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Reckless (Chestnut Springs Book 4): Chapter 5

Winter

Marina: I just spoke to Rob.

Winter: Oh, good. I love that he opted to air our marital issues to my mother.

Marina: You can’t seriously be thinking about leaving him.

Winter: After what he’s done? Yeah, I am.

Marina: I doubt you’ll do better. I would tough it out.

Winter: Yeah, I know you would. I got to grow up in that household.

Marina: If you leave him over that mongrel sister of yours, you’re just letting her win.


“M y mom is a massive, unforgivable bitch. That’s where I get it from.” I rest the side of my face into my hand, elbow propped on the table. “It’s hereditary. That’s why Summer is so nice. Her mom, Sofia, was the best. I don’t remember her that well, but I remember her being fun. I remember her smiling a lot. Deep down, I can’t blame my dad for fucking the nanny.”

Theo watches me, riveted by the story of my upbringing. We’ve resorted to sipping our shots of tequila after tossing two straight back.

“And you know what the worst part is? When she got knocked up, my mom fired her. Like it was her fault alone. And I loved Sofia. The nanny that came after was mean. Like my mom wasn’t just punishing my dad by hiring her, but punishing me too.”

Most people look at me with pity when I tell them this story. But Theo just looks entertained.

“God. I knew Kip was a wild card. But this . . . he’s a pig.” He chuckles out the last word, disbelief lacing his tone.

My dad is a top sports agent, and apparently, he represents Theo. A little tidbit I didn’t know until tonight. I knew he’d been Rhett’s guy, and when Rhett hung up his cowboy hat or whatever you say when a bull rider retires, he got his protégé in with the man who made him famous.

“Yup.” I pop the before tipping the tall shot glass back and taking another sip that burns down my throat. A comfortable and unfamiliar heat blooming in my chest.

I can’t remember the last time I got properly drunk. Rob would tell me I wasn’t “appreciating the flavors” if I drank his wine past a certain volume and I was too damn busy busting my ass professionally to cut loose. Studying. Picking up extra shifts. Being on call.

Trying to keep up with my mom’s expectations of me.

“So, Sofia gets pregnant with Summer. Kip tells your mom.”

“Marina,” I correct, because over the years I’ve shifted to using her name. Or Doctor Hamilton, since we spend almost every day working together. “Her dream is for me to become an accomplished plastic surgeon like her. If I’d taken that route, maybe I’d still be calling her mom. But the chaos and unpredictability of the ER feels like home.”

“Is this all real? It’s like you’re recounting a soap opera to me. Sometimes my mom tells me about the plot for The Young and the Restless, and I swear I’ve heard this before.”

I scoff, wishing my mom would call and talk to me about something as mundane as a soap opera. The alcohol hums through my veins and I just keep going, processing out loud rather than in my head for once.

“I defied her for the very first time in my life, after years of being her puppet, and she turned that cruel side on me without even thinking twice.” My head shakes and Theo stares at me with those dark eyes, looking a little stunned. Probably hard to imagine when you have a mom who hugs you and tells you about her favorite trash TV.

“I wonder if that cruel side is as hereditary as Summer’s nice side, you know? Like maybe that facet of my personality is just waiting to rear its ugly head. I don’t want to be like my mom, but I worry I already am.”

“I think the fact that you’re even worried about that means you’re not like your mom at all.”

I take another sip. He’s sweet. I’m not that reflective though. I’m just drunk and loose-lipped.

“Yeah. I’m a mess. Marina would never allow herself to end up where I am.”

His hand slides across the small, circular high top, his strong fingers tapping against my elbow. “Hey, hey. Sitting here with me isn’t that bad.”

My head tilts further as I let my gaze scan him lazily, if a little drunkenly. “No. I agree. You’re pretty easy on the eyes.”

Under normal circumstances, I’d cringe at myself for saying that out loud. But nothing about sitting in this small-town hotel bar is normal.

“Woah.” He rears back a little, holding both hands up, a dramatic expression gracing his perfect features. “I said you should give being nice a try, not excel at it.”

