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The Belle and the Beard

Kate Canterbary

Vesper Press

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2020 by Kate Canterbary

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any forms, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of the author.

Trademarked names appear throughout this book. Rather than use a trademark symbol with every occurrence of a trademarked name, names are used in an editorial fashion, with no intention of infringement of the respective owner's trademark(s).

Editing provided by Julia Ganis of Julia Edits and Erica Russikoff of Erica Edits.

Proofreading provided by Jodi Duggan.

Cover design provided by Sarah Hansen of Okay Creations.

Cover photography provided by CJC Photography.

Cover modeling provided by Jake McManus.

Created with Vellum

Contents

About The Belle and the Beard

Before you dive in…

Preface

1. Linden

2. Jasper

3. Linden

4. Jasper

5. Linden

6. Jasper

7. Linden

8. Jasper

9. Linden

10. Jasper

11. Linden

12. Jasper

13. Linden

14. Jasper

15. Linden

16. Jasper

17. Linden

18. Jasper

19. Linden

20. Jasper

21. Jasper

22. Linden

23. Jasper

24. Linden

25. Jasper

26. Linden

27. Jasper

28. Linden

29. Jasper

30. Linden

Epilogue

Epilogue

Also By Kate Canterbary

Acknowledgments

About The Belle and the Beard

Jasper-Anne Cleary's guide to salvaging your life when you find yourself publicly humiliated, out of work, and unemployable at 35—not to mention newly single:

Run away. Seriously, there's no shame in disappearing. Go to that rustic old cottage your aunt left you. Look out for the colony of bats and the leaky roof. Oh, and the barrel-chested neighbor with shoulders like the broad side of a barn. Definitely look out for him.

Stop wallowing and stay busy. It doesn't matter whether you know how to bake or fix things around the house. Do it anyway. Dust off your southern hospitality and feed that burly, bearded neighbor some pecan pie.

Meet new people. Chat up the grumpy man-bear, pretend to be his girlfriend when his mother puts you two on the spot, agree to go as his date to a big family party. Don't worry—it's only temporary.

Cry it out. Screwing up your life entitles you to wine, broody-moody music, and uninterrupted sobbing.

Get over it all by getting under someone. Count on your fake boyfriend to deliver some very real action between the sheets.

Move on. The disappearing act, the cottage, the faux beau—none of it can last forever.

Linden Santillan's guide to surviving the invasion when a hell in heels campaign strategist moves in next door:

Do not engage. There is no good reason you should chop her wood, haul her boxes, or pick her apples.

Do not accept gifts, especially not the homemade ones. Disconnect the doorbell, toss your phone over a bridge, hide in the basement if you must, but do not eat her pie.

Do not introduce her to your friends and family. They'll favor her over you and never let you forget it.

Do not intervene when she's crying on the back porch. Ignore every desire to fix the entire world for her. By no means should you take her into your arms and memorize her peach-sweet curves.

Do not take her to bed, even if it's just to get her out of your system.

Do not, under any circumstances, fall in love with her.

Warning: This hot, modern take on Beauty and the Beast includes a meet-burglary, an immortal cat, a biohazard of a banana bread, a meddling mother, fancy toast, and a temporary fling that starts feeling a little too permanent.

Before you dive in…

If you need some tunes to set the vibe, check out the playlist accompanying The Belle and the Beard.

Join Kate Canterbary’s Office Memos mailing list for occasional news and updates, as well as new release alerts, exclusive extended epilogues and bonus scenes, and cake. There’s always cake.

Visit Kate’s private reader group to chat about books, get early peeks at new books, and hang out with over booklovers!

If newsletters aren’t your jam, follow Kate on BookBub for preorder and new release alerts.

Preface

Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.

~ John Muir

1

Linden

To be clear, I never truly believed she was breaking into the house.

Anyone would have questions if they saw a strange woman walking up to a vacant house with a crowbar and power drill in hand. I was reasonably curious about the situation.

But I didn't assume she was a burglar. I didn't assume a damn thing. I just wanted to know what was going on over there.

If there was anyone guilty of assumptions, it was my brother. Ash reveled in figuring everything out before anyone else. Big on having the right answer, he was.

"There's a person breaking into the house next door," he called from the front door in lieu of any proper greeting. "Were you aware of that?"

I didn't look up from the newspaper. It didn't hold much of my interest but the meeting I was about to have with my brother promised to hold even less. "Was I aware of an in-progress felony? No."

Ash set his laptop bag on the chair across from me at the kitchen table and gave me a slow-blinking stare that explained he didn't appreciate my response. Even if I hadn't known him for the past thirty-six years, I would've known that. My older (by twenty-nine minutes) brother was an easy read.

"I don't appreciate that response." He glared at me as he rounded the table and selected a glass from the cabinet. "Anyway, don't you think we should check it out?"

"And skip our monthly discussion of my business accounts?" I closed the newspaper, folded it in half. There was nothing going on next door. Nothing ever went on over there, not anymore. "I didn't realize your brain knew how to generate that as an option."

He elbowed the refrigerator shut as he shook a bottle of cold brew coffee. "We'd check out the crime in progress

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