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Love Redesigned: Chapter 17


“I’m so happy you’ll be here for the Harvest Festival this year,” Josefina says. “It’s changed a lot since you were last here.” Julian’s mom has been the town’s event coordinator for two decades, and while I know she doesn’t have favorites, the Harvest Festival remains one of her top contenders.

“How so?” I ask.

“Everything is different and in the best way possible—the food, the activities, the rides. And this year, we booked the same company that does the firework shows for Dreamland!”

I blink a couple of times. “Isn’t that…expensive?”

Josefina laughs. “Claro que si, but Julian is our main sponsor.”

Claro que si: Of course.

“By main, she means only,” Lily teases.

My eyes bulge. Everyone knows Julian is disgustingly rich, but sponsoring every event seems excessive.

“He only donates that much because of how happy it makes you to plan everything without having a tight budget,” my mom says.

“I’m not going to complain.” Josefina shrugs.

We continue cooking and talking until the doorbell chiming interrupts Josefina’s story about the latest event-planning mishap with the corn maze.

“That must be Julian or Rafa.” She swipes her flour-covered hands across her apron.

“Dahlia, can you get it?” Mom looks up from her Michiganshaped cutting board and points at the door with the tip of her knife.

“Sure. Would hate for Lily to get off her butt and do something useful today.” I hop off the bar stool.

My sister sticks her tongue out at me before returning to whomever she can’t stop texting.

I readjust my sling before opening the door. Julian stands on the other side with a roll of papers tucked underneath his arm and his phone placed against his ear.

“What do you mean—” Julian’s voice cuts out as his eyes blaze a trail down my body. He blinks twice, which is Julian code for fuck.

Julian appreciating my efforts to look good feels like a victory I didn’t know I needed after spending years squeezing myself into a mold for someone else.

I tuck my hair behind my ear before fidgeting with my dangling acrylic earring.

“Yes, I’m still here.” His deep baritone voice has far too much power over my heart rate.

Here, Julian mouths as he passes me the papers from the attic. He could have easily passed the job off to anyone else, yet he went through the trouble of going back before today’s lunch and retrieving them himself.

I try not to look too much into the gesture, but I lose the battle once he carefully places the papers in the crook of my good arm. The scowl he directs toward my broken arm makes my knees tremble.

“My buyer can’t wait another month for the countertops.” His muscles tense as he runs his hand through his hair, drawing my eyes toward the thick vein running up the side of his arm. Julian might spend most of his days in an office now, but he could still bench-press me and a bag of cement mix on his worst day.

His gaze flicks over to me, catching me in the act. His right brow rises in a silent taunt that makes my stomach flip.

If finding Julian attractive is a crime, consider me guilty as charged.

Haven’t you learned anything after the last time you fell for his looks?

Julian didn’t hurt me when we were in college because he rejected me. Sure, it injured my pride and made me feel like the biggest loser after the passionate kiss we shared, but my dislike toward him is so much more than that. He crushed my spirit when he cut me out of his life like I never existed in the first place.

I thought we had something special after spending a year at Stanford together, with our relationship transforming from friends into something else entirely, but it was all a lie.

While I’d love nothing more than to eavesdrop on Julian’s conversation, I shut the door behind me, although it does a shitty job at keeping out the sound of his soft laugh. My heart does this weird squeeze in response, which only serves to further piss me off.

Instead of heading back to the kitchen, I veer toward the empty dining room and place the three rolls of paper on the tabletop before reaching for the largest one. With one arm out of commission, the task of removing the rubber band wrapped around it proves more difficult than anticipated, so I secure it between my thighs for leverage.

“What are you doing?” Julian’s gruff voice breaks through the quiet.

“What does it look like?” I push the rubber band toward the top of the roll.

“Crushing the paper.” He doesn’t wait before grabbing it.

Paper brushes against the inside of my thighs before sliding over a spot that tingles. Okay, fine, I haven’t had sex in a while, but still…what the hell?

I take a long step back, although the heat in my lower belly remains as Julian’s gaze flickers between me and the roll of paper.

He shakes his head before removing the rubber band and spreading out the blueprint for both of us to see.

“How cool is this?” I lean over the table to get a better look at the blueprint, which dates back to the early twentieth century.

Julian checks out the illegible scribble near the bottom of the drawing. “These are original copies.”

“Gerald Baker.” I tap the architect’s name. “Do you recognize his name?”

Julian nods. “He signed off on a majority of the original houses here.”

“You mean the ones you tore down?”

His hands briefly clench.

“It still looks exactly the same.” I trace over the lines dividing the various rooms.

Julian removes the rubber band from a second roll before opening it up. “Hm.”


“Looks like you’ll get to tear down that wall between the kitchen and dining room like you wanted after all.” He points at the structural paperwork.

I rub my hands together with a big, goofy smile. “Nothing gets me buzzing quite like finding out walls aren’t load-bearing.”

His gaze flickers from my eyes to my lips.


