Carter reed 2, p.16
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       Carter Reed 2, p.16

         Part #2 of Carter Reed series by Tijan
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  My stomach stopped doing somersaults and settled. Her words were another reminder of how different we were. Andrea snuck out of her house to a log mansion. I snuck out of my foster home. She got tipsy off wine coolers. I got arrested. She got to go back to her adoptive parents. I went to a new foster home. Same face. Different lives.

  I forced a smile. “I’m suddenly sober now.”

  “That’s good.” She gave me another dreamy smile as she patted my arm. Her eyes had glazed over. I could almost see the fond memories. “I can’t wait for you to meet my parents. They’ve been supportive of me finding you—”

  “Andrea,” I started.

  “Nope. I told you. Andy. I’m Andy to you.”

  I removed her hand from my arm and cringed. “Andrea, we promised to wait to share our past with each other.” I didn’t want to hear any more about her loving family, not when she seemed to want to take away the only family I’d had growing up: AJ.

  “I know. I’m sorry. I just…” A wistful look came over her. “I found you. I still can’t believe it. And Carter.” She started fanning herself. “My god, that man. I couldn’t believe it when I first saw you. You were with him, and even though he didn’t look at you, I could tell he loved you—like, really loved you. You were going from a car to a hotel or something. And those guards were all around you. You were so beautiful, Emma.”

  I was a trophy to her.

  That was how her words made me feel. I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d be so alluring if I wasn’t with Carter Reed? Would I still be so beautiful?

  Stop, Emma. She’s your sister. Get to know her. Love her. She’s family.

  I could almost hear AJ’s words in my head. No matter what she’d said against him, he would’ve wanted me to know her.

  I think. But why had we been separated? That was going to plague me. I had to find out the answer.

  “Andrea.” I lifted my head.

  She stopped patting and straightened in her seat. Her mouth turned down. “Why won’t you use my nickname? All my family and friends do—”

  “Because I’m not,” I snapped. “Sorry. I didn’t mean it to come out like that, but I’m not your friend or your family. Not yet, anyway. We have to go slow. I meant what I said before. I don’t trust easily, and I can’t pretend we’re close sisters. We’re not even close friends yet. My life is complicated right now, and I can’t handle the pressure of forcing this.”

  Her voice grew soft. “I thought that was okay, though? We’ve established that we’ll take our time.”

  “I know. I know we both said that, and I know you’re excited about finding me. But why were we separated? Our mother was a drug addict. Was she dangerous? Why did AJ take me, if he did take me away? And I won’t hear you talk bad about him anymore. He loved me. He took care of me. He tried his best to raise me the right way, but he died. You grew up in this beautiful life. I grew up in foster care. I had no one to depend on during those years, and you, it sounds like you had an abundance of people who cared for you.”

  She had turned away. I had made her cry. Of course. I spoke the truth, but I had hurt her in the process. I sat back. Was I supposed to comfort her now? Was that my place? I couldn’t. Instead, I just continued talking. “I just need you to slow down.” So I could breathe. “Just slow down.”

  She looked back at me, and her eyes had softened. She started to smile, but the car swerved to the left. The force of it was so abrupt that we both pitched against the side.

  I saw it in slow motion.

  As I felt myself falling forward, Andrea’s eyes widened. A look of pure terror washed over her as she flailed backward. She was trying to grab something, but her head was going to hit the door.

  I reached for her. My hand was in the air, extending toward her, but then my seatbelt snapped tight. I heard the thud as the back of her head hit the door. She slumped forward immediately.

  She was unconscious.

  After that, everything happened so fast. I was barely able to understand.

  There was shooting.

  My door opened.

  There was a struggle beside it. Thomas fought someone with a black mask on. He raised a gun, and Thomas brought his arm down in a chopping motion. The gun fell to the ground.

  Get it!

  I tried to lean out of the car to grab it, but the guy hit Thomas again. They were wrestling each other, and the guy kept trying to throw Thomas out of the way so he could reach inside for me. As they grappled with each other, Thomas’ foot hit the gun. It went sliding underneath the car.

  Seatbelt. Seatbelt.

  Panic rose up in me, but I needed to remain calm. I needed to help. Get that gun. That phrase repeated in my head. Get the gun. I reached for my seatbelt with stiff fingers, and I fumbled trying to release the latch. Finally my finger hit the button with enough force. The belt released, and I almost pitched forward off the seat.

