Jax woke early despite another late and restless night. He stretched slowly, feeling tired and sluggish. He glanced over at the woman sleeping next to him. One arm and shoulder were uncovered, the blanket tucked just above the steady rise and fall of her breasts. Tara’s long, dark hair was in wild disarray around her face and across the pale blue pillowcase. His fingers flexed, an unconscious gesture, and he resisted the urge to curl up next to her and pull her into his arms. Club business and the search for her attacker had kept him away these last few days – but then maybe that was for the best given his mother’s words of warning.
Despite wracking his brain for ideas, he still didn’t know how to help her through this, or what he could do for her.
He sighed and slipped from the bed without waking her. Quietly he padded on bare feet into the kitchen. He shuffled through the baskets of clean laundry and, after finding jeans and a t-shirt, dressed. Not wanting to disturb Tara, he’d shower and grab breakfast at the clubhouse before Clay and the others showed up for the business of the day.
He grabbed his kutte from the hook on the wall and shrugged into it as he made one last trip down the hall to look in on his son. Abel still slept peacefully. If there was anything he was grateful for, it was that his son still seemed to thrive. Tara’s presence had been good for both of them.
A few minutes later, sitting on his bike in the driveway, Jax sighed and lit a cigarette. The sun was coming up on another bright and beautiful California day in Charming, yet he hardly seemed to notice.
“My sources say the meet with the MC is still on,” Zobelle said without looking up when AJ Weston, followed by two of his men, entered the cigar shop.
“Then either she didn’t tell him, or Teller doesn’t care about her as much as we thought.”
“Hm. Perhaps,” the cigar shop owner replied noncommittally. He continued to scan the paper in front of him. Finding the entry he had been searching for, he drew a line through the row of numbers.
“Maybe the VP title doesn’t mean anything in SAMCRO and he doesn’t have the any influence over the MC,” Weston offered, feeling obligated to find an alternative explanation.
“Or, perhaps they are simply arrogant and overconfident, and are not willing to take advice on what they should do,” Zobelle said with a melodramatic sigh as he crossed the room to put a new box of cigars in the humidor.
“What do you want to do?”
“We do what we have planned.” The cigar shop owner turned and smiled. “I anticipated this as a possibility after all.”
He glanced thoughtfully at the bandage visible on AJ’s arm under his short sleeve shirt. “That should turn out to be quite useful.”
The alarm on her phone woke her and Tara sighed, reaching out and silencing the sound. She glanced over her shoulder at the pillow next to her. She could see the indent where his head had been, so she knew that Jax had been there last night. The evidence of his presence warmed her; she was glad he had come home.
But he hadn’t pulled her into his arms, or curled around her when he joined her in bed. He hadn’t lingered to say good morning, or even to wake her with a kiss goodbye. In short, he hadn’t done any of the little things that had become his habit when she stayed over. The sweet little gestures were so unexpected from such an intimidating biker – and she loved him all the more for it. She bit her lip and tried to quell the ache in her chest. Truth be told, she missed him. Which was ridiculous, of course, because he had been home, he had called her and asked how she was feeling, and he told her that he loved her. She just must be feeling clingy and overly emotional after everything that had happened.
With a disappointed sigh, she swung her legs over the side of the bed. Abel would wake up soon and need his breakfast, Neeta was coming this morning, and she was going back to St. Thomas to work.
Enough wallowing in self-pity – she better get moving.
“Hey,” Gemma called in a singsong voice as she entered, her keys jingling when she removed them from the door lock.
“Morning,” Tara answered from the kitchen where she was cleaning up the breakfast dishes.
“Jax gone already?” Gemma asked, well aware that her son wasn’t at home. Besides his bike not being in the driveway, she thought she had passed him on the road heading in the direction of TM.
“Yeah.” Setting aside the dishtowel, Tara picked up one of the two coffee cups still on the table and took a sip.
“You going back to work?” Gemma asked, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning against the doorframe. She had noticed the touch of makeup, the pulled-up hair. The bruises were still evident though – the brunette doctor hadn’t tried too hard to hide them.
“Today.” There were no surgeries scheduled, but there were a few patients to see and paperwork to catch up on. Tara knew too, the gossip would already have started with the staff at St. Thomas. Enough of the people she worked with directly would have heard about what happened; many of them would have discreetly checked her file. No one would admit it, but it’s what happened. She’d have to brazen her way through that some time, so she might as well get it over with.
