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Truth or Beard(10)

By:Penny Reid

My body jolted as understanding punched me in the stomach. The ice bucket of reality quelled any hot looks or hot feelings and I was left cold. So very, very cold. I turned my attention back to the man of my dreams.

Except he wasn’t.

My companion was most definitely not Beau Winston—hero, world’s nicest guy. No, no, no. This man was not Beau. This man was Duane.

And this man had just done fantastic things to my nipples.


“The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.”

― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Fall of Atlantis


As soon as our eyes tangled, Duane winced—almost like I’d sucker-punched him—and he turned away. I watched his muscled torso and chest rise and fall with an expansive breath just before he plucked his shirt from the floor and pulled it on.

He cleared his throat then called out, “Yeah, a little privacy would be nice.”

“Who’s back there with you? Is it Tina?” Beau’s deep, velvety chuckle met my ears, and my stomach twisted painfully.

I felt like I was going to be sick. My eyes drifted shut, the back of my head hit the wall behind me. My chest seized. I was so stupid. I wished for a black hole to open up under my feet and swallow me, send me to the other side of the universe.

Tina was, of course, Tina Patterson. Duane’s girlfriend. Or ex-girlfriend. Really, keeping up with their on-again, off-again relationship was inviting whiplash. She was also my first cousin on my daddy’s side as well as my best friend in elementary and middle school; but we’d gone in very different directions since.

“None of your business, dummy. Go away,” Duane answered his twin; his voice sounded thick, gravely, and I felt his eyes on me though mine remained firmly closed.

“All right, all right. Fine. Tell Tina I say hi, but we’re leaving for Bandit Lake in twenty minutes.” Beau's response was paired with the sound of boots descending the stairs.

The first notes of a new song played between my ears; Radiohead’s Creep. Ice entered my veins even as a mortified flush spread up my neck, over my cheeks to the top of my head. Gritting my teeth, I opened my eyes and glared at Duane Winston.

If he thought I’d been giving him hot looks before, then my look now was the polar opposite. I was aiming for the equivalent of midnight at the arctic pole during the winter solstice.

His hands were on his hips, and I watched him slowly nibble on his bottom lip, like he was tasting it, like he was tasting me. His eyes were on the floor of the stage, his breath beginning to even, though not yet completely normalized.

A weird thought occurred to me, making me feel hot with guilt and shame: I’d cheated on Beau, betrayed him in some way. Really, this was just more of my crazy thinking because my infatuation with Beau had always been extremely one-sided. I may have been ridiculous, but I was not deluded.

Regardless, the guilt, shame, and anger I was feeling meant I’d never wanted to stab and/or maim someone as much as I wanted to stab and/or maim Duane Winston in that moment. Therefore I was not surprised when I said the words I was thinking.

“You are such a bastard.”

His eyes lifted then, glittering sapphires that held just a whisper of bitter amusement buried under another hot look.

“Now she speaks,” he said flatly.

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Now you speak,” he accused, sounding so different to my ears.

Instead of the friendly and adorable Beau, I heard Duane. Sarcastic, sullen, snappish Duane.

“This whole time, since I walked over to you and Claire, you hadn’t said a single word. Not when I took you away from your friend, not when I pulled you through the cafeteria, not when I brought you here, not when I had my hand in your panties and your tits in my mouth. But now, miraculously you find your voice.”

God, how I loathed him.

“You are such a bastard!” I repeated, louder and a little more violently this time as I pointedly tried to ignore the confusing, swirling, humming desire that still twisted in my belly. I used the lingering passion to fuel my anger.

“Nice to see you again, Jess. I admit, you’ve filled out very nicely,” his eyes blazed a path from my strappy sandals to my breasts, “but you’re just as bratty as ever.”

I charged forward and pushed against his chest. “You lying asshat! I thought you were Beau.”

Before I could claw his eyes out, Duane caught my wrists and walked me backward, against the wall, holding my arms hostage over my head; his body trapped me, keeping me in place. I tried to knee him in the groin, but he deftly sidestepped and pressed his legs against mine to keep them immobile.