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Flawless: Chapter 17


Summer: Please don’t do anything stupid while I’m at the staff meeting. I trust you to hold it together for one afternoon.

Rhett: Shit, Princess. I don’t know. I might go crazy without you.

Summer: For ducks’ sake.

Summer: Duck

Summer: *Duck

Summer: FUCK. Ugh. Why can’t my phone learn that word? I’ll be back around dinnertime.

Rhett: Quack.

“This is a bad fuckin’ idea.” Cade looks downright murderous on the back of his red mare as we ride through the pasture.

“No way.” Beau, on the other hand, looks giddy. “This is fun. Like old times.”

“Old times when we were, what? Teenagers?”

“Yeah. Exactly.” Beau points back at him. “Our family is founded on fighting with the Jansens. We’re like the Hatfields and McCoys.”

Cade snorts. “We are not like the Hatfields and McCoys.”

“It’s more like Ebenezer Scrooge, Captain America, and I’m the cool guy from Tombstone who can twirl his guns really well,” I reply.

“More like Fabio with all that fuckin’ hair,” Beau snorts. “And I’m Captain Canada thank you very much. Oh!” Beau slaps his thigh in the saddle. “No, no, no, I’m Maverick from Top Gun.”

“Why the hell am I Ebenezer Scrooge?” Cade grumbles from under the brim of his hat.

Beau and I only need to glance at each other for a moment before we burst out laughing.

“Seriously?” Cade bites out, shaking his head. “If you spent your entire life being responsible for you two yahoos, and now a kid who takes after the likes of his fuckin’ uncles, you’d be grumpy too.”

That sobers me a bit. I know Cade has the weight of the world on his shoulders. In recent years, I’ve come to understand him better. I’m a split down the middle of my two brothers. At times, I can be quiet and grumbly like Cade, but I can also be playful and reckless like Beau.

The problem is Beau’s lack of self-awareness. He’s all about danger, and fun, and living life to the fullest. He’s the happy-go-lucky middle child, who all the shit just seems to roll off. Like some sort of Teflon pan. Or at least that’s the way it seems.

The unit he’s a part of is ultra-secretive, which means we never really know where he is or what he’s doing.

But we’re all tight.

And I suppose that’s why we’re here, riding out to our property line together. When Cade mentioned the Jansens parked their tractor and tilling machine on our property—again—Beau hatched a plan that only someone with his level of maturity could.

I suppose I’m just agitated enough to go along with it. In the days since our kiss, Summer has gone on being completely professional, if a little wary. Like she’s nervous about ticking me off now that I know a secret of hers.

When we go to the gym, she’s not as hard on me. She’d enjoyed coming up with the hardest core exercises she could imagine. Like, tossing me a ball while I stand one-legged on a Bosu ball. When I would stumble, she’d laugh. But now, she offers me words of encouragement. And it’s fucking weird. I hate it. I’ve grown to like her pestering. Her snarky little digs.

I crave those interactions with her.

So, here I am, falling into old habits. Doing something I know I shouldn’t because, well, I guess it burns off steam. What I refuse to acknowledge is that the risk of getting caught also brings the chance of attention.

Negative attention. From Summer, who is currently meeting with her dad in the city. And will freak out when she finds out I did this.

But even negative attention from Summer feels like a reward. If she wants to dress me down, I’ll let her. I like the way her cheeks pink, the way her bottom lip pouts out, the way her eyes roll.

I’d like to make them roll in other ways too, tip back as her lashes flutter down. The view from between her legs would be spectacular, I just know it.

We crest the hill, and I will my boner away. If my brothers catch sight of that, there will be hell to pay.

“See?” Cade’s jaw pops, and he shakes his head at where the blue tractor is parked. Does it matter? Probably not. But we’re here anyway. “You’d think after years of this shit, they’d stop. I just know they did it on purpose. Trash, the lot of them.”

The Jansens don’t have a great reputation in town, they never have. If there’s trouble, it’s one of the Jansen boys. In the back of a police car, selling drugs, stealing shit, you name it. I don’t think they’re actually that scary, more just . . . well, like Cade said—trash.

