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Terms and Conditions: Chapter 10


If my grandfather’s sole reason for making me get married was to drive me toward the brink of insanity, he achieved his goal. I’ve officially reached my breaking point, and it only took Iris planning a rehearsal dinner to get me there. Well, her sitting beside me in a body-hugging white gown and the crowd of people waiting inside Chicago’s best steakhouse.

“It’s not too late for me to tell Harrison to turn the car around.” I make one last-ditch effort to convince Iris against tonight’s dinner. If it were up to me, we would have gotten married in a courthouse and bypassed all of these requirements.

She picks at her pristine manicure. “It’s not like I want to go in there either.”

“Is this your attempt at making me feel better?” A thoughtful yet pointless effort.

“They say misery loves company.” She laughs, and the sound draws me toward her like a siren’s call.

My eyes drop to her mouth as I soak in her smile. Her good mood is dashed away by the parting of her lips, and I look up to see what changed. Our eyes connect, making me feel like I was struck in the chest with a lightning bolt. It must zap all my common sense too because nothing else explains me reaching out and holding onto her hand.

She sucks in a breath. “You ready?”

Whatever burst of energy I felt from our eye contact dies at her confusion. I release her hand, and she clasps hers together on her lap.

“As ready as one can be for an event like this.”

“Just remember in two days you will never have to think about throwing a party ever again.”

“A lot can happen in forty-eight hours.”

“Getting cold feet?” Her eyes light up.

“Frostbite set in about three days ago, but I’ll crawl down the aisle if I need to.”

She laughs again, and I’m hit with another surge of warmth that scares me enough to open the car door and face the lesser of two evils. Anything seems better than analyzing the weird sense of attraction I feel toward the one woman I can’t ever have.

Future wife or not, Iris is the last person I will ever make a move on. She is an integral part of my plan to become CEO, and I refuse to lose my most valuable player for something as fleeting as attraction. Nothing good could ever come out of a temporary fling, so I’m better off being on my own.

Iris and I make our way through rounds of useless conversation. Unlike our engagement party, we are driven apart by our families. There is a reason I always dragged Iris to any event I was forced to attend. Where she thrives in answering people’s questions and pretending to be interested, I struggle. Everything about tonight is pure torture. With the endless amount of small talk and my inability to get drunk at my own rehearsal dinner, I can’t get out of here soon enough.

To make matters worse, my father showed up to play his part as a doting parent. His fake smile is on full display as he works the crowds with the charm of a cult leader. It’s disgusting how many people eat out of the palm of his hand, nearly salivating at the prospect of receiving five minutes of his attention.

I find the darkest corner in the restaurant and linger in the shadows, observing my father from afar. I’m not sure how much time passes. The dull throb at the back of my head seems to have alleviated during my reprieve, and for that I am grateful.

I take a step out into the light before I’m stopped by Iris pressing her palm against my cheek. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. I knew I should have checked the dark and unseemly places first.” Her hand lingers, warming my stubbled chin as I look down at her.

“To think you know me better than anyone else.”

She laughs, and the sound seems to wash away my last bit of annoyance from tonight.

“How are you holding up?” She removes her hand, but I latch onto it and press it against my chest.

A crease appears between her eyebrows.

“People are watching,” I speak low.

She looks around, finding multiple people’s gazes homed in on us.

Her lips curve into a small smile. “No wonder you hate going out. This is exhausting.”

“Now she finally gets it,” I deadpan.

She cracks another smile in my direction. “I never understood why you hated talking to people but now I totally do. Who would want to with a family like yours?”

“If hell were a theme park, they would have lifetime passes.” My comment earns me a wheezy laugh.

“How did you survive growing up with so many social climbers?”

“Easy. If you stop being social, there is no ladder for them to climb in the first place.”

Her eyes light up. “Well, I better get back to being the cheery one. With you hiding, one of us needs to be present.”

I clasp onto her hand before she has a chance to step away. “Don’t go.”

What are you doing?

“Why not?” Her brow arches.

A reasonable question if any. Having her by my side feels like the only natural thing about tonight, fake marriage or not. She has a way of making anything tolerable.

“You make tonight somewhat more bearable.”

What happened to not needing anyone but yourself?

I’ll go back to feeling that way tomorrow. Tonight I accept I am weaker than usual, with hours of small talk pushing me past my limits.

She looks down at our joined hands with a tight expression. “What a glowing compliment.”

My thumb brushes the inside of her wrist. “Do you want to hear some more?”


A small smile forms before I have a chance to kill it. “Why not?”

“I prefer you grumpy and predictable.”

“You can’t mean that.”

Are you flirting with her?

Fuck. Exactly how much alcohol did I drink tonight? I check my one and only glass, finding it still halfway full.

