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Beard Science(76)

By:Penny Reid

Cletus motioned for me to stand from my seat, so I did. Then he claimed it and opened his arms. “Come cuddle with me,” he said low enough for only me to hear. “I still miss you. I need you close.”

I grinned at that and settled myself in his lap, covering us both with the blanket.

“Speaking of adventures, how was boar hunting, Cletus? Did you bring home much meat?” Jethro was lounging with Sienna on a blanket. He sat upright with his legs stretched out before him and she rested her head on his lap, sucking on a lemon candy I’d made her. She said they helped with the nausea, but still wanted the custard cakes. I was happy to oblige.

“Don’t you worry about my meat, Jethro.” Cletus lifted his eyebrows at his oldest brother, holding me close. “I brought home plenty and more is on its way. Jenn and I are going to make some sausage pie.”

“Sausage pie?” This question came from Billy, and he swapped a knowing look with Beau.

“That’s right. Sausage pie.” Cletus pushed my hair over my shoulder and encouraged me to snuggle closer.

“I see.” Beau nodded slowly, thoughtfully. “So Jennifer is going to let you put your sausage in her pie.”

Cletus stiffened. “Don’t say it like that.”

“Like what?” Roscoe pressed his lips together, staring at the fire and clearly trying not to smile. “Beau is just asking after your sausage, and we know how much you like talking about it.”

“You know what.” I could hear the warning in Cletus’s tone.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Cletus.” Beau held his hands up as though he surrendered, but he lost the fight against his grin. “I’m just remarking on the fact that you’re going to slip your famous sausage into Jennifer’s hot, moist—”

“Do not use that word.” Ashley raised her voice over Beau’s and made a face. “Everybody hates that word.”

“Fine. Hot, wet—”

“Pie crust is not wet. It’s flaky,” Jethro put in.

Sienna added, “I think using the word moist for cake is okay.”

“Using moist for cake is the only time it’s okay,” Ashley confirmed. “Otherwise it’s a no go.”

“Wait a minute, that’s a good point.” Beau pointed at Ashley, then at me. “Let’s talk about Jennifer’s moist cake for a minute.”

“Beau. Stop it.” Cletus did not sound amused. “Quit.”

I straightened and sat forward, meeting Beau’s twinkling and teasing gaze. “I think it’s pretty obvious why my cake is so moist.”

Everyone—and I do mean everyone—frowned, blinked, and turned their startled gazes to me.

Despite all the eyes leveled on my person, I managed to sound completely reasonable and calm as I said, “It’s the banana. The banana in my cake makes it wet.”

A stunned silence followed, during which the men—Cletus included—gaped and the women grinned.

Sienna’s burst of laughter broke the silence. “I love her! I swear, Cletus, if you don’t marry her then I will talk to Jethro about making her my sister-wife.”

I turned a bright smile to Cletus and he gave me the side-eye. “You’re pretty sneaky.”

My smile grew because it was uncontainable. It was uncontainable because I was surrounded by warmth and love and Cletus. I knew, without a doubt, that this was where I belonged. I’d found my tribe. I’d found my people.

I’d found my person.

And I’d found myself.

I fell asleep on Cletus’s lap in front of the fire. The ebb and flow of the conversation, the laughter. The good and warm feelings lulled me, relaxing me, until I could fight my exhaustion no more.

I woke up in Cletus’s arms and it took me several seconds to comprehend we were in my house. Apparently, he’d driven me home and carried me inside.

“You’re not still worried about my feet, are you?” I asked, my voice raspy from sleep, my words slightly slurred.

He chuckled, kissing my forehead, and whispered in the dark. “I’m still thinking of your feet. They need to be protected.”

I laughed, coming more awake, twisting my arms around his and kissing his neck. “What time is it?”

“Late,” he said, setting me down on my bed and kneeling in front of me.

Cletus reached for my right boot and pulled it off. Then he worked on my left. His eyes followed his movements, his face impassive as his hands pulled off my socks and tucked them away. Then he sat next to me on the bed and pushed my hair over one shoulder. His fingers searched for the zipper at the back of my dress.

“The other one didn’t have a zipper,” he mumbled, finally finding the pull.

