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Love Redesigned: Chapter 15

Julian

I didn’t think when I ran out of my office.

Or when I broke five different road rules in my panic to make it back to the Founder’s house.

In fact, my body is running on pure adrenaline and a single brain cell as I rush into the house, shouting Dahlia’s name while searching for the attic.

She cries out from one side of the house, and I rush to the stairs. My shoes slap against the wood, matching the staccato beat of my heart as I hurry up the steps.

The sight of Dahlia cradling her left arm to her chest nearly brings me to my knees.

This is all your fault.

“What happened?” I do my best to tamp down the edge in my voice.

“Oh, thank God you came alone. I don’t think I could deal with my mom or sister hyperventilating and praying the pain away right now.” Dahlia’s voice cracks, betraying the calm mask she’s fighting to keep.

My gaze bounces between her, the ladder, and the rolls of paper a few feet away. “What the hell were you thinking?”

“Can you help me first, lecture me later? I’m pretty sure I broke my arm.” She points at her limp limb.

“I’m going to call for an ambulance.” I kneel beside her and fumble for my phone.

“No!”

“Why not?”

“No need for that whole production.”

I check out her arm again. “We could make everything worse by moving you.”

“The thought of being in an ambulance…” Her voice shakes.

Shit. In my panic, I nearly forgot about how Dahlia had a front-row seat to her dad dying in the back of an ambulance from a stroke.

“Will you drive? Please.” She attempts to sit up.

I hold her down by pressing her shoulders while assessing the situation. “I’m going to have to carry you.”

“I can walk! Watch. But help me stand up first.” She attempts to sit up with a hiss.

“Stop moving or I’m calling an ambulance.”

“Wait! Can you get my phone first? It’s on the windowsill.”

“Fine.” I grab her phone and tuck it into my back pocket.

I kneel and slide my arms beneath her. Her eyes water as I hold her against my chest and rise, doing my best to avoid aggravating her injury.

My hands tighten around her. “You good?”

“Never been better.” Her overly cheery voice grates on my frayed nerves.

When she answered the phone, my mind jumped to the worst conclusion based on Dahlia’s muffled, panicked voice. I couldn’t stop the graphic images from playing in my head after years spent working in construction.

Cracked skull.

Broken spine.

Paralysis.

You’ve seen it all, yet you never reacted like this before.

I shake the thought away, only to have it return with a vengeance as Dahlia hides her face against my shirt, dampening the material with her tears.

You still care about her.

Mierda.

I’m not given more than a second to process the thought before Dahlia speaks up again.

She sniffles. “This is all so stupid.”

I stalk toward the exit. “What is?”

“Breaking my arm like this.”

“How did it happen?” I walk toward the stairwell while doing my best to keep her steady.

“I had a run-in with a spider.”

A spider?

“I know what you’re thinking. But that beast was the size of a tarantula and had a set of fangs like a snake.” She trembles against me when I take the first step down the stairs.

You should have been here.

I knew leaving Dahlia behind to finish what we started wasn’t polite, but I had a phone call I needed to take and a meeting I couldn’t miss.

Couldn’t or wouldn’t?

The best part of my day was doing the walk-through with her—an anomaly in itself—and the last thing I wanted to do was head back to the office.

The artery in my neck pulses with each annoying thump of my heart.

I missed a part of Dahlia’s ramblings, but it’s easy to catch on as she continues. “The creature was a thing of nightmares. I’m lucky to be alive right now to tell the tale.”

Dahlia only talks to me like this when she is anxious or in pain. So to keep her occupied, I entertain her with conversation while walking through the mansion.

“Should I contact pest control?’’ I ask.

“Pest control? No way. You need the Department of Natural Resources to come out here and drop fumigation bombs because I have a feeling that creature was one of many.”

“You think there are more?”

“Of course. Perhaps hundreds.” She glances toward the ceiling. “Actually, no. Thousands. Make sure the DNR knows all of this when you give them a call tomorrow. When it comes to the government, you need to exaggerate matters to get anyone’s attention.”

“But by the time they get around to the case, the property will be overrun with spiders the size of people.”

