As the days went by, the guys and I worked harder than we ever had to create the next tracks. Eric was quick to post samples of the new sounds all over social media, and the response across the board was mind-blowingly better than anything we’d ever discovered in the past.

“Over three hundred thousand views in twenty-four hours!” he exclaimed late Friday afternoon. “Holy shit! And that was only a twenty-five-second clip! Just wait to see what happens when we release the full clip!” he breathed, sounding shocked as ever.

“This is it,” James said, cheesing like a damn fool. “This is going to be our breakthrough.”

“Remind me to kiss the hell out of Hazel Stone when I see her again,” Marcus joked, and it wasn’t fucking funny.

“Stay the hell away from her,” I warned, sounding more serious than I should’ve. But the idea of Marcus kissing Hazel made my blood boil.

Why, though?

Why did that thought piss me off so much?

Marcus tossed his hands up in surrender. “Just joking, man. You know I don’t kiss where my best friends are interested.”

“What? It’s not like that. I’m not interested in Hazel. I just don’t want to kill a good thing by having you break her heart or something. I need her to keep helping me with the tracks.”

“Right.” James smirked. “And it has nothing to do with you developing feelings for the girl.”

“Feelings?” I huffed. “For Hazel?” I huffed again.

No way. I didn’t do feelings—except for when it came to the newest lyrics of my songs. In those, I felt everything. But in real life? Still stone cold. Yup. My heart was still closed off from feeling things on a deeper level for anyone.

“Sure, Ian.” Marcus walked over and patted me on the back. “Keep telling yourself whatever it takes to help you sleep better at night, man.”

I would, because what I was telling myself was true. I didn’t have feelings for Hazel Stone.

She was just a girl who helped tap into the music in me.

“Confession time, I need your help,” Hazel said early one Saturday morning as we were taking care of some housework tasks. Her hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, and she wasn’t wearing makeup. She never wore her dark makeup on the weekends, only when she was working on the ranch and around other people, as if the heavy eyeliner and deep eye shadows were some kind of shield for her.

The dark, oversize clothing remained, though. Black on black with a splash of black.

I cocked an eyebrow and stopped folding the basket of laundry in front of me. “With what?”

“I need you to take me somewhere today.” She brushed her left hand up and down her right arm.

“Where do you need to go?”

Her eyes darted away from me, and her stare fell to the ground. “To visit my mom in prison. It’s a few hours away, and I have no other way of getting up there.”

I nodded once, tossed on a pair of shoes, and grabbed my keys. “Let’s go.”

We rode the whole way almost in complete silence. Hazel kept fidgeting with her hands and chewing on her thumbnail with her back slightly to me. I didn’t know what to say to her, because I wasn’t good at knowing what the conversation should be like when you were driving to see your mom who was locked up in prison due to a call you’d made. Kind of a buzzkill, if you asked me.

So I turned to the one and only thing I really knew: music.

“Any tunes you want to listen to?” I asked Hazel.

She shrugged her shoulders and kept looking out of the passenger window. “Doesn’t matter.”

“Wrong answer. All music matters. So there has to be something you like. Anything, Haze. You name it, and I’ll play it. As long as it’s not complete trash.”

“Really, it doesn’t matter.”

“Again—all music matters. Who’s your favorite?”

She glanced over at me, and I swore I almost saw a little redness to her cheeks.

She had adorable cheeks . . . I didn’t know people could have adorable cheeks. But they were the kinds of cheeks that you wanted to lean in toward and repeatedly kiss.

I wanted to kiss Hazel Stone’s cheeks.

If that wasn’t the craziest realization I’d had in a while, I didn’t know what was.

“You can’t laugh,” she said warily.

“I promise.”

“What does a promise from a boy like you mean to a girl like me, Ian Parker?”

“Everything,” I confessed. “It means everything.” I didn’t know why, but I had the strange urge to do whatever it took to make that girl happy. She had so many sad moments in her life; I wanted to bring her some bright ones.

Her lips kind of curved up a little, but she turned back toward the window so I couldn’t see the bashfulness resting against her mouth. “Shawn Mendes.”

“Seriously?” I choked out.

She shot me a harsh look and pointed at me. “You promised!”

“No, it’s fine. I just . . . I didn’t expect a girl like you to like something so pop sounding like Shawn Mendes.”

“What did you think I’d be into? Slipknot or the Grateful Dead?” she asked. “Because of how I look and dress?”

“Honestly? Yes.”