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Landlord Wars: Chapter 15


We made our way home from the Irish pub, and Elise waved her arms drunkenly while Jack carried her on his back into our apartment.

“Giddy up!” Elise said, and kicked his butt with her heels.

Jack stopped abruptly, his face dark red. “Elise, I swear to God, if you do that one more time, I’m dropping you.”

Elise had said “giddy up” about five times, and Jack had threatened to drop her just as many. I wasn’t worried he’d follow through, but I was confident Elise would regret this night in the morning.

“Plop her on the couch,” I told him. “I need to get some water into her.” I shook my head and stared at my sister. “Why did you drink so much?”

She drunkenly pointed toward the door where Max stood. “I’m a poor graduate student who doesn’t get out much, and Max was buying. His card has no limit.”

Max appeared amused by the whole scenario.

“This is all your fault,” I said.

He shrugged unapologetically.

Jack squatted, his rear turned to the couch, but Elise was clinging to him like a barnacle.

I leaned down in her face. “Elise, let go of Jack.”

She released her arms and fell onto the couch, then curled into the fetal position. “Night, night.”

Jack raised his arms above his head and twisted at the waist, stretching his back. He’d carried Elise from the Uber and up the long flight of stairs to our apartment, and she’d been damned unruly. I seriously owed him.

“I should head out,” Max said, checking his phone.

“Not just yet.” I’d finally mustered the nerve to talk to a couple of men, and Max had come along and ruined it, along with my confidence.

I was not messy! Only my mugs were scattered, not the rest of me. I couldn’t help it that I had a lot on my plate.

I followed Max to the cement landing in front of our apartment and closed the door for privacy. “What was up with you tonight? I thought we cleared the air after my mom’s house. Why were you telling that man my worst habits? That’s just rude. I keep that stuff well hidden until months into dating.”

His lips twitched, but I was being serious!

“Is that what you were doing tonight? Hiding?” He moved closer, crowding me against the door, and pressed his hand to the wall beside my head. It was an extremely intimate pose, and my belly tightened.

I glanced at the hand and tried to not look at his mouth a few inches away. The clean scent of his aftershave wasn’t helping me focus. Damn Landlord Devil and his good looks. He was using the old lean-in-and-smolder technique to distract me, and it was working. “No, I wasn’t hiding, but you know how it is. It’s hard to let people in. You saw how awkward I am with someone new.”

He chuckled. “It was a sad showing.”

My mouth twisted. “You don’t have to agree with me.”

He leaned closer, which forced me to tip my head against the door or risk contact. “I could spare you all this awkward effort,” he said casually.

His blue eyes were crazy beautiful this close. “What do you mean?” I said dazedly.

“You don’t need to date other men.”

“I don’t?” I said absently, hypnotized by the blue Burrows orbs of seduction.

“Not if you’re dating me.”

Before I could process his words, Max’s lips pressed against mine…

I experienced a moment of vertigo, my first thought being that he’d accidentally bumped into me. Until his lips started moving, seducing me in a sensual glide.

Max Burrows tasted like cherry ChapStick—a hint of the sweetness hidden by the devil exterior.

My stomach dropped, and heat flared up my spine. There was no awkward knocking of teeth, just smooth, pillowy lips and a hint of tongue dragging me under.

Uptight, arrogant Landlord Devil was a good kisser.

Instinctively, I clung to his suit jacket and pulled him closer.

One of his hands gripped my hip, sending flutters south to vital pressure points…

I leaned back, breaking contact. “Uhhh,” I said, a flash of panic taking over. As good as it felt to kiss Max, my brain wasn’t prepared.

“Yes?” His gaze slid back to my mouth, and for a moment there, I wondered why I’d pulled away.

Until I gave myself a swift mental knock upside the head. “What’s going on? You don’t want to date me.”

Did I really need to point out the obvious?

He tucked a lock of my hair behind my ear. “I don’t?”

If only my body would sync with my mind, because right now my body was all, Yes, yes, he’s the one I’ve wanted, while my brain was like, Max Burrows is a cocky asshole!

“Wait, you do?” I said. “I mean, you don’t. You can’t.”

“Can’t I?” I swear he leaned in to kiss me again.

But the old brainbox finally kicked in, and I darted out from under his arm. “See you later,” I said and ran inside the apartment like a coward.

As I pressed my back to the door, my chest rose and fell as though I’d done a dozen laps up the stairs. I muttered, “Oh, no.”

