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A Change of Plans

By´╝ÜRobyn Thomas

Chapter One

Bright lights. Big city. Anonymity and a chance to be recklessly, drunkenly single.

The mantra had fueled seven hours of nonstop driving, but the lights of Vegas made the words jumble in Sara’s throat. Pawning her big ass diamond ring and living large on the proceeds had seemed like a brave move this morning. Now? Not so much.

Sara coasted to a halt on the shoulder of the road and scowled at the indent her engagement ring had made on her finger. Considering the size of the rock and the years she’d worn it, she should be glad the damage was so slight. She adjusted the angle of the rearview mirror and stared at her reflection, surprised to see the same old Sara returning her gaze. Perhaps she’d been wrong to come here. Maybe…

“Don’t even think about driving back to Pity City, Utah,” she told the woman in the mirror. “Leaving was the hard part. Getting rid of the damn ring and booking a room ought to be easy.” Her eyes narrowed on the long brown braid trailing over her shoulder. “If you need some incentive, get a haircut.”

The idea held definite appeal. Her waist length locks were her best feature, but they were what her ex had loved most about her. He’d actually told her that midway through dumping her, each new compliment like a knife to her heart. “You’re sweet and loyal and you have pretty hair that never changes,” he’d said in a gentle tone. “But honestly, Sara, I could describe the poodle next door the same way. You can’t blame me for not wanting to marry a woman with no sense of style or adventure.”

Actually, I can. I can also get a radical haircut anytime I want. With a decisive nod, she flipped on the turn signal and joined the traffic headed for Vegas.

When the six o’clock news came on the radio she began to panic. She was pretty sure you could drink, dance, and gamble all night in Vegas, but what hours did pawnshops keep? Nine to five? She hoped not. A burger might be affordable with what was in her wallet; a bed for the night wasn’t.

She blinked at the sight of a strange white building adorned in striped poles with huge gold, red, green, and purple ribbons cascading down the sides. The Masquerade Hotel was disgustingly cheerful and kitsch. Staying there was bound to cheer her up.

She drove along the Strip, scanning the neon for the keywords “buy” and “sell.”

“Please be open. Please. Please. Please.”

Avoiding pedestrians and looking for a pawnshop was proving difficult, so she found a parking garage then set out on foot. An hour later, dehydrated and discouraged, she glimpsed hope in the distance and dragged herself toward it.

The pawnshop’s shabby exterior was almost enough to make her forget the whole idea. She stood on the sidewalk, twirling her braid like a skipping rope, debating whether to go inside and accept whatever pittance they offered, or sleep in her car and find a more reputable looking place tomorrow.

“You can’t afford a decent meal,” she muttered under her breath. “Take what you can get, and make it last until you get the wedding insurance payout.”

She shoved the door open and stepped inside, her resolve wavering as she realized that other patrons were browsing in the shop. It would be mortifying to have an audience while she bargained for funds. Everyone within earshot would know about her failed engagement. They might even think she’d called it off and kept the ring.

“Can I help you, miss?”

“Uh?” No. Maybe? I’m not sure. When the bell on the door rang again, signifying more customers, Sara plucked the ring out of her wallet and thrust it at the wizened old woman behind the counter. “I want to pawn this.”

The woman bounced the ring lightly on her palm. “It’s heavy.” She gave Sara’s peasant blouse and baggy harem pants a disapproving once over. “Did you steal it?”

“Of course, but it was too easy. No thrill, you know? It has quite a distinctive setting, so I flashed it around, hoping someone would recognize it. No one did.” She flipped her braid back over her shoulder and raised her chin. “Now I’ve chosen a public place to try to convince a cynic to buy it.”

A snort of laughter from one of the other patrons made her flush and stammer out an apology. “Sorry, that was rude of me.” She dug in her bag for proof of purchase, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, wishing she could snatch the ring back and leave. “It’s mine. I have a receipt from Tiffany and Co.”

The shop owner tilted the ring to study the hallmark then whistled softly through the gap in her front teeth. “Tiffany.” She seemed more interested now, but something felt a little off. Maybe it was too upmarket for this particular store?