When Tara got out of the shower, she could hear the low resonance of voices from the kitchen. McQueen and Jax were sitting at the table, engrossed in conversation. As she watched them, she was struck again by their resemblance and wondered if she dare ask the obvious question.
They were talking about kids, baby boys specifically. McQueen’s wife was two months pregnant with their third. He chuckled as he explained that his wife was certain this one was a girl, but he knew it would be another boy. Besides that he just knew, he admitted he still believed the tarot card reader they had stolen away and visited on a lark in Santa Cruz, back when they were prospects, the one who had told him he would have several sons.
What he remembered from that weekend, Jax said laughingly, was McQueen and the hot and exotic fortune-teller spent a fair amount of time trying hard to get started on the prophesied legacy. Thankfully, McQueen joked in return, that hadn’t been fated and he’d met Kat years later instead. Did he remember what she had been predicted for him? Not really, Jax replied evasively, just something about a girl.
He hadn’t thought about that weekend, or the words the fortune-teller had murmured to him almost in awe, in years. At only twenty-one, he hadn’t wanted to believe he’d have only one true love in his life. The previous two years he had, in fact, been on a very dedicated and somewhat successful pursuit of hedonistic pleasures to forget the idea of ‘true love’, but that night had brought memories of Tara back in a thundering rush. It hadn’t helped to hear she would come back to him, because he hadn’t believed that either, even though he wanted to. His lips curved up in a smile – the fortune teller had been right after all.
Aware his biker brother wasn’t going to elaborate, McQueen changed topics, suggesting to Jax that he and Tara make a trip down to Scottsdale and meet his boys. They could hang out around their swimming pool, which was damn near a requirement in the infernal heat. He missed California, but Kat’s family and now his own Mom were both there, so Arizona had become home.
Tara smiled at their easy camaraderie. It was a pleasure to see Jax relaxed and laughing, but it also reminded her how much the responsibilities of the club weighed on him, and how much they had changed him. She wouldn’t ask about the Nomad biker or any connection to JT, she decided a moment later. If there were blood ties between them, and Jax knew, he had his reasons for keeping it a secret and she didn’t want to invade his privacy. He’d tell her if and when he was ready, and not a minute before.
“Hey,” Jax said with a welcoming smile, noticing her in the doorway. He came to his feet, Abel happily gurgling in his arms.
“Good morning,” she replied, a pink blush creeping up her cheeks having been caught watching them.
“Mornin’,” McQueen said cheerfully, glancing at her as she crossed into the kitchen to the coffee pot.
“I fed him.” Jax stopped next to her. “I gotta head out. We have run up north.”
“When will you be back?” Tara asked, turning and looking up at him over the rim of her coffee cup. They hadn’t talked any more last night, but she had slept comforted in the circle of his arms. That alone had worked wonders in improving her state of mind, and calming her turbulent emotions.
“Tomorrow,” he said thoughtfully, his gaze drifting over her face. “Hey, when I get back, let’s go away for a couple of days, just you and me. Yosemite, Big Sur, the cabin. Anywhere you want.”
“What about Abel?” she asked, warmed by the offer for time away together. It was an unexpected gift.
“Gemma’ll watch him.”
“Okay, yeah. I’ll move some appointments around.”
“Great,” he replied, his lips curving up in a smile. On impulse, he lowered his head, touching his lips to hers. Nudging her mouth open with his tongue, he savored her warmth, her taste. Her lips were soft beneath his and she tasted like coffee and mint.
“Be safe,” she murmured when he lifted his head, further warmed by his kiss. Noticing that he was biting his lower lip, she smiled. It was an endearing habit he had when his thoughts were turning to those of a more intimate nature; the small but sexy gesture never failed to send a shivering warmth creeping along her spine.
“I’ll be fine,” he affirmed softly. Tension he hadn’t even been aware he had been holding in his body faded away with her smile. He’d forgotten she might not welcome the intimate contact, despite sleeping in his arms through the night.
She took Abel from him as he said a few words to McQueen. With one last playful nip at her lips, he disappeared out the front door.
“Where’s he going?” Opie asked, jerking his head toward Tig as the biker rode out of the busy TM parking lot. He lit a cigarette and joined the other members of various MCs hanging around their bikes and preparing for another ‘charity ride’. This run was guised as a benefit for the Sequoia Humane Society.
“Clay sent him to meet with Trammel. The info is back on the bastards who attacked Tara,” Chibs replied, his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses.
“He sent Tig for that?” Bobby asked, surprised Clay would send the Sergeant-at-Arms instead of Juice, or even one of the prospects. Besides the fact that information pickup didn’t require a senior member of the club, it was practically unheard of for the President of SAMCRO to go on a run without the man who was effectively his personal bodyguard.
