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Between Commitment and Betrayal: Chapter 23


LUST AND DESIRE and luxury pulsed through the club. Vibe was decadent with crystals and diamonds threaded through lush amounts of vines and roses, all royal colors woven through the piping up above. With satin lounge chairs lining the corners of the restaurant and the booths made of tufted silks—all royal blue and purples—every customer felt like royalty. Waitresses with flowers in their hair and all-black attire buzzed about making sure top-shelf alcohol was served to all. Food was bought through a swipe of the watch or put on a regular’s tab without them having to even offer to pay.

Declan could order shot after shot after shot and never would a bartender ask him for a credit card. To him, it was normal. To me, it was insane, just another indicator of our incompatibility. Yet, when I’d heard Anastasia and Piper holding a magnifying glass to all our differences, I’d wanted nothing more than to prove we had a few things in common.

He knew how to make me feel good, and we both enjoyed that. He may have been my husband in hiding, but the chemistry between us was noticeable. At least to me and him.

Or so I thought. He’d hung up his phone and hadn’t turned to look for where I’d walked off to. Instead, he made his way back to our table, but not before my stepsister grabbed him and pulled him close. She dragged a hand over his jaw and looked up at him lovingly. Piper smiled the whole time, as if encouraging her friend to engage in a relationship with her ex. She was a better woman than me.

Never would I be supportive of Declan being with a close friend of mine had we actually been together. He stood there, smiling down at her, his body bigger and stronger and harder than most in the crowd. I knew what it felt like up against me, how the hands he now had on her wrists as he pulled them away from his face felt on my skin, how he smelled like sandalwood and rain to me even when it was sunny. I ached for him even though he wasn’t truly mine.

Sighing, I turned to the bar and asked for another drink. “One more shot. Make it stronger than the others you’ve served tonight, please.”

The bartender nodded, completely happy to oblige. Taking a dark bottle of liquor, he murmured, “Rough times when you’re getting followed by the owner to work, huh?”

I sighed. “So has everyone seen that video?”

“Pretty much.” He lined the rim of the shot with sugar and then followed it up with setting the top of it on fire for just a second before he waved away the flame. “This’ll make you feel better. Favorite one of my own. I call it HEAT’s Sugar. It’s sweet and spicy.”

I shrugged. “Bottom’s up.” It burned while still tasting sweet as it licked down my throat, causing me to shiver enough that he laughed.

“I’m Corbin, by the way. I’ve seen you working out in the gym a few times. Carl was a good man. Sorry to hear about your loss.”

I nodded, letting the liquor and his comment settle in my body before I responded. So many people had been sorry for my loss lately. “I didn’t know him that well.”

“Sure. You moved here only a few months back, right?” He leaned over to take another order from a woman next to me. Then, as he grabbed another bottle from under the bar, he smiled softly. “You’re just as entitled to being sad as any of them. You probably saw more of him than they did anyway.” Corbin chuckled as he looked past me. His words amplified what my heart felt in that moment. And I felt it entirely, wholeheartedly, and it walloped me fiercely.

One glance back into the crowd, at Anastasia still near Declan as he stood by our table now, had emotions bubbling up in me that I really hadn’t dealt with in years. People shouldn’t cry in public or show that they’re falling apart.

Like he could feel my eyes on him, he turned. That deep-green gaze pulled me in like a dark forest wanting to be explored, but his stare was questioning, probing me for more information than I was willing to give. I turned back to the bartender just as I saw Declan take a step toward me.

“You need my watch?” I asked Corbin.

“Your tab’s on us when you’re here.” He grabbed the empty shot off the bar and winked at me before another customer nodded at him.

“It’s time for us to go,” Declan rumbled behind me.

The heat of him there pulled my body back, but this time I ignored it. “Oh? Is everyone headed out?”

He leaned into the bar. “No. My wife and I are headed out. I have something to talk to you about in the car.”

“I came with Wes, Declan. You came with women too. We should leave with them.”

“Now it’s about Wes? Not just discussing what our marriage looks like to him?” He shook his head and rubbed his jaw roughly once. “How did you describe it anyway? You tell him I can hand-fuck you under a table so good that you drip down my fingers even while he sits in the next seat over acting like your boyfriend?”

“Jesus Christ, Declan.” Anger and desire warmed my face at the same time.

He breathed in deep, as if trying to quell whatever he was feeling. “Drop, I’m not in the mood. And I know you’re not either. Just a second ago, you looked back at me over at that table like you were ready to break down. Like this place is getting to you, and I know it’s damn sure getting to me.”

“I don’t break down, Declan.” I peered up at him, suddenly frustrated that I almost had. He didn’t know what I’d endured, what I was capable of bearing still, or how I would handle going through it. “I can’t break down. Not again. But if we keep doing this, I will. I’ll go home with Wes. You can leave.”

He hummed. “We’re leaving, Drop.”

Alcohol swirled with my emotions, especially the bold ones, the combination was dangerous. “I’m going to go dance.”

I slid past his body, hard to my soft, massive to my miniscule, dominating to my usual submissive ways. Except we’d clash here tonight because I couldn’t stop feeling like their eyes were on him. My stepsister, the one my father prayed I would get along with, literally wanted my husband. Without talking to me, without looking at me, without even acknowledging I was there. I meant nothing to her, and the feeling was about as treacherous as it had been back home when everyone had found out what had happened between my boyfriend and me.

