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Love Redesigned: Chapter 7

Dahlia

A flash of something red and white catches my eye. “Stop the truck!”

He slams on the brakes, and we both go shooting forward. I groan as the seat belt locks into place and crushes my chest.

“What’s wrong?” His eyes dart across my face.

I press a hand against my chest. “Besides the fact that you nearly gave me a heart attack?”

“You asked me to stop.”

“Not like that!”

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine. Give me a second.” I unbuckle my seat belt.

“Where are you going? It’s pitch-black outside.”

“I want to see something.” I climb out of the truck and walk back to the spot that caught my attention.

The For Sale sign posted in front of the gate feels illegal, and I’m tempted to steal it to prevent someone else from making an offer on the house of my dreams.

Lampposts lining the driveway illuminate the Queen Anne-style mansion sitting at the top of the small hill. Despite the warped wood and lack of upkeep, the house that once belonged to one of our town’s founders is beautiful with its elegant craftsmanship, unrivaled view of the lake, and historic connection to the town.

Not just any Founder’s house, but the one I dreamed of renovating one day. Ever since I was a little kid, I used to say that if I had three wishes, one of them would be to own this particular blue house.

Now you have the money and opportunity to make it happen.

The sudden rush of excitement sends my head spinning, making me feel drunk on the idea of restoring a house like this.

I’d be foolish not to take advantage of this rare opportunity. I’ve been obsessed with the Founders’ houses long before I pursued a career in interior design. Their backstory, aesthetics, and view of Lake Wisteria and the forest beyond made them easy to fall in love with and impossible to forget.

A house isn’t going to save you from your depression. The voice of reason speaks out.

No, but my therapist said I should engage in activities that make me happy, and this house would be a good start.

“Is this for real?” I flick the sign to be sure.

“Seems like it.” Julian stops beside me and pulls out his phone.

“What are you doing?”

“I want to know how much they’re asking for it.”

“No!” I steal his phone.

“You can’t stop me from being curious.”

“You’re not allowed to touch this one.” The five original Founders’ houses rarely go up for sale, so no way in hell am I letting Julian buy it.

“Is your name on the deed?”

“Not yet.” I’ll be damned if I let this project slip away from me. It’s the exact kind of house that could help spark my creativity again while pushing me to take the necessary steps my therapist has been recommending for months.

Julian pries his phone out of my crushing grip. “Then it’s fair game.”

“Fair game? How is that possible when you’re our local Monopoly Man?”

“I’m flattered by the rare compliment.” His dry voice doesn’t match the words.

“Ugh. Lo juro por Dios—”

He taps at his screen before placing it against his ear. “Sam. Hey. Sorry about the late call, but this is important. First thing tomorrow morning, I need you to contact a seller—”

I snatch his phone back and take off in the opposite direction. “Hi, Sam. It’s Dahlia Muñoz. How are you?”

“I—uh—I’m sorry, did you say Dahlia Muñoz?” A male voice wheezes toward the end of his question.

“Yes.”

Lo juro por Dios: I swear to God.

“As in Dahlia Muñoz, founder of Designs by Dahlia?”

“That’s me.”

“Holy shit,” Sam whispers to himself.

I stick my tongue out at Julian while hitting the speaker button.

“I’m your biggest fan!” Sam shouts. “Wait. What are you doing with Julian?”

“Sadly, we know each other.”

Julian shoots daggers at me.

“I can’t believe Julian never said anything. He knows how obsessed I am with your…everything!”

“Oh, you are?” I ask.

“Of course I am! Ask Julian. He always gets pissed when I watch your show at my desk during my lunch break.”

“Why do you think that is?”

Sam scoffs. “Beats me.”

I laugh.

“It’s not like he couldn’t learn a thing or two from you. Seriously. I love what you did last season with the Mayhem Manor. It’s one of my favorite designs, and the one I keep coming back to anytime I need some inspiration.”

“With Julian’s designs, that must be often.”

Sam barks out a laugh while Julian glares at me.

I turn away and take Sam off speaker. “Sam, listen. I hate to cut you off, but I have a special request and not a lot of time.”

“Name it.” Sam speaks with conviction.

“Whatever Julian tells you to do, don’t. At least not with the Founder’s house.”

“But he’s my boss.”

“Are you up for a new job? Because I’ll hire you—”

“That’s enough.” Julian snatches the phone from my hand. “Sam, I’ll call you back tomorrow. Sorry again about bothering you this late.”

“But—” Sam’s panicked voice disappears as Julian hangs up.

“Sweet guy. Out of curiosity, how much do you pay him?”