“Said there was something about a lead, a Mayan connection. Maybe our third missing guy,” Chibs answered a bit cynically before he spat on the ground. He wasn’t convinced there was a Mayan connection, and he found Clay’s insistence they look in that direction for the source of Tara’s rape, rather than work to confirm what they already knew about Weston and the League, bewildering.
“Mayan?” Opie grunted, aggrieved by the very mention of the name. Despite having killed the man responsible, he still had bad feelings about the entire Mayan MC after they murdered his wife. If they also turned out to be behind what happened to Tara… he’d be in full support of wiping out the entire Lodi charter.
“But Jax seems pretty convinced it’s Weston,” Juice added, puzzled too by the deviation in routine.
“Yeah, I know. It’s a real bad deal if they’re aligned,” Bobby commented. “We can’t take on both brown and white. Not now, not when we have no money, no guns.”
“Aye, you’re right about that,” Chibs agreed, looking up when Jax spend past them on his Dyna.
“Hey, good of you to finally show,” Opie joked, watching as the VP parked his bike alongside the others.”Figured you were sleepin’ in.”
“Yeah, right. Not with a five month old,” Jax answered with a smile, removing his helmet and turning his black ‘Reaper Crew’ cap around.
“That’s why you need to get yourself a nanny or one of those au pairs. Maybe a hot blonde one,” Bobby advised with a suggestive lift of his brows. “You know, to help out.”
“Are you sure you’re not spendin’ a little too much time up at Cara Cara?” Chibs asked with a grin. “Because that sounds like the start of one of Luanne’s movies.”
“Yea-ah. And a whole shit storm of trouble,” Opie said with a rare smile, tossing away his cigarette butt.
“That’s probably why Precious never let me hire any of the help around the house,” Bobby retorted with a laugh.
“And why she kicked your ass out,” Chibs commented, clapping Bobby companionably on the shoulder.
“I’m gonna have to go with Ope on this one,” Jax said with a nod toward his friend.
“Yeah, but we all know you’re whipped,” Bobby quipped with a touch of paternal affection.
The accusation prompted some friendly ‘oohs’, the guys laughing amiably.
“Hey, I got no complaints,” Jax countered with a shrug, an enigmatic smiling playing on his lips.
Opie quirked a brow, ready to add a sportive comment to the banter when Clay barked at them from across the lot, “Let’s go, boys!”
“Where’s Tig?” Jax asked, noticing for the first time that the Sergeant-at-Arms was missing.
“Clay sent him to meet with Trammel,” Ope explained as he straddled his bike, reaching for his helmet.
“Yeah?” he asked, curious just as the others had been about why Clay would send Tig of all people, but too anxious for the information to question it too closely. The timing was perfect – he could push for another vote when they got back.
“I see Sheriff Roosevelt and his task force have made a noticeable impression,” Zobelle commented, his back still turned as he studied the case of cigars in front him.
Yesterday they had seen a series of imposed curfews and the presence of heavily armed men wearing “GANG TASK FORCE” jackets at a local BBQ, a church social, and in and around various shops and public spaces, making the residents of Charming decidedly uncomfortable.
Weston waited silently for Zobelle to continue.
“Now we move forward with the next step in the plan,” Zobelle said, turning around with a Flor de Olivia long panatela in his hand. He lifted the thin cigar to his nose and inhaled deeply. While not his most expensive product in the shop, the relatively inexpensive but flavorful brand was turning out to be quite a popular item. He wanted to try them himself, and find out why.
“I’ll handle the meet with Hayes. Two of your men should accompany me.”
“Ule and Robb will go,“AJ confirmed with a nod. “Where do you want me?”
“We need to give Teller a friendly nudge… the Gang Task force will be unlikely to overlook a rash action from the MC even if the Charming police are willing to do so. Pay the doctor another visit tomorrow morning.”
“I’m not sure that will do any good. She must not be telling him.”
“This time, make it obvious to her… companion,” Zobelle elaborated thoughtfully. “She may think she’s protecting Teller, but I doubt his brother-in-arms, will have the same reluctance to mention your… conversation with the doctor.”
He paused and lit the thin cigar. “That should set Teller off. Then be at the Christian Center for the rally. We’ll need you there to kick off the festivities when the MC shows.”
Tara smiled at Abel and gave a push to the bouncy seat, setting it springing back to life and the baby giggling. She finished her shift at the hospital, so they were sitting outside the SAMCRO clubhouse at the picnic tables, enjoying the afternoon sun and waiting for Jax to return after yesterday’s run.
