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Flawless: Chapter 31

Summer

Rhett: Please answer your phone.

Rhett: I didn’t mean what I said.

Rhett: Fuck, I hate myself so much for doing this to you.

Rhett: Are you okay? Can I just get some sign of life so I can stop walking around feeling sick all the time?

Rhett: Your dad told me you’re still alive. He also says he’s going to cut my hair off in my sleep.

Rhett: I want to explain myself. I want to apologize. I want to hear your voice. Even if it’s you bitching me out. I deserve that. Please pick up.

Rhett: I’m going to blow your phone up for the rest of your life.

Rhett: It wasn’t just sleeping together. Not even close. It was everything. And it scared me.

Rhett: I can’t lose you.


“I hear you’re running a tight ship around here. Really cracking the whip.”

My head snaps up from the contract I’m scouring as Kip saunters into my office like he didn’t just have a heart attack last week.

“You’re not supposed to be here.”

He rolls his eyes before helping himself to the chair across from me. “You going to tattle on me, Princess?” I flinch, and my dad’s head quirks in response. “Are you too old for that name now?”

My lips roll against each other, and I swallow the ache that crawls up the back of my throat. “Yeah,” I croak. “I think so. Have you heard from Winter?”

I spin in my office chair and bend down to pull something—anything—out of my filing cabinet. I need a breather away from that goddamn nickname. A break from his incessant calls and texts. Leave it to Rhett Eaton to not only crush my heart but also ruin my favorite childhood dress-up game and nickname.

“No.” Dad hesitates only slightly, but it’s enough to convince me I’m not getting the full story. “You enjoying your days here without me?” he jokes, perceptive enough to change the subject.

I sigh and lift the papers in front of me, tapping them against the desk to even all the edges before slipping a paperclip over the top corner. “Honestly, Dad, not really. I like it when you’re here. You’re a total nut.” I smile and slip the sheets into the manilla folder beside me. “But you’re my nut.”

I expect him to laugh, but he steeples his fingers beneath his chin and regards me carefully, like he can’t decide what to say next, which is truly something for a man like Kip Hamilton. “You’re my nut too. But are you a happy nut?”

“Happy enough.”

I straighten things on my desk like the nervous wreck that I am. My phone chimes and even that makes me start. Rhett has been relentless for an entire week now, but I’m still giving him the silent treatment. I’m not ready to talk to him. Or maybe I’m scared to talk to him.

“You gonna answer that?”

I finally meet my father’s eyes. “No.”

“You know that happy enough isn’t actually happy enough, right?”

A sigh escapes me as I press my back into the chair, pushing my shoulders back.

“Especially since you don’t seem all that happy to me.”

I grunt. “I’m just having a day.”

“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter, Summer. I’ve watched you your entire life. I know what you look like happy, and it isn’t how you are when you’re here. Do you know why I work so hard here? Long hours? Weekends?”

I’m out of fucks to give, so I tell him the blunt truth. “Honestly, I always figured it was to avoid having to spend time around Marina.” My stepmother isn’t a pleasant human.

Now it’s his turn to flinch. We don’t talk much about his philandering. It’s awkward, because I’m the by-product of it, and I don’t want to hear him say he regrets it. “No. I do it because I love what I do. I built this company from the ground up and worked my ass off to get Hamilton Elite to where it is today.”

“I know. And one day, you’ll be able to pass it off to me and enjoy a lavish retirement.”

“No, Summer. That was never my end game. I wanted to show you that anything was possible. That our transgressions don’t define us. I did a shitty thing, but one of the very best things in my life came out of it. Things will always be strained between Marina and I because as much as I apologize to her, I can’t bring myself to say that I regret it. Because I have you.”

Tears spring up in my eyes. “Yeah, well, I bet you didn’t know I’d be such a time suck when you signed up to keep me.”

“Summer, stop.” He leans forward, a broad hand spread out on the table between us. “If Marina or that piece of shit your sister married ever made you feel unworthy for even one moment, put it out of your mind. You are not a burden. You are not a waste of time. You are very wanted. And anyone who makes you feel you’re anything less deserves Rhett Eaton’s fist to their face. Or yours. You can hit back too, you know? I’ll bail you out every fucking time.”

A tear spills down my cheek, and I nod. “I know you will. And I want to be that for you, too. I want to be here helping you. Carrying on your legacy.”

“Summer.” His voice drops along with his shoulders. “This place isn’t my legacy. This place is where I busy my mind and body. This place is my passion. My legacy is showing you that if you pursue something you love, you’ll make it work. Blood. Sweat. Tears. And a whole lotta love. Do you feel that way about this place?”

I sniffle and blink rapidly, regarding the shiny, bright, immaculate and modern office. All I want is the smell of sweaty mats at a gym and the clanking of plates on the end of a barbell. I want open fields, crisp air, and the Rocky Mountains at the end of the horizon.

I want a man who smells like leather, looks like a glass of bourbon, and who calls me princess while drawing on my back.

I want Rhett to unsay what he said.

I want him to want me. More than he wants anything. I deserve that. He taught me that I do.

“No, I don’t. I just don’t want to let you down,” I sob, my control cracking.

