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Reckless (Chestnut Springs Book 4): Chapter 17

Winter

Summer: Everyone is good for dinner at the main house tonight?

Sloane: Yup! We just got back.

Willa: I’ll bring the mimosas. Cade is cooking.

Winter: Yep.

Summer: I heard you’re driving with Theo?

Willa: I like him a lot better than Doctor Douche.

Winter: We’re not together.

Willa: But if you were, you’d be trading up.

Summer: Way up.

Willa: Way WAY up.

Sloane: Leave her alone, you guys.


“How’s the physio?” Rhett asks as a lull in conversation around the table hits.

“Good, actually. Got the go-ahead to ditch the sling. Not that I’ve been wearing it anyway,” Theo replies with a chuckle.

Theo, who refused to sit anywhere but next to Vivi. Not that I can blame him, but still. I’m not oblivious to the quick looks people are shooting at him. Shooting at us.

“So, when is your mom coming? Summer and I should have her out for dinner. She hasn’t seen the new house. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen her in quite a while.” Rhett leans back in his chair, eyeing Theo up.

It all feels very obvious, especially with Theo winking at me every time I nervously clear my throat. It’s like I’m about to say something, and then get washed out into the tide of the conversation.

“Of course. She’d love that. I think she’s going to come out a bit early. Stay at my place.”

Everyone continues eating the prawn and lemon pasta that Cade whipped up. A heaping bowl of watermelon and mint salad sits in the middle of the table. It’s the perfect summer meal and everyone is here to partake.

Willa, whose shrewd eyes jump between Theo and me. Cade, who is managing their daughter Emma and their son Luke, who has barely lifted his head from shoveling the pasta into his mouth like his parents haven’t fed him in days.

Sloane and Jasper, who might as well be eating with her on his lap for how close they’re sitting.

And Beau, who’s doing his best to steal the asshole crown from me, is opposite Harvey at the head of the table, spinning a bottle of beer and peeling the label off. Not saying a word.

Even Sloane’s mom, Cordelia, is here. Still. She moved in for a safe place to stay after she left her dickwad husband over a year ago and just . . . hasn’t left.

And the way she says, “Harvey, you need some salad too. You can’t stay healthy only eating meat and carbs,” while primly blotting at her lips and glancing away is adorable.

Harvey rolls his eyes and reaches forward, serving himself a few scoops of the fruit.

That everyone keeps looking at Theo and me suspiciously while being so willfully ignorant of what’s going on between Harvey and Cordelia blows my fucking mind.

“That’s good. I’d like to meet her too.” Harvey’s gravelly voice cuts in as he stares down at the fruit on his plate like it’s his enemy. And then he blurts something out that I shouldn’t be surprised by—but I am. “I reckon she’ll wanna spend a little extra time getting to know her new grandchild.”

The table goes silent, save for the clatter of Summer dropping her fork on her plate.

It feels like time stretches out, accentuated by the thump of my heart in my ears. I was planning on saying something, but I just hadn’t found the moment yet. I was still gathering my courage, trying to work it in, not just blurt it out with zero tact.

“What?” Harvey says over a mouthful of watermelon. “It’s been a couple of hours now. Are we all just gonna keep sitting here pretending Theo isn’t Vivi’s dad? I mean, look at them.”

My lips twitch and my cheeks heat.

Fucking Harvey.

Theo saves me. Like always. “Well, Winter and I spent a lot of time talking about how to bring this up, but I should have known to just leave it to you, Harv.”

Sloane is sitting straight across from me, hand on her chest, pretending to be shocked. Bless her.

“Thank you,” I mouth to her.

She shakes her head and waves me off.

“Wait.” Sweet Jasper looks genuinely confused. I owe Sloane a flat of Buddyz Best lager for keeping this secret as close as she has. “The only thing I remember about you two is that entertaining spat you had in the driveway.”

“Yes!” Willa’s eyes light up as she jabs her finger in Jasper’s direction, her voice full of energy. “That was a good one!” And based on how memorable that altercation seems for everyone else, I must have made a real ass of myself.

Harvey gives a derisive snort. “Come on. Don’t you kids know anything? You ever seen a tomcat fight a female?”

Willa’s body is taut with barely contained laughter, while Cade groans and scrubs a hand over his beard.

“They start off scratching and screaming at each other—”

“Dad, please stop.” Cade braces his forearms against the edge of the table, staring at his place setting.

“And then before you know it . . .” Harvey carries on, undeterred.

Dad.” Now even Rhett is trying to make him stop.

“Before you know it what, Harv?” It’s Jasper who gives the older man the final shove he needs, ignoring the light slap Sloane lands across his chest.

Harvey shrugs matter-of-factly. “Before you know it, they’re breeding. Kittens everywhere. That saying about cats in heat didn’t come from nowhere.”

A chorus of groans ring out around the table.

“Lord, help me,” Beau mutters. But miserable as he’s been, even he can’t keep his lips turned down at his father’s antics.

When I glance at Theo on the other side of Vivi’s highchair that separates us, he has his palms pressed into the sockets of his eyes, body shaking with silent laughter.

“Seriously, Theo?” I hiss at him, trying to sound menacing, but a giggle slips into my voice.

