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Landlord Wars: Chapter 19


The last two days had been unusually busy. In addition to meetings with accountants, engineers, and architects, I’d met with city planners to go over the final schematics for Cityscape. Everyone was on board, very likely because my company would provide much-needed affordable housing—affordable by San Francisco standards, at any rate. Most of the units would be priced in the middle-income range, with a few exceptions for low-income families. Everything was going according to plan, and that made me nervous. Real estate developments rarely went according to plan.

The last item the planning department required was detailed schematics for landscaping, which was to be expected. The building was in a high-traffic area, and city planners wanted more greenspace with each new project they approved. But all that greenspace talk had me thinking of Sophia.

Technically, I had never stopped thinking about her.

Sophia had stolen my attention from the moment she carelessly discarded pink panties on my best friend’s couch. I’d brushed off the attraction and told myself it was just another woman looking for a rich boyfriend. But that was an excuse. I’d liked her. I just hadn’t been ready to admit it.

A part of me had been tempted to kiss Sophia sooner than I cared to admit, and I’d finally given in to the temptation the other night in front of her door.

Bad move. I didn’t know how Sophia had felt in that moment, but that kiss was the best damn thing I’d experienced in my life. It was luxury and comfort and arousal all in one, and I was hooked.

If tonight went as planned, I’d catch Sophia on her way home. I had it on good authority (Jack) that she returned around six after her shop closed. Jack said she sometimes worked late, but typically from home.

Visiting my best friend at his apartment after his roommate came home from work wasn’t stalking. I wanted to see Jack, and if Sophia was there too, that couldn’t be helped.

The delusions I told myself were colorful.

After parking two blocks away, I headed on foot to the apartment and rounded the corner to my street, but the vision in front of me wasn’t what I had expected. A pulse thrummed in my eyelid, and I let out a sigh.

My mother was stepping out of a town car, a driver holding the door open for her. She wore a pale gray pantsuit, which meant she was all business today. She caught sight of me as I approached, her lips compressed as though someone had tried to hand her a pair of knockoff Stuart Weitzmans. “Still parking on the street, I see.”

My parents had been horrified to learn I’d converted the garage of my building into a studio and parked my car on the street. “What can I do for you, Mom?”

“You don’t answer my calls.”

I was still irritated with her antics regarding Sophia and the green design of her parlor, but my mother wasn’t a bad person. She was simply unaware at times.

I leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Not when you insist on bending me to your will.”

“When has anyone managed that?”

She had a point. Burrows tenacity ran deep. “I’m assuming this visit is about Starlight?”

“Not here.” She moved in the direction of the stairwell. “Let’s talk upstairs. It will give you a chance to show me what you’ve done with the apartment. Jack mentioned you remodeled yours at the same time you repaired the damage to his rental.”

“It made sense,” I said as we walked up two flights of stairs. “The studio was vacant then as well, and updating the electrical and plumbing for the entire building was more economical than one unit at a time.”

We reached the top floor, and my mother leaned a heavy hand to the wall, panting dramatically. “And you didn’t think to add an elevator?”

There was no sense arguing. My mother didn’t believe in economizing.

I punched in the code to my unit and let her inside.

She looked over the updated kitchen with a critical eye. “It’s very modern.”

Anything newer than 1900s design aesthetic was too modern for Kitty Burrows, formerly Kitty Haas. The late 1800s and early 1900s, when her grandfather had made a fortune as a gold rush supplier, were her family’s heyday. “My designer calls it urban modern with warmth.” I gestured to the kitchen. “Espresso?”

She frowned. “It’s five thirty in the afternoon, Maxwell. You’ll stay up all night if you drink caffeine now.” She took a sharp breath and looked away. “Pour me a decaf. And add half an espresso to that.”

My mother fooled no one with her decaf bullshit. If she could attach a caffeine drip to her arm, she would. Besides, I didn’t keep decaf in the house, and she knew it.

She frowned when I set down the espresso, and then proceeded to guzzle it with ladylike delicacy. Pushing aside the saucer and cup, she said, “Your father tells me you refused to see reason where Starlight is concerned.”

