Chapter 2

Garrison recognized Samantha as soon as she touched his arm. When his friend’s wife tried to set him up via email, Garrison had politely declined, but he’d done his research. He’d looked through all the photos from the wedding he missed, seen the pictures of Samantha, and browsed her social media profiles.

A lot could be learned from social media.

Samantha Perkins, with her bright green eyes and red hair, made him regret his decision, but only briefly. Romantic interests were a safety risk. He’d learned that the hard way.

While Samantha cradled the phone to her ear and made excited promises about how she would be at the party, he tried to decide what to do.

Not eavesdropping became harder when Samantha said, “Garrison? You mean the super-rich guy who responded to your long email about how he and I should meet with a no thank you. His answer arrived before I even had a chance to say no.”

Her cheeks reddened, and he guessed it wasn’t from embarrassment.

She moved her purse to her shoulder and used her free hand to aid in conversation. “I don’t care why you think he said no. And I don’t care that he didn’t realize it was a group email. … Do you have any idea how many people are in this airport?”

Her tone sharpened, and he kept his eyes glued to the pavement.

“And two more—no, three more things: I don’t know what he looks like; he’s probably in his fancy private plane looking down on the poor peons who can’t get to where they’re headed; and I’d skip going to Texas if it meant riding with him. Gotta go. Bye.” She threw her phone into her purse.

He pointed at the only car in the lot. “That’s ours.”

“Thank you, Captain Obvious.” She sighed. “Sorry. You didn’t deserve that.”

There were two things Garrison wasn’t good at. Actually, there were many things, but two often got him into trouble. He couldn’t walk away from a woman in need of help, and he was a horrible liar.

This road trip had the potential to go very wrong.

He loaded the luggage into the trunk while she climbed into the passenger seat. He’d always joked that he should avoid the flight and take a car instead, but this road trip was off to a very bad start.

Maybe she wouldn’t ask his name. It was only a fifteen-hour trip to San Antonio.

His phone buzzed. The name on the screen twisted his insides. What did Lucy want? He hadn’t heard from her in years. And the last time they’d talked, she’d made it abundantly clear she never wanted to see his face again.

He couldn’t fathom why she’d be calling. But whatever it was, he’d deal with it later. Much later. He dismissed the call and shot off a quick text to Drake: Driving. Will keep you posted.

Getting to spend time with his best friend was part of the reason Garrison was going to Texas, so he shot off a text to Antoine: Driving. Still hoping to make it to the party. I hope weather hasn’t ruined your travel plans.

Garrison slid behind the wheel and started the engine. “And off we go.”

“Wait. I should take your picture. You know, in case …” Samantha fiddled with her phone.

“If you are worried that I might leave you dead on the side of the road, a picture of me won’t do anyone much good. What if I shaved for the first time just this afternoon? What if I’m wearing colored contacts? Appearances can be deceiving. If you want to have a record of who you’re riding with, take a picture of the license plate.”

“We’ll ignore how creepy that all sounded. And this is a rental.”

“And whose name do you think is all over the paperwork?”

She jumped out and snapped a photo of the plate. Shivering, she dropped back into the seat. Then she snapped a picture of him. “I’ll send these to my—” Her brow furrowed.

“If you don’t want to scare your boyfriend, mom, or friend with those pictures, email them to yourself.”

“My boyfriend, right.” She turned to face him. “Are you a serial killer or a cop?”

“Neither. Buckle up.”

He’d learned one little tidbit: Sam was still unattached. That hadn’t changed since he’d declined the blind date. Not that it mattered.

Garrison eased into traffic, hoping that outside the city, the roads weren’t as bad. Hope withered as he hit the highway. Low visibility and treacherous road conditions kept him at a slow speed. For miles, he never exceeded forty-five miles per hour.

After nearly a half hour of silence, Samantha shifted in her seat. “How long does this trip normally take?”

“I’ve never driven it before, but the map said fifteen hours. That was before the blizzard started. I’m afraid to see what it says now.”

She yanked out her phone and tapped at the screen. “Twenty-four hours. Even with a break to sleep, we can make it there before Christmas morning.”

“I’ll do my best.” He kept his eyes glued to the road, squinting against the glare of the snow.

“What takes you to Texas?” She turned to face him.

“This car, hopefully.”

“This probably isn’t the greatest time to make jokes like that. I’m assuming that was an attempt at humor.”

So much for making her laugh.

Garrison needed to find an answer that didn’t spark an argument. In this weather, that would be dangerous. “I have friends there.” He knew why she was headed there, but it would seem impolite if he didn’t bounce the question back at her. “You?”

“My family is there—and my best friend. I grew up there.”

“I hear it’s a nice place. Is all your family still there?”

“Family is really just my mom, brother, and sister. My brother is spending the holiday with friends. In Wyoming apparently.”

He imagined her family alone and waiting for her. “So that’s why it’s so important to get back for Christmas.”

