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Landlord Wars: Chapter 26


Max had stayed the night last night, and it would have been amazing—if I hadn’t fallen asleep on him.

Darn it! Why?

Though in hindsight, dozing off across his washboard abs wasn’t a bad way to go. But I was disappointed we’d been so rudely interrupted by my sister and her situation with Jack.

A note written on one of Max’s business cards rested on my nightstand, along with a foil-wrapped chocolate.

Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I blindly unwrapped the chocolate, shoved it in my mouth, and read the note.


Early morning meeting and long day of appointments for Cityscape. I’ll call you later. What do you think about grabbing lunch tomorrow?


Why did I have to sleep so soundly? I’d missed the goodbye kiss.

I stumbled out of bed and hobbled around, preparing for the day, feeling better about signing the contract with Victor after talking to Max. On my way out the door for work, I set the proposal on the counter in front of Jack and his bowl of granola.

“I’ll pay you,” I said and reached for a banana. No harm in having a lawyer’s sign of approval.

Jack glanced at to the proposal, then dug back into his granola with a spoon. “Max already told me. Contracts are child’s play—no reason to pay me. I’ll get back to you with any changes.”

“You are the best roommate ever.” Not that I had experience with any roommates other than Elise, but I was sure Jack ranked high.

“Of course I am,” he said, though his energy wasn’t normal, and I didn’t know how to fix things.

“Sorry again about Elise,” I said, looking over with a frown.

He waved it off. “She already apologized. Found a note on the front door when I went for a run this morning.”

Jack wasn’t typically up this early unless he was on his way to bed after a long night of work/gaming. And I didn’t remember him going for runs, but then again, he was athletically built, so he must be getting exercise somehow.

He grimaced at his food. “I might have overreacted last night.”

I wanted to ask Jack more about Elise, but I assumed he’d shared his feelings with Max last night, and that was what mattered. As long as he talked to someone, because there seemed to be a lot of bottled energy going on. “Okay, well, I’m heading off to work. Don’t worry about my sister unexpectedly showing up or staying the night. She’s leaving for Europe soon.”

His hand paused while lifting a glass of orange juice. He set the glass on the counter, but he didn’t look up. “I’m not worried.”

Jack’s body language didn’t match his words, but I wasn’t about to push it. “Okay, well, thank you. And I’ll see you later.”

I raced out of the apartment, balancing the banana, my phone, and an umbrella, as the weather had called for rain, and froze on the landing.

Gwen, Max’s ex, was walking down the stairs. The rooftop had a separate entrance, and that meant she was coming from his apartment.

What the hell?

“Oh, hello,” she said, and gestured behind her. She was all made up in a red A-line dress with a fitted black jacket, her dark blonde hair floating in waves over her shoulders. “Max already left, in case you’re looking for him.”

“No,” I said lamely.

I knew Max had left because he’d left from my bed. But what was Gwen doing at his apartment?

I gave myself a swift mental shake. Even if Gwen and Max’s mother scared the crap out of me, with their cold smiles and rich-woman clothes, Max had been with me last night, and I had nothing to worry about. “Have a good day,” I said and ran down the stairs ahead of her.

I would not be the insecure girlfriend. Max was too cantankerous to be a player. You had to put out loose vibes for that kind of free loving, and he only shared the lighter side of himself with his inner circle. I couldn’t see him cheating.

But that didn’t explain why Gwen was leaving his apartment.

The next day, I texted Max that I was swamped with work and wouldn’t be able to grab lunch. I wasn’t going to bring up Gwen and his apartment. He’d most definitely been with me the other night, and I wasn’t about to start questioning his every move.

Max: I’m deeply wounded to be on the receiving end of your busy schedule.

Sophia: Is this the first time a woman has turned you down?

Max: I plead the fifth.

Sophia: If you think about it, it’s all your fault. You recommended Jack look at the contract, and he only suggested one small change. Now it’s full speed ahead. Victor wants me to oversee hiring employees.

Max: Need help?

Sophia: Don’t you have a company to run?

Max: I like interviewing (devil emoji inserted).

I laughed.

Sophia: If you only knew my nickname for you… Keep your intimidating, handsome presence away. I want to hire people, not terrify them.

Max: Nickname? Suit yourself, but I remain at your disposal for all your future needs.

My mind raced straight into the gutter, and it took a herculean effort to pull it out and get back to work.

I had just wrapped up the last interview and was preparing to close the shop when a tall, handsome figure entered the store.

My heart somersaulted, and an awkward smile pulled at the corners of my cheeks.

There was a reason I’d never dated uber-good-looking men until now. A lot of guys liked the hard-to-get variety, and I absolutely sucked at playing it cool. “What are you doing here?”

Max tucked a hand in his pants pocket—we were going with a navy suit today—and took in the plants that lined the glass wall. They were arranged on hexagonal stands in varying heights that filtered in the sunlight. It was a spectacular sight when I stopped and thought about it.

