Carter reed 2, p.15
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       Carter Reed 2, p.15

         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan
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  She was about to introduce a real topic, not the casual conversation we’d been having all morning. I readied myself, putting my hands in my lap.

  “The bomb,” she began. “I…” She stopped and tucked some hair behind her ear. “Kevin is making me bring this up. I—oh boy—I loved meeting you last night. I know it was unconventional, demanding to see you like that. To be honest, I’d had a little too much wine. I was very brazen until the guards showed up. Then all that liquid courage left me, but…” Her hand returned to her lap. “The bomb. You—you’re okay after that?”

  I froze. The less she knew, the better. “Yeah. I’m good. I don’t watch the news. What are they saying about it?”

  “That a previous employee did it. Someone who was fired and got angry. That club, that wasn’t one of Carter’s was it?”

  “I don’t believe so.”

  “Good.”

  She sounded relieved. She didn’t know it was owned by the Mauricio family. I wondered how she would’ve reacted if she’d known that tidbit. This was dumb. I was pretending my life was normal and that I could get to know my sister the way normal people would—that we could spend time together, laugh together, maybe even tease each other or fight. We’d have months and months of being around each other. But we wouldn’t. Here we were trying to force it in a couple days. Carter had never said a word, but I knew that’s all I was getting. A few days to cover a few decades of history. It wasn’t enough time, and I couldn’t pretend otherwise.

  “What’s wrong?”

  I refocused on her. “Hmmm?”

  “You made a sound. Is something wrong?”

  “Oh.” What did I say? Be honest. That was the only way. I clutched my napkin as I prepared to speak. “Andrea—”

  “Call me Andy,” she interrupted, her eyes sparkling.

  “What?”

  “He called you Alley Cat.”

  “Andy. It’s what my friends and family call me. Andrea’s the uptight socialite persona.” She grinned to herself, rolling her eyes. “I have to play that part, but this is nice. I can just be Andy with you. No charades or anything.”

  Except for mine. I twisted the napkin around my hand. If it had been made of cheap material, I would’ve ripped it in half by now. “Ah, yes. That is nice.”

  “So…” She leaned forward to grab her glass of wine. “You were going to tell me what’s wrong.”

  “I was. Yes.” I couldn’t play pretend anymore. “You obviously know about Carter.”

  She went still in her seat.

  “I don’t know what you know or what you think,” I continued. “But I can’t talk about that stuff. If you want to get to know me, it’s just me. There will be times when you’re not going to see me or you can’t get through to me. That’s just how it is.”

  Her eyes darted to Thomas, who stood closest to us. She jerked them back to me.

  “After meeting you last night, I wanted to cram the whole day with getting to know each other. I think I wanted to pretend this was normal, that we were just two friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long time. But that’s not the truth. The truth is that I shouldn’t even be here.”

  “You shouldn’t?” Her voice dipped low.

  “No, but not because of you. Because of other things. And as I’m saying this to you, I’m realizing how wrong I am to have pushed for this. I should go.” I started to stand. Calling Carter, making things right was foremost in my mind now.

  “Wait.” She touched my arm. “Wait, please. Sit. Please.”

  I did, but slowly.

  She swallowed and reached for her glass of wine again. Her hand trembled. “Yes, I’ve heard the rumors. I’d be living under a rock not to know who Carter Reed is, and like I said before, everyone back home is buzzing about you. They all know who he is, too. I’d be a liar if I sat here and told you I didn’t want to know about him. That’s not the truth. I’m curious, yes, but I think anyone would be.”

  She paused for a moment and took a breath. “However, I’m more curious because he’s a part of your life. It’s you I really want to know. We don’t have to talk about him or anything that makes you uncomfortable. I promise. I won’t even bring up AJ. Kevin made me realize last night that maybe I’m wrong—jumping to conclusions. I don’t remember our mom that well either, so it’s possible something bad happened with her. Maybe AJ was saving you. I don’t know. I’ve just been looking for you all my life, and he’s the one I blamed for taking you away.”

  “AJ was good to me.” No one would take that from me.

  “I can see that.” She seemed cautious. “I can, and you’re right about forcing the day together. I want to get to know you too, but I got a sense last night that now isn’t the time for that to happen. Maybe we could finish our lunch and then promise to get in touch when the time is right? How about that?”

  I nodded, feeling all the tension leaving me. “That sounds wonderful, actually.”

  “Good.” She lifted her wine glass. “To getting to know one another. And if it takes a long time, that’s completely fine, too.”

  I laughed, clicking my glass to hers. “That’s perfect.”

  “Cheers to us then.”

  “Cheers.”

