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Landlord Wars: Chapter 35


Two weeks later, I raced home after receiving a text message from Max.

Max: The mothers are plotting something. Regroup at your apartment, stat.

Given what we’d recently learned about our mothers’ past, I was terrified.

It turned out Kitty Burrows and my mother had gone to elementary school together and were childhood acquaintances. In between my mom’s virtual therapy sessions (to be held in person once she was fully recovered), Kitty called on my mom while she lived at my place, and you’d think they were two peas in a pod, sitting on Jack’s couch and chatting about old times.

I speed-walked up the street in my white tennis shoes and noticed a man with a lightly wrinkled tweed sports jacket and a beer paunch standing out in front of our building, which caught me off guard. He was looking through one of the windows to our apartment, and that was a tad creepy.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

I’d spent the day interviewing candidates for coordinator positions. Victor had a pile of great applicants, and I honestly wanted them all, but would have to whittle it down to two.

“You live here?” the man asked. He didn’t look like a mass murderer, and it was the middle of the day. Maybe this was an innocent query?

He glanced down at his notes. “I’m a reporter. I’m looking for a Maxwell Burrows. I have a few questions for him.”

So, not an innocent query.

Without responding, I texted Max that another reporter was outside.

He replied immediately with a one-liner.

Max: Ignore.

“I’m sorry,” I said and walked toward the steps to the apartment. “I can’t help you.”

“Look, lady,” the man said. “I’ve got a deadline, and I need something on this guy. I hear he’s as ruthless as his society parents. The world needs to know what he’s up to.”

I stopped and spun around. The news cycle had barraged Max and his parents over the last two weeks, turning them into villains. Though I didn’t always understand his parents’ motivations, they didn’t seem like bad people, and Max was innocent. “Max Burrows is working on a real estate development this city desperately needs. But your people’s quest for the next shocking article flatlined it, and now San Franciscans are going to lose out on affordable housing. How do you live with yourself?”

His eyes narrowed. “What project did you say it was?”

I crossed my arms. Cityscape was dead, according to Max. No amount of communication had taken it out of planning department purgatory. What could it hurt to mention it? “Cityscape. Affordable housing for over a hundred residents. But you probably don’t care about that because it’s not a juicy scoop.”

I turned and hefted my bag higher on my shoulder, making the slow trek up the stairs to my apartment.

“Don’t be so sure about that,” the man called.

When I glanced back, he waved in a salute and hurried over to a beat-up silver sedan across the street.

I shook my head and finished my hike to the flat.

When I walked in, I hefted my bag onto the counter and toed off my shoes. “Hey, that reporter…” I started before the words died on my breath.

I’d expected Max and Jack to be watching sports or knocking over furniture with their virtual reality headsets on, but that wasn’t what I found. “What are you two doing?”

Jack was in the corner of the living room with his back against the wall, a ping-pong ball in his hand, and one eye closed as he squinted and lobbed it at one of my tea mugs. He missed.

“Dammit,” Jack grumbled.

Okay, so I’d left out one or two mugs. Or eight. Shit, this was a lot even for me. But I’d been busy!

Max was standing partway in the hallway, one leg lunging toward the living room.

“No cross bounds!” Jack yelled, and Max inched his foot back.

Max went for the underhand lob at a bright yellow mug I’d left next to the TV.

I rarely watched TV, so I wasn’t sure how that one had ended up there. I scratched my head. Probably why I’d lost the mug to begin with.

The ball rimmed the ceramic edge, but it stayed inside. Max pumped his fist in the air.

“That’s cheating,” Jack said. “I saw your foot.”

“Ten feet away,” Max argued. “I was within regulations.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Excuse me.”

Max walked over and wrapped his arms around my waist. “Did you bring home any chocolate? We ran out.”

I glared. “You mean you went into my stash and cleared me out.”

He blinked innocently. “I can’t help it if you don’t maintain a steady supply.”

I ground my molars. “It’s impossible to keep a steady supply with you around. When did you say you were returning to work? It’s been two weeks.”

He sank onto the couch and kicked socked feet up onto the coffee table. “Cityscape is dead, and I’m deciding on my next project. I’ve got time.”

The chocolate situation was dire. I hated to admit it, but I’d need to buy cheaper chocolate if I wanted to pay my rent and keep my boyfriend around. “What did you want to say about our mothers?”

“Oh, that.” He sat forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. “Apparently, your mom somehow snuck my mom over to her house in the Sunset before the movers came and packed everything up. They dumpster-dived before we could get to it.”

I pressed my hands to my face, horrified. “No. Was your mom disgusted?”

He shook his head slowly, a sly grin on his face. “That’s the funny thing. She wasn’t.”

