Loathe to Love You by Ali Hazelwood

            A chest.

            A broad, well-defined chest under a button-down. And a tie. And a dark suit jacket.

            The chest is attached to other body parts, but it’s so wide that for a moment it’s all I can see. Then I manage to shift my gaze and finally notice the rest: Long, well-muscled legs filling what’s left of the suit. Shoulders and arms stretching for miles. A square jaw and full lips. Short dark hair, and a pair of eyes barely a shade darker.

            They are, I realize, fixed on me. Studying me with the same avid, confused interest I’m experiencing. The man appears to be unable to look away, as if spellbound at some base, deeply physical level. Which is a relief, because I can’t look away, either. I don’t want to.

            It’s like a punch to my solar plexus, how attractive I find him. It addles my brain and makes me forget that I’m standing right in front of a stranger. That I should probably say something. That the heat I’m feeling is probably inappropriate.

            He clears his throat, looking as flustered as I feel.

            I smile. “Hi,” I say, a little breathless.

            “Hi.” He sounds the exact same. He wets his lips, as though his mouth is suddenly dry, and wow. That’s a good look for him. “Can I . . . Can I help you?” His voice is beautiful. Deep. Rich. A little hoarse. I could marry this voice. I could roll around in this voice. I could listen to this voice forever and give up every other sound. But maybe I should first answer the question.

            “Do you, um, live here?”

            “I think so,” he says, as though too wonderstruck to remember. Which makes me laugh.

            “Great. I am here for . . .” What am I here for? Ah. Yes. “I was looking for, um, Liam. Liam Harding. Do you know where I can find him?”

            “It’s me. I’m he.” He clears his throat again. Is he flushing? “That is, I am Liam.”

            “Oh.” Oh no. Oh no. No, no. No. “I’m Mara. Mara Floyd. The . . . Helena’s friend. I’m here about the house.”

            Liam’s demeanor changes instantly.

            He briefly closes his eyes, like one would when given a tragic, insurmountable piece of news. For a moment he looks betrayed, as though someone gave him a precious gift only to steal it from his hands the second it was unwrapped. When he says, “It’s you,” there is a bitter tinge to his beautiful voice.

            He turns around and begins to stalk down the hallway. I hesitate for a moment, wondering what to do. He didn’t close the door, so he wants me to follow him. Right? No clue. Either way, I half own the house, so I’m probably not trespassing? I shrug and hurry after him, trying to keep up with his much longer legs, taking in next to nothing of my surroundings until we reach a living area.

            Which is stunning. This house is all large windows and hardwood floors—oh my God, is that a fireplace? I want to make s’mores in it. I want to roast an entire piglet. With an apple in its mouth.

            “I’m so glad we can finally talk face-to-face,” I tell Liam, a little out of breath. I’m finally recovering from . . . whatever happened at the door. I fidget with the bracelet on my wrist, watching him write something on a piece of paper. “I am so sorry for your loss. Your aunt was my favorite person in the whole world. I’m not sure why she decided to leave me the house, and I do understand that this co-owning business comes a bit out of left field, but . . .”

            I trail off when he folds the paper and hands it to me. He’s so tall, I have to consciously lift up my chin to meet his eyes. “What is this?” I don’t wait for his answer and unfold it.

            There’s a number written on it. A number with zeros. Lots of them. I look up, confused. “What does this mean?”

            He holds my gaze. There is no trace of the flustered, hesitant man who greeted me a few moments earlier. This version of Liam is coldly handsome and self-assured. “Money.”


            He nods.

            “I don’t understand.”

            “For your half of the house,” he says impatiently, and it suddenly dawns on me: he is trying to buy me out.

            I look down at the paper. This is more money than I’ve ever had in my life—or ever will. Environmental engineering? Not a lucrative career choice, apparently. And I don’t know much about real estate, but my guess is that this sum is way above the actual value of the house. “I’m sorry. I think there’s a misunderstanding. I’m not going to—I don’t—” I take a deep breath. “I don’t think I want to sell.”