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Terms and Conditions: Chapter 47

IRIS

“Are we almost there?”

When Cal asked me to go on an errand with him, I thought he meant a quick trip to the grocery store. We have long passed the grocery store and any sign of civilization.

“Yes.” He taps the steering wheel to the beat of the music streaming from the radio.

“It feels like we’ve been going around in circles for hours.”

He laughs. “It’s been thirty minutes. Max.”

A lightning bolt cuts across the sky. “It’s about to rain.”

“How convenient,” he replies with a dry voice.

“Are you going to tell me what you have planned or are you sticking with the element of surprise on this one?”

“I’m not the one surprising you.”

What?”

He pulls over and unlocks the doors. “Get out.”

“Are you joking?”

“Unfortunately not. Although I’m sure you wish I was.”

I don’t move a muscle. Cal hops out of the car and circles around the hood to open my door. “Come on.”

“We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“Stop being dramatic. We passed a Starbucks ten minutes ago.”

“Why are we even here?” I’m too shocked to do anything but follow him out of the car.

“Just give him a second.”

“Tell me you didn’t set me up.” I look around, trying to find the him Cal speaks of.

My comment goes unanswered as Cal jumps into his car and does a dramatic U-turn away from me. His tires squeal as he accelerates down the road, leaving me choking on car exhaust.

“What the hell?” I grab my phone from my purse and dial his number.

The dick sends me straight to voicemail.

I start talking the moment it beeps to leave a message. “You better have a good reason for ditching me like this—”

My rant is cut off by a car driving down the road. I’ve seen enough crime documentaries to know nothing good comes from hitchhiking with a stranger. I search the perimeter for somewhere to hide, except I’m surrounded by flat land and a few pieces of garbage. “Fuck. Cal, I’m going to kill you tonight in your sleep. Dead or alive.”

As the car gets closer, I realize it isn’t a car at all, but a white minivan. One that looks awfully similar to those serial killer vans everyone warns women to stay away from. My heart pounds harder against my chest, fighting for a way to get out.

I cross my fingers and whisper, “Please don’t be an ax murderer. Please don’t be an ax murder—”

I startle at the sound of a horn followed by a loud bark.

“Need a ride?”

My eyes widen at the sound of Declan’s voice. “No fucking way.” I bite down on my tongue and a metallic taste immediately floods my mouth.

I guess this is really happening.

Declan steps out of the vehicle wearing his best suit. “I have somewhere I need to be, so if you want a ride, you’re going to need to hop in.” He leans against the hood of the car like this isn’t the weirdest situation ever.

I open my mouth to ask why Cal set me up, only to be cut off by a clap of lightning.

He raises a brow. “So, are we going or do you want to get electrocuted?”

I stomp my way toward the passenger side and open the door. “Drop me off at Starbucks down the road.”

“I’m going in the opposite direction.”

“Then make a U-turn.” I take a seat before the sky opens up above us.

He doesn’t answer me as he shuts my door with a small smile.

“What—” My reply is cut off by a dog barking.

I check out the back seat and find a massive dog attached to some kind of animal car seat. He is covered in fur from head to paws, and I can barely make out his eyes due to his giant poof. I’m surprised he can even fit in the back seat based on the sheer size of him.

“Whose dog is that?” I ask when he opens his door.

“Ours.”

“Ours?!”

The dog barks with a reply.

I’m not even going to touch that comment. Instead, I search the directions for the nearest Starbucks on my phone. “Take me here.”

He completely ignores my map as he turns in the opposite direction.

“Declan!”

“I know I don’t deserve it but give me ten minutes of your time.”

I’m thrown back into the memory of the last time he asked for ten minutes but gave me ten words instead.

I am falling in love with you, Iris Elizabeth Kane.

The memory makes me compliant enough to keep quiet as he drives us down the road. Gray clouds part above us. Rain falls against the windshield, and Declan is forced to turn on the wipers to see clearly.

The dog whimpers at the sound of thunder. “What made you get a dog?”

“You said you wanted one.”

My mouth drops open, and no words come out.

