Carter reed 2, p.13
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       Carter Reed 2, p.13
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         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan

  I rested my hand over his. “Something already did.” My voice grew firm. “It’s time, Carter. I’m not innocent. Stop treating me like I am.”

  “It’s because I love you—”

  “And I love you. Equip me with the best skills to be the woman at your side. It’s the smart thing to do.”

  He closed his eyes. He nodded and let out a deep sigh. “I know. You’re right.”

  He was the man I loved, but I had gone to him in the beginning because he was the Cold Killer. He was going to be pulled into that world, no matter what he did, because he still loved those people.

  I could understand his pain. He didn’t want me to be affected any more than I already was. Giving me the tools to fight might cause me to tread somewhere I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. Maybe. But if he was in danger, my friends were in danger—I would defend them no matter what.

  “Trust me,” I urged him.

  “I do.” His eyes searched mine, and I saw the struggle there. “You shouldn’t have to be somewhere and worry about a bomb going off—or even worry about having to protect someone,” he said. “That’s my life, and I hate that it’s affected you like this.”

  “I know, but it has. I pulled you in before. Now you’re pulling me in. That’s how it is. That’s what you do for someone you love.” I grabbed the ends of his sweatshirt and pulled him close. “You go where they go. You walk their same path. What happens to them, happens to you. It’s the burden of loving someone. You deal with it because that person is there when you need them. You helped me; now let me help you. Give me the skills to help you, too.”

  He caught the back of my neck and pulled me to him. He smiled. “No matter what, I’m proud you’re at my side.” Then his lips fused with mine, and he murmured against them, “Once you’re healed, I’ll train you. I promise.”

  I was going to hold him to that.

  It was the middle of the night when I woke to find Carter slipping from the bed. I sat up, groggy, and looked at the clock. 3 am. Then I heard the knocking.

  “Who is that?”

  Carter looked back at me, pulling a shirt on. “There was no warning. I’m assuming it’s one of the guards.” But after he pulled some pants on and reached for his gun, I knew there was a question to that statement. He gripped the weapon in one hand and bent down to press his lips to my forehead. “I suppose you’re not going to go back to sleep.”

  As he straightened, I threw off the covers and clambered for my own clothes. I snorted. “Are you kidding me?”

  His eyes darkened in disapproval. “You stay back. I mean it, Emma.”

  I threw him a quick frown, hopping on one leg as I struggled to pull my jeans up. Sleepiness, a sore body, and jeans were a deadly combination, but I was going.

  “I mean it, Emma. You stay back, no matter who it is.”

  When they knocked again and he didn’t leave to answer, I knew he wouldn’t until I agreed. So I did so, reluctantly. “Okay, but I’m coming to listen. I’m not staying in bed.”

  The knocking came again. Carter looked back at the door. “Come quietly. I’m going.”

  “Okay.”

  He disappeared from the doorway, and I hurried. Grabbing the other 9mm—the one Carter didn’t know I knew about—from the closet, I made sure the safety was on and headed down the hall behind him. Shoes. Shit. Remembering one of his rules—always be prepared to run—I went back and slipped on some sneakers. Then as quietly as I could, I went out to the living room. When I got there, Carter was talking to Thomas so I slowed to a walk, knots in my gut. They spoke in quiet, hushed tones, and as I approached, both looked at me with emotionless faces.

  My pulse spiked for a second. “What is it?” Another bombing. Someone had been shot. Scenarios flashed through my mind.

  “It’s your sister,” Carter said, and images of her—with my face—bloody and broken, replaced those other thoughts.

  I reached for the wall to steady myself. “What? Is she okay?”

  Thomas left, shutting the door behind him, and Carter came over to me. “She’s at a club asking for you.”

  “Club? What club?”

  “One of mine. She caused a scene, and the staff took her in when someone snapped her picture. She wouldn’t stop yelling until they promised to get you.” He paused a beat, skimming over my face. “It’s up to you. What do you want to do?”

  “I want to see her.” I remembered seeing her the other night, after the bomb went off. “So it was her.”

  “Looks like.”

  “Oh.” Okay then. This was actually happening. “I’m going to see my sister.”

  He nodded again, still watching me intently. “Are you sure you want to do it this way? She commands, and you show up? Do you want to control the environment?”

  My sister. I couldn’t get over it. “What?” It was really happening. “Huh?”

  “Emma.” Carter took my shoulders and bent down so his eyes were level with mine. “Focus. Your sister chose this time and place. What if it’s a trap? What if the Bartels got to her?”

  My hands clutched at his arms. “We have to go now, then, before they do something.”

  “No, you’re not listening. What if she’s working for them? Another attack? You could be walking into that.”

  I wanted to scream. He had a point…but she was my sister. She had answers about AJ and what happened to us. I took a deep breath. “Then that’s a risk I’m willing to take, Carter.” My fingers gripped more tightly around his arm. “I want to see her, too. She was there that night, and she looked scared for me.”