My lips curve up slowly. He’s funny.

It strikes me I haven’t spent time around a lot of funny people in my life.

Smart. Academic. Accomplished.

Funny and nice have been very low on the list of traits I look for in the people I surround myself with.

“Am I a snob?” I wonder out loud, brain hiccupping all over the place.

“If you are, I like it.”

My eyes roll and I shift on my stool, feeling like I might slide straight onto the floor if I keep leaning on that hand.

“Why are you rolling your eyes?” He tosses his shot back and signals to the bartender for another. The man’s lips purse in disapproval, like he thinks we don’t need another round. And I almost laugh.

I’m so tired of everyone’s condemnation.

“You don’t like me.”

“I do.” The way he dips his chin is sure. It hedges no room for debate.

I toss back the last of my tequila, a droplet of it spilling out and landing on my lip. For a moment, the world stops when Theo’s eyes land on my mouth. On that drop of golden liquor. And when my tongue swipes out to clear it away, to end his attention, his gaze heats in a way that’s unfamiliar.

Because men don’t look at me like that.

Not the one I’m married to.

And definitely not ones like Theo.

The crash of glasses from behind the bar has all the sounds around us screeching back to life, like someone just jammed down on the play button after hitting pause.

A nervous laugh crests my lips and I glance over at the bar where the tired-looking bartender is cleaning up a mess of broken glassware.

“I like you, Winter. As a person.” Theo’s eyes are so intent on me. It’s unnerving. “Why does that make you so uncomfortable?”

“Do you always just say what you mean all out in the open like this? It’s fucking weird.” My eyes narrow. “What’s your angle?”

“I don’t have an angle. I’m just a nice guy having a drink with a likeable girl.”

Two more shots of Anejo drop between us, but neither of us glances up. I’m too busy staring at the peculiar man sitting across from me.

“You’re a manwhore. Who is younger than me. And you look like that.” I wave a finger over him.

“And I still like you.”

“And I’m an unhappily married twenty-eight-year-old—”

Theo interrupts me with an eye roll. “Mention our two-year age difference like it matters again, and I’m going to mock you mercilessly.”

I lick my lips. “Fine. I’m an unhappily married woman with an entire storage locker full of baggage. I’m just trying to make it through a residency that no one approves of.”

“I approve,” he replies, without show or flash, just saying it like it’s a fact.

“You approve of me. But you don’t like me. That makes a lot more sense.”

He grins now, taking a swig of the liquor, and my eyes drop to watch his throat work as he swallows. The tawny skin, the dark stubble, the pronounced bump of his Adam’s apple.

Who knew a man’s thyroid cartilage could attract me?

“No, Winter. I like you. Stop telling me I don’t.”

A wry laugh twists my lips as I drink and inspect the charming little bar. A sort of old-world Victoria allure graces the space. A perfect fit for the elegant boutique hotel.

“I’m not likeable, Theo. People don’t like me. Not really.” I hold up a finger and give him a wide-eyed look, signaling that now is not the time for him to barge in with his tongue-wagging nice-guy act. “People respect me because I’m smart. Or because I’m accomplished. But they don’t like me.”

The man across from me stares. I can see him turning my words over in his head. It tilts back and forth as though he is considering everything I’ve just said.

“I think I like you because you are a heart-stopping, jaw-dropping type of beautiful.”

My face reveals nothing. No one has ever complimented my looks over my brains and I . . . I don’t even know what to make of it.

“Are you fucking with me?” I blurt.

“Nah.” He leans back in his stool, biceps bulging in a distracting way as his eyes peruse me with appreciation. “I definitely like you because you’re hot. And because you enunciate your swear words so clearly. Did you know that people who curse are more honest and trustworthy than people who don’t?”

My jaw unhinges and then I feel it. It’s foreign, but there’s no stopping me. I drop my head onto my crossed arms on the table and burst out laughing. The laughter hurts my throat as I try to silence it. It leaks from my eyes no matter how hard I try to keep it in. It shakes my shoulders as it overtakes me.

