Landlord Wars: Chapter 10


Elise opened the semi-walk-in closet inside my bedroom and studied the space. It was bigger than a reach in, but small in the sense than only one person could step inside at a time. Then again, any walk-in closet in San Francisco, where space was a rare commodity, was unheard of. “Did the white dresser come with the closet?”

“No,” I said, puffing up my chest. “I bought it and put it together.”

She looked over her shoulder. “You built this?”

“Don’t act so shocked.”

“Well, I am. You suck at building things.” She eyed the dresser. “How long did it take you?”

I crossed my fingers behind my back. “An hour.”

I may have taken care of things back home, but not without help. I had a phone and knew how to call in the professionals.

Elise sent me a disbelieving look.

“Fine,” I said. “It might have taken closer to two hours to build.”

She looked at me pityingly. “You realize that when you move, you won’t be able to bring this with you, right?”

I glanced at the closet. “It’ll fit through the doorway. Especially with the help of my loving sister.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about. It won’t fit at home.”

The breath whooshed from my lungs, and I stilled. I’d been so focused on moving forward, I’d forgotten what it would mean to move back.

My new furniture wouldn’t fit at Mom’s. Nothing would fit inside my family home, not even me.

I squeezed the top of my head, forcing back a headache. Moving backward didn’t matter. And it didn’t matter if the darn dresser fit. My aversion to hostile people who disapproved of me surpassed my reluctance to move into my mother’s house. Mostly.

Part of this was my fault for caring so much what people thought, and part of this was Landlord Devil’s fault for his attitude and subtle threats.

I joined my sister at the closet and started pulling the jeans and pants I’d carefully hung not long ago off the hangers and setting them in one of the boxes I hadn’t gotten rid of. “I have no choice. Max has made it clear I’m not wanted here.”

“He seemed fine last night. He even stuck around until you got home.”

That had been a surprise. Though it likely had nothing to do with me. “To be your and Jack’s referee! What was up with you two?”

Elise waved off my comment. “We disagreed about a reality show and men’s motives. It was no big deal.”

“No big deal? Elise, for a moment there, I thought you might come to blows.”

She sank onto the bed, her gaze focused on the wall. “Maybe it’s not such a bad idea for you to leave this apartment.”

I sat beside Elise, shocked. She had been urging me to move out of Mom’s for years. She was the last person to support my neurotic reason for moving back home.

She turned to me. “That Jack character is a massive jerk.”

Now we were getting to the real issue. Enough of this relaxed attitude about me moving out.

Elise’s face turned a reddish shade, and her hands clenched in her lap. “He had the balls to say that women are to blame for why men flip out.”

My head jerked back. “Wait, what? That doesn’t sound like Jack.”

“And then he went on to praise some guy on the reality show for lashing out at a woman in order to protect his fragile male ego,” she said, her voice rising.

I glanced at the door. “Keep it down. Jack is home, and he can hear you if you yell like that.” My nose scrunched. “Are you sure you understood his meaning?”

She looked off, her lips pursed. “In so many words.”

Which could mean anything. I waggled my head. “Okay, well, Jack is fragile right now. His last girlfriend did some pretty awful stuff.”

Elise’s face snapped up to mine. “Did you just defend him?”

I held up my hands. “Hell no. I hate it when women are blamed for men’s bad behavior. But I understand why Jack might be sensitive right now.”

“Doesn’t justify his defense of a man being an asshole,” she muttered.

“True. But there are reasons men behave the way they do, even if they’re wrong.”

Elise’s eyes narrowed, and she studied my face. “What about the landlord? You willing to excuse his bad behavior because of life experiences?”

Fair point. “That’s different. Max Burrows is a jerk, and Jack is a sweet guy.”

“Jack is not sweet!”

I clamped my hand over her mouth, and we toppled onto the mattress. “What did I say? Stop yelling before I kick you out.”

Elise sat up and smoothed her already flawless blowout hair. “You can’t kick me out. You need me to help you move.”

True fact. “Well, don’t get me kicked out before I leave this place. I need it for a few more days. I won’t be able to finish packing before the end of the weekend.”

She eyed me critically. “You had all day and yesterday. It’s your own fault for dragging it out. Unless you wanted to drag it out…”

“Excuse me for not being a machine. I was forced to go on a blind date—”

“No one forced you.”

“—and now I’m behind.”

The sound of the front door closing drifted back. Then came the sound of a familiar male voice.

My eye started twitching. “What the…?”

Elise perched her chin on her hand and grinned. “Hmm, sounds like your nemesis has returned to see his bestie.” Her face twisted as though she’d eaten something bitter. “Are Max and Jack really best friends? Max is so tailored, and Jack is…unkempt.”

“They’re best friends,” I said and stood, agitation making my body vibrate. “And Jack is a clean guy; he just dresses casually.” I shot her a glare. “Not sure why you’re pointing fingers, miss queen of sweatshirts.”

Elise’s mouth parted. “I’m a grad student and poor,” she said, but I was already fading her out mentally.

Why was Max here?

How often did those two hang out? I was so right to break the lease.

Shit. Breaking my lease.

