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Reckless (Chestnut Springs Book 4): Chapter 24

Theo

Theo: I need to ask you a favor.

Summer: Sure!

Theo: But you can’t ask questions.

Summer: Suspicious. But okay.

Theo: I need to delete some of your security cam footage at the gym. Can you show me how?

Summer: Uhhhh. Okay. Can I do it for you?

Theo: No.

Summer: Was a crime committed?

Theo: No.

Summer: Do I even want to know?

Theo: I said no questions and so far, you’ve asked three.


Winter goes from soft and giddy to all locked up. When I glance down, I see her tight jaw and narrowed eyes. I follow her gaze to a woman sitting on my front step, scrolling through her phone.

A woman I’d know anywhere.

“Mom? What are you doing here?”

Winter jolts, yanking her hand from mine like we’re two teenagers caught doing something we shouldn’t, rather than two adults who share a child.

I could let her rebuff sting, but I don’t. She’s not accustomed to a warm welcome from people who only know stories about her.

Based on what happened tonight, she’s not accustomed to people simply liking her for the woman she is. That makes me want to burn the world down around us to right the wrongs people have laid at her feet over the years.

Instead of arson, I’m settling for showing her how good it could be. Showing her what she deserves.

“Came to visit you. Told you I was going to come early.”

“Right, but you didn’t say today. Or give me any specific day at all.” Dropping in unannounced is not out of the norm for my mom. If her schedule changes, she’ll randomly show up at an event of mine, screaming louder than anyone else in the stands.

“I reserve the right to be overbearing. You’re my only boy.”

“Do you do this to Julia?”

“No. But her life isn’t nearly as interesting. She won’t even tell me about whoever she met on the cruise. But I know she did because I caught her sneaking in and out at night.” My mom winks at me, cheeks rounding out into full circles with her closed-mouth smile.

“Is that how I get rid of you, then? By not telling you anything?” I’m joking, and we both know it. That’s why she laughs and glances around.

“At first, it pissed me off I couldn’t find a spare key somewhere obvious. You know, under your doormat like a normal person. But then I decided I raised you smarter than I thought because I have looked for a key everywhere and couldn’t find one.”

I give my mom a sheepish grin as I plant a hand on Winter’s back to guide her stunned form through the front gate and up the sidewalk.

“Well, Ma, the truth is, I don’t have a spare key hidden anywhere at all.”

Her head tips back against the siding of the house, inky black hair falling behind her. “Yep. I raised you stupid.”

“It might be hereditary.” I step up to my mom with a grin and take her hand in mine, pulling her to standing.

“That smart mouth.” She grips my chin and squeezes my face hard enough to make my lips pucker, then shifts her head to address Winter. “Does he give you this kind of attitude too? He’s always been wild and unruly, but it’s hard to fault that heart of gold.”

Winter says nothing as my mom pulls me in for a hug. “My sweet, sweet boy. I missed you.”

“Is that what all the insults mean? That you missed me?”

Over my shoulder, she addresses Winter again. “He’s needy too. Requires a lot of hair petting. I think I told him he was handsome too much as a child.”

A soft snort sounds from behind me. “He did just finish telling me what a nice face he has.”

“Okay, wow.” I pull away from my mom and step back to give her and Winter a clear view of each other. “I haven’t even introduced you and you’re already mocking me.”

“You must be Winter. I’ve heard so much about you.” My mom steps forward, smiling with crinkles around her eyes—the only tell for her age. She says she smiles so much there’s no getting around them, so she’s embracing them. “I like you already.”

Winter blinks at my mom’s incredibly timely comment. “Likewise. It’s nice to meet you.”

She sticks her hand out to shake, but my mom waves her off. “We’re not business partners, and I’m a hugger.”

Mom wraps herself around a stunned-looking Winter, whose arms hang limp at her sides. I can’t keep my lips from twitching. Business partners. That fucking phrase will haunt her.

