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Terms and Conditions: Chapter 3


“Everyone, please put your hands together for the future Mr. and Mrs. Kane.”

My eyes widen at the DJ’s announcement.

So this is how we’re going to do it? Just like that? 

You’re the one who planned it that way. I mentally kick myself for the obnoxious engagement party. If I had known I would be the one at the center of everyone’s attention, I would have gone with a simple social media announcement.

My knees wobble as I scan the audience. I straighten my legs together to stop myself from falling over. The number of designer clothes all packed into one room is ungodly, and the fake smiles on their faces have my skin itching.

Declan’s eyes collide with mine. It’s reflexive at this point, with a single look sharing a hundred words.

“Deep breath.” He grabs my left hand, and the heat of his palm seeps into my skin. It’s unsettling how he can tell I’m anxious without me ever expressing it.

You’ve been working for him for three years. Of course he can tell when you’re nervous.

“Iris and I are getting married at the end of the month.”

The end of the month? That’s in two weeks!

The music stops. Someone coughs. A waiter drops their tray.

We’re surrounded by an array of reactions, each one more shocked than the next. I don’t blame them. I thought Declan and I had a month to sort out our engagement, but now we only have two weeks.

The silence is deafening. My stomach threatens to dump its contents on the shiny marble floor, but somehow, I swallow back the acid crawling up my throat.

You got this.

“Surprise!” I beam, hoping to counteract Declan’s less than exciting display. I rip my hand out of his and throw it up so everyone can see my engagement ring. A million colors bounce off the diamond, drawing everyone’s attention toward the symbol of my impending doom.

“Welcome to the family, Iris.” Rowan, Declan’s youngest brother steps out from the crowd. While most people think he looks like Declan with his brown hair and dark gaze, I find them distinctly different. Because where Rowan has some hints of humanity peeking through, Declan lacks the same compassion.

Cal breaks through the crowd and raises his drink in the air. “Family therapy is on Thursday nights. Don’t be late!”

A few people laugh, and somehow the tension eases enough to make breathing bearable again.

“One hour and we’re leaving,” Declan huffs under his breath, low so only I can hear him.

“I was going to suggest thirty minutes, but if you insist.”

He doesn’t smile, but his eyes light up as they land on me. His chuff of air is practically a belly laugh. We both know we will never make it out of here in half an hour. Not when Declan is the first Kane to get married since Seth over thirty years ago. This kind of announcement is right up there with the prince of England having a child, and everyone is going to want a few minutes with him.

Whatever response Declan has is snuffed out as his father, Seth Kane, parts the crowd like Moses. The intensity of his displeasure could make a lesser man crumble to his knees.

Mine lock into place. I’ve spent enough time around him to learn he feeds off people’s weaknesses.

Declan feigns indifference except for the tiny tic in his jaw. He’s a master of hiding his emotions, but every now and then, one appears. A small clench of his jaw. The quick flex of his hand. A narrowing of his eyes before returning to his cool gaze.

“Relax.” I lean into him and rub my hand over his pounding heart.

You’re not the only one who is nervous. Looks like Declan is more human than I thought.

“Son.” Seth doesn’t bother acknowledging my presence, as per usual. Since I serve no purpose for him, I cease to exist. Simple as that.

“Father.” Declan tips his chin.

They both look eerily similar with their brown hair and empty, dark stares. But that’s where their likeness ends. I’m sure Seth was handsome at one point in his life, but his misuse of alcohol has aged him in a way that Botox can’t fix.

“I figure some congratulations are in order.” Seth smiles at me for the first time ever. The fakeness pouring off him makes me nauseous. “My son is lucky to have you in his life.”

Yeah, right. The man knows nothing about me. Even after three years, he still calls me Irene whenever he needs to get patched through to Declan’s phone line.

“Save your display for the cameras.” Declan wraps his arm around me. While his gesture comes off robotic, I appreciate his ability to try to make this look legitimate. Try being the key word. He’s stiffer than my nana’s cocktails, and those suckers can get anyone drunk from a single cup.

“Fine advice from someone putting on quite the show right now.”

Declan’s hand grips onto my waist with punishing force. “Just because you’re bitter about love doesn’t mean the rest of us feel the same way.”

He scoffs. “You don’t know the first thing about love.”

“They say you can learn a lot from others’ mistakes, so thanks for that.”

There’s a crack in Seth’s wolfish smile. It’s so brief, I almost miss it, but the pain etched into his eyes throws me off.

Don’t fall for it. It’s not real. 

