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Do No Harm

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Chapter Four

A door slammed.

Tara looked up from the chart she was reading, pausing in her journey down the NICU hallway. She had been on her way to check in on a patient when the loud disturbance startled her – made her jump, nearly drop the files she was holding, and quickly scan the area to see where the situation that needed diffused was. She should have known.

“What the hell do you think you're doing?”

Even through the closed door, she had no problem hearing Gemma Teller-Morrow yell at her son. Just twenty minute earlier, Tara had been so pleased to see Jax sitting with Abel. Other than to sign papers or check in quickly, it was his first legitimate daytime visit. After spotting him, she had stopped in Abel's room briefly to say hello before returning to her rounds, happy at the progress the father and son were making.

“Jesus Christ, mom,” Jax responded. Tara had to inch closer to hear him. Though Gemma's abrupt and rude arrival had obviously piqued his temper, Jax was at least maintaining his control. His deeper tones and moderated volume made it more difficult to pick up what he was saying through the walls and closed door. “You can't do this kind of shit here. We're in a hospital; this is a NICU department. Show a little god damned respect.”

“I know exactly where we are, Jackson. Don't forget that I've had two kids – a sick one myself, and don't you ever talk to me like I'm just some club whore again. Do you understand me?”

Through the open blinds, Tara watched as Jax looked his mother over, sneering. “If you want treated with respect, then act like you deserve it.”

Gemma's back was towards her, so she couldn't see her facial expressions, but Tara could read her body language. Hips cocked and angled forward, fists clenched upon them, Gemma was spoiling for a fight... and she was getting one. “Is that you talking, Jax, or is it that stuck-up doctor bitch?”

“Don't talk about Tara that way,” he warned his mother. “She has nothing to do with this. And what's your problem with her anyway?”

“She's changing you,” Gemma insisted, pleaded. “Ever since Abel was born, you've been pushing me away, pushing the club away, and you've been holding her close.”

“Mom, she's Abel's doctor.” Jax sounded tired – like he couldn't even muster up the energy to have the same argument yet again.

“And she's poisoning you against us.”

“You're paranoid and delusional,” he dismissed crisply. “If I'm different since my kid was born, it's because I have a son now. Because I'm a father.”

Slowly – word by word, acerbic statement by acerbic statement, the volume of Gemma's voice had decreased, though the animosity still rang loud and true. “Is that why you've been doubting Clay's every move – because of Abel?”

Jax confidently folded his arms over his chest. “Running to his old lady to complain about his VP? Maybe, if Clay were making sound decisions, I wouldn't have to question him.” He then dropped his arms and became more aggressive, more hostile. “And don't dismiss me wanting to be a better man for my kid. Abel's opened my eyes to lot of shit that needs changed. Maybe, if I had noticed some of this before, he wouldn't be here,” Jax swept his arms around the room in emphasis.

“So, you think abandoning your club, abandoning Clay, is how you prove yourself as a father?”

Jax rolled his eyes. “Don't be so dramatic, mom. I'm not abandoning anybody.”

Gemma took a step forward, squared her shoulders. “Oh, so you've changed your mind, then? You're going to Nevada?”

“No. I'm not.” When Gemma went to protest further, Jax kept talking. “I spoke with Uncle Jury. I explained the situation to him, asked him for help, and it's cool. He's agreed to store the guns for us until the new warehouse is up and running. Frankly, I have no idea why Clay's even going.”

His mother seemed taken aback by that. “What do you mean?”

“Nevada is Mayan territory. Jury's taking a big enough risk helping us as it is. But Clay and everybody else riding into Indian Hills like they own it? They're just asking for trouble. We should be keeping a low profile, trucking the guns in at night anonymously, not rubbing this shit in the Mayans' faces.”

Gemma tilted her chin up, challengingly. “You voice your concerns in church?”

“I did.”

“And?”

“Clay paid them no mind.”

“Well, then, you swallow your pride, and you accept what your president tells you,” Gemma ordered him. “Clay knows what's best, and, if he thinks the club needs to ride to Indian Hills, then that's what you do. No questions, no temper-tantrums.”

