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Reckless (Chestnut Springs Book 4): Chapter 25

Winter

Theo: What if I stayed here as my home base?

Winter: In Chestnut Springs?

Theo: Yeah.

Winter: In your house?

Theo: I could pitch a tent in your backyard if you prefer. Invite you over for a campfire and tequila. 😉

Winter: Not ideal. Someone shitty could move in next door. I could end up with an even worse neighbor than you.

Theo: And who knows if he’d mow your lawn for you the way I do. Pretending to garden would be boring and pointless without me to watch.

Winter: I do not watch you.

Theo: You only ever garden when I’m mowing the lawn.

Winter: How do you know?

Theo: Because I’m watching you back.


A loud squeal pierces my ears as Peter slides across the hardwood floor like he’s Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Vivi has an alarmingly strong arm on her. From her spot on the floor, she wails on the rubber chicken, whipping it across the living room while Peter gives chase.

When he rushes back and drops the squeaky toy at her feet, she slaps her chubby hands together and laughs. Peter’s tongue lolls out the side of his mouth from where he’s had teeth removed. He’s so excited his eyes seem ready to roll right out of his head.

“He really is horrific if you look at him for too long,” Loretta murmurs, before taking a sip of coffee. “Theo found him on the street while on vacation in Mexico. Fed him some taco meat, and the rest is history. Refused to leave the country without him. Rescheduled his flight and everything.”

I snort. The man has a thing for strays.

From my sitting position on the floor of the living room, I watch Theo walk across the room in a way that should be illegal. He’s wearing light-wash jeans and a white T-shirt while carrying a plate of oatmeal cookies. Ones he baked fresh—because of course he did.

His outfit couldn’t be plainer, but I can’t take my eyes off him. I’m taken back to the days he shows up to mow my lawn, without a shirt. While he taunts me with his muscles, I pretend to garden and creep on him from behind my sunglasses.

It’s been a week since he laid me out on the gym bench and made a meal of me. I’ve worked out alone since our escapade, but he always swings by at the end when I’m stretching.

He crouches beside me and whispers, “Excuse me, ma’am. Did you sanitize that bench right there?” while pointing at The Bench.

I scowl.

He winks.

And we part ways.

We’ve fallen into a rhythm, even though we haven’t expanded upon that night at all. There’s a lot going on. His mom is here. He’s working at the gym while he rehabs. I’m barreling toward my little sister’s wedding, where I’m not a bridesmaid. I’m a fucking maid of honor.

A role I keep trying to give to Willa, but that bitch only laughs at me.

So, Theo and I continue to circle each other. We’ve developed a sort of kinship. My place, his place. We go between them, and so does Vivi. So does his mom, who’s taken it upon herself to be the warmest, most helpful human I’ve ever met. Theo definitely inherited his infallible brand of kindness—the easy smile and gentle touches—from her.

So why do I hold back?

It’s because he told me there hasn’t been anyone else since that night. It’s that fucking coaster tucked in my bedside table. Sometimes, I pull it out just to stare at it.

It’s physical proof he liked me even then. Proof that he isn’t full of shit, like every other man in my life. That he’s thought of me since that night. That Vivi and I aren’t the burden in his life I seem to think we are.

Who knew a shitty, stained coaster with both our scrawling signatures scribbled across it could upend my carefully curated boundaries so thoroughly?

I’m not sure how to act around him anymore.

I want him almost obsessively. Things are so good between us right now, but I’m terrified of it all blowing up in my face. I’ve been the pawn between two parents who hate each other, and subjecting my daughter to the same complications keeps me up at night.

Regardless, I can’t keep my eyes from drifting to him. My body from drawing closer to him. My hand from trailing between my legs in the bath while I think about him. My feelings for him have become more than lust.

Vivi chucks the chicken again and Peter scuttles across the floor like a geriatric cannon, narrowly avoiding the wall—and Theo’s feet. When he gets the toy, he does his best imitation of a lion killing a gazelle. Eyes wild, head whipping it from side to side. Vivi squeals with joy because this is her and Peter’s new favorite game.

