Which meant I had to remind myself repeatedly that she wasn’t the same type of person that Charlie was simply because she’d been raised by the devil himself.

“You should take it easy today. It’s too hot out to be working that hard,” I warned Hazel the following day as she was shoveling hay into the back of a pickup truck. The temperature was nearing one hundred degrees, and she was dressed in her usual all-black outfit, with her long sleeves. It was too damn hot for that type of wardrobe, especially when Hazel was working directly in the sun. She even had a hoodie on, with the hood up like a madwoman.

“It’s fine. I got this,” she muttered, her voice low as she shoveled the hay. She hadn’t said much over the past few hours, which was odd. Normally, she’d have a rude, sarcastic comment to make toward me, but there was none to be heard.

She hadn’t even mocked me the previous night about me burning dinner. Come to think of it, I hadn’t even seen her at the house. Her bedroom door was closed, and even though I heard her moving around, she didn’t step foot outside. When I woke in the morning, she was already off to work on the ranch.

“Don’t tell me you’re still pissy about me not wanting to open up to you about my feelings and crap that other morning?”

“Contrary to popular belief, not everything is about you, Ian Parker,” she snapped.

I should’ve left it—and her bad attitude—at that. Still, watching that sun beat down on her was making me dizzy. Shit, I was seconds away from passing out for her.

“Come on, darling. Don’t be stupid. Heatstroke is a real thing.” I called her “darling” to try to get under her skin, and she didn’t react whatsoever. Damn. What was with that girl?

She pulled on the edges of her hood and cleared her throat before going back to work. “It’s fine. I’m good.”

“At least head to the pigpens. I’ll even help you in there. Or take a water break. It’s too—”

“I said I’m fine!” she finally snapped.

The moment she turned toward me, my chest tightened. Her eyes were bloodshot red, as if she’d been crying for the past forever hours, and she was wearing pounds and pounds of makeup. Sure, she wore makeup on the regular, but she currently looked like she was auditioning for RuPaul’s Drag Race.

I didn’t even know why, but seeing that level of sadness in her eyes broke my cold fucking heart. “What’s wrong?” I hammered.

She shook her head as tears proceeded to dance down her cheeks. “Nothing. I’m fine.”

“You’re lying.”

“Drop it, Ian.”

“Can’t, darling.”

She parted her lips to maybe sass me, which would’ve made me feel a little bit better about her current state. If she had enough in her to sass me, then she wasn’t too far away from her regular annoying self.

But instead of her speaking, her eyes crossed, and she dropped the pitchfork in her grip. As it fell to the ground, I watched her body waver back and forth.


She was going to pass out.

Her eyes began to roll back in her head, and I rushed over to her, catching her just in time before she crashed. She passed out in my arms, her body going limp against me. I lifted her up and hurried off in the direction of the house and kept repeating the same words over and over.

“I got you, darling,” I muttered. “I got you.”

The moment we made it to the house, Hazel was coming to, and I hurriedly tossed her into the shower and ran cold water over her body. The sensation of the chill woke her up quickly as she squeaked in horror.

“Oh my gosh, that’s cold!” she cried out, shivering from the ice droplets hitting her body. She rubbed her hands up and down her arms as she sat in the tub.

“Good,” I grumbled. “I told you it was too damn hot to be out there in that sun.”

She reached forward to shut off the water and shivered. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not. You need some electrolytes to recover from the heat. I have some sports drinks in the fridge. Here’s a towel to dry off.” I grabbed the closest one on the hook and held it out to her. She quickly began wiping the water from her face, and with the water went her makeup.

“What the fuck happened to your face?” I barked out, horrified by the bruises that were revealed as she removed the makeup.

Her eyes widened, and she turned away from me. “It’s nothing.”

I placed my hands on her shoulders and turned her back to face me. “Bullshit. That’s not nothing. It looks like someone fucking punched you in the damn face.”

The way her eyes watered made me realize that was exactly what had happened.

Holy shit.

Someone had punched her in the damn face.

“Who did this to you?” I asked, my voice tight with anger. I didn’t even know who the hell I was mad at, but I was pissed. “Was it a man?”

She nodded slowly.

“Tell me who,” I ordered.

The tears began falling faster than ever down her cheeks as she shook her head back and forth. “It’s okay. I’m figuring it out.” She went to get to her feet and stumbled a bit, still off balance, and I caught her in my arms. She gave me a broken smile. “You’re good at that.”