Landlord Wars: Chapter 24

Sophia

True to his word, Max talked about the business proposal back in my bedroom and didn’t try to kiss me.

What the hell? What happened to the sexy innuendo?

He lay sprawled on my bed, legs crossed at the ankles, with his weight on one elbow, providing a very nice view of his biceps stretching the fabric of his T-shirt as he looked over the proposal. He pulled something from his back pocket.

My mouth gaped. “You wear glasses?”

His faced turned the slightest bit pink. “If I want to read, I do.”

I held up my hands. “You said nothing about glasses.” This was straight-up librarian porn. How was I supposed to concentrate? “You have to take them off.”

He looked perplexed. “Is there something wrong?”

“Extremely wrong. It’s too hot.” I fanned myself and glanced at the window. LD in sexy nerd glasses might require popping open a pane.

His mouth kicked up on one side, and he patted the bed. “Why don’t you lie next to me?”

Could I safely lie next to him? Hell no! I’d jump his bones, proving to the world that mounting innocent men ran in the family. “I’m not sure that’s wise if we’re to get any work done.”

He frowned. “How am I supposed to give you my thoughts on the proposal with you so far away?”

He was totally goading me, and I was biting, because I wanted to snuggle next to my hot new boyfriend who wore glasses. “Fine, but only so we can go over the proposal,” I said, all proper like, when I was really trying to figure out how long it would be before we could move on to other things.

“Strictly business,” he said, a twinkle in his eye.

At least we were on the same page.

I sank onto the bed beside him, inching closer and watching him closely, as though he might strike at any moment. Not afraid, but not trusting the casual façade of no-sexy-time Max. I leaned over his shoulder and glanced at the proposal. “What do you think?”

He flipped a page. “It’s a fair offer. He stipulates an end to the percentage of the profits, given current valuation, though I’m not an expert on the value of this type of business. I can ask around.”

I nodded. “I have a good idea of what it would cost to go into business on my own, and this is ready-made, with loyal customers. I’d be earning significantly more right off the bat, and he’s not asking much in terms of payment.”

“He’s essentially offering you a low-interest loan,” Max said and flipped another page. “You’re also free to sell the business as long as the loan has been paid in full.”

Max set the contract down and wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me onto his chest.

Now we’re talking. I lifted one eyebrow, feigning innocence. “Is this a part of the platonic business overview?”

He kissed my lips, and I snuggled in closer. “We’re done with that part. This is the full-body portion of my services.”

I laughed. “Just make sure you keep your glasses on.”

His brow pinched. “Do you really like them?”

“Have you any idea of the attraction of Clark Kent? Yes, I like them. But you don’t need the glasses. You’re potent without them.”

“Noted,” he said and slid his hands to my waist and under the hem of my top. “But just so you know, they’re going to get in the way when I kiss you and do other things.”

I reached up, pulled off the glasses, and tossed them on the mattress.

Max laughed and rolled until he was on top, holding his weight above me and carefully setting the glasses on the nightstand.

“That was a smooth move,” I said, staring at his lips only inches away.

He kissed me and ran a hand up my side and below my bra line, teasing me.

“Um, I think you missed a spot,” I said and wiggled. “Your hand should be a little higher.”

He grinned and covered my breast with his large palm. “Like this?” He pushed up my breast and kissed it through the fabric.

My breath hitched. “You found the spot.” I ran my hands beneath the hem of his T-shirt, gliding my fingers over his stomach as we kissed, while crackles of electricity shot beneath my skin.

And then I felt it: the telltale undulation of defined abdominal muscles.

I pulled back and looked him in the eyes. “You really do have rock-hard abs!”

He laughed and resumed his efforts to push down the neck of my top and expose my cleavage, kissing every inch of my décolletage. “You doubted me?”

“Not doubted,” I said, ruminating while I ran my fingers over his toned midsection. “But how do you maintain this with your chocolate addiction? I have a fine layer of padding thanks to mine.”

He eased farther down and hiked my shirt beneath my breasts, kissing and running his hands over my belly and waist. “Your body looks perfect to me.” He lifted his head and looked me in the eye. “Though you’re wearing too much for a thorough investigation.”

“I think the bigger issue is why you’re still wearing your cumbersome T-shirt.”

Without another word, Max reached back, jerked his shirt over his head, and tossed it over the side of the bed.

He slid my top up and over my head, and I barely registered it, I was so distracted by the view. “Crap.”

He glanced at my face. “Problem?”

“Yes.” I stared at his smooth skin and defined muscles. Because it wasn’t just his abs that were perfect; his arms and shoulders were spectacular. “You’re too pretty. I can’t compete.” Even so, I continued to feel him up.

“There is no competition,” he said. “You’re much too beautiful and sweet for me.”

Before I knew it, he’d reached behind me and unhooked my bra.

“Hmm,” he said, looking me in the eye. “Seems like someone has been hiding a couple of things beneath the baggy clothes.”

If only he’d seen my breasts before I dropped the ten pounds. “They run in the family.”

“I approve,” he said as he kissed and licked said perky and very happy breasts.

And then all talking ceased, as there was too much steamy kissing and touching and rolling around in the covers. I had just gotten the button on Max’s jeans undone when I heard Jack say something loudly in the living room.

This was strange for two reasons. First, Jack’s tone was dark, when it was normally light or humorous. And second, Max seemed to notice Jack’s unusual mood too.

He lifted his head from his deep dive into my cleavage and angled it toward the door.

And then Jack’s voice came again, and this time, his voice was loud enough to decipher his words.

“What do you think this place is, Elise?” Jack said sharply.

