“This is me. See ya.”
She grabs her bags and hops out of the truck before I can say anything else.
Oh hell no.
I shift into park and toss open my door.
“Denny! Wait up!”
She whirls toward me, wide-eyed and startled. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Walking you inside.”
“Like hell you are. I’m not letting you know which apartment is mine. Besides, you can’t just leave your truck in the middle of the parking lot.”
“Watch me,” I say, catching up to her. “You are not walking up there alone in the middle of the night.”
“What did you think I was going to do if you weren’t here? Have Cap walk me inside? There are like two dozen stairs in that building—I am not going to be responsible for the death of Captain America.”
My lips pull into a grin, and I can see the fire in her eyes the moment they do.
I’ve missed that fire.
It’s the same look she’d give me all throughout college anytime our paths would cross. It’d burn especially hot whenever I’d have another girl on my arm.
I always did like playing with fire.
“It’s not happening, Shep,” she says with a false finality.
“Like hell it isn’t, Andrews. Better get moving or the rest of your ice cream is going to melt.”
She stares down at her paper bags, mouth agape. “How did you know I have more ice cream?”
I lean toward her until our faces are inches apart and regret it immediately.
She smells like mint chocolate chip and I want to press my lips against hers to get a taste. Her green eyes—which remind me of that green mint color I love—are bright and clear as she stares up at my six-foot-two frame.
“Because I know you better than anyone else in this entire world, Denver.”
My eyes drift to her lips again as they part on a gasp.
She inches closer.
Lips nearly touching now.
Eyes locked in an intense stare.
The urge to press my lips against hers swells, but I know I shouldn’t. I’d be pushing things way too far.
Besides, I don’t deserve her kisses.
I can hardly hear her over the drumming of blood pumping through my veins. Her tongue darts out and she wets her lips.
“You did know me, Shep, but a lot has changed in the last six years. I’m not the same starry-eyed girl who fell for all your lines. I won’t fall into that trap again.”
She stands tall and takes a step away from me.
The pounding in my ears begins to subside as she puts distance between us.
I miss the pounding.
“Thanks for the ride. Goodbye.”
Goodbye, not good night—so permanent.
So…not going to fucking happen.
I lost Denver once before. It’s not going to happen again.
“I know! Can you believe it? After all these years, it’s finally happening. I’m getting married!”
I stare down at the phone screen, laughing as my best friend, Allie, flashes me her huge diamond ring again.
Turns out I was right—Allie and AJ could stand the test of time. College did nothing to diminish their love for one other. All it did was feed it.
It’s weird, though, that AJ would choose today of all days—the one after I spend a night with Shep—to propose.
I try to shake away the memory of his jaw tightening when Cap called me Bucky. I remember the first time the old man called me that, how the simple nickname tugged at my heart. It didn’t hurt like it usually did when I heard the name. Instead, it felt good…like it used to when Shep did it.
Last night when I saw the obvious hurt on his face when someone else called me his special name for me, I had to work extra hard not to react. In fact, that’s what the whole evening with him was like: a fight not to react, not to fall back into old patterns.
Shep being Shep, he followed me into my dreams last night, and I spent most of the evening tossing and turning, trying to outrun his apologies and pleas, his excuses.
I finally pulled myself out of bed at four AM and devoured my other pint of ice cream, trying to chase the demons away with sweets.
It didn’t work, and I’ll be honest, I’m a little grateful for Allie’s wakeup call. I don’t know how much longer I could outrun him.
Plus, I could use the good news she’s delivering.
“I can’t believe this is finally happening,” I say to my glowing friend through a yawn. “You two have only been together forever.”
“I know!” She squeals with delight for the billionth time during our video chat. “AJ surprised me with breakfast in bed this morning.”
“That I didn’t burn!” I hear AJ yell.
Allie giggles at her fiancé then leans toward the camera to whisper, “That bacon was totally burnt.” She laughs again. “Anyway, I couldn’t wait until our next random coffee date to tell you, so I had to call ASAP!”
I smile at my best friend, the girl I’ve known since I was eight, my heart bursting with joy for her. She deserves this.
Allie followed AJ across the country so he could play baseball and attend college with his best friend.
Me? Well, I followed Allie.
Or at least that’s the story we went with.
“Even though you woke me up ten minutes before my alarm was set to go off, I’ll forgive you.” I wink. “I’m so happy for you, Allie.” I’ll be alone forever. “Your dreams are coming true.”
“They are. They really, really are. Now all we have to do is find you a man you don’t kick out of your bed in the morning!”
“Just let me set her up with one of my teammates!”
“Tell AJ I do not want to date one of his softball teammates. It’s softball, for grown-ass men.”
Unfortunately for Allie’s fiancé, his baseball skills didn’t lead him to the shining career Shep has ahead of him, so now he plays softball with a bunch of old grumpy men. It’s kind of hilarious.
“You could go on one date just to please him, you know. He’s one of your oldest friends.”
“Yes, and you both know me well enough to know I don’t date jocks.”
“That’s not entirely true, Denny.”
I narrow my eyes at her. “Watch it. Just because you’re engaged doesn’t mean I won’t hang up on you for bringing him up. Besides, we’re not exactly on a private phone call right now.”
“Oh, please, like AJ would care.”
“Allie…” I warn her.
“Fine, fine,” she concedes. “I’ll let it go…for now.” She pushes her curly blonde locks to the side. “Want to grab lunch today?”
“Can’t.” I sigh. “I have a huge project due tomorrow so I’m not taking a lunch break today. Maybe Thursday? I wanna see that rock in person!”
“It’s a date.”
“Hey, you’re done dating! You’re all mine now,” AJ says, now sounding closer than he did before.
Allie screams with delight and the phone shakes and goes black, yet all sounds are still coming through.
“Oh my gosh, AJ! Stop it!”
He growls and says something I can’t quite make out.
Then there’s a gagging noise. That one is coming from me.
I quickly press the red button to end the call, shaking my head at my best friend.
Allie and AJ are finally getting married.
And that means…
The sound of the doorbell chiming echoes off the walls, stopping all bad and horrible thoughts I was about to have about me being Allie’s maid of honor and who AJ’s best man will probably be.
I groan as I’m forced to pull myself from my cozy bed.
I can’t tell if my displeasure is because I have to leave the warmth of my moose-printed quilt way before I wanted to, or if it’s due to the thoughts trying to barrel through my mind.
Probably a little of both.
“What is with people being early this morning? First Allie, now Monty. Guess we’re going to continue that torment from yesterday, huh, universe?”
I snatch my robe off the handle of my closet door and wrap it around myself just as the doorbell goes off again.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming, Monty!”
I shake my head at my twin sister. Of course she’s early. It’s Monty, the proverbial good girl. She’ll never not be early.
For twins, we couldn’t be more opposite, and I don’t just mean in our looks.
Where Monty has long, beautiful red locks, I have choppy dark hair. She’d give Casper a run for his money in paleness, and I have a natural olive tone.
Monty is the epitome of a goody two-shoes. She doesn’t cuss, she’s never late, and she always follows the rules.
I’m…well, let’s just say I’m a whole hell of a lot more free-spirited than she is. I only have one life, and I’m not living it by anyone else’s rules.
I still wonder if the hospital switched one of us at birth, but despite all our differences, we’re extremely close. When she moved out a few months ago to live with her super sexy boyfriend—who also happens to have a kiddo—we vowed to still have breakfast together at least twice a week.
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