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The plane touches down at the Calgary airport, and I’m relieved to be home.
Especially after the clusterfuck that was the last couple of days.
The guy I punched isn’t pressing charges, but I’m not sure how much money my agent, Kip, offered him to make that happen. It doesn’t matter. If anyone can make this all go away, it’s Kip.
He’s been trying to call me, which is a clue he’s losing his mind because we have more of a texting relationship. Which is why when I power my phone up before I’m supposed to, I’m not surprised to see his name lighting up my screen.
I haven’t responded since I don’t feel like hearing him yell at me right now. My desire is to conceal myself. I desire solitude. Birds. A hot shower. Some Tylenol. And a date with my hand to ease some tension.
Not necessarily in that order.
That’s what I need to get my head back in the game. A quiet break at home while this blows over. The older I get, the longer the season seems, and somehow, at only thirty-two years old, I feel old as balls.
My body hurts, my mind is overfull, and I’m craving the quiet of my family ranch. Sure, my brothers are going to annoy the fuck out of me, and my dad is going to talk to me about when I’m planning on quitting, but that’s family. That’s home.
I suppose there’s a reason us boys keep coming back. We’re co- dependent in a way our little sister isn’t. She took one look at a bunch of grown-ass men living on a farm together and got the hell outta dodge.
I make a mental note to call Violet and check up on her all the same.
My head tips back against the cramped seat while the plane rolls to a stop on the runway. “Welcome to beautiful Calgary, Alberta.” The cabin fills with the flight attendant’s voice and the loud clicking of people undoing their seatbelts before they’re supposed to.
I follow suit. Eager to get out of the small seat and stretch my limbs. “If Calgary is home for you, welcome home . . .”
You’d think that after over a decade of playing this game, I’d be better at booking my flights and hotels. Instead, I’m constantly scrambling to grab a last-minute spot, which suits me just fine. Even though I’m feeling a little claustrophobic.
When the person beside me files out into the aisle, a sigh of relief whooshes from my lungs. I can’t let myself sink into that intense tiredness yet. I still have to grab my truck and drive an hour outside the city to Chestnut Springs.
“Please remember that smoking is not permitted inside the terminal. . .”
And before that, I have to go meet with my pit bull of an agent. He’s been barking at me since last night about not answering my phone.
Now, I’m going to have to face the music for my poor behavior.
I groan inwardly as I reach up to grab my duffel bag from the overhead compartment.
Kip Hamilton is the man I have to thank for my current financial situation. Truth be told, I like him a lot. He’s been with me for ten years, and I almost consider him a friend. I also dream about punching his clean- shaven face pretty regularly. A double-edged sword, that one.
He reminds me of an older, more debonaire version of Ari Gold from
Entourage, and I fucking love that show.
“Thank you for flying Air Acadia. We look forward to hosting you again.”
The line of people finally starts to move toward the exit, and I shuffle toward the aisle of the plane, only to feel a firm poke in the middle of my chest.
When I peer down the bridge of my nose, I’m met with furious blue eyes and a pinched brow on a short frame. A woman well into her sixties glares up at me.
“You should be ashamed of yourself. Insulting your roots that way. Insulting us all who work so hard to put food on the tables of our fellow Canadians. And then assaulting a man. How dare you?”
This part of the country prides itself on farming and rural life. Calgary is home to one of the biggest rodeos in the world. Hell, some people call the city Cowtown for how tightly tied the ranching and farming community is to the city.
I grew up on a massive cattle ranch, I should know. I just never knew not liking milk was a crime.
But I give her a solemn nod anyhow. “No insult intended, ma’am. We both know the farming community is the backbone of our fine province.”
She holds my eyes as she rolls her shoulders back and sniffs a little. “You’d do well to remember that, Rhett Eaton.”
All I offer back is a tight smile. “Of course,” I say, and then I trudge through the airport with my head down. Hoping to avoid any more run-ins with offended fans.
The interaction sticks with me throughout baggage claim and out to my pickup truck. I don’t feel bad about punching that guy—he deserved it—but a spark of guilt flicks in my chest for potentially hurting my hard-working fans. That’s something I hadn’t considered. Instead, I’ve spent the last several days rolling my eyes over my milk hatred making the news.
When my vintage truck comes into view in the covered parking garage, I breathe out a sigh of relief. Is it a practical vehicle? Maybe not. But my mom gave it to my dad as a gift, and I love it for that alone. Even though it’s currently got rust spots and is painted with mismatched grays.
I have big plans for having it restored. A treat to myself. I want to paint it blue.
I don’t remember my mom, but in pictures her eyes were a steely color, and that’s what I want. A little nod to the woman I never really got to know.
Just need to find the time first.