Kip reaches across the desk, holding his palm up and wiggling his fingers until I place my hand in his. “Listen to me carefully, Summer. The only way you could ever disappoint me is by not living your life to the fullest. Not going after what exhilarates you. You deserve that. And you deserve someone who wants that for you.”

He wraps his fingers around my wrist as I attempt to pull away. “I’m not stupid. I know things are strained between you and Rhett after that explosion. But I also know that men don’t look at a woman the way he looks at you unless they’re out of their goddamn mind for that person. I know you’re so accustomed to pleasing everyone that you give and give until you have nothing left to give. Rhett might be a little rough around the edges, but maybe you smooth him out and he scuffs you up. I don’t know. Only you can make these decisions. But what I saw that night was a man who’d burn everything down to defend you. I saw a man who’d risk it all to take care of you.”

“I don’t need to be taken care of.”

“Maybe not. But that man wears his love for you on his sleeve for the entire world to see. And he doesn’t give a shit who sees it. He’d scream it from the mountain tops if you asked him to. It’s written all over him. And you definitely need that.”

I blow out a breath and stare up at the ceiling. Rhett loving me. It seems so unlikely. So far-fetched.

“Are you going to Vegas for the finals?”

Kip gets my attention with that comment. “Are you trying to play matchmaker again? It’s fucking annoying.”

“Well, are you?”

“Of course not. I’ll be working to make up for your old ass being laid up,” I try to joke. It’s familiar footing for us, but it comes out all watery.

The thought of Rhett chasing his third title without a soul in the stands who really knows him is a gut punch. I shouldn’t care so much, but I do. It makes more tears fall thinking of the wild boy who lost his mom, who doesn’t have the support of his family, riding injured for what could be the last time. A stadium full of strangers cheering him on, but not a single person who loves him there to witness it. No one to share it with.

“No, you won’t. Because you’re fired.”

I still and meet my father’s gaze, a sad smile playing at my lips. “Ha. Ha. Very funny.”

“I’m not joking. You’re fired. You have until the end of the day to clear out your desk, and I’ll give you six weeks of severance.”

“Are you kidding?” My heart rate accelerates. He can’t be serious. “I went to law school so I could do this. So that I could be the best fit for you here.”

He pushes to stand, dusting his hands off like he’s done some great work here. “Yup. And now you’re going to go find something to do that is the best fit for you. You’re going to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks of you or wants from you. And you’re going to waltz out in the world and be selfish for once. Take what you want and stop feeling guilty about it. Take it from me, guilt will eat you alive.”

He knocks his fist on my desk and strides out of my office, tossing out, “Gotta get to my meeting,” over his shoulder.

So casual, like he didn’t just blow up my entire life to teach me some sort of tough-love lesson.


I stare at myself in the mirror, dabbing at my eyes and willing away the splotchy redness on my neck and chest. My heart is pounding so hard I can see the skin in my throat jumping every time it pumps.

It’s comforting and distracting. I’m alive, but am I really living? Or have I just been scuttling along, putting everyone else first?

I press my palm to my chest, just above the scar there to feel the organ pumping.

Did I chase off the one man other than my father who put me first? Was he out of line? Or was I so tuned out from what I want that I missed the part where we fell in love? Did I dismiss him when that’s what he was trying to tell me?

We spent weeks together. Traveling. Working out. Eating. He gave me his last chicken wing and let me warm my feet on him without complaint.

They weren’t loud proclamations. But they were still there. And I missed them, while ignoring what I was feeling.

I shake my head and comb my fingers through my hair, smoothing my hands down the pretty maroon pencil skirt I’m wearing. All I have for clothes is what I retrieved from my hotel room and what I left at my dad’s house in the city. All my favorite pieces are still out at Wishing Well Ranch, along with a good chunk of my favorite people.

With a deep centering breath, I turn and leave the washroom, striding down to my office on sky-high heels, refusing to walk around this place like I’ve just been fired. I hold my chin high and put my game face on, letting my hips sway.

I make this stupid hallway my runway.

Until I glance into the boardroom and see Rhett Eaton sitting in the same chair I met him in two months ago.

My steps falter and I stop to stare at him. He’s leaned back in his chair, one booted foot casually slung across his knee.

He’s devastating with his rugged lines, wild hair, and honeyed eyes. Far too masculine to be sitting in such a polished space. He overwhelms it.

He overwhelms me.

My throat aches just looking at him. And when his eyes slide over to meet mine through the glass, my chest feels like it’s cracking right open.

I remember too keenly the sight of him moving above me, the appreciation in his gaze when I modeled my chaps for him, the way he kissed me so tenderly in a room full of people.

I also remember him calling what we did “sleeping together for a couple weeks.” Rob said something similar to me when he broke things off with me to be with my sister, that we were just sleeping together so it shouldn’t matter. It stung then, but it was excruciating this time around.

But I think what hurt the most was the way he brushed off my concern for him. That he made me feel like some overbearing crazy person for caring about him.

And that’s enough to spur me into action. I turn my head and carry on down the hallway, resisting the urge to run and forcing myself to appear calm and collected.

