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Reckless (Chestnut Springs Book 4): Chapter 12

Winter

Winter: Why is Theo Silva moving in next door? Who okayed this? You or Jasper?

Sloane: Is it a problem? I didn’t even think you’d care. You guys got in that spat, what? A year and a half ago?

Winter: Never mind.

Sloane: Oh, shit.


My phone vibrates when motion at the front door trips the alarm system. I slide the screen open and pull up the video feed.

And there is Theo, sitting on my front porch with his head in his hands. Not wearing the sling that he still should be.

I’m torn. The bitter she-devil on one shoulder wants to leave him out there getting soaked, but the curious caretaker angel on the opposite shoulder wants to make sure he’s okay.

Because I’ve never seen him look beaten down. Even in the hospital, he was cracking jokes and flying to my defense like I needed that from him.

I pad down the hallway toward Vivi’s room and peek in on her. She’s flat on her back, arms splayed, with her tiny fingers curled into loose fists.

I want to sleep like that again. Instead, I feel like I’m in this constant state of alertness where, even when I’m exhausted, I find it difficult to relax enough to truly sleep deeply.

After the soft click of her door shutting, I wait with bated breath to see if I’ve woken the teething monster.

One. Two. Three.

I press my ear to her door and when I hear no signs of movement, a deep sigh lurches from my chest. Relief.

Until I remember who is sitting on my front porch. But I approach the front door with a cool level of detachment taught to me in med school. One I’ve spit-polished into a perfect shine working in the emergency room.

One I mastered as a child, if I’m being honest.

My hand wraps around the knob, and with an aggressive tug, I yank the front door open and stare down into the second most beautiful set of brown eyes I’ve ever seen.

It’s impossible not to gawk for at least a moment. Theo’s wet hair hugs his forehead and drops of water cling to the two peaks of his top lip. Rain has plastered his white T-shirt to his body in the most obscene way.

“Why aren’t you wearing your sling?”

That is what my brain decides to open with, even as I gaze down into his tortured eyes. He unfolds himself, and when he steps closer, I’m forced to tip my chin up in order to hold his stare.

“Winter, I need you to tell me the truth.”

I can feel my heart beating in my throat, and I lift a hand to quell the ache there. “Okay.”

“Is the baby mine?”

My face goes slack. Is the baby mine? Is he fucking kidding me? The crash of thunder hits me like a slap. “That’s not funny, Theo.”

“I’m not trying to be funny, Winter.”

“We’ve already talked about this, so I don’t know what you’re playing at.”

“Talked about this?” His face scrunches and his arms gesture open on either side of him.

I’ll give it to him. He appears to be genuinely confused. “Yeah. I believe the last text message I received from you was”—my hands gesture beside my head in air quotes—“Thanks for letting me know.”

For as long as I live, I don’t think I’ll forget the look on Theo’s face right now. I just watched a heart break right in front of me. And I remember how it feels. I’m familiar with the sensation of everything you thought you knew toppling down around you.

The expression on his face is haunted and my hand moves up from my throat to cover my mouth. “Oh god,” I whisper. “You really didn’t know.”

I feel outside of myself. Above us, observing. Like I’m watching two people interact in a movie or TV show.

This can’t be real.

A disbelieving laugh escapes him. “Nah. You can’t be serious.”

I stare back, not sure what to say.

He paces and lets out another laugh. This time, it sounds a little unhinged. “You gotta be joking.” Faster than the lightning streaks across the sky, he turns his back to me and jogs down the steps. “How did . . .” He swipes a hand through his hair and glances around the soggy front yard. “How come . . .” Those usually happy eyes swim with devastation when he turns his gaze back on me. “When did you . . .”

“Two weeks or so after. I tried contacting you so many times. I don’t know . . .”

His forearm flexes as he wipes his hand over his mouth. “No.” He laughs, but it borders on a sob. “You’re telling me I have a daughter and I missed it all? The pregnancy? The birth? Everything?”

It strikes me I’m watching a man unravel right before my eyes. A beautiful, shocked man. I’ve spent the past eighteen months assuming the worst about Theo, and here he is, crumbling to pieces, like the rain is disintegrating the clay that holds him together.

My mouth opens, but I don’t know what to say to him. I mean, yeah, he missed all those things. And I don’t know why, but based on the way he’s gone back to pacing and tugging at his hair, I have to assume he didn’t do it on purpose.

“Winter. Don’t fuck with me. Are you serious?”

He looks downright forlorn. Soaked and bedraggled, he makes his way back up the steps. I can hear his breathing now, not just pants, but a sort of keening sound on each exhale. A fist thumps against his chest.

“Winter.” Now my name is him pleading with me.

He’s panicking. Truly panicking.

“Theo.” My hands shoot out and I hold his cheeks, forcing him to come to a standstill. I grip his skull, his stubble rough on my palms, his damp neck smooth under my fingertips. “Stop. Tell me three things you can hear.”

