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Reckless (Chestnut Springs Book 4): Chapter 34

Theo

Winter: Congrats! You look hot in your chaps. Let me know when you’re at your hotel so I can call.

Theo: You can call me anytime. And also send nudes anytime.


Rhett walks into the empty dressing room and tosses me a beer. “You hiding out in here?”

The can hisses when I open it. “Just taking a second to soak it all in. It’s weird being back.”

“You know what isn’t weird? Watching you kick Emmett’s ass. You’re coming for him, and he knows it. Spent the last couple months feeling a little more comfortable than he should have. Sleazy fuck that he is.”

“You still mad at him for hitting on Summer?”

Rhett nods and takes a sip of his beer. “For the rest of my life.”

We’re alike in that regard, but we’re different in a lot of other ways. He wears his cowboy hat and jeans like it’s a second skin. Me, I love the sport. I love the rush. I love the competition. But it feels like a uniform to me.

Rhett loves being on the road. I don’t think he misses riding, but he loves coaching. He’s still got his hands in the pot.

Me . . . I can’t see myself staying here once I hit the top. I don’t know what I’ll do, but it won’t be settling down as a lifer in the WBRF.

I’ll want to be at home. Close to Winter and Vivi.

“You going out tonight?”

“Nah.”

Rhett points at me like that question was a test for how focused I am right now. “Good answer.”

“Gonna head back to my room and see if Winter is still up.”

Rhett waggles his brows at me.

“Fuck off.”

“You’ve come a long way, you know.”

“Well, I’ve been told I have an excellent mentor.”

“No, I mean as a person. As a man. I know I was hard on you, and maybe that came off as hard on Winter. I just . . . I’ve seen you sow some wild oats over the years. I wasn’t sure you had it in you to be what she needed.”

I nod, not offended by what he’s saying—because it’s true. “I know you mean well, but you’re still a total prick.”

He scoffs at me and then my phone rings on the bench beside me, lighting up with a photo I snapped of Winter and Vivi snuggling together in a sunny bed surrounded by white linens.

It makes me smile.

“There she is.” I swipe a finger across to answer the phone. “Tink,” I say and take my first swig of beer.

“Hi. Congratulations! Pretty good tonight, huh? We watched you.” Her voice is soft, but there’s tension there too. A tightness like she’s holding something back.

“Yeah, felt good to shake the cobwebs off.”

“And beat Emmett!” Rhett calls out loud enough that she can hear.

“Summer shared that sentiment too.” Winter laughs, but it feels forced.

“Everything alright?” I ask, not wanting to ignore that troublesome tone in her voice any longer.

What I get back is a loud, tired sigh.

“What’s wrong?” Panic edges into my voice.

“Nothing, nothing. I’m good. Vivi is good. Where are you right now? I wasn’t sure where you’d be. Maybe call me when you get back to the hotel?”

“How about you tell me now so I don’t freak out? It’s just Rhett and me in the changing room, having a beer. There’s nothing going on.”

“Okay . . .” she whispers, and my heart thumps wildly against my ribcage. When I glance over at Rhett, his brows are drawn, body held taut.

“Okay, so I’m just going to come out and say it. Because you need to know. But you do not need to freak out. I’ve got this. Okay?”

“I’m not going to promise not to freak out over something you haven’t told me yet.”

She doesn’t respond to that, she just forges ahead. “Tonight, my ex served me with papers requiring me to take Vivi for DNA testing.”

I feel like every noise in the stadium shuts off at once, replaced by a whoosh of shocked and confused white noise.

“What?”

“Rob is contesting her paternity.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. He was too big of a coward to deliver the letter himself. But if I had to guess? Just to stir shit up. Just to insert himself where he doesn’t belong.”

I can hear quiet murmuring.

“He did the same thing to Summer. He’d just pop up out of the blue. Call her, show up to see her. It wasn’t until Rhett dropped that bomb on him that he stopped.”

“Is Summer there with you?”

“Yeah. She’s been looking over the papers. We’ve been having a long overdue conversation.”

“What’s going on?” Rhett steps closer at the sound of his wife’s name.

I wave him off. “Report him. Drop your own bomb.”

The line is quiet for a few beats. “You know that’s complicated. I just . . . I don’t want to drag everyone into this. They set the court date for next week. Summer is going to track me down a good family lawyer.”

“Us, Winter. Track us down a good family lawyer.”

“No.”

“I’m coming back—”

“Theo, no. You are staying on the road. You are getting those fucking points. And you are not fixing another messy thing in my life. One of my favorite things about you is that you don’t treat me like I need saving. And I don’t. I’m the one who married him. I’m the one who’s played into his hand at every turn. will fix this. You didn’t ask for any of this.”

“No. I chose it.”

She’s quiet for a beat. And then another. Then a thought I hate with every fiber of my being pops up in my mind. One that I maybe should have had a long time ago. One that got pushed to the wayside while I rolled my sleeves up and got to work righting the wrongs I’d put into motion.

One I never asked straight out.

“I—”

I’m so caught off guard, so angry at Rob, that I snap. I say it. “She’s my daughter, Winter. Right?”

A pin could drop and everyone in a ten-mile radius would hear it. That’s how silent it is now. Even Rhett is motionless, his face drawn in alarm as he stares back at me.

