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Between Commitment and Betrayal: Chapter 32

EVERLY

ANASTASIA DIDN’T TAKE the switch up well. I heard her yelling through the phone when Dom called her while Declan and I walked out. I’d given Dom an out and said Declan and I could handle it, but he smiled at me like he had the world under control. “I’ll take her and Clara. They’ll both be pissed about it.”

Anastasia called Declan immediately when we got into the car, and I didn’t let him avoid it. I hit answer when her named popped up on his car’s touchscreen and waved at him to say hello. He sighed and grabbed the phone from his pocket to take her off the speaker phone before he greeted her.

There wasn’t really a point. I still heard her screaming.

Minutes passed as I watched the ocean and then the city lights fly us by. Halfway through, Declan tucked the phone between his shoulder and ear and his hand went to my leg. The dress was long, but there was a slit he found immediately. I gasped at his touch and his eyes caught mine.

“Anastasia, I told you I wanted to bring my wife.”

I heard her say I wasn’t really his wife.

That had the grip on my thigh tightening. “Anastasia, let me be clear. Until there’s a document saying we’re divorced, we’re fucking married. Make sure you understand that and make sure Piper understands too.” He hung up and drove faster than he should have to the event, like he was on a mission to prove something to everyone there.

When we pulled up to the HEAT Oceanside Resort, the cameras started immediately flashing at our car, and I glanced down, but Declan stared straight at them. He wanted the world to see us, was ready for them. Before he got out, he grumbled, “Don’t you dare open your door yourself.”

When he got around to my side, I saw Anastasia wasn’t the only one pissed I’d arrived with Declan. As my car door opened, Piper stood waiting to see her friend emerge, and her face dropped as Declan leaned in, I thought, to speak to me. Instead, he smiled as he undid my seat belt. “Declan, do not—”

“Indulge me tonight, huh?” His scruff brushed over my cheek as he pressed the button for the belt. “That call didn’t give me a moment to say you look stunning. Fucking divine enough to eat, and I’m going to have a hard time letting other men stare at you and those red lips tonight.”

My stomach tightened at his words and heat rose to my cheeks as he pulled me out of the car.

The crowd of press went wild, screaming questions as he and two security guards hustled us in. We only stopped one time, and he murmured for me to smile as he pulled me close, wrapping his arm wrapped around my waist. I did as I was told because I just wanted out of there. I felt him kiss my forehead and then wave to a few paparazzi as we hurried inside.

Gentle, calm, on point for the cameras.

“One portion down,” he reassured me. This was press. This was media. He was fine with it, he maneuvered it, molded it, bent it to his will.

It’s how the night went. One public display of us together after the other. All of them somewhat fake, somewhat real. My mind played tricks on me as he pulled me close, brushed his hand on my back to ask if I wanted a flute of champagne. And when they called couples out to dance, he was already leading me there to move slowly against him as he whispered sweet nothings in my ear. He told me I danced well, I was doing so well, I handled that conversation with grace.

Yet, when Piper and Anastasia approached to tell Declan the event looked amazing, I tried to slink away quietly while they barely acknowledged me. I knew I wouldn’t handle them with grace much longer. But Declan wove his fingers through my hand and held me there as Anastasia finally turned to me and said, “Nice dress.”

I don’t think it was an actual compliment. We were past being cordial at this point, but I still responded with the last ounce of kindness I had left. “Thanks, I borrowed it from Clara.”

“Borrowed?” Piper questioned with a raised brow and Anastasia snickered.

“Oh, I’m sure Clara was being generous,” Anastasia announced, like I was the charity case that night, as she glanced around for her sister. Yet, Clara had lagged behind with Dom after they’d entered the double doors of the large ballroom. Hosting the party within HEAT’s Oceanside Resort allowed for them to set up a stage, food, and tables a lot like a wedding reception would be laid out but much more extravagant. Ice sculptures were made into fountains, waitresses dressed in their own evening wear, all black and silver, and large screens showcased what many of the proceeds were used toward and what the charity endeavored to do next.

“Well, I don’t know where Clara is, but she’s taller than you. So, she probably bought it for you to wear tonight,” Anastasia sneered.

“That reminds me.” Declan turned to me and wrapped his arm behind my back so he could rub circles on my skin since the dress dipped so low. “Will I have to have more clothes sent to the house for wardrobing, or will you let our driver take you to one of our boutiques? They can get you the future athleisure styles if nothing is appealing right now. Although you still haven’t taken my name, they know you’re my wife and want your opinion … and they want you wearing the clothes. You know they are just as much your clothes as they are mine for you to pick from now.”

Both Piper and Anastasia’s mouths dropped open as I narrowed my eyes at him. Declan knew I didn’t care about the future clothing. I barely wore the athleisure he gave me now.

“Not even I have access to future product, Declan,” Anastasia spit.

“I know that. I run the clothing lines with a team, and it’s only something I trust my wife with.” He pulled me close for another forehead kiss and then said, “Excuse us.”

“You’re poking the bear for no reason, Declan,” I told him as we walked toward his family.

“No. I’m establishing a fucking boundary. My wife can have anything she wants and no one has a right to, nor will they ever, disrespect her in front of me. If I need to be more blatant, I will next time.”

I sighed because I knew he couldn’t be talked out of it. When he wanted his way, he got it.

Lilah, with her baby on her hip and Dante standing behind her alongside Izzy and Cade, looked ruthless and wholesome all at the same time. No one would have contemplated bringing a child to an event like this unless they were above it, and Lilah’s daughter wiggled out of her mom’s arms, literally throwing herself at Declan like she hadn’t seen him an hour ago.

She squished his cheeks as he settled her in his arms and eyed his sisters. “Don’t let anyone talk to Everly while I dance with my niece, huh?”

Then he said he’d be right back and spun away from me, that little girl squealing as her uncle danced her around in circles and threw her in the air for everyone to see. I swear my freaking ovaries almost burst while watching him. He smiled bigger than life, handled her with more caution than the precious football I’d seen him carry in the highlights reel, and murmured in her ear secrets that made the toddler laugh with pure, innocent happiness.

And when he brought her back to Lilah, he pulled his sister in for a hug. “Thank you for bringing the joy of life so we can get through this damn event.”

She didn’t even roll her eyes. The whole family was enamored with that little girl, and I knew Izzy’s babies would receive just as much love.

Born in love.

Wrapped in it, secured in it, protected by it. Maybe the problem was my heart was hardened from looking for it everywhere for so long.

“Ee-be!” the little girl screamed and leaned toward me. “Dance too?”

Lilah laughed and let her lean into my arms as I outstretched them and said, “I’d love to dance with you.”

I got the little angel for a whole song, and it was perfect because the violins were playing a rendition of a Disney one. She wiggled with excitement in my arms and her green eyes got wide when I started singing the tune.

She squealed “She’s a princess!” to her mother as I handed her back, and I noticed Declan’s face wasn’t smiling anymore.

I’d overstepped; we weren’t really family, and maybe I shouldn’t have taken his niece from them and danced like no one was watching.


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