“Tara’s gone missing. Salazar has her.” Tig’s voice was barely audible in Jax’s ear. The line was bad; Jax had to concentrate to make out the words over the static and he barely noticed when Gemma took Abel from him, freeing him to focus on the call. “We tried to ransom her, but the money drop went south. Cops are on it, but nobody knows where she is.” Tig paused, as if waiting for Jax to say something. Jax had no fucking clue what that was supposed to be. At last Tig spoke again. “We’ll get her back, brother.”
“Yeah.” Jax couldn’t think of anything else to add; the roller coaster ride of fear, grief, joy and a half dozen other emotions he’d been on for the past few days had apparently numbed him in the face of yet more bad news.
The silence stretched out interminably, until, realizing Jax wasn’t gonna say anything more, Tig broke the connection. Jax snapped the phone shut and gave it back it to Bobby. From the wary expressions around him and the way everyone avoided meeting his eye, he knew Bobby had already filled them in on the latest intel from home.
“Let’s go home.” Clay finally broke the silence. He spoke quietly, but his voice brooked no argument.
Powerless to do anything but sit in the hold of the cargo plane, Jax felt as if the flight back to Stockton was taking forever. The hold stank of kerosene and grease while the noise of the engines was too loud for anything but the most basic shouted conversation. Left alone with his thoughts, Jax couldn’t help but wonder: would they get back in time? Was Tara even still alive?
He let his head drop back against a bulkhead, letting the plane’s vibrations resonate through his skull, and glanced over at Gemma. His mother was asleep on a pile of tattered blankets and sacks, Abel clutched protectively in her arms , as if she were planning on never letting the kid out of her grip again. Something wet and warm uncoiled inside Jax’s belly at the sight. Despite his fear for Tara, he found himself smiling faintly for a moment.
He didn’t expect Gemma to ever understand, but giving up Abel had been the right decision at the time: the boy would’ve had a normal life in a home safe from violence. Jimmy O had cut that plan short, but had he now regained his son only to have the boy grow up without a mother?
Jax knew where the blame would lie if that happened, no matter what anyone said. It was him Salazar had wanted to get back at, and he should’ve seen this coming. But instead of making sure Tara was protected while he was gone, he’d pushed her away, stupidly thinking she’d be safer that way.
Scrubbing a hand through his hair, Jax snorted softly. He was an idiot. Maybe that would’ve worked before. Before she’d let him back into her life. Before he’d brought her back into his. Before she’d become his old lady, and he’d made her a target.
After they’d secured the scene, Jax was escorted out of the building by one of the sheriffs. His skull still rang from where Salazar had pistol-whipped him, and the ax cut on his arm stung, the blood drying in itchy flakes. Jax ignored it all. Outside, on the stoop, he halted and looked around at the collection of squad cars, ambulances and rubberneckers. “Where’s Tara?”
The deputy shrugged; he didn’t know. Didn’t seem to care much, either.
Unser padded over. He must’ve overheard the question, or perhaps he wanted to prevent further mayhem while Jax went looking for her, because he told him, “They already took her to St. Thomas.”
Jax peered down at the police chief. “Is she okay?”
Unser, blinking up at him, raised a shoulder and looked out across the crowd. “She was walking when they came out,” was all he said.
Reluctantly, Jax allowed the paramedics on the scene to clean and bandage his arm and put a few butterfly closures over the cut on his temple, before he dismissed the rest of their fussing and strode over to where he’d parked his bike. Opie followed after him, providing silent reassurance—I got your back—as Jax rode to the hospital a little faster than he should have, the way his head was throbbing.
Opie had been the only one left at the scene when Jax was done with the paramedics; the rest of the club must’ve gone back to the clubhouse already. Jax didn’t hold it against them. He reckoned Clay would be holding an emergency session about their next move; he knew he’d fucked up more than one scheme by killing Salazar. But the moment that son of a bitch had gone back on his promise to let Tara go and instead put a knife against her throat, Jax had known there was only one of two ways it would end: with his death or Salazar’s. Cold terror had brought him up out of the chair before he knew what he was doing, though Jax had no clue what he’d have done next if Jacob Hale hadn’t used Salazar’s momentary distraction to stab him with the pen.
