I wait my turn at the single blinking red light in Gold Haven, Kentucky, and turn left before pulling into the gas station. This is the first place I ever pumped gas in my life. It was a lot cheaper then too. My Pontiac isn’t a whole lot nicer than the 1988 Fiero I drove back then, but in this town, it doesn’t stand out, and that’s exactly what I need. I tug on a trucker hat and slip on sunglasses before opening the door and climbing out.
The old pumps I expected, the ones where the numbers click over as you fill up, have been replaced with newer models.
Even better. It lowers the chance that someone will recognize me if I can avoid all human interaction.
I swipe my card, get my gas, and twist the gas cap back on. When I get back to Nashville, I’m finally going to look into replacing this car. I rarely splurge on anything.
Even though I won a “million-dollar recording contract” on Country Dreams, the amount I saw was laughable. Albums? They’re expensive as hell to produce. And as far as the pay I get per show when I’m on tour, after all the expenses are covered? It’s also nothing to write home about. But as my share of the ticket sales goes up and I build my fan base, that will eventually change.
But for now, I’m saving every penny I can and getting by on the bare minimum because I don’t know when the bottom will fall out.
Not much has changed about that since I married billionaire Creighton Karas. Thoughts of my husband spiral through me, followed by equal jabs of guilt and regret. I can’t believe I did it again. This morning I just up and walked out.
I don’t know what I was thinking beyond . . . if I didn’t get out of that penthouse at that very moment, I felt like something inside me was going to break. I had to get out of that city. I know I’m a coward and an idiot. No one has to tell me that because I’ve already called myself every name in the book.
I tear the receipt off and tuck it into my coat pocket before slipping back into my car. I turn the key.
I try it again.
Shit. I sigh, releasing a huge breath, and drop my forehead against the steering wheel.
This is karma, I’m pretty sure. This is what happens to women who leave their husbands—not once, but twice—without an actual explanation.
Crap. As much as I want to indulge in a pity party, now isn’t really the time.
I gather myself, haul my purse over my shoulder, and push the car door open again. This place used to provide full-service fill-ups, but they discontinued those about the time I was learning to drive—not that I would have paid the extra two cents a gallon for the luxury.
I check my trucker hat to make certain it’s secure before crossing the small lot and turning the corner to the side of the building where the garage bays are. Both overhead doors are closed, probably due to the howling wind, so I pull open the cloudy glass door and step inside the waiting room.
Creedence Clearwater Revival is jamming so loud you’d think you were standing right next to the stage at Woodstock. The cheap wood-paneled walls I remember from before have been replaced with metal diamond plating and spiffy blue paint that matches the outside of the building. The gas station has definitely gotten a makeover since the last time I was in town.
I ding the bell, but it can’t be heard over the ringing guitar riffs.
I don’t listen to enough CCR. But the fact that I could use a couple more upbeat songs takes second place to the fact that I need to have a vehicle that works, and there are no employees in sight here. I decide to take matters into my own hands and sneak behind the counter to the doorway that leads to the garage.
Inside, the smell of oil, exhaust, and rubber fills the air. Not unpleasant, but very real. It’s darker in here, so I pull my sunglasses off and balance them on the bill of my hat.
My attention snags on the man bent over, turning a wrench under the hood of a classic Mustang. He’s wearing coveralls tied around his waist, and a black thermal shirt stretches across his broad shoulders.
“Hey. Can I ask you a question?” My voice loses the battle against the volume of the music. “Hey!” I yell. Still no response.
I scan the room, locate the stereo, and march over to it. I slap my hand on the power button, and the music cuts off mid-lyric.
The man jerks up and turns to look toward the now silent stereo. “What the hell?” he barks, his eyes catching on me and staring intently. “Who the hell do you—”
“Sorry. You couldn’t hear me over the music.” I turn to face him fully, taking a few steps closer. I open my mouth to apologize again, but recognition sets in. “Logan Brantley?”
His narrowed eyes widen. “Holly Wickman. Haven’t seen you in a coon’s age.” He pulls a rag from the back pocket of the coveralls and wipes his hands. He looks like he’s about to hold one out for me to shake, but looks down at it and frowns.
“Hold on a sec.” He turns on his heel and strides to the sink in the corner.
The scent of citrus cuts through the oil and exhaust, and I realize he’s scrubbing his hands clean before he offers me one. I’m not sure whether I’m embarrassed or flattered. After all, Logan Brantley was the premier bad boy of all bad boys, and I’ve crushed on him since I was old enough to crush on boys.
He never looked my way, though.
Older than me by a few years, he cruised around in his vintage Camaro like a badass, always with a different girl in the front seat. I was beneath his notice, and then he lit out of town as soon as they handed him a diploma. I had no idea he was back, and I can’t help but wonder how the years have treated him.
He finishes washing and comes back to me, the scent of orange clinging to him.
“Of all the gin joints . . . What the hell are you doing in my garage, Holly Wix?” He throws my stage name in this time, and the heat of embarrassment creeps up my neck.
I lick my lips, rough from the heat of my car blasting on them during the blur of a drive from Nashville. I turned my radio up nearly as loud as it would go and started belting out the lyrics to every country oldie I could find. Anything to distract me from thoughts of Creighton, and how he might have reacted when he found the note. The voice in my head that sounds like Mama says he’s just going to write me off this time.
“Holly?” Logan drags me back to the present.
“Sorry. I, um, my car won’t start. I was getting gas, and then I got back in and turned the key, and just nothing. Well, a click, but then nothing.” I snap my mouth shut when he grins, because I think he’s laughing at the fact that I’m babbling like an idiot.