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Love Redesigned: Chapter 12

Julian

After Thursday’s run-in with Dahlia at Last Call, I knew Sunday would be unpleasant. When I tried to get out of dinner plans, my mother wouldn’t accept my excuse, claiming Rosa needed help fixing something in the kitchen.

Dahlia declares war the moment I step over the Muñoz threshold. Instead of acting like a mature thirty-year-old man and deescalating the situation, I match her snide remarks with my own throughout the afternoon and into family dinner.

Our families watch our exchanges like a tennis championship, their heads swiveling back and forth with every calculated barb.

At some point, our parents take over the conversation, only for my mom to turn toward me with that look in her eyes. “I was talking to Annabelle’s mom the other day.”

My body tenses, drawing Dahlia’s eyes to my hiked shoulders.

Fuck.

“Ma,” I warn. We had a deal about her matchmaking, and if she breaks it, then all bets are off for helping Dahlia with the house.

Is that such a bad thing?

On second thought, I hope my mom breaks her word. That way, I have the perfect excuse to pull out of the remodeling plan and leave Dahlia to fend for herself.

Would serve her right after today’s hostility.

Don’t be petty, Julian. You’re the one who brought up the kiss.

At first, I felt validated in my decision to antagonize her, especially once she made her comment about kissing Oliver strictly to get under my skin. But the longer I consider Dahlia’s reaction, the more guilty I feel about our conversation at Last Call and how I have acted today.

Because a hurt Dahlia is a mean Dahlia, and I was too pissed off to see her reaction for what it was.

A way to shield her vulnerability.

She is obviously struggling with overwhelming sadness, and I’m not helping matters by treating her the way I have.

It’s not too late to apologize for what you said.

My mom waves me off. “I know. I know. Never mind.”

“Who’s Annabelle?” Dahlia can’t hide that special glint in her eyes.

“She is someone newer to town whose family moved here from Chicago. Julian dated her a couple of months ago, although their relationship ended rather abruptly.”

“You don’t say,” Dahlia dryly replies.

“Annabelle Meyers?” Lily frowns. “I had no idea you dated her.” The expression of distaste on her face probably matches mine.

I pull at my collar. “She wasn’t worth mentioning.”

“Julian!” my mom calls out.

“How long did they date?” Dahlia asks with the softest, fakest voice.

My mom clasps her hand against her chest. “Not long, although that didn’t stop my son from breaking her heart.”

“Surprised she found him worthy of it to begin with.” Dahlia smirks.

She didn’t. I bite down on my tongue in an admirable display of self-restraint.

“Don’t start, mija,” Rosa warns her daughter.

“Sorry, Mami.”

My mom shakes her head. “It’s okay. I should have warned her mother before they started dating.”

“Warned her about what?” Dahlia perks up.

“Julian leaves a trail of sad women behind him.”

“No, I don’t.” I don’t know why I feel the need to defend myself, but I stupidly continue. “And I didn’t break Annabelle’s heart.” She would need to possess one to begin with, and our exchange proved otherwise.

“How would you know?” Lily asks.

“Because we only went on three dates.” All of which ended with me politely escorting her to the door each night and giving her a kiss on the cheek.

There was no buzz. No chemistry. No special spark that had my blood rushing and my head spinning.

It was hard to find her attractive in the first place with how she mistreated those around her, including servers and those she deemed below her status.

Despite Annabelle’s shortcomings, I know the problem lies within myself rather than with the women I’m set up with. They expect a charismatic billionaire who will wine and dine them around the world, but I’m not that guy. I prefer listening rather than speaking, quiet actions instead of elaborate displays of affection, and working hard to share my money with others rather than finding a way to spend it all on myself.

And while some were willing to accept that about me at first, all of them had the same reaction when I told them I wasn’t interested in having kids—at least not in the way they wanted.

My mom frowns. “Her mother said Annabelle felt something special between you two.”

“Better wife her up before she comes to her senses,” Dahlia adds.

I glare at her. “She wasn’t thinking clearly.”

“Obviously not if she thought you two were special.”

Remember that apology you practiced? Forget it.

“Dahlia!” Rosa chides.

She winces. “What?”

Her mom shoots her a look. “You know what.”

Perdón.” She sinks deeper into the dining chair.

Perdón: Sorry.

I fight back a smile.

Dahlia scratches the tip of her nose with her middle finger.

“That’s it.” Rosa throws her napkin on the table and points a finger at her daughter. “You’re in charge of dishes.”

“But I got my nails done yesterday.” She holds up her hands, showing off her intricate nail art.

“Wear my rubber gloves, then.”

“Here you go.” I place my plate on top of Dahlia’s cleared one, making her scowl.

My mom throws her napkin on the table with a dramatic sigh. “Since you’re in the mood to be helpful, you can do the dishes too.”

“What?”

“Dahlia wouldn’t be in trouble if you didn’t keep bothering her all day.”

“She’s the one who started it.”

“And I’m ending it. Go.”

I scoot my chair out and stand with a scowl. “Fine.”

Dahlia and I silently collect everyone’s dishes before entering the kitchen.

“You wash and I dry?” she asks as the door swings shut behind her.

“You don’t have a dishwasher?”

“It broke last night.”

Great. “I’ll take a look at it once we’re done.” I place the dirty dishes in the sink before rolling up my sleeves.

