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Between Commitment and Betrayal: Chapter 31

EVERLY

“I’M SORRY. So, you think I’m going with you to the gala?” I asked again over the phone a few weeks later.

“A dress will be delivered in fifteen minutes,” Declan said in a clipped tone over the phone.

“I don’t need a dress.” I’d gotten one for attending the gala with Dom. “Dom and I color coordinated a deep blue. Clara brought one to work for me the other day.”

“He’s trying to fuck with me, and the fact that you even agreed to this is complete bullshit, Everly. We’re supposed to be doing this together.”

“Doing what?” I pulled at the string of a friendship bracelet. I was on my bed making a black one again. Like the one I’d thrown at Declan and said I wouldn’t wear again. I’d made dozens of them. I’d string them together and then throw them in the garbage.

“Being a team through this marriage.”

“How are we a team when every time I try to talk to you about the will, you say we’ll discuss it later?” I pointed out.

“Fine. You want to talk about it,” he growled, like he’d had enough of being cordial and friendly. “I’m coming over then.”

“Well, not right now!” I jumped off my bed and paced out into the kitchen to glance over at his house. “I have to get ready for my date with Dom.”

“Are you fucking kidding? It’s not a date. And you’re going with me, Everly,” he ground out. “Lilah is on her way, and now Izzy is too … with Cade. They’re making it a family event, which means we’re going as a couple. Izzy told Lilah all about you, Drop. I can’t show up with someone else.”

“They’ll still be happy to see you whether you have me on your arm or another woman,” I responded. “We shouldn’t lead your family to believe that this is more than a marriage of convenience anyway when we haven’t discussed—”

“Yeah, well, you know I don’t think it’s fucking convenient. Not when I have to stare at you on another man’s arm.”

His jealousy knew no bounds. “Well, I’ll agree it isn’t very convenient now that Carl’s put a pregnancy clause on our shoulders.” How ironic that I would not want the one thing I really longed for because it was being pushed on me. When my snippy remark was met with silence, I glanced at my phone. “Declan, are you there?”

“Would children with me be so terrible?” He suddenly sounded tortured, like he was mulling it over in his head for days and days like me. Gone was the clipped tone, gone was the thought of him giving me updates on what he reported to Mrs. Johnson. Instead, I heard his pain, heard that he might want this more than he let on. “Because I’ve seen you with the kids at the gym, Drop. I see how you love them. I know you’d make a phenomenal mother. And I’d try to be a damn good dad.”

I shut my eyes and tried not to picture how he’d taken care of those kids when he’d come to their classes. He was patient and kind and freaking giving. He’d sign autographs and stay extra to listen to each of them tell their stories. They all loved him most. “I know you’ll be a good dad, Declan, and you know I want tons of babies. But I want them born in love. And I know I shouldn’t want to plan all that but—”

“I don’t want your decision now. I just want you to keep considering it,” he said, delaying what I pretty much knew was the inevitable at this point anyway. “We’re going to the gala tonight together. So get ready.”

“I agreed to go with Dom. You agreed to go with Anastasia.” It pained me to mention her, but it was for the best.

I glanced at the blue evening dress draped over the end of my bed in my room. Clara had said I could borrow it a few days earlier when she’d brought it to work. She’d said it was the same color as my eyes.

“Like Anastasia said the day you gingerly agreed to have your husband go with another woman, I took her last year.” I knew it and still the admission felt like a spear through my heart. It shouldn’t have mattered, but my feelings were too complicated and tangled to unravel now. “It wouldn’t look good if I did again. Not with the shit that her and Piper are doing in the papers. You’re going with me tonight, Everly. I’m done with the media. And Dom can take Anastasia. She’ll understand—”

I think he was forgetting that Anastasia was best friends with Piper, that they knew exactly how it would affect me if Anastasia went with him. It’s probably why she asked him specifically. “Piper wants you to be seen with her friend. She’s protecting your public image. I’d rather you protect your public image, too, Declan. And your family’s. I won’t be in the public eye once we’re—”

He stopped me abruptly by swearing, “You’re going with me.”

