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Flawless: Chapter 30

Rhett

Kip: I hope you’re not dead, but only because my daughter is distraught over you right now, and if you’re dead, I can’t kick your ass for hurting her.


Red lights flash and project around the bay where the ambulance pulls up to the hospital. I’ve shooed the paramedics away at every turn. My ribs are fucked. I don’t need a medical professional to tell me that.

Theo has been in and out of consciousness because he’s too fucking stupid to wear a helmet, and I’m not leaving his side.

They pull the back doors open and lift Theo’s stretcher. He’s strapped down on a hard board. Something I’m hoping is just a precaution, considering he can easily move his feet. He was awake for long enough they were able to get him to do that much.

I follow, ignoring the lancing pain in my back and feeling every year of my age about a hundred times over. It doesn’t help that I didn’t sleep a wink last night.

When I closed my eyes, all I saw was Summer. Her perfect lips. Her deep brown eyes shrink-wrapped in tears.

Fucking haunting.

But right now, I just need to know that Theo is okay. I follow into the emergency room, ignoring the skeptical glances one paramedic gives me. She knows I’m lying to them about my injury. Plus, I made a huge scene about going with Theo, so I’m probably not in their good books.

I’ll get a tour doctor to check me out later.

“You.” She points at me. “Sit there.” She points at the plastic chair just inside the door as they wheel Theo through, and this time, I listen.

I gasp when I bend to sit, dropping my head into my hands and breathing shallow, hoping the pain will subside if I don’t move.

I’m not sure how long I sit here lost in the pain of my ribs and the worry about my friend when I hear, “Rhett. Long hair. Handsome. Probably a total asshole to you?”

It’s Summer’s distraught voice, brimming with pain and anxiety and panic. As if I didn’t already feel sick enough about my dickhead behavior yesterday and making her cry—fuck, that killed me—now I have to listen to her terrified voice.

It feels like rolling in glass, a thousand cuts all over my body, to hear her so upset.

And did that to her. Yesterday. Today.

“Rhett!”

When I see her, I heave. Pain radiates everywhere. Mascara streams down her face as she jogs down the hallway toward me, fingers wrapped around the cuffs of her sleeves.

Beautiful and devastated.

I did that.

“Oh, my God. Are you okay?” She falls to her knees in front of me, hands fluttering above my legs before she lets herself touch me. “Are you okay?”

Her eyes scan me, as though she’ll be able to see broken bones through my clothes and skin.

“I’m fine.” I hurt too much to move. A part of me thinks I should touch her. The other part knows I should salvage her from the pain of this, of watching me do this. With my dad and brothers, their emotions are locked up. I don’t know if they’re actually afraid for me or just making fun of me.

But with Summer, I can see it plain as day.

Fear.

“I saw you.” Her hands move lightly, so lightly, up my arms and over my shoulders. She sniffs as she takes me in. “I saw it happen.”

My chest caves in. After the words we exchanged last night, I don’t know what to make of this. But I know that seeing her this upset is killing me. It’s turning my stomach.

When she touches my ribs, I flinch. She lifts my shirt before I can stop her.

“Oh, God. Rhett.” Her voice cracks, and I watch a fat tear fall from her eye. It rolls off her dark lashes and splatters on her cheek.

It breaks my fucking heart.

I haven’t looked at my ribs yet, and I hadn’t planned to. I feel her nail on the skin and jump, shoving her hand away as the shirt falls back down to cover what appears to be one hell of a bruise.

“I’ll go get the doctor.”

She turns to leave, and I grab her wrist. “No.”

“No?” Her face twists in genuine confusion.

“No. I’ll see a tour doctor later. A doctor here will want to admit me and keep me from riding.”

She blinks. Once. Twice. Three times. The tip of her nose is red from crying. “You’re going to ride?”

“Probably not tomorrow. But yes, I’m going to ride. I didn’t make it this far to miss my shot at the buckle.”

She shakes her head like she can’t quite believe what she just heard. “Your ribs are probably broken. You could have internal damage.”

“I’ll be fine,” I grumble, glancing away because I can’t look at her anymore. It hurts worse than my ribs.

“Rhett, please. I know enough to know you won’t ride your best like this. It’s not safe.”

