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Reckless (Chestnut Springs Book 4): Chapter 32

Theo

Theo: How’s your bath?

Winter: Good.

Theo: Just good?

Winter: It was peaceful until you texted me.

Theo: What are you doing?

Winter: Enjoying myself. Go away.

Theo: Send me a pic and I’ll leave you alone.

Winter: What will you do with it?

Theo: Frame it.


I hand Winter her morning coffee where’s she leaned against the kitchen island and press a soft kiss against her plush mouth. I feel her smile even though we both know I’m going back on the road today. “How was your bath?”

Peter sits at her feet, gazing up at her like he’s the lovesick one. I don’t know how she went from regarding him like he was diseased, to taking him everywhere with her and feeding him all the things a dog shouldn’t eat. Over the past several weeks of living together full time, he and Winter have become inseparable.

She already looks rosy from sitting in the hot water, so it’s hard to tell if she’s blushing. But judging by the way her eyes drop to the coffee mug in her hands and the way she takes a deep sip to avoid answering me, her bath was good.

I have the photo to prove it.

“If you’d given me some warning, I could have dropped Vivi off with my mom and come to watch the show.”

“Theo . . .” Her eyes dart to Vivi, who has one hand propped against my knee while she takes tiny steps away from me, testing the limits of her cruising. “Young ears. And you got a show last night.”

Winter.” I imitate her voice, chuckling when she rolls her eyes at me. “I didn’t say a thing. We both know the one guilty of talking like a trucker in front of her is you. And today is a new day, that show was yesterday. I have needs.”

“You’re such a horndo—” She stops short, her eyes fixed on the ground.

When I follow her gaze, I freeze too.

Vivi is walking. Like a tiny drunk person with her arms outstretched to her mom’s legs. For weeks now, she’s been cruising from chair to couch, to table, along the wall. I’ve urged her to take that one little step without holding my finger, but she just hasn’t been quite there.

In what looks like a motion that is almost falling into Winter, she makes it, tipping her face up to stare at us. Her dark eyes widen in shock at the same time her mouth opens in the most hysterical “O” shape, like she can’t believe it.

“You did it!” Winter squeals, turning to put her coffee down.

Vivi giggles and claps, looking so, so damn proud of herself.

I crouch down to her and hold up my hand. “High five, baby girl! Next up, bull riding.”

She slaps my hand and laughs harder. The urge to pick her up is real, but that feels like the wrong way to celebrate this milestone. Like clipping her wings the minute she’s learned how to use them. So, I get to my knees and squeeze her in a hug. She squirms when I blow a raspberry on her neck.

“Oh my god.” Winter is staring down, pride and horror warring on her face.

“What?”

“I’ve been so excited for her to walk. It’s like I failed to realize how fucked I’m going to be when she can. Like . . . how do you control a human with no sense of self-preservation who can walk? Run? Let alone ride a bull.”

I can’t help it. I laugh.

“It’s not funny, Theo! She’s already got this nutso Silva streak in her. Did you not see her the other day? I turned around for like ten seconds and she used a chair to climb up onto the counter.”

“I know. I was watching her figure out how to get up there to get a cookie. She was fine. Really kind of impressive if you think about it. Got her mama’s brains.”

“What’s going to be impressive is me keeping her alive with you away. I’ve gotten soft having you around. I have to keep her from taking up toddler parkour and I’ll have to get my own coffee. It’s total bullshit if you think about it.”

She’s joking, but there’s a thread of truth in there. We’ve been living in a blissful world since I made it clear to Winter we were together.

There wasn’t a lot of conversation about it. We sort of sank into the warmth of this new normal. My mom is still living next door for a couple of weeks before she needs to get back to Emerald Lake, which is a blessing and a curse. And slowly but surely, I’ve moved my things over to this house.

Winter is funny. Now and then, she empties a drawer and leaves it open. A silent invite to move more of my stuff. It’s like she still can’t bring herself to believe that this whole thing with us is real, that this is something bigger. Though I can tell she does by the way she clings to me all night. The way she casually swings by the gym while I’m working just to say hi—and glare at my clients.

But we’re on the cusp of change today.

“Maybe I’ll take one more week off,” I announce as I stare down into my daughter’s eyes. She’s still standing here, listening to us, head swiveling back and forth like she’s part of the conversation.

“You will not.”

I start at the bite in Winter’s voice. “Pardon?”

She lifts her finger to point at me. “Not a chance. You listen to me, Theo Dale Silva. And you listen carefully. You are going to go to whatever shitty little town you need to go to—”

“It’s Billings, Montana, Tink.”

“The only thing I know about Montana is Yellowstone.”

“The National Park?”

She scoffs. “No, the show. So you’re going to go to Dutton Ranch or wherever the hell it is, and you are going to kick all their hillbilly asses.”

I cross my arms and shift over to prop a hip against the counter and face her. “Is that so?”

“Yeah, that is so. Because you can wipe the floor with them. And you want it bad enough to make it happen. And I don’t want to tell Vivi someday that her dad gave up on his dreams because her mom became terribly needy and codependent.”

