“Total way. Not that I haven’t had opportunities, because I have with my ex-boyfriend, Garrett—the guy you had the pleasure of meeting yesterday. It’s going to sound stupid, but I didn’t want to end up like most of the people in this town. I didn’t want to end up like my mother—a pregnant-teenager statistic. I didn’t want to have the chance of getting knocked up before I got out of this hellhole.”

“That makes sense. My mom got pregnant with me when she was fifteen. I couldn’t imagine having a kid at that age.”

“Fifteen? And she left when you were how old?”

“Eight. She and Pops skipped town, chasing a high.”

“I couldn’t imagine doing that . . . walking away from my child after that many years.”

“Yeah, well, you’d be better than most in this town.”

“I’m sorry that happened to you. I never knew . . . it makes sense why you were so cold to me when you met me, seeing as how I had a connection to Charlie.”

“Doesn’t make it right,” I countered.

“No, but it gives a bit of clarity.”

I smirked and brushed my hand against my forehead. “Confession time, I have a fear of people abandoning me. Guess that’s why I don’t date. I can’t get left behind if I don’t let people close enough to abandon me.”

She set her pitchfork down and walked over to me. She tilted her head sideways and studied me up and down. “Confession time . . . I knew there was more to your story than the grumpy man you presented yourself as.”

“I’m still working on trying to not be an asshole and come off so hard.”

“You’re doing pretty decently, if you ask me. One step at a time.”

“Any tips on room for improvement?”

“Just keep up the good work.” She smiled, and fuck, my chest did some weird tightening thing. What the hell was that?

“Okay, I gotta ask you something, and I don’t really care about the answer. Because, shit, it doesn’t matter, and it’s really none of my business, but curiosity killed the cat and all that crap . . .”

“What is it?”

“Are you really a witch?” I blurted out. “You mentioned potions and crap, so I just wanted to know.”

She snickered. “Why? Nervous that I’m going to put a spell on you or something?”

“Nah. I mean. Maybe. But really. Are you into that kind of stuff?”

She shook her head. “No. I did it as a kid to escape the crappy world I lived in. I’d write spells in hopes it would change my future. In hopes that it would save my mom from her own tragedy, but at the end of the day, there’s no such thing as magic. I was just a stupid kid who wrote stupid chants that didn’t change a thing. But I do have a strong love for nature. For the stars and the moon. I feel like there is a healing connection to the elements of the world. As long as we slow down enough to appreciate our surroundings.”

She was so much more complex a human than I’d ever given her credit to be. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.

“Now, come on. Get to work, or we’re going to be here all freaking night,” she ordered.

I wouldn’t have minded staying there for a few more hours getting a few more confessions out of her. I could’ve thought of a million things that would’ve been worse than spending an evening in the pigpens with Hazel.

“Wait, I have one more confession,” I told her.

“What’s that?”

“I think what you did to protect your mother was the bravest thing a person could ever do.”

Her eyes softened, and she stilled her movements. “You really think so?”

“I do.”

“Thanks, Ian,” she whispered with a timid voice.

“No problem, best friend,” I joked.

She smiled again, and I felt fucking privileged to witness the curve of her lips.



Hazel held up her part of the bargain. Every night after work, she’d sit up with me in the house, and we’d create music with one another. Some nights, we’d work for so long that the sun would start peeking through the sky.

She pushed me to open up, to dig deeper with my thoughts and my emotions, and it was working. Everything was pouring out of me in a way it never had before. The music felt realer with her help. It felt authentic. It felt as if Hazel Stone was the missing piece to my dream coming true. She was the muse I’d been praying for, and I hoped she’d keep helping me cowrite the songs that would change my life.

“What do you think of that, Hazel?” James asked her as she sat in on yet another one of our rehearsals. The same way she was growing on me, she was growing on the bandmates. Hell, I couldn’t count on my hands the amount of times I’d found them around the ranch, talking about our music instead of doing their work. Eric and Marcus were addicted to going to Hazel for advice on their sounds, and she was more than willing to help them out.

“I think it sounds great. Maybe a bit longer of a guitar solo.” She winked toward him, speaking directly to his soul.

“I can do that!” He beamed, picking up his guitar and strumming at the chords.

She did that for all of us—she made us feel excited about the music, and it seemed like a long time since we’d had that level of joy over our creations.