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Terms and Conditions: Chapter 8

IRIS

“Oh, fuck off. I can’t believe I woke up early for this shit!”

I bolt upright in my bed. It takes me a few seconds before my disoriented brain catches up to the fact that I’m sleeping in Declan’s house.

My house.

I run a hand across the crumpled sheets, trying to smooth out the evidence of me tossing and turning all night. Sleeping in a new place is always weird, but sleeping in the same house as my boss? I still haven’t fully processed the idea. Maybe because I’m still trying to come to grips with the way my whole life is being turned upside down.

“Another rain delay?! Since when are the stewards afraid of a little summer shower?” Declan’s booming voice has me jumping out of bed.

I check the time on my phone and groan. “Six a.m.?” It should be a capital offense to wake anyone up this early on their one day off.

Declan is all about rules, so maybe it’s time I enforce a few of my own, starting with quiet hours between 11 and 7. I’m quick to take off my bonnet, fix my hair, and switch my PJ shorts for leggings before rushing out my door.

Declan’s house is a maze of long hallways and empty rooms without a purpose. The only reason I’m able to find him quickly is because I follow the sound of his voice into a man cave.

A massive television takes up the majority of one wall, set up to offer the perfect view from a deep couch I want to dive into. Declan paces the space between the TV playing some kind of sporting event and a coffee table covered in snacks.

“Is that a mimosa?” The horror in my voice can’t be tamed.

All I can do is gape at him. I can’t seem to find any other words to describe the scene in front of me besides otherworldly. Mimosas. Donuts. An unlit cigar next to a half-empty bottle of champagne.

What the hell is going on?

Declan halts his steps, and his eyes snap to mine. I bite down on my tongue to make sure I’m not dreaming. The pain is instant, making this moment incredibly real.

Whoever this man is, he must be a figment of my imagination. There’s no other explanation for the backward ball cap, athletic pants, and T-shirt speckled in powdered sugar.

I’ve never seen Declan in anything but a suit. Ever. Whether we have a twenty-hour flight or a late night at the office, he wouldn’t be caught dead in anything but Tom Ford. I’m tempted to cover my eyes because the man is practically naked with the amount of forearm he’s showing off.

“What are you wearing?” His gaze hardens as his eyes scan my body, making me feel inappropriate in a sweater and leggings.

Me? What about him?

“You’re one to talk. The donuts are supposed to go in your mouth, not on your shirt.”

The side of his lips lifts as he brushes the crumbs off his chest. I can’t help but focus on how his ridges of muscle shift from the movement. His arms flex, drawing my attention to the veins lining his forearms—

Enough! What has gotten into you?

“You missed a spot.” I point to my mouth, showing him where some powder lingers.

Good job. Use your embarrassment to fuel his.

Except Declan doesn’t get ruffled. He merely walks up to me, leaving only a few inches between our faces. “Be a good fiancée and help me out.”

My lips press together. I could walk away and tell him to go find a mirror, but that would show him I’m ruffled in the first place by his presence.

Which would make things weird.

As if they aren’t already.

I lift my hand up to his face and use my thumb to clean the corner of his mouth. His eyes track my every move. Three seconds feels like three minutes with the way he stares at me. Despite my best effort to avoid his lips, my thumb brushes across his plump bottom one. He sharply inhales, and our eyes connect.

His eyes narrow.

He’s pissed.

Then he shouldn’t have asked for your help!

He probably didn’t expect you to grope him either.

Grope him?

Oh. I release Declan’s arm from my steel grip like he burned me.

You needed to use him for balance while you stood on the tips of your toes. That’s all.

“All good!” My voice comes out like a squeak.

Whatever expression Declan had a moment ago disappears, replaced by his pressed lips and empty gaze.

I distract myself by cleaning up the mess on the coffee table. “Why would you ever willingly wake up this early on a weekend?”

“It’s Sunday.”

“I don’t care if you’re Jesus himself, no one should be yelling at 6 a.m.”

Something on the TV screen captures his attention. He makes a disgusted noise as he throws his hands in the air. “Fuck you, Cruz. No one cares about your shitty start position.”

I struggle to reconcile this version of Declan with his usual cold, withdrawn self. “It’s like I don’t even recognize you right now.”

“I can’t tell if that’s a good or bad thing.”

I laugh. “It’s a weird thing.”

There’s a tiny crack in Declan’s icy façade as he unleashes the smallest smile. By the time I blink, it’s gone.

It’s as if putting on normal clothes and eating junk food reminded him that there’s an actual human being inside that needs to be let out every now and then.

“What are you watching?” I take a seat on the couch and grab a donut.

“Formula 1.”

“Don’t they have a race in Indiana or something?”

His heavy sigh of disappointment can be heard a mile away. “You’re right. This marriage will never work.”

“Shut up.”

“Mimosa?” he offers.