“You looked…” He shakes his head. “Never mind.”

“Alrighty then.” I reach for the smallest roll, only to have Julian swipe it from my hand. Our fingers graze, and a tiny spark of recognition flares to life.

With an annoyingly blank face that gives away absolutely nothing, Julian carefully opens the final roll. This one is different from the others, with the yellowed paper looking thin enough to shred at the slightest wrong move.

“This is stunning.” Whoever drew the gazebo thought of every detail. From the roses carved into the fret spindles, to the intricate posts meant to support the roof, it’s a work of art. The artist behind the drawing created a vision, with a view of Lake Wisteria predating Town Square, Main Street, and all the mansions lining the beach.

I lean in closer to get a better look at the illegible scribble at the bottom of the page. A shadow catches my eye, and I flip the paper over.

“Oh my God.”

“What?” Julian’s hot breath hits my neck, making me shiver.

“It’s a letter.” I fight back a squeal.

I waffle between reading and not reading the paper addressed to someone else, but curiosity wins. “My darling, Francesca. Aw! Stop! He calls her ‘darling.’” The secret romantic in me is already buzzing with anticipation, and I’ve only read three words.

“Let me have that.” He steals the paper straight from my hands.


“At your current pace, we’ll be here all day while you swoon over ink on paper.”

“Excuse me for having a heart.” I attempt to snatch the letter back, only to have Julian trap my hand.

His heartbeat quickens beneath my palm, and I look up to find his eyes locked on our hands. They slowly drag away, stopping to linger on my lips before finally reaching my eyes.

His hand tightens around mine before he drops it altogether. I’m too stunned by everything to do much but listen as he picks up where I left off.

It’s been three years since I last saw you, and while so much has changed, my love for you has never wavered. Our monthly letters keep me going despite the trials and tribulations I have been through to help turn this town into a suitable home for you.

My bottom lip trembles.

Julian spares me a sideways glance before focusing back on the letter. “I have been working hard to earn your hand in marriage, although the path has not been the easiest. Building an entire town from nothing takes time, and I am afraid I am running out of it now that your father has started discussing marrying you off to another.

I gasp. “What? How could the dad do that?”

“Because feminism wasn’t exactly a thing yet.”

“Ugh.” I shake my head hard enough to make my earrings rattle.

Julian keeps going. “I thought I had more time before he began entertaining other suitors, but I am fearful that he might make a decision before I have a chance to fight for your hand.

I tap on the page. “What are you doing? Keep reading!”

His gaze flicks back over the paper. “I will stop at nothing to make you mine.

The back of my neck tingles as his eyes lock on mine. We hold each other’s gaze for the briefest second, yet it feels like an eternity has passed before we break away.

Once he sees all that I have done to make Lake Wisteria a town suitable for you, he will agree to my proposal. I am certain of it.

“Couldn’t women get married without their father’s permission back then?” I ask.

“Probably not without serious repercussions.” Julian continues, “Our home is nearly complete. Although the process has taken me longer than I would have liked, my final plan is in motion.

“The gazebo?” My voice hits a higher pitch than usual.

Julian nods. “You always dreamed of getting married below a gazebo similar to the one we met under, and I have plans to do that.

My hand clenches around the material of my shirt, right above my aching heart. “He wanted to build her a gazebo.”

“Are you seriously going to cry over people you don’t know?”

“Of course not,” I sputter.

Julian mutters something to himself before wrapping up the final paragraph.

I shall return for you in six months, once my affairs are in order and the house is complete. Until then, I ask that you do everything within your power to prevent your father from marrying you off to another man.

I rub at my itchy eyes. “Why didn’t she run away with him?”

“And risk losing everything and everyone she cared about?”

“Sometimes people are worth the risk.”

He scoffs.

Ugh. Este hombre. “I don’t expect you to understand.”

He crosses his arms. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re the most risk-averse person I know, so it’s not like you’re going to be making decisions solely based on fuzzy feelings and your gut.” Which is exactly why he pushed me away and called me a distraction rather than acknowledge the truth.

His brows scrunch together. “I’m not risk-averse.”

“You obsess over probability statistics and make pro-andcon lists for everything.”

“That’s called making an informed decision. Perhaps you should try it sometime, given the current state of your life.”

“Screw you,” I hiss as I reach for the rolls. Berating myself over my life choices is one thing, but having Julian do the same feels like taking a knife to the chest.

His eyes widen. “Dahlia.”


“I was joking, but clearly it wasn’t funny.”

I frown. Julian rarely admits when he is wrong, so to say I’m shocked is an understatement.


I glare. He scowls. A tale as old as time.

He speaks first, which in itself is abnormal. “You’re right.”

“I’m sorry. Can you repeat that? I think my brain malfunctioned for a split second.”

His frown deepens. “Don’t let this get to your head.”

“Are you kidding? I might get the words and today’s date tattooed across my forehead solely so you’re stuck staring at the reminder.”

