“Mama’s bruises are worse,” she softly said as she raked her hand through her charcoal-colored hair. “She has no escape from him, and he hurts her a lot more than he has ever hurt me.”

“Why won’t she leave him?”

“She’s tried, time and time again. He always finds her and pulls her back in.” Tears fell down her cheeks, and she shook her head as I wiped them away. “Can vodka make you both happy and sad?”

“It’s possible.”

“But I don’t want to be sad anymore. I want to be happy.”

“You will be,” I promised. “Sometimes it just takes time to get to the happy lyrics.”

“When are you going to write happy lyrics?”

I pushed out a chuckle. “I’m actually looking to hire a girl to help me on the lyrics end.”

She pushed her tongue in her cheek and narrowed her eyes. “I bet she’s really cute.”

“She has no clue how beautiful she is,” I gently replied. “With and without the makeup.”

She sat up a little straighter, seemingly surprised by my words. “Thank you.”

“Can I ask why you wear so much makeup?”

Hazel raked her hands through her hair again and shrugged her shoulders. “That’s because of Charlie too. When I was younger, around fourteen, I used to always wear a tank top and shorts around the house. One night, when Charlie was drunk, he stumbled into my bedroom and made comments about how he wanted to touch my body. About how I was showing it off for him with my olive skin. So I started dressing in heavy layers of clothing and makeup to ward him off.”

I felt sick to my stomach as she told me that. What kind of fucking psychopath was Charlie? If I’d had plans to kill him before, now I was raging with the need to strangle the bastard.

Such a softness fell over her as she looked my way. “Ian?”


“Drunk Hazel likes you a lot.”

I snickered. “Let’s work on getting sober Hazel to like me too.”

“That’s easy enough.” She yawned in my face, not bothering to cover her mouth. “Just say hi to me sometimes, and it helps if you take off your shirt too.”

Dammit to hell. How had I treated someone like Hazel so shitty for so long? If I’d pulled my head out of my own ass, I would’ve realized that there was nothing about her that mimicked Charlie. She was the complete opposite, actually. She was caring and funny and beautiful and kind.

Christ. What a fucking idiot I was.

“Hey, Ian?”


“I’m going to vomit now.”

I’d spent the last ten minutes holding Hazel’s hair back as she upchucked into the toilet. As she murmured about how she was never drinking again, I smiled to myself, thinking about all the crappy drinking nights I’d had where I’d said those same exact words.

When she finished her violent attack on the toilet, she lay down on the ground and curled into the fetal position. “I sleep here,” she mumbled.

I chuckled as I bent down to lift her in my arms. “No, you sleep in your bed.”

“I sleep in your bed,” she echoed, snuggling into my arms.

Not exactly right.

After I laid her down—in her bed—I placed a puke bucket on the floor, just in case, and then I tucked her in.

She reached her arms up and wrapped them around my neck, pulling me into a hug. “Thank you, best friend,” she whispered, before plopping back down against her pillow. As I turned to walk away, Hazel murmured some more. “I have to help her.”

“Help who?”

“Mama. I have to get her and the baby out of there. I have to help,” she said with her eyes shut as she began to fall into a deep slumber.

I wasn’t sure she knew what she was saying, but I said, “I’ll help you help her, Haze.”

“Promise?” she whispered.

“Promise,” I replied.



What was that excruciating sound?

Was it a rooster? Was a rooster honestly screaming outside my window as my head pounded as if it were going to explode?

Why did my mouth feel so dry?

Why did I feel like death?

“Cock-a-doodle-doooo!” Mr. Rooster shouted, making me push a pillow over my face. I hated how awake and happy the guy was, as if he hadn’t drunk all the vodka in the land the night before.


Ugh. Screw vodka.

My eyes warily opened as I sat up on my elbows. I groaned as my stomach flipped, skipped, and turned. Just then, the painful sound of the doorbell ringing went off. When it kept dinging, I dragged myself from my room to answer it, seeing as how Ian hadn’t any plans of getting to the door.

I swung it open as the sunlight beamed toward me. I’d never felt more like a vampire in my life, and when I noticed a woman standing there with a basket of goodies, I instantly felt bad for hissing in her face.

She didn’t frown at my insane reaction to the light, though. She smiled brightly and tilted her head to the left. “I’ve been meaning to stop by to meet you,” she said, walking into the house. She set the basket of things down on the table and then turned back to me and held her hand out for a shake. “You must be Hazel. I’m Holly, Ian’s grandmother.”