I march over to him, snatch the dresses up, and tuck myself away in the dressing room for the millionth time this afternoon.

I shoot my boss another quick text, letting him know I’ll be even later than expected, and then I send my intern one too, apologizing for abandoning her with the mountain of work I have to do.

Neither of them give a shit because I’m with the Shepard Clark.

Ugh. Spare me.

I somehow manage to wrangle the zipper down—I am not inviting Shep in here to help—and pull the first dress off the hanger.

It’s black and boring and I really don’t want to try it on.

Surprise overcomes me when I slide the dress on and glance at my reflection in the mirror. It fits like a glove, accentuating my curves in ways I didn’t know a garment could for people who aren’t Blake Lively or Eva Mendes.

It’s conservative with no cleavage showing and long sleeves, so there’s not much that screams sexy until you come to the diamond-shaped cutout on each hip. It’s enough to make the dress suggestive, but not enough to take away from the classy look.

As much as I hate to admit it, Shep was right. This is the perfect dress.

“I’d do me,” I say with a shrug.

“I’d do you too. Now get out here and show me how right I was.”

Sighing, I push open the curtain and step out.

Shep sits forward. He moves his eyes over me in a painfully slow perusal.

Hunger—it’s there in his gaze as he pushes up from the chair and stalks toward me with purposeful strides. My heart rate is soaring higher and higher with each step, so loud I’m certain he can hear it as he comes near.

He doesn’t stop until he’s just a few inches from me.

Cinnamon. He smells like cinnamon. I fucking love cinnamon.

“It’s my gum,” he says, and I realize I’ve said it out loud.

Shit.

I don’t realize he’s reached out to me until his fingertips graze softly over my exposed hip, the touch causing me to jump.

“Does it hurt?”

“Huh?”

“The bruise—does it hurt? I saw you hit your hip on the corner of your desk when you attacked me.”

I glance down at where his fingers are resting against my skin, and for the first time, I notice there’s a purple mark forming.

He’s right, I did hit my hip, but I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t care. Then during the hour-long car ride here, I was so focused on trying not to stare at him in his insanely hot baseball cap that I stared at my phone the whole time and forgot my hip was throbbing.

“I forgot about it. I didn’t realize it was starting to bruise.”

“You’ll have to save this dress for one of our later events so it can heal.”

I find his gaze again and turn my face toward his. He’s no longer staring at my hip. His swirling green and brown eyes are locked onto my own.

“You look beautiful, Denver.”

There’s something in the way he says it, something that grabs at my heart and tugs on the strings. I don’t know if it’s the way he uses my full name—something he hardly ever does—or if it’s the fire in his eyes that’s sending his words straight into my chest.

“I…”

My lips are his sole focus now.

I could recite the phone book for him and I don’t think he’d ever look away.

Worse? I don’t think I’d want him to.

“How’d you know?”

“What?”

“How’d you know this dress was going to be the one?”

With reluctance, he draws his eyes up to mine.

“If you think for a second that while you spent the last five years hating me, I’ve been blind to your body…” His hand trails down my hip, dipping way too close to my ass.

God do I hate that I want him to keep going.

“To these curves…” He moves his touch upward, his fingertips teasing me at the base of my back. “To your sheer fucking beauty…”

Light, feathery touches dance up my spine. Goose bumps break out along my skin, though I don’t think he notices.

I don’t realize he’s inched me closer to him with each dance of anticipation along my body until I feel his arousal pressed against my thigh.

His fingers curl around my neck, the touch hard and soft and everything I never knew I wanted, particularly from him.

“I’m not blind, especially when it comes to you, Bucky.”

I watch as his mouth descends toward mine, and I do nothing to stop him.

“Oh, miss! That one is stunning! The young man has a good eye. He—”

The saleswoman pops up out of nowhere just before our mouths make contact.

Thank god.

“Oh my, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt, Mr. Clark. I-I—”

Shep pulls away, unwinding his arm from around my back, and I miss his warmth more than I’ve ever missed anything in my entire life.