Jax smirked derisively. “I'm not the one slamming hospital room doors.”

“You're going.”

Jax reeled back as if struck. “You're giving me orders now?”

“Somebody has to, you have your head shoved so far up your....”

Interrupting her, Jax stepped into Gemma's personal space. His voice lowered to a whisper, so Tara had to practically press her ear up against the door. “You're my mother, and I love you, but you're just an old lady. Don't you ever try to tell me what to do again when it comes to my club.”

But Gemma didn't back down. She pushed her chin up, and she returned her son's glare in equal if not fuller measure. “This isn't about the club; this is about you and Clay. He needs you.”

Jax backed away, once more returning so that he was standing directly beside Abel's incubator. “No, my kid needs me.”

Gemma's voice softened, became concerned. “Is there something wrong with Abel?”

Incredulously, Jax spat, “he was born ten weeks premature, tweaking, with a bum heart and a hole in his belly. There's always been something wrong with him.”

“But nothing new? His conditioned hasn't gotten worse?”

Throwing up his arms, Jax railed, “how much worse could it be?”

Gemma's shoulders relaxed as she approached her son. She lifted a hand to cup his face. “Baby, you're becoming such a good father, and I couldn't be more proud of you, but Abel's getting better. You need to go to Nevada. It's what's best for everyone... Abel included.”

“No, what's best for Abel is me staying here. I'm not leaving my son alone.” Before Gemma could protest, Jax insisted, “Wendy's in rehab. I'm all he has.”

As if he had slapped her, Gemma skittered away, the hand that had been touching his face dropping to clutch her chest. “What about me?”

Words so soft they belied the true menace in his tone, Jax replied, “do you really think I'm going to leave my son in the care of the woman who tried to kill his mother?” When Gemma gulped, he pressed, “I know you were the one who gave Wendy – the junkie whore – that syringe full of crank. I'm not stupid, and you're not very subtle.”

“What are you saying here, Jackson?”

Ridiculing her, he sarcastically asked, “what, do you need me to paint you a god damned picture? You,” and he stabbed his right index finger towards her chest accusingly, “are not to see my son unless either Tara or I are with you.”

Flabbergasted by everything she had just heard – especially Jax's closing ultimatum, Tara watched with wide, disbelieving eyes as Gemma Teller-Morrow nodded several times in acceptance, seemingly backing down. She rucked her purse up higher on her shoulder in preparation to leave. “Right.” And then Gemma turned around, threw open the door, and stormed off, not even once stopping to acknowledge that Tara was standing right there, obviously listening into the conversation the older woman had just had with her son.

As Gemma left, Jax approached, coming up to stand directly in front of Tara. She quietly watched him observe her, his eyes painstakingly taking in her every feature. He didn't ask her how much she had overheard; he didn't offer any further details. Instead, Jax brought both of his hands up to her face, cupping it – his thumbs smoothing over the apples of her cheeks, his long fingers stretching into her hair and gently massaging her scalp. Tara gasped. “I didn't want to leave you either. I know something's wrong, I know you're scared, but I'm not going to let anything happen to you.” Eyes intense with conviction, mouth pursed with fortitude, he finished, “that's a promise, Tara.”

As he released her, he trailed his thumbs down her face, touching the corners of her mouth before finally separating. Unconsciously, Tara lifted her own fingers to her lips, ghosting the digits over where the trails of heat from his touch still lingered. She stood there for several minutes – breathless, silent, stunned, and then she turned away and went back to work.

 

 

Definitely pyloric stenosis.

The tests had confirmed it, the surgery was scheduled, and now all Tara had to do was manage to stay out of the little girl's line of fire. Closing and locking the on-call room door behind her, she made her way into the bathroom, observing her reflection. The vomit had initially hit her on the shoulder, but, on Tara's walk from her patient's hospital room, it had managed to run down not only her arm but also the front and back of her scrub top. There would be no way to remove the soiled shirt without getting the throw up in her hair. All she could do was smile.