McQueen was across the patio from her, hanging back in the shadows and talking quietly on his phone. She guessed by the low murmur and occasional flash of a smile that he was talking to his wife. Tara suggested he go home, but he shook his head and explained that his wife didn’t like him around the first trimester when she was, as she described, emotional, sick and bitchy. But the next three or four months, she insisted he be around as much as possible, feeling much more in need of his… company. Tara had laughed, catching the meaning behind his innuendo. It also made her eager to share all of that with Jax.
She hadn’t paid attention to the white Lexus when it pulled into TM, but it had not gone unnoticed by the mechanics in the garage – or by Gemma, who had peeked out from behind the blinds in the office.
Ima strutted across the parking lot toward the clubhouse, her high heels making a rhythmic clicking sound on the asphalt. Her gold belt glittered in the sunlight, drawing attention to her waist, bare above her black shorts and below the white cropped sleeveless sweater. She slowed her steps when she reached the patio, her eyes landing first on Abel.
“He looks just like Jax, doesn’t he?” she said, her tone syrupy sweet.
Tara had stiffened at Ima’s presence, reminded again how much she hated the porn star at the clubhouse or even at the TM garage.
Ima’s gaze swept dismissively over the doctor. It wasn’t the first time she had seen her, but she wondered again what Jax saw in the haughty brunette. Not that it really mattered; Tara was not the type of woman she had ever considered as competition. Any man Ima wanted, she got. And today, she was going to get the very fuckable Jax Teller.
“What do you want?” Tara asked brusquely, disliking the overt scrutiny.
“Not that it’s any of your business,” Ima replied with an insolent stare. “But I was invited.”
“I doubt that,” Tara countered emphatically, though the confidence in the blonde’s voice did nothing to preserve her peace of mind. “But I’m not going to argue with you.” She stood and scooped up Abel. Settling him on one hip, she grabbed the diaper bag and swung it over her opposite shoulder.
“Ask Gemma. She called me and told me to meet Jax here,” Ima retorted in a haughty tone. “So if I were you… I wouldn’t expect to see him for a few days.”
Tara slowly turned and surveyed her rival for Jax’s attention with narrowed eyes.
Gemma invited the skinny blonde to the clubhouse? For Jax?
Aware she had struck a nerve, Ima closed the distance between them. “I heard what happened to you,” she purred softly, her smile insincere as her gaze drifted deliberately, insultingly over the brunette. She shook her head slowly in feigned commiseration, “And I know how long it can be before you want anything in your pussy again.”
Tara’s brows lifted. She didn’t want clarification on the anything the woman might be referring to.
“Think of it as a favor,” she murmured in dulcet tones. “For Jax.”
Adjusting Abel on her hip, Tara glared at the blonde coolly.
“You know, since he likes pussy. A lot of pussy,” she said, blinking her heavily made up eyes innocently. She shrugged, “You’ll just have to get used to sharing his cock, sweetie. Especially since he’s so…” Her smile was malevolent. “in demand and willing.”
The porn star’s smug look roused her anger more than she cared to admit, her words touching a nerve more than she cared to consider.
But then… he had been in bed with her the morning after he could have stayed at the club with the porn star… and she had believed him when he said he hadn’t been with anyone else…
Tara cocked her head, picking up a sound in the distance. The roar of approaching motorcycles grew louder as Jax, Clay and the guys turned on the street nearby, returning to TM.
She’d just have to show the porn slut again what she couldn’t have. After all, she was still Jax Teller’s old lady.
“You’re right about one thing, he does like pussy. And he can do some really amazing things with his tongue…” Tara’s smile was urbane. “But you’ll never know because I don’t share.”
She stared at the blonde woman until the bikes passed behind her. She turned and caught up with Jax as he walked his Dyna backward, parking next to Bobby and Clay. Bobby and Opie offered greetings as she passed, and Tara nodded and murmured a reply in return.
“Hey. Welcome back,” she said, her lips curving up in a smile. She forcibly shoved her confrontation with Ima to the back of her mind.
“Hey,” Jax replied affectionately, leaning down to kiss her cheek. He brushed a kiss on Abel’s head, patting his son on the back gently. He hadn’t been expecting her at the clubhouse, but it was a pleasant surprise.
Inching closer, Tara placed her palm flat on his stomach, feeling the sculpted muscles through the layers of his clothes. She looked up at him through the veil of her lashes. “I know you just got back…” she murmured softly, so only Jax could hear, “but could you take me for a ride?”