“Peter, pull yourself together and bring that back.” I use my this-ER-is-going-to-shit voice, drawing Peter’s attention for a moment. With a scowl at me, he begrudgingly brings the toy back and spits it out in front of Vivi.

“That dog isn’t deaf, Theo. He just doesn’t listen to you,” I say as Theo places the plate of cookies on the coffee table in front of me with a gentle squeeze to my shoulder.

“How do you know?” he replies as he takes one cookie over to his mom, who is relaxing in the armchair.

“Because he listens to me. And I’m a doctor.” He grabs a cookie and hands it to me, before taking one for himself and sitting on the couch directly behind me. I can feel one of his bare feet against the side of my ass.

I blush.

He’s sitting so close, and his mom is right there. Plus, he ate me out and we haven’t even talked about it.

I feel like a fucking teenager around him.

“But are you a vet?” he says from behind me as he chews.

“No, but—”

“Okay. I’ll trust a vet on this then.”

“Has a vet confirmed that he’s deaf?”

“No.”

“So, your only proof is that he doesn’t listen to you?”

“Exactly. Just like you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

His knee nudges playfully at my back as Vivi turns and crawls toward her grandmother with big, sparkly brown eyes.

Her dad’s eyes.

“That I need to take you both to the vet.”

It’s Loretta who snorts this time as she reaches for Vivi, grinning wide as she pulls her in for snuggles. “Maybe you just don’t have anything interesting to say and that’s why they don’t listen to you. Did you ever think about that, Theo Dale Silva?”

My head snaps around to face Theo and I mouth, “Dale?”

He’s got a super sexy name and then . . . Dale?

He knees me again, but this time, he reaches under my hair and gives the nape of my neck a firm squeeze that has my entire body clenching. His head drops next to mine, and his stubble scrapes against the shell of my ear as he whispers, “Stop being so mean to me. It gets me hard when you’re mouthy. Makes me think of all the fun ways I could put that mouth to work instead. And I don’t need a boner right now.”

My cheeks flame again as he releases me and lounges back on the couch like nothing at all just transpired between us.

Perhaps I should move away from him after that toe-curling warring, but my body follows him instead. I lean back against his legs and revel in his heat and sturdiness.

He and his mom start talking about Grey’s Anatomy, and even though I could join in, my brain is stuck on how good it feels to lean on someone. To trust someone.

And I realize it then.

Theo Dale Silva has wormed his way into my heart, and I never stood a chance at keeping him out.

“Can I come in?” Loretta requests after a soft knock on my opened bedroom door.

“Of course.” I fiddle with the guard for the back of my earring, head tilted in front of the mirror as I watch her walk into the room, Vivi cradled in her arms. “Thank you so much for watching her while I got ready. You’re a lifesaver.”

“You’re the maid of honor today. You need some time to get ready. I’m just a plain old guest. Plus, spending time with my granddaughter isn’t a job.”

I nod, not sure what to say since my parents make zero attempt to spend time with her. Or me, for that matter. And my gut is twisted in knots today. Seeing people. Not hiding Vivi’s paternity anymore.

Speaking of my parents, I still haven’t told them about Theo.

“Do your parents come around much?” She sits on the edge of the bed, hunkering down for what I can tell is going to be a gentle inquisition. I can’t blame her. I’d do the same if my son was in this complicated mess with someone.

With a heavy sigh, I turn to the older woman. Shiny dark hair to go with shiny dark eyes. There is no doubt where Vivi gets her looks from, and as much as it niggles at me sometimes, I’m relieved she doesn’t take after my mom.

“No. When I announced my pregnancy, shit hit the fan.” Loretta’s brows rise in question, and I can’t help but chuckle. “My life is a soap opera.”

“I love a good soap opera,” she replies with a mischievous grin.

Not wanting to wrinkle the pink silk dress, I rest my butt against the windowsill facing the bed and get ready to explain some things. “What has Theo told you?”

“Well, when I asked him, he said it wasn’t his story to tell. He said there was a lot he still didn’t know, but he didn’t want to push you to divulge. I don’t share his restraint.”

