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Reckless (Chestnut Springs Book 4): Chapter 1

Winter

“I can’t fathom why you feel the need to go work at that dingy little hospital in the country.”

I used to think Rob was a nice guy.

Now, I know better.

“Well, Robert,” I drawl, using his full name to piss him off as I shove a final sweater into my overfull suitcase. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but there are humans—real live ones—who live in the country who are also in need of medical attention.”

I can’t figure out why I’m packing so much for a single shift. When I’m in Chestnut Springs, I live in scrubs in the ER and in leggings in my hotel room at night.

“Thanks for clarifying, Winter.” There’s a biting tone to his voice that might make some people flinch. But not me. A dark part of me takes immense pride in the fact I know exactly how to piss off my husband. My lips twitch as I struggle to contain my satisfied smile.

“But why that hospital? Why Chestnut Springs? You’re constantly taking off out there and you don’t even tell me you’re leaving. Come to think of it”—he scrubs at his chin in a dramatic fashion while leaning up against the door frame of my bedroom—“you never even considered my opinion on whether I would want my wife taking this job. This isn’t a smart career move for you at all.”

Every time he whines like a child, I find myself wondering what it is about him I ever found attractive.

I’m not sure when the dimple on his chin became repulsive to me. Only that it is. The way he parts his hair to the side with a little swoop that doesn’t even move when it’s windy used to make him appear suave and put together to me.

Now it looks fake.

Like so much of my life with him has been.

I’m fairly certain the only reason he styles it that way is because he’s too vain to admit he’s balding.

And nothing makes a man’s masculinity shrivel up and die for me quite like complaining about a woman exercising her professional independence. He might as well stomp his foot and storm out like a tiny chauvinist toddler.

I reach for the zipper and force it together against the bulging contents of my suitcase. “It’s funny,” I start, ensuring that I keep my tone cool and even. “It’s almost like . . . you are the very last person I would ever consult about my life.”

With a huff of air, I finally slide the zipper into place and stare down at the hard-shell case, propping my hands on my hips and letting a satisfied smile touch my lips.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean, Winter?”

The way he adds my name to the end of every sentence feels like he’s trying to scold me.

Joke’s on him. I won’t be scolded.

He’s blissfully unaware of what it takes to navigate the medical system as a young female doctor. If I let men as weak as Rob steamroll me on the regular, I wouldn’t stand a chance.

And this career is the only thing I’ve ever had that’s mine. So, he can fuck all the way off.

Flipping one hand over, I gaze down at my neglected nails, trying to look bored by him. I’m wondering if I can find a good place for a manicure in Chestnut Springs when I reply, “Don’t play stupid. It pairs so poorly with whining.”

I can’t help but ask myself why I’m still married. I know why I thought I was sticking it out. But now? Now, I just need to buck up and get it done. I glance back down at my suitcase, packed like I’m leaving for a long ass time, and wonder if my subconscious knows something I don’t.

Maybe that bitch is putting her foot down and breaking me out once and for all.

I’m not averse.

“Watch your fucking tone with me.”

My eyes narrow on my cuticles as I struggle to bite down the rage bubbling inside me. Hot molten lava simmering below the cool surface, just waiting to erupt all over the place.

But I’ve kept that at bay for years now. I will not let Doctor Rob Valentine be the one to make me erupt.

He’s not worth the energy.

I shift my eyes to him across the room. My room, because when I told him in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t be sleeping in the same bed as him any longer, he directed me to the guest room rather than moving himself out—like the true gentleman he is.

Even though he’s the one at fault.

He’s the reason we are where we are.

And the worst part is I loved him once. He was all mine. A safe place for me to land after growing up in what felt like some sort of domestic cold war.

I let my guard down with him. I fell so damn hard.

He broke my heart far worse than I’ll ever let anyone know.

I don’t respond to him; instead, I grab the handle of my suitcase and shove past his lean frame, heading toward the front door of our sprawling ten-thousand-foot home.

I hear him following. Dress shoes against marble. And of course, he doesn’t offer to carry my suitcase.

A wry smile twists my lips, and I shake my head at the thought he’d bother to lift a finger to help. The hardest thing for me to accept with the implosion of my marriage is that I didn’t see it coming. That I can be smart, and accomplished, and strategic in everything I do yet still allow this asshole to blindside me is just . . . humiliating.

Being swindled this way irks me to no end.

