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Reckless (Chestnut Springs Book 4): Chapter 33

Winter

Winter: Good luck tonight. Break a leg.

Theo: That’s not always the best thing to say to a bull rider, Tink.

Winter: I didn’t say break a clavicle.

Theo: Hilarious.

Winter: If you win, I’ll give you road head next time we go out.

Theo: This brand of motivation REALLY works for me.

Winter: Lol. Awesome. And Theo?

Theo: Yeah?

Winter: I miss you.


“Good,” I say as a man I don’t know gets bucked into the dirt like a lawn dart.

“Winter, you scare me.” Sloane laughs.

Theo has been gone for two days and I’ve been playing it cool. But I’m a barrel of nerves over his first competition back. My ability to turn anything into a competition has really come out to play by dating an athlete.

“Come on. Tell me you don’t curse at every guy that gets the puck past Jasper.”

“Fair.”

“Aren’t you nervous?” Summer asks from the opposite end of the couch.

“Yes. I want him to win so badly I can barely sit still.”

“No, like about him getting hurt,” my sister clarifies. “I could barely watch Rhett get on a bull without feeling like I was going to barf. Him coaching now is perfect. Maybe Theo could coach.”

“No chance.” He can’t win it all if he falls back into coaching.

“Why not?”

“Because he’s not old and washed up yet. Let the man live, Summer. He doesn’t need another mom,” Willa pipes up.

She’s sitting on the carpet with Vivi and Emma, who are busy playing with a full set of My Little Ponies. Apparently, Cade can’t stop buying them for Emma, which means there is an alarming number scattered across the floor.

A whole fucking herd of rainbows and sparkles.

Loretta laughs, sitting in the armchair that has become hers. Peter is curled in her lap. The thought of her leaving soon makes my chest hurt. I know she has her own life in Emerald Lake, but she’s filled a gap in my heart these past weeks.

She feels like the mom I should have had.

I’ve decided I’ll soak up all the time I can with her while Theo is away. She’s helping me plan Vivi’s first birthday, but she’s leaving the next day. She says it will be a fun and celebratory way to mark her departure.

But I’m not so sure it will work for me.

“Theo is very capable. He knows his body.” Loretta’s eyes fall to mine. “He’s grown up a lot in recent years. I think he’ll make smart choices up there; he’s got a lot of reasons to come home safe.”

My throat feels tight. I assume her husband had a lot of reasons to come home safe too.

But he didn’t.

“There he is!” Sloane leans forward in her chair, and I follow suit, my eyes raking over the big screen in our living room.

I see Theo climbing up the metal panels. The cream shirt he’s wearing does nothing but good things for his tan skin and alluring dark features. He’s wearing a black cowboy hat, but he has a black helmet in hand.

He trades them off with Rhett, who is propped up on the gate beside him. I can see them exchanging words, but I’m too taken aback by the sight of Theo to attempt to lip-read.

He looks fucking hot, like an entirely different person. Like . . . an entirely different experience than I’ve been getting at home.

Theo’s chaps are a creamy blue with black stars on them, and his protective vest is black to match his boots. His face is pure focus—with a tinge of vicious.

Like I’d lie naked in the dirt for this version of him.

“Okay, it’s my turn to say good now that Emmett didn’t stay on.” Summer pulls my attention away from Theo and Rhett in the background to the blonde cowboy stomping out of the ring.

“Why?”

“Cause Emmett Bush is a douchebag.”

“Emmett, who you almost let take body shots off your tits?” Willa asks right as she pops a chip into her mouth from the bowl on the table.

Summer turns bright pink. “I was pissed off that night.”

We all laugh because we’ve heard the story. Pissed off is code for: she was trying to make Rhett jealous. Based on the way she blushes every time it comes up, I’m going to assume it worked.

I turn my attention back to the TV and end up kneeling on the floor behind Vivi. “Look.” I point to the TV. “There’s Daddy.”

Her head turns, and I swear she peers a little closer.

I rub her shoulders just to give my hands something to do as I watch them load up a rather ugly white bull with pink skin around its eyes and a black splatter pattern all over its coat. It looks mean.

The harder they buck, the better chance he has at getting a good score, so I decide it’s a positive thing.

My palms sweat. I bite my inner cheek hard enough to make it bleed as Theo lowers the helmet over his handsome face. The cage obscures most of his features, but I see those onyx eyes glaring around until they feel like they’re right on the camera.

