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Between Commitment and Betrayal: Chapter 20


THE REST of the afternoon and into the night, I did the same damn thing I’d done the night before.

I watched her lights.

Tried to work.

And miserably failed.

I even ended up pushing myself harder in the gym than I intended to.

I’d looked forward to getting her in my car the next morning and having a talk with her on our way to work. Yet, when the sun rose, I was ambushed by Anastasia and Melinda at the crack of dawn, both of them doing exactly what Clara said they would.


They stopped over with baked goods, like the woman cooked at all. The two of them were vicious in trying to figure out what was going on between Everly and me.

“Declan, you don’t have to keep her in the guesthouse. Send her home. Carl wouldn’t have cared. He’d done enough for her. Obviously, he didn’t leave her money for an apartment.” She stated it almost as a question, like she wanted to know the stipulations of the will. “I know Carl trusted you and your brothers most. And I know you’re always going to take care of us. But,” Melinda sighed, “she’s not one of us, Declan. She’s not even a Milton. We all took his name, she didn’t.”

Melinda was happy owning most of the spas in the HEAT empire and having us handle the business. She didn’t care to worry about anything other than her social status.

“She’s as much Carl’s daughter as Anastasia or Clara, Mrs. Milton. I wouldn’t turn my back on her even if she—”

The woman laughed and patted her coiffed hair, full of hairspray. “She’s not. Carl didn’t raise her.” Melinda cut me off. “I made sure of it. He didn’t go back to see her because his holidays were to be spent with us, and her mother never took one child support payment from him. They had separate lives, and she doesn’t understand this one. She’s lived in poverty most of her life, probably.”

Anastasia put the pie she’d brought over in the fridge and started searching through my cabinets for a glass. “Oh gosh, can you imagine how she must feel here?”

Her mother chuckled. “Like she’s won the lottery, I suppose.” Then she pointed to Anastasia’s glass. “Get me some water, too, would you honey?”

Anastasia flounced back over to the cabinet she’d found my glasses in and grabbed another in that pink floral dress that screamed she was trying too hard. “Declan, would you like one?”

“No.” I cleared my throat. “Look, Everly is going to stay here as long as—”

“I wanted to discuss that with you because one or two paps have written about it. It’s not big news yet but we need her to go home, Declan. It’s not a good look for any of us, honestly. I mean, what if her mother comes to visit?”

So what if she did? Jesus Christ. Dealing with them without Carl as a buffer was much harder than I anticipated.

“Oh, Piper wants us to get together for dinner, by the way.” Anastasia didn’t care at all about Everly’s mom. “She said she’ll be needing to come here more often considering the PR shitstorm—”

“Language, Anastasia.” Melinda chastised but she was smirking at her daughter. “It is quite a terrible conundrum to have this woman left hanging on us though. I’m wondering if there’s a way to get her out of HEAT Health and Fitness without it backfiring on us. It’s a member-exclusive club, and she’s—”

“She’s a great employee, ladies.” I tried to quell their bullshit and have them leave without arguing.

“Declan.” That quiet voice, so soft and smooth I dreamed about it in my sleep. Yet, my heart fucking froze when I heard it then.

Everly didn’t come to my house. She’d never come before. “Everly?”

“Sorry.” She cleared her throat and stood tall with her small duffel over her shoulder, her hair framing her face like the masterpiece it was.

I’d outright lost the battle against my attraction to her. I blatantly stared at her lips, her eyes, the damn color of her cheeks as she blushed and tried to catalog all of it at once inside my home for the first time.

“You didn’t answer your phone, and your door was open. I’m filling in for Juna early. So, no need for a ride later. I’m going to jog now.”

“Wait.” I rounded the island counter. “I can drive you—”

“Oh, God. She can jog, Declan. We’re visiting. Jesus, Everly. Are you trying to make him feel guilty?” Anastasia accused immediately.

“Of course not.” Her eyes narrowed. “He drives me every day, so I didn’t want him to wonder where his employee was in an hour when he leaves for work.”

“Whatever,” Anastasia tossed out. “He’d have figured it out. He’s not that concerned.”

Damn it. I was never a man to yell at a woman, and Anastasia was Carl’s daughter, but right then, I considered it and figured, fuck it why not?

But Everly was faster. She was backing out of the room already. “Of course he isn’t. I’d never want him to be, either. Just making sure I’m continuing to be that great employee he sees me as.” With that, she spun around and jogged off.

I waited until I heard the front door slam before I said what I knew would cause problems.

“You’re both aware that Carl had every intention to take care of Everly while he was alive, correct?”

