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Home > Jagged (Colorado Mountain #5)(18)

Jagged (Colorado Mountain #5)(18)
Author: Kristen Ashley

I sucked it up, ignored the sting, and went to get my boots.

* * *

It was a Thursday night and The Dog was crowded but it wasn’t packed.

This was good, seeing as Bonnie, one of the other waitresses, had called off sick. This meant I’d be busy, get a slew of tips, and the night would go fast. I’d be exhausted when it was over but it would be worth it.

I turned the corner from the back where the pool tables were and my eyes automatically went to Ham behind the bar.

His eyes were already on me but he jerked his chin in front of him, silent indication I knew meant a customer had come in I hadn’t seen.

I nodded, looked to the mess of high tables with their tall stools that were scattered all over the bar, and stopped dead.

I did have a new customer.

A lone man, wavy dark hair, slightly sloped shoulders, jeans jacket. His legs were spread wide with his feet on the rung of the stool. His thighs were thick, a leftover from playing football in high school.

Greg. My ex-husband.

Greg never came to The Dog. He wasn’t a Gnaw Bone native. He worked at an environmental engineering firm based in Chantelle, moved from Kansas to take the job. He was quiet, liked to play board games, watch movies, concoct meals in the kitchen out of ingredients that it was always a shock tasted good together, and would have a beer with me on occasion at home but he wasn’t a nightlife kind of person.

There was only one reason he’d be at The Dog.

He knew I was there.

I hadn’t seen him in months. This wasn’t a surprise, seeing as he moved to Chantelle after we split up to be closer to work and was a homebody.

We’d promised, though, to keep in touch. See each other. Go out and get a bite to eat. When I’d asked for the divorce, I’d told him I didn’t want to lose him from my life. I just didn’t want to be married to him anymore.

Greg, being Greg, went for that.

He’d do anything for me.

Even let me go.

Something the men in my life always seemed able to do.

Then again, I also seemed perfectly capable of asking them to.

But I hadn’t kept my promise. I had reason. My life was swirling down the toilet. We’d talked a couple of times and Greg knew this so he didn’t pressure me. Then again, he wouldn’t pressure me anyway. That wasn’t his style.

On leaden feet, I moved to his table and rounded him, carefully arranging my face so he saw I was welcoming, not wary. He caught sight of my movement and his clear, bluish-gray eyes came to me.

“Hey,” I greeted.

“Heard you were working here,” he replied.

I leaned into the table and tucked my tray under my arm. “Yeah. Better money.”

He nodded. He’d offered to help me out financially, repeatedly. I’d declined. Repeatedly.

“It’s good to see you,” I told him.

“Yeah, you too,” he told me.

I forced my lips into a grin. “Breakin’ the seal on The Dog,” I noted on a careful tease.

“Like I said, heard you were working here and haven’t seen you in a while. Thought I’d take a chance.”

“Glad you did,” I lied. It was a lie not because I didn’t want to see him, just that I didn’t like being surprised by his showing up at my work.

It was then Greg forced a smile.

“Can I get you a beer or somethin’?” I asked. “I… well, our other girl is out sick so it’s only me on tonight. I probably can’t hang at your table but I’ll get you a beer and do my best.”

“That’d be good, Zara.”

I nodded and asked, “Newcastle?”

“Yeah.”

I forced a smile, turned away, and moved toward the bar.

Ham moved toward me, his eyes sharp on my face.

“Newcastle,” I said the minute I hit the bar.

“Who’s that guy?” Ham asked a nanosecond after the final syllable left my mouth.

And again, Ham never missed anything.

I held his gaze. “My ex-husband.”

Ham’s jaw got tight and his eyes went to Greg

“Ham,” I called and his eyes came to me. “It’s cool. We’re cool. It wasn’t ugly.”

“Way I see it, babe, your house cleaned out, him leavin’ you stuck with a mortgage you couldn’t afford, that’s plain not true,” Ham returned.

I leaned into him. “I’ll explain later but, honestly, Ham. It’s cool. Seriously.”

“Right, you want me to believe that then you best stop lookin’ like takin’ a Newcastle to him is like walkin’ to the electric chair.”

Luckily, Greg didn’t have superhuman perceptive and deductive powers like Ham did so I was relatively certain I’d pulled the wool over his eyes.

I’d never been able to do that with Ham.

“I hurt him,” I said quietly.

“Shit happens. People deal. They don’t show where you work and make you look like you look right now, cookie.”

I couldn’t do this now so I asked, “Please, can you just get me his beer?”

Ham studied my face before he got me Greg’s Newcastle.

I took it to Greg and slid it in front of him. “There you go.”

“Should I open a tab or pay for this now?” Greg asked and that was so Greg. He didn’t know how to pay for a beer in a bar.

I tipped my head to the side and forced another smile. “You plannin’ on gettin’ hammered?”

Greg’s eyes moved over my hair before they came to mine and he answered, “No.”

“Then feel free to pay as they come, honey, but that one’s on me.”

He shook his head and straightened his back. “No, Zara. I’ll—”

I put my hand on his bicep. “Let me buy you a beer.”

I watched him pull in a breath and then he nodded.

“I’m gonna do a walk-through. Soon as I have everyone sorted, I’ll come back. Okay?”

“Sure, Zara.”

“Okay,” I said softly, then did as I said I would.

This took a while because I had a lot of customers. This was also not easy, knowing Greg was there and feeling Ham’s acute attention on me and my ex-husband the entire time.

When I was free for a few minutes, I took Greg a fresh Newcastle and put it in front of him, whisking away the empty.

“This one, I’m paying for,” Greg announced.

Again, I forced a smile. “I’ll allow that.”

“You got two seconds?” he asked.

Damn. Greg didn’t get out and about much so I had a feeling he was there for a reason and not just to see me. And I really didn’t have it in me with all that had been going on to deal with this if his need for two seconds was going to hit deep. He’d been really cool with me all along but I always worried one day, something would trip, he’d realize I did him wrong, and he’d stop being cool.

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