I can feel the rage radiating off of him as he seethes beside me. And I just carry on serenely, slipping my socked feet into a pair of tall leather boots and wrapping a long, brown wool coat around myself.

“Seriously, Winter? You’re not even going to dignify me with an answer?”

I methodically tie the coat belt around my waist, deciding I have zero desire to dignify him at all.

The problem is, Rob knows me well. We’ve been together for five years, which means he understands how to piss me off too.

His eyes trace over my face, taking on a vicious little slant. “I liked you better with lighter hair.” His pointer finger sweeps over my head, judging the darker streaks topped with a warmer tone. He’s always been obsessive about me having the silvery blonde hair, telling me how much he loves it. “This new color isn’t as appealing. It looks dirty.”

But the root touch-ups, the purple shampoo, and the deep conditioner were too much work for an exhausted resident, which is why I requested my stylist put in lowlights.

I blink a couple of times, like I can’t quite believe he has the nerve to act like the way I color my hair is a personal slight to him.

Except I can. Because this year he took his mask off and showed me all the entitled ugliness underneath.

“That’s funny. I liked you better when I thought you hadn’t groomed my little sister and then fucked her over.”

He scoffs. Scoffs. “That’s not how it was. She was obsessed with me.”

My nose wrinkles, smelling the bullshit wafting off of him. “A much older doctor saves his underage patient’s life. Uses his physical appeal and power over her to get her eating out of his hand. Becomes a hero to her. Then, as soon as she turns eighteen, starts fucking her on the down-low like she’s some sort of dirty secret. And when he meets her older, more appropriate sister, he drops her like a stone and marries the one that won’t cost him his job for a medical license violation. Oh!”—my finger shoots up in the air—“except, here’s the kicker. He doesn’t give up on the younger one quite yet. He stalks her and harasses her, sabotaging every new relationship of hers just because he can. Or maybe it makes him feel better about that receding hairline he tries to cover up.”

My anger swirls, but I’m the one stirring my pot by giving in to him at all.

His arms cross and he glares at me. All golden coiffed hair, bright blue eyes, and Ken-doll good looks. “You know I never loved her.”

White-hot rage lances through me. Everything around us blurs as my eyes focus on the asshole I married. I try to keep my voice cool. Years of practicing this facade have carried me through the most heart-rending of moments. I have this act down pat.

But today I struggle.

“You think you never loving her makes it better? That’s my baby sister you’re talking about. The one who almost died. And you fucked her around for years. And me? I don’t think you’ve ever loved me either.”

My words echo in the spacious foyer as we stare each other down.

“I have.”

I have. That’s his proclamation to me?

I laugh bitterly. “Who the fuck are you kidding, Robert? Do you ever tire of lying? Of trying to keep your stories straight? The jig is up. I see you. You made me believe I had something I never did. You played me.”

He doesn’t correct me. He just glares. It shouldn’t hurt, but it does.

“For what you’ve done to me? I am indifferent to you. For what you’ve done to her? I hate you. I wouldn’t have touched you with a one-million-foot pole if I’d realized the type of man you really are. Fool me once, never again. That’s the new saying.”

With that, I tug my suitcase up and spin on my heel, flinging the door open so hard it smashes into the wall behind it. I hate how fired up I am. How out of control I feel. But I hold my chin up, press my shoulders down, and walk out of that house with all the placid, unaffected composure I can muster.

“Does that mean you’re leaving me?”

How can someone so educated be so stupid? I almost laugh. I keep walking, patting him on the shoulder like the dog he is as I pass by. “Use that fancy medical degree and figure it out for yourself.”

“You don’t even like her!” he yells in a whiny tone that scrapes down my neck like nails on a chalkboard. “You gonna run back to her and beg for forgiveness after what a royal cunt you’ve been to her all these years? Good luck with that. I’ll be here when you come crawling back.”

But I don’t dignify his jabs with a single glance back. Instead, I flip him the finger over my shoulder and take satisfaction in knowing he’s wrong.

That he’s not as smart as he thinks he is.

And I’m not either. I feel very small and very stupid right now.

Because I love my sister.

I just have a fucked-up way of showing it.


I hope I don’t die now that I’m taking some control of my life back.

I want to start fresh. And yet I’m terrified to do it at all.

Chestnut Springs General Hospital is only an hour away from the house I live in, so why does it feel like the longest drive of my life?

I started taking shifts here a few months ago, so I could make the drive with my eyes closed, but today it’s snowing hard enough that I’m white-knuckling the steering wheel.

