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Landlord Wars: Chapter 17


“What’s wrong?” My sister sank into the booth at Bay Café after I’d called her over for an emergency meetup. She was looking showered and rather put together after her undignified early morning getaway.

I took a bite of my croissant, barely tasting it. “How long do you plan on refusing to come to my apartment? Because meeting here every time we want to get together is going to become a nuisance.”

Elise had refused to meet at my place, and after running into Max at his mother’s, all I wanted was to return to my bedroom for the next six to seven years and stream Gilmore Girls from my laptop.

“Forever,” Elise said flatly.

I threw down the croissant. “This is ridiculous. Talk to Jack and work things out.”

Elise reached across the table, stole the croissant, and jammed it into her mouth. “Not happening,” she mumbled, croissant flakes falling from her lips.

I could be stubborn, but Elise was a donkey.

“So what’s up?” she said, poking me in the arm after she’d finished chewing my food. “Why aren’t you eating?”

“I’m eating,” I said and sipped my water. In truth, I didn’t have much of an appetite. I was embarrassed, confused, excited, and worried all at the same time. “My boss offered for me to buy Green Aesthetic.”

Her eyes widened. “Are you kidding? That’s incredible.”

“It is,” I agreed as the waitress dropped off two plates: a sandwich for Elise and a salad for me. I picked at the roasted beet and apple salad. “Victor’s putting together a business proposal. It’s exciting, but I’m worried I’ll be getting in over my head.”

Elise studied me as she took a bite of her BLT, which I’d preordered because she’d texted me that she was “ravenous.” This I translated to get food stat or there’d be a hangry situation.

“You might be getting in over your head,” she said, “but if anyone can take on the responsibility and succeed, it’s you.”

Somehow, I managed swimming through uncharted waters well. But there was always a first time to sink. “It’s a risk.”

“But a good risk. It’s what you’ve always dreamed about, so why the sad face?”

I brushed Elise’s croissant crumbs from the table. “Victor asked me to meet a new client today for a consult.” I looked up and caught her eye. “It was Max’s mother.”

I explained how I’d met Max’s mother at the rooftop party, along with his ex-girlfriend.

Elise’s mouth twisted. “That’s a weird coincidence.”

“Or not.” I pinched the bridge of my nose.

Being called over to Kitty Burrows’ house had felt like a setup. She’d been expecting me personally, and then there was Max’s ex sitting there, cozy as could be. But there was no way Victor would have done something like that. He didn’t know Max and his family; not to mention, he was the kindest man alive. The one time I’d dared look Max in the eye in his mother’s fancy drawing room, he’d seemed surprised to see me. He couldn’t have set it up either.

“I didn’t know it was Max’s parents’ home until a man opened the door and led me to the back of the house, overlooking a garden.” I set my fork on the table, giving up on the salad. “A garden, Elise. A freaking garden in the middle of San Francisco. And not some small patch of grass. Oh no, Max’s family lives in a Victorian mansion I’ve ridden the bus past a million times and assumed was a museum. His family is so rich they have a man who answers the front door—”

“A butler.”

“—and a spiral staircase the size of Coit Tower.”

“That sounds like an exaggeration.” She continued munching on her sandwich. “However, Max paid for our drinks the other night, and he owns the building you live in. Are you really surprised he’s wealthy?”

“No,” I said, grudgingly. “What was surprising was the kiss he gave me the night before his mother ordered me around like a servant.”

Elise stopped chewing. “What?” She set her sandwich on her plate. I’d finally said something that won the battle for attention with her appetite. “You kissed Landlord Devil?”

I avoided her eyes. “He kissed me, but I…reciprocated.”

“Damn straight you did.” She leaned back, hand on her head as though excited or shocked or both. “I’m missing how this is a bad thing, Soph. Max has his shit together, and he isn’t hard on the eyes. Please tell me you aren’t considering ditching him in favor of another of the Paul variety?”

“Did you miss the part about his mother? And if ‘rich’ is your only criterion, Paul’s family was extremely wealthy. Not that I want a repeat of Paul. If anything, I learned a valuable lesson about dating a guy who comes from a wealthy family. As in, think twice.”

Elise shrugged and picked up her sandwich. “Rich people are raised different. Everyone is probably a servant in Max’s mother’s eyes. Don’t take it personally.”

“How can I not?” I said and picked my fork back up. I pushed salad around on my plate to distract myself. “We’re not equal. I can’t kiss Max anymore. Down that path lies destruction.”

Elise let out a light sigh. “It was just a kiss. Go out with the guy and see if you like him.”

That was the problem and the reason I’d spent most of my waking hours today thinking about him. I didn’t want to like Max. He stole my chocolate, and generally drove me nuts, but I didn’t need to go on a date with him to know if I liked him. I already knew that I did. The kiss had sealed the deal.

I’d hated Max up until he flipped the switch on me and showed me that he wasn’t as shallow as I’d imagined. He’d been kind to my mother the day he met her, and then he’d escorted me home. In contrast, Paul’s reaction to meeting my mother had led to our breakup.

Max had kissed me after meeting my mother. And with kissing skills no man should possess. Not if a woman was supposed to remain upright and not melt into a puddle of drool and dirty thoughts.

