"I feel kinda stupid ..."
"Not really what we're going for here. Come on, girl – do you want to make an effort for your man or not?"
"I guess I'm too busy worrying about getting him back in one piece to care whether I look like a croweater or not."
"A croweater? Oh honey, please – give us some credit!" Gemma smirked as she admired her handiwork. "Although you are borrowing from a porn star's wardrobe ... No offense."
"None taken," Lyla grinned from the doorway. "You look amazing, Tash - that top looks way better on you than me. Just make sure Koz doesn't rip it off you ..."
Flushing just a little under the teasing, Tasha couldn't help letting the enthusiasm of the other women infect her, despite everything. In her head, she knew it would take a lot more than a slick of lipgloss and borrowed clothes to get things properly back on track. But all the same, there was no denying the butterflies beginning to flutter in her stomach.
"I feel like a kid before her first date!" she admitted with a little laugh, her eyes still obediently closed as someone finished fixing her hair.
"Well, you sure don't look like one," Tara smiled. "I think we're done here ..."
The three women stood back to survey her critically, taking in the tousled blonde waves that tumbled over her shoulders, the silk camisole that clung to her curves and brought out her clear green eyes. It had taken a dose of instant fake tan to regain the healthy glow she'd once had, but she looked all the better for it ...
But before they could allow her to even get a look in the mirror, they were interrupted. By the rumble of motorbikes.
Her eyes flying open, Tasha jumped to her feet and exchanged helpless glances with Lyla, Tara and Gemma. They had no idea what to expect. If the ten men who had rode out earlier would all have returned. How badly any or all of them might be injured.
Hurrying for the door, they ran out to the darkness of the yard, all four trying to count bikes and look for their man.
Tasha's heart dropped into her stomach, but in the next instant, she spotted a figure she would recognise anywhere right at the end of the line. A little more tired than usual as he swung his leg over his bike to dismount, hanging his helmet on the handlebars before trying to straighten out the protesting muscles in his shoulders.
She wanted to run to him, but her legs didn't seem to be co-operating. He had spotted her though, obviously shocked to see her stood there. She hated that he hadn't expected her, that she would ever have put any doubt in his mind about how she felt.
But then he was in front of her, with that lopsided little smile he'd always offer her when he wasn't sure how she'd react. "Hey, baby."
"Oh god, Koz ..." Her eyes filling with tears as relief washed over her and she just pulled him into her arms, fighting to keep back tears as she hid her face against his neck.
"I'm so sorry ..." she whispered, her lips soft against his skin. "For everything."
Sitting side by side on the edge of the bed in the soft glow of the tiny lamp, Kozik could hardly take his eyes off Tasha as she gently cleaned the blood from his hands. He barely even flinched under the sting of the antiseptic.
She knew he had been more than a little surprised to see her in Charming at all - let alone in his arms, holding him like she was scared he'd disappear on her. And it seemed the others had noticed.
"Aw, come on, man! The girl came all this way for your sorry ass, least you could do is make it worth her while!" Bobby had hollered teasingly across the lot, Kozik just flipping him off as he grabbed Tasha's hand and pulled her towards the clubhouse.
"Hope no one was planning on seeing those two for a while," they'd heard Jax laugh before they disappeared inside.
"What?" he asked now, as Tasha glanced up from what she was doing from beneath long lashes and laughed softly.
"You, looking at me like that. You're not even saying anything and you're making me blush."
"Just thinkin' how much I don't deserve you," he told her, stealing a soft kiss but frowning when her smile faded and she tried to turn her attention back to what she had been doing. "Tash? What did I do wrong?"
"You didn't do anything wrong," Tasha whispered, feeling even worse that he kept trying to shoulder some kind of blame. Blame she had no right to put on him. "Just ... Just don't say that, okay? That you don't deserve me. It was never true, but especially not after what I did to you."
"Tash ..." Kozik sighed, slipping his hands out of hers and putting the cotton wool she'd been using to one side before reaching out to tilt her face back up to his. "Don't do this to yourself, baby."
Seeing the side of him no one else ever did, Tasha leaned in to kiss him softly. Tacoma's ruthless killer. Sam Crow's dependable muscle. But under that confident exterior lay the man she knew would do anything for her. The man who made her feel like no one else ever had.
Slowly, she reached for the buttons of his shirt, his cut already off and over the back of a chair. Feeling the heat of his gaze on her as she pushed the soft material over his shoulders and traced her fingers tenderly over the huge bruise already darkening over his ribs.
"Lucky shot," Kozik told her huskily. "It's nothing."
Kissing him again, her tongue tangling with his, Tasha slipped her arms around his neck and let her fingers run through his blonde hair as he pulled her onto his lap. Her lips trailing from his to press feather-light kisses along his jaw.
"You know I love you, right?" she managed breathlessly, his mouth raining hot kisses anywhere he could find bare skin and his hands easing the thin straps of her top down.
That grin of his that had been missing for too long back in force as deep blue eyes met clear green. "I love you too, gorgeous – now shut up and let me prove it ..."