His brow quirked and his lips pulled into a cheeky smile. “I came to escort you home.”

“Our apartment is only an eight-minute walk away.”

His gaze followed me as I turned off lights and put design tools away. “I’d hate for anything to happen to my girlfriend on her way home.”

I grabbed my bag, walked up to him, and wrapped my arms around his waist. “Like being accosted by a handsome businessman?”

He held me to his large frame. “Especially those handsome businessmen. Unless it’s me. Then you may engage in any and all sordid activities with my full approval.”

I laughed and rose on my tiptoes to kiss him on the lips.

His eyes gleamed. “I like this reception. Maybe I should walk you home every day.”

I tilted my head, looking at him suspiciously. “Don’t you usually park near here?”

He had the withering look of a wealthy man who’d been put out. “Only when I must. I’ve occasionally found golden ticket parking spaces in front of our building.”

“I’ve never seen you park in front of the building.”

He held the door for me as we exited the shop. “That’s because my luck has been lackluster until now.”

“And yet you still parked blocks away,” I pointed out.

“Yes, well, now my girlfriend works where I park, and this is advantageous.” He leaned in and gave me a lingering kiss right on the sidewalk. “Dinner?” he asked.

I nodded, slightly dazed, and glanced back to make sure I’d locked the store door. My brain fog was in full force with Max around.

He reached for the heavy computer bag I carried and pulled it onto his shoulder. “I hope this doesn’t mean you’ll be working tonight. I had other ideas.” His smile told me exactly what he had in mind—a continuation of the other night—and I was on board.

“Maxwell Burrows, I hope you’re not planning on seducing me?” This was my attempt at playing hard-to-get, and I fooled no one.

He reached for my hand, and that was how we walked down the street toward the apartment.

I glanced at him, my heart giddy. “I wouldn’t have pegged you for a hand-holder.”

Without missing a beat, he said, “There are many things you didn’t guess about me, like my rock-hard abs.”

The grin that came over my face stretched my cheeks from ear to ear. “I suspected those, but only because I might have felt you up in the kitchen when I was scolding you for stealing my chocolate.”

He winked. “Feel me up any time you like. And let’s just say, I like holding your hand.” A hint of shyness came over his features. “It feels natural.”

Being with Max felt natural to me too. And that was the biggest shocker. We were nothing alike, and yet somehow we worked.

We’d made it only halfway home when Max pulled out his phone. I hadn’t heard it ring, but it must have vibrated.

He stopped and stared at the screen, his hand tightening around mine. “Fuck.” Max’s face grew pale, his expression tense.

“What happened?”

He let out a slow breath and closed his eyes. “It leaked.”

“You have a leak?” I glanced in the direction of his building. “Where? In your unit?”

He looked at me, confused. “No, not the building. My parents’ lost fortune. It’s splashed all over the San Francisco news.”

Oh crap. “Wasn’t that supposed to be a secret?”

He blinked several times as though seeing something he hadn’t before. “You didn’t tell anyone, did you, Sophia? A friend, maybe?”

My mouth gaped. Was he accusing me of outing his parents? The thought that he suspected me of sharing something he’d told me in confidence hurt.

I dropped his hand, and he reached for it again.

“Sophia, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to accuse you.”

“But you did.”

He ran stiff fingers through his hair and let out a sigh. “Only a couple of people know about this, and you’re one of them now.” He looked at me apologetically. “I shouldn’t have asked.”

I studied his eyes. “Was your first thought that I’d spilled the truth because I’m not a part of your world?”

He shook his head. “No—I don’t know. But I realize how stupid it was for me to jump to that conclusion. Please forgive me.” His expression was sincere. He also appeared more distraught than he had at receiving the news.

“I would never willingly hurt anyone, including your parents,” I said.

He pulled me in close and kissed my head. “I know that. It’s one of the reasons I’m so crazy about you.” He leaned back and kissed me on the lips. “I want to finish our date and do an appropriate amount of groveling, but I have to deal with this. There’s a meeting with the family publicist happening right now.”

I nodded.

“Sophia, I’m serious about us. I intended to ask you to a ball that takes place in just over a week. It’s last minute, but I’m hoping you’ll agree to go. I want the world to know the amazing woman in my life.”

I felt slightly shell-shocked and uneasy. At the same time, I was thrilled he wanted to introduce me to people. That had to mean something, right? Though my excitement was dampened somewhat by his earlier mistrust.

We came from widely different worlds, and I wasn’t sure how well those worlds melded. But the sincerity in his eyes overruled my apprehension.

“At least you know how to apologize,” I said, hesitating as I considered his offer. The truth was, I wanted to go with Max and be on his arm, so why hold back? “I’d love to go with you. Just as soon as I figure out what to wear to a ball.”


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