We stay on our property, and they stay on theirs. The only spot of contention is near the creek where Beau built his house. He likes to fish out there and has had to chase those fuckers off our land twice for fishing where they don’t belong.

Most of my pranks concerning the Jansens have been limited to opening their chicken coop or sneaking around and cutting the twine on their bales of hay. Did I put sugar in their gas tank once? I’ll never tell.

Basically, general shit-disturbing farm-boy behavior as a child.

“Bailey isn’t so bad,” Beau interjects.

“Yeah, I feel bad for Bailey,” I agree. Bailey is quiet. She works her shifts at the pub at night and keeps her head down. I don’t think being the baby sister of the criminal enterprise in a small town has been easy for her.

Cade grunts. I know he has a soft spot for Bailey. There’s something about a baby sister that gets all three of us right in the chest.

“Alright, fellas.” Beau grins and opens his saddle bag, pulling out a roll of toilet paper and holding it up. “Let’s get to work.”

Cade actually chuckles now, as he swings a leg up over his mount and jumps down onto the ground. “Let’s do this.”

I follow suit, pulling out my own rolls of toilet paper, trying to contain my grin and the childish glee bubbling up inside me. At my age, I should not be this giddy over toilet papering the neighbor’s tractor.

But here we are.

We do the tires. The hitch. Beau gets underneath and does the axels. Cade does the pistons attached to the front bucket. Between the three of us, it doesn’t take long to cover the whole goddamn thing.

We stand back to admire our handiwork, grinning from ear to ear. The three Eaton boys, united in their childish pranks. It feels good. It feels normal. There’s no crush of expectations. There’s no worry about sponsors, or fans, or scores.

Our horses’ snort behind us, and I feel hilariously . . . at peace.

“I’m going to get the inside before we go,” I announce.

“Yeah. Yeah. Get the pedals and shit,” Beau prompts while Cade stands there, shaking his head.

“It’s never enough for you, is it, Rhett? You’re always looking for more.” I dodge the truth of that statement by dropping my head and trudging back over the dry grass toward the tractor, toilet paper in hand, as the sun dips low in the sky.

I yank the door open and step up into the cage, immediately wrapping the wheel. It’s when I bend down to get the pedals that I hear a commotion.

“Hey! What the fuck?”

“Oh, shit.” That deep growl can only be Cade.

I don’t shoot up right away. I keep myself folded down and peek over the dash into the field. There are two of the Jansen boys standing on the opposite side of a shallow ditch, looking red as beets, shouting and gesturing.

And then I glance over at my brothers. Fucking pussies that they are climbing up onto their horses, all while laughing.

The two others run toward them and spook my horse. Within moments, my brothers and my mount are taking off across the field, whooping and laughing as they go.

I can’t help but snicker when I see Beau turn over his shoulder and hold up three fingers in a sort of salute before he shouts, “May the odds be ever in your favor!”

Fucking dick.

The Jansens give chase, which is fucking stupid considering they’re on foot.

I weigh my options. I can get out of the tractor and make a run for it, or I can stay down and hope they’re too lazy to clean up the mess right now.

When I see the oldest one take a swig out of a tall boy can of beer, I opt to lie low. If I were a beer or two deep, I’d leave this mess until morning.

“I hate those Eaton motherfuckers.” Lance Jansen kicks a rock.

“Should we move the tractor?” the younger one asks. I can’t even remember his name. He’s younger than me, where Lance was in my grade.

“Nah. Fuck that. I’m parking this here every goddamn day from now on. Just knowing it pisses them off is win enough.”

I tilt my head. He has a point. Not that I’m about to say anything. I stay hidden until their chatter dies down, and once I’m sure they’re gone, I finish doing the inside.

And I do it real good. I mean, I cover that shit from top to bottom. Then, I hop out and make my way over the hill, checking over my shoulder now and then to make sure those hillbilly motherfuckers don’t come back for me. Someone smart would realize there were three horses and only two people.

But Lance and his brother are not that someone.

