Roommate Wars: Chapter 34


Elise

The last twenty-four hours had been the most amazing and confusing of my life. I was pretty sure I was in love with Jack, my mom had caught us post-coitus, and now I was moving out of his apartment. I’d signed a lease earlier this afternoon once I finished helping Sophia at the shop. After nearly four weeks of searching for an affordable studio, one had finally come up three days ago, and not a moment too soon.

I would keep my promise to Jack and move out after one month. That was the deal, and it was important to me to stick to it. I refused to be the girlfriend who used her rich boyfriend for perks like free rent. I’d worked hard to get my education and prove myself, and now was my opportunity to do just that. If we were able to survive our rocky start, Jack and I could survive a little distance. That was, if he hadn’t changed his mind and was willing to date after I moved.

We’d done everything backward: the one-night stand, then moving in together before we were dating. I wanted to make a fresh start and do things the right way for once, but I wasn’t sure how he felt, though his words last night were promising.

Jackson: Meet me at your old apartment at 4 p.m.

Elise: Why there?

Jackson: You’ll find out.

So mysterious. Did he miss his namesake roach?

Now that I thought back, I’d been thinking about my sister’s old roommate even back then, naming a cockroach after him. Which was funny, and proof of how much our night together had haunted me.

I grabbed my things and said goodbye to Soph before catching a bus that put me a couple of blocks from my old apartment. Only something was wrong.

I looked at my phone to make sure I’d walked up the correct block and had the right building.

A second later, Jack emerged from a modern stairwell.

“What’s going on?” I asked, glancing at my phone and walking toward him. “This is the right place, but the building’s not the same. My old landlord didn’t give a crap about the building and never fixed anything. But this looks brand new.”

He met me in front and faced the building. “It’s been remodeled. Do you like it?”

The exterior had been given a light taupe paint job—no, more than that. It had been re-stuccoed with a smooth surface where once there’d been cracks. And the old wrought-iron stairwell had been replaced with modern black railing. Someone had also torn out the concrete in front and planted hearty Mediterranean trees I recognized from working with Sophia. There was construction still being done on one side, but otherwise, the building looked almost brand new. “I can’t believe this is the same place. It’s actually cute and modern now.”

“No more roaches,” Jack agreed. “You want to look inside?”

We climbed the swanky new stairs and passed a family on their way down. People were living here, but the apartment I’d rented was empty, according to Jack.

“How do you know it’s empty?”

He punched in a code to a digital lock that hadn’t been there before and opened the door. “I just do.”

My breath caught. The place was beautiful, and that wasn’t a word I would have associated with this apartment when I rented it. There was fresh paint, crown molding, new hardwood flooring throughout, and a small but bright new kitchen with stainless-steel appliances and elegant white cabinets. I rushed back out to check the number on the glossy black door. “Is this really my old apartment? There’s no smell, and it’s charming.”

Jack nodded. “Same unit, different neighbor. Turns out the one you didn’t like had a small hydroponic weed farm growing in his apartment, causing the moisture issues.”

I looked up and sighed. “That explains a lot. But how do you know all this? Did you help them remodel?”

He waggled his head. “Not exactly. I own the building now, and I hired one of Max’s construction crews, who were in between projects, to remodel.”

“You own the building,” I said dryly. “Like own it, own it?”

He nodded, seemingly nervous at my response.

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Why would you buy this crap building?”

He looked around. “It had good bones and was in a solid location.”

“But why this one?”

“Your having lived here was part of it. And I hate it when owners let properties get run-down. I’ve also been looking for something my dad can move into. I’d thought to buy a Victorian like Max’s, but then I saw this place and figured it would do. I made an offer on the building as soon as you moved into my place.” He looked out the window to the scaffolding. “We closed within a week and have been working on it ever since. Still waiting on the elevator installation and a couple other items.”

“An elevator?” I threw my hands up. “Jackson, how can you afford a freaking building?”

“I’ve explained this. I’ve been lucky in business.”

“This isn’t luck. You bought an entire building on a whim. The cost of remodeling as fast as you did… That must have cost a fortune too.”


I’d never had to point out my net worth. Most people—usually the wrong ones—already knew, the sneaky bastards. After the first billion, I stopped paying much attention. Anything above that seemed ridiculous, so I left it to my accountant and Max to oversee things.

The point being, I understood Elise’s reaction. I’d have the same one if I were in her shoes. But I didn’t want any secrets with her. “I’m not the richest man alive, but as of the last time I checked, I have about eleven billion in assets.”