Maybe my voice carried too much frustration, too much anger, too much of the hate I usually held back. I was used to charming the masses, putting on a smile for bullshit pictures, and shaking hands with fucking devils for a living.

It’s why I looked for outlets in crazy places. I got my adrenaline rush, exorcized my emotions in the best way I knew how, and then came back to the public eye.

My love had been the game of football. I’d endured Carl’s crap to establish a worldwide brand that athletes could feel at home in while also creating an empire for my brothers and myself. Everything else, I didn’t give a shit about.

Sometimes I wondered if they forgot where I came from. That I hadn’t been born filthy rich, that I still enjoyed the small things.

“Oh, of course we need to take care of her in some way.” Melinda flippantly waved her hand but then she nudged her daughter, their eyes darting from me to each other like they weren’t sure what had shifted in the room.

It was me.

It was my moral compass, the one I held straight ahead toward money and fame because Carl had been good to me, because I wanted to make him proud, because I felt like mingling with his cruel family was an obligation.

“No. I don’t expect you to do that. I’m not even sure you’re capable of that, Mrs. Milton,” I pointed out. I walked around the island counter and took my time taking their glasses from them and putting them in the sink. It was a blatant end to our visit. “I do expect you to respect the guest I have in my home, though. What’s mine is hers. It’s her home now for as long as she would like. And if you disrespect her in it again, you won’t be asked back here or any place she may frequent—including my fucking gyms, you get me? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to chase after her to make sure we didn’t offend the hell out of her.”

“Declan!” Anastasia squeaked. “Are you serious? Carl would not have wanted this. He always said he dreamed that one of his daughters would actually spend more time with you. He was talking about us, you know?” She smiled, sliding her hand up my arm.

I stepped back. “Anastasia, you’re good friends with Piper. She’d never be happy with us spending more time together after—”

“She said you all weren’t serious. Right, Mother? You were there!”

Melinda read between the lines. She had pulled her purse on, but her eyes were narrowed, the catlike points of her eye makeup looked more and more predatory. “Yes, Anastasia. I was there. It seems, though, that Declan has other plans. Let’s give him his space now. You can talk with him and Piper at dinner when you meet.”

I walked right out to my garage as they left, ready to use my car for its main purpose. I sped down my drive and out of the gated community as quickly as I could. It only took me a minute to catch up to her.

Her curly hair threaded through the wind as she jogged, the duffel bag almost as big as her on her back.

I slowed down and pulled toward the curb, hoping no paps were around. She’d been smart enough to wear a baseball cap, but my car wouldn’t do me any favors. “Get in, Drop.”

She breathed in and out, her running form perfection like rest of her damn body. Why did she look good at everything she did? Even while she ignored me.

“Everly, get in the fucking car.”

“I told you I wanted to jog to work, Mr. Hardy.”

“Fuck me. Not ‘Mr. Hardy’ again, woman. I only want you saying that if I’m teaching you a lesson on your knees.”

Her gaze whipped to mine as I inched by her in the car. “You think your jokes are funny right now?”

If I told her it wasn’t a joke I probably wouldn’t win the argument. So I kept it to myself. “Can we start over?”

“Start over with what?”

“The day?” I tried.

“I’d rather not. I don’t enjoy mornings.”

I sighed and continued to crawl along next to her for two whole minutes. “I’m going to follow you all the way to work at”—I glanced at the speedometer—“eight miles an hour if you don’t get in.”

“Suit yourself.” She shrugged.

“Do you plan on jogging home too?”

“I do.” She nodded.

She continued to jog, and I continued to follow, not sure what to say but knowing I had to say something. We weren’t really husband and wife, but we’d both committed to one another, and damn if I didn’t want to protect her in some type of way from the people who looked down on her now.

“Melinda and Anastasia shouldn’t have been over at our house this morning.”

“It’s your house,” she corrected.

“For the next year it’s ours. You should be coming and going there as you please. Fuck,” I grumbled, getting pissed just thinking about it. “I didn’t want you to feel uncomfortable and that’s what happened.”

“I should have knocked.”

“No.” She shouldn’t make excuses for others by blaming herself. “This isn’t your fault.”

“Well, if I had knocked and waited—”

I didn’t wait for the rest of her reasoning. I sped ahead and whipped my car into park on the side of the road to get out and stand in front of her.

She stopped abruptly, breathing harder than normal, small beads of sweat running down her high cheekbones, glistening in the sunlight while her hair went wild around her in the breezy morning air.

