Carter Reed 2, Page 17Tijan
was hurt. She was bruised. She had bled. I would not let them break her. “This is me, only me—”
He shot a hand up. “Would you shut up? I’m trying to tell you something. I’m trying to tell you it’s fine. Whatever you’re going to do, I will back you. And I know the elders will, too. It’s you. They went after your woman. You can go and do whatever you want to do.”
When I said nothing, he rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry, Carter. I know we talked about you being my secret weapon against them, and yeah, a part of me was considering just waiting for them to piss you off enough so you could do the dirty work. But after we talked, I changed my mind. I realized that was wrong. So I got these men. These are guys I grew up with. I went to school with them, and I trust them. They’ll do whatever I tell them, and they’re yours. If you need them, let me know.”
He glanced away, his voice softening, “I know you had most of your men guarding her. They knew that. They had other cars with them. Shit, Carter. They had a fucking army to go against yours, and I know you still have a few men, but they can’t be enough.”
Emma moaned in my arms. I held her tighter, wishing I hadn’t let her go this morning. “You’re not using the Mauricio soldiers?” I asked.
“I can’t. Not until I know who to trust. And that’s the other thing I needed to tell you. Those men will follow you too. The elders will follow you. They might not trust me yet, but they do trust you. You’re the glue in our family right now. Whatever you need, we’ll help you.”
I nodded, then turned and left. When I carried Emma to the car, there were no guards. Most were dead. The few left alive, I had let go so they could return home, mourn their brothers. As I bundled her into the seat and walked around to the front to drive home, the solitude felt oddly comforting.
When I got her home, I didn’t expect to see anyone. Instead, Michael, Peter, and Drake met me. They weren’t in their suits, but had dressed in dark sweatshirts and jackets with jeans.
“I told you guys you could go home.”
Drake moved forward and motioned to take Emma from me. When I didn’t relinquish her, Michael spoke up. “He’ll just take her to the bedroom. That’s all.”
“I’ll tuck her into bed, boss.”
Reluctantly, I allowed him to take her. I wanted to go with them. I wanted to be the one to tuck her in, but they were right. I needed to remain behind. They deserved my time, and I raked a hand over my face. “Guys, I’m sorry—”
“You pay us,” Michael cut me off. “We’re not here because you’re our boss. We’re family, too. We follow you because we respect you.”
“We lost so many today.”
“Not Emma. Or you.”
Peter cleared his throat. He wasn’t as tall as Michael, but he was broader in the shoulders and thicker in muscle. “Our job is to protect both of you,” he said. “We know the consequences of our job, the risks that are part of it. We die to protect you.”
Drake returned and nodded. “I agree with them, boss.”
“They weren’t just our coworkers, they were our brothers,” Michael said. “We want to help you. Tell us what to do.”
“I need to know everything. I need to know their businesses here, their warehouses, any side deals they have, everything. I want to know their mistress’ information, the playgrounds for their children. I want to know every hiding spot they’re going to use.”
“Got it.” Drake and Peter nodded. I gave them instructions on what to do if they ran into trouble, and they left.
Michael remained behind, taking a position next to the door.
“Michael,” I said.
He looked at me.
“You’re not my bodyguard anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re a team now. This place is guarded. I have alarms set. If you’d like to sleep, go ahead.”
“But Emma.” He gestured toward the bedroom. “I figured you’d want to be with her.”
“I do, and I will be, but we take shifts now. Go and rest. I’ll stay awake for this shift.”
“Sir?” He still seemed confused.
“Go. Rest. It’s my turn. If anyone comes near the building, they’ll trip the alarms.”
“Drake and Peter?”
“They know the codes to get in. They’ll be fine.”
He nodded slowly. “Okay, sir.”
“Michael,” I called again.
“Move into one of the main bedrooms,” I told him. “We need to be in closer proximity now, and it’s not sir anymore. I’m Carter.”
Another nod. “Yes, si—Carter.” Then a corner of his mouth lifted in a smile before he headed to grab his stuff.
I checked all the locks, the codes, every inch of our home. Everything was secure. Emma was still sleeping, and I wanted to go to her, but safety was first. Grabbing a coat, I walked the perimeter of our building and checked all the alarms I’d set there as well. After that, I checked the next block over and repeated the same routine. I was thorough. Then I went back.
