My editor would kill to score an interview with Shep. He’s notorious for avoiding them, which is odd because the guy loves the spotlight otherwise.

There’s a promotion open at work and I know if I could get Shep to sit down for something and allow me to publish it, I would be first in line for the position. It’s something I’ve been working toward, a salary I could really use, and a foot into so many doors for my future.

“Interviews?” I ask casually, crossing in front of him to reach into the cabinet on the other side of his head.

I stare at the shelf, waiting for his response.

When he doesn’t give one, I glance around the open cabinet door.

His arms are crossed and he’s looking at me in amusement.

“What?”

“Oh no, don’t you what me with all that false innocence in your voice. You want something.”

I shove my head back into the safety of the cabinet. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I pull down the pancake mix and chocolate chips I plan to add, but I don’t move—not until Shep pushes on the door and closes it with a soft thud.

“You want an interview.”

“I…” I lick my lips and brush a stray hair out of my face.

Oh god, my hair. I didn’t think to check it before I opened the door because I was expecting my sister, not my ex.

I must look like a hot mess right now.

Fantastic.

I move around the kitchen, grabbing a mixing bowl, whisk, and the half gallon of milk from the fridge. I measure out the ingredients, dump way too many chocolate chips in, and whip it all together.

“Denny?” my unwanted guest pushes after several minutes of me ignoring him.

Damn. I thought for sure he’d leave if I waited long enough.

I drop the whisk and face him, squaring my shoulders and pulling my big girl panties up.

“Yes, Shep, I want an interview. There’s a promotion coming up at work, and scoring an interview with the famous Shepard Clark would put me at the top of the list for it.” I take a deep breath. “So, yes, I want an interview.”

He takes another drink of his coffee, eyes never leaving mine as he studies me. He knows how hard it was for me to say that out loud to him, to say I…need him.

Unable to endure his stare for another moment, I turn away, pouring batter into the skillet and focusing on making breakfast.

“Okay.”

“W-What?” I sputter.

He shrugs. “Okay. I’ll do an interview.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “What do you want?”

He lets out a hearty laugh, one that sounds almost a little…maniacal.

“What makes you think I want something?”

“Because I know you.”

He gives me a pointed look. “As you so kindly pointed out last night, a lot can change in six years.”

“Sure, but this isn’t one of those things.”

Another sip of coffee. Another smirk.

“You’re right. It’s not.”

He finishes off the hot liquid in his hand, rinses his cup, and sets it in the sink before turning back to me.

“I have conditions.”

I roll my eyes and cross my arms over my chest, jutting my hip out against the counter, bracing myself for the long list I’m certain he’s about to regale me with. “Of course you do. Name them.”

“I have a few charity events coming up. I need a date.”

I stumble back at his request, stunned.

“I’m sorry, you want me”—I press my finger against my chest for emphasis—“to be your”—finger pointed at him now—“date? Date?”

“Yes. No hanky panky involved.” He pauses then winks at me. “Unless you want it to be involved.”

I shiver at the idea.

He believes it’s in disgust and laughs, but I know it’s because the idea slides inside of me and hits me right between my thighs.

Treacherous body.

He waves a hand. “It’s strictly for show. It’ll be a great opportunity for you to see me in other environments for the interview, too.”

He’s not wrong.

Damn him for not being wrong.

“Is that it? I just have to be your date to a charity gig or two?”

His eyes spark with a mischievous glint, and I know that’s not all he wants.

“I need to do some damage control with my parents…and Zach. Especially with Zach.”

I let out a dry laugh. Of course. “What did you do, Shep?”

“Something really fucking stupid that I need to fix. I need to show them I have my life together, show them I’m better than I was in the moments I can’t take back and I’m growing up.”

“Are you though?”

He grits his teeth together and hisses, “Yes.”

I point the spatula at him. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

He rolls his eyes in response.

“How does this involve me?”

“My parents and Zach have come to accept AJ as another member of the family over the years since he moved out here. They’ll be at the wedding for sure, and I want you to be my date.”

“No.”

My response is instant. Final.

There is no way in hell I’ll be attending a wedding with Shep.

Especially not with Shep.

A charity event? Sure. We’ll be in a professional context the whole time. There’s no way anything could go wrong there.

But a wedding? The most romantic setting of all? No way, no how.

Why would I do that? To remind myself of everything I don’t have?

I flip the pancake, ignoring Shep.

Moments later he pushes off the counter and past me.

“Where are you going?” I say before I can bite my tongue. I’ve been hoping he’d leave since he got here, so why would I want him to stay now? And what is with my body betraying me today?

“I’m leaving.”

“We’re not done discussing this.”

He stops and turns toward me. “But we are. You said no to one of my conditions—no deal.”

“Shep, I cannot go to Allie and AJ’s wedding with you.”

“Why not?” He appears calm and collected, but I know better as he stalks back toward the counter, his hazel gaze intense. “I’m not asking you to marry me, Den.”

God, do I hate how much his words sting.

Hate how my heart begins to thump in my chest and my entire body sags with the overwhelming weight of his words.

I slide the pancake from the skillet and onto the waiting plate, pouring more batter in its place.

“It’s not even a real date,” he continues, speaking like he didn’t just shatter my heart in two all over again. “Besides, we’ll already be paired up the entire night as best man and maid of honor. What’s the harm in being my date, especially when it gets you that interview and probably that promotion?”

He has a point…and I hate that he has a point.

I particularly hate that I’m actually considering saying yes. I could use that raise. I could use that foot in the door.

More than that, I deserve both.

What’s the harm in one night anyway?

“I…”

I can’t say it.

“Last chance, Denny,” he says quietly.

I close my eyes and exhale a steadying breath, trying to summon up some courage.

I vowed I’d never get caught up with Shep again, not when I know how damaging it can be.

But that was six years ago.

I’m a whole different person now. What if Shep is too? What if he’s not lying about changing?

And what if who we are now is better than who we were then?

“I’ll do it.”

He beams at me, the glow of victory spreading across his cheeks.

“Great. I’ll see you next Friday night.”

“For what?”

All too quickly, he reaches over the counter, plucks the pancake from the plate, and winks at me before taking a bite and heading toward the front door to leave…finally.

“Our first date,” he calls over his shoulder.

I groan. “How many events are there going to be, Shepard?”

“Five.”

“Five?!” I screech.

“Yep.” He pulls open the door. “Pick you up at seven. Wear something sexy.”

I chuck the spatula at his stupid grinning face and listen to him laugh the whole way down the hall.

What have I gotten myself into?

Six

Six years ago, September

Shepard: Are you at the nerd shop?

Denver: STOP CALLING IT A NERD SHOP!

Shepard: All I’m saying is my big brother is the biggest nerd I know and even he doesn’t hang out at comic book stores.

Shepard: So, yeah, YOU’RE A NERD.

Denver: THEY HAVE FREE WIFI!

Shepard: Uh huh. Sure.

Denver: God I hate you.

Shepard: Liar. I think you’re actually starting to look forward to my texts.

Denver: I’m really not.

Shepard: So many lies leaving that pretty mouth of yours.

Denver: Pretty, huh?

Shepard: What? I’m a teenager with eyes, hormones, and an always-half-hard dick. Yes, you’re hot, Den.

Shepard: Don’t make it weird.

Denver: I won’t.

Denver: You’re hot too, Shep.

Shepard: You just made it weird.

Denver: EYE ROLL EMOJI

Shepard: You know you can just use the emoji, right?

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