Carter reed 2, p.10
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       Carter Reed 2, p.10

         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan
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  “Theresa and Noah are still inside?” she asked.

  I nodded. “We should go back.”

  Amanda grabbed my arm. “I mean it, Emma. Thank you.” She pulled me in for a hug and murmured, “I really love him, a lot.”

  I hugged her back. “I know you do. I can see it.”

  And then the ground shook underneath us, and a force hit us, throwing us to the ground. I looked up, my ears ringing, and saw one of the guards standing over me. I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t feel anything either. Everything was numb at first, and I tried to look for Amanda, but then the pain hit me.

  I sat up, coughing as more and more pain sliced through me. It felt like a thousand knives were trying to cut their way out of me. Feeling wetness on my hand, I held it up and saw blood. Then the ringing almost doubled.

  But I heard one shout, one word, come through it: Bomb.

  The pain didn’t subside. It felt like I’d been lying there for hours before Thomas reached down and picked me up. He started running somewhere with me, but where was Amanda? I tried to look around for her. When I couldn’t see her, I tried hitting Thomas’ chest to get his attention. He ignored me and kept running. With each step he took, pain jackknifed all through me. I kept coughing up blood. I needed Carter.

  “Amanda,” I whispered. But my lips couldn’t move. They hurt. Every inch of me hurt. Then Thomas turned the corner, and I saw that a crowd had formed across the road. People were backed up against the building. All were pale. Tears in their eyes. Hands covering their mouths. One girl ran from behind us to their side and was swept up by another girl. Both were crying, but their relief was evident. They were happy to have found each other.

  “Car,” Thomas barked to someone, careening past the crowd at a breakneck speed.

  My friends. They had to get my friends.

  Then he stopped and bent down. There were shouts all around us. A swarm of others surrounded the car. Were we under attack? I tried to look, but the men who had rushed to us had their backs to us. They were acting as a human shield, but I could see someone coming to us. I could see him through the human wall. They moved aside for him. He wore a black sweatshirt with the hood pulled up and black pants. His eyes were fierce and his jaw clenched. He was cold and livid at the same time. A sliver of recognition went through me, but this wasn’t Carter. It was Cole.

  Thomas waited for him, but my friends—Amanda. Noah. Theresa—where were they? I tried to lift up so I could see. They might already be inside the car, but I had to see—as I moved, a scream tore from me. I didn’t recognize it as mine, but I knew it came from me. It sounded like a wounded animal.

  “No, Miss Emma.”

  Thomas tried to urge me back down, but I refused. I shook my head, knowing fresh blood and fresh tears streamed down my face. As I wrapped my arms around his neck, I brushed against his face, and I tried to bite down on my lip to keep from crying out again. I failed. I couldn’t stop another guttural cry, but then I looked past the men. My friends. Where were they? I couldn’t see them. It was just the men, so I looked past to the crowd and froze.

  Every part of me held still; my pain was forgotten for a moment.

  It was me. Standing across the road, pressed against the wall with terror in her eyes. It was me.

  I lifted my head higher, confused. Was I over there? Was this an out of body experience? I needed to see more. Her eyes locked to mine. They were full of tears, and she pressed her hands against her mouth. Then she began shaking her head, and someone cradled her shoulders. She turned toward the man next to her, and his hand lifted to support the back of her head as he held her to his chest. After a moment, she turned so she could peer over his shoulder at me.

  But then Cole blocked my view as he stood before me with his hand raised in the air.

  He was scared. There was nothing to indicate this, but I sensed it, because it was in me too. I was scared.

  I needed Carter.

  Cole’s hand touched the back of my head, and Thomas got into the car. Cole was protecting me, so my head wouldn’t hit the car, and then we were inside.

  “Are you coming?” Thomas asked him.

  Cole shook his head. “I’ll be there later. I’m needed here now.”

  “My friends,” I gasped out, finally able to form the words. “My friends.” Even as I spoke, I strained to see across the road. I couldn’t see her now, but I needed to. It was me, but it wasn’t. That made no sense.

  “We’ll find your friends.” Cole stepped back and shut the door.

  “No.” I pushed up from Thomas’ chest. But I couldn’t. I was too weak. Instead, I lay down and looked up at him, pleading. “My friends, Thomas. Are they okay?”

  “Amanda’s already in another car.”

  Oh, good. Relief swept through me, calming me a little. “Theresa and Noah?”

  “Cole will find them. He’ll take care of them.”

  The car sped away then. It wouldn’t be until later that I wondered why Cole was even there. In those moments, so much didn’t make sense. That woman—I couldn’t get her out of my head. She lingered with me, in the back of my mind, as I was taken to a private clinic. Amanda was already there, and a doctor had taken care of her by the time I limped inside. When she saw me, she choked on a sob and rushed over.

