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Always wary, his prickly cactus.

“We’re just messing with you, Jinx,” Brooke said from behind her laptop.

“Yeah, feel free to take your clothes off and dance around. Promise we won’t mind a bit.”

He snorted and pointed to Liv. “I’m telling Spec you said that.”

With a smirk, she waggled her eyebrows. “Please do. That man delivers the best punishments.”

“Gah. TMI, woman,” he said, chuckling.

Coming as no surprise, Harper watched the exchange with a mixture of horror and intrigue. She’d get used to their banter with time.

Or she’d run screaming from them all, which would probably be the smarter decision.

“Hey, you ladies mind if I steal Harper for an early lunch? Got something I need to talk about with her.”

Brooke glanced between Harper’s look of shock and him before raising an eyebrow. “Long as it’s okay with Harper.”

All gazes shifted to her.

“What?” She blinked as her face turned pink. “Oh, yeah, sure. That’s fine.” She popped up as though ejected from the chair. “Let me grab my bag.”

As he watched her scramble around with nervous energy, he couldn’t help but smile. Maybe it made him an asshole, but he loved how he could rile her up just by being present. “This what you’re looking for?” He lifted a purse from a small table to his right.

Harper froze. “Oh, yes, thank you.”

As she headed his way, Jo called out, “Have fun, you two,” with a healthy dose of innuendo in her voice.

Harper groaned, and he flipped a laughing Jo off.

“Ignore them,” he said as he opened the door for her. “They’re jealous, all of ’em.”

“Remember, Harper, you can always kick him in the nuts if he gets too handsy,” Liv called out.

“Oh my God,” Harper muttered as she practically dove outside.

“You ladies suck,” Jinx yelled as the door swung shut behind him. He swore he heard Liv mutter, “I do, and often.” Damn, Spec had been a terrible influence on her.

“Sorry, they’re out of control sometimes.” He slung an arm around her shoulders, making her stiffen, but she didn’t pull away or shove him off, so he left it.

After a moment, she relaxed into the touch. “No, they’re fun. And good for me. It’s been a long time since I had healthy friendships like they have.”

That had him laughing. “God, I love that you call the crazy ol’ ladies in an MC healthy.”

Harper glanced up at him with sincerity. “They are healthy. You all are. Conventional? No. Always on the right side of the law?” She shrugged. “Probably not. But trust me, I know unhealthy. I lived with it for seven years. I don’t see that here.” Then she frowned. “Well, maybe Lock.”

Jinx sighed at the reminder of that mess. “Yeah. Club’s working on that.”

“So, uh… what’d you need me for?”

“Got some news to share. Figured I’d do that over lunch.”

Uncertainty crossed her face, making him roll his eyes.

“Promise you’ll like it, Prickles. You can keep those thorns tucked away.”

She gave him a dirty look which had him laughing his head off. God, he couldn’t wait for the day she acted like that around him all the time. Once in a while, she dropped her shields and let the sass fly, but it never lasted long. Hopefully, it wouldn’t take seven years to undo the trauma her psyche had sustained from that motherfucker, Aaron, and the aftermath.

Speaking of that shit stain, they needed to get this show on the road.

Jinx guided her to his bike, and after another memorable ride with her behind him, he pulled into his favorite Tex-Mex restaurant. They were seated with lemony waters and a giant basket of chips a few minutes later.

Harper scooped up some guacamole, then shoved an entire chip in her mouth. Her moan rivaled the ones she made while naked and did nothing to help Jinx remain decent in public.

“I don’t know how you knew, or it’s a lucky coincidence, but chips and guac is my favorite snack in the entire world. Well, my favorite crunchy snack. I’m still loyal to ice cream. God, I missed this stuff. It’s even more delicious than I remember from years ago.” She blinked. “What? Why are you smiling like that?”

He hadn’t realized he’d been grinning at her like a psycho. “I like that you’re getting comfortable enough with me to make offhand comments about your time in prison like that. I hope it means we’re moving forward.”

Her expression changed as quickly as if someone had snapped their fingers. Gone was the open woman he’d been admiring, and out came Prickles.

Me and my fat fucking mouth.

It felt like a massive two steps back.

Harper cleared her throat as she dipped another chip. “So, uh… what did you need to tell me.”

As much as he wanted to press, he followed her lead to let her know it was okay for her to get comfortable with him, even trust him.

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