Jax’s lips curved up in a slow smile. He had many very fond memories with Tara that started with those same words. The double entendre had been an inside joke between them during their younger years.
“What about Abel?” Sweeping Tara’s hair back over her shoulder, he brushed his thumb against the sensitive skin of her neck, causing her goose bumps to rise along her arm and a tiny frisson of heat to creep up her spine.
“He can stay with Uncle McQueen for a while. He’s great with him,” she answered, smiling at Abel who was making babbling sounds that Tara would swear sounded like he was trying to say “daddy”.
Jax’s brows lifted and he met McQueen’s gaze over her shoulder. The Nomad biker only shrugged and shook his head.
Returning her eyes to Jax’s face, Tara murmured, “I’ve missed your body.”
His smile widening at the suggestive comment, he slid his fingers in her hair and cupped the back of her head, bending his head to touch his lips to hers, intending just a butterfly light kiss. When Tara angled her head and pressed her lips firmly to his, deepening the kiss, any thoughts of restraint slipped away. He pulled her closer and she parted her lips with a soft sigh, savoring the intimate caress as their tongues twined, sliding together in a heady seductive kiss.
Lost in the moment, Tara forgot about proving anything to Ima. She even forgot about any need to prove to herself that Jax still wanted her. She slid her hand up his arm, her fingers flexing and gripping the hard muscle of his bicep.
Somewhere behind them, a horn honked.
Tara sighed breathlessly and opened her eyes when Jax lifted his head. Her lips curved into a smile, warmed by the teasing, interested light in his beautiful blue eyes. When he looked at her like that, she believed in love and fairy tales and happily every afters. And also something more physical and earthy…
With a smile, he took Abel, pressed a kiss to his head, and handed him to McQueen. “Watch him? We’ll be back…”
Returning his gaze to Tara’s and cupping her head with both hands, his lips brushed hers lightly once, before settling on hers in a lingering kiss. When he lifted his head, he glanced up at McQueen. Flashing him a grin, he finally finished his sentence, “Later.”
“Sure, bro,” McQueen replied with a wink. He shifted the baby capably to his other arm and took the diaper bag from Tara. Abel giggled happily, trying to grasp McQueen’s beard.
Ima watched the whole exchange with her lips pursed into a pout. Crossing her arms, she tapped her foot angrily when the couple sped out of the parking lot a few minutes later on Jax’s bike.
His own mother had told her to meet him here. Why hadn’t he noticed her? Should she wait in his room for him to come back?
From the office doorway, Gemma lit a cigarette and frowned.
Jax drove until they reached a small shaded alcove in the woods. It was a spot they came too often, both when they were younger and now, and it was full of pleasant and satisfying memories. There was a big oak tree that offered protection from the sun, and a surrounding meadow dotted with yellowed grasses, orange poppies, and drifts of white and pink blooms from wildflowers.
“I’m glad you stopped here,” she said as she watched him take the bedroll he had used last night and spread it on the ground.
“I like this spot,” he replied, a wealth of meaning in those simple words. Shrugging out of his kutte, he dropped down and stretched out on the blanket. He patted the place next to him in invitation.
Lying beside him minutes later, her head on his shoulder, his on his kutte, Tara traced the lines on his plaid flannel shirt with her fingers.
“All my test results are back. I’m whole. Healthy,” she murmured, both happy and relieved to be able to share the good news. Her bruises had almost all faded, and she was slowly starting to feel as though there weren’t monsters lurking in every shadow.
His lips curving up in a smile, Jax turned his head as his arm curled around her shoulders and pulled her close for a sweet, light kiss. With his other hand, he reached for hers and brought it to his lips, kissing her palm, before lacing his fingers through hers. Tired after the long road trip and restless night, he closed his eyes, content to just lie here in the warm afternoon sun and hold her.
Tara watched him quietly for a moment, struck by the simple pleasure of just being here with him. She touched his nose, traced the arch of one brow then gently threaded her fingers through his hair, smoothing the unruly gold strands. He sighed softly as she gently massaged his neck, his shoulder, and his arm. Dropping her hand to his stomach, she slid her palm up and over the firm muscles of his abs to rest on the steady beat of his heart.
Inching forward, Tara closed the distance between them and kissed him softly, teasing his lips with her tongue. When she would have pulled back, Jax reached up and cupped the back of her head, holding her to him and deepening the kiss.
Rolling on his side, he eased her back, changing the slant of his head as their lips and tongues met again in another lazy, mindless kiss that seemed to go on for long, slow minutes. One hand caressed the curve of her hip, moving in a slow, soothing motion. He slid his fingers under the edge of her top to stroke the bare skin at dip of her waist, the taut smoothness of her stomach. He idly caressed her ribs, his fingertips brushing the curve of her breast.
