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Between Commitment and Betrayal: Chapter 38

EVERLY

EVERY MORNING FOR A WEEK, he left coffee on my doorstep. He never texted, but there was always a driver outside too. My heart bleeding out happened in snapshots.

A snapshot of him driving her to work.

A snapshot of him leaving work to walk to dinner with her at the hotel.

Snapshot after snapshot.

He didn’t try to talk to me anymore though, and I didn’t try to talk with him. But neither of us brought signed divorce papers to the other’s doorstep. We couldn’t pull the trigger.

My mind was tangled up in other things, especially the moment I got the phone call from an unknown known number as I got home from work.

“Everly, so glad I caught you. I don’t know how this slipped through the cracks, but I’m checking your medical charts, and I know you said you were on birth control at your first visit, but when we did that bloodwork, everything looked great except that, well, you don’t have to try for a baby. You’re already pregnant.”

“I’m sorry?” I gripped my counter. “What?”

“I know. I was surprised as well. Rings are quite effective as birth control, but there’s still about nine in a hundred women who get pregnant. Have you gotten your period?”

“No.” I knew it’d been probably three months without it. I just hadn’t worried. “But the doctor said I would be irregular once coming off birth control and—”

“Well, that about confirms it.” The woman sounded excited even as I felt like I was about to faint, about to have my life completely changed. “We’ll have you come in for a test to see how far along you are. We’re so sorry we missed that with all the genetic testing we were doing, our new staff must have overlooked putting that in your MyChart. What day works best for you and Mr. Hardy?”

“What day works best?” I repeated, in total shock. No day worked best. We weren’t having a child. We couldn’t be. We’d been protected at that time. There was no way I was having a baby.

Except I was. And Declan had told me he didn’t loved me. We had divorce papers in our possession. He was driving Anastasia around. For all I knew, he could be sleeping with her by now.

“Would Friday at 3 p.m. work?”

“I can come Friday,” I said in a monotone as my heart galloped away, trying its best to catch up and pump blood through my veins like it felt me slipping. My vision blurred, and I sat down. “I’ll be there Friday,” I repeated again and hung up.

I sat there for hours. I didn’t reach for the phone. Didn’t reach for the TV remote. I simply sat with tears streaming down my face as I considered how I could make this work on my own. I vowed never to tell him. I vowed to raise my child in love, and I knew forcing Declan to stay in this marriage wasn’t what either of us wanted.

Plus, Andy was coming. I knew he would.

And when your past catches up to you, you don’t run. You fight it off and make sure the blowback doesn’t injure the ones you love around you. I needed to handle this on my own so my baby and I could have a clean start.

Declan had been right to leave me behind. He’d been born in love, wrapped in it, secured by it. His family was the epitome of love.

I was born into a home where my mother worked diligently to provide for me and teach me that I could only rely on myself in the world. I longed for love and went looking for it, not knowing I was looking in all the wrong places.

I wouldn’t do that to my child. So I signed the divorce papers and went to sleep clutching them as I sobbed.


THE NEXT MORNING, I folded them up, slid my ring off, and opened the front door to go drop off the envelope. Instead, I found coffee on my doorstep, steaming hot like he’d just left it. My phone beeped.

Declan: Coffee’s there for you. Driver should be there soon too. Have a wonderful day at work. Won’t be there today.

Perfect, I thought, but then immediately my mind wondered where he would be even as I went to stash the envelop in his mailbox.

Maybe he wouldn’t see for days. Maybe I could plan where I would move to and pack up before we had to talk. Maybe he didn’t care to talk at all. Anastasia potentially could have smoothed all the waters.

His driver took me to work where I did yoga with the kids and then followed up with one-on-ones. I meandered over to Clara’s bakery after work and to let her know what I could. “I’m leaving in a little less than a month but I’d like us to keep in touch.”