Like always, Winter’s eyes find mine. I widen mine as if to say don’t be a dick to my mom, hug her back!

I get an eye roll, but she has a small smirk on her face when she lifts her arms and hugs my mom back. The sight hits me in the chest. It makes me wonder how many hugs Winter has gotten over the years—as a child. Even on the days my mom thought I was an idiot, she hugged me.

Winter barely mentions her mom. I know the relationship is fraught. With her dad too. And like a lightning strike to grass, I immediately and irrationally hate them both.

My mom is here within weeks of finding out about Vivi, and she lives a province away. Winter’s parents live a little over an hour away and I’ve not seen hide nor hair of them.

I’ve been so fixated on jumping into this whole scenario that I haven’t taken a step back to see the full picture beyond Winter, Vivi, and me.

I don’t like what I see. It makes me feel protective in a new way. My palms itch with the urge to make this better for her. To make someone pay for the way they’ve treated her.

Winter’s head tilts as she pulls away from my mom, like she can see the internal struggle playing out on my face.

“Well, Theo told me you were a smart and amazing mom.”

My mom’s hands stay on Winter’s shoulders as she steps back to appraise her. “But he failed to mention just how thoroughly he overachieved with you.”

“Jesus. Mom, stop.” I scrub at my chin and shake my head. This is so on brand for her. She lives to rib me.

“I was drunk,” Winter deadpans. The only giveaway that she’s joking is the twinkle in her eye. “He looked better with my tequila goggles on.”

I sputter out a laugh. If it means watching her be this comfortable with my mom, I don’t mind getting dragged. I’ve seen the way she eye-fucks the hell out of me with not a single drop of tequila in her system.

I know she wants me. I’m just waiting for her to stop freaking out and realize it.

“You weren’t so drunk that you didn’t write out a contract on a coaster.”

Two can play this game, Tink.

A sly grin spreads across her full lips. For a beat, I dream about them parting as I fit myself inside her. Every time she moves them, even to snarl at me, all I can think about is fucking her.

“Prove it.” Her arms cross.

My mom steps back, head swiveling between us as we volley back and forth.

She looks pleased.

I shrug. “Okay, I will. Mom, let’s get you settled in here. You can meet Vivi in the morning.” I stride up the stairs, unlock the front door, and roll her suitcase into the entryway. Because I know my mom, and she’s not above barging over there right now to lay eyes on her granddaughter. I’m setting boundaries before she thinks she has free rein.

“Winter, I’m so excited to get to know you better. If you need anything, just ask. I’m happy to help. I’ve done this gig twice myself, and while the end product might not be perfect, it could be worse. I take that as a win.”

Winter’s big blue eyes stay laser-focused on my mom. If I didn’t know better, I’d say there’s a flash of confusion there. “It’s nice to meet you too, Loretta. Though I have to disagree. Your end product is pretty damn great.” Her eyes slide over to mine. “Obnoxiously gentlemanlike in my experience.”

My mother hums and gives Winter an appreciative glance. “Goodnight, kids,” she says as she turns and disappears into the house.

I point at Winter. “You. Wait.”

“I’m not Peter.” She gives me a snarky quirk of her brow.

I chuckle. “Actually, you are. Neither of you listens to me and you both give me dirty looks.” I swear I hear a small laugh from her as I turn and step into the house. After I direct my mom to the guest room, I grab my shoulder bag and reach into the small, zipped pocket. My fingertips brush up against the soft cardboard and I turn back to the entryway.

When I hit the front porch, Winter is standing at the bottom of the stairs, staring at her nails. That cotton-candy color gives her something to admire when she pulls this move, at least. It’s her signature I’m pretending to be bored move.

It’s a defense mechanism for when she feels vulnerable. And if I’ve learned anything about Winter over the past several weeks, it’s that she hates feeling vulnerable. So it’s become the ultimate prize for me.

I don’t want to change who she is. I want to earn that side of her.