Jax rose up on his elbow and traced her cheek gently with his fingers, noting the shadow of the faded bruises, the last visible trace of what happened. He frowned slightly at the reminder, and promised himself he would not let her be hurt again.
As if sensing the discord in his thoughts, Tara opened her eyes. She touched the scruff of his whiskers, trailing her fingers along his jaw.
“Jax?” Her voice was low and husky and it seemed to touch something deep inside of him. She had said she was whole and healthy but he was still concerned it was too soon. In no way did he want to rush her into anything she wasn’t ready for.
“Touch me,” she whispered against his lips, her luminous gaze locked with his. Make me forget, she wanted to say, but she didn’t, not wanting anything to mar this moment.
Something in her eyes triggered an unexpected sense of masculine possessiveness, and he wanted to wipe away any bad memories, any reminders of the men who had hurt her, even any hint of a memory they had touched her.
He kissed her, taking a long, slow time before building up the delicious pressure. He raked his teeth on her bottom lip before slipping his tongue into the heated warmth of her mouth.
Trailing hot kisses from the corner of her mouth to her ear, he tasted her earlobe with the tip of his tongue. Tara arched her head back, easing his access as his lips moved down her neck.
His gaze met hers when he unbuttoned her shirt and slid the sleeves down her arms, then urged her up so he could pull her tank top over her head. When he paused, uncertain, she pushed the straps of her black lace bra down her arms. He reached around her to help unhook it, sliding it off.
“Now take off your shirt,” she murmured, tugging at the buttons on the plaid flannel.
He complied, dropping the shirt down his arms, then pulling the t-shirt he wore underneath over his head and off with one hand.
Jax moved over her, settling his hips between her thighs. He ran one palm gently up her neck to cup the back of her head as his lips returned to hers in a deep, searching kiss.
Tara slid her arms up his shoulders to wrap around his neck, delighting in the feel of her breasts against the solidness of his chest, her hips pressed against his as the stirring warmth in the pit of her stomach began to spread through her body. She sighed into his mouth as the velvety, heated caress of his tongue explored her own with tantalizing slowness.
As if he had all time in the world, Jax’s mouth drifted across her cheek, down her neck, and slid along the curve of her shoulder to trace her collarbone. He cupped her bare breast in his palm and squeezed, then kissed a warm, wet path along the outer curve, moving gradually inward to nuzzle one taut peak. When the infinitesimal pressure of his lips closed over her sensitive nipple, she sighed, and sank her fingers into his hair, holding him close.
Her thoughts drifted away, and the low hum of desire rippled through her as he teased and suckled each taut peak in turn.
“You’re perfect,” he murmured, shifting to lie beside her. Braced on one elbow, he plucked one of the pink wildflowers nearby. His gaze drifted leisurely over her naked beauty, his eyes following his hand as he trailed the delicate flower over and between her breasts, down her stomach. His touch was light, almost reverent as he studied and traced every smooth curve and delicate arc.
Watching her carefully, he unfastened the buttons on her jeans, then slid down her body to press a kiss on her stomach, just above the lace edge of her panties. He eased her jeans down, moving by inches and slow degrees, conscious of the importance in ensuring her pleasure as much now as he had been the very first time she had given him her innocence.
Gently he kissed the supple silky skin of her thighs, his tongue tracing a slow path upward until he reached the apex between her legs. When his fingers slid under her panties at her hips, Tara tensed, an unwanted burst of fear jolting her senses.
“Easy, babe. Nice and slow,” Jax murmured, his fingers stroking her hips gently, soothingly. He looked up at her, checking for the smallest sign she wanted him to stop. She exhaled deeply and forced herself to relax, her hips rocking ever so slightly. Encouraged by the subtle movement, he slowly peeled the small lace garment down her legs, pressing soft, warm kisses on each inch of skin he revealed.
When the featherlight touch of his fingers brushed the wet heat between her legs, a sigh escaped her lips in a breathy exhalation.
His touch was gentle but thorough, his fingers stroking and massaging her lush folds and sensitive nerves until she was quivering, her breath beginning to come in soft pants. Then he parted the sleek folds and licked, taking his time to savor her scent, her taste, and her every response to him.
“Jax …” she breathed, the pleasure flooding her mind and melting through her, filling her every nerve with his delicate touch.
Glancing at her face, he swirled his tongue around the sensitive nub of her clit before sucking it into his mouth, his fingers sliding inside her in long, rhythmic strokes.
