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Terms and Conditions: Chapter 11


“You look beautiful.” My mom tries to blink away the tears brimming at the corners of her dark eyes. She adjusts my veil with a shaky hand, being mindful of my perfectly curled hair. With my vintage-inspired lace gown worth more than a year’s rent and shoes that glitter like the diamond on my finger, I feel like a true Dreamland princess.

The bouquet of colorful flowers shakes against my chest.

This is it.

If I had my way, I would have eloped somewhere with only my closest family and friends by my side. But this wedding isn’t about me. Hell, it isn’t about Declan either, given his preference for a simple ceremony too. Granting my mother’s wish for a religious ceremony was the best choice for multiple reasons, but mainly because we need to show the hundreds of guests, including Brady Kane’s lawyer, that we’re a united front. That we’re in love.

It takes all the power in me not to scrunch my nose at that idea.

Mom sniffles. “I can’t believe my baby is getting married.”

“Please don’t cry.” I couldn’t bear it if she did. I’m pretty sure I would crack under the pressure and confess this whole plan if she sheds a single tear.

“It’s hard not to. I always dreamed of you finding someone who made you happy.”

Something in my chest twinges. “You have?”

She nods. “I was worried I made a bad impression on you when you were a child. That I let my bitterness toward your father get in the way of showing you how to move on despite the hurt.”

“Mom—” I want to tell her no, but I can’t find it in me to tell any more lies. The truth is, my mother’s experience with my father weighed heavily on me while growing up. It changed something in me, and a fake marriage isn’t going to fix that. If anything, it only proves what I already know. Love is something that only exists in fairy tales and Dreamland movies. The reality is much bleaker.

As if she reads my thoughts, my mom continues, “Not all men are like your father. It took me a long time to realize that, but I’m glad you learned far quicker than me.”

“Right.” My voice cracks. I’m about two seconds from falling apart.

She cups my cheek with her hand. “I’m proud of you for finally opening up to someone. For risking your heart knowing all the possibilities—good and bad. You’ve come so far.”

My throat tightens uncomfortably, and I look away to avoid her gaze, afraid she can read the truth in my eyes. There’s no way in hell I would ever open myself up to loving Declan. While I consider him a friend, he wants nothing to do with me in that way.

Nana steps out of the bathroom. “Are we done with all the sad stuff now? This is a wedding, not a funeral.”

Mom and I burst into laughter, and the moment is gone like it never happened in the first place. But the tight feeling in my chest still lingers long after the topic changes. Conversations about my father always stir up old demons, but today’s festivities might as well be a welcoming party for them.

Most girls dream of the day they walk down the aisle. I, on the other hand, always knew I would dread the reminder of growing up without a father. My mother offered to stand in his place, but I wanted to walk alone. I promised myself ages ago that I would just to prove a point to myself that I don’t need him. I didn’t back then and I sure as hell don’t now.

The music plays on cue. Everyone stands and turns their attention toward me. My entire body trembles from all the unwanted eyes assessing me, and I release a shaky breath.

You got this.

I smile beneath my veil, hiding the way my eyes prick from unshed tears. My eyes lift toward my destination. I nearly stumble as I find Declan’s eyes locked on me, but I catch myself. Whatever burns in his gaze sends goosebumps across my skin. I’m not sure I have ever seen Declan look at me like this, but it does something crazy to my heart rate.

I march down the aisle like a dedicated soldier reporting for duty. Declan doesn’t take his eyes off me, probably to make sure I don’t make a run for the closest emergency exit. Something about his gaze today has my stomach feeling light and bubbly.

…Or it’s because of the last-minute champagne Nana offered me. Because there is no way in hell that my boss gives me butterflies. The idea alone makes me want to cackle up to the roof like a madwoman.

Yeah, definitely the champagne. I’ve always been a bit of a lightweight.

Declan, like me, stands alone. I’m not sure why he didn’t choose one of his brothers to be his best man, but I’m somewhat relieved given my lack of options for a maid of honor. I don’t have many friends. Not because I don’t want to, but because I’m too busy working all the time. Cal offered to step in and wear a pink suit for me, but I declined, saying pink wasn’t his color. We both know it’s a lie. But it seemed better than facing the reality that he is my only friend to speak of.

I stop at the front of the aisle and turn toward my fiancé with a hesitant smile. His jaw locks as his eyes roam over me, making my skin flush under his scrutiny.

His hand traces the edge of my veil. I catch the slight tremble he tries to hide by fisting the fabric. Declan has always hated big crowds. Something about them makes him nervous, not that he would ever confess such a thing to a single soul.

But I know, and the secret makes me smile.

“Relax. Just pretend they’re not here,” I whisper low enough for only his ears.

He doesn’t reply as he lifts the veil up and over my head. Whatever he sees has him blinking twice.