“What if it was only a kiss to him?” I said. Max might very well be toying with me, but I could easily see myself falling for a classy man with kissing skills. My lips were not immune, and neither was my heart. I pointed my fork at Elise. “Besides, you act like dating Max would be no big deal. If it’s no big deal to put your heart out there, what about you and Jack? Because clearly there’s an attract—”

“La, la, la—anyway,” Elise said, cutting me off and sticking her fingers in her ears. “As I was saying, did you like kissing Max?”

I glared. “Kissing Max was like the stupid mansion—I couldn’t comprehend the indulgence before I experienced it.”

Elise paused a beat, then said, “That was poetic.” She tilted her head and tapped the side of her chin. “I did not see this coming. I should have, with my talent for sniffing out your love life.”

I shot her a disbelieving look. “Since when have you been a bloodhound in the romance department?”

“Since I predicted Paul would leave you.”


Elise had told me to throw my ex back the very first night she met him. Then I proceeded to date him for a year. So, she had me there. “Well, apparently, you were too busy sniffing out my roommate to notice the sparks flying in the other section of the apartment.”

Elise’s face turned bright red. “We will not discuss that other individual. Back to LD. What happened after he kissed you?”


“Landlord Devil.”

I took a sip of water. “I ran away, of course. I’m not capable of mixing hate and love.”

“But is it hate?” she said in an annoying, squeaky, high voice. “Maybe he’s been eating your chocolates to get your attention.”

“Like a ten-year-old boy?”

“I’m just saying, never overestimate the emotional maturity of men. They resort to caveman tendencies when faced with perplexing situations. Like, say, having feelings for a woman they weren’t planning to like.”

I blinked several times. Some of what she was said made sense. “How can you dish wisdom like this one moment, then slither down a fire escape the next?”

“It’s a talent,” she said, and picked the tomato off her BLT, leaving her with the L and the B. “As far as cave brain goes,” she said, chewing another bite of her sandwich, “women have their own fight-or-flight instincts.”

I swirled the ice cubes in my glass. “I can’t date Max, no matter what that kiss did to me. His mother treated me like the help. That’s a power struggle I want no part of. Even so…” I gave her a tentative look. “What if he doesn’t have plans to date me, Elise? What if I was just a booty call?”

“Did you give him booty? Because if you did, I’m impressed. You typically make your boyfriends wait months before you put out.”

“No, I didn’t give him booty! But what if that’s all he wants, and I’m his cheap sidepiece?”

Elise touched my arm with a reassuring grip. “There is no way he thinks of you as a sidepiece. You’re way too uptight for that.” I glowered. “Besides,” she said, “I think the technical definition of a sidepiece is a man or woman who dates someone already in a relationship.”

My mind flashed to Gwen. But even Jack had said Max and Gwen weren’t together anymore.

“But seriously,” Elise said, “don’t give up on Max just yet. I have a feeling about him…”

“Your Spidey-senses are misfiring after your one-night stand.”

She reached across the table and pinched me on the arm. Hard.

I cackled and rubbed the area. I’d never let her live down the fire escape for as long as I lived.

“I’m serious, Soph,” she said. “Don’t give up on LD.”

But what was there to hold on to? Max and I didn’t fit. He came from San Francisco royalty, and I was the lowly commoner. A financially strapped lowly commoner to boot.

“Let’s be real,” I said. “Our family would be a stain on the Burrows line.”

Elise rolled her eyes. “I see you’re still watching Korean dramas.”

“Hell yes, I am. Paul introducing me to K-dramas was the only good thing that came out of our relationship. Getting back to my point—this happens all the time in the Korean chaebol families. The oldest son of a business conglomerate falls in love with a poor girl, and the family pays off the unworthy sap to keep her away. It’s all about money marrying money.”

Elise polished off the last of her sandwich. “I mean, you’re probably right. In a lot of cases, I imagine wealthy parents want their children to marry someone in their same socioeconomic sphere. But look at the building Max owns and where he lives. It’s nice, but it’s not billionaire nice. And consider his best friend, Jack, who’s about as normal as they come. Whatever Max is doing, he’s not flaunting his wealth.”

“You have a point.” Max dressed well and owned what I would consider a very nice Victorian building, but he didn’t live in the mega mansion on Franklin Street. I hadn’t even been aware people lived in those places, hence my belief it was a museum until I met with his mother. And Max stole other people’s food, which was just uncivilized. I bet the chaebols didn’t steal chocolate.

“Besides,” she said, sending me a skeptical look, “are you planning to marry Max or date him?”

“Stop harassing me. You know I’m a newbie back on the dating scene and have no idea what I’m doing. I’m in way over my head.”

Elise wiped her bacony fingers on a thick paper napkin. “You’re jumping the gun and ditching a guy before you know his motives.”

“There’s nothing for me to ditch,” I said. “I doubt Max is thinking anything serious. He’s probably forgotten all about the kiss. And anyway, I have a business to run if I’m to take over Green Aesthetic.”

Elise’s mouth twisted to the side. “You’re seriously considering it?” At my nod, she said, “It sounds like a great opportunity, but don’t forget to take care of yourself. I worry that you’ll take care of everything and everyone except for number one.”

“No worries there.” Forgetting about Max Burrows and his kiss was taking caring of myself. Nothing good could come from dating him.


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