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Between Commitment and Betrayal: Chapter 14


SHE STRETCHED my wrist every night for a month after when I was in town.

I’d find her near the weights and have her twist it any which way she thought was necessary that day. After a month of her brand of rehab, though, I felt the tension and discomfort changing in my arm, like she had some magical touch.

Or maybe it was her attitude, the way she didn’t care about anything outside the stretching. She didn’t ask me about football, didn’t care to know how the injury actually happened, and I knew she didn’t give a shit if I ever stepped foot onto the field again. She was the complete opposite of every therapist and coach I’d had questioning the progress.

And I saw why athletes throughout my gym gravitated toward her. She didn’t care about their job nor their status, just about helping them move forward and heal.

I rubbed my wrist thinking about her as I pulled at the collar of the dumb-ass suit I had to wear yet again for another meeting on the top floor.

Dom snickered when he saw me walking in and fell into stride with me. “How’s babysitting your wife coming?”

“Fuck off,” I grumbled.

My brother sobered for a minute. “Carl did want what was best for all of us in some way or another. Don’t think it’s actually best though.”

“I don’t know. Carl had a funny way of getting all the way to the edge of disaster and then turning it into a fucking dream instead.”

“What? Like he did with the HEAT empire?” Dom scoffed. “I loved Carl, Declan, but we worked our asses off to bring it back to life when it was near death. That’s why Carl had us invest.”

“He had great ideas,” I shot back.

He nodded and studied me like he was concerned, his dark eyebrows knitting together as we neared the elevators. “You okay? You were closest to him, even if he was an ass half the time.”

I nodded once. Mourning someone even when they weren’t the best human on the planet was confusing. You mourned them for what they could have been, not what they were. “Gonna miss the old man, but he’s still laughing at us from his grave so I get reminders of him that way instead, right?”

“Right.” Dom dragged out the word before he inquired, “So, you gonna be Everly’s caretaker for the rest of her life?”

The fucker loved to poke and prod. “You want to take her in?” I turned my gaze on him. “You, Dimitri, and Dex got off easy.”

“Did we? What the fuck you two doing over there anyway? You’re acting like her stay is a damn diary entry. Just be honest, that marriage isn’t even fucking that bad.”

My jaw worked as we got to the elevators, and I pressed the button. “Everly and I have to work through some stuff. Probate’s going to last all fucking year at this rate anyway.”

“The lawyers need to speed it along. I can’t continue working on the damn resort on the Pacific Coast until they do.” He grumbled a couple swears under his breath as the elevator doors closed with us in it. “Carl’s will is bullshit on my end. There’s no way to include that damn bakery in it, by the way.”

“Clara’s?” I couldn’t stop from laughing. Dominic had shared that Carl was giving him control of the renovations and design of the Pacific Coast Resort he’d been working on so long as Clara’s bakery would be included.

“Fuck you,” he spit and shoved my shoulder.

I shoved his back. “Come on, the chocolates are very good.” It was my turn to give him hell now.

“Who the fuck cares? She’s got blown glass of every damn color in the world through that whole damn shop, Declan. We have a sleek, world-renowned resort being built, and the design doesn’t allow for whimsical shit.”

We made our way off the elevator and into the conference room to sit down for our first call. We had meeting after meeting scheduled today regarding the shares of the company.

“We’re all dealing with our own hell,” I said as I looked out the glass window of the office. It overlooked the free weight area, and I saw her down there, explaining some stretching technique to Noah.

She bent over, and I found myself glaring as I readjusted myself in my slacks before a ring sounded from the phone. I slammed the answer button harder than I should have and let the lawyers start.

Hour one. Noah stretched his legs and supposed sore ankle with her. That shit was barely a sprain last year.

Hour two. Wes took her to the shake cafe. I contemplated how I could get him back on the field so I could tackle his bitch ass.

Hour three. I’d had enough.

“I’ve got to head to another meeting,” I said, cutting my lawyer off.

“Meeting or woman?” Dom lifted a brow as he chuckled on his way down the hall with me.

“Fuck off. She’s down there with a bunch of boys who can’t keep their dicks to themselves.”

“You sure she wants them to?”

“Carl would have wanted us to keep them in check.” I threw out the best reasoning I had.

“Is that right?” He pushed the elevator down button and waited for my answer.

“We’ve got a lot of nuances in this will that we have to work on together, Dom.”

“I’m sure you do. Work on those instead of the ones between her legs, huh?”

“Watch yourself, brother,” I warned.

He took in my stance for a second before he backed down and sighed. “She’s got some demons, Declan. I don’t know what they are, but I see it when I talk to her and when she lets me spar with her every now and then.”

“What the fuck are you doing sparring with her?”

He chuckled. “What? Am I not allowed to?”

“Go over to your hotel, asshole,” I grumbled as he walked away.

Instead of pacing over to the woman that was driving me insane, I checked the front desk, made another phone call, and tried to curb the fiery jealousy that had built in me. Of course, my phone pinged instead.

