We are taking book requests on our companion website. You can request books here. Make sure, you are following the rules.

Love Redesigned: Chapter 20

Julian

Expanding my company beyond Lake Wisteria’s borders was always part of the plan. I spent the last year researching neighboring lake towns, attending town hall meetings, and visiting countless open houses to make sure I picked the right second location for Lopez Luxury.

I should be ecstatic about purchasing my first house in Lake Aurora after how hard it was to get the town to warm up to my plan to drive up tourism and triple property values. Instead, I’m stuck with a hollow feeling while my signature dries on the dotted line.

My real estate agent tucks the contract into her file. “I’ll reach out to your assistant once the owners of the manor on Juniper Lane agree to sell.”

“You’re confident they will?”

She slides the file into her briefcase before throwing the strap over her shoulder. “Oh, yeah. It’s only a matter of time. Plus, I already have two other families ready to sell a chunk of their land. It seems people are more willing to part with their properties after seeing what you did with the town.”

“Great.” My enthusiasm falls flat.

Her gray brows scrunch. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No. Keep Sam posted about the other sales.” I stand and walk her out of my private office.

Sam drops his sandwich and takes over walking the real estate agent out to the parking lot.

“The floors have to go,” Dahlia’s voice announces.

What the hell?

I scan the room and hallway for Dahlia, only to find them empty.

“We don’t have the budget for that,” Oliver’s cheery voice follows.

An episode of Dahlia’s show plays on Sam’s computer monitor. I reach to pause the episode, only to stop before I hit the space bar.

Dahlia looks over at Oliver with a frown. “You told me yesterday we were under-budget and on track to finish early.”

“That was before we found out about the issue in the attic.” He tucks a screwdriver into his tool belt.

“What issue?” She looks genuinely confused by his statement.

“Two of the three support beams have termite damage, and the insulation needs to be redone,” he enunciates with a fake smile.

“How much will that set us back?”

“Thirty thousand, give or take.”

Dahlia’s eyes shut for the briefest second before she recovers. “I can work with that.”

Oliver wraps an arm around her shoulder, ignoring the way her body tenses as he pulls her into a hug. “Is now a bad time to tell you about the basement?”

The slight twitch in Dahlia’s eye could be mistaken for a tic, but I know better.

I move the mouse around and check the episode details. It was prerecorded and released yesterday, which makes sense given Dahlia’s longer hair and fuller frame.

Another thing I wouldn’t mind punching Oliver over.

I find myself caught up in watching the train wreck of their relationship play out. Oliver seems to stare through Dahlia rather than at her while she talks to the camera, and his smile never quite reaches his eyes. Dahlia isn’t much better at faking affection based on how she cringes when Oliver explains a few construction issues like a toddler in a hard hat.

Sam once referred to Dahlia and Oliver as the ultimate home improvement couple, but are we watching the same show?

Based on a quick internet search, a majority of viewers agree, describing the show as uncomfortably bingeable and the couple as unfortunately doomed.

“Oh, shoot. Sorry about that.” Sam slams his thumb against the keyboard, pausing the video.

“That was…” I struggle to come up with the right word.

“Awkward to watch, right?”

I cross my arms. “You could say that.”

“Dahlia is my queen and all, but Oliver sucks. I can’t believe I once thought he was cool and laid-back.”

Me too. At least he was before he made a move on the girl I liked, knowing full well how I felt about her.

I lean against the corner of Sam’s desk. “What changed?”

“Every time Dahlia has an innovative idea, Oliver finds a way to ruin it with some recently discovered issue. It’s a formula that was entertaining the first couple of times, but now I’m uncomfortable watching Dahlia pretend not to be annoyed at Oliver and him doing everything to push her buttons.”

Are you any better than him?

“Is the show usually like this?” I ask, ignoring the usual self-doubt.

“No. But obviously their relationship issues bled into the show.”

“I saw.” Painfully so.

“According to some gossip accounts I follow, Oliver’s family wanted to pull the plug on the show, and since they’re the executive producers…”

“Dahlia was screwed.”

“Production did Dahlia dirty with the way they cut scenes to paint her in a bad light.” Sam takes a seat before chomping down on his sandwich.

“They can do that?”

He snorts. “Of course. Reality TV isn’t exactly known for its honesty.”

I shake my head. “What’s the point, then?”

“Entertainment.”

No wonder Dahlia is struggling. If there is one thing she values more than her career, it’s her reputation, and Oliver couldn’t even let her keep that.

I’m hit with a bloody desire to fly out to San Francisco and introduce Oliver to my fist. My lawyer might hate me for it, but the satisfaction of his nose crunching beneath my knuckles would be well worth the settlement money.

“How many more episodes until the season is over?”

“Eight? Maybe nine? I’d have to check.”

For fuck’s sake.

He takes a long sip from his paper straw. “But the production company hasn’t canceled next season yet, probably because the ratings are higher than ever. Views nearly doubled last night after an article came out suggesting that Dahlia and Oliver broke up because of another woman—”

Dahlia’s detached voice cuts Sam off midsentence. “You shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

“Dahlia! You’re here!” Sam jumps up from his chair. While he gathers a few files from the cabinet behind his desk, I check Dahlia out.

Obvious anger aside, she looks better than when she first arrived in Lake Wisteria, having put on a bit of weight and taking the time to do her hair and makeup like she used to. The warm fall colors she chose for her eyes bring out the golden flecks of her irises, although her red lipstick steals my attention.

The color reminds me of the one she wore during a college Halloween party. Her red lips were a Trojan horse, and I was too enamored by her beauty to stop her from kissing me.

At first, I was surprised by her making the first move, but it only took me a few seconds to throw my inhibitions away and kiss her back after spending three long years resenting myself for dreaming about it.

Dahlia wasn’t my first kiss, but it sure felt that way with how my mind and body reacted.

The memory wraps around my neck like an anchor, dragging me down until I’m left with only one thought.

Her.

Dahlia wipes the corner of her mouth. “What? Do I have lipstick on my face or something?”

No, but I wish I did.

A jackhammer to the heart might have been less shocking than the vision of Dahlia’s red lips pressed against mine.

What the hell has gotten into you?

“Are you okay?” Her eyes shine brighter than Town Square during Christmas.

“Sam will help you get set up in the spare office room.” I escape into my private suite before Dahlia has a chance to respond.

Have you learned anything since the last time? I begin pacing the perimeter of my office like a caged animal.

Obviously not, which is exactly why you need to keep contact to a minimum.

The idea of stepping away from the project fills me with dread, especially when I was looking forward to getting out of the office more and returning to my roots.

This is for the best.

If that’s true, then why does it feel like someone turned my lungs into a pin cushion?

Because you’re only punishing yourself by planning to avoid her.

Am I? Because I don’t need a pro-con list to determine working with Dahlia is a disaster in the making. The best thing I can do for both of us is add distance, especially when my restraint is weakened by nothing more than red-painted lips.

I take a seat at my desk and fire off an email requesting a review of our schedules to ensure that.

Crisis averted.


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset