“Yeah, you are,” I joked. I clapped my hands together. “Get it together, or you’ll be here all night.”
“If only I had someone to help me.” He smiled. Gosh, I loved that smile.
“Come on, Haze.” He gestured toward another pitchfork and one of the messy pens. “One more for old times’ sake?”
I narrowed my eyes. “Are you trying to get out of doing your job?”
“No. I just like being around you.”
So many butterflies.
I took a deep inhale and released it through my lips. Even if Charlie did walk in on Ian and me, it wasn’t as if we were doing anything outside of the normal. We were working; that was all.
At least that was all I thought was going on.
As I began shoveling the soiled hay, Ian spoke. “Confessions?”
I shook my head. “I’m not sure I’m up for it.”
“Why?” He narrowed his eyes. “Afraid of what might be said?”
He didn’t let up, though. “Confession: I miss you.”
“Ian . . .”
“Confession: you’re my best friend.”
“Confession: if you gave me the chance, I’d love you until forever.”
I swallowed hard as I watched him walk toward me. I was standing right in the middle of pig manure, doing the most disgusting job, looking as if I hadn’t slept in days, and Ian Parker was telling me how he wanted to love me forever.
He continued on. “Confession: you are my sun, my moon, and my stars. Confession: whatever’s hurting you, we can fix together. Confession: I’m never going to give up on this.”
I didn’t know how it happened. I didn’t know how my hands found his or how our bodies became pressed together. I didn’t know how his forehead fell to mine or how my heartbeats increased erratically.
I didn’t know how his lips fell so close to mine or how his exhalations became my inhalations.
But there we were, seconds away from our lips locking together, and me falling into a drunkenness that I’d never be able to recover from. If I started kissing Ian, I knew I’d never be able to stop.
He was it for me.
He was the hook, the bridge, and the melody.
“I feel it in your body shakes,” he breathed. “I feel it as I hold you. I feel the love that’s there, so tell me, Hazel. Tell me what’s keeping us from being us. Give me your confession, and I’ll make it all right.”
“Charlie,” I whispered, my voice shaky and unsure if I was doing the right thing. “It’s Charlie.”
He pulled away from me and raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean, it’s Charlie?”
Feeling an overwhelming amount of dread sitting in my chest, I began pouring everything out of me. I told him about how Charlie was out of prison, about how he’d threatened me and forced me to break things off with Ian. How he’d threatened the ranch as a whole. How he’d threatened my little sister.
“He said he would hurt Rosie. You see? I had no choice. I had to break things off with you, Ian. He put me in a corner, and I didn’t have any other choice.”
Ian’s face turned bright red as his hands formed fists. “He said he would hurt Rosie?”
“Yes.” I nodded, hating the memories that came rushing back to me of Charlie holding Rosie in his arms.
“He’s going to die for that. I’m going to fucking kill him.”
“No.” I shook my head. “You can’t do that. You can’t go after him, Ian. You can’t do that. People don’t get Charlie. He gets people. Trust me, I’ve tried to get him put away, and it all backfired. Plus, you’re in the public eye. Max was right about that—you can’t be getting involved in my mess when you’re on the road to massive success.”
“Max said something to you too?” he hissed as his nose flared. “What the hell?”
“It’s really okay. He worried about your image and what it would be like being with someone with so much ugliness to my past. I understood that a bit.”
“No. Fuck that, and fuck Max. And fuck Charlie. And fuck!” he shouted, pacing the barn. “We can’t just let Charlie get away with this. You can’t spend the rest of your life under his chains.”
“I have no choice.”
“There’s always a choice and always a way.”
I wished I could believe that, but I knew how Charlie worked. I knew the number of times he’d dragged my mother back into his world of despair. I knew he could ruin my life and Rosie’s with a snap of his fingers. I’d never feared anyone other than that madman. Charlie was a monster—and he wasn’t afraid of hurting anyone who got in the way of his destruction.
“I’m sorry, Ian. I just . . . we . . .” I sighed. “We can’t be together.”
“I don’t accept that.”
“Well, you should. There’s no way to make this work.”
“Just you wait,” he promised, taking my hands into his and kissing my palms. “We’re going to get our happily ever after. But first, allow me to ruin this asshole’s life.”