A small, suffocated sound escaped her lips when the blissful orgasm finally washed over her in gratifying release.
“You taste so good, babe,” Jax whispered against her ear, crawling up her body to lie next to her. He tucked her against him and covered with his shirt.
Tara’s lashes fluttered and she opened sleepy, lambent eyes. Her lips curved up into a smile. “Mmm… I love you.”
He returned her smile, then nipped at her lips gently, lightly. “I love you.”
“Don’t you want to…” she asked a bit apprehensively, concerned there may be some truth in Gemma’s harsh words that he didn’t want her now.
Tightening his arms around her, he pulled her closer so she could feel the hard length of his erection pressed against her hip. “Of course I do… I always want you, Tara.”
“But there’s no hurry,” he murmured, his gaze moving over her face. There was no question he wanted her, that he wanted to sink into her and feel her wet heat surrounding him. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d had to resort to cold showers or self-satisfaction after time spent with her; it was almost like being adolescent again. But it was only for another day, or two. Today was for her pleasure, to remind her of physical gratification and to kindle the heated fires of lust. Her recovery wasn’t just about her physical health; what was in her mind about sex was just as important.
“But there’s no need to wait either,” she offered, running her foot along his denim covered calf.
“I know, but a little anticipation is a good thing, babe.” He bent his head and nuzzled the spot on her neck he knew to be particularly sensitive, biting gently, causing goose bumps to rise along her arms.
“Think about you and me, some little cabin, where I can spread you out, completely naked, and take my time to lick every inch of your beautiful body. I’ll make you come so hard, babe…” He dipped his head and licked suggestively at her nipple. “Then when you think you can’t come again, I’m gonna slide my cock inside you… think how good it will feel. You’ll be so hot and wet, I’ll be so fuckin’ hard… I’ll make you come again. Then I’ll turn you over and start over, kissing my way down… only this time I won’t let you come until I’m good and ready… then you’ll come with me.” He cupped her ass, squeezing firmly. Taking her from behind, watching the crow on her back that branded her as his, move beneath him… that topped his list of things hot, erotic, and guaranteed to turn him on.
Tara closed her eyes and sucked in her breath, his lascivious words making her feel wet and hot and needy.
Cupping her head, he kissed her again, an allusive, seductive kiss that grew slowly in intensity, once more stirring the heated flame of desire.
She sighed softly against his lips, teasing his tongue with her own.
Jax broke off the kiss and shifted back. Another minute more and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep to his resolve. He watched her as she lay next to him, his breath held, hoping she was reassured of both his interest and his affections. He’d been in love with her almost half his life. He could no longer imagine his future without her; she was almost as important to him as his next breath.
“That better be a promise,” she said in a husky whisper, opening her eyes to look at him. Her green eyes were filled with a heated warmth.
“Oh, you know it is, babe,” he answered, a suggestive smile playing on his lips. He grabbed her hand and pressed a kiss to her knuckles.
She felt another surge of heat melting downward, pooling between her legs. She was unlikely to forget his words until he fulfilled his promise. Maybe he had a point about anticipation…
Sighing, she snuggled against his side and settled her head on his shoulder. “How was the run?”
Gemma lit her cigarette and watched from the office doorway as Jax and Tara pulled into the TM parking lot. Jax’s laughter rang out as Tara said something to him before climbing off the back of the bike. She swung around when he grabbed her arm. She laughed with him and put her arms around his neck. They kissed, quietly, sweetly.
Still smiling, Tara went to where McQueen was sitting at the picnic tables outside the clubhouse. They exchanged a few words and she went into the building, perhaps in search of Abel who Gemma knew was sleeping in her son’s room. She hadn’t directly challenged the Nomad biker to take over babysitting of her grandson when she found out he was at the clubhouse, but she had watched over the two of them frequently and with eagle eyes.
“Hey, baby,” Gemma said as Jax strode toward her, stripping off his gloves.
“I need a minute.”
Gemma’s smile faded as she looked at her son, taking in the the firm set of his jaw, the cool displeasure evident in his features. There was almost no sign of the good humor he had displayed just moments earlier.
“Did you invite Ima here?” he asked without preamble.
“What? Did she say some-“ she began in protest. Noting the dubious expression on his face, she paused and amended, “Okay, yeah. Maybe I did, but baby, no one expects you to be a monk while Tara heals.”
“I don’t need my mother to pimp for me,” he scoffed. Finding willing and available women when he wanted them had never been a problem, and it was decidedly not an aspect of his life he wanted his mother’s ‘help’ with.