Then he hung up and not two minutes later, he was barging through the guesthouse door. I sighed, leaned against the counter, and crossed my arms over my chest at his barbaric display of trying to get his way. “Feel good about how you just hung up the phone?”

“Are you trying to piss me off?” he said, eyes flashing angrily as he stomped over to me. He was already in a suit, all black and beautifully tailored to his body. The lines of his shoulders far outshone what other men could do with their suit. He caged me into the counter, his chest right up against mine, not handling me gently now at all. “How did I know you were going to fight me tooth and nail about this?”

“Because you know it’s not logical for me to go with you especially if we don’t plan on being married much—”

“And yet, here I am, waiting for you to get dressed because we haven’t made that decision yet, have we?” He glared at me.

I chewed my cheek as he came to stand by me and brush a hand over my jaw, as I breathed his scent, as my heart yearned for him.

“Fuck me, Drop,” he murmured close to my ear, and my eyes fluttered closed as I felt his length against my stomach. “I’ll dress you myself if you don’t start. You’re going with me. You might be fine with her on my arm, but I’m not fine with you on any man’s arm but mine. Not even my brother’s.”

“I already told Anastasia and Dom—”

It was a weak excuse at this point. “I’ll take care of it.”

I bit my lip and nodded as his lips dropped to my neck. I was giving into the night, giving in to him for now because I didn’t know if we had much time left after.

“Goddamn, I miss touching you.” He said it low, and I felt it down in my heart. We were both holding out with the big decision looming over our heads, but our souls still wanted to be together more than anything else. His hands were everywhere, sliding over my waist, my chest, then my arms, and then down to my hands where he groaned as his thumb grazed over my ring finger.

He stepped back for a minute to pull my wedding band from his pocket and before I could protest, his lips were on mine kissing me, devouring me, owning me. He slid the ring back on my finger and said against my cheek near my ear, “You’re mine tonight, Everly.”

My gaze drifted to his finger, and my eyes widened at the string there. “Where did you get that?”

“I made the bracelet you threw at me into my ring.” He shrugged.

I bit my lip as tears sprung to my eyes. Right then, there was a knock at the door.

“Fuck,” he groaned out and rubbed his hard cock back and forth on my stomach. “Should I eat your pussy on this counter and make them wait?”

“Who is it?” I whimpered out because now I was too turned-on to think of anything else.

A growl came from deep in his chest before he pushed away from me and pulled at his hair. “That’s probably one of my sisters trying to bother you before I get to them. I knew I should have never given them the access code for my gate.”

He started toward the door, and I blurted out, “Wait. Do they know about the pregnancy clause?”

“No. That’s our business.” He thought about it for a second, and then a frown formed on his face. “Fuck, unless Izzy told them.”

I sighed. “They’re family. They should probably know anyway.”

“Not if my wife and I want to keep our business private.”

I chewed on my cheek and tried not to swoon over that because he deserved to have them in his corner. “You should be honest with them. They’re your siblings.”

He narrowed his eyes. “My sisters will practically beg you to have a child with me.”

I couldn’t help the small smile. “I’m good at defense.” I shrugged. “Don’t worry about me.”

“I always worry about you, Drop,” he murmured and then told me, “So, you’re going to this charity gala with me, Everly.”

It wasn’t a question, but I still nodded, and his shoulders visibly relaxed as he turned to open the door.

Izzy in red and another woman in a black evening gown plowed through. Izzy held her visibly larger stomach as a tiny little human that looked a lot like who I assumed was Lilah barreled in. She had curly hair and wide eyes that matched the man walking in behind Lilah. Behind him was Cade, his head bent to his phone.

“Evie, meet Lilah, my sister,” Izzy announced as she walked over to wrap me in her arms. “I’ve turned into a hugger since pregnancy. Plus, we’re technically sisters. Lilah, why aren’t you hugging us?”

I laughed awkwardly as Lilah rolled her eyes and came in for a weird three-way hug. Lilah’s child toddled over and hugged my leg too, like she needed to be a part of it. “Hug!”

I smiled down at her. “Nice to meet you, Lilah. What’s your daughter’s name?”

