As she disappears around the corner, Denny bursts into hysterical laughter.

“Please tell me she knows you’re not going to call her.” She stares after the girl, adding, “That is your MO after all.”

I ignore the jab, because I deserve it. “I mean, she did think you were named after a state, so you tell me.”

“God, Shep, you sure know how to pick ’em.”

That’s funny coming from Denver.

I picked her once a upon a time too.

We fall into a silence, and it’s not one of those comfortable kinds you share with old friends. It’s awkward as fuck, which isn’t exactly surprising.

If we’re not slinging insults at one another, we don’t know how to act. You’d never guess from the way we interact that Denny and I share a long, painful history.

“Well, this tension-filled silence is my cue. Have a good night with your right hand, Slug.”

And there it is.

This tension she’s referring to is unfinished business. We both know it, and if I can get Denny to give me the time of day, I intend to finish it.

“I’ll have you know I’m a switch-hitter. I was going to give Lefty some showtime tonight.”

“Such a gentleman,” she tosses over her shoulder as she pushes her cart down the aisle and away from me.

My shoulders sag in relief as she retreats—but only for a moment, because I know exactly what’s coming next.

Misery. Anger.

Toward her. Toward myself.

Denver Andrews used to love me. Now she hates me.

I used to love her too…and I still do.

Two

Denver

I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason. I’m one of those weirdos who truly subscribes to the idea that everything is mapped out for us from day one, even when we can’t see it for ourselves.

That said, why in the actual fuck the universe decided I should run into my ex…well, whatever he is…in the middle of Smart Shoppe while I’m dressed like this is beyond me.

I could slap myself for running to the store for the famous period trio—you know: sweets, salts, and stoppers—wearing this outfit.

Or non-outfit.

It’s just whatever I found lying around on my way-too-messy apartment floor.

Of course the universe would screw me over and I’d run into my mortal enemy.

Okay, that might be a little harsh, but the last person I expected to see was him.

Shep Clark.

The Shep Clark.

The guy I moved across the country to be with.

The guy who broke my fragile heart.

The guy I hate.

That Shep Clark.

I had to endure four years of college with the man who unceremoniously ended things. He ruled the campus, and I could never truly escape him.

When he was drafted for the MLB, I was ecstatic. He was leaving, meaning I’d finally be able to put Shepard Clark behind me. Sure, I was a journalist in his alumni town and I’d probably have to run an article or two on him and his accomplishments, but I could deal with that.

To actually have to see him, though?

I’ll take No Fucking Thank You for $200, Alex.

He may be a baseball legend to everyone else in this town, but I won’t be falling at his feet anytime soon.

Not again.

I angrily march myself down the aisle, pushing my cart much faster than I need to. I just want to get out of here before I run into Shep again. I don’t even pay attention to the chips I toss into the cart, something I’m certain I’ll regret later.

I don’t bother scoping out the ice cream selection for something new. I know I’ll inevitably choose my trusty mint chocolate chip—the green one, thank you—and cookies and cream in the end.

I bustle over to the feminine products and grab the biggest pack I can find before making my way to the front.

It would be my luck that they’ve closed self-checkout, there’s only one lane open, and the oldest lady on the entire planet is sliding groceries across the scanner in a painfully slow manner.

Eff you, universe.

I push my cart up behind the woman in front of me, who I’m fairly certain is the second oldest woman on Earth, then rest against the handle.

The cashier scans a box of cereal and I swear it takes a full thirty seconds to do so.

I’m going to die here.

My eyes drift toward the gossip magazines lining the shelves to my right. Normally, I ignore this trash, but I’m bored and since I’ll probably be here for another fifteen minutes, why the hell not.

I reach for one featuring my favorite Chris then something catches my eye.

Is that…

Holy crap, it is!

Can I not escape him?!

Shep’s mug shot is plastered across the front of the local newspaper—and my rival paper at that.

