Love Redesigned: Chapter 19

Julian

The thought of going back to my empty house is about as enticing as a root canal without anesthesia, so I head toward Last Call after dropping Dahlia off at her house. The bar is pretty empty, with only a few Sunday stragglers taking up the stools and surrounding high-top tables. I nod toward a few locals before picking my usual spot at the end of the bar.

“Modelo?” Henry, the older bartender, places a napkin in front of me. I nod, and he sets down a bottle of my favorite beer.

“Open a tab for me.” I throw my Amex on the counter and chug half of my drink in one go.

“Rough day?” A guy a few stools down from me speaks up.

“You could say that.” I try to make out his face, but his ball cap casts a dark shadow.

“Work problems?”

I silently take another sip.

“Family issues.”

My eyes remain focused on the shelf of alcohol in front of me.

“Woman trouble.”

My fingers tighten around the bottle.

“Ahh. I see.” He looks up at me with those dark, beady eyes I would recognize anywhere.

Lorenzo Vittori.

He takes a long sip from his highball glass before placing it on the bar top. “Julian Lopez, right?”

My muscles tighten beneath my shirt. “Yes.”

“I’d say it’s nice to finally see the man who has made the last year incredibly difficult for me, but then I’d be lying.”

I remain silent. Competing against Lorenzo’s house offers was easy, especially with my deep connections to everyone in town.

People in town might dislike that I’m buying up older properties only to tear them down, but they trust me more than Lorenzo, who only lived here until his parents died.

His grin doesn’t reach his dead eyes. “Not much of a talker?”

I take a long sip of my beer instead. Most people in town consider me shy. Reserved. Quiet. What was once a weakness has become my biggest strength, especially when dealing with antagonistic tools like Lorenzo.

He lets out a long, exaggerated sigh. “Are you typically a bore, or do you save the quiet, stoic stereotype for me?”

Henry snorts.

I glare.

Lorenzo holds up his empty glass with a smirk. “How about another round for my friend and me here?”

“We’re not friends.” I keep my voice detached despite my annoyance.

“You’re spending your Sunday night drinking in a bar with me of all people. If you have any friends, clearly they’re shitty ones.”

He hit my weakness on the head. Besides Rafa, I don’t have any friends since half the men in town work for me while the other half are double my age.

Expanding my dad’s business came with sacrifices, and my social life happened to be one of them.

But not the biggest.

Dahlia’s words from earlier haunt me.

Maybe he was the one too afraid of the risks. Maybe he should have built a life with her rather than erecting a wall to keep her out.

Thing is, when my dad died, I struggled with a long list of issues—fear being only one of them. Pride. Anger. Grief. Everything in my life turned to shit, and my personality along with it.

Things I had wanted—like a degree from Stanford and a shot at something special with Dahlia—were no longer possible after my life drastically changed overnight.

I was barely an adult when I made the decision to push Dahlia away, and it led to my immature choice to cut her out of my life after becoming friends during our freshman year. It was insensitive and unfair of me, so she had every right to find someone who made her feel secure in a way I couldn’t as a twenty-year-old guy battling grief while saving his dad’s failing business.

A memory I kept locked away resurfaces, dragging me back to my time at Stanford.

“When do you plan on telling Dahlia that you like her?” Oliver asked me once Dahlia left our dorm room after our late-night study session.

“Who said I like her?” I kept my tone nonchalant despite my rising blood pressure.

“You smiled when you came back from the bathroom and caught her snooping around your desk.”

I held my tongue. Rafa was the only person I felt comfortable enough with to talk to about my crush, and I planned on keeping it that way.

He shrugged. “You better tell her soon before someone else makes a move on her.”

I’m yanked out of the past by a sharp pain shooting through my heart. No matter how many times I tell myself that I couldn’t have known Oliver was an asshole, I still feel partially responsible for introducing Dahlia to him.

If you hadn’t pushed her away, she would have never gotten close to him.

I take a sip of my beer, hoping to wash away the sour taste.

No amount of alcohol will change the fact that you care about her enough to resent yourself.

Fuck. I wipe a hand down my face. Drinking at a bar was supposed to give me a break from thinking about Dahlia.

I chug the rest of my beer and stand. “Henry, can I get the check, please?”

“Where are you going?” Lorenzo’s smile quickly transforms into a frown.

I ignore the man who can’t seem to take a hint. Henry is quick with charging my card and passing me the receipt to sign.

“I thought we were going to have a real bonding moment here.” The ice in Lorenzo’s glass rattles from his long sip.

“How much will it cost me to get you out of this town?”

“I have no interest in making any more money.”

I pause for a beat. “Then what do you want?”

“Only friends get to know that.” He raises his glass in a mock toast before knocking back the rest of the contents.

I add a decent tip and sign the bottom of my check before exiting the bar. My relief at escaping Lorenzo’s incessant talking is short-lived when I remember the dull ache that hasn’t left me since the library.

I rub the spot over my heart and wish for it to go away.

Good luck with that.