“Why ‘Oh, no’?” When I looked up, Jack was surfing his phone from the living room couch, and Elise was nowhere in sight. She must have gone to bed.

“Nothing!” I said a little too loudly.

In some strange turn of events, I’d made out with Jack’s best friend—the man I’d spent the last few weeks hating.

And I’d liked it far too much.

The next morning, I woke with an exhaustion headache and my heart racing from anxiety. I’d stayed up late last night, with Elise snoring softly beside me in bed, thinking of all my encounters with Landlord Devil: the pink panties, his annoyance at my admitting Jack was handsome to his mother, his stealing my chocolate repeatedly to annoy me.

I covered my face with my pillow. Sometimes sexual attraction and hate looked an awful lot alike. Especially if you weren’t prepared for it.

What was I doing? Max was sophisticated, and I…wasn’t. He was rich and I was poor. He had classy friends and family, and I had Elise, my drunken sister/best friend. I wasn’t ashamed of any of it, but it didn’t change the fact that Max and I didn’t go together.

I rolled onto my stomach and pressed my face into the mattress. Why did the kiss have to be so good? Couldn’t he have had a lizard tongue? He could have committed any number of acts men did that turned women off, but every little touch from him had, unfortunately, had the opposite effect.

I threw my pillow across the room and swung my legs over the side of the bed. Blurry-eyed, I stumbled into the bathroom and showered. I couldn’t waste the day away thinking about Max. I had things to take care of for work, and my boss wanted to meet up, even though it was a Saturday.

I reached for a blush-hued blouse from the closet and did the best I could, pairing it with light wool slacks that were a size too big. Elise was right. I needed to suck it up and buy clothes that actually fit…


I spun around and stared at the mattress. When did she leave? She’d definitely been in bed when I returned from talking to Max last night, because I’d made her drink a giant glass of water, and she nearly choked on it while bitching me out for mothering her. We’d bickered for a few minutes—the usual—and then she’d starfished out on the mattress and was snoring within seconds.

But she hadn’t been in bed when I woke, I realized. Had I slept longer than I thought and missed her leaving?

After throwing on my clothes, I grabbed my workbag and left my bedroom for food and to find Elise. And froze just outside my bedroom door.

I observed several things all at once: Elise sneaking out of Jack’s room, a glimpse of Jack’s naked back as he sat on the edge of the bed facing away, and my sister’s eyes flashing wide as though she’d been caught.

I pointed at the door she was slowly closing. “Why were you in his room?”

She slapped a hand over my mouth and shoved me into my bedroom, nearly mowing me down in the process. “Be quiet!” She shut the door and tiptoed to the window, where she glanced out, worrying her lip with her teeth.

“You’re the one whisper-shouting,” I pointed out.

Elise paced back and forth, her hand on her forehead. She was wearing a man’s T-shirt, and most definitely not the sleepshirt I’d supplied her with the night before.

I blinked several times. “Elise Marie, what did you do last night?”

She stomped her foot and glared. “If you try to mother me in this moment, I will cut you.”

I glanced down her body. “With what? Jack’s T-shirt?”

Wrong thing to say, because Elise really did look ready to kill me.

I feigned zipping my lips. “Are you going to explain why I saw you leaving my roommate’s bedroom? And think before you answer, because I know you weren’t in my bed when I woke this morning.”

She sat on the edge of the mattress, in shock. “I slept with him,” she said, her voice high and panicked.

Okay, okay, no need to jump to conclusions. She couldn’t mean it the way it sounded. “Did you get up in the middle of the night and go to the wrong bed?”

She dropped her head into her hands. “I think that’s what happened. Originally.”


Elise rose and started pacing again in her bare feet. “I don’t remember walking in there, but I must have, after getting up to use your bathroom.” She spun on me. “You strong-armed me into drinking way too much water last night. This is all your fault!”

“That you passed out in Jack’s bed?”

“That I slept with him!” she whisper-yelled.

I grabbed her hand and made her sit. She was making me dizzy. “Jack knew you were drunk. It’s awkward, but he won’t hold it against you that you crashed in his bed.”

She hunched over. “I wouldn’t call it drunk.” Her gaze slid to me nervously. “More like I was slightly intoxicated and enjoying making Jack do things for me.”

My jaw dropped. Some of her behavior last night had been an act?

“Either way,” she said, “when I woke up to use the bathroom a few hours later, I was sober but groggy, and I must have walked out of your bedroom and into his. I’m not used to the bathroom being connected to the bedroom.”