Spring is in the air, and I’m not even mad about the walk. I get lost in my thoughts about my rides this weekend. We leave tomorrow, and I need to get my head in the game. My shoulder isn’t too bad, but it’s also not great—which makes sense considering the results of the scan say I need surgery on it.

Something I won’t consider until I get this last World Championship under my belt. The doctor hated my refusal to do it right now. I don’t think Summer liked it much either, based on the way she pressed her lips together all tight. But at least she didn’t scold me about it.

She gets it.

For all she’s been through, she understands my drive to succeed. To persevere. To not be a victim of my circumstances. And rather than talking me out of it, she snapped at the doctor to stop treating me like a child.

Her voice was all hard and snippy and—

“Rhett Eaton. What. The. Fuck. Do you think you’re doing?”

Raspy. Just like that. I look up just in time to see her riding on my mount, in a flowy white dress and fucking snakeskin boots.

If her face was a little more Please fuck me, sir and a little less I’m going to kill you, I’d be hard at the mere sight of her.

“Walking home,” I reply with a wink. Something I realize she hates. The wink. I mentally add it to my list of ways to rile her up.

She glares at me. “That.” She points at the tractor.

“Oh. That. That’s just my brothers and I blowing off some steam.”

She halts the horse in front of me, body swaying gently with the horse beneath her. “That”—she points again—“is how three men in their thirties blow off some steam? Why can’t you just be a normal male idiot and make me endure chasing you around while you try to fuck all the buckle bunnies?”

I stare back at her, a little taken aback by her outburst. “Is that really what you’d prefer?”

Her bottom lip pushes out as she raises her chin. I watch the column of her throat move as she glares at me, but she says nothing, even as the seconds stretch between us.

I eventually shrug and drop my gaze. “It was more about the nostalgia. I’m sure Beau will deploy any day now. With the two of us doing what we do, we never know when it will be our last time getting up to criminal mischief together.”

She blinks at that. Like she hadn’t considered that we both have jobs that risk our lives. And then, she pats the expanse of the horse’s back behind the saddle while lifting one leg up to offer me the stirrup. “Get up, you big idiot.”

“You making me ride bitch, Princess?” I wedge a boot in the stirrup and swing myself up a little awkwardly.

“If the shoe fits,” she grumbles, urging the horse forward.

Instead of grabbing her waist, I slide my arms around her petite frame and cover her hands with my own. “I’ve got it.”

For a minute, her fingers clench tight, like she doesn’t want to let go. Of the reins, or the control, or all the tension in her limbs.

But then she sighs, and I feel her body soften against mine as we both sway in time with the swinging gait of our mount. She seems out of breath, just like the poor horse we’re riding.

“What did you do? Gallop into battle?”

“Not before reaming your brothers out. But yeah, I didn’t know what kind of trouble you’d be in. If you’d need help.”

She was rushing to help me. To be there for me.

Her fingers wrap around the horn of the saddle, and the blades of her shoulders brush against my chest. And I can’t help myself. I take the reins in one hand and slide the other across her front. Splaying my fingers out over her ribs.

“How’d that go over?” I say quietly, feeling her body shake as a shiver rushes through her.

Summer clears her throat. “Well, Cade just crossed his arms and glared at me. Beau looked like a kicked puppy. Oh, and I think your dad and Luke might have peed their pants from laughing so hard.”

A deep laugh rumbles in my chest, and I feel her push back into it, her back flush against my chest now as we crest another rolling foothill. It feels really fucking good holding her in the cage of my arms. She’s relaxed with me, and I get off on that.

Without even thinking, my thumb starts to move in a gentle circle against her waist. Rubbing up against the bottom seam of her bra through the airy cotton. “I guess you weren’t lying about being able to ride.”

Her response is to reach forward and trail her fingers over my fingers that hold the reins. I suck in a breath, surprised by her sudden boldness. Her touch is pure heat as the delicate pads of her fingers trace the silver ring on my finger. But whatever hypnotic state she was just in evaporates before my eyes, and she snatches her hand back.

She sits up a little straighter, pulling away incrementally.

