We are taking book requests on our companion website. You can request books here. Make sure, you are following the rules.

Landlord Wars: Chapter 22


Max kissed me once more and said, “We should probably eat. Unless you’d rather do other things?” His tone was pure suggestion.

My stomach fluttered. I was more tempted than I cared to admit, now that I’d gotten used to the idea I was actually dating this man.

Holy crap, dating. I wasn’t just dating anyone, I was dating Max—the man I’d loathed for weeks.

“Food,” I said shakily. “Probably best we eat.”

“Pity,” he said, staring at my lips before returning to his seat.

Max served us, and we didn’t waste any time digging in. For me it had more to do with keeping my mouth busy and not focusing on his lips.

And then I realized something as I stared at my plate and chewed. “Hey, this is pretty good.”

He chuckled, a low, rumbly sound that sent a frisson of awareness through my core. “You sound surprised.”

I pointed my fork at him, ignoring my body’s autonomic response to his deep, sexy tone. “You were the one who said you couldn’t cook.”

“I said I didn’t cook often. But like anything I put my mind to, I’m good at it.” He winked.

“Oh, wow.” I shook my head. “Now I’m not sure we should date. Your ego might smother me.”

He shoved a forkful of food in his mouth and chewed. “Too late. You signed on the dotted line with your lips.”

I so had. “That was very sneaky of you.”

“I will use whatever skills I have to spend time with you.”

My gaze narrowed, and he grinned. But I was all bluster, because regardless of whether we fit or had anything in common, I was attracted to Max. And it wasn’t only his beautiful appearance, though that was distracting. He had a sense of humor beneath that designer fabric, and it made him ten times more appealing.

When I thought back, Max had never been cruel. A cocky ass, yes. Misguided out of a protective instinct, which I could get behind. And now he was showing me the real man. A sometimes rumpled, occasionally silly, decent human being. And he kept bringing up those abs, which intrigued me. Did he really have a washboard under those suits?

I studied him as we polished off our plates. Apparently, I’d been ravenous, because mine was licked clean. “So how often do you cook for women?”

He glanced up as though calculating, then said, “Never.” He scraped the last of his food into his mouth.

Part astonishment and part excitement rushed through me. “You’ve never cooked for a woman?”

Watching him chew was mesmerizing. Jaw muscles flexing, tongue sensually sneaking out to lick juices from his lips…and the man wasn’t even trying to seduce me! Not at the moment, anyway. He shook his head. “I’ve made espresso for my mother. Does that count?”

“Not even a little.”

He nodded. “So, never.”

I tilted my head. “But you had a girlfriend. You dumped her in front of our building.”

He leveled me a look that said he might chase me around the island for such insolence and attack me with aggressive kisses. Or was that just my imagination?

A girl could dream.

“We broke up months ago,” he said pointedly.

“Details,” I said. “You never cooked for Gwen?”



“Is it?” he asked.

“Kind of.” I leaned on my forearms and tapped my lip. “I’m trying to figure out to what I owe such effort.”

He sat back and took a sip of wine, looking at me over the rim of his glass. “I find myself wanting to do nice things for you.”

I chuckled, but I was all squirmy on the inside. “Like steal my chocolate?”

“Funny you should mention that…” He stood and crossed the kitchen to a cupboard above the fancy espresso machine. He opened it, then faced me and leaned against the cabinet, legs crossed at the ankle, as though he were revealing a treasure.

And he was.

I blinked several times, making sure I was seeing correctly. Four three-inch by three-inch golden boxes rested on an empty shelf. Not actual gold—they were probably made of cardboard, with a patterned surface to make the boxes look like they’d been plated gold. But I recognized the emblem. “No way. Those aren’t La Fleur au Truffe.”

His eyes twinkled. “Aren’t they?”

“They can’t be,” I said, half sitting, half standing in my excitement. “They cost two hundred and fifty dollars a chocolate.”

He reached for two of the boxes and set them on the island in front of me, and I sank back into my seat. “I thought we should see what all the hype is about,” he said.

My heart raced. I looked between him and the chocolates and touched the surface of the box in front of me. I was in the presence of La Fleur au Truffe—and it blew my mind. “Where did you find these?”

He opened one of the lids and pulled out a truffle. “My assistant put in an order a couple of weeks ago. They don’t last long, so we better eat them. Say ah.”

I opened my mouth, and he slowly placed the chocolate inside.