I’m also still stewing over losing my cool.

Rob started that fight by saying he couldn’t fathom why I’d want to work at this dingy hospital, and I wasn’t inclined to tell him the truth.

One, that working in a hospital where I’m not his wife and my mother’s daughter is a relief. I can practice medicine and take pride in my work without having to contend with all the whispers and pitying glances. Without that shit hanging over my head.

Because everyone knows, but no one talks about it, and that approach to life is wearing on my sanity. I know how everyone sees me. I’m not oblivious to it. They might not speak it, but I hear it loud and clear all the same.

A doctor who got her position at the hospital through family connections and marriage.

A woman who is unapproachable, cold, and unhappy.

A wife who is pathetic enough to ignore her husband’s betrayal.

And two, because I’ve never wanted to be around my sister more than I do now. When she was sick, I used to sneak into the hospital and check on her, read her chart so I knew how she was doing even though I was still only in university. And now? Now, I look at my little sister and all I see are the years I missed.

I see a woman who lived in misery to save me a little of my own.

It would seem we’re kindred that way.

She’s happy now, engaged to a man whose hair is far too long but who loves her in a way that I’ll never experience. But I’m also happy for her—god knows she deserves a little peace. She left her law degree and secure job at our father’s sports management firm in the rear-view mirror to run a gym and live on a picturesque little country bumpkin ranch.

I admire her.

But I have no idea how to mend the rift between us. So, I took a part-time position in the small town she’s living in, hoping I might run into her and fix things organically.

I have this recurring story in my head, one that crops up all the time. I must be trying to manifest it or some shit.

In it, she’s strolling down the sidewalk, and I bump straight into her as I exit the adorable little Parisian coffee shop on Main Street. She looks shocked to see me. I offer her a warm smile, and it isn’t forced. Then, I hike a thumb over my shoulder and say, “Hey, you, uh . . . wanna grab a coffee?” in a casual and charming way that will make her smile back at me.

Of course, I’d have to spend time somewhere other than the hospital or hotel for that to happen. But I keep slinking between the two safety zones, too scared and too embarrassed to face her.

“Fuck it,” I mumble as I sniff and sit up taller, eyes laser-focused on the road. “Siri, call Summer Hamilton.”

The beat of heavy silence that greets me is laden with years of anticipation.

“Calling Summer Hamilton,” the robotic voice replies. The formality is a jab to the chest. Most sisters would have some cute nickname programmed in their phone. Perhaps I’d call her Sum if we were friends. As it is now, I might as well include her middle name in the contact listing.

The phone rings. Once. Twice.

And then she’s there. “Winter?” she asks breathlessly. My name isn’t an accusation on her lips though. It’s . . . hopeful.

“Hi,” I say stupidly. No amount of education or medical textbooks could prepare me for this conversation. Since everything blew up in the hospital that day, I’ve played out this conversation in my head a million times. I’ve laid awake at night preparing myself.

And it wasn’t enough.

“Hi . . . are you . . . are you okay?”

I nod while the bridge of my nose stings. I’ve been awful to Summer over the years and her first inclination is to ask if I’m okay.

“Win?”

I suck in a deep breath of air. Win. Fuck. That nickname. She just falls into it so easily. I absently wonder how I’m named in her contacts. I always imagined it was “Evil Half Sister” or something along those lines.

She’s just so fucking nice. It almost makes me nauseous that someone could be this nice to me after everything that we’ve been through, after how cold I’ve been to her.

I don’t deserve Summer. But I want to. And that comes with being honest.

“No. I don’t think I’m okay,” I say, trying to cover the hitch in my voice by clearing my throat.

“Okay.” I can imagine her nodding right now, rolling her lips together, mind whirring as she tries to solve this problem for me. That’s just who she is. A fixer.

I might be a doctor, but Summer has always been a healer.

“Where are you? Do you need me to come and get you? Are you hurt?” She pauses. “Oh! Do you need legal help? I’m not practicing anymore, but I could—”

“Can I see you?” I blurt. And now it seems like it’s her turn for stunned silence. “I’m on my way to Chestnut Springs already. I could . . . I don’t know.” A ragged sigh drags its way up my throat. “Buy you a coffee?” I finish lamely, glancing at the digital clock that shows it’s already 6 p.m.

Her voice comes through the phone a little thick, a little soft. “I would love that. But could we do wine instead?”

