Roommate Wars: Chapter 12


Inviting Elise to the formal dinner party tonight was self-serving. I wanted to make it clear to Thalia that I was in a relationship (a fake one, but whatever), as I was a giant neon sign for the wrong women—an issue I was working on. Using Elise as a buffer worked in the interim, and she was good company.

Elise was the last person to get the wrong idea. She only wanted men who weren’t interested in anything serious. Something I was curious about, but there’d be time to investigate her rationale later. The last thing I needed was to give Thalia the wrong idea and muddy the waters with my star CEO. Been there, done that with the old roommate and any number of women. Elise was spirited but guileless. That woman didn’t want anything from me, which made me want to give her everything.

If there had been one ulterior motive to inviting Elise tonight, it was to get her out of those black pants she wore nearly every day. She’d agreed to keep whatever I bought her, so now was my opportunity to update her wardrobe.

Elise sat on her bed and lifted a long silk dress out of the shopping bag I’d handed her. “Oh my gosh, Jackson!” She clutched the cream dress to her chest. “When I save up more money, I’m going to hire you as my personal shopper. You have the best taste.”

There she went with the nickname. Sadly, it was growing on me. Mostly because it sounded like an endearment coming from Elise. “No to the personal shopping, but”—I reached for two more large bags full of clothes in the hallway—“this should tide you over for a while.”

She stared in confusion. “But I only needed a dress.”

“And pants and every other type of clothing.”

She sifted through the shopping bags, then looked at one of the price tags. “Holy shit, Jack. No.” She climbed off the bed and shoved the bags at me. “This is too much. The dress, sure, okay, because you need a date tonight. But not the other stuff.”

My vision grew hazy, and my teeth clamped shut. “I understand you’re independent, but I’m a friend, am I not?” She nodded, seemingly surprised by my frustration. “Then it should be okay for a friend to buy another friend something they need.”

She started to speak, and I held up my hand. “I’m done here. Be ready by six.”

I left the room and entered my own, with a shocked Elise staring after me.

I closed the door and sank onto the bed. She was right. It was unusual to buy her a wardrobe, but at this point, I didn’t care. She could return all of it for something else, but she couldn’t give me back the money. That I wouldn’t allow.

The way I saw it, I’d made her leave her clothes behind. I was responsible for why she had none.

Conscience cleared, I rose and went to take a shower.

I waited in the kitchen, beer in hand, and checked the time. I could be as extroverted as the next guy, but it wasn’t my nature. The wining and dining and socializing for work was something I put up with grudgingly. But tonight might not be so bad, having my roommate at my side.

“Elise! Light a fire under it!”

The sound of the Jimmy Choo heels I’d bought her came down the hall. And then I saw her.

The cream color of the dress highlighted her lightly tanned skin, like I’d suspected it would, and the material cut in at all the right places, showing off her gorgeous figure. She was tall and more beautiful than any woman had a right to be.

That kind of beauty made a man stupid.

Holy mother of… Fuck.

I gulped down a swig of beer and set the bottle on the counter, my hand steady even as my heart hammered. “You ready?”

Her hair was pulled back into a low bun at the nape, revealing the slender, elegant lines of her neck. She held up a small purse. “You even bought me a clutch?”

The purse had cost more than the shoes, but it looked nice, and Elise would never know how much I’d spent because there’d been no price tags on those items. Next time, I’d remove the tags from everything.

“Thought you’d need it to hold your”—I gestured absently—“phone.” No idea what women kept in their purses, but there seemed to be a never-ending supply of stuff inside.

“But I never dress this nice.” She looked sadly at the Cartier clutch. “When will I use it?”

“I’m sure you’ll find another reason.” I wasn’t a big shopper, but apparently, my taste ran expensive. And I liked splurging on Elise without her knowing.

I pocketed my phone and patted my suit jacket to make sure my wallet was inside. “We should get going.”

“Wait.” She froze on her way to the door. “Are we taking your car?” She looked down at her heels. “I can’t walk far in these things. Will we be parking close to the venue?”

“I hired a driver. He’s waiting outside.”

Her eyes widened. “Waiting? Why didn’t you tell me?” she said as she hurried out the door and I locked up. “I would have gotten ready faster.”

I peered in disbelief. One thing I’d learned about Elise after living with her for the last week or so was that she cut it close in the time department.

She grinned abashedly. “Fine. I would have taken just as long, but I would have at least tried to hurry.”

I reached for her hand and looped it through the crook of my arm.

She looked at me suspiciously.

“Don’t worry,” I said, staring straight ahead. “Just don’t want you to go tumbling down the stairs. That would be messy.”

She rolled her eyes. “I need to get used to being close to you if we’re going to make our relationship look real.”

The idea of being close to Elise had me both thrilled and sweating with anxiety. Any man would want to be next to her. But I needed to stop getting ideas.

I helped her into the luxury SUV, climbed in behind her, then opened a bottled water and passed it over.