I take three healthy steps away from him, smoothing down the front of my unwrinkled dress, and try to get my breathing back to normal, refusing to look over at him for fear I’ll try to climb my way back into his arms.

Treacherous body.

“It’s fine, Annabelle.” He runs a hand through his hair and clears his throat. “We’ll take this one.”

“And all the ones in the room, too,” I add.

I don’t have to look at Shep to know he’s grinning victoriously.

I flip him the bird and he laughs.

Annabelle, unbothered by our antics, claps her hands together and says, “Splendid! I’ll get everything rung up.”

She disappears to the front of the shop again, leaving us drowning in the sexual tension.

Finally, after what feels like hours, I muster the courage to look at Shep.

He’s watching me, eyes still starving for me like I’m his prey, and I want to be caught so badly.

Before I do anything I’ll be sure to regret, I dart back into the dressing room, yanking the curtain closed between us.

He laughs, and for the first time in a long damn time, I hate Shepard Clark just a little bit less.

Nine

Six years ago, October

Shepard: I still can’t believe we pulled it off.

Denver: Dodged one hell of a bullet AND they’re both happy. We’re basically gods.

Shepard: Me, maybe. You, not so much.

Denver: You’re right—goddess.

Shepard: Of what? Nerds?

Denver: Shep…

Shepard: Kidding, kidding.

Shepard: I saw your photos from last night. I don’t think that dress was quite right for you.

Denver: Gee. Thanks so much.

Shepard: Don’t get me wrong, you still looked hot, but it wasn’t a perfect ten.

Denver: That doesn’t help.

Shepard: Fine, fine. I’d still bang you even in your horrible dress. Happy?

Denver: So happy.

Denver: ^That was sarcasm, just so we’re clear.

Shepard: I figured.

Shepard: How was your evening otherwise?

Denver: It was fine.

Shepard: Fine? Just fine? Did your date not wine and dine you?

Denver: She did not, which isn’t surprising considering it was my sister.

Shepard: You have a sister?

Denver: A twin sister.

Shepard: OMG. All my porn dreams are about to come true. HALLELUJAH!

Denver: You are disgusting and I question my sanity every single day when I realize I’m still texting with you.

Shepard: No you don’t. We’re friends now. Just face the facts.

Shepard: I didn’t know you were a twin. I feel like there’s so much I do and don’t know about you all at the same time.

Denver: That’s because you never ask. So self-absorbed.

Shepard: I can’t even argue with that.

Shepard: Fine. What’s her name? What do you want to be when you grow up? Where are you going to college? Name a place you want to travel.

Shepard: Look at me, asking questions and caring. I’m so proud of myself.

Denver: And just like that, we’re right back where we started—you being an arrogant jerk.

Shepard: Answers—let’s have ’em.

Denver: Fine. My sister’s name is Montana, but she goes by Monty, and—this will really blow your mind—I also have a younger brother named Charleston, Chuck for short.

Shepard: That’s…odd.

Denver: Coming from Shepard?

Shepard: Fair. Please continue.

Denver: I want to be a journalist.

Shepard: Really? You like writing?

Denver: I like giving the facts while voicing my opinion. It’s important.

Shepard: As an athlete, I agree. College aspirations?

Denver: Honestly? Anywhere that isn’t here. I kind of hate my home life. It’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with it, my parents take care of us just fine, but it’s…well, boring.

Denver: I’ll probably follow Allie to college.

Shepard: Where’s she going?

Denver: Take a wild guess.

Shepard: Wherever AJ is going.

Shepard: You do realize that’s here, right? We both got accepted on baseball scholarships.

Denver: No.

Shepard: Yep. Looks like we’ll be seeing a lot of each other, Denny.

Denver: I think I’m going to be sick.

Shepard: Be sick, dance around with excitement—totally the same thing.

Denver: Gag me.

Shepard: No thanks. I’m not into asphyxiation.

***

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