“Uh huh. Whatever you say, Den.”

“Shepard!” She shoves her finger in my direction. “Take it back!”

“Nah. I kind of like the idea of you…how did you put it? Flicking your bean to the thought of me.”

“Shepard!”

I reach forward and crank up Sinatra.

“This isn’t over!” she yells over the crooning.

Not by a long shot.

“Are you trying to give me a heart attack, Den? Do you want me to walk around with a raging fucking hard-on all night?”

She smiles at me sheepishly. “It’s just a dress. Calm yourself.”

“Just a dress my ass,” I mutter as she focuses on getting her earring in the hole while I let my eyes roam over the beauty in front of me. “The way you look tonight… It’s… Damn.”

She smiles as I quote Sinatra to her and take in her delectable figure.

She’s wearing the black cutout dress…finally. I could pat myself on the back for how well I did with picking that one out. I knew the moment I saw it hanging on the changing room door it was the dress for her. I had to slip Annabelle an extra hundred bucks for her to take it from the other woman, and it was worth it.

Especially for the way it hugs her ass.

It’s moments like these I want to punch myself for giving us up all those years ago—not the moments of having my eyes on her ass, but these small ones.

Us in a hotel room, getting ready for yet another event.

Steve curled up on the pillow. It was comical watching her try to sneak him inside in her purse, not knowing I paid extra to get us a pet-friendly room.

Denny’s makeup is sitting next to all my crap on the counter.

All the small things and moments leading up to the big ones—I missed them all, and I’m a fool for letting my fears and doubts get in the way.

“Are you done?”

“Huh?” I pull my eyes off her backside and meet her amused stare in the mirror.

“Are you done staring at my ass?”

I pull myself from the bed and stalk toward her. I love the gasp that leaves her lips as I pull her close to me.

“You weren’t lying about that boner thing.”

“Not even a little bit.”

“You’re right—that is far from little.”

I groan when she wiggles her ass against me. Tease.

I pull her in tighter, stopping her from moving any more because if she doesn’t quit, we won’t be making it to the gala, and I paid a whole hell of a lot for those spots tonight.

“If you think I won’t be staring at you all night long, you’re wrong, Den. I plan to stare…”

She catches my burning gaze in the mirror, catching on to the intensity inside me, the building desire—the threat of stripping that dress from her body right this fucking moment.

Her chest pumps up and down with anticipation.

“To touch…”

Her eyes follow my movements as I trace my fingers along the edge of the cutout, and her flesh breaks out in goose bumps. I fucking love it.

“To taste.”

I pull her face toward mine, capturing her lips in a hard kiss, devouring her mouth in a decidedly not gentle manner.

She’s definitely going to have to redo her lipstick after this.

She whimpers when I pull away, and I trail my lips down her neck, sucking the skin below her ear between my teeth. It’s going to leave a mark, and I don’t give two shits. Let everyone see it.

I called dibs on Denver Andrews a long damn time ago, and nothing about that has changed.

With reluctance, I drag my lips from her perfect skin. She hates it too, pushing against me, wanting me.

Patience, Den.

Her eyes flutter open and our gazes meet in the mirror.

“And to fuck.”

The fire in Denver’s eyes blazes to life

“Understood?” I finish.

She nods, and I walk away before I can’t.

“Funny running into you here.”

“Jesus fuck, Brax. Do I have to see your ugly mug at every one of these events?”

He winces. “Afraid so. I owe the coach the hours for helping me out of something last year. I’m on gala duty for the entire season.”

“Well, thank god it’s almost over. These things are expensive.”

“You’re telling me.” He grins. “It’s all worth it though. You should come to the Christmas one where we give out gifts to the kiddos. Seeing their little faces, man…it’s worth every single penny.”

“How much did we raise tonight?”

“Nearly $150k.”

My brows shoot up. “No shit? Damn. I’m proud of us.”

“Me too.”

“You bring a date?”

“Nah.” He takes a sip of the soda he’s nursing. “I’m not really looking to get into dating right now. I’m trying to stay focused on my career.”

My attention drifts over to Denny, who’s yet again yakking it up with new friends. I’m a little thankful Penny was willing to bow out; we’re both too antisocial in these settings. Denny, though—she thrives.

“I thought that was best once too. Made a lot of mistakes because of it, missed out on a lot of years with someone who made my whole world move.” I draw my eyes away from my biggest mistake and look to my teammate. “I was wrong, though—real goddamn wrong, Brax.”

He flicks his eyes to Denny. “She know that?”

“I think she’s finally starting to get it.”

“Good. Just—”

“Don’t fuck it up?”

He laughs, holding his hands up. “Hey, man, I’m just saying. Guys are morons sometimes. We’re prone to fucking shit up.”

“Trust me, I know.”

“Good luck, dude. I’m first on the roster and I just got my reminder. I’m out of here.” He claps me on the shoulder. “Oh, and by the way, I’m fairly certain she’s over there telling people your dick is only a few inches long again.”

“Goddammit.”

Tossing back the last of the champagne—which I still fucking hate—I make my way over to the woman in question just in time to hear some of the shit she’s spewing.

“And then he said, ‘It’s not about the size of the boat, it’s the motion in the ocean.’ I knew I couldn’t leave the poor guy after that played-out line. It was obvious he was desperate for someone to stick around.”

She sighs sympathetically, and all the girls around her titter with their own half-hearted comments.

The way these girls are eating this up…it’s comical how easy they are.

A few ladies throw sad smiles my way, those ones that say, Good thing your pockets are deep.

I clear my throat, pushing away the urge to laugh when one’s eyes widen upon spotting me standing behind Denver.

“Bucky.” It takes everything I have to keep my face straight and the humor out of my voice.

“Excuse me, ladies.” She spins on her heel, a smirk playing at her lips. God, I want to kiss her so bad right now because I know exactly what game she’s playing at. “Yes, Cap?”

“May I have a word?”

“Sure thing.”

I grab her elbow and hurriedly steer us from the room. She laughs the whole way there, waving at some of the friends she’s made in the last few weeks.

“Ma’am, is there somewhere quiet my guest and I could talk?” I ask a server who passes by us.

“We aren’t really allowed to let guests use any of these rooms.”

“Please, she’s just told me she has herpes and we need to discuss it.”

Denny’s laugh echoes off the walls. The server’s mouth drops open, looking between me and my date, confused as hell, I’m certain.

With a shaky finger, she points down the hall. “There’s an empty storage room down there, but don’t—”

“Thank you, that will do.”

“G-Good luck,” the poor woman murmurs as I drag Denny away and toward the room.

The moment I click the lock into place, I press her back against the door, caging her in between my arms.

Suddenly, she’s no longer laughing.

“Last time you did this I proved I could most definitely use my tongue.”

She nods.

“And this time I assume you’re looking for something too?”

She nods again.

“What did I tell you about games, Denver?”

“That they don’t suit me.” She lifts a shoulder. “It’s interesting, though, because I keep winning them.”

She’s not winning this round.

Twenty-Three

Denver

Shep crushes his mouth to mine, stealing away anything else I had to say.

I love that he caught on to my game, and I love even more that he’s falling right into my trap. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about his promise to fuck me since we left the hotel room.

That was two hours ago.

That’s two whole hours of squeezing my thighs together and trying to push the thoughts away so I don’t embarrass myself in a room full of strangers.

Two hours of pure torture.

I guess that’s nothing when you compare it to the years we’ve spent apart and the pining that occurred. I tried so hard to ignore him, to move on, to do anything but think of Shepard Clark, but it was no use. The universe pushed us together too many times to count, and it was pure agony.

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