A knot of tension unfurls in my chest, one I didn’t even know was there until now. And now that I’ve noticed it, I can’t help but feel like it’s been there for years.

“Yeah.” My fingers pulse on the steering wheel. “Yeah. Wine. Good.”

I sound like a fucking cavewoman.

“We’re having a family dinner at the main house tonight. There will be a bunch of people. I’d love if you came too.”

My throat clogs uncharacteristically. This brand of kindness feels foreign after living in a sterile bubble with Rob and my mom for so long. This brand of forgiveness . . . I don’t know how to react to it.

So I just roll with it. Seems like the least I can do.

“Can you send me the address?”


In my haste to pick up my package and get the hell out of the city, I ignored my gas tank for as long as I could. No doubt cutting it dangerously close. Which only added to my anxiety the farther away I’ve gotten from that city limit.

So, I give in and stop for gas in Chestnut Springs before hitting the sketchy back road my phone mapped out to the ranch.

As I stand here, freezing and wishing I’d worn more appropriate outdoor winter clothing, I let all the worry creep in through my carefully erected walls.

Worry over seeing Summer.

Worry over sitting down to dinner with a bunch of people who no doubt think I’m a heinous bitch.

Worry over the snow-packed roads. I’ve seen too many car accident traumas roll into the ER lately.

Worry over my career and what the hell I’m going to do—where I’m going to land.

Hilariously—albeit a dark hilarious—I feel next to no concern over the thought of leaving Rob for good. I’ve strung that out for a long time. I’ve thought about it, analyzed it from every angle.

I kept thinking of divorce as a failure. But leaving tonight didn’t feel like failing.

It felt like relief. Like someone has been standing on my chest and I finally got my shit together enough to push them off. My muscles are tired from pushing, and I’ve got some bumps and bruises from the fight.

Leaving hurt, but I can finally breathe through the pain.

I sigh a deep, heavy sigh and watch my breath puff out from between my lips into a smoky little cloud, more obvious under the neon lights that flood down over the gas bays. The tips of my fingers go from tingling to downright numb in a matter of seconds, where they’re wrapped around the red plastic handle. I bounce on the spot and look up when I hear a bell jangle at the door of the gas station.

The man who walks out through the glass door is all swagger and broad shoulders. Dark hair, darker eyes, lashes that make the blonde girl in me a little irritated. He’s smirking down at the lotto ticket in his hand, like he thinks he’s going to win.

I could tell him he’s not going to win. That it’s a waste of money. But I get the distinct impression this is the type of man who doesn’t care.

He’s got unlaced boots, jeans stacked around the tops. A couple of long silver chains adorn his chest, disappearing under a plaid button-down that is open just a little too far, a heavy knit cardigan slung carelessly over the top.

He’s sexy without even trying. Even the weather doesn’t seem to bother him. I bet he rolls out of bed after sleeping in yesterday’s socks and just shoves them back in those worn leather boots.

I bet his hands are rough. I bet he smells like leather. And after the man I’ve spent the last several years with, I’m unable to tear my eyes away from the rugged appeal of the man before me.

I’ve stared at him so long, so thoroughly, that the gas pump makes a loud clanking noise as it bumps back into my palm, signaling the tank is full.

The noise of it draws his attention my way, and he turns the full force of his sex appeal on me. The square jaw dusted with the perfect amount of stubble, topped off with lips that are just wasted on a man. The way he looks? It’s absurd.

I drop my head quickly, fumbling with the pump to get it latched back in its holder. My tongue swipes at my lips.

I get the distinct sense that the sexy lumberjack is watching me, but I don’t glance up to see. There’s a flutter in my chest and a heat in my cheeks, one I haven’t felt for a very, very long time.

Because I was actually happily married. And now I’m . . . not.

I think.

And this is the first man I’ve let myself look at inappropriately. A man who can’t bother to tie his shoes and plays the lotto.

“Ugh,” I groan at myself as I approach my door, suddenly a lot less cold than I was before I saw him.

But as I’m about to slide into my seat, I peek back over my shoulder at the guy.

The one standing at his silver truck.

The one who’s still watching me with a knowing smirk on his face.

The one who runs a hand through his perfectly tousled hair and winks at me.

I’m in my car and out onto the dark road like a shot, getting away as quickly as possible.

Because the very last thing I need in my life is someone who makes me feel like there’s not enough oxygen in my lungs when I’ve only just caught my breath.


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