“Oh, Carolina.” Lilah chuckled. “She’s fourteen months and thinks everyone loves to be climbed.”

“Carolina, nice to meet you.” I squatted down to pick her up as she tried to crawl up my leg. “I’m Evie.”

“Ee-be!” She pronounced my name as best she could before grabbing my face and kissing my cheek fiercely. Then she pouted, saying, “Down.”

I chuckled and set her back on the ground. Immediately, the child headed straight for the table where there was a vase, and Lilah gave her husband a look. The man didn’t even bat an eye or look perturbed at all. He smiled down at his daughter with a look of the utmost love as he maneuvered the vase up onto the island countertop. “Not today, minion. Not today.”

“She’s very cute,” I said to Lilah just as Dom walked in, also dressed in a suit, and Declan walked over to give him a hug and murmur something in his ear.

Dom glanced over at me with a smile. “You ditching me, Evie?”

Izzy heard the exchange and pointed at her two brothers. Then she turned and winked at me, “If you have a choice, which I know you really do, go with Dom.”

“Izzy,” Cade chastised, “you weren’t supposed to bring up the will.”

“You showed me. So, I’m bringing it up.” She shrugged as Declan swore.

“What is going on?” Lilah asked like she wanted everyone to calm down.

My eyes got wider and wider. I wanted Declan to tell his family, but not while I was present.

Izzy’s filter was truly gone, though. Her etiquette had flown out the window. She plopped down on the couch and waved over her niece as she announced, “Evie needs to get pregnant to save HEAT shares—any Hardy brother will do. Oh fuck! Declan needs a baby too. So if Evie won’t have him, he needs Anastasia. So, I change my mind. I hate Anastasia.” She glanced at me. “No offense to you. Now, to her, I mean that totally disrespectfully—”

“Izzy!” Lilah was waving her off. “Please stop.”

“What?” Izzy continued. “She’s a fucking piranha for an Instagram photo. She tried to take one with Cade one time. I will cut a bitch.”

“Babe, I didn’t take the photo with her,” Cade tried to console.

“You thought about it.” She narrowed her eyes at him.

“Only to piss you off.” He shrugged and went back to his phone as he sat down next to her and rubbed her thigh.

She shoved his hand off, but he just chuckled and put it around her shoulders where she left it while their niece climbed between them. Cade immediately tucked the little girl into his arm and started playing some baby songs on his phone.

“Anyway, Declan, you want kids, right?”

“Fuck, Izzy.” Declan shook his head at her. As I glanced around the room, I saw their looks ping-pong to one another. “You tell everyone about the will?”

“Yep.” She popped the p and smiled wide. “Except Mom and Dad because they will freak.”

Declan walked up to me and threaded his fingers through my hand to pull me into the kitchen with him. “You’re really a tornado of a person while pregnant, Izzy.”

“There’re twins in here, okay?” She pointed and then glanced at me. “It runs in our genes, since you’re contemplating conceiving with one of my brothers. Not that it’ll affect you, but if you have a daughter, Dec or whoever could pass on that trait to her, and just know, it’s double the hormones or something. I’m completely a different human at this point.”

“Jesus,” Lilah muttered before meeting my gaze and mouthing sorry. “She’s like this all the time. We can’t stop her.”

They all laughed except Declan, but even he had a small smirk as he murmured in my ear, “It’s going to be okay.” Then, he went to fill up a glass of water for Izzy as Lilah walked up and hooked her arm in mine. “Evie and I are going to get ready. She needs time to get dressed.”

“Don’t scare my date away, Lilah,” Declan commanded. “Izzy is already doing a great job of that. And, Drop, this is the big family part I was telling you about.”

Lilah yanked me through my bedroom door and slammed it shut before sighing against it. She spun in her sleek black dress and pinned me with a penetrating gaze. “We’re a lot for one person.”

“That’s fine.” I shrugged and turned toward my dress still on my bed. “I always wanted a big family.”

“Well”—she walked over and dragged a hand over the midnight-blue silk of the dress—“guess you have one for the time being.”