My room was dim, just the light from the hallway spilling in through the doorway, so I couldn’t see very well. But I felt him, felt his thigh against my thigh, his fingers on my neck and back, his breath against my cheek.

Suddenly, I was awake. And I was restless. And I’d missed him terribly. I shifted, swallowed, tensed as the zipper lowered down my lower back.

He leaned away and I felt his eyes on my profile. “Are you okay? Do you need my help to undress?”

His question, so calm and kindly meant—almost detached—made my heart twist and ache. He thought I was tired, he thought I was still sleepy. He wanted to make sure I was okay.

How Cletus cared for me was both exhilarating and exasperating.

Didn’t he know I wanted him? Didn’t he know how I longed for his touch, for both the sweet and the rough? Every night we’d been separated I thought of him, of his hands and mouth and tongue and fingers and . . .


His tone was patient, composed, infuriating.

I stood, stepping in front of him, and pulled down the sleeves of my dress. He lifted his chin and his eyebrows arched as well. Our eyes met and tangled. I wondered, could he read my thoughts? Did he know what I wanted?

Or will I have to show him?

As his eyebrows lowered, settling into a thoughtful position, his lips parted—his glorious, kissable lips—as though a question were on the tip of his tongue.

My sweater dress fell to the floor, leaving me in nothing but my undies and bra. I quickly removed the bra. And then my underwear. And then I was naked.

He blinked at me, confusion and desire gathering behind his gaze. His hands fisted, grabbing the comforter, as though he were trying to control himself, hold on to something tangible.

“Do you want me to touch you?” he asked roughly, his voice suddenly gravel, his throat working, his expression a mixture of torment, hunger, and determination.

He didn’t understand, not yet.

So I shook my head, pushing his jacket off his shoulders. I reached for his shirt, tugged it up and over his head. He obliged by lifting his arms, tossing both to the floor at the foot of the bed. I paused, devouring the sight of his bare chest, of his stomach and arms, his shoulders. He had really beautiful shoulders.

And then I knelt in front of him and reached for his belt buckle.

He grabbed my hands. “Jennifer, what are you doing?” He sounded breathless.

I ignored the question, instead straightening and lifting my chin, capturing his mouth with a kiss as my pebbled nipples grazed his chest, making him shudder and sigh and groan. He released me and cupped my breasts, groaning again, massaging and caressing, as though helpless to fight against the reality of boobs.

Good to know.

Taking advantage of the distraction, I redoubled my efforts with his belt, then made quick work of unbuttoning and unzipping his fly. I shifted away and he followed, his hands seeking my skin. I stood and he stood, kissing my neck, biting my shoulder, then bending to lick the flat of his tongue against the center of my breast.

My breath hitched, because the hot, wet friction felt essential and startling. But then I remembered myself and what I wanted. I pushed his pants down first, then his boxers, then I pushed him.

He fell backward on the bed.

“Take off your shoes,” I heard myself say, my eyes greedily savoring the sight of a naked Cletus.

Well, almost naked. His pants were around his ankles, blocked by his boots.

He glared at me and it felt furious. It felt desperate. Again he balled his hands into fists. He shook his head.

“What are you doing?” His tone now gruffer, angrier, raw. He was breathing hard and appeared to be barely retraining some dark urge.

Give in to it.

I swept my long hair to the side and bent to remove his boots, pulling the laces, then tugging them off along with his pants and socks.

Now he was naked. We both were. And his jaw was clenched.

My beautiful man.

I placed a knee on the bed and he flinched, shaking his head, his eyes dark and dangerous. “I don’t have a condom.”

“And I’m not on birth control,” I whispered, laying my hand on his shoulder.

He flinched again at the contact, grabbing my wrist and pulling it away. His eyes flashed and I saw what I hoped to see: Desire. Reverence. Longing. Devotion. Lust. Love.

His control was slipping.

“What the hell are you doing, Jenn?”

I don’t know.

Placing my other knee on the bed, one on either side of his hips, I lowered myself, my open center sliding against his erection.

We both trembled. His eyes snapped to mine.

Watching him—a starving, wild thing—I rocked my hips, pressing myself more completely against him, and I whispered, “Make love to me.”