And the deep baritone of Theo’s laugh joins me, twisting with mine like a symphony.

“But I’ve also had a lot of concussions. So my judgment could be off,” he adds through the laughter.

I’m just drunk enough, just wrung out enough, that I laugh even harder. “Fuck,” I gasp, sitting up and wiping at my eyes.

“Yeah, you need to give less of those.”

“What?” I reach for the tequila, needing to lubricate my throat after my laughing fit.

“You need to give less fucks.”

I offer an exaggerated shrug and roll my lips together as the alcohol races straight to my bloodstream.

“It’s like this.” Theo reaches out one toned arm, grabs my stool, and tugs it around the small round table. He turns us both. Bringing us face to face, so the outside of my knees presses up against his inner thighs. That spicy citrus scent wraps around me. The urge to lean forward and nuzzle into his neck hits me like a ton of bricks.

We’re too close.

But he doesn’t seem to notice. He just turns and lays his hands flat on his well-built thighs, all ten fingers stretched wide. “Pretend you only have ten fucks to give—”

“Oh, I think I remember this math problem from second grade.”

He ignores my jibe and forges ahead. “And when you run out of fucks, you’re spent. Wrung out. Stretched too thin.”

My eyes roll. “Good god.”

“But you’re out here giving one fuck to your mom about the career you already know you want, giving one to Summer over some slight that she doesn’t seem to know exists, giving at least a few to your husband who makes you miserable.”

He directs a pointed look at me that says he knows that story too. I shrink a little.

“I just watched you give me a fuck over that story, like I’m judging you when I’m not. So, we’re at . . .” We both peer down at his hands. “You have four fucks left to give and then you’re burnt out.” He’s on a roll now. “I’m pretty sure you gave that bartender a fuck when he had that whole judgy, sour expression on his face after we ordered another round. I mean, come on, Winter. That guy? He just dropped an entire tray of glasses. You’ve only got three now. Why’d you waste one on him?”

I sigh. “This is the stupidest math I’ve ever encountered. And me giving people fucks . . . the way you’re saying it makes me sound . . .”

His dark brows rise. “Sound what?”

“It sounds like I’m just out fucking people willy-nilly.” I laugh. I have to. “Please don’t say anything about me giving my dad fucks for abandoning me. I’ll never recover.”

“Don’t need to. You just admitted it yourself.”

He folds another finger under and as I watch him, I realize I’m mirroring him. Hands splayed on the expanse of bare skin between my stockings and the edge of my dress, fingers curling every time he ticks off a fuck.

Two fucks stare back at me, one of which sports a simple gold band. I wear it so the diamond Rob bought me doesn’t rip through my medical gloves.

I glance up at Theo. He’s watching me so carefully. His skin is so smooth, so tan. His features so dark. His persona so . . . fun.

The antithesis of everything in my life.

And suddenly I give a fuck about what he thinks of me too.

I fold another digit down without saying a word. He watches me do it, but his warm hand covers mine, a brush of his calloused fingers on my thigh as he reaches for my ring finger and pulls it out flat.

“Don’t give me that, Winter. I don’t need it. I’m not judging you. And you’re only two fucks away from bottoming out.”

Bottoming out. The inanest pairing of words sends a zing of arousal through my body. Bottoming out. Said with a light growl in his voice while he leans into me so intimately. I cross my legs and squeeze to dull the ache between them.

“God.” I run my hands through my hair, pushing it back tight and away from my face. “Are you telling me you don’t give a fuck what people think of you?”

He shrugs and cants his head in my direction. “I try not to.”

He’s so close, all tequila and tangerines and deep, chocolatey eyes. “I saw you tonight. The way you went rigid when you got called a lady-killer.”

His gaze bounces between my eyes, and god, I feel seen. My skin itches under the pressure of his gaze. No one ever looks at me this closely. This discerningly.

“Changing your stripes isn’t always easy.”

“I think the saying is literally that a tiger doesn’t change its stripes.”

