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Authors: Kathryn Thomas

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BOOK: Scars
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CHAPTER NINETEEN

 

There was something to be said for wandering aimlessly through the country. Suddenly all those romantic feelings about the open road inspired by the likes of one Jack Kerouac made sense. One could truly find themselves on the open road. Holly Springford and Matthew Ramirez had not managed to succeed in that one mission just yet, but they liked to think they were on the right track.

 

Holly especially had never been away from Texas for longer than two weeks at a time in all of her twenty-one years of life, and she was thrilled to find out that the world was even bigger and much weirder than she had imagined.

 

She was even happier to be able to share that weirdness with someone who understood some of what she was going through. Matt may not have any idea what it felt like to be stuck with an arranged engagement hanging over your neck like Damocles’ sword, but he still seemed to get her. He understood Holly’s struggle for freedom and for discovering her true self out of her parents’ house. Holly, in turn, while not having any hope to grasp the full extent of Matt’s suffering, understood his need to come to terms with his demons and find out what kind of man he was underneath the pain.

 

As far as Holly was concerned, Matt was the best man she had ever met. He was kind and considerate. He was a serious kind of guy, but every now and then, he would surprise her with a gentle sense of humor. He could be honest to the point of brutality at times, but there were always some good intentions even behind his harshest words. He had a big heart. He was a great listener and an even better lover. In fact, he was so unbelievable under the sheets that Holly found herself having vividly erotic dreams about him more often than not. On those occasions when she would wake up wet and ready from whatever sexually charged images her subconscious had concocted, she would begin to kiss Matt’s sleep-warm body all over, her butterfly touches gently coaxing him out of his slumber and into her waiting arms. He never seemed to mind—in fact, he was always more than ready to satisfy her awakened libido.

 

Matt was one of a kind, and it really was no wonder that Holly had fallen for him as fast and as hard as she did. She had come to view him as her guardian angel. Despite her decision to hit the road and break the chains that kept her trapped within her family’s property in Lincoln, Texas, Holly had never been on her own. She didn’t want to imagine what might have happened to her if she hadn’t run into Matt. He may be fragile on an emotional level, but she was fragile on a practical one—and she was painfully aware of it. She had no clue how to survive on her own, and she knew she had been extremely lucky to find someone like Matt who had decided to take her under his wing.

 

Holly still had no idea what he saw in her. She was unworldly and inexperienced and had pretty much nothing to offer him as far as advice went. How did you help a twenty-five year old war veteran who had seen too much find himself again? Holly had no clue, although she tried her best to be there for him the same way that he was for her.

 

She was still thinking about how lucky she was when an ominous beeping brought her sharply back to the here and now. The cashier at the mini-market she had walked into to get some basic groceries for Matt and herself looked up at her with a contrite expression on her plump face.

 

“I’m sorry, Miss,” the girl said, making to hand back her debit card. “It was declined.”

 

“That’s impossible,” Holy said. “Can you please try it again?”

 

The girl shrugged and did as she was told. She swiped the debit card, and a few seconds later, the beeping sound could be heard again. The cashier stared pointedly at her.

 

Holly cringed inwardly and tried not to squirm.
Shit. Out of funds already?
To the girl, she offered her best casual smile. “That’s all right. Try this one instead,” she said, rummaging through her wallet for a different card, which she offered to the skeptical cashier.

 

This time she was able to pay for her purchases, but her stomach was still in knots when she finally walked out of the store with a bag of groceries in each hand. Could her checking account be tapped out already? She had only been on the road for a little less than two months… Thankfully she still had her savings account to rely upon, but she had the sinking feeling that wouldn’t last her for very long either. Truth be told, Holly had no idea how much she had on it in the first place. She had rushed out of her parents’ house so quickly and impulsively that it had never occurred to her to do a check-up on her financial status first. She decided that now would be a very good time for it.

 

On her way back to the motel they were staying at in this sleepy Iowa town, she decided to stop at the coffee shop she had already eyed earlier that morning. She ordered a vanilla latte and sat down at a table in a quiet corner, away from prying eyes but still central enough that she would see Matt if by any chance he also decided to make a coffee run. It probably wasn’t a good idea for her to splurge on an unnecessary cup of coffee, considering what had just happened to the store, but she couldn’t very well check her finances in front of Matt. She took out her smartphone (whose GPS tracking she had carefully deactivated) and logged into her bank’s app. She inputted all the codes that she thankfully had memorized and took a deep breath as she was taken to the main screen. She clicked on her checking account page and could barely contain a shocked gasp when she saw that her balance was of $4.95

 

Shit
, Holly thought, feeling the grips of panic beginning to squeeze her gut.
Shit, shit, shit.
She took yet another calming breath.
All right,
she told herself.
Calm down. No need to panic just yet. You still have your savings account.

 

When she got to that page within her account, however, it turned out that she barely had a quarter of her savings left. She blinked, dumbfounded.

 

Impossible,
she thought. She had not withdrawn one single dollar from her savings since she had left Texas. How could this happen?

 

Holly wrestled with her shock and her questions for a few moments, and then it hit her. Her father, of course! He must have taken must of her funds out of her savings, leaving her with enough to survive for a little while longer before she would be forced to go home.