Dom: Declan’s about to start the downfall of the Hardy Empire, just making you all aware.

Izzy: What’s going on now? I’m the pregnant sister, keep me out of it.

Dex: You’re like one day pregnant. Be quiet.

Me: Dom’s starting shit for no reason.

Izzy tried to call me immediately. I ignored it. My siblings, all five of them, wanted me to rage. I already knew it.

Lilah: Just leave him alone, you guys. He’s still trying to get accustomed to a boring, regular old life of a retired athlete.

Lilah: That was mean. Sorry, Declan. You’re doing great. Ignore us.

Izzy: Suck up.

Lilah: I have to suck up now. You went and got knocked up with twins immediately after your hubs proposed. You’re the favorite who can now get away with anything even if you eloped without inviting all of us.

Izzy: Oh stop. I’ll have another wedding but we couldn’t help ourselves. Vegas just has that get-married vibe. I’m inviting you to the hospital when I have to push these babies out.

Izzy: …What if they’re just like me and Cade?

Fuck. My baby sister was the one person in the world I’d talk to at the moment, and only because I knew her mind was spinning. So I called her back right away.

“You’re calling me back? What for?”

“Those babies are going to be hell but Cade’s the devil, so he’ll keep them in line,” I reassured her.

“Oh. Big brother’s worried about me. Got it.” She sighed and then chuckled. “I’m fine. Cade says be nice to me though.”

“Tell him to fuck off.”

“He wants to know how the will is treating you and if you need any help yet?”

The man had a way of navigating the world and knowing shit he shouldn’t, so I was a bit concerned he knew what was in it because he’d hacked everything he shouldn’t.

“Tell him to stay out of my business. He knows better.”

“Of course he does,” she singsonged.

“You feeling okay?”

“Yes, no morning sickness yet. I’m sure it will come with twins.” She chuckled. “I can’t believe that I get two. And isn’t it crazy they can get all this genetic information from a blood sample now? Like, they tested them both and they’re looking healthy already.”

“That’s all we want,” I reassured her. “You healthy and the babies. Remind Cade to take care of you.”

“You got it, Dec. And when you figure out that will and the woman in it, make sure you don’t give her too much of a hard time. She seems nice. Plus, since you’re married, you have to treat her like Dad does Mom.”

I winced. So, she found out. “Izzy—” My tone held warning.

“What? I’m not going to tell Mom and Dad. Or Lilah. But obviously our brothers know and they weren’t going to last long keeping it a secret from me. Plus, I just hacked the court system to see. Anyway, remember what I said. She’s your wife now. Treat her like it.”

Then she hung up.


Of course they knew. My family spread news like a virus, and I couldn’t even worry about it because my wife laughed across the gym at something her fuckboy boyfriend said.

She was meticulously laying out weights to use while everyone else stood around and stared at her ass.

She hummed around with light yoga leggings and sports bra that showed off her tan skin and curves in a way I didn’t want them to. I contemplated if Wes’s jersey would have been better draped over her rather than everyone’s eyes on that ass. The ass I knew I could redden in seconds if she’d let me.

Four sets of everything. She was thorough when she lifted, rehabbed, even when she stretched during a cool down.

No bigger than a damn fairy, yet she still got it done. Tonight, she managed to deadlift more than most of the women in the facility. Rotating between legs, arms, back, chest, and abs, she pushed her body to the limit. I knew after the bench press she’d go to trap pulls, and that she never asked for anyone to spot her.

Yet, never once was she without a spotter.

Po or Noah or fucking Wes were always there, swarming like ants around sweet sugar.

Quite frankly, they weren’t the only ones.

Men and women loved her. I even saw Clara walking over. She must have closed the bakery for the day and wanted to catch up with Everly. Clara was sweet that way when Anastasia wasn’t around.

Or maybe she was addicted to Everly like the rest of us, because Everly had that quiet magnetism that pulled people to her like moths to a flame. And she was always helping everyone. Juna barely covered the front desk when Everly was in because Everly would go up and watch for her every time she had a minute so Juna could read the latest gossip on her phone.

“Two more reps and you’re at twenty,” Po said from above her as she pushed the barbell up a bit shakier than the last.

If I were a better man, I would have been working out myself, not watching them.

Instead, I watched the woman I was technically married to get a spot from a guy I respected but didn’t give a shit about.

“Po! You think you can just take care of my girl because I’m not around?” Wes yelled across the gym while he finished a pull-up, a smile across his face as he claimed something that was actually mine.

My wife.

Even if no one knew it.

“Everly.” My voice cut through the weights clanking, the music, and the TVs going in my gym. Women and men looked over. Wes’s gaze locked on mine before he reached Everly’s side.

One last push with Po standing over her, and she finished the set, pulled herself up from the bar, and smiled brilliantly at all of us. “I did it!”

I glanced back at the bar and then her, sitting there vibrating with energy from completing a set.

“It’s more than I’ve lifted ever.” She clapped her hands together and bounced on the bench with more enthusiasm than I usually witnessed from her.