Rich ganache, vanilla, cream, and straight-up decadence, if decadence was a flavor, filled my senses. “Oh my God…” Mouth orgasm—that’s what this was.

He notched his chin up. “Another?”

My eyes widened and I nearly choked. “Have you lost your mind?” I said, chewing and savoring. No way would I wash it down with wine and ruin the flavor. “I can’t believe I just ate two hundred and fifty dollars. We can’t eat two; that’s too much.”

Max opened the second box and tossed the truffle in his mouth. He chewed and nodded. “It’s good. Not sure they’re worth all the effort. Some of the chocolate I stole from your apartment was just as nice.”

I pointed at him. “So you admit to stealing my chocolate!”

He lifted an eyebrow. “Was it ever in question?”

I thought back, trying to remember if he’d ever denied it. He’d certainly suggested Jack might have bought the chocolate for him, which was ridiculous. Jack didn’t eat chocolate. “You played it like you didn’t know it was mine.”

He walked back to the cupboard and grabbed the last two boxes. “We better eat these before they go bad. Think of it as repayment for all the chocolate I stole and conservation of the planet. They don’t last long, and we wouldn’t want to have to throw them away.”

This was madness. “I can’t believe you bought La Fleur au Truffe for a date.” Jack was right—Max and I had more in common than I thought, because reckless spending on chocolate was something I would do. “I can’t believe it, but I respect it.”

He shrugged, pleased with himself. “I owed you.”

“You did, right?” I smiled, willing to justify this gift in any way possible. He owed me for all the emotional turmoil he’d caused with his early Max attitude and chocolate scavenging.

As though remembering something, Max said, “Why were you so jumpy earlier?”

It might be rude, but I didn’t care; I blatantly ogled the last two boxes of chocolate. “When?”

“When I came looking for Jack.”

My eyes narrowed because I’d just thought of something when he mentioned coming to find me. He said he’d ordered the chocolate weeks ago. Which meant the dinner date tonight had been pre-planned. “Were you really looking for Jack?”

“No, I came to ask you out. But why were you jumpy?”

Butterflies erupted in my belly. A girl could get used to this kind of attention.

Had I been jumpy earlier? I’d just gotten off work, and yeah, a lot had gone on today. “Well, first, because you showed up unannounced, and your presence has that effect on me. Second, because I have a big decision to make with work, and I was stressing about it.”

Max knew about my mom’s place, but no way would I admit how bad it was below the surface with a rodent infestation. I skipped to the other major distraction of Victor’s offer.

“My boss offered to sell me his business.” I glanced up nervously, hands clenched together. “I don’t know that I can afford it, but I’m considering it anyway because I’ve always wanted to run my own shop.” Max knew I came from humble beginnings—no point in sugarcoating it.

He topped off my wine, and I didn’t fight it. Not like I had to drive home. “What are the conditions of the contract?”

Max was a businessman. He’d be the first to look for strings attached.

“Considering what I’d be gaining,” I said, “there don’t seem to be many. Victor, my boss, has asked for a small percentage of the profit each year, and he’ll stick around until I’m up and running on my own. I’ve skimmed the proposal, but there’s a lot of legalese, and I’m not a lawyer. Victor isn’t the type of person to screw me over, but I need to know what I’m agreeing to. I guess when you showed up this afternoon, I was thinking about where to go for a second opinion.”

He corked the wine and lifted his glass, clinking it against my own. “Congratulations on the offer. Though I’d be leery of a contract stipulating a portion of the profits in perpetuity. You might be better off settling on a price and paying him off with interest over time.”

“From what he said and what I saw in the contract, that’s the idea. Though I need to look more closely.”

“I can look it over, if you like,” he offered. “Jack would be a good person to review it as well. He has a law degree and might catch a few things I don’t.”

I set my glass down abruptly. “Jack has a law degree? He builds video games.”

“I’m assuming you know that Jack beat out hundreds of smart kids in San Francisco to attend a prestigious middle school on scholarship, yes?”

Jack had mentioned that. “But he’s so laid-back. He doesn’t look like a lawyer.”

Max laughed. “What does a lawyer look like?”

I smiled and shook my head. “I guess saying someone in a power suit is cliché. Still, Jack doesn’t give off the lawyer vibe.”

“He doesn’t, which is part of his charm. Aside from designing video games, he’s passed the bar and is a savvy businessman.”

