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Love Redesigned: Chapter 13

Dahlia

When Julian texted me a few days ago to schedule a walk-through of the Founder’s house, I thought he meant I would be meeting with his team to check out the work that needed to be done and compile a list of all our pending tasks.

Instead, I’m surprised to find Luis Senior’s old pickup truck parked in the driveway and Julian standing on the ornate wraparound porch. He leans against one of the intricately carved beams that support the fish-scale shingled ceiling above his head.

“I thought the McLaren was fixed?” I ask.

“It is, but there is no way I’m driving that car during the winter, especially not after our little incident.” He tucks his hands into the front pockets of his slacks.

I am quickly distracted by the mansion. It looks so much grander in the daylight, with turrets shooting toward the sky and a west-wing tower that is so tall, it casts a large shadow across the lawn. The stained-glass window above the door and the colorful yet faded paint scheme add a personal touch.

The home is stunning, regardless of the obvious neglect and lack of upkeep. I’m overwhelmed by ideas of how I could update the exterior—

“Dahlia.”

I look up to find Julian staring at me with a strange expression. “Where’s the rest of the team?”

“Ryder and the crew are dealing with a septic tank that burst at one of our sites.”

My nose twitches. “Gross.”

“For once, I’m glad it’s not me.” His eyes run up the length of my body. “You look…interesting.”

My hands ball up against my sides. “I see why you don’t compliment others often.”

His brows scrunch. “Why?”

“You genuinely suck at it.”

He frowns as a faint blush creeps up his neck. “I was trying to be nice.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m stupid,” he grumbles.

“It only took you thirty years to finally admit what I’ve been trying to prove all along.”

He frowns hard enough to reveal a few wrinkles.

I have an extra bounce in my step as I walk up to the house in my non-industrial booties.

His phone rings before he has a chance to say something. He checks the screen before showing me the caller ID. “Do you mind if I take this?”

“Tell your mom I say hi.”

Julian does what I ask. Whatever his mom says has him turning away from me. I’m nosy, so it kills me to only catch bits and pieces of the conversation, especially when his mom makes him laugh.

Good God. Julian’s laughs don’t come often, but when they do, my whole world stops for a few seconds so I can process the sound.

His affection for his mother is not only genuine but frustratingly endearing. My stomach dips as he laughs and promises to stop by his mom’s place after work because she is having issues with her leaking kitchen faucet.

Julian has more money than he could possibly spend in this lifetime and a roster of people who could fix a faucet in ten minutes flat, yet he offers to help instead.

Are you surprised after he spent an hour fixing your dishwasher because he refused to give up and call for help?

“Bye, Ma. Nos vemos luego.” Julian hangs up before walking down the creaking stairs. “Hey. Sorry about that.”

“Everything okay?”

He tucks his phone into the inside pocket of his gray suit. “Besides the sink, yeah. She couldn’t resist going over a few things about the Harvest Festival too.”

“Oh? Is that coming up soon?” I feign ignorance.

Nos vemos luego: See you later.

His brows pull together. “You’ve been gone for a while, but not that long.”

“Hm.”

Lake Wisteria has four huge events each year to celebrate the different seasons: fall’s Harvest Festival; the Lake Wistmas Holiday Extravaganza; spring’s Food, Wine, and Flowers Weekend; and the famous summer Strawberry Festival. The entire town pitches in to help throw each event, and people from all over the state come and visit.

I’ve tried my hardest to block the upcoming Harvest Festival from my mind, but my days of ignorant bliss will soon come to an end since it’s only a matter of time before my mom asks me to help with the Muñoz booth.

Everyone so far has been nothing but welcoming.

Doesn’t mean all the visitors from neighboring towns will be.

His gaze narrows.

I move around him and head toward the front steps. Julian unlocks the door, and the hinges groan as it swings open and bangs against the wall, sending dust flying everywhere.

Julian and I break out into a coughing fit.

I wave my hand in the air and gasp. “Do we need masks or something?”

“Let me check to see if I have a couple lying around.” Julian rushes to the truck bed.

Beams of light cut through the dust cloud, drawing my eyes toward the source.

“Oh my God.” I walk inside, ignoring Julian’s protest from behind me.

The dual staircase leading up to the second floor looks like something out of a movie. Intricately carved wood balusters and the elaborate hand-embroidered carpet running up the length of the stairs blow me away with the amount of detail crammed into a single statement piece. Whoever designed the entrance had an eye for detail and luxury.

“What the hell, Dahlia? You should have waited for me.” Julian doesn’t give me a chance to grab the mask from him. Instead, he covers the lower half of my face before fixing the straps in the back so my hair doesn’t poof up.

To think I said romance is dead.

“Are you seeing this?” I wave toward the stairs with a muffled voice.

“I’m sure smelling it.”

“Where’s your mask?”

“I only had one left.” His nose scrunches again before he sneezes.

I reach for my mask, only for Julian to push my hands down. The graze of his fingers against my knuckles sends a pleasant zing down my spine.

Oh Dahlia. You’re a lost cause.

“I’m fine,” he says with a sniffle.

“No need to act chivalrous without an audience.”

