Roommate Wars: Chapter 20


Elise

What was up Jack’s butt tonight? He was acting like a lunatic. “Why would you take me on dates? I’m not a charity case, Jackson.”

“Not charity, just going out together,” he said casually, when the notion wasn’t the least bit casual.

I must have misunderstood. “Define dates and going out.”

He shrugged. “We’d hang.”

“Thanks for the clarity.” I rolled my eyes and studied him for a moment. His green gaze showed no signs of scheming, though I suspected there was, in fact, scheming going on. But what would he get out of it? Unless… “Are you expecting sex?”

His eyes widened, a tinge of anger behind them. “Is that what you were doing with the delivery guy when you went on dates?”

I snorted. “He didn’t get past first base, but you’re acting crazy, so I’m trying to figure out what’s going on inside your head.”

He seemed relieved by my answer, which was stupid. Why did he care who I hooked up with? “No sex required,” he said. “Unless you want to. You might not be able to control yourself.”

My face heated. “Are you throwing that night in my face?”

The corner of his mouth tipped up. “Would I do that?”

“Yes!”

“I’m just saying,” he said, unfolding his arms and walking toward the living room as though we were discussing the laundry and not negotiating a most disastrous arrangement, “you’ve got the goods within easy reach, so you might want a piece of this.”

My gaze darted down his body. His back was to me, but his ass looked firm in his jeans, and the button-down shirt he was wearing hugged his broad shoulders. I loathed that I noticed. “No, I will not date you, you arrogant jerk.”

“Just sex, then?” He sank into one of the barstools, his face expressionless.

I stormed into the kitchen and spun in a circle, forgetting why I’d entered. When I glanced back, he was watching me with a smirk. He knew I was flustered, dammit.

I opened the fridge, pulled out a block of cheese, and took a giant bite.

“No plate?” he said, amused.

“Don’t goad me, Jackson, or you won’t like the results.” I didn’t know where this conversation was coming from or what he had up his sleeve, but I was on edge, and I wouldn’t be held responsible for my actions if he continued down this path. Between my sister and me, I was the hothead, and Jack knew that. Yet here he was, intentionally riling me.

“Hear me out,” he said. “I have a proposition.”

“I’m still surviving the last one,” I said dryly.

Living with Jack and not thinking about him romantically wasn’t easy. Which was why I was determined to go out as much as possible. I’d be curled up killing time on Soph’s couch if she wasn’t so madly in love with Max and if they weren’t so nauseating with their flirtations. More important, I was on a mission to not depend on my sister.

And I didn’t want to depend on Jack either. The living situation couldn’t be avoided, but I could stay away whenever possible. And here he was, suggesting the opposite.

“You want companionship, and so do I,” he said. “Just not with my CEO. Why don’t we…” He quirked his brow in a very suggestive, sexy manner I didn’t think he meant to look suggestive. Or maybe he did?

My heart fluttered. I took a deep breath, trying to cool the hormone jets. “Jackson, this is another one of your terrible ideas.”

“It was good the last time, wasn’t it?” The athletic build and posture were all confidence, but the tiniest hint of uncertainty revealed itself in his tone.

I stared in disbelief. “I thought this wouldn’t be about sex. And you’re choosing now to admit you liked that night?”

He glanced away. “It can be whatever we want it to be. And of course I liked that night, but you ran out on me. What did you expect me to say?”

So his pride had been pricked. But it had meant something to him. This was news. Big news. “Fine. What do you propose?” Couldn’t hurt to find out what he was thinking, since he was finally being honest. The proposition sounded dangerous, given our history. Also intriguing…

“It would only last the rest of your stay here,” he said. “Another two weeks or so.”

“You think you’ll be able to let me go at the end of two weeks?”

“Hell yes, I will,” he said fervently. Which was as reassuring as it was offensive. “The last thing I need is a relationship. And especially not with you,” he added.

Ouch. Honesty wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And yet I was still intrigued.

He’d said this wasn’t about sex, but that was where my mind went with Jack, and my body liquified at the thought. What were the chances we could have a relationship without ending up in bed?

Jack was Max’s best friend. All hell would break loose if we complicated things by hating each other after this so-called proposition ended badly. What we shared that night had been intense after my casual, fluffy relationships. Soph had been frustrated with me for months over my neurotic reaction to it. She’d never forgive me if things ended up like the last time.

On the other hand, what Jack and I had wasn’t love. We could date and keep each other company—or we could get our fill in the bedroom. Either way, neither of us wanted anything lasting, so we were united on that front.

Unless he’d felt something different that night too…

If we were going to seriously consider this, honesty was the only way. I swallowed, my throat having gone dry at what I was about to admit. “Jack, last time messed me up.”

His body tensed, and he studied me for a long beat before his expression softened. “That’s because we didn’t have rules. We make rules and no one gets hurt.”

Jack was a good guy. If he said he wouldn’t hurt me, he meant it. “If we do this, it ends when I move out. I have goals, and I’m not ready for a committed relationship.”

He crossed his arms thoughtfully. “Agreed.”

“Second, you can’t tell Max or Sophia. They’d never understand, and Sophia will harass me about it the entire time. You think you can lie to your best friend?”

