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Love Redesigned: Chapter 38

Dahlia

Julian and I have fallen into a comfortable pattern over the last few weeks. Somehow, he finds the energy to balance his busy work schedule and me, making time every evening for us to hang out together.

I’m not sure what the standard is regarding casual relationships, but I have a strange suspicion that Julian’s insistence on having dinner together and cuddling for an hour after sex isn’t it.

Neither are your growing feelings toward him.

The timer rings, banishing my thoughts. I open the oven and check on the turkey.

“Hey.” The door to the kitchen swings shut behind Julian.

I wipe my sweaty forehead with the back of my hand. “I thought you weren’t coming until later.”

“Based on the last photo Lily sent in the family chat, you seemed like you could use some help.”

“Remind me to never volunteer to prepare Thanksgiving dinner again.”

“It was a thoughtful gesture.”

After spending the last ten Thanksgivings with Oliver and his family, I thought it would be nice to prepare the meal for once.

I wipe my hands down the front of my apron. “I’m severely underqualified.”

“What do you need me to do?” He starts rolling up his sleeves before I even answer his question.

“For the record, you’re going to regret asking me that.”

“Noted. Now put me to work before I rescind my offer.”

I rattle off instructions. Julian follows my mom’s recipes down to the last letter, all while making the process ten times more enjoyable for me.

And ten times harder to stay away from him.

Julian goes out of his way to turn cooking together into some kind of romantic date. Him spoon-feeding me under the guise of wanting my approval. The way he pulls me into a quick dance whenever my favorite song pops up on the playlist. How he steals kisses between random visits from Lily, who spends more time taste-testing food than actually helping.

After all the food has been prepped, he traps me against the counter and steals another heated kiss. It’s incredible how quickly I’ve become addicted to Julian in such a short amount of time. He makes it impossible not to crave him, making my head reel with a single kiss and my body buzz with the need for more.

He readjusts my headband so my hair is no longer a puffy mess from his fingers. “Did I tell you that you look beautiful today?”

The fluttering sensation in my chest intensifies. “Only once or twice.”

He fights a smile and fails. “Keeping count?”

“Words of affirmation are my love language.”

He wraps his hand around the back of my neck. “Explains why you love being called a good girl while riding my cock.”

Someone chokes on a cough behind me. I turn to find my sister slamming her fist against her chest.

“Lily.” My eyes stretch to their maximum width.

Julian trips over his own feet in his rush to get away, which only makes Lily burst out into laughter.

“I knew something weird was going on when Mom said Julian was coming over to help. I’ve been trying to catch you in the act all afternoon.”

“Now I understand your hourly need to taste-test everything.”

She grins while Julian remains silent and brooding.

She gestures to us. “How long have you two been together?”

“We’re not,” I rush to answer.

The veins in Julian’s arms strain from how hard he crosses them.

Lily raises a brow.

“At least not like that,” I finish.

“Hm.” She glances over at Julian. “Interesting.”

“I’ll let you two talk this one out…” He speaks to my sister rather than me.

“Take me with you?” I reach out for him, but he sidesteps me.

Julian disappears behind the swinging door leading into our living room.

“Tell me everything,” Lily says before I have a chance to consider the weird look on his face.

“Not here.” I grab her hand, tug her outside, and shut the door behind us. Fresh snow covers every inch of the porch like a white blanket.

“It’s freezing out here!” she whines as she rubs her arms.

“Then we better make this fast.”

“Why are we talking out here anyway?”

“I don’t want Mom to walk in on us or something.”

“Does she know?”

“Vaguely.”

My sister frowns. “I’m insulted you didn’t come to me first.”

“We didn’t want anyone to know about our arrangement.”

“A little too late for that, so spill.”

“There isn’t much to share. We agreed to keep things casual.”

“Did that seem casual to you? Because it sure didn’t look like it to me.”

It sure didn’t feel like it either, but I can barely admit it to myself, let alone Lily.

I swallow the lump in my throat. “We were talking.”

“How long do you plan on lying to yourself? Days? Weeks? Months?

Lily.

Her deep sigh produces a cloud of air. “I’m kidding. I worry about you.”

“Why?”

“Because you don’t do casual.”

“No, but it’s not like I’ve had much of an opportunity to try.”

And see where that got you.

A strange look passes over her. “It’s not as fun and easygoing as it sounds. Take it from me.”

My stomach churns. “Is everything okay? With you, I mean?”

