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Look out world, here comes Riley Jones. She’s somewhere she didn’t expect to be. Back out on her own. And now, she’s divorced, dating and potentially dangerous!

Chapter 1



The car pitched crazily as the two vehicles collided, metal tangling with metal, the sound rupturing the night silence. Shit! The gods must be playing “spin the bottle” tonight and Riley Jones was the bottle! Her sporty black Camaro twirled like a carousel on steroids. The world swept by in a psychedelic whir of blackness and streaming street lights. A dizzy feeling held her suspended between heaven and hell, not knowing which way she was going to fall or if someone would be there to catch her when she did. She had experienced that same dizziness earlier that day when she’d reached under the bed and pulled out a black silk thong, the one that wasn’t hers. She started falling then and there had been no one to catch her.
She blinked as the windshield imploded and glass particles sprinkled her lashes, and then again as the airbag exploded, the impact thrusting her backward in the seat, snapping her head back. Chemical dust smoked the air. The earth shook, shuddered, and then went deathly still. As silence descended like a heavy shroud, Riley opened her eyes and her slender hands flew up to cover her mouth.
She had to lean forward to peer over the crumpled dash. Squinting through the broken windshield, Riley could see the front end of her car littering the road. A headlight looking back at her, a piece of the fender off to one side and, the front bumper way down the road. Glancing to her right she saw a large white truck pulling a flatbed car trailer, as it veered sharply into a parking lot. Other vehicles had pulled to the side of the road, too. From her periphery, Riley focused hard as people poured out of their cars, pointing and talking as static excitement filled the air. They pooled like oil, little droplets merging together to create a larger drop that spilled over the curb, and leaked out into the street. In a night filled with sudden pandemonium, Riley seemed to be the only object not in a state of movement.
Something fell into her eye and she blinked against it, swiping it away with her hand. Blood smeared the backs of her fingers. She stared in confusion. Oh God, what had she done?
“Hey, lady! Lady! You okay?” A face mashed itself against her side window, making her jump. A Hispanic man shouted at her through the raised window, his nose pressed hard against the smooth surface. One palm slapped the glass as if his shouting wasn’t enough. Riley nodded, starting to shake. The man peeled his face away leaving an oily imprint. Her eyes followed as he rushed back to his truck and trailer, jumped up in the driver’s seat and pressed a cell phone to his ear.
Was she ok? She wiggled her feet, moved her legs, and raised her arms. All her moving parts seemed to be in working order. Blood crept down her forehead and she absently swiped it with her forearm, continuing her self-examination.
Pulsing red and blue lights flashed off the rearview mirror, reflecting throughout the car’s interior. Riley dropped her head against the steering wheel. She sat like that until a sharp rap sounded on the driver’s glass. She rolled her face enough to peek up at a police officer.
He leaned close, his flashlight playing over her face. “Are you hurt?”
“I don’t think so….”
“Insurance and registration.”
She opened the glove box with trembling fingers and rummaged for the documents. The officer shone his light into her car, moving it over the cab and into the back seat. More flashing lights rolled up as an ambulance screamed to a stop behind her. Riley handed the papers to the officer. Using his flashlight, the officer scanned the documents, the radio on his belt crackling and hissing. He took the papers back to his car.
Digging through her purse, Riley found her cell phone and punched in a phone number. Paige answered and Riley quickly explained her situation. Paige was Riley’s best friend, more like a sister, and the first person Riley had called earlier that day as she stared blindly at the divorce papers she’d thrown on the table. When Paige told her to pack a bag and come stay, she hadn’t hesitated. She’d grabbed some clothes from the closet and reached under the bed for her travel luggage.
Riley had pulled out a misplaced shoe, flung it against the far wall, and felt back under, her hand groping for a handle. Instead, her fingers had snagged on something smooth and silky and she pulled it out, sitting back on her heels, stunned. Riley couldn’t reconcile the thoughts in her head. Her husband had cheated on her, the evidence of his deception had dangled from the ends of her fingers in the shape of a black silk thong. Riley didn’t wear thongs.
The tears had started again. She was shocked, and hurt. It had all begun to make sense. She’d flung the thong to the center of the bed, a black stain of evidence against a white sea of comforter. She grabbed the luggage, throwing clothes in. A few t-shirts, jeans, panties, not thongs, because Riley wasn’t into flossing her butt crack, and her flip flops. Anything else she needed she could borrow from Paige.