She tucks her face against my chest in a poor attempt to hide her smile, only to pull back after a sniffle. “What happened to your cologne?”

I nearly trip over my own feet. “What?”

“The one you wore on the day of the car accident?”

Of all the questions to ask…

“Oh, yeah. I ran out.” Good job putting that one brain cell to work.

“Hm.” She falls quiet.

“I have an idea.” I speak a little too fast.

“What?”

“What if we burn down the house?”

She clutches the fabric of my shirt with her good hand. “No!”

“But we could be saving the world from super-spiders.”

“And anger the ghosts who live here? Hell no! I’ve seen enough horror movies to know better.”

My brows crinkle. “What ghosts?”

“Didn’t you research the house before you signed the paperwork?”

I’m not sure I was entirely thinking straight when I bought the house, let alone researching the past owners.

She looks around before whispering, “You didn’t think to ask why a treasure of a house like this would be put up for sale?”

“Easy answer. It’s a pain in the ass to fix.” Based on the century-old electrical wiring, ancient drainpipes, and faulty foundation, the repairs would cost anyone hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Her eyes shut, whether out of pain or frustration, I’m not too sure. “I’m surprised you didn’t hear about the ghosts. Everyone in town knows about them.”

“Probably because I don’t believe in ghosts to begin with.”

She shushes me. “You’re going to make them angry.”

They don’t exist.”

“All right.” Except everything about her tone suggests the complete opposite.

The soft slap of my shoes against the wood floor fills the silence between us. In a stupid move to open the front door, I end up jostling her. “Sorry.”

Her chin trembles, making me feel even shittier. “Anyway, we can’t burn down the house. If you do, I will never forgive you.”

“Should I add it to the list of reasons?”

She cuts into me with a single glare. “Julian.

An uncustomary fluttering sensation erupts in my stomach. I kick the front door harder than intended, making both Dahlia and the glass windowpane shudder as it closes.

Shit.

She stares up at me with glassy eyes. “Perhaps we can call a truce with the spider. It’s not like it tried to bite me or anything, which it could have. I’m the one who went into its territory.”

“Is the attic off-limits then?”

“Sure, so long as you go back for the rolls of paper I dropped.”

“Of course, you want me to go in there.”

“You’ll be my hero. I’ll get you a custom medal and everything.” Her eyes brighten despite the tears pooling near her bottom lashes.

I help Dahlia get into the truck with only a couple of hisses before I slide into the driver’s seat and start the engine. “I’m taking you to Lake Aurora.”

“Why?” she cries. “Doc’s is down the road.”

“Absolutely not.”

She huffs. “What do you have against Doc? He’s been fixing broken arms since before our time.”

Exactly. I’m pretty sure the man worked the front lines during the last World War.”

“Since when is being experienced a crime?”

“Since said experience means still using paper charts and a head mirror.” I glare at her out of the corner of my eye.

“Not everyone knows how to use electronic medical charts.”

“I plan on not stopping until I find you someone who does. End of discussion.”

She grumbles something under her breath as I drive down the gravel driveway toward the main road. The uneven path pushes her around, which only pisses me off more.

“Can you play some music?” Her voice cuts through my noisy breathing.

“Sure.” I pull out my phone and hit shuffle on my favorite playlist.

Dahlia goes quiet as I drive us away from the house and out of Lake Wisteria. The tension in her shoulders fades away with each song. I check on her a few times during the thirty-minute drive to Lake Aurora, but she remains in the same position with her eyes closed and her head leaned against the glass.

Despite my hesitation to wake her, I park my truck in the emergency bay and open her door. “Come on.”

She raises a single sassy brow. “I’m going to need you to move out of the way first.”

“I’d rather carry you.”

Her eyes widen. “What for?”

“You broke your arm.”

She frowns. “Funny. I didn’t know I needed one to walk.”

I resist the temptation to pinch the bridge of my nose. “I’d rather you not trip and fall, seeing as you couldn’t even stand up earlier.”

“I’m surprised you care about that.”

“Only under certain circumstances.”

Her eyes sparkle. “Like when I’m about to sue your company for damages?”

