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Jules Barnard Books

Landlord Wars Print

Landlord Wars Print

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Main Tropes

  • Enemies-to-lovers
  • Grumpy/sunshine
  • Billionaire
  • Down on her luck heroine
  • Chocolate hoarding
  • Rags to riches

Synopsis

I found the perfect rental in the overpriced city I can’t quit. My only problem? The arrogant landlord is my new roommate’s best friend.

Max Burrows comes from one of the wealthiest families in San Francisco—and I come from one of the poorest. We have nothing in common. Max is tall, built, with chiseled good looks, while I struggle to keep stains off my blouse.

Under the guise of spending time with his friend, Max has been known to share embarrassing personal facts to potential suitors and steal my expensive chocolate.

The man is a nuisance. But the more I get to know him, the more I start to wonder if he’s intentionally driving men away from me.

And then I remember that his mother treats me like the help, and his ex-girlfriend is rich and beautiful, and she wants him back.

There is no way our worlds could ever come together. No way a man like that would take me seriously.

But the near kiss in the kitchen has me wondering if the attraction isn’t only one-way.

Landlord Wars is a grumpy-sunshine, Cinderella story with a bit of enemies-to-lovers thrown in. This novel is a stand-alone romance guaranteed to give you all the feels, along with the grand gestures and happy ending you crave.

Chapter 1 Look Inside

Sophia

The tall, chiseled man at the front door eased his navy-suit-clad shoulder against the doorjamb, his hand tucked into his pants pocket. “You’re the new tenant? Sophia, is it?” He took in my frizzy hair, then glanced into my San Francisco apartment, his attention snagging on something. “Your pink panties are hanging off the couch.”

My face heated and my eyes widened. I’d blindly thrown things out of the way this morning in my haste to make it to work on time, so this wasn’t entirely surprising. Still, did he need to point it out?

I lifted my gaze from his broad chest and stared into his blue eyes, which perfectly matched his tie. “Who did you say you were?” He hadn’t, but I was being polite. I’d only just moved in, after all.

“This is my building.” He peered past me again, and I moved to block his view. Not that it helped; he was a head taller and could stare over me even while slouched. “I was told you’re an interior designer.” He studied my face in what felt like a search for cracks. “I assumed you’d be organized.” His tone carried an assholian blend of disappointment and irritation.

My lips parted as the verbal gut punch hit my most tender insecurities. 

This guy didn’t know where I’d come from. He didn’t know my past. I breathed through my nose, calming myself, and tried to think through how a person without my past might react—and found I was still pissed. Anyone would be. 

Was he equating the scattered panties…to my entire life? “Is there some sort of requirement in this building that demands tenants act like professionals in their own homes?”

He fixed me with a condescending look. “If it’s going to offend your roommate, then yes.”

I shared the Victorian apartment with a guy named Jack, who worked from his bedroom office and wore sweatpants and a baseball cap turned backwards most days. He wasn’t the fastidious type. Granted, he was neat. Me? Not so much, between a midweek move and work. 

So maybe the landlord had a point. The panties might offend Jack—if he ever emerged from his bedroom. But since I’d moved in two days ago, Jack had said nothing about the mess. Either it didn’t bother him, or he was giving me space while I unpacked because he was kind. 

Clearly, kindness was something this landlord guy struggled with. 

On the other hand… Was I being rude to my roommate? 

I gave my head a light shake. My tidiness was none of this man’s business. “My roommate seems happy with the living arrangement. Besides, I didn’t know landlords went through their rentals with a white glove.”

His eyes flashed with…annoyance? Intrigue? I couldn’t tell, possibly because I hadn’t had much practice reading the emotions of assholes. “I’m the owner,” he finally said.

Was there a difference? My gaze narrowed. “In other words, the landlord.” 

His lips turned up on one side, and for a moment there, he looked amused. “Sure, if that’s how you prefer to think of it.”

He was dressed expensively, and his nearly black hair was combed to hot-guy perfection. The crystalline blue of his eyes reminded me of a tropical beach I’d never be able to afford to visit. But if he was the rich owner of the building, why the hell was he landlording? 

Either way, he was acting like a lordly ass. Henceforth, he was Landlord Devil.

A week ago, I’d thanked my lucky stars when I found this apartment. Had it been a mistake? 