I do another slow blink before nodding my head. “Who knew a whiskey snob like yourself enjoys something so frilly?”

“My mom liked drinking them on race days.” He says it so casually like he didn’t just talk about his mom for the first time ever.

He drinks mimosas because they remind him of his mom. In all the years I’ve known Declan, he has never willingly spoken about his mother. The fact that he lost his at such a young age is devastating. I couldn’t imagine not having my mom around, scolding me or joking around with me about life. My eyes betray me, and I repeatedly blink until the wetness disappears.

I swallow back the lump in my throat. “Was she the reason you got into racing?”

“No. Grandpa is—or rather was—to blame for that one.” His eyes dart away from me and back toward the TV.

“Let me guess, he roped your mother in with alcohol.”

“Welcome to the dark side—we have liquor.” He passes me a full glass.

My chest shakes from laughter. “So what exactly is happening that has you raging at the TV like a toddler.”

“I’m guessing you’ve never seen a race before.”

“No, but that guy makes me want to.” Whoever is being interviewed has my attention. Something about his brown eyes and red race suit has me definitely interested in learning all about Formula 1.

“He’s married.”

“You think he might be interested in polygamy? I’ve always been good at sharing.”

“I’ll be taking this back.” Declan tries to swipe my mimosa from my hand, but I hold it tightly to my chest.

“No!”

“Stop lusting after Alatorre. It’s disgusting.”

“Mm-hmm.” I pull out my phone and search Alatorre Formula 1. The results are promising.

Very promising.

“You’re googling him, aren’t you?”

I don’t need to look up to know Declan’s amused. I’m certain if I catch him in the act, his smile will disappear before I have a chance to truly acknowledge it.

Santiago Alatorre’s social media accounts are just as enticing as his Google search. “You know what? I think I have a sudden interest to learn everything there is to know about Formula 1.”

Declan rolls his eyes in the most un-Declan-like fashion. “Of course you do.”


I understood absolutely nothing about the race except the rush of adrenaline that hits me as Santiago Alatorre crosses the finish line first, much to Declan’s disappointment.

“You’re just mad my guy won.”

Your guy always wins. It’s boring as shit watching him be so damn perfect all the time.”

“Aw. Better luck next time. Maybe your guy will win if he can actually stay on the track past lap one.” I pat his hand with mock sympathy.

“He better, if only to wipe that stupid smile off your face every time they mention Santi’s name.”

“My, my, Declan Kane. Are you jealous of my little crush?”

Little? You drooled all over my pillow for two hours straight while cyberstalking him.”

I drop said pillow and assess it for any evidence. “Liar.”

“You disgust me.”

I grin. “Same time next week?”

“No.”

My smile drops. “Oh.” Way to insert yourself into his plans.

I just thought—

What? That he might be interested in doing something together on his only day off?

Maybe…

Silly Iris. That’s not how this relationship is going to work.

He clears his throat. “There’s no race next weekend, but since you weren’t the worst company ever, you can join me for the one after.”

A spark of something comes to life in my chest that should warn me away from spending more time with Declan. I should take it as a sign to keep my personal life and business life separate, but I don’t.

I nod my head and confirm our new tradition.


“I’m disappointed in you.” Cal drops into the living room couch.

“What did I do now?” I look up at him from my spot next to the coffee table. Once Declan cleared the space of his contraband snacks, I decided to make myself comfortable and get to work. Between planning a wedding and working overtime, I can’t find enough hours in my day to get everything done.

At least not with our wedding coming up next Saturday.

Cal scans the stacks of papers spread out across the table before scowling. “So this is it? We’re back to the same position you were in before you applied for a transfer?”

My heart stops in my chest as I bolt from the area rug and assess the perimeter. The hallways are empty and I don’t hear Declan moving around upstairs, so he must be somewhere out of earshot.

After our morning bonding session, the last thing I want him to know about is my little secret.

The one I filed away in the so not happening drawer of my brain.

“He left.”

“Left the house?” I plop onto the couch across from him.

“He was walking out the door as I was pulling in.”

“Oh.” I’m not sure why the idea of Declan leaving without telling me anything makes my chest feel all tight and uncomfortable. It’s not like I expect him to tell me everything, but a courtesy I’m going out would be nice. Especially since I thought we shared a fun moment this morning.

“I’m guessing based on the state of this place that you’re not leaving, are you?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I failed.”

He shakes his head. “Doesn’t mean you can’t try again somewhere else. Anywhere else really, so long as they appreciate you.”

“Declan appreciates me.”

“So long as you do everything he wants.”

My eyes narrow. “That’s not true and you know it.” I don’t do everything he wants. He might be the boss, but I have no problem standing up to him and sharing my ideas. I’d like to think that’s part of the reason I’ve lasted longer than my predecessors.

“His appreciation is built on contingencies, just like everything else about him.”

“What do you expect me to do? We’re getting married.”

Both our gazes shift toward my engagement ring.

