Blake stood at the window, his back to her, watching Nikki, who had fallen asleep on her chaise longue under the patio umbrella. But he must have heard Jax’s approach.

Without turning to face her, his voice low, he said, “What the hell were you thinking?”

Her nerves stretched tighter even as irritation surged at his tone, and she fisted her hand at her side, resolving to remain calm.

No matter how annoying the man became.

“I was thinking I had a problem to solve,” Jax said.

“Solve it how?” He turned to face her, his expression carved from stone. “By risking another arrest?”

“Everything was legit. We followed the letter of the law,” Jax said. “Nikki and I obtained the protest permit. And your mother—”

“My mother?” he said, and, from the tone of his voice, Jax was amazed his eyes didn’t pop from his head. “You dragged my mother into your fight?”

Jax fought for patience. “I didn’t drag her. She volunteered,” Jax said, and then her expression softened with affection. Growing up, she’d wondered what her own mother had been like. She’d always pictured someone as kind and supportive as Abigail. Though preferably a better cook...

“It was her idea,” Jax went on. “And she’s been really helpful—”

“Helpful,” Blake repeated with a scoffing sound.

Jax’s patience slipped a bit and she entered his office, coming to a stop beside his massive desk. She planted her fisted hand on her hip. “This discussion is going to take a long time if you keep interrupting me.”

“I’ll do you one better,” Blake said, sarcasm oozing from his tone as he started to pace. “Because my day was interrupted when I got a glimpse of a news clip of my sister, the one who is studying to become a lawyer—and the woman I’m trying to help beat a charge of disturbing the peace—at a freakin’ protest surrounded by the police.”

He came to a stop in front of her, his proximity imposing. “Do you know how difficult it would be to defend you against the first set of charges if you had a second set pending?”

She inhaled a steadying breath, knowing her composure was wearing thin. “I told you, we did everything according to the law,” she said. “We had no intention of doing anything that would cause trouble.”

A second bark of skepticism burst from his mouth. “Just like you didn’t plan on getting arrested during your performance at a flash mob?”

She bit her cheek, counting out her thudding heartbeats until she was calm enough to respond. “Yes,” she said, her lips tight. “It’s amazing I’ve managed to make it to twenty-three years of age without your help.”

And while her anger was taking on a life of its own, a part of her—a little bitty part—was pleased that he was mad. Perhaps, subconsciously, she’d agreed to Abigail’s suggestion of a protest in hopes it would piss him off. She was tired of his logic and reason. She was tired that she was the only one in this relationship that seemed to be affected. But mostly, she was tired of wondering when he was going to want her again.

Maybe she hadn’t had much experience. Quite frankly, she didn’t care that he had been her first. Damn it, she knew the sex had been good. Spectacular, even. So how could he continue to stay away?

Outside of their single night together, she’d never know by his behavior that they’d slept together. The man was entirely too composed.

So let him be angry.

“If you’re so hell-bent on being convicted of a misdemeanor and permanently losing your job,” he said, “feel free.”

The judgmental tone strained her last, and very tenuous, strand of patience.

“That’s right,” she said, the words tight as she stepped closer. “I do feel free.” She hadn’t bounced from home to home as a kid only to continue to be at the mercy of the world around her. Mr. Uptight had another think coming if he thought she scared that easily. “It’s my choice. My decision. My life.”

* * *

Blake watched Jax’s chest heave with barely controlled fury, his head thumping, his anger a living entity in his head.

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