Local Star Arrested for Destruction of Property the headline reads.

Looks like King Shep went and did another dumbass thing—started a fight and racked up a pretty penny in damages to the inside of a fancy-schmancy club a few hours north of here.

He’s lucky he’s not being hit with assault charges too.

I sneer at the paper in front of me. The urge to rip every copy off the shelves just so I can burn them all is strong.

Shep doesn’t deserve any kind of attention. He’s a liar, the biggest asshole in the history of assholes.

I hate him with a fiery passion.

I scowl at the image of his face, resisting my desire to snatch and burn, and instead grab a candy bar sitting below the papers, open it, and shove at least half into my mouth.

“Wow, I’m impressed.”

I groan when I hear his voice.

“Go away.”

“Can’t—it’s the only lane open.”

“What are you even doing here, Slug?”

I swear I can hear him grind his molars together at the nickname. Good. Asshole. His dentist must have a hell of a time rooting around in his mouth with how much he gnashes those teeth.

“Grocery shopping. This is the grocery store, isn’t it? That’s what you’re supposed to do here,” he deadpans, repeating my words back to me.

“I hate you.”

“You only think you hate me, Den.”

I roll my eyes even though he can’t see me, and he chuckles because he knows I did it.

I’m certain he’s standing back there with that famous smirk of his lining his lips. That’s the thing about Shep—you can never tell if he’s upset or not because he’s always sporting that fake-ass smile of his.

But, if you look close enough, you can see his jaw tick.

That’s his tell.

I nod my head toward the magazine racks. “I see you still don’t have your shit together.”

“And I see you’re still as uptight as ever. You can take the girl out of that sheltered Montana life, but you can’t get the stick out of her ass.”

I whirl around at his words.

In true Shep fashion, the smirk is there—but that jaw? Tight, teeth gnashing painfully.

It appears I’ve ruffled the king’s feathers.

“Seriously, Shepard, why are you here? I thought you were off playing in the big leagues.”

His eyes shift toward the newspaper, lingering there for several beats before he pulls his attention back to mine.

“I’m…taking some time off.”

I raise a brow, unconvinced. He’ll have to try a little harder, especially with me. “From the MLB?”

“Yes, Denver, from the MLB.”

“But this is your first year. Your stats are outstanding for a rookie. You can’t miss the end of the season…”

He leans closer, his grin returning. “I’m aware of how my baseball career is going. Question is, how do you know?”

My cheeks heat and I hastily take a step back, tripping over my own feet and bumping into my cart, sending it rolling forward with a force I didn’t intend.

“Ouch! My hip! You’ve hit me!”

My heart hammers in my chest as I turn toward the older woman in line in front of me.

There my cart sits, right against her hip. Sure, it probably didn’t hit her that hard, but it did make contact.

“Oh gosh, I am so sorry, ma’am! I didn’t mean to run into you. I tripped on my flip-flop and lost my balance. Please, ma’am, I apologize.”

She huffs and turns away from me, dismissing my sincerity.

Shame radiates through me. I feel horrible, and it’s all Shep’s fault. If he wasn’t all up in my personal space, I wouldn’t have had to move. Then I wouldn’t have tripped and run into the cart, pushing it into the woman.

Fine, fine—it’s my fault for letting Shep get to me, but whatever. Semantics.

“Add my stuff to her order—I’ll pay for everything,” I instruct the cashier. It’s the only way I can think of to make this up to her. My mom would whoop my ass if she’d seen what happened, and she’d demand I make it better…now. This is how I can do that.

The woman ahead of me mutters something I don’t quite catch before collecting the last of her bags and pushing her way out of the store.

That’s it. Nothing else.

“Are you serious?” I mutter to no one as I watch her walk away without looking back. “I accidentally hit her with my cart, offer to pay for her groceries, and she doesn’t even say thank you? This night cannot get any worse.”

“Better knock on wood, miss,” the cashier warns.

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