I laid one of the bags with my clothes in them on the rug and used it as a pillow. I stared up through the hole toward the sky and listened to the Wreckage create sounds that were worth hearing. I may have hated their lead singer, but it was no lie that as a whole their sound was breathtaking.

Now, if only those lyrics were better . . .

I closed my eyes that night to the sounds of Ian Parker’s voice, and I tried my best to not think about anything else.

Tomorrow would be better, and the sun would rise again.

History seemed to be on my side, because the sun did rise the following morning. I was having a hard time shaking off the feeling of betrayal from Mama, but at least I had work to keep me busy. Even though I was supposed to have the day off, I still showed up to work around the ranch. If I was working, I couldn’t think about my current homeless situation. When you were shoveling manure, it was hard to think about anything other than the fact that you wanted to vomit.

Plus, now that I was squatting in the broken-down shed, I didn’t have to walk thirty minutes to and from work every night. Silver linings.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” a raspy voice boomed as I sat in the stables, brushing Dottie, the most beautiful horse I’d ever set my eyes on. Dottie and I had shared an apple not too long ago, and since then, we’d been engaging in girl talk, because my life was now at the stage where I talked to animals to feel less alone.


Truthfully, animals were a lot kinder than humans, so I counted my newfound friendship with Dottie as the ultimate win.

“I thought I’d stop in to help around today,” I replied to the Grumpy McGrump Ian standing in the doorframe.

I wondered if he knew what a smile was . . . I was certain he had more reasons to smile than I did, and still, I found enough reasons to do it.

“You aren’t on the schedule,” he scolded.

“I know. I was in the neighborhood.”

“Well, get out of the neighborhood.”

“Why does it matter? The guys hardly brush Dottie and the others the way they should be brushed. If anything, you should be happy that I’m helping.”

His brows lifted. “You don’t get paid for this.”

“I didn’t punch in. I know how jobs work.”

“Clearly you don’t, because showing up to said job on your day off isn’t how this goes.”

I stopped brushing Dottie and let my hands collapse to my lap as I stared at Ian. “Why are you so grumpy toward me?”

“Why do you do idiotic things to make me grumpy?” he barked. His hair was wild and untamed as he stood there with his arms crossed tightly across his toned body. If his biceps could wave, they’d probably flip me off.

“Just ignore me,” I offered. “I’m not in anyone’s way, and Dottie is enjoying my company.”

“She’s a horse. She can’t enjoy people’s company.”

“It’s kind of silly to think that just because she’s a horse she doesn’t have feelings. When was the last time you asked her how she was feeling?”

“For the love of . . . ,” he murmured, before running his hand through his hair. “You can’t be on the property while you’re not working. That’s called trespassing. It’s against the law.”

“What? Are you going to call Sheriff Cole to come arrest me for brushing Dottie?”

“Don’t test me, Hazel,” he said through gritted teeth. “Are you trying to push my buttons, or does it come naturally to you?”

“Like breathing air.”

He grumbled some more and brushed his thumb beneath his left eye. “If I hear about you getting in anyone’s way, you’re out. And I don’t just mean for today, but I mean out out. Fired. Do you understand?”

“I hear you loud and clear, Coach.”

“Stop the sarcasm.”

“That comes naturally to me like breathing air too.”

Before he could bark his annoyance at me, a woman walked into the stables and looked toward Ian. “Are you ready to go, Ian? I only have such a short lunch break if we are going to . . . you know.” She glanced over to me and looked away, growing a bit red in the face.

Oh, trust me, sweetie, we all know.

If I had a dollar for every woman I’d seen approach Ian in the past few days, I wouldn’t even have to work at the ranch anymore. I’d be Kylie Jenner–level rich. I could’ve probably made a whole makeup palette based on the eye colors of the females that crossed his path and made it into his office.

Emerald green. Midnight blue. Black shadows.

Ian looked at me as if he wanted to scold me some more, but his desire to take that girl to his pen was higher than his want to boss me around. I was pleased when he left me alone. Dottie and I had more to catch up on.



“She’s a pain in my ass,” I complained to Big Paw after a few weeks of training Hazel. Day in and day out, that girl kept showing up in her black wardrobe and messed-up combat boots, ready to work. No matter the task I gave her, she completed it. Sometimes she’d stay late into the night to finish, but she always left her work completed, giving me no reason to fire her. Even though I really wanted a damn reason to let her go.