 

Well, he can forget it!
She thought furiously.

 

Except that it wasn’t such a remote possibility after all. What choice would she have when her funds ran out?

 

The bell hanging over the door of the coffee shop rang shrilly, bringing her out of her gloomy reverie. She looked up just in time to see Matt walking towards her.

 

Fucking perfect.

 

Hastily, Holly closed the app and shoved the phone back into her purse.

 

“There you are,” Mat said. “I was beginning to think you’d run off on me.”

 

Holly forced out a smile. “Never,” she said, and she really meant it. She would never willingly leave Matt behind, but the dire situation of her finances might mean that she would have to do it soon.

 

Matt didn’t seem to notice anything might be wrong. He cupped her nape with one hand and bent down to kiss her—thoroughly. Matt always kissed her thoroughly, even when he was being sweet and gentle. There was a passion running in his veins that simply could not be put out. Holly knew she was the one that passion burned for, and she felt more honored with each passing day.

 

“Medium americano!” The barista behind the counter called out pointedly.

 

Matt didn’t even flinch. He pulled away slowly and gave Holly that sexy, cheeky wink of his that never failed to make her weak at the knees. She watched as he walked to the counter to pick up his order. It was impossible not to appreciate the way his jeans hugged his perfect, firm ass.

 

Holly flushed scarlet.
Come on, girl, keep it in your pants! You’ve got bigger things to worry about.

 

She really did, but there was something about Matt that made her forget all of her troubles almost instantly. His presence alone was enough for her to feel like she could take on the world. When Matt was by her side, she felt invincible, like there was nothing she couldn’t do and no obstacle she couldn’t overcome…

 

…except for her father
, she thought sadly. Her father had left her alone long enough and was now beginning to play the game. He was a huge, formidable obstacle that Holly wasn’t quite sure how to take on. Harry Springford had been playing games all his life, while Holly was just a greenhorn kid fresh out of her parents’ house.

 

She sighed heavily, staring down at her paper cup as though the vanilla latte could hold all the answers.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Holly winced. Of course she had no hope of fooling Matt for very long. The man had served five terms in some of the most dangerous war zones on the planet; he could read a situation at a glance, even when it came to Holly herself.

 

“Just a little tired,” she lied as casually as she could. “It’s been a long stretch from Baltimore to here.”

 

Matt nodded. “Fair enough.” He took a long sip of his coffee and sighed in contentment. He always seemed very satisfied to have access to a cup of java. “I was thinking we could reward ourselves after such a long journey.”

 

Holly watched him, intrigued. “What do you have in mind?”

 

“You know that nice French restaurant we saw on Main Street?”

 

Holly cringed inwardly. “Yes…?”

 

“I thought we could have a nice dinner there tonight. Just a little treat for ourselves.”

 

Holly was silent for a few moments, her mind working furiously to find a good excuse to say no. Matt liked to indulge from time to time, and usually Holly was more than happy to humor him…but that was before she had found out about the precarious situation of her finances.

 

“I don’t really like French cuisine,” she finally blurted out.

 

Matt looked at her, surprised. “Really? I thought someone who came from such a fancy background would be all about French cuisine.”

 

Holly glared at him, her gray eyes flashing. “Well, I don’t. We’re not all walking clichés and stereotypes, you know.”

 

“Sorry,” Matt said immediately. “I didn’t mean anything by it.” He looked stunned by her outburst, and so was Holly.

 

“No,
I
’m sorry,” she said, dragging a hand nervously through her long blond hair. “I’m just a little tired, that’s all. I was kind of hoping we could stay in tonight.”

 

“Of course,” Matt agreed instantly.

 

It made Holly feel bad, the way Matt was always ready to do whatever it took to make her feel better. He never asked for anything…except for right now, when he had asked for a nice dinner at a nice restaurant. And Holly had said no. For a dangerous moment, she was tempted to change her mind and give in, but she stopped herself just in time to prevent the words from falling out of her mouth. Her priority was to stay with Matt for as long as possible, and she knew that her time would have to be cut even shorter if she didn’t watch herself and her wallet from now on.

 

“I’m sorry,” she said again. “Maybe we could go tomorrow.”

 

Matt smiled. “Sounds like a plan.”

 

Way to go, Holly,
she reprimanded herself.
Now you’re stuck with a dinner date you can’t afford. What is wrong with you?

 

“You really do look tired,” Matt said after a moment. “It might be a good idea to go back to the motel and just rest the day away.”

 

Holly smiled in relief. They rarely got to do that; usually, the urge to explore was too much. They both felt guilty to remain idle during this search of theirs. Today, however, Holly felt like that was exactly what she needed—to just close her eyes and not think about anything.

 

“I’d like that,” she said.

 

They finished their beverages and left the coffee shop hand in hand. After nearly two months on the road traveling side by side, Holly was still surprised at how natural it felt for her fingers to be intertwined with Matt’s. It felt as though that gesture was second nature. She smiled to herself as she remembered the first time they had held hands, on the first bus they had boarded together that one fateful day. It had felt natural back then, too. It was simple to them to reach for each other, to protect and support each other. It felt natural, logical. Easy. Being with Matt was the easiest thing Holly had ever done. Leaving him, however…

BOOK: Scars
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ads

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