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Reckless (Chestnut Springs Book 4): Chapter 7

Winter

Marina: So you quit your job, left your husband, and now won’t answer my calls?

Winter: Seems like you’ve figured out the gist all on your own.

Marina: Call me back.

Winter: The more I think about it, the less I have to say to you.

Marina: I raised you better than this. Stronger than this. More focused than this.

Winter: I can’t remember a single hug.

Marina: What?

Winter: You never hugged me. Never consoled me.

Marina: That’s what the nanny was for.


“W ell, shit. It looks pretty damn good in here.” Sloane has her hands propped on her narrow hips, taking in the small house with a satisfied expression on her face.

My nod feels like a Herculean feat. For the past three weeks, I’ve experienced a whirlwind of emotions and made life-altering decisions. Because I was too bitchy to hang out with joyful people, I spent Christmas alone in a hotel, dreaming about Theo Silva running his rough hands all over my body and trying to recreate the sensation with my own.

Not that I’d ever admit that last part out loud.

But there’s something unforgettable about the way his callouses felt sliding over my skin. The way he touched me like he couldn’t get enough. His palms never stopped exploring me, worshipping me.

I clear my throat. “Yeah. It does. Look good.”

The blonde woman beside me beams with pride and I can’t help but smile back.

It sounds childish, but somehow Sloane has wiggled her way into my life in the past couple of weeks. She’s Rhett’s cousin, and she says she thinks she met me at exactly the right time. She says she needed someone like me in her life, but the thing is . . . I think I’m the one who needed her.

We’ve both faced a lot of upheaval in the short time we’ve known each other. The difference is her upheaval led her to being with her childhood crush—the hockey player who treats her like a goddess—and mine led me to giving Rob divorce papers, quitting my job at the hospital in the city, and moving into a rental house in Chestnut Springs.

Looking at Sloane now, all smiles and messy hair, I suppose it also led me to having a friend.

Possibly my only friend in a life full of acquaintances and co-workers. And that alone makes everything I’ve been through worth it.

“Should we shift the TV a bit? It might catch too much light there during the day.”

I snort and flop down onto the couch behind me. “I work insane hours. I doubt I’ll be watching TV in the daytime.”

“What about days off?” Sloane follows suit, falling into the cushy new couch beside me.

“Yeah. I guess so.”

“Or are you going to be too busy hanging out with your cool new neighbor?” She waggles her eyebrows at me, and I can’t help but laugh. She and Jasper live in the bungalow next door. In fact, Jasper owns the entire block, a row of houses on this side and the businesses on the other that face out onto the main drag. Sloane has been carefully restoring each one back to its original glory so they can rent them out.

“Do you think you’ll keep both jobs now that you’ve moved here?”

I shrug and let my head sink into the soft velvety fabric behind me. Except it’s not velvet, it’s microfiber, because rich as Rob might be as a cardiothoracic surgeon, I’m still just a resident.

Velvet taste, microfiber budget. That’s me. Winter Hamilton. And I’m alright with it.

Twenty-eight-year-old almost divorcee. Ex-husband who hates my guts because the only thing he’s better at than fixing hearts is playing the victim. Mother who is all up in my face because misery loves company and she’s chosen to live a miserable life. A dad who is just as fucking awkward around me as he always has been—bless him. And an estranged sister who is feeling less estranged every day.

That’s the bright spot in turning my life upside down. I really doused it all in gasoline, dropped the match, and said, “Fuck it.”

“I quit today. Having to work in the same hospital as both my mom and Rob? No thanks.” I point a finger into my open mouth and make a gagging noise.

And doing that makes me a bit nauseous. A bit light-headed.

Sloane laughs, all light and airy, while I suck in deep breaths, trying to master my roiling stomach. “Good for you.”

I nod and she carries on. “We can always hang the decor tomorrow. I’ll help you unpack more. We can enlist Jasper when he’s back from his road trip. I like the placement of all the furniture though.”

“That sounds good,” I whisper, licking my lips and letting my eyes flutter shut.

“Wanna grab a drink? A snack? Something? Otherwise, I’ll just stay up late working on the other house.”

“You need an HGTV show.” I give her a wan smile, but don’t move. If I sit still and think about the cold air filtering in through my nose, I feel fine.

“Oh my god. I do! That’s the dream.” Her hand slaps on my knee before she sits up, bursting with energy. “Should we go?”

I do simple math in my head, think about number patterns, not hurling the Chinese takeout from earlier all over my new microfiber couch.

“I think I’ll pass.” My voice sounds breathy, and my heart thunders against my sternum. It feels so loud I wonder if Sloane can hear it.

“You okay?” Her fingers pulse on my knee as concern laces her voice.

Twenty-eight minus seven equals twenty-one.

Ovulation.

I turn and peek at her. “Just kinda wiped right now. I think I’ll bail. Crawl into bed.”

Her eyes hold so much concern. Sloane is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. She’s sweet, but not sickeningly so. Now and then she says something inappropriate and then giggles to herself about it.

I like that about her. She’s relatable.

“You sure?”

