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Not the same as these ladies who clearly loved each other.

What would she even have to talk about? Yard time? Her thrilling job in the library? The cell-block fights that used to break out over nothing more than some side-eye? Would they grill her? Pepper her with questions about her time behind bars? While, so far, she was enjoying the days spent working with these women more than she’d imagined, she wasn’t quite ready to vomit her sad history all over their evening.

“Harper?” Brooke asked in a soft voice.

She blinked. “Um… I’ll probably pass. But thank you for including me.”

Liv crouched in front of her, placing a hand on her knee. “We’d really love for you to join us. It’s totally casual.” Her eyes held understanding and empathy, though Harper could only hope none of these women would ever understand what it’d been like to be in her shoes.

Her face burned. “I’m just a… uh… a little rusty when it comes to hanging out.” Of course, they all knew her history, at least on paper. Brooke had run a formal background check, after all.

“There’s no pressure at all.” Brooke’s open smile eased some of Harper’s embarrassment. “We do this all the time, so there will be plenty of opportunities, but if you’re interested, we eat, drink a little too much, gossip about the guys, and share stories. As little or as much as we’re comfortable with. Promise none of us will ask you to talk about anything you’re not willing to discuss.”

“Trust me when I tell you we may all look damn good…” Liv said with a chuckle.

She could say that again. Harper was quickly learning Liv never had a hair out of place and wore clothes that cost more than Harper’s car.

“But we are all a hot freaking mess under the surface.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Brooke muttered.

“Some of us more than others,” Jo said, raising her hand.

Oh, what the hell. “Okay,” she said with a tentative smile. Her stomach fluttered with more nerves than when she’d stepped outside the prison for the first time.

“Yay!” Liv clapped.

“I’ve got a bathing suit you can borrow,” Brooke said as she stood and grabbed her purse. “You can follow me home. My house borders the farm property. Usually, I take an ATV and cut across the property, but I have my car parked outside the clubhouse today.”

“Sounds great,” Harper said, and she halfway meant it. Part of her felt a warm happiness at the invitation and the fact the women wanted her company. The other part felt like the start of fear and the sure belief that she’d do or say something stupid to embarrass herself, then have to quit her job rather than show her face ever again.

Less than twenty minutes later, Harper sat in a donut-shaped float, wearing a borrowed black bikini with her feet dangling in warm water, an icy-red drink in her hand, and laughter all around.

The moment felt so surreal Harper found it difficult to concentrate on the conversation. When was the last time she’d worn a bathing suit? Ten days ago, she’d been wearing an orange-colored jumpsuit, sleeping on a two-inch mattress, and hoping no one stole her shower shoes because the shower floor in prison was beyond disgusting.

Oddly enough, this experience brought her back to her early days of being incarcerated. She didn’t have the fear she did then, but the feeling of landing on another planet was the same. Worry over saying the wrong thing. Concern about how she’d be accepted. Some level of anxiety all day, every day.

“You doing okay?” Rachel paddled over to Harper in a similar pool float. “You seem a little overwhelmed.”

“Oh, I, uh… maybe.” Harper gave her a small smile. Tonight was the first time she’d met Rachel, who was apparently Curly’s half sister. And Curly was Brooke’s boyfriend, or ol’ man as this group seemed to call it. Hopefully, soon she’d have all the players memorized as well as some of the lingo.

Actually, it wasn’t the first time she’d heard the term ol’ lady, and she wasn’t completely unfamiliar with MC life. A few of the women she’d served time with had been tied to motorcycle clubs.

“I hear you.” Rachel was maybe a year or so younger but presented herself as older than her age. She looked cute in a red bikini with her hair in a high ponytail. “Though I’ve been here for months, I’m the newest member of this rag-tag family, and I still need a minute to catch my breath sometimes.”

“Yeah, it’s not what I’m used to.”

Rachel laughed. “Who is used to this? I don’t know anything about what brought you to us, but if you’re here, fitting in so well, it probably means you’ve had some… let’s call them, challenges in your past.”

It was Harper’s turn to laugh. “Yeah, you could say that.”

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