  Oh, Andrea. She slouched forward, her seatbelt holding her in place. And her arms lay beside her like noodles. Her head bobbed back and forth, moving with the motion of the car as it was jostled by the fight outside.

  Carter. I needed Carter.

  No, get it together, Emma! I yelled at myself in my head. Taking a shuddering breath, I felt fear climbing through my veins. My body started to shut down as more and more gunshots sounded outside. I wanted to curl up in a ball and close my eyes. Maybe everything would go away. But no. It wouldn’t.

  “Come on, little girlie.”

  The voice was high-pitched, with an evil twinge.

  I huddled further in my bed. My mom was coming. I couldn’t hide. She was coming for me, not Andy. Andy was too small. She’d been hurt the day before, and she was still crying in her bed. It was my turn. I wanted to pull the blanket over me. I imagined it was a fortress. Once I was inside, no one could get through to me. I was safe.

  My daydreams never helped me. The light outside my door changed to darkness with her shadow. She was right there. She was coming in.

  “I know you’re in there, Ally. Come on, little girl.” She was trying to whisper, but she was giggling. The shadow weaved back and forth. “Honey, it’s your mommy. Do you want a bedtime story? We can act out the stories. How about that, Alley Cat?”

  The doorknob started to turn.

  I had locked it, and I waited, holding my breath. She was going to get mad. She always did. Then she’d have to teach me what was right and wrong. Locking Mom out of the room was the wrong thing to do.

  I didn’t care. I kept locking it. She could keep hurting me, but… The doorknob stuck, and I heard her angry hiss from the other side of the door. Tears rolled down my face as I stared at the door. I couldn't run anywhere. She’d found me in the closet last time. She was even madder because of that.

  “Ally!”

  I almost screamed, but I turned to see AJ at the window. He motioned for me. “Come on. Open the window.”

  If I did she’d be so mad.

  If I didn’t… I climbed out of my bed and went to the window. Once it was open, I whispered, still crying, “She can’t find me, AJ. She can’t find me.”

  A fierce determination flashed over his face. “She won’t. I promise, Alley Cat. Come on.”

  I crawled up and held my arms out. AJ scooped me up, jumped down from the tree, and ran away. I wrapped my little arms around his neck and looked back. The light in my room turned on, and then I heard her screech, “Ally!”

  I closed my eyes and pressed into AJ’s neck. I burrowed against him, trying to be as small as I could.

  Right now the little girl in me wanted to hide. I shoved that person aside and crawled over my sister. I reached for the other door. The gun would be there. I knew it. But as I pulled on the handle, something wrenched me backward.

  I found myself in the front seat, and a body clambered over me, pushing me down to the floor. I scratched and clawed at the person on top of me until I realized it was Thomas.

  It was Thomas.

  He shielded me as he s
hot at the person trying to come into the car.

  Bang! Bang!

  Two shots rang out. Then there was silence.

  Thomas’ body went limp. His arms fell back onto the seat beside us.

  Emma, flatten yourself.

  It was like Carter was there. I could hear him telling me what to do.

  Make yourself as little as possible. They’re coming in. Thomas is lying over you. They might not think you’re there. You need to be still.

  I started trembling and closed my eyes. I wanted to scream. I wanted to fight back. I wanted to run away. I wanted to find a gun and start shooting. But I didn’t. I listened to what I know Carter would’ve told me.

  I needed to be calm. I needed to be rational.

  I closed my eyes and lay there. Then I escaped. My mind left my body, that car, and whatever was going to happen. I remembered Carter. I remembered AJ. I remembered a good memory from when we were kids.

  “Come on, Emma,” AJ called from the living room. “Movie night, and you’re on popcorn duty.”

  A normal teenager would’ve grumbled. Not me. Movie night meant a full night with my brother and his best friend in the house. All night. They weren’t out doing whatever they did. They were safe. Carter was safe.

  My body warmed. I was going to see Carter for the next few hours. A surge of adrenaline had me buzzing as I got off the bed, put my book away, and walked down the hall. I could hear them talking. They were laughing about something, some guy named Dunvan. AJ called him an idiot. Carter laughed, but not as much as my brother.

  My knees were a little unsteady. I was always like this. AJ said it was puberty. It was because of Carter, though. Then I stood in the doorway to the kitchen. AJ had his arm up, making waving motions in the air. “I don’t need to worry about him. Dude, I’m primed for a win. Seriously. We should pool our money together. Dunvan’s all talk. He won’t do shit. You know that. He’s been threatening the same crap for years now.”

