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Love Redesigned: Chapter 39

Dahlia

“Iwant to take you somewhere.” Julian tugs on my hand.

“Now?” I check the empty living room. Josefina, Rafa, and Nico headed out ten minutes ago to see a movie together, while Lily and my mom are busy finding a way to fit all the Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge.

“Yes.”

I must not answer fast enough because he rushes to say, “I have a surprise.”

“What kind of surprise?”

“Telling you would defeat calling it one.” He leads me toward the front door, but before he opens it, he grabs my winter coat off the rack and helps me into it.

It’s the smallest gestures that send my heart into overdrive, like the way he wraps a scarf around my neck and fixes my hair without me asking.

He’s perfect.

Which makes him that much more dangerous. The more he takes care of me, the less confident I feel about our arrangement.

I peek into the empty living room. “But my mom—”

“Has plans to spend the rest of the night catching up on a telenovela with your sister.”

“If you’re trying to convince me to leave, you’re doing a terrible job.”

“It’ll be worth the sacrifice. I swear.”

“That’s a big promise.”

His smile says he plans on delivering.


“Tonight was…nice,” I say after the first song finishes playing.

Julian turns down the volume. “I thought so, although your turkey was a little dry.”

I slap his shoulder. “Jerk! You’re the one who told me to keep it in the oven longer.”

“I only said that so you had to keep bending over to check on it.”

I laugh until my lungs hurt.

“I like it when you laugh like that,” he says in that quiet, shy voice of his.

A rush of warmth flows through my body, spreading all the way to my toes.

“But I like it even more knowing I’m the reason behind it.”

Forget a rush of warmth. Julian’s words are like an inferno, obliterating whatever ice I had left to protect my heart.

I become fascinated by the window. “When you say things like that…”

“What?” he asks after a few moments of silence.

“It makes me feel things I shouldn’t.”

“According to whom?” His question comes out sharper than a blade directed at my chest.

“Me.”

“Because you’re afraid?”

“Because I’m a mess.”

He focuses on the road, giving me a side view of his jaw clenching. “You’re many things, but a mess isn’t one of them.”

My eyes drop to my lap. “I’ve only just started feeling like myself again.” After fighting my way out of a mental fog, I don’t want to sink back into that black hole.

Julian stays quiet, which emboldens me.

“I’ve been taking the right steps to get better. Therapy. Antidepressants. Exploring who I am post-breakup while forgiving the person I was before it.”

His grip on the steering wheel tightens. “And how is that going?”

“I’m finally happy.” I take a deep breath. “So freaking happy but also terrified that the feeling might disappear again, and then I’ll be sucked back into that dark place.”

“It could happen. You could slip back into another depression, and that isn’t something you can control.”

“I know.” I fidget with my hands.

He reaches over and interlocks our fingers. “But that doesn’t mean you have to go through that kind of feeling by yourself anymore.” His hand squeezes mine.

“I’m afraid to depend on people.”

“Your issue isn’t depending on people but rather finding the right people to depend on.”

It takes me a good minute to wrap my head around that one. “Did everyone see what I was clearly missing?”

“No, although I wish I had.” His hold on my hand loosens, so I tighten my grip to stop him from slipping away.

“You wouldn’t have known regardless.” Keeping up false pretenses was a craft I honed over the years, making sure no one could see through the mask I held in place to shield my anxiety, insecurities, and relationship issues.

“Maybe, maybe not. But I regret not owning up to my actions and trying to reconnect with you.”

No amount of deep breathing will save me from the ache in my chest. “We both need to let go of our regrets if we plan on moving forward.”

It takes him a full minute to say anything. “I can do that.”

“Do you think…” I bite down on my cheek.

He peeks at me out of the corner of his eye. “Do I think what?”

“That we could remain friends, even if I move back to San Francisco?”

“If?” His fingers stop tapping against the steering wheel.

When.” I power through the next sentence before I second-guess myself. “Our families are so happy that we’re all together, and I’d hate for things to be strained again if we have a falling out or things get weird between us.”

If or when you move back, I don’t plan on letting things go back to the way they were before.”

My brain takes his statement and runs a marathon with it until Julian interrupts my overthinking power hour by stopping his truck at the intersection leading out of town. “Put this on.”

I check out the silk eye mask. “Is this surprise a kinky one?”

“Don’t take it off.” His burning gaze is the last thing I see before he pushes the mask down, blocking my view.

My body trembles, a fact Julian notices based on his low chuckle.

The engine roars as he takes off again, driving for another twenty minutes before the car finally rolls to a stop.

“Wait here,” he announces before climbing out of the car.

I have no idea what surprise Julian has planned, but I can’t wait to find out.

He opens my door and helps me out.

“Can I take off the blindfold now?”

“Give me a minute.” He grips my elbow and leads me into the unknown. Funny how two months ago, I didn’t trust him near me with both eyes open, yet now I’m willingly taking a blind leap of faith with him.

Gravel crunches beneath my boots as we walk uphill.

I strain my ears while searching for clues about our location. “Where are we?”

“Lake Aurora.”

“Why?”

“You’ll see in a second.”

