So, yeah, I could survive a little longer without Shep fulfilling his promise, but that doesn’t mean I want to.

I shove my hands into his suit jacket, clawing at him and pulling him as close to me as possible, craving the feel of his body against mine.

We have too many clothes in our way.

“Pull your dress up,” he says, like he’s reading my mind.

Shep falls to his knees, and it’s a good thing he’s holding on to my hips because I nearly fall over at the sight.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Shep, it’s that he loves eating me out.

Which is good, because I love it too.

Slowly, enjoying the anticipation, I shimmy until the dress is around my hips, lucky the material has a little give to it.

“Seriously, Denny?” He nearly pants once I’m bared.

“What? I didn’t want panty lines.”

“Fuck.” He scrubs a hand over his face. “I could strangle you for walking around like this all night.”

“There you go talking about asphyxiation again.”

Without another word, he parts my lips with his tongue, finding my clit and sucking it into his mouth.

A loud moan escapes me, and he pulls away, grinning up at me with wet lips.

“You might wanna dial that down, Den.”

“You might want to shut up and keep proving to me just how good you are with your tongue, Shep. You wanna—oh, fuck!”

He uses his thumbs to part me as he works me over with his mouth, and holy hell, I could stay in this closet with him forever.

I rock against him and he loves it, letting me ride his face and his tongue until I’m sitting on the edge of pure fucking bliss. I have to press my hand over my mouth to quiet my whimpers as an orgasm threatens to shoot through me.

Just as I’m about to explode, Shep pulls away.

“What the—”

He stands, his hand covering my mouth before I can say another word.

“What was that about winning?”

“I hate you,” I hiss.

“It’s a fine line between love and hate, Bucky.”

My heart races. Those words might be the truest ones he’s ever spoken.

I’ve known for a long time now Shep and I weren’t finished. Even when he humiliated me all those years ago and turned away from me, I knew in my heart of hearts it wasn’t over. We could never be over.

Because fate had other plans.

That’s the only way to explain the way the universe kept pushing us together.

I drop my hands to the belt on his waist, the clinking of the metal as I unbuckle it echoing off the walls like gunshots in the otherwise quiet closet.

“Tell me you have a condom, Shep.”

Without another word, he pulls his wallet from his back pocket, producing a foil packet.

“Thank god.”

“I’m about 9% certain you can’t talk about God during sex.”

I shove his pants and tight black boxer briefs down his hips, curling my hand around his cock once it’s free.

His eyes fall shut as he sags forward, catching himself with one hand against the door as I work him over.

“Oh fuck,” he groans. “I don’t think you can keep doing that, Den. I’m already too close.”

“Then do something about it.”

He grins and says, “Only if you go back out there and tell those girls my cock is definitely bigger than three inches.”

I stroke him again. Another groan.

“Shep?”

“Yeah?”

“Shut up and fuck me.”

He uses his teeth to rip the condom open then covers himself within seconds.

Before I know it, he’s wrapping my leg around his hip and thrusting into me in one swift move.

“Shiiiiiiiiiiiiit.” He draws the word out on a hiss.

I wrap my hands around his head, threading my fingers through his hair and holding on as he pumps in and out of me at a pace that’s going to ensure neither of us last very long.

Good. We can save the soft and slow for later.

“Holy shit. This is better than I could have imagined.” He drops his forehead to mine, brushing soft kisses against my lips. “Have you ever thought about us, Denny? About what it would be like for me to be inside you?”

“Y-Yes.”

“And what you imagined—was it better than this?”

“Yes.”

He pulls back, still thrusting inside me. “Why?”

My shoulder blades press against the door and I know it’s going to leave a bruise, but I don’t care. Despite my answer to his question, I wouldn’t trade this for anything.

“Because you loved me.”

His movements stop, and I hate that he stops. His fingers collide with my face, pulling my attention to his. It’s dark in the closet, but our eyes have adjusted enough for me to know he’s staring at me with pain and desire and confusion in his expression.

