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Love Redesigned: Chapter 24

Dahlia

I didn’t mean to inject myself into Julian’s mission to save the Harvest Festival, but with me having one arm out of commission, I can’t exactly drive myself to the nearest city in search of interior design tools. Joining him is the best solution I’ve got.

Sure, I could order supplies online, but the estimated two-week delivery times have me quickly tossing out that idea. It’s either join Julian on this trip or wait two weeks for supplies I needed yesterday.

The two-hour drive flies by, with Julian quickly vetoing my playlist for his own. I’m pleasantly surprised by new artists I hadn’t heard of, and I find myself saving some of his songs to my own playlist.

Julian drives down a row of dark warehouses before stopping in front of the address his mom sent him.

“Is this it?” I look around the quiet street.

“According to my mom’s pin, yeah.”

I hop out of the truck despite Julian’s protests.

“Do you have any survival instincts?” He slams his door shut.

I pat my purse. “Of course. I’ve got pepper spray and enough self-defense classes to hold my own.”

“All it would take is one punch to your broken arm to have you begging for mercy.”

I blink. “You clearly thought that one out.”

He shoots me a look before heading toward the door. “Fuck.”

My brows rise. “What?”

“They’re closed.”

“No.” I check out the sign and confirm that fact while Julian calls his mother and explains our situation over speakerphone.

“What do you mean they’re closed?” Josefina asks.

Julian shuts his eyes. “You got the hours of operation wrong.”

Josefina gasps like one of her telenovela stars, which makes my brows rise. “Me? No. I would never.”

And the award for the worst performance goes to…

“Ma.” Julian shares a look with me.

She’s up to something, I mouth. I should have known Josefina was planning something when she started drilling me with questions about the supplies I needed to pick up in Detroit. When I mentioned having them delivered instead, she insisted on me picking them up to prevent any more delays.

Julian shakes his head.

She laughs. “Qué pena. I guess you and Dahlia will have to stay there until tomorrow.”

Julian’s brows scrunch. “How did you know Dahlia was with me?”

“Fred promis—told—me that when he stopped by the volunteer tent.”

Por supuesto.” He frowns hard enough to create permanent wrinkles.

“Gotta go, mijo! Someone left the petting zoo gate open. Te quiero. Give Dahlia a hug for me!”

The phone beeps twice before Julian’s screen goes black.

He runs his hands through his hair. “I’m going to kill her.”

“Feel free to do it after the festival; that way no one gets upset at you.”

He pinches the bridge of his nose. “She gave me the wrong time on purpose.”

“Honestly, it’s a genius ploy to get us to spend time together.”

“I’ll call Sam and have him book us some rooms while we head to the store for clothes and your supplies.”

I pull out my phone while Julian taps away at his.

“The mall closed an hour ago,” I announce with a frown.

“We can shop at a big box store instead.”

Perfecto.” On cue, my stomach growls loud enough for Julian’s brows to rise. “Can we stop somewhere for food?”

“Together?”

Qué pena: How unfortunate.

Por supuesto: Of course.

My eyes roll. “I was going to suggest separate tables, but if you’re that desperate for my company, I’m willing to make a sacrifice for you.”

“Get your ass in the truck before I cancel our trip to the art store.”

“Asshole.”

Sweetheart.” His nickname penetrates my cold heart like a flaming arrow.

I instantly recognize the feeling. I’m tempted to carve out my heart and stomp all over it solely to remind me of what it felt like to be crushed by Julian all those years ago.

You’re leaving in January to film your new show anyway, so no reason to get all flustered over a silly nickname.

Easier said than done.


Julian gets a call as soon as he parks outside the art store, so I take it as a sign of divine intervention. Spending time around him is one thing, but welcoming him into my sanctuary?

Absolutely not happening.

I reach for the handle, only to be stopped as he grabs my left hand. It’s not meant to be an intimate gesture, yet my heart picks up speed anyway.

Wait, he mouths before releasing me from his grip.

He pulls a Centurion card from his wallet and holds it out for me. I blink at it a couple times and rub my eyes to be sure the name on the front of the card is correct.

How is he the same guy who lived off gift cards during his youth?

Why? I mouth.

Company expense, he replies.

I must not reach for the card fast enough for Julian’s liking because his eyes roll as he tucks his Amex into the front left pocket of my jeans.

The heat from his fingers remains long after I rush out of the truck and head into the store.