I’m not sure why Julian brought me out here, but anticipation bites at my heels. Lake Aurora was founded ten years after Lake Wisteria and was heavily influenced by London architecture. With houses of every color and rows of unique townhomes that stretch for miles, the town is a designer’s dream.

After ten more steps, Julian holds true to his promise as he rips the eye mask off. I blink a few times, allowing my eyes to adjust before I take in the massive mansion in front of us. The Queen Anne-style matches the Founder’s house style, although this one was kept in slightly better condition.

“What’s going on?”

He holds up a pair of keys. “You said you were bored.”

“So you bought me a house?”

“I thought we could fix it.”

Together?

The slight tightening of his throat gives his nerves away.

“What happened to destroying houses to build neighborhoods?” I ask.

“I still plan on doing so.”

“Oh.”

“But unlike our town, Lake Aurora has plenty of land to spare without me needing to tear down historic homes in the expansion process.”

“I like this plan more and more.”

The moon highlights the faint blush creeping up his cheeks. “Do you want to check it out?”

Shy Julian might be my favorite Julian, especially when it comes with surprises like this.

I slip my hand into his and lock our fingers together. “Let’s go inside.”

The fresh scent of cleaning solution fills my nose as we walk into the house. The tightness in my chest becomes impossible to ignore as I consider Julian hiring someone to get the house ready for me to see it.

I catch him devouring my reactions like a ten-course meal as we walk through the perfect mansion.

A room full of empty shelves begging to be lined with books and accessories. A sunroom facing the lake and the surrounding tree line. Windows lining the whole back wall, allowing plenty of moonlight to stream inside.

With each room, I fall more in love with the property. Sure, it could use an interior designer’s touch, but the bones are stunning, and the view of the lake is a huge selling point.

“I thought you didn’t like restoring houses.” I turn and find his eyes already focused on me.

“The Founder’s house and Gerald’s story may have changed my mind.”

“Oh, really?”

His Adam’s apple bobs from how hard he swallows. “And you.”

“I did?”

“Yes.”

“Who knew I was such a good influence?”

He wraps an arm around me and pulls me into his warm embrace. “Do you like it?”

“I love it.”

“Good, because you’re in charge of it.”

“Me?”

His right brow rises. “I thought you wanted a challenge.”

“This is…” Everything I could have dreamed up and more.

I blink hard and fast. “What’s your timeline?”

“I was thinking the team could get started on demo next week.”

My brows jump. “So soon?”

He breaks eye contact. “I don’t want you to be bored here.”

“Why?”

He takes so long to answer, I almost give up waiting for one.

“Because I want to give you a hundred different reasons to stay.”

Wait. What?

“Julian,” I plead.

He holds my chin in a firm grip, cutting me off. “I need to get this out.” Instead of five deep breaths, he takes one long inhale.

Progress.

“Tonight, when you told Lily we weren’t together, I wasn’t angry…”

My lungs stop working.

His arresting stare holds me hostage. “I was disappointed because of how much I wanted us to be.”

“I never meant to hurt your feelings,” I rush to get out.

He presses his forehead against mine. “I know that. We had our rules, and I went ahead and broke them.”

“What do you mean?” My voice cracks toward the end of the question as I pull back.

“I’m falling in love with you, Dahlia. I don’t expect you to say it back after everything you’ve been through this year, but I didn’t want to go another night without you knowing how I feel. Just like I can’t go another day with you thinking I’m okay with us keeping things casual.”

Por Dios.

His eyes shimmer from the moon peeking through the clouds. “I missed out on a chance to make you mine before, but I don’t plan on making the same mistake again. We’re the real deal, sweetheart, and I’m done letting you believe anything else.”

My heart soars like a bird released from a ten-year cage of wishful thinking and haunted what-ifs.

Julian doesn’t wait for a reply before he bends down and captures my mouth with his. I bask in the afterglow of his admission as he kisses me, making me feel the truth behind his words.

Every kiss feels like a promise. Every touch an oath. A vow that Julian will love me, cherish me, and protect me—no matter if I choose to believe it or not.

There is a fundamental shift happening inside of me, and I’m overwhelmed that it all has to do with Julian.

You’re falling in love with him too.

The thought is scary, but then again, the truth typically is.

As if he senses my wandering thoughts, Julian tugs me back into the moment by biting down on my bottom lip. He draws blood before licking the evidence away with the tip of his tongue.

I return the favor, earning a sharp hiss I feel straight to my clit. He grabs my ass and lifts me, and I wrap my legs around him before he presses my back against the wall, trapping me as he ravages my mouth.

I swivel my hips, and Julian moans. His nails stab into my flesh as I rub against his cock.

I’m not sure how long we tease one another, but he only breaks away from kissing me to focus his attention on my neck.

“I can’t get enough of you.” The adoration in his voice has something in my chest twisting. He sucks on my neck hard enough to bruise, no doubt marking the skin.

“We weren’t supposed to fall in love.” I pull him away by the roots of his hair.

Shit!

Before I have a chance to panic about what I said, Julian distracts me by kissing the spot beneath my ear that makes me tremble.

“What are you going to do about it?”

“I’m not sure yet. Ask me again after you make me come.”

He smiles against my skin. “Sounds like a plan.”


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