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“Well then, you’ve come to the right place. We’re a fucked-up but stellar group if you ask me. Best part is the lack of judgment you’ll get from these ladies and the guys too. Have you met the guys in the club?”

Shaking her head, Harper took a sip of her drink. As the tangy zip of fruit, sugar, and alcohol hit her tongue, she smiled. Having a drink with the girls was such a normal activity, yet to her, it was monumental. “I’ve met a few, not many.”

“You will.”

Would Rachel ever know what those two simple words, said with such acceptance and surety, did to Harper? Someday, if this worked out, if she kept this job and became actual friends with these ladies, she’d open up. She’d tell them about her time in prison, the full story of how she ended up there, and she’d make sure they understood how their kindness helped in these early days of reintegrating into the world.

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”

“You should be,” Rachel said with a mischievous wink. “They’re all fun to look at.”

“You talking about how hot our men are?” Liv called out as Harper laughed. “Cuz I want in on that conversation.”

The rest of the women swam over, and before she knew it, Harper found herself smack in the middle of a hilarious debate about who had the hottest boyfriend. She listened and laughed for most of the conversation without participating since she’d only met Spec, Liv’s ol’ man, and the very single Jinx. By the time they called a draw, she had a mental picture of the Hell’s Handlers’ men that was basically the cast of Magic Mike.

It’d been a wild night when they played that movie in the women’s prison.

She laughed at her new friends’ antics so hard her sides ached, though that could have been the monumental amount of chips and guacamole she’d shoved in her face.

Yawning, she accepted the towel Brooke handed her after they’d all climbed out of the pool. It was only six thirty, not even dark, but the long day caught up to her. The alcohol probably helped with the fatigue.

“Anyone ready for another drink?” Brooke asked as she wrapped her towel around her waist. Clad in a bright blue bikini, she looked a decade younger than her forty-two years. However, Harper might not be the best judge. Most of the women she’d spent time around packed on years before their time. Prison aged a person at what felt like double the rate.

“Nah, I gotta get home,” Jo said, a crocheted coverup over her perfect body. “Tracker and I are going to take Betty White to the beach and let her run in the waves before it gets too dark.”

Harper choked on her spit. “Betty White? Didn’t she pass away recently?”

Giggling, Jo shook her head. “Yes, God rest her incredible soul, but I was referring to Tracker’s dog. Her name is Betty White.”

“Oh.” Her face heated. “Well, that sounds fun.”

“It’s a blast. You should come sometime. Betty goes nuts for the water.”

With each passing day, Harper thought more about getting a pet. Living in an apartment alone after having a roommate for so long took more getting used to than she’d anticipated. Having another beating heart around the place might help stave off some loneliness. A dog might be more than she could handle as she learned to keep herself alive and thriving.

A cat could be good—a more independent pet.

“I’d like that,” she said to Jo. Then she turned to the other women. “I think I’m going to take off as well.”

“We’re so glad you hung out with us,” Liv said as she walked over with her arms outstretched.

“Oh,” Harper said as she received a wet hug. “Thanks. I’m glad I came. Uh… I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”

“Definitely. See you in the morning.”

The rest of the women called their goodbyes as she walked into the house.

Harper changed into her clothes in Brooke’s bathroom, then made her way out to her car.

As she drove home in silence, pondering the success of the evening, she couldn’t stop smiling. It’d been a great night. The only thing that could improve it would be a pint of ice cream. It took a little self-convincing since she truly was tired, but the five-minute delay in stopping and grabbing a pint would be well worth it.

She drove into the parking lot of the first convenience store she came across. Hopefully, they’d have a selection of ice cream because she wasn’t sure she’d be willing to stop again. After parking under a light—the lot was nearly empty, and she had enough street smarts to seek out the brightest spot—she went inside.

Three minutes later, she exited with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked and a smile.

Until she noticed the light she’d parked under had gone out. “Of course it did,” she mumbled as she fished her phone from her purse. The flashlight would help a little. Maybe she should invest in some pepper spray or one of those keychain weapons. Hell, maybe even a taser. She should be prepared to protect herself if need be. A single woman needed to make intelligent choices.