Would Jack and Max give me a hard time about leaving? They couldn’t fault me for an emergency move-out, could they? Because getting out of Landlord Devil’s orbit was an emergency. The way my brain had malfunctioned on my date, it wasn’t healthy to have Max in my life.

I took a deep breath. “Come on. I’m going to ask Jack to break my lease, and for Max to give me my deposit back.”

Elise winked, and the corner of her mouth turned up. “Ballsy. And not like you at all. Are you sure you’ll survive a confrontation?”

I grabbed her arm and pulled her up. “Support me for once, will you?”

She moved to the door in front of me and glanced over her shoulder. “As your buffer, you mean? I will, but I’m telling you, if that Jack character says anything the least bit misogynistic, I’m not holding back.”

I tilted my head to the side. There was something seriously weird going on between Jack and Elise, but I couldn’t worry about it right now. I had my own drama to deal with. “Just don’t say anything that will make the situation worse.”

Not that I trusted Elise with her hotheadedness, but she was my only resource at the moment. And she was correct—I sucked at confrontation, so I wanted her there as a buffer.

We walked down the hallway, and the voices in the kitchen grew louder. The sound of the fridge opening and closing floated back. Along with cupboards closing. Jack was an eating machine. Then again, Max had been the one to deplete my chocolate stash, so both were a nuisance in the food department.

Thankfully, I’d had time this afternoon to run by my favorite Noe Valley chocolate shop. I used the twenty bucks Jack had given me and added another twenty to splurge on six more chocolate ganache truffles with gold filigree. Because I was worth it.

At the end of the hallway, Elise stopped abruptly, and I nearly ran into her back. “What’s up?” I said, but she didn’t answer.

I looked over her shoulder and into the kitchen—and started to hyperventilate.

Max was leaning against a cabinet, dressed in a navy-blue cashmere crew sweater and tan pants, his thick shoulders stretching the knit. His hair was combed back, with a natural wave in his dark locks, and his face looked clean-shaven. He was a damned magazine model. But that wasn’t why my temperature rose and my heart sped up. Well, not the only reason. Not the important reason.

Maxwell Burrows reached back and popped another one of my new truffles into his mouth before licking his fingers in an altogether sexy and infuriating manner.

“I’m going to kill him,” I said.

Something pushed me back. It took me a second to realize my sister was trying to shove me in the direction of my bedroom.

But I didn’t care why I’d come out here, or what I needed from Max regarding the lease. How dare that egocentric jerk eat my chocolate. Again!

Max looked up, caught sight of me pushing past my sister, and lifted one eyebrow. He watched me intently as I made my way toward the kitchen. Then he slowly reached back, grabbed another chocolate truffle, and popped it in his mouth, chewing it with a glint in his eyes.

He knows the chocolate is mine?

He was dead.

I stormed into the kitchen and pointed my finger in his face. “What kind of rich guy can’t buy his own chocolate?”

Jack’s head snapped up from inside the fridge. He looked at his friend, eyes narrowing on the open gourmet chocolate box. “Dammit, Max, those are Sophia’s. Learn some manners.” He closed the fridge and walked over, shaking his head. “Max is a rich guy who forgets he’s wealthy. Sorry, Sophia. It’s an old habit for him. He’s been raiding my cupboards since middle school.”

Ignoring Jack, I inched closer to Max until we were toe to toe.

Max, sorry? He didn’t look sorry. His smirk had dropped, but his eyes were defiant cobalt orbs I wanted to jab with my finger.

“Can I help you?” Max said, as Jack wisely eased back and closer to my sister.

Elise snickered behind us, and I shot her a glare over my shoulder. She motioned zipping her mouth.

I turned back to the man who was about to become a eunuch. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Landlord Devil extended his hand, holding the last truffle—he’d eaten all of them! “Want one?”

I breathed in, then slowly out, closing my eyes to concentrate on my breathing and not strangling the six-foot-plus man in front of me.

While I attempted to calm myself, Max said, “I better get going, Jack. Catch you later.”

My eyes popped open as Landlord Devil swiftly eased past me and sauntered to the front door, walking out while my mouth still hung open.

Elise approached. “Wow. I like him. He’s good for you.”

I squint-glared. “Have you lost your mind?”

“No,” she said smugly. “It looks like you have this under control.” Was she giggling? “I’ll come by in a couple of days.”

That jarred me from my anger stupor. “But I need your help now!”

“Bye!” she called as she ran out the door behind Max.

What in the hell was happening?

I turned to Jack, who was rummaging in his wallet. “I’m so sorry, Sophia. I should have warned him as soon as he came over. Here,” he said, and shoved another twenty at me—fifty percent of the cost of the chocolates that the devil had consumed. “I promise to remind Max about the candy. I keep forgetting what a chocolate hog he is.” He chuckled. “You guys are so much alike.”

I nearly choked on my spit. Were Jack and Elise living in some alternate reality? “Alike?”

“He’ll have to bring his own chocolate next time,” Jack said, as though this were the solution to all my problems.

“Next time,” I mumbled like a madwoman. “There won’t be a next time,” I said and stormed after Landlord Devil.


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