“And what did you do to warrant the payback?”

At her direct insult, he went completely still, and Jax wished she could take her words back. Not that she didn’t mean them. However, insulting her current employer probably wasn’t the best way to proceed. But living with her foot in her smart-ass mouth had almost become a way of life.

The lines of humor around his eyes returned. “Why are you so sure I deserve a payback?”

Since her mouth would only get her into more trouble, she elected to answer with a meaningful lift of her brow, hoping he’d recall every autocratic tone he’d used with her along the way.

In response, an amused scoff escaped those sensual lips, and he set his paintbrush in the pan, turning to face her. “I warned Nikki taking a spin on her friend’s homemade zip line was dangerous,” he said. He looked across the water, squinting into the sunshine. But he clearly wasn’t focused on the view, his voice reflective. “So she’s annoyed my prediction proved accurate. She’s angry that she ruined her summer plans. Worse, her only choice was to either move in with my mother at her expensive retirement village with all her cronies, or—”

Jax bit back a smile at the suggestion, and Blake went on. “Exactly,” he said drily, apparently agreeing with her unspoken comment as he continued. “Or move in here under the, and I quote, ‘tyrannical eye of my big brother.’”

“I guess that’s what siblings are for.”

“To drive each other crazy?” he said with a skeptical look.

She struggled to keep a straight face. “Yeah. And not that you’d be surprised,” she went on, “but when you’re not around, Nikki calls you her big brother and her capitalized Big Brother, in the Orwellian sense.”

The eyebrow bisected by the tiny scar shot higher in amusement.

“If it’s any consolation,” she said, “Nikki says you’re the guy every law-enforcement officer wants trying their cases. She thinks you’re a brilliant lawyer.”

The praise seemed to surprise him, and he leaned back against the unpainted part of the rail, crossing his arms. The full-on sight of his beautiful biceps and the shirt stretched across the lightly muscled chest almost sent her into the deep end of the bay. Every atom in her body adjusted to peer in his direction.

Jax cleared her throat. “And given my predicament, her belief in your brilliance is reassuring.”

The brain she needed. The brawn was a distraction, begging to be explored.

“I spoke with Sara again this morning,” he said, interrupting her mutinous thoughts. “She offered to help with your case. As a former public defender, and a brilliant one at that, she’s well qualified to offer advice.”

Jax bit back a frown. She was incredibly grateful he was going out of his way to do a good job, but a very tiny part of her was disturbed he was consulting with his perfect other half. But despite the fact that Blake was conferring with the beautiful lawyer, or maybe even because of it, he still deserved Jax’s gratitude.

Which was why she’d risked coming to talk to the deliciously disruptive, infinitely touchable man.

“In that case—” taking extra-special care not to touch him, she held out her hand for the paintbrush with an appreciative smile “—in thanks for all of your hard work, I’ll finish this section while you take a moment to relax.”

Wariness flickered through his eyes. As if trying to decide if he wanted her continued company or not, Blake gave a cautious glance down at her waiting hand, which was then followed by a small frown of discovery on his face. His eyes zeroed in on her arm, and her stomach dropped. When he lightly grasped her hand—sending a jolt through her body—and pulled her arm closer to better visualize the tattoo on the inside of her wrist, her stomach rolled...

Oh, hell. Keeping her hands to herself was the least of her worries now.

“I never noticed the scars under your tattoo,” he said in a low voice.

The sensation of his hand on her skin combined with the scrutiny of her battle wounds made speaking impossible. Heart pumping hard, she willed herself to remain calm, making sure her voice was light. Or as light as she could manage, anyway. Because one scar could easily be an accident.

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