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Play It Safe
Author: Kristen Ashley

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.


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.


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.


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.”

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