“Your mom seems nice.” She doesn’t glance up.

“Does she?” I tease. “I feel like hanging out around you two will be signing up to attend my own personal roast.”

Her body heaves with a laugh, and she grins at her nails.

“Are you thinking about how good your pink nails will look wrapped around my cock? Because that’s what I keep thinking about when I see them.”

Now her eyes dart up to mine. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. You just need matching lipstick so I can imagine how your lips will look—”

She rushes forward, pressing a finger to my lips to stop me. Her eyes catch there, flaring slightly. Winter hasn’t initiated any physical contact between us, and I wonder if she’s realizing that now.

That she reached for me so easily.

Her finger moves, but not away. Instead, the rest of them join to stroke gently over my stubble. She never meets my gaze, just watches her fingertips trail over me. The shell of my ear. The line of my jawbone. Over my Adam’s apple.

There’s a reverence in the way she touches me, and I’m not ashamed to admit I savor it. The hair on my arms stands on end. My heart rails against my ribs, reaching for her.

She has the most confusing and consuming effect on me.

Her eyes drop to the front of my shorts. The stretchy material does nothing to hide the way my cock bulges when she touches me.

“Do you think about me when you jerk off?”

Coming from her, the question catches me off guard. She’s rarely this direct, usually opting for a more discreet delivery.

I take her hand, pulling her fingers away from where they fiddle with the V at the front of my T-shirt. Pressing a kiss to the center of her palm, I admit, “I think about you all the time.” Her breathing grows heavier when my tongue darts out over her skin. I pull away and look her in the eye. “But especially when I jerk off.”

She laughs in response, but it’s breathy.

I lift my opposite hand and press the coaster from so many months ago into her palm.

When she sees it, her body stiffens. “Is that . . .”

I give her a casual smile as I lean in close to whisper in her ear. “I told you I’d be back to beg for another shot.”

Then I kiss her cheek, doing that little tongue thing she likes so much. She turns and nuzzles into me.

So, I hug her.

Her arms fold in front of her chest as I press her into me, the coaster with our contract crushed between us.

And I just hold her.

A woman who needs to be held so damn badly. And I’m the lucky one who gets to do it.

She fits her face right over the indent at the base of my throat and presses a soft kiss there.

“Goodnight, Theo.”

She doesn’t say anything else, and as much as I want to get into her head and sort through all the thoughts running rampant in there, I’m happy with a hug and a goodnight.

“Goodnight, Winter.”

Her lips tip up as she turns away, avoiding my gaze. Like our interaction makes her bashful. Like we’re two giddy teenagers saying goodnight after a first date.

Being loved is uncomfortable for her. God, I want to change that, but she’ll be the one to tell me when the time is right. I have it in my head that after spending her life behaving in a way that suits everyone around her, she might need a minute to figure out what suits her.

She walks away, and I resist the urge to follow her. Her sneakered feet pad quietly down my walkway, across the front sidewalk, and up her own walkway. I step onto the porch so she can’t see me watching.

Her eyes stay on her toes as she approaches her house. But she doesn’t go inside.

She takes a seat on the front step and lifts the coaster, staring at it. Her fingers trace over it, much like they trailed over my face moments ago.

Her features are soft, and she looks younger in this moment. Her eyes aren’t pinched, her lips aren’t in a pout. This is how she looks when she’s with Vivi.

Happy.

After a couple of minutes, she rises and steps into her house. Warm light spills onto the porch for a moment, and the inaudible murmurs of her and Summer talking filter into the night. Through the front window, I see them hug.

Three hugs in one night. Not bad.

I walk into my house with a goofy smile on my face. My mom catches it from where she’s sitting on the couch with an episode of Grey’s Anatomy queued up and ready to go.

“You do know you’re in love with that girl, don’t you?”

I flop down beside her and sling an arm over her shoulder, ready to get lost in the very best medical drama while sitting beside one of my favorite women in the world.

“Yeah, Mom. I know.”


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