Roommate Wars: Chapter 25

Jack

Elise set out plates with steak and a vegetable-bacon dish no self-respecting vegetarian would approve. “This looks amazing.”

She scrutinized the spread. “It’s a bit of a heart attack waiting to happen, but it should taste good.”

Elise sat across from me, and I lifted my glass. “To roommates with benefits.”

She scowled, but it was halfhearted. “Jackson,” she said in warning.

I dug into the steak, cutting off a piece and taking a bite, pleasantly surprised at the flavor. “Why do you prepare frozen food if you know how to cook like this?”

“Because I don’t like being told what to do.”

“Trust me,” I said, dead serious, “I’ve learned.”

She peered over, considering, and I didn’t like the calculating look in her eye. It made me nervous. “What happens if I sleepwalk into your bed again? I honestly didn’t mean to last night, but apparently, I prefer your bed to mine.”

My heart sped up. “Why don’t you skip the sleepwalking and start out there?”

“Why? Because we’re ‘dating’?” She put air quotes around the last word.

“Exactly. Couples sleep together.”

We both knew this arrangement wasn’t normal, but I was curious how she’d respond.

Her pretty, rose-hued mouth twisted, and her gaze bored into mine. “You do have nice sheets.”

“I can’t take credit for that. Max refurbishes with nothing but the best.”

She picked up a fry and dipped it in the spicy ketchup she’d been making when I walked in. “Did he pick out everything in this apartment?”

I glanced around. “Not the TV or any of the other electronics.”

“But everything else?”

I shrugged.

“That explains the cloth napkins,” she said to herself.

I held up the blue linen napkin that rested on my lap. “You found these here?”

She just shook her head as though exasperated with me.

“Huh, my best friend is more thorough than I thought.” I shrugged and went back to eating.

She set her fork down and rested her chin on her hand. “You know, you and Max have a similar relationship to me and Sophia. Sophia is always trying to take care of me. Are you sure you can afford your own place? Why else would Max house you and pamper you the way he does?”

I tossed a fry in my mouth and chewed. “Because I’m charming?”

“No,” she said without missing a beat. “That’s not it.”

I laughed. I was charming—my little black book said so. But I found it funny Elise never caved to my appeal. “Then why do you think it is?”

“I think Max and Sophia need to take care of people. They’re busybodies.”

There was some truth to this. “Max knows I have no taste in décor. He likes nice things, so he stuffs my place with them so that they’re here when he visits.”

“You don’t find that overbearing?”

I snorted. “Why would I? I hate shopping.”

“Yet you went shopping with me…”

“Because you suck at wearing nice things. Your taste in clothes makes mine look good.”

“I’m going to try to not take offense at that.” Considering how she was shoveling in food while she spoke, I took it that she wasn’t at all offended.

“Feel free to take offense. It’s a fact.”

“Rude.” Her mouth was pursed, but her eyes were smiling.

I poured more wine into her empty glass. “Now that we’re sleeping together—”

She pointed her fork at my head. “In the same bed! No one said anything about boning.”

I held back a laugh. “Boning? Is that what you call it?”

“That’s what Sophia called it.”

“I have no interest in boning. You’re merely a good pillow.” I gestured to her chest. “Nice and soft.”

She shook her head slowly. “I can’t believe you, Jackson. When did you use my breasts as a pillow?”

“Let’s see…” I looked up, pretending to consider it. “Every chance I got?”

“And what was I doing during all this?”

I gobbled down the last of my steak because it was delicious. “Stroking my hair while I was half awake.”

She blinked a couple times as though she hadn’t known she’d done that. “You have good hair,” she said grudgingly.

“Feel free to run your fingers through it anytime you like. Or you can use it to direct me where you want me.”

Her face pinkened. “I said no boning.”

“Who said anything about sex? Get your head out of the gutter, Hot Stuff.” She eyed me suspiciously. “But since you mentioned it, maybe we should kiss. You know, get it out of the way, in case you can’t hold back and your lips land on mine tonight.”

“Hah! As if that will happen. More like the other way around.”

I took a swig of wine and refilled. The alcohol was loosening my tongue. “Pretty sure your lips were the first to cross the demilitarized zone way back when.”

“I have no idea what that is, but if you mean to say I kissed you first that night—well, maybe. But trust me, these lips are on lockdown. I have them well under control.”

“And yet you rolled into my bedroom last night like it was your own.”

Her eyes turned to liquid fire. “Do you want your breast pillow back or not?”

I held up my hands. “Want. Definitely want.” I studied her a moment. “Let’s say, for argument’s sake, our lips connect in the middle of the night. Would that be crossing the line?”

“Depends. Whose lips are in control?”

“Yours. Mine are at your disposal but won’t cross the line without permission.”

She snorted. “You think you can hold yourself back?”

I laughed. “Not if you don’t. That’s the signal everything’s a go. But I think we should revisit the kiss. I barely remember locking lips the night you seduced me.” A lie. I remembered every detail. “We wouldn’t want anything awkward.” Another lie. Being with Elise was the opposite of awkward. It felt weird to consider her not in my bed. Hence why I’d suggested we keep up the habit. “How about a kiss to get it out of your system? That way, if it happens, no one is surprised or horrified.”

“Horrified! And what do you mean, you don’t remember kissing me?”

I scratched my jaw. “It was dark. Maybe it wasn’t that memorable… Better to jog my memory so I know what I’m in for.”

She gulped down the last of her wine, and I grinned, not bothering to hide my pleasure at her feistiness. “You’ve just started a war, roommate. If I make your toes curl, what do I get?” she asked.

My breathing increased, and I squeezed my palm into a fist. “Toes curling. Mmm, you sure about that?”

She stood and crossed over to my side of the table, stepping between my knees. More than my fist began to stiffen.

I leaned back, admiring how fucking beautiful she was. Still wearing her Hot Stuff apron—she must have forgotten to take it off—hair thick and dark and draping over her shoulders in loose waves.

She leaned into me, and I gripped her hips. “What do I get?” she prodded.

My entire body lit up. I fucking loved a competitive woman. “Anything you want.”

Her lips crashed down, taking my mouth like a marauding pirate, unchoreographed and slightly aggressive. She gently bit my bottom lip, which I adored.

I wasn’t sure about the toes curling, but my cock was ready for action.

She leaned back, her face flushed, eyes glazed over. “Feel anything?”

“There’s a stirring.” Lies. I’d been craving Elise in my arms since the morning she slipped out of my bed like a thief in the night. She’d stolen something from me that night, and I wanted it back.

Sadly, the more time I spent with Elise, the more I realized it hadn’t been my dignity I’d lost but something more. Like the heart I’d kept in a steel cage my entire adult life.

Adrenaline surged—the need to conquer thrummed through me.

I grabbed her ass with one hand and wrapped my arm around her back, pulling her in tight. She’d opened the door, and I’d be damned if I let it close again.

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