She grins and I grin back. I swear anyone else barging in on my business would set me right off, but something about Loretta makes her just . . . inherently not annoying.

“The short version is that twenty-six or so years ago, my dad knocked up our nanny. She left the baby with him and that started the new Cold War in our house. So, he spent all his time protecting my sister from my bitter mom. Don’t ask me why they didn’t split because I don’t fucking—sorry, freaking—know. Instead, they stayed together and made everyone around them miserable. So, I grew up estranged from my dad and sister because I got assigned to my mom when they picked their teams.”

“Oof,” is all Loretta says.

“Yeah, oof. But I’m a survivor, so I kept my head down, did my schooling, and went to med school like my mom always wanted me to. At the hospital, I met a doctor, the doctor who treated my sister as a teenager when she had some health issues. I thought he was handsome and accomplished and couldn’t believe he was interested in me. After years of not having things for myself, it felt like he was mine. My mom was all about me being with a fancy doctor because it made her look good. Like I was doing better than my sister, who was eternally single and ‘only’ went to law school.”

“Ah.” Loretta nods, glancing down at Vivi, who is dozing to the sounds of our voices after whatever rigorous playtime her grandmother just put her through. “Law school is where all the underachievers go.”

I point a finger at her as if to say, Yeah, you get it, then I carry on.

“Except it turned out Dr. Dreamy was a Dr. Douche. A creepy predator who groomed my teenage sister and was hooking up with her as soon as she was legal. But my relationship with her was so fraught that she never told me, even when I married him, because she didn’t want to cause any more ripples in our already turbulent family. She didn’t want to hurt me.”

“Yeah, we definitely don’t want to compare this guy to McDreamy.”

My god, Theo and his mom with the McDreamy stuff.

With a laugh, I continue, feeling proud that I can find humor in this at all now. “So, Rhett found out from Summer, and one day at the hospital Dr. Douche took it a little too far with talking down to them, so Rhett blew up and spilled the beans in front of my entire family and a good chunk of my colleagues. I mean, not all of them, but the ones who were there played a game of telephone about it. So that sucked.”

“That definitely sucks. This sounds a bit like a storyline that belongs in Grey’s Anatomy.”

“Right? I was also pregnant when that happened. After trying for so long. Fertility consults. Fertility drugs. I’m certain I was single-handedly keeping First Response pregnancy tests in business. So, you might say it gutted me. That little corner I was carving out for myself crumbled in a spectacular way that day.”

Loretta is still now.

I can tell this isn’t where she expected our conversation to go. But she’s just easy to talk to, non-judgmental and supportive all at once. I can totally imagine having her in the room with me while delivering. I’ve never seen her work at all, but I already know she must be an incredible midwife.

I study my nails, a paler pearlescent pink this time to match my bridesmaid dress. “Then I miscarried, and that’s when I started considering my options. The way no one showed up for me in the aftermath of that shit show was a wake-up call. Without that baby, I had nothing. I had a husband who cared more about me telling the medical board about his misconduct than my wellbeing. A mom who cared more about the optics of the entire situation than how I was doing. And a dad who just stared at me awkwardly, too chickenshit to say anything to me.”

“Oh, Winter.” Her eyes water, but I refuse to follow suit. Saying this out loud is cathartic. And it doesn’t make me sad at all. It’s freeing. Maybe I’ve finally gotten over the trauma. I feel like I want to poke the wound even harder to find out if it’s truly healed.

“The only person who cared about me and how was doing was my baby sister. The one I spent literal decades of my life treating like shit. She never stopped messaging me, never stopped trying, and I felt so, so unworthyAnd somehow that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I wanted to burn it all down. My life, my job, my house, my marriage. The only two things I wanted to leave standing were Summer and me. So, that’s what I did. Except I had a one-night stand with your son, and apparently condoms truly are only 98 percent effective. So, here I am. Or I guess I should say . . . here we are.”

I straighten and smile. Because this story finally doesn’t make me feel weak or sad. I feel stronger for having told it out loud. I feel proud of how far I’ve come.

“I think his version of events included an inappropriate comment about being too fertile for any barrier.”