I looked him up and down, my vision snagging, annoyingly, on his broad shoulders. “What did you say your name was?” A girl could never be too careful. And I hated the territorial look in his eyes, even if he did own the place.

“You can call me Max.” 

As in Maxwell Burrows, Inc.? The name printed at the top of my sublease agreement?

I plastered on a stiff smile and put my hand on my hip. “Did my deposit and first month’s rent go through okay?” 

Of course they had. I went to business school after getting my design degree, thinking it would give me a leg up; thus, I was anal retentive when it came to money. Mostly because I had none. Still, there had to be a reason he’d stopped by, and I’d just as soon get him out of my new space. He was ruining the vibe. 

Could landlords dictate the orderliness of an apartment? Was it sexual harassment to point out pink panties? I realized my finger was tapping my hip nervously, and I flexed my hand to make it stop. 

I smoothed the front of my royal-blue sheath dress, which hung on me like a sack after the weight I’d lost over the last few weeks, and offered a smile—this one less stiff than the last since I was trying to make an effort.

Landlord Devil didn’t flinch. In fact, he appeared bored and glanced at his fancy gold watch. “Just make sure you don’t cause any trouble.”

The tendons in my neck stiffened, and my jaw clamped down. Trouble? Moving away from home was the first selfish thing I’d done in years. I was responsible to the nth degree, and this man had the gall to suggest I wasn’t?

Visions of strangling him flashed before my eyes. I squeezed them shut. I was under too much stress. This guy was annoying, but not worthy of homicide. Yet.

Landlord Devil glanced up, and his lips twitched as though he sensed my inner rage. 

I took in a deep breath and willed myself to remain calm. “The, ah, mess you mentioned will be tidied as soon as I’m able to spend a weekend putting everything away.” 

Note to self: stuff unmentionables inside bedroom once Landlord Devil leaves. 

I’d been working at Green Aesthetic for six months—not long enough for me to get time off due to emergency relocations when fancy apartments become available. Waiting until the weekend to finish unpacking would have to do. “Did you need anything else?”

His eyes narrowed, as though he didn’t trust a word I said. “I came by to welcome you to the neighborhood. I live upstairs.”

My chest spasmed, and I choked. “Oh…that’s…nice.”

He lived upstairs? Shit.

Max glanced past me once more. Given the twinkle in his eye, he was taking a final look at my panties. “Enjoy the rest of your evening.”

How was I supposed to enjoy my evening with a judgy asshole living above me? 

* * *

The next morning, the living room was back to tidiness—because I’d stayed up late hauling moving boxes into my bedroom and putting clothes away in my new IKEA chest of drawers that had taken me two hours to build. I was a people pleaser, even for lordly asses like Maxwell Burrows. It was a problem. 

I held my cell phone to my ear and rubbed my temple. “You can’t come over tonight,” I told Elise, my younger sister, as I sorted socks in the dresser drawer.

The sound of chomping came through the receiver. Somehow, Elise subsisted primarily on a diet of corn chips yet still had muscle tone. It was super annoying. “Why? What happened?”

I wished the reason she couldn’t come over was because my bedroom looked like a tornado had blown through it, but that wasn’t it. “I met my landlord.”

“And?”

“He’s nosy.”

The crunching ceased. “I can stay with Mom tonight,” she said.

Up until now, I’d been living at my mom’s, along with my sister, in the outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco. I’d averaged four hours of sleep a night while commuting from home and helping my boss at Green Aesthetic catch up on overdue projects. Victor, the owner, had needed a designer-manager for over a decade. Hence the reason I was overworked. But working with Victor was a steppingstone to bigger things, and I adored him, even if the paycheck didn’t leave much after my expenses. 

For a while there, I worried I’d never be able to afford my own place, given the housing costs in San Francisco. Those had been dark times. But all that changed the day I happened upon Jack’s listing for a bedroom plus private bath inside his apartment in a Victorian building.

By some miracle, I’d been checking the online listings in Jack’s neighborhood seconds after he posted. Given its location a few blocks from my work, in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city, I never thought I’d be able to afford a place in Russian Hill. 

I never figured out why Jack had listed the room so inexpensively. He’d mentioned something when I applied about wanting to pass on the discount, which I hadn’t quite followed, but I wasn’t about to tell him the price should be double. I’d been so excited when he offered the room to me that my hands had shaken for days, up until Jack dropped the key in my palm and I officially knew it was mine. Dozens of people had to have applied to rent it. But I was the first, according to Jack, and I had met his requirements. 

