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Terms and Conditions: Chapter 5

DECLAN

Ispent the weekend after our engagement party drafting the paperwork, ensuring there was no way for Iris to back out of our deal.

I throw the freshly printed contract against my wood desk. The pastel pink colored pages seem out of place against the other documents strewn on the surface.

Iris looks up at me. “What’s this?”

“Our marriage contract.”

“Why is it pink?”

One would think I asked for her to sacrifice her precious shoe collection based on her facial expression.

“Someone else left it loaded in the copy machine and I didn’t know how to change it.”

A laugh bubbles out of her. “I don’t know what you would do without me.”

“Your inflated sense of self-worth is concerning.”

“You don’t have to pretend to dislike me so much.”

“Your first mistake is thinking I’m pretending.”

She only grins at the barb. “They say there’s a thin line between love and hate.”

“Not thin enough,” I grumble under my breath.

She laughs some more as she grabs the pink contract.

“Initial at the bottom of each page once you’re done reading it.” I pass her a pen.

“This contract is about as thick as the Bible.” She stares at the stack of pages with a contorted expression.

I remain silent as I lean against my desk and cross my arms. “Is that a problem?”

Her brows draw together for the briefest moment before she recovers. “No, but I’ll need to spend my lunch break reading over it.”

“Take whatever time you need but that contract isn’t leaving this office.” There is no way I would risk someone catching a glimpse of our arrangement.

She traces the front page with one finger. “Fine. But I plan on reviewing each page three times just to make sure you’re not up to anything suspicious, so don’t get annoyed because I’m eating into your precious alone time.” Her response flows past her lips without a breath of hesitation.

And she accuses you of lying.

“Spare me the play-by-play and get on with it. I have other things to do.” I take a seat in my chair, and it groans under my weight.

“If you pack on any more muscle, that thing is going to split in half one day.”

My muscles flex under my suit as I unbutton the front of my jacket. “I’m sure you’d like that.”

“Only if I catch it on camera.”

I ignore her and unlock my computer. It only takes a few email replies before Iris lets out a noise of protest.

“Is this some kind of sick joke?” Her voice cracks.

“What?”

Her eyes widen to a concerning degree. “You plan on giving me full custody of our child?”

“Is that a problem?”

“Yes! A big problem!”

“I suppose now is the time I mention that the contract is non-negotiable.”

Her chin lifts in defiance. “Then make it negotiable.”

“No.”

“Then I’ll walk.”

I don’t look away from the computer screen as I reply, “I’d like to see you try.”

She rises, throws the contract on my desk, and grabs her purse off the floor. “If you can’t be a responsible father, then I am no longer interested in helping you.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Want to test that theory?”

Fuck. The rules of the game continue to shift without my consent, all because Iris doesn’t play fair.

She never has.

“You’re going to walk away from a hundred million dollars because of a custody agreement?”

“Money isn’t the problem. Your decision is.” She turns on her heel and gives me her back.

My control slips with each step she takes away from me. “I’ll give you two hundred million.”

She keeps walking toward the door, completely ignoring me. The sway of her hips is a silent taunt to grab her. To do something other than let her walk away from me and our agreement.

“Three hundred million.” Her step falters but she doesn’t stop until her hand grips the knob. I press the round button underneath my desk, and the door’s locking mechanism clicks into place.

She grunts under her breath. “Open the damn door.”

“Not until you sit your ass down and sign the contract.”

No.” She jangles the knob, but it’s a wasted effort. While the safe-style locks are meant to keep intrusive people out, they’re proving themselves quite convenient at keeping my assistant in.

I sit and wait for her to tire out. While Iris might have a strong will, mine is ironclad. And with so much on the line, her giving up is not an option, no matter how much she might hate me for it.

She rests her forehead against the door. “What about what I want?”

“You forfeited your rights the moment you became my fiancée.”

“Careful, Declan. Your misogyny is showing.”

The corner of my lip lifts. “You have no leverage here.”

“Consider this my bargaining chip.” She flips me off with her ring finger.

Cute,” I reply dryly.

“Either you listen to my conditions, or I’ll call the first reporter on my list and announce our split.”

My eyes narrow. “Are you threatening me?”

“Me? Never.” She bats her lashes. “I prefer the term motivating.”

Her brand of crazy happens to draw mine out. “You’re a pain in my ass.”

“Nope. That’s just the same old stick acting up again.”

To think I pay her more than any assistant in this building for this kind of treatment.

Because you both know her worth.

