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Reckless (Chestnut Springs Book 4): Chapter 8


Eighteen months later…

Winter: Is she okay?

Harvey: Yes, my world is her jungle gym. She’s going up and down the stairs. Getting pretty fast on the way down now. She even tried to climb the banister. Doesn’t stop moving much.

Winter: Harvey. Please don’t say things like that.

Harvey: If it wasn’t rude, I’d ask if her secret daddy is a monkey.

Winter: You basically just asked that.

Harvey: Where’s the question?

Winter: I’m coming back.

Harvey: No. You aren’t. If I can keep Rhett alive, then Vivi will be a breeze.

Winter: Somehow that isn’t very comforting. Rhett is insane.

“This is going to be fun, Winter. You’ll see.” Willa pats my shoulder, and I cast her a sidelong glance.

“Vivi is going to have the best time with Harvey.” Summer squeezes my knee.

“Did you guys plan this pep talk?” My arms cross and I stare out at the dirt ring in front of us.

Willa shrugs with a slight grin on her lips. “Sloane told us you might need it, but that we had her permission to drag you out of that house kicking and screaming.”

“Easy for Sloane to say while she’s on a road trip with Jasper. I’m going to FaceTime her later and give her a piece of my mind.”

I lick my lips and peer around at the sea of people before me. Summer and Willa don’t respond, but I’m sure they roll their eyes at me as they too take in our surroundings.

It’s day three of the first annual Chestnut Springs Rodeo and I feel like a sociologist watching it all go down. The actual town is small and charming. But the fairgrounds this weekend?

I don’t even know what the fuck this is.

Wranglers, cowboy boots, rhinestone belts.

Even the children are wearing little cowboy and cowgirl outfits. It’s like I’m at one of those historical re-enactments where all the dorks dress up like knights and kings.

Except here, all the dorks dress up as cowboys.

“There are children everywhere,” I announce. “I can’t fathom why I couldn’t have brought Vivi with me. You’d hardly notice her in the carrier.”

Summer edges closer, pressing her body into mine reassuringly. I’m not about to admit it, but I like it. No. I love it. Getting to know my sister the way I’ve always wanted over the past eighteen months has been a bright spot in my life.

You notice her,” Willa says. “She’s nine months old now. You’ve pumped enough to feed an orphanage. I saw the freezer, so don’t try to tell me otherwise. She’s going to have fun and so will you. You need this. The first time I left Emma was hard too, but I . . . Winter, just trust me. You’ll feel somewhat like your old self after tonight. You can’t do it all alone. You’ll have to go back to—”

Summer cuts her off with a stern glance, and I almost roll my eyes. Does she think I don’t know what Willa was about to say?

Back to work.

One year. The hospital in Chestnut Springs allowed me one year of maternity leave and that is rapidly drawing to a close. September 21 is the day I have circled in red on the calendar.

I wish someone had told me that once I had a baby, I wouldn’t give a flying fuck about anything else. They act like I need this night away, but I don’t feel like I do. I already miss her even though I’ve spent the past couple of weeks saying all I want is for no one to touch me for a few hours.

And I don’t want to feel like my old self. My old self was angry and bitter and alone.

Okay, I’m still not a ray of sunshine, but I have turned over a new leaf since moving to Chestnut Springs.

“I’m going to get us all some drinks,” Willa announces, slapping her jean-clad thighs and all I can do is nod while Garth Brooks blares from the speakers while men in leather chaps mull around.

They might be dorks, but I’d have to be blind not to appreciate the things this getup does for a man’s ass. Everyone is on and on about a man in a suit, but I can’t help but wonder if they’ve ever seen a man in Wranglers and chaps.

Suit who?

Summer bumps her shoulder against mine. “Thanks for coming.”

I bump her back. “You’re welcome.”

“Rhett and Beau have been working so hard on this event. I know they appreciate you being here too.” I just nod. “I think your suggestion of something that might give Beau a purpose was helpful. He seems more like himself all the time. Planning this rodeo has been fun for him.”

It’s true. I said that. Because I’ve seen it before. A veteran moves into a new phase of their life, and they feel monumentally lost, like everything that was important about them isn’t anymore.

I wrinkle my nose and look away. As much as I fight leaving Vivienne, there’s a little part of me that can relate. The ER was exciting. Something new happened every day. I worked damn hard to get there, to become the best doctor I could be. And now I’ve turned all that focus on being the best mom I can be.

I miss it.

I miss that part of myself.

“Oh.” Summer brightens and sits up tall beside me. “There they are.”


“Rhett and Theo.”


My heart comes to a screeching halt in my chest and my limbs turn to ice. At the same time, my stomach falls fast and hard, like coming straight down off the highest point of a roller coaster. Except the cart goes off the wheels and crashes straight into the pavement.

That’s how I feel right now.