I do not feel calm and collected. But I would rather fucking die than let Rhett see how deeply he wounded me.

“Summer!” He shoves the door open just as I pass. A whiff of his scent chases me like a haunting memory. “I want to talk to you.”

“I’m good, thanks,” I say without turning back to him.

“Please. Just five minutes.” The pleading note in his voice almost makes me stop.

Almost.

“I think you’ve said enough, don’t you?” I check my watch, wondering how soon I can get the hell out of here, and then I remember I don’t work here anymore, so it doesn’t matter.

“I haven’t said nearly enough.” I can feel him walking behind me, the warm solid presence of him looming over me but not overtaking me.

“You just walked out of a meeting. Go back.”

“That meeting doesn’t matter.”

I scoff at that, turning into my office. My office? My old office?

“You’re what matters.” He reaches for my arm, and I yank it back.

Turning, I grit my teeth. Feeling . . . cornered. Like I could attack. “Rhett. Get. Out.”

“Not a fucking chance, Princess.” He shuts the door and leans against it, his hands captured behind his back. “I have some things I need to say to you, and you’re going to listen.”

I round my desk and try to look bored, lifting a file and opening it. “Well, seeing as how you’ve trapped me in here, I guess I don’t really have a choice.”

“No, I guess you don’t. I’ve been trying to contact you for a week.”

“Mhm.” I stare down at the folder. I don’t even know what I’m looking at though. My entire body is attuned to him. Truthfully, it’s all I can focus on. “Been busy.”

“Bullshit. You’re ignoring me, and I deserve that.”

I blink, not having seen that coming.

“Listen, Summer.” He rakes a hand through his hair, and my fingers tingle with the memory of doing it myself. “I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry. I’m sorry I betrayed your trust. Believe me when I tell you it keeps me up at night.”

My eyes flash up to check. He does look tired.

“I replay that interaction in my head when I lie in bed, thinking of all the ways I could have handled it better. Of all the ways I could have defended you without hurting you.”

Tears spring up in my eyes, because apparently, that’s my new thing.

For the past week, I cry at the drop of a hat. After years of seeing the glass as half full, I’m a mopey, whimpery, half-empty mess.

“Shit.” He groans, and his body tenses as he pushes back against the door, like he’s forcing himself away from me. “Please don’t cry. I fucking hate it when you cry. It’s like a bullet to my chest.”

“Taken many bullets, have you?” My voice is weak, and I hate that.

“No,” he husks, “but I would. For you, I would.”

I whimper quietly at that, trying to cover it up with a, “Hmm.”

“I said a lot of things I regret. Most of all, what I said about our time together. I can blame spilling your private business on coming to your defense in my own careless way. Because you may not know your worth yet, but I do. And I’ll happily punch anyone in the face who makes you question it. But telling you what I did at the hospital that night, I said that to hurt you.”

“Well, it worked.”

He winces but carries on. “I’ll never forgive myself for it.”

And then we’re back to like we were. Suspended in time. Staring at each other like we might find the answers to our problems written on the other person’s face.

“Tell me what to do, Summer. Tell me, and I’ll do it. Was I unclear before? Because I want to be crystal clear now. I love you. I loved you the moment you walked into that boardroom and smirked at me like you knew something I didn’t. It bothered me, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Wanting to know what you know. I fixated on it, but I think I was just fixated on you.”

I process his words, soaking them in like a cat soaks up the sun. His cheeks flush, and his feet shift nervously. This is a lot of feeling talk for someone like Rhett Eaton.

“And I still am. I always will be. This thing between us? For me? It’s everything. It’s it. You’re it. I’ve spent years thinking I didn’t have someone who really supported me. But that was only because I hadn’t met you yet. You were out there, wanting me. And all it took was one meeting with you for me to want you too. A few weeks for me to know that I’d do anything to support you too.” He shakes his head and peers out the window. “You were out there this whole time, and now I know you exist, and I can never go back. Wouldn’t want to if I could.”

My tears are hot on my cheeks. His gaze back on me, tracking them as they spill.

“So, take your time. Do what you need to. Carry on with the cold shoulder, hate me, make a voodoo doll and needle the hell out of it. I don’t fucking care. I’ll take it all. Just think about what I’m telling you. Think about being everything with me. I’ll keep coming back, no matter what. You’re my priority. I’ll keep trying because I’m not quitting on you. Ever.”

I don’t know when the tears spilled down over my cheeks, but two straight streams of them silently flow as I watch this man pour his heart out to me.

“Have I made myself clear?”

I nod. Struck dumb. Feeling incredibly fragile.

He nods back and turns to leave but stops when I speak. “How are your ribs?”

He looks over his shoulder. “Fine. They’re fine, Summer.”

I bite at my bottom lip, feeling a little awkward about my response to Rhett declaring his love for me. “Are you going to Vegas?”

He sighs and drops his eyes. “Yeah.”

I nod again, unsure what to say to that. He says I’m his priority, but riding when he knows it’s asking for trouble, when he knows it makes me frantic, when he knows I’ll be left in a world without him if things go wrong . . .

That still feels like the bulls and the buckle are his priority.


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