“It’s too expensive and benefits few, including the city.” The same thing I’d told my dad, which bore repeating due to the stubbornness gene.

She looked at me sternly. “It benefits our dear friends, and your father and me.”

“Precisely. Very few people, and extremely wealthy ones at that. I told Dad not to put his money into that hedge fund, and he didn’t listen. He made a mistake, but I’m not responsible for cleaning it up.”

She lowered her chin. “You’ve grown cold in your thirty years.”

“If by cold you mean responsible and empathetic to the plight of those with less, then yes.”

She rolled her eyes and stood, wandering to a window that overlooked the neighborhood. When she turned back to me, her expression was one of concern. “Your father and I want to leave you with what we had. Is it too much for us to want to rebuild?”

I set down my cup and joined her at the bay window. “I understand your nostalgia for holding on to what your great-grandfather built, but I won’t live my life trying to recreate it. I have my own dreams and aspirations.”

“To help others,” she deadpanned.

“I’m not entirely altruistic.” Sophia’s comment about my car and clothing came to mind. Clearly, I had my own extravagances. “But yes, helping others is a part of it.”

She shook her head in disbelief. “How did we raise such a conscientious child?”

“It’s astonishing, isn’t it?” I hadn’t the heart to tell her Jack’s family had more to do with it than she or my father.

She smacked my arm good-humoredly. “And with a smart mouth.”

I checked the time. Sophia should be home by now. “Mom, was there anything else you needed? I have an appointment.”

She continued to wander the apartment, looking inside rooms and frowning. “There’s hardly enough space for you, Maxwell. What will you do once you marry? Don’t you want children?”

And here was her other favorite topic. If it wasn’t money, it was marriage and procreation. Though that last one had been at the forefront of my mind lately too. Specifically, with a certain feisty, chocolate-loving female.

“There’s plenty of time for marriage and kids,” I told my mom. “I can always buy a larger place if need be. I’m not financially crippled, like you and Dad.”

Kitty glared comically. “I take back the smart mouth comment; you’re a very rude son.”

I laughed. “This is a three-bedroom, Mom. I’m sure I can squeeze a kid or two in here.”

“Or you could return home to Franklin Street and live with me and your father. You could have an entire floor to yourself.” She grinned innocently.

“We both know that’s not happening.”

“A mother can dream,” she said, sighing and glancing inside one of the bedrooms. “Just make sure you get rid of this metal contraption before you marry.” She waved choppily at the air. “It’s not safe for young children.”

“The in-home gym will have to go,” I admitted. “I’ll join a gym if I want to maintain my six-pack abs.”

She shook her head incredulously. “It’s unfortunate you got your father’s sense of humor.”

Winking, I said, “Fortunately, I didn’t get his investment sense.”

She attempted a frown, but I was wearing her down, I could tell. “I’ll be sure to share that with your father.”

“He has my sense of humor, remember?”

Kitty rolled her eyes. “I’m leaving,” she said and picked up her purse from the kitchen counter on her way to the front door.

With her palm on the handle, she stopped and turned to me, her expression serious. “We’ll be fine, your father and I. Though I worry if others discover how much we lost, it could hurt our standing in society.” She glanced off, her gaze strained before she looked back. “Promise you won’t share the extent of our misstep with anyone?”

“Gwen and Jack are aware, but you know how Jack is. When I tried to tell him about our family history and wealth when we were teenagers, his eyes glazed over. He doesn’t care about money. Gwen won’t say anything either.”

My mother nodded. “Gwenny wouldn’t say anything to harm our family.”

I wasn’t so sure of that, but I wasn’t about to tell my mother why Gwen and I broke up. Chances were, Gwen would never tell anyone about my parents’ lost fortune, because it would reflect poorly on her. She claimed to still want to be together, and she couldn’t have others knowing my parents weren’t at the top of the ladder any longer.

My mother looked slightly mollified, but the lines around her mouth remained.

“Mom, if you lose connections because of this, those people weren’t worth your time.”

She smiled sadly. “Connections are how fortunes are built, Max. Connections are everything.”


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