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Between Commitment and Betrayal: Chapter 5

EVERLY

“CARL, I’d rather not talk about it right now,” I blurted out and then patted his shoulder so he could calm down. I’d found it helped him in a weird way, like he was an overzealous puppy that needed a pat on the head every now and then.

“Well, you can’t date him.”

“That’s not really up to you,” I repeated in a matter-of-fact tone, trying not to cause a scene. “You can’t meddle in everything.”

He scoffed as if he was affronted, but we both knew how he was. “So sue me for caring! I held my tongue when you went for coffee and on a few dates, but this is another month in, Evie. He’s not a good man.”

That was a lie. He hadn’t held his tongue at all.

Juna walked by, pulling her arm across her chest in a stretch when she decided to stop and listen. She couldn’t steer away from the gossip magazines, and we were turning into a live one for her viewing pleasure. “How you doing, Mr. Milton?” she asked, knowing full well he was irritated since his cheeks were bright red.

He immediately looked to her for help. “Tell Everly how bad Wes is.”

Juna smiled wide, her purple pixie cut swinging back and forth as she opted to give him hell instead. “Mr. Milton, Wes is sort of hot.” The girl was a breath of fresh air in the stuffy gym. She had a foul mouth and loved to play devil’s advocate, but it’s not what Carl wanted. “I mean, I know he pulled that move last year on Dec—”

“We’re not talking about that. We don’t talk about that at HEAT.” Carl cut her off and then groaned. He waved her off, and she fluttered her fingers before skipping away. Carl turned back to me, “The media has painted the right picture of Wes, and I’m not having you associated with that.”

Media. That word. The press and publicity that came with working at HEAT made me cringe. I repressed a small shudder and went through the tablet’s schedule to make sure all our tasks were in order for the day.

“What did Wes do that could be so bad?” I didn’t really believe Wes was it for me, but it was my intention to get out there, to start dating again, to embrace love instead of bitterness.

And to forget about Declan. Mostly that, even though my body couldn’t seem to do so.

“He plays for the other team! That’s all you need to know.” Carl threw up his hands like this was the end all be all.

“The team doesn’t define him,” I pointed out. We were at the front desk bickering, and I knew a client would walk in any second. “We’ve talked about this. Just calm down, okay? We can discuss it more later when we aren’t at work.”

“You know I’m your father, right?” His gray eyebrows furrowed together above his glasses. He never trimmed them, but somehow, they suited his boisterous attitude.

“Of course,” I nodded, suddenly uncomfortable.

I’d moved out of his guesthouse as fast as I could and hadn’t accepted any help financially to get what he felt was a nice apartment. I didn’t want to owe Carl any more than I already did.

“I wasn’t always there, but I’m still your dad, Evie, and I have a lot of experience behind me.” His voice sounded pained.

How could I tell him that he’d gained all that experience without me though? That my childhood had been filled with nights spent hoping I’d get one phone call that wasn’t on the holiday. What I would have given for one visit from him for no reason other than he wanted to see me.

I scanned my watch into the system so I could get to the employee login quickly, trying not to dwell. “I know you do, even with Melinda by your side.”

He sighed and laughed a little. The man loved acting like his wife was a bit of a burden, and I knew it would ease some of the tension between us. “You’re good, Everly. Such a good kid. I only want what’s best for you. You understand? And I’m telling you, even if it’s the last thing I’ll ever do, I’m going to make sure a Cobra isn’t in your life. Have you thought about those Hardy brothers? Because—”

“No.” I cut him off. He was not going to meddle that hard.

Thankfully, the revolving glass door began to move, and an older woman waltzed in, immediately smiling at my father. I dropped my hand from my hip and tried to shake off his words.

I patted his shoulder one last time and whispered it would all be okay. Carl needed reassurance more than I needed a father now. I’d lived long enough without one to know that I’d survive. Unfortunately, Carl had probably been reassured his whole life. My father came from old money, knew he’d be provided whatever he wanted for the whole of his life.