Weird. “Well, how much did my mom try to keep? I wanted most of that stuff to go into storage.”

“One item,” he said.

I tilted my head, confused. “One? That’s all?”

Max nodded. “My mom had her collector fellow go over there with them, and they found one item worth a bit of money. Kitty is holding it in her parlor until your mom can sneak it back into the house.”

My face heated. After all the work Elise and I had put in to cleaning my mom’s house, my mom was sneaking around like this? Did she need to go to the therapist three times a week instead of two? “Are you kidding me?”

Max patted the couch beside him. “Maybe you should sit for this next part.”

I lumbered over and sank beside him, my exhausted body falling into his side, where I snuggled up because he was warm and cozy, and he smelled delicious.

He draped his arm around my shoulders. “Turns out your mom had an original Picasso ceramic worth about thirty thousand dollars.”

I sprang forward, and he tried to pull me back. “What?”

“The jar with the green nose.”

I squinted like I was farsighted. “No way. That’s just some weird jar my mom kept in the living room. The only reason Elise and I didn’t break it playing indoor beach ball is because my mom put it on the top of a bookshelf.”

“It’s real. They authenticated it.”

“There was actually something worth money in that house?” I twisted my mouth, considering why this was the first I’d heard about it. “I’m assuming my mom didn’t tell me because she was afraid I’d get rid of it.”

“According to my mom,” Max said, “they had a bit of fun sneaking back into the place, and your mom didn’t want to get caught. But since I’d threatened serious consequences if my mom failed to share things with me ever again, she fessed up.”

I nodded, mentally putting things into perspective. “This is actually not terrible news. She controlled herself and kept it to one item. And bonus, it has monetary value.”

Max smoothed down my frazzled hair. It got that way toward the end of the day, and I liked it when he petted me because he didn’t seem to know he was doing it. “Thirty thousand dollars’ worth of good news, if you ask me.”

“Agreed,” Jack chimed in while aiming his ping-pong ball at another mug. “I’ll take the ugly jar if your mom doesn’t want it.”

Max frowned. “Stop pretending to be hard up. Your net worth is bigger than mine.”

What was that? I never took Jack to be strapped for money, but he lived in a heavily subsidized apartment and ate my food. How could he have more than Max?

Something to probe Max about later.

“You know,” I said, poking Max’s chest lightly, “I won’t need to move in with you if you’re always here.” I was prodding him because if we spent more time at his place, he’d be forced to supply me with chocolate instead of the other way around.

His face brightened. “You finally agreed?” He stood and moved toward the bedroom hallway. “My mom kidnapped yours for a dinner date, so they won’t be back for a couple hours. Let’s start packing now, and you can be up there tonight.”

I’d already decided to move in with Max, despite the chocolate thievery, because he made me happy, and he fed me. And I was in love with him. But I liked it when he got excited over the little things, like packing up my room.

Max stopped abruptly in the hallway and pulled his phone from his pants pocket. “Huh,” he said after a long moment.

I helped myself to the popcorn the guys had set out and made my way to his side. “What is it?”

“My phone is blowing up. There’s a Flash News article about me.”

The reporter! My shoulders tensed, and I stopped breathing. Crap! “What does it say?” My voice came out shaky, but I was trying to play it cool.

He looked up. “It’s about Cityscape.”

That was insanely fast. How did the reporter post it so quickly? And why? There had to be any number of tawdry stories more interesting than this one.

I held up my hands. “Okay, look, I can explain. The reporter outside—”

Max glanced at his phone again, and his brows rose. “Cityscape is back on.”

“What?” I reached for the smartphone.

Samuel Thompson: Max, this is Samuel. Cityscape is greenlit.

My jaw dropped. “Holy shit.”

He slid the phone back into his pocket. “You were saying?”

“Uh, well, you see, I might have mentioned Cityscape to a reporter. In my defense, I didn’t think he’d care about the project. And you said yourself that Cityscape was dead.”

He nodded slowly, an intense look in his eyes. “So you complained to the reporter about the assholes in the planning department, and you got my project back on track.”

My lips parted. “Maybe?”

He bent and grabbed the back of my thighs, hiking me over his shoulder.

A rush of air left my mouth on a gah.

“We’re out, Jack,” Max said, speed-walking past the living room. “Gotta show my girlfriend my appreciation for her tenacity. With my tongue.”

I looked up at Jack, horrified. “No!” I smacked Max’s back. His tongue had been added to the list of my favorite things after he did some acrobatics with it in bed last night, but still! “He didn’t mean that!”

“Yes, I did,” Max said.

Jack’s laughter filled the air as Max climbed the flight of stairs to his apartment faster than any human should be able to with another person on their back.


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