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Between Commitment and Betrayal: Chapter 13


WE MANAGED to stay off everyone’s radar the first month and a half, aside from the whispers.

Everly was quiet, insanely organized, and a creature of habit. I’d seen it time and time again since she’d started working at the gym.

She threw her coffee in the same trash as she walked in, wore her watch on the same wrist, even had designated colors for most every day of the week. Red on Mondays, white on Tuesdays, and on Wednesdays, she wore royal blue, my favorite because the color set off her eyes. I was happy to see some of the athleisure I’d sent over made it into her rotation too, although I wasn’t sure about the lingerie.

Yet, my dumb ass was still thinking of trying to find out.

Every day she let me drive her to the gym, unless I wasn’t going into work or was heading out of town. She’d then let Peter take her in. And she never wanted breakfast at my place, even though I’d invited her. So we’d idle outside her place until she was ready.

Every day, we were cordial. Friendly.

Our tax status was the only thing between us for a whole damn month. Until, on a royal-blue Wednesday, she burst into my office while I was on a call, wringing her hands as she realized what she’d done. I lifted a brow and told the person on the line to wait. “There a problem out there, Drop?”

“You installed pop tabs for the kids to collect. You gave them something to work toward.” She whispered out, “You’re on a call. Sorry to burst in—”

“Reschedule my meeting,” I ordered into the phone, holding her shimmering gaze as I clicked it off.

“No, it’s fine. I—” She twisted the necklaces on her collarbone, worried now that I was giving her all my attention.

“Everly,” I tapped my desk and then smirked up at her. “You know in a marriage, the spouse comes first. Technically, my wife comes first. You have something you need to discuss, I’ll push a meeting.”

“Declan,” she whisper-yelled my name, then glanced quickly behind her before closing the door. “That’s not a funny joke. Don’t talk like that at work, or publicly anywhere.”

“I wasn’t joking. You are my wife.” She was also the person I wanted to talk to in that moment more than anyone else. I was going to give her my attention whether she wanted it or not.

She sighed and shook those waves back and forth before she continued, “The kids are so freaking excited. And having the signs that allow for the clients to donate too is really going to be so much help.”

I’d taken her advice and discussed charities with my brothers. We looked up a couple of the schools Everly was working with for yoga courses and found some of them didn’t have avid gym curriculum or the finances to bring in more teachers and aid. So, we were funding it and helping the kids in the community.

It wasn’t something to thank me for. “We needed to be doing more. I wasn’t aware that Carl hadn’t restructured some of our finances to allow for this.”

She combed a hand through her massive waves of caramel and brunette before she grabbed at her wrist and huffed when she realized she didn’t have a rubber band to tie it up. It was the one thing she seemed to forget half the time. “Don’t downplay it. They … You made their day. And mine.” She walked around the desk, bent over, and kissed my cheek.

Were we in fucking high school?

I grabbed her neck and pulled her close to take her lips and mine. She smelled like ocean and sweat and sweet coconut. I growled and spread my legs, let my hands drift down her neck, down her arms, down to her waist to grab hold of her ass. Her hands threaded in my hair as she pulled me closer still, like she was starved for me too. But just as I brushed a thumb on her bare thigh, she stepped back fast, gasping for air. “I didn’t come by for this.” Her sapphire eyes dragged over my body as she licked her lips. “I just needed to say thank you.”

“Thank me on my fucking desk, Drop,” I growled.

She tsked but I saw the small smile as she turned around and left.

Finding that I wanted to make my fake wife happy was a damn problem. Because the rest of the day, I walked around like a dumbass with a bright smile on my face.

Dom elbowed me during our last meeting and ground out, “Get your mind off whatever the fuck you’re thinking about and pay attention. If you want the press focused on our new sponsorship, you better nail this meeting or they’ll be focused on some other shit.”

His words killed my mood.

The press was always circling, always waiting for their next target, and I didn’t want our marriage to be it. Not when things were going just fine.

THE NEXT WEEK, I idled in front of her house, deciding to take the Bugatti because Peter was off.

Right on time, she came out in the white she always wore on Tuesday.

We were silent on the car ride like we had nothing to say. Or maybe it was we had too much to say; so much that we didn’t know where to start.

Small talk was easy though. “What did you have for breakfast?” She grumbled something over her coffee. The woman hated discussing anything before she’d downed the whole cup. “What?”

“I don’t eat breakfast in the morning.” She slouched down in her seat like she wanted me to disappear so she could enjoy the silence.

I turned onto the highway instead of going straight to work.

“What are you doing?” she grumbled.

I didn’t answer, just veered off the first exit and pulled up to a small drive-thru coffee stand. “What do you want to eat?”

“Nothing,” she pouted. Like I was inconveniencing her.

Great. So I ordered just about everything on the menu.

“Are you that hungry?” she questioned, her brows furrowed. “Don’t you eat at home?”

