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Flawless: Chapter 3

Summer

Summer: Heading out there now.

Dad: Be safe. Don’t let that asshole in your pants.

Summer: I’m really more of a skirt gal.

Dad: -_-


“Okay, wait. How long are you going to be gone?”

“I mean, I’m not gone, Wils. I’m like an hour outside of the city. The drive to your barn isn’t that much less from where you live.”

“I need notice for things like this. Who am I supposed to go for boozy brunches with? What if I find a whole new best friend while you’re gone?”

I laugh at that. My best friend has a flair for the dramatic. It’s part of her charm. “Then I guess you never really loved me,” I reply wistfully.

“This is the worst news. For me anyway. You’re probably all giddy and wet in the panties. Remember that photo you—”

“Willa, please. That was a long time ago. I’m an adult. I’m a professional. Hot athletes are my job every day. Don’t make this weird for me.”

She groans. “Why do you have to be so responsible? And mature? It makes me feel like a child.”

“You’re not a child. Possibly more like a teenager?” I peer around, trying to make sure I catch the right turn because the dusty back roads aren’t the most well-marked. But I see the range road sign up ahead and turn just in time, tires wobbling on the gravel.

“I guess I can live with that. Growing up is the worst. It’s just not for me, you know?”

I laugh at that. Willa is plenty grown up. She’s just playful. She’s fun. She’s good for me. “You run a tight ship with all the guys at the bar. I think you’re more grown up than you realize.”

“Take that back!” She laughs before adding, “And bang the cowboy. Do it.”

Willa has always been the one to loosen me up, the one to pick me up when I’m down, the one to rub my back when I cried over Rob.

But sometimes she’s also wrong.

“You want me to ruin my budding career to sleep with my teenaged celebrity crush, who by all appearances hates my guts? Thanks. I’ll take that under advisement.”

“That’s all I’m asking, ya know?” We chuckle together, like we have for the past fifteen years. I don’t have a lot of friends. But I’d rather have one Willa than an entire pack of people who don’t truly get me.

I catch sight of a driveway up ahead and slow to read the numbers on the fence. “I gotta go. I’ll text later.”

“You better. Love you.”

“Love you back,” I say absently before sighing with relief that the numbers are a match for what Rhett wrote on the piece of paper. I click off my Bluetooth and turn into the driveway, ready to face whatever mess I’ve been roped into by my father.

The raw-post fences that line the property usher me in through the main gate where those posts rise high above the driveway. The beam that crosses over the top is adorned with a wrought iron sign in the shape of a wishing well. And attached by two narrow chains, dangling beneath, is a slab of wood with the words Wishing Well Ranch branded into it.

The land around Chestnut Springs is truly something to behold. I feel like I’ve been transported onto the set of Yellowstone. And I’m downright giddy about it. Goodbye stuffy office, hello endless land.

Does Rhett Eaton look at me like I’m roadkill?

Yes.

But am I excited about getting out of the office and doing something different?

Also, yes.

I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this. I’m going to take the bull by the horns on this assignment. I chuckle at my joke as I reach forward and turn down the volume on The Sadies album I had blasting before Willa called me.

I peer around and slow my SUV to a crawl. My head is on a swivel as the gravel crunches and pops beneath my tires. I swear the view out every window is better than the last. March in Southern Alberta still has some bite. It can be cold and snowy, but then a chinook can roll in, and the air grows warm and soft against your skin. The grass isn’t lush yet. It’s just fields upon fields of this mossy brown color. Like you can see the green lurking beneath, ready to pop. But not quite yet.

For now, there’s something monotone about the gently rolling fields that blend up into the gray peaks to the west. The Rocky Mountains provide a border to the foothills, jutting up all jagged and snow-capped with pristine white peaks.

I’ve spent years gazing out the windows of my dad’s 30th floor windows, wishing I was out there. Imagining spending my summers exploring the mountains and the rustic small towns that lay between them, but being trapped inside his glossy office instead. Or, if I think even further back, stuck inside a pale green room without enough energy to get out of bed.

Is this work assignment ridiculous to the point where I had a hard time keeping a straight face through that meeting?