It wasn't the little girl's fault. The poor thing was miserable, her family run ragged with worry and from trying to take care of their sick daughter. And, as a doctor – especially a neonatal surgeon, Tara had long since become impervious to bodily fluids. The vomit wasn't pleasant, but she had certainly had worse. Plus, she wasn't sure if anything could erase the high she had experienced earlier that morning.

Turning away from the mirror, she carefully made her way towards her locker, not wanting to spread the throw up any more than she already had. Opening it, Tara removed her shower supplies bag, electing to retrieve a clean pair of scrubs once she was finished bathing. Closing and locking the bathroom door behind her – more out of habit than necessity seeing as how the on-call room door was also locked, she flipped on the hot tap, quickly stripping while she waited for the water to warm. St. Thomas' plumping was anything but up-to-date or top-of-the-line. Sometimes it took a few seconds for the hot water to kick in.

For a moment, she debated on what to do with the scrub top. She could rinse it and then have it washed, but that seemed like more effort than what it was worth, so she just elected to pitch it, wrapping the shirt in a plastic bag first and then tossing it. The rest of her clothes she gathered in a pile and set on the sink. She'd put them with her other dirty laundry once she was finished. That handled, she stepped into the shower, all thoughts except Jax's touch upon her face fleeing immediately.

Tara knew she needed to let the moment go, but she couldn't. It haunted her, made her crave more. She could still feel his fingers sliding through her hair, his slightly rough and warm thumbs smoothing over her lips. As she stepped beneath the spray of the water, quickly wetting her hair, she closed her eyes, instantly seeing his own while he was promising to keep her safe. He had been so intense, so focused, so determined, and Tara had been the only person who had existed for Jax while he spoke with her. She had known obsession and possession, and this wasn't either of those things, but it was obsessive, and it was possessive but in a way that made her feel cherished, not controlled. For a little girl whose mother died when she was young and whose father hadn't cared enough to not kill himself with grief and drink afterwards, Jax's attention was an all-together new and thrilling experience. Tara knew she needed to push him away, and that what she was feeling was too good to be true, but that was easier said than done, especially when she was with Jax.

Needing to get back to work, she opened her eyes, and she forced any and all thoughts except for those about the tasks at hand away. She shampooed her hair; she rinsed her hair. She conditioned it. Tara quickly scrubbed her body clean and then turned off the water, grabbing a towel and wrapping it around her naked form as she stepped out of the shower. With bare and still slightly damp feet, she crossed the bathroom, unlocked the door, and stepped out into the on-call room, heading straight towards her locker. She was halfway through gathering her clean clothes when she noticed them.

Pink rose petals.

Tara choked on an inhalation of fright, dropping the undergarments she had been holding onto the floor. Nervously, she glanced around the room, looking for some explanation besides the obvious one for as to why, when she had gone into the shower, her locker had been free of the ripped apart flowers, but now, ten minutes later, there were petals strewn throughout all of her things. Nobody was there, though. She couldn't say that it was nothing more than just a practical joke – someone not realizing what the seemingly innocent prank would mean to her, how it would make her feel.

The HVAC system kicked on above her head, making Tara jump. She closed her eyes in relief when she realized what it was, but then she felt cool air brushing against her bare, wet skin, and she immediately felt sick to her stomach. Picking up her dropped things and then grabbing a pair of clean scrubs, Tara slammed her locker shut and ran back into the bathroom, locking the door once more. She refused to think about how someone had slipped inside of the on-call room when she had locked that door, too; she closed her mind to the knowledge that, while someone was getting into her locker, she had been a room away – naked, vulnerable, clueless; and she absolutely denied the instinct to confide in someone, to confide in Jax.

What Tara did allow herself to think about, however, was the fact that just a few minutes earlier she had been so happy, so foolishly willing to forget what she was running and hiding from in order to focus on the contentment she had been discovering in Charming. That had been a mistake. If nothing else – terrifying or not, those rose petals had served as an important reminder as to why she couldn't allow Jax to get any closer. Her life was too complicated, and all she had to offer anybody was a lifetime of insecurities and a danger nobody else seemed to believe in or take seriously. That – she – was the last thing either Jax or Abel needed.

