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Truth or Beard(4)

By:Penny Reid

I was, in a word, completely ridiculous.

Okay, that was two words. I was so ridiculous, I’d lost the ability to count.

“Jess, seriously…are you all right? Your face is turning bright red.” Claire squeezed my arm, drawing my attention away from the sound of my blood pressure.

“Yeah.” I knew I sounded weak. “Just let me know when he’s gone.”

“You’re not going to talk to him?”

I shook my head quickly.

Her nose wrinkled; her eyes flicked over my shoulder briefly, presumably to his approaching form. She squeezed my arm again. “I’ve never seen you like this. This is not the Jessica James I know.”

“I can’t help it. If I talk to him I might faint.”

Claire tsked. “Two weeks ago, when we were in Nashville, you walked up to that sexy stranger outside the club and kissed him.”

“You bet me ten dollars to do it. Plus it’s not like that with Beau. Plus that guy was flirting with me. Plus I like kissing.”

“What do you mean? You don’t want to kiss Beau?”

I whispered frantically, “Of course I want to kiss him, but only in theory. Who is your famous crush? If a super-hot Hollywood actor who also happened to be a great person wanted to take you home—and the lights stayed on during the deed—what would you do? I mean, not in theory. Honestly, what would you do?”

Claire looked at me for a long moment then asked, “Would I get a heads up a few months ahead of time? So I could eat low carb and start working out?”


“Then, honestly, I’d run the other way.”

“Exactly! I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like, if he actually wanted to kiss me I think I’d die of mortification.”

“So you think of Beau like a celebrity or something?”

“It’s complicated. I have similar—but not exactly the same—feelings for Intrepid Inger, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and Tina Fey.”

“Intrepid Inger? Isn’t she that solo travel blogger you’re always talking about?”

“Yes. She is she.”

“Who is Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz?”

“The Father of Calculus. He’s dead.”

Claire twisted her lips to the side and she looked like she was trying not to laugh.

I shrugged helplessly. “I know. I’m a math nerd.”

“Yes. You are a math nerd. But you’re a math nerd who can totally pull off a sexy Gandalf costume.”

“Oh my God. I forgot!” My hand flew to my beard. “Maybe he won’t recognize me.”

Claire tsked. “Let me get this straight, you’ll kiss a random guy on the street with nothing but sass. But if you had to talk to one of your hero-crushes—a famous woman travel blogger, the father of calculus, arguably the funniest woman alive, or Beau Winston—you develop aphasia and faint?”

I nodded.

“Honey, Beau Winston puts his pants on one leg at a time. He’s completely normal. Why the hero worship? Go talk to him.”

“Every time I saw him while we were growing up he was always doing something brave, heroic, or remarkably kind. Did I tell you he saved my cat? And one time I saw him rescue two little boys from a rattlesnake. And one time he—”

“It get it. You’ve spent years building him up in your head.”

“I can’t talk to him. Not yet. Maybe one day, after some extreme mental preparation.” My whisper was harsh, urgent.

“Yes, you can.”

“No. Really. I can’t.” I felt my eyes widen to their maximum diameter. “I’ve never successfully carried on a conversation with Beau Winston. It’s not just the fact that I’ve built him up in my head. I have a terrible record of failure where he is concerned. Every time I try to speak my brain forgets English, and I start slurring Swahili or Swedish or Swiss. He thinks I’m a total idiot.”

“People of Switzerland don’t speak Swiss. They speak German, French, Italian, and Romansh.”

“See? I’m becoming dumber with each second.”

I sucked in a breath because I could hear his voice now; he was speaking to the little girl, and the sound was so fantastically charming it caused my stomach to pitch then lurch like I was in a small boat in the middle of the ocean. I placed my hand over my belly and braced my feet apart.

When he entered my peripheral vision, my attention was drawn to him like a magnet. He was still smiling, but it was smaller, polite. He was handing the little girl off to a lady I recognized as Mrs. MacIntyre, the lead librarian at the local branch in town. Tinker Bell must be her granddaughter.

She said something about a chicken or a rooster. He said something in response. They laughed. I stared, letting the velvety sound wash over me. Once again I was caught on a big wave in the middle of the ocean—pitch, lurch.