Po patted her head and then shook it a bit, messing her curls up. “You’re killing it, Evie.”

“It might be because I have a great spotter.”

“He’s no better than me,” Wes grumbled.

“Wes,” Clara chastised like she was a mother hen trying to keep all us idiots in line. She probably was the better one of our group, but that wasn’t saying much. “Great job, Evie.”

“Glad we could celebrate a rep together, everyone.” My voice held menace. “Now, Everly, can we get rehab started before we leave for the night?”

Clara narrowed her eyes at me. “How’s having Everly in the guesthouse?”

“Great.” I punctuated the word fast, probably too fast because I didn’t want to give anyone an opportunity.

“You’re staying at Dec’s?” Po asked scratching his head as if something didn’t add up. “I saw a news article on that shit but didn’t believe it.”

“She’s staying there.” Clara patted down her violet dress and offered, “But you can always stay with us back at our guesthouse if you want, you know, Evie? You’re always welcome.”

Everly’s blue eyes bounced between all of us. I could see her mind whirring so fast, I was surprised smoke wasn’t coming out of her ears. She hated not having every scenario mapped out in her head.

“She’s fine at my guesthouse. It has more than enough room while we get everything ironed out through probate.”

“Damn.” Po murmured, “Carl must have left a hell of a will, huh?”

Evie’s gaze flew to mine. Was she nervous I’d confirm or deny? I’d given her my word.

Wes agreed. “I’m having a hard time knowing Evie’s anywhere but at my place at night.”

This was supposed to be my sanctuary, my gym, the place I felt most at ease. Yet, Wes’s words caused my stomach to coil with jealousy, green and twisted.

Everly tsked. “Wes, most nights you’re busy anyway.”

So, she’d been trying to go over there?


“Everly, if we’re stretching my wrist, we’re doing it now.”

She cleared her throat. “I have one more set.”

Clara must have felt the tension because she said, “Come to my bakery tomorrow, Evie. Let’s catch up. I’ll make biscuits.”

Everly nodded and waved as Clara walked away. Then, she totally disregarded my request to start rehab and moved to the pull-up bar as Wes walked up behind her.

“I’ll help you with it after rehab, Everly.”

She turned to stare at me and tilted her head. I held her gaze, her blue eyes warring with mine. She wanted me to back off, and my ass wasn’t going to today. I’d been pushed too far watching her for hours.

Po meandered over and tried to interject. “Let’s get this one last set done. Evie’s been trying to do ten pull-ups now for a couple weeks. I think you got it in you this time, kid.”

“Po,” I murmured soft, but it seemed the whole gym heard. “Go home.”

Cracking his knuckles, he maybe considered the fight, but after a second, he backed off and nudged Noah. “Evie, holler if you need us.”

Wes took another step toward her though. “My girl wants a spot, I’m going to spot, Declan.”

“Your girl, huh?”

“Declan,” Everly stepped between us. “Remember what we talked about?”

I didn’t look down at her. I held her asshole of a boyfriend’s gaze until he remembered where he was. So he understood this empire was mine. “Wes, I got your girl for the next hour. She’s rehabbing my wrist.”

He glanced down at it and smiled like he remembered exactly what had happened. “Benson got you good that day.”

“That he did.” I shrugged, trying to curtail my rage. “And still, somehow, that season I went home with another ring, huh?”

“Fuck you, Declan,” he growled before he walked off.

“Seriously?” Everly crossed her arms over the tits I needed to not be looking at anyway. Then she whisper-yelled, “What is it with you two?”

“You need to break things off with him,” I snapped without even an explanation.

“Wes and I aren’t even exclusive. There’s nothing to break up.” She threw out her hands. “Honestly, I’m not getting into this with you because we’ve set these boundaries already.”

“Have we?” It’d been two months since I’d fucked her on the hood of my car, since I knew on paper she was my wife, and since I discovered my dick fit perfectly in her sweet pussy. I couldn’t see past the muddled waters to whatever boundary she spoke of.

We were climbing toward something, like walking up steps on one side of a cliff where I’d bungee jump off of. I was anticipating the fall, seeking the adrenaline rush that was Everly Belafonte.

She had to feel it too.

She stalked over to the elastic bands and pointed to my wrist. “This is all we’re discussing tonight.”

I narrowed my eyes, but I’d already pulled up the gym’s schedule and pushed closing time up an hour. I heard murmurs and groans as I updated it.

“Damn, Dec. Total closedown?” a man threw out.

I shrugged, and Everly immediately twisted her arm to look at her own HEAT watch. “Why are you closing? We still have your stretching and the night crew.”

“I’d like the gym to myself for an hour,” I told her without giving any indication as to why. Everyone knew I never closed down early.

But I was ready to fuck with all our boundaries now.

The staff around us worked quickly as closing time hit. “Should we go?” she asked softly as she put pressure on my wrist and had me bend it upward toward my body as I pulled the elastic that was restrained by my foot.

“No.” I was sweating bullets by the time we were done. “Everyone else is leaving. We’re staying.”


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