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Terms and Conditions: Chapter 33

DECLAN

“Why did you use a condom?” Iris asks as she tugs a clean T-shirt of mine over her head.

I busy myself with digging through a drawer. “I wasn’t about to kill the moment by asking if you wanted to try for a baby.”

She laughs. “I appreciate the thought, but I know what I signed up for.”

“So, what, us having sex is just a way for you to fulfill your end of a contract?” My tone carries more bite than intended.

“I never said that.”

“Then what?” I snap.

“I mean, I know we agreed to having a child via in vitro, but if we are attracted to each other, then maybe…” Her voice drops off.

Is she fucking kidding me? If we are attracted to each other? The way she minimizes our connection makes me want to throw her back on the bed and show her how attracted she is to me. It’s bullshit is what it is.

You’re angry at yourself because you’re developing feelings and she isn’t.

Fuck yeah, I’m angry. I hate this discomfort growing in my chest with each ragged breath as much as I hate the way she is the one person I can’t control.

I slam the drawer shut, which makes her wince. Her reaction only adds to my already deteriorating mood.

Rein your temper in before you do something you regret.

I’m quick to throw on a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt before grabbing my wallet.

“Let me explain.” She grabs onto my arm, but I shrug her off.

“I don’t want your explanation.”

What I want is silence and some time to think by myself because something I’m doing isn’t working. I chased. I conquered. Yet she still won’t acknowledge the obvious feelings growing between us.

“Where are you going?” She follows me down the hall.

“Out.” I don’t look back at her as I barrel down the stairs.

“It’s late.” Her voice edges on the side of panic as she follows behind me.

almost turn around, but I can’t. Not when I feel like this. I don’t even know what this even is, but I want to claw at my chest until I have the ability to rip my useless heart out.

“Don’t go. Not like this.” She grasps my chin in her hand and forces me to look at her.

“Tell me why you don’t want me to go.”

“It doesn’t feel right.” Her reply is instant.

“Why?” I press.

She bites down on her lip and glances away. “Because you’re upset.”

“Try again.”

One more chance and then you’re walking away.

“Because I don’t want you to go.”

“Better, but not good enough.” I lean forward and kiss the top of her head before walking out of the house.

She doesn’t stop me again, although I wish she had.


I drive around Chicago without any destination. The empty feeling in my chest only intensifies with each mile I put between Iris and myself, much to my frustration. I don’t want to be away from her, but I don’t want to be around her either. Not when I feel out of control and one sentence away from destroying all the progress I’ve made up until this point.

I refuse to give her another reason to question our relationship, even if she doesn’t know we are in one in the first place. But how do I convince my wife by contract that we are meant to be together by choice?

The question plagues me for a whole hour. Nothing I come up with seems to be good enough, and I always circle back to the same issue.

I’m hopeless and desperate by the time I knock on Cal’s door.

He opens it not a minute later. “I was wondering when you’d show up.”

“She called you.”

His lack of a smile is the only confirmation I need. “Whatever you did, go back and fix it.”

“Why do you assume it’s me that did something wrong?”

“Are you seriously asking me that question?”

“Fair enough.”

He sighs. “Come on in. You look like you could use a person to talk to.”

I walk past him and enter his apartment. He keeps the place pristine, a complete opposite of what anyone would expect given his wreck of a personal life.

“Do you want a drink?”

“Water’s fine.”

Cal acts like a good host, bringing me a glass of water and a tumbler of my favorite whiskey. “Thought you could use both.”

“You don’t even like whiskey.”

“No, but I like my brother. Sometimes.” He grabs the bottle and places it down next to the tumbler just in case.

I pick up the water and leave the whiskey on the coffee table. Alcohol will only make matters worse, and I need a clear head.

“While I’m flattered you came here to seek out my advice, I’m not sure I’ll be able to help much.”

“Because?”

“Iris is my best friend. I’m not going to help you if it means hurting her.”

“I’m not trying to hurt her, dumbass. I’m trying to show her that I care about her,” I snap.