“Is everything okay?” I whisper.

His head does the smallest shake. “You look nice.”

Whatever buzz I felt all the way to the tips of my toes dies a quick death.

I. Look. Nice? Is he kidding me? He could have said anything—literally anything—and it would have sounded a hell of a lot better than nice.

Screw him. I did not spend five hours in a salon chair, being poked, prodded, and waxed for him to say I look nice.

As if Declan can sense my brewing feelings, he grabs my bouquet of flowers and holds it out for someone. Both his hands clutch onto mine, locking me into place. Whatever expression on my face warrants a warning squeeze. Instead of allowing my anger to get the best of me, I plaster a fake smile on my face and give the priest a nod.

I’ll show him nice. Jackass.

The priest begins his lecture, but I can barely hear him over the erratic beat of my heart. Declan’s hands tighten around mine as the priest speaks about love, commitment, and hardships that will test us. I feel like a fraud for nodding along, feigning adoration. I’m sure to check the back of my dress to make sure I didn’t catch on fire for lying in the house of the Lord.

The rest of the ceremony is a blur with an exchange of standard vows. The closer we get toward the end, the heavier my breathing becomes. It’s not until Declan grabs my left hand in his that I nearly go into cardiac arrest.

“Iris, I offer you this ring as a reminder of my commitment to you, our marriage, and our future. Let it serve as a symbol of my devotion to you, from this day on.” Something about his words makes me pause. He could have promised his everlasting love or something equally nauseating for the crowd, but he didn’t.

Because Declan Kane doesn’t show his cards. Admitting he’s madly in love with you in front of a packed church isn’t on-brand. 

He silences my thoughts as he slides a thin platinum band covered in diamonds up my finger.

The two sentences I mulled over for weeks escape me as I grab Declan’s ring from my mom’s waiting hand.

“Umm—” Real smooth, Iris. 

If Declan is annoyed at me stumbling over my words, he does a good job of not showing it. I clutch onto his left hand while holding onto his ring with the other. “Declan, I give you this ring as a symbol of my promises to you, as your partner and friend. May it serve as a reminder that even during our hardest days, you can always count on me to stand by your side.” I slide the band past his knuckle.

Our eyes connect. Something passes over his face. He almost seems angry, but that can’t be right? Sad? I somehow stop a laugh from escaping me. No, that can’t be true either. Declan has nothing to be sad about. 

As if Declan realizes he revealed a tiny part of himself to our audience, he regains control over the emotions on his face.

And we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The priest continues his spiel about trying times and the sacredness of wedding vows. He blesses us, our future children, and everyone attending our wedding.

And then the dreaded moment I blocked from my memory comes to light.

The priest steps backward toward his altar, giving us some space. “I pronounce you husband and wife. Declan, you may now kiss your bride.”

My eyes widen. Everyone around us goes silent. I don’t have to see them to know they’re curious about us. Declan hasn’t ever been seen with a woman, let alone kissing one.

My whole body shudders as Declan wraps one hand around the back of my neck. His fingers tighten, and his thumb traces my fluttering pulse point. The world shuts off as my boss leans in toward me, the expensive scent of him washing over me.

My knees go weak, and Declan’s other arm wraps around my waist to stop me from falling. He positions me in a way that hides our faces from the audience, keeping our private moment to ourselves.

This is it. He leans forward, and our breaths mingle together. I shut my eyes as his soft lips brush against the corner of my lips.

Wait, what? Not even a whole kiss? It was nothing but a tease meant to appease the masses surrounding us.

He pulls away, leaving only a centimeter between us. His eyes are screwed shut as if he is in pain.

Embarrassment makes my eyes sting. I whisper, “That was hands down the worst kiss in my whole life, and that’s saying something given my last ex—”

Declan’s lips slam against mine, shutting me up. A buzz that starts from my lips spreads through my body like a brushfire, and I’m lost in the feel of his lips pressed on mine.

My arms lock themselves around his neck like a lifeline. I feel like I’m lost at sea, drowning in all the sensations consuming me. The press of his chest against me. The weight of his palm burning into the small of my back. The brush of his finger across my neck, so soft it seems reverent.

I’m snapped out of the moment with a roar of applause.

Declan’s lips press against mine one last time as if to brand me with his touch. His forehead touches mine, and the sweetness of the gesture has my heart threatening to beat itself straight out of my chest.

What is he doing? More specifically, why are you feeling this way? I have officially lost it. For some reason, this chemical attraction to Declan doesn’t quite match my preconceived notion.

While he might be considered cold to the rest of the world, he makes me burn.

“They bought it.” His rough whisper feels like being doused in ice water. Something about his comment causes a tight ball to form in my chest, growing until it consumes my heart.

His words shouldn’t hurt. This is a ruse after all, yet the ache refuses to abate.

Maybe because you bought it too.


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