I huff out a laugh. “You have the strangest way of telling me you ‘more than like me,’ Dr. Hamilton. Aren’t you worried I’ll get hurt?”

She waves me off and takes a sip of her coffee. “No. You’re too stubborn. Manifest that shit, Theo. I want you to win. I’ll patch you up myself if you get hurt, and then I’ll tie you onto a bull myself if I have to.”

My lips twitch. “That sounds kind of hot, if I’m being honest. Like a sexy doctor with a bondage ki—”

She points down at Vivi, who is staring up at me with impossibly big brown eyes, facial expression awed like I hung the moon.

It hits me in the chest like a battering ram.

The reason I don’t want to leave isn’t only because I don’t want to leave Winter.

It’s because I’m head over heels in love with this little girl. This little girl who I barely knew a couple of months ago. This little girl who has become my entire world without even trying.

The reason I don’t want to leave is that I don’t want to miss anything.

A first step.

A first word.

A first injury.

I don’t want to miss a single thing because I’ve already missed so many.

“Theo . . .” Winter’s voice is soft now, and her soft, slender fingers slide between mine, squeezing gently. “We’re going to be good. We’re going to be so happy when you get back. But we’ll survive without you. You need to do this. You’ll regret not doing this.”

I blink. “What if I don’t win this year? Then I’ll be gone next year too.”

“Then we’ll be here waiting for you to get home next year too. I’m dreading going back to work too. But the world doesn’t stop. Dreams don’t evaporate. We’re going to figure this out.”

She swallows, her throat working. I can tell she’s not done but is having an internal pep talk with herself to get the words out. “As a family.”

That battering ram strikes again. Winter’s tied up so tight, sometimes these comments feel like a knot in her mind has tugged free. That she’s straightening things out in her head as she goes too.

All I can do is nod.

“But Theo?” She tugs me closer, hand sliding up my chest.

“Yes?”

“I really think the plan should be for you to win this year and next year.”

Winter hasn’t told me she loves me, but this comment tells me she does. That she wants me to do things that are important to me. That she’ll be here when I do them. That she’s not here to hold me back. That she doesn’t just need me around to help with Vivi—she understands that I need to feel accomplished.

Vivi tugs on my jeans with some garbled sentence.

I crouch back down to her instantly. “Is that so? I’m going to miss you too. Very much.”

It doesn’t matter that it’s only a couple of weeks. It’s going to feel like a lifetime. I bet she’ll be bigger when I get back. Walking around with no problem, not just for a few steps between her mom and me.

One of her tiny hands pats my cheek in response.

I’m an emotional mess. These last two months have put me through the fucking ringer, and I’m not sure I’ve completely processed it all. I dove into the deep end and started swimming.

So, I cup my daughter’s cherub cheeks and tell her what my dad used to tell me before he’d leave. The last words he ever said to me.

Te vivo, baby girl.”

She bats her eyelashes and studies me, her little bow-shaped lips turned up in a smile that strikes me as wise beyond her years. Months?

Then she blows a raspberry on the inside of my arm and the moment evaporates. Amused, she turns the other way and blows one on Winter’s bare leg. She goes on practicing like she’s learning a new instrument.

When I glance up at Winter, her head tilts. “What does that mean?”

“What?” I ruffle Vivi’s hair and push back up to standing.

“What you just said to her.”

Te vivo?” Winter nods. “It’s Portuguese. My dad used to say it to my sister and me. Sadly, it’s some of the only Portuguese I know. It means ‘I live you’ or something along those lines.”

“You mean I love you?”

“No.” I scrub at my stubble and glance down at our daughter, who is now amusing herself by playing her favorite game of fetch with Peter and his miniature rubber chicken. “It means . . . I live you. Like I see you everywhere, you are in everything. Our connection is more than physical.”

“Hmm.” Winter sighs, glancing down at our daughter. “I love that. But also . . . why is English the least romantic language in the world? Tell me more things in Portuguese.”

“I wish I knew more. My dad was so focused on immersing himself in North American culture that we really didn’t get a lot of his heritage.”

A small frown touches Winter’s face. “That’s a shame. Maybe we can go one day.”

“Where?”

“To Brazil. Teach Vivi about her grandpa.”

No, Winter may not say the words, but she expresses her love in different ways. She embodies it so effortlessly.

When I finally pack up to head to the airport that afternoon, I fold her in my arms, kiss her hard, and whisper against her ear, “Te vivo, Winter Hamilton.”

I push away all the instincts that want to drag me back into the house to be with my girls and make my way down the front steps. I told myself I wouldn’t look back at them. I already know Winter has Vivi propped on her hip. I already know she’s waving one tiny hand while Winter leans against the door frame, looking too fucking good with her toned, bare legs on display in a soft T-shirt dress.

I told myself I wouldn’t look back.

But when I hear Winter’s voice, all thick and raspy, say, “Te vivo, Theo Dale Silva. Kick some ass this weekend,” I fail miserably.

Haven’t been able to keep my eyes off that woman from day one, not sure who I was kidding thinking I’d be strong enough to start now.


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