We are taking book requests on our companion website. You can request books here. Make sure, you are following the rules.

Flawless: Chapter 1

Summer

“You got one angry motherfucker here, Eaton.”

The handsome cowboy on the back of a huge bull scoffs and shifts his hand around the rope before him. His dark eyes twinkle on the screen, all the hard lines of his face peeking through the cage of his helmet. “The harder they buck, the happier I am.”

I can barely hear what they’re saying over the din of the crowd in the vast arena with music blaring in the background, but the subtitles at the bottom of the screen clear up anything that might otherwise get missed.

The young man leaning over the pen chuckles and shakes his head. “Must be all that milk you drink. No broken bones for the world-famous Rhett Eaton.”

The easily recognizable cowboy grins behind the cage over his face, a flash of white teeth and the wink of an amber eye from beneath the black helmet. A charming grin I know from spending hours staring at a glossy, still version of it.

“Beat it, Theo. You know I fuckin’ hate milk.”

A teasing grin touches Theo’s lips as he speaks with a lightly accented voice. “You look cute in those ads with it painted above your lip though. Cute for an old guy.”

The younger man winks and the two men share a friendly laugh as Rhett rubs a hand up the rope methodically.

“I’d rather get bucked off a bull every damn day than drink that shit.”

Their laughter is all I hear as my father pauses the video on the large flatscreen, redness creeping up his neck and onto his face.

“Okay . . .” I venture cautiously, trying to piece together why that exchange requires this impromptu meeting with the two newest full-time hires at Hamilton Elite.

“No. Not okay. This guy is the face of professional bull riding, and he just skewered his biggest sponsors. But it gets worse. Keep watching.”

He hits play again, aggressively, like the button did something wrong in this whole affair, and the screen flashes to a different scene. Rhett is walking outside of an arena, through the parking lot with a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. The helmet is now replaced by a cowboy hat and a slim man in dark baggy clothes is taking quick strides to keep up with his target while the cameraman follows and runs tape.

I don’t think the paparazzi usually follow bull riders, but Rhett Eaton has become something of a household name over the years. Not a paragon of purity by any stretch, but a symbol of rough and tumble, rugged country men.

The reporter takes a little skip step to get far enough ahead that he can line his microphone up with Rhett’s mouth.

“Rhett, can you comment on the video that’s been circulating this weekend? Any apologies you’d like to make?”

The cowboy’s lips thin, and he tries to hide his face behind the brim of his hat. A muscle in his jaw flexes, and his toned body goes taut. Tension lines every limb.

“No comment,” he bites out through gritted teeth.

“Come on, man, give me something.” The slender guy reaches out and presses the microphone against Rhett’s cheek. Forcing it on him even though he declined to comment. “Your fans deserve an explanation,” the reporter demands.

“No, they don’t,” Rhett mutters, trying to create space between them.

Why do these people think they’re owed a response when they ambush a person who is otherwise minding his own business?

“How about an apology?” the guy asks.

And then Rhett decks him in the face.

It happens so fast that I blink in an attempt to follow the now shaking and swiveling camera angles.

Well, shit.

Within seconds, the pushy paparazzi is on the ground clutching his face, and Rhett is shaking out his hand as he walks away without a word.

The screen switches back to news anchors sitting behind a desk, and before they can give any input on what we just watched, my dad flicks the TV off and lets loose a rumbling sound of frustration.

“I hate these fucking cowboys. They’re impossible to keep in line. I don’t want to deal with him. So, lucky for you two, this job is up for grabs.” He’s practically vibrating with rage, but I just lean back in my chair. My father flies off the handle easily, but he gets over things quickly too. I’m pretty nonplussed by his mood swings at this point in my life. You don’t last long at Hamilton Elite if you can’t withstand Kip Hamilton.

Lucky for me, I have a lifetime of learning under my belt to brush off his moods, so I’m immune. I’ve come to think like it’s part of his charm, so I don’t take it personally. He’s not mad at me. He’s just . . . mad.

“I worked my ass off for years to get this country bumpkin sponsorships like he’s never dreamed of, and then as his career is winding down, he goes and blows it all up like this. My father’s hand flicks over at the wall-mounted screen. “Do you have any idea how much money these guys make for being nuts enough to climb up on an angry two-thousand-pound bull, Summer?”

“Nope.” But I have a feeling he’s about to tell me. I hold my father’s dark eyes, the same shade as my own. Geoff, the other intern in the chair beside me, shrinks down in his seat.

“They make millions of dollars if they’re as good as this asshole.”

I never would have guessed this was such big business, but then they don’t cover that in law school. I know all about Rhett Eaton, heartthrob bull riding sensation and mainstay teenaged crush, but almost nothing about the actual industry or sport. One corner of my lips tugs up as I think back on how a decade ago, I’d lie in my bed and gaze at that photo of him.