Reaching St. Thomas, he parked the bike and took the steps up to the door two at a time, trusting Opie to catch up.
A receptionist was behind the counter, shuffling through some papers. “Where’s Tara?” Jax demanded. “Dr. Knowles?”
Before the woman could answer, the administrator Tara once beat up scurried over. Jax realized she’d been talking to what looked like reporters and his brow furrowed. Hadn’t someone said she’d been kidnapped along with Tara? He made a note to find out later how that had happened. First, though, he needed to see Tara, make sure she was okay.
The woman gave him a look he couldn’t quite decipher—pity? disapproval?—before her expression softened.
“Maternity ward.” She pointed, though it wasn’t as if Jax wouldn’t remember the way after the months Abel had spent there, and he loped off with barely a nod of thanks.
He found Tara in the hallway, sprawled on a plastic chair, her features drawn as she stared off into nothing. “Tara!”
She looked up as she heard him approach and slowly got to her feet. He gave her a quick once over, finding nothing obviously wrong with her and noticing she’d cleaned up already. Pulling her into his arms, he relished the feel of her. She resisted for a moment, and he was afraid she might still be mad, but then she relaxed against him. “You okay?” he asked, planting a kiss in her hair.
She nodded, drawing her head back to look up at him. Her fingers lightly touched the butterfly bandages. “You should get stitches,” she muttered.
“Later.” He held her away from him slightly. “The baby?”
Tara’s eyes widened in shock. “How—?”
“Gemma,” he explained, and he thought he caught a ghost of a weary smile.
“They’re gonna do an ultrasound.” She waved toward a nearby door. “I was just waiting for them to get set up.”
As if on cue, the door she’d indicated opened, and a kindly looking nurse stuck her head out. “Dr. Knowles? We’re ready for you now.”
Tara started to turn away, and Jax let his hands drop. He didn’t really want to let her go—it was his kid too—but, after everything, would she want him there? She took another step toward the nurse, and then hesitated visibly, before she reached back to grab his hand, her fingers twining with his as she gave a light tug.
He didn’t need to be told twice to follow her in.
They got home late that night, after dinner at Gemma’s. His mother had tried to get them to stay, offering one of the guestrooms, but Jax had wanted to take his family home. It had taken a bit of a logistical juggle—baby carriers and motorcycles really didn’t belong together—but finally he’d found himself alone with Tara and Abel, the house around them quiet, the night outside filled with silence.
Abel was asleep on the bed between them. As Jax glanced over at Tara, he caught her looking down at the baby. Her gaze was soft, though the bruises under her eyes still spoke of what she’d been through. He remembered what she’d said, back when all he could think about was getting Abel back and when he’d been trying to force her out of the mess that was his life. He’s mine, too.
“Yes, he is.”
He didn’t realize he’d spoken out loud until Tara looked up. “What?”
“Nothing.” Jax raised himself on one elbow so he could see them both better. He held her gaze. “I’m sorry….” Simple words, but with a world of meaning behind them.
Tara didn’t answer, but her eyes glistened in the gloom as she gave a tiny nod. He reached out to push a strand of hair behind her ear and then leaned across Abel to kiss her. She responded without hesitation, and Jax knew there might be a lot of stuff that still needed to be said, but he also knew he’d been forgiven. He wasn’t sure he deserved to be let off this easily, but he’d take what he could get.
“You should get some sleep,” he suggested. If he felt tired, she had to be exhausted.
She nodded wordlessly, another indication of her fatigue, and shifted a little on the bed, curling herself around Abel. Jax rested a hand on her hip as she closed her eyes and he watched her slowly drift off, her features relaxing at last.
As time passed, the room grew chilly. Jax supposed he should carry Abel to his crib and pull the covers over Tara.
But not yet.
In the morning, he’d have to deal with all that shit again: the fallout from killing Salazar, the deal he’d made with Stahl, the bail hearing that was coming up. But for tonight, he had this: his old lady and both his sons, born and unborn, safe and sound nearby.
It was all a man could ask.