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Love Redesigned: Chapter 11

Dahlia

Last Call hasn’t changed since I last left, although it currently features cheap Halloween décor to celebrate the holiday. The crowd has grown since we first arrived, most likely because parents and children are no longer wandering the streets collecting candy.

At first, I was sweaty and borderline panicked at the idea of speaking to anyone, but no one brings up the news of my broken engagement or Oliver, proving Lily’s theory correct.

do care too much about what others think. Whether about my makeup, clothes, or life choices, I let the Creswells’ opinions rule my life, turning me into a version of myself I grew to resent.

You’re a part of our family now, so you should dress accordingly, Oliver’s mother said as she gifted me a beautiful designer gown two sizes too small.

No one likes a show-off. His sister shot me the fakest smile after I beat everyone during a family trivia night.

Couldn’t even let me win that, Oliver whispered in my ear before kissing my cheek for our audience after I won the award for Best TV Host in the reality television category.

“I’m back.” Lily yanks me away from the memory as she passes me another nonalcoholic strawberry daiquiri. While it isn’t my drink of choice, I suck it up because Last Call isn’t known for its world-class mixologists.

I grab the plastic cup and take a sip. “Am I Jessica Rabbit?”

“Who?” Her face scrunches.

I shake my head. “Never mind. What about Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman?”

She laughs before knocking back her shot. “Good guess, but no. Your dress is too short, and you’re missing the iconic gloves. Now, let’s go dance!”

Lily grabs my hand and pulls me toward the dance floor packed with people. After a few line-dancing songs, my worries fade away as I let loose and have fun.

I always loved dancing, all because of my parents and their habit of turning our living room into a dance floor whenever their favorite songs popped up. As a kid, it was embarrassing at family parties, but now I yearn for that kind of relationship.

As Lily spins me around with a laugh, the back of my neck prickles. I turn on the heels of my boots to find Julian staring at me.

No. Not staring.

Devouring.

Goose bumps spread across my arms as his dark eyes drag from my body to my face. I raise a brow when his burning gaze connects with mine, and he looks away with a clenched jaw and a tight fist pressing against his thigh.

I take advantage of his shyness and check him out. From the tasteful amount of exposed forearm to the pair of jeans showcasing his muscular legs, Julian is one hundred percent my type.

Hell, he single-handedly redefined my type in college, and I did everything humanly possible to avoid the truth.

Julian is hot. Like really freaking hot in a look-but-don’ttouch kind of way.

My fingers tingle at the idea, and I clasp them together and squeeze until they go numb.

You need an emergency therapy session.

I turn to get Lily’s attention, hoping she can save me from my thoughts, but I find her busy dancing with a guy wearing one of those creepy light-up masks.

Great.

I drain the rest of my drink and head to the bar, picking a spot out of Julian’s direct line of sight. Before I have a chance to raise my hand for a bartender, someone taps on my shoulder.

“Dahlia? Is that you?” A deep voice has me spinning in my heels.

“Evan!” I grin at the former high school prom king, beloved swim team captain, and the first person I kissed. Nothing happened after our game of spin the bottle at a lakeside bonfire, but I distinctly remember being on cloud nine for a few weeks after.

“Surprised you still remember me.”

“It would be impossible not to after you sweet-talked your way into borrowing my chemistry homework throughout sophomore year.” Evan was one of the best-looking guys in our grade, and everyone, including me, was obsessed with him and his whole boy-next-door personality when he transferred to Wisteria High.

Yet fast-forward ten years later, and I don’t feel the slightest buzz.

I fight my disappointment as I ask, “How are you?”

“Much better now that I found you.”

The strange sensation of being watched has me glancing over my shoulder. I expected to find Julian glaring at me, but instead, he is shooting daggers at the man standing in front of me.

“So, how have you been?” Evan’s question snatches my attention back.

“Good now that I’m back home.”

His green eyes trace the shape of my face, making me feel absolutely nothing. “Did you like San Francisco?”

“Yeah, although it’s a lot different than here.”

“I bet. There aren’t many places like Lake Wisteria.”

“And how have you been?”

He leans against the bar top. “Never been better. Took over my parents’ general store, which has a shelving unit dedicated to your décor line, by the way. We can’t keep it stocked for longer than a week.”

