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Roommate Wars: Chapter 3


Elise shut the door to her apartment, a large purse slung from her shoulder—the only item I’d allowed her to bring. And even that I planned to fumigate before it entered my place.

She eyed me as she walked down the cracked concrete stairs, using the rusty iron railing for support. “You look like a cat that got the cream. You better not be up to something, Jack.”

I had ulterior motives, but not the ones she assumed. I couldn’t stand her living in that apartment. It was a disaster zone. She’d been bundled up like she was living in the Midwest in winter, not San Francisco in the fall. The infestation of roaches and mold had been the tipping point.

Fuck, she was stubborn. I’d had to come up with all kinds of crap on the fly to get her to cooperate. Including moving her in with me, which had been the only quick solution. And even that hadn’t been easy.

I’d told her I didn’t find her attractive, then nearly gave the lie away by checking her out. Elise was beautiful, with dark hair and liquid brown eyes that spewed fire when I pissed her off, which was often. She was fiercely independent, and her ornery nature was something that both amused and annoyed me. She was a pain in the ass to get to cooperate, and I wasn’t about to give her another reason to not move in. I would have said anything to get her out of that toxic place, including denying I felt anything for her after our night together.

I reached for her bag, and she glared at my hand. “I appreciate your independence,” I said. “Now, will you please let me carry this for you?”

The corners of her mouth pulled back wryly. “Since you asked so nicely.”

Holding her purse between my thumb and forefinger, I walked her to the car and opened the passenger-side door. “There’s nothing nefarious going on, Elise. You have trust issues.”

She delivered another narrow-eyed look. “The only reason I’m agreeing to this is because I get more out of it than you do.”

We’ll see about that.

She leaned forward as though she’d heard my silent thought.

I kept my expression bland and gestured for her to step inside my slightly dinged Audi Q4 that was small enough to park on most San Francisco streets.

A second later, she sank into the passenger seat, and I shut the door, gusting out a breath of air.

Thank fuck. I thought I’d never get her out of there.

I walked around the back of the car, popped the trunk, and wrapped her purse inside a blanket. I’d contact one of Max’s friends who worked in mold remediation later and ask him what to do with it.

The trip across town was quiet except for Elise’s heavy sighs that made me worry she was a hairsbreadth from reneging on our agreement. I really didn’t want her going back to her apartment, so I climbed up the stairs of the Victorian ahead of her to keep her moving forward.

I opened the door to the place I’d rented from Max for the last few years, and Elise hesitated.

I took in the space with fresh eyes: kitchen on the left, across from a small dining area I never used, and the living room Max had spent a fortune remodeling after one of my renters trashed the place.

A year and a half ago, I’d made a poor choice in both my roommate and the woman I dated. Mainly because they were one and the same. A pretty, seemingly desperate woman had come looking for a room and needed something affordable. Cue my rescue instincts.

And here I was doing it again.

Only Elise wasn’t like women I’ve dated in the past, and certainly not like a typical roommate. For one, she almost never did what I asked and refused to take me up on anything I offered.

The women I’d dated had been on the selfish side and accepted every gift that came their way. There was something reassuring about relationships with people I’d never be in love with. No need to worry about getting too close. But those shallow connections were bound to bite me in the ass, and eventually one did.

It hadn’t taken me long to realize my mistake in dating a roommate. I broke things off, but not before she went out with a bang. While I was away on a business trip, she hosted a rager that got out of hand and nearly burned down the building. Hence Max’s need to remodel, since his unit was directly above mine and had been damaged too.

Max was low-key about money, but I’d never forgive myself for allowing someone like that to live with me. If she’d only hurt me, I could deal. But because she’d hurt someone I cared about, that was a hard no.

Yet here I was, opening up the place to another needy woman.

Only this one was different. Elise wasn’t shallow or selfish. I’d practically had to drag her out of her dump of an apartment. It took all my energy to keep calm and work out an arrangement the stubborn woman would agree to, when all I wanted was to throw her over my shoulder and haul her ass out of there.

God, she was infuriating. I hadn’t gone there with the intent of asking Elise to live with me. I’d gone there because Sophia couldn’t find her sister, and I didn’t like that. The situation was suspect, with no one knowing where Elise lived.

Fine, I’d also been worried.

And for good reason! I’d pulled a few strings and found out Elise had been living in that apartment for an entire week. A week in that shit-heap… It was enough to put me in a rage.

I squeezed my forehead and motioned Elise into the apartment. “Make yourself at home.”

She walked past me and looked around. “It’s exactly the same.”

“You expected something else?”

Her face sank a touch. “No, it’s nice. You have a comfortable place, Jack.”

My chest tightened. There was danger in inviting Elise to live with me. She wasn’t materialistic. She was down-to-earth and feisty. If I wanted a relationship, she was the type of woman I’d choose. But nothing had changed in that department. I didn’t want a serious relationship. Not ever. Shallow relationships were all I could handle.

She picked at the pilled and faded sweatshirt she wore as though she were uncomfortable, then unwound the scarf from around her neck.

I reached for her scarf. “I’ll take your clothes.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”

That hadn’t come out right. I cleared my throat. “I’ll have them dry-cleaned.”

Her disbelief grew. “You’ll have my sweatshirt and moth-eaten wool scarf dry-cleaned?”

My mouth twisted. “Right. Laundered, then.”

A touch of fire lit behind her eyes. “Are you calling me contaminated?”

“One hundred percent.”

She frowned.

“We should wash everything after you lived in that apartment.” Her frown deepened, and I squeezed the back of my neck. “I’ll buy you new stuff, okay?”

She crossed her arms. “Not okay. I don’t need you to buy me clothes.”

Said no woman ever. “Then grab some of mine.” My voice rose, and I reminded myself to calm the fuck down.

I took a deep breath. No one riled me up like Elise. She was beautiful and stubborn. Or maybe just proud. Either way… A. Pain. In. The. Ass.

“You know that place you found wasn’t safe. Why are you even arguing with me?”

She looked away. “Whatever. Can I use your shower?”

“You can use your shower.”

Her face brightened. “That’s right. I have my own now. I always liked Sophia’s bathroom. Max put in all that pretty marble.”

“He has good taste,” I said absently. “Now, about the clothes…”

“Fine.” She pulled off the scarf and dropped it on the hardwood floor. “I will borrow a few things until I get my clothes back.”

She wasn’t getting her clothes back because I was going to have them incinerated so no one would be exposed to the shit in her last apartment. But I wasn’t about to tell her that. “We’ll talk about it later. Go shower.”

Her eyes narrowed at the command, but she turned and walked down the hallway toward the bedrooms. She paused in front of mine before heading inside her own.

Thinking about the night we set the sheets on fire? Or maybe that was wishful thinking on my part.

I’d lied my ass off and told her I didn’t think about that night, but I thought about it. A lot. Was having a hard time not thinking about it.

I rubbed my forehead. What was I doing? Elise’s moving in was a shitshow waiting to happen, but the alternative and her staying in her apartment had been unacceptable. I wasn’t kidding about Sophia killing me if I hadn’t gotten Elise out of there. Of course, that was only half the reason.

I would have done it no matter what because I cared about what happened to Elise.

I stormed out, needing air. Space. How was I going to live with this woman?


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