Carter reed 2, p.14
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       Carter Reed 2, p.14

         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan
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  “Okay. Yeah.” I pressed a kiss to his cheek. “I will.”

  I started to step back, but he caught the back of my head and pressed me to him again. One more kiss. One solid touch from him to me. This wasn’t about passion. It wasn’t even about comfort. This was a connection between us. I felt his need for me, and my own matched it, rising within me. It wasn’t sexual. It was primal. It was the need for both of us to be okay. My lips pressed back against him, tasting him, and then I leaned away, gazing up into his eyes.

  I saw a bleakness there and my hand lifted, reacting to it. I hated seeing that. He shouldn’t feel that way, ever. I touched the side of his face to reassure him.

  He nodded, but the bleakness didn’t leave.

  I stepped inside to talk to my sister.

  It was just her and me.

  With the door closed, it felt like the outside world had been cut off. The room filled with questions, but one thing rose to the top. “Our mother?” I asked.

  Her eyes widened. “Oh.”

  I swallowed. “I mean, how is she?” Is she alive? Is she well? Does she know about me? So many more questions waited on the edge of my tongue, wanting to spill out. I gripped my arm and held tight, physically holding myself back.

  “I—” She stopped. Her chest heaved up and down in a dramatic breath. “She’s…” She looked down for a second. “Dead. A car accident.”

  I stepped back. I hadn’t expected that.

  “She died when I was little,” Andrea continued. “I don’t remember a lot of it.” Her voice was strangled, and she dabbed at the corner of her eye again. “I was adopted when I was five—”

  “You’re two years younger than me.” I would’ve been seven. I glanced at Carter. I didn’t meet him until I was eleven. That didn’t make sense.

  “I remember you.”

  “You do?”

  She nodded. “I remember playing together. I liked to play with dolls. You hated dolls.”

  “I did?” The side of my mouth lifted up.

  “I think we played hide and seek in the house. You don’t remember?”

  I frowned, shaking my head. “My past is cloudy. I don’t remember a lot.”

  “I’m going to get you, girly!”

  I shrieked, giggling as I ran away. “No, no, Mama!”

  I shook my head. AJ’s face loomed over me next. “It’s dangerous.”

  I focused back on Andrea. “I think I remember playing hide-and-seek with you, but then I remember AJ saying it was dangerous.” At the mention of my brother, a scowl formed on her face.

  “AJ.” I frowned at her. “Our brother.”

  “He’s not my brother, and he wasn’t yours either. He was your kidnapper.” Her eyes grew heated, and her arms crossed over her chest. “I can’t listen to you talk about him like that.”

  My own eyes darkened. She couldn’t listen to me? “You might want to leave right now then. I don’t know what happened, but I remember my brother taking care of me, raising me, making sure I went to school every day. He made mistakes, but he loved me.”

  Her lips pressed together and she went still, standing like a statue. “Then you and I have very different memories.”

  This was insane. “You were young. Me, too. I don’t know what happened, but I should remember you. I don’t. There are lapses with both of us, but AJ did nothing except try to raise me right.”

  She shook her head, blinking rapidly. “I know. I…” She let out a resigned breath. “I’m sorry. I…maybe we’re getting into too much too quickly? Maybe we should scale back. I mean—” A rueful laugh slipped out, and she gestured to Carter. “I never would’ve known about you if it weren’t for him. Carter Reed. You’re with Carter Reed. I saw you on television and fell off the couch.”

  A ball of tension started to loosen inside me. She started to laugh, and I wanted to laugh with her. The DNA tests were done. This was my sister, no matter what. Whatever had happened in the past, whatever she felt about AJ, this was still my family.

  As she continued talking, saying how she couldn’t believe it was me and had Kevin, her family friend, reach out to a private investigator, I realized I really did want to get to know her. She was different than me—I knew there were differences between us, but I felt a connection, too. She was like me in some ways. I wanted to find out all of them. I wanted to know everything.

  “So…” She was trickling to a stop. “Carter Reed, huh?”

  I nodded. “Yeah.”

  “He’s, uh…” She waved a hand toward him. “He’s got the whole mysterious and deadly attractive thing going for him. Kevin picked that club tonight to meet you. We were up all night, and I got myself worked into a frenzy. I declared it was now or never.” She laughed. “I can be a little dramatic, but Kevin read in a magazine that it was the safest of all his nightclubs.” She laughed to herself. “When they searched us and told us we had to come with them, I think he almost peed himself. He’s still out there, quaking in his boots.”

  She was fond of him, but there were no romantic undertones.

  “Who is Kevin to you?” I asked. “You said he was a family friend?” I moved closer, my arms falling to my sides. Who had adopted her? Were they good people? Was she loved? I looked at her hand. There was a ring on her finger. That meant she was married?

