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Terms and Conditions: Chapter 28


It doesn’t take us long to spot Brady Kane’s lawyer. He would be hard to miss given his boisterous voice and equally loud embroidered tux.

Declan makes a move to walk over to his corner of the ballroom, but I tug him back.

“We should play it cool and wait for him to come to us.”

The ice in Declan’s whiskey glass rattles as he takes a long sip. “You want us to wait and do what, exactly?”

I awkwardly laugh before taking a deep chug of my wine. “Talk?”

He grimaces.

“So how was work today?”

He shoots me a glare. “You were there.”

“I don’t follow you around 24/7. There are plenty of things I might miss, like you struggling with a printer or harassing an innocent employee because they forgot to use Arial font in an email. I mean, come on, what did Times New Roman ever do to you?”

His scowl deepens. “It’s not my fault they can’t follow simple directions.”

“I think you’d be surprised at how motivated people are to do a good job when you rein in the attitude.”

He looks away with a huff.

I grin. “You know, as the future CEO, you will have to learn a couple things about leadership if you want to be successful.”

“I know how to lead.”

“Do you, though? Because there is a big difference between giving orders and leading a company.”

He drags his eyes back to mine. “If my alcoholic father can do it, I’m sure I can’t screw up too badly.”

I take a sip of my drink as I consider my next statement. “But don’t you want to be better than him?”

His jaw clenches. “Of course.”

“Then what do you want to do when you become CEO?”

“What do you mean?”

“What’s your next goal once that happens? Where do you feel your father has been lacking?”

“It would take me years to repair all the business relationships my father has damaged.”

“Because you suck at kissing ass?”

His withering glare makes me laugh. The tightness around his eyes softens, all while his lips press together as if he wants to stop himself from matching the smile in his eyes.

He wants to smile because of you!

My brain might overload from all the sensations happening inside of me at the thought of Declan smiling because of my laugh.

“Look who it is!” A wrinkled hand clamps down on Declan’s shoulder. “I heard you were here tonight.” Brady Kane’s lawyer grins.

Declan doesn’t bother trying to smile, and the brightness from before is replaced by cool indifference. “Leonid.”

The lawyer shudders, making his head of gray hair shake. “Please call me Leo. You know how I feel about formalities.”

Leo turns his eyes toward me. “And is this the wife I’ve heard some whisperings about?”

One of Declan’s arms snakes around me before tugging me flush against him. “Iris, this is Leo. He was my grandfather’s best friend.”

Best friend? Why didn’t Declan mention that tiny detail during our thousands of exchanges about the man?

Probably because he doesn’t have best friends, so he doesn’t think it matters.

I refrain from sighing.

Leo holds out his hand for me to shake. I take it, and he pulls me out of Declan’s arms and right into his chest. “We will be having none of that. We’re practically family.”

Are we, really? Did I miss the part where this man never showed up to our wedding?

Leo must read my mind or at the very least the expression on my face. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to your wedding. I was off the grid for a month while hiking Mount Everest, and by the time I came back, I heard you two had already tied the knot.”

If he seems wary of our marriage, he doesn’t show it.

You climbed Mount Everest?”

“I might look old, but I sure don’t feel it.” He taps his heart with a grin.

“Says the man who called an emergency helicopter to rescue him after he thought he could compete in the Tour de France,” Declan replies.

“It was your grandfather’s idea. Bastard always wanted to show off how fit he was. I’ve always hated cycling.”

Something flashes in Declan’s eyes, and it makes my chest ache. I reach for his hand to give it a squeeze. The move is instinctual, yet I still blink at our interlocked fingers with surprise.

Leo catches the whole thing with a smile. “But enough about me. I want to hear all about you two.”

“There isn’t much to tell.” I smile.

He wraps an arm around Declan’s shoulder and guides us to a table. “Nonsense. But first, we need a toast to celebrate your marriage. Is vodka good with everyone?”