His tongue presses down on his bottom lip as he gives his head a minute shake. “Then let’s call it a Dalmatian changing his spots. They’re born without them, you know.”

“So, you’re not a total manwhore?”

His mouth twists. “I’m outgrowing that phase. But people see what they want. Imagine if I gave them all my fucks over that when I know deep down what kind of man I am?”

Man. Yes. Man.

My brain stutter-steps on that. Because Theo is all man, all masculine lines, dark swirling colors, gentle touches—gentlemanly behavior.

Okay, he’s charming as hell.

“When I didn’t win at the end of this season, I made it a goal to redouble my focus. Grow up a notch. That’s why I’m here, training with Rhett and Summer. More workouts, less . . . play. All work and no play makes Theo a dull boy.”

Play. Does every word this man says have to sound sexual? I swear he isn’t even trying, but his words scrape against my skin like the edge of his teeth might, the way his stubble might. There isn’t a single dull thing about Theo Silva.

In fact, he might as well be a gigantic neon sign, flashing at me to back away. Because people have hurt me, my capacity for trust is practically nil. And yet . . .

“I could really use some play.” My knee bumps into his as I turn to him, an idea blossoming in my mind.

very bad idea.

“Less fucks and more play. I like this strategy for you.”

The way his lips part when he says fuck has my stomach clenching and my inhibitions flapping in the wind. What if I let go of them and turned my brain off for a bit? What if I did something just for me? Something that feels good.

God knows Rob has never been effective at making me feel good. Not the way it appears in movies or sounds in books. When the woman’s heart races and her skin prickles just because a man is looking at her.

Theo looks at me like that. Like I might be his next meal.

“Maybe what I really need is more fucks?” Oof. That sounded a lot cooler in my tequila brain than it does out loud.

“You only get ten for the purpose of the example.”

I bite down on my bottom lip. “That’s not what I meant.”

He must see it on my face because he rears back, full lips parting even as his eyes smolder. “Are you propositioning me?”

I scoff and blink away. “No.”

He says nothing and when I drag my attention back to him, I confess, “Okay, maybe. Just for fun. I want to know what that’s like.” An image of Rob pops up in my head and I toss it away. He’s not allowed here in this moment. I need to be myself. I need to be free of him if I’m going to do this. “I don’t think I know what it’s like to be properly fucked.”

Amusement and shock war on his face. “You’ve officially had too much to drink.”

“I have not. You’re just using that as an excuse. If you aren’t interested, just be direct. I’m a doctor. I understand how the biology of attraction works. You can’t force it. I get it.”

When I glance back up, the expression on his face is primal. He’s beautiful, and I’m instantly struck by the realization that I’m an idiot. This man is out of my league. He’s too good looking. Too experienced.

“You know what? Forget I said anything. I’ve got this whole uptight spinster thing happening and I don’t blame you for—”

“Winter. I’d have properly fucked you in the back room of that gas station if you’d asked me.”

I freeze at his words.

“I’m not going to sit here and pretend I haven’t been thinking about it all night.” His eyes glaze over and peruse my body in a knowing way, like he can see my skin flush and my nipples pebble. His legs squeeze in on mine. Trapping me. “That dress could be so easily tugged up. But . . .” His head tilts down at the glass on the table beside us. “We consumed a lot of tequila. I don’t want you to regret anything.”

Regret? I look him over like I would a patient and wonder if a single woman has ever regretted fucking Theo Silva. It seems highly improbable.

And I want to find out.

For science.

So I toss back the rest of my shot and pull a pen out of my purse. Flipping the coaster over to the blank side, I write:

I, Winter, do legally swear that I am not too drunk to . . .

I glance up at him. “What are you worried about? I don’t have orgasms, so alcohol intake won’t matter.”

He blinks once, slow and methodical, those thick, dark lashes wiping away a flash of annoyance on his perfect bone structure. “Consent, Tink. I’m worried about consent. The rest isn’t an issue.” His voice drops to a low growl. “You’d get there with me. I’d make sure of it.”