  “He is. He’s, um...” She began fiddling with her ring. “He grew up with me. When I was adopted, I moved to Hillcrest. It’s an uppity town, and my family was wealthy. Kevin’s family was, too. There’s a whole scene there. I guess you could call me a socialite. This—you and who you’re with—has everyone salivating back home. They couldn’t get over it. Half of the girls I know wanted to come with us. Then our PI told us you were in New York, and we hopped another plane to come here. I…anyways, I’m digressing. Kevin. You asked about how we know each other.”

  Her head bobbed up and down. She kept playing with her ring. “Kevin was friends with Jamis.” She laughed again, but it sounded nervous. She wiggled her fingers in the air, pointing at the ring. “Jamis is my husband—no, was my husband. We divorced a year ago. He cheated on me. Like, with thirty women, so Kevin chose my friendship over his.”

  She wasn’t looking at me anymore. She was staring at the ground with a distant expression on her face. I saw the pain there. I heard it and felt it. My own pain recognized it immediately, and I wanted to go to her, hug her, and comfort her.

  I didn’t. I held back and reminded myself that I didn’t know this woman. She had my face, but she had a whole other life.

  “I’m sorry,” I murmured.

  “Yeah,” her voice was hoarse. “Anyways, maybe—I mean—can we shelf this?” A tear slid down her cheek, and she brushed it away with the back of her hand. The entire movement was very graceful. She was sophisticated and elegant. After a moment she smiled at me, her eyes warming. “It’s obvious that you’re loved very much. Is there a way we could get to know each other? Maybe even meet for a glass of wine one night? I’ll leave Nervous Kevin behind.”

  Emma had a sister. Wonderful.

  Truly, wonderful. That had been my first response. She missed AJ. She could talk to this woman, get more information, and maybe get more closure on AJ’s death. Those had been my initial thoughts about this new chapter in Emma’s life.

  But that had been then. That was when the woman was far away. Emma didn’t know her. She wasn’t in our lives. This was now.

  Emma had a sister—I hated it. We needed to move. Emma needed to be hidden, but instead, we were in a warehouse while she chatted about the past with this stranger. And her man looked ready to bolt or mess himself. My men had taken their phones away, but if they hadn’t, I had no doubt this man would’ve called the police just because he was scared.

  He wasn’t worth our time. Neither was this reunion. It was only endangering Emma further. The longer we stayed in town, the more chances it gave the Bartels to hurt her. A growl formed in the pit of my throat. It wanted to be unleashed, but I forced it back do
wn. I forced myself to stand there, letting Emma spend this time with her sister, when I wanted to rip open the door, haul her out, and keep her safe.

  I couldn’t do that either.

  She needed this time. I needed her to be safe. Two goals at odds with each other.

  Stand. Be on guard. Wait. Those were my only options.

  “Sir?” Thomas approached with a phone in his hand. “It’s…” He glanced toward the man and didn’t finish his statement. As I took the phone, he murmured under his breath, “It’s Cole, sir.”

  I looked at Emma.

  “I’ll watch her, sir.”

  I couldn’t take the call with that man in here. I shook my head and pointed at the man. “No, I’ll stay. Take him out.”

  “What?” Kevin asked suddenly.

  Thomas gestured to two of the guards and ordered, “Take him outside. Stay with him.”

  As they left their positions, Kevin began to back up. He looked all around him, but there was nowhere to hide. “What’s going on? I don’t like this. I didn’t agree to any of this—”

  The men grabbed his arms and started to guide him toward the door. He went limp, so they dragged him. When they lifted him in the air instead, he started to kick at them.

  “Help! Andrea—” he yelled.

  “Shut. Up.” I held the phone against my chest. “It’s a phone call. Your woman is safe. You came to us. Not the other way around.”

  Sweat covered his forehead and damp circles radiated from under his arms. He kept looking between the two guards who were holding him. “I—”

  I didn’t care and waved them on outside. The men continued on their path and shut the door behind them. Kevin continued to yell, and I fought the urge to go out there and silence him myself. That would’ve been uncivilized. He was the weaker one here. This was my territory. I understood his panic, given everything he’d heard about me in the media, but there was a way to deal with fear. He was like a frightened little boy. I didn’t have time for men like that.


  Hearing Cole shouting from the phone, I lifted it to my ear. “This is not the best time.”

  “You’re still in town?”

  “And how do you know that?”

  “I asked your men.”

  Hearing a smugness in his voice, I clutched the phone tighter. “I will make sure to give my men explicit instructions on keeping my location quiet, to everyone.”

  He laughed. “You sound like a grizzly bear waiting to attack. What’s got you worked up? It couldn’t be the police chief?”

  I looked up, making sure Emma was safe. “Nothing. We ran into a small obstacle, that’s all. Why are you calling me, Cole?”

  “To give you the heads-up. I called a meeting with the elders.”

  I was quiet for a moment. There were things he wasn’t saying. He’d said earlier that he needed to watch the elders. Now he was meeting with them? He was doing something else, playing a game with the elders.