We were safe. No one knew of this location. Noah knew I had a place in New York, but he didn’t know of this place, and Emma had never been here. This was my safeguard for the war. Not even Cole knew about this place, or Gene. The Bartels would find us. I knew it was a matter of time, but when they did, they would have a fight on their hands. Until then, I'd take the fight to them.
Michael had taken the bedroom closest to the entrance doors. I checked in on him, and he was indeed sleeping. Good. He’d need it. Then I moved to my own bedroom.
Emma had curled up in the sheets. She had them tucked under her chin as she balled into the fetal position.
I stopped now, for a moment, and let the reality crash over me.
I almost lost her.
They almost got her.
My jaw hardened. Never again.
When I woke, I didn’t need time to remember. It had been plaguing me while I slept. They killed Thomas and took my sister. It was like Mallory all over again, but this time I knew my sister was in danger from the start. I had only realized the true danger of Ben when it was almost too late.
I squeezed my eyes shut. Someone else was gone because of me. Someone who was a friend. Feeling the threat of tears, I bit down on my lip. I couldn’t feel it, not now so I rolled to my back. Carter was perched on the edge of the bed and watching me. He wore a black sweatshirt and black pants. His dark blond hair seemed darker, and I realized it was wet. As I sat up, I saw the concern in his wolf-like eyes. A shiver wound its way through me as I held his gaze. He must have known what had happened to me, what had happened to my sister. But there was no reason to go into hysterics. It was what it was.
Thomas was dead. My sister was gone.
I’d feel later. I welcomed the physical pain and I had plenty of that. My body was sore. It was still hurting from the bomb, and now it had new aches and pains from last night.
I didn’t care.
I needed Carter. I needed to remember we were alive. It was the two of us. I couldn’t lose him, no matter what happened.
I cupped the back of his neck and pulled him close.
I shook my head. No words. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to feel the pain, not yet. I wanted to feel him. I wanted to feel love instead. I wanted to taste. I wanted to be alive. As if sensing my unspoken need, his eyes darkened, and he lifted me up to straddle him.
I closed my eyes and held the man I loved. Resting my forehead to his, I placed my arms on his shoulders as he held my hips. His thumbs rubbed back and forth. This. Right here. He was the most powerful man I knew, and he was all mine.
I had what so many women wanted. They were drawn to him because he was powerful and deadly. It wasn’t a mirage. He was dangerous, and that same shiver took hold of my spine and burrowed deep, melded with me at a cellular level. It was the good shiver, the delicious kind.
I leaned back, tipping us down
to the bed, and I wound my legs around his waist, pulling him down between my legs.
Dangerous. Yes. Carter was dangerous. I raked a hand up his arm, curled it around his chin, and pulled him down to me. But he was my danger. He was my protector. And he was mine to protect.
“Are you su—”
I fused my lips with his. A tingle raced through me. I wanted to keep feeling sensations like this, not the other stuff. And as Carter rolled me beneath him, he helped me forget. For a little while he made me feel only him.
Afterwards, much, much afterwards, Carter slid out of me and moved to his side. He kept one hand on my stomach. “Are you sore?”
“Don’t.” I rolled to my side to face him and shook my head.
“Regret this. Yes, my body is hurting, but it’s because of the bomb, because of the assault on the car. That’s from them. They inflicted that on me, and I won’t let them have power over me anymore.” I ran a hand up his arm. He was so strong, his veins corded under his skin. “I won’t let them take this away from me.”
His face softened, and he tipped my chin up. “I love you.”
“Always,” I replied, and my eyelids lowered as he bent closer, his lips grazing over mine. It was the gentlest of kisses.
He whispered against my lips. “I’m sorry about your sister.”
Pulling back, he let out a soft sigh. “I’ll find her, Emma. This isn’t like your roommate. We’ll get her back. She’ll be safe. I’m not as entangled with politics as I was then. I don’t have to wait this time. Last time everything had to be discussed and approved. This time, I’m out. I can do whatever I want, but I know Cole will back me. The elders will, too.”
“Why did they take her?”
“Besides the obvious?” His thumb brushed over my forehead in a tender motion.
“They think she’s me.”
“Yeah. I’m assuming. And I’m hoping that when they figure it out, they’ll use her as a bargaining chip instead of getting rid of her and coming for you again. They’ve messed up twice. They’ll be braced for retaliation this time.”
Retaliation. I looked at the clothes I had shredded from him earlier. He’d been dressed to blend in with the night and do his vengeance. People were going to die—people already had—and there was going to be so much more. I was terrified of what else was going to happen, but the war was here. I was involved. I wasn’t going to hide this time.