“Sorry. Yeah, no. I was pretty good before my heart problems worsened. It’s how I met my best friend, Willa. It’s also why I should have known riding in this dress would have pinched my thighs to shit.” She shifts in the saddle.

I lean down and whisper into her ear, “Well, your chivalry is not lost on me,” which earns me a firm elbow in the ribs.

“Your stupidity is not lost on me. If you’d been caught, I’d be the one in shit. I’d be letting people down.”

“You ever get tired of living to please everyone else all the time? Doesn’t it get boring?” I joke with a playful nip to the lobe of her ear, but based on the way Summer tenses, she doesn’t see the humor.

“Let me off.” She shoves one of my arms from where it’s resting against hers.


“Let. Me. Off.”

“Summer, I didn’t mean—“

“I know what you meant. And it’s just further proof that you don’t understand responsibility beyond what you want and what makes you feel good.”

I move my arm away, and she swings her leg over the horse’s lowered neck and slides off easily. I even get a flash of her lacy nude underwear as she goes, but I look away quickly. She’s clearly pissed, and it seems ungentlemanlike to ogle her while she tries to storm off.

“Summer, hold up.”

She raises her hand to stop me. “Please. Just let me walk. I’m having a moment. I need to clear my head. I need space.”


Her head shakes, and she closes her eyes to suck in a breath. “Rhett. Please. I need space.”

I don’t miss the wobble in her voice, and as much as I want to stay and scoop her up and do everything in my power to make her feel better, I don’t.

Because I am a gentleman. And I’ll respect her wishes, even when I don’t like them. I clearly struck a nerve. So, I urge my horse into a jog and offer her a casual tip of my hat on the way past.

I spend the next several minutes trying to figure out what that was. What chord did I strike with my comment? One that set her right the fuck off, that much is certain.

Back at the ranch, my brothers are nowhere to be found. They’ve skulked off to lick their wounds somewhere—something that brings a smile to my face. I wish I’d been here to see Summer go off on them. Her caretaker side is strong. But as much of a people pleaser as she might be, she has this vicious streak. This protective streak.

And I fucking live for that.

I untack my bay gelding, give him a quick brush, and turn him back out with a firm pat on the shoulder. Then I trudge back up to the gate that meets up with the main yard, lean myself against a fence post, and wait for Summer.

When she finally comes into sight, my breath freezes in my lungs. She’s a vision in a billowing white dress, cinched tight around her waist, and tall boots. Toned thighs make the odd appearance through the slit in the skirt. Her small hands are curled into fists at her side, and she’s staring at the ground, muttering to herself, dark strands floating across her face.

It sounds like she’s having some sort of internal argument. She looks adorably pissed off, and one side of my mouth tips up in amusement.

“Rhett. I’m not in the mood for our bickering right now,” she says when she glances up and catches me watching her.

“Yeah. Fair. It sounds like you’re doing an excellent job of bickering with yourself.”

Her lips part, but no noise comes out. It’s fucking distracting. Distracting enough that I just stand here, propped up against the fence post while she meanders toward me.

With a heavy sigh, her shoulders droop. “Can you just stop? Please.”

“Why?” I stretch my arms out to clasp the top board with my hands, because without something to grab, I might grab her. And that’s not what she needs right now.

She runs her hands through her hair, pulling it back tight in her fists and tugging at it. She looks agitated, but also defeated.

“I just . . . I’m trying to do a good job. I’m trying hard not to let anyone down. My dad. His business. You. It’s a lot of responsibility, and I kind of got tossed in the deep end with this gig.”

The crack in her voice and the exhaustion in her frame really hits me now. She’s only twenty-five, fresh out of school, and while I haven’t been making her life a living hell or anything, I can see how I haven’t been exactly helpful.

Summer gives so much of herself. Her dad. Her sister. Her stepmom. Everyone she meets.


But who the fuck is taking care of Summer?

She’s sunny, and happy, and cracks a joke in the face of adversity. But right now, she seems tired. And after everything she’s done for me, lending her strength seems like the most natural thing to do.

I let go of the fence post and hold my arms open wide, while crooking my fingers toward myself. “Come here.”

