“Is that near Denver, or is it Colorado Springs?”
“Both. It’s between the two. And we’re at 7,000 feet. But you’re right, I must’ve been more thirsty than I thought. Listen, um, I’m going to take the shuttle back to the ski area. It was really nice to see you again, Ben. And thanks for the beer.”
Rather than interrupting Renie, who appeared to be having a great time, Liv made her way through the crowded bar, and out the front door, without looking back at him.
Liv half-walked, half-ran down Elk Avenue to where the ski area shuttle was parked, and jumped on.
“You’re my only passenger this run, ma’am. Where are you headed?”
“The Grand, thanks.”
Liv sat in the first row of the bus and buried her face in her hands. God, she’d just left her daughter in a bar. Alone. What was she thinking?
Her phone vibrated in her pocket. She pulled it out, and Renie’s name lit up the screen.
“Where did you go?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t feel well. It’s the altitude.” The driver turned around and glared at her. Maybe he thought she’d get sick in his shuttle bus. She waved her hand and mouthed, “I’m okay,” which seemed to pacify him.
“What? I can’t hear you. Where did you say you are?”
“I’m on the shuttle,” she shouted into the phone.
“I’m not feeling well.” The shuttle driver was going to pull over and kick her off the bus.
“Okay, I’ll leave now.”
“No, stay. You looked like you were enjoying yourself.”
“I’ll see you at the hotel in a few minutes, Mom.”
Liv disconnected the call. There was no point in continuing to yell into the phone. And now that she’d ruined Renie’s good time, she could rest easy that she was on her way back to the hotel, and at least safe. She tilted her head back and closed her eyes. That was the second time she’d raced away from Ben Rice. He not only made her heart race, there was something else about him that made her want to run fast and far in in the opposite direction.
It wasn’t as though all men had this effect on her. Or that she hadn’t dated. She’d dated plenty the last twenty years. Or maybe the last ten. And, okay, not plenty, but some. Although not much at all really. Paige tried to fix her up a couple times, but no one she met interested her. Not like Ben Rice did.
“Ma’am, we’re here,” the shuttle driver said, startling her.
“Oh. Sorry. Thank you.” She pressed a five dollar bill in the receptacle, hoping he’d consider that enough of a tip.
“Thank you, ma’am, and I hope you feel better,” he said as the doors closed behind her.
“What’s going on with you?” Renie asked when she opened the door and walked into their hotel room.
“I drank my beer too fast. That and the crowd in the bar—I was very overwhelmed. I’m sorry I ruined our night out together.”
“It’s okay. I was worried about you. If we stayed longer, we wouldn’t have wanted to ski tomorrow. Here.” Renie handed her mother a folded piece of paper.
“Ben’s number. He wants you to call and let him know you’re okay.”
Liv crumpled the paper in her pocket. Could she have handled leaving the bar in a worse way? How humiliating. Ben probably thought she was crazy.
Ben recognized the petite ash blonde as soon as he saw her sitting at the bar. Liv was her name. The first time he saw her, after they played Red Rocks, he couldn’t keep his eyes off her. She was sitting in one of the first few rows, and caught his eye.
When she smiled and her bright blue eyes met his, he couldn’t look away. He sang the rest of the song right to her, and the one after that, too.
After their set was over, he and the band took the underground tunnel that ran from the back of the Red Rocks stage, up to the soundboard area. They sat in the roped off section, and Ben spent the next two hours watching her.
It was obvious she loved music—and she felt it. Not everyone did. She danced, she laughed, she smiled, she lived. That was why he remembered her name when he introduced himself at the end of the show.
“I’m Liv,” she’d said, and he was ready to. He’d endured too many struggles in the last few years. He’d worked hard to keep the music and his band going, and it was about to pay off. This was the year they would take it to the next level. No more local clubs. Instead, they’d tour nationally, he felt it. They’d recorded a new album, better than any other they’d released.
When he saw her again tonight, he knew fate brought her to him for a second time. It reminded him not to lose focus, keep his eye on the prize, to keep living. One day at a time.
Besides how pretty she was, which she seemed unaware of, something about her made him yearn to know her better. He made her skittish, though. Maybe she was feeling the same magnetic pull he was, and that’s why she ran. The draw was so strong, if he didn’t know he was ready for it, it would’ve scared the hell out of him too.
Liv picked up her tablet and hit repeat on the song playing through the wireless speakers. She intended to set the tablet back down on the ledge in the barn, but hesitated, and scrolled through a social media feed. It took her a minute to zip through the hundred new posts, but there was nothing from the only person she hoped for. Why would there be? It was ten in the morning.
Liv had checked at least four times in as many hours. What rock star was on social media between midnight and noon? Logical, but it didn’t stop her from looking. Besides, Ben would never define himself that way.
A car pulled up outside the barn as she tapped the screen to check another social media site, also for the fourth time that morning.
“Aren’t you getting tired of listening to this? It’s time for a new playlist.” Paige Cochran planted her heels in the dirt to shift the heavy barn door open. As usual, Paige dressed more as though she was going to a meeting at the investment firm she consulted for, not to visit her best friend’s barn.