I didn’t know if I should take that as a slight or a compliment. Did she believe I’d scammed my way into their family? Did she believe everything that was written? “I know you all may be dealing with the backlash of the media from my marriage to your brother, but I hope he’s told you that you can handle it however you need to. I don’t want to be a burden in—”

“Family’s always a burden.” She chuckled and then shook her head like I misunderstood. “In the best way. You know that, right? Like, you can’t get rid of your parents no matter how hard you try some days.”

I didn’t correct her. She’d probably known Carl in a much different way than I had. Carl had easily gotten rid of me in a way that families probably shouldn’t.

“Well, at least that’s how it is with my family,” she said as if she knew even without me saying. “Izzy will never leave you alone about that will. I promise you. If you let her keep talking, she’s going to keep talking.” She wrung her hands.

“I don’t mind. I want Declan to be honest with you as much as possible. I understand you’re all family.”

We’re all family,” she corrected. “At least, that’s what I want. Standing out on an island against the media because Carl and Declan dragged you into this over some shares is ridiculous.”

“And my mother’s yoga studio. And he may have thought it would protect me somehow or help me clear my name from my …” I drifted off, not wanting to explain.

She sighed. “So, I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I know the media has twisted it. One day, you’ll tell me.” She held up her hand when I opened my mouth. “Not now. But when you’re ready, because I know what it feels like to hold a hell of a secret inside and what a nightmare it is to share it with the world after you’ve buried it. Take your time, but know we don’t believe a thing the media says, and we won’t allow them to drag your name—”

“Let them.” I cut her off fast, thinking of my mother, and went to grab some hair cream to put in my curls. Standing in front of the mirror, I said, “It’s not your job to—”

“It’ll always be the job of family.” She didn’t let me argue about whether we were or weren’t. “Now, let’s discuss this will. I’m curious, since Izzy’s already told me most of it, do you plan to have a baby this year?”

“Can one really plan that sort of thing?” I winced and asked back.

“That was my next question. How does one go about that?” Lilah asked and then picked at a fuzz on the dress. “I used to hide that I had two miscarriages by Dante, my husband, before we got lucky enough to have one.”

“I’m so sorry,” I murmured as my throat almost closed at the thought. Wanting kids and not being able to have them felt like a cruel sort of torture not befitting a woman, and yet, women had to endure so much.

She waved me off. “That minion out there reminds me of how lucky I am every day. Still, getting pregnant isn’t easy for everyone.”

I sighed, knowing the risks and knowing that they could happen to anyone. “Six months of trying followed by three months of IVF. As long as we do both of those things, we’re fulfilling our end of the requirement.”

“Do you want kids?” She was so straightforward that I suddenly felt like I could be straightforward back.

“I want kids, but I want them to have parents who love each other.” I grabbed my makeup bag, but she extended her hand.

“May I?” I’d only ever had Tonya and my mother do my makeup. They’d been the only ones who’d ever wanted to. Handing the bag to her felt like I was handing over some trust or handing over a part of the little girl in me that wanted the love of a friend or a sister.

She patted my hand like she understood, and we sat there while she applied the concealer, the blush, the eyeshadow. “You have amazing eyes that he’s probably obsessed with.”

“Declan isn’t obsessed with me.”

“Oh, he is.” She tsked. “When I saw him following you in his car on that viral video, that’s when I knew. He wouldn’t have done that with any other woman. You’d broken him. And you only break someone when they’re obsessed with you.”

“That’s mostly just getting on his nerves.” I shrugged.

She hummed and tilted her head. “I need a little more of something.” Then she grabbed her purse and dug around until she pulled out a red lipstick. “If that’s the case, can I ask you … do you want to break him?”

Her question hit me like a freight train as she stared at me with hazel eyes that held me captive. Declan told me her and Izzy, although twins, were very different. I saw the difference. She was determined in her gaze, driven with her questioning, and intelligent with where she was leading it. Lilah planned like me. So, I told her what I knew. “I honestly don’t know.”

“Well”—she pulled the lid off the red lipstick and drew it onto my lips—“I think it’s best we find out tonight then.”


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