Elise was a master sleepwalker, so this made sense. “Just tell him you sleepwalk and that you made a mistake.”

She straightened and wrung her hands. “It’s not just the sleepwalking. I talked in my sleep after I was in his room.”

Ah, got it. I’d had entire conversations with Elise while she was asleep when we were kids. No wonder she was embarrassed. “Jack is an adult. He won’t hold whatever you said against you.”

Was her face paler than normal? “You don’t think he’ll hold it against me that I moaned his name and sexually attacked him?”

I flinched. “Wait, what?”

She glanced at the door as though Jack might barge in at any moment. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you!” Then she was up and scavenging for the clothes she’d thrown on the floor last night and pulling them on over Jack’s T-shirt.

I attempted to process what she was saying. “You…kissed him?”

She stopped what she was doing and glared. “A little more than that, Soph. Stop being such a prude. I told you I slept with him.”

For some reason, I couldn’t utter the S-word in relation to my sister and my roommate. Jack was more like a brother. That was why I figured he and Elise bickered. Like they had their own sister-brother thing going on—though now that I thought about it, that didn’t seem right either. Jack had always been a little too focused when it came to Elise.

And then I was furious. “Wait, you’d been drinking. Did that asshole take advantage?”

Funny how my roommate could go from a good guy to a total jerk in the span of a heartbeat. But if he’d taken advantage of her, he was about to lose his favorite appendage.

Elise pulled the bag she’d been carrying last night onto her shoulder and closed her eyes, letting out a slow breath. “Simmer down. I was stone-cold sober by the time I dream-moaned his name. I’d had a very dirty dream about your roommate, for some unfortunate reason, and it woke me. And then I saw him sleeping beside me, and…”

I held up my hands in anticipation. “And?”

“I sort of—attacked him. Or really, I rolled on top of him and kissed him lightly on the lips.” She touched her mouth. “Sexiest peck of my life. He seemed taken by surprise for all of a hot second, and then he was kissing me back, and—we slept together. And it was ridiculously hot, but now… Nope. Can’t face him.”

“Ohhh, shit. Shit, shit.” I looked around, suddenly understanding her distress, because holy hell. Jack and Elise? Max was insanely protective of Jack. I could only imagine what he’d think if he found out Elise had snuck into Jack’s room. Jack was in a vulnerable state after his last relationship. Max was going to kill me!

She glanced past me to the window. “How high up are we? You have a fire escape, right?”

“I think so,” I murmured, distracted. “Wait, Elise. You can’t climb out of my window to avoid Jack. Have you lost your mind? Go talk to him.”

“Can’t,” she said and unlatched the window. She perched on the ledge and fumbled with the escape ladder. “There’s no way I can face your roommate ever again.” She lifted her leg over the ledge, then looked back. “Sorry, Soph. Guess I won’t be seeing you until you move out of this place.”

I scrambled after her. “I’m not moving, remember? I could be here for years. Be an adult!”

She shook her head. “He knows I had a crush on him now. I can never face him again.”

I tugged her back toward the room, but she resisted. “You have a crush on Jack?” I asked.

Her face contorted, and she batted at my hand, dislodging it. “Lower your voice! Had—I had one. My crush is gone. Now I need to get out of here. Close this behind me, will you?” she said as she descended the metal steps.

Elise was doing it. She was actually risking her life to avoid Jack.

I leaned over the ledge and watched nervously as she made it to the pavement from what looked like a sturdy escape ladder—freaking Landlord Devil and his attention to detail.

Elise peered around, then ran away like a cat burglar.

Where was she going? That wasn’t even the direction of the closest bus stop.

Running from a one-night stand via the fire escape had to be the worst walk of shame in history.

By the time I got myself together and entered the kitchen, Jack had left our apartment. His bedroom door was wide open, the bed made, and there was no sign of him.

What was wrong with these two? Jack was a late-night working hermit, and now he was leaving by seven in the morning? You’d think they were sixteen, not in their late twenties. Then again, I’d run for my life after Max kissed me, so fleeing romantic situations had apparently become an epidemic in the building.

Max would probably blame me for what happened last night. Or maybe not. I didn’t know. I wasn’t used to amorous, kissing Max. I was used to the Max who chewed me out, and this seemed like something he’d blame me for.

Unable to stomach anything heavy, I made a fruit smoothie and took off for work, hoping the distraction would do me some good.


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