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Love Redesigned: Chapter 6

Dahlia

Step one of my plan to get over my ex-fiancé includes mango-flavored nieve de garrafa from Cisco’s, also known as the best food truck around. I devour my dessert while Julian taps away at his phone, doing whatever important things billionaires do on a Sunday night. At one point, he steps out of the truck to answer a call, leaving his lemon-flavored nieve unsupervised and available for the taking.

I can’t be held responsible for my actions. If anything, I’m doing Julian’s abs a favor by taking his dessert off his hands.

Once I finish both cups, he tosses them out before we drive away from the park with Morat on full blast. While Julian and I are very different, we share the same great taste in music, a fact I would never admit to his face.

Unlike my first night here, I take in the town and how much it has grown in my time away. While some businesses shut down during the slow winter season since not many people want to hang out by the lake when it’s cold outside, most have remained open all year since they were first founded in the late 1800s.

Some of my favorite shops, like Hole in the Wall Hardware, Holy Smokes BBQ, and the Surf & Turf Meat Market, have been passed down for generations, while a few newer shops, like the Sweets & Treats Bake Shop, catch my eye.

“Where are we going?” I ask after a minute.

He lowers the volume. “One of my construction sites.”

“I swear I’ll haunt you forever if I end up being buried beneath six feet of concrete tonight.”

“I’m flattered you want to hang around me for all eternity.” His eyes sparkle.

Mine narrow into slits.

He raises his right hand. “No need to worry. So long as my mother loves you, I’ll let you live.”

“I’m not sure whether to be horrified by the threat or impressed you’re willing to put up with me solely because your mother loves me.”

He answers my question by increasing the volume of the music.

Cabrón.


When Julian suggested getting rid of my ring, visiting a construction site was not what I had in mind.

“Come on. Let’s go.” Julian switches his sneakers for worn construction boots before forcing me into a hideous pair of large plastic ones that squeak with every step I take toward the fence.

He grabs a white hard hat from behind the barrier and places it on my head.

My nose scrunches. “Seriously?”

“Safety first.” He turns my headlamp on before setting up his own.

Screw guys in backward ball caps and gray sweatpants. Men in hard hats and work boots are my new kink, thanks to Construction Ken standing in front of me with muscular arms and killer cheekbones.

I already know my therapist is going to dive right into this topic during next week’s session.

“You good?” Julian’s voice startles me.

“Yup,” I manage to get out.

He opens the gate and leads the way toward the backyard of the semi-finished house. I follow behind him while watching out for tools and supplies scattered around.

Julian stops beside an empty concrete mixer near the exterior back wall overlooking the lake.

“You’re joking.” Of all the things Julian could have suggested, I would have never guessed this.

“Do you have a better idea?”

“No, but this feels criminal.”

He keeps quiet while gathering supplies. His white T-shirt quickly loses its crisp color as construction dust clings to the material. His jeans suffer a similar fate, with the blue color turning gray when he pours the dry mixture inside the machine.

Though Julian probably hasn’t touched a shovel since he broke ground on his fancy office at the corner of Main Street, he exudes confidence as he works.

If only his dad could see him now.

It was difficult to tear those two away from each other, especially when they were boots-deep in a project together. But then Luis Senior suddenly passed away from a heart attack, leaving a twenty-year-old Julian to grapple with a family business and his mourning mother.

I might dislike Julian for a hundred different reasons, but I will always respect the hell out of him and the sacrifices he made for his family, including dropping out of Stanford.

Julian curses to himself for the second time as he glares at the electrical panel.

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” I ask.

“Just because I don’t work on-site anymore doesn’t mean I’m incompetent.”

“Could have fooled me with how you kicked the machine when you thought I wasn’t paying attention.”

He scratches his nose with his middle finger, spreading gray dust all over the bridge. I reach out and wipe it away without a second thought.

He stares up at me like one does the sun—in equal parts pain and wonder.

I take one long step back and tuck my hands behind my back. “So, what’s the point of being a billionaire if you don’t have people at your beck and call ready to handle messy tasks like these?”

“Who says I don’t?”

“Then why not call someone to come help us with this master plan of yours?”

His eyes narrow. “Because if my dad were still around, he would kick my ass if I asked for help making concrete. He taught me this stuff when I was Nico’s age.”

A pain echoes through my chest at his casual mention of his father. How many times did I beg Julian to open up to me after his dad passed away? Tens? Hundreds? He erected a wall around himself to effectively keep everyone out, including me.

He stabs at the power button, only to curse when nothing happens.

“Need any help?”

His back tenses. “I got it.”

We fall into a comfortable silence as he takes apart the machinery. I become distracted by the stars twinkling off the surface of the lake while Julian reads through the user manual on his phone.

¡Chingada!

My head snaps in his direction. “What happened?”

He drops the cable like a live snake. “Nothing.”

“Please tell me you didn’t forget to check if it was plugged in.”

“Of course I checked.” The moon above us highlights the faint blush creeping up his neck.

The idea of Julian obsessively checking everything but whether or not the machine was plugged in has me curling over and laughing until my lungs hurt.

Chingada: Oh, fuck.

“This is the last time I do something nice for you.” He grumbles something else under his breath.

“I’m sorry!” My voice comes out wheezy.

“No, you’re not.”

“Forgive me? Please?” I bat my lashes.

He glowers. “Only if you don’t repeat this story to anyone. Especially Rafa.”

“Cross my heart.” I draw an invisible X over the spot.

“Tell anyone and I’ll share that boxed wine video I have of you.”

My eyes widen. “You kept it?”

“Blackmail has no expiration date.”