“You feel up to that? Already?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Tara answered with a small shrug, watching the older woman somewhat warily. Gemma had never warmed to her, not in the years she and Jax had been together as teens, not since her return to Charming and not even with her involvement in Abel’s care, medical or otherwise.
“Good,” Gemma replied, pushing away from the door and placing her purse on one of the kitchen chairs. “Neeta here?”
“Not yet. In twenty minutes or so.” Tara watched the older woman get a cup from the cabinet and pour herself some coffee. She added sugar from the small covered bowl and stirred briskly.
Still facing the cabinets, Gemma stated candidly, “That’s a real bad thing that happened to you.”
Tara’s brows lifted. She took another sip of her coffee. Of course she should have expected the subject to come up.
“How’s Jax with it?” Gemma asked as she turned, sitting back to lean against the counter.
“He’s… okay.” Tara shrugged slightly, her gaze perplexed. She wasn’t entirely sure what was meant by the question. Was she asking how he felt about what happened? Or how he was in helping her to handle it?
“Huh.” Gemma nodded slowly, the gesture somewhat exaggerated as she studied Tara’s face.
“What?” Tara asked warily.
“Just… well, baby, it’s hard enough of a thing to go through,” Gemma shrugged, her expression conciliatory. “But I know how men are.”
“What are you talking about?” She had the distinct impression that Jax’s mother was trying to provoke her, which was not an uncommon occurrence in their interactions.
“Jax… and you… I’m guessing he’s getting a little… distant.”
“What, Gemma? Just say it,” Tara snapped, her current mood making her hypersensitive and unable to control her irritation.
“Baby, men need to own their pussy. His has been violated. He’s not going to want to be inside something that’s been… ripped up,” Gemma explained somewhat indifferently.
Tara’s green eyes widened slightly at the crude pronouncement. She often forgot just how blunt the biker queen could be at times.
“Jesus Christ, Gemma, what are you saying?”
“His old lady… she can’t be used like that. He’ll find someone else. It’s what they do, baby,” Gemma clarified, suppressing an almost predatory smile. Almost as an afterthought, she added, “Sorry, sweetheart.”
A baby’s giggle from the immediate doorway saved Tara from having to respond.
“I thought you said Neeta wasn’t here.” Surprised, Gemma pushed away from the counter and turned to face the entry.
“She’s not,” McQueen answered calmly as he stepped into the kitchen, Abel supported easily on one arm. With two boys of his own, he was well versed in caring for them.
Gemma visibility stiffened. She tossed her hair and brushed her bangs off her forehead, a nervous gesture to anyone who knew her. Finally she found her voice and asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Visiting,” the Nomad biker replied, his lips curving up in a smile. His blue eyes however, were not friendly.
“Does Jax know?” Gemma cast an accusing glance at Tara.
“Of course,” McQueen answered silkily. He held up an empty baby bottle, showing it to Tara. His smile at her was genuine. “All done.”
Seeing the normally formidable biker queen clearly flustered was a first in her experience. Not only did this man make Gemma uncomfortable, he clearly didn’t regard her deferentially like most of the Sons. Tara’s curiosity about McQueen was further piqued.
“Nomad?” Gemma asked, noting the patch on his kutte. Absently she wondered where he had parked his bike since it wasn’t in the driveway.
“I like to travel.” McQueen replied obliquely, smiling at Abel who was making squealing sounds and wildly shaking a plastic toy.
Shifting her stance, Gemma cleared her throat. “So uh… your mom still in Vegas?”
McQueen crossed the kitchen, putting the empty bottle in the sink. He picked up the second coffee cup that had been on the table and took a drink before answering, “No.”
Obviously vexed, and unnerved, Gemma looked from McQueen to Tara and back. She opened her mouth to say something else when a loud knock sounded on the door.
Neeta’s arrival, and the flurry of activity that followed, saved them all from further awkward conversation.
Jax, Opie and Tig waited outside Impeccable Smokes while Clay talked to the owner, Ethan Zobelle, about the monthly payments for security the businesses in Charming paid to SAMCRO in the guise of chamber of commerce donations or some such shit. Jax didn’t like it much, but it had been the way of things for as long as he could remember and it brought in a small but steady income to the club.
He lit a smoke while they waited and listened with half an ear as Tig rambled on about the ‘fucking awesome delicious goodness’ of the dark chocolate salted caramels sold in one of the nearby shops.
