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Reckless (Chestnut Springs Book 4): Chapter 10

Winter

A shrill yap wakes me from what has to be only a single hour of sleep.

Yap. Yap. Yap.

I wonder if the oath I took to protect lives extends to dogs, because after two days in teething hell, I’m ready to murder someone. A dog is just an easy target.

You’d think that after years of residency and late-night study sessions, I’d be prepared for this phase of my life. But this is the most exhausted I have ever been.

I am a walking, talking milk bag and the sole source of comfort for the most precious little human I’ve ever laid eyes on. You’d think a night away from her would be what I needed, but instead, the rodeo went to shit, and I missed her so badly it hurt.

Yap. Yap. Yap.

I sling an arm over my face and groan, but I cut it off when I remember I gave in and kept Vivienne in the bed with me last night. I know what the baby books say. I know the methods. I know the rules.

But no one tells you just how tired you’ll be, how thoroughly beaten down. I no longer care about her being independent. I just want to sleep. And if latched on in the crook of my arm is how that happens—then fuck all that advice. I’m a doctor. Ask me how exhaustion wreaks havoc on a body.

Yap. Yap. Yap.

I turn and peek down at the sleeping little person beside me. She’s so beautiful it makes my chest ache. Her pert button nose looks like she has a dot of highlighter on the tip. Pudgy cheeks, full and rosy even in her sleep. Perfect skin. Why is perfect skin wasted on a baby? It seems unfair. I’d have taken wrinkles as a baby to have this smooth, soft skin now.

It’s her lashes that always get me though. Similar to her dad’s. Thick, and dark, and long. Almost like one of those dolls with the heavy lids that flip open and shut.

Except way less creepy.

Yap. Yap. Yap.

Her straight black hair flops over her head when she stirs, and frustration rises in me. I swear if some goddamn dog wakes her up when she’s finally asleep, I’m going to lose it.

I slide out of bed as seamlessly as possible, doing my best ninja imitation to not move the bed at all. Thank god for memory foam. Once I’m safely off the bed, I turn up the white noise machine on the nightstand and say a small prayer that I can make it out of this room without waking her.

This bungalow is full of charm. And by charm, I mean creaky floors. But I think I mostly have those loose floorboards memorized now. I twist and turn, combine long steps with choppy ones and when my hand wraps around the crystal doorknob, I say another prayer that the door doesn’t squeak.

I know the hinges need oiling or whatever, but I keep forgetting. Or feeling too tired to care once I have the time to do it.

This is my new reality.

Yap. Yap. Yap.

But a yappy dog next door is not my new reality. I refuse to let it be, so I swipe my cotton robe off the bathroom door and tie it around myself. With my shoulders squared, I march out the front door but hit the brakes to prevent the screen door from slamming behind me in my huff.

“What the hell is—”

I stop in my tracks as my eyes land on the white picket fence that divides my property from the one next door. There are three shirtless men moving furniture out of a box van.

I take an inventory of myself. Bare feet on warm wood boards. Heat already licking at where the belt of my robe is tied around my waist.

What time is it?

The full sun overhead means it must be a lot later than I thought.

Yap. Yap. Yap.

“Morning, Win!” My head snaps to the men and I squint, realizing it’s Rhett with his hair tied up in some weird little bun. My gaze zips to the side, recognizing Beau with his close-cropped hair, and then . . .

Him.

It’s been seven days since I last saw Theo Silva in the hospital. I don’t know how long he stayed there or if he ever got the CT scan I ordered through my favorite nurse before I left. I don’t know where he’s been, and I sure as shit don’t know what he’s doing here. Shirtless and looking this goddamn sinful.

It’s annoying that I have to remind my brain that he may be hot, but he’s also shitty.

Thanks for letting me know.

That’s the sentence that will do it.

“Hi, Tink,” he says with a smirk. And how dare he smirk at me like that after everything? Knock me up, take off, and then fly back into town, gawking at me like I’m his next meal?

Fuck him.

“Looking forward to being your new neighbor.”

My jaw drops and I almost laugh. What the fuck kind of cruel joke is this? He’s planning on living next door to Vivienne and pretending she’s not his?

“Over my dead body.” I cross my arms, and his gaze lowers from my mouth to where my robe undoubtedly gapes open over the flimsy tank top I’m wearing beneath.

“Winter, it’s almost noon. Did you just wake up?” Beau asks a little mockingly.

I turn, raking my eyes over his beefy frame, then Rhett’s, who is the lankier of the two.

Theo is somewhere in between. I’m like Goldilocks picking a type. Too beefy, too long hair-y, and then there’s Theo.

Even with one toned arm in a navy-blue sling, he looks good. And I hate my brain for practically sighing and saying just right.

A light brown chihuahua with a graying muzzle runs stupid circles around Theo’s sneaker-clad feet. For a moment, I feel like I found a kindred spirit in the animal.

“Winter?” Theo’s voice is softer, a little gentler than the other two. “You okay?”

My eyes widen at him. “Okay?” Disbelief bleeds into my voice. “No, Theo. I’m not okay. That dog is yapping nonstop, and you are not allowed to live next to me.”

The other men chuckle and get back to unloading the moving van, but Theo’s perfectly shaped lips curve up as his head tips, revealing the incision along his collarbone. “Oh, yeah? I guess I’ll have to check the by-laws. Find the rule that says I’m not allowed to live next to you. I must have missed it. And Peter?” He motions down at the dog, whose forehead is way too big and whose tongue lolls out of his mouth. It appears to have cataracts, which explains why it’s regarding Theo like he hung the moon. “He’s deaf and going a little blind. He’s just stressed. He’ll settle once we move all our stuff in and it feels like home. He doesn’t usually bark at all.”

Nausea roils in my stomach as I wonder what the hell he’s playing at here.

“Theo,” my voice cracks. “Why are you doing this?”

All three men look up at the tone in my voice and I realize this isn’t the place to have this conversation.

Theo’s brows knit together. “Jasper offered me this house. It’s close to the gym. I’ll train there while I recover, hopefully make it back on the circuit before fall. I won’t be here for long.”

The knife in my gut twists harder.

“Are you kidding me right now?” I sound breathless, weak. I sound shocked and Theo looks forlorn, totally confused by my reaction.

“Winter, suck it up. You barely know the guy,” Beau calls out, muscles bulging as he carries an armchair toward the front door. “You don’t have to be friends.”

I want to pick up a rock and throw it at Beau’s stupid GI Joe head. Friends. God. We are much more than friends. And nobody knows except us. The shreds of dignity I kept in my grip when I left Rob were all I had and admitting to anyone that Theo didn’t want me either was more pain than I was equipped to handle.

So, I told everyone I had a one-night stand and didn’t remember who the guy was.

The problem is, I remember that night in vivid detail. And it haunts me.

I shake my head at Theo, for the first time feeling like I might truly hate him. Tears well in my eyes, which is my signal to get the fuck out of here.

Theo steps closer to the fence, his face etched with concern. He lifts his good arm like he’s about to stop me. Like there’s something he wants to say.

But I don’t want to hear anything he has to say. And I don’t want to break down here with the guys watching.

So, I turn away and toss out over my shoulder, “Shut your dog up, Theo. If it wakes my baby up, I’ll castrate you.”

Then I slam the door on them in a fit of frustration.

Then I hear Vivienne’s startled cry.

Then I sink to the floor and cry too.


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