Must be a temporary lapse in judgment given the stress of the situation.

Yes. A slip of the tongue that has nothing to do with Iris and everything to do with my limited patience for people trying to kiss my ass all night long.

“You know why.”

“Maybe but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear you say it.” She grins, and a wave of warmth spreads through my chest that has nothing to do with my whiskey.

You hate when people smile.

Except making Iris grin feels like a personal victory.

You’re not supposed to be lusting after your paid-per-vow wife’s smiles.

I snap out of whatever feelings possessed me. “You’re staying with me for the rest of the night.” I leave no room for questions.

She seems to ramp up the wattage on her smile. “You’re kind of cute when you get all flustered.”

“I’m not flustered.”

She wraps both of her arms around my waist, drawing me toward her. Our bodies fit together like two interlocking puzzle pieces. Returning her embrace is reflexive, while the feeling happening inside of me is not. There is only one word I can think to describe the contentedness wrapping itself around my heart like a suffocating vine.


“What did you just say?” Iris looks up at me with a contorted expression.

Shit. You said that out loud?

I have two options here—admit the truth or deny it ever happened in the first place.



Except it doesn’t feel like nothing. My heart pounds against my chest, and I only hope Iris remains unaware of the betraying organ. A sick feeling overtakes me as I consider my slipup. I stopped using words like that ages ago after my mom passed. There wasn’t a point anymore when the only person who understood me that way died, leaving me behind with an empty heart and a brain filled with useless words.

Yet here you are, using them to describe her.


I run my fingers through my hair, giving my hands something to do besides touching Iris. Nothing good seems to come from that.

Iris’s arms tighten around me, beckoning me to look down at her. “Is everything okay?”

“Of course.” I fight the urge to disentangle myself from her hug. She is growing far too comfortable with them for my taste.

“Great because your father is headed this way and the smile on his face is downright malicious.” Iris steps out of our embrace, only for me to tuck her against my side. My hand plants itself against her hip like it belongs there.

My father steps into our vicinity. “Just the couple I was looking for.”

Iris mutters something under her breath before plastering on her fakest smile. “Mr. Kane. How nice of you to make it tonight.”

I huff at her polite display. Both of us had hoped my father would decline to attend, but leave it to him to make it at the last minute.

His right eye narrows despite the easygoing smile on his face. “Please call me Seth. We are practically family now.”

“You wouldn’t know the meaning of the word,” I quip.

“Paying for a family doesn’t make you an expert on the matter by any means.”

“Neither does being an absentee alcoholic who hates his kids.”

Iris sucks in a breath.

My father’s face turns molten red, and the flush spreads from his cheeks to his neck. “You dare to talk to me that way?”

“Seeing as I just did, yes.”

His grin is forced, never reaching his emotionless eyes. “I’m making an effort to be polite and supportive.”

“For the public.”

“Appearances are everything.”

My teeth grind together. I learned that lesson far too many times over the years after my mom died. Because while our house was nothing but chaos in private, to the rest of the world we were the ultimate American family. My private school teachers never questioned the random black eyes or bruises on my skin. They were easily bought like everyone else, feeding into the vicious cycle of my childhood. The one I did everything in my power to protect Cal and Rowan from, even if it meant taking my father on by myself.

“Thank you for coming. I wish we could stay longer and chat, but I want to introduce Declan to my cousin before she leaves.”

Iris tugs on the sleeve of my suit, and I follow her without bothering to look back at my father. I’m too lost in my thoughts to notice much else.

It’s not until Iris pushes me into a cramped room and flips the light switch that I notice the noise around us is turned down to a manageable level.

I check out our surroundings. “A supply closet?”

She laughs. “I’m sorry. It was the first unlocked door I could find.”

“Why are we hiding?”

“Because you looked about two seconds away from blowing up on your father. I thought you might like the idea of getting away from everyone for a few minutes.”

Iris always has a superpower of knowing what I need exactly when I need it. She truly is invaluable at her job.

“Thank you.” I lean against a shelf of cleaning supplies.

After hours of talking to people, I feel like I can finally breathe again. My temples still throb from overstimulation, but the ache has lessened drastically.

Iris jumps onto a washing machine and uses the lid as a seat. “Tonight has been…”

“Excruciating,” I finish for her.

She nods. “If this is the dinner party, I can only imagine how the wedding will go.”

“You’re the one who wanted a big wedding.”

“Only because my mother would kill me for excluding her.”

“Then let’s elope and invite her along. She can be our sole witness.” The statement bursts out of me faster than I can kill it.

Her laugh dies when she catches the look on my face. “You’re serious.”