With a deep, shuddering breath, she pulled herself back to the present. Riley dialed her husband, Jack, her shoulders slumping as the phone rang and rang, finally depositing her without ceremony into his voice mail. She hung up and called Christine, praying she would answer.
“Hello, this is Death. I’m not in right now, but if you leave your name and number, I’ll be right with you, bwaahahaha!”
“Eeek!” Considering she’d narrowly escaped death face to face, Death wasn’t high on her list of people to call. She nearly hung up, thinking she’d reached Christine’s voice mail.
“Oh my God, Christine, that’s not even funny!” Her heart thumped in her chest.
“It sure isn’t the great Gandhi,” she replied sarcastically.
“Hey, what’s up, buttercup?”
“I need help.”
“Uh oh. This sounds serious. What kind of help do you need? Mental help? Bail money? Both?”
“I’ve totaled my car and I need a ride. Can you come get me?” There was so much going on outside the car and Riley was trying to absorb it all while speaking on the phone.
“You totaled your car? Where are you at?” Christine’s voice became clipped, once she realized Riley wasn’t playing around.
Riley focused on the man in the white truck while she rattled off her location to Christine. A car had pulled up beside the other driver and a woman and children piled out. The man folded them into a group hug, the children clutching at his legs. Riley was relieved he was okay. As soon as he noticed the ambulance, however, he pushed the woman and children away, quickly glanced around, and then got down on all fours, rolling over onto his back. What in the hell? The woman, probably his wife and co-conspirator, began yelling and pointing at the prone man and the paramedics rushed over. The woman gathered the children to her like a hen with her chicks.
“I’m downtown, where all the road construction has been going on.” Riley rattled off the name of the intersection and watched as the man was placed on a gurney and loaded into the ambulance.
She peeled her eyes away as a wrecker inched up beside her car, the driver angling his tow bar to line up with the mangled remains of the Camaro. A gray haired man, face weathered with age, cigarette dangling from chapped lips, hopped out. After a brief powwow with the police officer, he approached Riley’s car and leaned through her door. He smelled strongly of motor oil, sweat and ashtray. The name “Ralph” was embroidered over his shirt pocket.
“Ma’am, I have to ask you to get out of the vehicle.” He coughed around the smoke from his cigarette, and Riley fanned the air in front of her face. “I need to hook up and get this car out of the road before it causes another accident.” The car was indeed causing congestion as traffic slogged its way around the debris still littering the street.
Unfastening her seatbelt, Riley swung her legs around. She used the car door to pull herself out, hanging onto the frame while feeling returned to her lower extremities. The enormity of the situation hit her like a tidal wave. She could have just died.
“Hey Ralph?” She called out to the wrecker driver, “What about my stuff in the back of the car?” With a nod and a grunt from him, she reached into the back seat and grabbed her suitcases. She snatched the navigator from the dash and tucked it under her arm. One of Cooley, Oklahoma’s finest men in blue motioned her to take her belongings and wait for him in the parking lot.
There was something about a man in uniform that either made the girly bits tingle or put the fear of God in a woman. Riley’s girly bits weren’t tingling. She was dragging her things to the curb when Christine pulled up, parked her SUV and sprinted over. She was sporting running shorts, a hoodie and a fabulous tan. Her short, bobbed hair swung around her face.
“Honey, are you okay?” Christine called everybody “honey.” It probably had something to do with her growing up country and Christine was as country as biscuits and gravy. All hell yeah! And ‘hold my beer and watch this shit’. That kind of country.
“Yeah, a bit shaken up, but I think I’m all right.” Her whole world had been shattered in one day, but yeah, she was all right. She was still alive anyway.
A team of paramedics approached and gave Riley a cursory inspection. She assured them she didn’t have any life threatening injuries. They examined the cut on her forehead and checked her pupils. She tried to speak around the gloved hands mashing her face this way and that. She allowed them to clean her face and apply a dressing, but refused the offer of an ambulance. A police officer waited impatiently until the paramedics finished and Riley had signed a release form. His side radio erupted in a flow of static and a series of clicks.
“I need some ibuprofen,” Riley mumbled to no one in particular, her voice muffled and unattractive, and her lips were stiff. Christine gave her a big hug. And then things got worse.
An officer grabbed her by the upper arm. “Step this way please.”
Another officer followed, hand resting lightly on the butt of his firearm. Screw the ibuprofen, Riley thought, I’m going to need some serious therapy. And maybe a bail bondsman.