“No you’re not,” she said in disbelief and then yelped in the kitchen. “Shit. Now I burned my hand.” She rounded the corner and made her way to my side of the bar so she could sit down next to me. “What’s going on?”

“I’m just done here. My time is up. I don’t think I ever really belonged here in the first place.”

“You’re insane. You’re the only real thing around here, and we can’t lose you. Noah is finally acting like a real human, and Wes finally has his ego in check. Dom almost got punched—which was a long time coming—and Declan …” She stopped and took my hands in hers. “He’ll be devastated without you.”

“He’s with your sister now.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Don’t remind me. She’s acting like they’re together but …” She got up and went to grab two brownies from the glass case next to the register as she narrowed her eyes and shook her head. “Something’s not right. Declan barely talks to her, doesn’t even look at her. Anastasia won’t even talk to me about their relationship and that means there probably is no real relationship to talk about. They’re supposed to go to dinner tonight and she thinks—”

“They’re going to dinner?”

Clara took a big bite of her brownie and offered me one. I snatched it because no one turned down her brownies, but I also needed an indulgence now more than ever. “It’s probably nothing,” Clara grumbled, but we both knew that wasn’t true. “Oh, Evie, don’t let it get to you. I know he loves you. He’s just …”

“He doesn’t love me.” I shook my head and closed my eyes while I took a big bite.

“Should we drink?” she tried.

I sighed. “No. Can we just eat about ten of these and maybe some ice cream?”

She nodded, her face in a permanent frown, but she did what a friend was supposed to in that moment. She went and turned off her Open sign, cranked up the music, and brought out the whole pan of brownies. “If it makes you feel better, I have to work with Dom in the next few months on the Pacific Coast Resort, and I’m pretty sure I can’t stand him, but even so, I can’t look away either. The Hardy men are enigmas of our species.”

I stuffed another brownie in my mouth and let her continue.

We sat there for an hour talking about men, about growing up, about how ridiculous it had been that we weren’t ever brought together on the holidays. A silver lining to my whole stay in Florida was that I’d found Clara.

We walked over to Vibe, and I texted Declan’s driver that I would be late. We sat and ate and talked more.

By the time I got back, I didn’t expect for my own guesthouse light to be on. Yet, when I went to unlock the door, it drifted open, and there was Declan. The soft light of the living room glowed over his features as he sat in a collared shirt, his cuffs folded up, and a tumbler hanging from one hand.

“You’re late.”

“Late?” I stuttered out. “It’s only eleven.”

“You normally turn your lights out at ten.”

I chuckled and set my duffel bag down in the foyer, pushed off my shoes, and stared at him, not sure what to think of him being there. “You seem to know everything about me, I guess.”

He shrugged and swirled the amber liquid in his glass. “Want to go get your pajamas on?” I chewed on my cheek without answering. “I’m guessing you showered at the gym.”

I rolled my eyes and stomped to my bedroom to go get a sleep shirt on rather than sitting around in workout gear. It was late, and I did want to be comfortable. When I reappeared, he was still sitting there, a smile that didn’t seem kind at all on his face. Then he stood and pulled from his back pocket the very envelope I’d left him that morning. “See. Creature of habit, and that’s the exact reason why I wasn’t expecting to find this tonight.”

The papers smacked down on my coffee table with a thwack. I bit my lip as I took in how he wobbled a bit on his feet, how his eyes looked wild, and how he smelled enough like whiskey to know he wasn’t completely sober. “It’s not something we should talk about after you’ve been drinking.”

He tsked. “When should we talk about it, Everly? Or were you hoping I wouldn’t even come here to talk with you? You thought leaving the papers and giving the wedding ring back would do?”

“Declan,” I scoffed and tried to slow my heart, tried to tell my body that even though he was here late at night it didn’t mean we were getting anything from him other than a fight. I went to get a glass of water and grabbed an apple from the counter bowl where I kept them. I started to cut it and murmured, “I figured we’re over. You’re with Anastasia now—”

“I’m not with her.” The proclamation flew from his mouth fast. “I can’t stand her. I can’t stand any damn woman because all I can think of is you.”