“You could tell him about your ideas.”

My head drops back against the couch as I laugh up to the ceiling.

Cal’s brows pull together. “What?”

“There’s a reason I never told him about my transfer request.”

“I know that. But things will be different now. I can guarantee it.”

“Because I’m marrying him?”

He nods, which makes me laugh harder.

He shoots me a serious look. “You have something Rowan doesn’t have.”

“If you say vagina, I’ll make you regret not having one.”

He winces. “Jesus. I was going to say a marriage contract.”

I laugh. “As if that means anything.”

“Maybe not yet but give it time. If there is anyone Declan has a soft spot for, it’s you.”

“You consider this having a soft spot?” I wave a hand over the entire table covered in papers.

“You could quit. Take your ideas and start somewhere fresh.”

“I can’t leave him right now. Our relationship complicates things.”

Cal shakes his head. “No, it doesn’t. Actually, if anything, it makes all the more sense for you to leave. It’s a conflict of interest to work for your husband.”

I sigh. “He needs me.”

“He doesn’t need anyone. He makes it pretty damn clear every time anyone says so.” Cal speaks with a little more of an agitated tone than I’m used to.

“He doesn’t even know how to operate a printer on his own.”

“He doesn’t want to know how.”

“Why?”

“Because what else would you be useful for?” He grins.

I grab a pillow and launch it at Cal’s stupid face.

“For your information, I just caught a mistake on Declan’s quarterly report.” I point at a misspelled word.

“Children with dyslexia around the world are rejoicing at your success story.”

I flip him off with a smile. “I don’t know why I ever admitted the truth to you.”

“Because you needed a shoulder to cry on after Declan ripped you a new one after your unforgivable typo.”

My hands covering my face muffle my groan. “You promised to never bring that up again.” It was my first month as Declan’s assistant and he nearly fired me for one mistake. I could have confessed the truth to him, but admitting my weakness seemed like a betrayal to myself. Like I couldn’t handle the intense work environment because of a learning disorder I spent my whole life trying to fix. So rather than ask Declan for accommodations, I work harder to achieve his standards.

Like reviewing reports on a Sunday.

Why struggle with a work-life balance when I can make my entire life my job?

“You’ve come a long way since then. Declan even respects you enough to let you lead some of his presentations.” Cal’s sincere words warm my heart. “But that doesn’t mean you should give up your dream because you think my brothers are more important.”

My smile falters. “It’s not the right time.”

“There’s never a right time to make a hard choice.”

“How much weed did you smoke this morning?”

“Not enough to be the voice of reason in this conversation.”

I glare at him. “I’m not quitting right now, so drop it.”

“Not quitting what?” Declan’s voice cuts in.

My pulse point flutters at his low, authoritative tone. It takes all my strength to drag my eyes toward Declan’s face.

“Yes, Iris, what exactly are you thinking of quitting?” Cal raises a brow, not bothering to hide his smug expression. “Fancy seeing you back so soon, brother. Forget something?”

Declan doesn’t respond, but the two of them share a look before my fiancé’s eyes lock onto mine.

“Umm…You see…” I scan the room, trying to spark an idea. A silent commercial for an animal shelter plays on the screen.

“She didn’t want to tell you the truth—” Cal starts up.

I jump from the floor and step in front of him. “I’m not quitting until we adopt a dog.”

Oh God. Did you really just say that? You have never considered owning a dog in your entire life!

The expression on Declan’s face tells me indeed I did.

“A dog,” he repeats.

“Oh, yes. Iris loves dogs,” Cal offers, failing to hide the amusement in his voice.

If looks could kill, Cal would be choking on his own tongue now.

“My mom never let me have a pet, so now might be the perfect chance for me to have one.” I mean having a dog might not be the worst thing ever. It could keep me company in this big, empty house.

“You want a dog,” Declan states with a strange expression on his face.

An idea of how to get out of this mess strikes me. “Yes. A big, fluffy dog that follows me around everywhere.”

“No.”

Sell yourself. Don’t make him suspicious by agreeing too easily.

“But I’ll do everything by myself. I know crate training can be annoying, but I doubt you’ll hear them howling over the sound of your snores.”

“There isn’t a chance in hell I’m letting that happen.”

“But think of all the serotonin we could be boosting if we had one.”

“My decision is final.” He turns on his heel and exits the living room.

“‘My decision is final.’ What a pretentious ass.” Cal’s eyes roll.

I drop onto the couch with relief. “You bastard. Why do you do that?”

“You could have told him the truth.”

Never.”

“Then I guess don’t get angry when you come home one day to a cute puppy in need of a loving home.”

I give his shoulder a shove. “Don’t you dare! He would kill me if you did that.”

“You have to admit that it would be a bit funny for you to adopt a dog when you hate them.”

“I don’t hate dogs! What kind of monster do you take me for?”

“The kind who actually enjoys working for my brother.”


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