Heat lashes at my cheeks, spills down my throat, and washes over my chest. He’s so damn confident. Tequila or not, talking brazenly like this is new to me. So, instead of arguing with him, I use a shaky hand to finish the sentence:

Consent.

When I peek up, our eyes lock. I’m practically panting and he’s just sitting there, vibrating with sexual energy, fingers clenched around the edge of the table.

I bite at the inside of my cheek and drop his gaze before I sign my name.

Winter Hamilton.

My maiden name.

He registers it too, because when I look back up at him, his gaze remains fixed on the coaster.

“I thought it was Valentine?”

“It’s not. The divorce papers are stashed in my car. On my way out here, I picked them up. I’m a private person. I don’t need my messy divorce to be dinner conversation.”

He nods, searching my face. Then the tip of his tongue peeks out from between his lips as he stares down at the coaster. “So this is a . . . sex contract?”

“Essentially, yes.” I feel like an idiot, but I also feel like, for the first time in a long time, I don’t care. Every step I took away from that house today was a domino falling. One after the other. Now, there’s only one left, and I’m about to knock it right into Theo Silva’s lap.

“Well, this is a first.” Theo’s fingers dust over where I signed my name and I imagine them on my body. In my body.

“I think . . .” I put a hand on my throat, like that will force me to keep using my words when all I can think about right now is him touching me and the heavy rush of pressure between my legs. “It keeps things very clear. For us.”

He leans close, his demeanor shifting right before my eyes. Hot, damp breath dances along the shell of my ear as his deep voice rumbles against my skin. “Contractual clarity has never made me harder.”

My body flares to life, even though I know he’s teasing me. I force myself to swallow and nod as I shift my eyes to meet his.

“I don’t know if a sentence on a coaster will hold up in a court of law.”

“One night,” I reply. “That’s all. I’m not equipped for anything else. I’m too fucked-up. Taking you to court would involve seeing you again, and I don’t plan to do that.”

His throat works once more.

“And we never tell anyone. We shake hands and walk away, like mature adults with a contract.”

“Winter . . .” He doesn’t love that part.

I push the coaster at him, feeling more laid bare than I have in, well, possibly ever. My voice shakes. “Sign it or I’m going to bed. My ego is too fragile for this right now.”

His gaze softens on me, the warmth in those chocolate depths heating my chilly exterior. I watch the veins in his hand bulge as he picks up the pen. The tendons in his forearm ripple as he writes.

One night only. We never tell anyone. But I’ll probably beg you for another shot, eventually.

– Theo Silva

Even his handwriting is beautiful.

He looks smug when he slides the coaster back across the table at me. I lift the piece of cardboard and eye it, like I really am reading over a contract. Another shot—as if. But I’ll let him get the last word in.

I hold the coaster out and he takes it, his warm fingers wrapping over mine. He lifts my hand to his mouth and presses a firm kiss to the top of it, sending a shiver down my spine.

He smirks, and I want to stomp on his foot. I hate how obvious this is. How unnaturally it’s come about. How knowing he is.

But I also want it so damn badly.

We hold up one last shot of tequila, and honestly, I need the liquid courage. Our glasses clink as we cheers.

His eyes lock on mine with a level of intensity that screams at me to be careful. And then he says, “I’m going to ruin you tonight.”

We toss the liquor back, not dropping each other’s gaze. I slam my glass down harder than necessary. It’s loud, like the shotgun at a race signaling it’s go time.

He cants his head at me. One more silent assurance.

I nod.

He nods.

And without another word, he links his fingers through mine and leads me out of the bar area and onto the elevator.

When the door slides shut, that last tether of control between us snaps. It’s an audible ping in the small, private space.

He tugs me into his chest, fingers instantly tangling in my loose hair.

All I can hear is the heavy bass of my heart pumping blood through my veins.

All I can see are his rosy cheeks, and full lips.

All I can feel is the press of his rock-hard length against my stomach.

He looks me straight in the eye and grabs the back of my skull roughly with one hand while the other pulls at my bottom lip. “I can’t wait to see how fucking pretty you look when you come with my name on your lips.”


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