A laugh bursts from me. “That absolutely sounds like the way Theo would see it.”

“Thank you for sharing that story with me, Winter. I can see why you’ve enchanted my boy.”

I give her a wry grin. “That story is not enchanting.”

“No, but you are. Your ability for reflection shows a type of maturity and strength that not all adults possess.”

I wave her off and drop her gaze, still not comfortable with that level of compliment. Though I can’t help but think of my parents, of Rob. Reflective is not the word I would use for them.

“I brought you this. I packed it and knew I wanted to give it to you. I just wasn’t sure when the right time would be. I think today is perfect.”

I glance down at her outstretched hand as her fingers unfurl from a fist. A thin string of dainty misshapen pearls with a golden clasp rests on her palm.

“This was from my mom. She passed it down to me. They’re river pearls. That’s why they’re all a little asymmetrical and the colors are a bit different. I saw you in this dress and thought it would be the perfect touch.”

I reach out and run the pad of my fingers over the lumpy edges. Soft whites, creams, and pale pinks reflect over the satiny smooth beads. It’s gorgeous, but I’m not sure I feel right taking it from her.

“What about your daughter? Surely, you’d rather keep it in the family.”

Loretta’s head tilts as she assesses me. “Winter, doll. You are the family. Whatever happens between you and Theo? This little girl right here”—she trails a finger over the bridge of Vivi’s nose—“is a gift. She’s part of us all. As far as I’m concerned, you and Vivi are a two-for-one deal. I see your connection, how much of yourself you’ve given to her, and I just . . . it reminds me of myself in those early days.”

I haven’t cried in weeks. With all the people rallying around me, all the effortless support, tears haven’t sprung up out of nowhere anymore. The urge to climb Theo like a tree has replaced the urge to cry.

That’s what keeps me up at night instead of my mistakes in life.

If his mom wasn’t living with him, I would have broken into his house in the middle of the night and begged him to fuck me by now.

“I think—”

Loretta doesn’t let me finish. “I think you should pass it down to Vivi at an equally important time in her life.”

My eyes water, and I try to blink the moisture away. “Maybe I spoke too soon,” I say as I finally take the necklace. It’s short and will fit like a choker. It’s dainty, but also sexy and unique. “I love it. Though I’m not sure this could be considered an important time in my life.”

She smiles at me, kind and wise, like she knows something I don’t. “I was thinking I could bring Vivi home and put her to bed when the timing is right. Let you kids have some fun tonight. You could let your hair down a bit. Maybe that’s important for you right now.”

“I could.” I’m still running my fingers over the pearls. “I’m not good at letting my hair down though.”

She huffs out a laugh. “Spend more time around Theo, and he’ll show you how.”

“That’s what worries me,” I whisper, confessing one of the anxieties I have about Theo Silva. “He just . . . I have a hard time trusting anyone.” I snort and glance up at her. “I’m like a walking, talking daddy issue. And no matter how hard I try not to let my head go back to that place . . . it does.”

Loretta nods, her mouth curling into a smile. “As the person who has known him the longest in this life, I’m going to tell you what I know about Theo.”

“Okay.”

“Theo loves easily. That’s just his nature. But he doesn’t often love hard. He keeps that part of himself, the one that’s seen loss too, locked up tight where it can’t get hurt. But you, girl? He loves you hard.”

I blink, trying to absorb what she’s just told me.

“Okay?” She pushes to stand.

“Okay,” I reply again.

It’s when she’s almost at the door with a sleeping Vivi in her arms that she turns back to me on a soft chuckle. “I just remembered that he called me the morning after you two first got together. And do you know what he said to me?

I shake my head. It’s all I can manage.

“He said, ‘Mom, I met her.’ And I said, ‘Who?’” Loretta’s lips curve up, her eyes taking on a faraway look. “He said, ‘The woman I’m going to marry one day.’”

I’m frozen in place. How could he possibly know that? Think that? Why would a one-night stand with me be more impactful that a one-night stand with one of the bajillions of random women I’m sure he’s slept with over the years?

“I asked him if she knew about this and he laughed and said, ‘Not yet.’”


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