She stopped talking and her jaw dropped. She stood like that for a solid thirty seconds, and I began to worry. “Elise?”

“I’m sorry, I thought you said you have eleven billion dollars.” She laughed nervously. “You must have meant million—eleven million, right? Though that’s still a lot.”

Shit. “You heard correctly. Is that a problem?”

She blinked rapidly and started to pace, smacking her feet on the new hardwood. “Is that a problem?” Her voice had turned maniacal. “Are you kidding me, Jack? You live in a small apartment in your best friend’s Victorian. How can you have that much money? You’re not spending it.”

“I spend it on new businesses.” I glanced around. “And on real estate, as you can see. I like living in Max’s Victorian. He has good taste, and I’m nothing if not practical.”

She stopped her pacing, her expression pleading. “Jackson, please tell me you aren’t a billionaire cash-hoarding asshole?”

Okay, this was a first. Usually, whomever I dated wanted me to take them to Lake Como on Max’s private jet, because they knew enough about me and Max to know I could afford it. “It’s obnoxious, which is why I don’t talk about money. I try not to think about it. But don’t forget, money can make positive change too. I have an entire foundation that gives an astronomical amount of cash to charities and supports thousands of scholarships each year. It’s put to good use.”

She grabbed her head, eyes wide. “I don’t even know how someone becomes this rich. Are you some kind of genius?”

“Uh… No?”

“You’re lying! I can see it in your eyes!”

I stepped forward and reached for her hands, pulling them down. “I’ve been able to give billions to programs that help people, and that’s the best part about being rich.”

“Please don’t mention the b-word. Let’s just call it the m-word.”

“Millions?”

“Yes, that. It’s a lot, but I can wrap my head around it.”

“Don’t you want to fly on my private jet to the Bahamas?” I teased. “My exes found that to be the biggest perk to dating me.”

“I think we’ve established I’m not like your exes. And what do you mean, private jet? Do you have one?”

“No.”

“Then why would you suggest it?”

“Max owns one, so we share. It might be fun to go on a trip somewhere exotic with Sophia and Max.”

She breathed in and let it out slowly, as though to calm herself. “So you’re going to let Max use his own jet, and you want to take a couples trip on it? Does this sound the least bit normal?”

I glanced up. “Suppose not. Wasn’t normal for me either in the beginning, but it is now. As for letting Max use his jet, what can I say? I’m generous like that.”

Her mouth twisted, but I detected a smile. “It’s a good thing you’re cute and wear sweatpants and aren’t fussy. I have no use for fussy, rich boyfriends.”

I pulled her to me. It was the first time I’d had her in my arms since she got here, and it made everything better, even telling her the dirty truth about my wealth. “I never understood how Max and his family accumulated so much money. Then I built my own fortune. Now I understand that rich people hold their money in assets instead of houses filled with cash. It comes and goes if you’re not good at managing it. So far, I’ve been pretty good.”

“Pretty good?” She waved her hand around. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

Her question was facetious, but I answered honestly. “I brought you here to ask if you’d consider moving in.”

“To my old studio apartment?”

“If you wish. Or you could skip the studio and move a few floors upstairs into one of the three-bedrooms with me. It’s more spacious. Eventually, I’ll get my dad into the building too, where I can keep an eye on him.”

She smiled softly, and her shoulders relaxed. “You’re a good son, Jack.”

“And a good boyfriend?”

She bit her lip, and the tension behind her eyes worried me. “A wonderful boyfriend. But I can’t move in here. I need my own accomplishments.” She laughed sardonically. “Sadly, mine consist of paying my own rent, but it’s an important rite of passage. Does that make sense?”

I gave her a small smile. “It does, and I understand.”

“Do you still want to date even if I move out to get my life together?”

I made a disgruntled sound. “I’m not happy about it, but if it’s what you need, I can deal. And of course I want to date you. I said I’d wait as long as it takes.”

She leaned up and kissed me on the mouth and then wiggled her nose. “I think I can still smell curry. Wouldn’t the renovations have removed the smell?”

“Oh, that. I paid to move the tenants and their things out during construction. No one who cooks curry that good should live in the dump this place used to be. The family came back to a better apartment, but I kept the rent the same. Your old neighbor must be making dinner.”

She reached up and cupped my cheek. “What am I going to do with you, Jackson? Who even does this?”

“A reluctant billionaire?”

She laughed and squeezed my waist, pressing her body to mine. “I guess I can live with that.”

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