  “Are you sure?”

  I knew where she was, and I knew it was her. A stampede of horses couldn’t keep me away. “I am. I really am.” Then a storm of nerves started up in my stomach. “I’m ready.”

  I didn’t pay attention to where we were driving. As the car pulled up to a club, I focused on getting inside without looking at the surroundings at all. It was Carter’s. He had so many. Right now I was barely aware of Carter himself beside me.

  I glanced down for the hundredth time and smoothed my hand over my pants. I hadn’t known what to wear. It was the middle of the night, so dressing up too much seemed silly. I’d changed three times, but I ended with a form-fitting black sweater and black pants. They weren’t jeans, but they weren’t dress pants either. They looked simple and comfortable, although I wasn’t paying attention to that either. I just wanted to look presentable for her…my sister. I still couldn’t believe it.

  A guard opened the door, and as Carter went in, I reached for his hand, though we didn’t do public displays of affection. The few times the media caught us hugging or holding hands, those images never seemed to go away. A picture from eight months ago was still being recycled on a few news channels, but I couldn’t help myself tonight. I needed his touch. He settled me.

  We passed the usual crowd of those who’d waited all night to get inside, but never did. They were slow to leave while celebrities were still standing around, having just been ushered out. It was the same scene I remembered from when I had stayed all night long, waiting to see Carter, at another club.

  At the sight of us, people snapped to attention. “Hey! It’s Carter Reed,” someone hollered.

  “It’s Emma! Emma!” called another.

  More and more people turned to look at us, and out came the phones. Flashes lit up the night.

  The guards beside us held their hands up, trying to block the views. Carter lifted his arm as well, over my shoulder, and I ducked underneath, hurrying forward through the opened door. Once we were inside, Carter issued the order: “Get rid of them.” A waitress came down a hallway to the right and he added, “Get rid of the staff, too. I want this building empty.”

  He touched the small of my back and ushered me down a hallway. We moved quickly, going all the way through the building to the back exit.

  When I saw it, I started to slow down. “Carter, what—”

  His hand was firm on my back. “Trust m
e.” He guided me out the door to where another car waited for us, and as we exited, I saw Michael. He opened the back door to the car, and we got inside. One of the guards pushed in behind us. Before I could settle into my seat, the car was already shooting ahead.

  “What…” The question died in my throat.

  Sitting across from me was my sister.

  “Oh.”

  She lifted a hand and ducked her head. “Hi, Emma.” Then she managed to look me in the eye.

  I’d been right. She had my eyes, my nose, my lips, even my chin, but her face was more round than mine. She studied me as well, lingering on my bruises with her lips pinched together. Even somewhat concerned, I could tell how lovely she was. Her hair was a lighter color than mine and pulled back into a tight bun behind her head. She had makeup on, but it wasn’t much. She went the natural beauty way, but I could understand why. She was beautiful.

  Realizing we were just staring at each other, her cheeks grew pink, and she looked down at her lap. Her hands fidgeted until she crossed one leg over the other and stuffed her hands between them. She glanced back up, jerked away when she saw I was still watching her, but then swallowed and looked back up once more.

  Then I realized it, too. I was staring. I was rude.

  I didn’t care.

  I couldn’t stop taking in all the details of her. Her clothes were expensive. Carter had money, and even though I tried to buy my own clothes, he had someone buy clothes for me, but my style was more understated. I didn’t enjoy letting people know my clothes were tailor made. My sister didn’t shout money with her clothes, but I recognized a lot of the brands. They were high-end and not bought off the shelf. The toes of a black boot peeked out from her sleek, gray pants and her light cashmere sweater had zippers going from side to side. A scarf around her neck completed the look.

  Whatever had happened to her, it had blessed her in the end.

  She cleared her throat and nudged the guy next to her. My gaze turned to him. It was the same man I’d seen with her after the bombing.

  “Miss Nathans?” I said to him.

  My sister’s cheeks flared bright red. She looked down at her lap.

  He leaned forward in his seat, tugging his jacket’s collar away from his throat. “Uh, yes.”

  “My name is Emma Martins.”

  “Uh, yes,” he repeated, glancing at Carter. “I don’t know why I called you that. I knew, I mean—the media referenced you as Emma Martins. I had hoped, no—I had thought…” He quieted as my sister placed her hand over his.

  She leaned forward. Her chin lifted. Her shoulders went back. The red had faded quickly and, somehow, I now stared back at an elegant, sophisticated woman. “What Kevin is trying to say is that he’d hoped the name Nathans might’ve triggered a memory with you. You were taken so young.”

  Taken. Young. Triggered.

  None of those words sat right with me, and I tensed, but Carter took over. He must have felt my distress and, much like she had, he now commanded the attention. “Let’s keep the pleasantries to a minimum until we get to our destination.”