After quickly dressing, Tara slipped her feet into her tennis shoes and then threw her still soaking wet and uncombed hair up with a clip. Forgoing any makeup, she cleaned up the bathroom and then threw her dirty laundry in her locker and grabbed her purse, trying her best to ignore the rose petals. They'd still be there the next time she came into the on-call room, and Tara didn't have time to get rid of them then if she wanted to run a quick errand before returning to work. Crossing to the door that led back out into the hallway, she found it locked once more. She easily disengaged it and then stepped out into the public portion of the hospital.

“We need to talk.”

Her purse slipped from her trembling fingers, landing loudly on the tile floor. The sound only made Tara recoil a second time. She bit her lip to keep from crying out in alarm and made no move to pick up her bag.

“Jesus, Doc. Jumpy much?” Tara didn't respond, and Gemma kept pushing, apparently amused with her taunts. “What has you so skittish? After all, we both know you're not that timid.” The older woman's tone changed – became insinuating, salacious. “Doing something naughty in the bathroom?”

Gemma's crudeness and sheer lack of respect were enough to banish Tara's anxiety, inciting her wrath instead. Picking up her purse and slinging it over her shoulder, she fired back, “what do you want, Gemma?”

“Oh, I think you already know. After all, you listened to the whole god damned conversation, didn't you?”

She felt her face constrict and screw up in vexation, but she refrained from unleashing her irritation. Nodding once while she took a deep breath, Tara briefly closed her eyes while she centered herself. Jaw clenched, she fiercely stared at Gemma. “I didn't rat you out to Jax.”

“You think that's what I'm worried about?” Gemma snorted... like the very idea was ridiculous. “Jax will get over me slipping Wendy the crank. He's pissed right now, because he's thinking about all the bad shit that would have happened to all of us if I'd gotten caught, but it'll blow over.”

The audacity of the woman standing in front of her.... “I think we both know it's a little more than that.”

Gemma's brows raised in challenge. “Do we, Doc?”

She wasn't going to fight her about Jax's motivations. If she wanted to think so little about her own son, then so be it. “If you don't want to talk about Wendy, what's this all about?”

Gemma took several predatory steps forward, closing the distance between them. Purse slung over her shoulder, she crossed her arms in challenge over her chest. “I want to know exactly what you're doing to twist Jax up.”

“I'm not doing anything,” she protested heatedly. Her own arms came up across her chest.

“Bullshit.” Before Tara could defend herself, Gemma continued, “Jax is so confused right now, I barely recognize him. He's pushing away the very thing he needs the most right now.”

“What,” she spat out contemptuously. “Samcro?”

Again, Gemma took a step forward, leaning over Tara. “Don't speak about things you don't understand, little girl.”

“Or what? Are you going to shoot me up with crank, too?”

The older woman laughed, though the sound held no trace of warmth or humor, and she stepped back, going to stand against the opposite wall. “Nah, I'm not that predictable.” And then she winked. “For you, Doc, it'd be something different, something special.”

“If we're through, there's something I need to do.”

She started to leave but then Gemma called out, “don't walk away from me, bitch.” Pivoting around on the balls of her feet, Tara once more came face to face with the other woman, raising a single brow in question, in challenge. “We're not through until I say we're through.”

She sighed – tired of the bravado, tired of the threats, just tired. “If you're so worried about Jax and his relationship with the club, then talk to him about it. Oh wait,” Tara paused, smirked. “You already did. How'd that turn out for you again?”

“You think your'e so damn clever, don't you? You come into town with your big words and your concern, and you think that you can have whatever you want.”

“Yes,” Tara mocked, “I moved here with every intention of taking Jax away from you, because I knew his ex-wife was an addict who would overdose while pregnant with his son, and I knew that he had differences with his step-father that could be exploited for my own purposes. You not only give me far too much credit and Jax not enough,” she pointed out, “but you're also paranoid. If Jax and the club are having problems, then that's between them. I have nothing to do with it.”

“So, all those nights that he spends here with his son, with you, you're not whispering sweet-nothings into his ear, trash talking Samcro?”

“Like you said yourself, Gemma, I wouldn't know enough about the Sons of Anarchy to even attempt to sway Jax.”

