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Terms and Conditions: Chapter 35

IRIS

The next weekend, I wake up to absolute chaos downstairs. I roll out of Declan’s bed, run to my room to get dressed in something other than one of his T-shirts, and freshen up in the restroom.

It doesn’t take a super sleuth to find out where all the noise is coming from. I make my way through the house, following the sound of Cal’s voice.

“Look who finally decided to join us!” Cal claps his hands as I walk into the living room.

“What is going on?” I check out the usual spread of donuts, mimosas, cigars, and other contraband materials.

Declan doesn’t bother answering me as he stares at the TV. With the way he analyzes the black screen, one would think it was actually turned on.

“Your husband here invited us over to watch an F1 race.”

Us?”

“Rowan and Zahra are late, as per usual.” Cal grabs a donut and demonstrates what he thinks they’re doing.

“They’re coming here?”

“Surprise?” Cal looks over at the man in question.

“The batteries are dead.” He announces before leaving the room. If I expected any answers, I’m not about to get them from him.

“He really didn’t tell you?”

“No. It must have slipped his mind.” Or he wanted to surprise you.

My heart could possibly burst from the reality that Declan planned this all for me. I dropped the idea after he protested it, so knowing he went out of his way to plan it anyway…

It makes me want to kiss him.

Or fuck him.

Or kiss him and fuck him.

Cal holds up the sparkling apple cider bottle with a scrunched nose. “Do you have some exciting news to share with me or is this an insult to injury?”

I laugh. “I’m not pregnant.”

Declan re-enters the room. “Not yet at least.”

My whole body feels about twenty degrees too hot. The way this man looks at me makes me wonder if it’s possible to get pregnant via intense staring and palpable longing. Inquiring minds want to know.

“Well, that’s my cue to go find something stronger to drink. There’s no way I’ll get through being the fifth wheel without wanting to chop my own dick off.”

Declan shoots Cal a withering look as he leaves the living room.

“So…” I start.

He uses the now working remote to turn on the TV and find the right channel.

“What’s the real reason you planned this all?”

His back muscles shift underneath his T-shirt. “Gezelligheid1.”

I pull out my phone and stare at the search bar with a pinched expression.

“G-E-Z-E-L-L-I-G-H-E-I-D.” He spells it out slowly without me even asking.

“Where did you learn this one?”

“During my month studying abroad in the Netherlands.”

I laugh when the page loads. “Cozy? That’s why you did this?”

He shakes his head. “It’s more than that. It’s about creating a place where people can relax and feel happy.”

“Since when do you care about making people happy?”

“I couldn’t care less about anyone else’s happiness besides your own.”

My chest aches from his confession. “That has to be one of the sweetest—but extremely fucked up—things anyone has ever said to me.”

“Fucked up how?” He seems genuinely confused by my statement.

“Because you should do nice things because you want to, not because you think it would make me happy.”

“I want to make you happy, so therefore, I do nice things.”

Well, I can’t exactly debate his kind of logic on that one, especially when it makes me want to kiss him until we’re both breathless.

I bite down on my lip. “What happens when what makes me happy goes against what you want?”

His gaze darkens. “Then I’ll convince you otherwise.”

My head tilts. “That’s not how relationships work.”

“We aren’t a typical relationship, so therefore, the same rules don’t apply here.”

“There might be a time in your life when you can’t convince me. What then?”

“When it comes to you, I’m not opposed to using any means necessary.”

“Including torture?”

He cups my cheek and draws me toward him. “Is it still considered torture if I let you come?”

“I’ve unlocked a sexed-up monster.”

He laughs as he pulls me into a searing kiss that makes my toes curl. With the caress of his tongue against mine, our conversation is erased from recent memory.

The doorbell rings, and Declan hesitates to let me go. He tugs me back toward him for one last kiss.

The doorbell chimes again, and I laugh as I leave a scowling Declan behind to go answer the front door. I throw it open to find Rowan and Zahra standing hand in hand on the porch.

Zahra looks over at me with a smile. “Hey!” She doesn’t give me a chance to say anything before she barrels into me and throws her arms around my torso. “I’m so excited to hang out with you!”

“Me too,” I wheeze.

Declan’s shadow seems to make everyone freeze in place.

“Declan.” Rowan tips his chin.

“Thanks for coming over.” He holds out his hand for Rowan to take.

Rowan’s lips twitch as he ignores it and throws an arm around his back and gives him a pat. “Your threats made me curious.”

“Threats?” I ask.

Declan doesn’t pay any attention to my question as he shoots Rowan a death glare.

Rowan turns his gaze toward me, and a smile brightens his whole face. “I’m going to thoroughly enjoy this all.”

“Are you a big fan of F1?”

He looks at Declan as he responds to my question, “The biggest. I love watching people crash and burn.”

“That’s horrifying.” Zahra smacks Rowan’s arm.

Declan’s jaw ticks.

“Well, as fun as this whole pissing contest is, some of us came here for the mimosas.” Zahra loops her arm in mine and drags me away from Declan and Rowan. “Lead the way.”

I keep an eye on them over my shoulder. Declan shoves a finger into Rowan’s chest as he encroaches in his space. Rowan doesn’t seem the least bit bothered, instead he’s laughing and saying something I can’t make out from this far away.