“Shit.” I sat up and covered my breasts.

For a split second, Max frowned at the absence of the view, and then he looked toward the door. “Were you expecting your sister?”

“No. Though I offered to let her study here while I was working last night. But that was yesterday.”

“I was invited,” came Elise’s sharp response.

I reached for my bra and top and wrangled them on before handing Max his shirt. “We should go out there.”

He pulled the T-shirt over his head. “Did something happen?”

“She slept with Jack the night we went to the bar, and she’s been acting weird ever since.”

Max’s eyes widened. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

I buttoned the fly I hadn’t realized he’d craftily undone. “Do you want to know who my sister sleeps with?”

He cringed. “Absolutely not, but I do if it’s my best friend. That falls in the boyfriend needs to know territory.”

I grinned, because he just called me his girlfriend, in so many words, and it never got old. And then an angry growl of the feminine variety floated back, and I braced for what was to come.

“Where is she?” Elise shouted.

Max and I rushed out of my room right as Elise was making her way down the hall.

Her face was flushed, and she was wearing denim and a fitted top, an upgrade from her normal college-leisure sweatshirt. “There you are.” She huffed out an angry breath. “Your bulldog of a roommate wouldn’t let me in.”

An exaggeration, since she was already inside said apartment. I glanced past Elise to Jack, who stood in the living room, arms crossed and with an angry look on his face. Beside him was some random guy with longish hair and a book bag on one broad shoulder.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Elise waved behind her. “Todd and I swung by to study, like you offered.” She emphasized the last part, though her eyes were cagey.

“Right,” I said. “Let’s assume I believe that’s the only reason you brought a guy over. If so, why are you and Jack yelling at each other?”

Jack joined us in the crowded hallway and glared at Elise. “She can’t bring over random men.”

His comment came across more jealous guy than annoyed roommate.

I looked at Max, who shrugged. “Sorry about that, Jack,” I said. “I’ll be sure to check in with you first. I think Elise and Todd are only here to study. Elise didn’t know I had company.” Was my face red? It felt red. If anyone stopped to think, they’d know what Max and I had been up to.

Jack urged me and Max down the hallway and away from prying eyes. “Your sister is welcome to come here, but not men she’s dating,” he said in a low, tense voice.

I glanced at Todd. He was tall and decent-looking, but I didn’t think my sister was dating him or I would have heard. Pretending to date him, absolutely. “I don’t think they’re dating. But…would that be a problem?” I knew Elise’s feelings when it came to Jack, but not how Jack felt about Elise. Now was my chance.

Jack looked away and shook his head. “I just don’t like it. This isn’t a way station.”

Jack wasn’t immune to Elise spending time with another guy, that much was clear. But I felt awful because Jack was clearly upset.

“I’m sorry. I should have checked in with you before inviting her.”

He let out a low, tense sigh. “It’s not your fault, Sophia. It’s—” He glared at Elise. “Your sister drives me crazy.”

Max and I exchanged another shocked look.

Then Max draped his arm around Jack’s shoulders, pulling him down the hallway toward Jack’s bedroom. “I got this, Sophia. Go check on your sister.”

I made my way to my sister, who’d joined Todd in the living room. “Elise, what happened?”

“Your roommate is being an ass.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “It’s his house. I’m the one who’s subletting, remember?”

Her lips parted. “Whose side are you on?”

Taking a page from Max’s book, I grabbed my sister and hauled her into my bedroom. I shut the door and pinned her with a stare. “Elise, I’ve never seen you get upset over a guy, let alone combative with one. Do you—” I shook my head, unsure how this would come across. “Do you still have that crush on Jack? Because you’re acting kind of crazy.”

Elise winced and started pacing. “Maybe. I don’t know. But I didn’t know he’d freak out if I brought a study partner over.”

I gave a disbelieving look. “Seriously? You slept with Jack, then refused to talk to him afterward. You didn’t think bringing another man—”

“Study partner!”

I pressed my lips together in frustration. “If Jack likes you too, even if he’s not ready to acknowledge it, he would not be happy to see you with another person.”

Elise crossed her arms and looked away.

“I mean, seriously, what did you think Jack would do when you brought a cute guy over?” I asked.

She shook her head and started pacing again. “I’ve regressed, Soph. Ever since I met your roommate, and after that night, I don’t recognize myself.”

I put my hands on her arms and forced her to stop. “What do you want to do?”

Her eyes grew watery. “I’ve been stressed out, and I wasn’t expecting things to go down the way they did with Jack. I need a break.” She looked me straight in the eye. “I haven’t told you this yet, but I applied for an exchange student position. Nothing major, just three months in Europe. I thought it would be a good resumé builder. Now I think it’s the best way to recalibrate and get my head on straight.”

“It sounds like a great opportunity, if you really want to do it.” My mind raced with dollar signs. “I’m very close to taking over Green Aesthetic, so I think I could swing the cost.”

She smiled gently. “It’s a paid internship.”

The sense of relief was immense. “Oh, well, in that case, go for it!”

Elise laughed and glanced at the door. “I guess I should rescue Todd.”

“What about Jack?”

“I’ll apologize,” she said. “I shouldn’t have shown up without texting first.”

I gave her a tight squeeze. “I think apologizing is a good start. When do you leave for the exchange program?”

“In two weeks.”

My eyes bugged. “Two weeks!”

She pulled her hair into a ponytail. “I wasn’t planning on taking it. Mom’s been worse lately, and I didn’t want to leave you alone to care for her while you work a gazillion hours.”

Sometimes I forgot Elise carried a heavy burden too. “Mom will be fine. Do your exchange program, and I’ll handle the home front.”

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