I’m agitated because she’s fucking killing me right now. And I want to relent. I do. For her, I do.

She’s not wrong. But I also hate when people tell me to stop riding. I want the last win. It’s all I have. She said things to me yesterday that stung. That resonated. That made me realize I don’t have her, not really.

So maybe I’m mad. A little wounded.

I know it isn’t fair to make her endure this when she’s already been through so much. I want to protect her from any asshole who might hurt her. And that needs to include me.

Maybe that’s why I say something I’ll come to regret.

“We slept together for a couple of weeks, Summer. Don’t tell me what to do.” I spit the angry, petty words at her and watch her lips press together.

I hate myself instantly.

She pushes to standing, pulling in a deep breath and wiping at her nose as she straightens, so full of grace and class. So fucking far out of my league. Pulling away from me like I wanted her to, even though I could be sick over it.

Regret pulses through every limb. It courses through every vein. It singes every nerve.

She nods at me and walks away.

Taking my fucking heart with her as she goes.


“Where’s Summer?” my dad asks as I enter the kitchen.

And there it is. The reason I went back to drinking coffee in my bedroom this morning. But even the view from my deck doesn’t seem that impressive anymore.

While I mull over how to answer my dad’s question, I limp over to the coffee maker for another cup, trying not to look as injured as I am but feeling like I’ve been hit by a fucking Mack truck.

Broken ribs, as confirmed by the tour docs. I stayed in the city for one more night. They discharged Theo with a severe concussion, but he rode the next night anyway. I wanted to tell him not to, and I bit my tongue so hard it bled.

I’d told Summer not to tell me what to do, so who the fuck am I to tell another guy just like me he shouldn’t ride?

He rode well, and I watched from the sidelines. I might have a few screws loose, but I know my boundaries, and the amount of pain I’m in right now doesn’t work for sitting on a bull. It puts me behind going into the World Championship, but only slides me into second. Emmett in first and Theo in third.

“In the city with her dad,” I finally say. It’s a safe answer, and it’s true. I don’t know where else we’re at. I lasted all of a day before I was messaging her. Apologizing.

But fuck me, it’s not even close to enough. I was so upset, so worried, in so much pain—but there’s no excuse for what I said. Especially considering how far from the truth it is.

As the frustration burning in my gut cooled, it transformed into a heavy boulder. Making me feel sick. Nauseous. Dizzy.

I’ve never felt sick over a girl. I’ve never made a bigger mistake.

And she still hasn’t responded.

Cade bursts through the back door, stalking straight into the kitchen, looking like some sort of avenging cowboy, angry and wearing black, the sun shining in from behind him. “Why are the boys in the bunkhouse talkin’ about you getting rag-dolled by a fuckin’ bull last night?”

I sense my dad go still as he looks up from his newspaper.

Of course, all those assholes are running their mouths.

“Rhett?” My dad quirks a brow while Cade breathes heavily and glares.

“One of the guys was knocked out. My guy. Gabriel’s son. When the bull went gunning for him, I just . . .” I scrub at my beard, thinking back to that moment. What went through my mind? I’m not entirely sure. All I knew is I couldn’t sit there and watch one of my best friends get gored by a bull. “Acted on instinct, I guess. Jumped on top of him.”

“You what?” My dad exclaims at the same time Cade barks, “I always knew you were stupid, but that really takes the cake.”

“Are you okay, son?”

I open my mouth to answer, but Cade cuts me off. “No, he’s not okay. He rides fucking angry cows with testicles for a living. He’s standing crooked like a broken cock. And he’s clearly got more than a few screws rattling around in his thick head.”

I stare back at my big brother, who is positively seething. “You always had a way with words.”

My dad chuckles at that, but then is back on me. “You seem to be in one piece?”

“My ribs aren’t,” I reply, before tipping the steaming coffee back into my mouth.

“So, you’re out for the season?” I don’t miss the twinge of hope in my dad’s voice.

Which means I feel like scum when I tell him the truth. “Nah. I’m still heading to Vegas. Last shot at that buckle.”

“Did a horse kick you in the head as a child when I wasn’t watching?” Cade asks. “Beau beat your ass too hard one time? If I shake you hard enough, will it get you thinking straight?”