Only that wasn’t entirely true. Jack had wanted a single renter (as opposed to a couple or two friends sharing a room) who didn’t own pets. I didn’t have a pet, but I planned to stash my sister in my room as often as possible.

“I wish you only had to stay at Mom’s for one night,” I told Elise. “But it’s not that simple.”

Our mom was as sweet as they came. She also had major issues that had traumatized me and Elise growing up. Even if my mom refused to get help, I could finally pull my sister out of the stressful living situation as often as possible. 

As soon as Jack had offered me the room, my mind formed all sorts of fantasies where Elise stayed with me instead of living at Mom’s full-time. According to the sublease, Elise could crash seven days consecutively, but she couldn’t stay indefinitely. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was better than the alternative: Elise living under Mom’s roof until she graduated from her nursing program and got a full-time job. And now I was terrified of what Landlord Devil would do if he discovered I was going to take advantage of the sleepover clause. He’d hated my panties being out of place; what would he say if he saw Elise staying here on a regular basis?

“I’ll continue to pay Mom’s mortgage,” I told my sister. “You’ll move out soon. I promise.” 

I could afford to support my mom and Elise. Sort of. Sharing this room with my sister part-time at Jack’s apartment was supposed to be the transition piece in the overall plan. And then Maxwell Burrows had shown up and freaked me out with his threat about not causing trouble. Which had me worrying I was being troublesome. 

I pinched the bridge of my nose. My hyper-responsibility issues might have begun while growing up with Mom, but I sure as hell didn’t need to drag this shit around with me forever. There had to be a way to make this new housing situation work. I would not let the landlord intimidate me.

“So the plan is still on for me to stay with you most of the month?” Elise’s voice rose with optimism. 

Now that I heard it out loud, it sounded ridiculous. “No, actually. There’s been a small snafu where the plan is concerned.” 

I sank onto my queen bed and tipped my head against the beige-upholstered headboard, the pulse of a headache brimming behind my eyes. “Guess who lives in the flat above mine?”

“Paul?”

What?” The unexpected reminder of my ex triggered my gag reflex. “Not Paul. Landlord Devil.”

I gnawed the corner of my thumbnail. Should I move? Find a place where Elise and I could both be on the lease? But no affordable apartment I found would be as nice as this one or even located within city limits. I’d be returning to longer commutes and rationed sleep. As the breadwinner, that was problematic. It was no good when your weight fluctuated due to stress and exhaustion. If I got sick, who would pay the bills?

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then I breathed in and out again. There was no room for anxiety. I had to get that shit locked down, or the house of cards would collapse.

“Wait, who is Landlord Devil?” Elise asked.

“He’s the asshat who runs the building.”

There was a pause, then, “Don’t most landlords live onsite?”

Leave it to Elise to get to the crux of the matter. “He’s not only the landlord. He’s also the owner.”

“Oh. Ohhh…yeah, that’s no good. Not if you’re trying to stretch the boundaries of your contract behind the owner’s back.” The munching continued, and she let out a heavy sigh. “Look, Soph, I can get a job. Really.”

My hand clenched at my sister’s blasé attitude toward taking on another job. “You already have a part-time job,” I said with a strained voice, “and you’re still in nursing school.”

She made a carefree sound. “I can get another job. I’m ready to move out too, you know.”

I reached for a tissue on the nightstand, tears burning my eyes. I only cried when I was frustrated, never when I was sad. “There’s no way you can work two jobs and finish your program.”

She let out a harsh sigh. “Then what do you propose? If the owner is uptight and lives above you, there’s no way I can stay the night as often as we planned.”

I threw the wadded-up ball of tissue at the trash can and missed. “You can stay with me once I smooth things over. Overnights are allowed in the lease. I just need to make sure I’m on the owner’s good side.” 

Was that even possible?

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“After more than one instance of expensive chocolate thievery, I could definitely resort to violence. Or kissing, but probably violence.” ~ Goodreads Review

“I laughed until I cried and had my heartstrings manipulated in the very best of ways.” ~ BookAddict

“Amusing banter in a slow burn fashion with just a tinge of angst.” ~ Goodreads Review