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Flawless: Chapter 27

Summer

Summer: You going to come to the rodeo with me this weekend?

Dad: Wouldn’t miss it. Beers are on me. Maybe some of those cinnamon mini donuts too.

Summer: Sounds healthy.

Dad: If this were my last moment on earth, I’d want to go with a beer in one hand and a mini donut in the other.

Summer: I hate you.

Dad: I love you too.


We step into the trendy downtown restaurant—all whites and silvers and modern lines—and Rhett looks out of place here. Frankly, I feel out of place here, like something inside of me has changed in the last couple months.

Before my time in Chestnut Springs, this was the type of place I would have loved to come for dinner. But spending long days in the prairies, seeing the mountains, being surrounded by people who value different things, well, I’m thinking they’ve rubbed off on me. That maybe my priorities have changed.

Rhett’s hand bumps against mine as he peers around the restaurant. He’s reached back for me without even looking, possibly without even thinking about it.

The girl who likes places like these pops up in my head, telling me I shouldn’t hold his hand in public. That it’s not appropriate. That I’ll get one of us in trouble.

But the new girl—the windswept, sun-kissed girl with beautiful custom chaps who makes love in the back of a rusty old pickup in the middle of a field—doesn’t give a fuck.

She tells me to slip my soft hand into Rhett’s rough one and give it a squeeze.

When his cheek twitches, I know I listened to the right girl.

That smile is my kryptonite. And those hands. And that mouth, including the toe-curling things that come out of it. The dick, too. Big fan of Rhett Eaton’s dick.

Actually, it would seem I’m just a big fan of Rhett Eaton, and not the cocky cowboy everyone else gets to see. The man who kisses me sweetly, who makes me feel taken care of, like I’m not a burden—the one who’s just a little bit vulnerable and insecure.

The man that no one else really sees. I’m not sure why he’s opted to show me that side of himself, but I know I need to handle it with care. I know Rhett is far more sensitive than he lets on. His wounds run deep, and he’s patched them with a public persona and a cocky grin that doesn’t match the soulful man I’ve come to know.

“There he is.” His opposite hand raises up in a salute, and he holds my hand tight as he strides across the room toward the table where Jasper is already seated.

Hilariously, Jasper doesn’t look like he belongs here either. His scruffy beard covers most of his face, and his shaggy dark blond hair peeks out from under the team cap he’s wearing.

“Hey, guys.” Jasper’s eyes drop to our intertwined hands and his lips press together. “Rhett, don’t think I’ve ever seen you hold a girl’s hand before,” he continues as we pull out our chairs across from him.

I flush and pull my hand away, but the minute we’re seated in the clear Lucite chairs, Rhett reaches across the space between us and grabs it again, thumb rubbing in reassuring strokes.

“Didn’t know growing a playoff beard was a thing when you aren’t even close to making the playoffs,” Rhett deadpans.

Jasper smirks and dips his chin down to read the menu in front of him. “Vicious, little Eaton.” He pops his head up just long enough to add, “Lovely to see you, Summer.”

There’s something different about Jasper. Something quiet and introspective. Something sweet, but also something very removed. I can’t quite put my finger on him. The only thing I know is that I’ve heard my dad talk about goalies being a different type of athlete than your average hockey player.

“You too,” I tell him honestly.

“Thanks for meeting us today,” Rhett says. “I don’t love dinners out before I ride.”

Jasper grunts. “Yeah. I hear that. Playing on a full stomach makes me want to hurl.”

My mouth twists. I’m in for an interesting evening of trying to make conversation with Jasper. At least it will distract me from the gnawing anxiety over Rhett riding again this weekend.

My phone rings loudly in my purse, much too loud in the quiet restaurant.

“Shit. Sorry guys.” I rifle through my oversized purse, desperately hoping to find it and shut it up, silently chastising myself for dumping everything in here including receipts I’ll never need.