Cade is mad, but my dad just looks sad. His blink lasts a few beats too long as he nods his head and folds his newspaper. “When is Summer coming back?” he asks as he pushes himself up from the table.

“I don’t know.” I stare at my feet when I say it.

Cade scoffs.

“Her dad had a heart attack, so she’s with him right now.”

“So, she’ll be back soon? Is Kip okay?” My dad seems so hopeful. He likes Summer. I know the two of them enjoyed morning coffees and easy conversation. I think everyone enjoyed having her here on the ranch.

“Dad, I don’t know. But I do know that Kip is going to be fine.”

He gives me a flat smile and a wave before turning away. “Gotta run some errands in town. Be back later.”

I say nothing. A house full of men hasn’t been conducive to sitting around talking about our feelings. I’ve never had that kind of relationship with my dad. Or my brothers, for that matter. We care for each other, and we tease each other, and sometimes we fight with each other.

Which is what it looks like Cade is itching for as he takes a few menacing steps into the kitchen. “Smart girl,” is what he says as he props a hip against the countertop and crosses his arms, the canvas of his black coat rasping as he does.

“Fuck you, Cade.” I shake my head.

“No, Rhett. Fuck you. You fucking bolthead. You had something with that girl.”

I huff out a laugh. “Cade, you don’t even like her.”

“I like her because she’s good for you. I like her because she doesn’t take our shit, and she doesn’t roll over for you like some lovesick puppy dog. I don’t like her because she’s smarter than me, and that’s fucking annoying.”

My teeth clamp and grind as my big brother stares me down. “You were a different person with her. You were happy. You didn’t have that sad, lost little boy look about you. The one constantly seeking attention and doing dumb shit to get it. Because you had her attention. You’re just too stupid to see it.”

“Is this your version of a pep talk?”

“No, you dolt. It’s the closest thing to an ass kicking I can give you without beating on a man with broken ribs.”

“I could still take you.” I couldn’t. Cade is bigger. Taller. And meaner.

“You’re so busy running around being a showboat rodeo boy that you don’t even realize what you’ve got. You think we all pick on you for riding bulls because we’re just being dicks? It’s because we love you. You don’t remember when mom died. But I do. I was there. I watched our dad hold her while she bled out. Suddenly, at eight, I was wrangling you and Beau because dad was a shell of himself, focused on taking care of Violet. And now I’m a single dad. I watch Luke grow every day and dread the day I can’t be the one to keep him safe.”

I bite my inner cheek. I know Cade is serious right now because I don’t think I can remember him ever telling me that he loves me.

“When you have a kid, everyone warns you about the sleepless nights. The explosive diaper changes. How they grow so fast that you hemorrhage money on clothing them. What they don’t tell you is that you’ll never spend another day of your life without worrying about another person. You’ll never completely relax again because that person you created will always, always be on your mind. You’ll wonder where they are, what they’re doing, and if they’re okay.”

The bridge of my nose stings at his words, and I sniff to clear it. Pain lances through me as I do. Fuck me, everything hurts.

“Not knowing where Beau is or what he’s doing is bad enough. But he’s serving this country, he’s got a good reason to be gone. But you? You fucking won it all. Twice. You make millions of dollars. If you had a brain, you would take that money and set yourself up real nice. When is it enough for you?”

I interrupt him there. “I fully intend to put my money toward this place. I plan to come back here and help you. I need something to do with myself.”

Cade’s gaze narrows. “When?”

“I don’t know.”

“After this season?”

I sigh. “I don’t know. Some days, I don’t even know if I like it anymore or if it’s just what I know. Quitting is hard. My entire identity is wrapped up in riding bulls.”

“With her, it wasn’t. And I don’t want an inheritance from you.” He pushes off the counter, shaking his head. “I want to be poor and have you pissing me off for years to come.”

From Cade, that sentiment is, well, like a shot to the heart. He leaves me, only stopping when he hits the door, fingers tapping against the frame. He glances at me over his shoulder.

“Rhett, working on the ranch isn’t something to do with yourself. This is a job. A job I love. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. You need to figure out what you love and make that your life too.”

The only word in my head when that screen door slams behind him is Summer.


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