Roommate Wars: Chapter 30

Jack

I’d been living with Elise for almost a month, and in that time, my entire outlook had changed. I’d gone from a bachelor running from relationships to clinging to this woman for as long as she’d have me.

When Elise said she was confident she could hold on to me for another few days, it had lit a fire under my ass. I didn’t want just a few more days. And I didn’t want her to believe she wasn’t important to me.

Elise was my girlfriend. Not a fake girlfriend or a girlfriend to have someone around, but the real deal. She was the first person I’d dated whom I saw a future with. When I considered it, a future without Elise didn’t seem right. I couldn’t let her go or let her think I’d allow Thalia or any other woman to come between us. And if any guy tried to take her from me—I’d fight for her.

I wasn’t the least bit violent, but I saw red when loser deliverymen and rich society snobs lusted after her. I’d battle whatever and whomever I needed to keep her by my side.

Which meant I also had to convince my very stubborn, sassy girlfriend to stick with me. So I’d brought my A-game tonight.

I left work early and picked up the best wine in town on my way home. Not technically—technically, I’d sent my assistant across town during rush-hour traffic to grab it, but the sentiment was there. I’d personally called in a few favors from the best restaurants in town for part B of the plan.

Rummaging through the kitchen, I discovered that yes, those blue cloth napkins Elise had found were in fact mine, along with other tabletop shit I had no idea existed. What did Max do on his days off? Peruse home magazines? Who had time for matching salt and pepper shakers?

I set out the table settings, and the “deliveries” arrived. I’d texted Elise a half hour ago, so I knew she would be home any minute.

After quickly running through the shower, I returned to the kitchen to light stubby fat candles in expensive glass jars I’d found—fucking Max. I’d have to thank him later. The candles were romantic and helped set the mood.

The sound of someone punching in the door code chimed, and I took a deep breath.

The door swung open, but I was there first.

Elise looked up in surprise. “Uh, hello?” She smiled somewhat shyly. Thinking of that kiss from this afternoon? Wondering what came next? She was about to find out.

“The date starts now.” I grabbed her purse, and then I grabbed her, picking her up with an arm behind her back, the other under her knees.

Elise squealed. “Jackson, what the hell!”

“Full-service date tonight.”

I carried her to her bedroom, and she laughed as I set her and the purse on the mattress.

She looked up, bewildered. “Are you planning on carrying me around all night?”

I took off the heel-loafer things she was wearing—a pair of designer shoes I’d gifted her, which made me chuff with pride. “Nope, just getting you in your cozy mode to optimize the date.” I gestured beside her to the folded boxers and long-sleeved T-shirt I’d pulled from my closet.

She ran her hand over the tee. “This one’s super soft.” She eyed me critically. “Were you hiding it from me?”

“You haven’t seen all my goods yet, Elise.” By the way her eyes widened, the message had been received. I pointed at a box next to the clothes. “Don’t forget that. You have exactly five minutes until the dessert arrives. Hurry up and change.”

“Dessert? I smelled food when you carried me through the apartment.”

I looked at her in mock affront. “What do you take me for? I would never forget dessert. Three, to be exact.”

She visibly jittered with excitement and ran into the bathroom. “I’ll be right out!”

I headed into the kitchen, checked my phone, and noted the final delivery person was a block away. A light rustling sounded from Elise’s room, along with a thud, and I grinned. She was shameless with food, mowing anything and anyone down to get to it. I respected that. And it made me happy to make her happy.

A few minutes later, Elise walked out wearing the boxers, the long-sleeved tee, and a new pair of slippers I’d bought her.

She posed, one foot out in front of the other. “You did not just buy me these.” Her grin could light a city block.

The slippers were tan, with giant acorns on the top that flopped when she walked. Not the processed corn nuts she typically gobbled, but I’d passed one of those ridiculous sock stores, which also carried bespoke slippers, and decided they were close enough. “Do you like them?”