He shoots me a look before walking toward the foyer beneath the stairs. “First impression of the place?”

“I’m in love.”

His right brow rises. “Just like that, huh?”

“Just like that,” I repeat as I note the detailed wood moldings throughout the space. “I mean, look at all the details.”

“Whatever carpenter they hired did a great job. Termite damage aside, the craftsmanship is impeccable.” He runs a hand over the baluster.

“Think you could replicate it?” I ask without thinking much of it.

His hand freezes. “I don’t do carpentry anymore.”

“What? Since when?”

With the way he becomes engrossed with a light switch, one might believe he was born before electricity was invented. “A while.”

“Why?” My high-pitched voice echoes around us. Julian had the talent to turn a block of wood into a work of art with nothing but a few tools and a single idea.

To think he stopped…

He shrugs. “I got busy.”

“I refuse to believe this.”

He checks his watch. “I have a meeting in thirty, so let’s keep going.”

My eyes narrow. “We’re not done with this conversation.”

“All right. Make sure to bring it up again when you’re ready to talk about why you and Oliver broke up,” he snaps.

I jerk back.

His eyes shut. “Shit. Sorry, Dahlia. That was unfair of me.” The iciness in my chest that seems to vanish in Julian’s presence returns with the strength of a blizzard.

“No worries. I’ve dealt with worse comments.” I walk around Julian, ignoring the spark that flares between us when his skin brushes against mine as I head toward the next room.

“Wait!” He yanks on my arm.

“What are you doing?” I shake him off.

He tightens his hold, making my stomach dive in the process. “You almost walked into a spiderweb.”

I look up from his arm wrapped around my middle to the massive web hanging like a curtain under the archway.

“Oh God.” I shudder.

I freaking hate spiders.

Julian releases me, taking his warmth with him. “I’ll take the lead.”

I wave a shaky hand toward the spiderweb. “Go ahead.”

“You could at least try to put up a fight about wanting to be in charge.”

“Sorry. The feminism left my body the moment you mentioned spiders.”

His lips curve at the corners. “Some things never change.”

It only takes a single smile from him to make me forget I was mad in the first place.

He used your relationship with Oliver as a weapon. Act like it!

I kill whatever buzz I felt as Julian leads the way.


Julian and I make our way through the entire house, cataloging each room and all the work that needs to be done. He writes diligent notes on his phone while I take photos of every room.

Tension between us builds with every pass of the measuring tape, leaving me cranky and desperate to go home as we get to the seventh bedroom. When I hold my hand out in a silent request, Julian holds the tape hostage.

“What?” I grind out.

“I’ve been thinking.”

“Should we mark this special occasion?”

A wrinkle cuts across his forehead from how hard he frowns. “I’m sorry for what I said downstairs.”

“Fine.”

Do I forgive him for losing his cool? Yeah.

Does that mean I’m not pissed about what he said? No, seeing as this is the second time he has used my failed relationship as a weapon against me.

I bite down on my tongue hard enough to taste blood. “Tape, please.”

He doesn’t make a move to pass it, so I lift my hand and wiggle my fingers.

His deep sigh of resignation echoes off the high ceiling. “I haven’t been able to go into my dad’s woodshop since he passed away.”

My arm drops like a dead weight.

Julian continues, “I’m not sure why I’m telling you this.” He pauses for a brief second. “I mean, I know why. I feel shitty for snapping at you earlier, and this is my way of making up for it.”

“I appreciate the thought, but please feel free to stop sharing at any time.” I keep my voice flat despite my rising heart rate. Julian confessing his deepest feelings isn’t part of our arrangement.

Neither is you feeling sorry for him in light of it.

The crease between his brows disappears. “So I’m forgiven?”

“I forgave you after you stopped me from walking into a spiderweb, so yeah, we’re good so long as you don’t do it again.”

“Deal. Now, will you explain what you said earlier?”

“About opening up the kitchen so more natural light can come through?”

He scowls. “Déjate de tonterías. What did you mean about hearing worse comments?”

“Oh. Pass.”

He makes a noise in the back of his throat. “Don’t make me resort to extreme measures to get the information out of you.”

I scoff. “Nothing you say or do will get me to open up to you about that part of my life.”

“Wanna bet?”

It’s funny how two words can open a floodgate of memories I banished. From money to bragging rights, Julian and I spent years wagering bets.

Julian’s phone rings. He looks down at the screen before cursing to himself. “I need to take this.”

I wave him away. “No problem. I can finish up the last room on my own and lock up after.”

“You sure?”

I fight the dryness in my throat as I nod. “Yup.”

He ignores his annoying ringtone. “I’ll give Sam your information, and he can coordinate the meetings.”

“You’re willing to let me speak to your assistant after last time?”

“Of course. I had him sign a new contract with a nice pay increase and a promise to never work for you so long as he lives.”

Déjate de tonterías: Stop fooling around.

“I hate how you’re always one step ahead of me.”

He laughs for a second time today, throwing me off. “There’s a reason I always kicked your ass at chess.”

I flip him off, and he says goodbye with a smile on his face that remains with me long after he leaves.


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