I lowered my head for a minute and held the towel with ice against my face. I wasn’t certain what else to say to Leah, so I shrugged my shoulders and gave her a small smile. “I’m getting a bit of a headache. I think I’m going to rest for a little while.”

“That’s a good idea. Take some ibuprofen for the pain, and keep icing that eye every few hours to help with the swelling, okay?”

“Okay, thank you, Leah. Truly, thank you.” She didn’t have to help me, but still, she did. That meant more to me than she’d ever know.

“Of course.” She stood from my bed and gave me a smile. “And if you ever need some girl time, let me know. Hanging around these boys on the ranch would drive me mad. I’m always around visiting the horses anyway, so maybe some days we can grab lunch or something.”

I gave her a true, genuine smile. “I’d love that.”

“Rest, Hazel. I hope you’re feeling better soon. And whatever you do, don’t let the asshole who did this to you get away with it.”

After Leah left, I locked the bathroom door as tears rolled down my cheeks from the pain shooting through me. The more time that passed, the more the punch to the face began to ache. The right side of my face was swollen and turning black and blue as each second passed. I looked like Mama, and that broke my heart so much.

Charlie had never laid a hand on me before . . . he’d never crossed that line because Mama would always take the hits for me. Now, I knew how she felt, what she’d been going through, the struggles she’d had.

The aching in my chest wasn’t solely for me—it was for Mama. I wanted to get her out of there. I needed to get her away from that psychopath. Who knew what kind of lies he was poisoning her with? What kind of drugs he was pumping into her without her even knowing? Charlie was desperate to control people, and Mama made it so easy for him to reign over her, because she was too weak and scared to fight back.

That night, I couldn’t think straight, because I was too fearful of what was going to happen with Mama. I stayed in my bedroom, not wanting Ian to see me in my current state. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t stop crying. I kept thinking about how I had to get Mama out of that terrible situation, away from Charlie—or at least get Charlie away from her. I knew enough about Charlie from both Garrett and Mama to be able to set him up somehow. I could get him in enough trouble that he couldn’t pull Mama down anymore. I didn’t know exactly if my plan would work—but I knew I had to try. Otherwise, not only would Mama lose the child she was carrying, but she’d lose her own life too.

So, late in the night, I picked up Ian’s house phone, and I called the police station.

“Eres Police. How can I direct your call?” a tired voice said through the line.

“Hi, yes, I’d like to leave an anonymous tip for a big drug trade that will be happening over the next few days.”

The voice lowered on the other end of the line. “Connor, is that you? Are you pranking me again?”

“What? No. I really have a tip.”

“Ookay,” the person said, unbelievingly. “Out with it. What’s the tip?”

“Once a month, Charlie Riley distributes his supplies to his men to take out to other towns. It happens right on the outskirts of Eres, at the old laundromat on Wood Street and Timber Avenue. It takes place around two in the morning, and it should be happening two days from now.”

I was thankful for Garrett getting high enough to spill those beans to me all that time ago about where Charlie’s supply came in and went out. He’d been so giddy about his uncle giving him more lead in the family “business” that he’d gotten drunk and high and told me all about it during one of his video game binges.

“And how do you know this?”

“Trust me, I just do.”

“Yeah, okay, Connor, we’ll look into it.”

“I’m not Connor!” I argued, brushing my hand against my face. Did I really sound like a boy? What the heck? “Look, just trust me on this one. The laundromat is where Charlie’s deals go through. You’ll find everything you need there. Make sure you take backup too.”

“Okay. Is that all?”

“Yes.” I bit my bottom lip as my stomach flipped and turned. “That’s all.”

“Okay. Laundromat. Wood and Timber. Charlie Riley. Bad drugs. Got it. Good night, Connor.”

The phone clicked, and I took a deep breath as my panic began to settle, and I thought about how things would be different for Mama in two days. In two days, she wouldn’t have to escape Charlie’s hand. In two days, he’d be dragged away on his own.

She wouldn’t have to try to run from him ever again.

This time, we’d win.

Ten Years Ago

“Come on, Hazel, hurry up. Just grab a few things,” Mama ordered as she pulled me from my bed. She had a suitcase sitting on my bed and was slinging some of my clothes into it.

The sky was still dark as I yawned. “What’s going on, Mama?” The sun wasn’t even awake yet, so I didn’t understand why I was.

“We’re leaving, sweetheart. We’re getting the hell out of here, okay?” Her voice was so low, and she moved on her tiptoes, as if not wanting anyone to hear her sounds.