“It took me eleven shelters to find the one that fit your exact requirements, but somehow I pulled it off. I just hope you like him because there is no way he is ever going back to that god-awful place. They would have put him down if it weren’t for me.”

A laugh bursts out of me before I can swallow it. When I made up the story of the dog, I never really thought Declan would actually go out and find one for me. Let alone adopt one that is the size of a bear.

“Why would you do that?” My voice cracking mirrors my resolve.

“Why not? You wanted it, so I made it happen.”

“And the minivan?”

“I thought we might as well have one ready to go for all the kids you want one day.”

My vision turns misty. “You can’t possibly mean that.”

“I do, and I plan on showing you.” He stays silent as he presses a foot on the accelerator.

The rest of the ride is a bumpy one. I’m grateful when Declan stops the van before I throw up from carsickness. He parks us in front of an old farmhouse with boarded-up windows and a porch that looks about ready to collapse. With the way he gets out of the car without an umbrella, I could almost forget it’s raining.

He doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by it as he opens my door and holds out his hand. “Come with me.”

I blink up at him. “It’s raining.”

“I know. That’s kind of the point.” He grabs onto my hand and tugs me out of the car.

Raindrops splash against my skin. Declan leads me away from the car, although we don’t make it very far before he stops in front of the worn-down porch. Water clings to his hair, skin, and clothes. I’m not sure I look any better with the way my T-shirt is plastered against my body. I’m tempted to seek shelter on the porch, but the wood looks warped and decayed from years of neglect.

“What is this place?”

“One second.”

“Sure, I’ll just wait while I catch pneumonia.”

His hand gripping onto mine tugs and rotates my stack of rings until they both slip off.

An unbearable tightness in my chest intensifies as I check out my ringless finger. “Wait—”

Declan pulls out a ring box from his jacket and gets down on one knee. His face remains a blank canvas, completely devoid of any visible emotion as he looks up at me.

My heart pounds against my chest as he latches onto my left hand.

“What are you doing?”

“Proposing to you in the middle of a rainstorm in a Tom Ford suit.”

Oh. My. God.

No way. There is no freaking way he is recreating the story I made up.

Right?

Wrong. He pops open the ring box, and I gasp. Even without the sun shining down on it, I can tell he bought the most beautiful emerald ring I’ve ever seen.

“Iris.”

“Yes?” I drag my eyes away from the ring and back toward his face.

His hand holding onto mine trembles, and I know it has nothing to do with the rain. I give him a reassuring squeeze. He mumbles something that sounds like here goes nothing, and my chest caves in on itself at his display of vulnerability.

Ya’aburnee1. As in you bury me. A rough translation for the way I want to leave this world before you because I can’t imagine having to go through a single day without you in it. If this last week was a preview of that kind of life, then I can assure you it isn’t a life worth living. You’re my wife and my best friend. The future mother of my children and the one place that truly feels like home. You’re the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, not because you signed a contract, but because you love me enough to stay without one.

“I want to be the kind of man who is worthy of a woman like you—if it’s even possible. I promise to work every damn day to make sure you don’t regret marrying someone as miserable as me. Because when I’m with you, I’m not miserable at all. You make me happy in a way that makes me afraid to blink just in case it all disappears.” The vulnerability of his words tugs at every single one of my heartstrings.

“I’ll give you anything you want—anything at all—so long as you give me a chance to make you as happy as you make me. A dog. A family. A home. I want it all. These are my terms and conditions, take it or leave it because I’m not open to negotiations.”

“Only you could make a proposal sound like a business acquisition and get away with it.”

“Marry me.” He orders with a smile that could make me agree to just about anything.

“I am married to you.” My tears mix with raindrops, and I’m not sure where one begins and the other ends.

“Marry me for real this time. No contract. No inheritance. No expectations other than for you to love me despite all the reasons you probably shouldn’t.”

He doesn’t say anything else as he looks up at me. Emotions flicker across his face like a mood ring, switching from happiness to fear. The heavy rain slowly turns to a light sprinkle as I stare at him.