“Sorry. I just need a minute after that.” He looks up at me, wiping tears from his eyes, thick dark lashes clumped together as he shakes his head in disbelief.

I push my shoulders back and meet Harvey’s glittering hazel eyes at the end of the table. “Thank you for that explanation, Harvey. When Vivienne gets older and asks how we met, I’ll be sure to drop her off with you.”

“No,” Cade jumps in. “Don’t give him any ideas. Young, impressionable minds do not need the Harvey Eaton version of the birds and the bees.”

“I think when Grandpa told me about the birds and the bees, he used rabbits instead,” Luke adds innocently.

“Yeah.” Harvey laughs. “There’s a saying about rabbits too, ya know?”

I see him startle a bit as his eyes shoot over to Cordelia, who clearly kicked him under the table.

“But . . .” His eyes gauge the large group of people staring back at him in varying states of amusement. “That’s not appropriate dinner conversation.”

Luke, all of seven years old, scoffs before saying, “Yeah, Dad will lose it if you say ‘fucking like bunnies’ in front of me again.” His eyes go round as saucers, and he slaps a small hand over his mouth like he might be able to shove the words back in.

Cade’s chair screeches as he shoots up to standing. “Lucas Eaton, outside. Now.”

Luke drops his eyes and shoots Willa a playful little grin from under the fringe of his new longer hairstyle.

“You too, Harvey.”

Willa leans across the table and whispers loudly, “Shit, Harv, you’ve made Daddy mad now.”

Harvey’s lips press together to hide a smile as he rises and walks outside to get a “talking-to” from his son.

“I heard that, Red,” Cade calls out as he marches out the back door without another glance.

Willa fans herself and pulls Emma out of her highchair and into her arms. “Well, this has been an interesting family dinner, to say the least.”

“No shit,” Rhett replies, staring hard at Theo, like he can’t believe what has come out tonight. “When did you find out about this?”

“About a week ago,” Theo replies.

Rhett turns his attention to me. “You didn’t tell him? Or anyone? You’ve known all this time, and you didn’t say anything?”

There’s disbelief in his voice, but also accusation. Of course, he’d think the worst of me. I might be sitting at the table with this family, but I’m not one of them. No matter what I do, they’ll always regard me with a hint of suspicion.

Theo snaps his fingers over the table, drawing his mentor’s attention back to himself. He went from looking amused to downright murderous. “Watch your fucking tone when you’re talking to the mother of my child.”

Rhett’s jaw pops and his arms cross. He looks shocked by Theo’s sharp tone.

Sloane cuts the tension. “You don’t owe us an explanation. If you guys are happy, I’m happy. Vivi has so much love, and she’s the luckiest girl in the world with two great parents in her life now.”

I settle back in my seat as Sloane gives me a brief nod from across the table.

Like a physical reaction to the spike in tension at the table, quiet whimpers start up from beside me, Vivi’s eyes suddenly coated with tears.

Before I can react, Theo reaches for her. “Hey, hey, hey, baby girl. It’s okay,” he coos as he sidles her up against his broad chest.

And it’s a shot to my core.

He has no business looking this good and being this good. Jumping from defending me to consoling her.

I don’t deserve it, and there’s a part of me that still feels like I’ve saddled him with something he can’t possibly want.

There’s also this little part of me that’s more drawn to him with every moment I spend in his company. I felt it that night, a level of comfort I’ve never known. And now that feeling builds every second I’m around him.

Every time I see him with Vivi.

Every time he shows up at my door with a coffee.

Every time he winks and rakes his eyes over my body like he’s replaying that night in his mind.

But sitting here, watching him surrounded by friends and family, consoling our daughter like the sweet man he is—I feel like an outsider.

Like I don’t belong. I’m going to be tied to him for the rest of my life, so there’s a good chance I’ll be forced to watch him date other women. Marry another woman. Have children with another woman. And Vivi will be part of that family too.

And I’ll still be the outsider. Because making his dick hard isn’t enough to make a relationship last.

“So how is all this . . . going?” Summer inquires carefully.

The ball of anxiety in my chest as I come face-to-face with the reality of my future and this foreign, consuming jealousy keeps me from talking.

“Great. We’re still figuring things out.” Theo glances my way, wide palm rubbing his daughter’s back as she nuzzles into the crook of his neck. Like she just knows he’s hers somehow.

Hers in a way that he’ll never be mine.

“Living next to each other is helpful, actually,” he adds in a good-natured way, followed by a wink.

A wink that screams danger to my heart, just like it did the very first time he aimed it my way.

“Yes,” I say, fiddling with the napkin in my lap. “It’s perfect. It’s kind of like we’re business partners. You know?” Summer nods slowly, her eyes clouded with confusion. “Like we have the same goal, but can still keep things separate. Professional almost.” I say it to lay things out, a nice chain-link fence around myself to keep my battered, untrusting heart safe from harm. Safe from a man like Theo, who would be too damn easy to fall for.

Theo tenses beside me. I know instantly I’ve landed a blow that hurt him.

When I glance over, I can tell he’s avoiding looking at me. I can tell the proud smile on his handsome face has melted away. The corners of his eyes are pinched, and he snuggles Vivi closer to himself, like I might take her away.

And as much as I felt the need to draw that line in the sand to protect myself . . .

I regret saying it at all.


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