Lily recovers with a smile. “Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”

“You sure about that?”

“Yes. I’m more worried about you and whether you’ll end up with hurt feelings.”

I scoff hard enough to create a puff of air in front of me. “That won’t be an issue.”

Her eyes roll. “That’s what everyone says.”

“Yeah, well, this is different. Neither of us is interested in anything serious.”

“Are you sure about that?”

I wiggle my empty ring finger. “Positive.”

“Make sure to tell him that, then.”

My stomach drops. “What do you mean?”

“Julian doesn’t do casual relationships. Sure, he agrees to go on dates to appease his mother, but he’s not interested in something temporary. That much I know.”

My gaze drops. “We would never work long-term.”

“I’ve yet to hear why.”

“For starters, we both have businesses to run in separate states.” Designs by Dahlia is all I have left after losing my show and my relationship, and I’m not about to walk away from it because of a man.

She shakes her head. “Long distance is an obstacle to overcome, not a reason to stay apart.”

A condensation cloud forms around me as I let out a heavy sigh. “I don’t trust him not to hurt me again.”

“I think your biggest issue is that you don’t trust yourself.”

I let out a low whistle. “Damn.”

She locks elbows with me and steers us back toward the house. “You know I’m giving you a hard time because I care about you both and don’t want to see either of you get hurt.”

I lean my head against her shoulder. “That’s why I love you.”

“Even if I steal your clothes?”

I check out the pastel jacket she stole from my closet. “Even then.”

“Or if I borrowed your expensive face cream this morning and accidentally dropped all of it?”

My body tenses. “Tell me you didn’t.”

She dashes away before I get a chance to wrap my hands around her throat.

“Lily!” I chase after her.

“I’m sorry!” She shouts before entering the house, leaving an incriminating trail of footprints in the shape of my red-bottom boots.


“Nico and I got the dishes.” Rafa stands while Nico groans.

“Don’t worry about it. I like doing them anyway.” Julian rises from his seat and begins collecting the dirty plates and utensils.

Lily kicks my chair leg hard enough to make it shake.

“I’ll help you.” My chair scrapes against the wood floor as I rise.

My mom has the most approving look on her face while Josefina winks at me. Rafa’s gaze swings between the two of us before landing on his cousin with a pinched expression.

Rather than feel embarrassed by everyone knowing about us, I’m nervous about what they think. I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, least of all Josefina’s, whose evergreen smile only brightens whenever we lock eyes.

I ignore their gawking as I gather everyone’s glasses and follow Julian into the messy kitchen. Dishes on a normal day are tolerable, but post-holiday cleanup duty after cooking the whole meal?

I’d rather stab my eye out with my new acrylic nail set.

Julian places the dishes in the sink and turns on the tap before grabbing the dirty ones from my hands.

“Was there a reason you volunteered for this job?” I ask.

“I wanted some alone time with you before we got roped into a three-hour Pictionary game.” He grabs my hips and crushes me against his body.

“We already spent the whole afternoon together.”

He replies by pressing his mouth against mine. The kiss ends as quickly as it began, leaving me wanting more.

“You don’t have to help.” Julian places the dishes in the sink and turns on the tap.

“Perfect, because I’m only here to watch you work.” I snatch the pink gloves from the dish rack and drop them into his open hand.

He shakes his head with a smile.

“I’ll go grab the last few plates while you get started.”

“Thank you.” He reaches for the first wineglass and dumps it underneath the water.

I stack the last few dishes on top of one another while our families gather in the living room, setting up the easel and large pad of paper.

“You and Julian are going to be paired up together,” Lily says.

I frown. “Only because none of you want him on your team.”

Rafa shrugs. “He’s deadweight.”

“I heard that!” Julian shouts from the kitchen.

Josefina holds her hands up. “No way was I having him on my team after the last time.”

“Remember his version of a cat?” My mom laughs.

“Or when he tried to convince us that whatever he drew was a spaceship.”

“It truly was out of this world.” Lily’s brows waggle.

I laugh as I turn toward the hall, only to be stopped by Nico jumping in front of me.

Dishes rattle as I pull to a stop. “Hey.”

He rocks back on his sneakers, making the heels light up. “You don’t have to play with us if it makes you sad.”

“Why would…” Realization dawns on me, and my knees wobble. “Playing with you won’t make me sad.”

His brows rise behind his glasses. “It won’t?”