To marry him again means to trust him with my heart, knowing he can break it. It means giving him a fair chance to learn from his mistakes and become a better man in light of them. Marriage isn’t easy but neither is life, and I can’t imagine doing either without Declan. Luckily, I don’t have to.

“Yes.” The response comes out as a whisper, so I speak firmer, “Yes. I want to marry you.”

My legs tremble from the smile on his face as he slides the new ring up my finger. The diamonds surround the green gemstone like sun rays, shining as the sun finally beams down on us.

“Those were the most excruciating thirty seconds of my life.”

I laugh. “Serves you right after everything you put me through.”

He stands and pulls me into his arms. His lips slam against mine, stealing my ability to breathe as he kisses me with every ounce of love in him. Declan’s embrace feels like coming home. My toes tingle and my chest warms, and I get all excited as his lips press softly against mine in a silent apology.

Our kiss goes on for what feels like hours. By the time we break apart, both of us are soaked to the bone although the rain has officially stopped.

The way he looks at me sends another shiver down my spine. I take a step back, knowing what a look like that means.

I clear my throat. “Are you going to tell me what we’re doing out here in the middle of nowhere?”

“Showing you our new home.”

“Our new what?” I gape at the house. I use the term loosely, seeing as the place looks like it has been abandoned for years.

“Let me show you something.” He clutches onto my hand as we circle around the back of the house.

“No. Freaking. Way.” I blink.

He smiles. “Do you like it?”

I take a step toward a stunning greenhouse. Unlike the house behind us, the greenhouse looks like someone recently came to take care of it. The spotless glass shines, giving me a good idea of the empty space inside.

I would need to buy hundreds of plants to fill it. Maybe even a thousand.

Declan pulls me against his chest so he can lay his chin on my shoulder. “I thought about letting you pick a place, but when my real estate agent sent me this listing, I knew it was the one. I drove out the same day to check it out and put an offer on it.”

“Why?” I croak.

“Because there is nothing I want more than to turn a house into a home with you.”

Declan needs to come with a warning sign because I’m susceptible to swooning whenever he is around.

“It’s beautiful.”

His arms tighten around me. “Want to check it out?”

“Can we?”

He grins as he steps away from me and opens the door. I spend the next five minutes exploring the place, cataloging just how much space I would have.

“I think I’m in heaven.” I trail a finger across an empty table waiting to be covered with pots.

“So I take it that you like it?” His confident voice doesn’t match the hesitant look in his eyes.

He’s nervous.

Anxious Declan is my favorite Declan because it’s the version of him no one else knows about. He tries so hard to hide it from everyone else, but around me, he doesn’t mind dropping his guard. It makes my chest all warm and tingly to know he trusts me enough to share that part of himself. Because to someone like him who grew up thinking emotions were weaknesses, it probably means so much more than I could ever imagine.

I walk over to him and wrap my hands around his neck. “I love it so much.”

“Good. Because if my proposal didn’t work, this was my next best option to convince you to marry me.”

I smack his wet chest. “You can’t buy people’s love like that.”

His eyes twinkle. “I don’t want other people’s love. I want yours.”

“You already have it.”

He blinks.

I stand on the tips of my toes so my lips hover over his. “Daisuki.” I press my mouth against his, and he releases a shuddery breath. “Szeretlek.” He groans as I deepen the kiss, only to pull away breathless not a minute later. “Ich liebe dich.” I repeat the same three words he whispered to me back when he made love to me.

His eyes shut as if he is experiencing a sensory overload.

“I love you,” I finish in English, just to get my message across because I most likely ruined the pronunciation of all the words.

“Say it again.” His darkening eyes linger on my mouth.

“I. Love. You.”

He kisses the top of my forehead. The pain etched into his face guts me, knowing he spent thirty-six years of his life believing he was unlovable—all because of his shitty, abusive father.

I cup his cheek. “I will always love you. Today. Tomorrow. Forever.”

“You say that now…” His voice drifts off as his eyes dart away.

My chest clenches. “And I’ll say it every day until you finally believe it.”

“It could take forever.”

I trace his wedding band with the tip of my finger. “It’s a good thing all we have is time.”

1Arabic: “You bury me.”


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