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Reckless (Chestnut Springs Book 4): Chapter 11

Theo

“Hard to believe Summer came out so nice when her sister came out like that.” Beau shakes his head as he comes back down the front steps with empty hands.

“Winter is nice.” The sentence comes out with more force than intended, more than is appropriate for the situation. But I think I’ve felt protective of that woman since the first night I laid eyes on her.

I didn’t know then how desperately she needed someone to be. That no one had ever been that for her. That she’s been fending for herself since before she should have needed to.

Beau scoffs. “With those moods I’m surprised she found someone willing to knock her u—”

“Beau, shut up,” Rhett cuts him off. “She’s done a lot for you. She’s family. If we’re gonna talk about her moods, maybe it’s time we talk about yours, hmm?”

The two brothers stare each other down in the front yard of the house I’ll be renting for the next few months. My chest vibrates with tension, partially because if these two go nuts on each other, I will not jump in. I’m smarter than that.

But tension builds in me all the same as I fixate on the willing to knock her up part. I don’t know how old the baby is, and I don’t know the specifics of how long that process takes beyond that nine-month marker, but I suddenly have the urge to pull out a calendar and check.

Beau stares but says nothing. Since going missing in action on an assignment overseas, he hasn’t been the same. He’s physically healed, but he’s different. Darker.

“I’m going to take a walk,” he mutters and drops his brother’s gaze, shoulders slumping as he edges past us and out the white gate.

Rhett props his hands on his hips and lets out a long breath. “I hate when that version of him pops up.”

“Yup,” is all I come back with because, well, I don’t know what else to say. Although I don’t know Beau well, I’m familiar enough with the Eaton family to know Harvey would give him a good shake for disrespecting Winter.

“It’s getting better, but now and then I’d just like to deck him. It’s like Winter going out of her way to help him with treatment back home has irritated him somehow.”

“What did she do?”

“I don’t know. Got him in with some doctors to help with the scars. Pretty sure she told him he needed therapy, but in whatever Winter-way she’d have of telling him that, which went over poorly. He’s a terrible patient, always has been. But he also doesn’t tell anyone shit—that’s not new either.”

I think of how I’ve felt, going from capable to injured, and can see it. Watching these two unload the truck while I move lighter things with one hand doesn’t exactly have me feeling useful.

“The more I see him now, the more I realize that even when he was home, he wasn’t. His head was always off on assignment somewhere. He’d waltz in and be all happy-go-lucky. But I can’t help but wonder if that was an act. Ya know?”

Rhett looks down the sidewalk where Beau’s outline has now rounded the corner onto the main street of Chestnut Springs. I have a sinking suspicion he won’t be back for a while.

“Right, well . . . I’ll do everything I can to help you with the rest of this.”

My friend shrugs and glances back at the truck. “It’s okay. I can call Summer, see if she can scoot over from the gym to move the heavy pieces. Let’s just do all the rest.”

I can’t help but smile. He and Summer are so damn good together.

“You think she can squat more than you?”

Rhett cracks a grin. “I don’t think. I know.”

With a chuckle, I scoop Peter up, because as soon as I start walking, he’s going to bark at my feet. There’s a laundry room in the basement and he’ll get set up there with a bed, food, and water. I just hope the concrete walls drown out his annoyed yips at being left behind.

I nuzzle the top of his bubbly little head. “Be quiet, okay? We can’t have everyone next door crying, alright? It’s not gentlemanly.”

He shakes in response. As a chihuahua does. Or so I learned when I rushed him to the vet for shaking all the time.

Then I’m back to all my worldly belongings in the back of that truck. It’s not much, because I’ve never really hunkered down anywhere. Over the past four years, I’ve spent the better part of my time on the road. I spend a few days here and there with my mom at her place in Emerald Lake, but more often than not, I crash at the small condo I rent in the city. It’s practically a storage locker and not very well equipped, but it’s all I’ve needed.

And the thought of living there for a few months while I recover felt depressing. So here I am, being swallowed up by the Eaton family. I don’t even know who suggested this living arrangement anymore. Summer? Because I could rehab at her gym? Harvey? Who said I shouldn’t be alone? Sloane? Who said she knew the perfect house?

Whoever it was, I wasn’t sad about it.

But I didn’t know Winter would live next door.

Once we’ve got the four chairs set around the square table in the dining room, I finally break down and ask, “So what’s the deal with Winter?”

Rhett swipes a hand over his forehead. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. She’s living out here now. She has a baby? She—”

He huffs out a laugh. “Don’t harass her like you did that night at the Christmas dinner. She’s got enough on her plate without you air humping in her direction like that little dog of yours.”

My nose scrunches up. “Peter doesn’t air hump.”

“Why does your dog have a human name? Everything sounds so much weirder when I imagine an accountant or something air humping. Plus, Summer sent me a video of him humping my pillow when we took care of him.”

