sat there with my head pressed back against the headrest. I was grateful that my foster parent, Mina, helped me get the Honda for nothing—well, almost next to nothing. I did have to put in extra hours at that dusty thrift shop of hers. But within the first few hours of taking this car on the road, it had given me more trouble than it was worth.
In fact, the problems I had with the car were the main reason I was desperate enough to use a lost credit card. If I hadn’t had to get a new battery, starter and alternator on my way to Hocking County I wouldn’t have thought twice about picking it up in the first place.
But there I sat contemplating how I was going to continue on my pursuit with a lack of funds when I heard a crackling sound against the pavement. A car was approaching as I glanced at the rearview mirror. I didn’t think anything of it until I noticed it moved closer towards the side of the road slowing down.
My heart did a steady thump inside my chest when I realized it wasn’t just an ordinary car. Even though the lights were not flashing I could see it was someone in law enforcement.
“Ugh, are you freaking kidding me,” I said running fingers through my hair. It figures I’d come through a town with a police force that responded quickly to any theft calls.
Trying not to make any sudden frantic movements that would make it look like I had something to hide, I carefully slid the empty quart of oil across the passenger side until it fell down in the space between the seat and door. But that was the least of my worries. The thirty dollars in gas I filled up in the tank and the lost credit card burning inside the front pocket of my backpack was going to be my biggest problem.
The man who came out from the car was dressed in a dark uniform with a star badge clearly visible on the left side of his chest. As I watched him approach I took a slow deep breath and made a slight movement with my shoulder against the seat so I could inch down the strap of my tank top.
“Good afternoon miss,” he said standing a slight distance away but close enough so he could easily see the inside of my car. Since he had sunglasses on I couldn’t tell if he was trying to look for anything. He wasn’t smiling and it was hard for me to gauge his intention. “Are you having any trouble?”
“No, not really” I said, giving a dismissive smile. “My car just stalled. It’s happened before. Nothing serious.”
I raised a hand to shield the glaring sun from my eyes. His hair was the color of wheat and the sunglasses he wore heightened his masculine features. He looked appealing but behind those glasses I could sense his vigilance.
He gave a slight nod. “You shouldn’t be out here along the side of the road like this. Without your hazard lights on it’s easy to get into an accident with all the hills in the road.”
“Oh. I didn’t think about that,” I said reaching for what I hoped was the hazard button. “Guess it makes sense.”
When I heard the clicking sound that signaled the lights were on, I forced a smile and shrugged my shoulders hoping he’d be satisfied and tell me to have a nice day.
But instead, he kept his hand on his holster and stepped back looking at the hood to my car. “I can see from your license plates that you’re not from around here. What brings you to Hocking County?”
I made a slight chuckle. “Really. Is that the standard? Interrogate people who are not from this county?”
Immediately I regretted my smart-ass remark. If he wasn’t responding to the petty theft I committed at the gas station then I just gave him a good reason to give me a hard time.
“If I feel the need to.” He paused briefly but again I couldn’t tell if he was suspicious of me since the shades he wore concealed his eyes. “Are you always this defensive when someone’s offering to help you?”
I gathered my composure sensing that this could go really bad really quick.
“I’m sorry.” I shook my head trying hard to be sincere out of fear from getting caught. “It’s just been a long ride.”
He stood without moving for such a long moment I felt the nervousness rise inside my chest.
Keep cool. I thought to myself as I controlled my breathing so my pulse would slow down. I knew what could happen if I didn’t. Besides, I was sure he’d become suspicious if I were breathing too heavily.
“Can I see your driver’s license?” he asked raising his head in a nod.
Since my backpack was next to me in the passenger’s seat, there was no point in denying his request. It would just make it worse. This wasn’t the first time I’d encountered the law. But it was the first time where the charge could have major consequences for me so I didn’t hesitate to cooperate.
“Sure, no problem,” I said turning away from him reaching for the backpack. I must have moved a little too fast because I noticed he stepped back slightly as his right hand settled firmly onto his holster.
I made sure he could see the wallet I pulled out before I made another motion to open it. Then once I did my body stiffened when I realized my fake driver’s license was facing right on top of my real driver’s license. There was no way for me to wedge that one out from beneath without him noticing it so I had no other choice than to hand over the fake I.D.
I held my breath praying he wouldn’t decide to run the license number. The names would be the same but the different birth dates wouldn’t match the registration if he took it a step further and ran the plates.
I squelched the need to let out a heavy breath when he only took a few seconds to look at it before handing it back to me. “So, Miss Emily Barnes you’re coming from Reading, PA. I guess you have had a long drive.”
“Long distance driving gives me headaches,” I shrugged, “And I get cranky.”
It didn’t, really. But I thought it was a sensible thing to say at the moment.
“Well if you’d like you can pop the hood and I can take a look to see what the problem is for you.”
“Oh, no,” I said hoping he didn’t notice my sudden outburst. I had just remembered the spilled oil over the engine. “There’s a glitch where I have to let the theft system light go out before I can start it back up.” I pointed to the dashboard and realized the system light stopped blinking after a few seconds. “See, there it goes,” I said turning the ignition.
When the engine turned over I let out a huge sigh. “All is good,” I said, flaunting a smile at him as I shifted the gear into drive. But then I hesitated for a moment thinking it wouldn’t hurt to ask him a question before I took off. “Would you happen to know where an Evangelical Lutheran church is?”
He remained silent for so long I figured I must have given him a moment of pause because of the way I was dressed. A form fitting orange tank top and denim shorts wasn’t exactly the ideal attire for a visit to a church.
“If you’re talking about St. Mary’s it’s another three miles up the road. There will be signs to help you find it.”
“Thank you for your help, officer.”
He gave a slow nod and stepped back. “Miss.”
I was so relieved he hadn’t stopped me for what I’d done at the gas station I didn’t bother looking back to see if he was even watching me.
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