Divided by seven equals three.

Cycle starts.

I offer her my most convincing smile, but I’m a terrible actress. I’m quite certain the look I give her is just a scowl with my lips in a slightly upturned shape.

She snorts and pushes to stand. “You look like a serial killer when you do that.” She freezes before spinning back to me with a laugh. “Imagine that! I help this nice doctor girl who I think is a new friend move into the house next to mine. But it turns out she’s a serial killer and is just playing the long game with planning my murder.” She giggles. “Now that would be a good story.”

I rub at my temples. “Sounds like a Catherine Cowles book.”

“What?” Her head quirks.

“Nothing. I’m going to go read in bed.”

Three weeks ago was the Saturday before Christmas.

“Okay. Text me when you’re up and ready to finish this place off in the morning.” Sloane leans down and gives me a breezy kiss on the cheek. “And please don’t murder me tonight.”

I would laugh, but if I open my mouth, I will barf on the microfiber couch. The sales guy told me it wipes up easy. I absently wonder how easily.

The Saturday before Christmas was dinner at Wishing Well Ranch.

Sloane is laughing as she slides on her UGGs and leaves.

She’s happy and carefree, cracking serial killer jokes.

And I’m doing math in my head. Math I’m painfully familiar with because I’ve spent the last two years desperately trying to get pregnant. Tears, positive ovulation strips, negative pregnancy tests, fertility appointments.

Of all the times I’ve obsessively run these numbers in my head, my math was right once. That test was positive once.

It was the highest high. But it ended in loss, and pain, and the lowest low.

Now, my math is right again.

Wishing Well Ranch is where I met Theo Silva.


Winter: Do you have access to the gym? You dance there after hours sometimes, right?

Sloane: Yeah. Sometimes when I can’t sleep. I use the Zumba studio.

Winter: Can I get you to let me in?

Sloane: But it’s 10 p.m.

Winter: Yeah, I know. I just got off work.

Sloane: Am I allowed to ask why you need to go into your sister’s business after hours?

Winter: You can ask, but I won’t tell you.

Sloane: Does it have to do with your murder plot?

Winter: Yes. I’m making you my accessory.

Sloane: New friendship level unlocked! I’ll be out front in five.

“Do you want me to come in with you?” Sloane gives me a worried glance as we stand outside the darkened gym.

The cold air feels good after the unending nausea I lived with through my shift. The smell of antiseptic that I usually find comforting turned on me in the most vicious way. Even finally talking to Marina made me more nauseous than usual. But telling her to stop contacting me felt good too. I felt strong. I felt relieved knowing I wouldn’t ever subject another human to her toxicity.

Hilariously, as soon I stopped giving any fucks about what she thought of me, I stopped caring about her opinion—but today I could have hurled all over my phone from the mere sound of her voice.

“No, that’s fine.”

“I’m coming anyway.” Sloane hustles past me, our puffy winter coats brushing against each other and making a little zipping noise as she heads straight for the number pad where she inputs a code.

Sloane turns and stares at me expectantly.

“Are you going to crack some wiseass comment about me coming here to do something mean to my sister?” I ask.

Her brows furrow. “Why would I think that?”

My eyes roll in time with my arms crossing. “Everyone thinks that.”

“I think you’re a lot more likeable than you realize.” I quirk a brow at the other woman, and her head wobbles back and forth as she smiles. “When you want to be.”

I huff out a laugh. “Likeable when I want to be could be my slogan.”

Truthfully, it smarts. As though no one really likes me when I’m at my worst. I’m likeable when I put on a smiley, happy face. But what about when I crumble? Then all I get is criticism and reprimand.

“Okay, well, I just need a few minutes.”

“For what?”

“To check something on the computer.”

Sloane’s eyes go comically wide. “I thought murder was the thing. But are you stalking someone?”

I press my lips together and motion locking them with a key before throwing it away. The truth is . . . this is kind of stalkery.

But after confirming what I already knew with a positive pregnancy test this morning, I know I need to talk to Theo. Because our one-night secret isn’t so secret anymore.

I think I’m still in shock. After years of trying and failing, I can’t find it in me to be upset. I cried in the hospital bathroom while I stared at that tiny pink plus sign.

I cried happy tears.

Because no matter how unplanned this is, I can’t help but see it as a blessing. Something turning up Winter after getting shoved down so many times.

Something just for me.

And this left me with a whole other issue to face. Getting in touch.

Sloane chuckles but turns away, offering me privacy as I sneak over to the front desk and fire up the computer. My hope is that I can find Theo’s contact information listed in the gym database.

I could ask Summer, but that would lead to questions. If I contact my dad, who is his agent, that would lead to questions and awkward conversation. And I don’t want to deal with either.

I barely know Theo, but I know I have to tell him. He deserves to know, and he deserves to know before anyone else. He’s a wild card, but there’s something deeply caring about him. And no matter what our situation might be, there’s a part of me that thinks he would be a great dad.

And if he doesn’t want that, I’m okay with it too. But he deserves a choice.

I can’t think of anything worse than everyone around you knowing something this personal before you’ve even had a chance to process.