“That’s a bad idea.” She rolls her eyes and nibbles at her bottom lip, but I get the sense that’s mostly to chase away the glassiness shining in them. She makes me wait, but eventually, she steps into the cage of my arms, and I wrap them around her.

For the first moments she maintains a polite distance, but when I drop my head and let out a sigh against the crook of her neck, she melts closer. One arm slung over my shoulder while the other tentatively traces my ribs.

And I just hold her tighter.

She’s healthy, and strong, and resilient, and yet so fragile. She feels small in my arms, and the way she clutches at me borders on desperate. I wish I could ease all her hurt, all her worry, all her anxiety.

It’s almost like she doesn’t see what a force she is.

But I do.

I wish I could make her see that too.

I’m not sure how long we stand here, holding one another as the golden sun sinks below the hills behind us.

When she finally pulls back a bit, her eyes hold mine. And what I see there is something akin to confusion.

“I’m sorry I made your job harder today.” I say it, and I mean it. “I’ve spent so long fending for myself that it honestly just felt like a way to have some fun. I’m, well, I’m not accustomed to accounting for someone else.” It’s a sobering realization. I’m a man who’s been living his day-to-day life for what feels good, with little regard for those around me.

She nods, eyes dipping down to my mouth. “Can you just wait until you win it all to have some fun? Then you can do whatever you want. It’s not that long.”

My fingers pulse on her waist and I take my turn staring at her mouth. I groan. Whatever I want. What a tempting way of putting that.

Her chest rises and falls with some strain now. “Rhett. You can’t look at me like that,” she says breathily. “You really, really can’t.” Her eyes press shut, like she might be able to erase me from her mind.

“Why not?” My voice is all gravel as I soak up the pained expression on her face.

“Because it’s confusing.”

Like hell. I reach down and hitch her leg up, wrapping it around my waist. Right where it belongs.

“I was so wrong about you. And now? Now I’m not confused at all.” My fingers give her toned thigh a firm squeeze, and my mind runs wild with how it would feel to have her entirely wrapped around me.

This fucking body.

“Rhett?” She hasn’t pulled away. In fact, her fingers are tangling in the hair at the base of my skull, pulling my face closer to hers, whether she realizes it or not.

And then her mouth tips up. Her body is saying yes, but her words are saying she’s not so sure.

I let my hand trail up her torso, feeling her tremble slightly beneath my touch. I stroke the column of her throat with my thumb, her pulse beating beneath my fingers. The way it jumps wildly. “Tell me what you want, Summer.” Our lips are so close, facing off in some sort of game without even touching. “If this were your last moment on earth, what would you want me to do?”

A desperate whimpering sound escapes her as her eyes squeeze shut again.

And then she pulls away. Her leg comes down, and the spring breeze pushes her out of my reach. Her expression is stricken, and her posture defeated.

Summer is proud and responsible. Two characteristics about her I absolutely admire.

So, there’s the small part of me that isn’t surprised. I stare at her trembling hand raised between us in a signal to not come any closer.

“Unfortunately, this is not my last moment on earth.” She swallows and glances over her shoulder, like she’s embarrassed. “Mostly, I’ve been pushing papers at Hamilton Elite. I’m . . . I’m trying to keep this relationship professional. I need to keep this relationship professional if I’m going to work in this industry. I can’t manage athletes if I’m hooking up with them. You need to find someone else to play this game with.”

That last sentence is a slap to the face. Partly because she thinks all I want from her is some cheap hookup, partly because the thought of her with other men makes me insane, and partly because I know she’s not wrong.

“I should go,” she whispers sadly. “I need to pack. Our flight is early tomorrow.”

And then she turns. I almost reach for her. But Luke comes running around the corner of the main barn waving a hand at me, shouting something about mutton bustin’ as he races past Summer with an enthusiastic high five.

She turns to look back over her shoulder at me, her eyes pinched and confused. And I almost feel bad for touching her, because she wants it too, and I know she’s going to go beat herself up about it.

That’s what someone responsible would do.

But I’m not that responsible.

Which is why I only almost feel bad about touching Summer Hamilton. There isn’t a single other woman I want to play this game with.


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