Bag in hand, I hop into my truck. Cracked brown leather seats creaking slightly as I heave my tired body into place behind the wheel. It fires up to life, billowing a bit of dark exhaust as I pull out onto the freeway, heading straight to the city center. My eyes are on the road, but my head is somewhere else.
When my phone rings I take my eyes off the road only momentarily. I see my sister’s name flashing on the screen and can’t help but smile. Violet never fails to make me smile, even when everything around me is total shit. She’s calling me before I even had the chance to dial her.
Stopped at a red light, I slide the button to answer and tap for speaker phone. This truck definitely isn’t equipped with Bluetooth.
“Hey, Vi,” I answer, almost shouting to project my voice at the phone on the seat next to me.
“Hi.” Her voice overflows with concern. “How are you holding up?”
“Fine, I guess. Heading in to Kip’s office right now to find out what sort of damage I’ve done.”
“Yeah. Get ready. He’s worked up,” she mutters. “How do you know?”
“I’m your emergency contact on file. He’s been blowing up my phone about you ignoring him.” Now she’s laughing. “I don’t even live there anymore. You need to update that.”
I smirk as I merge onto the highway. “Yeah, but you’re the only one who approves of my career and won’t show up to lecture me about quitting if something goes wrong. Basically, you’re stuck with the job.”
“So, I’ll have to leave my husband and kids to hop on a plane and sit at a hospital with you?”
Now that takes me back. Every time I got hurt as a teenager or young adult, it was Violet who took care of me. “You’re just so good at it. But fair point. I think Cole might kill me if I take you away from him.”
I’m poking fun. I like her husband a lot, which is saying something because I never thought she’d meet someone good enough for her. But Cole is. He’s also ex-military and kind of terrifying. I wouldn’t want to piss him off.
My sister just giggles now. Still fucking giddy over the guy, and I couldn’t be happier for her. “He would be fine. I could send him out your way if you need a bodyguard?”
“And leave his girls behind? He would never.”
She doesn’t laugh now. Instead, she makes a quiet grunting noise. “You know if you need me, I’m there, right? I know the others don’t understand. But I do. I can be there for you if you need it.”
And this is the thing with my little sister. She gets me. She’s a bit of a daredevil herself. She doesn’t condemn my career the way the rest of our family does. But she has her own life now. I don’t need her coddling me. She’s got her own kids to coddle.
“I’m good, Vi. Come for a visit with the whole family soon though, yeah? Or at the end of the season, I’ll drag my sorry ass out to you. Race you on a fancy racehorse. Kick your ass.” I try to joke, but I’m not sure my tone is all that convincing.
“Yeah,” she replies. And I swear I can see her chewing on her lip the way she does, about to say something but stopping herself. “I’ll probably just let you win because I feel so bad for you.”
“Hey. A win is a win,” I chuckle, trying to lighten the mood.
And all she responds with is, “I love you, Rhett. Be safe. But more than that, be yourself. You’re very loveable when you stay true to who you are.”
She’s always reminding me of this. To be Rhett Eaton, boy from a small town. Not Rhett Eaton, cocky bull rider extraordinaire.
I usually roll my eyes, but deep down, I know it’s good advice. One is the real me, the other is for show.
The problem is, not very many people know the real me anymore.
“Love you too, sis,” I say before hanging up and getting lost in my head as I cruise down the highway toward the city.
When I pull up at Hamilton Elite and nab an unusual street parking spot, I realize I’ve been so lost in my thoughts that I barely remember the drive. I tip my head back against the seat. Again. And take a deep breath. It’s hard to say for sure how much trouble I’m in, but based on how that woman scolded me publicly on the airplane, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess a fair bit of hot water.
But I know the people in this area. They’re hard-working. They’re proud. And they’ve got a chip on their shoulders from thinking that people from other walks of life don’t understand their struggle.
And maybe they’re right. Maybe the average Canadian doesn’t truly understand the backbreaking work that goes into farming. Into stocking our grocery store shelves.
But me? I do.
I just fucking hate milk. The whole thing is so bizarre that it’s almost funny.
I walk into the opulent building. Everything is shiny. The floor. The windows. The stainless-steel elevator doors. It makes me want to go smudge my hands all over them just to mess things up.
The security guard gives me a nod on the way past, and I step into the elevator with a bunch of well-dressed people. I roll my lips together to smother the smirk when one woman glares at me with barely restrained judgment.
Worn cowboy boots. Wouldn’t surprise me if there was still cow shit on the sole. Perfectly broken-in jeans topped off with a brown shearling jacket. My hair is long, just how I like it.
Wild and unruly. Just like me.
But not how this woman likes it. In fact, the repulsion painted on her face is clear as day.
