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Truth or Beard(7)

By:Penny Reid

The fire chief shook his head. “No, no. It’s not for my truck, son. It’s Red, the fire engine. He’s helping me get the old girl running again for the Christmas parade.”

“Ah. I see. Yeah, Cletus is playing his banjo.” Beau tossed his thumb over his shoulder. “Only one room is jamming so far tonight; I think everyone else is waiting until the trick-or-treating is over.”

Mr. McClure glanced in the direction Beau had indicated. “I’ll go sit in then and wait for a break.” He then turned a friendly smile to Claire and me. “Girls, I’d be honored to be your escort.”

Claire nodded for both of us; but before she could verbally accept the offer, Beau reached out and grabbed my arm lightning fast.

“Claire, you go on.” Beau pulled me away from my friend in a smooth motion. “I’d like to catch up with Jess. See y’all later.”

He didn’t wait for Claire or me to react.

Before I knew what was happening, he’d slipped his rough palm into mine, grasped my fingers, and turned toward the converted cafeteria, tugging me after him. I was so shocked by the sensation of his skin and the electric current running up my arm, I followed mutely because I could only focus on where our palms touched.

I loved the feel of him. In truth I was in danger of climbing him. I just wanted to be near him, touch him, snuggle against him. He was so epically enticing.

We wove through the crowd as I tried to memorize the feeling of his hand grasping mine. I had difficulty drawing breath; my stomach was an eruption of suspiciously amorous butterflies. People said hi—to both him and me—but we didn’t pause. I was his shadow as Beau led me to the buffet table; I dreaded reaching it because he would likely release me. To my surprise we kept on walking.

He didn’t glance back at me as we skirted around a table laden with lemonade and sweet tea, heading behind a curtain that ran the length of one wall—from ceiling to floor—and obscured a set of stairs leading to a small stage. The stage, likewise, was hidden by the curtain. Beau didn’t pause once we were up the steps or on the stage. Instead he continued tugging until he had me to one side, backstage, completely hidden by the curtain, around a corner, and behind a wall.

It was dark and my eyes required several seconds to adjust; likewise, my brain hadn’t yet caught up with where we were and how we’d arrived here, not to mention who I was with. A single overhead light source cast our surroundings in a grayish murkiness. I nearly tripped over my own feet when Beau turned, placed his hands suddenly on my hips, and backed me into the wall.

I felt solid concrete behind me. Beau and all his heroic gorgeousness loomed before me, scant inches away. His glittering eyes ensnared mine. Then and only then did he stop.

I was so confused—really discombobulated was the word for it. This was like something out of a music video fantasy. (Did I forget to mention that my daydreams actually present themselves as music videos à laPaula Abdul’s Rush, Rush complete with glowing, imperfection-blurring lens filters?) I could only gaze up at him in wonder.

He leaned forward, and his forehead hit the rim of my hat. Scowling, he pulled it, the wig, and the beard from my head, dropping them to the floor.

“I like this costume,” he said in a low voice as his hands reclaimed their spot, his thumbs rubbing the area just above my hips like he was entitled to touch me and my body how he liked. The heat from his palms sent spiking shivers to my lower belly. “But I do not enjoy that hat.”

I’d known Beau for almost fifteen years, but had never imagined a moment like this, not in my wildest dreams. I hadn’t been lying when I’d told Claire that my crush on Beau was complicated. My daydreams involved him and me saving people together, a team of rescuers—like the one time I watched as he saved two little boys from a rattlesnake. He’d always been patient, verging on saintly.

Basically, they were the neutered fantasies of a young girl with extreme hero worship.

But Beau didn’t look patient or saintly now and he felt very, very real. Even in the murky dimness, his eyes sparkled like sapphires, like they possessed their own internal radiance. I thought mournfully of my plain brown irises and, like the weirdo I was, I hoped that our make-believe children would inherit his eyes.

His hands slid up my body then pushed my cape over my shoulders with a whisper-light touch. He removed the staff from my hand. I watched as Beau leaned it against the wall with care, his boots scuffing against the wooden floor.

“Jessica James, you’ve been giving me hot looks that are difficult to ignore.” He said this in a near growl, leaning a fraction of an inch closer.