“That’s not air humping though. That’s him humping your pillow. Don’t judge him.”

Rhett wheezes out a laugh. “Do you know that dog gets boners randomly sometimes? Like he’ll just be sitting there and have his red rocket out.”

“You’d be in the same boat if you couldn’t wear pants.”

“Leave it to you to get the world’s horniest dog.”

I laugh. “He’s not horny. Those are stress boners.”

“What the fuck is a stress boner?”

Scrubbing a hand over my jaw, I try to keep it together and not burst out laughing. Peter deserves my defense right now. “He just gets nervous, or excited, or overstimulated sometimes and it happens.”

Rhett’s shoulders shake silently as he crosses his arms and leans back against the wall. “Theo, all you did was describe the different emotions someone feels when they get a normal boner.”

“It’s different.” I look away, biting at the inside of my cheek to keep my grin under wraps. “Stop picking on Peter.”

“You even named him after a penis.”

“What? His full name is Peter Pan.”

“Peter is—” He waves me off. “You know what, never mind. The moral of the story is: keep your stress boners away from Winter.”

“Why?”

“Because she’s got her plate full enough with Vivi. She doesn’t need you making more work for her.”

“Does she have help?”

“Is that your way of asking if she’s single?”

“Jesus, Rhett. Give me a little credit.”

“Right.” He grins. “I keep forgetting you’re a monk now. But no, she doesn’t. She’s all on her own. And that woman is an island, so if you figure out a way to help her that isn’t with your dick, I’m all for it. Mow her lawn or something, yeah?”

I can’t help it. I waggle my eyebrows at Rhett.

“Good lord.” His eyes roll.

“What? You just handed me an alley-oop. Only a loser wouldn’t take that joke and run.”

His head is shaking, but he’s all smiles. I know he feels guilty about my injury and he’s here playing mentor-on-steroids just to make up for it.

“So . . . who’s the dad?” I press further.

Rhett’s eyes narrow. “Why?”

“I just want to know what I’m getting into when I mow her lawn. Like if I see a dude lurking around, should I worry?”

Rhett scoffs. “Beats me, man. Like I said, she’s an island. That baby girl is nine months old, and no one has a clue who the dad is. She hasn’t told a soul. Says she was drunk and doesn’t remember.”

And just like that, all my jokes turn to stone and land heavy in my gut.

I really need to look at a calendar.


I managed to keep a smile on my face around Rhett while he and Summer finished helping me move in. But even they noticed it was forced.

When Rhett asked me if I was sore, I said, “Yeah.” But it wasn’t my broken collarbone or bruised body. It was the tight knot constricting my stomach.

I haven’t moved off this spot on my couch since they left. First thing I did was pull up the calendar on my phone. Peter is curled up smack dab in the middle of my lap, where he likes to be, snoring like he weighs a lot more than ten pounds.

Don’t go too hard on her. She’s so tired. She’s just doing her best. She needs all the support she can get, whether or not she wants it.

Summer’s assessment of her sister’s situation didn’t make me feel any better. In fact, it made me a bit sick.

Because I have a feeling. A gut instinct.

And I don’t want to be right. Because if I am?

God. If I am, I’ve really fucked up.

A crash of thunder outside startles me, but Peter carries on snoring, just deaf enough not to notice. Blissfully unaware.

Fuck.

Is that what I’ve been?

I lift the small dog off my lap and squish him into the corner of the couch, covering him in a fuzzy blanket so that only his little head and the dirty glare he’s giving me peek back out. The tip of his tongue is pushed out between the huge gap in his teeth where I had to have the rotten ones removed, and gray hairs dot his muzzle.

“I’ll be right back. Don’t give me that look.”

He makes a small grunting noise and shuts his eyes as his dismissal. And then I’m hefting lead feet across the floor, equal parts dreading going next door and feeling pulled in a way that I can’t fight or resist.

I need to go there. I need to know.

After shoving my feet into a pair of slip-ons, I open the door and step out into the downpour. Thunder rolls in the distance, and a few seconds later, the sky illuminates. In the summer, it stays light until late on the prairies, but the storm clouds have cast a dark eerie glow over the tree-lined street. My T-shirt and jeans are soaked within seconds as I make my way down the short, narrow sidewalk, out the front gate. I turn and do the reverse up to the white house next to my blue one. The row of four houses all have the same build, but Sloane’s attention to detail when she renovated them makes each home unique.

I trudge up the front steps, eyes on my feet, the sense of dread in my chest expanding until it feels like hard labor to even breathe. My hand raises, and a finger extends to press the doorbell, but I hesitate when I think of how exhausted Winter looked today. She seemed irate over the noise earlier, so I consider if ringing the doorbell is my best option.

The truth is, I don’t know what to do.

So, I sit on her top step, drop my head into my hands, and wait.


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