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Ashes (Men of Hidden Creek Book 1) by HJ Welch (1)

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Remi couldn’t bear to see Kris so broken and defeated. He could tell Kris was trying to hold it together, but Kris kept scratching at the kitchen table and looking away from Remi as he blinked back angry tears.

The one time Kris had stuck his neck out and believed in himself, he’d been shot down in flames. It made Remi so frustrated. Why couldn’t other people see what Kris had? He was full of passion and drive. He shone so bright it made everyone else in the room fade into the shadows.

Maybe it was just Remi who saw Kris like that?

He couldn’t help it, though, not anymore. Kris was no longer Leon’s kid brother to Remi. He was a friend.

More than a friend.

Before he could stop himself, Remi reached over the kitchen table where they were sitting and grasped Kris’s hand, rubbing the back of his knuckles with his thumb. Kris’s skin was so soft.

Kris turned his silvery-blue eyes toward Remi in surprise. Remi couldn’t blame him. He’d never allowed himself to do anything like this before with another guy. But with Kris, the pull was too strong to ignore.

“Don’t give up,” Remi urged, squeezing Kris’s hand. “Don’t let them win.”

Kris scoffed and slipped his hand free, tugging Remi’s heart right along with it. “Thanks,” he said, shaking his head and biting his glossy lip. “But, really – what was I thinking? I’m just a silly bartender.” He gave Remi a tight smile that didn’t meet his eyes and mimed flicking back his short blond-and-purple hair. “I’m just here to look pretty. No one wants to hear what I think.”

Remi frowned and seized Kris’s hand again, cradling it between his two larger, calloused ones. “I want to hear what you think,” he said firmly. “You’re so much more than just a pretty face.”

Kris blinked at Remi, looking from his face to where their palms were pressed together. This time, he didn’t pull his hand away.

“You think I’m pretty?” he asked in a small voice.

Remi was shaking inside. He’d spent so long living a shadow of his own life, not reaching out to find true joy in anything. Since he’d let Kris into his world, he’d felt like Dorothy arriving into Oz, seeing everything in Technicolor for the first time.

Remi could run into a burning building without pause. But faced with the prospect of opening up about his feelings for Kris, he was terrified. He’d been trained not to let his fear get the better of him, however. He couldn’t back down now.

“Uh, yeah,” Remi said. He did his best to keep his voice steady and not flinch his gaze away from Kris’s. “I do, actually.”

Their gazes locked while Remi’s heart slammed in his chest. Kris’s eyes were wide as he took a couple of short, shallow breaths. Was he preparing to run away? Had Remi ruined everything? Was-

“I think you’re pretty, too,” Kris uttered in a rush.

Relief rushed through Remi like cool water over his skin. Did that mean Kris felt the same way? “Yeah?” he asked.

For a second they just looked at each other, like neither of them knew quite what to do. Their hands were still joined, the connection electric between them.

“Remi, I…” Kris said.

This was it. The moment Remi had been building up to for the past couple of weeks. Goddamn it, it was time to stop being afraid.

“I’m an idiot,” Remi blurted out with a nervous laugh. He lifted up Kris’s hand between his own and held it to his chest. “Oh my god. You’ve been here the whole time. Like, literally forever.” He laughed louder in relief. “Kris. You’re not stupid or silly or any of that crap you were saying. You’re amazing. You’re one in a million and…I, uh, fuck.”

He bit his lip and cast his eyes around, determined to do this right. He closed his eyes and took a breath. There was too much at stake if he messed this up.

“I like you, I think.”

There was a pause. “You like me?” Kris asked, his voice a nervous squeak.

Remi peeked between one cracked eyelid and grimaced. “Like…like you, like you. Yeah, I think so. But, if that’s not cool, just forget I said anything. You’re a guest here and I would never want to make you feel, uh-”

“I like you, too,” Kris interrupted. But then he gave Remi a wary look. “It doesn’t bother you that I’m a man?”