  “Did you need my help?” I asked.

  “No, no. I’m just letting you know, in case there’s fallout. I thought you’d be long gone by now.” He sounded casual, happy even. “Are you sticking around town because of this small obstacle?”

  Emma had her back to me, but I saw the compassion in her body language. Her eyes had lit up when I told her who was waiting for us at my club. She wanted to know this sister, and she didn’t want the information handed to her in a folder. She wanted to foster this relationship. Even if she came out and denied that desire, I knew she would be lying to me.

  She wanted a family. I couldn’t deny her that, but this war… My hand tightened around the phone, and I forced myself to loosen my hold. I was going to break the thing. “Unfortunately, I think so.”

  “Well, consider yourself warned then.”

  Emma came out of the office as I hung up, with her sister behind her. Both had shed a few tears. What had they talked about in there? Emma reached for my arm, and as if she’d heard my unspoken question, she murmured, “I’ll tell you later. Do you think a car can take Andrea and Kevin to their hotel?”

  “Of course.” I gestured to Thomas, who opened the side door on command.

  Emma’s sister looked around the warehouse, a small line forming in her forehead. “Where’s Kevin?”

  “He had to step outside for a moment. Thomas will help you to the car.”

  “Oh. Okay.” She reached for Emma and squeezed her arm. “I’ll see you later then?”

  “Yes.” Emma grabbed her hand for a moment. “I’m looking forward to it.” She choked up on the last word, and I leaned forward to study her. Her other hand reached toward her sister, but she caught herself and lowered it back to her side.

  “Okay. Good night or good morning, whatever it is.” Emma’s sister gave her another beaming smile before hurrying through the door. It wasn’t long before a car door shut, and we heard their vehicle pull away.

  Emma didn’t waste any time. She turned to me, both her hands grabbing my arm. “I know you want to leave. I know there’s a war going on, but I want to stay.” She glanced over her shoulder in the direction her sister had gone. “I want to know more about what happened, Carter.” She pressed against me, her eyes turning sad. “She doesn’t remember AJ. She hates him. Kidnapper. That’s what she said. I have to know. I need to understand what happened. I…” She faltered, closing her eyes a moment. “I don’t have memories before I was with AJ, and according to her, it was just us with our mother. I need to know what happened.”

  “I can hire someone to look into it. Their private investigator’s already given us most of what he has on them. I can do that.” I needed to try, but she shook her head, as I knew she would.

  “I need to remember. Me. Reading about it won’t do the same thing. I remembered a little bit when I was with her. If we can spend more time together, maybe I’ll know for myself what happened.”

  “This isn’t just for you, is it?”

  She shook her head. “AJ wasn’t my kidnapper. He was my savior.”

  “I know.”

  “We’ll stay?” Her chest lifted and held. Her eyes were so hopeful. As I nodded, she let out her breath. “Thank you.” Touching my cheek, she lifted up and kissed the corner of my mouth. “Thank you so much,” she whispered. “I love you.”

  “Emma.” She started to pull away, but I caught her and held her there. “We’re here, but it’s like we’re not. That means no Theresa, no Amanda, and no Noah even. None of them can know. I want us hidden as much as possible.”

  “I know. I understand, but I’d like a few nights to spend time with her.”

  I wasn’t happy about it, but protecting her from here could be done. I’d just have to be flexible. As Emma headed for the car, Michael came over and waited for his instructions. “We’re going to need a new safe house,” I told him.


  My home wasn’t safe. The Bartels knew about it. If we were staying here, everything had to be new.

  Today was going to be a great day.

  As soon as I woke, I remembered I was going to spend time with my sister today. After heading home, Carter had gotten a new phone I could use to text with her, and we’d started planning.

  We were going to meet for breakfast, then go to a bookstore, followed by a lunch. For the afternoon we’d booked a salon, and then we’d end with dinner. All our meals would be at Carter’s establishments. He’d also approved the bookstore and the salon. Every move we made had to be planned out, and we had to wear disguises. The guards would be doing their blending thing, and they were going the extra mile. Instead of wearing their usual black suits, they’d be dressed like normal civilians.

  When we picked Andrea up, she looked at the guards and gave me a rueful grin. “They’re less intimidating now.”

  I didn’t respond. Their usual intimidation was conscious, but now they needed to be camouflaged, like me. I’d asked Carter if I should say anything about the Bartel war, but he told me to pr
etend it wasn’t there.

  “Get to know your sister,” he’d said. “If you talk about the war, that could get between the two of you getting to know each other.”

  I followed his advice, but after perusing the bookstore, when we sat down for lunch, she brought it up.

  “Ummm…” She unfolded her cloth napkin and didn’t look at me. As she placed it on her lap, her head remained focused there for a beat. Then she looked up, and I saw a different look in her eye.

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