  This would work out. I could feel it. Everything would be fine. Once things were safe, I could go to her town, or she could come to mine, and we could spend more time together. I glanced at my phone. I knew I should text Carter, let him know it was okay to leave, but Andy started telling a story about her adoptive parents, and I tucked the phone back into my purse. I’d text him when we were leaving.

  Cole was in the warehouse waiting for me when I walked inside. Without being told, the guards had stayed outside. This conversation was just for Cole and me. As he saw me coming, he switched on a high-force fan. If anyone had stuck a recording device anywhere, our conversation would be drowned out.

  “What was your phone call about last night?” I didn’t waste time. “Did you decide to move against the Bartels?”

  Cole flashed me a grin, scratching his forehead. “You know better than that. I can’t until I know who I can trust and who I can’t. I called the meeting to gauge their reactions on some things, and I need your help.”

  “I won’t spy on anyone in the family.”

  “No. I didn’t mean that. I need you to start laying traps for the Bartels. I want to know their safe houses. I want to know all of their businesses. We know most of them, but there are always extras that no one outside of the family knows about. We need those.”

  I nodded. “That information’s already been compiled.”

  “It has?”

  “For back home.” Just thinking about the change in plans, I wanted to curse. “That’s what I was doing when I left before. I thought I’d take Emma home, and I was going to protect her there. I didn’t think our fight would be in New York.”

  “You got all that information in that amount of time?”

  It was my turn to flash him a grin. “I’m still in business with the Bartels. I got a lot of information about them, and the rest I found myself.”

  “You did all that?”

  “With two of my men. It’s easier doing recon when you’re alone. I had no backing from the Mauricio family. That’s what they found out when they made a few phone calls. To them, I’m acting alone. Now, I can’t tell you what they’re thinking since the bomb. Emma was either the target, or she was too damn close to it. I haven’t reached out yet to test their reaction.”

  “Speaking of that, why are you still here? I meant what I said last night. I thought you’d be long gone.”

  “Emma has a long-lost sister who’s reappeared—”

  “The timing is suspect.”

  “—and she wants a few days to get to know her. And yes, I find the timing very convenient.”

  “Have you looked into her?”

  I grimaced. “Not as much as I would like, no. But I will now. If there’s a connection, I’ll find it. She really is Emma’s sis
ter, so if they found her, that means they went searching for her and they’ve been planning this move for years.”

  “True. Finding a long-lost sister would’ve taken some time.” His head tilted to the side. “Unless they just got lucky.”

  “Maybe.” I shrugged. “Right now, I’m treating her as if she is a long-lost sister and not another weapon against Emma. It would be nice to have some firm intel on whether they’re moving against me through her or not.”

  “I know, and I’m working on that. I have to run these tests on the elders. I need to know who I can trust. If I go into a battle with an army that’s disloyal, we’re all dead.”

  My impatience burned in me. I wanted to know now. I wanted to make my move. This was how I used to feel all the time. I was a caged panther, and I wanted out of the cage to protect what’s mine. But I couldn’t. Not yet.

  “If you take too much time, there won’t be any Mauricio family to test,” I warned. “The Bartels have gotten away with enough already.”

  “You’re telling me?” he shot back. “They came for me. They killed two of my friends, and they’re the reason I even came back. Trust me, Carter. I am more than aware of how long this is taking. I’ll move against them as soon as I know who’s actually behind me and who’s against me.”

  I understood that. It was a good battle strategy, but I didn’t play politics well. I led my own army, and in times when I couldn’t, I used to kill on my own. “It’s taking too long, Cole.” That was the truth no matter who was behind him. “If you need to cut them out of the action, cut them out. You need to make your move soon.”

  “What would you do?”

  I fell silent. I hadn’t expected that question. “What do you mean?”

  “Come on, Carter.” He smiled, shaking his head. “You’ve worked your way into a powerful position with both families. I know you’re the lone wolf. You do your own thing, but you’re the smartest guy I know. You think seven steps ahead of everyone else. If you were me, what would your first move be?”

  “My first move would be to find out if that bomb was meant for Emma or not.”

  “And after that? What if it weren’t, and it was a bomb sent against your family. What’s the next step?”

  “You need to gather information. Find out all the key players and the alliances between them. Know them better than they know themselves.”

  “And if that was currently being put together? What’s the step after that?”

  “Find out all their businesses. Everything. Even the houses where they take their mistresses.”

  “Already being done. After that?”

  I shook my head, grinning. “Why are you picking my brain? You’re making all the right moves.”

  “Because I’m missing something, and I don’t know what it is. But I think you do. I think there’s a difference—one small step—that I’m blind to.”

  I knew what he was getting at, but it was simple. He made it sound complicated. It wasn’t. It was just a quality I had that Cole didn’t.