“Sweetheart, I’m just thinking of you,” she said archly, crossing her arms over her chest. Choosing a tact she thought he might find more agreeable, she amended, “And of Tara. After what’s she’s been through…”
He grimaced ruefully at the reminder.
“And I know men have certain needs,” she said, her tone candid. She took one last puff on her cigarette and tossed the butt to the ground.
“I am not having that conversation with my mother.” His head went up and back. Shifting his stance, he stuck one hand in the pocket of his jeans.
“Look, baby, no one would blame you if you didn’t want Tara after what happened to her.“
“Jesus Christ.” Jax uttered on an exhale. When he looked back at his mother, his blue eyes were cold. “And you told her that? That I wouldn’t want her? Some shit about violated pussy?”
“She told you?” Her brows lifted, but Gemma didn’t pretend not to know what he was asking about.
“No. McQueen told me. He heard you.”
“I’m just thinking of what’s best for you, baby,” she offered with smooth equanimity, intent on reassuring him that she only had his best interests at heart.
“Mom… why do you always stir shit up with me and Tara?”
“She broke your heart, Jackson,” she answered bluntly. “And she’s going to do it again.”
“We’ve talked about this. What she does, what I –“
“Yeah, I know. Not my business,” she interrupted curtly. “I remember. But with what happened, and now with her bringing the Sheriff here-“
“None of this her fault,” he stated adamantly, his eyes widening with emphasis.
Gemma studied him for a moment. She only wanted to protect him, her only son. Why did he insist on rebuffing what she knew to be in his best interest? It was also what was best for SAMCRO. Finally, she said, “This is bad, sweetheart. She will hurt you, and she will hurt this club.”
“What happened to her… she got hurt because of me, because of this club,” he countered pointedly.
Gemma sighed and schooled her expression into one contrived to provoke guilt. “Then if you care about her, then maybe you need to convince her to stay away from you, away from this club.”
“I know, not my business.” With a lift of an eyebrow, she looked at him with exasperation. “But you know I’m right, Jackson. She doesn’t belong here.”
“Leave it alone, Mom.” Jax said with a weary sigh. “And don’t say shit like that to Tara.”
Everyone was at the table before eight. They were well aware of the tension in their VP as he took his place long before the appointed time and sat quietly, smoking a cigarette.
Clay nodded to Tig, who in turn pointed to Juice to kick off the discussion.
“Trammel got the info on the prints. First guy was… uh, John Lacroix. Came from New York. He did some time in Soledad for trafficking, suspected in two murders, but never convicted. League ties, but nothing recent. I’m guessing someone scrubbed the records though.” Pausing, Juice swapped the papers, putting the second page on top. “The other guy was a Damon Ryan. From Greenville, Wisconsin. Military service record says he spent some time in Iraq, had a half dozen or so written warnings about racial slurs, insubordination, and other similar shit on base. Spent some time in the brig for abandoning his unit, was dishonorably discharged.” Finished, he slid the papers he had been reading from to the center of the table.
Tig sat forward, unfolding another paper he retrieved from his pocket.
“This is, uh, Victor Barahas. Did twelve years in Stockton for racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit murder, use of a firearm, a couple of counts of rape, assault… suspected but not convicted on a whole slew of similar shit. He’s been out only about six months now, some loophole in the system that got him parole. Mayan affiliation, made a rainbow of friends in all colors and flavors during his time inside, but was especially fond of vanilla. Very popular guy, but owed some favors on the outside.”
Clay nodded, his gaze drifting slowly around the table before stopping on Jax. “This Barahas… he looks pretty good for the third guy. I’m thinking-“
“Weston was at St. Thomas. Both McQueen and Tara can i.d. him,” Jax interrupted with a challenge in his tone. He tossed the mask on the table, covering the papers that had been placed there by Tig and Juice. “Left this in Tara’s office. It’s the same one the other guys were wearin’ at the house.”
“Shit,” Chibs muttered softly.
Tig’s brows lifted.
Happy interlaced his fingers together, pressing the index fingers together at the last digit and bringing them to his chin.
Opie glanced from the mask to Jax, then to Clay. He tapped his fingers on the table.
Bobby sighed deeply.
“Humpfff,” Clay exhaled. He had to admit, it was damning. The club had voted yes on retaliation with less proof before. And he knew too, in his gut, Jax was right. It was Weston. What he and Zobelle hoped to gain by it… that he didn’t know yet. But it didn’t matter. He had already promised Gemma he’d divert her son away from taking his revenge on the League.
“I hear what you’re saying, but this Barahas… I think this is just like Donna. The Mayans are coming after SAMCRO through our women.”
Opie felt the familiar flicker of anger combined with grief steal over him, but his only visible reaction was a subtle shift in his chair.
