Beauty and the Mustache(3)

By: Penny Reid



Unable to handle the intensity of his stare a moment longer, I blurted, “I’m so sorry!”

He blinked at me and shook his head once, quickly, as if I’d just appeared. He released my hand and stepped away as though touching me might burn him. “What the hell was that?”

I ripped my gaze from his and looked at his chest. It was a nice chest—a very, very nice chest—but his left nipple was red and angry. My nipple-wist marred the otherwise physical perfection of his chiseled torso. A small sound of dismay tumbled from my lips.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” I stammered, and I reached forward and petted the offended skin. “I never would have purpled your nurple if I’d know you weren’t related to me. It’s just that I was trying to sleep. Really, I should have known you weren’t Cletus; he would have guessed my intentions a mile away and taken evasive maneuvers.”

“Evasive maneuvers?”

I glanced up from where my fingers continued to caress his wounded nipple to his silver eyes, now a tad less thunderstormy, but a tad more cautiousy.

I blinked at him, my breath seizing in my chest, and I completely lost my train of thought.

“What?”

The Viking’s eyes looked directly into mine. After a short pause, he glanced down at his chest. I followed his glare to where my fingers were caressing his man-nipple. I flinched, yanked my hands away and balled them into fists between us.

“Sorry,” I blurted again. “Sorry about twisting your nipple. Also sorry about petting it afterward. Furthermore, I’m sorry that I can’t seem to stop talking....”

His eyes lowered to my feet then swept up my body in an unapologetic assessment, loitered on my bare calves and thighs for a minute, then dawdled on my chest.

“Who are you?” He asked my chest, sounding annoyed.

“Who am I?” I asked, because honestly—and I might lose my badass card for this—part of me had forgotten my name. Because he was the kind of ruggedly sexy that made me forget what number I was on and what my name was.

“Yeah, who are you?” His eyes finally met mine and he sounded even more annoyed. I could tell by his accent that he wasn’t from Tennessee, though he had a distinct southern drawl. My brain told me it was Oklahoma or Texas.

“I…I’m Ashley Winston.”

He sucked in a sharp breath, obviously surprised by my response. His frown was equal parts severe, confused, and angry from behind his unwieldy blond beard as he surveyed me.

Then he turned to Jethro. “You have a sister?”

The fact that the golden Viking had addressed my brother rather than me was a slap of sobriety, and I responded with mildly offended displeasure. “Yes they have a sister.”

Jethro had followed me around the car when I charged into the quonset hut and he tipped his head in my direction. “Yep. That’s Ash.”

“I thought Ash was a boy.” The handsome marauder said this like he was both shocked and upset, like he’d been misled, lured into our cluttered garage with trickery and deception.

“No. She’s a girl.” Billy bellowed from under the hood of the car.

The man’s eyes swept up and down my body again, a flagrant scrutiny. He did not look pleased.

“Obviously.” The blond stranger said, like he’d just tasted something sour.

In that moment, I finally figured out what kind of handsome he was. He was fiction-handsome. Romance novel handsome; but not the clean-cut (billionaire) alpha male or even the tattooed (billionaire) bad boy archetype.

He was the Scottish highlander, Viking conqueror, bodice-ripper historical romance kind of handsome; an unshaven, lion wrestling, mountain man recluse, toss you over his shoulder and plunder your goodies kind of handsome. He was both scary and swoony. I wanted to braid his beard. I also wanted to run away.

But his less than flattering expression was just the reality slap I needed to propel me out of my stupor. I finally saw beyond my initial stunned reaction to his rugged handsomeness, and my anger boiled over anew. I remembered that it was six-something in the morning, and this male specimen of fineness was the reason I was awake.

Handsome or not, it didn’t matter. I decided he was a jackass.

I gave him my very best you’re not worth my time glare even as I fought against a delayed blush of embarrassment. I wasn’t sure if I was embarrassed because I’d just inflicted pain to his nipple then tried to pet it, or if I was flustered because he obviously found me repulsive.

Really, I’d ogled him. Then, amidst my ogling, he gave me the grossed-out stink-eye.

Suppressing these disturbing and uncomplimentary musings, I turned to Jethro. “Sorry about maiming your friend, but will you please tell him,” I indicated the bearded stranger with a thumb over my shoulder, “to quit revving the engine at six fourteen in the morning, or else I’ll remove this car’s spark plug wires and lock you all out of the house.”

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