Landlord Wars: Chapter 20

Sophia

For the first time in forever, I didn’t bring work home. And it was a good thing too, because I couldn’t get the lights to turn on in the kitchen or the living room, where I typically sprawled out my designs.

I walked up and down the hallway, flipping switches on and off to see what worked and what didn’t. “Jack?”

No answer.

The guy was always home, eating my stash of snacks. Had he gone out to forage in the real world?

This was what I got for not orienting myself better to the new apartment; I had to rely on a guy to help me find the fuse box.

I was scrolling through my phone, searching for Jack’s number, when a knock sounded at the front door.

The room was growing darker now that the sun had set, and I was still in my work clothes, only barefoot, as I’d kicked off my shoes the moment I got home. I was tired and cranky after the rat stress with my mom, but I padded over and looked through the peephole. And my heart raced.

Max Burrows had the worst timing.

I’d planned on avoiding him until the whole kissing incident blew over. But it was still vivid in my mind, and I wasn’t ready for a post-kiss confrontation. I didn’t know what the kiss had meant, and I was too scared to find out. Too scared it meant nothing and my hormones were overreacting, or that it meant something and I wasn’t ready for that either. In short, I was an emotional hot mess.

Spinning around, I searched the room as though the answers were somewhere inside the couch cushions or the lampshade. Why the hell had Jack chosen today of all days to leave me on my own?

I smoothed down my pale blue shift dress, making sure it lay straight. I could do this, I thought, and opened the door.

And nearly fainted.

My chest locked up, and my head felt woozy. Max was in a tan suit this time, only he’d taken off his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his dress shirt.

Was it me, or had he gotten even better looking? He spoke, and my gaze rose from the patch of tan skin at his throat to his lips, and then I was having flashbacks to the kiss that had taken place in nearly this exact same location.

“Sophia?”

“Yes?” Why did I suddenly sound like a smoker of thirty years?

The corner of his mouth pulled up. “You okay?” He looked past me. “I’m trying to get a hold of Jack, and he’s not answering his phone.”

Right, Jack. “He’s not here.”

Max’s head tilted as he glanced down to my bare feet and the room behind me. “You just getting home?”

“I got home a little while ago,” I said, glancing back nervously.

He crossed his arms and tapped his finger on his biceps. “What’s going on?”

This conversation would be a whole lot easier if I could look him in the eye and not at the small patch of flesh he was recklessly revealing. Had he no idea how hopped up my hormones were after that kiss? “Jack’s not here, and the power is out in part of the house.”

His arms dropped to his sides and he frowned, swiftly moving past me. “What do you mean, the power is out? Did you blow a fuse?”

I frowned at his immediate assumption that I’d done something wrong when I hadn’t even been home. Some things never changed.

He headed down the bedroom hallway, and I followed close behind. “What are you doing?”

He looked over his shoulder. “I’m checking the circuit breaker.” He stopped, hesitating, and looked back as though just realizing he might have overstepped. “Is that okay, or do you already know where it is?”

Of course I didn’t know where it was. I’d only recently discovered my shallow orientation of the place. I knew none of the important things for an emergency. Did we even own a fire extinguisher?

I shook my head, and he rounded the corner to my room. My room. “Wait!”

Max had already entered the bedroom and nearly tripped over the tennis shoes I’d switched my heels for before going to my mom’s this afternoon.

He frowned at the shoes and looked up. “Is there a problem?”

“You can’t be in here,” I told him.

He glanced around, his gaze landing on the cream bra I’d torn off as well.

I stiffened, heat blooming in my face. Apparently, I was a post-work clothes discarder. And this discarded apparel was dangling from the single chair in my room, reminiscent of the underwear that had marked the start of our relationship.

I forced my eyes to stare straight ahead and not down at my chest to see if it was obvious I wasn’t wearing a bra.

Max lifted one eyebrow. “More unmentionables?”

I pointed my finger at the door. “Get out!”

“Sure. Though maybe you’d like me to show you the circuit breaker before I leave?”

He was so annoying, and that was a good thing, because I was no longer thinking about the kiss or the naked patch of chest taunting me. “Quickly.”

He reached behind the bedroom door to a wall-colored panel I hadn’t thought anything about because I wasn’t used to electrical panels. When a fuse blew at home, my mom was the only person willing to climb the rodent-infested terrain of our garage to reach it. It was kind of her thing. Though now that I thought about it, probably not entirely safe.

The snapping of switches sounded, and then Max closed the panel. “Do you want to check and see if the lights are on? If not, something else could be the problem.”

I gestured to myself. “You want me to go out there? Alone? While you stay in my bedroom?”

His eyes narrowed. “You’re very protective of your room. I didn’t even touch your silk bra.”

“But you noticed it!”

His eyes crinkled at the corners. “As any man would.”

“You go first,” I said, shooing him out.

He gave me the half shrug of a confident man and walked out of my bedroom and down the hallway.

As we neared the living room and kitchen, I saw that the lights were on. Whatever switches Max flipped had done the trick.

He looked around, seemingly satisfied. “Don’t worry about the fridge; it’s on a different circuit, and I heard it running when I walked in.”

I hadn’t even considered the fridge. I swear I was the responsible one at home—dumpster-diving through the garage not included—but you wouldn’t know it today. “Thank you,” I said.

He scratched his jaw. Usually he was clean-shaven, but today he had a bit of stubble, and it made him look less refined, more rugged, and ridiculously hot. “About the other night…”

My body returned to its petrified state of a moment ago. He was bringing it up?

I wasn’t prepared for my extremely hot, wealthy landlord to explain why he shouldn’t have kissed me. “Totally forgotten,” I said, feigning cheerfulness, and smiled for good measure.

He hesitated a beat, his brow pinched. A second later, he said, “I’d like to cook you dinner.”

My smiled slipped. “What?”

“Dinner? Food? That thing we need to sustain ourselves?”

“You can cook?” I said lamely.

“Passably. You have plans later?”

“No,” I said before thinking better of it. “But—”

“In an hour, then.” He opened the front door to leave, but before he exited, he leaned into the doorjamb, raking his gaze over me, mouth curved up in a sensual smile. “It’s casual. You don’t even have to put your bra back on.”

He knew! Heat flooded my face as Landlord Devil closed the door.

What was happening?

I liked food, and I wasn’t a fan of cooking. It was the only reason I was considering ignoring Max’s questionable behavior and having dinner with him. This would be payback for all the expensive chocolate he stole. It had nothing to do with the fact I couldn’t stop looking at the slice of flesh he’d revealed, or the manly stubble next to those silky lips that had set my entire body on fire the other night.

I would not be seduced by Max Burrows.

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