“What are you talking about?” Jax interrupted, his anger barely restrained. “This isn’t the Mayans. Weston raped Tara. He all but admitted it. Now he’s stalking her at the hospital. We know he’s Zobelle’s muscle for the League. Zobelle is the shot caller behind Weston – he has to be involved. This is Weston and the League. They’re the ones coming after SAMCRO. We figure out why, and Weston has to pay.”
“Now, son-“ Clay began.
“Call a vote.”
Clay sat back in his chair. “Unser said the Sanwa Sheriff and his Gang Task force are in town. You know they talked to Tara. Even if we vote it now, we can’t act. We already got ATF up our ass, then Hale, and now with this Roosevelt and his task force – the Irish are getting nervous. We have another run to make in two weeks. Retaliation is too big a risk to take right now.”
“Call. A. Vote.” Jax put his hand on the table, as if that might somehow rein in his temper. “We can handle the Irish.”
The SAMCRO President glanced around the table. He could tell from their expressions, the club was prepared to support Jax in his desire for retaliation. “Sure, when things cool off, we’ll call another vote. In the meantime, we check out this Barahas. I still think he looks good for the third guy.“
“It’s not and you know it,” Jax countered with a shake of his head. “I shot the third guy. In the arm. Weston – was shot in the arm. The third guy was Weston.”
“Just because the guy’s a prick and it looks like that, it don’t mean-“
“Just. Call. A. God. Damn. Vote,” Jax snapped, his patience wearing thin under the weight of his rage.
“All right, I’ll call a vote. Retaliation?” Clay glared at his stepson, his own temper rising. “Nay.”
“This is bullshit.” Jax stood, his hands clenched. The vote didn’t have to be unanimous, only majority but Tig and Bobby would almost always lean with Clay.
Chibs and Opie spoke at the same time, both hoping to defuse the situation before it got out of hand.
“Where are you going?” Clay asked as his stepson walked around the table behind him.
“I’m done. I’m going Nomad.”
The slam of the door seemed to reverberate through the room.
Moments later, the rumble of a bike engine could be heard as Jax sped out of the parking lot.
Without a word, Clay rapped the gavel and ended the meeting.
“Clay, man, what are you doing?” Tig asked after everyone had filed out, leaving just the two of them at the table.
Clay glanced over at his Sergeant-at-Arms.
“If this happened to Gemma…” Tig sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. “Weston, Zobelle… they’d already be six feet under in Chigger Woods along with the two other guys.”
Clay pulled a cigar out of his kutte.
“You know Jax is right. He is.”
The SAMCRO President trimmed the Vegas Robaina and lit it.
Undeterred by the lack of response, Tig continued, “Is this Gemma? This is Gemma, isn’t it. I know she wanted Donna out of the way, thought she was bad for the club, pulling Opie away, and all that. I took care of it, for her, for you.” He paused. “But after Ope… stirring shit up with the Mayans again with this Barahas… shit, Alvarez is gonna want retaliation, even if those guys were grade A shit scumbag pricks. And then this with the League… man, we’re gonna end up on the wrong side of both white and brown.”
Sighing, Clay took another puff on his cigar.
“Gemma has never liked Jax’s old lady. We all know that. And she’s probably thinkin’ of handling this the same way as Donna… but man, Clay, I can’t… I won’t. No way. Not Tara. You heard what Jax did to the guy at the cabin. Shit. No way I’m getting on the wrong side of Jax on this,” Tig exhaled heavily and slowly shook his head.
The SAMCRO President flicked away the ashes on his cigar.
“He’s not buying the Mayan bullshit, and I get it. I do. Weston, man, he practically threw it in Jax’s face. And now this with the mask, the hospital visit…” Tig continued in a low voice, tapping his fingers on the table.
“What do you want me to say?” Clay finally asked, putting his elbows on the table as he turned to face his long time friend and club brother.
“Jax. He’s serious about going Nomad, man, if you keep blocking this. Gemma ain’t gonna be happy about him as Nomad, but she sure as hell ain’t gonna want him dead. You know she has plans… she wants him to be president of SAMCRO when you, you know, step down some day. But he goes Nomad, he’s gonna take on the League on his own… that’s risky, man.”
Tig ran a hand through his hair, then continued. “Gemma… she’s gonna have to understand, that we gotta do this. We gotta support Jax and take care of this shit. Leave the Mayan bullshit out of it. You think we need to kick that hive, we can do it another day over something else. Right now, we need to put Weston down, and down hard.”
He was silent for a long moment, then Clay sighed heavily, “Aw, fuck.”