I know all about needing time to process.

It’s why I’m terrified of telling everyone this news and then losing the baby like last time. Having clothes and toys and plans. Everyone thriving on that excitement, only to have them pour on condolences that I couldn’t even cope with.

If I’m going to grieve a loss again, I want to do it privately.

Biting down on my lip, I try to navigate the software searching for . . . members. There! With a quick click, a list of names fills the page. I navigate to the miniature magnifying glass in the corner and type in Theo Silva.

Another window pops up with his information. A home address in Emerald Lake, a college lake town in British Columbia. An emergency contact by the name of Loretta Silva, which sounds like the name of a woman who would live on a ranch and is far more fitting for the wife of a bull rider who was an icon on the circuit. (Thank you, Google.)

And then I see it. His cell number. I swipe a pad of Post-its, and scribble the number down before I exit every window on the computer, wanting to make sure it looks like I was never here.

Within seconds I’m rounding the desk on the tips of my toes, like someone might hear, even though it’s completely empty in here.

“Ready. Thank you,” I whisper at Sloane as I draw near to her.

She turns now, having been totally respectful. The perfect accomplice, not pushy or nosy.

“Did you wipe down the keyboard?”

My brows knit together. “What?”

“You know. To clean off the fingerprints.”

“Are you—”

“Looking out for you? Yes. That’s what friends are for.”

I snort, because I think she’s joking. “No crimes were committed here tonight.”

“You sure about that?”

My mouth twists as I consider it. “I don’t know. I’m a doctor, not a lawyer. It might be a crime lite.”

She laughs as she resets the alarm. “I like that. Hopefully, the police appreciate your branding.”

We walk through the door and it’s my turn to laugh. Except my stomach is twisting inside. I’m not worried about the police, but the reality of what I’m about to tell a man I barely know hits me and I can feel the anxiety building in my chest.

I rub my palm there to lessen it. And even as Sloane and I bid each other goodnight, I continue to push against my sternum.

I don’t stop until I’m seated on my microfiber couch, staring down at the pale-yellow piece of paper.

What have I done? How did I let this happen? We used condoms.

And condoms break.

It’s a peculiar feeling to have all that you ever wanted, but not in the way you envisioned. I’ve been that girl since I was a child. The one who carried a doll everywhere and pushed them around in a tiny stroller. I was thrilled about having a baby sister until my mom ruined it for me.

I’ve wanted a child of my own for as long as I can remember. Desperately, with every fiber of my being. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it happening like this. Like some sort of cosmic joke.

Clomid. Legs up the wall. Bladder infections. All to no avail.

It’s like my body knew Rob was a piece of shit, even when my brain didn’t. Ha. No. Nice try, honey. We don’t want a baby with this man.

And then I got pregnant. After which, I promptly found out all the ways my husband had betrayed me.

I lost him.

Then I lost the baby.

Then I lost myself.

I’ve only admitted it once out loud—to my little sister’s best friend Willa. I confessed to her that broken as my miscarriage left me, there is a shameful part of me that’s relieved I’m not tied to Rob Valentine for the rest of my life.

I get to move on from him with no strings attached. A blessing and a curse. A guilt that eats me alive. One I have to learn to live with, because I am relieved to be free of him.

But this is different. The timing is different.

Theo is different.

I lift the phone and dial his number, taking a steadying breath as it rings.

But it keeps ringing and then goes to voicemail. His deep baritone telling me to leave a message sends a shiver down my spine. The things he said to me that night.

Filthy fucking girlJust begging for—

“Hi, Theo. This is Winter. From . . . well, from the hotel. Or the ranch? From the coaster contract. I tracked your number down and was hoping we could chat, even though I swore I wouldn’t ever contact you again. Can you call me back when you have a moment? Thanks. Bye.”

I haven’t told him yet, but I already feel relieved. I’ll face this head on. It’s going to be fine.

My hand falls across my still flat stomach and I sigh.

I’m going to be happy.

“Hi, Theo. It’s Winter again. I haven’t heard from you and it’s been a few days. At the risk of sounding totally nuts, I checked the WBRF website and know that you’re out on the tour again. I get that you’re busy, but I really need to talk to you. I have something really important to tell you.

“Theo. Hi. I hope you’re okay. Based on the scores I can see listed online, it would seem you’re doing just fine. I’m not trying to be some clingy buckle bunny or whatever the fuck you call it. I just need to share some information with you, and I would like to tell you directly.”


Winter: Hi, it’s Winter. Is this Theo Silva? Are you getting my voicemails? I’ve left three now.

Winter: Are you aware that you have read receipts on? I know you’ve seen my text.

Theo: Yes. I’ve gotten your voicemails. I’m not interested in talking.

Winter: Listen, I’m trying not to be a full-on bitch to you right now. But can you please call me? I need to tell you something.

Theo: Then tell me.

Winter: Via text?

Theo: Yup.

Winter: Fine. That night in the hotel, a condom must have broken. I’m pregnant. The baby is yours. Thought that might interest you.

Theo: Thanks for letting me know.


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