Blood rushes to my cheeks. “Really?”

He nods. “Locals and tourists love the idea of purchasing your goods from your hometown, so keep them coming.” He winks.

I feel nothing but dread and that same choking feeling when I’m reminded of my responsibilities. “Yup. Will do.”

Evan’s eyes blaze a trail down my body, but my heart doesn’t miss a beat, which tells me all I need to know.

“Listen—” I’m cut off as something firm and warm presses against my back. I turn to find Julian looming behind me with flared nostrils that look two seconds away from spouting smoke.

“Evan.” Julian’s deep, raspy voice sends a shiver down my spine.

“Julian.” Evan tips his chin.

“How are you doing?” The vein above Julian’s right eye pulses.

Evan’s eyes lock on to mine. “Better now that I found out Dahlia is here.”

“Why?” Julian’s brittle voice makes me wince.

Why? I stomp on the tip of Julian’s shoe with the sharp point of my heel. The asshole doesn’t flinch, most likely because he is made of ice.

Evan’s eyes glimmer. “Because I always thought she was cute.”

Ugh. Cute?

Julian scoffs. “Right.”

Evan’s pinched expression probably matches mine.

“How’s your brother doing, by the way?” Julian’s question comes out of nowhere.

Evan’s head tilts. “He’s good.”

They share a look I can’t decipher.

“What happened to your brother?” I interject.

Evan checks our surroundings. “He was hanging around the wrong crowd while he lived in New York, but he’s back on track and getting the help he needs.”

I press my hand over my heart. “That’s good to hear.”

Julian pauses his death-stare contest to spare me an unreadable look, only to break eye contact first. “Is he adjusting to his new job all right?”

“Yes. Thank you for helping him get back on his feet. It was hard for him to find a job again with a record, and you were the first company willing to give him a chance.”

“I’m glad I could help.” Julian closes the gap between us until I’m not sure where my body ends and his begins.

I take a small step forward, which Julian matches with one of his own. When I raise my foot to stomp on his again, Julian clamps his hand around my hip, stopping me.

The heat of his palm singes my skin. Evan’s eyes bounce from Julian to me before landing back on the mercurial man behind me.

“Well, Dahlia, it was nice catching up with you, but I should probably head out. Got an early morning tomorrow.”

“No problem. Nice seeing you.” I tamp down my annoyance with a smile.

Julian tenses behind me. Evan doesn’t spare me another glance as he disappears into the crowd.

I escape Julian’s hold and turn toward him. “What the hell was that about?”

Julian ignores me as he drains the rest of his whiskey.

“I asked you a question.” I poke at his chest.

“He’s not your type.”

“And how would you know that?” I blurt out.

“I just know.”

“Feel free to share, since clearly I don’t.” Julian being so acutely aware of my needs rubs me the wrong way.

Julian’s nose scrunches with distaste. “He’s too nice.”

“I’m sure that seems like a negative trait to you, but to the rest of us, nice is good. Actually, it’s the freaking bare minimum.”

His eyes flicker over my face for an extra beat. While Evan’s perusal didn’t even make me blink twice, Julian’s has my body temperature spiking.

“You’d get bored within a month.”

“How would you know? You’ve never been in a relationship.”

“That might be true, but I know you.”

My lungs stall. “Oh, is that right?”

He remains quiet as he raises his empty glass toward the bartender. I’m not sure what makes me bolder—the annoyance pumping through my system or my insatiable need to peek behind the curtain of Julian’s mind.

“Maybe I need a man like Evan,” I say. “Someone kind and caring and willing to treat me well.”

“That’s fine, but you also want someone to challenge you, and Evan—the town’s biggest people-pleaser—isn’t it.”

Shock is quickly replaced by horror.

Oh God. Did Julian and I screw each other up so badly that we can’t find happiness with others because we’re always looking for a fight?

I shake my head. “I’m not looking for a confrontational partner.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“Then what?”

He pauses for a few moments before speaking again. “There’s a difference between someone challenging you to be the best version of yourself because they care”—he sneers—“and someone looking for a fight.”

I hold my breath.

He clears his throat. “Face it. You’d walk all over the guy in your glittery red-bottom boots, and he’d probably thank you for it.”

“Damn right he should. These babies are beautiful and expensive.” I knock my heels together.