Her smile was so beautiful, my chest constricted. “I love them, Jackson. They’re the cutest, and they’re also soft and cozy.” She proceeded to exhibit how comfortable they were by walking around the living room and looking down every few seconds, admiring the slippers.

If this was all it took to make Elise happy, I was golden. Because I had a million and one ideas that were Elise-specific. Thinking of how to please her was my new favorite hobby. “I’m glad you like them. But I thought you said you were hungry? Should I get rid of the food?” I was goading her, and it worked.

She glanced at the dining table piled with dishes I’d ordered from four different restaurants and quickly slid into one of the dining chairs. “Don’t you dare get rid of the food!”

As if I would. She wasn’t the only person in the house with an appetite. But threatening food disposal was a surefire way to get her to focus.

She was already placing the cloth napkin across her lap when I reached for the bottle of wine. “The food is for you. And if you will allow it, I’ll have some too.”

Her eyes swept the spread lustfully, and I couldn’t help feeling jealous. “I’m verging on hangry, but I might let you have some. Are those empanadas?” She pointed across the table at a pile of crescent-looking pastries.

“Max claims they’re the best in town.” I hadn’t tried one yet, but I trusted Max’s taste.

“And sushi?” She looked up at me. “I’ve never seen you eat sushi.”

“That’s because my chef only feeds me frozen meals.” My tone was one of dry accusation.

She grinned. “I’ve gotten better lately.”

“This is true,” I agreed. “The sushi comes from one of my favorite restaurants in the Marina on Lombard.”

Elise held up two bamboo chopsticks. “You’re even prepared! Did you buy these?”

I huffed out a snort. “Those are another of Max’s contributions to the apartment. I should have asked him for an inventory before I moved back in after the fire.”

Elise nodded. “When you get married, bring Max along for your registry trip. He’ll make sure you’re hooked up.” Her face scrunched. “Actually, I’m going to bring him on mine too. I’ll ditch the fiancé, and just take Max.”

I felt a pinch of jealousy at the thought of Elise married to some other man. Unless the man was me—then that would be okay. I poured her a glass of the Rothschild Cabernet blend and one for myself. “You planning on getting married soon?”

Her expression was horrified. “Hell no. It’s a hypothetical. Max is the perfect Jeeves.”

“I’m sure he’ll be flattered you value his housewares selection over his billionaire business acumen.”

“Damn straight,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “I keep forgetting he’s that wealthy. He doesn’t make it obvious, given how much time he spends chasing my sister.”

“It’s nauseating,” I said.

“Right?”

I reached for one of the empanadas and held it in front of her mouth. “Say aaah.”

She greedily took a bite. “Hot, hot!” She fanned her mouth. “How is it so hot after being delivered?”

Right, that. “I paid extra on the delivery.”

“Is this some rich-guy service us mere mortals know nothing about?”

I shrugged. “My assistant handles that stuff. I tell her what I need, and she hires the people to make it happen.”

“I didn’t know you had an assistant. Does she work for one of your companies?”

“Not exactly. She works for me, and if I need something done that can’t be accomplished with the employees on hand at any of the companies, she takes care of it. I found Charlotte through Max, and Max has excellent connections.”

She tossed another bite of the empanada in her mouth. “Rubbing shoulders with rich society people has its perks.” She hummed, and her tongue darted out to capture a crumb from her lip. “So good.” She caught my expression and said, “You may sit and eat too.”

I was hungry, but not for food. Watching Elise was giving me ideas.

I sat and tried to focus on the dishes I’d ordered. I’d gone a little nuts, but I hadn’t been sure what Elise would like.

She reached across the table and handed me an empanada, feeding me the way I’d fed her, and damn if she wasn’t studying my mouth. So not helping the ideas swarming my head.

I chewed. “It’s good.”

“Just good? It’s delicious. Max is a genius.”

I frowned. “What about the genius who had it catered for you… Shit.” I pushed back from the table. “Hang on. I forgot about the dessert.”

I rushed out the front door and found three boxes sitting on the porch—exactly where I’d asked them to be left. I carried them inside and set them on the counter.

