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Authors: Kristen Ashley

Play It Safe

BOOK: Play It Safe
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Play It Safe

Kristen Ashley

Published by Kristen Ashley

 

Copyright 2012 Kristen Ashley

 

Discover other titles by Kristen Ashley:

 

Rock Chick Series:

Rock Chick

Rock Chick Rescue

Rock Chick Redemption

Rock Chick Renegade

Rock Chick Revenge

Rock Chick Reckoning

Rock Chick Regret

 

The ‘Burg Series:

For You

At Peace

Golden Trail

 

The Colorado Mountain Series:

The Gamble

Sweet Dreams

Lady Luck

 

Dream Man Series:

Mystery Man

Wild Man

 

The Fantasyland Series:

Wildest Dreams

The Golden Dynasty

Fantastical

 

Other Titles by Kristen Ashley:

Fairytale Come Alive

Heaven and Hell

Lacybourne Manor

Mathilda, SuperWitch

Penmort Castle

Sommersgate House

Three Wishes

 

www.kristenashley.net

 

Kindle Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

*****

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.

So no gloves.

I was lucky I had a scarf.

I kicked my feet out then shoved them back and again until I was swinging, not high, just back and forth, gentle, soothing. Something to keep my mind on while I waited; something to keep my mind off other stuff while I waited.

Surprisingly, I heard the rattle of a car and not a good one. My eyes went down the street and I saw a beat up pickup truck heading my way. It kept going. Streetlights showed it was light blue. Lots of rust. Not just old,
old.
It looked it and it sounded it. I kept swinging as it passed right on by.

Then I stopped watching and kept swinging.

Then, my heart beating a little faster, I kept swinging as it came back in my eyesight, this time reversing.

Not good.

It stopped opposite the park, opposite me. Then it idled.

I counted. One, two, three…I got to twelve and it shut down, the lights going out.

Really not good.

I heard the creaking, loud squeak of a door that seriously needed some WD-40 then the same sound ending with a slam.

But I saw him over the roof of the car and my heart beat even faster but I kept swinging slow and gentle as the man from the bar rounded the hood of his truck and walked toward me.

Faded jeans. Leather jacket. Scarf. Hands shoved in the pockets of his leather jacket. But I knew he had gloves.

I saw all that hours earlier when he walked into the bar.  Scarf and gloves said he had someone who cared about him or he worked outside, at least that for the latter. Men like him didn’t buy scarves, women bought them for them. The leather jacket was a nice one, expensive, but it wasn’t new. It hung down over his hips, had flannel lining I’d noticed when he swung it off in the bar. It was beat up but not worn out. Fit him well.

Too well.

Like the jeans.

He headed my way and in the dark without streetlights close, I couldn’t see his eyes on me.

I could feel them.

I dropped my feet and my heels thudded into the frozen dirt mixed with packed snow under them. My body kept swaying and my feet brought me to a halt about a half a second before he came to a halt six feet away.

“Park’s closed at nine.”

That wasn’t good. Not that I was in the park well past closing hours but that he had a nice voice, deep, resonant, rich. It was attractive. Very much so.

Also not good.

My guess, he was in his twenties, not as young as me but not much older. Still, his voice and manner, both held authority, confidence. Lots of it. More than his age would give him in normal circumstances. Men that age, they were still boys.

Unless life made them men.

“Just waiting for the all-clear,” I told him quietly. “I won’t be here long.”

“It’s after eleven, it’s dark, it’s cold and there’s no one around. Not safe for a woman to be sittin’, swingin’ in a park all alone. Wherever you need to get, you need to get there,” he told me.

Okay, well, that was interesting. He wasn’t a local who didn’t like a stranger breaking the rules in his town. He was a man who didn’t like to see a woman alone in a relatively safe nevertheless there was always danger anywhere situation.

And he acted on it.

And he did it late on a cold, dark, winter night.

That said a lot about him.

What he’d say next said more.

“Walk you where you need to go,” he offered.

“I’m staying at the hotel. I can see my door. Thanks but I’m good.”

His torso twisted and he looked to the hotel. My eyes didn’t leave him. He was tall. He was lean. His shoulders were broad and they were that even without the leather jacket. Very long legs. Power in them. Power in his shoulders. Power in his veined hands. Power in his wide chest. I’d seen it all across the bar. Even at his age, he was not a man you messed with. This was half to do with the way he held himself, the way he moved. The other half had to do with how he was built. He had a beautiful frame, silhouetted now in the streetlamps. But it was unmistakable that he knew what he could do with it. I figured he was fast. I figured he was strong. I figured he was smart.

And I was never wrong so what I figured I knew to be true.

Only a stupid man would underestimate this man, regardless of his age.

He turned back to me and asked, “Reason you can’t get in?”

“My uh…friend is enjoying himself. I gave him fifteen minutes. Reckon he’s got about five left.”

He made no response and his silence lasted awhile. Then he lifted his chin and made to move back.

“Have a good night,” he muttered, turned and walked back through the park.

I shouldn’t have watched, I shouldn’t have.

But I did.

I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

I liked the way he moved. Just walking. I liked it.

A lot.

Too much.

So I watched him move, round the hood of his beat up, light blue, rusted out pickup. And I watched him swing in. And I watched him start it up. Then I watched him rattle away.

Then I closed my eyes tight, sucked in a breath and wished, not for the first time, but with a burn I’d never felt before that hurt and it hurt badly, that I didn’t have to play it safe.

Then I opened my eyes, looked at my watch, pushed off the swing and headed to the hotel.

 

 

Chapter Two

I Would Love That

 

Thirty-four hours later…

I looked out the window of the diner trying not to see what I saw.

But I saw it.

I’d been to a lot of towns in a lot of states and I’d even seen this.

County seat but the county seat of a sleepy county. Courthouse square. A red brick and ivory mortar and stone courthouse-slash-police department smack in the middle. Attractive. Sweeping staircases up two sides with big urns at the bottoms of the balustrades that, no doubt, would be filled with flowers if it wasn’t January. Down staircases at the two other sides that didn’t attract attention. This was because lockup was down there. Offices and courtrooms on the upper three floors. Big American flag flying from a flagpole at the top.

The square had large, what would be green patches of undoubtedly well-tended grass in spring and summer but it was now covered in snow. Huge trees that had been there decades, maybe even longer, that were now barren but in fertile months would throw a lot of shade. Benches for folks to sit on. Even bigger but matching urns that were now empty but in summer months would be filled with flowers dotted around. A cross of sidewalks leading to the four sides of the courthouse, criss-crosses too, all now cleared of snow in a way that it almost looked like someone had edged it right up to the turf, the removal was so precise. Curlicue wrought iron, handsome streetlamps that had been cleared of their Christmas decorations.

BOOK: Play It Safe
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