“Not exactly. I didn’t tell my mom I was coming.” She shrugged. “I can’t stand my little sister’s boyfriend—excuse me, fiancé—but they’ve been engaged for three years, and there has been no mention of a wedding date. And now my mom is seeing someone again. If he’s anything like the other guys she’s dated, I won’t like him either.”

“And your dad?” The words slipped out before Garrison thought better of it, so he quickly added, “If you don’t mind me asking.”

“He was wonderful. He died when I was young. My siblings were too young when it happened. They don’t really remember him, and my mom never talks about him.” She shifted in her seat. “I miss him.”

Garrison idealized family because he didn’t have one. His friends’ families made him feel like he’d missed out. For the first time, hearing Samantha talk about her family, he felt like he’d dodged a bullet. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” She crossed her arms. “My friend and her husband have a huge house just outside of town. It’s amazing. She’s invited me to stay there.”

Garrison needed to think about what he’d say when they arrived at the house and both of them unloaded their luggage. It might take him the full twenty-four hours to figure out how to explain that coincidence.

Silence settled in the car, and minutes trudged by as the weather worsened.

After twenty minutes, Samantha pulled her hair into a ponytail. “I so don’t get road trips. How do people think this is fun? We’re trapped in a bubble that’s barely moving through a sea of white. There’s nothing to look at, nothing to do.”

“Now I’m hurt.” Garrison chuckled.

“Why?”

“You could look at me.” He flashed his best smile. “But I don’t think this is a good representation of a road trip. We probably shouldn’t even be driving. In fact, when the sun sets, we’ll need to find a place to stay for the night.”

“Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.”

“I’m sorry.”

“This trip is going to feel really long if you keep saying that.” She turned away and stared out the window.

A long time went by without her saying a word. Had she fallen asleep? He braved a quick glance at her.

“What about your family?” Head leaning on the window, she continued to stare out into the blur of white.

Garrison hated that question. “Don’t have one.”

She turned, and he could feel her studying him.

“I’d say I’m sorry, but after grumbling about my family and complaining about your apologies, it might come off sounding insincere. And it’s probably the wrong time to make a crack about how you’re lucky.”

He chuckled. “Hearing the way you talk about family makes me feel that way.”

“I’m only partially joking.” She tugged the seatbelt away from her neck. “I don’t even know your name. Although I suppose it’s a little late to be asking that question. If you’re unscrupulous, you’d only lie to me anyway.”

Wording the question that way heaped extra guilt on Garrison for what he was about to say. “Call me Harry.”

She reached across and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you, Harry. Call me Sam. Only telemarketers call me Samantha.”

***

They hadn’t even hit the New Mexico state line, but the sun was sinking below the horizon.

Garrison pulled into a hotel parking lot. “We’ll get rooms first, then I’ll get the bags.” He hadn’t quite sorted out how he’d book a room without her learning his name.

It was easier to pretend he was Harry if he convinced himself he was protecting her. Thinking about how mad she’d be when she found out is what made it hard.

“I’m going to make a quick stop in the ladies’ room first.” She hurried through the double doors.

Garrison took advantage of his opportunity. He approached the counter and faced another dilemma. Should he get her a room also?

The clerk walked out of the back. “How can I help you?”

“We’re going to need two rooms. I’m getting one, and my friend is getting one when she comes back.”

With a scrunched-up nose, the clerk typed away on the keyboard. “The best I can do is a two-room suite. That’s all I have left.”

“I’ll take it.” Garrison paid for the room and waited until Sam came out of the ladies’ room. “Hey, they only had one room left, so I booked it. I’ll grab the bags, but then I’m going to run across the street to get myself a room.”

“You paid for my room?”

“I paid for a room. It was the last one they had.” He waved as he ran outside. A minute later, carrying her luggage, he led the way to the elevator. “Second floor. All the way at the end of the hall is what the clerk said.”

“I’m paying you back for the room. Is Venmo okay?”

Using any online type of service required that he give her his actual name. “We’ll worry about it later.”

He dropped her bag just inside the room and turned to leave.

“I guess I’ll see you in the morning.” Sam crossed her arms. “Are you an early riser?”

“I’ll be over first thing.” He didn’t offer to exchange numbers. That would give away his secret.

“Sleep tight.”

“Sweet dreams.” He pulled the door closed, chiding himself.

Sweet dreams?

That sounded like flirting. She was definitely someone he shouldn’t be flirting with—not that he flirted with anyone. But with her, it came naturally. Her smile was like a magnet, and the twinkle in her green eyes invited sparring.

He checked his phone as he made his way across the road. Ignoring messages from Lucy wouldn’t make them go away, but deleting them would. He decided that he should at least read them first.

Inside the other hotel, while waiting for a clerk to emerge from the back, he read through the messages.

So, you aren’t taking my calls now? Ouch. I need to talk to you.

It isn’t like you to ignore me. Please call.

Garrison, call me soon. I really need to talk to you.

He considered calling her, but the clerk stepped out of the back. Lucy could wait a bit longer.


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