Rhett stepped up on a fence, glancing back over his shoulder at the camera. Open land behind him, a warm setting sun. A flirty smirk on his lips, eyes partially obscured by a worn cowboy hat, and the pièce de résistance . . . Wrangler jeans that hugged all the best parts.

So yeah, I know little about bull riding. But I know I spent an awful lot of time staring at that photo. The land. The light. It drew me in. It wasn’t just the guy. It made me want to be there, watching that sunset for myself.

“George, do you know how much that milk sponsorship he just flushed down the toilet was worth? Not to mention all the other sponsors whose balls I’ll be fondling to smooth this shit over?”

I swear to God I almost snort. George. I know my dad well enough to know that he’s aware it’s the wrong name, but it’s also a test to see if Geoff has the cojones to say anything. From what I gather, it’s not always a walk in the park working with entitled athletes and celebrities. I can already tell the guy beside me is going to struggle.

“Um . . .” He flips through the binder on the boardroom table in front of him, and I let my gaze linger out the floor-to-ceiling windows. The ones that offer sweeping views out over the Alberta prairies. From the 30th floor of this building, the view over Calgary is unparalleled. The snow-capped Rocky Mountains off in the distance are like a painting—it never gets old.

“The answer is tens of millions, Greg.”

I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from chuckling. I like Geoff, and my dad is being a total dick, but after years of being on the spot in this same way, it’s amusing to see someone else flounder the way I have in the past.

God knows my sister, Winter, was never on the receiving end of this kind of grilling. She and Kip have a different relationship than mine with our father. With me, he’s playful and shoots from the hip; with her, he stays almost professional. I think she likes that better anyway.

Geoff looks over at me with a flat smile.

I’ve seen that expression on people’s faces at work many times. It says, Must be nice to be the boss’s little girl. It says, How’s that nepotism treating ya? But I’m trained to take this kind of lashing. My skin is thicker. My give-a-fuck meter is less attuned. I know that in fifteen minutes, Kip Hamilton will crack jokes and be smiling. That perfect veneer he uses to suck up to clients will quickly slip back into place.

The man is a master, even if a bit of a weasel. But I think that comes with the territory of wheeling and dealing the contracts he does as a top-tier talent agent.

If I’m being honest, I’m still not so sure I’m cut out to be working here. Not sure I really want to. But it’s always seemed like the right thing to do. I owe my dad that much.

“So, the question is, kids—how does one go about fixing this? I’ve got the Dairy King milk sponsorship hanging by a thread. I mean, a fucking professional bull rider just slammed his entire base. Farmers? Dairy producers? It seems like it shouldn’t matter, but people are going to talk. They’re going to put him under a microscope, and I don’t think they’ll love what they see. This will dent the idiot’s bottom line more than you’d think. And his bottom line is my bottom line, because this nutjob makes us all a lot of money.”

“How did the first recording even get out?” I ask, forcing my brain back onto the task at hand.

“A local station left their camera running.” My dad scrubs a hand over his clean-shaven chin. “Caught the whole damn thing and then subtitled it and ran it on the evening news.”

“Okay, so he needs to apologize,” Geoff tosses out.

My dad rolls his eyes at the generic solution. “He’s gonna need to do a hell of a lot more than apologize. I mean, he needs a bullet-proof plan for what’s left of the season. He’s got a couple of months until the World Championships in Vegas. We’re gonna need to polish up that cowboy hat halo before then. Or other sponsors are going to drop like flies too.”

I tap my pen against my lips, mind racing with what we could do to help salvage this situation. Of course, I have next to no experience, so I stick to leading questions. “So, he needs to be seen as the charming, wholesome country boy next door?”

My dad barks out a loud laugh, his hands coming to brace against the boardroom table across from us as he leans down. Geoff flinches, and I roll my eyes. Pussy.

“That right there is the issue. Rhett Eaton is not the wholesome country boy next door. He’s a cocky cowboy that parties too hard and has hordes of women throwing themselves at him every weekend. And he’s not mad about it. It hasn’t been an issue before, but they’ll pick apart anything they can now. Like fucking vultures.”

I quirk an eyebrow and lean back. Rhett is an adult, and surely, with an explanation of what’s on the line, he can hold it together. After all, he pays for the company to manage this stuff for him. “So, he can’t be on his best behavior for a couple of months?”

My dad drops his head with a deep chuckle. “Summer, this man’s version of good behavior will not cut it.”

“You’re acting as if he’s some sort of wild animal, Kip.” I learned the hard way not to call him Dad at work. He’s still my boss, even if we carpool together at the end of each day. “What does he need? A babysitter?”

The room is quiet for several beats while my dad stares at the tabletop between his hands. Eventually, his fingers tap the surface of it—something he does when he’s deep in thought. A habit I’ve picked up from him over the years. His almost black eyes lift, and a wolfish grin takes over his entire face.

“Yeah, Summer. That’s exactly what he needs. And I know the perfect person for the job.”

And based on the way he’s looking at me right now, I think Rhett Eaton’s new babysitter just might be me.


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset