Flawless: Chapter 28


Rhett: I am so fucking sorry.

“If I hadn’t already had a heart attack today, that might have given me one.”

I tip my head back against the back of the uncomfortable armchair angled in the corner of my dad’s room and let my eyes flutter shut. “That isn’t funny.”

“Are heart problems contagious? Because I think you infected me.”

I shake my head, lips quirking up at the corners. He’s never let me live down asking that when I was young. I was worried about him getting too close or spending too much time around me, just in case my congenital heart defect was somehow contagious. “Still not funny.”

“Do you think Rob’s nose is broken?”

I sigh heavily. “I don’t know. I’m not the doctor in this family.”

“Does hoping it is make me a dick?”

I bark out a sad laugh now. Kip and I have this father-daughter relationship that borders on a friendship, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. “You were already a dick.”

“Yeah. That’s true,” he muses from the bed beside me. I peek an eye open at him. His dark hair is a little more mussed than usual, possibly even sporting a few more silver streaks than I remember. My dad looks . . . older. In a way I hadn’t noticed until recently. I guess that happens when you creep up on your sixties.

But his mortality strikes me hard right now, laid up in a hospital bed, not looking like the suit wearing, tongue-wagging, shit disturber in a glossy office that he usually does.

My eyes sting as I study him. I roll my lips together to keep them from wobbling, to keep the shaky breaths inside.

When he looks over at me, I clamp my eyes shut. Squeezing them tight and willing away the tears building behind my lids.

“Summer, baby, come here. I’m okay.” His voice is soft, so soothing. It tosses me right back into the long days spent in the children’s ward with him at my side.

A sob lurches out of me, and he lifts an arm, gesturing me toward him. And as the tears spill out over the apples of my cheeks, I shuffle over and crawl into the narrow hospital bed and under my dad’s arm. Even over the terrible plain scent of hospital sheets, I can smell him, that intrinsically comforting scent.

“I was so scared, Dad. I . . . As soon as I found out, I came. I should have been here earlier.”

His broad palm rubs up and down my arm as he tips his cheek onto the top of my head. “No, you shouldn’t have. It’s not your job to take care of me. I asked Winter not to call you earlier. She wanted to. But I didn’t want you worrying.”

That just makes me cry harder. I nuzzle into his chest, rubbing my wet tears against the rough hospital gown he’s still wearing. “Dad, I really fucked up.”

“Yeah.” He keeps rubbing my arm. “I saw.”

“I didn’t want it to come out that way. Winter. I didn’t want her to . . .”

His voice goes deadly even as his fingers squeeze tight. “Did that fucker force you into anything?”

“No. He . . . I, well, you know, I always had a crush on him. Even when it turned into just check-ups.” My dad grunts. It was a running joke, really. I wasn’t subtle, and it’s hard not to be starry-eyed over a handsome young doctor who saved your life like he saved mine. “It was around when I turned eighteen. I was legal and went out with friends to have some drinks. I ran into him at the bar and rather than partying, we ended up driving around all night talking. Things took off from there.”

“For how long?”

I blow out a raspberry and turn my head to stare at the ceiling. “Two years.”

“Jesus Christ,” Kip mutters. “Then what?”

“Then . . .Winter.” I swallow heavily, letting myself feel the excruciating pain I felt when he told me he was going out with her. I couldn’t wrap my head around it back then. But I can now. I was young, and so fucking willing for a man with no professional boundaries. I don’t know how I didn’t see it that way. Winter started at the same hospital, and he was instantly taken.

And I was instantly forgotten.

He didn’t love me, he used me and discarded me. And now it makes my skin crawl.

“I promised him I would never tell anyone. I didn’t want to ruin his career. I mean, he’s clearly good at what he does. But . . .”

“But what?” Kip sounds downright murderous.

“He just always kind of strung me along. The odd call, or text. A conversation at a family event. He was careful to never cross a physical line once Winter was in the picture, but he always kind of kept me thinking that maybe, maybe, things might change.”

I bark out a sad laugh. Saying it out loud it seems so obvious.

“Because he wanted to keep you in line,” my dad provides.

“Yeah. It seems so blatant now. So manipulative. To think of how my personal life has played out these past years, I just . . . I guess that’s why they say hindsight is 20/20.”

“Stupid fucking saying,” Kip mutters as his hand slides up and down again. “Of course hindsight is 20/20.”

I smile, but it’s half-hearted. “I need to find Winter.”

“You need to give her some time. And I’m going to have to deal with Marina. And you’re going to have to spill the beans on why Rhett Eaton is acting like a fire-breathing dragon around you. But for now, just lie here with your old man for a minute. For old time’s sake.”

I don’t argue with him, I just breathe in deeply through my nose, seeking comfort in a way that has me feeling like the little girl I once was. In this very hospital. In this very wing. With the one person who never stopped showing up for me.

And I doze off.

I’m woken by my stepmother, Marina, shoving at my shoulder in a dim room. Her hair is a pale blonde, and her features are severe. Just like her. She’s wearing a gray pencil dress under her white coat. She’s a well-respected doctor here, but she couldn’t be bothered to come check on her husband in the last however many hours since he had a heart attack.

She’s always been cruel, though.

“Get out.” She points at the door.

She’s never liked me. And on one hand, who can blame her? But on the other . . . grow the fuck up.

“No.” I push up to sitting and comb my fingers through my hair, trying to get my bearings.

“Yes. You’ve done enough here for one day.”

My heart plummets at the reminder of what happened earlier. With Winter. The muscles in my chest constrict and I drop her gaze.

One more reason for her to hate me. For my sister to hate me.

“Listen, I . . .”

Her hand shoots up, palm held flat to stop me talking, and her eyes blaze with icy fury. “Homewrecking is hereditary for you. You can’t help it. I get it. But you’re going to displace Kip’s heart rate monitor and create more work for everyone. This isn’t the time for a sleepover. Go home.”

My jaw falls open as I stare back at this woman. This woman who only kind of raised me because Kip never let her get close enough. It didn’t stop her from making comments like this to me through the years. I’ve developed a thick skin where Marina Hamilton is concerned. Her jabs used to hurt, but now . . .

I kiss my dad on his forehead and move off the narrow bed, limbs heavy like lead and eyes scratchy like there’s sand in them. Most likely mascara crumbs from crying.

“I feel bad for you, Marina,” I say evenly, brushing my clothes flat.

“I don’t need your pity,” she spits quietly, picking up my dad’s chart and fixing her gaze on the papers before her.

“But you have it. And you have my forgiveness for how utterly awful you’ve been to me for my entire life.”

She scoffs, and I pull myself up as tall as I can get as I aim for the door to leave. Battling with Marina isn’t worth the effort. However, that doesn’t stop me from sharing some parting words, even though my voice shakes as I do it.

“You’ve spent a lifetime hurting my dad, and I hate that. But whatever goes on between you and Kip is none of my business. You’re both adults. But I will never forgive you for making it impossible for me to have a relationship with Winter. You think all your maneuvering throughout my life only hurt me, but it hurt Winter, too. It made it so that I felt like I couldn’t tell her things that she deserved to know. It made it so that we were both isolated when we could have had each other. And that’s”—I point at her, right in her face—“on you and your fucked up vendetta.”

And then I spin on a heel and leave. Too angry to look at her for even another moment.

I stumble out of the room in search of a washroom to fix my face and relieve my bladder. And maybe to cry a little more by myself. I need to find Winter. Call Winter. Explain myself to my sister.

But when I wander around the corner and hit the waiting space, what I find is Rhett Eaton, corded arms crossed over his chest, hair loose around his shoulders, bearded chin tipped up, staring at the ceiling. His golden irises dance back and forth as though he’s watching something.

“What are you doing here?” I ask.

He sits up straight, instantly looking at me as he clears his throat and grips at the armrests. “Waiting. I guess. Yeah, waiting. I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“What time is it?”

He nods at the wall behind me. “Almost two.”

“Two a.m.?”


I sigh and scrub at my face. “I asked you to leave.”