She straightened her dress and reached for the water. “Thank you. So, what’s the plan for tonight?”

“No plan. Just pretend to like me.” I grinned.

She eyed me, her lips pursed as though she was considering it. “That’s going to be tough, what with the dapper dark suit look you’ve got going. You even combed your hair.”

I straightened my tie. “I clean up when I need to.”

She made a purring sound in the back of her throat while eyeing me, and my heart thudded.

These sexy sounds were the kind of Elise curiosities that could easily drive me crazy.

“So what else do you need from me tonight?” She looked absently out the window at the passing cars as we drove through town.

“Need from you?” I was hung up on the purring. An image of slipping off Elise’s silk dress flittered through my mind before I mentally slapped myself. “Eat? Socialize?”

She looked at me, and her face turned pale. “Socialize? With wealthy snobs? I thought I’d just hang with you.”

“Not everyone there will be a snob. Some are good people. I’ll introduce you to the good ones.”

“Okay,” she said, but she was biting her lip.

The urge to hold her hand was strong. And this here was the danger in fake dating. It could feel real even if it wasn’t.

I tamped down the desire to comfort her and drank my own damn water until we pulled up to the building where the party was being held.

I helped Elise out of the car. “The old Merchants Exchange is one of the few buildings that survived the 1906 earthquake. And the ballroom we’re going to inside is named after a prolific architect who designed Hearst Castle.”

She looked up at the French Beaux-Arts architecture. “What was the architect’s name?”

“Julia Morgan, though she didn’t design this property. They named it in honor of her because she was the first licensed female architect in California.”

“That is so cool. Gotta love a ladyboss.”

We made our way to the carpeted ballroom with hundred-year-old French chandeliers, heavy drapes, and wood paneling. Off the room was a curved bar with art deco details and a massive old fireplace that was no longer in use.

I enjoyed events held in places like this, with history and the echo of the past. Made me wonder if my mother had ever visited some of them.

My dad never sold the apartment where I grew up, and I was glad of it. Most of the memories I had of my mother were in that apartment, and it was comforting to walk the same paths she did. When she died, I’d lost all sense of being grounded. It was likely why I failed at relationships. Max called me “relationship stunted,” because the only good ones I’d had were from before my mother’s death.

Speaking of… Max was standing halfway across the ballroom with Sophia, sipping red wine and chatting with one of his clients I recognized. Elise and I made our way over, and as we passed, the eyeballs of the men in the room popped out of their heads at my gorgeous date.

Get in line, I thought. Tonight, Elise was all mine. Fake dating had its perks.

Elise nervously checked her dress. She had no idea how beautiful she was.

I leaned closer. “Nothing’s out of place. You look…”

She widened her eyes, a little wary, patiently waiting for the next words to leave my mouth. “What, Jackson?” she said, frustrated when I took too long to finish my thought.

“Nice.” She was stunning, gorgeous, and sexy as hell, but I couldn’t tell her all that or she’d get the wrong idea.

She rolled her eyes. “Gee, thanks.”

Before we could reach Max and Sophia, Thalia popped up out of nowhere a few feet away, wearing a reddish floor-length gown. She was a good-looking woman, only a couple of years older than me, but I didn’t find her attractive in a romantic way. That didn’t seem to stop the determination in her eyes.

I sighed as Thalia ignored my gorgeous date and made a beeline for my side. “You made it. I’ve got someone to introduce you to.”

I slipped my arm around Elise’s waist. “Can it wait? I’d like to get my girlfriend a drink.”

Elise stiffened.

I slid my hand to the top of her ass, which had been calling to me in the close-fitting gown since she left the apartment. She was my girlfriend tonight; physical contact was to be expected.

Elise’s eyes widened and her lips compressed with a silent message I interpreted as: What the hell do you think you’re doing?

I leaned down and whispered in her ear, “It’s for show.”

She whispered back, “You’re pushing it, Jackson.”

“Drink?” I asked her, loud enough for Thalia to hear in the crowded room.

Elise smiled. “Sounds good. I’ll go with you.”

I turned to Thalia. “Can we get you anything?”

Her expression was so unabashedly irate, I nearly laughed. Maybe it was the whispering between me and Elise, or my refusing to leave with Thalia. Whatever it was, Thalia was furious.

“Nothing for me,” she said saccharinely. “But Elise should stay behind. I’ll entertain her.” She smiled—the crinkly-eyed one that opened doors for her in business. The one no one suspected of guile, but that I was beginning to think hid her true feelings.

Meanwhile, Elise dared me to leave her with her glare.

It would be extremely awkward to say no to Thalia after I’d already done so. What harm would come from these two standing together?

Elise was all about independence. This would be good for her. “I’ll be right back.”

Her gaze narrowed. “Hurry back, sweetie.” Then I felt—and heard—a loud smack on my ass.

Elise held back a laugh at my incredulous look and flittered her fingers in a wave.

If the ass smack had come from anyone else, I would be annoyed. But what I felt was challenged.


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