So I’d let the alcohol flow through my veins and drown out the heartache of not just one loss, but that of an entire family. The hope of them accepting me died when his heart stopped beating, and I needed to let go of what wasn’t meant to be.

The music beat loud, so I moved my hips to and fro, concentrating on simply feeling the soul of the song for a moment. Declan had turned to watch, but didn’t follow, his gaze heavy enough on me that he probably knew it’s all I felt even as Wes and Noah emerged on the dance floor ready to bust out their own moves in front of me.

Clara laughed when Noah tried to break-dance, then he grabbed her hand to whip her around the dance floor like they were two salsa dancers. He was tall and an athlete, which most of the time equaled instant rhythm and dance skills. Noah outdid most though. I could tell from the lines he stepped into and how he held Clara that he probably had legitimate training in it.

My mother had always been a dancer and with being homeschooled, she’d taught me enough to appear skilled. So when Noah grabbed my hand after spinning Clara out, I did a bit of a curtesy before he pulled me into his arms. A basic two-step turned into a sashay as he got the feel for what I could handle, and then a brilliant white smile, dimples over his cheeks, and a twinkle in his eyes showed me he’d caught on. He pulled me close. “You dance?”

“I used to.” I moved my hips with him.

His hand on my lower back kept me steady with him. “Let’s show your boyfriend and husband what you’re made of then. I’m pretty sure you already own their hearts, but I think Declan’s going to bleed out and still crawl to your feet when all is said and done.”

“Be serious, Noah,” I chuckled, feeling completely comfortable for the first time that night, dancing with a friend who had always treated me exactly as such.

“Oh, I’m serious, Evie. Didn’t you ever watch him on the field when he wanted a damn touchdown?”

I shook my head as he turned me out so I could spin, then pulled me in for a dip.

“He moved viciously on instinct. Most people say he played with heart … I say he wasn’t playing at all. He was dominating like a damn animal. When he’s pushed and not getting what he wants, you’d better be ready for it. Remember that.”

Two more spins and a lift—where we got most of the dance floor cheering for our salsa—later, the song ended, and I smiled at Noah. “And what do they say about you on the sports channels, Noah?”

“That I’m reckless.” He shrugged. “I can break a bone in a heartbeat, Evie, and I won’t feel bad about it at all.”

We were both breathing hard as I pulled him in for a hug before glancing over at our friends. Clara was clapping and Dom had shown up, eyeing me curiously as Wes walked over like a puppy dog, pouting at Noah. “Give my girl back.”

Noah winked at me and nodded behind us toward the bar. Toward the formidable man that I knew still sat there, watching. His glare grew heavier and heavier. It was like I could feel it impressing upon me, overtaking my thoughts, clouding them, filling them with dark oil that I wouldn’t be able to swim out of.

Still, I didn’t look back. I waved to Dom as Noah asked Clara, “Dance with me again, flower girl?”

Clara smirked, but before she could say a thing, Dom interjected. “Clara, shouldn’t you be working on the blueprint to show me of your bakery for tomorrow?”

All the light from her smile dimmed as she frowned at him and took Noah’s hand. “Blueprint? I have a design. And it’s done and completely magical.”

He glared at her as she frolicked off with Noah while Wes wrapped his arm around my waist. It wasn’t meant to rile anyone, but the posture laid his claim just the same.

Declan’s stare pulled my attention, commanding me to glance his way again. A man who owns the world has the ability to shift it with a tiny movement, and Declan owned my world that night. He had me on the edge of a cliff where he knew I was teetering, and when he mouthed “Four,” I knew exactly what he meant. I hadn’t left with him earlier, defying him for a fourth time.

He strode over, his dark jeans and T-shirt doing nothing to dampen how attractive he was with his chiseled chest and arms, veins moving over the muscles like he wouldn’t be contained by them.

“Everly, time to go,” he ground out.

“Babe, you’re coming to my place, right?” Wes spoke against my ear, his arm pulling me closer to him while he kept dancing with me.

Declan didn’t give me time to answer. “My wife is coming home with me.”

The sharp and loud emphasis on my title had Noah freezing mid-dance with Clara as both Anastasia and Piper glanced over from our table where they were enjoying another drink. Everyone froze in shock, even the music seemed to quiet, as the blood rushed through my veins.

Clara was the only one who seemed to know what to do. She wasn’t stock-still in her floral dress or her bright-red high heels. She smiled big and patted my shoulder, pulled me from Wes subtly by hooking her arm with mine. “Of course it’s time for us all to get home. Evie, it’s okay for me to stop over early to look at the mock-ups for my bakery, right? I really need help with those for the new resort going up.”

We’d never discussed that before, but reading a room was something I’d been able to do quite well now. “Sure.” I turned to Wes. “Will you take me to my place instead? Do you have a driver?” I wouldn’t go with anyone who’d had too much to drink.

Even Noah’s eyes ping-ponged over to Declan along with Wes’s. It’s how you knew Declan was the alpha here.

Wes puffed up his chest like he was ready for war, but said, “Of course.”

Declan took a formidable step forward, but Dom pivoted in front of him. “Watch yourself in our restaurant, Dec.”

Piper appeared out of nowhere and put a hand on Declan’s heart. “Stay for another drink, Declan. Anastasia and I will get this round.”

I turned on my heel and hoped with everything in me that Wes was following.

I had to leave Declan where he belonged, in a land of fame and fortune without me.

But as I reached the door, I heard him call out, “Everly, that’s five.”

Those shivers, the ones that only raced through my body for Declan, plagued me again.


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