When AJ Weston, and two of his League of American Nationalists crew approached, Jax tossed away his cigarette and pushed away from his bike. They had done their homework; they knew Zobelle was high placed in L.O.A.N., and that Weston’s crew served as his muscle. Them showing up hadn’t been unexpected.
Weston stopped directly in front of Jax. “You need to move on. This parking is reserved for customers.”
“Yeah? Then it’s good we’re here on business.“ Jax’s tone was cool.
AJ folded his arms across his chest and inched slightly closer.
Jax shifted forward in response. If Weston or his crew wanted a brawl, he wouldn’t mind. He still had a healthy reserve of anger to work off.
It was then that a bit of white caught Jax’s attention, the breeze causing Weston’s short sleeve to flutter and lift. His gaze flicked slowly from AJ’s face to the white bandage then back again. The muscles in his jaw clenched, and his fingers curled tightly in his palms.
Aware of the increasing tension, Opie put a hand on the front of Jax’s shoulder and warned, “Not here to incite, man.”
Jax turned a furious, narrow-eyed gaze on his friend and gave a single, curt nod, acknowledging that he heard the warning. It didn’t mean however, that he intended to heed it.
“Give me a minute,” he ground out in response, returning his attention back to Weston.
Ope dropped his hand and stepped aside. He knew Jax well enough to know that his explosive temper had already been ignited; and he also knew that he wasn’t going to be to prevent him from taking action. All he could do now is to have his friend and VP’s back.
“Looks like you got shot.” Every word was a challenge.
“That?” Weston retorted, tilting his head in the direction of the wound. “Just a little run-in over a woman.” As if unable to resist, he added with a smirk, “It was worth it. She was hot piece of ass.”
“You son of a bitch,” Jax snarled and lunged at Weston, the first punch hitting him squarely in the jaw. He stumbled back, but the furious biker grabbed him by the shirt, jerking him forward into his fist for a second blow.
“Aw shit,” Opie muttered as the fight between the two men began in earnest. He and Tig kept an eye on the rest of Weston’s crew. If they joined in, SAMCRO would too.
Weston managed a good showing, but an enraged Jax Teller was not an easy man to defend against. Jax punched the other man at least a dozen times before the police arrived, and then it took both Hale and Ope to pull the biker off the L.O.A.N lieutenant.
Hale had never seen Jax so angry; the cold rage was almost chilling.
Weston’s crew helped him up. Clutching his injured arm and swaying slightly on his feet, he spat a mouthful of blood on the ground.
“He attacked me,” AJ Weston declared, his expression defiant as he pointed a finger at Jax.
“That’s true, officer. I saw the whole thing.” Ethan Zobelle spoke up from the doorway of his shop. He gestured toward the SAMCRO VP as he declared loudly, his voice carrying easily to the crowd that had formed, various shop owners and shoppers coming out of stores and stopping their cars to watching the fight. “You should arrest that man for assault. He is the one who started it.”
Unser cast a circumspect glance at Clay, but the SAMCRO President remained silent, his arms crossed over his chest. Clay and Zobelle had been in the cigar shop together when the fight broke out, so there’s no way the cigar store owner would have seen who or what started it. However, Clay wasn’t going to challenge Zobelle in public.
Hale sighed, aware of the crowd’s eyes on him. While it was entirely possible, and in fact, highly likely, that Jax had started the fight, he didn’t like Zobelle or Weston and what he knew they represented. He looked at Unser, but the Charming Police Chief only shrugged, indicating it was Hale’s decision what to do next.
“I’m taking you both in,” the Deputy Chief said finally, glancing between the two men. “We’ll sort it out at the station.”
Unclipping his handcuffs from his belt, he started forward, “Jax… “
With one last glare at Weston, Jax turned around and allowed Hale to handcuff his wrists behind his back.
“I would like also to lodge a complaint,” Zobelle declared shortly after Hale had seen both men placed in the back of two separate Charming police cruisers. Clay had taken off a few minutes earlier; Tig and Opie waited for Piney to come with the flatbed to pick up Jax’s bike.
“Yeah? For?” Hale asked warily.
“Extortion. I believe that is illegal here in Charming, just as it is every where else?”
“You’re not going to find another shop owner in town who will back you, or a judge who will agree. There’s nothing illegal about donations to community organizations, and that’s what Clay will claim.” He knew what Zobelle was referring to; there was no need to pretend otherwise. Hale started walking toward his jeep.