I’m giving it all right back to him.

After what feels like a lifetime, he drops his forehead back to mine and pumps into me harder than ever, and I love every goddamn second of it.

Our pants fill the room, so loud that I know if someone were to walk by the door right now, they’d know exactly what we’re doing.

I reach between us, rubbing circles over my clit, so close to release. By the change in his breathing, I know he’s there too.

His lips trace along my ear.

“You say it would have been better if I had loved you.”

His voice is hoarse, almost harsh, and he doesn’t quit moving inside me.

I don’t say anything, because I know he’s not expecting an answer.

“Well I have news for you, Denver.”

Another thrust. Another groan.

“I never fucking stopped.”

My whole world falls apart around me.

Twenty-Four

Five years ago, May

Denver: DOWNLOAD ATTACHMENT

Denver: I made it!

Denver: Is it just me or is the east coast ridiculously humid? I feel like I’m trying to breathe under water.

Denver: Hey, you good? I texted yesterday and didn’t get a response.

Denver: Allie and I went shopping for things for the apartment today. She bought half of Target.

Denver: Shep?

Denver: Well, just text me back whenever you have a chance. I’m sure you’re swamped.

Denver: I’m starting to worry. I haven’t heard from you in days.

Denver: Is everything okay?

Denver: I tried calling. I know that’s not something we do, but I had to try anyway.

Denver: Just please let me know you’re okay.

Denver: Okay, so this is my last text. If you’re not answering, there’s nothing I can do about that. Allie and I will be at the party Friday night. I’ll see ya if I see ya. Good night, Shep.

SHEPARD

“Why in the fuck would you invite her?”

“Uh, because she’s my girlfriend’s best friend, and the girl you’re into. Obviously, dickhead.” AJ rolls his eyes and takes a long pull off his beer, not caring about the clear irritation in my voice. “What’s your deal, dude? All of a sudden you’re not into Denny anymore? What gives?”

Oh, I’m into Denny. I am very into Denny.

Some would say I’m too into her.

I love her.

And that’s scary as fuck.

I’m so deep in this weird long-distance thing we have going on that there is no way it could possibly be healthy. It scares me…big time.

So much so that I stopped responding to her texts last week. I tucked my tail like a fucking pussy and hid from her and my feelings.

It’s too much for me, too intense.

I want it too badly.

What if it doesn’t work out? What if we don’t work out? What if I’m not what she wants? The fallout of that is going to be a whole lot worse if we continue to get attached.

So, I’m doing the responsible thing—ending it before it can go any further.

“You’re not running scared, are you?”

I glare at my best friend, annoyed he knows me so well. “Shut the fuck up, AJ.”

“I’m just saying, you should at least give it a shot with her. She’s a cool chick.”

“And what if she hates me?”

“Oh, she’s gonna hate you all right, especially if you fucking ditch her after she moved out here for your ass.”

“She didn’t move out here for me. She moved for Allie.”

“Whatever you two morons need to tell yourselves.” He takes another drink. “I’m gonna head to the back room. Just send Allie that way when she gets here, which will be any moment.”

“Why don’t you go get your girlfriend yourself?”

He shakes his bottle. “Because I’m fucking out of beer, that’s why.”

I flip off his back as he spins around.

“Stop flipping me off.”

“I hate you!”

He laughs. “Liar. Go get the door.”

I realize then the doorbell is ringing.

My fingers begin to tingle, and I have to count backward from ten so I don’t run in the opposite direction.

Just do it, Shep. Get it over with.

I push my way through the bodies, trying not to freak out the entire trek to the door.

I don’t give myself time to pause or think. I just pull the door open and face Denny for the first time ever.

Fuck me.

She’s gorgeous—stunning, even. Her photos on social media don’t do her justice. Her dark hair is pulled into a messy braid that’s sitting on her shoulder, and her green eyes are so much brighter than I could have imagined.

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