“Stand over here.” A large hand swept out to indicate an open area in the parking lot. Street lights illuminated the parking lot making Riley feel exposed. The feeling was reminiscent of dreams she’d had where she showed up to school in nothing but her underwear. Except worse, this was more of a completely naked, letting it all hang out type feeling. Humiliation crept up Riley’s face, leaving a red stain on her cheeks.
“I’m going to ask you to complete a couple little tests,” he continued as she listened in disbelief. Mortification swept over Riley as people paused to watch and Christine stood, arms folded over her chest, observing from the sidelines.
“I want you to listen to my instructions carefully, and then do the steps exactly as I instruct. Tilt your head back and close your eyes.”
“But I’m not drunk.”
“Tilt your head back and close your eyes.”
Protesting was fruitless, so, peeking through her lashes at the officer, Riley tilted her head back. At his scowl, she squeezed her eyes shut.
“With your arms straight out from the shoulder, I want you to take your right index finger and touch the tip of your nose.”
Riley touched the tip of her nose, again peeking out from under her lashes.
“Ma’am, you have to keep your eyes closed.”
She closed them tightly.
“Now, take your left index finger and touch the tip of your nose.” Riley repeated the procedure. Easy peasy. Even a drunk could do this.
“Open your eyes.” She opened her eyes and straightened her head.
“Now stand on your left foot and raise your right foot. Keep your hands down at your sides.” She watched as he demonstrated, perfectly executing a one legged stand.
Feeling like a flamingo, Riley did as instructed, trying not to flap her arms for balance.
“Okay. Standing on your right foot now, I want you to raise the left foot and don’t put it down until I tell you.” Again he demonstrated.
The right foot was firmly planted on the ground and Riley raised her left foot, only putting it down when she was told to do so.
The officer stepped close, a penlight in hand. “I want you to follow this light with your eyes.” The light raped her retinas, and it was all Riley could do not to blink. Carefully, she tracked the beam, breathing a sigh of relief when the officer turned it off.
“You’re not going to jail tonight.” His words fell on disbelieving ears.
Pinching the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger, Riley’s headache grew to mammoth proportions. She was surprised they hadn’t asked for a breathalyzer test.
The officer held a copy of the divorce papers she’d received that morning, obviously having lifted them from the passenger seat where Riley had tossed them as she’d left the house.
“You were served divorce papers today?”
Heat crept up the back of her neck and she stood mutely, eyes burning with tears. She was pissed that he had searched her car without her permission. Unexpected shame filled her, the divorce papers symbolic of her inability to be what her husband had wanted her to be. The officer handed the papers to Riley. She took them, scrubbed her face with her free hand and gave him a nod.
“Today is your birthday?” His eyes mirrored compassion as he muttered, “What a crappy gift.” His words were met with silence as Riley stood mutely hugging herself.
Her husband had promised her a “blow out” surprise for her birthday. Not for an instant had she expected the “surprise” to be divorce papers. That son of a bitch. That rotten son of a bitch! Riley stifled a sob and Christine bundled her in a hug. She encouraged Riley to sit on the curb. Riley let herself be directed, keeping her eyes focused on the ground beneath her feet.
“Sit down, honey.”
Pulling her knees up to her chest, Riley wrapped her arms tightly around them, burying her face in the bend of her elbow. A few minutes later, an officer was asking her to sign a ticket. She scribbled her John Hancock and passed the pad back to him. With one of Christine’s arms around her shoulders, she let herself be led to the SUV and tucked inside. Christine jumped in on the driver’s side and brought the vehicle to life. She pulled out of the parking lot and inched into traffic. Riley stared glumly out the passenger window.
She tried dialing her husband again and wasn’t surprised when his phone went straight to voice mail. “I totaled the car. You might want to contact the insurance company and file a claim.” Click. She placed a hand on her chest, forcing herself to calm down.
Christine slid a glance at her, one brow arching into a shrug before she gave her attention back to the road. She looked like she was considering saying something to Riley, but thought better of it and turned the radio on instead. A soft country song filled the cab.
The shock was wearing off and desperation was stepping in with heavily booted feet. Somehow, when you’re knocked senseless, you don’t recognize pain, until later. Then, when it comes knocking at your door, it enters like a ruthless bitch. Riley shrank down into the passenger seat, puffy red eyes staring aimlessly out the window watching the miles blur by. She felt battered and bruised, inside and out, her neck, and back were beginning to ache. She sucked in a deep breath and glanced over at Christine.