His eyes narrow. “You’re not stealing my assistant.”

“I mean, is it considered stealing if he wants to leave?”

Julian’s frown deepens. “If you like the house, then you’ll have to put in a competitive offer.”

“But you’re a billionaire.”

“So?”

So how the hell am I supposed to outbid you?”

He strokes his chin like an evil villain. “I see your point.”

“Great. Now if you’ll do me a solid and pretend you never saw the house, I’ll be forever indebted to you.”

“Forever indebted to me?” His voice lowers, awakening hundreds of butterflies from their cocoons.

Hell. Freaking. No.

I tilt my head back. “Let me have this one. Please.”

“I’m not in the charity business.”

“Excuse me?” I enunciate each syllable.

“It’s nothing personal. I need land, and this place has it. One of these properties could fit ten of my houses easily.”

I throw my hands in the air. “See! That reason alone is exactly why I should be the buyer.”

“Because you don’t want to capitalize on an opportunity? That’s stupidity, not validity.”

My fists ball at my sides. “It’s not stupid to value a home’s history.”

“I value the financial kind more.”

“And you think I don’t? A historic home can make as much money as a new build if you fix it up the right way.”

“I’m not saying it can’t, but the math will always be in my favor, no matter how hard you try.”

I groan. “How much do you sell one of your homes for?”

“Three mill, give or take.”

My eyes widen. “Three. Million. Dollars?” Houses around the lake used to be worth less than a quarter million back when I was a kid.

He breaks eye contact first. “Yeah.”

“And how many houses have you demolished?”

“Enough.”

“Fifty?” He remains quiet. “A hundred?” I ask, earning nothing more than a blink. “Two hundred?”

He stays silent.

I shake my head. “Wow. At this rate, you’ll be out of houses within the next few years.”

“Exactly why I need a property like this to solve our supply-demand issue.”

Time to switch strategies.

“Do you want me to beg?” My voice drops.

I bite down on my cheek to stop myself from grinning when he blinks twice. While Julian and I have engaged in many psychological warfare tactics over the years, seduction has never been one of them. But hell, if it means securing my dream house, I’m willing to flirt my way into a deal with the devil.

“No.” His jaw tightens.

“I’m not above getting down on my knees.”

His eyes drop to my lips before he glances away. “Shut. Up.”

I clasp his chin and force him to look at me. “What do you want?”

He jerks his head free from my grasp and takes a step back. “Whatever the fuck is the opposite of this.”

“I’ll leave you alone if you walk away from this house.” I brush my finger down the center of his chest.

He jolts. “I knew working with you was a mistake.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” His gaze flickers between the property and me for a whole minute before he speaks again. “What if we go fifty-fifty instead?”

“I’m sorry?”

“You want the house, and I want the land. I’m sure we can work together to get what we both want.”

“Who says the town would let you build another house here?”

“That’s my issue.”

“You want us to go all in together, hoping to rezone the property and build a few extra houses on it?”

“Correct.”

I shake my head. “That will never work.”

His frown lines return with a vengeance. “Why not?”

“Because only one of us has style, and hint, it’s not you.” Unlike Julian’s commitment to mid-century modern designs, my modern rustic design style is the complete opposite. I enter each home with the same goal of emphasizing its original architecture while combining different interior design styles.

One of the biggest reasons I started gaining popularity was that my approach was unlike everyone else’s. I wasn’t afraid of blending different styles, including Julian’s beloved mid-century modern, which helped me stand out.

He pinches the bridge of his nose hard enough to leave a mark. “You’re testing my patience.”

“I’m surprised you still have any left when it comes to me.”

He grumbles to himself before speaking again. “You can have full creative control of the house.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“And what if city hall denies your request?”

“Then we will need to flip the property and resell it for a price worthy of investing my time and resources,” he says.

“What resources?”

“If you plan on restoring that house within the next three years, you’ll need my company to get the job done.”

“Why is that?”

“The only other construction company in town has a yearlong waitlist because they’re busy fixing up the motel.”

Shit. I don’t want to wait a year when this is the perfect project to help get me out of my design rut.

Still, despite my excitement, I worry about partnering with Julian. We have only worked on one project together in college, and it ended with me setting myself up for unrealistic expectations.

I can vividly picture Julian destroying the house to build his ideal neighborhood of white-and-gray houses made of equal parts concrete and glass. The history of the property would be erased and replaced with cold, sharp lines to match the man in front of me.

I shake the image away with a shiver.

No matter how much I dislike the idea of working with Julian, I despise the thought of him demolishing this house more.

I speak before I have a chance to talk myself out of the opportunity. “I’m in.”


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