I shook my head, mind blown. “I’m impressed, and yes, absolutely. I’d love for both of you to look at the contract. Like I said, I’m not sure I’m the best person for the job this early in my career. I have a lot of family financial obligations. But if it worked out, it would be incredible.”

He nodded, his brow furrowing slightly. “If the business is profitable and has been for some time, you might not need much saved.” He hesitated a moment as though just realizing something. “Sophia, you never mention your father. Is he still around?”

This was the question that, no matter how kindly asked, always made me sad. I’d probably miss my dad forever. “No, my father died a while ago.”

He sighed and glanced down before looking back up. “I’m sorry.”

The apology was sincere, unlike the automatic responses I received from most people, and it comforted me. “It happened when I was a teenager.”

He studied my face. “That had to have been hard.”

“It was,” I said, thinking back. “It was brutal for me and Elise, but it mentally changed my mom. She never got over my dad. Honestly, neither have Elise and I, but my mom has been the most altered. You’ve seen our family home. You have some sense of what’s going on there.”

“The hoarding,” he said, and my back stiffened.

Max spoke of hoarding as though it were no big deal and offered every sign of wanting to still date me, knowing how bad things were.

“Is it too sensitive a subject to ask how he passed?” Max said.

“It’s not too sensitive, it’s just kind of tragic. My mom had been asking my dad for years to paint the house. He’d just finished getting it done in her favorite color, and the workers left behind some paint cans. My dad loved our neighborhood because it was an easy walk to the restaurants and shops. He’d been on his way to the hardware store down the street to recycle the cans and was hit by a drunk driver in the middle of the day.”

The same shaky feeling overcame me every time I told the story. I’d never get over how my dad was there one day and the next day gone.

I looked up and tried to smile. “The police said he died on impact, so that was one blessing.”

I’d debated as a kid if it was better that my father hadn’t suffered, or if I would have liked to say goodbye. Selfishly, I’d wanted one last moment with my father, but in the end, I was grateful he hadn’t been in pain.

Max stood and walked around the island. A second later, I was engulfed in a warm, strong embrace. “I’m so sorry, Sophia.”

I pressed my cheek into his chest, taking in the clean scent of him. Usually, Elise and I were comforting our mother, rather than the other way around. But in this moment, I was being comforted and cared for. In this moment, the weight of the world was lighter.

I could get used to it. Too used to it. Max wanted to date, but how long would it last? That was something to worry about later.

“My mom never forgave herself for what happened to my dad. She says that if she hadn’t asked him to get the house painted, he would still be alive. She’s been stuck in what-ifs ever since and unable to get rid of anything in our house out of fear it will shift the wind in some tragic direction—that whole butterfly effect. There’s no logic to it, but that’s the way her mind works now.”

He looked down, his arms still holding me tight. “Do you believe that too?”

I shook my head and smiled sadly. “I don’t believe my mom controlled what happened. If not the paint store, my dad would have been running some other errand. It could have happened at any time.”

Max pulled away, and I pressed my lips together, holding back the urge to cling to him. I’d already grown used to his arms around me, and the absence was unsettling. “I think this sad story calls for more chocolate, don’t you?”

Maybe my dad had sent Max to me, because a man who supplied excellent chocolate would be on my “ideal partner” list. “Is there a time when chocolate isn’t called for?”

“A fair point,” he said and reached for one of the golden boxes. He plucked out the truffle and ate it before I could blink.

I was a champ at wasting money on chocolate, but even I was having a hard time with this level of extravagance. “Don’t you have anything else?”

“Unfortunately, no. There’s a reason I wander into your apartment.” His smile was mischievous.

“I thought it was to see me,” I said, crossing my arms in mock anger.

“You and your chocolate.”

That wasn’t a satisfactory answer. “But which do you prefer?”

“Hmm,” he said as though he needed to ponder it. “Shall we do a taste test?”

I gave him a skeptical look. This man was crafty with his kisses and expensive chocolate—not that I minded his tactics. “What kind of taste test?”

He pushed a lock of hair over my shoulder and stared at my lips, giving me a very good idea of what he had in mind. “I’m thinking of comparing chocolate-to-mouth versus mouth-to-mouth.”

I shook my head. “Max Burrows, is this another excuse to use your kissing skills on me?”

“Is it working?”

