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Love Redesigned: Chapter 8

Julian

Rafa and I walk to the unoccupied leather armchairs at the back of the Angry Rooster Café. It’s been weeks since we last spent time together by ourselves. With him managing the Dwelling app and me working through growing pains as Lopez Luxury expands to new neighboring lake towns, we have been busy.

There are some days I want to turn back the clock and relive the times when I woke up at five a.m. to work on a build with my dad, not drive to an office. Those were some of my happiest days, and the ones I think about more often lately.

I’m not cut from the same corporate cloth as my competitors, and it shows in every interaction I have. The desire to hire someone else to run the corporate side of the business rides me harder than ever lately, but I don’t have anyone I can trust with that kind of responsibility.

Rafa sinks into the leather chair. “I saw something interesting today on my drive into town.”

“What?”

“Someone listed one of the Founders’ houses.”

“Hm.” I take a sip of my iced coffee with extra caramel, caramel drizzle, and a splash of cream. The warm, sugary goodness hits my tongue, instantly elevating my mood despite the glaring man sitting across from me.

His head tilts. “It’s the same one you were looking into a few years ago.”

“It is.”

“Well…are you going to buy it this time?”

The sweet coffee slides down my throat like acid. “Why?”

His eyes narrow. “Because you’re not the type to let an opportunity like that go to waste. The land alone makes it one of the most valuable properties around.”

My stomach churns. “I’m teaming up with Dahlia on it.”

He raises a condescending brow. “And you thought that was a good idea because?”

“My mom asked me to.”

“Of course she did. She’s been planning your wedding since you both were in the womb.”

The plastic cup beneath my fingers bends from the pressure. “She’s worried about Dahlia.”

“So are the rest of us.” His scowl softens. “But that doesn’t mean you need to be her knight with a shining tool belt.”

“If a tool belt is shiny, it’s clearly for looks.”

“That’s not my point, and you know it.”

My shoulders stiffen. “I do, but that’s not going to be an issue.”

“What are you thinking, buying a house with her and fixing it up together like she did all those times with Oliver?”

Tension ripples through my body. “This isn’t like that.”

He stares.

“Do you have something you want to get off your chest?” My question comes out sharp.

“You’re making a mistake,” he grumbles.

“I don’t expect you to understand.” No one can, no matter how much they try.

Dahlia and I have a complicated history of antagonizing each other into being the best—and sometimes worst—versions of ourselves. That kind of connection doesn’t go away no matter how many years I spend wishing it had.

“I understand enough to recommend you don’t go teaming up with the woman you once were in love with.”

I rub at my stubbled cheek. “I know what I’m doing.”

“I know what you intend to do, but life has a funny way of fucking over our best-laid plans.” He dismisses me with a flick of his gaze.

“We’re working on a project together, not falling in love.”

Dahlia made sure that wasn’t possible once she began dating my ex-roommate after I dropped out of Stanford.

He snorts. “Because working together went so well the last time.”

My teeth grind together as I remember the one and only time Dahlia and I teamed up: on a college psychology project. It was a decision made out of jealousy and became the first in a long list of mistakes I made when it came to her. Flirting. Kissing. Pushing her away because I didn’t have the skills to process my fear of losing someone else I loved after my father’s death.

“That right there is what I’m worried about.” Rafa points at me.

I blink a couple of times. “What?”

“That look on your face.”

“What are you talking about?”

He replicates an expression that sure as hell can’t be mine.

I toss a crumpled napkin at him. “No mames.”

“I thought you were over her.”

“I am. I was just…”

“Reminiscing?”

Thinking,” I correct.

“Please consider doing more of that, because clearly you haven’t been lately.”

“Helping Dahlia get over Oliver is the right thing to do.” After all, I’m the one who introduced them to each other.

You’ll be back soon, right? Oliver asked in the middle of me panic-buying a plane ticket home after I heard about my dad’s heart attack.

Dahlia came over to help me pack up your stuff and ship it since you’re too busy to answer a single text, he messaged me a month after I dropped out of Stanford. And thanks for letting us know you weren’t coming backdickfaceSo much for us being friends, he added.

No mames: Stop messing around.

Next thing I knew, Dahlia was in a relationship with the asshole who had his head stuck so far up his ass, I’m surprised he hadn’t suffocated yet.

Not a single week goes by when I don’t regret becoming friends with Oliver and the mistakes I made that pushed him and Dahlia together in the first place.


My fingers cramp from how long I’ve spent tapping them against the conference room table. It’s hard not to feel antsy after a day full of meetings with project managers, architects, engineers, and interior designers.

My general manager, Mario, shuffles a few papers in front of him. “All submitted permits for our projects have been paused due to the person in charge going on paternity leave.”

I frown. “And no one else can take over for the time being?”

“No. The same thing happened two years ago when Abbie was having her twins.”

I release a frustrated exhale. If I worked in a bigger city like Detroit or Chicago, I wouldn’t run into these kinds of issues. My life would be much less stressful if daily operations didn’t cease because a few people caught the flu or one person was out having a baby.