“Theo?” My voice doesn’t betray me. It comes out perfectly smooth. Perfectly unaffected.

“Yeah. You know . . . Rhett’s protégé. I believe you and him got into a screaming match at the ranch a couple of Christmases ago.”

I scoff. “Screaming at someone is not my MO.”

“It’s not, but I could hear you from inside.”

My little sister is giving me her know-it-all look. The one I’ve come to know well over the last year and a half. I don’t know what kind of karma was working in my favor to make Summer put all the years of tension behind us so readily. And I still haven’t quite found the words to thank her for it.

She was there for me while I was pregnant and alone.

She was in the delivery room holding my hand.

She was at my house, filling my freezer with meals when I got home.

I’m not sure I deserve her, but I’m too selfish not to lap up what she’s giving me.

“You must have misheard.” I sniff, peering out over the crowd before glancing down at my nails. The ones I still haven’t gotten done, even though I swore that was one of the first things I was going to do when I went on maternity leave.

“Why is he here? I thought this was some Podunk rodeo, not the fancy bull riding circuit they do.”

Summer elbows me. “You live in this Podunk town now, remember?”

I do. And I love it. Same little house Sloane helped me move into.

“Anyway, he came to do a demo. Rhett thought if he brought in a big name, it might help draw the crowd a bit.”

I glance around and can’t deny that his plan worked. It’s packed. “I thought Theo wasn’t that good?” I lie. I’ve checked his stats.

Summer huffs out a laugh. “He’s always been good—a bit injury-prone, maybe. But in the past year he’s turned a corner. Changed his focus. Now he’s the best, following right in his dad’s footsteps. He’s already planning for the finals in Vegas. It feels like it’s his year, you know?”

My lips purse. What I want to say is how convenient for him. I take maternity leave and he levels up his career because he washed his hands clean of any responsibility. Not that I expected him to do anything. But it still stings.

I don’t need him. I never did. But he hurt me all the same.

Thanks for letting me know.

Sometimes that sentence wakes me up at night. I hoped that even though we were clearly incompatible, he might want to play some part in raising the child we made.

After all, I watched my dad dote on a little girl born of an affair my entire life. There were times I begrudged him for that, but now? Now, I can respect him for how he handled Summer—even if he failed me in the process.

“Cool,” is what I respond with. And it’s not something I would ever say, which is why Summer turns and eyes me with suspicion.


“Summer!” Willa calls from the end of the row of stands where she carries three drinks in each hand. I guess all those years spent bartending weren’t a total waste. “Did you know they have mimosas in the beer tent?”

My sister rolls her lips together and casts her gaze down. “I might have known, yes.” Mimosas are her thing. She often hosts a “Boozy Brunch” as she and Willa call it.

“Man, Rhett can be really romantic sometimes.” Willa drops down and shoves the plastic cups in our direction. “Help a girl out.”

“Why are there six?” My nose wrinkles, mind still on the too-good-looking asshole bull rider down near the gate. Do I act normal? Kick him in the balls? Ignore him?

“I don’t know, Winter. You’re the doctor here. How many hands do we have between us?”

I glance down at us, like I need a visual representation of how many hands there are between three humans.

God. Theo Silva has a knack for making me lose my brain. I almost don’t think I should drink. Maybe there’s something chemical between us, because when I peek at him from beneath my lashes, I see a flash of his white teeth and almost feel the rumble of his laugh when he throws his head back. So carefree.

And flashing his Adam’s apple. I remember the way it moved up and down when I dropped to my knees in front of him. His head tipped back in a similar fashion when I fisted his length and—

“Winter, stop being such a buzzkill.” Willa pushes the two drinks into my hands, the ones that are now clammy and clasped over my jeans.

My fingers fold around the damp plastic cups and I look down at the new boots on my feet. Pale brown cowboy booties with a metal embellished toe. Because, apparently, I can’t wear normal shoes to this event without becoming some sort of pariah.

Summer’s snakeskin boots are a subtle touch with her white WBRF tee. But Willa has adopted the lifestyle. The boots. The jeans. The sparkly belt with her mane of coppery hair blown out and curled like some sort of rodeo Barbie.

The two of them talk around me about the event. Today’s lineup. The final night of the three-day rodeo and what a success it’s been.

I take a sip of my mimosa and will myself to remain calm as events pass. Barrels, roping, something where small children try to stay on sheep and everyone laughs when they fall off. Summer and Willa pat my back and try to engage me in conversation. They think I’m worried about Vivi, but all I can think about is that her father is right fucking there.

I’ve imagined this moment in my head a million times. What I’d do. What I’d say. I’ve oscillated between hating him and understanding his choice.

But I’ve never gotten over how his reaction doesn’t match the man I thought I met that night. Sure, he was wild and carefree, but he felt like an old soul somehow. There was a gentleness in him.

A roughness too.