Gemma seemed to stand up straighter. Pouncing, she queried, “but you don't deny that your relationship with my son has gone well past the professional. What happened to 'I'm just Abel's doctor,' huh?”

Lifting her chin in assertiveness and poise, Tara stated, “Jax and I are friends.”

“Jax has enough friends; he has his club. He doesn't need you.”

“Well, I think we'll let Jax be the judge of that.” When Gemma went to respond, Tara kept talking. “Don't you ever get sick of it... this hard ass persona that's trying to fight something that doesn't even exist? I feel like every conversation we've had since I met you has been about the same thing, but I'm not a danger to your relationship with your son, Gemma; you are.” Holding out her hands in front of her to physically show that she was done with the other woman, Tara warned, requested, “just... stay away from me.”

Without waiting for Jax's mother to respond, Tara walked away. She didn't stop walking until she was outside and standing beside her car, unlocking the door and getting in before she could second-guess what she was about to do. The ride to the room she rented only took a few minutes, but Tara found herself constantly looking in her mirrors, checking over her shoulders, making sure that no one was following her. She didn't notice anything suspicious, but that didn't necessarily mean that there wasn't someone there. The hair standing up on the back of her neck was just one thing that made her feel like she was being watched.

Unlocking the door to her room, Tara half expected to find it trashed, or maybe there'd be some more rose petals there as well. The ironic thing was that she didn't even like pink roses. They were just what he had given her on their first date, so he made them out to be her favorite in his mind. But the room was clean... or, at least, it looked the way it had when she had last been there. Unlabeled boxes still full of unpacked books, personal belongings, and clothes filled most of the available space. Otherwise, the room was empty of anything unique to her – the furniture basic and indistinctive.

Ignoring everything else, Tara moved towards the nightstand, pulling open the drawer to reveal a small, slightly rectangular locked box. Sorting through the keys she held in her hand, she located the one she needed for the safe. For the first time since Tara had found those rose petals in her locker, her fingers weren't shaking. The key fit smoothly, turned easily, and, when she opened the lid, there were only two things inside: a Beretta 3032 Tomcat, already loaded – always loaded, and a box of bullets. Removing the gun from the box, Tara slammed the lid shut and then replaced it in the drawer.

Standing up straight, she held the weapon out before her in both of her hands... just looking at. It was lightweight, compact. She had purchased it in Chicago. Although she'd never used it before, the gun helped her feel safer – like she was actively doing something to protect herself versus sitting back and hoping that someone else would do it for her. Needing to have that feeling, Tara slipped the gun into the back waistband of her scrub bottoms, making sure to pull both her undershirt and her scrub top well over the semi-automatic. The cool metal, quickly warming, against her bare skin was extremely reassuring. She inhaled deeply, closed her eyes, and then exhaled slowly in relief. Needing to get back to work, Tara left the room she rented, locking the door behind her.

 

 

Despite the fact that someone had gotten into the locked on-call room and slipped pink rose petals into her locker – something Tara was desperately hoping was a mere coincidence, she still felt safer at the hospital than she did her room back at the inn, especially now that she was carrying her gun with her. It made moving about the hospital a little more cumbersome – having to remember where all the metal detectors were and avoiding those places, but that was a small price to pay for her peace of mind. The bigger price was sticking to her resolve to avoid Jax, only seeing him and Abel when it was called for medically.

With this in mind, she had avoided the little boy's NICU room all afternoon and evening, the nurses perfectly capable of checking on his vitals and marking them down on his chart. And, after Tara finished with her shift, she took refuge in her office. At first, she killed time with work, catching up on the more administrative duties she disliked and procrastinated, but, eventually, there was nothing left to do, to distract herself with, and Tara had closed up and locked her office behind her on her way, once more, to the on-call room.

There, she had showered again, taking her time afterwards to blow dry her hair. The routine nature of the actions were grounding. Plus, they helped to eat up more time. After she was dressed in a pair of jeans and yet another light sweater, however, there was nothing else to do. She'd tried reading – first, medical journals and then a novel someone else had left sitting about, but neither had held her attention. She'd gotten online, looking for real estate in Charming, but it was hard to think about putting down roots when she wouldn't even allow herself the company of the only friend she had in town, and Tara had never been one for social media or pop culture gossip, so the typical internet time-sucks were irrelevant to her.

