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Grin and Beard It

By:Penny Reid

CHAPTER 1


“Not all those who wander are lost.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring



~Sienna~

I was lost.

I was lost lost. My throat was tight with how lost I was. A desperate lost, half wondering if I’d crossed over into a new dimension and would never be found lost. I hadn’t seen another car, let alone a pedestrian, in over an hour.

Perhaps I was now the last person left on the face of the earth. Perhaps everyone else had been abducted by aliens. I was so lost not even aliens could find me.

Whatever. Alternate reality, body-snatching aliens or not, I was now beyond frustrated. And when I’m extremely frustrated, I cry.

At present, I was very close to crying. I hate this about myself.

Which is why I pulled my tiny rental car off the side of the mountain road as soon as I spotted an overlook. Driving while crying is like eating while crying, or having sex while crying: weird, wet (not in a good way), and dangerous.

I tried to ignore that this overlook felt suspiciously familiar. I was fairly certain I’d pulled off at this exact spot an hour ago in a futile attempt to consult the paper map now crumpled on my passenger seat. This was the same paper map I would again have to consult, and likely with the same outcome—another two hours spent driving up and down this godforsaken mountain road.

Calming breaths were coming out as slightly hysterical huffs as I snatched the map from the passenger’s seat. I shook out the map. I enjoyed the violent sound of the paper rumpling in my hands. I cleared my throat. I glared at the map. I continued glaring at the map.

I decided the map was clearly written by masochistic-doodling ancient Egyptians because everything was hieroglyphics and unreadable doodads.

I cursed the map.

“BY MOTHRA’S NIPPLES! I FUCKING HATE THIS MAP!”

Irrational anger bubbled to the surface and all I could think about was murdering the map. I would show the map who was boss.

I was boss.

Not some evil, wrong map from hell. I had no choice but to hit the map against the steering wheel several times, grunting and releasing a string of curses that would have made my sailor father proud. And maybe blush.

Then I opened my driver’s side door, still grunting and raging, and slammed the map against the car, threw it on the ground, stomped on it, kicked it, and just generally assaulted it in every way I could think of. I’m a little embarrassed to admit, in my mindlessness I was also taunting the map, questioning its virility, flipping it the bird, and cursing now in Spanish as well as English.

It was the most cardio I’d done in over twelve months.

Stupid map, making me do cardio. I’ll kill you!

Awareness I was no longer alone didn’t occur all at once. I kind of realized a truck had driven past my map-assault-breakdance but had ignored it. If it had been twenty minutes ago I would have flagged down the truck or followed it. But I was now red-faced, snot-nosed, and sweaty. The last thing I needed were red-faced, snot-nosed, sweaty pictures of me all over the Internet . . . again.

But then the truck returned. The sound of tires crunching over gravel pulled me out of my fit of violence.

“Oh, crap.”

I inhaled a large, steadying breath, leaned against my car, and closed my eyes. I needed to piece together my wherewithal as soon as possible, prepare to flash my dimples, unleash the charm.

It was at this point I almost wished I’d agreed to let my sister—who was also my extremely capable manager—accompany me. But, no. I’d wanted some time away. Some quiet and peace. The world had grown too loud, the studios too demanding, the paparazzi cameras too suffocating.

My house in LA had been broken into four times in the last month; three had been over-exuberant fans. But one of the break-ins had been a reporter. She’d gone through my stuff, digging for dirt. I had no dirt. I didn’t even have sand or dust. My life was an open book.

So, no. I hadn’t wanted my sister to come. And I’d left my security team in Knoxville. And now I was lost. I’d wanted a break from being Sienna Diaz. Maybe if I’d had a proper map—or any innate sense of direction—then a break might have been possible, but now . . .

Sliding my eyes to the side and glaring through the curtain my dark brown hair provided, I tried to sneak a peek at the newcomer through the truck’s windshield—specifically, I wanted to determine whether I was being filmed—and that’s when I spied the lights on the roof and the emblem on the hood and side of the car.

This car was official. And the man in it—now getting out of it and removing his sunglasses—was also official, wearing a uniform complete with a hat and a tool belt. A public servant.

THANK YOU, UNIVERSE.

I flipped my hair away from my face, wiped the backs of my hands across my slick cheeks and forehead, relieved I didn’t need to gather my charm or wherewithal. Law enforcement didn’t typically use phones to shoot amateur videos. If they did they were usually fired for misconduct. I could leave all my figurative masks on the ground, along with Satan’s torn and tattered map to hell.

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