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Love Redesigned: Chapter 44

Julian

Despite my best attempts at distracting Dahlia from our current situation, I find her getting lost in her thoughts numerous times throughout the night. I hate to see her spiraling, but there isn’t a lot I can do while trapped in a jail cell.

I know she regrets admitting she is falling in love with me. Just like I know she plans on fighting me every step of the way until either she accepts the truth or I give up.

Words will only get me so far, so instead of making her a promise she won’t believe anyway, I keep quiet and hold her tight against me until Roberts returns.

The deputy takes his sweet time walking over to us, only to stop in front of the door and turn toward Dahlia. “Ben told me about the prank you had planned. Sorry I ruined it.”

The asshole doesn’t sound the least bit sorry.

“What prank is he talking about?” I ask her.

She rises from the bench and stretches her legs. “A stupid one.”

Roberts leans against the bars. “Dahlia here planned on having you thrown in the back of a cruiser and dropped off at your mother’s house with the sirens on so all the neighbors would make a fuss.”

Although my mother would have happily filmed the whole thing, I would have died of embarrassment before making it up the driveway.

He shrugs. “Too bad I ruined Strawberry Sweetheart’s plan.”

Dahlia’s cheeks flush.

“Don’t call her that,” I snap.

His lips curl. “Did I strike a chord?”

I force my mouth shut.

Dahlia stares at me for a solid ten seconds without blinking. “Strawberry Sweetheart?”

My hands curl by my sides.

She frowns. “My contact name on your phone doesn’t stand for Satan’s Spawn, does it?”

Mierda. No wonder she is hesitant about falling in love with me if she thinks her contact information on my phone means that.

Roberts unlocks the door with a special sparkle in his eyes. “You’re both free to go, although I’m not sure you will feel that way once you see your mothers.”

Gracias por eso, pendejo,” I mutter under my breath.

Gracias por eso, pendejo: Thanks for that, dick.

Dahlia drags her feet behind me as Roberts leads us through the station. She prolongs the inevitable by asking to use the restroom and grabbing a drink of water, which only excites Roberts more.

“Good luck.” He walks back to his desk, where he can watch our mothers’ reactions with glee.

Dahlia cringes at the expression on her mother’s face as we walk up to them. “Mami.”

“Not here,” she hisses before walking outside. It’s still dark, which means we couldn’t have spent too long in the cell, although it sure felt like forever.

Dahlia follows behind her mother with slumped shoulders while mine locks elbows with me and whistles.

¿En la camioneta de tu papá? ¿En serio?

Ma.”

“I didn’t think you had something like that in you.”

I trip over my feet.

She swats my arm with a laugh. “It’s okay. That truck has seen a lot of miles over the years, so I’m not one to judge, although it’s a good thing you redid the whole interior.”

A full-body shudder rolls through me as we walk outside to find Rosa raising her arms in the air and whisper-shouting while Dahlia’s eyes drop to her boots.

“I raised you better than that.”

¿En la camioneta de tu papá? ¿En serio?: In your dad’s truck? Seriously?

Dahlia flinches.

“I expect something like this from your sister, but you? Nunca en mi vida.”

Perdón, Mami.”

“The whole town is going to know about this by tomorrow morning.”

Dahlia looks as excited about the idea as I probably do.

Rosa’s arms flail. “What will I say when Father Anthony asks how I feel about my daughter going to hell for premarital sex?”

“Do me a favor and ask him if the weather is hot all year round so I can plan my outfits accordingly.”

“Dahlia Isabella Muñoz! ¡No empieces conmigo!

My mom nudges me. “Let’s go save Dahlia before she reconsiders moving back here.”

A little too late for that after her call about Archer.

“Rosa!” My mom claps her hands together. “Let’s relax. They’re kids. It’s not like we can expect them to know any better.”

“Kids? I had Dahlia when I was her age.”

“And you did such a good job raising her—this little incident with the truck aside.” My mother wraps an arm around her childhood friend and steers her toward her car. I bet she will talk Rosa down from her tirade in two minutes flat.

I loop my arm around Dahlia’s waist and lead her to the sidewalk instead of my mother’s car. “What do you say we walk

Nunca en mi vida: Never in my life.

¡No empieces conmigo!: Don’t start with me.

back to the truck instead?”

Her gaze swings from my mom’s car to me a few times while she gnaws on the inside of her cheek. “Okay.”

Dahlia remains quiet as we walk toward the diner. I only last sixty seconds before breaking the silence. “Did your mom actually believe you were saving yourself for marriage?”

“If she did—which I’m almost positive was the case—it’s safe to say she doesn’t anymore.”

I flinch. “She’s going to hate me.”

“Probably. You are the man who stole her virgin daughter’s ticket to heaven.”

“Pretty sure you earned yourself a one-way trip to hell years ago, but fine, I’ll take the blame for your fall from grace.”

“This is so embarrassing,” she groans. “What will everyone think?”

“That it’s about goddamn time.”

She stops midstride.

“We got caught having sex in a parking lot. It’s not exactly the scandal of the year.” I press my hand against the small of her back and give her a little push.

“No one knows we’re together.”

“They will now.”

“Julian,” she pleads, but for what, I’m not too sure. She wraps her arms around herself. “This isn’t going to work between us.”

“Because of the long distance or your trust issues?” The comment slips out before I have a chance to rein it in.

Her step falters, along with her breathing.

I rub my face with a curse. “We’ll figure it out.”

Neither one of us says anything else for the remainder of the walk, which gives me time to process our situation.

