“The guys will understand, Ian. If anything, those three get it the most.”
He grimaced. “But then there’s Max.”
“Screw him,” I bellowed, feeling my skin crawl at the mention of him. “Like I said before, he works for you. He makes your life easier, not the other way around.”
Still, Ian didn’t seem convinced, so I dropped that angle. “Well, at least for tonight, you don’t have to act happy or be ‘on.’ You can be whatever you need to be, and I’ll be here for you. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Promise?” he whispered with a crack in his voice. He sounded so heartbroken. “Promise me you won’t abandon me too?”
He held me close and fell apart against me that night.
I stayed close enough to make sure I was able to pick up his broken pieces. And when we made love, I hoped he felt forever against my lips.
The moment I landed back in Nebraska, I drove the few hours to make it to Eres, and I headed straight to Big Paw and Holly’s to pick up Rosie. I knew it had only been two days, but gosh, I missed that little girl. It felt like I had a big hole in me.
“Thank you for watching her,” I told Big Paw as I took Rosie into my arms. Holly stood nearby with that sweet smile on her face.
“Anytime,” Big Paw said, grumbling. “Even if she threw up in my face.”
I laughed. “She has a way of doing that. I was hoping I could talk to you both about Ian . . . I’m a little worried.”
Those words made his grandparents’ eyes widen with worry.
“What is it?” Holly asked. “What’s wrong with him?”
“He ran into his parents; that’s why he wanted me to come out there. They used him and asked him for money. I think he’s really struggling right now, trying to figure all those things out.”
“Son of a bitch,” Big Paw grumbled, taking off his hat and slapping it against his leg. “See, Holly! This is what I said would happen! I said the moment that boy found success, those two would come trying to claim some of it.”
Holly frowned and nodded knowingly. “How’s our boy doing?” she asked, her brows low. I saw the worry in her eyes, and I couldn’t blame her.
“He’s struggling,” I explained. “But he’s strong. He’ll be okay.”
“I don’t get why they couldn’t just let him be,” Big Paw huffed. “He was doing good on his own. They didn’t need to come and piss on his parade.”
“Yeah. I feel the same way. If only we could control the choices of others, life would be easier.” I soothed a fussy Rosie in my arms as Big Paw kept frowning.
“Get that girl home, and get her a bottle. And hold her up a bit higher; it makes her stop fussing so much.”
I did as he said, and like magic, Rosie calmed down.
Who would’ve ever thought?
Big Paw—the baby whisperer.
Rosie and I headed home, and when I unlocked the front door, I placed Rosie’s car seat down on the ground to turn on the lights.
“Oh my gosh!” I gasped as the room filled with light. In the middle of the living room was a battered and bruised Garrett, hunched over. “Garrett, what happened to you?” I hurried to his side to help him up but stopped the moment I heard another voice.
“He didn’t listen—that’s what happened to him.”
I turned around to see Charlie standing next to Rosie’s car seat.
Every hair on my body stood up as he bent down and lifted Rosie into his arms.
“Put her down,” I ordered, charging toward him, and he released a sinister laugh.
“What makes you think you can tell me what to do?” he hissed. “After the shit you pulled, getting me locked up for all that time, making my business suffer, you think you can order me around?”
I tried to control my trembling, but watching him hold Rosie sent a wave of panic through me.
“Looks like you built yourself a nice life out here,” Charlie commented. “Living the dream, are we? I heard rumors about you dating Eres’s own rock star too. That must be great.”
“What do you want?” I asked, wanting him to get to the point. Rosie began crying, and Charlie sat down on the couch with her and began bouncing her on his knee.
“What do you think I want? What’s mine. I lost thousands of dollars because of that stunt you pulled. I lost clients. I got the uppers chewing my ass out because of you. If it wasn’t for your mom, I’d still be locked up. So I’m here to collect. Every cent you have is mine. Every paycheck that you get from this lame-ass job comes to me. And your happy ending you think you got? The love story with your rock star? That comes to an end.”
“Leave Ian out of this.”
“Oh, no way. You see, my other half is locked up because of you for the next two years. Why should you get a love story when I don’t get mine?”
“You don’t love my mother,” I barked. “You never did. You loved controlling her, just like you love controlling everything. I mean, look at what you did to your own nephew!”
“He betrayed me!” Charlie shouted, standing up and gesturing toward Garrett with one hand and holding my screaming sister in the other. “The asshole betrayed me when he helped you get Rosie, and he’s going to be paying for it each day until he proves I can trust him again.”