With the art supply store closing in less than thirty minutes, I make quick work of my shopping list. Although it doesn’t have everything I prefer to use while designing and planning, it has what I’ll need to get me through the Founder’s house project.

I throw a few extra things in my cart since this trip is being sponsored by Julian’s bank account, including a few picture frames for my office, an artificial Christmas tree because ’tis the season to be spending, and enough yarn to crochet a scarf for every single person in town. I don’t even crochet, but I had an insane urge to try after touching a hundred different balls of yarn.

With a swipe of Julian’s company credit card and a quick signature for a fan across the back of a discarded receipt, I head back to the truck with the wheels of my cart squeaking from the sheer weight of my haul.

Julian leans against the truck with his phone still glued to his ear. My cart rattles, and he looks up.

“Gotta go, Rafa.” Julian hangs up the phone with an arched brow. “A Christmas tree?”

“I thought we could liven up your office a bit.” With all the time I’m spending there, I’d love something to stare at besides my own reflection in all the shiny glass and chrome fixtures.

“We haven’t made it past Thanksgiving yet.”

I tsk. “It’s never too early to celebrate the birth of our Lord.”

He plucks some bags from the cart. “Research suggests Jesus was actually born in the spring.”

I rise on the tips of my toes and clamp a hand over his mouth. “Don’t repeat that in front of my mother. Ever.” She’s the type to put our family nativity scene out early, minus baby Jesus, because he doesn’t make his official debut until midnight on Christmas Eve.

His eyes narrow.

I press harder. “You got it?”

He has the audacity to nip at the palm of my hand. I remove it with a gasp, only for him to clutch it within his punishing grip.

“My card?”

“I lost it.”

The man scowls.

“Kidding!” I expect him to release me, but instead, Julian keeps me pinned against his chest as he searches my pockets for the card. The graze of his fingers is quick and clinical until they slide into my back pocket, gliding over my ass cheek as he takes his sweet time getting the slim credit card.

I battle between two feelings, neither of which is discomfort.

Surprise? Check.

Lust? Absolutely.

Although I’d rather gnaw on my own tongue than confess such a thing.

My enjoyment of his touchiness has me speaking first. “If you wanted to feel me up, all you had to do was ask.”

The comment snaps him out of whatever daze he was in, and he pulls away. I mourn the loss of his touch as he tucks his card inside his wallet without looking me in the eyes.

“You can wait in the truck while I load your stuff in the back.” He dismisses me without so much as a second glance, and I climb back into the cabin with a huff.

He was the one who felt me up.

Yeah, well, you were the one who liked it.


Julian and I hit a local big box store next. The clothing selection is grim, with me shuddering in my sneakers as I choose the most unattractive pair of flannel PJs, underwear with the days of the week plastered across the back, and a pair of paint-splattered jeans that would send the fashion police into full SWAT mode.

Julian gives me free rein over picking his clothes while he chats with Sam about a few things regarding next week’s work schedule. I have a blast putting together the ugliest outfit for him, which he immediately rejects.

I pout. “I’m offended you don’t trust me.”

“No amount of trust in the world could convince me to wear those jeans.” He frowns at the acid wash denim fit for an eighties music video.

“If you had your way, you’d wear plain ones and a black T-shirt.”

He lifts his full basket of clothes in the air. “Exactly.”

Ugh. “I’m going to put all this back.” I head back toward the men’s section with my cart, only to become distracted by the Christmas section near the checkout lanes.

Most of my holidays became opportunities for the Creswells and their agent to show off my design skills by having me make curated collections to be featured in magazines and social media pages. And while I love coming up with new ways to reinvent holiday classics, I can’t help getting caught up in the nostalgic decorations lining the shelves.

Vibrant tinsel. Novelty ornaments. Multicolored C9 light bulbs. Everything about this holiday display reminds me of my childhood, and I want to take part in it without worrying about designing something perfect or aesthetically pleasing.

I want to have fun.

After struggling with intense sadness and chronic numbness for the last few months, I plan on clinging to my excitement and riding the high for as long as humanly possible.

Like a child with no self-control, I throw random objects into my cart. Tinsel shiny enough to blind someone. A nutcracker drinking a beer in a tropical shirt. Packages of themed ornaments that will no doubt clash with each other.

I go through each row, throwing whatever makes me laugh into the cart. At first, my haul was easy to navigate with one arm, but now I struggle to push it forward with all the added weight.