“I do.” I nodded and pulled around to collect the food and pay.

“Oh, Mr. Hardy! We thought it was you in the camera.” A young guy stared in the window and a few others peeked around him. “No need to pay. I watched the Super Bowl last year. Huge fan. How’s your wrist been? Can’t believe they didn’t fine more of those guys—”

“Great.” I wiggled it in front of him. “Good as new.”

Someone snapped a photo. “Can I have an autograph?”

I tried to suppress the sigh. I took her pen and signed a book she had on her. Then, someone shoved their phone. “Just sign the back please.”

I signed five more things before I pointed toward the gym. “Have to get to work.”

They all waved goodbye as I pulled away quickly.

“Here.” I handed her the bag of food.

“For me?” she whispered, and when I glanced over, there was a frown on her face.

“You work out hard. Enjoy some food before you do.”

“Is it like that most places you go?” she asked as she looked in the bag.

“Most places that aren’t HEAT owned.”

She hummed without giving much away, like she was digesting what I said. “I think today I finally want to know … What happened to your wrist?”

“Happened during the sport you don’t watch,” I mumbled, not caring to talk about it.

“Want to share?” She pried a bit more as she took a crescent roll out of the bag.

I should have asked her what happened to the past staying in the past. Yet, I didn’t want to. I was going to pry one day, step over the boundaries and break the rules where I could with her. I already knew it.

I admitted what I pretty much allowed anyone to admit around me. We didn’t talk about my wrist within the HEAT brand. It was something everyone knew I wouldn’t dwell on and they shouldn’t either. “Got hit wrong in a preseason game.”

“By more than one guy?”

I nodded and ground my teeth together without giving further details.

“You should rehab it.” She took a bite and moaned. “I could help.”

“I’m done playing ball, Everly. And I was able to play the rest of the season once it was healed.”

“So, you didn’t give it much time to heal then?” she challenged.

“I have ninety percent of function back and don’t want surgery.”

“I could get you to one hundred percent with stretching,” she said with brighter eyes than she’d had a second ago.

“That crescent roll going to your head and giving you energy already?”

“It is pretty good. You want one?” She dug another out of the bag.

“Nope. I had breakfast.”

“So what? This whole bag is for me?” She shook it and the brown paper crinkled in her grip. “I can’t eat all this.”

“You didn’t tell me what you wanted. How was I supposed to know? Next time tell me so I won’t have to order the whole restaurant.”

“That’s when you guess and buy one thing.”

“Everly, my wife gets what she wants, and if I don’t know what that is, I just get everything.”

Her sapphire eyes widened at my comment. She wasn’t sure how to respond. I saw her cheeks flush and how she wiggled in my leather seat.

Flustering Everly would be something I was going to enjoy doing for the year to come. I already knew it.

“You need to stop with the wife stuff. Even as a joke.” She wrinkled her nose. “Just call me Evie like everybody else.” She enunciated it like I didn’t know already she wanted that.

“I don’t call you that,” I pointed out and glanced in my rearview mirror to see an SUV following me.

“Everyone does though.”

“Well, your husband doesn’t,” I shot back because I didn’t want to be like “everyone” to her. I maneuvered into another lane and they did the same.

Her long lashes fell over her cheeks as she breathed out. “Declan, you’re trying to frustrate me. We both know this is going to be difficult as it is. I don’t need you throwing around wife and husband in private.” Then she saw me glance behind us. “Is someone following us?”

“Might be a pap or two.”

She immediately tensed, her whole body going ramrod straight. “Honestly, I’m not even sure why I’m going to work with you when I can Uber. This isn’t good for either of us.”

“It is,” I countered. “Gives us time to talk.”

“Could give the public something to talk about.”

I shook my head, not wanting anyone to destroy the small relationship we were building. “People expect this. The magazines are already printing that we’ve become close. Haven’t you read—”

“No.” She said it fast, hard, full of determination. Then she glanced at me, her sapphire eyes vulnerable. “I’m not good with media. I hate it. I told you that. So, if they’re going to write about us, I’d rather not know.”

“The media is going to write about us at some point, Everly.”

“Okay.” She obviously didn’t want it to be true.

I hated to offer, but I had to. “You can talk with Piper if you’d like.”

“I’d rather not.” She picked at the corner of the paper bag.

I took a deep breath, knowing that I needed more time with her, knowing we’d need a reason to be closer. “Look, I’ll have you work on my wrist.”

“You will?” Her eyes lit up, and she zeroed in on it. “Really?”

I grumbled, “My wrist doesn’t need it, but it’ll show everyone we’ve become friends and will lead to less questioning when I drive you home from work. Last appointment of your day, keep free for me.”

“Oh.” She frowned before taking a large drink of her coffee and then taking a bite of her crescent roll. “Sounds good.”


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