She stared up at me with those sapphire eyes, and in them, I saw pain rather than anger, sadness rather than irritation. My hand instinctively went to her neck, pulling her closer to me. I felt her heat, rubbed my thumb over her jaw, hoped to soothe something in her. “You don’t knock to come into your own home, and you don’t wait for your husband to finish a conversation with another woman.”

“Declan,” she breathed out. Looking up at the sky, her eyes brimmed with unshed tears. “I’m just an employee now. Carl is gone and Melinda and Anastasia find me to be a nuisance, even if, at one point in my life, I wanted to be so much more to them.”

“You’re not just my fucking employee.” I wanted to snatch back those words forever. “Look, I’m going to meet with Anastasia and Piper. I’ll tell them—’

She chewed her cheek and searched my face, blinking rapidly. Her long lashes caught any of her tears before she stepped back, out of my reach. “You’re meeting with Piper?”

I narrowed my eyes at how she straightened, how she pulled at her duffel in front of her, utilizing it for some sort of stability to hold on to. “She’s PR for us, and we will need that and good story when the time comes.”

Her head tilted, “Has she always been your PR?”

A sliver of hope ran through my veins that she cared, that she was just a little bit jealous. “Piper has always been around because of Anastasia and Carl. She’s Anastasia’s best friend. If you want to come to meet with her when we discuss—”

“Absolutely not.” She cut me off. “I’m not looking to invade your professional or private life at all.”

The fuck? I was looking to invade every part of her and her life. Quite literally.

“Please inform me of what she thinks the spin needs to be. If the story is that I’m to be made the employee who’s on her way out soon, fine. I just need a heads-up.” She cleared her throat. “Also, I’m hoping to work extra hours to pay you for my half of her PR salary.”

“You’re not paying me for shit, Everly. And I’m not going to throw you under the damn bus for some bullshit PR story. Are you serious right now?”

“You have status in this community, and I don’t want to ruin it. And we should have been this way from the very beginning. I knew this was how it was going to be. I just got lost in …” She waved away our relationship and started to walk around me. “You do what you have to do.”

My arm shot out and grabbed her elbow. “What I might have to do is throw you in my car, Drop. You’re treating me like I can’t be trusted, like we’ve shared nothing.” The thought had me pausing even as my heart picked up speed. It’s how I knew I cared for her way more than I should. “You’re treating me like I’m nothing to you.”

She glared up at me and ripped her arm out of my hold. “We are nothing to each other but a signature, Mr. Hardy. We made a legal commitment, that’s it. Let’s stick to it and get through this.”

“Just a signature?” I’d contained my frustration in worse circumstances, but Everly pressed all the right buttons, and it was the exact wrong time to push me over the edge. “Drop, I can’t fucking sleep without thinking about you down in the guesthouse, can’t go to work without my eyes drifting to where you’re helping a client, and let’s be clear, I still taste your pussy when I think about it, still feel your tongue on my cock when I imagine it. You may think you can go backwards and forget my first name, but remember you knew it when you moaned right before I made you come.”

Her eyes widened. Then she took a step back, then another, then another toward the gym, away from me, away from the idea of us. “Well, I’ve forgotten it, Mr. Hardy. I’m an employee, that’s all. You said it yourself.” With that, she spun and started jogging again.

I should have sped off and left her there with how fucking enraged I was. Instead, I inched the Bugatti alongside her the rest of the way to work.

She turned to glare over her shoulder once. “You seriously can’t still be following me?”

“I might be mad, but I’m not ever going to have my wife jog on her own with the shit you told me the other day about sexual assaults.”

“This is a completely safe neighborhood!” she pointed out.

“Even safer given my driving behind you,” I deadpanned.

“You’re causing a scene.” She pointed to the cars behind me.

“Get in then.”

Everly was cool, calm, and collected most of the time, but I had to smile when she narrowed her eyes and said, “No.”

Cool, calm, collected, and stubborn. She’d made her decision, and she was sticking to it.

And I had my temper and my acting without thinking. So I yanked the wheel, steered the car to the side of the road—again—and got out. “Drop, remember when I told you I make the rules and you listen? That it’s better that way?”

She shook her head at me, eyes widening as I came toward her. “Don’t you dare, Declan.”

She knew I was going to. She wasn’t even attempting to outrun me or fight me, either, because she knew my way was better.

I bent and caught her right in the hips where I could raise her up over my shoulder. Hanging on to her legs and walking her back to my car was easy.

She didn’t fight.

She just murmured, “This is going to look great in the papers. You carrying your employee to work.”

“Maybe I should correct the fucking papers then, Everly and tell them you’re my wife.”


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