“I love this song,” Liv muttered as she flicked through the playlists for something else to listen to.
“Here’s the thing—”
“Don’t say it. I can listen to whatever the hell I want to in my own damn barn.”
“A little testy this morning?”
“I’m sick of people complaining about my music,” Liv growled.
“People? What people? Who have you seen in the last few days other than Pooh and Micah?”
Pooh was a fourteen-year-old sweetheart of a mare. The Quarter Horse belonged to Renie, who stood firm on the name Pooh when they’d gotten the horse when she was ten. “You don’t know Winnie the Pooh is a boy. He might be a girl.”
“You’re right,” Liv had answered, rolling her eyes. “What was I thinking?”
The other horse, Micah, was Liv’s baby. The four-year-old Appaloosa gelding showed promise as a barrel racer. Liv didn’t want to part with him for proper training, and she couldn’t train him herself. Those days were over for her. They had been, since before Renie was born.
“You didn’t answer me. What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I’m getting tired of my own company. I’m bored, and sick of the cold weather. I’m ready for spring.”
“I sent a text asking if you wanted to meet for breakfast, but you didn’t answer.”
“Sorry, I haven’t checked my phone. I’m done out here. We can still go into town.”
“Let’s stay here. I know you have coffee and something fresh out of the oven that I shouldn’t eat, but will anyway.”
Liv made cinnamon scones that morning before she came out to the barn. With Renie away at college, she added most of what she baked to her already overloaded freezer.
“Aren’t you overdressed to have coffee with me?”
“I intended to talk you into going to Denver with me later this morning. Although I see you’re in no mood for it.”
Paige managed to get herself inv
olved in at least one new business venture a month. For someone semi-retired, she still worked fifty hours a week. If there was a deal to be made between Denver and Colorado Springs, Paige was usually on the inside edge of making it happen. She was very different from the room mom Liv met fifteen years ago when their daughters started kindergarten together.
“How about a different proposition? I’m going to Vegas next week. Mark said he’d horse-sit so you can come with me.”
When Liv met them, Paige’s husband, Mark, was traveling twenty-five days each month as the lead singer of a band. Diagnosed with cancer a year later, Mark retired and never looked back. Instead, he focused on their three children. Their youngest, Blythe, had remained Renie’s best friend since their kindie days.
Mark still wrote music, but spent most of his time picking up odd jobs, painting houses, or other handyman projects, often for friends. He never hesitated to help Liv, sometimes without her realizing she needed it.
Mark would come over to ride, but soon he’d be mending a fence, or heading into her house to fix something she hadn’t noticed was broken. Liv didn’t know what she’d do without the Cochrans. They were her lifeline now, with Renie at college.
“A trip to Vegas would help with the grouchy-bored thing, and get you away from the cold weather. Come with me. Sit in the sun. Get ungrouchy.”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s stopping you?”
Liv turned on her heel, grabbed her tablet, and headed in the direction of the house.
“I’ve come with a bribe.”
“What’s that, Paige?”
“CB Rice is playing at the House of Blues next Wednesday.”
“Yes, I know.”
“And you don’t want to go?”
“That’s why I don’t want to go. I’m almost forty, too old for this stalker-groupie life I’ve been living the last few months.”
It was bad enough that the universe threw the two of them together every time she turned around—but to put herself in his line of fire on purpose? He would start to think their random encounters weren’t serendipitous at all, but rather her stalking him.
Six days later, Liv boarded an early morning flight, headed for a few days in Las Vegas, and another not-so-chance meeting with CB Rice.
They weren’t in Las Vegas often, but when they were, Liv and Paige stayed at the Delaney, part of the Mandalay Bay complex. Situated near the end of the Strip, it catered to a different clientele than the other resorts. The lights weren’t as bright, the casino not as loud, the crowd more subdued. That suited Liv and Paige fine. They didn’t gamble. Paige had meetings scheduled, but otherwise they’d be camped out by one of the eleven-acre resort’s pools.
“Maybe we’ll bump into him in the elevator. Or he’ll be at the bar tonight.”
“Would you stop it? You’re making me nervous. Didn’t you say we’re here to relax? Are you going to let me?”
“I see your eyes scanning the crowds.”
“He’s not here yet.”
“How do you know?”
“Social media. He has a show tonight—at home.”
Liv looked away. “Yep, I’m a stalker,” she mumbled.
“We’ll get the tickets on our way to the pool,” Paige suggested. She put on sunglasses and grabbed her bag.
“No, let’s wait.”
“Why? It’ll be one less thing to worry about.”
“I haven’t decided whether I want to go or not.”
“Isn’t that why we’re here?”
“No. It’s not. You’re here for business meetings, and I tagged along because I would’ve been bored at home, and I wanted to relax and sit in the sun.”
“I’m serious, Paige. I don’t know whether I want to go tomorrow night.”
“You listen to his music almost non-stop, and he’s playing a show while we’re here. You’re not making sense.”
“I’m not kidding when I say he’ll think I’m stalking him. I’ve ‘run’ into him twice in less than a year. This will be the third.”