“Thank you for coming to get me.”
“No problem,” Christine waved dismissively. “I’m surprised you were downtown alone this time of night. I know how much you hate to drive in the dark.” It was an open invitation for Riley to spill her guts and she took it.
“About that…..I was leaving. Jack served me with divorce papers today.” She dropped that bomb in Christine’s lap and waited for the explosion. An atomic silence hung in the air between them before Christine shattered it with an expletive.
“He what? He didn’t! On your birthday? That rat bastard!” Rat bastard was Christine’s favorite expression of late, and she tossed it in the air the way most people dropped the “F” bomb. “Couldn’t he have waited for Christmas?” Her voice dripped with sarcasm.
While looking at Riley, the SUV drifted onto the shoulder of the road and Christine corrected it by slowly tugging the steering wheel to the left. “God Riley, I’m so sorry. I didn’t see that coming. What happened to you being his soul mate, the woman who turned his world around, the one woman he couldn’t live without?” She was referring to a speech he’d recently made to a gathering of friends.
“Huh…apparently he was thinking of someone else. It turns out I wasn’t any of those things and yeah, I didn’t see it coming either.” In fact, she’d been completely sucker punched and she couldn’t catch her breath.
They’d worked so hard to buy a beautiful home in the country, side by side deciding between them on landscaping, choosing the furnishings, and planning everything they needed to make that house their home. Riley thought they had their lives neatly mapped out. Of course, she hadn’t allowed for new country roads to explore, or hitchhikers along the way.
Pursing her lips, Christine focused on the road. “At least he’s living up to something,”
“What do you mean?” Riley asked.
“He’s living up to his name.” She paused for effect. “ Jack.”
Riley wrinkled her brow, confused.
“As in Jack Ass,” Christine clarified. Riley gave a sad snicker. “Where were you going, anyway?”
Her bottom lip started to tremble as Riley told Christine about her plan to go stay with Paige. Paige lived a mere three hours away in Emory, Oklahoma. While it wasn’t a great distance it would put some space between her and Jack and she wouldn’t have to worry about running into him, or worse, running over him, at every street corner.
“Well, you hadn’t made it very far before your death wish kicked in. I’m just going to take you back to your house. You can sleep on it there and decide what to do tomorrow,” Christine said.
“I guess I really hadn’t thought things through. This is all such a huge shock to me. What the hell am I going to do? I mean….How will I live? I have nothing…I don’t have any money…I don’t know what I’m going to do, where I’m going to live….fuck! Just…fuck!” Her breath hitched in her chest and she withdrew into silence again.
The rest of the drive was punctuated by soft country music rolling from the radio, which gave Riley unwanted time to think about her situation. She didn’t have a huge amount in savings but Paige would let her stay at her house for a while. At least until she was able to get back on her feet. As Christine circled into the familiar drive, Riley felt her insides constrict. Her mind still couldn’t wrap itself around the day’s events or the fact she was right back where she’d started. At least Jack wasn’t home, not that she’d expected he would be there.
Christine parked behind a black pickup, her headlights illuminating the license plate. When Riley bought the Camaro, the old black pickup had become semi-retired. Mostly it was used to haul hay to the horses, feed to the chickens, and to move stock tanks around the property. She’d put a few miles on that truck, trailering the horses to rodeos, parades and cross country rides.
“You sure you’re going to be okay?” Christine tapped her fingers on the steering wheel.
Riley gave her a quick thumbs up before they unloaded her suitcases.
“You could always come stay at my place tonight.” Christine’s place was another twenty miles up the road, tucked behind a lovely tree row down a long, dirt road. The view was breathtaking, and Riley was half tempted.
“I’ll be okay here,” she decided. “I want to get up early and head out.”
“Promise me you’ll take a hot bath and then go to bed. Seriously, you need some sleep sugar.” Christine brushed the hair back from Riley’s face like she was a small child. Riley gave her a big hug.
“Thanks for coming to my rescue, Christine. I owe you.”
“You bet you do! And I’ll be around to collect,” she threw Riley a saucy wink as she climbed into her SUV. “If you change your mind, call me,” she said out the open window, her eyes on the side view mirror as she backed down the drive.
In one day, Riley had been served divorce papers, totaled her car and received her first traffic ticket ever. It was a day to go down in her memory as the worst birthday ever. Eyeballing her old pickup, Riley knew she still had a way out and she was taking it tonight.

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Jeannie Palmer

Albuquerque, United States

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