The only way to get rid of the constant throbbing is to remove the person causing it in the first place.

Dahlia Muñoz.


I spend the rest of my night devising a way to get rid of Dahlia. Simply put, if I find a way to speed up the renovation, then her creative spark will be reignited, thus restoring her faith in design. She can return to her life in San Francisco, leaving me to go about my life as usual.

The plan is foolproof. I only need to make sure Ryder and the rest of the team are on board for the changes, seeing as we will have to postpone a project to take this one on.

So, despite my reservations, I show up Monday morning at the Founder’s house to speak with Ryder personally.

“Hey, boss. Didn’t expect you to be joining us today.” He shuts the back of his truck.

“There’s been a few changes to the original plan.”

The sun reflects off his brown eyes. “Like what?”

“We need this project done within the next three months.”

His brows rise toward the edge of his hard hat. “What?”

“Do you think it can be completed by the end of January?”

Ryder’s gaze bounces between the decrepit house and me. “Depends on what we find on the inside.”

“We can modify schedules and postpone other projects if it means getting this one done faster. I want all hands on deck here.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, what’s the rush?” he asks.

The answer to his question drives up to the house, blasting Ozuna loud enough to be heard through the sealed windows.

Dahlia climbs out of her sister’s car in a pair of leather boots, a thin sweater that can’t do much to fight the late October chill, and a designer skirt custom-made to drive me crazy.

God give me the strength to make it through this meeting with my team while fighting a hard-on.

A flicker of hesitation crosses her face before she props her sunglasses on her head and holds her hand out for Ryder to grab. “Hi, I’m Dahlia.”

“Ryder. I’m the project manager.” His gaze doesn’t drop from her face.

Dahlia introduces herself to the engineer and architect next, both of whom check her out.

Are you seriously going to get jealous of your own employees?

With the way Dahlia looks up at them with her big brown eyes and wide smile, hell yeah I am.

“Let’s start,” I lash out, wanting to get this walk-through over with before I fire someone.

At first, Dahlia was hesitant to speak up, allowing me to take the lead, but after ten minutes, she warmed up to my team and started acting like her typical self.

I find myself at a loss for words as I watch her collaborate with my team like she’s spent years working with them rather than an hour. I’m impressed with her wealth of knowledge, and Ryder seems equally blown away by her experience with Victorian homes.

He scribbles something down on his clipboard. “With the changes you want, I feel like we could definitely have this thing done within the three months Julian requested.”

“Three months?” Dahlia glances over her shoulder. “I thought you said it could take six to eight.”

I tip my chin. “Change of plans.”

Her eyes narrow. “How fortunate.”

Except since Dahlia crashed back into my life, I’ve felt anything but.

She carries on, and my men do everything they can to support her. I take a step away from the team to answer a call, only to come back to the crew laughing at something she said.

“What’s going on?”

Ryder grins. “Dahlia was telling us a story about the difference between real-life home renos and the ones she did on TV.”

“And?”

“Turns out production filmed another construction worker’s hands for certain scenes since her fiancé had no idea what he was doing.”

Ex-fiancé.” I have no idea why I choose to clarify, but I regret it the moment I say the word.

Dahlia’s hands clench by her sides. “Julian. A word?”

My stomach drops as she storms off toward the kitchen, leaving me alone with my crew.

Ryder winces. “Damn. Was it something we said?”

“Just me being a dumbass. Carry on.” I turn in the direction Dahlia headed. It takes me a minute to find her outside, staring out at the lake with her good arm tucked against her sling.

“What was that back there?”

“A mistake.” I’ve been stumbling my way across a tightrope of emotions, and one mention of Oliver had me tumbling straight into a pit of jealousy.

Her eyes remain focused on the view. “Do you like trying to make me feel small?”

My head rears back. “Of course not.”

Dahlia turns. “If this is your plan to run me out of town, you better try harder than that. I didn’t spend the last five years of my life dealing with internet trolls and a future monster-inlaw to back down at the first sign of adversity. That much I can tell you.”

“I’m not—” I try to center myself. “You’ve got this all wrong.”

Although I want her to leave Lake Wisteria, I wouldn’t embarrass her in front of my team to speed up the process, especially not when I see how much she struggles around people lately.

Her eyes narrow. “Then feel free to explain.”

Thing is, I don’t want to explain because then I would need to admit I’m still jealous of Oliver after spending years convincing myself I was over everything that went down between him, Dahlia, and myself.

So, instead of admitting the truth, I stick to my comfort zone.

I tuck my hands into my pockets. “I could have gotten rid of you weeks ago instead of going through the trouble of working together.”

Her head tilts to the side. “Oh, really?”

“The mayor still has a reward listed for any information about who egged his Jaguar twelve years ago.”

Dahlia’s eyes go wide. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“Keep assuming the worst of me and I might.”

Her nostrils flare. “If you don’t want me to assume the worst, keep the blackmail to a minimum. It tends to send the wrong message.”

I fight a laugh. “Fair enough.”

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