I can’t help but wonder if he’s searching for me. I want him to be. I wanted to be there, but two weeks on the road living in hotel rooms with a toddler, eating out for every meal—it just wasn’t in the cards. It wasn’t the focused setting he needed, and that didn’t offend me.

If it means him succeeding, I’ll do it. So, I kneel on our living room floor, twisting my hands and watching the live stream.

The people around me chat and laugh like nothing important is happening right now, but my stomach is in my throat.

Willa blabs to Loretta about how she met Cade when she dropped her panties in public. “Shh!”

“Okay, Mom.”

I ignore the dig. She can run her mouth after this is over. Right now, Theo is lowering himself onto the broad back of the bull, running his gloved hand over a rope methodically, in time with whatever heavy drumbeat must be playing in the arena.

Or maybe it’s just my heart thumping in my ears.

He wraps his hand. Tugs a couple times. His shoulders rise and fall on a heavy exhale.

Then he nods.

The gates fly open and the bull lurches into motion from a standstill. The timer at the top of the screen flicks through the seconds. He only needs to stay on for eight.

But seconds have never gone by so slowly.

I push up to stand above Vivi. Even she seems to feel my tension because she’s watching the screen raptly after ignoring it for the past hour.

Hands gripped on my knees, I don’t know what to do with myself as I watch the bull spin and leap and try to kill the man I want to spend the rest of my life with.

He better not fucking die on me.

The thought jolts me for a minute. It came so easily. So naturally. Like being with Theo is the most obvious thing in the world. Like, of course, we’ll be together. Who the hell else would I be with?

Who would put up with my moody ass?

Who would love Vivi the way he does?

Who would love me the way he does?

The answer is no one. Not a single other person would ever love me the way Theo does. No one will ever show up for me the way he has—protect me the way he has. I know it because it’s taken me thirty-one years to find someone who will.

What more proof do I need?

He’s artistry on the back of the bull, and I can’t take my eyes off them. My hands cover my mouth as the seconds tick down.

Left.

Spin.

Right.

Dip.

Buzzer.

“Yes!” I jump up and shout, hands in the air. I don’t even care if I look like a lovesick idiot.

I am.

Loretta lets out a relieved laugh and claps her hands.

Willa and Sloane seem interested, but not all that excited. So, fuck them. In a friendly way, of course. I’m too excited. No one can ruin this night for me.

“What a ride!” Summer humors me by joining in with my cheering as Theo easily leaps from the bull and pumps his fist in the air. He doesn’t take his helmet off, and he doesn’t take his eyes off the bull. He beelines it for the fencing and immediately climbs up. Once he’s safely over, he gets some hearty back pats from Rhett.

When his score flashes on the screen, I know it’s a good one from the internet stalking I did. Ninety-five point seventy-five is not just good. It’s great. It’s what he needed.

And goddamn, I am so proud. I don’t even know how to react. So I pace, biting my thumbnail while I watch him.

Helmet off, eyes on the camera again.

He winks.

I roll my eyes as I blush. As my stomach flips and butterflies erupt in my chest. Maybe he was winking for the fans, but it feels like he was winking for me.

I glance at Loretta. She saw it too.

“He did good,” she says.

I nod and grin at her, feeling antsy. Right now, I could walk around the neighborhood or go for a workout. “He really did.”

When the doorbell rings, my head snaps up. I have no idea who would be here on a Friday night.

Summer leans over the arm of the couch to peek out the window. “Looks like a flower delivery!”

She leaps up to follow me to the door, clearly living for the level of mushy happiness in my life right now.

“Hi,” I say breathlessly as I open the door and take in the man in street clothes, holding a bouquet of roses and an envelope.

“Winter Hamilton?”

“Yes!” I beam.

“Great.” He holds the flowers out to me and the minute my fingers wrap around the vase, he says, “You’ve been served.”

My smile freezes and my blood runs cold. “What? Is this even a thing that happens outside of movies?”

“’Fraid so.” The man’s mouth twists. “You have a good night now.” He jogs down the stairs and takes off to his car.

“What. The. Fuck.” I stare down at the blood-red roses, confused. Shocked.

“Give me this.” Summer swipes the envelope off from where it’s taped to the side of the vase and rips it open. She unfolds the papers, and I watch her chocolate-brown irises move back and forth over the lines of typeface.

Her eyes burn with fury when she looks at me again. “Rob wants a paternity test.”


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