And lonelier. The idea of moving away from my family again has me shutting down that thought.

I speak up. “Readjust schedules so all our guys have consistent work for the next few weeks. It shouldn’t be too hard since city hall approved our permits for the townhouses.” I turn to Ryder. “Any updates?”

Ryder, my project manager, quits tapping his pen against the clipboard. He’s been working with me for seven years already and worked his way up to his current position before turning thirty-eight. Thanks to him, I can sleep easier at night knowing he can manage my crew like a disciplined drill sergeant.

He leans back and tucks his hands behind his dark head of hair. “I think we no longer need to worry about Mr. Vittori.”

My fingers stop tapping. “How so?”

“He withdrew all his offers on the available houses in the area.”

“Why?”

“I’m not sure. According to city hall, he hasn’t purchased any properties or lots, so maybe he moved on to another town. It’s not like you gave him much of a choice.” His dark brown eyes light up.

“I don’t like it.” Or him.

I’ve been wary of Lorenzo Vittori since he randomly returned to Lake Wisteria twenty-three years after his parents died, and it isn’t because of him bidding against me on lakefront properties or the gossip spreading around town about him wanting to run for mayor.

The town might have welcomed him back, but I don’t trust him or his fake acts of altruism. It doesn’t matter how many times he attends Sunday Mass or how many hours he spends volunteering at the animal shelter. For all I know, he is funneling his uncle’s dirty money through different businesses and charities, all under the guise of being a good Samaritan who wants to make a difference.

He might have spent the first ten years of his life here, but a lot has happened in the years since then.

My twenty-five-year-old assistant, Sam, waltzes into the conference room armed with his headset, tablet, and a bright smile that reaches his brown eyes. “The architect team is waiting in conference room B to review the plans for the townhouses. I also set up the design team in room C, so once you’re done there, head on in so they can present their ideas for the cul-de-sac.”

“Great.”

He readjusts his headpiece over his dark blond hair. “Oh, and then, when you have some free time, call Lake Aurora’s mayor. He had a few questions about the town’s infrastructure and wanted to run an idea by you.”

“Thanks.” I rub my eyes. Despite getting eight hours of sleep last night, I still feel tired.

When the Dwelling shares were listed on the New York Stock Exchange and our company went public a few years ago, I was invigorated by my newfound billionaire status and the prospect of turning my father’s struggling construction company into Lopez Luxury. But now that I’ve accomplished everything my father dreamed of and more, I’m uninspired, exhausted, and growing resentful of every project I take on.

I’ve considered different options to reignite my passion, such as taking on an individual project again or changing up my team of designers, but I never seem to follow through. Part of me is afraid that I’ll never return to the office once I remember what it feels like to invest my blood, sweat, and tears into a project.

Last night proved that. Dahlia wasn’t the only one who had a spark in her eye at the prospect of fixing up the Founder’s house.

I did too.


After a long day full of meetings, I’m relieved to return to my isolated mansion on the northern shore of the lake, located far away from the restaurants, parks, and couples who remind me of what I want but don’t have.

I’ve had three other houses in the last four years which were in the southern part of town. While the sand dunes and beachfront were far nicer than the smaller, rockier northern shore, I couldn’t stand being surrounded by tourists, couples, and families.

I dump my keys and wallet in the glass dish beside the front door before taking a hard left toward the chef’s kitchen with windows facing the Historic District, although I’m quickly distracted from the panoramic views by my growling stomach.

Neat rows of premade meals line the middle shelf of my refrigerator, courtesy of my housekeeper. I microwave the first one within reach and take a seat at the kitchen island before connecting my phone to the speaker system.

Even with the music blasting around the house, the scraping of my utensils against the plate sounds worse than firing up a concrete saw at midnight.

I don’t enjoy silence as much as people think I do. In fact, I’ve grown to hate it over the years because it reminds me of what I lack.

A home rather than a house.

A wife to love, cherish, and support.

A reason to wake up every morning that isn’t my job or the people who rely on me for a steady paycheck.

Money might buy me a lot of things, but it can’t cure the gaping hole in my chest that only deepens with every passing year. What used to fulfill me barely scratches the incessant itch anymore. Overworking myself. Casual dates that never lead to anything more. Spending all my free time with family while ignoring the wish to start my own.

None of it has the same appeal, and I’m getting worried.

Mejor solo que mal acompañado, my dad said in that deep, rumbling voice of his after I caught my group of friends making fun of me behind my back.

Pain slices through my chest. When I was younger, I would roll my eyes and ask what website my dad stole his latest quote from, but now I have an appreciation for how he had the right saying for every situation.

God, I’ve lost count of how many times I wished he were here, dropping proverbs whenever I needed them.

Mejor solo que mal acompañado: Better to be alone than with bad company.

When the right person comes around, you’ll know it, I tell myself.

But what if the right person has been there all along and I screwed it all up because I was a stupid twenty-year-old who didn’t know any better?

That question has kept me awake since Dahlia returned last week, along with the what-if scenarios that could have happened if I had processed my grief the right way instead of isolating myself.


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