So, I wink at her and give her a way over the top, “Howdy, ma’am.” Alberta boys don’t have twangy accents, but when you spend your life at rodeos with guys who do, it’s pretty easy to imitate. I only wish I had a cowboy hat with me to complete the picture.
The woman rolls her eyes and then jams a finger at the button that reads CLOSE DOOR. The next time the doors glide open, she storms through them without a backwards glance.
I’m still chuckling about it when I get to the floor that is home to Hamilton Elite, and based on the way the receptionist’s eyes light when I walk in, she doesn’t share the elevator woman’s perception of me.
Truthfully, most women don’t. Buckle bunnies, city girls, country girls. I’ve always been equal-opportunity, and I do love women. Less so relationships.
A walk on the wild side is what one woman recently called me after we spent a full day locked up in a hotel room celebrating my win in a way that was fun in the moment but left me feeling a little hollow at the end.
“Rhett!” Kip’s voice booms across the foyer before I even have a chance to chat up the girl at the front desk.
Total cock blocker.
“Thanks for coming straight here.” He strides toward me and shoves a hand in my direction before shaking mine so hard that it’s almost painful. This handshake is his way of taking out some aggression on me for whatever pickle I’ve gotten myself into. The fake, pinched smile on his face is proof of that. The owner of this agency doesn’t make a habit of greeting his clients at reception, which means I’ve definitely stepped in it.
“Not a problem, Kip. I pay you the big bucks so that you can boss me around, right?”
We both laugh, but we also both know I just reminded him I’m the one paying him here. Not the other way around.
He claps me on the back, and my teeth shake. He’s a big man. “Follow me. Let’s chat in the conference room. Congratulations on your win this weekend. You’re going on quite the streak this year.”
I have no business winning as many events as I have been this season at my age. I should be on the downhill slide of my career, but the stars are aligning right now. And Three-Time World Champion sounds a lot better than Two-Time World Champion. And three gold buckles on my shelf would look better than two.
“Sometimes the stars align.” I grin at him as he ushers me into a room that holds a long table surrounded by generic-looking black office chairs with a generic-looking man sitting in one. Brownish, close-cut hair. Brownish eyes. Gray suit. Bored expression. Manicured nails. Soft hands. City boy.
Next to him is a woman who is anything but generic. Deep brown hair that shines an almost mahogany color when the sun hits where it’s twisted into a tight bun on the crown of her head. Her black-rimmed glasses are a smidge too strong on her dainty, doll-like face, but her almost over-full lips painted a deep, warm pink somehow balance them out.
The ivory dress shirt she’s wearing buttons all the way up, lace trim wrapped tight around her throat. There’s a slightly bemused twist to her mouth, but her arms are crossed protectively across her chest and sparkling chocolate eyes give nothing away as she sizes me up from above the top rim of her glasses.
I know better than to judge a book by its cover. But the word uptight
flits across my mind while I assess her all the same.
“Take a seat, Rhett.” Kip pulls out a chair directly across from the woman and smoothly folds himself into the seat beside me before steepling his fingers beneath his chin.
I flop down and push away from the table, crossing a booted foot over my knee. “Alright. Give me my spanking so I can go home, Kip. I’m tired.” My agent quirks a brow and regards me carefully. “I don’t need to give you a spanking. You’ve officially lost the Dairy King sponsorship, and I
think that’s probably bad enough.”
I rear back, and my neck flushes. That same sensation of getting in trouble as a child. Missed curfew. Jumped off the bridge with the big kids when I wasn’t supposed to. Trespassed on the Jansens’ farm. There was always something. I was never not in trouble. But this is different. This isn’t childhood fun and games. This is my livelihood. “You have to be kidding me.”
“I wouldn’t kid about this, Rhett.” His lips flatten, and he shrugs. The look says I’m not mad, I’m disappointed. And I hate that distinction, because deep down, I hate failing people. When they’re mad, it means they care about you. They want better for you. They know you’re capable of better. When they’re indifferent like this, it’s almost like they expected you to blow it.
It’s why I’ve always said I don’t care what people think of me. Then they don’t have the power to make me feel like this—clearly, it’s not working.
I shift in my seat, eyes darting to the two other people in the room. The guy has the good sense to look down at the papers in front of himself.
But the woman holds my gaze. That same unflinching look on her face.
And somehow, I just know she’s judging me.
My hand swipes across my mouth as I clear my throat. “Well, how do we get them back?”
Kip leans back with a deep sigh, fingers tapping against the armrests of the chair he’s in. “I’m not sure we can. In fact, I think we might be doing damage control more than anything. Hoping other sponsors don’t jump ship. Wrangler. Ariat. These are all companies who know their clientele. And their clientele are the people you’ve pissed off. Not to mention, punching a man with a camera rolling is a PR nightmare.”
My eyes find the ceiling as I tip my head back and swallow audibly. “Who knew not liking milk was a crime? And that guy deserved to have his
The woman across from me huffs out a small scoff, and my eyes slide over to hers. Again, she doesn’t look away. The fuck is she staring at?
She just smirks. Like me blowing a multimillion-dollar sponsorship is funny to her. I’m exhausted. I’m sore. My patience is beyond fried. But I’m a gentleman, so I rub my tongue along the front of my teeth and turn my focus back to Kip.
“If that camera hadn’t been filming, it would have been fine. But don’t let anyone hear you talking that way about assaulting someone. I worked my ass off to keep that fucker from pressing charges.”
I roll my eyes. I’m pretty sure worked my ass off is code for spent a bunch of my hard-earned money to shut the guy up. “Why was the camera even rolling? Was it intentional?”
The older man sighs and shakes his head. “It doesn’t really matter, does it? The damage is done.”
“Fuck.” I groan and let my eyes drift shut for a moment as I roll my shoulders, taking stock of how painful the right one is. The way I landed on that last ride was not ideal. Rookie dismount.
“So, I have a plan.”
I peer back at Kip through the slits of my eyes. “I already hate it.”
He laughs. And smiles. Because that fucker knows he has me over a barrel. We both know my days are numbered, and I’ve made the mistake of telling him my family needs more money to maintain the ranch long-term. I’ll take what I need to live comfortably somewhere on our land and then work with my older brother, Cade, to keep Wishing Well Ranch up and running.
That’s what you do for family. Whatever it takes. “That’s fine. We both know you’ll do it anyway.” I glare at him. What a dick.
He gestures across the table. “This is Summer. She’s new on the team.
Has been an intern here for several years. She’s also your new shadow.”
My brows scrunch up along with my nose. Because this plan already smells like shit. “Elaborate.”
“For the next two months, through the end of the World Championships in Las Vegas, she will work as your assistant. A media liaison. Someone who understands public perception and can help you polish your image. You two will discuss and come up with a plan. And then she’ll consult with
me so that I don’t strangle you for being such a colossal cocksucker. I’m sure she’d be open to helping with any other administrative work you might need as well. Mostly, though, she’ll be there to watch and keep you out of trouble.”
I glance at the woman, and she nods, not seeming alarmed by this suggestion at all.
“Now I know you’re kidding. Because there’s no way you’d assign a man my age a glorified babysitter. That’s just insulting, Kip.”
I want him to burst out laughing and tell me this is his idea of pulling my leg.
But he doesn’t. He just stares back at me, like the woman, giving my brain time to catch up to what he’s already decided for me.
“The fuck outta here.” I laugh in disbelief as I sit up straighter to glance around the room for some proof that this is a really excellent and hilarious joke. Something my brothers would pull on me for sure.
But the only thing I get is more silence.
This is not a drill, not a joke. This is a fucking nightmare.
“No, thanks. I’ll take that guy.” I point at the other dude. The one who can’t even look me in the eye. He’ll be perfect for me to pretend he doesn’t exist. Not the uptight ball-buster who stares at me like I’m a dumb hick.
Kip steeples his hands again and crosses his legs. “No.”
“No?” I sound incredulous. “I pay you, not the other way around.”
“Then find someone else who will fix this shitstorm better than I can.
It’s only the future of your family farm on the line.”
Heat slashes across my cheeks, barely hidden by the stubble there. And for once, I’m speechless. Utterly speechless. My jaw pops under the pressure of grinding my teeth against each other.
Milk. Taken down by fucking milk.
A piece of plain white paper slides in front of me from across the table. Nude polished fingernails tap on it twice. Prissy. “Write your address here, please.”
“My address?” My gaze shoots up to meet hers.
“Yes. The place where you live.” I swear her cheek twitches. It’s fucking rude.
My head swivels to Kip. “Why am I giving this girl my address again?” He smiles and reaches forward to clap me on the shoulder. “You’re not
Peter Pan, Rhett. You won’t be losing your shadow. Not for the next two
My mind reels. He can’t mean . . . “Where you go, she goes.”
Kip gives me a vicious smile, not the one he gave me when I walked in the room. No, this one is full of warning. “And Eaton, that girl is my daughter. My princess. So, mind your goddamn manners, keep your hands to yourself, and stay the hell out of trouble, yeah?”
The snarky princess is supposed to live at the ranch with me? Good God, this is so much worse than I imagined.
My weekend has been on a downhill spiral ever since that fucking video, and when I storm out of the shiny office, it doesn’t get any better because I forgot to plug the meter on that great parking spot I got. You can read the complete Flawless Elsie Silver Novel on our online PDF Reader by click on the link Flawless Elsie Silver Book PDF Read Online Free.
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