“You can only go up from here,” I said, hoping to give her a splash of hope.

She rubbed her hand up and down her arm nervously. “I want to do right; that’s all.”

“Which is why we’re here,” Big Paw said. “We need your help.”

She snickered. “No offense, Big Paw, but I’m not really able to help people much with my current situation.” She gestured around her again.

“But you can do what you can from where you are,” he said, clasping his hands together. “He threatened your daughters.”

Jean’s eyes widened, and she gave Big Paw a panicked look. “How so?”

“He’s forcing Hazel to give him all of her income, controlling her relationships, saying he’ll burn down the ranch, and threatening to do harm to her and Rosie if she doesn’t obey. He’s been beating up Garrett, too, pretty bad.”

Tears filled her eyes, and she shook her head. “I got her in a terrible place. I should’ve never gotten involved with Charlie. He shouldn’t be able to hurt my girl, but that’s how he is.” She wiped a few tears from her eyes and swallowed hard. “I don’t get how I can help, though.”

“That’s easy,” Big Paw said. “If there’s one person who knows Charlie, it’s you. You know how his messed-up brain works. You know his plans, his drops, his . . . everything. So I need you to tell us some things to help catch him. We need to get him locked up, and this time, he won’t have anyone to take the fall for him. This time, he’s on his own, and this time, we’ll make sure it sticks.”

A moment of silence passed by as Jean lowered her brows. She clasped her hands together and nodded once. “I’ll tell you anything you need to know.”

And she did exactly that.

She gave us all that she could until it was time for her to leave the space. As she stood up from her chair, she looked my way. “You love my daughter?”

“Yes, ma’am, I do.”

“Can you do me a favor and treat her well? She deserves someone who treats her well.”

“I promise,” I told her. “And thank you for your help. You have no clue how much this means to us.”

“I’ve been a terrible mother. I’ve been messed up more than I’ve been clean, but getting off drugs in here has made me very clear minded. I want to do what’s right. If I can help you, I’ll do whatever I can. If it keeps my girls safe, I’ll do anything. If you could tell Hazel I’m sorry—for everything—that would mean a lot to me.”

“You really love your daughters, don’t you?”

“I do. I’ve never been a good mother, but I’ve always had the most amazing girl. I just couldn’t realize it when my head was fogged. Please tell her I’m sorry.”

“You should reach out to her yourself.”

“I doubt she’d want anything to do with me after I cut her off all those months ago.”

“She will,” I swore. “She is Hazel, after all . . . she loves unconditionally.”

Jean nodded once before her stare moved to Big Paw. “Please send Holly my well-wishes. I’m sorry for what she’s going through, and I’m sorry that you are struggling too.”

As Big Paw and I walked outside, I asked him the one question that had been sitting in my head all this time. “Do you blame yourself for what happened to her? As if her living with you was the cause of her meeting Charlie?”

“Every single day.”

“And that’s why you wanted to give Hazel the job all those months ago?”

He nodded. “Just looking for a little bit of redemption.”

“Trust me, Big Paw. You’ve been redeemed.”

The moment we made it back to Eres, I told Hazel what the plan was going to be. Even though she was hesitant, there was a splash of hope in her eyes.

I wished I could’ve said there was some super-blockbuster-movie moment that happened when Big Paw and I set Charlie up, but there wasn’t. He was caught at one of his drop-off locations, and he was arrested once more. This time, it would stick, because he no longer had Jean to take the rap for him. Plus, he’d been in and out of prison so much that there was no way he’d be able to walk away clean.

When I got the word from Big Paw that Charlie was in handcuffs, I headed to the house to see Hazel. When I got there, she was already in bed, and I woke her up from her slumber.

“Hey,” she whispered, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “What’s going on?”

“It’s over.”

Those were the only words I said, and they were enough to get her to sit up in bed. “It’s over? Really? They got Charlie?”

“Yes, and he’s not getting out anytime soon. Garrett even said he’d testify against him in court. It’s really over, Haze. It’s over.”

She released the biggest sigh of relief and fell into my arms. “It’s over,” she whispered.

That night I made love to my love, and everything felt right.



“That’s perfect, perfect, perfect!” Hazel clapped her hands together as she sat in the barn house with the band and me, helping shape up the lyrics to a few of the tracks we’d been creating.