I release a disinterested sigh. “Go ahead and list your conditions.”

Her heels drag across the carpet before she drops back into her usual chair. The leather is discolored from all the years of her abuse. “I want shared custody—take it or leave it. You’re going to be a parent for fifty percent of the time whether you think you want to or not.”

“If this is your attempt at trying to use our child to get more out of me, it’s not going to work.”

Her nostrils flare. “I know this is a difficult concept to wrap your head around given the lengths people go to make you happy, but the world doesn’t revolve around you.”

“Next you’re going to tell me that Earth isn’t flat.”

Her nose twitches. “I hate when you try to be funny.”

“Why?”

“Because I like you better without a personality.” Her eyes are bright, always serving as a mirror straight into her heart.

Her stupid, bleeding heart.

“This is important to me. Like really important.” Her voice drops so low, I need to lean forward to catch her next words. “I don’t want any child to grow up thinking their parents didn’t love them.”

My fist balls up against my thigh. You had to go and tie yourself to someone with more daddy issues than you. 

Her gaze shifts away from me and off into the distance as if a memory took hold. “I know what it’s like to not be wanted by a parent. That kind of feeling isn’t one I would wish on my worst enemy, let alone my own child.”

As if I could ever be a waste of space like him. I’ve heard enough about Iris’s father from Cal to know I’m nothing like him, but the way she looks up at me threatens my perfectly laid plans. I was never supposed to be contending for father of the year. I’ve learned through first-hand experience that businessmen don’t make good family men, no matter how much they might fake it for publicity reasons.

What’s the worst thing that can happen if you agree? You hire a nanny to help raise your child?

My neck grows damp as I consider the consequences of giving into Iris’s demand. I know how this works. One contingency turns into two, and the next thing I know, she will only need to threaten me with leaving to get her way. I expected it from everyone but her, yet I’m not shocked at her ability to use my weakness against me.

Disappointing to say the least.

“One weekend every month,” I speak up before I have the chance to stop myself.

She clears her throat. “That’s a good start…”

“It’s settled then—”

“But no.”

“For fuck’s sake.”

Her eyes widen at my outburst.

Rein it in.

She carries on as if I didn’t show a rare burst of emotion. “I don’t want to be stuck with all the boring stuff like homework and chores.”

“Then hire a housekeeper and a tutor. You can afford it.”

She shakes her head. “That’s not my point. We should switch off every other week so we can provide a more consistent and stable home. That way we can both be the fun parent.”

“I can assure you that I will never be described as the ‘fun parent.’”

She rolls her eyes. “Kids are simple. As long as you feed them, play with them, and memorize all their favorite cartoon characters by TV show, then you’re instantly the coolest person in the room.”

“That sounds like absolute hell.”

“At least you’ll feel right at home.”

I return my gaze to my computer. “Fine. We will swap the child every other week.”

“See, I knew you could compromise if given the chance.”

“Blackmail works wonders.”

She grins. “You would know. It’s your go-to tactic.”

If only you knew. While Iris is aware of my ability to obtain information about people, she isn’t aware of the lengths I’ll go to manipulate situations for my benefit. I always get what I want. Iris commanding this negotiation will serve me better in the long run, regardless of her current upper hand.

She lifts a finger. “One more thing.”

I don’t have a chance to object before she continues. “My mother wants a traditional church wedding.”

“No.”

“But—”

I cut her off. “We’re eloping.”

“No, we can’t. At least not anymore.”

“Let me guess, you’ll back out of our arrangement if I don’t go along with your plan.” Predictable yet effective at getting me to yield.

“What? No. But I’d really appreciate it if you work with me on this. Please.” The way her bottom lip trembles makes me regret ever going along with her crazy idea to get engaged.

I hide my surprise. “So, this is a request.”

“A big one given your view on weddings, but I wouldn’t ask you unless it was absolutely necessary.”

“You owe me one.”

Her eyes glint as she flaunts her ring in my face. “Consider us even.”

A noise of disgust gets trapped in my throat. “Sign the contract and get out of here before I change my mind.”

She slides the papers toward me. “Sure. Once you make the appropriate changes, including upping the initial payment to three hundred million dollars, then I’ll go ahead and sign it.”

You little… “You think you’re clever.”

Her smile only adds to the heat surging through my veins. “I never asked for an increased paycheck, but since you so generously offered…”

Dammit. I cover my small smile with the back of my fist. “Well played.”

She winks. “Thank you, sir. You taught me everything I know.”

And I regret it every single day.


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