Absolutely.

But I’m going to make the most of it. If nothing else, I’ll get to stare at the mountains with the wind in my face rather than the smell of burned coffee and those stale croissants that Martha sets out every morning. Or a room that reeks of antiseptic and antibacterial laundry soap. The kind that’s supposed to be scent-free, but when you spend enough time wrapped up in it, you realize it’s really not.

The long driveway stretches ahead of me until it disappears into a copse of closely planted, but leafless poplar trees. The outline of a large house peeks from between their branches.

I pull through, taking in the impressive home before me. Thick logs provide the frame for a house that is curved in a slight crescent shape, wrapping into trees and flowing with the lines of the hills behind it somehow. It’s expansive with massive windows. The bottom retaining wall of the house is covered in a stone facade that swaps into some sort of vinyl siding in a soft sage color. It contrasts perfectly against the warm stained timber and cedar shake roof.

The houses where I grew up were almost at war with the landscape. Fighting it with their sharp corners and harsh tones. This house—big as it is—almost looks like it sprouted up from the ground. Like it’s just part of the scenery, in perfect harmony.

It looks like it belongs here.

Unlike me.

I glance down at my outfit as I step out of my parked car. A black sweater-material skirt, silky tartan button-down, and a pair of brown heeled loafers with a pretty brogue toe are probably a ridiculous choice for the setting.

Even though this outfit slays.

I’ve grown so accustomed to getting dressed up every day, and I take so much pleasure in choosing pieces that make me feel more confident, that I didn’t even consider how hilarious I might look pulling up wearing what I’m wearing.

But actually, I know nothing about what I’m supposed to be doing. When Rhett scribbled his address on the piece of paper, he pressed the pen so hard that it indented the pages beneath.

And then he stormed out without another word.

A smile teased my dad’s lips as we all sat staring at Rhett Eaton’s broad shoulders and long hair. But definitely not his ass.

I’m a professional, after all.

“Off to a good start,” my dad joked once Rhett was out of earshot.

So, that was the extent of my instructions. An address. That and, “Fix this, Summer. I believe in you.”

Oh, and, “Don’t let that fucker charm his way into your bed.”

I smiled and said, “What about his bed?”

“You’ll be the death of me, girl,” he groaned as he waltzed out of the boardroom, looking like the Cheshire Cat.

And that was that. Full trust that throwing me into the life of my childhood crush will be just fine. Though he probably doesn’t even remember that.

I know that this is a test. Trial by fire. If I can knock this assignment out of the park, I’ll impress my father, but I’ll also prove I’m capable to everyone else at the company. Something he and I both know I need to do if I plan to move up the ranks at Hamilton Elite. If hiring me isn’t going to seem like pure nepotism, then I need to be fantastic at what I do.

It’s not an easy assignment, but nothing in my life has been easy, so maybe it doesn’t seem as daunting as it should.

“You the babysitter?”

My head whips around to the front porch of the sprawling house, following the deep gravelly voice. An older man with silver hair leans against the big log pillar with his arms crossed over his chest and a smirk plastered on his face. A well-worn black cowboy hat sits atop his head, and it tips down in greeting as he swallows a chuckle.

“Been a while since I welcomed a babysitter up to the house for any of my boys.”

I laugh out a breath and let my shoulders drop, immediately at ease around the man. Rhett may look at me like I’m a bug on his windshield, but this man is just plain charming.

I grin at him as I press my fists into my hips. “Been a while since I babysat someone.”

“I reckon you’d have an easier time with even the most poorly behaved child,” he says as he strides toward me.

I take a wild stab at who this man might be. “I suppose threatening to tell his dad isn’t going to help me any, huh?”

The man smiles back, weathered skin crinkling around his eyes, and shoots his hand out in my direction. “That hellion has never given a shit what I have to say.” He winks, and I take his palm in a firm handshake. “Harvey Eaton, Rhett’s father. Pleasure to meet you. Welcome to Wishing Well Ranch.”

“Summer Hamilton. Nice to meet you too. Wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled up. I’m not sure Rhett and I got off on the best foot yesterday,” I confess.