Zahra pats my hand. “Don’t mind them. Rowan has been out for Declan’s blood ever since the whole Dreamland debacle happened. It was only a matter of time before they hashed everything out.”

I’m not sure a simple conversation will solve everything, given how upset Declan was when Rowan chose moving to Dreamland over helping him with the company.

I turn back toward Zahra. “You know about that?”

She laughs. “Oh yeah. Rowan told me after he decided to stay at Dreamland.”

“Wow.”

“As much as I love that he did that, I’m not one for family drama, so I’d rather they fix things sooner rather than later. For Rowan’s sake at least. He pretends he doesn’t care about Declan being angry, but I know him. He loves his brother.”

“If it means anything, I think Declan misses him too.”

“More like he misses picking on his baby brother.”

Cal steps out of the living room. “Declan found someone else to torture now, so I think we’re safe from his wrath, so long as Iris puts out.”

I choke on my inhale. “Who said anything about that?”

“I caught you kissing earlier.”

Zahra’s eyes widen. “You kissed him.”

My cheeks burn as I look away.

“Oh my God. We need to talk. Now.” She drags me toward the stairs, but I make a quick detour so I can grab two mimosas. I have a feeling we are going to need some alcohol for this conversation.


Zahra and I make our way to my room with our drinks in hand. For the first time since I moved into the house, I finally use the sitting area by the huge window.

“Nice room. It’s a lot different than what I expected,” she says as she looks around.

“The dungeon is being cleaned so this was the next best thing.”

She laughs. “Sorry. I tend to talk out loud sometimes and forget my manners.”

I take a sip of my drink. “Don’t worry. I’m sure you’re curious about everything.”

Her whole face lights up. “Yes! I’ve been dying to ask you about your fake marriage, but your wedding didn’t seem like the most appropriate place.”

“For legal purposes, I have to tell you not to repeat this conversation to anyone.”

She snorts. “Does that spiel actually work on any of your friends?”

I shrug. “I wouldn’t know. Besides Cal, who already knows everything, I don’t have any.”

Her bottom lip juts out. “That’s sad.”

I sigh. “It’s old news.”

“Is it?”

“I thought we came up here to talk about my marriage.” My deflection would make Declan proud.

She clinks her glass against mine before taking a sip. “Touchy subject. Got it.”

I instantly feel bad for being snippy. “Sorry. I don’t mean to come off rude.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m not here to judge you.”

“Not even a little bit?”

“What for?”

I look around my room. “You don’t find my situation a little…weird?”

Her chest shakes from silent laughter. “Not at all. If anything, it’s kind of romantic, seeing as he invited us over here to spend time with you.”

“That in itself is confusing.”

“How so?”

“I asked him a while back and he told me he didn’t want to.”

Her lips form an O. “I see.”

“Feel free to share your thoughts.”

“There isn’t much to it. You wanted something and he made it happen. At least he’s a quick learner. It took Rowan months to realize he actually cared about my feelings more than his own.”

I laugh. “Whoa. I didn’t say anything about feelings.”

Her eyes roll. “Come on. You must know he has some kind of feelings for you.”

“He told me himself that he does.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Me.” It pains me to admit it, but it’s the truth. I’m not sure if I will ever be in the position to fully trust someone. Maybe I’m too broken.

“Oh. It all makes sense now.”

“What does?”

“It’s normal to be afraid of something new. I was like you—scared and unsure about dating a man again after I was burned badly.”

“You were?” I wouldn’t associate her positive energy with someone who struggled to trust anyone.

“Oh yeah. I went through a rough breakup with someone I thought I was going to marry one day. Turns out he was cheating on me with one of the Dreamland princesses.”

“Ouch.” I wince.

Her smile falters. “At the time, it felt like my world was ending. But now I realize it was the best thing that could have happened to me.”

“Because you found Rowan?”

She shakes her head. “Because I found myself.”

“I feel like I’m going to need a lot more than a mimosa for this kind of conversation.”

She laughs. “Too deep for a Sunday morning?”

I nod. “Way too deep.”

We break out into a fit of laughter. We move on to safer topics that have nothing to do with my relationship with Declan. I’m grateful he planned today’s family gathering, solely because I got to spend more time with Zahra and hear another person’s opinion on my marriage. While Cal means well, he isn’t exactly a guru when it comes to relationships. Hence his resistance to contacting Alana despite him needing to for his inheritance.

Speak of the devil, he throws open my bedroom door with a dramatic flare. “I hate to interrupt this bonding session but the race is about to start and Declan’s getting antsy.”

“He’s just annoyed he has to talk to you for twenty minutes straight.”

“Watching him fumble through small talk that has nothing to do with work or our inheritances is far more entertaining than I thought.”

I lock arms with Zahra. “Let’s go put Declan out of his misery.”

Cal scoffs. “I know you’re biased because you’re his wife, but the man has been miserable ever since the day he was born.”

Zahra winks. “I have a feeling that’s about to change.”

1Noun, Dutch: The warm feeling of being surrounded by loved ones. The state or fact of being cozy.


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