“I’d expect nothing less. Should I give my lawyer a courtesy call?”

“Sure. I heard from a good source you have a nice liability insurance policy.”

I bite back a laugh. “Stop stalling, and let’s go.”

“Wai—”

I swoop in and pick her up before she can argue her way out of this one.

She stays quiet as I walk us into the waiting room and set her down before heading to the nurses’ station. After a quick assessment, Dahlia is taken away for triage.

I spend the next twenty minutes on the phone with Dahlia’s mother, reassuring Rosa that Dahlia is safe and receiving medical attention. Rosa offers to drive over, but I recommend against it.

“We should be done soon.” At worst, Dahlia needs surgery, although I doubt her injury is anything a cast can’t fix.

“Thank God you were there to help her,” her mom says.

My fingers dig into my thighs. Thing is, I should have been there earlier so this never happened in the first place.

My phone buzzes repeatedly from our family group chat checking in on Dahlia. It hasn’t stopped since I told them about her hospital visit, although Dahlia has remained silent until now.

LILY

How’s it going?

S.S.

Never been better.

Dahlia attaches a photo of her broken arm that makes my stomach churn.

ROSA

Dahlia!

LILY

Add a content warning next time, freak.

She adds three green-faced emojis after.

MAMI

How are you texting right now?

S.S.

One-handed.

LILY

The talent.

S.S.

More like boredom.

RAFA

Nico wants to know if he can draw something on your cast this Sunday.

S.S.

Sure.

The night goes by painstakingly slow as I wait for Dahlia, giving me plenty of time to mull over my selfish decision to leave her all alone.

I told myself a hundred different times that I don’t care about Dahlia—that any romantic feelings I had toward her died long ago—yet here I am, making myself sick over how she got hurt because of me.

Truth is, I do care about Dahlia, regardless of whether I want to or not.

Caring about someone isn’t the end of the world, I tell myself.

Except Dahlia isn’t someone.

She is so much more.

The thought has me jumping out of my chair. Instead of sitting around and stewing in my thoughts, I end up raiding the vending machine and purchasing a few wraps from the cafeteria. I like being useful, and everything about today has me feeling the complete opposite.

After another hour, Dahlia walks out of the two doors with her left arm wrapped in a purple cast and a reminder card for an appointment booked four weeks from now.

Relief hits me instantly like a wrecking ball to the chest.

She’s okay.

Of course she’s okay, you dumbass. It’s a broken arm, not open-heart surgery.

“Hey.” She fidgets with a loose thread on her sling.

“Nice color.”

“It’s my favorite.”

I know. I grab the plastic bag off the floor and offer it to her.

“What’s that?” She stares at the offering like an armed bomb.

“Food.” My right eye twitching speaks louder than any words.

She sifts through the bag. “Why would you get me—Mini M&M’s!” The childish squeal that comes out of her makes my mission to find it totally worth it. “I haven’t had these in years.”

“Why not?” I can’t imagine her going a week without some, let alone years.

Her cheeks flush. “Filming diet and all that fun stuff.”

“That’s stupid.” Based on the weight she has lost, she could use all the M&M’s money can buy.

Her eyes roll. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.” She attempts to rip at the plastic wrapper covering the tube. Despite her struggles, she refuses to ask me for any help, so I pluck the container from her hand.

“Give it back!” She tries to swipe it back with her good arm.

I hold it up above her head and tear the plastic off. To spite her for being difficult, I pop open the cap and pour some into my mouth before passing the container back.

She peers inside the tube. “You ate almost half of them!”

I reach inside the bag and pull out the second tube hidden beneath the turkey wrap and a bag of chips.

Her gasp of surprise feels like a victory. “You got me two? Why?”

“They were on sale.” The lie comes out easily.

“If you keep doing things like this, I might end up thinking you’re a nice guy or something.”

“We can’t have that.” I reach for the bag, only for her to sidestep me.

“Never mind. Your reputation as an asshole is alive and well.”

“And don’t you forget it.” I turn and head toward the exit while shielding my smile from the one woman who always finds a way to bring it out, whether she knows it or not.


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