“That comment alone makes you worthy of your costume because only a walking, talking red flag would smile like that.”

I yank myself free of his gravitational pull. “Excuse me?”

“Your costume.” His gaze slowly travels down my body, emphasizing his point.

La voy a matar,” I whisper to myself.

“You didn’t know?” Julian traces the tip of the triangular piece of paper.

“No. Lily put it together.” I sharply inhale as the tip of his finger teases the sensitive spot between my dress strap and my shoulder.

“Hm.” He pulls away all too quickly, his hand flexing before it tightens into a fist.

La voy a matar: I’m going to kill her.

A shiver wracks through me despite the warm air clinging to my skin.

Fuck. How can a single swipe of his finger against my skin feel this good?

I’m grateful for the lack of lighting or else he would have noticed how much his touch affected me.

A bartender places a full glass of whiskey in front of Julian, and I snatch it before he has a chance to take a sip. I manage a single swallow before handing it back to him with a cough. “That’s disgusting.”

That’s what you get for stealing Julian’s drink.

“To you.” Julian places his mouth right over the stain my lipstick left behind and takes a sip.

My stomach muscles clench as he smears half the mark in the process. It’s the closest his lips have been to mine since college, and it makes my body buzz in the same way.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the gutter started charging me rent with how often my mind hangs out there.

I drag my eyes toward his. “Since when do you drink whiskey?”

“Since I can afford the expensive kind.”

“How much did you pay for that?”

“Enough to appreciate every last drop.” He takes another sip, sending a zing down my spine in the process as he watches me with hawklike fascination.

Screw the gutter. I’m going straight to hell for the way I press my thighs together.

“Please tell me you didn’t pay more than a hundred bucks for that.” He frowns.

“Two hundred?”

My question is met with the pounding music around us.

“A thousand?” My voice breaks at the end.

“I don’t expect someone who orders strawberry daiquiris to understand.”

I bat my lashes. “You know, maybe if you spent less time watching me and more time actively finding a girlfriend, you wouldn’t be chronically single and working eighty hours a week to fill the empty void of your existence.”

His frown reveals far too much. “Last time I checked, both of us were single.”

“I’m the one who dated a toxic, controlling man for too many years. What’s your excuse?”

I take his blank expression as a challenge.

“Are you unable to make a woman come?” I tease.

His eyes narrow into two slits.

“Maybe you’re a one-minute man?”

His deep breath says more than any words can.

“They have coaches and medicine for that kind of thing, so no need to have it stop you from finding love.”

Julian flips the script on me as he places his hand on my hip and squeezes. Before I have a chance to comment, his palm travels up the side of my body, brushing across my rib cage.

I stop breathing as his hand wraps around the back of my neck. The firm way he holds me isn’t uncomfortable, but I squirm in place regardless.

“What are you doing?” I push against his chest to no avail.

His fingers tense, applying the smallest amount of pressure against my pulse point as he leans in and whispers in my ear, “Just because I’m selective about who I date doesn’t mean that I don’t know how to fuck.”

“Am I supposed to take your word for it?”

His fingers squeeze harder, cutting off my airflow for a second. “Would you rather I demonstrate?”

“Are you suggesting I have sex with you?”

“Absolutely not. Sex with you would be…”

Every inch of my body tingles at the snapshot of him hovering above me, his heated gaze burning into me right as his mouth comes closer to mine—

I shake my head, and he frowns. “No need to look so horrified by the idea.”

“Nauseated is more like it.”

His thumb traces over my racing pulse point. “Mentirosa.”

“Keep telling yourself that.”

He glares at my lips with every ounce of hate he can muster. “I still remember the time when you begged me to kiss you.”

Julian and I say a lot of messed-up things to each other, but bringing up that topic feels like the lowest of lows, and frankly, he should know better.

I rip myself free from his hold. “I also begged Oliver to do the same, so don’t let it get to your head. And honestly, he was much better at it anyway.”

My words hit their mark, obliterating whatever was brewing between us.

Mentirosa: Liar.

Should I have taken the high road and been the bigger person? Maybe.

Do I regret my choice to do the complete opposite? Absolutely not.

Julian knew what he was doing when he used our kiss as a weapon. Maybe next time he will think twice before bringing up the one weakness I have.

Him.


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