“Declan, you just went to dinner with her,” I pointed out. Then I cut another slice.

“Yep.” He took a swig of his whiskey and walked over to the counter where I stood so he could slam the glass down on the granite. “And I drank far too much in order to tolerate getting through the night with her. But guess what, Everly? That’s over now. I won’t be seeing her again.”

He was leaning in close to me, his chest on my arm as I glanced to the side to meet his gaze. “What?” I whispered out.

He went behind me and caged me in before he rubbed his length against me, my nightshirt catching on him and riding up a bit. “My cock doesn’t like anyone but you. I did all this for you too.”

He wasn’t making any sense. I frowned at him in question.

“Then I see those fucking divorce papers and you’re not here. Were you with someone else?” His voice was full of wrath.

I looked over my shoulder as he asked and saw those green eyes flash with jealousy. “If I was?” I raised my chin.

He chuckled and nodded over and over before his hand dragged up my thigh and shoved my legs apart. “Let’s see, huh?” I gasped as his hand went under my night shirt. I wouldn’t deny that he’d find me aroused. “Soaking wet as always,” he murmured in my ear and then growled as he turned me around. “You going to eat that apple while I eat you?”

My hands flew to his shoulders as he dropped to his knees and pushed my panties to the side so he could taste me. Everything was more sensitive I’d noticed, and now I knew why. The pregnancy was starting to affect my body, and I felt his touch on my sex like a bolt of lightning in the middle of a dark night. Fast, hot, electric. “Declan, you’re drunk—”

“So? I can’t indulge my wife’s drenched pussy when I am? I just want a taste, Drop.” He lapped at my folds, and I shivered at feeling his tongue against me. “You taste better than the alcohol, baby. I’d rather get drunk on you.” And then he dove in, angrily, ruthlessly, viciously nipping at my clit and fingerfucking me while lapping at my arousal like he owned all of it.

I clawed at his head and told him to hurry, I rushed him like he’d said in the past, but I didn’t care. I wanted him between my legs instead of hers. I wanted him here instead of with her. I wanted him.

When I orgasmed on his mouth, he held me there as I rode out the aftershocks on his tongue, moaning his name and then he slid up my body as he put my panties back in place. “Yeah, you weren’t with anyone else either. That pussy only spasms like that for me.”

“Declan—”

“I’m not having a child with her. I wasn’t even seeing her. I just had to act like I was. We’re not getting a divorce.” He walked over to the papers and ripped them up. Not just into two or three pieces. He stood there shredding them as I watched.

“You’re crazy.” I told him, shaking my head because I was crazy too for even having a sliver of hope that it might be true. My heart that had been swimming in darkness for the past few days immediately saw a tiny flash of brightness and went wildly toward it. Hope never left even when all felt hopeless. “You’re being drunk and irrational, Declan.”

“I’m not.” He grabbed his phone and shoved it toward me. “Read this.”

“I don’t want to.” I shook my head, knowing it’d be another headline, probably something about him and Anastasia.

“Please,” he whispered. “The papers will be printing it everywhere in a week. I was trying to plan it, but I just need you to read it.”

I stared at him but knew I couldn’t deny him. His eyes pleaded with me like it was the last thing he’d ever want from me.

WILL EVERLY BELAFONTE GIVE DECLAN HARDY ANOTHER CHANCE?

A letter addressed to Everly Belafonte from Declan Hardy:

Everly,

I’m not much of a writer. I’m a retired football player that earned America’s trust by catching a ball and plowing through opponents. I ran on instinct and trusted my heart most of the time. It got me far.

I plowed through making decisions for our inheritance too. You gave in to marrying me so I could save the shares of the HEAT empire. I saw you do everything in your power to help me and another person save what they hold dear to their hearts.

