“He did the right thing.”

“Fuck the right thing. Do I seem like someone who cares about the right thing?” he argued. He took a deep breath and sat back down. “Sorry. Sometimes my temper gets the best of me. I took a meditation class while I was locked up—I’m working on my breathing techniques. Anyway, as I was saying. You break things off with that boyfriend of yours.”

“Why are you being so cruel?”

He snickered. “Because I think you’re right. I think I like controlling things.”

“I won’t do it,” I said. “I won’t break things off with him.”

“That’s too bad. You know what else would be too bad?” he asked. “If this nice old ranch burned down. Or even worse, if something happened to this little sister of yours.”

I knew he said those things as threats, but I also knew that Charlie’s threats normally ended up as promises.

“So here’s what we are going to do. You’re going to give me money every two weeks, you are going to break up with your superstar, and you are going to live a miserable fucking life, because you don’t deserve to be happy. You got it?”

“Just say yes, Hazel,” Garrett choked out.

“How about you learn to shut the hell up,” Charlie called out toward his nephew. “The grown-ups are having a meeting. So Hazel, what do you say? Do we have a deal?”

I nodded slowly as tears slipped from my eyes.

He walked over to me and placed a finger beneath my chin. He raised my head until I locked eyes with his. “I need a verbal agreement, sweetheart.”

“Yes, we have a deal,” I said, shaking from his touch.

“Now, pull out that cell phone of yours, and make a call to the guy, and let him know you’re over.”

“What? Can’t I—” I started to argue, but the fire in Charlie’s eyes was enough to terrify me. I pulled my phone out of my back pocket and dialed Ian’s number.

Please don’t answer; please don’t answer; please don’t—


“Hey, Ian, it’s me,” I said with a shaky voice.

“Good. You made it home?”

“Yup, I’m here safe and sound. There’s just one thing . . . I, um, I . . . I . . .” My words fumbled against my tongue as I covered my mouth with my hand to conceal my tears.

“Haze? What is it?” Ian asked, growing concerned.

“Spit that shit out,” Charlie ordered in a low tone.

“I—it was great seeing you, Ian. Truly, it was, but after seeing the world you’re creating out there, I realize that there’s not much space for me in it anymore.”

“Wait . . . what?”

“I just think it’s best if we end it now, before your career takes off. I’m sorry. I just can’t be with you anymore. I can’t be in this relationship.”

“What the fuck are you talking about, Hazel? We’re good. We’re so fucking good. We made love this morning, and everything was fine. You left and said you loved me. Tell me what’s happening here. What’s really going on?”

“Nothing. I just had a lot of time to reflect on the flight home, and it’s clear we’re going two different ways. My life is here on the ranch, and yours is out there in the world. It’s best that we end it now.”

“You can’t say this,” Ian started.

“Hang up,” Charlie said, shoving me in the arm, making me tremble even more.

I can’t, I mouthed.

“Hang up now, or I walk out with your sister,” he threatened.

With a pained heart, I clicked the phone off as Ian was still begging for answers to my sudden change of heart.

“Good girl,” Charlie whispered, rubbing his hand against my neck, sending chills down my spine. “Here. Take this bitch,” he said, handing Rosie over to me. “It’s been nice doing business with you. Garrett, get your ass up, and let’s go.”

Garrett did as his uncle said and stumbled toward the front door.

Charlie turned back to glance at me, and then he looked down at the carpet. “Half a cup of warm water mixed with one tablespoon of ammonia. That will get the bloodstain out of your nice carpet.”

Then he left, leaving me there sobbing against Rosie. Our tears intermixed as she howled in sadness.

My phone kept ringing with Ian’s name popping up on the screen, but I didn’t dare answer it. Even if all I wanted was to hear his voice.

Three days later, Ian was back in Eres, standing in front of me with confusion and heartache in his eyes. “Did Max say something to you? Did he try to push you away?” he asked as we stood near the shed late that evening.

Oh, Ian . . .

Please don’t make this harder than it has to be.

“It’s not that,” I said. “I just feel like we aren’t right for each other.”

“No one’s more right for one another, Haze. It’s us. But I’m so confused. I feel like you’re talking as if you don’t believe in us anymore. As if you don’t think we can figure this out.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head. “That’s because I don’t think we can. I’m sorry, Ian. My life shifted, and I need to learn to accept the way it is shaping up. I’m coming to terms that my responsibility in life now is to look after my sister. And I’m coming to terms that you and me can’t be—”