  As my brother talked, Carter leaned against the counter. His eyes slid past AJ to me, and he grew somber.

  I usually looked away. That’s what I did. Everyone liked Carter at school. All the girls talked about him, and when he looked at me, sometimes it was too much. I was no one. But that night, feeling brave for some reason, I stared back at him.

  There was a bruise on the side of his jaw. He’d been hit at the corner of his eye too. My eyes fell to his hands, and I didn’t know if I should be relieved or not, but I was. His knuckles were swollen and red. He’d fought back. Whoever had hit him, Carter had stood up for himself.

  Good.

  He smiled, still holding my gaze, as my brother began talking about something else.

  I wasn’t listening. I don’t think Carter was either.

  I could hear what was happening around me now, but I stayed in my memory. I was happy there. I was safe.

  They were in the car.

  Two men were saying my name and cursing because I was unconscious. But I wasn’t. I was hiding. I was pretending.

  A seatbelt unclicked, and I heard a thud. Then they were gone.

  I could hear them running away.

  There were more shouts.

  More gunshots.

  I could hear the cars careening away.

  Then more shouts.

  More people running.

  And someone was back in the car. He yelled, “In here!”

  “Come on, Carter.” AJ laughed. “You can’t tell me you’re not interested in Molly Hobalt. That girl is hot, man.”

  Thomas’ body was lifted. I sucked in my breath. I was exposed.

  Carter stared at me as he responded. “You’re right, AJ. She’s very beautiful.”

  I knew he wasn’t talking about Molly Hobalt. I blushed and looked away, but I still felt the weight of his gaze.

  “Oh my god,” a man exclaimed above me.

  Carter watched me the rest of the night, instead of the movie. I had never felt more beautiful.

  I opened my eyes. The man was pale as he stared at me, his mouth hanging open. Then he snapped to attention and yelled again, “In here! Now! Cole!”

  Cole…

  A second later, Carter’s friend popped his head around the door, and relief flooded over his face. “Holy shit. Emma.”

  I looked for my sister, but she was gone.

  It was time.

  My insides were stretched thin. My fury billowed inside me. It had become my friend again. As I moved, it went with me. It filled me up and it remained just under my surface. For now.

  As soon as I stepped off the elevator, I saw her on the floor. A pillow had been stuffed under her head and a blanket covered her. Cole had sent me directions to an abandoned building, but no one knew I was there. I could hear their voices in a back room, but for that moment, it was only her and me. I couldn’t look away.

  She looked peaceful. I reached out. A strand of her hair had fallen into her face, but I caught myself. I wanted to tuck it back, but no. She needed to sleep. God. She’d been through too much already.

  “Carter?”

  Cole stood in the doorway. The voices halted behind him, and I looked up. His eyes widened, and he shifted back on his heel before he caught himself. He stuffed his hand into his pocket and straightened up. “The men didn’t notify me you were on your way. I would’ve met you, if I’d known.”

  “That’s because they didn’t see me.”

  Emma was on the cement floor. She shouldn’t be there; she should be home and in bed. But I couldn’t demand for him to do better. There was no furniture. They were hiding. I recognized the men who filed into the room behind Cole. He’d gone back to the streets. He’d brought in the men he grew up with. He trusted them.

  “We were following—”

  “Who was it?” The storm raged in me, ready to strike. I contained it. Barely.

  “We were following the Bartels' crew.”

  I nodded and bent down to scoop up Emma.

  “Carter.” Cole got into the elevator with me.

  His men moved to come with us, but he held a hand out, stopping them. They looked at me, and I saw their concern. But those weren’t my men. They were his, and they didn’t know me. They only knew of me, and they thought I was a danger to him. No, not Cole. Not him.

  “We didn’t know who they were following. We saw the attack from behind, and once your guards began shooting back, we went in to help.”

  My men were dead.

  My woman could’ve been.

  I didn’t care about the details.

  The elevator doors slid open, and I walked out, cradling Emma in my arms. His men were guarding the bottom floor, and at the sight of me, their hands went to their guns.

  He barked out. “Stop! Put ‘em away.”

  I strode past them.

  “Wait, Carter.” Cole jogged to keep up with me. He grabbed my arm and pulled me to a stop.

  I looked over his shoulder. His men could hear us, and I said, “Leave.”

  They melted backward.

  “Look—”

  “I’m not in the Mauricio family,” I said, stopping him. Emma
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