My hand closes on the vibrating block and I pull it out right as the server comes to fill our tall, slender water glasses.

The name Doctor Douche flashes across my screen as I silence the ringer. My eyes shoot up to Rhett, who is staring at the phone in my hand looking equal parts amused and murderous.

“When did you do that?” I whisper.

“You left your phone unlocked one day,” he mutters, peering just over my shoulder, looking like a scolded little boy who isn’t sorry at all.

My mouth drops open, and I try to keep from laughing. “Really mature,” I reply as I click the phone off and toss it back in my purse while shooting Jasper an apologetic glance. “Sorry about that. So, tell me, have you ever been to one of Rhett’s events?”

“Not in a long time. Our seasons overlap and my schedule is usually packed with—”

My phone blares again, and I grimace, cringing internally as I yank my phone out again. I don’t bother glancing at Rhett because I can tell by the set of his body next to mine that he’s ready to break something.

We haven’t talked much about what we are or where we’re going. I want so badly to not be needy or clingy that I’ve been too afraid to ask. He hasn’t told me anything, but his body says it all.

His body says I’m his.

When I pull out my phone this time, my sister’s name flashes across the screen, which has my brow furrowing. She rarely calls me.

I shoot a concerned look at Rhett, whose expression tells me he’s equally confused.

“Sorry, I’m just going to take this,” I announce to the two men who respond with murmurs telling me to go ahead.

I slip my thumb across the screen and lift the phone to my ear. “Winter?”

“Summer, where are you right now?” Her voice is arctic, like usual, but there’s also a thread of something else in there.

“I’m out for dinner.”

“In the city or away?”

She’s never taken an interest in where I am.

“I’m in the city. Winter, what’s wrong?”

Rhett peers at me, concern etched on his face.

“Our dad had a heart attack.”

My stomach plummets. “What?”

“It’s very mild.” She sniffs, and I can just imagine her inspecting her nails right now, like I’m some sort of simpleton because I didn’t become a doctor. “He’s going to be okay. But he’s here at the hospital if you’d like to see him.”

My heart thunders against my ribcage. “Of course, I want to see him!” The words come out more forcefully than I intend as panic seeps into my veins. “When did this happen?” I’m already standing, shoving my arms into my coat.

The guys are standing too, ready to follow, even though they don’t know what’s going on. A twinge pops up in my chest at knowing I have people who support me. It feels unusual, and despite the anxiety bubbling inside of me, their silent support soothes me.

“A few hours ago,” Winter replies.

“Winter. Are you fucking kidding me? Dad had a heart attack a few hours ago, and you’re just telling me now?”

“Don’t be dramatic, Summer. It’s not like there’s anything you could have done for him with a law degree,” she scoffs, and tears sting my eyes.

“I could have been there with him! He’s my dad too, Winter.”

She sighs like I’m the most inconvenient person in the world to her. And I guess it’s possible that I am. She didn’t ask for this fucked up family tie. But neither did I, and I’m tired of being treated like I did.

“Well, he’s here now. And he’s fine. Staying a couple of days for observation. You’re welcome to visit.” She hangs up on me.

Rhett is talking to me, but all I see is white. White hot rage. Rage that I could have missed last moments with the only person who’s ever really cared about me. Rage that Winter and my stepmother continue to treat me this way as an adult.

Rhett massages the back of my neck. “Let’s go, Summer. I’ll drive you.”

“I’m sorry, Jasper,” I say woodenly, trying to contain the anger bubbling beneath the surface.

He waves a hand at me. “Nothing to be sorry for. Go. Say hi to that nut for me.”

I nod before Rhett ushers me out the door, straight to my vehicle, where he opens the passenger door and puts me in like I’m in some sort of coma. His motions are quick and efficient, full of worry—full of so much care.

He leans in and kisses my hair before slamming the door and bounding around to the driver’s side. After he adjusts the seat and mirrors, he slings his hand over the back of my seat to reverse my car and says, “I’m against hitting women myself, but I fully support you decking your sister.”

A dark laugh escapes me, and then, he hits the gas.


We fly into the cardiology wing. I recognize the mint-colored walls so well.

“Where is he?” My eyes narrow at my sister. She looks like a porcelain doll—pale blonde hair and perfect skin—next to me with all my freckles.

“He’s speaking with the cardiologist. So, contain your tantrum.” She flicks her hand up and inspects her nails. This is a way she insults me. Acting like her cuticles are more interesting than I am.

My voice shakes when I say, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.” She sighs and glances over at the closed door to our dad’s room. “Winter, what if it had been more serious? What if I’d missed my chance to be with him? All because…what?” My voice cracks and Rhett steps close behind me, his body firm and his hand steady at the small of my back.

Her eyes drop to where he’s touching me, but she just blinks.

“Because you’re carrying some vendetta against me for how I was conceived?” I continue. “You know I wasn’t there for that, right? Didn’t exactly have a choice in the matter. Did they cover that in medical school? Because that man in that room”—I point at the closed door—“he’s all I’ve got. You and Marina have made sure of that. I’m not really certain what more you want from me.”

Everything is spilling out of me, like this opened the dam, and I can’t stop the water from gushing out. It’s embarrassing.

It’s cathartic.

Or it would be if Winter did anything other than stare at me blankly. She’s so robotic, and I almost feel bad for her. Almost.

She brightens with a fake smile and moves her focus over my shoulder. “Oh, good. Rob, you’re here.”

Rhett stiffens behind me, and I freeze, refusing to turn around. In this moment, I realize that I’ve fucked up. Everything with Rhett moved too quickly, a blur of orgasms and lingering looks. I forgot about the world around us.

The world around me. And this is definitely something I should have told Rhett before walking into the hospital with him today.

When Rob Valentine strides into view, coiffed hair and collared shirt under some preppy sweater, I wonder what attracted me to him at all. Next to Rhett, he’s just so . . . underwhelming.

“What the fuck is he doing here?” Rhett growls.

Winter’s eyes widen and she rears back. “He is my husband. The question is, what are you doing here?”

“Hi, sweetheart.” Rob pecks Winter on the cheek, obviously unaffected by her rude comment.

Now Rhett is stepping up, pushing an arm in front of me and guiding me behind him, using his body as a shield for me.

“Is this some sort of sick joke?” From behind Rhett’s hulking frame, I see him turn his gaze on Rob, so slowly that it’s almost eerie. A predator sizing up his prey.

I squeeze at his arm. “Can we please walk away now? I need to speak to you in private.” My heart is pounding so hard that I can feel my chest vibrating. I’m always aware of my heart now. The change in rhythm, in intensity—I’ll never not think about it.

And right now, it’s pumping harder than I think it ever has. Because my deepest, darkest secret is dangerously close to seeing the light of day.

“No jokes here, fella.” The way Rob says it is almost like he’d talk to a dog. And Rhett doesn’t miss the insult. He strikes straight out.

“Preying on your teenaged patient wasn’t bad enough? You had to turn around and marry her older sister?”

My stomach lurches into my throat. Fear immobilizes me, freezing me in place.

Everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion. I’m grabbing at Rhett, feeling him moving forward. Kip’s hospital room door is opening.

“Rhett, stop!” He doesn’t hear me. I’m panicking now. This isn’t how any of this was ever supposed to come out. “Rhett.” I shake his arm. “Please stop.”

“What?” Winter’s skin is about the color of her hair. Her face is pale and drawn.

“Ignore the hillbilly, Winter. This is how people like him have fun. Let’s go.” He tries to pull his unmoving wife along with him.

Rob is so smug, so sure of himself, that he doesn’t even see it coming. Men like Rhett aren’t a factor in his reality. Polite and restrained by social correctness when someone they care about has been hurt. It’s all instinct and feeling.