“What about the police?” I asked.
“What about them?”
“Should we report her missing? Or has that already been done?” Another question came to the tip of my tongue, but at the tightening around his mouth, I held it back. “What?”
“If the police are involved, that means questioning. That means hours spent being interrogated. That means they’ll watch us. That means we can’t do what we need to do.”
“So no one knows? Your men, Carter.”
“My men will be traced to me, yes, but it’ll take them a while. None of them are in the system. They weren’t allowed to hold any identification, and anything they did have on them, guns included, will be traced back to a shell company. Eventually they’ll get employee records and go to the families, which will have them looking for me, but that’ll be then. Not now. I’m hoping to be able to deal with this quickly, then go and tell the families myself.”
“If you can’t? If the police get there first?”
“Then I’ll apologize to them for that injustice as well. I can’t leave this war, not yet.”
“I know,” I told him.
His hand slid back down the side of my face, and I leaned into his touch, moving so I could kiss the palm of his hand.
“I want to help,” I said.
He pulled his hand away and sat up.
The distance those words created between us was frightening. I sat up as well, holding his gaze. The sheet fell away from me, but I didn’t care. I had to be firm. I had to sound strong. He couldn’t see any shadow of doubt in my eyes.
“I mean it,” I added.
He stood and reached for his pants. “No.”
“No.” He zipped them and reached for his shirt.
I watched as he finished getting dressed. He was putting on some shoes when I tried again. “Carter—”
“I just got you back.” He whipped back to face me, his eyes seething. “A bomb, Emma. A bomb, then this car. They were trying for you. If your sister hadn’t been there, they would’ve found you. They would’ve looked for you, and the first place they would’ve searched would’ve been underneath the big bodyguard. I am sorry your sister was taken. I will get her back, but if she hadn’t been there? You. It would’ve been you.” He gritted his teeth as he finished, and his shoulders were tense, so rigid. “I would already have a body count in the thirties by now, if it had been you. Heaven and hell. That’s where I would go for you. So, no, you cannot help.”
Going to the dresser, he pulled out a 9mm and stuck it into a shoulder holster. He reached back inside and paused, and a moment later he pulled out another handgun. Meeting my eyes, his harried and haunted, he placed the gun onto the edge of the bed.
“I’m not a fan of Theresa, but right now, I could hug her,” he said quietly. “You know how to use this.”
It wasn’t a question, but I nodded anyway.
“This is your friend. You wear this everywhere. You get so used to it that you feel naked without it. Got it?”
He paused, studying everything about me. He was testing me. A year ago, I would’ve been scared. Now, I was just wary. “I’m fine, Carter.”
His eyes narrowed. He didn’t believe me.
I pulled the sheet so I was covered and looked down at my hands in my lap. They weren’t shaking. They were calm. I held them up. “See. I’m fine. This isn’t our first time here, and I feel like we’ve been getting ready for this forever. War. It’s coming. Those were your words and well, it’s here. I’m not shocked. I’m scared—I won’t lie to you—but I’m here, and I’ll help in any way—”
A warning flared in his eyes.
“—Any way you’ll let me,” I finished. “Whether that means holding down the fort here or going out to fight side by side with you, I’ll do what you say.”
At my words, his shoulders dropped, relaxing. “Do you mean that?”
I did, until he was threatened. Then all promises went out the window. I’d protect him with my life. “You have to promise me one thing,” I added.
He grew wary now. “What?”
“Be. Safe.” I swallowed over a lump. “I know you’re the Cold Killer, but it goes both ways. You love me. I love you back. I’ll be safe, but you hold up your end, too. Be. Safe.”
He let out a deep breath. The lines around his eyes seemed to deepen, and he crossed the room to me. Bending down, he cupped my head and pressed his lips to mine. At the slight contact, I surged up and wound my arms around his neck.
He gave me air, for that small moment. Once he left, I’d be holding my breath until he returned, and I knew the process would repeat over and over again until he found my sister.
I wanted to pull him back down. I wanted to stall him and keep him with me a moment longer, but I didn’t. I sat there as he turned and left.
I could hear conversation a beat later, then a door shut. It wasn’t long before one of the guards cleared his throat outside the room, the door still closed between us.
“Just letting you know Peter and I are here. Michael went with Mr.—he went with Carter.”