Harvey waves me aside when I press the button to open my back hatch and reaches past me to retrieve my suitcase. “Well, I’ve got a room made up for you here in the main house. You can expect Rhett to sulk like a little boy who’s gotten his favorite toy taken away. And when his brothers find out, I expect him to be downright foul because they are going to harass him something fierce.”

I grimace. “Lucky me.”

Harvey snorts and waves me along behind him toward the house. “Not to worry, Miss Hamilton. They’re good boys. A little rough around the edges, but good boys nonetheless.” He peeks over his shoulder at me with an amused twist to his lips. “Plus, something tells me you’ll be holding your own just fine with this crew.”

I press my lips together. If I can make it to my age with Kip Hamilton as my father and boss, something tells me a couple of cowboys will be a cakewalk—but I don’t say that. I’d rather not jinx things. Instead, I reply with, “Please, call me Summer.”

He holds the front door open and gestures one arm wide. “Come on in, Summer. Let’s get you settled and fed before you face the little monster.”

I shake my head and chuckle as I move into the house. Clearly, my assessment of Rhett wasn’t too far off. Or at least his dad isn’t making me feel like I’m in for an easy time. A boulder of doubt drops into my stomach, anxiety seeping out through my body. What if I’m not up to this? What if I fail? Will I always be the one who can’t get things quite right?

My internal monologue melts away as I take in the house before me. The warm wood theme from the exterior carries on inside. Wood beam ceilings and dark green walls give the space a cozy vibe despite the lofty open areas. The floors are dark hardwood, the wide planks slightly worn in heavy traffic areas. And as I watch Harvey march in with his boots on, I think I can guess why.

To my left, I can see the living room with overstuffed leather couches facing an enormous fireplace. Some sort of deer head with black marble eyes that sparkle enough to look real and antlers that reach high above it like thick, ornate branches, hangs above it.

My lips tug down into a small frown. I have no problem with hunting, not the type of hunting that’s done responsibly anyway, but I’m such a city girl that the sight of this majestic animal hanging up in the house makes me a little sad about the deer and whatever end he might have faced.

Let’s be honest. I’m thinking about Bambi.

I shake the thought away and tell myself to buck up. Buck up? God. What is wrong with me?

Before us is the gigantic kitchen with a large wood table smack dab in the middle of it, and I can already imagine all these cowboy-type guys rolling in here after a long day on the ranch to share a big family-style meal.

“Down here,” Harvey’s voice pulls me away, and we turn right down a hallway lit by brass sconces on the walls. “I know this room is on the main floor. We’ll try to keep it down in the mornings. Rhett and I have rooms upstairs, so I thought this might give you a little more space away from us men. It has an adjoining bathroom. The closet is the biggest in here, too.”

He does one pull up with my suitcase. My very, very full suitcase. “Thinking I made the right choice with that.”

My cheeks pink a bit. I must seem like a real city girl to a man like Harvey Eaton. “I wasn’t sure what to expect with this assignment.”

He chuckles good-naturedly. “Expect a rodeo, girl. I love my boy. But he’s a handful. Has always been one. Come to think of it, I’m not sure anyone has ever truly handled Rhett at all. Youngest boy and all that. Even his baby sister ended up being the more mature of the two. The one who looked out for him—because Rhett needs looking out for. My advice? Don’t push too hard. He’ll just push back.”

I nod, a little wide-eyed. He’s making Rhett sound downright insane. “Sage advice, Mr. Eaton.”

He drops my suitcase just inside the door of a room at the very end of the hall. “Girl, if I’m calling you Summer, you’re calling me Harvey. We got it?”

I smile at him as I enter the room. “Got it.”

“Good.” He steps back out into the hall. “Take your time getting settled. I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re ready. We can eat, and I’ll show you around.”

“That’s perfect.” I give him the brightest smile I can muster before he ambles back down the hallway.

When I close the door behind him, I rest my head against the cool wood and suck in a deep breath to chase away the anxiety.

And then I pray for patience because something tells me I’m going to need it.


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