  I shook my head. “Cole, you can plan all you like. You can set up all the targets and hope you’ll hit them when you shoot, but there’s a point where you can’t plan anymore. I plan. I set up safeguards, yes. That’s what I was doing at home, but eventually you just have to strike the match.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “The difference between you and me: I’d go in there and kill them all myself. And no matter how much I’ve trained you, that’s a quality you don’t have. You’re smart. So am I. You plan. So do I. But while you wait to make sure the whole team will back you up, I’m already in there and doing it no matter who’s with me and who isn’t.”

  He wasn’t going to make the first move. His method of testing the elders would take too long. This war, if it spilled over to me, was going to be my own. I wasn’t going to wait for Mauricio family approval. I would do the same thing that had happened after AJ. If they came for mine, I’d go for theirs—all of theirs.

  “So I should stop wasting time? That’s what you’re saying?”

  Suddenly I heard Cole’s measured words. He was watching what he said and being very careful about it. It all clicked, and I wanted to hit him. “You’re an asshole.”

  “What do you mean?” he asked, but I could tell he knew I’d figured it out.

  “I’m your weapon, aren’t I? You’re waiting for me to get fed up so I go and do your work for you. That’s your genius plan?”

  A bright smile stretched over his face. “It was until you figured it out.”

  “You’re a dick.”

  His eyebrows raised, but I didn’t yell. I didn’t curse. I didn’t lunge at him. I was pissed, but he was doing what was right for the family. He was utilizing the best weapon in their arsenal, and that was me.

  “I’m not doing a thing unless I know they intend to hurt Emma.”

  He nodded. “I can respect that.” He watched me, still waiting for anger.

  “You can’t control me,” I told him.

  “I know that.”

  “Good.” Then I moved. My fist was up and hitting him square in the jaw before he saw me coming. As his body dropped to the ground, I knew he was unconscious, and I turned to leave. I had been a weapon for the family before, and if Cole wanted to go that route, fine by me. But if I was going to be used as that weapon, he’d have to deal with the damage I inflicted.

  I wasn’t sure if he was ready for that.

  As I got into the car, my phone buzzed in my pocket. Pulling it out, I found a text from Emma: Coming back. We can go home. I’ll get to know Andy when it’s safer. A second text buzzed through as I watched: I love you.

  The car was spinning.

  No, that was me. I groaned as I leaned forward. The car wouldn’t stop spinning. I could hear it laughing at me. It was taunting me, calling me a lightweight. Then I realized that wasn’t the car. It was my sister. She sat next to me, patting my back and laughing to herself.

  When I looked up at her, she convulsed in laughter again, covering her mouth with her hand.

  “Sorry,” she sputtered. “So sorry.”

  She wasn’t. She kept laughing. Her entire face was a bright red.

  I scowled at her, or I would’ve if my fourth glass of wine wasn’t threatening to spill out. “Too much wine. Way too much.”

  “I know.” She couldn’t stop giggling and shook her head. “I’m so sorry.”

  “That was four glasses ago. Theresa stopped doing wine nights. I’m out of practice.”

  “Oh, Emma.” Her hand rubbed circles on my back. “But we had fun. Who’s Theresa?”

  The car hit a pothole, and my stomach lurched into my throat. Oh no. Not good. Chunks were going to blow. I struggled to keep the wine down as I tried to focus on what Andrea had just said. Who was Theresa? That was it. I answered in a mumble, “She’s the one who trained me in wine drinking. I could’ve matched you glass for glass tonight if we hadn’t stopped.”

  “What happened?”

  “We went to the gun range instead.” Another pothole. The car lurched to the side, and my stomach went right with it. Clamping a hand over my mouth, I felt it coming. I wasn’t going to be able to stop it. No, no, no. Carter spent too much money on these clothes. That was it. I was wearing my own clothes when I got back. Screw how they felt. They were cheap, and I could drink the best wine in them.

  “Oh, yeah. Kevin told me about that.” Andrea began petting my hair. She sounded content. “Who would’ve thought this? I’m in the back of a car with my sister, and we’re both tipsy.”

  I held up a hand. “I’m not tipsy. That can be fun. I’m sick. That’s not fun.”

  “You know what I mean. I feel like we’re eighteen. We snuck out of the house and got drunk on wine coolers. Did you ever have those?” She sighed, leaning back in the seat. “I did. Some of the other girls and I would do that. We’d tell our parents we were sleeping over at each other’s houses, and then all of us went up to Beth Anne’s cabin. Of cou
rse, it wasn’t a cabin. It was a log mansion, but it was fun. Wine coolers, gossiping, and swimming. Then we’d wait for the guys to crash our party. Oh, man. I miss those days. It was so simple back then.”

 
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