I nod, liking the idea more by the second. “We could spin it as a whirlwind idea. I could have us in Vegas in four hours or less.”

“We did not go through all this pain to give up right before the finish line.”

“It’s not giving up. It’s changing routes.”

She presses her hand against her mouth to muffle her laughter. Her obvious denial of my idea makes me bolder, and I refuse to take her no as a final answer.

I encroach on her space, trapping her against the washing machine. Her eyes get a wild look in them as I step between her legs. The material of her long dress stretches enough to accommodate my size.

I grab her chin, forcing her to look up at me. “Think about it. You, me, and a drive-thru chapel. No press. No frills. No expectations.”

“The pinnacle of romance,” she replies with a dry voice.

My thumb clutching onto her chin presses a bit harder. “I’ll throw in another hundred million to make it happen.”

She breaks free of my hold as her head drops back. The laugh she unleashes does something abnormal to my heart rate, the steady beat turning erratic.

“No amount of money can change my mind seeing as my mother would kill me before I have a chance to enjoy it.”

My disappointed sigh makes her smile.

She gives my chest a reassuring pat. “If it’s any consolation, I hate the idea just as much as you.” Her palm burns a hole straight through my chest, directly above my heart.

Her lashes flutter as she blinks up at me, and my attention is split between staring into her eyes and looking down at her lips. Being this close to her does something catastrophic to my self-restraint. I’m not sure whether it’s the lack of human contact I’ve had or desiring something forbidden, but I keep being drawn to her.

“Did you leave the light on in the supply closet again? What did I tell you about wasting electricity?” The knob jangles, and Iris’s eyes widen as she looks at me.

“Tell me you locked—”

Iris’s hands sink into my hair as she shoves my head to the side. Her lips press against my neck, setting the blood in my veins on fire. She locks her legs around my waist and pulls me closer. Blood rushes from my head to my dick as Iris leaves a trail of kisses down my neck.

Keys rattle against one another as the doorknob twists. Light pours into the room as a couple of servers stare at us with open mouths.

One of them steps up. “I’m sorry—”

“Leave,” I lash out.

Iris chuckles against my skin, and I feel the sound straight to my cock. Her laugh is a powerful aphrodisiac I don’t have any business relishing in.

The door slams. Iris shoves me away before slipping off the washer. “Well, wasn’t that fun?”

My slacks seem to tighten as I consider just how much fun that was.

A deep brown hand lands on my arm. I look over to find Iris’s mom holding onto me with a shy smile.


“Are you looking for Iris?” I scan the room for her.

“I actually came to talk to you.”

Do I have the option to politely decline?

Her smile falters. “I won’t take up more than a few minutes of your time. I know you’re a busy man and everything.”

I see my reputation precedes me.

“Let’s go outside.” I motion toward the empty balcony and let her lead the way.

I take a deep breath as the doors shut behind us and silence settles in.

“Iris told me you hate these kinds of things.” She wrings her hands in front of her.

“Loathe is more like it.”

She laughs, and it reminds me of Iris’s wheezy one. Like oxygen can’t make it to her lungs fast enough.

“How are you holding up with all this?”

“As to be expected for an introvert who hates social gatherings, small talk, and people in general.”

“Then why do it in the first place?”

“Because it’s expected.”

Her braids shift as she tilts her head. “It must be exhausting putting on an image for the public.”

“You have no idea.”

“I might not know what it is like to grow up in the public eye like you, but I understand having to put on a face for everyone around you.”

“You do?” I find that hard to believe.

Her eyes dart toward the city skyline. “I’m sure Iris told you about my ex-husband and his very particular expectations.”

I open my mouth but think better of it. In reality, I don’t know much about Iris’s father besides the fact that he is a deadbeat.

She continues, saving me from having to come up with something to say. “When she told me she was getting married to you, I was excited that she finally met someone who could treat her right. Someone who could prove that love can heal the soul as much as it can destroy it. I’ve heard the way she talks about you.”

Now I’m very curious about this conversation.

“How so?”

She laughs. “It’s obvious she admires you, and not just in a romantic way. Your work ethic. The love you have for your brothers. The way you gave her a chance to show her worth. For the last one, I can’t thank you enough. Truly.”

I’m speechless as I stare at her with my lips parted. I don’t even know how to process her final comment, seeing as most people are horrified by the way my assistant works more hours than half the executives.

“But of course, like any mother, I worry about her and what the future holds for her. I don’t want her to go through the kind of pain I experienced. I want a better life for her. One that I think you can provide, so long as you promise to always honor her and the vows you make this weekend.”

“I can assure you that I will always have Iris’s best interests at heart.” Even if they jeopardize mine.

1Noun, Danish: A cozy quality that makes a person feel content and comfortable.


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