Dahlia tracks my every move with heated fascination, making my stomach clench.

Shit. “Do you have gloves?” I ask.

She snaps out of whatever trance my arms had her in. “Um, yeah.” She digs through the cabinet beneath the sink and pulls out a large pair of pink gloves.

I grab them from her, ignoring the tingle of her fingers brushing across mine. Both of us pull away a little too fast. I put the gloves on with too much force, nearly ripping one of them.

Dahlia searches the laundry room for a clean towel while I busy myself with the dishes.

She returns, only to pause midstride so she can snap a photo of me washing a plate. “Aw. The color of the gloves really brings out your cheeks.”

“Delete that.”

“Nope.” She tucks her phone into her back pocket and leans against the counter beside me.

I drop the dish in the dirty water. Soap suds and water droplets fly from the big splash, landing on both of us.

“Hey!” She wipes a few drops off her face.

I take advantage of her distraction to steal the phone from her back pocket.

“Give that back!” Dahlia reaches for her phone, but I hold it above her head.

I struggle to rip one of the rubber gloves off thanks to the soap covering it, but somehow manage to bite down on the tip of one finger and pull.

“Julian!” She claws at my arm with her freshly manicured nails.

I can vaguely overhear Rosa speaking from the other room, asking if she should go check on us, only for my mother to assure her that everything is fine.

“What’s your password?” I ask while attempting a few number combinations myself.

“Screw you.” She turns her attention toward the spot between my ribs that has me jolting.

“Give it back.” She tickles me again, and my grip on the phone slips.

Oh fuck.

Her phone falls into the sink full of water and lands at the bottom with a sickening thud.

“Oh my fucking God! I’m going to kill you!” She dives for the phone and pulls it out. Water drips everywhere as she does everything in her power to turn it back on.

I rip the other glove off and run my fingers through my hair. “Shit. I’m so sorry.”

She scowls hard enough to make me take a step back. “You’re sorry?”

“It slipped.”

“It wouldn’t have been in your hands had you not accosted me.”

“Accosted? A bit dramatic, don’t you think?” A small laugh escapes me.

My reaction seems to fuel the fire behind her eyes. “I’ll show you dramatic.”

With a burst of impressive speed, she grabs my phone from my back pocket and tosses it like a football into the sink. The glass screen hits the side of a heavy metal pot before plunging to the bottom of the sink.

Both of our mouths drop open as the cracked screen flickers once before going black.

“I can’t believe I did that.” She stares up at me with wide eyes.

“I can.” I seethe.

Five deep breaths.

Except five doesn’t exactly cut it. Twenty breaths later, I’m still fighting the urge to snap at the woman beside me.

El que se enoja pierde, my dad’s go-to proverb, echoes through my head, easing some of my irritation.

“I’m so freaking sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking.” She rubs at her eyes.

“You’re sorry?” I ask with a cool voice.

“Yes.”

I can’t explain what possesses me to react the way I do, but I grab the side hose and spray Dahlia like we did countless times as kids.

“Julian!” She holds up her hands, making the water splash everywhere.

I ignore her cry as I blast her face with cold water, ruining her makeup and hair in the process. A mix of mascara, eyeliner, and blush runs down her cheeks.

I drop the hose. “I accept your apology now.” My gaze flickers toward her soaked T-shirt. The black fabric clings to the curves of her breasts like a second skin, emphasizing the—

“What the hell?” I sputter while choking on water.

“You look like you need to cool down.” Dahlia sprays me with enough water to soak my hair, white button-down shirt, and the front of my pants. The water feels cool on my skin, but a blast of warmth pours through me as her gaze follows as it trickles down my arms.

El que se enoja pierde: Who gets angry loses.

Her tongue traces her bottom lip as she focuses on my abs pressing against the wet fabric.

I follow her gaze. “Like what you see?”

“Consider me unimpressed.” Although the faint blush creeping up her neck gives her away.

I grab my shirt by the soaked hem and lift it to wipe my dripping face. Dahlia’s eyes widen as she is given a full view of what lies beneath the drenched fabric.

“What are you doing?” she hisses.

“Cleaning up the mess you made.”

Her gaze flickers over my abs before following the angled muscles that disappear beneath the band of my jeans.

“Still unimpressed?”

She squints. “Even more so now that I got a better look.”

“You’ve always been a lousy liar.”

“And you’ve always been a terrible flirt.”

“You’ve got something…” I swipe at the corner of her mouth with the pad of my thumb. Her sharp inhale is loud enough to be heard over the rapid beat of my heart.

She tilts her head back, giving me a better look at her hooded eyes.

My fingers tingle as I clasp her chin and lean in until our lips hover a few centimeters apart. “For someone intent on acting like she doesn’t find me attractive, you desperately look like you want to be kissed.”

Her eyes snap open as she shoves me away. “God! I can’t stand you.”

“The feeling is mutual.”

She tosses a dish towel at me. I catch it a second before it lands in the puddle forming by our feet.

“I’m going to grab a bag of rice to soak our phones, and the mop to clean up this mess,” she announces with flushed cheeks.

“That’s a good idea after how you drooled all over the floor.” I smirk.

You’re playing with fire, my head warns.

Wrong. I’m playing with something far more dangerous.

Dahlia Isabella Muñoz.


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