“Again, she’s not going anywhere. Now, leave before I take it out on the both of you,” Charlie said.

It was clear he was a psychopath. He didn’t have a twinge of remorse for his actions—quite the opposite actually. He looked as if he was ready to give me another blow any second now.

“Go, Hazel,” Mama begged, tears welling in her eyes. “Please.”

I wanted to argue, but I knew if I pushed Charlie, he’d push both me and Mama back. I couldn’t handle the idea of him hurting Mama, so I left.

The ache in my chest had me feeling nothing but guilt for leaving her in that terrible situation. For a moment in time, when she’d grabbed Charlie’s arm, I’d seen my mother. My real mother, not the drugged-up human she’d turned into over the years. She’d stepped in to protect me, and it killed my heart that there was no one to protect her back.

I headed to Ian’s house, and as I walked, I tried my best to keep my head down and covered. A car horn blared at me, sending nerves straight up my spine. I kept my head down and kept walking. “Hazel!” a voice hollered from the car. I still didn’t look up. “Hey, Hazel, it’s Leah. James Scout’s sister. He works on the ranch, and I’m heading over there to check in on the horses. Are you heading that way? I can give you a lift.”

She pulled her car over, parked it, and hurried over to me. I’d known Leah for some time now. We’d graduated together, and she was the definition of royalty in our town. Leah Scout was beautiful. From her gorgeous blonde hair to her crystal-blue eyes. She had a smile that could’ve been used in toothpaste commercials, and she gave that smile to everyone who looked her way. She was just like her older brother, James, too—overly nice to anyone and everyone.

As she reached me, she gasped and placed her hands over her mouth. “Oh my goodness, what happened to you?”

“I, um, I don’t want to talk about it.” I started to walk, and Leah kept her pace beside me.

“Wait, Hazel. Who did this to you?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I replied shortly. “I just want to get home and clean up.”

“Okay.” She nodded her head and linked her arm with mine.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m walking you to my car so I can drive you home. You shouldn’t be walking on these streets looking like this, and you definitely shouldn’t be alone. James said you’re staying with Ian for now, right?”

I nodded. “Yes. But you don’t—”

“Don’t be silly, Hazel. Us girls gotta look out for one another in a town filled with creeps. It’s not a big deal. Come on, now. Let’s get you home so we can clean up that wound.”

When we got to the ranch house, I tried to get Leah to go on with her day, but she wouldn’t leave my side.

“You can’t go without cleaning up that eye. Otherwise, it will be swollen shut for a while. I volunteer at Dr. Smith’s office. I can help you,” she offered.

I didn’t have the energy to fight her to go away. Plus, some odd part of me didn’t want to be left alone.

I sat on the edge of my bed as Leah headed to the kitchen to get a wet cloth and ice for my eye. When she came back, she sat beside me and did her best to nurse me back to good health.

“Who did this, Hazel?” she whispered.

I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it does. People shouldn’t be allowed to hurt you like this. They should pay for their actions.”

I gave her a lopsided smile and remained quiet. I didn’t need strangers knowing too much about my personal life. Even though Leah was nice, I hadn’t the need to lay all of my hardships at her feet.

“I’m really okay,” I lied.

She gave me a knowing smile. Then she frowned and shook her head. “Ian is going to lose his mind once he finds out.”

I raised an eyebrow. “That’s not very likely.”

“Are you kidding? Of course it is. You’re his roommate, and someone hurt you. He’s going to care about it.”

I snickered. “We really aren’t that kind of roommates. We pretty much stay out of each other’s way, unless he needs me to kick a random girl out at three in the morning.”

Leah brushed her hand against her face. “I don’t know, Hazel. This kind of stuff gets to Ian. His dad used to lay his hands on his mom before they left all those years ago, and it drove Ian crazy. He doesn’t take well to women being abused.”


I didn’t know why that word made me want to throw up. That word made Charlie’s actions seem even more intense, but it was true. He did abuse me. He abused my mother. And I knew he wouldn’t stop, because when it came to Charlie, abuse was second nature.

“Listen, I know Ian is hard around the edges, but he’s really a good guy. I’ve known him all my life, seeing as how he’s best friends with my brother. When his parents ran off, it did a number on him, but that kindhearted boy is still there.”

“He’s cold all the time. He doesn’t have feelings.”

Leah laughed out loud. “That’s ridiculous. If anything, Ian Parker feels too much. That man has more feelings than most people in this world. He gets so overwhelmed by his emotions that he puts up that wall. But man, he cares. He cares so much that I think it drives him crazy.”