Today is Wednesday, which means pancakes and peanut butter, and she’s also here to give me a ride to work because my car is still at Smart Shoppe.
I hurry down the hall and through the living room, twisting the lock before padding back toward the kitchen without even glancing at my chronically punctual sister.
“You’re early,” I say as she pushes open the door. “No talkie. Need coffee. It’s already been an eventful morning and I need caffeine.”
“Expecting someone at this hour?”
I stop dead in my tracks, a shiver running up my spine at the deep voice.
What in the…
I whirl around, pulling my robe tighter against my body, trying to hide the fact that I’m wearing skimpy pajamas and no bra.
“What the hell are you doing here, Shep? And how do you know where I live?”
“It’s weird—your morning security isn’t nearly as worried about your safety as Captain America was. All it took was a grin and he let me right through the gate.”
“How’d you know which door was mine?”
“That one was a little harder to figure out. I had a general idea because of last night, though I wasn’t quite sure about the number.” He points to my door. “The big D hanging on the door kind of gave it away.”
I grumble at the décor.
That giant D was Monty’s idea.
“Good morning, Denver.”
“Go to hell, Shep.”
“I’ll take that as you’re happy to see me.”
“Is that what that means to you?” I snort as I continue my quest for caffeine. Shep pushes the front door closed and follows me. “Your dates must be an interesting bunch if you find that welcoming.”
“You’re so cheery in the mornings. I forgot that about you.”
I move around the kitchen, pulling the canister of coffee from the cabinet and dumping a few scoops into the basket. I don’t mess around with those one-cup machines. Those are for sissies who quit at one cup.
Ha. One-cup coffee. Like that’s a thing or something.
“What are you doing here, Shep?” I ask once I set the machine to begin brewing.
“I assume you’ve already spoken to Allie.”
I raise a brow. “And I called that shit. I told you they’d last forever.”
He grins, and in the bright morning light filtering through the windows, he looks nice…normal.
Not the asshole heartbreaker I know he really is.
I pluck a mug from the cabinet above the coffee machine and pour a healthy dose of joe in it before padding over to the fridge to grab my favorite vanilla caramel creamer. I dispense just enough to make my coffee a shade lighter, cap it, and return it to its spot.
“Just cream, no sugar.”
I hate that he still remembers my coffee order, and I hate that he knows it despite never even being with me while ordering coffee.
I rest my back against the counter and face him.
Shep’s eyes fall to my hands, which are currently curled around the mug I’m holding. He squints, studying them. I think nothing of it until his full lips drop open and his hazel eyes find mine.
His brows slam together, but not in anger.
It’s confusion that fill his expression.
Curious, I glance down.
My heart rate soars when I realize what cup I’ve grabbed from the cabinet: my alumni mug, the only one I have from my college days…the one that boasts we have the best baseball team around…the one with 23 on it to highlight our most valuable player in the college’s history.
I don’t own a single sweatshirt or pair of sweatpants from my time spent at college, but the moment I saw this mug in the campus shop, I knew I had to have it.
Even though I hated his guts, it called to me.
So, I bought it, and I use it every single day.
I just wish today I’d have paid a little more attention to my routine.
“It was a gift,” I lie. “I couldn’t very well turn down a gift.”
“Right,” Shep mutters, his eyes back on the mug, mind whirling.
I lift the mug and he follows my movements, swallowing thickly the moment my lips graze the rim like it’s his skin they’re touching.
His stare doesn’t leave the mug, not even as I lower it.
“It doesn’t mean anything, Shep.”
Finally, he snaps his attention back to my face.
“I said right, Denny.”
He clears his throat and glances around my apartment. It’s small but cozy and perfectly me.
I know the moment he spots my collection of comic-book-based movies because he grins and shakes his head.
When he’s done surveying the small space, he turns back to me, still smiling.
How in the hell can he be so smiley this early in the morning?
“So, Allie and AJ.”
“Yep, Allie and AJ,” I repeat.
“You know what this means, don’t you?”
I sigh, because I know exactly what this means. It means all those thoughts I was trying to avoid earlier.
“It means we’re probably going to be spending a lot of time together over the next year or so, helping them plan and attending to our best man and maid of honor duties…unfortunately.”
His grin grows. “Try again.”
“Try what again?”
“What about it? Most couples are engaged for about a year. They need the time to prepare, to make book venues, to…”
The words die on my lips.
That’s most couples, but not Allie and AJ.
They’re not most couples. They’ve been waiting for this for years now.
“Please tell me Allie isn’t going to spring some crazy, impossible date on me.”
“Fine. Allie most definitely is not going to spring some crazy, impossible date on you.”
“That is not reassuring, Shepard.”
He lifts a shoulder. “You told me to say it.”
“I will toss this very hot coffee right in your face. Don’t push me.”
“You’d never hurt this handsome face of mine.”
I lift a brow.
“Fine, maybe you would,” he mutters. “Anyway, they’re wanting an October wedding—their promise ring exchange anniversary, to be exact.”
“October? But it’s already September. That’s…”
“Next month,” he confirms.
“How do you already know all this?” I question.
“AJ has had this planned for months, Den. I knew it was happening.”
“You couldn’t have warned me about this last night?”
“And ruin the surprise? The romance in it?” He shakes his head. “Never.”
I cock my head and meet him with curious eyes. “You believe in romance now?”
His jaw tightens for only a moment, but I see it before he pastes on a fake smile and says, “Me? Romance? Never. I told you, I’ll never settle down.”
It feels like a lifetime ago when Shep told me differently, and the elation I felt when he said so runs through my veins—only to be replaced by the ice put there by his betrayal.
My favorite mug nearly slips through my fingers as my brain strolls down memory lane.
I tighten my grip as it begins to slip and give myself a shake, pulling my mind back to reality.
I jolt away when I realize Shep’s standing right next to me. I’m even more surprised to see he’s pouring himself a cup of coffee.
“Oh, sure, help yourself.”
“I will, since you’re a terrible host and all.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t practice my manners on my uninvited guest. My bad.”
“Damn right it is.” He winks over the rim of the cup before taking a sip and resting his back against the counter, standing way too close to me for comfort.
Heat is radiating off him, and it feels so good licking at my skin. If I were brave, I’d step closer until I was pressed against him, until I could feel his skin on mine.
But I’m not brave, and I’m not stupid enough to let myself get sucked into Shep’s web again.
Instead, being the smart girl I am, I set my mug on the counter and move away, distracting myself with getting the mix prepared for the pancakes I’m about to devour with Monty.
“Are you still going to be around in October?” I ask him, setting the skillet on the stove. “Or are you going to leave the duties of maid of honor and best man to me then try to take the credit?”
“I’ll be around.”
I sneak a peek at him, finding him staring down into his coffee mug with creased brows. How he drinks his coffee black is beyond me, though I did read an article once that said psychopaths drink black coffee…so I guess it makes sense.
“The rest of the season. I’m aware of when the baseball season runs, Den.”
“Are you in that much trouble?”
“Yes and no. I’m a valuable player and they know it, so it’s more a matter of me getting my poster-boy image back on track. They want me to do a few charity gigs, personal interviews, and the like so I can get back in everyone’s good graces.”
My ears perk up at personal interviews.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com