My neck prickles, and I turn to find Julian walking up to me.

“Is all this for that Christmas tree you bought for me?” He takes over manning the cart.

“On second thought, I think I’ll keep the tree. We can’t have you ruining your Ebenezer Scrooge image or anything.”

“No.”

My eyes widen. “You want the tree?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Silence.

Jerk.

“What’s all this about?” He pivots the cart toward the checkout lane.

“Some decorations for your tree.”

His eyes drop to the nutcracker cracking open a Corona. “And the rest?”

“You’ll have to wait and see.”

“What are you planning?” His right eye twitches.

“Like I’d tell you.”

Dahlia.” That rough voice of his tugs at my lower half.

“It’ll be great! I promise!”


I never thought going on a road trip with Julian could be a good time. Between fighting for control over the playlist and laughing over terrible restaurant reviews while searching for a spot that serves Detroit-style pizza, I find myself actually enjoying his company. It’s a dangerous admission, and one I’m too afraid to acknowledge for more than a fleeting second, solely because I’m worried it won’t last after we return to Lake Wisteria tomorrow.

I don’t want to get my hopes up, so I’m careful not to set unrealistic expectations, although Julian makes it nearly impossible when he smiles at the jukebox.

The hostess drops our menus at the booth closest to it before going over to check on another couple.

Julian shuffles through the songs before swiping his card to pay and taking a seat as the beginning chords of one of my favorites, “Brown Eyed Girl”, starts to play.

The memory of my dad spinning my mom around our living room to the same song flashes in front of my eyes. Mom would laugh often and worry less whenever my dad was around, especially when he danced with her.

Julian slides into the booth across from me, and the memory disappears.

“I love this song.”

“I know.” He grabs his menu while my heart thumps hard enough to almost jump out of my chest.

I drop my head into my hands with a sigh.


I’m exhausted by the time we make it to the fancy hotel Sam booked for us, with my eyes drooping and my posture slumping.

“Here you go.” The concierge slides the key toward Julian.

“And the other one?”

The man’s gaze flicks back to the computer screen. “You only booked one room.”

Julian’s shoulders tense. “That’s impossible.”

“I only have one reservation booked under Lopez.”

“Try checking for a room under the name Muñoz,” I say.

A few clicks of the mouse confirm I don’t have a room. Julian walks away to call Sam, only to come back with the scariest scowl I’ve seen from him.

“He didn’t answer.”

I doubt I would answer my boss at midnight either, especially if I couldn’t book a second room like he wanted.

“Can we reserve another room now?” Julian taps his fingers against the counter.

“I wish I could, but we’re booked solid for the night. Most of the hotels in the area are, since we have three conventions, a hockey game, and an NFL player’s wedding all happening this weekend. You could drive around and try your luck, but—”

“I want to speak to your manager.”

Oh no. I better save Julian before he goes full entitled billionaire on this poor man.

“Thank you for trying anyway.” I grab the key off the counter.

“We’ll go searching for another hotel,” Julian protests.

“I’m exhausted and want to get some rest.” While my energy levels have improved significantly along with my mood, I’m still more tired than usual.

“But—”

“Come on.” I lock elbows with Julian as I steer him away from the desk.

The anger pouring off of him keeps me quiet as we make our way up to our room. With the way he huffs and puffs, I’m a bit afraid for Sam’s job security.

“At least the room is beautiful.” I note the single positive before reality smacks me in the face.

Julian’s hands clench and unclench as he glowers at the bed.

The one king-sized bed.

“Well, isn’t this going to be fun?” I bite down on my tongue.

Although the lavish room has its own sitting area with the newest smart TV, it becomes clear that the leather couch and chaise lounge are more for looks than comfort.

“I’ll be back.” He shuffles past me.

I latch on to his arm and hold him back. “And you’ll go do what? Threaten the guy? He already told us they don’t have another room, so you’re only wasting your time.”

Julian’s eyes shut. “What a nightmare.”

“It could be worse.”

“How?”

“Imagine if I snored.”

He mutters something to himself before escaping into the bathroom with his plastic bag filled with clothes and toiletries. A pipe groans before the soft patter of water echoes through the room.

With Julian gone, I’m able to fully process the idea of sharing a bed with him. While our circumstances aren’t ideal, I’m sure we can be mature adults about it and keep to our respective sides.


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