The idea of him keeping funny videos of us from our time at Stanford shouldn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy, especially when it’s Julian, yet my stomach does this betraying flip at the notion.

I keep my voice detached as I say, “Never fear. Your moment of incompetence is safe with me.”

He leaves in a huff with the extension cord and a promise to be back in a minute.

Without Julian here to distract me, I’m left to grapple with my messy emotions. I rub at the faint white line on my ring finger like one would a stain, wishing it would disappear along with the pain about my relationship.

Former relationship.

In order for me to move on, I need to start letting go of the past and anything that reminds me of my broken engagement, starting with the ring.

It’s everything I wanted and more, I lied as I held up my shaky hand for the camera crew hired by the Creswells to film our publicized engagement.

A lot of women would be appreciative of a ring like that, Oliver said when he caught me not wearing the eyesore once after working out.

“Having second thoughts?” Julian’s deep voice has me turning around.

“Are you sure an ability to mindread wasn’t added during your last software update?”

His glare lacks its usual punch. “You’ve always been expressive.”

“Not all of us were born with the ability not to feel anything.”

“I feel things,” he scoffs.

“Like what?”

“Excitement.” He pulls my ring out of his pocket with an unhinged smile I’ve only seen on two other occasions—when I asked Julian to prom as punishment for him scoring higher than me on the ACT, and when the school’s linebacker, who called me a prude bitch, was caught in a cheating scandal.

I never asked Julian about it, but I suspected he had something to do with the football player being busted and permanently benched from the team for the rest of the year.

“You good?” he asks in the same soft voice he saves for his mother.

My boots squeak together as I rock back. “What if this is a bad idea?”

“Do you plan on getting back together with him?”

“No. Definitely not.”

“Do you want to sell it?”

I consider the option for a few seconds before shaking my head. “And pass that negative energy on to someone else? No.”

“I could buy it off you.”

I choke on my gasp. “What?”

He assesses the ring. “It’s hideous, so I wouldn’t pay more than a hundred for it.”

“Bucks? But it’s worth—”

He interrupts me. “Hundred thousand.”

My eyes bulge. “That’s a lot of money.”

He shrugs.

Asshole. Unlike him, I still remember the days before he was a billionaire, back when our families ordering pizza with extra toppings was considered a luxury.

He casually spins the ring around his pinkie finger.

Sweat clings to my brow. “But…”

Hustling him out of a hundred thousand dollars does sound nice

“The offer expires in three…”

Wait a minute. Why does he want to buy the ring in the first place?

“Two…”

Who cares? Take it!

“Fine!” I shout.

“You accept?”

“Sure.”

“Great. Now with that settled…” He tosses the ring into the concrete mixer. The diamond gets swallowed up by the thick mixture as the machine spins round and round.

“Julian!” I jump to hit the red emergency button, but he yanks me away before I have a chance. All the air is knocked from my lungs as I slam into his body.

Our hard hats bang into each other, and mine falls off and lands at our feet during my fight to get loose. He wraps his other arm around my waist and tightens his hold, making any escape impossible.

“What are you doing?” I hiss like a wounded animal.

“Saving you from yourself.” He hauls me farther away without my feet touching the ground.

“Are you serious? What was the point of offering to pay all that money for a ring you planned on throwing away?” I screech as I shove at the steel band of muscle locked around my body.

“It’ll be worth every penny.”

“But—” My reply gets lost somewhere in the chaos of my mind.

“You didn’t like your ring.”

I rear back. “What?”

“I bet you hated it from the moment Oliver got down on one knee and popped open that cliché Cartier box.”

A two-by-four to the face would be less surprising than his comment.

My pulse quickens. “Why would you think that?”

“Because, like him, it was stuffy, obnoxious, and represented everything he and his pretentious, cookie-cutter family stand for.” Julian’s words hit hard enough to make my legs shake beneath me.

Julian saw Oliver and his family for exactly what they were.

A fancy façade.

I was comfortable going along with it because Oliver made it seem like he was different, but in reality, he was another Creswell clone desperate for an inheritance and his parents’ approval.

And I was the woman standing in the way of that.

Julian lets me go when the fight drains from my body, and my mind drifts as the machine spins.

The demise of my relationship started with a prenup, and things quickly devolved from there as I was pummeled with tasks like premarital counseling and health screenings.

It’s standard protocol for people like us, Oliver said as he passed me a stack of prenuptial paperwork thicker than my thigh. While I expected one given the Creswells’ financial situation, its contents shocked me.

A genetic health screening? I asked with a frown, only for Oliver to wave away my concern. It’s a formality. He grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze. Think of it as a protective measure, he added.

I winced. Protective measure against what?

It’s boilerplate language. He quickly moved on to the next section, dictating how I would be paid per child I gave birth to. Bonus cash if I breastfed.

God, I should have run after that meeting, but instead, I trusted him.

My throat tightens until I’m gasping for air.

Mírame,” Julian orders.

I can’t. At least not when I feel like this.

Mírame: Look at me.

“I’ll meet you back at the truck.”

“If you want the ring, I’ll pull it out.” He speaks to my back.

I shake my head hard enough to rattle my already-scattered brain. “No.” Tears pool near the bottoms of my eyes, about one second away from falling.

You better not cry in front of Julian, so pull yourself together and get the hell out of here.

“Come find me when it’s finished.” I fight the impulse to curl into myself as I accept that part of my life is over.

“Okay.”

My lungs deflate from my heavy exhale as I turn. Every step away from the mixer feels like a small victory, and I’m proud of myself for making it to the truck without shedding a single tear, although the widening hole in my chest threatens to consume me.

But unlike before, I fight back. I don’t want to cry anymore over a man who discarded me like trash.

refuse to.

Starting now.


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