Declan’s groan catches in the back of his throat, and I can’t help the giggle that escapes me.

Leo can’t stop smiling as his eyes bounce between the two of us. “Do you prefer something else?”

“No. Vodka sounds great,” Declan speaks through gritted teeth.

My body shakes from quiet laughter, and Leo shoots me a look before he leaves us to go find a bottle of vodka.

“I fucking hate vodka.” Declan drags his chair closer to mine. He wraps his arm against the back of my chair like we do this all the time. His arm brushes against the back of my neck, sending a rush of goosebumps across my arms.

“Are you cold?” He frowns at me.

I only nod, afraid my voice would betray how I really feel about his proximity.

He stands and shimmies off his jacket. “Here.”

He gestures for me to scoot forward. I comply, jaw gaping as he slides the material over my shoulders. It smells like him—clean with a hint of spice. Without looking too obvious, I take a second sniff, allowing the scent of him to filter through my lungs.

My cheeks heat as I catch his eyes zeroed in on me. The inner voice in my head chants to keep him away. That nothing good could come from me entertaining the budding attraction forming between us.

The inner voice wins, all but shoving his kind gesture out the window. “Who knew you would be good at all this?”

“Good at what?” His lips tug downward.

“Your whole thoughtful husband routine could fool me if I’m not careful.” I gesture at the tux jacket threatening to swallow me whole.

His eyes darken. “Not everything is a fucking act.”

I flinch at the bite in his voice.

Isn’t this what you wanted?

Sure, I do. Him being nice isn’t part of the protocol.

There is no protocol. That’s your issue.

Neither of us tries to fill the tense silence, and I can only pray Leo returns to us soon with enough vodka to make his Russian ancestors proud. Anything to save me from this achy feeling growing in my chest.

My prayers are answered as Leo slams the bottle of clear liquor on the tablecloth a few minutes later.

“Here we go.” He crooks two fingers at a waiter who places three empty glasses beside the bottle.

“It’s a family tradition to toast to the newlyweds.”

I nod and grab the full glass Leo holds out for me.

Leo slaps Declan’s shoulder as he places a glass in his hand. “If your grandfather were here, he would have probably had this whole speech written, so I’ll just have to improvise.” He lifts his own tumbler. “Marriage is like going on a road trip with the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, except you have no map or fancy GPS system to help you out. You might not always agree on what music to play or which direction you should go. I can guarantee there will be moments you want to rip your hair out—or each other’s. Just like there will be times that test you, where you think that maybe things would be easier if you hitch a ride with someone else. The point is, life is going to throw a lot of things at you. Stuff like flat tires, dead ends, and mechanical issues. But you can either make the most of the journey with one another or cry about never getting to your destination. No one can make the right decision but you.”

He calls that improvising? I’ve never heard anyone describe marriage in such a raw way like that before. Declan’s gaze clashes into mine, and I wonder if he feels the same. Because no matter what our intentions were when we signed the paperwork linking us as husband and wife, we agreed to a road trip together.

Leo taps his glass against ours. “To the newlyweds.” Declan and he both bring their tumblers to their lips, but I can’t do anything but blink at mine.

I don’t know if I will ever be ready for a marriage like Leo describes. Sure, I might be married to Declan to uphold a legal contract, but that isn’t the same as what Leo shared. His version requires a whole lot of trust and a lot less baggage than I could ever fit in an SUV.

I don’t need to ask Declan how he feels. His intentions are written clear as day across his face—a snapshot into his heart that I know he reveals only for me.

I’m not ready to commit to a road trip. At least not the one he clearly wants. If I did, I would have said yes to my ex when he proposed.

Declan isn’t him. Not even close.

My heart pounds within my chest, like a trapped bird trying to fight its way out of its cage. One thought batters me, over and over, as I sip my drink in silence.

I might have made the biggest mistake of my life by marrying Declan.

Fuck me.


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