“You know nothing about what your mother and I went through, and I hope you never have to experience something like that during your marriage.” Seth turns on his heel and exits the ballroom without paying mind to anyone around him.

So much for appearing like a united, happy family to the public. 

Not many things can get under Seth’s skin, but the mention of his wife always does it. It’s hard not to feel bad for the man who lost his spouse to cancer. But then I remember how much of a dick he was to his sons, and all my pity is wiped away.

Someone new enters our vicinity and calls out Declan’s name.

“Let’s get this over with,” Declan mutters under his breath.

“I never thought I’d see the day when Declan Kane got engaged—” The man completely overlooks me as he slaps Declan on the shoulder and whispers into his ear.

Guest after guest comes up to us to offer their congratulations. Each one overlooks me while kissing up to Declan, which adds to the acid growing in the pit of my stomach. My only source of entertainment tonight is watching Declan fake his way through every encounter, but even that loses its novelty after an hour.

You might as well be invisible.

The DJ announces for everyone to clear the dance floor as a slow melody begins to stream from the speakers. I instantly know I’m in trouble.

Declan must pick up on it too because our eyes connect across the room. Usually I would laugh at the tiny tic in his jaw, but seeing as I’m a part of this torture, I can barely find it in me to smile. He walks across the room and grabs my hand.

“Do you know how to dance?” I ask low enough for only him to hear.

“Of course I know how to dance.” Although Declan’s face remains blank as a white canvas, the way his hand grasps onto mine in a chokehold reveals exactly how he feels about all this.

He hates the attention as much as you.

My whole body feels as if someone set me on fire. A hundred pairs of eyes pierce my carefully crafted exterior, and my anxiety only grows as Declan tugs me toward his body. One of his hands snakes around my back while the other holds on to my trembling hand with enough force to cut off my circulation.

The tips of his fingers skate across the top of my ass. Sparks shoot off my skin from the contact, and I suck in a breath.

“Stop doing that,” I say through my forced smile.

“Doing what?”

“Touching me like that.”

“You’re my fiancée,” he replies like that explains everything.

His hand retreats, and I release a sigh, only to startle when he yanks me forward so there isn’t an inch of space left between us. Breathing is officially optional at this point.

“What kind of slow dancing is this?”

“The kind that has everyone filming us.”

My entire face feels molten as I look around the room. “Oh God.”

His face nuzzles the top of my head, and I swear I’m practically levitating at this point. For someone who has no interest in being in a relationship, he is doing a great job faking it. It has me questioning everything about us up until this point because where has this man been? And more importantly, why does he keep him hidden?

Why does it matter? This isn’t even real.

The thought sobers me, and my stomach sinks with disappointment. This is nothing but an act for everyone else’s benefit. I might have gotten caught up in it for a moment, but I need to remember why I agreed to this. This isn’t a real relationship. No amount of forehead kisses or intimate touches will change that.

Stick to the program and you won’t get hurt.

I repeat the motto over and over again while Declan moves us around to the song. By the end of our dance, I feel stronger than before and ready to separate fact from fiction.

Bring it on.

It takes me another thirty minutes of silently standing by Declan’s side before I can finally make it to the bathroom.

I cup some of the cold water from the tap and press it against my cheeks. “You got this, Iris. Don’t let them get to you.”

Easier said than done. While no one spoke to me besides a quick greeting, they were quick to assess me like a lab rat. The number of women checking out what drink I was sipping and whether my bloated stomach was due to pregnancy or pasta was astounding. I’ve never been self-conscious about my figure, but the way they were analyzing me had my skin growing hot under my silk scarf.

They don’t matter. I roll my shoulders back and touch up my lipstick before exiting the bathroom.

I take a step toward the ballroom before I’m taken off balance by someone grabbing onto my elbow.

“How much is he paying you?” Declan’s father turns me around so I can face him.

I tug my arm from his grasp. “I have no idea who or what you’re talking about.”

“I’m willing to pay you double whatever he offered to make this engagement cease to exist.”

My eyes widen. “Excuse me?”

“You can’t be this dense.”

“Make sure to speak plainly since I struggle to keep up with high concepts.”

“Obviously Declan must have been desperate if he chose you of all people.”

The audacity of this man. “I’m a lucky woman. Marrying your son is like a Dreamland story brought to life.”

He makes a noise in the back of his throat. “Don’t flatter yourself. Declan is only marrying you for his inheritance.”

“He’s what?” I hitch my voice at the perfect time.