  “About that—” The man coughed into his hand, then did it again. “We had asked to meet Emma at your club. After searching us, your men didn’t allow us to voice our feelings about moving the location—”

  Carter spoke over him. “Because it was my call. Not yours.”

  Red spread up the man’s neck, but he didn’t respond.

  My sister patted his hand. “It’s okay. He’s…I mean—” She gestured to Carter and myself. “We don’t know you…at all…”

  We were mafia. That was the meaning behind her words. They were scared of us. As soon as I realized that, laughter bubbled up my throat. But I kept my mouth shut and shoved it back down. Laughing, at this moment, wouldn’t be appropriate. And if I started, I didn’t think I could stop. There’d been too much tension over the last few weeks.

  Instead, I sighed. “This is awkward.”

  My sister sputtered out a sound that was half a laugh and half a cough. She tried to cover, touching her chest. “Oh. I’m sorry. I—” But the corners of her lips curled up, and so did mine. When she saw my smile, she looked back down, her shoulders shaking as she laughed softly.

  I wasn’t laughing, but I couldn’t wipe the grin from my face.

  “I—” She looked back up, her hand covering her mouth as another chuckle escaped from her. “I’m so sorry. This is, you’re right. It’s completely awkward, and Kevin’s only trying to protect me.” She gestured to Carter, addressing him, “As I’m sure you’re doing the same with Emma…” She trailed off, her gaze going back to me and holding there. An awed expression came over her, and her hand dropped back to her lap. “I…it’s just that, you’re here.” She sounded choked up. “We’re in the same car. I never thought…” She blinked and dabbed at the corners of her eyes. “I never thought I’d find you.”

  I didn’t know what to say. I’d never thought about her, period. It had been AJ and me. That was it, but since finding out about her… “Thank you for finding me,” I said. My hand fell down between Carter and me. I held it there, pressed against him. I just needed to touch him. “There’ve been things going on, but I’ve been thinking about you, too.”

  She nodded, clearly trying not to cry. She kept wiping at the corners of her eyes.

  This wasn’t the time or place. So much had to be said, but I didn’t say another word until we arrived at our destination. When the car slowed to a stop and the door opened, we were in a large, brightly lit warehouse. There was nothing inside, only an office with a window in the door. As my sister followed us out, and then her friend, our guard went to a side door. Another guard took position beside him, and another two went to the main garage-style doors. As they closed it behind us, I saw three other cars parked outside. They had formed a wall, and more men waited by each of those vehicles.

  We were heavily armed and heavily protected.

  “Oh my.” My sister pressed a hand to her throat, taking in the scene before the doors slid to the ground.

  Now it was only the four of us and the four security men inside. I was used to this, but seeing her reaction, I remembered the first time I became aware of how powerful Carter was. That’s what those men did. They were physical reminders of who Carter was, of what he could do. She looked at me, her eyebrows bunched together, and she stepped closer to her friend. I wasn’t sure if she was aware of doing it or not, but I understood. He was familiar. He was safe to her.

  I wanted to go to her. I wanted to reassure her that I was safe too, but I felt Carter beside me. His hand touched the top of my arm as if he was reminding me. We didn’t know these people. We didn’t know anything about them.

  I looked up, saw the concern in his wolf eyes, and nodded. The worry disappeared, and he pointed to the office. “I think Emma and Andrea might want to talk alone.”

  “Yes.” I breathed.

  My sister nodded her agreement right away. “Yes.”

  “Andrea—” her friend started.

  She patted his arm. “I’ll be fine, Kevin. We sought them out, not the other way.”

  “But—” He grabbed for her hand.

  She evaded him. “Stop, Kevin. This is her. I want to talk to her.”

  “I don’t think you should be alone.”

  “Stop.” Her eyebrows lifted in warning. “I mean it, Kevin. I don’t think these men will have any qualms about having you wait outside.”

  He glanced around him before returning to look at Andrea. The red had begun to creep up to his face again, and he lifted a hand, itching the backside of his neck. “Andrea, I…okay. I guess.”

  Carter went to the office and opened the door. I started to follow Andrea inside, but he held me back. “One minute, please,” he said to her as he shut the door.

  She frowned at him, but didn’t respond.

  “What?” I glanced over my shoulder. We were out of hearing distance from her friend. “What is it?”

  “Stay
within eyesight of me.”

  “What?”

  “I don’t trust you alone with her either. The door can’t be locked, and I’m right here on the other side. If you start getting a weird feeling, scratch behind your ear. I’ll come in.”

  “You think, what? She’s going to attack me or something?’

  “I don’t know.” He was insistent. “But I’m not willing to risk it. The Bartels killed AJ. I don’t put anything past them.”

  “Oh.” I tensed immediately. “But her…”

  “Emma,” he said quietly. His hand still held my arm, but he softened his hold and his thumb began rubbing back and forth. “Just be careful, okay?”

 
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