That got him. He looked off for a moment. “Max doesn’t know everything.”

Something I was beginning to realize. I was pretty sure Max didn’t know about Jack’s father and his illness. “You know, I’m starting to understand why you have such terrible luck with women if this is how you set up relationships. Didn’t the last one burn your kitchen down after you broke up with her?”

“That’s why I decided to give you a shot. You’re so obedient.”

I laughed—a full belly laugh because he was able to joke at a time like this.

My giggles died down and my eyes narrowed. I had one more condition that wasn’t really a condition, but I wanted to see how he’d react. “If I agree…sex is off the table.”

“It’s on the table. But—” He cut me off when I opened my mouth to argue. “There is no pressure. In other words, it’s not a requirement of the arrangement.”

I crossed my arms, mimicking his pose, and tapped my finger on the side of my face. He must have liked our first time together or he wouldn’t be pushing so hard for sex. Interesting…

There were reasons to not agree to this, but we had something between us. I wasn’t sure what I’d call it, but it was there. My subconscious led me to his bedroom that fateful night months ago, and it hadn’t been to sleep.

“Enough negotiating,” he said. “Are you in or not?”

Jack was very pretty to look at, with those full lips and wide, athletic shoulders. I could stand to get close to him for a couple of weeks. As long as it wasn’t too close. I’d probably regret this later, but…

“I’m in.”


After our conversation about “dating” last night, Jack and I proceeded to take a page from our last book and avoid each other. I didn’t hear a peep from him when I left for work this morning. Dating was supposed to make both of us less vulnerable, and yet here I was in a situationship with my roommate and stressing.

Jack and I were experts at keeping our partners at a distance. How exactly would two commitment-phobes come together?

I got off work and went straight to Sophia’s shop that afternoon. One of her new coordinators had bailed on her last minute, and she needed help. I had zero skills in design and knew next to nothing about plants, but I could answer the phone and supply Sophia with mochas to keep her going for a couple of hours. In other words, I was her caffeine-run lady.

“Soph, what do you know about Jack’s dad?” I said as I typed notes from the calls that had come in. I tried to get as much information from the callers so Sophia was prepared when she called them back.

Her brow was furrowed as she studied a to-do list with at least sixty bullet points. “Jack’s dad? I’ve never met him.” She pursed her lips. “Max spent a lot of time at Jack’s place in high school, but that’s all I know. Why?”

Sophia was confirming my suspicion that Jack hadn’t told Max about his father’s health problems.

I didn’t know why that bothered me, but it just felt wrong. People should rely on their friends and family when deep shit was happening. If Jack hadn’t told his best friend about his dad, who was he leaning on during hard times?

“Oh, nothing,” I said. “Just wondering where Jack got his penchant for bottling up his emotions.”

Sophia looked up. “Does he do that? He always seems easygoing and sweet.”

I made a sound in the back of my throat. “That’s a ruse. He’s very grumpy.”

Sophia shifted her mouth in thought. “He’s never been grumpy around me, but you do seem to bring it out in him.”

“I’m special,” I said drolly.

She stared for a long moment, and I grew nervous. Did she suspect something was going on between me and Jack? I had no idea when the dating would begin, but Soph could not find out about our arrangement. That would cause a verbal lashing from my sister I’d never hear the end of.

I ran my tongue over my teeth. “Do I have spinach caught in my tooth or something? Why are you staring?”

“No, I was just wondering if you and Jack are doing okay. You guys aren’t fighting, are you?”

We were talking about sleeping together. Or I was talking about sleeping together. Jack was talking about “hanging out” and “going on dates.” Meanwhile, all I could think about was whether or not we’d have sex and if that would be a bad thing.

“We’re getting along fine,” I said. “Though he did kick out my date last night.”

“Really? Why would he do that?”

“Jack saw the guy making out with one of our neighbors.”

“No!”

“Yes.”

“Well, at least he’s looking out for you.” She scrutinized her list and crossed off a couple of items. “It makes me feel better that I allowed you to live with him.”

I shook my head. “Right, because that’s how it happened.”

She looked up in annoyance. “Elise Marie…”

I rolled my eyes. Here we went with the sister-mothering.

“The only reason I let you live with Jack is because he’s a good guy. You think I’d allow you to stay with some dirtbag?”

“Yes,” I said, “because you have no say. But I like to keep the dirtbags to a minimum.”

Her cheeks pulled back tightly, and she seemed to be weighing how much to argue with me on this one. “Speaking of dirtbags, who was the neighbor your date hooked up with? Anyone I know?”

We discussed the hot wife across the street and whether she and her husband had split. Neither of us knew.

“I know you can handle yourself,” Soph said, “but it makes me feel better knowing Jack is around and keeping an eye on the men you’re dating.”

I nearly choked on a sip of my chai latte. “A little too much. He’s like a testosterone barometer.”

“Good,” Soph said. “Men are savages.”

“Is Max a savage?”

“Only in the bedroom.” She winked.

I pretended to gag. “That’s disgusting.”

Soph thought she could trust Jack. Little did she know, he was the new man in my life.

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