Bored, jittery, and needing to stretch her legs – get some fresh air, Tara stood from the chair she'd been using, making sure her gun was secure against the small of her back before leaving the on-call room. She took her time making her way through the hospital, electing to follow the lesser-used hallways and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Movement helped. So, too, did the first deep breath of the cool night air that she took as soon as she stepped outside. Her eyelids flickered shut as she simply enjoyed the small pleasure.

Fuck!” The scream and then the sound of something striking the brick wall of the hospital made Tara flinch. She didn't even have to look to know who was outside with her. Deciding that she'd just slip away before he noticed her, Tara turned around, sliding her keycard through the scanner. Her hands were on the door's handle, about to pull it open, when he said, “don't.” She paused, sighed. Her eyes fell shut, and her chin fell to rest against her chest. After several silent, tense moments, Tara finally turned around, met his gaze. “You've been avoiding me all day.”

“I've been busy.” The lie passed through her lips before Tara could really even consider it or how poor of an excuse it was. In response, Jax merely folded his arms over his chest and quirked a lone brow up in provocation. “It's complicated.”

“Did Gemma say something to you? She was pretty pissed when she left Abel's room this morning after our... talk.”

“We had words,” Tara admitted. After all, there was no sense in denying her confrontation with Gemma; Jax wouldn't believe her anyway. “But that's not why....”

“So, then it's about whatever this shit is that has you scared,” he concluded by process of elimination. He nodded in confirmation for her. Removing his cigarettes from his pocket, Jax plucked one from the pack with his mouth, lighting it with a quick flick of his thumb seconds later. After a long draw, he removed it from between his lips, blowing the smoke out through his nose. Crossing the width of the loading dock, he came to rest against the wall of the hospital, leaning against it. Lifting one foot, he put that, too, against the bricks, angling his knee out in front of him. Tara was surprised when, instead of pressing her about why she was avoiding him, why she was scared, Jax changed the subject.

“You heard Gemma and I talking about Nevada this morning, right – Indian Hills?”

It was a rhetorical question, but she answered it anyway. “Yeah.”

“Jury isn't really my uncle.” Sensing that he needed to talk to someone, Tara couldn't just walk away from him. So, she moved closer, coming to stand beside him while leaning sideways, her hip and shoulder braced against the wall. “He and my dad served together in Nam, remained friends after they got out. He's president of the Devil's Tribe MC... or, at least, he was.”

Instantly concerned, Tara queried, “oh, god, Jax? Did something happen to him? I know you were worried about Clay and your friends riding into Nevada because of a rival club.”

“Yeah. The Mayans struck. They shot up Jury's clubhouse, but he's okay. That's not what I meant.” He paused in his account to take a drag off his cigarette, turning his face away slightly so as not to blow the smoke on her. After licking his lips, he continued, “Clay patched them over. The Devil's Tribe is now the Sons of Anarchy, Indian Hills, Nevada charter.”

If his bitter tone wasn't evidence enough, the tiny pieces of cell phone beneath her booted feet told Tara that Jax wasn't pleased with this latest development. “And this is bad?”

“I don't know,” he shrugged, looked towards the sky. “It's good for Samcro, but Jury and his guys? They didn't want this. They're bikers, but they're not outlaw. They run shady but legitimate businesses. I asked him to house our guns, because we had no one else to turn to, and he agreed as a favor to me, to my father. But that wasn't enough for Clay. He wanted to push back at the Mayans – more of his damn revenge power trip. What he's really doing, though, is pushing us towards war.”

Tara did not want to focus on that. She'd seen what gang wars were like while she lived and worked in Chicago. They always blew back on the innocent – the families, the women, the children, the poor idiot walking by at the wrong time. So, instead, she asked, “why did Jury agree then if, I'm guessing, he didn't want to... what did you call it?... patch over?”