Cal’s eyes widen. “Holy shit.”

These are the moments I wish life had a rewind button.

“You care about her? Really?” The mystified look on his face reminds me of the day I told him Santa wasn’t real.

I press my lips together to avoid saying anything else.

He grabs my glass of whiskey, takes a sip, and unceremoniously spits it out, straight back into the same cup.

To think we are related.

“Well, this changes things.”

“How?”

“I thought you would make her fall in love with you, not the other way around.” His head drops back as he laughs, his voice hoarse.

“I never said anything about love.”

He only laughs.

My teeth grind together. “Are you done?”

“I’m sorry. It’s just too fucking good. You married her thinking she would make your life easier, only to realize you like her. A lot.”

Cal makes me feel like I’m the punchline of some joke.

“I don’t know why I thought coming here was a good idea.” I stand.

“Wait.” He holds up his hand. “I’m sorry. It was shitty for me to laugh at you when you’re obviously going through a hard time.”

Except his eyes twinkle from withheld laughter.

“I’m leaving.”

He blocks my exit. “Stop. I’ll help you.”

I raise a brow. “I’m starting to doubt you even know how.”

“You might not like my advice, but if you’re willing to try it, then I think you’ll be happy with the results.”

“I’m listening.” I sit back down.

“Iris isn’t much different from any other woman. She has wants, needs, and fears.”

“To think I thought you would be helpful.”

He glares. “If you want her to fall in love with you, you have to prove to her how you’re different from all the men she has dated before.”

“That can’t be too hard. They were all disgustingly average in every single way.”

“Unfortunately for you, you fall into the same category.”

My frown deepens. “I highly doubt that.”

“You can either argue every point I make or you can shut up and listen to someone else for once.”

I do one slow blink.

“There was always something that held her back from going all in, but the reasons all stemmed from the same issue.”

“Which was?”

“They never fully earned her trust.”

“All I’ve done is given her reasons to trust me.”

“Your whole relationship is a lie.”

I glare. “No, it’s not.”

“I’m not the one you need to convince.”

“What do you suggest I do?”

“Easy. Start with the truth and go from there.”

“What truth?”

“The fact that there is probably a part of you that has been in love with her for a long time, way before you ever signed a marriage contract.”

There he goes again with the L-word. It could explain my insane need to keep Iris close and protect her from harm’s way. The way my chest feels all tight when she is gone. How my heart beats faster whenever she is in the same room as me. My intense need to mind my words so I don’t hurt her.

Shit.

I am falling in love with Iris. The signs were all there, and I ignored them because I didn’t truly understand them.

Instead of an intense wave of panic at the idea of loving Iris, I feel calm. Love I can work with. I might not know how, but I’m willing to learn. For her and only her.

I switch my water for the whiskey. “I feel like I’m going to need something stronger for the rest of this conversation.”


Whoever said the truth will set you free is a dumbass. My legs feel weighed down by invisible cement blocks as I walk inside the house. I throw the keys on the counter and make my way toward the stairs, only to change paths toward the bright light on the other side of the house.

A lamp in the corner of the living room basks the space in a low light.

Iris, still dressed in my T-shirt, lays sprawled out on the couch with a blanket covering the bottom half of her body. One of her hands still clutches onto her phone as if she is waiting for a call.

She stayed up for you.

I instantly regret my decision to turn off my phone after she called me the first time. It was a rash choice made in the heat of the moment, but it was clearly the wrong one.

I lift her carefully in my arms, being mindful not to wake her with any sudden movements. She mumbles something before snuggling up to my chest. My chest tightens as I look down at her, wondering how the hell I ended up married to a woman like her.

You know how.

My teeth grind together as I let out an agitated breath. Iris’s head bobs with the movement, but she doesn’t stir.

I carry her up the stairs and toward my room. Somehow, I’m able to get her tucked into bed without waking her up, although she mumbles a few things in her sleep about her mom.

I shower before crawling into bed and tugging Iris against me. I intertwine her legs with mine, securing her to my body so she isn’t able to escape in the morning.


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