He wipes a hand down his face. “I can’t believe I said anything.”

That makes two of us.

He rambles on without his usual inhibition. “I’m not a risk-taker. Never have been and probably never will be, but that doesn’t mean I have a right to judge people who are.”

“Then why do you?” The question slips out before I have a chance to think better of it.

“I’m jealous.”

I can’t find words to answer that in any language, so I lean against the table for support.

He runs his hands through his hair, ruffling the strands. “I wish I could be the type of person who doesn’t give a damn about probability statistics and worst-case scenarios, but that’s not who I am.”

My head tilts, along with my whole world. Julian and I don’t do feelings. Hell, we don’t do much talking either.

Arguing? Yes.

Teasing? Of course.

But sincere admissions? Abso-freaking-lutely not.

To be honest, it might be unnatural, but it is also kind of… nice?

Fuck me. My heart feels like Julian wrapped his ginormous hand around it and crushed it.

“As much fun as this has been…” I reach for the rolls again with shaky fingers, only for Julian to clasp his hand around my wrist.


Blood pounding in my ears makes me second-guess what I heard. “What?”

“I’m sorry.”

I’m not sure how I keep my voice neutral as I ask, “Two apologies in one week? Are you dying or something?”

“Feels like it,” he grumbles.

“Well, figure out if that shit is contagious before you pass it on to someone else.” I attempt to pull my wrist free from his grasp, but his hold tightens.

“Apologies aren’t contagious, Dahlia.”

No, but feelings are, and I sure as hell don’t know what to expect if Julian keeps stepping up to be a decent man. I can deal with him being angry after spending most of our lives slinging insults at each other. But him maturely apologizing after hurting my feelings and admitting when he is wrong?

I’m better off not getting to know this Julian, for both of our sakes.

Nico devours his lunch at a disturbingly fast rate before taking off for the living room to watch his favorite show, leaving the adults alone.

“How’s the house going?” Josefina takes a sip of her water.

“Dahlia and I are meeting with the team on Monday,” Julian speaks up.

“Which Founder’s house did you buy again?” Lily asks.

I turn to my sister. “The blue one.”

“Oh.” Her gaze drops.


The skin between her brows scrunches from how hard she frowns. “I heard that place is haunted.”

“Same,” Rafa says.

Julian glares at his cousin. “Not you too.”

He shrugs. “I said I heard about it. Not that I actually believe it.”

I throw my good arm in the air. “See! I told you everyone knows about the ghosts there!”

Julian’s eyes roll in a way that almost makes him appear human.

“Dear Lord. Is it too late to sell the place?” My mom makes the sign of the cross while Josefina laughs.

“People say there’s a reason it gets put back up for sale.” Lily props her elbows on the table.

“It’s true.” Josefina nods.

“Tell us everything you know.” I motion for her to continue.

My sister’s voice drops as she says, “Flickering lights—”

Julian cuts her off. “Faulty electricity is normal with a house this old.”

“If you’re going to give me a hard time, I won’t say anything,” my sister huffs.

With my uninjured arm, I elbow Julian hard enough to make him grunt. “Let her finish.”

He glares at me out of the corner of his eye.

Lily stares Julian down for a few seconds before focusing back on me. “Anyway, during high school, a few people from my class spent the night there on a dare.”


Rafa and Julian share a look from across the table.

Lily ignores them. “Supposedly one of them still sleeps with the lights on to this day. The other one moved away and became a priest.”

My eyes widen. “You’re joking.”

“Nope. His mother begged for the town to demolish the house so her son could move back, but obviously that didn’t happen.”

Julian’s eyes shine brighter than a neon warning sign. “Perhaps we should make the town happy and tear it down.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in ghosts.” My molars grind together.

“Maybe I can be convinced after all.”

Asshole. I stomp on his foot. At the speed of a viper, his hand wraps around my thigh and squeezes hard enough to have me choking on my breath.

“Are you okay?” Mom asks.

“Yup. Got a piece of steak in my throat.”

“Here.” Julian’s hand abandons my thigh before shoving my glass of water toward my good hand.

I take a slow sip while staring him down. Once I’m done, I trace my bottom lip with the tip of my tongue to wipe away any remaining droplets.

He breaks eye contact, although the way he thickly swallows gives him away.


Lily’s eyes ping-pong between us before landing on me. “You can ask anyone in town about the house, and they’ll all have a different story to tell.”

I turn to face the nonbeliever. “Do you think it’s Gerald?”

“No. It’s probably old plumbing, outdated electrical wiring, and materials rubbing together at night while the house cools.”

Lily’s eyes roll. “Of course you’d say that.”

“Either way, I’ve dealt with a haunted property or two in San Francisco, so I’m not afraid of a few ghosts,” I say.

She laughs. “What are you going to do? Hire a priest or something?”

“Or something.”

Julian peeks over at me through his thick lashes. “What are you planning?”

“Nothing you need to worry yourself with.” Yet.


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