Did I expect Dahlia to push me away when she realized how she felt about me? Yes, I did, yet I’m still disappointed to think she would so easily give up on us because of a few logistical problems.

I’m not the same guy she expects me to be anymore. I’ve changed, and if I have to fight Dahlia every step of the way to prove it to her, then so be it.

By the time we make it to the diner’s parking lot, a plan has already started forming in my head.

“Are you hungry?” I unlock the truck and open the passenger door.

“No.” A condensation cloud forms from her long exhale.

I grab her by the hips and lift her into the cab before she has a chance to climb on the step bar.

Once the engine rumbles to life, I blast the heat. “You should eat something.”

Her nose scrunches. “I will.”

Message received loud and painfully clear.

“Is this your plan, then?” My question packs a bite.

Her brows scrunch. “What?”

“Push me away because you’d rather avoid your feelings about us.”

“I—I don’t know.”

“I think you do.”

Her nostrils flare. “Since you know everything, why don’t you go ahead and say what I’m thinking?”

“I don’t need to be a mind reader to know you’re afraid.”

“I’m not afraid, Julian. I’m fucking terrified.”

My forehead creases from my furrowed brows.

“I don’t want to fall in love with you.”

My ragged breath matches hers.

“I don’t want to fall in love with anyone. Period. It nearly destroyed me the last time, and I’m not sure I could survive that kind of pain again.” Her voice cracks toward the end. “You deserve someone who trusts you, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to do that when I can’t trust myself.”

The twinge in my chest morphs into full-blown heartache. “I can’t take back the pain you went through, no matter how much I wish I could, but I can promise to never hurt you like he did.”

“A little too late for that.” She can’t hold my gaze for more than a second.

“Dahlia.” I cradle her chin despite the pain lacing through my chest. “I’m not going to give up because you expect me to.”

“Because you like a challenge?”

“Because I like you enough to know you’re worth fighting for.”

She stares out the window. “I’m moving back to San Francisco in January for my new show.”

I’m aware, seeing as I spent the last few hours in a jail cell processing the fact.

But what are you going to do about it?

Somehow, in a short span of time, I went from planning the rest of my life in Lake Wisteria to putting everything on the line for the woman beside me. Because if Dahlia wants to move back to San Francisco, then I plan on going with her, and no amount of cons in the world will stop me.

I reach for her clenched hand. “When we break the news to my mom about moving, do me a favor and tell her you’re in love with me. It’ll help soften the blow.”

Her cloudy eyes tug at something in my chest. “You can’t seriously be considering moving.”

“I am.”

“But what about your company?”

“Turns out I’d rather build a home with you than a thousand houses by myself.”

She turns away with a sniffle.

I cup her chin and turn her head toward me. “What part of I’m falling in love with you are you not understanding?”

“The part where you give up your whole life here for me.”

“Life without you is hardly considered a life at all, so I’m not giving up anything by following you to San Francisco.”

“No, but by being with me, you’d be giving up the chance at having your own family.” She stares at her lap like it holds the secrets of the world.

“Is that what this is really about?”

Her face remains blank, but the vein in her neck throbs.

Why didn’t you consider that sooner?

“You think I’ll regret being with you because you can’t have kids of your own?”

“I know you will because it’s already happened once before.”

“I already told you I don’t want to have kids that way.”

She shakes her head. “This isn’t the first time I’ve heard someone tell me that.”

I could find a hundred different ways to tell her I care enough to choose her, but none of them matter unless I find a way to show her.

Pro: She could find my list romantic.

Con: She may reject me anyway after I reveal one of my biggest secrets.

Shut up and show her.

I pull out my phone and open the note-taking app. “Here.”

She grabs it from me and reads over the first few lines of text. “You’ve been working on a pro-con list about me?”

I nod.

Pro: She sucks at chess. Seriously?” Her nose scrunches.

“Not my fault you started every single game with the queen’s pawn opening. Change it up every now and then.”

She returns to the list. “Pro: I like her enough to attend Stanford too.” She looks at me for a few seconds without blinking. “You chose Stanford because of me?”

“Yes. You liked California, and I liked you, so it made sense.”

She shakes her head in disbelief. “How long have you been working on this?”

“Since sometime after you started competing for the Strawberry Sweetheart pageant.”

She blinks. “That was over a decade ago.”

“I’m aware.”

“But why?”

“Informed decision-making is my thing.”

She scrolls through the list while mumbling to herself. “There are things listed here that I don’t do anymore.”

I know. Unfortunately, I inherited my appreciation for nostalgia from my mother, and I have never been able to outgrow it, which is the only reason why I could never delete the list no matter how many times I tried.

After a few more minutes, she reaches the bottom of the note. “You only have one negative.”

Con: She may never love me back.

“Little by little, your cons annoyingly started making their way over to the pros column.”

Her laugh comes out like a half sob. “That’s ridiculous.”

“No, Dahlia, that’s love.”

“You agreed to a casual relationship knowing your feelings might never be reciprocated?” Disbelief colors her voice.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Some people are worth the risk.”

Her bottom lip wobbles.

“Life without you was a series of pros and cons. Risks and rewards. Black and white with very few shades of gray. But then you came back and flipped a switch inside me, flooding my world with color after a ten-year blackout, and I don’t plan on giving that up. Not now. Not ever.”

Tears pool near her lash line.

“You might not believe my words now, but I won’t stop until you do. So go ahead and try to push me away, but you already know based on our history that I will stop at nothing to prove you wrong.”


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