Choke on it, Winter. I blink the memory away, not wanting to go there.

“Oh, here goes Theo.”

My head snaps up and sure enough, the man holding the microphone in the middle of the ring is talking about Theo. About his dad, Gabriel, and their family legacy. About his accolades and wins.

But my eyes are stuck on Theo, his ass looking way too good in those jeans.

I can resent him and still like his ass. That’s perfectly acceptable.

“Fuck. He is hot, isn’t he?” Willa takes a sip of her orange drink without sparing Summer or me a glance. Then she carries on with, “What? I’m still allowed to window shop.”

My sister snorts, but I feel wooden. Hollowed out. Theo climbs into the chute, bull jostling around between the metal gates. But he’s unaffected.

He gives zero fucks.

His stubbled chin tips down as his gloved hand pulls methodically at a rope. I have no idea what’s going on. He looks like he’s jerking that rope off, and it entrances me how he can come off so tranquil despite the chaos surrounding him.

“You trying to put a curse on him, Win?” Summer nudges me and I offer her a wan smile, trying to cover up how insane I must look staring at the man everyone thinks I hate.

Who I do hate.

“Nah, just interested. I haven’t seen bull riding live before.”

“You watch a lot on TV?” Willa cracks.

No, on my laptop is what I almost reply, but that would raise some eyebrows. The truth is, when I was trying to get a hold of Theo, I would sometimes watch his rides.

“That’ll be the day,” I reply, forcing myself to scan the ring. But my eyes always come back. The helmet over his head doesn’t hide the look of concentration on his face. The way his tongue darts out over his lips as he hunkers down on the bull.

With a swift nod, they tug the gate open and the bull bursts out into the ring, head down to the ground, back hooves up so high they almost kiss the setting sun. My heart thuds loudly enough to rattle my ribs while the crowd around us cheers.

For one brief moment, I hope he falls off. I hope he doesn’t hit the eight seconds. It’s petty and low, but there’s a bitterness in me over the fact he could so easily walk away from me. From her.

But I also don’t much like the idea of my child’s father being a loser. At least I’ll be able to tell her he can ride a bull exceptionally well one day. And that’s something, even if it doesn’t make up for him not being a part of her life.

Theo pushes his broad shoulders back, his hand held high in the air. He comes off perfectly in control, or as in control as you can be on a thousand-pound animal who wants nothing more than to drive you into the dirt, I suppose.

And drive Theo into the dirt he does.

One dropped shoulder, one hard turn, and Theo’s body launches toward the ground like a lawn dart.

I gasp. But so does everyone around us. And when the bull turns to leave, and steps on Theo’s shoulder in the process, there is a chorus of “Ooohs,” but I’m up and moving before I even have time to make a noise.

I hustle past the people seated on the bench, heading straight toward the fence of the arena. Guilt gurgles in my stomach, like I willed this to happen to him. What the fuck kind of doctor am I?

A bitter one.

I ignore the answer and duck through the fence. The rodeo clown draws the bull toward the exit, and it crosses my mind that Vivienne doesn’t need to be left an orphan if that bull decides to turn around.

But all my emergency training kicks in, and I forge ahead anyway. Cowboys surround Theo’s body, including Rhett, who looks distraught.

“Move.” I physically push a man aside and insert myself into the circle of people around Theo. I drop to my knees at his head, noting his still body. My hands cup the sides of his helmet, holding him in place until the paramedics can get here. I lean down over him and see his chest rising and falling, but I need to hear his breath—I need more proof.

The quiet whoosh of air hits my cheek right as his spicy citrus scent hits my nose.

People are too close. Hovering. Pushing in.

“Back up!” I bark sharply.

“It’s okay, she’s a doctor,” I hear Rhett say behind me. “Everybody back it up a bit.”

The press of bodies around us recedes. I hear soft feminine sobs and almost feel the vibration of anxiety around me. When I glance over my shoulder, a girl decked out in rodeo gear has makeup streaming down her face.

She’s weeping.

And all the possibilities of what that means race through my head. I have to remind myself that I was the one-night entertainment. That’s what I asked for, and he probably found someone who wanted more.

I stare down at Theo and am hit with a pang of longing. Not for myself, but for . . . everything we missed. After eighteen months apart, he’s just as beautiful as I remember. Moreso even.

And fuck, he looks so much like Vivienne. It’s almost alarming. How no one has put it together yet is beyond me. It doesn’t take a doctor to see she’s a dead ringer for him.

Without even noticing, the pad of my blissfully bare ring finger has started stroking along the bare skin of his neck. Tan and warm.

And once I notice that I’m doing it, I don’t stop.

“Please be okay,” I murmur under my breath.

And then his eyes open, long dark lashes flicking up to reveal those dark onyx eyes. They take a minute to focus in on me and then a small, confused smile touches his lips.

“Hi, Tink.”


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