“But you’re in Las Vegas, staying at the same complex as the House of Blues. Why wouldn’t you get tickets? It makes more sense that you would go.”
“I don’t know. If I decide I want to, we can still get tickets tomorrow.”
“Do you want a Bloody Mary?” Paige tapped Liv’s shoulder an hour later.
“What? Oh, yes, a Bloody Mary, please.”
“Were you sleeping?”
“I must’ve drifted off. Sorry.”
“You’re here to relax, as you keep reminding me, so quit apologizing. I’ll be right back. And put on sunscreen before you fall asleep again.”
Liv hadn’t been asleep. She was thinking about Ben Rice, again. She pulled out her phone and checked the social media feeds. Nothing. He wasn’t here yet, he had a show tonight. Wait, was it tonight, or last night? She checked again. Shit. It had been last night. Now she’d never relax. He may be there already.
Ben Rice started skiing and playing guitar before he learned to read, as his dad and grandfather had before him. In high school he formed a band that he named CB Rice, in honor of his hometown, Crested Butte, and his family. It confused people. They’d call him CB. That was his band, he was Ben. It didn’t take long before he got used to it. If someone called him CB, they were a stranger. If they called him Ben, they were a friend.
All he’d ever wanted to do was make music. Twenty-five years, hundreds of shows, and a half dozen albums later, he was still doing it. He loved it more than anything.
Performing, hearing the crowds, watching them get into his music—there wasn’t much in life that did it for him the way being on stage did. He’d perform until the day he died. Yeah, that was attention you got addicted to. It was the only addiction he couldn’t live without.
He toured as often as possible with his band. They averaged a hundred shows a year, most in Colorado, but he expected that to change. The band was solid. They’d even played Red Rocks last summer, which had been the fulfillment of a dream.
Ben considered himself an average guy, even if his grandfather had been one of the original developers of the Crested Butte ski area. He’d worked for his family all his life. He didn’t mind hard work. When he wasn’t touring, he spent a lot of time at The Goat, his family’s bar and restaurant.
Ben learned the importance of giving back to the community from his parents and grandparents. He and the band played at countless fundraisers for medical research, and for patients faced with life-threatening illnesses, like cancer, who didn’t have insurance.
When he was thirty-seven he had been diagnosed with cancer himself. That same year, he and his wife divorced. He fought the disease and an ugly custody battle at the same time. He’d gone through the standard treatments, and to this day, remained cancer-free. When he was home, his two boys lived with him half the time.
A little over a year ago, his family and bandmates staged an intervention. He spent a couple of weeks in rehab and quit drinking. Battling alcoholism was the hardest thing he’d ever done—harder than fighting cancer, harder than watching his marriage and family fall apart. But, he had a year of sobriety under his belt, and he’d never felt better.
It was harder to fight the urge to drink when he was on the road with the band and they’d arrive at a gig to find a case of beer and a bottle of bourbon waiting for them. He didn’t struggle with it as much at home, especially when he was at his family’s bar. He’d get distracted by conversation, or if he was tempted to drink, he’d pick up his guitar, and start to play. Once the crowd got into the music, the adrenaline rush took the cravings away.
Singing brought him back. It reminded him not to give up, or forget how far he’d come. Performing reminded him not to give up on his kids, himself, or his life. Giving up on his marriage was hard, but he and his ex were better off apart. Ben believed, deep in his soul, there was someone out there for him, someone he could spend
the rest of his life with. Fate would put her in his path—all he had to do was keep his eyes open and recognize when it happened.
The band was in Las Vegas to play an event. It had started out as a fundraiser for a hometown girl who’d relocated from Crested Butte to Vegas. They’d gone to high school together, and she was a bartender at the House of Blues. When the manager found out how hard she struggled to make ends meet, he called Ben. Sandy Smith had lost her fight with the disease, but the event continued annually. In its fourth year, it raised funds for cancer research. The owners of the hotel complex kicked in a hefty amount, as did the House of Blues. Last year they’d raised over two million dollars. This year they were hoping to double it.
It would be an all-day event, and tickets were one hundred dollars each. CB Rice would go on right before the main headliner, who Ben asked to play when they opened for them at Red Rocks. The lead singer’s wife had battled cancer herself, so the band was quick to agree to participate.
He didn’t have much to do today, but he flew in early anyway. It wasn’t his event, or even his fundraiser anymore, yet he still took responsibility for it and wanted to be here to help if needed. It meant an extra day away from home, but it was for a good cause.
He pulled out his cell and dialed his son Jake’s number as he walked through the casino in the direction of the pool.
“Hey, man, how’s it going?”
Typical tween on the phone. He should have texted him. “I’m good. I’m headed out to the pool. This place is a giant water park. I should have brought you and your brother with me. Next year. Remind me, okay?”
“Okay, Dad. Sounds good. Wanna talk to Luke?”
“Yeah I do, but, Jake, wait. I miss you, and I love you.”
“I love you too, Dad. I’ll see you in a couple days.”
Fall for Me (Cowboys of Crested Butte Book 1) Page 2