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Landlord Wars: Chapter 25


Sophia and I returned to her room, and I stretched out on her mattress with my head near the top.

She lay on her belly across the bottom of her bed, chin in one hand, her face scrunched in consternation. “My sister isn’t herself right now.”

I rested my head on my hand. “Neither is Jack. He never gets upset over women.”

She looked over. “Never? What did he tell you in his bedroom?”

I lifted my eyebrow pointedly. “A best friend never tells.”

She plied me with puppy-dog eyes. “Not even your girlfriend? What happened to me needing to tell you things, like when Jack and Elise slept together because it was boyfriend information?”

I nodded with pride. “Guilt trip. It’s working.” I lay back down and stared up at the ceiling. “He didn’t say much. Just commented angrily about the man your sister brought.” I rubbed my chin. “Thing is, situations that annoy normal people don’t bother Jack, so that was unusual. He doesn’t get upset, and he doesn’t dwell.” I tucked her pillow that smelled like coconut, the same scent as her hair, under my head and crossed my arms over my chest, pondering the strange turn of events.

Sophia crawled closer and uncrossed my arms, laying her head on my rock-hard abs. They weren’t actually rock-hard—that was wishful thinking and some light humor—but I put in enough hours in the home gym that they weren’t soft. “How is that even possible?” she asked. “No one is that patient.”

I placed my hand on her leg closest to me. “The short answer is Jack never dates women he might seriously be interested in. Certainly no one good for him. So there was never a need to get worked up. If someone did something he didn’t like, he moved on to the next. If someone broke up with him, same thing.”

She scratched her forehead. “Why wouldn’t he date someone he’s into?”

I let out a puff of air. “Who knows? All I can say is that if there was a woman with an ulterior motive within a mile, he would find her and date her. And you know what happens when you pick the wrong people?”

“It doesn’t work out?”

“They take advantage.” I glanced up, considering the irony. “I suppose that’s partly why I didn’t trust you at first. I thought you were just another one of Jack’s poor choices.”

“Hey!” She smacked my arm, and I chuckled.

I gave her an affectionate look. “I guess Jack doesn’t always choose bad apples.”

“High praise.” Her mouth twisted, though I detected the smile behind the sarcasm.

I patted the top of my chest. “Up here. You’re too far away.”

Sophia inched up, and I hugged her to my chest, kissing the top of her head. “Turns out, you are a mighty tasty apple.”

“That sounds dirty.”

“It’s meant to.” I shot her a look that should convey the thoughts running through my mind with her body pressed to me.

She laughed and kissed my neck, feeding into my master plan.

“You missed a spot,” I said, gesturing to my mouth.

Her lips parted in surprise. “Using my line now?”

I winked. “Thought I’d give it a try.”

Sophia held herself up with her hands just above my shoulders and slowly inched lower until her lips were pressed to mine, her silky brown hair falling around us.

I held back a lock so I could see her pretty face, and she dropped down and nuzzled my neck. “You smell good. Have I mentioned that?”

“No, but feel free to explore.”

She straightened and gave me a saucy look. “I will.” I received a peck on the lips for my suggestive comment, then, “Why wouldn’t Jack choose someone he could be close to?”

I placed my hands on her waist and lightly stroked her skin from her ribs to her curvy little hips. “You sure you wouldn’t rather talk about us?”

“Later,” she said, yawning as she sank onto my chest and seemed to be settling in for the night. “I’m trying to figure out my sister and your best friend.”

I wasn’t the least bit tired and far more interested in Sophia’s and my relationship than anyone else’s, but she hadn’t gotten much sleep while considering ownership of the shop over the last couple of days. Thus, I would behave.

But it was a struggle.

“Jack might not date women who are good for him, but he also doesn’t dwell when things don’t work. Except in his last relationship.” My mouth twisted. “That one hurt. I think it had more to do with the vandalism of my building, though. Normally, the only person affected by his poor choices is him.”

“The fire starter,” she said, her voice growing shallow as though she really were falling asleep.

I pulled a blanket I was partially lying on out from under me and covered her with it. “She was his roommate, until he started to date her and things got muddy. They’d been dating for about a month before Jack and I left for a business trip and the incident took place.”

“You guys work together?” she said, perking up.

“Only on one of Jack’s businesses.”

“He does more than lawyer and design video games? How many businesses does that guy have his fingers in?”

“A few,” I said. “It may not look like it, but Jack’s somewhat of a genius. Except when it comes to women—no offense to your sister.”

“None taken,” was her sleepy reply.

“In any case, his ex threw a party with some of the more reckless people in San Francisco’s high society and torched the place.”

“Your mom mentioned as much during the rooftop party when she asked me if I found Jack attractive.”

That must have been the conversation I’d walked in on when I overheard Sophia saying Jack was good-looking. If my mother was involved, who knew what she’d been getting at? Probably trying to find out if Sophia would try to seduce Jack. Basically, what I’d assumed too.

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, it seemed, and now I felt like an ass.

I kissed her head lightly again. “I’m sorry about that. Assuming you were interested in Jack.”

“It’s okay,” came her light voice. “Water under the bridge.”

“Considering Jack’s ex set fire to the place, I was lucky the damage hadn’t been worse. In the end, nothing structural was harmed.”

“Jack must have felt awful,” she said faintly, as though half awake.

“He did. So guilty, he pitched in most of the money for the renovation, even though he didn’t need to. Jack can be stubborn.”

She snorted. “Then he’s perfect for Elise.”

“I was worried Jack had thrown in the towel after Fire Starter, as you called her. Until he rented you the room, and then I worried he’d moved on to a new roommate.”

“I guess it makes sense why you might have been concerned about who he dated, given the women he chose and his roommate history,” she said.

“For the obvious reasons related to his ex. But also because you’re beautiful…and I might have been jealous.”

She looked up with heavy-lidded eyes. I wish I could say it was due to sexual arousal, but it was probably sleep-induced. “Jealous?”

I considered hiding it, but what was the point? “Possibly. In any case, Jack seems interested in Elise, so things are getting more fascinating by the minute. She isn’t at all his type.”

“Elise is sassy,” she murmured and closed her eyes.

I nodded. “And smart and hardworking and funny. She’s not at all the type of person he goes after.”

Jack was the happy-go-lucky sort, who stumbled around relationships the way he ran his multiple businesses. But somehow, he found success in business where he didn’t in his relationships. This thing with Elise was decidedly different.

When Sophia didn’t say anything after a long moment, I glanced down. Her breaths had turned deep and even.

I tightened my arms around her. She looked incredibly beautiful sound asleep, and I was enjoying watching her hand twitch every other second. I should probably let her rest, though.

I gently shifted, attempting to slide out from beneath her when she made a disgruntled sound and clung to one of my hands.

She wrapped her arms around my waist tighter than one would think for someone so small. “Stay,” she murmured groggily.

The only reason I’d considered leaving was for her benefit. But if she wanted me here, I wasn’t going anywhere.


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