You never did this for you. Had it just been for you, you would have walked out and not accepted any of it. For that, the HEAT empire should be forever thankful to you.

I’m forever thankful to you.

More than that, though, I’m forever in love with you. I told you that night I wasn’t. It was a lie. Yet, I wasn’t going to plow through a marriage with the woman I love. I hope you know I want to watch Home Alone with you, stay up late with you, make bracelets with you, and eat breakfasts with you for the rest of my life.

I want the ring on my finger to be made of string forever because we love one another, not because an inheritance directive said to put it there.

I want babies with you, as many as you want. Even if it’s a crazy amount like you told me before. Not because Carl said so, but because I want to see a little girl just like her momma learning yoga in HEAT Health and Fitness while her mom teaches her it. I want that baby to be mine so damn bad, Everly, it hurts.

I want the happily ever after with you, but I want to get there on our terms, no one else’s.

Your portion of the inheritance is safe. I made sure of it.

I hope when you read this, you’ll tell me my heart is safe too. It belongs to you now.

Will you give me a chance to own yours too?

Declan Hardy has asked that Everly Belafonte not be contacted for a response at this time. We are honoring his wishes until she reads this.

“Give me a chance to start over with you, Drop. Please?”

“Are you saying you secured my mother’s yoga studio?” she whispered, staring up at me with her chin trembling.

“I got all of it. I had to do it that way, had to make you think we were over until I had all this worked out because you wouldn’t have agreed otherwise.”

“You …” She stopped and took a shaky breath. “You’re not having a baby with her?”

“No, Everly. Jesus, I never was.” He grabbed my hands and squeezed them like he never wanted to let go. “I couldn’t tell you though. You would have told me to stop, fought me on it, tried to not have me put myself out there for you. I hated it, but Anastasia wanted to meet over and over about it. All of this was for you though. That’s it. I had to get your mom’s studio for you above all else.”

“What? Why?” I whispered, my heart stuttering as I tried to figure out everything he was saying.

“Carl didn’t fight you when you said no thanks to legal help, when you said no to his money, when you said no to any kind of help time and time again. No one fights you, and it shows they aren’t willing to. He should have fought to give you everything before, and I’m fighting to give you everything now. I need you to know that’s what families do. I’m going to do that every single day. I fought for the yoga studio, and it broke my damn heart to tell you I didn’t love you because I love you more than I’ve ever loved anything. More than the empire, more than the shares. I’m happy to give all that shit up if I get you and your happiness. So, I backed away long enough to do that. I got the yoga studio, and I need you to give me a chance.”

“But you—” My mind swirled, a confusing mix of love and hope and overwhelming emotion pulsing through me. He loved me. He wanted my heart. I had his. My heart was being put back together piece by piece.

“I did everything I had to do so that we can start over. No inheritance hanging over our heads. I need another chance, babe. We need another shot because I’m sick of this bullshit. I’m sick of not having my meals with you. I’m sick of not having you. I’m sick of wanting my wife and thinking she’s just out of reach. You’re truly my wife. Not out of convenience, not because of a will. But because I love you. I can’t see straight without you.”

“We can’t just be married, Declan—’

“So, let’s start over.” He sounded like he’d take anything he could get. “I’ll ask you on dates, I’ll do whatever you need. I’ll court you for fucking years if you want to. Just say yes.”

“We should probably start from the beginning if we’re going to try,” I said quietly because I wanted to try too. I wanted to go on a date with him, I wanted to learn every single thing about him. I just wanted him.

I wanted to hope.

And hope was scary, but Declan was worth it.

We should always hope when there’s a happily ever after to dream for.

He walked up to me and kissed me senseless, then picked me up and carried me to his house.

He fucked me slow in his bed and told me it was where I belonged.

It’s all I wanted.

Except we still had a baby.

And I didn’t know how to tell him just then that our happily ever after was already in motion.


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