I kneel down so we can be at eye level. “No. Before, I was so sad that it made me feel sick, but now, I’m feeling much better.”

“Can you teach my dad how to feel better too?”

My stomach sinks.

The light in his eyes dies as I shake my head. “I wish I could, but I can’t help with that kind of sadness.”

He stares at his sneakers. “Oh, okay.”

I put the dishes down and pull him into a hug. “But he is going to get better all on his own because he’s one of the strongest people I know.”

“Like a superhero?”

“Even better. He’s a dad.”

Nico’s arms tighten around me before letting go.

I stand with shaky legs and fix his lopsided glasses. “I better get these dishes to your uncle.”

“Okay. Love you!” Nico takes off, running back to the living room.

I take a moment to center myself before heading to the kitchen with the remaining dishes.

“Shit.” Julian shakes his hand with a sneer.

“What happened?” I dump the plates on the counter and rush over to him.

“Burned myself with the stove while grabbing a pot.”

“Sorry! I must have forgotten to turn it off.” I reach for the knob and turn it all the way to the left before grabbing his hand. “How bad is it?”

“It’s not a big deal.” He tries to tug his hand free.

I tighten my grip. “Stop moving.”

“I’m fine.”

Based on the way he hisses when I brush my hand over his palm, I would say the opposite. “We have some of that silver burn cream stuff after Lily had an incident with a curling iron.” I pull him toward the fridge.

“Completely unnecessary for a little mark.” He wiggles his fingers.

“Stop fussing and let me help you.”

His deep sigh of resignation shouldn’t be endearing, but Julian has a way of making the most mundane sounds interesting.

I find the cream and open the jar.

He reaches for it. “I got it.”

I pull away. “Seriously, what’s your problem? I’m trying to help you.”

“No need to burden yourself,” he whispers to himself.

I didn’t expect my comment to elicit that kind of response, which makes me momentarily feel bad. “It’s okay to ask for help. In fact, I encourage you to be the biggest burden since it does wonders for my ego.”

“My dad didn’t need anyone else’s help.”

“Your dad was also un cabeza dura, no offense.”

He laughs. “None taken.”

“You can admire your father without trying to emulate everything about him, you know?”

Un cabeza dura: A hard-headed person

He nods. “Yeah, I’m aware. It’s a bad habit I picked up as a kid, and now it’s more of a pride issue than anything else.”

“What happened when you were a kid?”

He gives the door a forlorn glance.

“You can tell me.” I press my hand against his stubbled cheek. My touch only lasts a second, but it does the trick of getting Julian to open up to me.

“It’s no secret my mom suffered from depression. It started as postpartum after giving birth to me, but then it became more permanent after the miscarriages, a stillbirth, and the financial struggles my parents had.”

My nose stings. I always admired Josefina and her battle against depression, but now that I’ve gone through my own experience, I have a whole new level of respect for her. Little by little, I hope to be as carefree and fearless as Julian’s mom.

Julian leans into my hand cupping his cheek. “At first, I didn’t want to add to my dad’s worries because he was already struggling with my mom’s episodes. But then Rafa moved in with my family, and I felt self-conscious about complaining because his problems were so much bigger than mine. Asking for help seemed selfish when he and my mom needed it so much more.”

I can’t keep my eyes from watering.

His gaze hardens. “It’s nothing to feel sad about.”

“I’m not sad. I’m…” Dammit, you are sad. “Emotional.”

Julian’s face reveals nothing. “Why?”

“Because you’ve put other people first, even when it meant struggling on your own.”

He shrugs. “At least I’m living up to my title of Second Best.”

My heart might implode. “Our competitions only made your insecurities worse, didn’t they?”

“No. They pushed me to be better.”

“You were always the best, Julian, with or without the trophies or accolades.”

He blushes.

“Expressing our feelings has never been our strong suit, but I mean it. You’re the best son, brother, godfather, and businessman I know.”

“I’m the best godparent, but we can agree to disagree.”

I laugh, and his dark gaze traces the curve of my face.

“Asking for help doesn’t make you a burden or less than.” I swipe some of the burn cream over his red skin. “So stop telling yourself that.”

His body ripples with tension until I finish treating his burn.

“There.” I give his wrist a squeeze before taking a step back.

He latches on to mine and holds me in place. “Thank you.”

“Thank me by channeling your inner Picasso during Pictionary.”

He laughs. “Deal.”


Turns out losing with Julian is far better than winning against him.

And I can’t wait to do it again next week.


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