Rhett’s no hillbilly, he’s more like a lion. And Rob is fucking with his pride.

It’s why he doesn’t hear me begging him to stop.

Rhett pushes his shoulders back. “Well, I’m sure glad that people like me don’t get their kicks by breaking professional codes and spending years coercing young women into being a dirty little secret to save their own fucked up hide. People like me say what we mean.” With a dark smile, he raises a finger and points right at Rob’s face. “And you, fella, are the shit stuck to my boot.”

My sister’s mouth is slack. I can see thoughts rushing through her eyes. Everyone is watching. Their gazes itch on my skin, and I wish I could turn and run. Take Rhett with me and hide.

But I can’t. Because Rob makes the stupidest decision he could make in this moment.

He rounds on me, eyes narrowed viciously, his voice pure venom. “You were supposed to keep your mouth shut.”

It’s a shitty thing to say to me, but I don’t care much about Rob. It’s my sister I can’t peel my eyes from. She doesn’t deserve this.

Rhett’s arm shoots out in front of me again, and when his voice comes out, I hardly recognize it. It’s so cold that a chill runs down my spine. “Talk to her like that again and I’ll fucking bury you. And trust me, you won’t be missed.”

Rob waves a dismissive hand at him. “Down boy.”

That’s the wrong thing to say, because before I have a chance to beg Rhett to back down, he’s pulled his arm back and is delivering a blow to Rob’s shitty smug face.

“Rhett!” I shout right as blood spurts from Rob’s nose, and the hospital around us buzzes to life. Nurses rush in, Rob bellows something about suing, and Winter stares at her husband like she’s never seen him before. I feel the crack in my chest for her. She looks young. She looks lost.

I wish I could hug her.

As strained as our relationship is, she’s still my big sister. And I’ll never stop wishing for more with her.

My hands cover my mouth as I take in the scene before me, and when I turn to the right, I see my dad’s open door, him sitting in his bed with pale skin and a grim expression on his face.

I press at my temples as I look up into Rhett’s warm eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he says as if he’s just realizing the surrounding mayhem. “Fuck. I’m so sorry, Summer. I just . . . fuck. No one talks to you like that. No one. Not ever.”

With a fat wad of gauze pressed to his nose, Rob butts in. “I’m going to take you for all you’re worth.”

I turn, holding a hand up, my patience fried. “Rob, fuck off. Go get your nose fixed and keep it where it belongs. Which is not in my business. You go after Rhett, and I’ll start talking. So just shut up, okay?”

He shakes his head at me, like he can’t believe the polite, pliant girl he’s been stringing along for years just said that to him. And it’s Winter who pulls him away. It’s Winter who won’t meet my eyes.

I turn my back on him, facing Rhett. “You need to leave.”

“What?” He looks genuinely confused.

“Seriously, Rhett?” I whisper-shout. “This is a fucking mess. My dad is in the hospital, and you just dropped my biggest, most complicated secret in a very, very spectacular fashion. You need to leave. I’ll talk to you later. I don’t need you here doing the whole possessive thing right now.”

Rhett blinks, a bit of color emerging under his stubble. After a deep sigh, he finally says, “Okay, fine.” He steps in close, tipping my chin up, thumb taking one swipe just beneath my lower lip. “But I want to make one thing clear. I am not possessive. I am protective. And I’ll never stop protecting you. I’d hit that fucker again in a heartbeat if it meant keeping him from talking to you that way.”

I nod, a little overwhelmed by what he’s just said, but too frazzled to do anything more. “Okay,” is all I respond with.

I’m too flustered to work out my thoughts and feelings in this moment, and I fear what I’ll find there. All I know is that I need to go be with my dad and clear my head.

Rhett leans in and presses a kiss to my forehead, the stubble rasping against my skin making my hair stand on end. He spins on his heel and strides out through the swinging doors. All the eyes in the room follow him.

Mine included.


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