Nerves danced in her stomach as she opened the car door. Thick, steamy Florida air assaulted her, making her once again question her outfit choice. Short sleeves would have been wiser. Showing up with sweat stains wouldn’t make the best first impression.
The door to the farmhouse opened, and a woman wearing jean cutoffs and a ribbed white tank top stepped outside. Her brown hair was high on her head in a messy bun, and flip-flops adorned her feet.
“Are you Harper?” she called out.
Upon hearing the woman’s voice, the German Shepherd let out a joyful woof, then trotted toward her.
Harper schooled her features. “Yes, ma’am. I’m Harper.” Her reply had all three dogs stopping in their tracks and then making a beeline for her.
Tension straightened her spine. Seven years of not being around an animal made her forget she used to love them and how to behave in their presence.
“They’re insanely sweet and very friendly,” the woman yelled out. “But I can call them back if you’re not in the mood for slobber.”
“No. It’s okay.” If she was going to work here, she had to make friends with everyone, even the four-legged creatures.
The yellow Lab reached her first. Harper held out a quivering hand. When all she received was a sniff and a lick, she blew out all the tension she hadn’t realized she’d been carrying. The other two dogs treated her to the same inspection and affectionate lick. Each seemed to love ear scratches and chin rubs. Within seconds, the yellow lab was flopping onto her back, waiting for a vigorous belly rub. Hopefully, the woman who ran the shelter would be as easy to win over.
“Welcome. I’m Brooke.”
Harper glanced up from the panting German Shepherd to find Brooke standing in front of her with a hand extended. “Nice to meet you, Brooke.” She shook the offered hand.
“You too. From your expression, I can tell you’re confused.” Brooke gestured to the sprawling farm around them.
“Ah, yeah,” Harper said. “A little. This place looks more like John Deere meets Sons of Anarchy than a safe haven for women.”
Brooke burst out laughing. “Oh my God, that’s perfect.” She slapped a hand against her hip. “Seriously, perfect. I think I’m going to have to get the guys John Deere hats with a bike on them instead of a tractor. Shit, you’re brilliant.”
“Uh…” The guys?
With a wave of her hand, Brooke sobered. “Sorry, I’m not doing a good job of explaining anything, am I? Come walk with me, and I’ll catch you up to speed on our situation.”
Harper might not have much work experience beyond her years running the prison’s library, but so far, this job interview wasn’t anything like the ones she’d been coached on. Yet she had no plans to disrespect a potential boss, so she said “Sure” and fell in step beside Brooke, who was already walking.
“I suppose the job listing was a little misleading, and I apologize for that. There is still a lot of judgment out there regarding the Handlers, so I wasn’t descriptive about the location.”
Brooke gazed at her from the corner of her eye. A wary expression crossed her face. “Yes. They’re a motorcycle club, and they own this property. My ol’ m—” she stopped, then continued with “… significant other is the president. That going to be a problem?” She’d lost the easygoing tone and sounded ready to defend her man by tossing Harper out on her ass if necessary.
One thing Harper had learned from her time behind bars was not to judge anyone. The stories she’d heard and the people she’d met taught her that lesson early on. No one was all good or all bad. Well, most people weren’t. A few rotten apples were just born plain evil, but ninety-nine percent of the women she’d met while incarcerated had a story with two sides. Women who’d killed their abusers, sold drugs to feed their hungry children, or fell victim to the unfortunate circumstances of their life, forcing them to make impossible choices.
Harper vowed to reserve judgment until she got to know someone, and that courtesy would extend to this motorcycle club. “No. Not a problem.”
“Great.” Brooke’s smile returned. “Olivia, my business partner, wanted to be here, but she had an appointment with our contractor. She might try to meet up with us later.”
“I’m guessing you’re wondering where the shelter is.”
“It had crossed my mind.”
Brooke chuckled. “We’re in the construction phase right now.” As she spoke, a partially framed building came into view. Brooke stopped walking. “Ta-da! Welcome to what will be the Handling Life Shelter in three to six months if all goes according to plan.”
Harper’s heart sank. Three to six months? After renting an apartment, buying a car, and furnishing that apartment, she had a tiny amount of cash left but not enough to sustain her for six months. Selling her mother’s mobile home would help, but seven years of neglect hadn’t been kind to the place. Pennies were all it’d garner. She needed a paying job, and she needed it soon.