The cigar shop owner had expected as much, but he was not dissuaded. He followed the younger man. “How about rape then, is that illegal?”
The Deputy Chief paused. He turned back to face Zobelle. “What are you talking about?”
“I’ve heard… that this club that the town so seems to love is responsible for the rape of one of our very own respected hospital physicians. Or at the very least, is connected to the … awful event.”
“And where did you hear that?” Hale eyed the other man suspiciously. Gossip tended to get around in small towns such as Charming, but he doubted that any details of Tara’s rape would have gotten out to someone like Zobelle, a relative newcomer to the town with no local connections.
“I have… sources,” Zobelle stated, as if reading the Deputy Chief’s thoughts. “It would be a shame if the women of Charming did not feel safe, even in their own homes. And biker gangs who feel they are above the law…” he added, raising his voice so that he could easily be heard by the two women passing by. Several people were still lingering around, watching the police activity, and the bikers even though the commotion was over. Having caught their attention as intended, he smiled politely.
“If such a thing had happened, it would be a rare event here.”
“I hope that to be the case,” Ethan smiled benignly. “But large gatherings of men with… few scruples or a moral compass to constrain their behavior, combined with sizable quantities of alcohol… and party participants can get… over-stimulated… things quickly get out of control. It wouldn’t be the first time mob mentality prevailed.”
“Hm,” Hale murmured dubiously.
“Talk to Doctor Knowles. I’m sure she’ll be able to… elaborate. And it would be a shame for her… or other fine citizens in this town… not to feel safe in their own homes.”
“Yes, it would,” Hale agreed thoughtfully, his suspicions aroused further. There was no good reason why the cigar shop owner should know that the victim had been a hospital physician; even less of a reason that he would know her by name. He yanked open the door to his jeep and watched until the man disappeared into his store.
“God damn, I can’t believe Jax called him.”
Gemma strode quickly from the bathroom over to the dresser, pulling off her rings with an agitated jerk. Her bracelets and other jewelry followed with equal fervor.
“I don’t know what you’re so worked up about,” Clay said calmly as he folded the blankets back and sat on the bed.
“McQueen Oodie. That’s what.”
Clay sighed, and lay back against the pillows. “You’re overreacting.”
“You and I both know he’s JT’s bastard son. Jax-”
“Doesn’t know,” Clay interrupted with a shake of head. “And if he does, so what? His old man got around before you hooked up with him. It wouldn’t be a surprise.”
As far as Clay knew, Jax and McQueen had met at JT’s funeral. The two boys were close in age – McQueen a year or so older – and ultimately became prospects a few years later around the same time, though in different charters. If they, or anyone else, knew that they shared a father, it had never been said. All that really mattered is that they were both Sons, and that meant they were brothers, regardless of blood.
Gemma sat down heavily on the bed, obviously still worked up. She glanced at him over her shoulder as she started to briskly rub lotion on her hands and arms. “Well then why didn’t Jax tell me that he was here?”
“Why would he?” Clay shrugged. Calling in a favor from a brother was hardly news worth sharing. Nor was it noteworthy when Nomads passed through they club, as they often did. Happy was Nomad, but with family nearby he often spent time in Charming and around the SAMCRO clubhouse.
Flouncing back on the bed, Gemma jerked the covers up over her legs. “What are we going to do?”
“About what?” He reached over and turned out the light.
“My son is in jail,“ she declared emphatically.
The SAMCRO President gave a short snort. It wasn’t the first time, and was unlikely to be the last given his stepson’s explosive temper and often impulsive behavior. “Unser said they’ll let him out in the morning.”
Slightly mollified, she sighed. “You do not want to mess with these guys, Clay.”
Unconcerned, Clay replied, “We’ll handle it.”
“League Nazi pricks… that’s serious shit.”
“Baby, I said don’t worry about it.” Tugging at her arm, Clay pulled her down next to him in the bed.
Stretching up, Gemma turned out the light. “Do you think they’re behind what happened to Tara? That why he started that fight?’”
“Hmm… I don’t know,” he replied, his attention turning elsewhere as she wriggled against him.
Aware of the direction her husband’s thoughts were taking, Gemma changed her tactic. She knew how to get what she wanted. She turned and slid down in the bed, her hands moving teasingly over his chest.
“Well, find out. And turn it on someone else. I don’t want my son taking these guys on.”
Clay’s breath caught as Gemma’s hand found his dick. “Sure, baby.”