  “No, Miss Amanda.” Thomas swung his arm out, keeping her back.

  “I won’t hurt her,” she rasped.

  “Place her here,” the doctor said, and after that, everything was cold and pure agony. He poked and prodded me thoroughly to assess my wounds before cleaning them up. Amanda stayed with me the whole time, holding my hand. She didn’t say a word. Neither did I. No one spoke except for the doctor, who asked me questions as he checked me over.

  When his assessment was done, he’d determined I had a few sprains from the impact and a significant cut inside my mouth, which is why I’d been coughing up blood. But the cut had stopped bleeding now, so nothing more was needed. He bandaged me, gave me a painkiller, and wrapped a clean blanket around my shoulders before Thomas helped me to the car. Amanda never let go of my hand.

  Back in the vehicle, I kept a death-grip on her hand and asked Thomas, “Where are we going?”

  “Back to your friends’ place.”

  Amanda squeezed my hand. “Are they okay?”

  “They’re there. They’re fine.”

  “Thank god,” she whispered. More tears slipped from her eyes.

  I wanted to reach up and wipe them away, but my other arm was wrapped in the blanket, and the medication made me so sleepy.

  Then she asked, “And Carter?”

  “He’s coming,” Thomas said after a moment.

  “Good,” she said, anger clouding her face. “Good. Whoever did that, they need to be found.” She looked Thomas in the eye, and a dark message passed between them.

  I pulled on her hand, needing to get her attention. A thought had occurred to me. When she glanced down, I said, “Don’t call your boyfriend.” He couldn’t come. He couldn’t know.

  She nodded. “I know. I know, Emma.” She looked back to Thomas. “I mean it. Find who did this.”

  “We will.”

  When we arrived at Noah’s place, I limped up the stairs. Noah and Theresa waited for us just inside the door.

  “Oh my god,” Theresa cried. “Is she okay?” She looked at Amanda. “What happened?”

  Amanda shook her head. “Not yet. Questions can be answered later. Thomas, help her to the bedroom.”

  I shook my head. The painkillers had fully kicked in, but I wanted answers, just like all of them. I needed to know what happened. “No, no.”

  He helped me down to the bed, and I sat up.

  “Lay down, Emma.” Amanda was beside me. Her hand went to my shoulder, but she jerked it back before it touched me. It formed a fist, trembling, then she forced her fingers open again. Her palm barely grazed me. She was scared to touch me. “You need to rest.”

  I wasn’t Mallory. I wanted to growl
at her, but a mewling sound came out. I shook my head. Thomas placed a blanket over me, but I threw it back. I wouldn’t sit there like a victim. I wasn’t helpless.

  “Emma!” Amanda stood, panicked. “Stop. Please.”

  I kept shaking my head, pushing myself to the edge of the bed. “It’s a few sprains and a cut. I’m fine.”

  “You haven’t seen yourself, Emma.” Theresa spoke up from the doorway. “You look like you were the bomb. Trust me. She’s not overreacting.”

  I was fine. The doctor had said so, and I shoved myself upright. I shouldn’t walk on my own, but I would if I had to. “I need answers.”

  Theresa sighed. “Fine. We can all talk in the living room. Can you help her to one of the couches?”

  He looked back down at me, torn, but he did. When I sat down, Amanda sat next to me.

  Theresa stood back, wringing her hands. “I need to do something.” She looked at Amanda. “I have no idea what to do. What do I do?”

  Amanda leaned forward and tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear. “Do you have broth or tea without caffeine? I think you could heat some up for her. That would help.”

  “Good idea. I’ll do that.”

  Suddenly, Thomas pressed a hand to his ear, listening to something. It was so quick. His hand fell almost as soon as he’d touched his ear, and he turned to the guard closest to the door. “Open the door. Let them in.”

  Theresa had turned, starting for the kitchen. Now she froze.

  “What?” Noah called, craning his neck to see.

  “What’s going on?” Amanda scooted to the edge of the couch.

  Thomas ignored everyone. The guard yanked open the door, and another wave of security guards came in. They spilled out into the living room and kitchen, continuing on to every room. After a moment they began to return, barking out, “Clear.” Echoing calls came from the other rooms. All the same word. They were dressed like my own guards, in black clothing, but their guns were held upright, ready to shoot if needed.

  “What the hell?!” Noah’s voice was sharp. “What the fuck is going on? Who are these people?” he tried to ask Thomas, who continued to ignore him.

  Thomas waited until the last guard had returned to the room. Then they filtered back outside until only two remained. One took point in the living room, standing between our room and the kitchen. The other went to the door, standing beside the wall, and then the door opened again.

  Cole came in.