Remi took a deep, steadying breath. When he released it, he gave Kris the most confident smile he could muster. “No,” he said clearly. “It doesn’t bother me. I’m…I’m fully aware of that fact.”

Kris rubbed his fingers against Remi’s hand. Then he stood up from the kitchen table but didn’t let go of Remi’s hand. He walked around, his lip between his teeth again as he brought his other hand up over Remi’s. He held them against his stomach. Remi could feel the hardness of his abs on the back of his thumb through the cotton vest. For a petit guy, he was surprisingly firm and muscular.

Very different to most of the ladies Remi had been with in the past. But this was what he had yearned for so many times and never allowed himself to indulge in. A new kind of touch.

Their legs were touching where Kris was standing just between Remi’s knees. Despite the Texan summer heat outside, Remi was still in jeans. But Kris’s shorts hardly covered his booty and Remi saw him shiver as the denim rubbed against his lean thighs.

“Have you done this before?” Kris asked. Remi didn’t need to check if he meant being intimate with another guy.

Remi looked up at him. “No,” he said softly. “I wanted to, someday. But there wasn’t anyone…there wasn’t anyone before you.”

Kris’s breathing hitched. “Me?”

“Yeah,” said Remi. He could hear the naked hope in his voice. “You’re pretty awesome, Kris. Like, seriously. I just didn’t really see what that meant.”

“Oh, uh,” said Kris, flustered. He was so adorable Remi’s heart ached. “So,” Kris uttered. “What does it mean?”

Remi grinned but then swallowed nervously. “That I’d like to kiss you. A lot. It’s pretty all-consuming right now, actually. So, um, if that’s something you’d like-”

In the blink of an eye, Kris swung one leg, then another over Remi’s legs so he was straddling his lap. Remi gasped as the hardening bump in Kris’s shorts rubbed up against Remi’s matching bulge. Kris moved his hands to the back of Remi’s neck.

Remi squeaked.

Kris looked as terrified as Remi felt, studying Remi’s face with his gorgeous silver-blue eyes. Then he took a deep breath in. “Will you kiss me?” he whispered.

Elation flew through Remi as he seized Kris’s lower back and behind his neck, their mouths crashing together. Remi groaned as Kris pressed his lithe body against Remi’s bigger form. Remi hugged him close as their tongues and lips battled. Where their skin touched, it felt like Remi was on fire.

“Oh my god,” Kris gasped as Remi moved his mouth to taste Kris’s neck, sucking and kissing and biting. “Holy fuck, yes.”

They were nothing alike. Not in temperament or to look at. And yet Remi couldn’t feel more complete with Kris nestled in his embrace.

Remi knew they would feel even more perfect with no clothes on.

He forced himself to pull his lips away from Kris’s creamy skin. “Can I take you to bed?” Remi managed to rasp.

Kris’s eyes widened. Then he bit his lower lip and giggled, rolling his hips against Remi’s lap, rubbing their cocks together. Remi couldn’t help but gasp in shock. Fuck, that felt good. Kris giggled again.

“Yes,” Kris hissed. “God, yes.”

Remi stood, wrapping his arms around Kris, keeping him safe. Kris crossed his ankles around Remi’s bulky waist and held onto the back of Remi’s neck. He looked down at him, his chest visibly rising and falling as he panted. There was little hiding the erection poking against the muscles of Remi’s stomach now.

Kris’s expression turned a little serious as he looked down at Remi through his blond eyelashes. “Are you sure?” he asked with sincerity.

Much like rushing into a burning building, Remi didn’t hesitate. He gave Kris what he hoped was a smoldering look and leaned up to kiss him softly. Unlike before, this kiss was sweet, seductive. Filled with promise.

“You might have to teach me a couple of things,” Remi admitted. He was excited by the prospect.

Kris grinned down at him, their lips still touching. “Oh,” he said as Remi began to walk them out of the kitchen. “I’d be happy to.”



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