“Yes,” I said indignantly, when, in fact, I was eating it up. Both the chocolate and his kisses.

He opened the last box, pulled out the truffle, and placed it in my hand. “We’re doing a public service, remember? These would go in the trash and become landfill without our hard work.”

I laughed. “These wouldn’t last two seconds in your home. I’m surprised you held out as long as you did.”

He gave me a pitiable look. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I ate the chocolate and gave him a peck. “You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

He studied my lips. “It looks like you’ve got chocolate on you.” He leaned down and kissed me, deepening the kiss while at the same time picking me up.

I let out a squeak of surprise as he carried me to the living room, where the kissing continued on the couch with me sitting on his lap, my legs hanging off one side.

I eased back. “You’re a lot bigger from this vantage point.” His thighs felt massive beneath my rear, his chest twice as wide as my own.

He grinned and pulled me toward him at the same time he slid down the back of the couch until he lay flat, and my body tumbled over the abs I wasn’t brave enough yet to investigate. But I was doing a thorough investigation of his mouth.

He slid his hand up the nape of my neck and tangled it in my hair, holding me in place. “You’re not an especially large person. More cute and compact.” He kissed me softly.

I wasn’t compact. I was average height and had a nice layer of fat on my belly from all the chocolate consumption, but I wasn’t about to point it out.

The kissing and light stroking continued, leaving me lax with sexual brain fog. Max was the best kisser. There, I’d said it. But not to his face, because he was still LD, and that shit would go to his head.

He ran his hands up and down my sides, slipping his palms beneath my top to the bare skin at my waist, but not any farther. He wasn’t trying for more, and it was refreshing, if frustrating. Because the same couldn’t be said for my gutter mind.

I sensed my hair mussed in some places, but his seductive, tender kisses left me feeling beautiful. “This wasn’t what I’d planned to do tonight. I was supposed to be studying the proposal.” I was still getting used to the idea of kissing Max and not killing him. Though the kissing part was becoming more natural by the second.

He slid his warm hand back and forth over my chocolate baby belly. “Would you rather get back to the proposal?” He shifted slightly, and I felt just how excited he was, even though his actions were slow and controlled.

Chills ran down my spine. He knew exactly what he was doing. “Not even a little, but I probably should. Today is the one night I gave myself to thoroughly review it.”

Proposal or more kissing? Why was the universe putting these sorts of decisions in front of me? I was a weak, sexually frustrated woman who would like nothing more than to take this further. But I was also a breadwinner and supposedly responsible.

He sighed, mimicking my mental turmoil. “I suppose I should let you get to it. Unless you’d rather do other things?”

I laughed. “Stop encouraging me!”

“I would never do such a thing,” he said and slid his hand around my waist to my ass, where it rested possessively.

I lifted my eyebrow.

“Just making sure you don’t fall off the couch,” he said with a smile that wasn’t the least bit innocent.

His hands were large and warm, and they felt exactly right owning my rear.

“Why don’t I walk you back?” he suggested.

“I live downstairs.”

He sat up and adjusted me until I was square on his lap again and not using him like a lounge. “I wouldn’t want you to fall after all that chocolate.”

“Chocolate drunk—that would be a first. Though not improbable, considering my obsession.” I felt high right now, but it had more to do with the kisses.

In the end, and after a few more lingering kisses, I got up and used the bathroom. And saw what I looked like in the mirror.

“Shit.” I looked like I’d just had wild sex, with my face flushed, lips chapped, and my hair every which way, and we hadn’t even gotten past first base.

I quickly smoothed down the locks, wishing for the thousandth time in my life I had Elise’s hair, and returned to the kitchen where Max was waiting, composed and only slightly ruffled. Which made him look hot as hell and had me questioning my decision to leave.

I shook my head sharply and walked past him. “Better get going or I won’t.”

He snickered behind me, but he walked me to the apartment. The two of us snuck glances every now and then, and my face flushed every time. I was going to have to pinch myself once I got home.

At the door he leaned down and kissed me on the lips. “I’ll call you tomorrow?”

“Okay,” I said and reluctantly opened the door. I glanced back one last time and smiled before closing it behind me.

With my back to the entryway wall, I slid until my butt hit the hardwood, my legs like jello. I breathed in and out and tried to calm my heart.

Max Burrows was my boyfriend. My boyfriend. He knew about my family, and he still wanted to date me. How was this reality?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


not work with dark mode