Roommate Wars: Chapter 13

Elise

Jack and I needed to develop ground rules for this fake-dating scheme. His wandering hand had caused all kinds of fluttering, and I didn’t need that confusion. I was looking for companionship, but not from my roommate! However, I’d gotten great pleasure out of my retaliation and his disgruntled expression after I smacked his butt in front of Thalia.

She was playing it cool, but I had a gut feeling about Thalia, mostly because her eyes roved all over Jack’s body when he wasn’t looking. Claiming his ass in front of her was to teach him a lesson, and her one too. Thalia needed to know Jack’s firm behind belonged to me.

Well, not technically. But she didn’t know that.

“So,” Thalia said casually, eyeing the crowd. “How long have you and Jack been dating? He called you his roommate when he introduced you.” She turned and stared at me. “Imagine my surprise when he referred to you as his girlfriend the other night.”

“It’s new,” I said.

Her expression morphed into one of innocence. “Is that why you don’t share a bedroom?”

Nailed. Point one to Thalia.

“Exactly,” I said cheerily, trying to cover what should have been an obvious flaw in the plan. “I moved in as his roommate, but the attraction couldn’t be denied.”

She cocked her head to the side, as suspicious of me as I was of her. “I see,” she said, and I worried she really did.

I glanced quickly around. Where the hell is Jack? People were staring in my and Thalia’s direction, which was unnerving. Was my bra showing through the fabric of this expensive gown? It would be just like me to make a fashion faux pas at a ritzy event. The cream color seemed to show every ripple and curve, and I wasn’t sure I was pulling it off.

This was why I didn’t mess with fancy clothes. They weren’t sturdy, even if Jack had paid a fortune.

“Jack needs a strong partner around the businessmen he’ll be pitching.” Her look was conniving. “Hopefully you’re up for fluffing potential investors?”

I choked on an inhalation. “Fluffing?”

The only time I’d heard that term applied was to someone who prepared an erotic actor on a porn set. But that couldn’t be what she was referring to.

Thalia shrugged lightly, and her gaze wandered over my shoulder. “The term applies.”

Had Thalia just compared me to…someone who gave blow jobs for a living? “The term doesn’t apply,” I said, but she ignored my comment, a smile filling her face.

I looked back to see Jack making his way over, but I wasn’t relieved. I was upset.

Thalia’s smile dropped slightly as she scanned my body, making me feel like trash in the designer gown Jack had handpicked. “You were inappropriate earlier, groping Jack. It doesn’t look good for him to have a tacky girlfriend. He needs someone with class.”

My stomach dropped and my breaths grew shallow. “And your uptight brand is better?” My retort was pure sass, but her comment had hit the mark.

She merely smiled at the same time I felt Jack’s arm wrap around my waist. He handed me a glass of white wine, which was my preferred drink when I was feeling fancy. I wasn’t sure how he knew that. Though I was beginning to realize Jack could be extremely observant for someone who spent his free time in VR goggles.

My body stiffened, and he glanced down with a questioning look.

“The investors are waiting for you,” Thalia said to him. “Don’t dawdle.”

“What’s this about investors?” came a deep voice from behind.

Max and Sophia skirted the couple behind us and made it to our side. My sister was wearing a simple black dress, and Max was decked out in probably the most expensive dark suit in the room.

The man had good taste. He’d also chosen my sister out of all the attractive women in the city throwing their panties at him, so good taste all around.

Jack didn’t respond right away. He delivered his next comment to a waiting Thalia. “I’ll follow you in just a moment.”

Thalia smiled at another guest and walked off, her long maroon gown flowing behind her.

I felt the burn of Sophia’s stare on Jack’s hand at my waist. Her gaze moved back and forth between it and my face. “What’s going on?”

Jack finally let go and stepped back. “Elise, do you mind filling in your sister on our status?” He emphasized the word status.

I waved him away dismissively. “Go do businessy things.” I considered telling him what Thalia had said, but he already knew she was determined. It was the reason he’d brought me here tonight and why he’d sweetened the deal with new clothes.