  His hooded sweatshirt was gone. Instead, he wore a black long-sleeved shirt, but it was bulky, and I could tell as he came toward me that he wore a bulletproof vest, too. When he stopped in front of me, no one said a word. Theresa and Amanda’s eyes were glued to him, while Noah glanced from Cole to me to Thomas and back again. His hand kept clenching, unclenching, and forming a fist again. He clearly didn’t know what to do, but he kept quiet, and I knew why.

  It was clear that my guards knew this man, and that meant he was someone important.

  Looking back at Cole, I realized he was waiting for me. Gone was the cold and livid look he’d had earlier. Now his anger lurked under the surface. Like Carter, a lethal aura emanated from him. But this wasn’t Carter.

  Where was Carter?

  I closed my eyes as a wave of longing came over me. Forgetting everyone in the room, everything that had happened, even the woman who looked like me—in that moment I wanted him so badly I tasted him. I could feel him. I remembered the feeling of being held in his arms, hearing his voice as he whispered he loved me.

  I wanted him there, no matter what.

  “Okay.” Theresa broke the silence. “Who the fuck are you?”

  “Theresa,” Noah said. He held a soft warning in his tone.

  “What?” She gestured to Cole. “He stormed in here, and now he’s not saying a word. What the hell is going on?!”

  “They all know him. Connect the dots.”

  She stopped, readying another retort, but looked around the room instead. “Oh.”

  “Are you okay?” Cole asked me.

  Thomas moved to my side. “You shouldn’t be here,” he said. “Carter wouldn’t want you here.”

  Cole met his gaze. “The woman he loves was hurt at my club tonight. Nothing would keep me from making sure she was all right. She’s in my city. She’s my responsibility.”

  “So you know Carter?” Amanda asked, more to herself. She had been watching the exchange, but looked back down at her lap.

  “I’m fine,” I said. My voice was firmer this time. It didn’t come out as a weird squeak. “Carter’s coming back anyway, but I’m fine. What happened?”

  “Wait a minute. That was your club?” Noah stepped forward. He loomed over Cole, or he should have. He was taller and larger, but Cole’s complete stillness somehow outmatched Noah instead.

  “It’s my family’s club, but mine now.” Cole narrowed his eyes. “Did you not know the name?”

  “The name…” Noah trailed off. “Fuck me.”

  Amanda looked at Theresa. “I didn’t pay attention. What was the name?”

  Theresa’s shoulders dropped as she realized it, too. “Mauricio. That’s the name of the club. We didn’t—I didn’t even put two and two together.”

  “Carter said he knew who owned it, but I never considered.” Noah shook his head. “We wouldn’t have gone there if we’d known.”

  I tuned them all out. I didn’t care whose club it was. “Was I the target, or was the club the target?” I asked Cole.

  “The bomb went off in the back of the club. If you’d been closer to the door, you would’ve been killed.” He glanced at Thomas.

  My gaze jerked over to him, too. There had been guards on the other side of the door, at least two. “Thomas...”

  He looked at the floor, shifting away from me slightly. I got my answer.

  Those men were gone. We’d lost two of our men. I gasped, a new pain filling me. Those men had died because of me, for me. “I’m so sorry, Thomas.” Looking at Michael, I repeated, “I’m so sorry.”

  “What? What’s happening?” Theresa’s head swiveled around. “What happened?”

  “Theresa,” Noah murmured. “They lost some of their men.”

  “Oh!” Her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my god.”

  Amanda gripped my hand again, flicking a tear from her eye with the other one. “I’m sorry, Emma,” she whispered.

  They were Carter’s men, and they were all like brothers. I didn’t know the ins and outs of their operation, but I knew Carter would be wounded when he found out. He trusted his life and mine to them. I nodded, but it hurt to move. The numbness was going away. Suddenly it hurt to breathe again.

  I didn’t want to be there. It was too much. I patted Amanda’s arm, as tears swam in my eyes, blurring my vision. People had died because of me. It hurt to be there.

  “Emma?” she asked.

  “Bed. I just want to go to bed.”

  She nodded, looking at Thomas, who came over to help me down the hall.

  Once I was underneath the bedcovers, Amanda helped the rest of the way. She waved Thomas off, saying, “I’ll help her. This is what we do.”

  He nodded and headed back outside, but before the door closed, Theresa came in with a cup in her hand. She placed it onto the bed stand and asked Amanda, “What can I do?”

  Amanda slid into the bed next to me. “Listen to them out there. Get all the information you can. Emma will want to know later. She’s in mourning right now.”

  “Okay. I can do that.”

  I closed my eyes, but I could feel her gaze on me.

  “I’m so sorry, Emma,” Theresa whispered.

  A tear slid down my face.

  “She needs Carter,” Amanda said. “I’ll stay with her until he comes.”

  “Okay.” Theresa moved away, then murmured from the door, “Love you guys.”

  “Love you, too.”

  The door closed, and Amanda asked, “Do you want the light off
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