As the woman spoke to me across the front desk, my father murmured he was going to the sauna. I waved him away and continued to check-in Mrs. Johnson, a nice woman who frequented the gym daily with a vigor I could only hope to possess at her age.

“I’m so thankful to be a part of this gym, Everly.” She winked her extra-long black eyelashes at me. “Your dad is doing so well by all of us.”

I didn’t know about that. I’d been there for three months, working at the most luxurious, beautiful gym on the planet. It had also been the most ludicrous three months too. The technology, the swag, the events they came up with to justify the membership price tag were insane. It was like the adult version of Disney.

“I see you don’t have your watch with you today.” I held out the fingerprint scanner and she offered her print as if it was normal. “Would you like another HEAT watch for tracking today?”

Her answer should have been “No, I don’t need a freaking heart monitor that’s the equivalent of a smart watch but engraved with HEAT on it like I was suddenly somebody worthy.”

Yet, people truly believed it was a status symbol. They all wanted to be a part of HEAT. She nodded vigorously and then scanned the kiosk next to our marble counter. “Give me a pin, too, would you, dear?”

She grabbed for the gold-and-sapphire emblem with HEAT molded there and pinned it to her white collar immediately with a smile on her face. “Now, don’t sell Lucy one when she comes in. I want to have more HEAT gear than her today.” She chuckled at her own joke. “I’ll be at the tennis courts if you want to tell Carl to stop by and say hi. I need to give him a bit of hell again for having me on a wait list for two years even after Declan took over before he accepted me.”

There it was. The underlying truth of why everyone wanted to be a part of HEAT Health and Fitness. They thought Declan might grace them with his presence, like he was a god here amongst mere men.

The sad part of it all was I was starting to want his presence around too.

He hadn’t lingered by the front desk, hadn’t texted me, hadn’t really looked my way since our locker room encounter. He’d stopped by a self-defense class for the kids and even lingered to throw a few balls with them. Yet, he’d only nodded at me like I was any another employee.

Which I was. Which was what I wanted to be. It was for the best.

“Give him all the hell you want, Mrs. Johnson.” I smiled at her.

She chuckled. “Oh, you know I never would. Carl and that goy, Declan, have done so much for all of us. You know Declan had every opportunity right out of college, right?”

I nodded. I was well aware of his story considering my father would drone on and on about how America loved Declan, about how he played both defense and offense in college, how he was first-round draft pick his senior year, how he played for a total of twelve years and could have kept playing.

“Declan made a name for himself, and then, well, you know your father wasn’t doing too hot with everything. I’m his lawyer, you know?” She preened at mentioning that. “I always tell Carl that stamping Declan’s face and last name on everything when he let Declan invest in the business years ago was the smartest move he made, even if he had to dole out some of the shares to Declan’s brothers. Those Hardy brothers are a dream.”

She sighed and I ground my teeth together trying not to think about the man who’d kissed me senseless in the locker room and then had avoided me ever since. He’d been at the gym since seven this morning and had greeted everyone with a hello except me. The only remnant of him in my life now seemed to be that a car still idled in front of my apartment daily and followed me to work, although I tried not to pay any attention.

“You’d know better than me, Mrs. Johnson,” I said because the woman had known my dad for years.

“Oh, right. Right.” She patted my hand with a smile on her face. “But you’re all getting along fine, it seems? I know your father loves you so much, and Declan’s wonderful with everyone right?”

The woman was as nosy as she was gossipy so I stayed quiet.

“Well, even if you’ve only come to live here just recently, you’ll be one of us in no time. Which reminds me, can you go grab him, actually? I need to tell him all the changes he made last week are worked out.”

“Okay.” I tried not to sigh as I waved Juna over so that I could go bring my father back out to the front desk but just as I was rounding the corner, an alarm on my HEAT watch went off.

I took off at a sprint toward the sauna.


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