Elise looked over hesitantly as she finished chewing a bite of spicy tuna roll. “I’m ashamed to say it, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish everything. We might have to wait a couple of hours for dessert. But don’t you worry,” she said adamantly, “I’ll attack those too.”

“I would never doubt you,” I said and sat back at the table, piling food onto my plate. “Whatever you don’t eat, I will.”

She smacked my hand as I reached for fritters from the Michelin-star Mediterranean restaurant. “Slow down,” she said. “I’ve seen you feast, and I don’t trust you not to eat it all.”

I piled more food on my plate. “Get in there, then.”

Elise murmured something about a human garbage disposal, which I assumed was a reference to me, then proceeded to shovel food into her mouth like a teen boy. It was a wonder where it all went.

And that was how Elise and I consumed enough food to feed a family of five.

Half an hour later, we sat on the couch, both of us leaning back because our stomachs were too distended to sit upright.

“I’m stuffed,” Elise said.

“Too stuffed for dessert?” I lifted an eyebrow. I had zero interest in eating, for once, but I could muster up if she could.

She considered it a moment. “Give me thirty, maybe forty minutes. Then I’ll be good.”

I laughed. We didn’t actually eat all the food—but we’d eaten way too much. That didn’t stop Elise from saving room for dessert, which was one of the things about her I admired. I also doubted she’d wait thirty minutes before digging into the sweet stuff, but I was willing to humor her.

Approximately two minutes later, she said, “What dessert did you order?”

I ticked off my fingers. “Apple pie from a famed pie house, milkshakes from Moe’s Diner that have been kept on dry ice—”

She sat forward. “Milkshakes?”

“There’s more.”

Elise laughed. “It’s a good thing our relationship is almost over, or I’d be the size of a whale after another month of dating you.”

I flinched, not liking the sound of that. Time to redouble my efforts. “You’d be a cute whale.”

“Stop teasing me and get to the last dessert.”

“Limoncello and raspberry cake. Full size. Not the minis we had at the dinner party that one night.”

She smiled sweetly. “You remembered how much I liked those?”

“Maybe.” I may have taken several notes on Elise’s likes and dislikes.

She leaned forward on the couch and covered her head, then moaned. “My belly aches, but I can’t pass up Moe’s and limoncello raspberry.” She dropped her hands and looked up. “You are a cruel, cruel man.”

I stood and reached for her hand, pulling her up. “Just have a bite or two.”

She followed me into the kitchen and leaned against the counter where the dessert boxes sat. “I’m willing to sacrifice my stomach if you are.”

I didn’t bother with finery and simply pulled out fresh forks, took a giant scoop of the cake, then held it out for her.

“Classy, Jackson,” she mumbled as her mouth consumed that giant bite and her eyes rolled into the back of her head.

After the cake, we let our stomachs digest with a couple of episodes of trashy dating reality TV. About an hour later, I brought over the Moe’s milkshake and sank beside her on the couch.

Her eyes widened and she ogled the inside of the carton. “It’s chocolate mint?” She reached for the spoon in my hand and took a scoop—the shake was too thick to drink. “I love you, Jackson, have I said that yet?”

She was joking, but it was a start. “Only with your eyes.”

She chuckled, then her gaze took in my face. I wasn’t upset, but I wasn’t laughing either. I was waiting. Consuming cold milkshake and waiting…

Elise leaned over and pecked me on the cheek. “Thank you. For everything. This was the best non-date I’ve ever had.”

“Real date, Elise. Also, that kiss was a few inches to the left. You should try again.”

She smiled with a gleam in her eye. “Was my aim off? Let me fix that.” She leaned in and kissed me lightly on the lips.

I reached for her waist and held her close. “You’ve got some ice cream on your mouth. Let me get that for you.”

I kissed her full bottom lip, sucking it just a touch and pulling her flush against my chest. “Next phase of the date begins now.” I scooped her into my arms and carried her to my bedroom.

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