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“That’s right. I took a few months to myself, even before going to Tennessee. My head was…” He huffed a half laugh. “Christ, it was fucked up. Still is sometimes. When you experience a betrayal like I did, it changes something in you on a cellular level.” As horrible as it had been for him to be set up by the cops, Curly eventually found out some members of his former MC were complicit in the framing. Talk about betrayal.

“In prison, you always need to protect yourself,” Curly went on. “Physically, mentally, emotionally. At some level, you’re on guard one hundred percent of the time, no matter how many years you’re in. I imagine it’s no different in the women’s prison. You can’t trust anyone. Not fully. And when you combine that with a betrayal like Harp experienced… well, some people can’t move past that.”

“You did,” Jinx pointed out and took a long drink. “What helped you?”

“I’m flattered I have you so fooled, but I still struggle, Jinx.” He blew out a breath. “Probably always will to some extent. But, fuck if I know where I’d be without Brooke. She…”

Jinx watched as Curly gazed at nothing for a moment. He might not be the most effusive, romantic, or mushy man, but there wasn’t a person in the world who could doubt his immense love for his ol’ lady. She was his world, and he’d fight the fiercest dragon to keep his woman from one second of unhappiness.

Curly turned his gaze on Jinx. “She’s fucking everything, brother.”

A suffocating sense of loss watched over him. “I think I fucked up, Curly. I wasn’t honest, and then I pushed too hard.” He ran a hand down his face. “Fuck, I think I pushed her away. How the hell do you guys get it right all the time?”

He frowned as his president burst out laughing.

“Jinx, I said Brooke was everything. I didn’t say she was perfect. And I’m sure as fuck not perfect. I’m a hard-headed biker with issues coming out my ass. Hell, we both have mountains of issues. We fuck up all the damn time.”

“But you’re the strongest couple I know.”

Curly shrugged as though the answer was simple. “We come back to each other every time.”

If only the solution were that easy. “She told me to go.”

“You think Brooke ain’t ever kicked my sorry ass out of the house?” He snorted. “You’d be dead wrong. But we came back to each other. Emotions settle, the heat of anger cools off.” He winked. “Or turns into another type of heat.”

“So, you telling me all I have to do is return to her?”

“Fuck no. That’s just step one.” He rose from his barstool, drink in hand. “Then you put in the work to learn how to give each other what you need. You’ll both fuck up. It’s inevitable. But what you can’t do is give up. That girl has been through so much, Jinx. Give her some grace. Give yourself some too. Promise you it’s worth it. It’s so fucking worth it. And I know Brooke would say the same.” He slapped Jinx on the back, then strode off toward his office.

They had church in a few hours. Jinx planned to spend the rest of the afternoon right there on that barstool, mulling over Curly’s words and planning his next steps. Because one thing was for sure, he wasn’t willing to let Harper shove him out of her life.

“THERE WILL BE a guard station before you can enter, right?” Harper asked as she, Brooke, and Liv met with their contractor. The crew had begun work on the service road leading directly to their shelter from the main road so residents of their shelter wouldn’t have to traipse across the entire farm or past the clubhouse to get there.

“Yes, ma’am,” Bob, their contractor, said. If she had to guess, he was a fit guy in his early fifties. After years of working out in the sun, his skin had leathered and had a deep tan that probably never faded. “That’ll be built next week.”

Knowing whoever came onto the property this way would have to pass a guard would make the women they served feel a million times safer.

“This makes it feel so real,” Liv said with a wide grin.

Laughing, Brooke said, “More real than siding going on the actual shelter?”

“Yes. The shelter can have all the siding it wants, but if no one can get there, it’s not real.”

“She has a point,” Bob said with a chuckle. Curly had handpicked him and his entire crew. Anyone working on or near Handlers’ property had been thoroughly vetted. The company didn’t mess around with their safety or the safety of their women.

They were so protective.

And now she was thinking of Jinx again. Well, she’d made it five whole minutes that time.

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