Leave it to Big Paw to help you realize that you and your idiotic opinion were invalid and void.

“On second thought, I have an even better idea,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “That spare room in the ranch house—give it to Hazel.”

I choked on my next breath. “Excuse me?”

“I get the feeling she’s in need of a place to stay.”

“What makes you think that?”

“The fact that I’ve caught her snoozing in that broken-down shed the past few nights. I’ve been sleeping in my pickup truck nearby to make sure nobody bothers her. I know some hoodlums sneak into the ranch when they are bored and cause a ruckus, and I didn’t want them bothering Hazel. I wanted to offer her a place to stay, but I get the feeling she’d be too embarrassed to admit her struggles, so I want you to offer it to her.”

“Psh, yeah, right. She’d never take a handout from me.”

“She would if you offer it up to her in a nice box with a fancy bow on top.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“I don’t know, Ian. Get creative.”

I narrowed my eyes, knowing my grandfather was setting me up to make it impossible to not offer Hazel the ranch house. “And if I don’t?”

“Well”—he chewed on the end of his cigar like it was bubble gum—“I guess I’ll have to see how much Tyler is willing to offer for the house.”


I scratched at the slight stubble on my chin and grimaced. “Why is she even sleeping in that shed?”

“Don’t know. It’s none of my business, but I get the feeling it’s probably due to the same asshole you’re hating her for. Make friends with her.”

“Friends?” I bellowed. “She and I ain’t got nothing in common.”

“Don’t say ‘ain’t’ like you’re uneducated. That’s part two of the deal. Give her a place to stay, and make her feel welcome. Befriend her. She ain’t got nobody, so you might as well give her someone to turn to when she needs it.”

I would’ve sassed him for saying “ain’t,” but I knew no good would come from it. The last thing I needed was an eighty-year-old kicking my ass.

Befriend Hazel Stone?

I didn’t know the first thing about being a friend to a girl like her. We had nothing in common outside of the fact that we both worked at the ranch. How would I make a connection with someone who was the complete opposite of me?

Plus, I wasn’t really in the market for a roommate, let alone a friend. The only friends I needed were my bandmates, and sometimes that felt overwhelming.

I brushed my hands through my hair, knowing that there was no way I’d be able to get Big Paw to let up. When he made up his mind, there was no changing it, unless Grams was the one pushing for the change.

I grimaced. “I’ll do my best.”

“Do better than that,” he ordered. “It’s supposed to rain in a few days, and I don’t need no girl dying on my farm from pneumonia.”

Before I could reply, Grams poked her head into the office. She was wearing oven mitts on her hands and had the same caring smile she’d always worn plastered against her face. “Are you two done being blockheads? Because dinner’s done, and I don’t have a problem eating it without you.”

“Woman, can’t you see we’re talking in here?” Big Paw hissed, throwing a hand of dismissal at Grams. That only made Grams walk farther into the room.

“Harry Aaron Parker, if you ever talk to me like that again, I will shove this oven mitt so far up your butthole you’ll be wondering why your mouth tastes like poop. Now, apologize,” she ordered. My grandmother was a little woman, but boy, was she fierce. She didn’t take crap from no one, especially Big Paw.

And like always, Big Paw lowered his head and put his tail between his legs. “Sorry.”

“Sorry what?” Grams scolded.

“Sorry, my lovebug.”

I tried to hold my laughter in at the nickname. Leave it to Grams to soften the old man’s heart. The two of them were sassy and intense and filled with so much love. If I ever found the time to fall in love, I’d want a love story like theirs.

“That’s what I thought,” Grams said, walking over to Big Paw. She smacked him on the back of his head with the oven mitt. “Now, get to the dining room before I change my mind and take the dinner to the church for their Bible study tonight.”

That made us both shoot to our feet. My definition of cooking was sloppy joes. Sometimes I was fancy as hell, and I’d even toast the hamburger bun, but that was the end of my cooking expertise. That and ramen noodles. I could make a badass pot of ramen. Chicken flavored—obviously.

Outside of that, I counted on leftovers from Grams. She was pretty good at keeping me full.

As we walked to the kitchen, Grams complained about the creaking wooden floors. “We need to call someone in to fix those,” she grumbled.

“Hush, woman. I’ll get around to them when I get a chance,” Big Paw said.

“You’ve been saying that since 1995. I’m not holding my breath.”

“Maybe if you held your breath, you wouldn’t be able to sass so much,” he replied.

She shot him a look that could kill, and Big Paw smiled a little. It took a lot to make that man smile, and Grams controlled them. “Sorry, my lovebug.”