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Home > Jagged (Colorado Mountain #5)(15)

Jagged (Colorado Mountain #5)(15)
Author: Kristen Ashley

So I’d had three years at The Dog under my belt before Ham got a job there.

Looking back, I’d fallen for him on sight. But he capped it being not only hot but cool and fun to work with. I never expected anything to happen. He was eleven years older than me, and back then, that was a lot. Even now, it still seemed like a lot.

But it happened for us. It didn’t take long. My parents never really got done screwing with me or Xenia. Not until they did it when Ham was around, he took my back, as he said, I landed in his bed, and he took care of that situation for me.

Not for Xenia, unfortunately. By then, Xenia was beyond anyone taking care of her, even professionals with years of training and experience.

I turned my thoughts from my sister like I always turned my thoughts from my sister but doing it meant I caught the sexy smile Ham threw at me when he caught sight of me.

Yes, this was going to be a struggle.

He moved down the bar when he saw I was moving in that direction.

I hefted my ass on a stool as he hit the bar in front of me.

“You didn’t tell me you were comin’ in,” he said as greeting.

“Command performance,” I explained. “Arlene.”

He smiled another sexy smile as he muttered a throaty, sexy, “Ah.”

I ignored the sexy, throaty “ah” and smile as well as my mild surprise that Ham obviously remembered Arlene from back in the day (then again, Arlene was unforgettable), though there was the possibility she’d been in since he’d been back, and stayed on target.

“I got home, unpacked some stuff so your head wouldn’t explode at the mess, and headed out or I would have called to let you know you needed to have a cold one waiting for me.”

Without hesitation, he moved back two steps, bent, pulled a cold one out of the glass-fronted fridge under the back of the bar, twisted off the cap, and came back to put the bottle of beer on the bar in front of me.

I grabbed it and took a deep pull.

When I dropped it, I noted, “Just to say, I only got a few boxes unpacked so don’t let your head explode. I’ll finish tomorrow.”

“Tell me you unpacked the dishes,” he ordered.

“Seein’ as you got paper plates, a weirdly ample supply of chopsticks, and that’s all, not even mugs, yes. I prioritized unpacking the dishes.”

He grinned. “Then my head won’t explode.”

“Good,” I mumbled and took another pull from my beer. When I dropped it, I asked, “You got a second to talk before Arlene gets here?”

“Jake’s out back, so I do but I do only if no one needs a drink.”

“This’ll be fast.”

His brows went up. “What’s up?”

“We need to talk about rent, utilities, stuff like that.”

“Why?”

I blinked and repeated a perplexed, “Why?”

“Well, seein’ as you’re not payin’ either, nothin’ to talk about.”

I didn’t blink then. I stared, wide-eyed and with lips parted.

I pulled it together to ask, “I’m not payin’?”

“Babe, told you, helpin’ you get on your feet.”

“But—”

“To get on your feet, you need cash.”

“Yes, but—”

“Yo! Barman!” a man’s voice called.

I looked to the right and saw a man holding up a ten spot.

“Be back,” Ham muttered and moved to the man.

I took a pull of beer, thinking about our brief discussion and how I felt about it.

Then I decided how I felt about it.

Luckily, Ham was quick getting beers for the guy, making change, and getting back to me.

“We good?” he asked.

“No,” I answered.

“Zara—”

I leaned in. “Please, listen to me.”

Ham held my eyes. “I’m listenin’.”

“I can’t let you do that. Even if we were together, I couldn’t let you do that. I’ve made my own way since I was eighteen.”

“Darlin’—”

“Please. Listen,” I urged.

Ham shut his mouth.

“We have to work something out. I know what it costs to rent there because I checked it out when I was moving. It was totally out of my range and I wasn’t even looking at two bedrooms with three balconies. I suspect half of your rent is more than my rent on the studio so, it sucks, but I can’t hack that. But I have to do something and you have to let me, Ham. I’m moving right back out if you don’t. Maybelline said I could stay with her and her husband if—”

He cut me off. “Half utilities, a hundred dollars the first month, a hundred fifty the second, two hundred the third, we stick with that for the next three and see where you’re at.”

I took a deep breath and felt the tension ease from my shoulders.

“Thank you,” I said quietly.

“So we got a deal?” he asked.

I nodded.

His intelligent eyes moved over my face.

“Easy,” he murmured.

“What?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Nothin’.”

“No, Ham, what?”

He again studied me and then he bent into his forearms in the bar and my stomach muscles contracted at the blow delivered from that memory.

Before we were together, and especially when we were, I couldn’t count the times when I stood outside the bar, Ham stood behind it, leaned into his forearms, leaned into me, while we flirted, chatted, talked deep, teased, joked, whatever.

I missed that, too.

Huge.

And my working there, Ham leaning into me now, I was getting it back.

Just not the way I wanted it.

Oh yes, this was going to be a struggle.

“Hesitate to say this, darlin’”—Ham took my mind from my thoughts—“but we had what we had and the deep part of that where we shared, I want us to get back to, so here it is. I think you got in that shit I spewed at you that, for the most part, I’m not a big fan of women. I’m a man, so basic needs, I’ve had my share, didn’t hide that from you but only two of those women I had were easy. Until that night we had our thing, one of ’em was you. You were goin’ through shit so I get it. But I want you to know, I’m glad you’re back to easy. It’s how I always thought of you and, when I didn’t have you, it was what I remembered of you.” He grinned. “That and your smile, how soft your hair was, and how good you were with your mouth.”

I hid the shiver his words caused and warned, “I’m not out of the woods, Ham. You’re helpin’ a lot but I have a loose hold on easy.”

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