It’s quiet for so long that I pull my phone away from my face to see if the call is still connected. The seconds tick along, like my phone is counting the moments that follow the nuke I just dropped. The devastation worse with every second that passes.

“Well, I guess we’re about to find out,” is what she says back in a hard voice. It doesn’t sound like the woman I know at all.

Then the seconds stop ticking, and the screen fades out to columns of cubes. Colorful squares that mean nothing to me as I stare down at them.

I’m choked. I’m hurt. I’m angry. Weeks of emotions come tumbling down around me. Weeks of emotions that I’ve pushed away in the name of being responsible and grown up. Weeks of taking care of the people around me, but failing to take care of myself.

And I lashed out at the wrong fucking person.

I want to crawl into the phone and pluck out those five words one by one. Undo ever saying them. I just thought the worst of a woman who has spent her life feeling like everyone always thinks the worst of her.

And I spat those words right in her face.

“That wasn’t the right thing to say, Theo.” Rhett’s rough voice meets my ears as I lean back against the cold metal lockers behind me and close my eyes, my stomach flipping with instant nausea.

“I know.”


Mom: Theo, please answer your phone. I’ve tried calling multiple times now.

Rhett: Text me when you’re back safe.

Summer: I’m going to fix this.


“What?”

I flop back on one of the two queen-sized beds in my sad, boring hotel room, phone held up to my ear, and a towel wrapped around my waist.

“Back safe?” It’s quiet wherever Rhett is. Clearly, he didn’t go out either.

“Yup.” I’m not sure why he’s calling me when we just saw each other and are staying in the same hotel. “What’s up?”

“Just checking on you.”

“I saw the text. You gonna come rub my back to sleep too?”

I hear him huff out a laugh. “I can if you want me to.”

“Nah. I’m fine.”

“You sure?”

“No. But I will be.”

“You should call her.”

I groan. “I know.”

“Are you going to?”

“In the morning. I need a sec to get my head straight. From the day I found out about Vivi, I literally dropped everything I was doing and jumped straight in without even thinking twice. I’ve just been in survival mode and today . . . today fucked me up.”

“Dude. That kid is yours. She’s practically your doppelgänger. I don’t know how none of us put it together.”

“I know. I know. But there’s this nagging voice that keeps asking me, What if she’s not? What if there was some mistake? The night we hooked up, she hadn’t given him divorce papers yet, so it’s not like it’s impossible. I wouldn’t judge her. And it wouldn’t make a difference.”

Rhett is silent for a few moments. “If Vivi wasn’t yours you’d still want to be with Winter?”

Of course I’d still want to be with Winter. I’ve wanted Winter from the first night I laid eyes on her. I’d still want Vivi too. But I’d be gutted. Winter may have been the one trying to get pregnant for a long time, and I might be the one who stumbled into fatherhood by accident, but I love it, Rhett. I love them.”

“Then you should call her and tell her that.”

I feel like I have, but she’s so fucking gun shy it gets me nowhere. I don’t want to rush her, to push her, to wonder if she’s putting up with me to appease some perceived insecurity of mine.

But I don’t share that with Rhett. That feels personal. It’s something that’s unfolding between Winter and I, and no one else needs to be privy to that part of us.

“Yeah, I will,” is what I say instead, having already settled on licking my wounds and having a pity party tonight. Because tonight, when she told me she didn’t want me there for something that concerns my daughter? It felt like a slap in the face. My mom told me once that acts of service are my love language—how I show I care.

And Winter doesn’t want that from me.

Sometimes I worry that Winter will never love me quite the way I love her. Or maybe it’s me being greedy. I want to hear her say it so bad it hurts.

“Get some rest, okay? I wanna see you up on the podium tomorrow while Emmett sulks back in the locker room.”

“You got it, coach.”

I click my phone off and lie here, staring at the ceiling.

Hating myself. Hating what I said. Hating I’m here instead of there, with them.

I call Winter, but she doesn’t answer. I call her again. And again. All to no avail. Before I give up and sink into the numbness of the night, eyes latched on the fan above me until I feel dizzy.

My phone buzzes in my hand, and I jump, hoping it’s her.

But it’s my mom calling. Again.

I press the button on the side to ignore the call. I love my mom, love that she cares enough to call, but I need to figure my shit out alone. I haven’t been alone in what feels like a very long time.

Within minutes it vibrates again. This time, Summer is calling me. I ignore it again.

Over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to fending for myself. I haven’t been accountable to anyone.

Now it’s like I’m stretched thin. I’m too many things to too many people. My goals and my needs seem to clash with this new perspective on life, with these new people in my life.

I’ve spent years wanting nothing more than to be my dad. To win a WBRF championship so I can say I followed in his footsteps. Now, what I want even more is to be the dad he could never be because he couldn’t give up on his dream. It was never enough.

I still want to win, but there are other things I want too.

I feel like Winter when she needed that time alone in the bath. Time alone getting her nails done.

It’s my turn. I’m sick over tonight. My heart is heavy with regret. But I need a moment alone to let shitty thoughts consume me, so I can wake up prepared to go back to Chestnut Springs and dig Rob Valentine a nice deep hole to live in.

One he can’t crawl out of and upend my family again.

But at midnight on a Friday, there isn’t much I can do. So, I turn my phone off, plug it in across the room, and fall into a fitful sleep where I dream about Winter and Vivi and how much I miss them.

Then I dream about that night.


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