“You didn’t know.” His brows pull together.

I’ve got him right where I want him. “What are you talking about? He never mentioned anything about an inheritance.” I will my bottom lip to tremble, and the results are miraculous.

“The only reason he put a ring on your finger is because he wants my position. Without you, he has no chance at becoming CEO.”

I blink twice. “What?”

His bitter laugh makes me want to recoil. “You can’t actually think he wants to marry you for love?”

“If not love, then what for?” My hand presses against my chest, clawing at the material of my dress as if I want to rip my heart out. If Cal were here, I imagine he would hand me a golden trophy for my performance. Maybe Declan would even give me a raise.

“What else? An inheritance. Without a wife and a child, he has no way of becoming CEO.”

“Are you serious? What is wrong with you people?” My pitch rises like I might break out into tears at any moment.

He tucks his hands in his pockets. “Unfortunately.”

“How did you find all this out?”

His brows pull together. “How I found out doesn’t matter.”

I withhold the bodily urge to roll my eyes. “Do you have proof? You can’t believe I’m dumb enough to take your word over my fiancé’s?”

His eyes narrow ever so slightly as if to tell me yes, he thought I was that dumb. At least his assumptions about me make this whole conversation that much more victorious.

“He and I had a discussion about all of this when he sought out my advice. I tried to warn him to not go through with this, but he didn’t listen.”

Boom. I catch him right where I want him. There is no way Declan would ever speak to his father about his inheritance, which means all of Seth Kane’s assumptions are based solely on speculation. I almost laugh at my discovery, but I’m not ready to break character yet. I’m having all too much fun playing with Chicago’s biggest asshole.

I dab at the corners of my eyes. “Excuse me. I’m just feeling so overwhelmed suddenly.”

Mr. Kane shakes his head as if he is truly disgusted by Declan’s life choices. He doesn’t have two legs to stand on given his history, but he puts on a good show. One almost better than mine. “My son should know better than to play with an innocent woman’s feelings. I thought I taught him better than that.”

I don’t even know where to start with that comment.

Don’t let him get to you. He’s only trying to scare you into calling off the marriage.

I steel my spine. “There’s only one person playing with my feelings, and I’m staring straight at him. Thanks for all the information though. I’m sure Declan will be interested in hearing all about your attempt to ruin our engagement.”

His face morphs into something straight out of a child’s nightmare. “You think you’re clever?”

“Oh, I know I am.”

“I was trying to save you from a loveless marriage, but it seems as if you two deserve each other.”

“I sure hope so, seeing as we’re getting married.”

“He will never love you. He is incapable of it.”

“If I wanted some fatherly advice from a deadbeat dad, I’d call my own father.” My dig is meant for him and all the shit he put his children through.

His jaw clenches. “This isn’t over.”

I offer him a beaming smile as a few guests walk past. “I sure hope not. I thoroughly enjoy watching you make a fool of yourself.”

I leave Declan’s father behind, stewing in the shitstorm he created.

“Your father knows,” is the first thing I say as Declan enters the car. Harrison, Declan’s chauffeur, shuts the door before entering the private driver’s cabin.

His head tilts. “What do you mean ‘he knows’?”

“Let’s just say he and I had a heart-to-heart after he cornered me near the bathroom.”

His look of disgust mirrors mine. “Tell me exactly what he said.”

I break down the entire conversation, from the assumptions his father made to the way he offered to pay me double to call off the engagement. Declan remains tight-lipped throughout the whole thing until I finish.

“He has no evidence.”

I twist my hands on my lap. “Doesn’t mean he won’t stop until he finds some.”

“Then we will give everyone a show they so desperately want.”

“But aren’t you worried he might do something irrational?”

His eyes light up with challenge. “I’d like to see him try. There is nothing I’d like more than to tear him down once and for all.”

A shiver skates down my spine. “So what’s our plan then?”

Our plan?”

I flash my ring finger at him. “This automatically makes you a team player.”

The muscles in his jaw clench. “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into with this one.”

“If Cal’s stories are anything to go off of, I think I have a good idea.”

“Whatever Cal told you is a watered-down version of the truth.”

My brows tug together. “What do you mean?”

Declan’s lips smash together, and the silence grows between us as he remains tight-lipped on the matter.

I roll my eyes. “Well, then. While I appreciate your concern, your father doesn’t scare me, so your cautionary tales are a wasted effort.”

“You must have a death wish. There’s no explanation for your irrational behavior.”

I laugh. “Obviously, or else I would have never agreed to marry you.”


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