The quiet hum of the hospital behind me is peaceful in its familiarity.

“Well, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to sit here and wait to make things right with you. I’ll sit here all weekend if I have to.”

“No, you won’t. You ride tomorrow. You should be resting.”

“Summer. Don’t you get it?” He stands, holding out his hands in frustration. “I care about you.”

I suck in a loud breath and nod as I drop my gaze to his worn boots. “Right. But not enough to stop talking when I begged you to. Not enough to think about the repercussions of you going off. The repercussions that land on me.”

“He deserved it, Summer,” Rhett growls.

“And what about me, Rhett?” My voice is borderline shrill. “What do I deserve? Do I not deserve the opportunity to tell my own story? Don’t you get it? That was my secret to tell.” My thumbs jab at my chest almost painfully before I point at him. “You promised to keep that secret. And you broke that promise. I trusted you.”

He blinks, eyes softening as his shoulders sag. “Secrets like that will weigh you down, Princess. You never told me he was part of your family. I mean, fuck. How disgusting can one person be?”

“Don’t princess me! We haven’t known each other for that long! I’m so sorry I didn’t spill all my dirtiest secrets to you right off the hop. How selfish of me.” My voice goes up to another level, and I feel the sleepiness of earlier falling away, being replaced by panic. By heartache.

“You shouldn’t keep secrets that eat you alive because you’re worried about what people will think. And definitely not because someone is manipulating you into it.”

“I know that! Don’t you think I know that? But it was my story to tell, and you took that from me. In the most public, humiliating way possible. And as badly as Rob hurt me, I’m not out to tank his career.” That one statement lands like an atomic bomb, silencing everything around us. Rhett’s expression goes blank.

He glances away, like it hurts to keep his eyes on me, and gives his head a subtle shake. “Jesus. Do you still have a thing for him?”

I wave a hand in front of us while I comb the opposite one through my hair. “No! Of course not! No. It’s just complicated. And it’s not about him. Not really. I know you don’t care what people think. But me? I do. And you keep steamrolling that. Maybe I shouldn’t care so much about what people think, and maybe you should care more. Maybe your family is unsupportive of you, or maybe they’re scared that every time you walk out that door, it might be the last time they ever see you.”

I’m panting now, and Rhett looks stricken by what I’ve just said. “Other people’s feelings are involved. It’s not all about you and what you want, Rhett. Not when you love someone. I care what my sister thinks of me—even if I shouldn’t, even if she’s mean. And my dad?” I point behind me. “The man in that room, who could have died today, is the only person who really cares about me, the only person I’ve got. They both deserved better than hearing about this the way it just came out. Maybe Rob got what he deserves, but what about the rest of us?”

His teeth grind as he gazes down at me, unblinking. He wipes a hand across his mouth. “I get that. I do. And I’m so fucking sorry I blew up like I did. But Summer”—he reaches for me, but I step back—“you’ve got me too. I’m not sure how else to prove it. I keep telling you, and it’s like you don’t hear me.”

My eyes sting. He’s saying all the things I so badly want to hear. He’s offering me all the support I so desperately want from him. But I’m also really fucking angry at him for betraying my trust and for being right about so much and wrong about so much all at once.

I’m angry that this isn’t easier. That nothing in my life ever has been. At this moment, I’m not feeling very glass half full, and I take it out on the good man standing in front of me. Because as much as I want to, I can’t rely on a man who’s so busy not caring what anyone thinks that he’ll hurt me to prove the point.

“Oh, I hear you, Rhett. I just don’t believe you. What you did tonight doesn’t feel like you caring about me. It feels like you losing control and flying off the handle.” A surge of nausea hits me, and I hold a hand over my mouth as I pin him with watery eyes. “Go home. To your hotel. Just go. I can’t deal with you right now.”

“What does that mean? For you and me?”

My eyes close. Even that small movement hurts. Everything hurts. A laugh that blends into a sob leaps from my lips. “I don’t know, Rhett. I’m not even sure there is a you and me. We’ve never been more than here and now.”

And then I push past him to cry in the washroom, just like I planned.

Well, a little harder than I planned.


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