His body heaves as he stares back at me. Moments pass.

“Rain.”

I nod.

“Thunder.”

I lick my lips.

“Your finger rubbing the back of my head.”

I swallow and press my opposite hand to his chest. His heart thunders beneath my palm. “Okay. Now three things you can see.”

His eyes rake over me, and I don’t let go of his head. “Your white house. The stroller folded by the front door.” His voice cracks.

I massage the back of his neck, trying to bring him back down.

“You.”

My lips press together, my gaze bouncing between his eyes. He seems calmer now. “Yeah. Good.” My grip softens, my hands sliding down to his shoulders with the soothing sound of rain falling in the background.

I watch him closely.

His hands hang limply at his sides, but it’s the tremor in his voice when he says, “Can I see her?” that has my eyes filling with tears.

I don’t know what the fuck is going on right now, but I do know that the man at my door deserves to see his daughter. I nod and turn to open the door, allowing him into our house. His presence is large and consuming when he steps inside.

I point at the shoe rack, trying to ignore the press of his body behind me. Even in a moment like this, the air between us hums. It makes me want to lean back into him and have his arms wrap around me.

It would feel so good to be held by someone.

Instead, I rush ahead, padding quietly down the hallway to grab him a towel. When I return and give it to him, I chance a look at his chiseled face. His normally tan skin is now a perfect match for the white terry cloth in his hands.

I try not to stare as he dries himself off, opting to glower at my fingers instead. Still no manicure.

A sad laugh bubbles up in my throat.

“What?” Theo focuses on toweling off his wet hair now, bicep bulging and flexing as he reaches up over his head.

“I just . . . nothing. It’s silly.”

“No, tell me.”

When the sigh leaves me, my entire body sags in its wake. Heat blooms on my cheeks as I stare down at my outstretched hands. “It sounds ridiculous, but for a long time, I’ve been telling myself that I’m going to start getting manicures. I don’t know why. I just want them. I can’t have my nails painted at the hospital and the job is too hard on my hands anyway. I keep meaning to do it while I’m off work, but I just . . . haven’t.”

When I peek up, Theo is staring at me with an intensity I don’t think I’ve ever seen any man direct at me in my life. Which I suppose makes sense. He’s gutted and I’m standing here talking about wanting to get manicures.

I hit him with a watery smile. “Just drop the towel there. Ignore the mess.” I wince a little when I gaze out over the kitchen and living room. It could be worse, but there are unfinished dishes in the sink, coffee pods on the counter, and toys all over the living room floor. It’s all proof that I am just doing what needs to be done to get through this godforsaken teething phase. “It’s been a rough couple of days.”

He says nothing and I don’t chance a look in his direction before I lead him down the hallway toward Vivienne’s room. I know the intrusion might wake her, but this seems like one of those moments where it doesn’t matter. If the thunder hasn’t done it yet, maybe we’re in the clear.

With a gentle click, I open the door to the nursery. It’s a beautiful, cozy room that came together with a lot of support from everyone out here in Chestnut Springs. Sloane helped me paint it the softest pink, with high-gloss white on the crown moldings. Lace curtains lay over the blackout drapes behind them. The crib is from my dad—he sent it in the mail. The rocking chair is from Harvey, a family heirloom that I’m sure I don’t deserve. He brought it over and placed it in the corner himself. Willa brought all the useful things, a diaper genie, a wipe warmer, loads of spit rags. And Summer still hasn’t stopped buying her clothes.

The way everyone rallied around me is still almost more than I can comfortably think about.

I walk across the room and open the blinds, allowing the soft gray light from outside to illuminate the nursery. Theo stands in the doorway, motionless.

I peek down at Vivi, still in the same blissful position as the last time I checked on her. Then, with a deep, centering breath, I march across the room and wrap my hand around Theo’s. His palm is damp and clammy as I lead him over to the edge of the white crib.

And then we stand there. Two people who barely know each other.

Staring down at our daughter. Him for the first time. And me for the millionth.

After only a few beats, he shifts his fingers so that they link between mine. His hand squeezes, and it feels like he’s squeezing at my heart instead. When I look up at him, his eyes are wide and unblinking.

“Winter.” My name is a breath on his lips this time. He reaches down and trails a knuckle over one of her full cheeks. Her little lips make a suckling motion, and she turns her head into his touch.

“Oh god. What’s—” His free hand clamps up over his mouth. “Where’s the bathroom?”

“Straight across the hall.” I barely get the words out before he’s gone.

I follow and hear him heaving as I approach the door. He’s left it slightly ajar, and I can see a sliver of him hunched over the toilet, hands in his hair, looking utterly defeated.

I step away to give him some privacy. And then I slide down the wall beside the bathroom door and hang my head in my hands before giving myself over to my own feelings of nausea.

Something went wrong along the way. I’m not sure what, or where. All I know is the man in my bathroom would never have sent me that text.


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