Jack strode off, and I might have admired him from behind. The guy was hot in sweatpants and jeans, but something about a handsome, athletic man in a well-fitting suit proved a weakness. It didn’t help that he’d combed his unruly brown hair back off his forehead, highlighting high cheekbones and a strong jawline tonight. Good thing he was more of a casual guy, or this masculine display of beauty would be a challenge to ignore.

My sister nudged me in the rib, nearly knocking me off-balance. “Well?”

“Geez, Soph.” I rubbed my side. Her elbows were pointy like daggers.

She took in my dress. “You didn’t buy that.” She plucked the fabric. “This is expensive, and you’re as poor as a church mouse.”

Nice to have my sister rub in the facts. “Jack bought it.”

Sophia’s eyes widened, and she glanced at Max, who held an equally surprised expression. “What is going on?” she asked.

“Not what you think,” I said. “Jack needed a date tonight, but I have, like, five pieces of clothing in my wardrobe, so he offered to buy me a new dress.”

She scowled. “His hand was on you.”

I watched Jack meet up with Thalia across the room, noted her possessive touch on his back, and frowned. “That’s because I’m his fake girlfriend. Turns out Thalia is a shark in the dating waters as well as the boardroom. She’s been hitting on him left and right.” I shrugged. “He says he needs her to run the business, and he thinks this is the easiest way to throw her off without offending her.” I pursed my lips. “Not sure a girlfriend will stop that woman, though,” I said to myself as much as to them. “She doesn’t think I have enough class to date him.”

What?” Soph’s face turned a scalding shade of red.

I grabbed my sister’s hand and tugged it. Hard. “Calm down. You’re drawing attention.”

But Sophia was looking back, bobbing back and forth like she was ready to brawl. “That bi-otch.”

“She kind of is,” I said thoughtfully. “I admire her success as a woman in a male-dominated field, and I can’t fault her taste in men, but yeah, I could do without the personal insults.”

The steam seemed to leave Sophia’s body. “It’s only for tonight, then? This pretend girlfriend thing?”

“Umm,” I said with a shaky smile. “No?”

Max blew out a slow breath and shook his head.

“How long?” Soph said, her voice a little too high.

I twisted my mouth. “We haven’t worked out the details.” There were a bunch of things we’d failed to work out. Touching rules, how long this thing would go on, etc. Though I suspected it would end as soon as my tenancy did.

Sophia pressed her fingers to her forehead and closed her eyes. “Elise, this is a terrible plan.”

“Blame Jackson. It wasn’t my idea.”

Max’s eyebrow quirked. “Jackson?”

I grinned mischievously. “He hates his new nickname.”

“Thus you continue calling him it,” Max surmised.

“You’re so smart, Max. I see why Soph keeps you around. The expensive chocolate you ply her with doesn’t hurt either.”

Sophia huffed out a breath of exasperation. “I don’t keep him around for the chocolate,” she said. “He’s also very pretty to look at.”

Max chuckled, and Sophia flashed him a sweet smile.

“Don’t make me hurl,” I told them. “I have enough on my plate without your love talk.”

“Back to the issue at hand,” Sophia said. “Is it a good idea to pretend to date Jack?”

“Nope,” I admitted, “but we’re in it now.”

Max studied me thoughtfully. “It’s like watching two trains about to collide. I can’t look away. I need to know how this will end.” He glanced down at his significantly shorter girlfriend. “We should swing by the apartment more often. I predict fireworks.”

“Fireworks?” Sophia said. “This is a shitshow.” She turned to me. “Elise, reconsider. Jack is Max’s best friend, and I need you two on good terms.”

I took a sip of the wine Jack had brought me. “We just need to hang in there long enough for Thalia to get the message she has no chance with Jack.”

All three of us looked to where Jack stood with Thalia, talking to a group of finely dressed men and their dates. She was still resting her hand on his back while they spoke to the group.

I cringed.

“Yeah,” Sophia said. “She looks real deterred.”

Max frowned. “I’ll talk to Jack. That can’t be good, having to fend off an employee.” He shook his head. “He has the worst luck with women.”

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