Play It Safe

By: Kristen Ashley

Acknowledgements

The beautiful cover photo of those gorgeous wild ponies was taken in Colorado by my wonderful friend, Joe Vedovati. Joe has been my friend for a long time. He has made me laugh. He has no problems telling me I mean something to him. He is an accomplished photographer and he let me use his image, an image that part-inspired the book you’re about to read, for free. And he calls me dollface.



Love you, Joe and thank you.



Another huge shout out to my girl Chasity Jenkins for proofreading this book. Good catch on the cowboy boots, sistah! Geek girls rule!



And another shout out to my Facebook posse for kicking in yet again when I was stuck. Lindsey Tong came up with the idea for the bar name “The Alibi” and I loved it so I used it. But my crew on FB shouted out so many ideas, I have a huge file and I’ll never have to worry about naming a bar again. Thanks you guys. You don’t know how many times I go on there and you make me giggle or say things that keep my going. You guys are awesome!



And lastly, another big thank you to my dear, beloved friend Jody Briles who gave me the names Shim and Ronan. Through our friendship over the years, Jody has given a lot…it’s just this time she gave me a couple kickass names. Love you, Jody.



*****





Chapter One


No Connections. Play It Safe.



It was time to get back to the hotel, I knew it.

But I didn’t want to go.

Because he was still sitting at the bar, drinking beer from a bottle, chatting and smiling at the bartender, nice, friendly. She was very pretty but older than him, five years, maybe ten. They knew each other; they liked each other, both well. But not like that. Just friends. Maybe good friends. He came in a lot or in this small town they ran into each other a lot.

Whatever.

It was just friends.

Which was good.

Not that I was going to do anything about it. I couldn’t.

No connections.

Play it safe.

Still, if I could connect, if I could let go, if I could take a risk, I’d do it with him. In all my wandering, all I’d seen, all the people I’d met, he would be the one I’d smile at and do it without a guard up.

He’d be the one I’d want to smile back at me.

Time to go.

I sucked back the last of my beer, set it on the table in front of me, shrugged on my jacket, buttoned it up and wound my scarf around my neck. Then I pulled the long strap of my bag over my head, hooking it around my neck so it slanted across the front of me. Then, eyes to the door, I slid out of the booth and left.

I didn’t look at him.

Couldn’t.

So out I went without even a glance.

The cold hit me like a slap. It was late January. We should be in the south. What we were doing up here, I didn’t know. But Casey led and I followed. That was always the way.

Always.

Half a block down, cross the street, two blocks up, then I went through the parking lot to the cement walkway, then down to our door.

I stopped at it and stared.

I didn’t need the Do Not Disturb sign to tell me not to disturb. I heard the giggling moans, the chuckling grunts.

Hells bells.

I sighed, lifted my hand and looked at my wrist.

It was eleven oh two. Nothing open in this burg except that bar.

And he was there.

I couldn’t go back.

It was also cold.

I sucked in breath, lifted a fist and pounded on the door.

The giggling, moaning, grunting and chuckling stopped abruptly and I shouted, “Fifteen minutes to wrap it up!”

Then I turned and walked through the parking lot, checked both ways even though in this tiny town at this hour, traffic was light as in, non-existent.

Still, I hadn’t survived my life to get run over on a deserted road in a nowhere town at twenty-two years old.

I crossed the street and headed into the park I’d spied there. Even in this weather, I’d noticed kids playing in the playground, folks walking their dogs, men jogging, women jog-walking. Active community. Safe community.

If I let myself think about it, I knew I’d like it. It would intrigue me. It would make me feel things I couldn’t feel, want things I couldn’t want.

So I didn’t think about it.

I headed to the playground, sat down in a swing, wrapped my hands around the cold chains and started swinging.

I needed gloves.

We didn’t have the money and I didn’t spend a lot of time outside. So I didn’t really need them except right now.