Jax took several final puffs from his cigarette before rubbing it out against the brick wall and then tossing it away. “The Devil's Tribe was fifteen men, twenty max. The Sons of Anarchy? We stretch all the way up and down the entire west coast. We have a charter in Belfast. When we come calling, you answer. Jury had no choice.”

“So, now what? You said there was a shoot out?”

“Yeah, a couple of men were hurt, nothing serious, but Jury's going to have the Mayans up his ass permanently now that they know his MC's SOA. He said Clay promised him some guys, but basically they're on their own. They'll make it, or they won't. Clay doesn't care as long as his guns keep running.”

“It was Jury on the phone, then?”

“Yeah,” Jax scoffed. Sarcasm bled through his words. “He wanted to give me the courtesy of letting me know what went down – not Clay, not my own president.” Wearily, he lifted his hands to scrub them over his face, eventually cupping them before his mouth and exhaling harshly. After dropping his hands once more to his side, Jax turned so that he was facing her. “I told Jury I was sorry that this happened, about how it went down, but my apology doesn't mean shit. I should have stopped it.”

Tara had to fight the urge to reach out and touch his face. She wanted to sooth away his repentance, his frustration, with her touch. “Do you regret not going?”

“It wouldn't have mattered,” Jax answered. He glanced down at his feet, scuffed his tennis shoes against the cement, and shrugged. He then stunned Tara by reaching out and wrapping his right hand around her left hip, clasping it tightly yet tenderly at the same time. He pulled them closer together. “Clay has his hooks into all the other guys too deep. They don't see what he's doing, and I don't have enough sway in the club to fight him – not now, at least.”

“Well, maybe your father's manuscript with give you some ideas on how to handle the situation with Clay and the rest of the club,” Tara suggested, wanting to give him something to hold onto.

“Yeah,” Jax agreed. But he was distracted – the thumb of his hand holding her slipping under the hem of her top to smooth over the bare skin of her waist. “Maybe.”

Then his hand moved – his arm wrapping around her as his fingers landed at the small of her back... right on top of the gun she was carrying. “Tara?”

His brow was unsettled and furrowed, his gaze narrowed in question and unease. “I know how to use it.”

“That's good to know, but that's not exactly what I was worried about.” Rapidly, his eyes searched her gaze. Still, he didn't remove his hand from where it now rested over top of the weapon. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Honestly?” And she laughed self-deprecatingly, rotating until her back hit the wall behind her. Jax followed her movement, coming to stand in front of her – his arms lifting to cage her inside of his embrace, his hands braced against the brick. “I'm not even sure if anything's wrong. I could just be jumping to conclusions.”

He contemplated her closely. Tara didn't know if he was searching for clues or simply wanting to confirm that she was really alright and in front of him. Perhaps it was a combination of the two things. Eventually, though, Jax relaxed. He nodded in acquiescence, agreeing silently to not press the issue further – his forehead dropping to rest against her own. He sighed, his heat of his breath moist against her mouth. Tara licked her lips, and she could taste his cigarette smoke.

When his hips shifted closer and settled between the juncture of her thighs, Tara knew that she needed to pull away; she should have pulled away. But she didn't. Because she also knew what was going to happen next, and, despite everything she had promised herself about not burdening Jax with her problems, she wanted him – at least once, at least while there was still some doubt that she and anyone close to her were in danger.

When he finally kissed her, Jax was anything but shy. Instead, he was demanding, all-consuming. He teased her lips, sucking on them before he took the bottom one between his teeth and bit down. Tara gasped, her lips falling open, and Jax took advantage of the moment to slip his tongue inside of her mouth. He kissed her breathless – stole it away from her, and then he continued to kiss her until Tara was practically wrapped around him: her arms encircling his neck – fingers locked in and tangled through his hair, her right leg molded around his hip, bringing their lower bodies into even closer contact.

He ended the kiss with a stipulation, with a plea. “Don't avoid me, Tara.” She couldn't respond, for she was too busy trying to fill her lungs with oxygen after they had been deprived for so long. She felt lightheaded in the most pleasant of ways. “Now, let's go see my kid.” And then Jax took her by the hand and led them both inside for the rest of the night.