“He found out you were staying in the shed and didn’t want you doing something like that, seeing as how it’s idiotic and unsafe.”

There was the Ian I knew and loved. Mr. Charming.

“So he told you to let me stay with you?”


“And if you didn’t?”

“He’d sell the house, and I’d be living in a damn shed too. Look, I know this isn’t ideal for either of us, but we both got a dry place to put our heads at night. So let’s just make the most of it, and if Big Paw asks, we’re buddy-buddy. Okay?”

“Okay. I can handle that. How much do I owe for rent each month?”

“Free ninety-nine. I don’t pay rent, so half of that is nothing. I’m going to get ready for bed, but your room is down the hallway to the left. I left you some spare clothes if you need them.”

“Please don’t tell me they are the clothes other women have worn of yours.”

“Don’t worry; they are freshly cleaned. If you need anything else—don’t.”

He turned around on his heel and took his grumpy and somewhat sexy ol’ butt to bed.

“Good night, best friend,” I called out, tongue in cheek.

“Don’t push it, Hazel Stone.”

I couldn’t help it. Pushing Ian Parker was becoming one of my favorite pastimes.

I headed to my bedroom and found a bathroom attached to it. I had my own bathroom. One I didn’t have to share with anyone other than me. Never in my life had I thought that would ever be a thing for me. I grabbed the clothes on the bed, headed straight to the shower, and turned it on steaming hot.

Warmth washed over me as I scrubbed my body clean with a very masculine-smelling soap—probably the same soap Ian used against his skin.

I’d forgotten how great it felt to stand inside a tub and have hot water racing across my body. The water hose outside the stables was always freezing cold. After the shower, I tossed on Ian’s clothes and looked a little too much like the woman who’d left earlier that evening. I would’ve complained about it if the clothes were not so freaking comfy and dry.

When it came time for bed, I thanked the heavens above for an actual mattress and a pillow to lay my head against. Tears formed in my eyes from Big Paw’s kindness. The fact that he’d seen me struggling and forced his grandson to help me was the truest form of kindness. I had nothing to offer Big Paw. I pretty much had nothing to my name, and still, he’d chosen to help me.

I owed him everything and more.

I had been without a home for two and a half weeks, and they were the toughest few weeks of my life. I couldn’t imagine what it felt like for people who lived that life on the regular.

Even though all the pieces of my messy puzzle weren’t together, I was thankful, because I knew somewhere out there, men and women were sleeping in dangerous corners of the world without a Big Paw to bring them in for the night.

That night I promised myself that whenever I received the chance to help someone, I’d pay it forward in a heartbeat.



What in the hell is that smell?

I woke up to an excruciating scent filling the house, and the moment I sat up in my bed, I knew exactly what the smell was—pig shit.

I pulled myself out of bed and headed toward Hazel’s bedroom. I knocked repeatedly against her door, and she opened it, still tired in the face, but freshly out of the shower. She was wearing a pair of shorts and a tank top and not a drop of makeup.

She looked . . . different.

Completely different than I knew her to be. Hazel had a much smaller frame than her oversize clothes would’ve led one to believe, and her skin was perfectly smooth, with small freckles dancing across her nose.

Her green eyes shone so much more without those pounds of makeup sitting against her face too.

She was beautiful.

Fuck me sideways and call me Jim—Hazel Stone was breathtaking.

She cocked an eyebrow as I cocked another body part. “Can I help you?” she asked.

I tried my best to shake off my moment of confusion and cleared my throat. I started sniffing the air and looking around her bedroom as I scratched at my messy hair. “It smells like pigs in here.”

“If you think telling a girl her room smells like pigs is your way of making a girl feel good about herself, then you are very off track.”

“I thought you were a woman, not a girl.”

“Girls, women, chicks, darlings—either way, we don’t like being told we smell like pigs.”

I almost smiled. “I didn’t say you smell like a pig. I said your room does.”

I walked inside uninvited and kept searching, kept sniffing the air, and then my eyes landed on the pair of torn-up combat boots sitting in the corner of the room. “Haze! You can’t just leave those sitting in here. They’re gonna stink up the whole place. Then you’ll go nose blind to pig smells, and your life will undoubtably go horribly from that point on.”

I went to pick them up, and she jumped in front of me, holding up her hands to halt me. “No, stop!”

“Listen, if it’s about the shoes, I’m sure you can get a new pair.”

“I don’t want a new pair. These are mine.”

I raised an eyebrow and studied her. She looked as if she was on the verge of tears over some dang combat boots. “What do they mean to you?”